It was the afternoon
of the day before Christmas.
had been driving about all the
morning, leaving presents at
the houses of her friends. She
lunched alone, and as she rose
from the table she spoke to the
butler: "Thomas, I am going down
to the kitchen now to see Norah.
In half an hour you are to bring
the greens up from the cellar
and put them in the library.
Mr. Alexander will be home at
three to hang them himself. Don't
forget the stepladder, and plenty
of tacks and string. You may
bring the azaleas upstairs. Take
the white one to Mr. Alexander's
study. Put the two pink ones
in this room, and the red one
in the drawing-room."
A little before three o'clock
Mrs. Alexander went into the
library to see that everything
was ready. She pulled the window
shades high, for the weather
was dark and stormy, and there
was little light, even in the
streets. A foot of snow had fallen
during the morning, and the wide
space over the river was thick
with flying flakes that fell
and wreathed the masses of floating
ice. Winifred was standing by
the window when she heard the
front door open. She hurried
to the hall as Alexander came
stamping in, covered with snow.
He kissed her joyfully and brushed
away the snow that fell on her
"I wish I had
asked you to meet me at the
office and walk
home with me, Winifred. The Common
is beautiful. The boys have swept
the snow off the pond and are
skating furiously. Did the cyclamens
"An hour ago.
What splendid ones! But aren't
"Not for Christmas-time.
I'll go upstairs and change
I shall be down in a moment.
Tell Thomas to get everything
reappeared, he took his wife's
arm and went
with her into the library. "When
did the azaleas get here? Thomas
has got the white one in my room."
"I told him
to put it there."
"But, I say,
it's much the finest of the
I had it put there. There is
too much color in that
room for a red one, you know."
to sort the greens. "It
looks very splendid there, but
I feel piggish to have it. However,
we really spend more time there
than anywhere else in the house.
Will you hand me the holly?"
He climbed up the stepladder,
which creaked under his weight,
and began to twist the tough
stems of the holly into the frame-
work of the chandelier.
"I forgot to
tell you that I had a letter
from Wilson, this
morning, explaining his telegram.
He is coming on because an old
uncle up in Vermont has conveniently
died and left Wilson a little
money--something like ten thousand.
He's coming on to settle up the
estate. Won't it be jolly to
"And how fine
that he's come into a little
money. I can see
him posting down State Street
to the steamship offices. He
will get a good many trips out
of that ten thousand. What can
have detained him? I expected
him here for luncheon."
from Albany are always late.
He'll be along sometime
this afternoon. And now, don't
you want to go upstairs and lie
down for an hour? You've had
a busy morning and I don't want
you to be tired to-night."
After his wife went upstairs
Alexander worked energetically
at the greens for a few moments.
Then, as he was cutting off a
length of string, he sighed suddenly
and sat down, staring out of
the window at the snow. The animation
died out of his face, but in
his eyes there was a restless
light, a look of apprehension
and suspense. He kept clasping
and unclasping his big hands
as if he were trying to realize
something. The clock ticked through
the minutes of a half-hour and
the afternoon outside began to
thicken and darken turbidly.
Alexander, since he first sat
down, had not changed his position.
He leaned forward, his hands
between his knees, scarcely breathing,
as if he were holding himself
away from his surroundings, from
the room, and from the very chair
in which he sat, from everything
except the wild eddies of snow
above the river on which his
eyes were fixed with feverish
intentness, as if he were trying
to project himself thither. When
at last Lucius Wilson was announced,
Alexander sprang eagerly to his
feet and hurried to meet his
What luck! Come into the library.
to have a lot of people to dinner
to-night, and Winifred's lying
down. You will excuse her, won't
you? And now what about yourself?
Sit down and tell me everything."
"I think I'd rather move about,
if you don't mind. I've been
sitting in the train for a week,
it seems to me." Wilson stood
before the fire with his hands
behind him and looked about the
room. "You HAVE been busy. Bartley,
if I'd had my choice of all possible
places in which to spend Christmas,
your house would certainly be
the place I'd have chosen. Happy
people do a great deal for their
friends. A house like this throws
its warmth out. I felt it distinctly
as I was coming through the Berkshires.
