From Woman's Home Companion Vol. XXXV No. 12 (December, 1908)
“He ain't,” said one woman sharply.
“He is,” said another woman.
The woman who had said “He is” was very large and very compact. She was a wide, flat-chested creature of great physical strength, but her face was charmingly soft and feminine, full of tender curves, and with a sweet expression ordinarily, although now it had the fierce, sharpened outline of an enraged mother bird. A beak seemed suggested between those narrowed, concentrated eyes, as she defended William Henderson. She had kept house and taken care of his mother before him. She now kept house and took care of him. Her name was Annis Drake, and she was assisted by young Emma Dodd, a distant relative of hers. Henderson had declared that she should be assisted, hence the advent of Emma, yellow haired and pink faced and blue eyed, with an expression of such utter sameness that she always impressed a caller almost like a piece of furniture.
Emma had stated, with regard to William Henderson, “He ain't bright, I guess,” keeping her china-blue eyes wide. She viewed with perfect serenity the older woman's tense face, all strained to defend him. When she said “He ain't,” she smiled again, and Annis wanted to take her by her pretty, girlish shoulders and shake her.
“He's enough sight brighter than you or any of your folks ever thought of being,” said Annis, and she stamped her great foot.
Then Emma had an unwonted illumination. The china-blue eyes surveyed Annis without a wink, but Emma said, “My folks are the same as your folks.”
Annis looked nonplussed for a second, then she rose equal to the occasion. “Your father is a Dodd, ain't he?” she demanded.
“And your ma was a Simkins?”
“Yes, ma'am.” Emma saw that she was being trapped.
“Well, the Dodds ain't relation to me anyhow, and as for the Simkinses, your Grandma Smith married a Simkins, and he wasn't any relation to my folks, and your Grandma Jones wasn't any blood relation to my folks; she only married Simon J. Jones, who was my mother's half-brother. My mother married a Jones for her second husband, and he was your ma's father. If there's any relationship it's pretty near petered out by this time, I guess.”
“Mr. William is enough sight brighter than your folks,” repeated Annis Drake, and this time there was no dissent. Emma only smiled and took another stitch in the shirt waist which she was making. Her eyes, bent over their task, looked like blue flowers. Emma's eyes, as well as her mind, gave back pictures of pretty, dainty shirt waists for herself, and nothing else.
“Mr. William lets the Satterlees live in his house and not pay rent,” said she presently. “That's why people say he ain't bright. They say that Mr. Wyman Satterlee makes a lot of money, and lets Mrs. Satterlee have it all to spend for Dora and her own self. They say she spends it all on clothes, and going to the city, and things for the house, and having parties, so there ain't enough money left for the rent, and Mr. William ain't —”
“You stop right there!” cried Annis Drake. “Go and set the table. It's most time for Mr. William to come home.”
It was a very hot afternoon. The distances swam like undulating serpents of filmy heat. The horizon was a livid violet. There was no wind stirring, and the leaves of the trees and the grape vine which grew over the piazza hung limply, like green rags. Just outside was an old-fashioned garden, and the kaleidoscopic beds of phlox, zinnias, poppies, and so on, stood transfixed in sun-baked soil, every bright head dejected.
Annis' face was a fiery red. She was arrayed in thick purple calico. Her black hair lay like strands of wet silk over her moist red temples, her fingers, handling her crochet needles, were wet and sticky, but she set her spiritual face against these material facts. When William Henderson came up the steps and sat down beside her, and said something about the heat, she replied that she did not think it was near as hot as it had been yesterday. “Folks think too much about the weather,” said she.
Henderson laughed. He gazed at the network of green leaves on the left with the red-gold rays of the sun filtering through. He did not look uncomfortably warm. His smooth, fair-skinned face was unflushed; there was not a drop of moisture on his full temples. His blond hair, golden in certain lights, was as fluffy as a girl's. He was immaculate as to glossy linen and light gray business suit.
Henderson did not say anything for a while. He was given to sitting still and gazing at things with unseeing blue eyes. He had the eyes of a genius, although he had never done anything remarkable. He had sat, ever since he had come to manhood, for the greater part of the time, in a luxuriously furnished little law office, which had been his father's before him. He had an income sufficient for his needs. It did not trouble him in the least that few clients came to his office. He was content to smoke, and read, and talk with a few men whom he liked, who were in the habit of often calling, being dawdlers upon life's road, like himself.
