Anne Warner.

Sunshine Jane



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"Of course I don't. Once upon a time a busy man's time was sacred; now any woman who feels like taking it, appropriates it mercilessly."

"I should lock the door, if I felt that way. But now really, don't you think that we might speak quite openly and frankly?"

Lorenzo began to put up his paints.

"I want to get to the bottom of a lot of things."

"Well?"

"You're the first man that I've ever known that I felt could understand what I meant, and I do want to know the man's side of things."

"A man hasn't got any side nowadays. He's not allowed one."

Emily looked a little surprised. "You speak bitterly."

"I think I've a right. Men are still observing the rules of the game and suffering bitter consequences."

"What do you mean?"

"Women with homes have gone into the world to earn some extra pocket money until they've knocked the bottom out of all wage systems, and you never can make the wildest among them see that women can't expect men's pay unless they do men's work. A man's work is only half of it in business, the other half is supporting a family. Women want equal pay and to spend the result as they please. The man's wages go usually on bread and the woman's on bonnets, to speak broadly. He goes to his own home at night and has every single bill for four to ten people. She goes to somebody else's house and has only her own needs to face, with perhaps some contribution towards those off somewhere."

"Dear me," said Emily, "I never thought of that."

"No," said Lorenzo, snapping the lid of his color box shut, "women don't think of that. But men do."

"But surely there are loads and loads of women who do support families."

"Yes, and who are dragged down by the injustice of what economists call 'The Law of Supplemented Earnings'!"

Emily felt that the experience of conversing frankly with a live man was not exactly what she had anticipated. It certainly was in no way romantic. She felt baffled and a good deal chilled. The conversation had taken a horrid twist away from what she had intended.

"You think that women have no right to go out in the world then?" she said. "You don't sympathize with the modern trend?"

"I sympathize with nature and human nature," said Lorenzo, "but not with civilization." He rose to his feet.

"Oh, Mr. Rath!" she looked upward, expecting to be assisted to rise.

"I believe in life, lived by live things in the way God meant. I loathe this modern institution limping along with its burden of carefully fed and tended idiots and invalids and babies, better dead. I wish that I were a Zulu."

"Good Heavens!"

"Come," said the man, picking up his load, "we can go now."

"Had you finished?" She scrambled to her feet.

"I'd done all that I could under the circumstances."

"I suppose the light changes so fast at this time…" Emily was quite unsuspicious and content. The intuition that used to reign supreme in women was especially lacking in her.

She had not the least idea of what her presence meant to the unhappy artist.

"Come, come," he repeated impatiently.

They walked away then through the pretty winding lane.

"It seems to me so awful that we are all so hopeless," Emily went on presently. "We are all put here and often see just what should be done and can't do it possibly."

"I do exactly what I choose," said Lorenzo, – then he added: "as a usual thing."

"You must be very happy." She paused. "I suppose that you have plenty of money to live as you please."

"I'm fortunate enough not to have any."

"Goodness!" the exclamation was sincere. The shock to Emily was dreadful. "Why do you call that fortunate?" she asked, after a little hasty agony of downfall as to rich and generous travel, spaced off by going to the theater.

"Because it makes me know that I shall do something in the world. A very little money is enough to swamp a man nowadays, when the idea of later being supported by a woman is always a possibility. Oh," said Lorenzo, with sudden irritation, "if there weren't so many perfectly splendid women and girls in the world, I'd go off and become a Trappist. Everything's being knocked into a cocked hat. I've had girls practically make love to me. Disgusting."

Emily felt her heart hammer hard. "You're very old-fashioned in your views," she said, a little faintly.

They came out by her mother's back gate as she spoke.

"Yes, I am," said Lorenzo, "I admit it."

Mrs. Mead came running out of the back door. "Oh, Emily," she cried, "old Mrs. Croft is dead. Jane sent for the doctor – she sent a boy running – but she's dead. Wherever have you been for so long?"

CHAPTER XIV
JANE'S CONVERTS

THE feelings which revolved around the dead body of old Mrs. Croft can be better imagined than described; everybody had wondered as to every contingency except this. In the midst of the confusion Jane moved quietly, a little white and with lips truly saddened. "And I meant to do such a lot for her, – I meant to help her so much," she murmured from time to time.

