"You must not come." Had Cynthia made the prohibition strong enough? Ought
she not to have said, "If you do come, I will not see you?" Her knowledge of the
motives of the men and women in the greater world was largely confined to that
which she had gathered from novels—not trashy novels, but those by standard
authors of English life. And many another girl of nineteen has taken a novel for
a guide when she has been suddenly confronted with the first great problem
outside of her experience. Somebody has declared that there are only seven plots
in the world. There are many parallels in English literature to Cynthia's
position,—so far as she was able to define that position,—the wealthy young
peer, the parson's or physician's daughter, and the worldly, inexorable parents
who had other plans.
Cynthia was, of course, foolish. She would not look ahead, yet there was the
mirage in the sky when she allowed herself to dream. It can truthfully be said
that she was not in love with Bob Worthington. She felt, rather than knew, that
if love came to her the feeling she had for Jethro Bass—strong though that
was—would be as nothing to it. The girl felt the intensity of her nature, and
shrank from it when her thoughts ran that way, for it frightened her.
"Mrs. Merrill" she said, a few days later, when she found herself alone with
that lady, "you once told me you would have no objection if a friend came to see
"None whatever, my dear," answered Mrs. Merrill. "I have asked you to have
your friends here."
Mrs. Merrill knew that a young man had called on Cynthia. The girls had
discussed the event excitedly, had teased Cynthia about it; they had discovered,
moreover, that the young man had not been a tiller of the soil or a clerk in a
country store. Ellen, with the enthusiasm of her race, had painted him in
glowing colors—but she had neglected to read the name on his card.
"Bob Worthington came to see me last week, and he wants to come again. He
lives in Brampton," Cynthia explained, "and is at Harvard College."
Mrs. Merrill was decidedly surprised. She went on with her sewing, however,
and did not betray the fact. She knew of Dudley Worthington as one of the
richest and most important men in his state; she had heard her husband speak of
him often; but she had never meddled with politics and railroad affairs.
"By all means let him come, Cynthia," she replied.
When Mr. Merrill got home that evening she spoke of the matter to him.
"Cynthia is a strange character," she said. "Sometimes I can't understand
her—she seems so much older than our girls, Stephen. Think of her keeping this
to herself for four days!"
Mr. Merrill laughed, but he went off to a little writing room he had and sat
for a long time looking into the glowing coals. Then he laughed again. Mr.
Merrill was a philosopher. After all, he could not forbid Dudley Worthington's
son coming to his house, nor did he wish to.
That same evening Cynthia wrote a letter and posted it. She found it a very
difficult letter to write, and almost as difficult to drop into the mail-box.
She reflected that the holidays were close at hand, and then he would go to
Brampton and forget, even as he had forgotten before. And she determined when
Wednesday afternoon came around that she would take a long walk in the direction
of Brookline. Cynthia loved these walks, for she sadly missed the country
air,—and they had kept the color in her cheeks and the courage in her heart that
winter. She had amazed the Merrill girls by the distances she covered, and on
more than one occasion she had trudged many miles to a spot from which there was
a view of Blue Hills. They reminded her faintly of Coniston.
Who can speak or write with any certainty of the feminine character, or
declare what unexpected twists perversity and curiosity may give to it?
Wednesday afternoon came, and Cynthia did not go to Brookline. She put on her
coat, and took it off again. Would he dare to come in the face of the mandate he
had received? If he did come, she wouldn't see him. Ellen had received her
At four o'clock the doorbell rang, and shortly thereafter Ellen appeared,
simpering and apologetic enough, with a card. She had taken the trouble to read
it this time. Cynthia was angry, or thought she was, and her cheeks were very
"I told you to excuse me, Ellen. Why did you let him in?"
"Miss Cynthia, darlin'," said Ellen, "if it was made of flint I was, wouldn't
he bring the tears out of me with his wheedlin' an' coaxin'? An' him such a fine
young gintleman! And whin he took to commandin' like, sure I couldn't say no to
him at all at all. 'Take the card to her, Ellen,' he says—didn't he know me
name!—'an' if she says she won't see me, thin I won't trouble her more.' Thim
were his words, Miss."