I could scarcely believe that
I was to see Mrs. Bartley again
"Thank you, Wilson. She'll
be as glad to see you. Shall
we have tea now? I'll ring for
Thomas to clear away this litter.
Winifred says I always wreck
the house when I try to do anything.
Do you know, I am quite tired.
Looks as if I were not used to
work, doesn't it?" Alexander
laughed and dropped into a chair. "You
know, I'm sailing the day after
you've been over twice since
I was here in the
spring, haven't you?"
"Oh, I was in London about
ten days in the summer. Went
to escape the hot weather more
than anything else. I shan't
be gone more than a month this
time. Winifred and I have been
up in Canada for most of the
autumn. That Moorlock Bridge
is on my back all the time. I
never had so much trouble with
a job before." Alexander moved
about restlessly and fell to
poking the fire.
seen in the papers that there
is some trouble about
a tidewater bridge of yours in
"Oh, that doesn't
amount to anything. It's held
up by a steel
strike. A bother, of course,
but the sort of thing one is
always having to put up with.
But the Moorlock Bridge is a
continual anxiety. You see, the
truth is, we are having to build
pretty well to the strain limit
up there. They've crowded me
too much on the cost. It's all
very well if everything goes
well, but these estimates have
never been used for anything
of such length before. However,
there's nothing to be done. They
hold me to the scale I've used
in shorter bridges. The last
thing a bridge commission cares
about is the kind of bridge you
When Bartley had finished dressing
for dinner he went into his study,
where he found his wife arranging
flowers on his writing-table.
"These pink roses just came
from Mrs. Hastings," she said,
smiling, "and I am sure she meant
them for you."
about with an air of satisfaction
at the greens
and the wreaths in the windows. "Have
you a moment, Winifred? I have
just now been thinking that this
is our twelfth Christmas. Can
you realize it?" He went up to
the table and took her hands
away from the flowers, drying
them with his pocket handkerchief. "They've
been awfully happy ones, all
of them, haven't they?" He took
her in his arms and bent back,
lifting her a little and giving
her a long kiss. "You are happy,
aren't you Winifred? More than
anything else in the world, I
want you to be happy. Sometimes,
of late, I've thought you looked
as if you were troubled."
"No; it's only when you are
troubled and harassed that I
feel worried, Bartley. I wish
you always seemed as you do to-night.
But you don't, always." She looked
earnestly and inquiringly into
Alexander took her two hands
from his shoulders and swung
them back and forth in his own,
laughing his big blond laugh.
"I'm growing older, my dear;
that's what you feel. Now, may
I show you something? I meant
to save them until to-morrow,
but I want you to wear them to-night." He
took a little leather box out
of his pocket and opened it.
On the white velvet lay two long
pendants of curiously worked
gold, set with pearls. Winifred
looked from the box to Bartley
you ever find such gold work,
"It's old Flemish.
Isn't it fine?"
"They are the
most beautiful things, dear.
But, you know,
I never wear earrings."
"Yes, yes, I know. But I want
you to wear them. I have always
wanted you to. So few women can.
There must be a good ear, to
begin with, and a nose"--he waved
his hand--"above reproach. Most
women look silly in them. They
go only with faces like yours--very,
very proud, and just a little
as she went over to the mirror
the delicate springs to the lobes
of her ears. "Oh, Bartley, that
old foolishness about my being
hard. It really hurts my feelings.
But I must go down now. People
are beginning to come."
her arm about his neck and
went to the door
with her. "Not hard to me, Winifred," he
whispered. "Never, never hard
he paced up and down his study.
He was at home
again, among all the dear familiar
things that spoke to him of so
many happy years. His house to-night
would be full of charming people,
who liked and admired him. Yet
all the time, underneath his
pleasure and hopefulness and
satisfaction, he was conscious
of the vibration of an unnatural
excitement. Amid this light and
warmth and friendliness, he sometimes
started and shuddered, as if
some one had stepped on his grave.
