Read CHAPTER XI - HAS IT COME TO THIS? of Bylow Hill, free online book, by George Washington Cable, on

Ruth wrote to her lover.  Her father’s keeping secret his receipt of Godfrey’s letter until he had mailed its answer, could mean only that the answer was for Godfrey to come home.  The General’s talk of being tired by the writing of it was a purely expletive irony, for he had written with the brevity of an old soldier to a young sailor; but he had written that trouble was impending, that its source was Arthur, and that the last hope of removing it lay with him, Godfrey.

A line from Ruth, pursuing after this message, would be one steamer behind it all the way, but it would reach the far wanderer before any leave would permit him to start homeward.

So, now, what should she write?  If her father had discerned so much more than he had let any one know he had discerned, how about others?  How about the kind whose chief joy is ruthless guesswork? That need of haste was one she had overlooked.  Wise father!

And yet-haste itself is such a hazardous thing!  Ah, if Arthur had come in on that evening express, what to write were an easier question.  The minutes sped by; her pen overhung the paper with the opening sentence unfinished, and every moment the thought she kept putting away came back:  “Leonard!-Leonard!-Godfrey’s summons should go to him from Leonard; and it should flash under the seas, not crawl across them!”-Hark!

She rose and glided to the door through which her brother had gone.  There she was startled by the sight of him speeding cautiously down the stair.

On entering his unlighted room Leonard had moved across it to a front window, where, veiled by the chamber’s dusk, he stood looking out into a night dimly illumined by the overclouded moon.  The Winslow house widened palely among its surrounding trees.  The servants’ rooms were remote as well as on the farther side, and on the nearer side no lamplight shone.  A short way down the street a glow came from the Morris cottage.  Evidently Isabel was with her mother.

He stood and mused, unconsciously lulled by the cool drip of myriad leaves, and with his mind poised midway between emotion and thought.  To yield to emotion would have been to chafe against the bands that knitted his life and hers to every life about them.  To yield to thought would have been to think of her as no more to be drawn from these surrounding ties than some animate rainbow-fringed flower of the sea can be torn from its shell without laceration and death.  To give thought word would have been to cry, “Oh, truest of womankind, where would this unsuspected man, this Leonard Byington, be if you were other than you are?” Yet the suspense between avoided feeling and avoided thought held him where he stood.

So standing, it drifted idly into his mind that yonder arbor must be very wet to-night, and the cinder sidewalk out here much drier.  As the thought moved him to draw one step back, the glow from the cottage broadened.  Its front door had opened, and Mrs. Morris’s young maid came out with a lantern, followed by Isabel saying last fond words to her mother as the convalescent closed the door.

“Good-night!” she called back.

In one great wave the young man’s passion rolled over its bounds and brought him to his knees with arms outstretched.  “Oh, Isabel!” he murmured.  “Oh, my God!  Oh, Isabel!  Isabel! if I had but lost you fairly!”

The two slight figures came daintily along the wet path in single file, the maid throwing the lantern’s beams hither and yon as she looked back to answer Isabel’s kindly questions; Isabel one moment half lost in the gloom of the trees, and then so lighted up again from foot to brow that it was easy to see the very lines of her winsome mouth, ripe for compassion or fortitude, yet wishful as a little child’s.

Her secret observer moaned as he stood erect.  The fury of his soul seemed to enhance his stature.  He did not speak again, but, “Oh, Isabel! harder to strive against than all the world beside!” was the unuttered cry that wrote itself upon his tortured brow.  “If your unfair winner would only hold you by fair means!  Yet I too was to blame!  I too was to blame, and you alone were blameless!”

Opposite his window Isabel ceased her light talk with the maid, halted, bent, and scanned something just off the firm path, in the clean wet sand.

The maid turned and flooded her with the light of the lantern just as she impulsively lifted an alarmed glance to Leonard’s window and as quickly averted it.  “Go on,” said the mistress.  “I can walk faster if you can.”

The girl quickened her steps, but had not taken a dozen when Isabel stopped again.  “Wait, Minnie.  Now you can run back, thank you.”  She reached for the lantern.

“I-I thought I was to go all the way, and-and bring the lantern back.”

“No, I’ll keep the lantern; but I’ll stay here and throw the light after you till you get in.  Run along.”

Minnie tripped away.  As she came where they had first halted, a purposely belated good-night softly overtook her; and when she looked back, Isabel, as if by inadvertency, sent the lantern’s beam into her eyes.  So too much light sent the maid by the spot unenlightened.

Leonard drew aside lest the beam swing next into his window.  But the precaution was wasted; the glare followed Minnie.

Isabel also followed, slowly, a few paces, and then moved obliquely into the roadway and toward the window.  Only for a moment the ray swept near her unseen observer, and, lighting up the rain-packed sand close before herself, revealed a line of footprints slanting toward her from Leonard’s own gate.

As the cottage door shut Minnie in, Isabel, reassured by the brightness of the Byingtons’ lower windows, stopped for a furtive instant, and holding in her hand the fellow of the slipper so lately in Ruth’s fingers, exactly fitted it to one of these footprints.  Then, with the lantern on her farther side, and every vein surging with fright and shame, she made haste toward the open gateway of the Winslow house.

A short space from it she recoiled with a gesture of dismay and self-repression, and her light shone full upon a man.  He stepped from the garden, his form tensely lifted, his face aflame with anger.

But her small figure straightened also, and swiftly muffling the lantern in a fold of her skirt, she exclaimed, audibly only to him, though in words clear-cut as musical notes, “Oh, Arthur Winslow, has it come to this?”

She arrested his resentful answer by the uplift of a hand, which left the lantern again uncovered.  “Inside!  In the house!” she softly cried, starting on.  “Not here!  Look!-those upper windows!-we’re in full view of them!”

Quickly she remuffled the lantern, but not in time to hide his motion as he threw out an arm and pushed her rudely back, while he exclaimed, “In full view of them answer me one question!”

It was then that Leonard went hurriedly downstairs.