Sometimes Henderson took himself to task for being a dawdler, and always ended in a perplexed frame of mind. It did not seem to him that he was ever exactly idle. His work might amount to nothing tangible, to be seen of men, but when he sat, as now, with his mind an apparent blank, was he exactly idle? His mind was not in a turmoil of labor over problems, but it was receiving impressions. Receptivity is sometimes the most exhausting task of any. Just now the man, with his blue eyes fixed upon the grape vines sifted through with fiery-red sun rays, was digesting, as it were, an impression lately received, of a girl standing in a gap of a tall box hedge, with a clump of wonderful Japan lilies at her right, and a great green feathery bush at her left, and in the background a rather pretentious old white house, upon the porch of which there was a gay gleam of feminine draperies swaying with the motion of flowers in a light wind.
The girl was slender, and with a blond rosiness, although her hair was a silky dark brown, and her eyes were round and brown, and full of deep melancholy and a pitiful wonder. This girl had been clad like a young princess in a white gown, all hand work and lace, with glimpses of silk and lace swirling around her little white-shod feet when she moved, and a lovely rosy glow of slim arms and neck through the fine textures which covered them, and the gleam of pearls around the tender, girlish throat. She had been overdressed, even to his masculine mind. She would have been quite presentable at a millionaire's garden party, yet her father was employed in the city upon a small salary, and they rented the white house in the background from him, William Henderson.
The girl, Dora Satterlee, had bowed to him and allowed him to pass. Then she called after him in a faint, tremulous voice, “Mr. Henderson!” There was a piteous look in her face and her upward roll of brown eyes when he turned back interrogatively.
“There was something I — wanted to say,” faltered Dora Satterlee.
Henderson had stood with raised hat, waiting politely. The girl had flushed, the red mounting before his eyes from her slender, pearl-encircled throat to the smooth toss of brown hair over her temples. Then she had paled. Henderson had realized suddenly an enormous pity for the child; he had also realized how extremely pretty she was, and yet that last realization had not been after the usual fashion of a man. He had never thought seriously of marrying. The reason for that lay very deep in his nature. He remembered his mother, a poor little invalid creature, and in his heart of hearts he pitied women so intensely that he shrank from them as he might have shrunk from touching a butterfly whose delicate wings might almost be injured by a look. Then, too, his quiet, dreamy nature rendered him easily content in his wonted paths.
He therefore regarded Dora Satterlee with an abstract admiration and a quick wonder and sympathy. He wanted to say, “What is the matter?” as to a child, but Dora Satterlee was a young lady, past twenty. “What is the matter?” would sound horribly crude. So he said nothing. He waited. Then the flush came again over the girl's face and neck and arms. She colored so deeply that she was almost ugly. Her forehead also became furrowed like one of middle age.
“I had a talk with father this morning,” said she.
The remark had been wholly unexpected, and Henderson had been puzzled. He bowed and waited. Poor Dora went on, almost stammering.
“He — feels very badly about the rent,” she quavered.
Then Henderson had colored and made a gesture of dissent. “Oh, there is no need,” he began; but the girl, suddenly firm, interrupted him.
“Yes, there is need,” she said decidedly. The furrows vanished. Her look at Henderson, while piteous, was also clear and determined.
“I did not know until this morning,” said she, “until I questioned father. I — did not know that we were living in a house for which we had not paid rent in so long. Father had not told me. He said he was afraid it would trouble me. Father knows how I feel about such things. He feels as I do. But — father's salary is so small, and it takes so much to live. I told father I thought we ought to move into a smaller house, with less rent, and try to save enough money to pay you.”
“Oh, no,” said Henderson. He was becoming more distressed than the girl.
“Father would be willing,” said Dora. “Father and I think alike about most things, but mother is used to this house, and it seems like home to her, and —”
“Of course,” said Henderson. “Never mind.”
“But I do mind. What I wanted to say was that in some way your rent shall be paid. I have been thinking it over all day. I don't quite see my way clear, but I shall.” Again the smooth forehead was furrowed.
“Wait until it is cooler,” suggested Henderson. “Really I am not in the least in need of — the money. Wait until the weather is more favorable for mathematical problems.”
He had tried to laugh facetiously, but the girl had not laughed. Indeed, she had turned upon him rebukingly. “It is no laughing matter, Mr. Henderson,” said she. “It is a very serious matter to both my father and myself to feel that we are living in your house and not making you any adequate return. We are not living on your bounty from deliberate choice. I feel that you must know that, and so I have been waiting here until you passed on your way home.”
“In the sun, too, this hot day,” said Henderson. “You should not have done it. Pray do not fret yourself over it any longer, Miss Dora.”
“I most certainly shall fret until you are paid,” replied the girl with almost angry dignity, “and father will, too. We are neither of us paupers or beggars in spirit. I will not keep you standing here in the heat longer, Mr. Henderson. I have said what I wished to say.”
