She always sat in a corner of the
west veranda at the hotel, knitting something white
and fluffy, or pink and fluffy, or pale blue and fluffy always
fluffy, at least, and always dainty. Shawls and
scarfs and hoods the things were, I believe.
When she finished one she gave it to some girl and
began another. Every girl at Harbour Light that
summer wore some distracting thing that had been fashioned
by Miss Sylvia’s slim, tireless, white fingers.
She was old, with that beautiful,
serene old age which is as beautiful in its way as
youth. Her girlhood and womanhood must have been
very lovely to have ripened into such a beauty of
sixty years. It was a surprise to everyone who
heard her called Miss Sylvia. She looked
so like a woman who ought to have stalwart, grown
sons and dimpled little grandchildren.
For the first two days after the arrival
at the hotel she sat in her corner alone. There
was always a circle of young people around her; old
folks and middle-aged people would have liked to join
it, but Miss Sylvia, while she was gracious to all,
let it be distinctly understood that her sympathies
were with youth. She sat among the boys and girls,
young men and maidens, like a fine white queen.
Her dress was always the same and somewhat old-fashioned,
but nothing else would have suited her half so well;
she wore a lace cap on her snowy hair and a heliotrope
shawl over her black silk shoulders. She knitted
continually and talked a good deal, but listened more.
We sat around her at all hours of the day and told
When you were first introduced to
her you called her Miss Stanleymain. Her endurance
of that was limited to twenty-four hours. Then
she begged you to call her Miss Sylvia, and as Miss
Sylvia you spoke and thought of her forevermore.
Miss Sylvia liked us all, but I was
her favourite. She told us so frankly and let
it be understood that when I was talking to her and
her heliotrope shawl was allowed to slip under one
arm it was a sign that we were not to be interrupted.
I was as vain of her favour as any lovelorn suitor
whose lady had honoured him, not knowing, as I came
to know later, the reason for it.
Although Miss Sylvia had an unlimited
capacity for receiving confidences, she never gave
any. We were all sure that there must be some
romance in her life, but our efforts to discover it
were unsuccessful. Miss Sylvia parried tentative
questions so skilfully that we knew she had something
to defend. But one evening, when I had known
her a month, as time is reckoned, and long years as
affection and understanding are computed, she told
me her story at least, what there was to
tell of it. The last chapter was missing.
We were sitting together on the veranda
at sunset. Most of the hotel people had gone
for a harbour sail; a few forlorn mortals prowled
about the grounds and eyed our corner wistfully, but
by the sign of the heliotrope shawl knew it was not
I was reading one of my stories to
Miss Sylvia. In my own excuse I must allege that
she tempted me to do it. I did not go around with
manuscripts under my arm, inflicting them on defenceless
females. But Miss Sylvia had discovered that
I was a magazine scribbler, and moreover, that I had
shut myself up in my room that very morning and perpetrated
a short story. Nothing would do but that I read
it to her.
It was a rather sad little story.
The hero loved the heroine, and she loved him.
There was no reason why he should not love her, but
there was a reason why he could not marry her.
When he found that he loved her he knew that he must
go away. But might he not, at least, tell her
his love? Might he not, at least, find out for
his consolation if she cared for him? There was
a struggle; he won, and went away without a word,
believing it to be the more manly course. When
I began to read Miss Sylvia was knitting, a pale green
something this time, of the tender hue of young leaves
in May. But after a little her knitting slipped
unheeded to her lap and her hands folded idly above
it. It was the most subtle compliment I had ever
When I turned the last page of the
manuscript and looked up, Miss Sylvia’s soft
brown eyes were full of tears. She lifted her
hands, clasped them together and said in an agitated
“Oh, no, no; don’t let
him go away without telling her just telling
her. Don’t let him do it!”
“But, you see, Miss Sylvia,”
I explained, flattered beyond measure that my characters
had seemed so real to her, “that would spoil
the story. It would have no reason for existence
then. Its motif is simply his mastery
over self. He believes it to be the nobler course.”
“No, no, it wasn’t if
he loved her he should have told her. Think of
her shame and humiliation she loved him,
and he went without a word and she could never know
he cared for her. Oh, you must change it you
must, indeed! I cannot bear to think of her suffering
what I have suffered.”
Miss Sylvia broke down and sobbed.
To appease her, I promised that I would remodel the
story, although I knew that the doing so would leave
it absolutely pointless.
“Oh, I’m so glad,”
said Miss Sylvia, her eyes shining through her tears.
“You see, I know it would make her happier I
know it. I’m going to tell you my poor
little story to convince you. But you you
must not tell it to any of the others.”
“I am sorry you think the admonition
necessary,” I said reproachfully.
“Oh, I do not, indeed I do not,”
she hastened to assure me. “I know I can
trust you. But it’s such a poor little story.
You mustn’t laugh at it it is all
the romance I had. Years ago forty
years ago when I was a young girl of twenty,
I learned to care very much for somebody.