There he was before the fire, his feet slightly apart and his hands in his
pockets, waiting for her. She got a glimpse of him standing thus, as she came
down the stairs. It was not the attitude of a culprit. Nor did he bear the
faintest resemblance to a culprit as he came up to her in the doorway. The chief
recollection she carried away of that moment was that his teeth were very white
and even when he smiled. He had the impudence to smile. He had the impudence to
seize one of her hands in his, and to hold aloft a sheet of paper in the other.
"What does this mean?" said he.
"What do you thick it means?" retorted Cynthia, with dignity.
"A summons to stay away," said Bob, thereby more or less accurately
describing it. "What would you have thought of me if I had not come?"
Cynthia was not prepared for any such question as this. She had meant to ask
the questions herself. But she never lacked for words to protect herself.
"I'll tell you what I think of you for coming, Bob, for insisting upon seeing
me as you did," she said, remembering with shame Ellen's account of that
proceeding. "It was very unkind and very thoughtless of you."
"Unkind?" Thus she succeeded in putting him on the defensive.
"Yes, unkind, because I know it is best for you not to come to see me, and
you know it, and yet you will not help me when I try to do what is right. I
shall be blamed for these visits," she said. The young ladies in the novels
always were. But it was a serious matter for poor Cynthia, and her voice
trembled a little. Her troubles seemed very real.
"Who will blame you?" asked Bob, though he knew well enough. Then he added,
seeing that she did not answer: "I don't at all agree with you that it is best
for me not to see you. I know of nobody in the world it does me more good to see
than yourself. Let's sit down and talk it all over," he said, for she still
remained standing uncompromisingly by the door.
The suspicion of a smile came over Cynthia's face. She remembered how Ellen
had been wheedled. Her instinct told her that now was the time to make a stand
"It wouldn't do any good, Bob," she replied, shaking her head; "we talked it
all over last week."
"Not at all," said he, "we only touched upon a few points last week. We ought
to thrash it out. Various aspects of the matter have occurred to me which I
ought to call to your attention."
He could not avoid this bantering tone, but she saw that he was very much in
earnest too. He realized the necessity of winning; likewise, and he had got in
and meant to stay.
"I don't want to argue," said Cynthia. "I've thought it all out."
"So have I," said Bob. "I haven't thought of anything else, to speak of. And
by the way," he declared, shaking the envelope, "I never got a colder and more
formal letter in my life. You must have taken it from one of Miss Sadler's copy
"I'm sorry I haven't been able to equal the warmth of your other
correspondents," said Cynthia, smiling at the mention of Miss Sadler.
"You've got a good many degrees yet to go," he replied.
"I have no idea of doing so," said Cynthia.
If Cynthia had lured him there, and had carefully thought out a plan of
fanning his admiration into a flame, she could not have done better than to
stand obstinately by the door. Nothing appeals to a man like
resistance—resistance for a principle appealed to Bob, although he did not care
a fig about that particular principle. In his former dealings with young
women—and they had not been few—the son of Dudley Worthington had encountered no
resistance worth the mentioning. He looked at the girl before him, and his blood
leaped at the thought of a conquest over her. She was often demure, but behind
that demureness was firmness: she was mistress of herself, and yet possessed a
"And now," said Cynthia, "don't you think you had better go?"
Go! He laughed outright. Never! He would sit down under that fortress, and
some day he meant to scale the walls. Like John Paul Jones, he had not yet begun
to fight. But he did not sit down just yet, because Cynthia remained standing.
"I'm here now," he said, "what's the good of going away? I might as well stay
the rest of the afternoon."
"You will find a photograph album on the table," said Cynthia, "with pictures
of all the Merrill family and their friends and relations."
In spite of the threat this remark conveyed, he could not help laughing at
it. Mrs. Merrill in her sitting room heard the laugh, and felt that she would
like Bob Worthington.
