Turning from the mirror to a window

In spite of André’s interference and her grandfather’s mild
questionings, in spite, even, of Nora Gage’s curious and sly looks,
Rachel continued to take Emil out in the boat every day. But on the
fifth day when she went to the beach, he did not appear. For a time
she waited in acute loneliness, then, with a magnificent effort, she
returned to the house, deliberately donned her best dress, and,
haughtily, under Nora’s little inquisitive eyes, started for Old
Harbour. Some powerful law of existence was at work driving her
blindly forward to realize a distant idea in the face of the challenges
of her maidenhood.

She walked rapidly until she gained the main street of the little
village. Then her steps flagged, and with her head turning idly from
side to side, she noticed, as if for the first time, the names over the
doors of the storm-beaten shops:–“Old Harbour Yacht Yard,” “Ship
Chandlery and Hardware,” “Paint, Cordage and Boat Trimmings.”

In her dainty trappings, with the shadow from her hat in her eyes and
folds of her crisp muslin dress in one sunburnt hand to keep it from
the soil of the road, she might have been a stranger on a first stroll
through the curious little town that smelled rankly of fish, instead of
a maid born and bred in those parts. Finally she paused before a
window where yellow oilskin coats were grotesquely displayed, together
with lanterns and canvas pails and other objects of signal interest to
one of her sex and age; and at that instant Emil, lounging in the door
of the hotel opposite with a pipe planted between his lips, spied her.

For two blocks she walked rapidly, and when she did permit him to
overtake her, she scarcely gave answer to his greeting. As if by
mutual consent they turned their steps in the direction of the old
Burying Point, a rocky promontory at the town’s edge where for two
centuries Old Harbour had persistently discovered graves for its dead
among the boulders. Rocks and bones of men disputed the place, and
yet, what more fit than that they should be laid to rest there, those
staunch old captains and brave wives, whose very spirits had more in
common with rocks than with flowers? Yet flowers bloomed there in
scanty elegance, and sprays of ‘lady’s ear-drop’ and ‘Queen Anne’s
lace,’ testifying to some feminine grace hidden away in neighbouring
graves, caught and clung to Rachel’s dress as she passed.

Emil, who was frankly pleased to see her, kept laughing loudly as he
switched off the heads of the tall grass: but Rachel turned away her
face and bit her lip; now that she saw him, she was indifferent to him.
She was not thoroughly aware of her own actions until they were
accomplished. Constantly something vast fought within her. Indeed, in
this scrap of a girl was manifest one of the greatest desires, the
greatest volitions of the universe.

Reaching the edge of the cemetery where it ran out in a jutting cliff
that commanded a view of extended range and beauty, she sank down on an
old seat and cast a challenging glance at Emil.

“Is the _depth indicator_ complete?” she asked. “I did not know that
you considered it finished.”

“Yes, it’s practically finished,” he answered; “anyhow, I shan’t be
able to do anything more to it for the present. I’ve got to finish my
lithographic outfit. They’re hurrying me. I’m heartily sick of it,
but there’s nothing else to be done.”

“Of course you must finish it,” she agreed quickly, and the last little
cloud vanished from her eyes.

With instinctive tact she began making more attractive to him the duty
that lay before him. She made him explain the salient features of the
lithographic improvement and she nodded her head sagely at each point
as if she understood. Then she praised its ingenuity. Finally, having
divined his feeling for his mother, she hinted at her pleasure in his
success.

“Your mother must be excited these days,” she said, “and proud, too.”

The glow in his glance had been deepening, and pride was visible all
over him, but at the mention of his mother his expression changed.

“Yes, it must go through for her sake,” he said soberly. “Oh, I’m a
queer devil,” he continued, hitching his shoulders in some impatience;
“I’ve a brain exactly like one of the monkeys in the Zoo–attracted
first by this thing, then by that, just like one of the monkeys in the
Zoo. I say, you’re coming to-morrow?” he asked, as she rose. “If I’m
to finish in time, someone’s got to bring me to account.”

