by Margaret Crosby
At four o’clock on a September afternoon Vestal Street, Nantucket, is curiously quiet. The square white houses stand on either side of the sandy road. The lowering sun light is beginning to cast a gray shadow across its glaring whiteness. The houses have up outside shutters, and the closed in side bliuds, of solid wood painted white, have a sightless expression. Beyond, in Lily Street and in the lower part of the town, many of the houses have a railed platform on the roof, called the “walk,” where the Nantucket wives were wont, in former days, to watch longingly the out ward or homeward bound sails; but.in Vesta-I Street the houses have not this dignity. From their upper windows is seen the old windmill, on its green mound, and the moor, undulating unbrokenly for three miles until the sea is reached.
On such an afternoon in one of these houses an elderly man and woman sat in the living-room talking together. Both were seated in black wooden rocking-chairs; and as these two persons talked they rocked, the creaking of the chairs keeping up a groaning accompaniment to their conversation.
“So Eunice wouldn’t go to the Continent with Mrs. Laue?” said the old man. “Well, Mrs. Adams, I always said she was one of the elect.”
He was small and thin; his face was smooth-shaven, all but a fringe of white heard that started close to his ears and ran around under his chin. The same fringe grew low down on his bald head and waved on the collar of his blue flannel coat. His face, thus left exposed, had an expression of innocent curiosity and kindliness.
At one of the windows a shutter was open, and a square of blue mosquito-netting in a frame fitted into the easements and kept the flies out. Mrs. Adams sat by this Window making a patch-work quilt, and rocking gently as she sewed. She had a rigid, cautious face and gray hair, brushed smoothly down on either side of her fore head. She spoke with emphasis.
“You are right, Deacon Swain, Eunice has always had a calling, as I may say. From the time she was right small she was seriously inclined. She’s a conscientious girl, if I do say it. It was a chance to go to the Continent to New York, and it weren’t nothing to be governess to Mrs. Lane’s children compared to teaching school here; but she had a call to stay here. She said she couldn’t go off suddenly and leave everything at loose ends. She’d undertook the grammar-school, and this was her place.”
Deacon Swain’s face glowed with approval.
“Yet it was a chance to go to New York,” he said, as if to provoke Mrs. Adams to further speech.
“So folks said,” Mrs. Adams answered, dryly. “But Eunice only said as she didn’t know as they needed her over to the Conti nent, and they did here, so ’twas her duty to stay.”
By “Continent” a Nautucketer always means the mainland. Mrs. Adams paused, and then resumed, with a slight change of tone,
“Have you called a minister yet?”
“Well—no—” replied the deacon.
“Should think you’d best be hurryin’ up,” said Mrs. Adams, with some severity. “It’s a cryin’ disgrace that the Congregational Church of Nantucket should be so long without a minister. There’s a fallin’ away, and it’ll grow. I heard of Maria Barnes and all the Aaron Macys at the Episcopal Church last Sunday.”
The deacon looked uneasy.
“That’s so,” he assented; but he added, guardedly, “We had a meetin’ yesterday, and we’re bringin’ matters to a pint’s quick’s we can. Where’s Eunice I” be con eluded.
“Out in the hack lot, parin’ apples for apple-butter,” Mrs. Adams answered.
There was a pause of a few moments, while the two rockers creaked in concert.
“How does your boarder suit?” inquired the deacon at last.
The cautious expression deepened in Mrs. Adams’s face.
“Well enough!” she said, shortly.
The deacon looked at her with_mild yet active curiosity.
“Does he—um—pay regular?”
“Yes, he pays regular enough,” Mrs. Adams admitted.
The deacon gazed meditatively at the ceiling. He did not wish to appear eager, yet he was anxious to discover the secret of Mrs. Adams’s dissatisfaction with her ledger.
“I must say the young man commends himself strongly to me,” he said. “He came into my store for some cigars the day he come, and he didn’t seem much to like Nan tucket. He’d took a room to the Spring field House. He’s kind of foreign and open spoken, you know. He said he didn’t want to stay to a hotel, when he came to Nautucket, with a lot of tourists. That’s what he called the strangers.”