I met him at a summer resort like this. I was
there with my aunt and he was there with his mother,
who was delicate. We saw a great deal of each
other for a little while. He was oh,
he was like no other man I had ever seen. You
remind me of him somehow. That is partly why I
like you so much. I noticed the resemblance the
first time I saw you. I don’t know in just
what it consists in your expression and
the way you carry your head, I think. He was
not strong he coughed a good deal.
Then one day he went away suddenly.
I had thought he cared for me, but he never said so just
went away. Oh, the shame of it! After a
time I heard that he had been ordered to California
for his health. And he died out there the next
spring. My heart broke then, I never cared for
anybody again I couldn’t. I have
always loved him. But it would have been so much
easier to bear if I had only known that he loved me oh,
it would have made all the difference in the world.
And the sting of it has been there all these years.
I can’t even permit myself the joy of dwelling
on his memory because of the thought that perhaps
he did not care.”
“He must have cared,”
I said warmly. “He couldn’t have helped
it, Miss Sylvia.”
Miss Sylvia shook her head with a sad smile.
“I cannot be sure. Sometimes
I think he did. But then the doubt creeps back
again. I would give almost anything to know that
he did to know that I have not lavished
all the love of my life on a man who did not want
it. And I never can know, never I can
hope and almost believe, but I can never know.
Oh, you don’t understand a man couldn’t
fully understand what my pain has been over it.
You see now why I want you to change the story.
I am sorry for that poor girl, but if you only let
her know that he really loves her she will not mind
all the rest so very much; she will be able to bear
the pain of even life-long separation if she only
Miss Sylvia picked up her knitting
and went away. As for me, I thought savagely
of the dead man she loved and called him a cad, or
at best, a fool.
Next day Miss Sylvia was her serene,
smiling self once more, and she did not again make
any reference to what she had told me. A fortnight
later she returned home and I went my way back to the
world. During the following winter I wrote several
letters to Miss Sylvia and received replies from her.
Her letters were very like herself. When I sent
her the third-rate magazine containing my story nothing
but a third-rate magazine would take it in its rewritten
form she wrote to say that she was so glad
that I had let the poor girl know.
Early in April I received a letter
from an aunt of mine in the country, saying that she
intended to sell her place and come to the city to
live. She asked me to go out to Sweetwater for
a few weeks and assist her in the business of settling
up the estate and disposing of such things as she
did not wish to take with her.
When I arrived at Sweetwater I found
it moist and chill with the sunny moisture and teasing
chill of our Canadian springs. They are long and
fickle and reluctant, these springs of ours, but, oh,
the unnamable charm of them! There was something
even in the red buds of the maples at Sweetwater and
in the long, smoking stretches of hillside fields
that sent a thrill through my veins, finer and subtler
than any given by old wine.
A week after my arrival, when we had
got the larger affairs pretty well straightened out,
Aunt Mary suggested that I had better overhaul Uncle
“The things there have never
been meddled with since he died,” she said.
“In particular, there’s an old trunk full
of his letters and his papers. It was brought
home from California after his death. I’ve
never examined them. I don’t suppose there
is anything of any importance among them. But
I’m not going to carry all that old rubbish
to town. So I wish you would look over them and
see if there is anything that should be kept.
The rest may be burned.”
I felt no particular interest in the
task. My Uncle Alan Blair was a mere name to
me. He was my mother’s eldest brother and
had died years before I was born. I had heard
that he had been very clever and that great things
had been expected of him. But I anticipated no
pleasure from exploring musty old letters and papers
of forty neglected years.
I went up to Uncle Alan’s room
at dusk that night. We had been having a day
of warm spring rain, but it had cleared away and the
bare maple boughs outside the window were strung with
glistening drops. The room looked to the north
and was always dim by reason of the close-growing
Sweetwater pines. A gap had been cut through them
to the northwest, and in it I had a glimpse of the
sea Uncle Alan had loved, and above it a wondrous
sunset sky fleeced over with little clouds, pale and
pink and golden and green, that suddenly reminded me
of Miss Sylvia and her fluffy knitting. It was
with the thought of her in my mind that I lighted
a lamp and began the task of grubbing into Uncle Alan’s
trunkful of papers. Most of these were bundles
of yellowed letters, of no present interest, from
his family and college friends. There were several
college theses and essays, and a lot of loose miscellania
pertaining to boyish school days. I went through
the collection rapidly, until at the bottom of the
trunk, I came to a small book bound in dark-green
leather. It proved to be a sort of journal, and
I began to glance over it with a languid interest.
It had been begun in the spring after
he had graduated from college. Although suspected
only by himself, the disease which was to end his
life had already fastened upon him. The entries
were those of a doomed man, who, feeling the curse
fall on him like a frost, blighting all the fair hopes
and promises of life, seeks some help and consolation
in the outward self-communing of a journal. There
was nothing morbid, nothing unmanly in the record.
