Chapter XXXIV. "Bitterness Must Be Cherished"
 

To all appearance the long hot days of August were passing very uneventfully to the characters of our story. The cold look which Clancy received from Mara on the Battery, together with the fact that Bodine appeared more lover-like than ever, speedily satisfied him that his best resource was the ambitious career which in his absence he had accepted in the place of happiness. He therefore gave himself up quite unreservedly to Miss Ainsley's fascinations, and, with all the skill and energy he possessed, seconded her father's business enterprises. Mr. Ainsley was sometimes in town, and again absent, as his business interests required; for he was one of those indefatigable men who, with soldier-like energy and fearlessness, carry out their plans, regardless of discomfort or danger. He recognized the fact that Clancy was both capable and useful, and was already inclined to make him one of his chief lieutenants in the South. He understood the young man's relations to his daughter perfectly, and was not at all averse to a union between them. At the same time, he knew how problematical Caroline's action would be, and that it would be useless for him to appear for or against the match. He was aware of his daughter's attitude in regard to marriage, and also convinced that she would take her own course.

It would seem that she was taking no course whatever at present, but indolently and complacently letting matters drift. She sometimes smilingly thought, "I scarcely know whether Mr. Clancy is friend or lover. I suppose I could lead him to be more pronounced in either character if I chose, but since he is so agreeable as he is, I would be a fool not to keep everything in statu quo till I wish a change. Life is too long to give up a pleasure before you are through with it."

Clancy quietly studied her mood, and was in no greater hurry than herself. Indeed, both felt that they had arrived at a comparatively clear mutual understanding, and so were quite at their ease, she enjoying his society abundantly, and he hers, as far as his bitter memories would permit.

Quick of apprehension, Bodine soon perceived a change in Mara's attitude toward him, but was considerate in availing himself of such slight encouragement as she gave. He had been taught by her manner that her first feeling on the discovery of a warmer regard than she had expected was that of repulsion. He now believed that she had thought the matter over, and was learning that it might not be impossible to regard him in a new and different light. Long since the ardor of youth had passed, and he was disposed to allow her time to become accustomed to the thought of wifehood. In the meantime he put forth every effort to prove himself companionable, in spite of their disparity in age. It was not his delicate and thoughtful attentions, however, which reconciled her to the future that she had accepted, but rather the motives already revealed. Under the influence of these, a certain species of mental excitement had been evoked. She had not ceased to suffer, but she had ceased merely to exist.

There was something now to look forward to, sacred duties to anticipate, and a future which was not a blank. She believed that in giving help and happiness to another she would more surely trample on self, and make it the vantage-ground for a greater devotion than that of most women whose love is often partly self-love. In regarding her first pure love and all its promptings as the phase of self to be destroyed, she was committing her fatal error; and of this error, not only Clancy's words, but also her own heart, often warned her. But she was not one to turn back, having once resolved upon a course.

She had far too much delicacy and maidenly pride to suggest consciously to Bodine the nature of her thoughts, but she was willing that he should see that she no longer shrank outwardly from his occasional manifestations of a tenderer regard than he bestowed upon Ella. That something in her woman's nature beyond her control did shrink and plead for escape, she knew well; but to conquer this instinctive aversion was a part of the task which she had set for herself.

Not only quick-witted Ella, but also Mrs. Bodine and Mrs. Hunter, saw the drift of affairs, and gave their unhesitating approval. Mrs. Hunter was glad, because it would destroy Clancy's prospects forever, and prove a sort of triumph over him. Then it was, as she assured Mara one day, "eminently fitting. Your father and mother would both approve."

"That thought comes to me, too," calmly rejoined the girl. "I hope they will--I think they will. But let us not talk further till all is settled."

Mrs. Bodine believed the marriage would result well on other grounds. "Cousin Hugh," she said one day when they were alone, "you may shut me up if I am meddling, but you are not thinking of Mara in the same way that you did in the spring."

"I admit it, Cousin Sophy, and you need not shut up."

