Read CHAPTER XXXV of The Quality of Mercy , free online book, by William Dean Howells, on

Matt took the lower road that wound away from Wade’s church toward the Northwick place; but as he went, he kept thinking that he must not really try to see Suzette.  It would be monstrous, at such a time; out of all propriety, of all decency; it would be taking advantage of her helplessness to intrude upon her the offer of help and of kindness which every instinct of her nature must revolt from.  There was only one thing that could justify his coming, and that was impossible.  Unless he came to tell her that he loved her, and to ask her to let him take her burden upon him, to share her shame and her sorrow for his love’s sake, he had no right to see her.  At moments it seemed as if that were right and he could do it, no matter how impossible, and then he almost ran forward; but only to check himself, to stop short, and doubt whether not to turn back altogether.  By such faltering progresses, he found himself in the Northwick avenue at last, and keeping doggedly on from the mansion, which the farm road had brought him to, until he reached the cottage at the avenue gate.  On the threshold drooped a figure that the sight of set his heart beating with a stifling pulse in his throat, and he floundered on till he made out that this languid figure was Adeline.  He could have laughed at the irony, the mockery of the anti-climax, if it had not been for the face that the old maid turned upon him at the approach of his footfalls, and the pleasure that lighted up its pathos when she recognized him.

Oh, Mr. Hilary!” she said; and then she could not speak, for the twitching of her lips and the trembling of her chin.

He took her hand in silence, and it seemed natural for him to do that reverent and tender thing which is no longer a part of our custom; he bent over it and kissed the chill, bony knuckles.

She drew her hand away to find her handkerchief and wipe her tears.  “I suppose you’ve come to see Suzette; but she’s gone up to the village to talk with Mr. Putney; he’s our lawyer.”

“Yes,” said Matt.

“I presume I don’t need to talk to you about that — letter.  I think, — and I believe Suzette will think so too in the end, — that his mind is affected, and he just accuses himself of all these things because they’ve been burnt into it so.  How are your father and mother?  And your sister?”

She broke off with these questions, he could see, to stay herself in what she wished to say.  “They are all well.  Father is still in Boston; but mother and Louise are at the farm with me.  They sent their love, and they are anxious to know if there is anything — ”

“Thank you.  Will you sit down here?  It’s so close indoors.”  She made room for him on the threshold, but he took the step below.

“I hope Miss Suzette is well?”

“Why, thank you, not very well.  There isn’t anything really the matter; but we didn’t either of us sleep very well last night; we were excited.  I don’t know as I ought to tell you,” she began.  “I don’t suppose it’s a thing you would know about, any way; but I’ve got to talk to somebody — ”

“Miss Northwick,” said Matt, “if there is anything in the world that I can do for you, or that you even hope I can do, I beg you to let me hear it.  I should be glad beyond all words to help you.”

“Oh, I don’t know as anything can be done,” she began, after the fresh gush of tears which were her thanks, “but Suzette and I have been talking it over a good deal, and we thought we would like to see your father about it.  You see, Suzette can’t feel right about our keeping the place here, if father’s really done what he says he’s done.  We don’t believe he has; but if he has, he has got to be found somewhere, and made to give up the money he says he has got.  Suzette thinks we ought to give up the money we have got in the bank — fifteen hundred or two thousand dollars — and she wanted I should let her give up her half of the place, here; and at first I did say she might.  But come to find out from Mr. Putney, the whole place would have to be sold before it could be divided, and I couldn’t seem to let it.  That was what we — disputed about.  Yes!  We had a dispute; but it’s all right now, or it will be, when we get the company to say they will stop the lawsuit against father, if he will give up the money he’s got, and we will give up the place.  Mr. Putney seemed to think the company couldn’t stop it; but I don’t see why a rich corporation like that couldn’t do almost anything it wanted to with its money.”

Her innocent corruption did not shock Matt, nor her scheme for defeating justice; but he smiled forlornly at the hopelessness of it.  “I’m afraid Mr. Putney is right.”  He was silent, and then at the despair that came into her face, he hurried on to say, “but I will see my father, Miss Northwick; I will go down to see him at once; and if anything can be honorably and fairly done to save your father, I am sure he will try to do it for your sake.  But don’t expect anything,” he said, getting to his feet and putting out his hand to her.

“No, no; I won’t,” she said, with gratitude that wrung his heart.  “And — won’t you wait and see Suzette?”