Something had broken loose in
him of which he knew nothing
except that it was sullen and
powerful, and that it wrung and
tortured him. Sometimes it came
upon him softly, in enervating
reveries. Sometimes it battered
him like the cannon rolling in
the hold of the vessel. Always,
now, it brought with it a sense
of quickened life, of stimulating
danger. To-night it came upon
him suddenly, as he was walking
the floor, after his wife left
him. It seemed impossible; he
could not believe it. He glanced
entreatingly at the door, as
if to call her back. He heard
voices in the hall below, and
knew that he must go down. Going
over to the window, he looked
out at the lights across the
river. How could this happen
here, in his own house, among
the things he loved? What was
it that reached in out of the
darkness and thrilled him? As
he stood there he had a feeling
that he would never escape. He
shut his eyes and pressed his
forehead against the cold window
glass, breathing in the chill
that came through it. "That this," he
groaned, "that this should have
happened to ME!"
On New Year's day a thaw set
in, and during the night torrents
of rain fell. In the morning,
the morning of Alexander's departure
for England, the river was streaked
with fog and the rain drove hard
against the windows of the breakfast-room.
Alexander had finished his coffee
and was pacing up and down. His
wife sat at the table, watching
him. She was pale and unnaturally
calm. When Thomas brought the
letters, Bartley sank into his
chair and ran them over rapidly.
"Here's a note from old Wilson.
He's safe back at his grind,
and says he had a bully time.
`The memory of Mrs. Bartley will
make my whole winter fragrant.'
Just like him. He will go on
getting measureless satisfaction
out of you by his study fire.
What a man he is for looking
on at life!" Bartley sighed,
pushed the letters back impatiently,
and went over to the window. "This
is a nasty sort of day to sail.
I've a notion to call it off.
Next week would be time enough."
"That would only mean starting
twice. It wouldn't really help
you out at all," Mrs. Alexander
spoke soothingly. "And you'd
come back late for all your engagements."
jingling some loose coins in
his pocket. "I
wish things would let me rest.
I'm tired of work, tired of people,
tired of trailing about." He
looked out at the storm-beaten
up behind him and put a hand
on his shoulder. "That's
what you always say, poor Bartley!
At bottom you really like all
these things. Can't you remember
He put his
arm about her. "All
the same, life runs smoothly
enough with some people, and
with me it's always a messy sort
of patchwork. It's like the song;
peace is where I am not. How
can you face it all with so much
at him with that clear gaze
which Wilson had so
much admired, which he had felt
implied such high confidence
and fearless pride. "Oh, I faced
that long ago, when you were
on your first bridge, up at old
Allway. I knew then that your
paths were not to be paths of
peace, but I decided that I wanted
to follow them."
Bartley and his wife stood
silent for a long time; the fire
crackled in the grate, the rain
beat insistently upon the windows,
and the sleepy Angora looked
up at them curiously.
made a discreet sound at the
door. "Shall Edward
bring down your trunks, sir?"
are ready. Tell him not to
forget the big portfolio
on the study table."
closing the door softly. Bartley
from his wife, still holding
her hand. "It never gets any
They both started
at the sound of the carriage
on the pavement
outside. Alexander sat down and
leaned his head on his hand.
His wife bent over him. "Courage," she
said gayly. Bartley rose and
rang the bell. Thomas brought
him his hat and stick and ulster.
At the sight of these, the supercilious
Angora moved restlessly, quitted
her red cushion by the fire,
and came up, waving her tail
in vexation at these ominous
indications of change. Alexander
stooped to stroke her, and then
plunged into his coat and drew
on his gloves. His wife held
his stick, smiling. Bartley smiled
too, and his eyes cleared. "I'll
work like the devil, Winifred,
and be home again before you
realize I've gone." He kissed
her quickly several times, hurried
out of the front door into the
rain, and waved to her from the
carriage window as the driver
was starting his melancholy,
dripping black horses. Alexander
sat with his hands clenched on
his knees. As the carriage turned
up the hill, he lifted one hand
and brought it down violently. "This
time"--he spoke aloud and through
his set teeth-- "this time I'm
going to end it!"
On the afternoon of the third
day out, Alexander was sitting
well to the stern, on the windward
side where the chairs were few,
his rugs over him and the collar
of his fur-lined coat turned
up about his ears. The weather
had so far been dark and raw.
For two hours he had been watching
the low, dirty sky and the beating
of the heavy rain upon the iron-colored
sea. There was a long, oily swell
that made exercise laborious.