The deacon laughed gently as he made this comment.
“Said he’d come to study the place and inhabitants; that what he wanted was local coloring. I’ve been a-kinder ponderin’ that term ever since. Thought he’d go back to the Continent right off. ‘Now,’ says I”— the deacon was warming to his subject, for Mrs. Adams had stopped working and regarded him with deep attention—”says I, ‘don’t cross the bay to-day, it’s as rugged as fury; stay a few days and you’ll shake down. You see,’ I says, ‘this is a corner grocery, and folks drop in afternoons and it’s real social. You’re welcome,’ I says, ‘to come in and get weighed as many times a day’s you want.’ He seemed kinder pleased, and then he wanted me to recommend him to some private house, in a quiet street, where he could take a room ; and I told him about you, for Eunice said you was thinking about taking a boarder. I’m sorry he don’t suit.”
He paused diplomatically. Mrs. Adams began to sew again.
“Tain’t that he doesn’t suit,” she said. “He’s taking enough; but it’s against conscience, my keepin’ him. He’s a godless, Sabbath-breakin’ man!”
She uttered this terrible accusation in a calm, dry voice.
“You don’t say!” said the deacon, breathlessly. His face was unaffectedly regretful. “Yet,” he continued, “he’s full of natural grace.”
“Natural grace ain’t goin’ to help a man where his eternal salvation is concerned,” Mrs. Adams returned, severely.
“You know that, deacon, as well as I do.”
The deacon made an unwilling movement of assent with his head. “Yes, we are taught so,” he said, musingly; and yet it seems strange, for we are all made in the image of God.”
Mrs. Adams was too much occupied with her own thoughts to heed him.
“The question is,” she continued, “whether, as the wife of a Presbyterian minister, I am justified in keeping him in my house.”
The old man looked distressed. “It’s a question, it’s a question,” he said; “but what makes you think he’s—in an unregenerate state?”
“Plenty of things. He ain’t much in the habit of making friends with strangers; but after he came I told him that, though we wouldn’t vacate the sittin’-room for any one, he was welcome to come in and sit and play on the music. I do say he makes a sight of music come out of that melodeon; sounds like the organ I heard when I was to Boston with Ephraim.”
“Yes,” nodded the old man, “I remember your mentioning it to Lucilla when you came back to the Island.”
“Well,” said Mrs. Adams, “Sundays Dr. Otto played and sang same’s other days, and such music! I can’t liken it to anything I ever heard. It sounded, well—”
“French?” suggested the deacon. His imagination had been fired by the widow’s eloquence, and the word came patly to his lips.
Mrs. Adams gave his eager, simple old face a sharp look over her glasses.
“Persian, more likely,” she said, shortly. “Heathenish, anyhow. I soon put an end to that; but that ain’t all. He works at his paintin’s all day Sundays. He let full in conversation that he makes a habit of attendin’ the play. In Germany he had a seat regular, same as we have a pew in church. As far-‘s I can see he has no Bible. The other day I gave him Ephraim’s tract, ‘Going to the Play,’ you know.” The elder nodded. “He was polite enough to me about it; but when I came in after, he was readin’ it, and as far as I could make out he was laughing. It just showed his feelings on sacred subjects.”
A look of helpless distress had come into the deacon’s face.
“What does Eunice say?” he asked.
“Well, Eunice always looks at things in a high kind of way. When I spoke to her she only says, ‘Mother, perhaps his comin’ here is a leadin’ of Providence, and we ought not to bar the way.’ That was three weeks ago. I don’t know how she feels now.”
The old man seemed relieved. “Eunice ain’t likely to be far wrong in such matters. The things of God are spiritually discerned, and it is given to such as her to discern them.” He rose and took his hat from the table. “I must be goin’ along.” He shook hands somewhat ‘limply with Mrs. Adams, who did not rise from the chair.” You’d better let Eunice settle that matter.” His face became very grave and tender. “Eunice is one of the Elect, as I said before. It’s my belief, Mrs. Adams, that the Lord has great things in store for her.”
