From The Copy-Cat and Other Stories (Harper & Brothers Publishers; New York: 1914)
Miss Jane Carew was at the railroad station waiting for the New York train. She was about to visit her friend, Mrs. Viola Longstreet. With Miss Carew was her maid, Margaret, a middle-aged New England woman, attired in the stiffest and most correct of maid-uniforms. She carried an old, large sole-leather bag, and also a rather large sole-leather jewel-case. The jewel-case, carried openly, was rather an unusual sight at a New England railroad station, but few knew what it was. They concluded it to be Margaret's special hand-bag. Margaret was a very tall, thin woman, unbending as to carriage and expression. The one thing out of absolute plumb about Margaret was her little black bonnet. That was askew. Time had bereft the woman of so much hair that she could fasten no head-gear with security, especially when the wind blew, and that morning there was a stiff gale. Margaret's bonnet was cocked over one eye. Miss Carew noticed it.
“Margaret, your bonnet is crooked,” she said.
Margaret straightened her bonnet, but immediately the bonnet veered again to the side, weighted by a stiff jet aigrette. Miss Carew observed the careen of the bonnet, realized that it was inevitable, and did not mention it again. Inwardly she resolved upon the removal of the jet aigrette later on. Miss Carew was slightly older than Margaret, and dressed in a style somewhat beyond her age. Jane Carew had been alert upon the situation of departing youth. She had eschewed gay colors and extreme cuts, and had her bonnets made to order, because there were no longer anything but hats in the millinery shop. The milliner in Wheaton, where Miss Carew lived, had objected, for Jane Carew inspired reverence.
“A bonnet is too old for you, Miss Carew,” she said. “Women much older than you wear hats.”
“I trust that I know what is becoming to a woman of my years, thank you, Miss Waters,” Jane had replied, and the milliner had meekly taken her order.
After Miss Carew had left, the milliner told her girls that she had never seen a woman so perfectly crazy to look her age as Miss Carew. “And she a pretty woman, too,” said the milliner; “as straight as an arrer, and slim, and with all that hair, scarcely turned at all.”
Miss Carew, with all her haste to assume years, remained a pretty woman, softly slim, with an abundance of dark hair, showing little gray. Sometimes Jane reflected, uneasily, that it ought at her time of life to be entirely gray. She hoped nobody would suspect her of dyeing it. She wore it parted in the middle, folded back smoothly, and braided in a compact mass on the top of her head. The style of her clothes was slightly behind the fashion, just enough to suggest conservatism and age. She carried a little silver-bound bag in one nicely gloved hand; with the other she held daintily out of the dust of the platform her dress-skirt. A glimpse of a silk frilled petticoat, of slender feet, and ankles delicately slim, was visible before the onslaught of the wind. Jane Carew made no futile effort to keep her skirts down before the wind-gusts. She was so much of the gentlewoman that she could be gravely oblivious to the exposure of her ankles. She looked as if she had never heard of ankles when her black silk skirts lashed about them. She rose superbly above the situation. For some abstruse reason Margaret's skirts were not affected by the wind. They might have been weighted with buckram, although it was no longer in general use. She stood, except for her veering bonnet, as stiffly immovable as a wooden doll.
Miss Carew seldom left Wheaton. This visit to New York was an innovation. Quite a crowd gathered about Jane's sole-leather trunk when it was dumped on the platform by the local expressman. “Miss Carew is going to New York,” one said to another, with much the same tone as if he had said, “The great elm on the common is going to move into Dr. Jones's front yard.”
When the train arrived, Miss Carew, followed by Margaret, stepped aboard with a majestic disregard of ankles. She sat beside a window, and Margaret placed the bag on the floor and held the jewel-case in her lap. The case contained the Carew jewels. They were not especially valuable, although they were rather numerous. There were cameos in brooches and heavy gold bracelets; corals which Miss Carew had not worn since her young girlhood. There were a set of garnets, some badly cut diamonds in ear-rings and rings, some seed-pearl ornaments, and a really beautiful set of amethysts. There were a necklace, two brooches — a bar and a circle — ear-rings, a ring, and a comb. Each piece was charming, set in filigree gold with seed-pearls, but perhaps of them all the comb was the best. It was a very large comb. There was one great amethyst in the center of the top; on either side was an intricate pattern of plums in small amethysts, and seed-pearl grapes, with leaves and stems of gold. Margaret in charge of the jewel-case was imposing. When they arrived in New York she confronted everybody whom she met with a stony stare, which was almost accusative and convictive of guilt, in spite of entire innocence on the part of the person stared at. It was inconceivable that any mortal would have dared lay violent hands upon that jewel-case under that stare. It would have seemed to partake of the nature of grand larceny from Providence.