"It's a heavy album, Cynthia," he said; "perhaps you would hold up one side
It was Cynthia's turn to laugh. She could not decide whether he were a man or
a boy. Sometimes, she had to admit, he was very much of a man.
"Where are you going?" he cried.
"Upstairs, of course," she answered.
This was really alarming. But fate thrust a final weapon into his hands.
"All right," said he, "I'll look at the album. What time does Mr. Merrill get
"About six," answered Cynthia. "Why?"
"When he comes," said Bob, "I shall put on my most disconsolate expression.
He'll ask me what I'm doing, and I'll tell him you went upstairs at half-past
four and haven't come down. He'll sympathize, I'll bet anything."
Whether Bob were really capable of doing this, Cynthia could not tell. She
believed he was. Perhaps she really did not intend to go upstairs just then. To
his intense relief she seated herself on a straight-backed chair near the door,
although she had the air of being about to get up again at any minute. It was
not a surrender, not at all—but a parley, at least.
"I really want to talk to you seriously, Bob," she said, and her voice was
serious. "I like you very much—I always have—and I want you to listen seriously.
All of us have friends. Some people—you, for instance—have a great many. We have
but one father." Her voice failed a little at the word. "No friend can ever be
the same to you as your father, and no friendship can make up what his
displeasure will cost you. I do not mean to say that I shan't always be your
friend, for I shall be."
Young men seldom arrive at maturity by gradual steps—something sets them
thinking, a week passes, and suddenly the world has a different aspect. Bob had
thought much of his father during that week, and had considered their
relationship very carefully. He had a few precious memories of his mother before
she had been laid to rest under that hideous and pretentious monument in the
Brampton hill cemetery. How unlike her was that monument! Even as a young boy,
when on occasions he had wandered into the cemetery, he used to stand before it
with a lump in his throat and bitter resentment in his heart, and once he had
shaken his fist at it. He had grown up out of sympathy with his father, but he
had never until now began to analyze the reasons for it. His father had given
him everything except that communion of which Cynthia spoke so feelingly. Mr.
Worthington had acted according to his lights: of all the people in the world he
thought first of his son. But his thoughts and care had been alone of what the
son would be to the world: how that son would carry on the wealth and greatness
of Isaac D. Worthington.
Bob had known this before, but it had had no such significance for him then
as now. He was by no means lacking in shrewdness, and as he had grown older he
had perceived clearly enough Mr. Worthington's reasons for throwing him socially
with the Duncans. Mr. Worthington had never been a plain-spoken man, but he had
as much as told his son that it was decreed that he should marry the heiress of
the state. There were other plans connected with this. Mr. Worthington meant
that his son should eventually own the state itself, for he saw that the man who
controlled the highways of a state could snap his fingers at governor and
council and legislature and judiciary: could, indeed, do more—could own them
even more completely than Jethro Bass now owned them, and without effort. The
dividends would do the work: would canvass the counties and persuade this man
and that with sufficient eloquence. By such tokens it will be seen that Isaac D.
Worthington is destined to become great, though the greatness will be akin to
that possessed by those gentlemen who in past ages had built castles across the
highway between Venice and the North Sea. All this was in store for Bob
Worthington, if he could only be brought to see it. These things would be given
him, if he would but confine his worship to the god of wealth.
We are running ahead, however, of Bob's reflections in Mr. Merrill's parlor
in Mount Vernon Street, and the ceremony of showing him the cities of his world
from Brampton hill was yet to be gone through. Bob knew his father's plans only
in a general way, but in the past week he had come to know his father with a
fair amount of thoroughness. If Isaac D. Worthington had but chosen a worldly
wife, he might have had a more worldly son. As it was, Bob's thoughts were a
little bitter when Cynthia spoke of his father, and he tried to think instead
what his mother would have him do. He could not, indeed, speak of Mr.
Worthington's shortcomings as he understood them, but he answered Cynthia
vigorously enough—even if his words were not as serious as she desired.