He stood smiling at her, the sun lighting up his rough locks and
causing him to half close his questioning, eager eyes in which there
was a touch of anxiety.

She lifted toward him her sensitive and responsive face.

“Will you come?” he insisted. His eyes held hers.

Her brows rose ingenuously, her lips parted, though no word passed
them. Then, with a mute gesture of assent, she turned away.

Reaching home, she deemed it expedient to conceal her towering spirits.
But even so, it seemed extraordinary that her grandfather did not
surprise the thought that informed her cheeks, her eyes and every curve
of her body with witchery. In Emil’s presence her bearing had not been
what she could have wished, but now it was that of a queen.

At bedtime, before her mirror, she arranged her hair after a new
fashion. She stared into her bright soft face. Standing in her
nightgown she hugged closely to her breast her happiness that was young
and young and once again young.

Borne forward in obedience to an irresistible command of nature, she
continued to meet St. Ives. In spite of tears and passionate revolts
and innumerable petty hypocrisies by which she strove to put another
face on her actions, that was awake in her which would not be gainsaid.
And, thanks to her sex which so readily can blind itself, her movements
for the most part remained superbly instinctive and unconscious.

When she set out of an afternoon for Old Harbour she caught and held
every eye, like something bright and sparkling. Nora Gage observed her
and malignity appeared to deepen the creases of her fat; while Lizzie
Goodenough longed for the temerity to give warning to the motherless
slip. All unmindful of them, Rachel, with such bravery of raiment as
she could command, pursued her course. And her accoutrement, which was
always the same, was by no means inconsiderable. The dress was of
yellow barred-muslin and the skirt swayed as she walked like the
corolla of a drooping flower. The waist fitted her closely, save at
the bosom where there was an over-lapping fulness and in this surplice
front was pinned carelessly, surely with the height of art, a cluster
of evening primroses. These frail flowers, constantly agitated by the
mad beating of her heart, drooped finally, as if in sheer delight at
their enviable position. Fastened beneath her chin was the ribbon of
her flower-decked hat. This ribbon, passing round that little smooth
face and seeming to hold it in a dainty embrace, was a triumph of
coquetry: it had life and spoke, calling attention to the down on the
cheek, to the lift of the upper lip, finally to the eyes, innocent as a
stag’s–eyes that never the less revealed in this ardent, complex,
highly-spiritual creature intense aspirations towards a fuller
existence.

One afternoon on arriving at the cemetery she seated herself on a
certain flat-topped tomb, and there some minutes later Emil joined her.
The look from under his rough mane came at her diagonally, as with head
lowered on his hand, he sat beside her. His eyes shed on her
admiration; his moustache leaped against his cheek as he smiled.

“It’s good to be near you.”

Rachel glanced at him askance, and one little hand trembled so on the
other that she had to intertwine their fingers strongly. Though she
drank in these words like wine, she did not know how to prolong the
moment. Instead,–O perverse instinct that frequently dominates
helpless youth!–she inquired about his work. For interminable hours
she had longed for this very moment, yet here she was shortening it!

Emil rose joyously to her question. Not only did he reply to it, but
he amplified his explanation and finally launched into a detailed
description of the instrument on which he was then engaged.

Once started on the subject, she knew he would not abandon it until she
rose as a signal that the interview must end.

Happiness was diminished, but for an instant only. Disappointment was
drowned in pride. It was something to have demonstrated to her her
value as a confidante. To her imagination this stranger dropped by
Fate at her feet, was all that the childish André was not. He appealed
to her by reason of his stronger magnetism and his greater mind. Not
only did he seem to her to possess every quality of the ideal lover,
but,–and the discovery completed her subjugation and was essential to
it,–he was the eternal child of genius whom she longed to protect.

The moment came when they had to part. Sometimes they separated at the
gate of the cemetery; sometimes, if dusk had overtaken them, Emil
walked home with her. Frequently, at the moment of parting, he caught
her hand and looked fixedly at her eyes and mouth. Though judging from
the expression of both eyes and mouth, the permission he sought was not
absolutely withheld, the firm, round face fronting his in the evening
light seemed to mask a host of imperious possibilities. Its look, on
the whole, was equivocal. Scarcely aware of what restrained him, he
pressed her trusting little fingers and let her go. Rachel was one of
those fortunate maidens who are never treated with levity by men.

