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stole a look of content and happy waiting, | world's end — to remember, perhaps, when And soon I knew that it was because of a at last he enters the heavenly gates. child that was coming. Her life was wait- "When she is dead, if I am living," he ing, her heart was longing to see her little repeated. "I will come then to see her one's face; when she spoke there was a once again before they lay her down to light in her eyes, a smile that came and rest; and if not, then you will understand. went about her lips, and seemed to fill her Oh, mother, I loved her!" and suddenly soul with satisfaction. Then I knew and he let go his arms, and kissing me, turned understood. For this promise to her fu- away. ture she was glad; but for him who loved her, whose wife she was, her heart had no answer, no place. But why had he loved her, and why was she his, this strange woman of the silence and sadness? But none could tell me the history of it all.
Then came whole days and weeks in which they did not come to me. They held aloof as if afraid, as if they had some secret and feared lest unwittingly they might betray it. I did not hear their voices, for there had grown up everywhere a silence, nor see them, save when they crossed to the fir wood at the end of the garden. I watched them hurrying to it, one or the other, always alone, as if one went with his sorrow, and one with her joy; but together they had no business more. At last a day came when he stood before me and spoke - my boy with the brightness gone from his brave clear eyes. Mother," he said, "I am going. I do not know when I shall return, but be good to her and do not blame her. It was my folly, my own headstrong madness."
"Going where, my son?"
"I do not know, dear mother," he answered, "but far off, it cannot be too far," he added bitterly. "Remember this, that she stays here, and the little one must be happy. There is nothing to blame her for,promise me you will think so? It was my own blindness and folly and obstinacy." The tears came into my eyes, and that last time I saw my boy's face it was but through their mist. I struggled to hide them, for we were never cowards or wept as foolish women, who spend their love and sorrow on tears and then forget, break down and weep when they should most be still and show their hearts are strong to bear as well as love.
"But when will you come back? asked, while round my throat a cold hand seemed to tighten. "When will you come back? I cried, with sick fear fastening at my heart.
"I cannot tell. When she is dead, if I am living." He took me in his arms and raised his head to look at me. Then he was silent for a moment, as one who sees a face he loves for a last time, and would take its memory with him to the wide
He went, and I stood watching. Is it not part of a woman's life that she must watch and wait so much, while all the world seems slipping by, save that which never greets her eyes, and she is left alone at last, faint with seared hope?
When he was gone, when the room was empty again, and an air of desolation spread slowly over all things, then I went out into the gallery and looked at a picture that had been ours for many a generation. A hundred years ago it had all happened, that which was set forth, yet still in the picture a dead man lay with a dead woman on his heart. The hunters had gone forth in the morning, so the story ran, and she had waited -as woman forever waits. When the evening came, a feast was set, and the revellers arrived. It was time for the huntsmen to return, but the hours went on and there was not a sign of them. The night sped and still they lagged. At last there were hurried steps, and a horseman stopped and entered. He tried to lead away the fair young wife, but she stood still and speechless, as though Heaven had put its hand on her. The revellers gathered round with scared faces, and lips they did not dare to open lest they should betray the fear that had seized them, trying to hide from her, though it were but for a moment, that which was coming. But she stood silent in the midst, till there was a sound that made her start and her lips grow white - the tramp of many feet. Slowly and heavily the footsteps came nearer, as though above them was a burden. She raised her head for a moment as they carried the dead man in. She watched them lay him down, then with a cry she fell forward, and her heart stood still as it touched his. How blessed were you, poor soul! How merciful was death, that just folded you in its arms with him in one long sleep! A thousand things might have come between you in life, but when death had given you to each other, no power beneath the sky could part you more. And yet they did
not celebrate the feast that had been made ready. Cruel and cowardly! They that when you could see and hear and share their joy had rejoiced over your marriage
for a few short years had not courage to raise one single glass to that sweet marriage that neither time, nor chance, nor Heaven itself would undo.
At last I turned away from the picture to go back to my own rooms, to sit alone and think again; and as I turned I saw that my son's wife had been behind me, looking up too at the lovers. There was a mocking light in her eyes, a look of defiance on her face, and yet I thought she trembled as she stood waiting for me to speak.
"I have been looking at that picture," I said: "it is a hundred years and more since it all happened."
"Yes," she answered, "a hundred years and more, and they have long been dead." I put out my hand trying to touch hers, but she drew back coldly.