When the two reached the up-town residence of Viola Longstreet, Viola gave a little scream at the sight of the case.
“My dear Jane Carew, here you are with Margaret carrying that jewel-case out in plain sight. How dare you do such a thing? I really wonder you have not been held up a dozen times.”
Miss Carew smiled her gentle but almost stern smile — the Carew smile, which consisted in a widening and slightly upward curving of tightly closed lips.
“I do not think,” said she, “that anybody would be apt to interfere with Margaret.”
Viola Longstreet laughed, the ringing peal of a child, although she was as old as Miss Carew. “I think you are right, Jane,” said she. “I don't believe a crook in New York would dare face that maid of yours. He would as soon encounter Plymouth Rock. I am glad you have brought your delightful old jewels, although you never wear anything except those lovely old pearl sprays and dull diamonds.”
“Now,” stated Jane, with a little toss of pride, “I have Aunt Felicia's amethysts.”
“Oh, sure enough! I remember you did write me last summer that she had died and you had the amethysts at last. She must have been very old.”
“She might have given you the amethysts before. You, of course, will wear them; and I — am going to borrow the corals!”
Jane Carew gasped.
“You do not object, do you, dear? I have a new dinner-gown which clamors for corals, and my bank-account is strained, and I could buy none equal to those of yours, anyway.”
“Oh, I do not object,” said Jane Carew; still she looked aghast.
Viola Longstreet shrieked with laughter. “Oh, I know. You think the corals too young for me. You have not worn them since you left off dotted muslin. My dear, you insisted upon growing old — I insisted upon remaining young. I had two new dotted muslins last summer. As for corals, I would wear them in the face of an opposing army! Do not judge me by yourself, dear. You laid hold of Age and held him, although you had your complexion and your shape and hair. As for me, I had my complexion and kept it. I also had my hair and kept it. My shape has been a struggle, but it was worth while. I, my dear, have held Youth so tight that he has almost choked to death, but held him I have. You cannot deny it. Look at me, Jane Carew, and tell me if, judging by my looks, you can reasonably state that I have no longer the right to wear corals.”
Jane Carew looked. She smiled the Carew smile. “You do look very young, Viola,” said Jane, “but you are not.”
“Jane Carew,” said Viola, “I am young. May I wear your corals at my dinner to-morrow night?”
“Why, of course, if you think —”
“If I think them suitable. My dear, if there were on this earth ornaments more suitable to extreme youth than corals, I would borrow them if you owned them, but, failing that, the corals will answer. Wait until you see me in that taupe dinner-gown and the corals!”
Jane waited. She visited with Viola, whom she loved, although they had little in common, partly because of leading widely different lives, partly because of constitutional variations. She was dressed for dinner fully an hour before it was necessary, and she sat in the library reading when Viola swept in.
Viola was really entrancing. It was a pity that Jane Carew had such an unswerving eye for the essential truth that it could not be appeased by actual effect. Viola had doubtless, as she had said, struggled to keep her slim shape, but she had kept it, and, what was more, kept it without evidence of struggle. If she was in the least hampered by tight lacing and length of undergarment, she gave no evidence of it as she curled herself up in a big chair and (Jane wondered how she could bring herself to do it) crossed her legs, revealing one delicate foot and ankle, silk-stockinged with taupe, and shod with a coral satin slipper with a silver heel and a great silver buckle. On Viola's fair round neck the Carew corals lay bloomingly; her beautiful arms were clasped with them; a great coral brooch with wonderful carving confined a graceful fold of the taupe over one hip, a coral comb surmounted the shining waves of Viola's hair. Viola was an ash-blonde, her complexion was as roses, and the corals were ideal for her. As Jane regarded her friend's beauty, however, the fact that Viola was not young, that she was as old as herself, hid it and overshadowed it.
