A Modern Madonna
A Modern Madonna
|I. The Woman||3|
|II. The Elder Brother||8|
|III. Mrs. Pennybacker of Missouri||15|
|IV. The Thorn Road||27|
|V. "A White Life for Two"||36|
|VI. A Friend in Need||42|
|VII. Tried as by Fire||51|
|VIII. A New RŰle for Richard||57|
|IX. The Reaping of the Crop||64|
|X. "Dust to Dust"||70|
|XI. The Will||75|
|XII. A Losing Fight||88|
|XIII. The Wolf Blood||95|
|XIV. Mammy Cely's Story||105|
|XV. Instinct Triumphs||114|
|XVI. In the "North Countree"||122|
|XVIII. The Trail of the Serpent||143|
|XIX. The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea||152|
|XXI. In the Toils||173|
|XXII. At Bay||187|
|XXIII. Mothers and Foster-mothers||195|
|XXIV. The Man Who Won||202|
|XXV. The Madonna Picture||212|
|XXVI. Face to Face||229|
|XXVII. At Elmhurst||237|
|XXVIII. Hearts and Skins||248|
|XXX. "Not Wisely but Too Well"||267|
|XXXI. A Woman's Crusade||278|
|XXXII. Margaret Enlists||291|
|XXXIII. A Long Pull and a Strong Pull||300|
|XXXIV. Rescue Work||308|
|XXXV. Mrs. Pennybacker Talks||316|
|XXXVI. Margaret's Resolve||328|
|XXXVII. The Red Paper||335|
|XXXVIII. The Mother Comes to Her Own||342|
|XXXIX. Shoulder to Shoulder||351|
|XL. The Unexpected Happens||357|
|XLI. Under the Wistaria||369|
|XLII. The Confessional||381|
|XLIII. In the Library Once More||390|
|XLIV. As Aforetime||400|
A hush fell on the waiting throng at old St. John's.The soft babble of modulated voices died suddenlyaway as from the greenery and the daisies of the chancela singer's voice rose sweet and clear. The white-ribboned,white-canvased aisles were ready for the coming of abride's feet, and the wedding guests imprisoned behindthe silken bands bent forward expectantly to hear hernuptial song.
That song, as was most meet, breathed love and perfecttrust; when it was finished there were tears in many eyes.Women's hearts are very tender at weddings, and thesong was in the universal key.
In the vestibule, other ears were bending to catch thestrains. With the first note Judge Kirtley raised his handenjoining silence, and the ushers and the maids fell back,leaving the old man and his companion listening at thedoor. Upon his arm was Margaret, child of his love,though not of his blood. She was the daughter of hisold friend, who, with his dying breath, had left her to hischarge. He had been faithful to his trust; he had been toher a father; and she, coming into his childless home,had filled a daughter's place. It would be lonely enoughwithout her.
But it was not this that filled his mind as he listened tothe song. He was thinking with the sense of helplessnessthat comes to every father, to every faithful guardian ata time like this, that he had done all he could; his trustwas over; a moment more and he would give her for alltime into the keeping of another. Would that other riseto meet the trust? This was the question reiterating itselfin his soul. Did Victor De Jarnette know women'shearts—how strong they were to bear, how quick tobleed? Was his a hand that could be both strong andgentle? None other, he knew, could safely guide this girlof his. Margaret was high-strung and impetuous; hercapacity for sorrow and for joy had sometimes made himstand aghast. Victor De Jarnette could make a heavenon earth for her, or—
He did not finish, but involuntarily he pressed close tohim the white-gloved hand, and Margaret looked upwonderingly, marveling to see his face so stern. Therewas no shadow on her sky to-day. Her soul was in tunewith the singer's rhapsody.
The song ended. There was a soft bustle in the vestibule;the majestic measures of Lohengrin filled her ears;the bridesmaids shook out their plumage and moved on;the flower girls were scattering roses for her path; andwith uplifted head and shining eyes Margaret Varnumwent forward to meet her lover.
In the chancel, proud, erect, and confident, stood VictorDe Jarnette, waiting for her coming. In his black eyeswas the triumph of possession. There were others inthat church who had sought to win Margaret Varnum,and he did not forget it.
"Yes," was the reply, "with the primary accent on theadverb, eh?"
"Why doesn't his brother take part in it?" asked Mrs.Pennybacker of her niece, "as best man or usher or something?"
Mrs. Van Dorn shrugged her shapely shoulders.
"He is opposed to it, I believe. Not to Margaretespecially, but to marriage in general. I don't supposeyou could persuade him to take part in a wedding—now."
"What is the matter with the man?" demanded heraunt. "He doesn't look like a crank. What can havegiven him such a bias as this?"
Her niece smiled enigmatically. "Modesty forbids thatI should say much on the subject, my dear aunt. Butthere are people who are unkind enough to lay to yourniece's charge Richard De Jarnette's change of heart. Shecertainly remembers when he held altogether differentviews."
"Do you mean to say, Maria,—"
"Oh, no, certainly not, so don't look at me like that. Iam only telling you what people say. Ah! There comethe bridesmaids. Isn't that pink gown a dream?"
Mrs. Pennybacker was looking past the bridal party tothe front pew, where sat Victor De Jarnette's elderbrother, stern and unbending. By his side was a youngerman, who spoke to him from time to time in a light wayas if to cheer him, but his pleasantries elicited scant response.It was his friend, Dr. Semple. The two were thesole occupants of the pew reserved for the family of thebridegroom. The De Jarnette brothers were singularlyalone.
"I don't believe it," thought Mrs. Pennybacker as shestudied the man's face. "He doesn't look to me like aman who would lose his head over Maria, poor thing! aspretty as she is. Some women can make an offer of marriageout of an invitation to a prayer-meeting, and see alove letter in a note beginning, 'My dear madam.' Still,you can't tell. Maria has a pretty face. And men aregreat fools."
There was not a flaw in the matchless ceremony whichhas come down to us as a heritage from the ages; not afaltering note in either voice. "To love and to cherish... till death us do part." This was their plightedtroth.
The church's challenge rang out boldly.
"If any man can show just cause why these two personsmay not lawfully be joined together, let him nowspeak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace."
A stillness fell upon the place. But no man spoke.
At that most searching admonition, "I require andcharge you both, as ye will answer in the dreadful day ofjudgment ... if either of you know any impedimentwhy ye may not be lawfully joined together ...ye do now confess it," they searched their souls, but ifthey found impediment it stood unconfessed.
Once, Margaret felt her lover's hand close suddenly onhers and then relax. She loved him for his vehemence,and gave an answering clasp. At that moment those nearthe door looked into each other's faces with startled, questioninggaze and bent their heads to listen. No soundwas heard above