As I read, I found myself liking Uncle Alan, wishing
that he might have lived and been my friend.
His mother had not been well that
summer and the doctor ordered her to the seashore.
Alan accompanied her. Here occurred a hiatus in
the journal. No leaves had been torn out, but
a quire or so of them had apparently become loosened
from the threads that held them in place. I found
them later on in the trunk, but at the time I passed
to the next page. It began abruptly:
This girl is the sweetest thing that
God ever made. I had not known a woman could
be so fair and sweet. Her beauty awes me, the
purity of her soul shines so clearly through it like
an illuminating lamp. I love her with all
my power of loving and I am thankful that it is
so. It would have been hard to die without
having known love. I am glad that it has come
to me, even if its price is unspeakable bitterness.
A man has not lived for nothing who has known
and loved Sylvia Stanleymain.
I must not seek her love that
is denied me. If I were well and strong I
should win it; yes, I believe I could win it, and
nothing in the world would prevent me from trying,
but, as things are, it would be the part of a
coward to try. Yet I cannot resist the delight
of being with her, of talking to her, of watching
her wonderful face. She is in my thoughts day
and night, she dwells in my dreams. O, Sylvia,
I love you, my sweet!
A week later there was another entry:
I am afraid. To-day I met Sylvia’s
eyes. In them was a look which at first stirred
my heart to its deeps with tumultuous delight,
and then I remembered. I must spare her that
suffering, at whatever cost to myself. I must
not let myself dwell on the dangerous sweetness
of the thought that her heart is turning to me.
What would be the crowning joy to another man
could be only added sorrow to me.
This morning I took the train to the
city. I was determined to know the worst
once for all. The time had come when I must.
My doctor at home had put me off with vague hopes
and perhapses. So I went to a noted physician
in the city. I told him I wanted the whole
truth I made him tell it. Stripped
of all softening verbiage it is this: I have
perhaps eight months or a year to live no
I had expected it, although not quite
so soon. Yet the certainty was none the less
bitter. But this is no time for self-pity.
It is of Sylvia I must think now. I shall go away
at once, before the sweet fancy which is possibly
budding in her virgin heart shall have bloomed
into a flower that might poison some of her fair
It is over. I said good-bye to
her to-day before others, for I dared not trust
myself to see her alone. She looked hurt and
startled, as if someone had struck her. But
she will soon forget, even if I have not been
mistaken in the reading of her eyes. As for
me, the bitterness of death is already over in that
parting. All that now remains is to play the man
to the end.
From further entries in the journal
I learned that Alan Blair had returned to Sweetwater
and later on had been ordered to California.
The entries during his sojourn there were few and far
between. In all of them he spoke of Sylvia.
Finally, after a long silence, he had written:
I think the end is not far off now.
I am not sorry for my suffering has been great
of late. Last night I was easier. I slept
and dreamed that I saw Sylvia. Once or twice I
thought that I would arrange to have this book
sent to her after my death. But I have decided
that it would be unwise. It would only pain
her, so I shall destroy it when I feel the time has
It is sunset in this wonderful summer
land. At home in Sweetwater it is only early
spring as yet, with snow lingering along the edges
of the woods. The sunsets there will be creamy-yellow
and pale red now. If I could but see them once
more! And Sylvia
There was a little blot where the
pen had fallen. Evidently the end had been nearer
than Alan Blair had thought. At least, there were
no more entries, and the little green book had not
been destroyed. I was glad that it had not been;
and I felt glad that it was thus put in my power to
write the last chapter of Miss Sylvia’s story
As soon as I could leave Sweetwater
I went to the city, three hundred miles away, where
Miss Sylvia lived. I found her in her library,
in her black silk dress and heliotrope shawl, knitting
up cream wool, for all the world as if she had just
been transplanted from the veranda corner of Harbour
“My dear boy!” she said.
“Do you know why I have come?” I asked.
“I am vain enough to think it
was because you wanted to see me,” she smiled.
“I did want to see you; but
I would have waited until summer if it had not been
that I wished to bring you the missing chapter of your
story, dear lady.”
“I I don’t
understand,” said Miss Sylvia, starting slightly.
“I had an uncle, Alan Blair,
who died forty years ago in California,” I said
quietly. “Recently I have had occasion to
examine some of his papers. I found a journal
among them and I have brought it to you because I
think that you have the best right to it.”
I dropped the parcel in her lap.
She was silent with surprise and bewilderment.
“And now,” I added, “I
am going away. You won’t want to see me
or anyone for a while after you have read this book.
But I will come up to see you to-morrow.”
When I went the next day Miss Sylvia
herself met me at the door. She caught my hand
and drew me into the hall. Her eyes were softly
“Oh, you have made me so happy!”
she said tremulously. “Oh, you can never
know how happy! Nothing hurts now nothing
ever can hurt, because I know he did care.”
She laid her face down on my shoulder,
as a girl might have nestled to her lover, and I bent
and kissed her for Uncle Alan.