Lucy Gayheart, by Willa Cather

Book III

1

One winter afternoon, twenty-five years after Lucy Gayheart’s death, the good people of Haverford met at the burying-ground for another funeral. Mr. Gayheart’s body had been sent home from the hospital in Chicago where he had gone for an operation. It was four o’clock in the afternoon, an unusual hour for a funeral, but the hour had been determined by the arrival of the railway train. The coffin was taken from the express car to the Lutheran church in an automobile hearse (these are modern times, 1927), and after a short service it was brought to the graveyard.

Scarcely anyone could remember so large a funeral. Old Mr. Gayheart, as he had been called for years now, had many friends. Since Pauline’s death, five years ago, he had gone on living in his own house, with one of the tailor’s daughters as his housekeeper. He had kept his shop open, and he continued to practise a little on his clarinet, though he complained that his wind was failing him. On Sundays, in summer, he sometimes practised out in the old orchard — which had never been cut down.

He had lived a long and useful life, people were thinking as they walked, or drove slowly in their cars, out to the cemetery. Almost every timepiece in Haverford was indebted to him for some attention. He was slow, to be sure, but to the end he was a good workman. Last night, when they wound their watches, many a one of his old customers paused and wondered; tick, tick, the little thing in his hand was measuring time as smartly as before, and old Mr. Gayheart was out of the measurement altogether.

By four o’clock the graveyard was black with automobiles and people. The cars formed a half-circle at some distance away, and their occupants, except the old and feeble, got out and stood around the open grave. The grey-haired business men had once been “band boys.” The young men had taken lessons from Mr. Gayheart even after he stopped leading the town band. His older pupils looked serious and dejected; how many memories of their youth went back to the music-teacher who had lived so long, and lived happily, in spite of misfortunes!

It was sad, too, to see the last member of a family go out; to see a chapter closed, and a once familiar name on the way to be forgotten. There they were, the Gayhearts, in that little square of ground, the new grave standing open. Mr. Gayheart would lie between his long-dead wife and his daughter Lucy; the young people could not remember her at all. Pauline they remembered; she lay on Lucy’s left. There were two little mounds in the lot; sons who died in childhood, it was said. And now the story was finished: no grandchildren, complete oblivion.

While the prayers were being read, someone whispered that it was almost as if Lucy’s grave had been opened; the service brought back vividly that winter day long ago when she had been laid to rest here, so young, so lovely, and, everyone vaguely knew, so unhappy. It was like a bird being shot down when it rises in its morning flight toward the sun. The townspeople remembered that as the saddest funeral that had ever drawn old and young together in this cemetery.

By the time the grave was filled in and the flowers were heaped over it, the sun had set, and a low streak of red fire burned along the edge of the prairie. The crusted snow in the open fields turned rose-colour. The automobiles began slowly to back out, and the people who had come on foot turned their steps homeward. In the company walking toward the town, one man withdrew from the slow-moving crowd. Forsaking the road, he struck off alone across a fenced pasture; a tall man of solid frame, walking deliberately, his hands in the pockets of his overcoat, his head erect, his shoulders straight. To a stranger he would have given an impression of loneliness and strength — tried and seasoned strength. He has need of it, for he has much to bear.

2

Harry Gordon went directly from the cemetery to his bank and called up his house by telephone. The maid answered. Would she tell Mrs. Gordon that he must finish up some business he had laid aside to go to the funeral. He would have supper sent in from the hotel and would not be home until late.

This done, he went through a hallway to his private office. The first Gordon bank in Haverford was a wooden building. When the brick bank was built, Harry’s father had the old building pushed back to the rear, and for years used it as a storehouse. Harry, after his marriage, had fitted it up for a study and private office. At first it had looked like any country lawyer’s office; oak tables, shelves that held old ledgers and financial reports. Gradually, almost stealthily, he had made it more comfortable, and as the years went on he spent more and more time there. The room was heated by the bank furnace, but he had put in a fireplace where he burned coke when the steam got low after banking hours.

