“Jest look at your feet, Steve! they’re wet through, an’ your coat too, a standin’ out in that drizzle. Anybody ’ud think you hadn’t common sense,” he replied with perfect good nature, and as heartily loving a tone as if he had been feasting on her beauty, instead of writhing inwardly at her ugliness,—
“All right, Marty,—all right. I’m not so wet as I look. I’ll change my coat, and come in to supper in one minute. Don’t you fidget about me so, good Marty.” Never was Stephen heard to speak discourteously or even ungently to a human being. It would have offended his taste. It was not a matter of principle with him,—not at all: he hardly ever thought of things in that light. A rude or harsh word, a loud, angry tone, jarred on his every sense like a discord in music, or an inharmonious color; so he never used them. But as he ran upstairs, three steps at a time, after his kind, off-hand words to Marty, he said to himself, “Good heavens! I do believe Marty gets uglier every day. What a picture Rembrandt would have made of her old face peering out into the darkness there to-night! She would have done for the witch of Endor, watching to see if Samuel were coming up.” And as he went down more slowly, revolving in his mind what plausible excuse he could give to his mother for his tardiness, he thought, “Well, I do hope she’ll be at least tolerably good-looking.”
Already the younger of the two women who were coming to live under his roof was “she,” in his thoughts.
In the mean time, the young widow, Mercy Philbrick, and her old and almost childish mother, Mercy Carr, were coming by slow and tiring stage journeys up the dreary length of Cape Cod. For thirty years the elder woman had never gone out of sight of the village graveyard in which her husband and four children were buried. To transplant her was like transplanting an old weather-beaten tree, already dead at the top. Yet the physicians had said that the only chance of prolonging her life was to take her away from the fierce winds of the sea. She herself, while she loved them, shrank from them. They seemed to pierce her lungs like arrows of ice-cold steel, at once wounding and benumbing. Yet the habit and love of the seashore life were so strong upon her that she would never have been able to tear herself away from her old home, had it not been for her daughter’s determined will. Mercy Philbrick was a woman of slight frame, gentle, laughing, brown eyes, a pale skin, pale ash-brown hair, a small nose; a sweet and changeful mouth, the upper lip too short, the lower lip much too full; little hands, little feet, little wrists. Not one indication of great physical or great mental strength could you point out in Mercy Philbrick; but she was rarely ill; and she had never been known to give up a point, small or great, on which her will had been fully set. Even the cheerfulness of which her minister, Harley Allen, had written to Stephen, was very largely a matter of will with Mercy. She confronted grief as she would confront an antagonist force of any sort: it was something to be battled with, to be conquered. Fate should not worst her: come what might, she would be the stronger of the two. When the doctor said to her,—