After the young girl had disappeared in the house, the spell she had
cast over Emil’s restless heart was in a measure dissipated. He
straightened his cap, thrust his hands into his pockets and swung away,
his thoughts once more on his work.

But for Rachel there existed no such opposing interest. Each day,
through the hours of separation, she lived on the exhaustless, ardent
vitality absorbed during their last interview. But it was not long ere
the glory of her dream was partially eclipsed. The guileless disturber
of her bliss was a certain Lottie Loveburg who caught up with her one
afternoon as she was striking into the road for Pemoquod Point. As she
had parted from Emil some minutes earlier, Rachel was not averse to
Lottie’s company.

“I’m going your way, at least as far as Mr. Patch’s,” Lottie announced
with a panting breath. “Mother wants me to get a mess of pease for
supper. Bliss and Mason are all sold out.”

The two girls went on side by side.

Lottie was a few years older than Rachel. In school she had been
considered an out-and-out stupid, but once released from school she was
acknowledged a belle. She was a large full-bosomed lass with a head of
heavy blond hair. The one misfortune of her face was the slight
crossing of the blue eyes. As far as possible, she remedied the defect
by a frequent lowering of the lids, though the precaution was one which
she did not trouble herself to take when walking, as at present, with
one of her own kind. From this big lazy girl there issued a compelling
and entirely innocent charm that attacked the opposite sex. To the
absorbed and dreamy Rachel she was as cornet to flute, when both blow
the same ravishing air.

For a space the pair followed the road in silence. Had any observer
been present, he might well have asked himself how much of the hope
depicted on the countenances of these two young creatures was destined
to be fulfilled. Were they destined to be mothers of sons and
daughters who, in turn, would inhabit this desolate coast?–or was it
written that something of their superabundance of dream and romance be
realized? It was significant that they set their faces toward the
immense infinite ocean, suggestive that their skirts, whipped to the
side by the breeze, seemed waving a farewell to the rude life of the
land.

Though their shoulders touched, for sometime each seemed unconscious of
the other. Lottie was the first to speak.

“Well,” she cried, “here we are at Mr. Patch’s and I haven’t said a
word of what’s weighing on my mind.”

Rachel started and glanced sideways at her. She feared some allusion
to her meetings with Emil.

But Lottie was too much engrossed in her own affairs to give a thought
to her companion’s. “Yes, I think I must tell you,” she continued with
a sigh that was a frank announcement of vanity. “Well then, Mr.
Forebush intends to fight Jim Wright. He’s going to follow Jim as he
goes along home past the cemetery, and when they reach a lonely place,
he’s going to drag Jim in behind the wall and settle things.”

“The cemetery?” cried Rachel sharply. The cemetery was her territory.

“They won’t be disturbed there–that’s all Mr. Forebush is thinking of.
He travels for a New York shoe firm, you know, and he says he’s sick of
finding Jim hanging round our house every time he comes to town.”

“Then does Mr. Forebush–does he like you?” Rachel questioned. Though
she made free use of a warmer term in her meditations, she hesitated to
pronounce it.

But the more experienced Lottie had no such scruple. “Like me!” She
threw her hands apart with an expansive motion. “Why he loves me!”
And to cover her embarrassment she burst into laughter.

Rachel crimsoned. “Yes, but how do you know he does?” she persisted.

Lottie continued laughing. “Oh, you queer child! You understand
nothing!” Then, as the other darted an angry look at her,–“Why,
doesn’t the fight prove it, even if he hadn’t said it? But he has said
it. I wouldn’t take stock in him if he hadn’t. No looks and kisses
without words for me! But I’m leaving you here. Wonder if Mr. Patch
is at home.” Then, as she was passing in at the gate she added with a
return of the sentimental manner, “I’m sure I hope Jim won’t hurt Mr.
Forebush; he’s some bigger, you know.”