Mrs. Adams only gave him another scrutinizing glance. He left the room, and, as he let himself out of the door, she resumed her work, only calling to him,
“I’ll send Lucilla some of my apple-butter; she told me she wasn’t preservin’ this season.”
The back porch of the house looked out on a small enclosure of sandy grass. There was but one stunted tree and no flowers. The gabled end of a neighboring house, painted a dull red, jutted out beyond the rickety fence, at one end of the enclosure. Beyond could be seen the windmill, on its mound, and the green moors. The atmosphere was so clear and sparkling that it lent an actual beauty to the very simple elements which made up this scene.
In the porch a man sat before his easel, painting. He had evidently intended to paint simply the gable of the house, with the glimpse of the windmill and the moor beyond—but Eunice Adams stood at a table just beyond the porch. On the table lay a pile of rusty-yellow and red apples, which she was paring. The background of the red house threw her figure into relief, and the temptation to add it to his picture was too strong for Dr. Julius Otto. He had sketched in her figure hastily, and was working carefully on the face. He seemed to be about thirty-five. His light-brown hair grew straight up from his forehead in a thick mass. His mustache swept away from his mouth in a bold wave. His beard was parted in the Prussian fashion, and he had a slightly obstinate mouth and chin. In the turn of his head, the expression of his eyes, in his whole manner, there was an enormous naturalness that was almost startling. He was speaking in rapid, fluent English, with a marked German accent.
“For my part,” he said,” I am glad I am going to Vienna. I have been five years in this country, and it has treated me kindly. But I find you Americans too prejudiced, too narrow. Now, if you, for instance, could shake off some of the Puritanism that is blighting your life, you would be far happier.”
He threw off this suggestion in a half teasing manner, yet with a vivid heartiness that was like a cordial.
Eunice remained silent for a moment. Then she spoke with an effort.
“It is not always necessary to be happy.”
Her face was one of those we sometimes see in New England. Her forehead was somewhat high, and her features had the same regularity that in her mother had hardened into rigidity. Her skin was colorless, and her dark hair was twisted in a heavy, waveless mass at the back of her head. Her eyes were singularly clear gray, with dark lashes and eyebrows. Her face had much beauty; but, more than this, it was so refined and spiritualized by some in ward experience and habitual moral loftiness that it made a vivid impression on those who saw it for the first time. The Nantucketers were accustomed to this quality in her face, and took it as a matter of course; but the summer visitors who met her in the street used to wonder at the strange, exquisite face, afterwards remembering its transparent lambency of expression as something rarer and more exquisite than beauty.
Dr. Otto received her remark with a sort of kindly amusement.
“Why, if you please, Miss Eunice, is it not necessary to be happy!”
Eunice looked at him anxiously as be bent over his easel. She seemed to force herself to speak.
“Because, if we do our duty, it makes no difference whether we are happy or not.
Things may seem hard here, but in another life—” She stopped suddenly, catching her breath nervously.
Dr. Otto’s face had an expression of half pitying protest.
“All very well,” he said, with the same Heartiness, “if one could be guaranteed the second lease. But you know we are only sure of one life!”
He laughed good-humoredly as he spoke.
The girl’s face only became slightly paler. She dropped the knife and apple she held in her hands.
“Do not say that!” she said, in a low voice. “Every one can be sure. You do believe that?”
Her voice was so urgent that the German spoke with more seriousness.
“Really, Miss Eunice, do you, wish me to speak the truth?”
“Yes,” she answered.
“Well, then, I will tell you frankly, I have long since arranged my life without reference to any such beliefs.”
“How can you live, then?” Her eyes dilated as she looked at him.
“All the better,” he answered, “since I have ceased to support or torment myself with false hopes or fears. The world is wide. There is so much to do, so much to live for, that there is more than scope for the largest intelligence. It satisfies me. If I complain and wish for more, I am not worthy to have standing-room. Out of it, and let some better man take my place! But I have not come to that yet. It is true there is misery and suffering, but we can all help each other. Let us do our duty. Yes—but let us be happy also, and not starve our lives as you do.”
Eunice had remained motionless—then she spoke again in the same low voice.