"Well, I reckon it will come about. On general principles I don't approve of such marriages, but I suppose there are exceptions to most rules. As I have said to you before, Mara is as old in her feelings as you are, and I think you will be happier together than you would be apart. I never understood Mara altogether; but of one thing I am certain, she must have some strong motive, something or some person for whom she can sacrifice herself; and, being a woman, she would have a good deal better time sacrificing herself to a man than to anything else;" and the old lady chirped her little complacent laugh.

"Rest assured," said the veteran, "I don't want any self-sacrifice in Mara's case."

"Of course not; nor do I. I wouldn't approve of any actual self-sacrifice, but Mara will try to come as near it as she can. I reckon she'd be more drawn toward a cripple like you than the handsomest young fellow in town, on general principles; and then she has been interested in you from the first, because you, in a peculiar sense, represent to her the past, which has been almost her only inheritance."

"I confess that I have indulged in the same thoughts which you express. God grant that we both are right! She has become strangely dear to me. Once I could never have imagined it at my time of life."

"Oh, the heart needn't grow old," was the laughing reply.

The captain's outlook was rendered more favorable by the reception of a note which contained the offer of a better position than that held in the employ of the detested Mr. Houghton. When he investigated the matter he learned that the offer came largely through the influence of Clancy, and this last confirmed the veteran's impression that the young man was using his influence and prosperity for the benefit of the South.

To Mara it was a bitter ordeal to listen to Bodine's complacent explanation of the affair, and she was glad that she was told in the dusky twilight, which concealed an expression of pain even beyond her control. Words of passionate protest rose to her very lips, but she remembered in time that they would involve revelations which would thwart her purpose to make him happy at every cost to herself. If he ever learned what Clancy had been to her, what he was at this agonized moment, her vocation, if not gone, would be impaired beyond remedy. Afterward, in the solitude of her own room, she accepted this bitter experience, as she had resolved to accept all others, as a part of her lot.

In her morbidness she became Jesuitical. Her father's old friend should be made as happy as it was in her power to render him. Whatever interfered with this purpose should be concealed or trampled upon. Of Clancy she said bitterly, "If he thinks he has been magnanimous, how little he understands me."

Clancy's motives had been somewhat mixed. He was willing that her pride should be rebuked and wounded, and he also wished her to know that he was above the petty resentment of jealousy.

Poor Ella felt that she was becoming isolated; an impression, however, which she would not have had were it not for her recent experiences. Had her heart remained as light and untouched as it was when we first met her, her pleasure over her father's prospects would have been unalloyed. Even now her satisfaction was deep and sincere, but it was not in human nature to forget how summarily she had been denied the happiness so sweet to those of her age. She felt, however, that all were against her; that even kind old Mrs. Bodine would not listen patiently to her thoughts. So she kept them to herself, and sought by forced mirthfulness to disguise them. She talked and laughed with the young men who called upon her, and they came in increasing numbers as inevitably as a flower attracts the bees. She was the life of the "family excursions," as she characterized in her thoughts those in which Mara and Mrs. Hunter had a part; and she joined others of which her father approved, but there was often trouble and sadness in her eyes, and her cheeks and form were losing their roundness of outline. Mrs. Bodine was not deceived. She noted everything silently, and thought, "She is making a brave fight; she must make a brave fight. There is no other course for her. I reckon she'll win it, as many a girl has before."

The old lady was thoughtful, kind, and very attentive. At the same time, with the nicest tact, she infused a firmness and spirit into her demeanor which made the girl feel that her cousin had sympathy only with the effort to conquer or forget. And she honestly made such effort, but was often aghast at its futility. In her brusque way she said to herself, "What's the use of trying? It seems like a disease which must run its course till old Father Time brings some sort of a cure."

One day she went to see Aun' Sheba, and found the old woman feeling poorly.

"Yes, honey," she said, "bein' lazy doan 'gree wid me 'tall. I doan see how Unc. stan's it all de yeah roun'."