The doctor, a ponderous gentleman of great weight in all ways, was very grave. The doctor said that he had warned the daughter of such a possible ending twenty years before. "Heart failure was always imminent," he declared severely, looking upon Jane, Susan, and Mrs. Cowmull, who had driven out with him and thus become instantly a privileged person. "She never ought to have been left alone a minute during these last forty years. Even if she had lived to be a hundred, the danger was always there. Such neglect is awful." He stopped and shook his head vigorously. "Awful," he declared again with emphasis, "awful!"

"I didn't know that she had heart disease," said Jane.

"No blame attaches to you," said the doctor, veering suddenly about as to the point in discussion; "nobody can blame you. I shall exonerate you completely. Of course, if you were not aware of the state of the case, you couldn't be expected to consider its vital necessities."

"Oh, and it was so vital," sobbed Mrs. Cowmull. "Dear, sweet, old Mrs. Croft. Our sunbeam. And to go off like that. What good is life when people can die any minute. Oh! Oh!"

There was a brief pause for silent sorrow.

"I never looked for her to die," Mrs. Cowmull went on, shaking her head. "I always told Emily she'd outlive even Brother Cattermole. So many people will, you know. Dear, kind, loving friend! And now to think she's gone. I can't make it seem true. She's been alive so long. Seems only yesterday that I was up to see Katie about making a pie for the social, and our dear, sweet friend was singing her favorite song, Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines, all the time. What spirits she did have everywhere, except in her legs."

Susan sat perfectly quiet. The doctor took Jane's arm and led her into the hall, there to speak of the first few necessary steps to be taken. Then he returned to the sitting-room, gathered up Mrs. Cowmull and departed, saying that he would send "some practical person at once." Mrs. Cowmull, who was widely known as having practical designs on him, did not resent the implied slur at her own abilities at all.

After they were gone, there was a slight further pause, and then Susan rose slowly and went and laid her hands upon her niece's shoulders. "Oh, Jane, that religion of yours is a wonderful thing. I'm converted."

Jane started. "Converted, Auntie?"

"Yes. You were sure that it would come out all right and now see."

Then a little white smile had to cross the young girl's face. "The poor old woman," she said gently, "to think of her lying there all alone all that day. I thought that she was sleeping so quietly."

"Well, she was," said Susan.

"Yes, of course she was. It's just our little petty way of thinking that masks all of what is truly sacred and splendid behind a veil of wrong thinking. Of course she was sleeping quietly."

"It'll be sort of awful if they can't find Katie, though," Susan said next; "she left no address, and I think it's almost silly to try to hunt her up. I'm only too pleased to pay for the funeral, I'm sure, and there won't be any real reason for her returning."

"No," said Jane thoughtfully.

"And I really can look forward to Matilda's coming back now," pursued Susan. "I shan't mind a bit. Old Mrs. Croft has done that much good, anyway, – she's made me feel that Matilda's coming back is just nothing at all. You see you knew that everything was coming out all right, but I'd never had any experience with that kind of doings up till now, and it was all new to me. I was only thinking of when you and me would have to face Matilda. Matilda would have looked pretty queer if she'd come home to old Mrs. Croft to tend, and me up and lively."

Jane didn't seem to hear. "I never once thought of her dying," she said again; "oh, dear, she had so much to learn. I expected to do her such a lot of good."

"I wouldn't complain, Jane. I wouldn't find fault with a thing. Goodness, think if she'd begun singing Captain Jinks last night. I've heard that sometimes she'd sing it six hours at a stretch."

Jane shook her head. "Who is to go down and pack up that house?" she wondered.

"Oh, the house can be rented furnished. It's a nice home for anybody," said Susan, "and the rent'll buy her a lovely monument."

The funeral was fixed for the third day, and some effort made to trace the daughter-in-law. But that lady evidently didn't care to be found.

"It's hardly any use going to a great deal of expense to hunt her up," Lorenzo said to Jane, "because the house is all there is, and a thorough search with detectives would just about eat it up alive."

He probably was not wholly disinterested in his outlook, for the next bit of news that shook the community was that Lorenzo Rath had taken Mrs. Croft's house and moved in! Naturally Mrs. Cowmull was far from pleased. "Of course it means he's going to get married," she said to Miss Vane, "but what folly to take a house so soon. Who's to cook for him? And who's he going to marry? Not Emily, I know. She wouldn't have him."

Miss Vane didn't know and didn't care. "Not my Madeleine," she said promptly, for her part; "she gets a letter every day. She'll marry that man."

"Then it's Jane Grey," said Mrs. Cowmull. The town was greatly exercised, and not as positive as to Emily's state of mind as her aunt.