"I tell you I am old enough to judge for myself, Cynthia," said he, "and I
intend to judge for myself. I don't pretend to be a paragon of virtue, but I
have a kind of a conscience which tells me when I am doing wrong, if I listen to
it. I have not always listened to it. It tells me I'm doing right now, and I
mean to listen to it."
Cynthia could not but think there was very little self-denial attached to
this. Men are not given largely to self-denial.
"It is easy enough to listen to your conscience when you think it impels you
to do that which you want to do, Bob," she answered, laughing at his argument in
spite of herself.
"Are you wicked?" he demanded abruptly.
"Why, no, I don't think I am," said Cynthia, taken aback. But she corrected
herself swiftly, perceiving his bent. "I should be doing wrong to let you come
He ignored the qualification.
"Are you vain and frivolous?"
She remembered that she had looked in the glass before she had come down to
him, and bit her lip.
"Are you given over to idle pursuits, to leading young men from their
occupations and duties?"
"If you've come here to recite the Blue Laws," said she, laughing again, "I
have something better to do than to listen to them."
"Cynthia," he cried, "I'll tell you what you are. I'll draw your character
for you, and then, if you can give me one good reason why I should not associate
with you, I'll go away and never come back."
"That's all very well," said Cynthia, "but suppose I don't admit your
qualifications for drawing my character. And I don't admit them, not for a
"I will draw it," said he, standing up in front of her. "Oh, confound it!"
This exclamation, astonishing and out of place as it was, was caused by a
ring at the doorbell. The ring was followed by a whispering and giggling in the
hall, and then by the entrance of the Misses Merrill into the parlor. Curiosity
had been too strong for them. Susan was human, and here was the opportunity for
a little revenge. In justice to her, she meant the revenge to be very slight.
"Well, Cynthia, you should have come to the concert," she said; "it was fine,
wasn't it, Jane? Is this Mr. Worthington? How do you do. I'm Miss Susan Merrill,
and this is Miss Jane Merrill." Susan only intended to stay a minute, but how
was Bob to know that? She was tempted into staying longer. Bob lighted the gas,
and she inspected him and approved. Her approval increased when he began to talk
to her in his bantering way, as if he had known her always. Then, when she was
fully intending to go, he rose to take his leave.
"I'm awfully glad to have met you at last," he said to Susan, "I've heard so
much about you." His leave-taking of Jane was less effusive, and then he turned
to Cynthia and took her hand. "I'm going to Brampton on Friday," he said, "for
the holidays. I wish you were going."
"We couldn't think of letting her go, Mr. Worthington," cried Susan, for the
thought of the hills had made Cynthia incapable of answering. "We're only to
have her for one short winter, you know."
"Yes, I know," said Mr. Worthington, gravely. "I'll see old Ephraim, and tell
him you're well, and what a marvel of learning, you've become. And—and I'll go
to Coniston if that will please you."
"Oh, no, Bob, you mustn't do anything of the kind," answered Cynthia, trying
to keep back the tears. "I—I write to Uncle Jethro very often. Good-by. I hope
you will enjoy your holidays."
"I'm coming to see you the minute I get back and tell you all about
everybody," said he.
How was she to forbid him to come before Susan and Jane! She could only be
"Do come, Mr. Worthington," said Susan, warmly, wondering at Cynthia's
coldness and, indeed, misinterpreting it. "I am sure she will be glad to see
you. And we shall always make you welcome, at any rate."
As soon as he was out of the door, Susan became very repentant, and slipped
her hand about Cynthia's waist.
"We shouldn't have come in at all if we had known he would go so soon, indeed
we shouldn't, Cynthia." And seeing that Cynthia was still silent, she added: "I
wouldn't do such a mean thing, Cynthia, I really wouldn't. Won't you believe me
and forgive me?"
Cynthia scarcely heard her at first. She was thinking of Coniston mountain,
and how the sun had just set behind it. The mountain would be ultramarine
against the white fields, and the snow on the hill pastures to the east stained
red as with wine. What would she not have given to be going back to-morrow—yes,
with Bob. She confessed—though startled by the very boldness of the thought—that
she would like to be going there with Bob. Susan's appeal brought her back to
Boston and the gas-lit parlor.