“Do you mean to say you have no hope of immortality?”
“My dear Miss Eunice,” he said, gently, “spend six months in a dissecting-room, and your ideas of life and immortality will undergo a startling change.”
His words seemed to give Eunice a momentary insight into his habits of thought. Her face was strangely illuminated as she answered,
“It does no good to talk about it, Dr. Otto. It is not in my power that you shall or shall not believe. But the spirit of God is stronger than the mind or will of man. It can teach you and lead you as I cannot, as your own understanding cannot—whether you believe it or not, this is true.”
At any other moment of his life Otto would have looked upon such an outburst as a pitiable exhibition of superstition. But perfect sincerity has a power of its own, and he was strangely impressed. To his surprise, Eunice suddenly gathered up the basket of apples and went rapidly into the house. As she passed him he saw that tears were streaming down her face. Their talk was only one of many, but none had reached this point. He whistled very softly to himself, and then went on painting in silence. Dr. Otto had little instinctive reverence, or, as he would have expressed it, no superstitions; but he had broad sympathies and a tender heart. He began to regret having spoken so frankly.
At meals Eunice first served her mother and their guest, and then took her own seat at the table. When he first came this proceeding was highly embarrassing to Otto. If Eunice had been less educated and less refined, it would not have seemed so incongruous. He used to jump up from his seat to assist her; but he found that this was only disturbing to both Mrs. Adams and her daughter, and he now submitted with a good grace. This evening Eunice was un usually quiet. Long before now Otto had learned the secret of waking her laughter. It had a fresh, unused sweetness, and he learned to wait for this sound and to enjoy it genuinely when it came. But now this pleasure was not in store for him. The girl’s eyes were swollen from crying, and her manner was full of the dignity of a quiet sorrow. After supper Mrs. Adams took her seat in the rocking-chair of the living-room, with her knitting. Eunice was clearing away the dishes. Otto, who had lingered in the room, spoke suddenly to her.
“Miss Eunice, I am afraid my thoughtless remarks this afternoon have troubled you?”
She made no reply, but stood with her eyes cast down. He went on with his usual fluency,
“Even if one has no household gods, one should not try to knock down one’s neighbor’s. I have no desire to shake your faith. I have no creed to offer you in exchange but the very finite one I proposed this afternoon “—he broke off—”in fact, I can only ask you to forgive me.”
She looked up quietly, and he saw that, in spite of her reddened eyes, her expression was lofty and collected.
“You have not shaken my faith. It is only terrible to know that you—that any one should feel as you do. If you were ignorant, it would be different”—she stopped —”but it does no good to talk about it.” She took a dish from the table and left the room.
Otto, a little baffled, went into his own room and lighted his lamp. Mrs. Adams and Eunice had arranged this room with their own hands. The walls were white washed, and a square of blue and gray ingrain carpeting covered the floor. The drop-shades were of thick light-blue paper, and the window-curtains of blue and white mosquito-netting, looped back with a wide strip of the blue paper of “which the shades were made. The furniture was of the cheap est painted wood, with the exception of a mahogany bureau with small brass knobs.
Above the looking-glass hung a worsted-work sampler, framed, and covered with glass. There was an inscription thereon to this effect:
“Mary Folger is my name,
America is my nation;
Nantucket is my dwelling-place,
And Christ, is my salvation.”
The figure of the German was in curious contrast to the air of humble sanctity which this room possessed. He looked too large for its small proportions, and too aggressive for its timid propriety. His tweed shoot ing-jacket and of muddy corduroys sprawled over a chair, where he had flung them when he came in from a sketching expedition the day before. His portfolio lay open on the table, and he sat down by it and looked at his sketches. They seemed to him monotonous—some of the most characteristic Nantucket houses; one or two of the narrowest and crookedest lanes; and the rest of the moors, always the moors. At sunset, in the golden haze of the setting sun; at twilight, purpled and shadowy; at dawn, by Tom Never’s Head, the brown moor and the still sea reddened with the flush of the morning.
For a moment they brought back the perfect reality woven into his mental fibers by the tenderest thoughts of his life; then they seemed only faded reflections. He pushed them aside almost angrily.