My dear," I said gently, "your face is white, and you look sad enough. Are you grieving for your husband, or for those two lying there, with all the world forever at an end?"
"Not for them," she answered bitterly. "They loved. Why should one grieve for those who love and are together? And why should I grieve for your son? He must go where he pleases."
"But you two love and are apart." "No, we do not love!" she said fiercely. "We never loved. He loved, and I was loved. It is ever so one loves, and the other is loved." "Tell me more," I whispered, for I could not raise my voice.
like a blind fool, giving his lying and cowardice fine names to myself, and when I could do so no longer, thinking them a thing apart from himself, as little him as the coat he wore; and yet besides there was nothing that could be called by his name."
"But if you loathe him now?
"What then?" she cried bitterly; "it is too late. Can you drain wine from empty bottles, raise flames from cold white ashes, or find life blood in a dead woman's heart? I could sit and wring my hands for the man who has never lived save in my imagination. I had scorn for the thing I saw, but I broke my heart for the thing about which I had only dreamt. And I had no love for the man who loved me and was content with so little. 1 was like a dead woman," she burst out pas sionately, clasping her hands "I have been ever since. They wanted me to marry your son, and he wanted to marry me; whether I wanted to marry him he was too absorbed in his own madness to care. I married him," she went on bitterly. "What did it matter? That in me that felt or knew or cared was dead, and all things were the same; marriage vows were not more than other words had come to be, all alike bitter, sad, and hopeless."
"Tell me why he married you," I said, looking up at the picture of the woman pillowed on her dead lover's breast, and holding on to the chair in which the dead man's father had sat all
the years ago. I could have borne to have
"There is nothing more to tell or that I will tell. They made me marry him, and he would not be refused. He was mad, I think," she cried; "for what was there in me to love? And in him I found nothing, He was good not that goodness counts for much to a woman's heart, and it was nothing to mine. He was good," she repeated wearily, "and had many things to give. Yes, you may look at me in wonder; but had he been poor I should not have been his wife, though it was not I who wanted his money, but those who had control of me. I had no love for him, and he knew it. That had been given long before to a man who was a coward—yes, and worse. that now, as we see many things when all are too late. A coward, and yet I loved him better than your son loved the ground over which he trod when he came and lied to me better than your son's voice when he swore he loved me and it "I do not know. What concern is it of was God's own truth. He deserted me, mine? He is better gone than here. He the man I loved, yet still I went on caring ❘ would not stay and let me go, because of
"He was mad, I suppose," she answered, the excitement passing from her face, "as all are mad at some time. Lately, he has been growing sane, and he has gone."
"Whither?" I asked breathlessly.
the child that is coming. When that has |
"I wish it were born dead,” she cried again, and clasped her hands. Why did I let them marry me to your son? Why was I so cruel? He, a good man, who knew life but to rejoice; and I, a woman whose heart had been given to another man to tread under foot, and who had known life but to sorrow. I thought it would not matter, that it would be all the same, married or single; but it has not been so. I thought it would be like a play, and I a player could act my part; but I could not." Then she turned to me defiantly. "Do you hate me much?" she asked curiously.
"No, I do not hate you," I said slowly, hardly knowing what she had asked or I
"I do not care; I cannot. Let me go; I want to be alone."
"But my son! Will he never return?" "I do not know. What is your son to me? And in a mocking voice she added, "He will come when I am dead, perhaps." She looked out at the fir wood as she spoke; I knew that she was thinking of the burial-place just half a mile beyond it. She turned away, and shivering with cold and weariness, walked slowly along the gallery; I watched her gown trailing noiselessly over the shining floor, a door shut, and I was alone.
Then came a long silence in our lives. Day after day, week after week passed by, with never a sign of him. An old woman sorrowing, a young one doggedly waiting; that was all. The leaves fell dead and yellow, the wind carried them whistling over the grass towards the wood, the branches, bare and brown, stretched
up towards the sky. Everything was grey, and cold, and silent.
The new year dawned. I thought of the strange long years behind it that had had no history save that they were spent in waiting; but with the new year there came no change to our still lives.
The winter passed, the snow melted from even the coldest paths, and at last once more there was the promise of spring. I watched the first bright sunshine glint through the fir-trees and fleck the dark ground with its gold, I saw the shadows dance and the snowdrops raise their tender heads.