Rachel did not remain to discuss this possibility. Instead, she threw
over her shoulder a curt “good-bye” and pursued her course.

When she was with Emil what did he talk about? Try as she would she
could recall no topic on which he dwelt save his own work. Ideas for
new inventions, for wonderful instruments jostled each other on his
lips. He explained them with fire;–plans, details, he mapped them all
out before her. “Fine to do!” he would cry, and while the words came
forth in the most ringing tones of his voice and his eyes constantly
sought hers, conscious that he revived in her presence his courage and
light-heartedness, she herself was tricked into contentment. But now
she questioned the extent of her power over him.

Until she had covered the distance from Zarah Patch’s to “the barn,”
her feeling was nicely balanced between dejection and hope. But from
“the barn” onward to her grandfather’s house, hope flagged. Presently,
in the privacy of her own room, she succumbed to despair:

“It may be that I’m not good-looking enough!”

This was the thought that caused her the most exquisite pang. If she
failed on that score, as well yield up all hope at once. And in fancy
she ranged herself beside this spinster and that of her acquaintance
until the consciousness of the contrast between eighteen and fifty
brought a smile flickering to her lips. But did she fail in the matter
of looks? When dressed in her best, didn’t she look as well as Lottie
Loveburg? To be sure Lottie had a rope of hair as big as your arm, but
then, there were her eyes!

To glance in the mirror over her bureau at her own resources of face
and figure was a natural action for a young thing in such harassing
doubt. At present, however on the subject of her looks, Rachel had all
of a child’s ignorance. She was no more capable of appreciating the
sensitive changeful beauty of her colouring and expression than a
canary bird is of appreciating the beauty of its yellow plumage.

Turning from the mirror to a window, she lost herself in reverie. Her
thoughts returned again and again to the vision of two eyes that
entered audaciously into hers,–two eyes with a mind in them,–two good
lips laughing and talking from the covert of a curling beard; and as
she studied the exciting vision, the gloom lifted from her face. It
was indeed a great honour to be the confidante of such a man, she
assured herself; and once more was isolated by the realization on a
dizzy eminence above all her girl companions.

Unconscious of the grim humour that lurked in the fact of their having
selected it as a place to foregather, Emil and Rachel continued to meet
at the old Burying Point. No other lovers came there, and as deaths
were infrequent in Old Harbour and a funeral pageant an event, they
were practically secure from interruption. There, where the wind bent
the grass above the graves with a sound that struck pleasantly on the
ear and the insect world was all abroad on busy wings, they found the
isolation their spirits craved. The place was, at most, but a setting
for their two selves, for their sweet, intoxicating emotions.

Emil would look at Rachel pensively, almost appealingly. She stirred
in him depths of tenderness and often he would have been tempted into
some indiscretion had not her Arcadian innocence disconcerted him.
With a shrug of the shoulders and a sigh, he would turn away from her
as if offended at something. Though neither of them guessed it, what
raised the level of the situation and decreased its dangers, was the
unflagging interest she exhibited in his work. A woman’s interest in
his achievement is always fruitful for a man. For the exuberant and
egotistic inventor, it was as fuel to flame. It immensely increased
his powers.

Had anyone, prompted by curiosity, troubled himself to spy on the pair,
he would have discovered an enthusiastic young fellow ranting on
matters scientific and a slip of a girl sitting nearby with delight and
despair depicted on her mobile countenance. The delight, he would have
remarked, was a fluctuating emotion; the despair in danger of becoming
a lasting one.

The two had been meeting in this way for upwards of three weeks and the
lithographic sheets and press were all but ready for triumphant
shipment, when Rachel’s patience came unexpectedly to an end. Her
change of front was due directly to the weather. The temperature of
Pemoquod on a particular afternoon in late August made the wearing of
the muslin dress seem out of the question, for the day, while bright,
was distinctly chilly and by the time she quitted the cemetery
according to all reasonable calculations, the air would be cold. She
therefore made no change in her dress at all, but in her every-day
frock, with an old drab silk shawl, which had belonged to her mother,
over her shoulders and a book from the circulating library under her
arm, she took her way to Old Harbour, her prospects for a pleasant
interview considerably damaged. In this dull attire she would forego
Emil’s lightning glances of pleasure, “For he might as well look at a
rock or a stump,” she told herself disconsolately, “as look at me the
way I am to-day.”

