She was very unhappy; devotion to Dr. Benton’s class helped; devotion to Celia in her brief visits to Brooklyn helped, too; devotion to others, to prayer, all helped as long as it was devotion of some sort.
And now this young, blue-eyed, blonde-haired fellow was on the edge of offering to devote himself to her. She knew it, wondered whether this was her refuge from care. And when he did, at last, she was quietly prepared to answer.
“Captain Hallam,” she said slowly, “I do like you. I don’t know whether I could ever learn to love you. I am not very happy; it might influence my judgment. If you are willing to wait until I know more about myself——”
Oh, he would wait! Certainly. Meanwhile would she wear his ring—not exactly an engagement—unless she was willing—but——
She hesitated. Lonelier than she had ever been in all her life, no longer self-sufficient, wistfully hopeless, needing to devote herself absolutely to something or somebody, she hesitated. But that evening when Hallam came with his ring she could not bring herself to accept what she now seemed to be most deeply in need of—the warm, eager, complacent affection that he laid at her feet. She was not yet able—could not; and the desolate memories of Berkley set the wound aching anew. . . . No, she could promise nothing to this young fellow—nothing yet. . . . Perhaps, in the future—as time passed—she might venture to wear his ring, and see what happened to her. But she would not promise—she would not talk of marrying him. . . . And cried herself to sleep over the memory of Berkley, and his vileness, and his heartless wickedness, and his ignoble love that had left her so ashamed, so humiliated, so cruelly crushed for ever. And all night long she dreamed of Berkley and of his blessed nearness; and the sweetness of her dream troubled her profoundly. She sat up, still asleep, her straining throat whispering his name, her arms outstretched, blindly searching the darkness for him, until suddenly awake, she realised what she was doing, and dropped back among her pillows.
All that day the city was filled with rumours of a great battle fought in Virginia. The morning’s papers hailed it with triumphant head-lines and columns of praise and thanksgiving for a great victory won. But at night the stunned city knew that Bull Run had been fought and lost, and the Confederacy was at the gates of Washington.
In a city where thousands and thousands of women were now organising relief work for the troops already in the field, Ailsa Paige had been among the earliest to respond to the call for a meeting at the Church of the Puritans. Here she had left her name for enrolment with Mrs. Gerard Stuyvesant.