This evening when he came in, Gordon lit a fire before he took off his overcoat. He unlocked a cupboard, got out his whisky and a siphon of soda, and sat down by the fire. Pouring himself a drink, he swallowed it slowly. Then he lit a cigar and with a long sigh settled deep into his chair. His well-set, vigorous frame relaxed. As he lay against the leather cushions he looked tired, — tired and beaten.

He had just buried the last close personal friend he had in the world. He was not, he thought with a grim smile, likely to make new ones at fifty-five. How differently life had turned out from the life young Harry Gordon planned in the days when he used to step out on the diamond to pitch his famous incurve, with all the boys and girls calling to him from the bleachers!

For the last eight years he had played chess with old Mr. Gayheart two or three evenings every week. He had become a good chess-player, quite Gayheart’s equal. After Pauline’s death left the old man alone, Gordon managed to drop in at his shop every day, if only for a moment. Chess had become one of his fixed habits. They played in Gayheart’s shop, never at the house. They talked no more than good chess-players usually do. Gordon had watched games between players of international renown when he was abroad during the war, and Mr. Gayheart liked to hear him tell of them over and over.

Like many other men whose lives were dull or empty, Harry Gordon “threw himself,” as the phrase went, enthusiastically into war work; Red Cross, Food Conservation. Finally he went over himself with an ambulance unit which he had helped to finance. He was gone for eight months, and his wife took his place as president of the bank and manager of all his business interests. That was probably the happiest period of her life; she was a born woman of affairs.

For Gordon himself that absence did a great deal; ever since he came back the townspeople had felt a change in him. His friendship with old Mr. Gayheart grew closer and warmer — like a son’s regard, indeed. At home he played his part better. He and his wife seemed more companionable; went out together, had guests to dinner. The air in their big, slippery-floored many-bathroomed house was not so chill as it used to be. And in business Gordon was more consistent. For some years before he went away he had brought on himself a reputation for eccentricity; this had gone so far as to affect his credit. At one time he would be sharp and tricky, barely keeping inside the law. At another he would let everything go, as if he felt a contempt for his business and were shuffling it off in the easiest way. Conservative men had begun to doubt his judgment.

Since his return from France he had devoted himself seriously to the bank, as his father had done, and he became more like his father. You knew where to find him now, Milton Chase said. There had been a stretch of time back there when Gordon’s erratic decisions wore his cashier thin and bald.

Milton Chase probably knew more about his chief than anyone else did, but he didn’t pretend to understand him. He had found it very agreeable to work under Mrs. Gordon. She was a reasonable woman. When he gave her the facts about any proposition that came up, he could pretty well tell in advance what she would think about it. But Harry had sprung too many surprises on him. On the surface there was perfect accord between Gordon and his cashier, but deep down Milton was chafed by a secret distrust. What was he to think when one of the most self-centred of men began to give not only his time but his money to the Red Cross? And worse was to follow. On the morning when Harry called Milton into the room behind the bank and told him that he was going to France with the hospital unit, the cashier went to pieces and said he didn’t know whether he could face his responsibility; he’d have to take a few days off and think it over.

In the course of the years queer things had happened which Milton could never explain; things which were out of order, which ought not to occur in business. For instance, a shocking scene had come about when they were foreclosing on Nick Wakefield. Nick had been one of the gay young fellows who used to play about with Lucy Gayheart. He inherited a big farm from his father, but he was a town boy, didn’t like heavy work, and he failed as a farmer. When the bank was shutting down on him, Nick nerved himself with plenty of alcohol and came in to have it out with Harry Gordon. The game was up, and he might as well have his say. It was a very unseemly thing to occur in a bank. Nick was full of bitter talk. He made several ugly accusations, more or less true, and ended with a taunt which brought the cold sweat out on Milton’s brow, as he sat trying to look small in his cage.