Matt reddened.  “No; I think not now.  But, perhaps, I will come back; and — and — I will come soon again.  Good-by!”

“Mr. Hilary!” she called after him.  He ran back to her.  “If — if your father don’t think anything can be done, I don’t want he should say anything about it.”

“Oh, no; certainly not.”

“And, Mr. Hilary!  Don’t you let Suzette know I spoke to you. I’ll tell her.”

“Why, of course.”

On his way to Boston the affair seemed to grow less and less impossible to Matt; but he really knew nothing of the legal complications; and when he proposed it to his father, old Hilary shook his head.  “I don’t believe it could be done.  The man’s regularly indicted, and he’s in contempt of court as long as he doesn’t present himself for trial.  That’s the way I understand it.  But I’ll see our counsel.  Whose scheme is this?”

“I don’t know.  Miss Northwick told me of it; but I fancied Miss Suzette — ”

“Yes,” said Hilary.  “It must have cost her almost her life to give up her faith in that pitiful rascal.”

“But after she had done that, it would cost her nothing to give up the property, and as I understood Miss Northwick, that was her sister’s first impulse.  She wished to give up her half of the estate unconditionally; but Miss Northwick wouldn’t consent, and they compromised on the conditions she told me of.”

“Well,” said Hilary, “I think Miss Northwick showed the most sense.  But of course, Sue’s a noble girl.  She almost transfigures that old scoundrel of a father of hers.  That fellow — Jack Wilmington — ought to come forward now and show himself a man, if he is one. Any man might be proud of such a girl’s love — and they say she was in love with him.  But he seems to have preferred to dangle after his uncle’s wife.  He isn’t good enough for her, and probably he always knew it.”

Matt profited by the musing fit that came upon his father, to go and look at the picture over the mantel.  It was not a new picture; but he did not feel that he was using his father quite frankly; and he kept looking at it for that reason.

“If those poor creatures gave up their property, what would they do?  They’ve absolutely nothing else in the world!”

“I fancy,” said Matt, “that isn’t a consideration that would weigh with Suzette Northwick.”

“No.  If there’s anything in heredity, the father of such a girl must have some good in him.  Of course, they wouldn’t be allowed to suffer.”

“Do you mean that the company would regard the fact that it had no legal claim on the property, and would recognize it in their behalf?”

“The company!” Hilary roared.  “The company has no right to that property, moral or legal.  But we should act as if we had.  If it were unconditionally offered to us, we ought to acknowledge it as an act of charity to us, and not of restitution.  But every man Jack of us would hold out for a right to it that didn’t exist, and we should take it as part of our due; and I should be such a coward that I couldn’t tell the Board what I thought of our pusillanimity.”

“It seems rather hard for men to act magnanimously in a corporate capacity, or even humanely,” said Matt.  “But I don’t know but there would be an obscure and negative justice in such action.  It would be right for the company to accept the property, if it was right for Northwick’s daughter to offer it, and I think it is most unquestionably right for her to do that.”

“Do you, Matt?  Well, well,” said Hilary, willing to be comforted, “perhaps you’re right.  You must send Louise and your mother over to see her.”

“Well, perhaps not just now.  She’s proud and sensitive, and perhaps it might seem intrusive, at this juncture?”

“Intrusive?  Nonsense!  She’ll be glad to see them.  Send them right over!”

Matt knew this was his father’s way of yielding the point, and he went away with his promise to say nothing of the matter they had talked of till he heard from Putney.  After that would be time enough to ascertain the whereabouts of Northwick, which no one knew yet, not even his own children.

What his father had said in praise of Suzette gave his love for her unconscious approval; but at the same time it created a sort of comedy situation, and Matt was as far from the comic as he hoped he was from the romantic, in his mood.  When he thought of going direct to her, he hated to be going, like the hero of a novel, to offer himself to the heroine at the moment her fortunes were darkest; but he knew that he was only like that outwardly, and inwardly was simply and humbly her lover, who wished in any way or any measure he might, to be her friend and helper.  He thought he might put his offer in some such form as would leave her free to avail herself a little if not much of his longing to comfort and support her in her trial.  But at last he saw that he could do nothing for the present, and that it would be cruel and useless to give her more than the tried help of a faithful friend.  He did not go back to Hatboro’, as he longed to do.  He went back to his farm, and possessed his soul in such patience as he could.