"It'll be one of those two," Mrs. Ball said to Miss Crining (both very superior women and much given to meeting at the grocery store). "They're both after him. Emily chases him wherever he's posing woods and cows, and the little appetite that Mrs. Cowmull says he has, after going to Mrs. Ralston's, shows what they're thinking of."

Miss Crining shook her head. "Once on a time girls were so sweet and womanly," she said.

"My," said Mrs. Ball, "I remember when my husband asked me. I almost fell flat. I'd never so much as thought of him. I was engaged to a boy named Richie Kendall, and Mr. Ball was bald, and had all those children older than I was. There was some romance about life then."

"And me," said Miss Crining, with a gentle sigh, "I never told a soul I was in love till months after he was drowned. I didn't know I was in love myself. Girls used to be like that, modest, timid."

"Mr. Rath's very severe on girls nowadays, Mrs. Cowmull says," said Mrs. Ball; "but he's blind like all men are and will get hooked when he ain't looking, like they all do."

But Lorenzo Rath didn't care about any of the gossip; he was so happy over his home. "I'll have a woman come and cook occasionally," he explained blithely to Jane and Susan, "and I'll get all my illustrating off my hands in short order."

"Do you illustrate?" Jane asked.

"Yes, that's my bread-and-butter job."

"It'll be nice to have you in the neighborhood," said Susan placidly; "to think how it's all come about, too. I'm in heaven, no matter what I'm doing. I just sit about and pray to understand more of Jane's religion. I'm gasping it down in big swallows. I think it's so beautiful how she does right, without having to take the consequences."

Jane laughed a little at that and went out to get supper.

"She's a nice girl," Lorenzo said, looking after her; "when she leaves here, what shall we do?"

"Oh, heavens, I don't know," said Susan. "I try never to think of it."

"And what is she going to do?"

"Oh, she's going back to her nursing, and I want to cry when I think that other people will have her around and I shan't. I'll be here alone with Matilda. Not but what I'm a good deal more reconciled than I was, when I thought I'd be alone with Matilda and old Mrs. Croft, too."

"Yes, that would have been bad," said Lorenzo soberly. "Well, I must be running along. I've got a lot of work to do and a lot of thinking, too."

Susan contemplated him earnestly. "Well," she said, with fervor, "when Jane goes, I'll still have you, anyway."

Lorenzo, who had just risen, stopped short at that. "Do you know an idea that I'm just beginning to hold?" he asked suddenly.

"No; how should I?"

"It's this. Why shouldn't you and I try working Jane's Rule of Life a little? I'm dreadfully impressed with a lot she says. Suppose you and I pulled together and made up our minds that she was going to stay here in some perfectly right and pleasant and proper way. How, then? Don't you believe maybe we could manage it?"

Susan stared. "But there couldn't be any perfectly right, pleasant, proper way," she said sadly, "because she wants to go."

"I'd like to try."

The aunt shook her head, sighing heavily. "It's no use. There isn't a way. Nothing could keep her. You see, she's got some family debts to pay, and she can't rest till she's paid 'em. I've begged and prayed her to stay; I've told her that her own flesh and blood has first claim, but she won't hear to any kind of sense."

"I wish that we might try," Lorenzo insisted. "I've listened to her till I just about believe she really does know what she's talking about. It seems as if it's all so logical and after all, it's the way God made the world, surely."

"Yes, I know, but you and I ain't equal to making worlds and won't be yet awhile."

"I don't care," said the young man, turning towards the door, "I'm going at it alone, then. I don't believe that any one in the world needs her as much as I do, and I'm going to have her, and that by her own methods, too."

Susan's mouth opened in widest amazement. "Mercy on us, you ain't proposing to her by way of me, are you? You don't mean that you really do want to marry her, do you?"

"No, I don't mean that I want to marry her. I mean that I'm going to marry her."

"Oh! Oh!" the aunt cried faintly. "Oh, goodness me! But I don't know why I'm surprised, for I said you was in love with her right from the start. I couldn't see how you could help but be."

"Of course I couldn't help but be. Who could? She's one of the few real girls that are left in the world these days. The regular girls with lectures and diplomas and stiff collars have spoiled the sweetest things God ever made. Men don't thank Heaven for any of these late innovations wrought in womankind."

"Oh, I know," said Susan; "my husband was old-fashioned, too. I" – she stopped short, because just then the door opened, and Jane came in.