With that the girl had bowed rather haughtily, and had gone, with a swirl of her white draperies, revealing slender, white-clad ankles and little feet in foolish, high-heeled shoes; and there were left only the clump of wonderful Japan lilies, which looked like flowers of silver dew and pale fire on one side, and the feathery green bush on the other; and Henderson had heard, as he went down the street, shrill, jesting voices and high-pitched laughter from the piazza. He knew that Mrs. Satterlee was having a house party.
Nobody in West Reading had ever heard of house parties until Mrs. Wyman Satterlee had inaugurated them. Dora had been about five when the Satterlees came to the village. Mrs. Satterlee had begun her house parties at once. Never a week's end, at least throughout the summer, autumn and spring, that the house was not filled with guests. Mrs. Wyman Satterlee assembled a rather queer set, judging from their outward appearance, for these parties. Oftener than not there was some celebrity, about whom West Reading people knew little, but they would be invited to meet them Saturday evenings (Mrs. Satterlee always entertained on Saturday evenings), and they bowed down before them in a state of mystification which they found, upon the whole, rather exhilarating.
During the first years Mrs. Satterlee's guests arrived on railroad trains; lately there had been automobile parties. A large touring car stood in the driveway that night, as Henderson had been talking to Dora Satterlee at the hedge gap.
Henderson sat on the porch thinking, quite unconscious of Annis, when suddenly she spoke.
“Have them Satterlees paid their rent yet, may I ask, Mr. William?” said she. William turned from his unseeing scrutiny of the grape leaves with a start.
“No, Annis; but I am not in the least inconvenienced, and Mr. Satterlee has a small salary, you know.”
“Then why on earth does she have them big parties every Saturday, with folks coming in automobiles, if her husband ain't got the means?”
“I have heard that Mrs. Satterlee has always been used to living in such a way, and entertaining,” said Henderson.
Annis sniffled. Her sweet face assumed a scornful expression much out of keeping. “Stuff!” said she. “I don't believe she has at all.”
“I don't know,” said Henderson rather lamely.
“Well, I know,” said Annis with decision. “I know some folks build up reputations out of air, and other folks are fools enough to really believe there's solid stone underpinning.”
“I don't know,” said Henderson again. He was considerably astounded at Annis.
“I think you ought to have your rent paid,” said she, rolling up her lace and transfixing it with her needles.
“I think it will be paid,” said Henderson.
“It had ought to be,” said Annis. “Folks are talking.”
“Talking?” repeated Henderson vaguely.
Annis rose. She viewed him as if he were a little boy who stood in sore need of admonition. “Yes,” said she. “They are talking. They — say you ain't bright to let yourself be imposed on so, and rent your house to folks who never pay rent. They do say you ain't bright.”
Henderson stared a moment, then he burst into a peal of laughter.
“It ain't any laughing matter to me,” said Annis. “I've got to go in and make the blackberry shortcake. That girl can't do it. I don't like to hear folks talk that way about you, because you let yourself be put upon as if you were underwitted.”
Henderson continued to laugh after Annis had left him. Then he stared again at the green weave of the grape vine, and again let his thoughts dwell upon Dora Satterlee. He thought what a cruel thing it was that a creature like that girl should be so distressed by such a matter as unpaid rent. He felt bitter toward her father because he had told her. “Poor little thing!” he said to himself. “Here she is trying to plan how to pay that miserable thirty-five dollars a month, when she ought not to have a thing in her head except the happiness of her own youth.”
Then he fell to thinking that thirty-five dollars a month was certainly a most exorbitant rent. What if the house were large, and kept in excellent repair? What if there had been that matter of the stable repairs? What if there were so much land, and he had a chance only the month before to rent for forty-five? He resolved that he ought not to accept a penny more than thirty dollars a month. He brought his chair down on all fours, took a pencil and note book from his pocket, and began to figure. He deducted five dollars a month from all the arrearage of rent, and felt the most inconsequent thrill of delight when he ascertained what a very material sum the reduction amounted to.