“You’re ready to hit a man when he’s down,” Nick shouted, clenching his fists and standing up to Harry, “but you’re a damned coward, for all your big chest. Afraid to go to poor Lucy Gayheart’s funeral, weren’t you, big man? Beat it for Denver! I guess there was a reason, all right!”

Milton had expected the ceiling to fall — he prayed that it might. But what happened was stranger. Gordon made figures on his desk pad for a moment. Then he turned in his chair and looked at Nick. He spoke to him in a voice that was really kind, without any contemptuous jollying in it:

“There are some names I wouldn’t mention in your state of health, Nick. You’re loaded, and you’ll be sorry for this tomorrow. Come in then and finish what you have to say to me.”

The bank sold Nick Wakefield out, but on terms more lenient than Milton Chase thought proper.

3

Harry had been sitting before the fire for nearly an hour when he switched on the lights and telephoned the hotel to send over some sandwiches. He dispatched them quickly and put the tray in the outer hall. Tonight was an occasion for remembering; he felt it coming on. Years ago he used to fight against reflection. But now he sometimes felt a melancholy pleasure in looking back over his life; he had begun to understand it a little better.

He, and he only, knew why he had been so brutal to Lucy Gayheart when she came home. It was not because of what she had told him that night after the opera in Chicago.

He had regretted his hasty marriage at the end of the first week; indeed, he was already regretting it when he made it. He knew that he was hurting himself in order to hurt someone else. He was doing the one thing he had sworn he never would do, marrying a plain woman, who could never feel the joy of life. Harriet Arkwright had her good points; she was not crude, she had some experience of the world. She was intelligent and executive. It was she who built their new house in Haverford, managed the builders and workmen without trouble or confusion, furnished it exactly as she wished — and paid for it. The house made a common interest, they were both pleased with it. She was reasonable, she had no irritating affectations. It would be possible to rub along, Harry thought. Then Lucy came back to town.

He knew, the first time he saw her in the post-office, that nothing had changed in him; more than ever before he knew what he wanted. She was standing in that crowd of slovenly men, clouds of tobacco smoke drifting about her, slowly turning the combination lock of her father’s letter-box. As he stared in from the door the line of her figure made his heart stop. She looked so slight, so fine, so reserved — He had turned like a flash and walked rapidly down the street, without going inside to face her. But that glimpse of her, standing in profile with one hand lifted, had been enough.

Afterwards, from day to day, he had to see her at a distance, pass her on the street. That grace of person appeared more marked now, when she was withdrawn, than in the days when she had been careless and gay. She seemed gathered up and sustained by something that never let her drop into the common world. As she went about the town, her head a little bent, her glance veiled, she was sometimes spiritless and uncertain, as if she were beginning to walk abroad after a long illness; but she was unapproachable. That intense preoccupation, and her brooding look, were very sad to see in one so young. But they protected her, kept her aloof and alone. The boys she used to dance and picnic with were afraid to go to see her now. It was only when she met Harry Gordon that her eyes lighted up with the present moment, and asked for something. They never looked at him that they did not implore him to be kind.

He knew that she was unhappy, that she wanted him to help her. Her voice had a note of pleading if she but said good-morning — he gave her very little chance to say more. She was a creature of impulse, he knew; never could conceal her feelings. Perhaps she never tried. She made it clear that she had some desperate need of him; it followed him back to his desk after these chance meetings. Was it that she had “got into trouble” as some people whispered, and the man had deserted her? He didn’t know, he didn’t care. He knew that if he were alone with her for a moment and she held out her hands to him with that look, he couldn’t punish her any more — and she deserved to be punished.

He was in the first year of a barren marriage (barren in every sense; his wife never had a child), and the life he would have lived with Lucy was always in the back of his mind then. She had ruined all that for a caprice, a piece of mawkish sentimentality. Let her suffer for it. God knew he did! So he used to think, when he left her on a street-corner looking after him.