He had graduated from a medical college in Berlin as a physician some years before; but after a couple of years he gave up his practice, and became an artist from sheer inability to keep out of his studio when he should have been cultivating the good-will of his patients. He came to America, and although he made little money, his artistic reputation induced his friends in Germany to secure for him the position of professor of drawing in the principal art school of Vienna.
He was to sail in a month more, and had come to Nantucket to sketch, as well as for a rest before sailing. Now, as the weeks passed, Dr. Otto realized that he was painfully unwilling to go away. He was almost impatient of this feeling, yet he could not overcome it. The remote oddity of the place and people, with one exception, were repugnant to him. The fact that the little island was sea-girt and thirty miles from the mainland gave him a sense of confinement. The four walls of his room seemed to suffocate him. He started up and opened the door of his room. The chill September air blew in at the open hall door.
“I shall sail two weeks earlier,” thought Otto,” and go to Italy for a fortnight before going to Vienna.”
He went into the sitting-room. It was deserted. He heard Mrs. Adams moving about in the kitchen. Eunice was nowhere to be seen. He sat down at the open melodeon and played and sang the Mignon’s Lied of Liszt.
“Kennst du das Land wo die Citronen bluh’u
Im dunkein Laub die Gold-Orangen gluh’n?”
floated out through the open door into a room across the hall, where Eunice Adams sat at a table piled with books and papers. She was correcting the children’s exercises for the next day. She had not been at the Nantucket high-school, nor had the run of the town library, for nothing. She under stood the words Otto sang. The mellow, pleading tones seemed to curl around her heart and sink into it.
“Keunst du es wohl?
Duhinl Dnhin! mocht’ ich mit dir, O mein Geliebter ziehn.”
After a moment she got up, walked firmly across the hall, and softly closed the door of the sitting-room; and, coming back, shut and bolted the door of her own room. In the slightly built house the music still sounded, but she bent her head in her hands as she sat by the table, and then went on slowly and patiently with her task.
Dr. Otto was beginning to enjoy thoroughly his own music. He made the little instrument tremble and vibrate and give forth grandly the rich harmonies of the song. He sang with feeling, with soul. Suddenly he heard the door shut gently, and footsteps retreat across the hall and the shutting of a second door. He sprang from his chair.
“Barbarians!” he muttered in German, “they do not even appreciate good music.”
Then he laughed, and, shutting the melodeon, looked at his watch and yawned—nine o’clock.
Mrs. Adams put out the light in the din ing-room and looked suspiciously into the sitting-room.
” Oh, you can put the light out here,” said Otto, apologetically, as if he had been discovered in a crime.
“I s’pose I might as well,” said Mrs. Ad ams, dryly.” It’s gettin’ late.”
“Late! O ye gods!” murmured Otto. He went down the passage to his room and went meekly to bed.
Two or three days later Otto was stand ing at the window of the sitting-room. As he looked down the road he saw Eunice Adams coming towards the house with a young man. They were in earnest conversation. The stranger was evidently a clergyman, from his provincially clerical dress and white-cravat. He was tall and slender, with a thin, intellectual face, a long nose, and meditative blue eyes. Otto saw a look of deep affection and respect in these eyes as the young man bent them on Eunice. Otto turned abruptly away from the win dow, and, taking his hat and sketching materials from the table, went out into the hall, meeting Eunice and her companion as they entered. Eunice looked at him with vague anxiety. To his surprise she spoke to him.
“Are you going out, Dr. Otto”! Dinner will be ready in a few minutes.”
“I shall not be at home to dinner. I am going out to sketch,” he replied.
He almost brushed by the young clergyman, who stood against the wall of the narrow hall to let him pass, and left the house. A half an hour later his cheeks tingled at the recollection of his childishness. “Block head!” he muttered to himself, “thou art not a boy, why shouldst thou care!” and later, “Why not have waited and found out—”
Otto managed to get some dinner at a farm-house on the moors that day. Something seemed to be dragging him back to the little house in Vestal Street, but he obstinately prolonged his own suspense. He made sketch after sketch, painstaking and laborious, and ended by destroying them all.