When Emma called him to dinner the man had an exultant sense of having that sum actually in pocket, instead of having voluntarily deprived himself of it. He resolved that he would go over that evening and tell Satterlee of the reduction. He ate his dinner with a good appetite, and felt extraordinarily happy. He had to wait until after dusk before making his call, and occupied some of this time in adjusting a fresh collar and tie, and while doing so he viewed himself rather critically in the glass. He saw a very handsome face of a good, clean, middle-aged man, who had lived at peace with the world, and it pleased him. He realized within himself the most perfect good will toward all his kind, and this good will charmed his spiritual sense like some perfume emanating from his own character. He was not egotistical, but the knowledge that he was not evil, that he was full of benevolence and good intent, was agreeable to him. Again he thought of Dora Satterlee, and felt toward her such a poignant sense of pity and sympathy that it amounted to actual pain. He seemed to see her lovely, piteous little face beside his own, and a tenderness which was not love, but simply a refinement and concentration of his usual sentiment toward all poor humanity, made his heart beat rapidly. Again he thought of that sum which he intended to deduct from the amount due him from her father, and felt as if it had been given to him. He had never had a gift in which he felt so much delight.
He went downstairs, and seated himself on the piazza. It was still very hot and there was little wind stirring. The noise of the summer insects rose and fell in great waves, like some tide of Nature. The trees began gradually to lose individual outlines, and to mass in soft shadows. Fireflies came out on the lawn and among the foliage of the trees and shrubs, moving about in tangled swarms, like shifting constellations. The sky was green, like beryl, and presently out of it shone a great planet. Henderson was very happy. That consciousness of a gift which lies in giving made him fairly radiant. He began to consider the possibility of giving Wyman Satterlee a receipt for the whole amount of the rent due, then his forehead knitted. He knew Wyman Satterlee, and recognized the fact that he would resent such an offer. Satterlee was a proud man, and the prouder for his many humiliations. Henderson was well aware of that. He began to wonder uneasily if the other man would accept even the reduction of the debt which he dared offer. Then a bright idea came to him. He would reduce the rent upon a condition; Satterlee should agree to make all necessary repairs during the next year. That might salve his wounded pride.
When the dark was fairly on, and the sky was full of stars, fainter than usual through a mist which was making the lawn and shadows pallid and dimming the sparks of the fireflies, William rose and sauntered down the path of his front yard. He heard a door open behind him, and called to Annis, “I'm going out; shall be back in a half hour or so,” and Annis replied in her sweet, admonishing voice, “Very well, Mr. William.”
When William reached the Satterlee house he saw lighted Japanese lanterns swinging from the piazza roof, and heard a merry jangle of voices, interspersed with shrill bursts of laughter. At the hedge gap he started, for two forms emerged suddenly out of the indeterminate dusk.
“Good-evening,” he said, and Wyman Satterlee and his daughter Dora answered him. William could see, even in the darkness, that the other man drew himself up haughtily, and he recognized the constraint in his voice. After some remarks upon the heat, he passed at once to the object of his call, although uneasily. He wished heartily that the girl were not there, but directly, when he had said to Satterlee that he wished to speak to him upon a matter of business, she drew her arm through her father's and stood clinging to him, with her head canted defiantly toward Henderson. When Henderson had made known his errand, there was a silence of a second, then Satterlee spoke in a hoarse voice.
“I have no wish to be released from any of my obligations,” said he, and his daughter echoed him, her angry young voice breaking.
“No,” said she. “Of course father wishes to pay every cent he owes, Mr. Henderson.”
“But in consideration that all repairs during the next twelve months be made by you —” urged Henderson feebly. He was in the ridiculous position of urging an unsolicited and unwelcome favor upon a man. But Satterlee answered as if he did not owe him a dollar, and had millions at his command. Whatever he might owe, the intent of the man to pay was unimpeachable.
“You know as well as I do that no repairs will be necessary within one or two years, Mr. Henderson,” said he, and Henderson was silent, for that was quite true.
“You may mean well, but you are treating me as if I did not intend to pay my debts,” said Satterlee in his miserable, proud voice.
“I do not mean to treat you so,” said William. He himself felt humiliated. His generosity had struck him in the face. How was one to forgive a debtor who treated forgiveness as an insult?
“I mean to pay you every penny I owe you, Mr. Henderson, and I wish for no reduction. All I ask for is time.”
“You shall have all the time you wish, Mr. Satterlee,” said William heartily; but the other man resented the heartiness. He had become abnormally sensitive. “I may not wish for much time, even,” he said.
Again his daughter echoed him. “Father will pay you very soon, I am sure, Mr. Henderson,” she said.
It ended in William's practically begging pardon for his generous offer from these proud debtors of his, and walking home defeated in his good purpose. He was absurdly upset over the whole affair, but he would have been still more disturbed had he known what was going on between the two whom he had left.
Poor young Dora pressed her father's arm tenderly with her own slender, bare one, and laid her cheek against his shoulder.
“Don't you mind one bit, father dear,” she whispered. But Wyman Satterlee leaned his head down over her silky crown of hair, and groaned the groan of the utterly defeated. “My God, that it should come to this!” he muttered. He felt that he hated Henderson. He had felt humiliated before him, now he hated him.