“Well, Jane, don't you think I look well in the corals, after all?” asked Viola, and there was something pitiful in her voice.
When a man or a woman holds fast to youth, even if successfully, there is something of the pitiful and the tragic involved. It is the everlasting struggle of the soul to retain the joy of earth, whose fleeting distinguishes it from heaven, and whose retention is not accomplished without an inner knowledge of its futility.
“I suppose you do, Viola,” replied Jane Carew, with the inflexibility of fate, “but I really think that only very young girls ought to wear corals.”
Viola laughed, but the laugh had a minor cadence. “But I am a young girl, Jane,” she said. “I must be a young girl. I never had any girlhood when I should have had. You know that.”
Viola had married, when very young, a man old enough to be her father, and her wedded life had been a sad affair, to which, however, she seldom alluded. Viola had much pride with regard to the inevitable past.
“Yes,” agreed Jane. Then she added, feeling that more might be expected, “Of course I suppose that marrying so very young does make a difference.”
“Yes,” said Viola, “it does. In fact, it makes of one's girlhood an anti-climax, of which many dispute the wisdom, as you do. But have it I will. Jane, your amethysts are beautiful.”
Jane regarded the clear purple gleam of a stone on her arm. “Yes,” she agreed, “Aunt Felicia's amethysts have always been considered very beautiful.”
“And such a full set,” said Viola.
“Yes,” said Jane. She colored a little, but Viola did not know why. At the last moment Jane had decided not to wear the amethyst comb, because it seemed to her altogether too decorative for a woman of her age, and she was afraid to mention it to Viola. She was sure that Viola would laugh at her and insist upon her wearing it.
“The ear-rings are lovely,” said Viola. “My dear, I don't see how you ever consented to have your ears pierced.”
“I was very young, and my mother wished me to,” replied Jane, blushing.
The door-bell rang. Viola had been covertly listening for it all the time. Soon a very beautiful young man came with a curious dancing step into the room. Harold Lind always gave the effect of dancing when he walked. He always, moreover, gave the effect of extreme youth and of the utmost joy and mirth in life itself. He regarded everything and everybody with a smile as of humorous appreciation, and yet the appreciation was so good-natured that it offended nobody.
“Look at me — I am absurd and happy; look at yourself, also absurd and happy; look at everybody else likewise; look at life — a jest so delicious that it is quite worth one's while dying to be made acquainted with it.” That is what Harold Lind seemed to say. Viola Longstreet became even more youthful under his gaze; even Jane Carew regretted that she had not worn her amethyst comb and began to doubt its unsuitability. Viola very soon called the young man's attention to Jane's amethysts, and Jane always wondered why she did not then mention the comb. She removed a brooch and a bracelet for him to inspect.
“They are really wonderful,” he declared. “I have never seen greater depth of color in amethysts.”
“Mr. Lind is an authority on jewels,” declared Viola. The young man shot a curious glance at her, which Jane remembered long afterward. It was one of those glances which are as keystones to situations.
Harold looked at the purple stones with the expression of a child with a toy. There was much of the child in the young man's whole appearance, but of a mischievous and beautiful child, of whom his mother might observe, with adoration and ill-concealed boastfulness, “I can never tell what that child will do next!”
Harold returned the bracelet and brooch to Jane, and smiled at her as if amethysts were a lovely purple joke between her and himself, uniting them by a peculiar bond of fine understanding. “Exquisite, Miss Carew,” he said. Then he looked at Viola. “Those corals suit you wonderfully, Mrs. Longstreet,” he observed, “but amethysts would also suit you.”
“Not with this gown,” replied Viola, rather pitifully. There was something in the young man's gaze and tone which she did not understand, but which she vaguely quivered before.