In a sort of inward vision he had seen all day the figures of Eunice and the young clergyman. It was dark when he reached the town, at last, worn out with his long struggle with himself. The moon had come out and bathed the still, white streets with its pure light. It was as still and warm as a midsummer night. The houses looked blanker than ever as he passed them. As he neared the Adams house he saw a figure approaching him; small, and walking with a tremulous step; his head was uncovered, and his white locks floated in a silver anre ole as he came towards him. He held a tall bunch of white, feathery grasses in his hand, and looked not unlike an elderly Angel of the Annunciation. It was Deacon Swain. He moved his hat into his left hand, and held out his right in greeting to the young er man. His face shone with a gentle radiance as he looked up at him.
“A beautiful night, doctor,” he said.
Otto assented. The old man looked up at the night sky.
“It reminds me of the hymn we sang last Sunday,” he said.
“‘Soon as the evening shades prevail
The moon takes up the wondrous tale,
And nightly to the listening earth
Repeats the story of her birth;
And all the stars that round her burn,
And all the planets in their turn,
Confirm the tidings as they roll,
And spread the truth from pole to pole.’
“It seems as though such nights as this came to show us that God’s mercy to man kind is as boundless as His universe.” He put on his hat as he ended. “Goodnight, doctor,” he said, and passed on.
Otto’s footsteps made no sound on the sandy path as he reached the house. At the gate beyond the house, which led into the “pasture,” as the enclosure was called, stood two figures. In the moonlight Otto recognized them as the realization of his vision that day. The man held Eunice’s hand in his, and she looked at him earnestly. Otto stood still for an instant; then he turned quickly aside, and going up the three steps which led to the door, opened it and went in. Mrs. Adams confronted him in the hall with a startled face.
“How you scart me !” she exclaimed. “You came in so quiet. There’s a letter for you here,” she continued.
She led the way into the sitting-room, and Otto followed.
The letter was a brief summons from the directors of the art school, requesting him to come to Vienna to begin his duties at once. As he stood by the table reading the letter, Mrs. Adams went on speaking. Every word she said pierced his consciousness like an electric shock.
“It was a pity you wa’n’t in to-day. My nephew, the Rev. Amos Lathrop, was here. He came over from Wood’s Holl for the day, and his conversation is of a nature to improve the most hardened person. Deacon Swain came in to tea, and he and Amos and Eunice talked. It reminded me of the millennium. Amos planned to bring his wife with him, but she couldn’t leave the children.”
Mrs. Adams turned to go out.
“Have you had your supper?” she added. “Because, if you haven’t, Eunice saved some for you.”
She left the room without waiting for a reply.
Otto stood motionless by the table for a moment. Then he threw back his head and laughed—a low, happy laugh. He went out in the hall to the open door at the back of the house. A figure stood in the moon light near the porch. It was Eunice. He went towards her. His happiness at the sight of her overflowed in his eyes and whole expression. In the moonlight her features had an ineffable suavity and purity. She spoke to him gently.
“You have come back. I’m sorry you could not have talked to my cousin, who has been here all day.”
Otto almost laughed at the earnest anxiety of her look and words. What were the speculations of a worn-out theology to him compared with the reality of his love! It carried him on like a great tide. Its strength must carry Eunice with it.
A half-hour later Mrs. Adams was sitting in her room, reading her Bible, when Eunice came and stood before her. Mrs. Adams closed her Bible, keeping one of her fingers between the pages as a mark, and looked up at her daughter. Eunice was very pale, and her manner was filled with an intense, controlled excitement.
“Well?” said Mrs. Adams, calmly.
“Mother, Dr. Otto is going away.”
“Well?” said Mrs. Adams again.
Eunice turned her head away, and her voice sank. Her mother watched her with immovable confidence.
“He asked me to marry him and go with him.” She waited a moment, and went on slowly: “I told him I could never marry an unbeliever; and more, that my life was promised for another service.”