And yet, underneath his resentment and his determination to punish, there was a contrary conviction lying very deep, so deep that he held no communication with it. After they had both been punished enough, something would happen, how he didn’t know; he might break with this town and all the guarantees of his future, but he and Lucy Gayheart would be together again.

A man who is young and strong looks forward. If he has been a fool and thwarted his own will — that is temporary. Every morning when he goes out into the air, he knows he is going to have his way; feels resourceful enough to leave all his blunders behind him. In those months after Lucy came back to Haverford, Harry had never doubted what the end would be. That would come about without contriving on his part — would come because it had to. When he passed her on the street or had to say good-morning to her in the post-office, the certainty of his ultimate mastery stirred in him like something alive. When the hour struck, nothing could stop him.

That evening when he passed Mrs. Ramsay’s window and saw Lucy at the piano, and the old lady listening with her head resting on her fingertips, he had scarcely got himself by. He had so nearly gone into that house. Then he would have walked home with Lucy, and everything would have come right.

Why was it that such terrible and unusual things should happen to a prudent, level-headed man? Why, when he came back from Harlem that night, with miles of open country all about, did he have to meet that little procession of lanterns and wagons crawling along over the snow? Why had he been compelled actually to drive in that procession? He couldn’t pass it, — not after he had stopped and asked what was the matter. He took off his sleigh-bells and walked his horses into town after the wagon train. There was nothing else to do. — When he reached home he went directly into the library, where his wife sat writing letters. He shut the door behind him and asked her if she knew what had happened at the river. Yes, Milton Chase had called up to tell him as soon as the news reached town, and she had answered the telephone.

“I am going west tonight on the Union Pacific two-o’clock, and I will not be back until after the funeral. I treated that girl very badly not long ago. I’ve not said a kind word to her since she came home. I can’t go to the funeral; I’m not hypocrite enough. But I want you to go. The family would be hurt if neither of us were there.”

Mrs. Gordon frowned slightly. She was always self-possessed, never made scenes. Then she said in her cool, well-regulated voice:

“Your leaving town will be commented on, probably? I can’t see the point of my going to the funeral alone.”

“It’s the first favour I’ve ever asked of you.”

“No need to put it in that way. I don’t know the people, but if you think it’s the proper thing to do, I’ll go, of course.”

“Thank you, Harriet.” He went to his room to pack his bag.

There was not, in all the world, a living creature who knew of his last meeting with Lucy on the frozen country road beside the telephone post. For days, weeks, after his return from Denver, people talked about the “tragedy,” as they called it; in the bank, on the street, wherever he went. He suspected they took care to discuss the subject before him. There was, of course, the dark whisper that it might have been suicide. The cuts on her wrists and hands showed that she had struggled to cling to the ice; but she might have lost courage after her plunge. She was last seen alive by a Swede farmer who had passed her on the west road, about a mile from town. Everyone knew she had been low-spirited and unlike herself since she came home. Fairy Blair had brought the story that some singer Lucy was in love with had been drowned in Italy in the summer; like enough she had resolved to put an end to herself in the same way. Even if no one had happened to tell her that the river had changed its bed last spring, couldn’t she see for herself? The whole west bank was torn up, and the island was much farther from the shore than it used to be.

These discussions never drew a remark from Harry Gordon, and no one had quite the courage to ask him how he happened to go to Denver the night Lucy was brought home. “Let’s see; you met them on the road when they were bringing her in, didn’t you, Harry?” That was as far as the boldest got.

Gordon put some more coke on the fire, walked to the window, and stood looking up at the bright winter stars. These things he had been remembering mattered very little when one looked up there at eternity. And even on this earth, time had almost ceased to exist; the future had suddenly telescoped out of the past, so that there was actually no present. Kingdoms had gone down and the old beliefs of men had been shattered since that day when he refused Lucy Gayheart a courtesy he wouldn’t have refused to the most worthless old loafer in town. The world in which he had been cruel to her no longer existed.

