Eugenia hesitated for a single instant, and then took a step forward with outstretched hand, a kindly glow in her face; but as she did so the crowd parted and Nicholas Burr reached his stepmother’s side.
“Why, this is a treat, ma!” he said heartily, and he took the umbrella and the basket from her reluctant hands, despite her warning whisper, “thar’s new-laid eggs in thar!”
“My dear Mrs. Burr!” exclaimed Eugenia. She lifted her gaze from the homely figure in its awkward finery, to the man who stood beside her. Then she stooped and kissed Marthy Burr on the cheek.
“Do let her come home with me,” she said.
Her eyes fell and a wave of colour beat into her face. An instant before she had felt her act to be entirely admirable; now it flamed before her in a mental revelation that she was a sycophant who sought the reward of an assumed virtue. With the reward had come the knowledge—she had found both in Nicholas’s eyes; and as she felt the thrust of self-abasement, she felt also that for the sake of that look she would have kissed a dozen Burrs a dozen times.
“You are very kind,” said the governor. “But you know I have an empty house.”
Then he put his arm about Marthy Burr and assisted her down the steps to the walk below. She looked about her with half-frightened, half-defiant eyes, and clung grimly to his powerful figure.
As Eugenia watched them, a quick remembrance shot before her. She saw Nicholas Burr as she had seen him in his youth—ardent, assured, holding out his arms to the future, which was to be love, love, love. Now the future had become the present, and the one affection that remained to him was that of the old, illiterate woman, with the rasping voice. He had lost the thing he had lived for—and he was happy.
THE HOUR AND THE MAN
On one of the closing days of the legislative session, Ben Galt lounged into the anteroom of the governor’s office and cornered the private secretary. “Look here, Dickson, what’s the latest demonstration of Old Nickism? I hear he’s giving Rann trouble about that bill of his.”
Dickson nodded significantly towards the closed door. “Rann’s with him now,” he replied; “they’re having it hot in there. Rann may bluster till he’s blue, but he won’t make the governor give an inch. That bill’s as dead as a door nail. The governor’s got a fit of duty on.”
“Or his everlasting obstinacy,” returned Galt irritably. “His duty does more harm than most men’s devilment—it stands like a stone wall between him and his ambition. Of course, that bill is a political swindle, but there isn’t another politician in the State who would interfere in Rann’s little game.”
“Oh, between us, I think Rann’s honest enough. He believes he’s up to a good thing, but the governor disagrees with him—there’s where the row begins.”