Mrs. Adams opened her Bible at the place where her finger divided the pages. She read aloud with emphasis:
‘”No man having put his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God.'” She turned the pages and read again: “‘Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.'”
“I know,” said Eunice. The words came with a deep expiration of her breath, a sigh that was like a renunciation of her whole nature. She turned away, and slowly left the room.
The next morning Otto waked late. In spite of the confident spirit of mastery in which he had finally fallen asleep, he awoke with a feeling of overpowering desolation, and found his eyes wet with tears, a thing which was so novel that it startled him. The rebuff of the night before was puzzling, and he began to feel that there might be something in Eunice’s theology which was stronger than he stronger than herself. By the time he was dressed he had reason ed away his fears. It was Saturday, and he congratulated himself, with a sense of triumph, that there was no school that day or the next, and that Eunice would be free. He found his breakfast saved for him in the dining-room; the striped cotton cloth turned back at one end and his plate laid on the unpainted wood. Eunice was nowhere to be seen. Mrs. Adams came into the room. He was not in a mood for finesse.
“Mrs. Adams, where is Miss Eunice?” he asked, abruptly.
Mrs. Adams looked at him inscrutably.
“Eunice is over to Surfside, to my sister Mrs. Burdick’s. She’s gone for Sunday.”
On Monday Otto was going. His pride was stung, and he made his preparations to go away. If the desire of his heart was to be unfulfilled, he would burn his ships behind him. He would go without seeing Eunice again. Twice on Sunday he watched Mrs. Adams, in her rusty black dress and bonnet, go down the sandy road on her way to church. The warm weather still held, and the sun shone through a golden September haze. In spite of this sunshine in the still, darkened house and glaring, shadowless street, life and hope seemed dead. Otto thought of Eunice, with her violin-soul waiting for the strings to be touched, and then of Vestal Street, and the grammar school—forever! Why should such things be? Then passion and hope rushed back in a warm, indignant tide. He would not give her up.
The last rays of sunlight bathed the sea. The bronze moors were laid with cloth of gold. At the western horizon the sun’s own majesty was lost in a blaze of transparent light.
Eunice Adams stood in the porch of her aunt’s house with Deacon Swain. His box-cart stood before the house. Eunice’s face was turned towards the sun, but she did not see it. The light touched the white hair of the old man as he stood before her.
He held her hand in his.
“You have decided, then. The Lord has called you, Eunice,” he said, with tremulous solemnity.” Thank God that your ears have not been closed, but, like Samuel, you have heard and answered His voice. I al ways said He had get things in store for you.”
He turned away, and, getting into his cart, drove away.
Eunice looked out on the sea, rapt in a peace from which there seemed no recall. The future seemed to her like the path of light from the setting sun on the Western sea—lonely, perhaps, but clearly defined, and ending in a glorious infinity. A sound aroused her. She looked and saw Otto stand ing before her. To see him there was like the sound of a loved voice calling from earth to a ransomed soul in bliss.
He told her he was going away; that he must speak to her before leaving. He spoke in abrupt, short sentences, almost in gasps. With her calm, glorified face she seemed to be slipping away from him.
“What is the use?” said Eunice, slowly. “Do not ask me to listen.”
In her quiet resistance he felt the hopeless ness of the early morning stealing over him.
He began to speak with enforced self control.
“You are sacrificing yourself—me—to some principle—some idea—which has no reasonable foundation.” His German accent became stronger than ever as he rolled out these words.” Why should you not be happy! You are young—”
“I am twenty-eight,” Eunice interrupted with mechanical truth. Her lips had become very white.
“It is cruel,” Otto began, vehemently. He stopped abruptly.
With one hand he had grasped the post of the porch; the other hung at his side. He turned away and looked out over the sea. The glory had faded, and there was only a gray expanse of water. “I have made a mistake,” he said, heavily; “I thought perhaps you loved me a little.”
Eunice stood with her hands clasped tightly, her eyes fixed on his face. She suddenly caught the hand that hung by his side and pressed it against her heart, and then raised it to her lips. In her face was an agony of love and renunciation.