"I hab de rheumatiz," Uncle Sheba remarked in the way of explanation.

"Now, Unc., dat ar rheumatiz is like de scapegoat in de Bible. You loads it up with all you sins. We all hope dat wen you got so sot on dat you'd turn ober a new leaf. How you stan' it sittin' roun' all day I doan see, no how. I'se gettin' so heaby an' logy an' oncomf'ble dat I'se gwine ter take in washin' de rest ob de month."

"I'd be glad to go to work to-morrow, too," said Ella. "I'd be glad of anything to make the time pass."

"Why, honey, wot you want de time to pass quick fer? You oughter be like de hummin'-bird, gederin sweets all de day."

"I feel more like a croaking raven."

"You'se quar, Missy Ella. You'se up an' you'se down, an' you doan know why. Ole Hannah dat lib wid you says dat you'se gittin' a lot ob beaux. Why, you eben make a 'pression on dat big, 'ansome Northern chap, ole Houghton's son, wen you doan know it. More'n once he ax me which de cakes you make, an' wen I tell him, he wanter buy dem all."

"That's very funny," Ella said, and there was the old mirthful ring in her laugh.

"You know him?" Aun' Sheba asked, quickly.

"I met him at Mrs. Willoughby's."

"Shuah now! Dat counts fer it. Well, he'd gobble all you'se cake if I'd let him, but I had oder cus'mers on my min'; an' he seem ter hab on'y you on his min'."

"You were very wise, Aun' Sheba. So much cake would have made him ill," and she still laughed joyously.

"'Pears to me you'se gittin' betteh, Missy Ella."

"Oh, you always make me laugh and hearten me up, Aun' Sheba."

"Well, who'd a tink dat ar civil, nice spoken young man was de son ob dat ole sinner Houghton. Beckon Missy Mara doan like you'se talkin' wid him at Mis Wil'by's."

"Of course not. He's a Northern Vandal, you know."

"Dunno notin' 'bout Wandals. I jedge folks by wot dey is deysefs. He couldn't help bein' bawn at de Norf. Long as he 'habe himself, wot dat agin him?"

"Being born at the North is a crime, some people think."

"Yes,--I know, but dat ar suttingly fool talk. Dat ain't de trouble so much in dis case. It's cause he's dat ole 'tankerous Houghton's son."

"He isn't to blame for that either," Ella answered, hotly.

"Lor', Missy Ella! how you stan' up fer 'im."

"I don't believe in injustice, Aun' Sheba," said Ella quietly, conscious meanwhile that her cheeks were getting very red.

"De heat am po'ful," Aun' Sheba remarked, sententiously. Then her plump form began to shake with mirth. "Dar now, Missy Ella," she added, "de blin' ole woman kin see as fur in de grin-stone as de next one. He'd stan' up fer you agin de hull worl. It shines right out in his 'ansome face."

"How very blind you are, Aun' Sheba! Why, he's not fit to be spoken to, and I'm not to speak to him again as long as I live. Good-by. Good-by, Uncle Sheba. I've heard that sawing wood was the best cure for rheumatism known;" and she flitted out of the dusky cabin like a tropical bird.

Aun' Sheba still laughed to herself, and remarked, "Unc., s'pose you try Missy Ella's cure?"

"Wot she know 'bout it?" growled Uncle Sheba, with an injured aspect. "Wot de use ob sawin' wood all day wen de town hot 'nuff now to roas' lobsters?"

"Dat min's me, Unc. Why don' you took ter some sittin' wuck like fishin' in de harbor? You mought catch a lobster, or some oder fish."

"De fish an' me 'ud bof be briled in dis yere sun 'fore we got home."

"Bar, Unc., you wouldn't go to Heben 'less you was toted."

"Ob cose not. Doan de Bible say de angels gwine ter tote us?"

"Well, I s'pose dey is.--Ef a body ony know'd weder it ud be up or down."