Harold certainly thought the corals were too young for Viola. Jane understood, and felt an unworthy triumph. Harold, who was young enough in actual years to be Viola's son, and was younger still by reason of his disposition, was amused by the sight of her in corals, although he did not intend to betray his amusement. He considered Viola in corals as too rude a jest to share with her. Had poor Viola once grasped Harold Lind's estimation of her she would have as soon gazed upon herself in her coffin. Harold's comprehension of the essentials was beyond Jane Carew's. It was fairly ghastly, partaking of the nature of X-rays, but it never disturbed Harold Lind. He went along his dance-track undisturbed, his blue eyes never losing their high lights of glee, his lips never losing their inscrutable smile at some happy understanding between life and himself. Harold had fair hair, which was very smooth and glossy. His skin was like a girl's. He was so beautiful that he showed cleverness in an affectation of carelessness in dress. He did not like to wear evening clothes, because they had necessarily to be immaculate. That evening Jane regarded him with an inward criticism that he was too handsome for a man. She told Viola so when the dinner was over and he and the other guests had gone.
“He is very handsome,” she said, “but I never like to see a man quite so handsome.”
“You will change your mind when you see him in tweeds,” returned Viola. “He loathes evening clothes.”
Jane regarded her anxiously. There was something in Viola's tone which disturbed and shocked her. It was inconceivable that Viola should be in love with that youth, and yet — “He looks very young,” said Jane in a prim voice.
“He is young,” admitted Viola; “still, not quite so young as he looks. Sometimes I tell him he will look like a boy if he lives to be eighty.”
“Well, he must be very young,” persisted Jane.
“Yes,” said Viola, but she did not say how young. Viola herself, now that the excitement was over, did not look so young as at the beginning of the evening. She removed the corals, and Jane considered that she looked much better without them.
“Thank you for your corals, dear,” said Viola. “Where Is Margaret?”
Margaret answered for herself by a tap on the door. She and Viola's maid, Louisa, had been sitting on an upper landing, out of sight, watching the guests down-stairs. Margaret took the corals and placed them in their nest in the jewel-case, also the amethysts, after Viola had gone. The jewel-case was a curious old affair with many compartments. The amethysts required two. The comb was so large that it had one for itself. That was the reason why Margaret did not discover that evening that it was gone. Nobody discovered it for three days, when Viola had a little card-party. There was a whist-table for Jane, who had never given up the reserved and stately game. There were six tables in Viola's pretty living-room, with a little conservatory at one end and a leaping hearth fire at the other. Jane's partner was a stout old gentleman whose wife was shrieking with merriment at an auction-bridge table. The other whist-players were a stupid, very small young man who was aimlessly willing to play anything, and an amiable young woman who believed in self-denial. Jane played conscientiously. She returned trump leads, and played second hand low, and third high, and it was not until the third rubber was over that she saw. It had been in full evidence from the first. Jane would have seen it before the guests arrived, but Viola had not put it in her hair until the last moment. Viola was wild with delight, yet shamefaced and a trifle uneasy. In a soft, white gown, with violets at her waist, she was playing with Harold Lind, and in her ash-blond hair was Jane Carew's amethyst comb. Jane gasped and paled. The amiable young woman who was her opponent stared at her. Finally she spoke in a low voice.
“Aren't you well, Miss Carew?” she asked.
The men, in their turn, stared. The stout one rose fussily. “Let me get a glass of water,” he said. The stupid small man stood up and waved his hands with nervousness.
“Aren't you well?” asked the amiable young lady again.
Then Jane Carew recovered her poise. It was seldom that she lost it. “I am quite well, thank you, Miss Murdock,” she replied. “I believe diamonds are trumps.”
They all settled again to the play, but the young lady and the two men continued glancing at Miss Carew. She had recovered her dignity of manner, but not her color. Moreover, she had a bewildered expression. Resolutely she abstained from glancing again at her amethyst comb in Viola Longstreet's ash-blond hair, and gradually, by a course of subconscious reasoning as she carefully played her cards, she arrived at a conclusion which caused her color to return and the bewildered expression to disappear. When refreshments were served, the amiable young lady said, kindly:
“You look quite yourself, now, dear Miss Carew, but at one time while we were playing I was really alarmed. You were very pale.”
