The Ancient Grudge/Chapter 31
THE TWO WOMEN
Perhaps to Joe Shelton, almost as much as to Stewart, Floyd owed his life; for if he had been left to lie in the car indefinitely—as was urged by some of the mob—he must surely have died. But Shelton, though he was unable to restrain the murderous fury, had afterwards found a few comrades who were not relentless, and with these had been allowed to carry off the two bodies.
After three weeks at the hospital, Floyd was convalescent. Three of his teeth had been knocked out, his nose had been smashed, he had a dent in his forehead near the temple an inch long and a quarter of an inch deep to mark the excision of splintered bone; and his face would always be scarred. Except, however, for the stiffness of his left wrist, he would suffer no disability. His broken ribs were mending, and he was assured by Dr. Edwards that he would leave the hospital perfectly sound.
With a languid-interest he read in the newspapers more than a week old of the military occupation of New Rome three hours after the crew of the Lorelei had rescued the unfortunate watchmen—of whom one had been killed and seven wounded. The arrival of the militia had been Gregg's opportunity; moreover, under universal condemnation and deprived of the leadership of Tustin—whose injury had been severe and would probably prevent him from ever speaking with any distinctness again—the resistance of the Affiliated crumbled. The works were running non-union before Floyd left the hospital; Farrell was already acting as foreman of the rod-mill over a subdued force; Tustin, Caskey, McGraw, and half a dozen others were held for the grand jury on various counts, from murder to inciting riot; and many more were anxiously wondering if they were on the black list which, Gregg had announced, would be dealt with when Mr. Halket was able to resume his duties.
In one of Marion's visits, Floyd had said to her jocularly—yet with a touch of seriousness, too,—
"Maybe you won't feel like marrying a fellow with a Hottentot nose and a dimple in bis forehead? I was quite shocked when I first saw myself in the glass—and if you feel you really could n't live in the same house with such a face,—why, you must feel free to say so, my dear."
"Ah, Floyd! You don't think such a thing as that could make any difference!"
"Well, I don't know. Small things make all the difference sometimes, don't they?—in love."
She looked, he did not know why, a little alarmed and she answered, rather sadly, "Not with me, Floyd."
He could not understand her sadness; he supposed he had hurt her by the suggestion—even the humorous one—that she could be so easily inconstant.
"Oh, I did n't suppose you would turn away from me," he said penitently. "But I've decided I don't know so very much about girls—and I just wanted you to know that—if you had a horrid antipathy or anything—you should feel quite free."
But even this explanation did not seem to clear away the cloud from her face.
She talked with him in these visits a good deal about Lydia; she told him with what fortitude Lydia had accepted her widowhood.
"I suppose it's that Stewart died in such a way," she suggested.
"Yes," Floyd said; he added musingly, "It was the real Stewart at the end."
Lydia came to see him, when he was able to sit up; she stayed an hour, talking with him about Stewart. Floyd told her how Stewart had died with the unselfish whisper on his lips; it was a detail that she had not known before, and only when Floyd's voice broke in describing it did the tears come into her eyes.
"Ah," she said, "that was my Stewart!"
Floyd understood the triumphant vindication in her repressed cry.
"I was misjudging him," he confessed. "I must always reproach myself, Lydia—I don't know whether he ever told you, but I got so bitter against Stewart that sitting opposite him in a car one day I wouldn't speak. I thought he'd deliberately turned demagogue and was trying to wreck everything—in spite and revenge. I thought so all the more when I learned he'd gone out to give the alarm about the watchmen. But that night, the moment I saw him in the crowd, looking at that fellow under the freight ear, I knew I'd misjudged him. It was in his face—awe-struck, sort of frightened; there was nothing cruel in Stewart; I ought to have remembered that. It was just that he had this theoretical interest in causes and people that he knew nothing about—and he took up with them with a child's enthusiasm—and played their game for them as hard as he could, making every point count—but always as a game, never thinking where or how it might end—and then, that night, when he stood in the presence of the fact, when he saw the testing of his theories, he looked stricken, Lydia, stricken—for there was never any cruelty in Stewart. And that cry of his when they began to stone me, 'Ah, don't!'—it rings in my ears—it was so heart-broken—such a prayer! I did n't do justice to Stewart."
"If he could only have lived long enough for me to get to his side and unsay the last words I spoke to him!" Lydia murmured. "His wife did not do justice to him either, Floyd. But his little boy—who never can remember him—shall be brought up to do justice to his memory."
The tender light in her eyes, the sacred feeling in her voice as she said this, revealed to Floyd the source of her serenity. The manner of her husband's death had given her an ideal which she must impress upon her son as his by inheritance, to be guarded proudly as an inheritance, to be kept untarnished in his soul; and she could never have made this ideal so personal to her boy if her husband had not died. She revealed her thought even more clearly to Floyd when she said, with tears shadowing her smile,—
"Hero for godfather, hero for father! Ah, I must teach my little Floyd to live!"
The time came when Floyd was discharged from the hospital. He had asked Marion to drive away with him; he gave orders to the coachman not to take them straight home, but to go through the park. And while their carriage rolled along the snow-covered, lonely roads, arched over by the garlanded trees, Floyd said,—
"You've always put me off and refused to talk business because I was n't well enough and would get excited. Now I'm well and I won't be put off any longer. When are we going to be married?"
She answered in a low voice,—
"Floyd, I want you to marry Lydia."
"What!" He looked at her dazed; she did not meet his eyes, but she put his arm gently down from her waist.
"Yes. Oh, Floyd, I told you I was going to make you love me. I spoke so positively because I was trying so hard to make myself believe it! And I thought as long as Lydia was married— But I have n't Lydia's charm, I have n't her attractiveness, I have n't anything—and now she—she's so forlorn—and she'd love you, Floyd—just as much as you love her! And when you love her, you ought to marry her—it would be wrong for you not to—wrong for you to marry me—and besides, I would n't—I won't—I can't!"
She declared it all in gentle, broken exclamations, in a trembling voice, sitting up straight, looking steadfastly away from him.
He smiled at her; the happiness of tears was in his eyes.
"Ah, Marion!" He paused; he drew her toward him with a firmness that would not be denied. "You did n't know—but you've made me love you—and only you!"
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