I had no feeling that she should have told me all in the first place, instead of trying to win me in my ignorance: for I felt that she was driven by a thousand whips to things which might not be honest, but were as free from blame as the doublings of a hunted deer. I felt no blame for her then, and I have never felt any. I passed that by, and tried to look in the face what I should have to give up if I took this girl for my wife. That sacrifice rolled over me like a black cloud, as clear as if I had had a month in which to realize it.
I pushed her hands from my shoulders, and rose to my feet; and she knelt down and clasped her arms around my knees.
“I must think!” I said. “Let me be! Let me think!”
I took a step backward, and as I turned I saw her kneeling there, her hair all about her face, with her hands stretched out to me: and then I walked blindly away into the long grass of the marsh.
I finally found myself running as if to get away from the whole thing, with the tall grass tangling about my feet. All my plans for my life with Virginia came back to me: I lived over again every one of those beautiful days I had spent with her. I remembered how she had come back to bid me good-by when I left her at Waterloo, and turned her over again to Grandma Thorndyke; but especially, I lived over again our days in the grove. I remembered that for months, now, she had seemed lost to me, and that all the hope I had had appeared to be that of living alone and dreaming of her. I was not asked by poor Rowena to give up much; and yet how much it was to me! But how little for me to lose to save her from the fate in store for her!
I can not hope to make clear to any one the tearing and rending in my breast as these things passed through my mind while I went on and on, through water and mud, blindly stumbling, dazed by the sufferings I endured. I caught my feet in the long grass, fell—and it did not seem worth while to rise again.
The sun went down, and the dusk came on as I lay there with my hands twisted in the grass which drooped over me. Then I thought of Rowena, and I got upon my feet and started in search of her, but soon forgot her in my thoughts of the life I should live if I did what she wanted of me. I was in such a daze that I went within a rod of her as she sat on the stone, without seeing her, though the summer twilight was still a filtered radiance, when suddenly all went dark before my eyes, and I fell again. Rowena saw me fall, and came to me.
“Jacob,” she cried, as she helped me to my feet, “Jacob, what’s the matter!”
“Rowena,” said I, trying to stand alone, “I’ve made up my mind. I had other plans—but I’ll do what you want me to!”
ROWENA’S WAY OUT—THE PRAIRIE FIRE