Chapter XXXIII. Hearts' Tragedies
 

"So she sent him away to fight his battle alone, knowing it was the only way such a battle could be rightly fought."

When Miss Farwell, under the oak tree in the Academy yard, turned her eyes from the far blue roll of hills to see Dan Matthews coming through the gap in the tumble-down fence, it was as if he had appeared in answer to her thoughts, and the intensity of her emotions at the moment, frightened her.

Her first impulse was to escape. Then she sat still, watching him as if fascinated, while her trembling fingers picked at the young grass by her side. With his face turned toward the valley below, Dan came slowly across the weed-grown yard, unconscious of the presence of the young woman on the knoll. Then he looked in her direction. With her face turned quickly half-aside, she saw him stop suddenly as if halted by the same feeling that had so moved her.

For a full minute he stood there as if questioning his senses. The girl sat very still. Once she thought he would turn back--then he came on eagerly, as he had come that day from the water when he had looked up to see her on the river bank. And then he stood before her as he had stood that other day long weeks ago, with the sunlight on his red-brown hair.

There was now no word of formal greeting. None was needed. Each seemingly knew the travail of soul of the other.

Dropping down on the grass by her side he said quietly, as if it were unnecessary that he should speak at all, "I thought you were in the garden this afternoon."

"And I thought you were in the garden," she returned.

He looked at her in wondering gladness, saying, "I had a caller. After that I could not go."

"And I--I too had a caller; and after that I--I could not go." The words were spoken almost in a whisper. Her trembling fingers were picking again at the short young grass; she was looking far away beyond the sweeping line of blue. One foot had slipped a little from under the protecting shelter of the blue skirt. He saw with a flush of anger that the shoe was very shabby. The skirt, too, showed unmistakable signs of wear. He controlled himself with difficulty, saying, "Your caller was--?"

"Miss Charity Jordan. And yours?"

"Elder Jordan." Dan looked away, and when he spoke again he said bitterly, "Then I suppose you know?"

At his tone and manner she turned her face quickly to his, permitting him for the first time to search her eyes. It was as if she wanted to comfort him, to reassure him.

"Yes!" she said softly, gladly, triumphantly, "Yes, I know!"

Something in her confident reply caused the minister to forget all his half-formed resolutions. His work, his life, the possible outcome, the world itself--were lost in the overpowering rush of the passion-flood that swept his being. His deep voice trembled. "Then you know that I love you--love you!"

He repeated the simple words as if laying his whole self--body, soul and spirit, at her feet.

And the woman, in very wonder at the fullness of the offering, was as one transfixed and could find no word fit to express her acceptance of the gift.

"It is my right to tell you this," he said proudly--defiantly almost, as though challenging some unseen spirit or power. "And it is your right to answer me."

"Yes," she said, "it is our right."

"Then you do care for me, Hope? I am not mistaken--you do?"

"Can you doubt it?" she asked.

He moved quickly toward her but she checked him, and while the love in her eyes answered to the mastering passion in his, she seemed in some subtle manner to build up a protecting wall between them, a wall to guard them both.

"I do not understand," he faltered.

"You must think," she bade him quietly, firmly. "Don't you see that, while it is right for you to tell me what you have, and right for me to tell you how proud--how glad your words have made me, and how with all my heart and life I--I--love you, this--," her voice faltered now, "don't you see that this must be all?"

"All?" he questioned.

"All," she answered. "Everything that I said to you the first day that we met here is still true. Don't you see that I can never, never be more to you than I am now?"

As one who hears himself sentenced to life-exile Big Dan dropped his head, burying his face in his hands.

And seeing him so, such a figure of helpless strength, the woman's gray eyes filled with tears, that were not yet permitted to fall. In his presence she would be strong--afterwards her own heart should have its way.

Once her hand went out, slowly towards the shaggy red-brown hair, but was silently withdrawn, and the trembling white fingers again plucked the young blades of grass.

So they sat, these two--face to face with their hearts' tragedy, each--for the other's sake--striving to be strong.

"Tell me," he said at last, raising his head but not looking her in the face, and speaking in tones that were strained and hard, "if I were anything else, if I were engaged in any other work, would you be my wife?"

"Why do you ask that?"

"Because I must know," he answered almost harshly.

"If you were a common laborer, a business or professional man, if your work was anything honorable and right, save what it is--yes, gladly; oh, how gladly!"

"Then," he burst forth hotly, "I will give up my work. I will be something else!"

"You would give up your ministry for me?" she questioned doubtfully; "your chosen life work?"

His voice sank to a hoarse whisper. "Yes, and if it need be--my religion, my God."

As he finished speaking she laid her hand on his arm. "Hush, oh hush! That is not worthy of you; it is not true to our love. You are beside yourself."

He continued eagerly, "But I have learned that other work is just as holy, just as sacred, as the work of the preacher and the church. You do not know how in the past months I have been teaching this. Why should I not give my life to some of these other ministries?"

"Because it is not some other work that calls you now. These other ministries are not yours," she answered gently. "I have learned to love you because you are so truly yourself, because you are so true to yourself. You must not disappoint me now. And you will not," she continued, confidently, "I know that you will not."

At last when he had argued, protested and pleaded until she was so beset by both his passion and her own that she felt her strength going, she said: "Don't, oh please don't! I cannot listen to more of this now. It is not fair to either of us. You must have time to think alone. I believe I know you even better than you know yourself. You must leave me now. You must promise that you will not try to see me again until tomorrow afternoon at this same hour. I will be in the garden with the others until four o'clock, when I will go to the house alone. If then you have decided that you can, with all truthfulness to yourself and me, give up your ministry, come to me and I will be your wife. But whether you come or not you must always believe that I love you, that I shall always love you, as my other self, and that I shall never, never doubt your love for me."

So she sent him away to fight his battle alone, knowing it was the only way such a battle could be rightly fought, and because she wanted him, for his own sake, to have the certainty of a self-won victory, never doubting in her own heart what that victory would be or what it would mean to her. She indeed knew him better than he knew himself.