"Forgive you, Susan! There's nothing to forgive. I wanted him to go."
"You wanted him to go?" repeated Susan, amazed. She may be pardoned if she
did not believe this, but a glance at Cynthia's face scarcely left a room for
doubt. "Cynthia Wetherell, you're the strangest girl I've ever known in all my
life. If I had a—a friend" (Susan had another word on her tongue) "if I had such
a friend as Mr. Worthington, I shouldn't be in a hurry to let him leave me. Of
course," she added, "I shouldn't let him know it."
Cynthia's heart was very heavy during the next few days, heavier by far than
her friends in Mount Vernon Street imagined. They had grown to love her almost
as one of themselves, and because of the sympathy which comes of such love they
guessed that her thoughts would be turning homeward at Christmastide. At school
she had listened, perforce, to the festival plans of thirty girls of her own
age; to accounts of the probable presents they were to receive, the cost of some
of which would support a family in Coniston for several months; to arrangements
for visits, during which there were to be theatre-parties and dances and other
gaieties. Cynthia could not help wondering, as she listened in silence to this
talk, whether Uncle Jethro had done wisely in sending her to Miss Sadler's;
whether she would not have been far happier if she had never known about such
Then came the last day of school, which began with leave-takings and
embraces. There were not many who embraced Cynthia, though, had she known it,
this was largely her own fault. Poor Cynthia! how was she to know it? Many more
of them than she imagined would have liked to embrace her had they believed that
the embrace would be returned. Secretly they had grown to admire this strange,
dark girl, who was too proud to bend for the good opinion of any one—even of
Miss Sally Broke. Once during the term Cynthia had held some of them—in the
hollow of her hand, and had incurred the severe displeasure of Miss Sadler by
refusing to tell what she knew of certain mischief-makers.
Now, Miss Sadler was going about among them in the school parlor saying
good-by, sending particular remembrance to such of the fathers and mothers as
she thought worthy of that honor; kissing some, shaking, hands with all. It was
then that a dramatic incident occurred—dramatic for a girls' school, at least.
Cynthia deliberately turned her back on Miss Sadler and looked out of the
window. The chatter in the room was hushed, and for a moment a dangerous wrath
flamed in Miss Sadler's eyes. Then she passed on with a smile, to send most
particular messages to the mother of Miss Isabel Burrage.
Some few moments afterward Cynthia felt a touch on her arm, and turned to
find herself confronted by Miss Sally Broke. Unfortunately there is not much
room for Miss Broke in this story, although she may appear in another one yet to
be written. She was extremely good-looking, with real golden hair and
mischievous blue eyes. She was, in brief, the leader of Miss Sadler's school.
"Cynthia," she said, "I was rude to you when you first came here, and I'm
sorry for it. I want to beg your pardon." And she held out her hand.
There was a moment's suspense for those watching to see if Cynthia would take
it. She did take it.
"I'm sorry, too," said Cynthia, simply, "I couldn't see what I'd done to
offend you. Perhaps you'll explain now."
Miss Broke blushed violently, and for an instant looked decidedly
uncomfortable. Then she burst into laughter,—merry, irresistible laughter that
carried all before it.
"I was a snob, that's all," said she, "just a plain, low down snob. You don't
understand what that means, because you're not one." (Cynthia did understand, )
"But I like you, and I want you to be my friend. Perhaps when I get to know you
better, you will come home with me sometime for a visit."
Go home with her for a visit to that house in Washington Square with the
"I want to say that I'd give my head to have been able to turn my back on
Miss Sadler as you did," continued Miss Broke; "if you ever want a friend,
remember Sally Broke."
Some of Cynthia's trouble, at least, was mitigated by this episode; and Miss
Broke having led the way, Miss Broke's followers came shyly, one by one, with
proffers of friendship. To the good-hearted Merrill girls the walk home that day
was a kind of a triumphal march, a victory over Miss Sadler and a vindication of
their friend. Mrs. Merrill, when she heard of it, could not find it in her heart
to reprove Cynthia. Miss Sadler had got her just deserts. But Miss Sadler was
not a person who was likely to forget such an incident. Indeed, Mrs. Merrill
half expected to receive a note before the holidays ended that Cynthia's
presence was no longer desired at the school. No such note came, however.
