Read CHAPTER XX - A DOUBLE RETURN of Bylow Hill, free online book, by George Washington Cable, on

Let us not attempt the picture of Isabel keeping the happy guise of a wedding guest among her kindred and childhood playmates while her heart burned with perpetual misery, yearning, and alarm.  “My baby, my baby!” cried her breast, while the babe slept sweetly under faultless care.

Nor need we draw a close portrait of her husband’s mind, if mind it could longer be called.  A horror of sleep, a horror of being awake and aware, remorse, phantoms, voices, sudden blazings of wrath as suddenly gone, sweating panics, that craven care of life which springs so rank as the soul decays, and a steady, cunning determination to keep whole the emptied shell of reputation and rank,-these were the things that filled his hours by day, by night; these, and a frightful expectance of one accusing, child-claiming ghost that never came.  The air softened to Indian summer; the ice faded off the pool; a million leaves, crimson and bronze, scarlet and gold, dropped tenderly upon its silvering breadth and lay still; and both the joyless master of the larger house and the merry maid of the cottage asked Heaven impatiently if the pond would never freeze over again.

It was Saturday afternoon when Giles, asked by Sarah Stebbens where Mr. Arthur was, told her he was again, as he had been so many times the last three days, down by the water, sitting at the edge of the overhanging bank; or, as the Englishman expressed it, “’dreamink the ’appy hours aw’y.’” So the week passed out; a second came in, and the rector of All Angels went to his sacred office.

He knew, before he appeared in the chancel, that Mrs. Morris was in her accustomed place, and Ruth and her father in theirs, and that Leonard was not yet reported back nor looked for; but exactly as he began to read, “’Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us, in sundry places, to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness, and that we should not dissemble nor cloak them before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father’”-a sickness filled Mrs. Morris’s frame, a deathly hue overspread the minister’s face, and Leonard came in and sat beside his father and sister.

Yet the service went on.  The people knelt.

“’Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.  We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts’”-

Thus far the rector’s voice had led, but here it sank, and the old General’s, in a measure, took its place.

Then it rose again, in the confession, “There is no health in us,” and in the supplication, “Have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.”

There once more it failed, while the people, faltering with distress, repeated, “That we may hereafter lead a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name.  Amen.”

At this the farmer with the spectacled daughter stepped nimbly over the rail and caught Arthur as he rose and staggered.  Leonard was hurrying forward, and half the people kneeling, half standing, when Mrs. Morris vacantly stopped his way with a face so aghast and words so confused that he had to give her over to Ruth.  Then he hastened on to where Arthur was being led into the vestry by his physician and others.

But now he was turned back by the doctor, requesting him to dismiss the congregation; which he did, with the physician’s assurance that the trouble was no more than vertigo, and that Arthur was even now quite able to proceed home in the farmer vestryman’s rockaway.  The people noticed that the physician went with him.

Mrs. Morris followed on foot with the farmer’s daughter, and with Ruth and the General, and Leonard went into town to telegraph Isabel, in her mother’s name, to come home.  As he was starting, Mrs. Morris drew Ruth aside and whispered something about Godfrey.  To which Ruth softly replied, with an affectionate twist in her smile, “It couldn’t hurry him; he’s already on the way.”

In the room next that in which her son-in-law lay asleep under anodynes the little mother’s odd laugh was turned all to moan.  “Oh!-ho-ho!” she sighed in solitude, “if Arthur could have learned from Godfrey how to wait, or even if Isabel could but have learned from Ruth how to keep one waiting!”

She paused at a window that looked over the garden and into the street.  Leonard passed.  She turned quickly away, only sighing again, “Oh!-ho-ho!” Her thought might have been kinder had she known he was stabbing himself at every step with blame of all this woe.

“I ought to have foreseen,” was his constant silent cry.  “I am the one who ought to have foreseen.”

Lack of Sunday trains and two failures to connect kept Isabel from arriving until nightfall of the third day, Wednesday.  Arthur knew Mrs. Morris had telegraphed for her; but to him that was only part of the play under which he thought he and she were hiding the frightful truth.

On this day he had so outwitted his village physician as to be given the freedom for which he ravened; liberty to take the air in his garden, as understood by the doctor, but by him liberty to stand guard down at the edge of that dark pool which would not freeze over,-liberty to take an air sweet with the odors of the parting year, but crowded also with distended eyes and strangling groans.

He was down there in the early starlight when Ruth drove softly into the garden, bringing Isabel.  Warily the mother came out into the pillared porch, and silently received the house’s mistress into her arms.

“He doesn’t know,” she said.  “I couldn’t tell him till you should come, for fear of disappointing him.”

The argument seemed strained, but no one said so, and with a whispered good-night Ruth drove away, and the two went in.  As they stole upstairs they debated how Isabel had best reveal herself.  “I’m terribly afraid that won’t work, blessing,” said Mrs. Morris; “you’d better let me break it to him, first.”

“No, dearie, I don’t think so.  I haven’t the shadow of a fear”-

“Oh, my darling child, you never have!”

“But I know him so well, mother.  We have only to come unexpectedly face to face and-Oh, I’ve seen the effect so often!” They entered her room whispering:  “I’ll change this dress for the one he last saw me in, and stand over here by the crib where I stood then, and-Oh, sweet Heaven! is this my little flower sleeping just as I left her?” With clasped hands and tearful eyes she bent over the child.