“The new year has come, Claudia. The bells are striking the hour. It must, it shall bring you to me. I am asking much when I ask you to marry me, to leave your home to make a home for me. Your infinite love for Elmwood is understood well. Its old-world air of dignity and charm, of gracious courtesy and fine friendships, of proud memories and gentle peace, could scarce find counterpart elsewhere on earth, and yet in the days to come would it content alone, Claudia? For my great need of you might there not be some little need of me? Tell me I may come; but, whether you tell me or not, I am coming.
Claudia put the pages back in their envelope. On the hearth the fire burned low, and, slipping out of her chair, she sat upon the rug and held her hands out shiveringly to the red ashes slowly turning gray. The habit of childhood was upon her, and quiveringly she talked to herself:
“You shouldn’t have asked him to come Christmas! But how could I have known? I only thought he would be lonely. He cares for so few people and with all his wisdom has so little understanding of many things in life. He is so intolerant of weakness and meanness, of sham and show and pretence and make-believe that—that that’s why you like him, and you know it, Claudia Keith! You shouldn’t have asked him. You didn’t know—but you knew before he went away. And he is coming back.” Slowly she got up. “No. He is not coming back. That is, not yet, he isn’t. You are not sure. Are you glad?” In the mirror over the mantel she met her eyes unshrinkingly. “Yes, I am glad,” she said, and her lips whitened. “I am glad, but I am not sure.” In her eyes was strange appeal. “Vermont and Virginia! Could we be happy? We are so different—and yet— Perhaps in the spring. . . . The winter months are very long. Oh, Winthrop Laine!” She pressed her hands to her heart as if to still its sudden throbbing, then reached for his letter and kissed it. “I wonder if I am going to know what Lonely Land can mean!”
A VISIT FROM DOROTHEA
Dorothea settled herself more comfortably in her uncle’s lap. “You certainly ought to be thankful you’ve never had it,” she said. “It’s worse than being a leper. I’ve never been a leper, but when you’re that you can go out, the Bible says so, and people just pass you by on the other side and let you alone. With diphtheria they don’t let you alone. Lepers are just outcasts, but diphtherias—what are people who have diphtheria?—well, whatever they are, they’re cast in and nobody can see them except the nurses and the doctor and your mother and father. The doctor said father mustn’t come in my room, as he had to go to his business, and father told him to go to the devil—I heard him. I just love the way father talks when he’s mad. I couldn’t have stood the