Life would have been much easier for him, certainly, in those years after Lucy’s death, if he could have told someone about his last meeting with her. Many a time, going home on winter nights, he had heard again that last cry on the wind — “Harry!” Indignation, amazement, authority, as if she wouldn’t allow him to do anything so shameful.

Yes, he had had a long grilling. He was tough, but it had been a match for him. Luckily for him, the automobile had come along soon after the turn of the century. He owned the first car in the county, and, as they were improved, he bought one car after another. His farms were scattered far and wide, and he lived on the road. He often went to Denver for the week-end, “driving like the devil.” He got into the habit of thinking aloud as he drove; talking, indeed, to his motor engine. Once when he had his wife along, he forgot himself and came out with: “Well, it’s a life sentence.”

That was the way he used to think about it. Lucy had suffered for a few hours, a few weeks at most. But with him it was there to stay. He understood well enough why she hadn’t noticed the change in the river; he knew what pain and anger did to her. It was that very fire and blindness, that way of flashing with her whole self into one impulse, without foresight or sight at all, that had made her seem wonderful to him. When she caught fire, she went like an arrow, toward whatever end.

As time dragged on he had got used to that dark place in his mind, as people get used to going through the world on a wooden leg. He made a great deal of money, he bought great tracts of land — rather a joke on him, now that land values were going down. But such things had kept him busy in the years when he needed distraction. His friendship with Mr. Gayheart had been a solace. It was somewhat like an act of retribution. Those evenings over the chess-board had come to be the best part of his week. He had grown to like the old man’s shop better than any place in town. They never talked of Lucy, but the piano on which she used to practise still stood there.

Gordon was thinking, as he sat in his study on that night of Mr. Gayheart’s funeral, how the sense of guilt he used to carry had gradually grown paler. For years he had tried never to think about Lucy at all. But for a long while now he had loved to remember her. Perhaps it was no great loss to have missed two-thirds of her life, if she had the best third, and had been young, — so heedlessly young. Of course she would fall in love with the first actor or singer she met, and would declare it openly. That would soon have passed. One might have foretold such adventures for Lucy, from her eyes, and from her laugh, — her low, rich, contralto laugh that fell softly back upon itself. It was not the laughter of nervous excitement; it was bubbling and warm, but there was a veiled note of recklessness in it.

In spite of all the misery he had been through on her account, Lucy was the best thing he had to remember. When he looked back into the past, there was just one face, one figure, that was mysteriously lovely. All the other men and women he had known were more or less like himself.

He sometimes thought of those mornings when she used to get up before daylight to go duck-shooting with him on the river: the heavy silence over the dew-drenched fields, the dark sound of the water, the quick flush of dawn in the east and the waking of the breeze in the tops of the cotton-woods, the birds rising in the pearl-coloured air. And at his elbow something eager, alert, happier than he could ever be.

It was a gift of nature, he supposed, to go wildly happy over trifling things — over nothing! It wasn’t given to him — he wouldn’t have chosen it; but he liked catching it from Lucy for a moment, feeling it flash by his ear. When they stood watching the sun break through, or waiting for the birds to rise, that expectancy beside him made all his nerves tingle, as if his shooting-clothes, and the hard case of muscle he lived in, were being sprayed by a wild spring shower. His own body grew marvellously free and light, and there was a snapping sparkle in his blood that made him set his teeth.

In the absolute stillness of the night (it was getting toward twelve), Gordon heard the bank telephone ringing again and again. That would be his wife, calling up to know what had become of him. He did not answer the telephone, but he covered the last glowing lumps of the coke fire, put on his overcoat, and started for home.