The weather beside the sea is nothing if not capricious, and by the
time she reached the cemetery, the air had become warm. It was between
four and five o’clock and the sun was sending long level shafts between
the graves, as if looking for something, when Rachel took her
accustomed place on the flat-topped tomb and let the shawl slip down
her back till it lay about her in a semicircle of rippling folds.

“Just my bad luck!” she soliloquized. “It’s warm enough for a gauze
dress if one had such a thing. But I’d like to know what’s the sense
of all this?” she resumed indignantly. “It isn’t fair that he should
judge me by my clothes entirely and I’ll not have it. I’ve a mind as
well as he!”

Now there was no evidence that Emil had judged her as lacking this
particular endowment, but she was in no mood to adhere closely to
facts. She began turning the pages of her book at random. She was
engaged in reading, with most imperfect attention it must be confessed,
a glowing description of the sphinx, when he arrived.

From a distance he spied her and she appeared to him to light up with
her grace the whole desolate place. For eight hours he had devoted
himself solely to work; now like one who receives but his just reward,
he drew near with a jovial smile on his lips. Rachel, though she was
conscious of his approach in every fibre of her being, was all for
concealing the fact. Partly through resentment, partly through
coquetry, she kept her eyes to her page. Suddenly Emil halted. Of a
truth, there was material enough in the picture she made, perched there
on the old table-tomb, for twenty conquests.

Dressed in the famous muslin, the rarest quality of her beauty, a
certain lurking mystery, was lost amid furbelows which simply
emphasized her youth. Now clothed in a sober little frock that
appeared to be as much part of her as its smooth bark is part of a
sapling, there was nothing to divert attention from her actual self.
There she sat with her book open on her lap, a kind of sibyl, while
about her hummed and buzzed and fluttered tribes of nimble-bodied
insects. Great blundering bees pilfered rude kisses from the willing
lips of some pink phlox swaying at her knee, a butterfly came to rest
on the tomb and even crawled with curious, quivering antennae toward
the hand outspread on the stone. A thrush poured out its heart from a
little whip of a tree over her head. In the midst of this place of
death, she spoke compellingly of life.

“I’ve come!”

Emil’s voice trembled. The blood beat in his temples.

“How long have you been here?” he questioned, as he opened his hand
grudgingly and released her fingers. “How much have I missed of you?”

She ignored the form of the question. “Oh, I’ve not been here long, I
think,” with disconcerting calmness, “though when I have a book I lose
all track of time.”

At this unexpectedly repressing manner, he moved a few paces off.

“What is your book?” he inquired after a pause.

“‘Impressions of the Nile Country,'” and she made a motion as if to
hand him the volume. But he kept his face away. Thereupon she plucked
a spear of grass and placed it carefully between the pages, while a
peculiarly significant and feminine expression played about her mouth.

“Oh,” she sighed with sudden fervour, “how I should like to travel!
particularly how I should love to travel in Egypt.”

“But why Egypt?” and he swung round.

“The sphinx;” she explained briefly. “It sits there gazing before it
forever and forever, and it never reveals the secret of the hands that
fashioned it, while the sun scorches it and the sands blow over it and
will finally throttle it, I suppose, but it will never tell.”

With her arms crossed on her lap, she was staring at a near-by shrub.
It was a starved old rose-bush which had long since ceased to bear, but
she seemed to see in it a vision, for a smile unclosed her lips and
narrowed her eyes. She looked up at him and her bosom lifted.

“Yes,” she repeated softly, “I should like mightily to see the sphinx.”

He was regarding her with a strange, fixed attention. Now he thrust
his hands into the pockets of his jacket with a convulsive movement.

“You’re something by way of being a sphinx yourself,” he said
unsteadily.