If one had to be away from home on Christmas, there could surely be no better
place to spend that day than in the Merrill household. Cynthia remembers still,
when that blessed season comes around, how each member of the family vied with
the others to make her happy; how they showered presents on her, and how they
strove to include her in the laughter and jokes at the big family dinner. Mr.
Merrill's brother was there with his wife, and Mrs. Merrill's aunt and her
husband, and two broods of cousins. It may be well to mention that the Merrill
relations, like Sally Broke, had overcome their dislike for Cynthia.
There were eatables from Coniston on that board. A turkey sent by Jethro for
which, Mr. Merrill declared, the table would have to be strengthened; a saddle
of venison—Lem Hallowell having shot a deer on the mountain two Sundays before;
and mince-meat made by Amanda Hatch herself. Other presents had come to Cynthia
from the hills: a gorgeous copy of Mr. Longfellow's poems from Cousin Ephraim,
and a gold locket from Uncle Jethro. This locket was the precise counterpart
(had she but known it) of a silver one bought at Mr. Judson's shop many years
before, though the inscription "Cynthy, from Uncle Jethro," was within. Into the
other side exactly fitted that daguerreotype of her mother which her father had
given her when he died. The locket had a gold chain with a clasp, and Cynthia
wore it hidden beneath her gown-too intimate a possession to be shown.
There was still another and very mysterious present, this being a huge box of
roses, addressed to Miss Cynthia Wetherell, which was delivered on Christmas
morning. If there had been a card, Susan Merrill would certainly have found it.
There was no card. There was much pretended speculation on the part of the
Merrill girls as to the sender, sly reference to Cynthia's heightened color, and
several attempts to pin on her dress a bunch of the flowers, and Susan declared
that one of them would look stunning in her hair. They were put on the
dining-room table in the centre of the wreath of holly, and under the mistletoe
which hung from the chandelier. Whether Cynthia surreptitiously stole one has
never been discovered.
So Christmas came and went: not altogether unhappily, deferring for a day at
least the knotty problems of life. Although Cynthia accepted the present of the
roses with such magnificent unconcern, and would not make so much as a guess as
to who sent them, Mr. Robert Worthington was frequently in her thoughts. He had
declared his intention of coming to Mount Vernon Street as soon as the holidays
ended, and had been cordially invited by Susan to do so. Cynthia took the
trouble to procure a Harvard catalogue from the library, and discovered that he
had many holidays yet to spend. She determined to write another letter, which he
would find in his rooms when he returned. Just what terrible prohibitory terms
she was to employ in that letter Cynthia could not decide in a moment, nor yet
in a day, or a week. She went so far as to make several drafts, some of which
she destroyed for the fault of leniency, and others for that of severity. What
was she to say to him? She had expended her arguments to no avail. She could
wound him, indeed, and at length made up her mind that this was the only
resource left her, although she would thereby wound herself more deeply. When
she had arrived at this decision, there remained still more than a week in which
to compose the letter.
On the morning after New Year's, when the family were assembled around the
breakfast table, Mrs. Merrill remarked that her husband was neglecting a custom
which had been his for many years.
"Didn't the newspaper come, Stephen?" she asked.
Mr. Merrill had read it.
"Read it!" repeated his wife, in surprise, "you haven't been down long enough
to read a column."
"It was full of trash," said Mr. Merrill, lightly, and began on his usual
jokes with the girls. But Mrs. Merrill was troubled. She thought his jokes not
as hearty as they were wont to be, and disquieting surmises of business worries
filled her mind. The fact that he beckoned her into his writing room as soon as
breakfast was over did not tend to allay her suspicions. He closed and locked
the door after her, and taking the paper from a drawer in his desk bade her read
a certain article in it.