“You don’t understand,” she murmured; “I must do what is right.” She seemed about to say more, but before she could do so a third person came from the house into the porch—a middle-aged woman, sallow and dark-eyed. She looked sharply at Eunice and Otto.
“Won’t you ask yer company into the house, Eunice?” she said, reproachfully.
“Yes, Aunt Eunice,” she said, faintly.
“This is mother’s boarder—Dr. Otto—please excuse me, I do not feel well.”
She left them, and, going into the house, went wearily up the narrow stairs to her room.
“Come in and take a seat, doctor,” said Mrs. Burdick.
Otto waited ten minutes while Mrs. Burdick subjected him to a cross-questioning; at the end of it she decided there was “something between ”Eunice and “doctor.” Then at Otto’s request she went to call her niece. After a few minutes she came back with a message that her niece was not well, and was sorry she could not see him again.
“I s’pose you’d like to know about Eunice’s plans, doctor,” she said; “ I could tell you,” said Mrs. Burdick, peering sharply at him in the dim light.
But Dr. Otto seemed in no mood for listen- ing, and after a brief good-night he walk- ed away over the darkening moors. From a window in the farm-house some one watched him through blinding tears. The next morning he had left Nantucket.
It was curious that, after a month of rusticating, Dr. Otto should have been seized with a low, nervous fever. Instead of sailing for Germany he remained with an artist friend, who took care of him until he was well enough to go out again. It was Friday, three weeks after he had left Nantucket; his passage in a German steamer was taken for the following Wednesday. It has been said that he was well enough to go out, and Saturday evening found him again in Nantucket. He had overrated his strength, and when he arrived at the hotel his head swam and throbbed with a dizzy weakness. It conquered his impulses, and he was obliged to go to bed and toss about all night and all the next day, half blind with headache and fever. Towards evening the pain ebbed away. He dressed, ordered a cup of hot coffee, drank it, and felt that his nerves were steady once more. He waited until he knew that the Adams’s supper-hour was past, and then took a carriage and drove to Vestal Street. The church-bells were ringing for evening service as he drove through the dark streets. The sparkling October air refreshed him. When he reached the silent house he got out and rang the bell, his heart beating wildly. There was no answer; he rang again, and waited with a vague apprehension. The driver suggested that “perhaps the folks was to evening church.” Otto smiled at his forgetfulness. He would drive to the church and wait in the last pew until Eunice came out, and then—
When he reached the church Otto dismissed the carriage and slipped silently into the last pew. The lights at the back were dim. The sermon was just ending. There was perfect stillness except a single voice. This voice gave Otto a strange thrill. He thought he was dreaming. Eunice Adams stood in the pulpit speaking in a low tone of entreaty, a slight figure in a black dress. Her face was pale, but it was illumined as from an inward radiance.
Otto only received a bewildered impression of the self-forgetful tenderness of her face as she pleaded with the listening people before her, dedicating her life to the mission of their salvation. She ceased speaking, and, clasping her hands, looked upward. There was a breathless hush ; then the congregation bowed their heads for the closing prayer. In the rustle of the bending forms Otto left the church. His brain was in a turmoil. He seemed to hear in the air around him a voice saying, “Your God is not my God, nor your ways my ways.”
He made no effort to see her again.
The next morning Otto sat on the deck of the boat as it steamed out of the Nantucket harbor. He felt strangely weak and quiet. He watched the gray town, throned like a queen on the rising ground of the island. The shore became blurred as the boat travelled silently over the shining water. The town sank as the distance from it became greater, until at length there was only a faint white line on the horizon where the blue sea met the blue sky. A few smoke-wreaths shadowed the sky above the place where the town had been. At length they, too, had vanished. Only the sea glittered under the sun.
A sick man has strange fancies. Had the island ever been there? Perhaps, like Eunice’s God, the island—Eunice herself —were dreams. Yes, but Eunice and the island existed although he could not see them. Why should not the same be true of…? Eunice seemed cruel, but perhaps they would both understand some day. Pshaw! the light dazzled his eyes. He would go to sleep. Dr. Otto pulled his hat over his eyes and slept; or, at least, the pilot, who sat just above him in his little house, thought he did.