Reaching behind her she slowly drew up the shawl until straight folds
of the material fell about her face. Then she extended a hand on
either knee and gazed before her. The imitation was admirable. Not a
feature or limb stirred. The sun penetrated the worn silken shawl and
vaguely defined her round little form. It gilded her forehead and chin
and traced a line of humid light along the lids of the eyes the pupils
of which were so obstinately contemplating Eternity. But what that
celestial body could not accomplish with its bold steady gaze, was
given to a mortal to achieve with a single glance. St. Ives bent over
her.

The sphinx was lost in the woman.

Throbbing with delicious dread, Rachel gave him her eyes. She returned
look for look, while her breathing ceased and her little hands, still
stretched along her knees, trembled. Lower and lower he bent his head,
higher and higher she lifted hers, to the length of its delicate,
palpitating throat. At the very brink–an ecstatic, troubled, reeling
pause, then–their lids sank, their lips met.

About them the insects continued their aggressive activity. A bee,
greedy for the last drop of honey, lit on a purple aster and the whole
light spray of blossoms swayed to his weight. The butterfly that had
lately visited Rachel’s hand, joined its mate high up in the thin blue
air. From the branch of a sapling the thrush swelled its throat once
more in a joyful song. Ignorant that those two motionless heads
announced creatures differing in aught from themselves, the host of
creeping and winged things enrolled them for the nonce in their lists.

Rachel was the first to recoil from the caress. She drew
back,–sweetly ashamed, shyly-radiant, with that in her eyes a man
would have died rather than lessen.

But on Emil the shock of the caress had a contrary effect.

“In Heaven’s name!” he cried, without looking at her, “forgive me.”
The words leaped forth from his very heart. He wasn’t half worthy that
kiss and he had the astonishing grace to know it.

As though any apology were necessary, however, as though events could
have happened otherwise! The kiss had been as sure to come as the
imminent meeting of evening with deep dark night. And so Rachel, by
her manner, seemed to say. In an anguish of expectancy she looked up
at him–ready to be assured, or ready to be stricken in her pride as
never maid was stricken before.

Before Emil could answer, Zarah Patch appeared round a turn of the
roadway. Concealed by hedges and clumps of shrubbery, his approach had
been unnoticed by the pair. Now he brought the white mare to a halt
while he shot a look at the girl. Some inkling of the gossip
concerning his friend’s young granddaughter had reached even his old
ears.

“I’m going back to the Point directly, Rachel,” he called, “be ye
inclined to come along?”

She sent a mute, tremulous question to Emil. His eyes were rivetted on
the ground. A powerful struggle was taking place within him. A desire
for love had flamed in his heart and, with his lips on hers, for one
brief fiery instant he had tasted the sweetness of his power over her.
None the less, what he now experienced was an intolerable sense of
shame. It set the seal of dignity on his ardour, if she had but
understood. But she totally misread him.

Pride sent up its secret cry: Perhaps he regretted the kiss, perhaps he
had no right to kiss her?

“Want to come along?” urged Zarah. “I’ve been hauling sod and the cart
is some muddied, but if yer’e keerful gittin’ in, ye won’t hurt yer
dress none.”

Rachel suddenly signified her assent.

Emil raised his head in a singular and wild fashion. He made an
imploring gesture. But it was too late.

Under cover of a manner of perfect nonchalance she rose to the supposed
situation. Haughtily, under his fiercely-miserable eyes and the
curious eyes of the old man, she proceeded to the cart.

Emil strode forward. He looked passionate. But she ignored his
proffered hand and accepted Zarah’s assistance into the cart. Once
perched on the high seat, she nodded proudly in the direction of him
whom she had so lately kissed.

Like many another woman if she could have erased the tender incident
from the scroll of her days, if she even could have told herself with
honesty that Emil had been the only moved one, she would willingly have
given half her life.

“But I kissed him back–I did! I did! and there’s no use pretending
otherwise,” she confessed in helpless stony abasement.

And throughout the night, in intervals of sleeplessness, she continued
to sigh because of the torturing memory.