The article was an arraignment of Jethro Bass—and a terrible arraignment
indeed. Step by step it traced his career from the beginning, showing first of
all how he had debauched his own town of Coniston; how, enlarging on the same
methods, he had gradually extended his grip over the county and finally over the
state; how he had bought and sold men for his own power and profit, deceived
those who had trusted in him, corrupted governors and legislators, congressmen
and senators, and even justices of the courts: how he had trafficked ruthlessly
in the enterprises of the people. Instance upon instance was given, and men of
high prominence from whom he had received bribes were named, not the least
important of these being the Honorable Alva Hopkins of Gosport.
Mrs. Merrill looked up from the paper in dismay.
"It's copied from the Newcastle Guardian," she said, for lack of immediate
power to comment. "Isn't the Guardian the chief paper in that state?"
"Yes, Worthington's bought it, and he instigated the article, of course. I've
been afraid of this for a long time, Carry," said Mr. Merrill, pacing up and
down. "There's a bigger fight than they've ever had coming on up there, and this
is the first gun. Worthington, with Duncan behind him, is trying to get
possession of and consolidate all the railroads in the western part of that
state. If he succeeds, it will mean the end of Jethro's power. But he won't
"Stephen," said his wife, "do you mean to say that Jethro Bass will try to
defeat this consolidation simply to keep his power?"
"Well, my dear," answered Mr. Merrill, still pacing, "two wrongs don't make a
right, I admit. I've known these things a long time, and I've thought about them
a good deal. But I've had to run along with the tide, or give place to another
man who would; and—and starve."
Mrs. Merrill's eyes slowly filled with tears.
"Stephen," she began, "do you mean to say—?" There she stopped, utterly
unable to speak. He ceased his pacing and sat down beside her and took her hand.
"Yes, my dear, I mean to say I've submitted to these things. God knows
whether I've been right or wrong, but I have. I've often thought I'd be happier
if I resigned my office as president of my road and became a clerk in a store. I
don't attempt to excuse myself, Carry, but my sin has been in holding on to my
post. As long as I remain president I have to cope with things as I find them."
Mr. Merrill spoke thickly, for the sight of his wife's tears wrung his heart.
"Stephen," she said, "when we were first married and you were a district
superintendent, you used to tell me everything."
Stephen Merrill was a man, and a good man, as men go. How was he to tell her
the degrees by which he had been led into his present situation? How was he to
explain that these degrees had been so gradual that his conscience had had but a
passing wrench here and there? Politics being what they were, progress and
protection had to be obtained in accordance with them, and there was a duty to
the holders of bonds and stocks.
His wife had a question on her lips, a question for which she had to summon
all her courage. She chose that form for it which would hurt him least.
"Mr. Worthington is going to try to change these things?"
Mr. Merrill roused himself at the words, and his eyes flashed. He became a
"Change them!" he cried bitterly, "change them for the worse, if he can. He
will try to wrest the power from Jethro Bass. I don't defend him. I don't defend
myself. But I like Jethro Bass. I won't deny it. He's human, and I like him, and
whatever they say about him I know that he's been a true friend to me. And I
tell you as I hope for happiness here and hereafter, that if Worthington
succeeds in what he is trying to do, if the railroads win in this fight, there
will be no mercy for the people of that state. I'm a railroad man myself, though
I have no interest in this affair. My turn may come later. Will come later, I
suppose. Isaac D. Worthington has a very little heart or soul or mercy himself;
but the corporation which he means to set up will have none at all. It will
grind the people and debase them and clog their progress a hundred times more
than Jethro Bass has done. Mark my words, Carry. I'm running ahead of the times
a little, but I can see it all as clearly as if it existed now."
Mrs. Merrill went about her duties that morning with a heavy heart, and more
than once she paused to wipe away a tear that would have fallen on the linen she
was sorting. At eleven o'clock the doorbell rang, and Ellen appeared at the
entrance to the linen closet with a card in her hand. Mrs. Merrill looked at it
with a flurry of surprise. It read:—
MISS LUCRETIA PENNIMAN
The Woman's Hour