“He meant well, father,” said Dora. “I really think he meant well.”
“I don't care what he meant,” groaned Satterlee. “He has made me feel like a beggar. When I make a bargain to pay a price, I make it, and I will pay it, too, not one penny less.” Satterlee made another inarticulate sound of misery and defeat.
“Don't mind, father dear,” said Dora. “I will do something to help you.”
“You, you poor child? What can you do?”
“I don't know,” said Dora. The two stood clinging together. The sympathy of his daughter was inexpressibly sweet to the man. Both could hear the strident voices and laughter from the piazza. The glow from the Japanese lanterns made little pools of light around them.
“If —” said Satterlee, but he did not finish. He was not come to the pass of decrying his wife to her own daughter, but Dora knew what might have followed the “if.”
“Come, we ought to go back to them,” said Wyman.
“I don't like so much company all the time,” whispered Dora, as they passed toward the house between the odorous box.
“Your mother enjoys society,” Wyman whispered patiently.
Then they came to the piazza where Mrs. Satterlee held court in the midst of her guests, conspicuous even in the dim light by reason of her blond bulk and her magnificent head of light hair. She was showily dressed in a peculiar shade of blue crêpe de chine, which lost none of its tone in the medleyed light, and turquoises set about with diamonds showed whenever she moved her hands. They were very large turquoises, quite covering some of her finger joints, and she also wore a chain of them joined by links of gold. Close beside her sat a large man with an enormous ruby blazing on his little finger. He owned the red touring car. He did not alter his adoring attitude when Wyman and Dora came up the piazza steps. Mrs. Satterlee's guests paid very little attention to Wyman. They would have paid much to Dora, but she was so unmistakably stiff and scornful that they, for the most part, let her alone. Wyman and Dora sat apart, and the girl kept her father's hand in hers. Both were miserable, but neither had a real apprehension of all the reasons for their misery.
That was the last night of their lives when they sat with the wife and mother, the truth all unknown to them. The next day the town rang with the news; Mrs. Wyman Satterlee had eloped with the owner of the red motor car. She had tired of her life with Wyman Satterlee. She had reached the limit of her power to extort from him, and she felt that the treasures of this world were hers by right, if not to be attained in one way, to be attained in another.
When William heard the news he was first incredulous, then, when convinced, in a rage of helplessness. Annis, who had told him, sat watching him, her tender, maternal face working with pure sympathy.
“That poor, pretty little girl!” she said, “and that poor man, who has slaved for his wife all these years! It is awful.”
“The worst of it is, nobody can do a blessed thing to help them,” said William.
“I don't see myself what anybody can do,” agreed Annis. “She has run off with another man and disgraced them, and that is all there is to it. You can't make it or undo it.”
“As for saying they are disgraced, that is nonsense,” returned William.
“Nobody can't do nothing wrong in this world without some of it slopping over on the heads of them that belong to them, no matter how innocent they be,” said Annis.
That night William sat on his piazza revolving the matter in his mind. It seemed to him that he must do something. But what? It would be manifestly absurd, even insulting, for him to call and condole with Wyman in such a case. If he had been proud with regard to the rent, what would he be with regard to this? And the girl — William shuddered when he thought of the proud innocence of the girl. He felt that he could not face them, that he could do nothing. And just as he had arrived at that conclusion, an infinitely sad, terrified voice sounded at his elbow.
He looked up, and there was Dora Satterlee, who had come unheard, and was standing before him, wringing little white clasped hands in an utter abandonment of distress. There was a high east wind that night, and her white skirts fluttered about her, and her hair tossed.
“Oh, Mr. Henderson!” she said again.
“Yes, child. Try to be calm and tell me. I will help you. There, there, don't be afraid. What is it?”
“Father —” she quavered out. She caught her breath, then went on distinctly. “Father and I were in the library,” said she, “and just now, when we were talking, he gave a little cry and turned dreadfully pale, and sank down all in a heap in his chair, and I couldn't bring him to, and I came here.”
Then the girl broke down, sobbing hysterically. “Oh, oh,” she cried, “you know about Her. Poor father; it has killed him! Oh, what shall I do, what shall I do?”
William turned to Annis, who stood in the doorway. “Annis,” he said, “Mr. Satterlee has been taken suddenly ill, and Miss Dora has come here for help. You had better —” He hesitated, looking at Dora. “Where are the servants? Have you sent for Doctor Lee?”
“The servants are gone,” sobbed Dora.
“Were you all alone in the house with your father?”