One day I stood by the window thinking how beautiful the world had grown, for there was happiness everywhere save in one sad house. From my lips burst forth the cry of my heart, "If he would but come back again!" A little bird sang loud and clear; it was like a promise of his return. I opened the window and the sweet fresh air rushed in; it seemed to have journeyed from afar, to bring a message, to tell me that he remembered. I looked up at the sky, it was soft and blue. "He must come back," I cried in pain and longing that could not wait in silence. My son's wife was beside me.
"He will never come," she said in her low and bitter voice, “he will never come never.'
"Why?" I asked.
"I cannot tell you,” she answered, “but he will never come. I lied to him once, and I deceived him-do you think he will forgive?" She asked it half scoffingly; but as I turned to speak I saw that she was trembling, that on her face there was a look of pain and fear. will never come again," she echoed, "till I am dead." She put out her cold hand as if to touch me, but drew back and moved away.
The days went by and the sun shone down on a green world again. There were flowers in the hedges and hidden in the woods. The birds sang of the spring that had come, of the summer that would soon sweep over the hills, touching all things with its gold. In the distance I could hear the song of the river as it hurried by rejoicing, overhead the swallows passed on their way to northern shores; and in the midst of all things there was the voice of a little child. It seemed so strange a sound in this sad house, as if the world had grown young again, and even my old heart leapt up and could have laughed for joy.
At last the strange woman my son had
She fell ill at last with a long, weary illness that only happiness could heal, and that would not come nigh her. Many a time she called me to her as she sat alone as in a dream.
married seemed as though she could bear | turn." It was as though she had no other and be still no longer; her face softened, words to say but those few piteous ones, her voice changed, and one day, just for a "Entreat him to return." But he did not moment, she let her head fall on my shoul- come. der, as if to gain a moment's rest. "Mother," she whispered-and before she had never said the word "I want him back. If he could see the child, perhaps he would forgive me, and some day love me once again. I want his love - I want it now. I am hungry for it, longing for it, and he does not know. I shall die if he does not come; tell him that for me, and beg him to come back again. I lied to him, and he will not believe me now. But it was all a madness; I did not say one single word to the man I went all those miles to see that night. I stood and watched him pass, and came away unseen. It ended there. Your son knew that it did, though I had lied and schemed to go. It ended there; surely he will forgive me, and love me again, even though it is but a little, when he sees the child."
"But I do not understand," I said bewildered. The tears fell slowly down her face, as though her dull eyes grudged them; the lines about her mouth hardened again, as she answered, in a low, fierce voice,
"I cannot tell you more. It is his secret and mine; he will never tell you, neither will I. But if he forgives me - oh! if he would but forgive me. Entreat him to come back and see the child." She said the last words softly; she stole nearer to me. She had known how to be gentle once, but pain and grief had made her half afraid of all things in the world.
"Shall I tell him that you love him?" I asked.
She answered like a woman in a dream. Yes, tell him that all my thoughts turn to him; it is like going home to think of him. Only till he comes back the rooms of my dear home are empty; its fires burnt low, its gardens silent and deserted. It seems as if I entered and waited for the master, thinking of the blessedness of seeing him again, and of the misery this longing will turn to if he delays. Yet I am thankful to love him, for there is rest and safety for me now, even though he stays from me, just as one feels safe and rested in one's own home, though none is there to bid one welcome. It is like thinking of heaven, remembering that one has walked through hell in past days, and found how it could burn and mock and crush. Ask him to come back once more; if he would listen to me once, then he would understand. Entreat him to re
Mother," she said one day, "if I should die, and he comes back, tell him this-that I was never false to him. I did not love him, but I was truemy thoughts. I did not say one single word for the other man to hear, nor write one line for him to read. I lied and stole away that awful night just for one last moment to see that other one pass by. I hid, and watched, and listened; I heard his footsteps drawing near; I saw him pass, and when he had gone I stooped and kissed the ground over which his feet had trod-kissed it and put my face against the earth, and yet the love for him had gone long years before, and only loathing of his cowardice and treachery remained. But the man I knew would pass along the road that night when I stood there to watch had once taken my life and youth into his hands, and given them back no more. I did not steal out to meet a man I loved, or crouch to kiss his footsteps. It was the ghost of days that once had been-the ghost of my own youth, and all its sweetness, of my old life and all its promises, all its dreams that he had held and killed. They seemed to draw near once more when I saw him coming, they went farther and farther away into the hopeless distance as he I loathed passed on."