“I did not feel in the least ill,” replied Jane Carew. She smiled her Carew smile at the young lady. Jane had settled it with herself that of course Viola had borrowed that amethyst comb, appealing to Margaret. Viola ought not to have done that; she should have asked her, Miss Carew; and Jane wondered, because Viola was very well bred; but of course that was what had happened. Jane had come down before Viola, leaving Margaret in her room, and Viola had asked her. Jane did not then remember that Viola had not even been told that there was an amethyst comb in existence. She remembered when Margaret, whose face was as pale and bewildered as her own, mentioned it, when she was brushing her hair.
“I saw it, first thing, Miss Jane,” said Margaret. “Louisa and I were on the landing, and I looked down and saw your amethyst comb in Mrs. Longstreet's hair.”
“She had asked you for it, because I had gone down-stairs?” asked Jane, feebly.
“No, Miss Jane. I had not seen her. I went out right after you did. Louisa had finished Mrs. Longstreet, and she and I went down to the mail-box to post a letter, and then we sat on the landing, and — I saw your comb.”
“Have you,” asked Jane, “looked in the jewel-case?”
“Yes, Miss Jane.”
“And it is not there?”
“It is not there, Miss Jane.” Margaret spoke with a sort of solemn intoning. She recognized what the situation implied, and she, who fitted squarely and entirely into her humble state, was aghast before a hitherto unimagined occurrence. She could not, even with the evidence of her senses against a lady and her mistress's old friend, believe in them. Had Jane told her firmly that she had not seen that comb in that ash-blond hair she might have been hypnotized into agreement. But Jane simply stared at her, and the Carew dignity was more shaken than she had ever seen it.
“Bring the jewel-case here, Margaret,” ordered Jane in a gasp.
Margaret brought the jewel-case, and everything was taken out; all the compartments were opened, but the amethyst comb was not there. Jane could not sleep that night. At dawn she herself doubted the evidence of her senses. The jewel-case was thoroughly overlooked again, and still Jane was incredulous that she would ever see her comb in Viola's hair again. But that evening, although there were no guests except Harold Lind, who dined at the house, Viola appeared in a pink-tinted gown, with a knot of violets at her waist, and — she wore the amethyst comb. She said not one word concerning it; nobody did. Harold Lind was in wild spirits. The conviction grew upon Jane that the irresponsible, beautiful youth was covertly amusing himself at her, at Viola's, at everybody's expense. Perhaps he included himself. He talked incessantly, not in reality brilliantly, but with an effect of sparkling effervescence which was fairly dazzling. Viola's servants restrained with difficulty their laughter at his sallies. Viola regarded Harold with ill-concealed tenderness and admiration. She herself looked even younger than usual, as if the innate youth in her leaped to meet this charming comrade.
Jane felt sickened by it all. She could not understand her friend. Not for one minute did she dream that there could be any serious outcome of the situation; that Viola would marry this mad youth, who, she knew, was making such covert fun at her expense; but she was bewildered and indignant. She wished that she had not come. That evening when she went to her room she directed Margaret to pack, as she intended to return home the next day. Margaret began folding gowns with alacrity. She was as conservative as her mistress and she severely disapproved of many things. However, the matter of the amethyst comb was uppermost in her mind. She was wild with curiosity. She hardly dared inquire, but finally she did.
“About the amethyst comb, ma'am?” she said, with a delicate cough.
“What about it, Margaret?” returned Jane, severely.
“I thought perhaps Mrs. Longstreet had told you how she happened to have it.”
Poor Jane Carew had nobody in whom to confide. For once she spoke her mind to her maid. “She has not said one word. And, oh, Margaret, I don't know what to think of it.”
Margaret pursed her lips.
“What do you think, Margaret?”
“I don't know, Miss Jane.”
“I did not mention it to Louisa,” said Margaret.
“Oh, I hope not!” cried Jane.
“But she did to me,” said Margaret. “She asked had I seen Miss Viola's new comb, and then she laughed, and I thought from the way she acted that —” Margaret hesitated.
“That she meant Mr. Lind had given Miss Viola the comb.”
Jane started violently. “Absolutely impossible!” she cried. “That, of course, is nonsense. There must be some explanation. Probably Mrs. Longstreet will explain before we go.”