Dora nodded. She could not speak. William turned to Annis. “Take her into the house,” he said, “and tell Emma to stay with her, and then you go as fast as you can to the Satterlee house, and I will go for Doctor Lee.”
But Dora interrupted. “No, no,” she cried. “I must go back to poor father.”
“Then Annis will go with you,” said William. “Annis, be as quick as you can. I will hurry the doctor over.”
With that, William was off, and as he ran, he heard the woman's soft voice behind him, soothing the worried girl, as they followed.
There was no question whatever from the first as to what had befallen poor Wyman Satterlee. He was not a young man, and a hard life, followed by this culmination, had been too much for him. The doctor and Henderson found him in his chair, his weary hands spread as if in protest against his hard fate. Annis took Dora upstairs into her own room, and stayed with her and strove to comfort her through what followed.
The girl clung to her at first, and obeyed like a child. She stayed at the Henderson house until after the funeral, then suddenly a change came over her. She became hard and determined. She insisted upon returning to her old home, and also insisted that Henderson should advertise the house as being to rent.
“Until you do rent it I will live there,” she said, “and I will pay you in time all that poor father owed.”
“But you cannot live there alone,” said William.
“I am not afraid,” said the girl quietly. “I must live there alone. I cannot afford to keep servants.”
It ended in Dora's having her own way, but Emma Dodd spent the nights with her. It was a month after Satterlee's death when Dora came to William Henderson's door one evening with a little roll of bank notes.
“I have come to make a payment on the rent,” she said quietly.
“But —” began William.
“I have come to make a payment on the rent,” she repeated. “I have one hundred dollars. I hope to have more soon. If I may come in, you can count it.”
William led the way into the library, and the girl in her black dress handed him the roll of notes, and seated herself while he counted them. He did so mechanically. All the time his mind was busy with surmises as to how she got so much money.
“I suppose, of course, you wonder how I got this money,” she said. “I am quite willing to tell you. I went to my dress-maker's in the city and asked her what she would give me for my clothes.”
“Your clothes!” gasped Henderson.
“Yes,” said she. “Of course I am wearing black, and have no further use for them, and I should not have had them in the first place. They cost far more than poor father could afford. Madame Soule gave me a hundred dollars for them. I hoped to get something for my pearls. Mother gave them to me. She has always told me they were heirlooms, but they were not real pearls, so I could get nothing for them. I am sorry.”
“But —” said William, looking at her, then at the money, in a helpless fashion, “I don't —”
“Will you be so kind as to write a receipt for a hundred dollars on account?” said she.
William wrote it. Anything so young and pitiful, yet so determined and businesslike as this girl, he had never seen. When he had given her the receipt she remained seated.
“There is something else,” said she. “I have discovered that, although you have had three applicants for the house I live in, you have refused to rent it. I am therefore determined to give it up. I do not wish to live there any longer. I have asked Doctor Lee, who wishes to rent the place, what he will give me for the furniture. He is going to be married next month, you know. He will give me enough for the furniture to wipe out all my indebtedness to you except a hundred and fifty dollars. That I wish to work out.”
“To work out?”
“Yes. I have tried to think what I could do. I don't know enough to teach. I cannot sew very well. I don't think I should like to work in a store. I cannot spend the time or money to take a course in stenography, and Emma Dodd is going to be married, and Annis says she would like to have me take her place, if you are willing. I will live here and do Emma's work, and pay you in that way.”
“You will do nothing of the sort.”
“What am I to do, then?”
“You will allow me to take you home. I need time to think this matter over, and one thing you are to understand. I do not wish to rent the house to anybody at present. To-morrow I shall take the sign down.”
Dora rose and looked at him, but he faced her, as determined as she.
“I will not live there any longer,” said Dora.
William made no reply. He got his hat from the rack, and Dora followed him out of the house. Standing in her own door, she repeated her statement. “I simply shall not continue to live here, Mr. Henderson.”
“Good-night, Miss Satterlee,” said he.
When he reached home he told Annis about it. “I don't know what is to be done,” he said, frowning. “As for having her take Emma's place, it is out of the question.”
“I told her so,” said Annis, “but she made me say I was willing if you was. I knew you wouldn't be.”
“Of course I am not. I must find some one to take Emma's place and to stay nights with Miss Satterlee,” said William.
“But she says she won't live in your house any longer, and I rather guess she's the kind that means it.”
“I don't care whether she means it or not,” William returned irritably. “She cannot be without a home, young and delicate as she is. I am going to think about it to-night, and have another talk with her in a day or two.”