"Dar now, Aun' Sheba, wot fei you talk so se'rus in Augst? Nex' winter we'se gwine ter hab a refreshin' from on high."

"P'raps you won' lib till nex' winter, Unc."

Uncle Sheba began to hitch uneasily, and remarked, "I doan see no use ob sech oncomf'ble talk in de restin' time ob de yeah."

Aun' Sheba soon forgot him in her unspoken thoughts of Ella and young Houghton.

"I begins ter unerstan' dat leetle gal now, an' all her goins on--puttin' aw-spice in de cake twice, an' sayin' quar tings. Well, well, I knows dey's all agin her, po' chile. Wot foolishness it all am! I once jam my ban' in de do'--s'pose I went on jamin' for eber. Der's no use ob der lookin' glum at me, fer dat young man's gwine ter hab all her cakes he wants. I won'er if Missy Mara got de same 'plaint as Missy Ella. She bery deep, an' won' let on, eben ter her ole nuss. Pears ter me de cap'n's gittin' kiner lopsided toward her, but I don' belibe dat'll wuck."

Ella was both gladdened and saddened by her visit. Houghton's buying her cake was one of those little homely facts on which love delights to dwell; for the heart instinctively knows that genuine love permeates the whole being, prompting to thoughtfullness in small matters which indifference overlooks. She could not but be glad that he had seemed to have "on'y you on his min'"; and then she grieved that all which was coming about so naturally, like a spring growth, should have been harshly smitten by the black frost of prejudice and hate.

After an early dinner that evening her father asked her kindly to go with him and Mara to the Battery; but she declined, saying she would rather keep Mrs. Bodine company. He did not urge her; and he had been so preoccupied by his thoughts as not to observe that she was pale and dejected, in spite of her efforts to appear as usual.

When alone Mrs. Bodine said, "You should have gone, Ella. You need the fresh cool air from the water. Why didn't you go?"

"Oh!" said the girl, in assumed lightness of tone, "three is sometimes a crowd."

"You shouldn't feel that way, Ella. You would never be a crowd."

"You are forgetting your old experiences, Cousin Sophy."

"No, I'm not. So you see whither affairs are tending?"

"Oh, cousin! Am I a bat?"

"I hope you are not averse."

"No, Cousin Sophy, I would do anything, and suffer much, to make papa happy. You know how I love Mara, though we disagree on many points; and if she and papa would be happier--Oh! why can't I be happy, too?" and she gave way to a tempest of sobs.

"We all wish you to be happy, Ella," said Mrs. Bodine, soothingly.

"Yes, in your own way," she replied, brokenly. "What happened before I was born must be considered first. If love is sweet to papa at his age think what it is to me?"

"You must not imagine, Ella dear, that we don't feel with you and for you. I am proud of you as I watch your brave fight in which you will conquer."

"Why should I conquer when my heart tells me that the one I love is worthy of my love? It hurts me, it wounds my very soul, that he and I should be spoken to as if we had committed a crime. How could my love be so sacred and heavenly if it were wrong? Oh, how I hate, hate! There is nothing so hateful as hate."

"But, Ella, you don't consider all--"

"There is no need of considering all, Cousin Sophy. There are some things which stand out so clearly that all else is insignificant. Mr. Houghton hates papa and me. Does papa love him or his son? You know me, faulty, foolish little girl that I am; but think of that man raging at his son because he dared to love me! If George had committed a crime his father would have spent a fortune in defending him. To love me was worse than a crime. He would have been turned into the streets. Oh, it's all so unjust, it's all the spawn of hate!"

Mrs. Bodine was aghast at the intensity of the girl's feelings, but could only say, "Well, Ella, dear, since things are as they are you must fight it out. Trust the experience of an old woman. Marriages in the face of such bitter opposition are rarely happy."

"Yes, the bitterness must be sacredly cherished, whatever else is lost. Oh, I know, Cousin Sophy, I know I must fight it out if it takes my lifetime, and all the while know that God would bless our love if hate hadn't blighted it."