Mrs. Longstreet did not explain. She wondered and expostulated when Jane announced her firm determination to leave, but she seemed utterly at a loss for the reason. She did not mention the comb.
When Jane Carew took leave of her old friend she was entirely sure in her own mind that she would never visit her again — might never even see her again.
Jane was unutterably thankful to be back in her own peaceful home, over which no shadow of absurd mystery brooded; only a calm afternoon light of life, which disclosed gently but did not conceal or betray. Jane settled back into her pleasant life, and the days passed, and the weeks, and the months, and the years. She heard nothing whatever from or about Viola Longstreet for three years. Then, one day, Margaret returned from the city, and she had met Viola's old maid Louisa in a department store, and she had news. Jane wished for strength to refuse to listen, but she could not muster it. She listened while Margaret brushed her hair.
“Louisa has not been with Miss Viola for a long time,” said Margaret. “She is living with somebody else. Miss Viola lost her money, and had to give up her house and her servants, and Louisa said she cried when she said good-by.”
Jane made an effort. “What became of —” she began.
Margaret answered the unfinished sentence. She was excited by gossip as by a stimulant. Her thin cheeks burned, her eyes blazed. “Mr. Lind,” said Margaret, “Louisa told me, had turned out to be real bad. He got into some money trouble, and then” — Margaret lowered her voice — “he was arrested for taking a lot of money which didn't belong to him. Louisa said he had been in some business where he handled a lot of other folks' money, and he cheated the men who were in the business with him, and he was tried, and Miss Viola, Louisa thinks, hid away somewhere so they wouldn't call her to testify, and then he had to go to prison; but —” Margaret hesitated.
“What is it?” asked Jane.
“Louisa thinks he died about a year and a half ago. She heard the lady where she lives now talking about it. The lady used to know Miss Viola, and she heard the lady say Mr. Lind had died in prison, that he couldn't stand the hard life, and that Miss Viola had lost all her money through him, and then” — Margaret hesitated again, and her mistress prodded sharply — “Louisa said that she heard the lady say that she had thought Miss Viola would marry him, but she hadn't, and she had more sense than she had thought.”
“Mrs. Longstreet would never for one moment have entertained the thought of marrying Mr. Lind; he was young enough to be her grandson,” said Jane, severely.
“Yes, ma'am,” said Margaret.
It so happened that Jane went to New York that day week, and at a jewelry counter in one of the shops she discovered the amethyst comb. There were on sale a number of bits of antique jewelry, the precious flotsam and jetsam of old and wealthy families which had drifted, nobody knew before what currents of adversity, into that harbor of sale for all the world to see. Jane made no inquiries; the saleswoman volunteered simply the information that the comb was a real antique, and the stones were real amethysts and pearls, and the setting was solid gold, and the price was thirty dollars; and Jane bought it. She carried her old amethyst comb home, but she did not show it to anybody. She replaced it in its old compartment in her jewel-case and thought of it with wonder, with a hint of joy at regaining it, and with much sadness. She was still fond of Viola Longstreet. Jane did not easily part with her loves. She did not know where Viola was. Margaret had inquired of Louisa, who did not know. Poor Viola had probably drifted into some obscure harbor of life wherein she was hiding until life was over.
And then Jane met Viola one spring day on Fifth Avenue.
“It is a very long time since I have seen you,” said Jane with a reproachful accent, but her eyes were tenderly inquiring.
“Yes,” agreed Viola. Then she added, “I have seen nobody. Do you know what a change has come in my life?” she asked.
“Yes, dear,” replied Jane, gently. “My Margaret met Louisa once and she told her.”
“Oh yes — Louisa,” said Viola. “I had to discharge her. My money is about gone. I have only just enough to keep the wolf from entering the door of a hall bedroom in a respectable boarding-house. However, I often hear him howl, but I do not mind at all. In fact, the howling has become company for me. I rather like it. It is queer what things one can learn to like. There are a few left yet, like the awful heat in summer, and the food, which I do not fancy, but that is simply a matter of time.”
Viola's laugh was like a bird's song — a part of her — and nothing except death could silence it for long.
“Then,” said Jane, “you stay in New York all summer?”