But the next morning he found a letter in his post-office box which surprised and alarmed him. It seemed that Dora Satterlee had known her own mind, as Annis said. The letter was very short. In it she simply stated that she had found a way of earning her own living, that she had left his house for good, and wished him to dispose of the furniture in any way he chose, the proceeds to go toward the discharge of her indebtedness to him. She added that he had no cause to feel any anxiety as to her welfare, as she had a good position, and would be entirely safe.
William went home brooding, and showed the letter to Annis.
“What do you suppose has become of that foolish girl?” he said.
“Maybe she has went to some of her ma's folks. I've heard her ma came from the East somewheres,” said Annis without looking at him.
“I don't know but you are right, Annis,” he said. He became strengthened in his conviction after he discovered that the very night he had left Dora Satterlee standing in the doorway of her old home, Emma Dodd had chosen for a hurried marriage. “That poor child must have been alone there all that night,” he told Annis, “and in the morning got fairly desperate, and took that early train.”
“Most likely,” replied Annis, regarding him with a curious, sweet compassion.
About a month after Dora Satterlee's disappearance William, who had secretly become more and more uneasy, wrote to the postmaster of the little Massachusetts village which he recalled hearing mentioned as Mrs. Satterlee's native place. He inquired if there were at present any relatives of Mrs. Satterlee residing there, and obtained the address of a Miss Lucretia Loomis, who was a cousin of Mrs. Satterlee. He wrote to her, inquiring if Dora were with her, and waited anxiously for a letter, which came after three weeks. Miss Lucretia Loomis wrote sternly that she, for one, disclaimed all relationship with such a person as her recreant cousin, and that she knew nothing and cared nothing about the daughter.
After that William became more and more anxious. Secretly he began making inquiries through detective agencies. He dared not move openly, lest the matter get into the newspapers. Then, too, it was entirely possible that the girl was quite safe, as she had written him, and would resent any interference. He was absolutely unsuccessful in his efforts. Dora seemed to have disappeared from the face of the earth.
William in those days got a habit of melancholy brooding. The autumn was early that year, and the leaves began to fall early in October. One night, coming home from his office, treading a golden carpet of fallen maple leaves, he heard a melodious tumult above him, and looking up, saw a flight of swallows headed southward. He felt a mysterious sadness and sense of loneliness. He said to himself that he was an old man, that his golden leaves of youth had fallen beneath his feet, and his birds of hope had winged away from him. For almost the first time in his life he was utterly gloomy. His serene outlook upon the world had changed to a squint of distortion.
“Here I am,” he said to himself. “I was born into this mortal life. I have lived. I live, and shall die, and what of it all?”
When he reached home he sat down beside a window in his study and gazed out. The sun was low, but a golden maple tree just outside made an effect of sunshine in the room. As he sat there he realized, as he often had of late, a strange sense as of someone in the room. A presence seemed suggested to him, he could not tell by what subtle evidence. Sometimes he thought he noticed a perfume foreign to the place; sometimes it was an unexplained sound; sometimes it was a shadow for which he could not account.
As he sat there this sense of a strange presence deepened. Suddenly he noticed a little fluff of white on the floor. He reached down and picked up a delicate handkerchief. An almost imperceptible perfume emanated from it.
William, holding the dainty thing, had a conviction as of an entity beside him. His heart beat fast; his hand trembled. Then Annis Drake came into the room. She started when she saw what he held.
“There!” said she. “I knew you'd find it out sooner or later.”
“Find what out?” asked William in a shaking voice.
“Find out that she has been here all the time.”
“Yes, Dora. It was time you knew, anyway.” Annis, a massive bulk enveloped in a wide expanse of white apron, stood over him benignly. Her voice was full of the utmost maternal cadences, involving amusement, pity, admonition. “Yes,” said she. “I saw you were fretting over something, and I knew how tender hearted you were, and I heard some things, and I sort of guessed you was worried about her. I'd made up my mind to tell you, anyway, and now you've found her handkerchief, and the cat's out of the bag, anyway. She came here that very night after Emma went. You had gone to bed, and I was in the kitchen setting the bread to rise, and she said she was coming here, whether or no, to work out her pa's debt to you, and I thought it wasn't very sensible, but I couldn't stand it, and I took her in and gave her the south chamber to sleep in, and she's been here ever since. She has worked better than any girl I ever saw, though she wasn't brought up to it. She has taken right hold. She has made preserves and jelly. I have had hard work to hold her back. I was afraid she would get sick. And I've worked awful hard keeping it from you, and I've felt awful deceitful. I made up my mind to tell you, though I haven't said anything to her about it. You see, she has had to get a little air, and she has mostly been out in the garden for that, and every time the butcher or the grocer came she has run for her life, and we have both listened for you, and she has run the minute she heard you at the door, and I got dreadful tired of such doings. Now I've told you, and you've got to act as if you don't know anything about it.”