He is not a man haunted by remorse; all that he went through with long ago. He enjoys his prosperity and his good health. Lucy Gayheart is no longer a despairing little creature standing in the icy wind and lifting beseeching eyes to him. She is no longer near, beside his sleigh. She has receded to the far horizon line, along with all the fine things of youth, which do not change.

4

The day after Mr. Gayheart’s funeral was Sunday. Harry and his cashier, Milton Chase, met at the bank by appointment, to go for a walk. People looked out of their windows to see them go by.

Everyone is used to the fact that Milton seems older than Harry. When his youthful good looks withered, they left his cheeks thin and his nose too long. He walks jerkily, with short uneven steps, as if he had left some unfinished business behind him. Harry still has the firm, deliberate tread with which he has come and gone about these streets for nearly a lifetime.

The two men are going “out to the Gayhearts’,” as people still say. The town has not grown in these twenty-five years, it has shrunk. The old Gayheart place is still half-farm, lying at the extreme west edge of Haverford, where the sidewalk ends. Beyond, there is only country road. It is a walk Gordon often takes on a Sunday afternoon.

When he was a young lad, newly come to Haverford with his father, one summer evening he was riding out that road on his bicycle. The cement gang had been at work there all day, laying this very sidewalk which was never to go any farther. They had finished smoothing the wet slabs, stretched mason’s cord on low stakes all about them as a warning to passers-by to keep off, and gone home for supper. When Harry came along on his wheel, he noticed a slip of a girl in boy’s overalls, barefoot, running about the flower garden, watering it with a length of rubber hose. Instantly he recognized her as the same girl he had seen in the skating-rink, gliding about to the music in her red jersey. He got off his bicycle and walked, pushing it beside him. She had not seen him. Suddenly she dropped the hose, glanced back at the house to make sure no one was observing her, and darted forward. She cleared the mason’s cord and ran over those wet slabs — one, two, three steps, then out into the weeds beside the road, almost in front of Harry. She looked up at him and laughed.

“Don’t tell on me, please!” With that she scampered up the dusty road and into the Gayheart yard by the driveway.

After all these years the three footprints were still there in the sidewalk; the straight, slender foot of a girl of thirteen, delicately and clearly stamped in the grey-white composition. The travel of the years had not made them fainter. To be sure, there was never a great deal of walking out this way; people came out here only when they were going to see the Gayhearts. Gordon had never heard anyone speak of these footprints; perhaps no one knew who made them. They were light, in very low relief; unless one were looking for them, one might not notice them at all. The Gayheart lots had not been well kept for a long while. In summer the wild sunflowers grew up on either side of the walk and hung over it; tufts of alfalfa, escaped from the near-by pasture, encroached upon it, and a wild vetch with sprays of lavender-pink blossoms, like fingers, came up there every year and climbed the sunflower stalks, making a kind of wattle all along the two slabs marked by those swift impressions. For to Harry Gordon they did seem swift: the print of the toes was deeper than the heel; the heel was very faint, as if that part of the living foot had just grazed the surface of the pavement. Was there really some baffling suggestion of quick motion in those impressions, Gordon often wondered, or was it merely because he had seen them made, that to him they always had a look of swiftness, mischief, and lightness? As if the feet had tiny wings on them, like the herald Mercury.

Nothing else seemed to bring her back so vividly into the living world for a moment. Sometimes, when he paused there, he caught for a flash the very feel of her: an urge at his elbow, a breath on his cheek, a sudden lightness and freshness like a shower of spring raindrops.

Gordon and Milton Chase went over the Gayheart place thoroughly that Sunday afternoon, walked through the garden and the orchard, and the pasture beyond. The property now belonged to Gordon, mortgaged to him as surety for the loans the bank had made Mr. Gayheart during the last years of his life. If sold today, it would not bring a third of the amount the bank had advanced on it. Both men knew that. Gordon’s plan was that Milton Chase should take the place over, and occupy the house rent-free, for life.

After they had tramped about through the dry weeds and dead grass, discussing what should be done with the orchard ground, and how the old barn could be made into a garage, they sat down on the porch steps and lit cigars.