Viola laughed again. “My dear,” she replied, “of course. It is all very simple. If I left New York, and paid board anywhere, I would never have enough money to buy my return fare, and certainly not to keep that wolf from my hall-bedroom door.”
“Then,” said Jane, “you are going home with me.”
“I cannot consent to accept charity, Jane,” said Viola. “Don't ask me.”
Then, for the first time in her life, Viola Longstreet saw Jane Carew's eyes blaze with anger. “You dare to call it charity coming from me to you?” she said, and Viola gave in.
When Jane saw the little room where Viola lived, she marveled, with the exceedingly great marveling of a woman to whom love of a man has never come, at a woman who could give so much and with no return.
Little enough to pack had Viola. Jane understood with a shudder of horror that it was almost destitution, not poverty, to which her old friend was reduced.
“You shall have that northeast room which you always liked,” she told Viola when they were on the train.
“The one with the old-fashioned peacock paper, and the pine-tree growing close to one window?” said Viola, happily.
Jane and Viola settled down to life together, and Viola, despite the tragedy which she had known, realized a peace and happiness beyond her imagination. In reality, although she still looked so youthful, she was old enough to enjoy the pleasures of later life. Enjoy them she did to the utmost. She and Jane made calls together, entertained friends at small and stately dinners, and gave little teas. They drove about in the old Carew carriage. Viola had some new clothes. She played very well on Jane's old piano. She embroidered, she gardened. She lived the sweet, placid life of an older lady in a little village, and loved it. She never mentioned Harold Lind.
Not among the vicious of the earth was poor Harold Lind; rather among those of such beauty and charm that the earth spoils them, making them, in their own estimation, free guests at all its tables of bounty. Moreover, the young man had, deeply rooted in his character, the traits of a mischievous child, rejoicing in his mischief more from a sense of humor so keen that it verged on cruelty than from any intention to harm others. Over that affair of the amethyst comb, for instance, his irresponsible, selfish, childish soul had fairly reveled in glee. He had not been fond of Viola, but he liked her fondness for himself. He had made sport of her, but only for his own entertainment — never for the entertainment of others. He was a beautiful creature, seeking out paths of pleasure and folly for himself alone, which ended as do all paths of earthly pleasure and folly. Harold had admired Viola, but from the same point of view as Jane Carew's. Viola had, when she looked her youngest and best, always seemed so old as to be venerable to him. He had at times compunctions, as if he were making a jest of his grandmother. Viola never knew the truth about the amethyst comb. He had considered that one of the best frolics of his life. He had simply purloined it and presented it to Viola, and merrily left matters to settle themselves.
Viola and Jane had lived together a month before the comb was mentioned. Then one day Viola was in Jane's room and the jewel-case was out, and she began examining its contents. When she found the amethyst comb she gave a little cry. Jane, who had been seated at her desk and had not seen what was going on, turned around.
Viola stood holding the comb, and her cheeks were burning. She fondled the trinket as if it had been a baby. Jane watched her. She began to understand the bare facts of the mystery of the disappearance of her amethyst comb, but the subtlety of it was forever beyond her. Had the other woman explained what was in her mind, in her heart — how that reckless young man whom she had loved had given her the treasure because he had heard her admire Jane's amethysts, and she, all unconscious of any wrong-doing, had ever regarded it as the one evidence of his thoughtful tenderness, it being the one gift she had ever received from him; how she parted with it, as she had parted with her other jewels, in order to obtain money to purchase comforts for him while he was in prison — Jane could not have understood. The fact of an older woman being fond of a young man, almost a boy, was beyond her mental grasp. She had no imagination with which to comprehend that innocent, pathetic, almost terrible love of one who has trodden the earth long for one who has just set dancing feet upon it. It was noble of Jane Carew that, lacking all such imagination, she acted as she did: that, although she did not, could not, formulate it to herself, she would no more have deprived the other woman and the dead man of that one little unscathed bond of tender goodness than she would have robbed his grave of flowers.
Viola looked at her. “I cannot tell you all about it; you would laugh at me,” she whispered; “but this was mine once.”
“It is yours now, dear,” said Jane.