William regarded her, and his face flushed like a girls. “Why?”
“I promised her I wouldn't tell you,” said Annis, “and she's dreadful scared and nervous, and she hasn't got anywhere to go, and she's set her heart on working out that rent.”
“It is perfect nonsense.”
“You've got to act as if you don't know anything about it,” declared Annis. “There ain't no other way. If you should happen to see her, or hear her, you mustn't act as if you knew. Give me that handkerchief. It's time for supper. She's set the table, and cooked an omelet real nice.”
After that William lived with an odd sort of feeling, as if he were in a fairy tale. The invisible girl became more and more visible in countless subtle ways. He would find a book open. He would eat of a dish which he knew Annis had not cooked. He would hear the light sound of little feet overhead, the rustle of skirts outside his door, the faint clink of silver when Annis was in the room with him, and nobody could presumably be washing spoons in the kitchen.
He lived on in this way in a sort of dream. Finally he felt as if he himself were in hiding, instead of the girl. He would find himself tiptoeing over the stairs, going about secretly, effacing himself as much as possible. Twice he saw Dora plainly. Once she fled through a door before him; once on a moonlight night she passed him swiftly on the street. He wondered how long it could go on, this absurd, pitiful farce of mystery. It went on longer than seemed possible.
It was Christmas before the end of the queer state of things came. William had done what he had never done before — bought a quantity of Christmas greens. The whole house was filled with the pungent scent of evergreen and fir balsam. Great boughs hung over the pictures. Holly branches were here and there. Wreaths of evergreen, reddened with holly berries, decorated the windows.
“Whatever has possessed you to trim the house this way?” asked Annis.
William only laughed. Annis regarded him shrewdly.
That evening after supper William went into his study, and found Dora Satterlee lying on the floor in a dead faint. He called, and Annis came running.
“Get some water,” William gasped. He was as pale as the girl.
“Don't you be scared,” said Annis. “She's just fainted away. She's been this way a number of times lately. I went over to Lawson with her last week and saw Doctor Bruce. He said she was just sort of nervous and run down, and there was nothing to be worried about. He gave her a tonic. She's coming to. You just stand out of sight.”
After Annis had taken Dora upstairs, William sat thinking in his study. A pity which was agony filled his soul. He pictured to himself the young girl lying in her sleep of exhaustion upstairs, and thought of what she had done in her anxiety to carry out her dead father's honest intent, and he could scarcely bear it.
He became so anxious finally that he tiptoed up the stairs to Dora's chamber door, and called Annis softly.
“Come down to the library if she is asleep,” he whispered to the woman when the door was set ajar. Then he returned to the library, and Annis came and stood over him, and comforted him.
“She's doing all right,” she said. “You'd better go to bed yourself, Mr. William.”
“You think she's going to get well?”
“Of course she is. She's young. She's just been worried and overwrought, and it's kind of preyed upon her mind, hiding so. It wasn't a mite like her. She's real open by nature.”
“What puzzles me is —” said William. Then he stopped. “I never pitied anybody so in my life. Poor little soul! I don't see what is going to be done with her.”
Annis smiled at him like a mother, and he regarded her with mystified eyes, very like the eyes of a child, middle-aged man though he was.
“I never pitied anybody so,” repeated William, and he realized again that his whole being was wrung with the exquisite pain of his pity.
“Maybe something more than pity might be a good thing,” said Annis.
William looked at her. Then suddenly his eyes fell before hers, and, man as he was, he blushed like a girl.
“You forget that she is a young girl, Annis,” he said with the most perfect inflection of reverence and diffidence.
“No, I don't.”
“I am old enough to be her father.”
“What if you be?”
“You don't know how she —”
“I know enough sight more about her than she does about herself,” said Annis. Then she stooped and smoothed the man's hair, as she had done when he was a little boy. “You have never grown up, and you had better treat yourself to a Christmas present,” said she, and her loving voice and face were so intensely maternal they might have befitted a Madonna.
After she had gone, William, sitting alone, realized that out of the pain of pity had blossomed love. He smelled the spicy, pungent odor of the Christmas greens. The holly berries gleamed out like jewels. The fir boughs became emblematic of the eternal healing of all earthly need and sorrow, and of the everlasting endurance of youth through winter and age. He was not a young man. He had lived peacefully, but not entirely. Even now the sun might not shine for him with morning splendor, nor the moon with its meaning of young romance, but there was still much left. The star of Christmas seemed to shine out for his following, and be sufficient to light his whole path. He was inexpressibly happy.