The decks smelled of damp woolens,
and the air was so humid that
drops of moisture kept gathering
upon his hair and mustache. He
seldom moved except to brush
them away. The great open spaces
made him passive and the restlessness
of the water quieted him. He
intended during the voyage to
decide upon a course of action,
but he held all this away from
him for the present and lay in
a blessed gray oblivion. Deep
down in him somewhere his resolution
was weakening and strengthening,
ebbing and flowing. The thing
that perturbed him went on as
steadily as his pulse, but he
was almost unconscious of it.
He was submerged in the vast
impersonal grayness about him,
and at intervals the sidelong
roll of the boat measured off
time like the ticking of a clock.
He felt released from everything
that troubled and perplexed him.
It was as if he had tricked and
outwitted torturing memories,
had actually managed to get on
board without them. He thought
of nothing at all. If his mind
now and again picked a face out
of the grayness, it was Lucius
Wilson's, or the face of an old
schoolmate, forgotten for years;
or it was the slim outline of
a favorite greyhound he used
to hunt jack-rabbits with when
he was a boy.
Toward six o'clock the wind
rose and tugged at the tarpaulin
and brought the swell higher.
After dinner Alexander came back
to the wet deck, piled his damp
rugs over him again, and sat
smoking, losing himself in the
obliterating blackness and drowsing
in the rush of the gale. Before
he went below a few bright stars
were pricked off between heavily
moving masses of cloud.
The next morning was bright
and mild, with a fresh breeze.
Alexander felt the need of exercise
even before he came out of his
cabin. When he went on deck the
sky was blue and blinding, with
heavy whiffs of white cloud,
smoke-colored at the edges, moving
rapidly across it. The water
was roughish, a cold, clear indigo
breaking into whitecaps. Bartley
walked for two hours, and then
stretched himself in the sun
In the afternoon he wrote a
long letter to Winifred. Later,
as he walked the deck through
a splendid golden sunset, his
spirits rose continually. It
was agreeable to come to himself
again after several days of numbness
and torpor. He stayed out until
the last tinge of violet had
faded from the water. There was
literally a taste of life on
his lips as he sat down to dinner
and ordered a bottle of champagne.
He was late in finishing his
dinner, and drank rather more
wine than he had meant to. When
he went above, the wind had risen
and the deck was almost deserted.
As he stepped out of the door
a gale lifted his heavy fur coat
about his shoulders. He fought
his way up the deck with keen
exhilaration. The moment he stepped,
almost out of breath, behind
the shelter of the stern, the
wind was cut off, and he felt,
like a rush of warm air, a sense
of close and intimate companionship.
He started back and tore his
coat open as if something warm
were actually clinging to him
beneath it. He hurried up the
deck and went into the saloon
parlor, full of women who had
retreated thither from the sharp
wind. He threw himself upon them.
He talked delightfully to the
older ones and played accompaniments
for the younger ones until the
last sleepy girl had followed
her mother below. Then he went
into the smoking-room. He played
bridge until two o'clock in the
morning, and managed to lose
a considerable sum of money without
really noticing that he was doing
After the break of one fine
day the weather was pretty consistently
dull. When the low sky thinned
a trifle, the pale white spot
of a sun did no more than throw
a bluish lustre on the water,
giving it the dark brightness
of newly cut lead. Through one
after another of those gray days
Alexander drowsed and mused,
drinking in the grateful moisture.
But the complete peace of the
first part of the voyage was
over. Sometimes he rose suddenly
from his chair as if driven out,
and paced the deck for hours.
People noticed his propensity
for walking in rough weather,
and watched him curiously as
he did his rounds. From his abstraction
and the determined set of his
jaw, they fancied he must be
thinking about his bridge. Every
one had heard of the new cantilever
bridge in Canada.
But Alexander was not thinking
about his work. After the fourth
night out, when his will suddenly
softened under his hands, he
had been continually hammering
away at himself. More and more
often, when he first wakened
in the morning or when he stepped
into a warm place after being
chilled on the deck, he felt
a sudden painful delight at being
nearer another shore. Sometimes
when he was most despondent,
when he thought himself worn
out with this struggle, in a
flash he was free of it and leaped
into an overwhelming consciousness
of himself. On the instant he
felt that marvelous return of
the impetuousness, the intense
excitement, the increasing expectancy