“It’s very generous of you, Harry,” Milton Chase was saying, “but I’d much prefer that you sold it to me. I’ve lived in a rented house all my life, and now I’d like to own my own home,” he ended plaintively.

“I’ll call in Whitney tomorrow, Milton, and have him draw me a new will, leaving the place to you at my death, with no encumbrance. That will beat paying out good money.”

Milton took off his hat and smoothed the thin hair about his ears with his hand. He didn’t seem satisfied. He looked cold and tired and mournful.

Harry thought a moment and then said persuasively: “You see, Milton, if you bought the place and should die before me, your sons might sell it to — well, to anybody; to one of these retired farmers, who would make it into a chicken-yard. I’ll never interfere with you; cut down the orchard, pull down the barn, do what you like. All I want is to retain a guardianship interest during my lifetime.”

Milton still looked dejected, but Harry took it for granted that he had agreed to his proposition. “By the way, come over here with me a minute. There is just one thing I want you to see to.” They walked across the lawn to the cement sidewalk. There Harry stopped. “This is a confidential matter, you understand, you’ll not mention it. Those marks there in the cement were made by Gayheart’s daughter Lucy, when she was a little girl. I’ll just ask you to see that nothing happens to those two slabs of walk — in my time, at least.” Gordon raised his voice a trifle and went on in a calculating tone, as if he were talking about alterations in a garage. “The cement seems firm enough. The only thing I can see that might injure it would be a wash-out. Heavy rains might carry the earth out from under one side, or a corner, and the blocks might tip and break. Keep an eye on them.”

“I’ll attend to it,” Milton replied, just as he did to instructions given him at the bank.

Harry said he guessed he must go into the house now, to clear out the old man’s private papers; he would see Milton at the bank in the morning. Milton walked slowly home. When he got there, he took a drink — a thing he seldom did. But he was cold; a little chilled and uncomfortable in his mind, too. He was unpleasantly reminded that there was, and always had been, something not quite regular about his chief; something fantastic, which he was secretly afraid of. That moment of conversation by the sidewalk had been very depressing, though he could not say just why. It had made him feel older; made life seem terribly short and not very — not very important.

Harry, with some amusement, watched his cashier’s mournful back go down the street. He took a key out of his pocket and went into the silent, darkened house. He ran up the blinds in the living-room and let the four-o’clock afternoon sunlight pour in over the faded carpets and dusty furniture. Then he went upstairs. Mr. Gayheart had once mentioned (indeed the whole town knew it) that Pauline had always kept Lucy’s room just as she left it when she went off to skate that day. After Pauline’s death the old man kept the room locked, and let his housekeeper go in to sweep and dust only when he himself was standing by.

Gordon had all the keys. He took off his hat and opened the locked room. The shades were down, but they did not fit very well, and at the south window streaks of orange sunlight made a glow like candlelight in the dusky chamber. The closet door was kept open (prevention against moths), and dresses and dressing-gowns were hanging in a row. They had better be burned, he supposed. Beside her desk was a bookcase full of books and bound music scores; a chest in his private study at the bank would be the best place for those. He might look at them some time. Her toilet things were laid out on the dresser, and leaning against the mirror, in a tarnished silver frame, was a photograph of Clement Sebastian, with some writing on it, in German. This Gordon put in his pocket. It was the only thing he touched. He closed the door softly behind him, and locked it.

When he came out of the house the last intense light of the winter day was pouring over the town below him, and the bushy tree-tops and the church steeples gleamed like copper. After all, he was thinking, he would never go away from Haverford; he had been through too much here ever to quit the place for good. What was a man’s “home town,” anyway, but the place where he had had disappointments and had learned to bear them? As he was leaving the Gayhearts’, he paused mechanically on the sidewalk, as he had done so many thousand times, to look at the three light footprints, running away.

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30