"And my son?”
"And your son had followed me. man whom I went out to see went by not knowing the man who had held my life. Your son came near as I rose from the ground I had kissed, and my tears fell fast. I was angry and bitter and miserable. For some strange reason I wanted to make another suffer as I had suffered, and the words I said burnt into his heart. I watched them do it, and was glad." She did not raise her head while she spoke, nor turn from the window by which she watched.
"I want him back," she said, in her even, monotonous voice. "I shall die if he does not come." I put out my hand to touch her, but she drew away, and almost shuddered. "Oh, no, no," she said, "I cannot bear it-I was not made for
that. I cannot laugh and cry, and be caressed." She raised her head, and broke out again: "Tell him to come back, I want him so. I never loved him before he went before the child was born, but I love him now. I am dying for him; I never had any other home nor any one I dared to trust who loved me truly. I want to hear him say that he forgives me, to rest my head down on his arm, as I used once to bear my misery and be silent, but would now to bear my happiness. Just once to see him, and then to die, if he could love me no more." She stopped speaking, but I could not reply. She was like a woman waiting to live or to die, but which I could not tell. There was great joy or terrible woe to come to her I did not dare to wonder which, only I felt that her lips were not made for laughter, and for her eyes to light up with joy and happiness would have seemed a strange thing indeed.
Day after day she sat watching, with her face turned towards the copse, forever watching, but never seeing him, for whom she watched, till gradually there crept over her a pain that was despair. At last a messenger came over the long, straight road across the hill. She saw him far enough away, and opening the window sat with a smile on her face at last.
"He is bringing news," she said, and her voice made me start, for it was the voice of a happy woman, not of the one who had doggedly watched so long. She took the letter from his hand with a cry of joy, and opened it with hands that trembled and could hardly hold the scrap of paper before her eager eyes. Then with a loud cry she told its contents.
"It is too late too late, for he is dead!" and she fell forwards as the woman in the picture had fallen, only that for this poor soul there was no lover's heart to serve her as a pillow.
My son that was gone, that would never come back, my son that had been my babe and my little one, my joy and my pride, and was gone forever, with never a soul he loved beside him, with never a tender voice to whisper to him or lips that loved him to kiss the dead lids over the tired eyes. An empty heart, an empty house, an empty world. My pretty boy whose voice was like the birds, my brave lad, my son a man of whom my heart was proud, for whom my whole life ached. And the end of it all for him, the end of it all for us, a still, cold corpse. The sun shining, the birds singing, the green trees
whispering, the busy world busying itself, the merry voices of the young, the chattering of the old, and in the midst of it all - somewhere an empty room, a dead man.
Then once more they said she might be trusted to go about the house again. She seemed to have had some dream she could not remember, some blow in the dark that had staggered her and carried away her senses. She seldom spoke, but she would look up sometimes and say, "When he comes back he will see the child." She said it with a voice that was not her own, and looked up with a face that had changed. It was as if her former self had left her, had journeyed out to him. Sometimes I wonder if they have met, he and she that used to be; if they understand and all things are explained between them at last; or if the life that left her in those terrible weeks after the message came, though it has found him, will yet return, crying out in its agony, "It is too late, too late."
The woman who rose from her bed sat and watched by the window again, forever with her face turned towards the hill, till she forgot all else, till she did not let her eyes look down on her child's face, or remember to caress the little hand that touched her cheek. She did not know when it drooped and faded and slipped away from her arms. She saw them carry it across the grass to the burying-place beyond the firs, but she saw it with eyes that did not comprehend, and a heart that could not miss the little one who had gone.
There the story ends. Still she sits and watches, while her youth slips away, and round her the silence gathers deeper and deeper as it stretches back far into the distant past. Always the story is the same, always watching for one who never comes and never will come again. The seasons pass; the villagers over the hill laugh and weep and marry and die; to them life brings its changes, but to us all things are the same. Yet some day they say she will awake and know-ah! poor soul, God keep you from it.
I sit by the fire thinking. Only a little while and I too shall be gone; but the watcher by the window will know not and care not, for all things are the same to her. Life has left her but a single theme, a single thing, a single name to know. In fancy I can see her waiting alone in the vast still room that is full of strangest memories. And I wonder if when she