CHAPTER XV
REAL CONVERSATION

BOTH Susan and lover jumped rather guiltily, but Jane didn't notice. Or if she did notice, it did not impress her as anything worthy consideration. Among the little weeds in the rose-garden of life, did you ever think of what a common one is that bother over how people act when you "come in suddenly"? It is one of the petty tortures of everyday existence. "They stopped talking the instant they saw me!" "They both turned red, when I opened the door!" Well, what if they did? Is it a happening of the slightest moment? Unless one is guilty and in dread of discovery, what can it matter who chatters or of what? Stop and realize the real, separate, distinct meaning of the phrase "He was above suspicion," and see how it applies equally to being safe from the evil thoughts of others as well as being safe from the holding of evil thoughts towards others. If people change color at your approach and it makes you uncomfortable, you are not above suspicion either of or from others. Then look to it well that henceforth you manage to root out the double evil. There are a whole lot of very uncomfortable family happenings founded on the absolutely natural crossings of family intercourse, and the only possible way to go smoothly through such rapids is – as the Irishman said – to pick up your canoe and port around them. Don't go down to the level of anything beneath your own standard, because when you go down anywhere for any reason, your standard goes down with you. There is that peculiarity about standards that we keep them right with us, whether we go up or whether we go down.

"Oh, Jane," said Susan, "we're having such an interesting time talking about your religion."

Jane smiled. "I'm glad," she said simply. "Did you decide to absorb some of it?"

"Oh, I'm converted, anyhow," said the aunt; "nobody could live in the house with you and not be, and Mr. Rath is going to try it for a while, too."

Jane looked at Lorenzo a little roguishly. "It's a contagion in the town," she said; "I feel like an ancient missionary."

"I know," said Susan, "holding up a cross. I've seen them in pictures."

"Yes, and I hold up the cross, too," said Jane, "only most people wouldn't know it. Do you know what the cross meant in the long-ago times, – before the Christian era?" she asked Lorenzo quickly.

"No."

"It's the sunbeam transfixing and vivifying the earth-surface. It was the holiest symbol of the power of God. It embodied divine life descending straight from heaven and making itself a part of earth."

"My!" exclaimed Susan, really amazed.

Jane smiled and laid her hand upon her aunt's affectionately. "I love my cross," she said; "it's the greatest emblem that humanity can know, and, just because we are human, it will always keep coming back into our lives. Only it shouldn't be preached as a burden, it should be preached as an opportunity."

Lorenzo sat watching her. A curious white look passed over his face. He felt for the moment that he hardly ought to dare hope that this girl who was so full of help for all should narrow her field of labor to just him.

"You'll end by being like Dinah in Adam Bede," he said, trying to laugh; "you like to teach and preach, don't you?"

"I don't know," said Jane; "it's always there, right on my heart and lips. I feel as if the personal 'I' was only its voice."

"I don't think she's exactly human," said Susan meditatively; "she doesn't strike me so."

"Don't say that, Auntie," said the young girl quickly; "I want to be human more than anything else. I don't want to make you or anybody feel that I'm not. It would be as dreadfully lonely to be looked upon as unhuman as to be looked upon as inhuman. I want to work and love and be loved."

"But you're so different from everybody else," said her aunt.

"But I don't want to be different. I want to just be a woman – or a girl."

Some kindly intuition prompted Susan to change the subject. "Mr. Rath and I were talking about girls just now; we both thought what a pity it is that there are so few in these days."

"I guess there are just as many girls as ever, only they aren't so conspicuous," Jane said, laughing at Lorenzo.

"I think they're more conspicuous," said Lorenzo, "only they're the wrong kind."

"I liked the old kind," said Susan, "the kind that stayed at home and wasn't wild to get away and be going into business."

Jane laughed again. "You ought not to blame the girls, Auntie. Lots of them feel dreadfully over leaving home. But they have to go out and work. I had to, I know. It's some kind of big world-change that's pushing us all on into different places."

"I wasn't thinking of girls who do something nice and quiet like you. I was thinking of the others."

"They have to go, too," said Jane. "There's a fearful pressure that we don't understand behind it all. A restlessness and discontent that no one can alter."

"Yes, that's true," said Lorenzo; "I never thought of it, but I can see that it is so now that you've put it into my head."

"I've seen a lot of it. It's curious that it seems to come equally to women who want to work and to women who don't. I'm sure I never wanted to earn my living, but I was forced to it. And ever so many others are, too. It's rather an awful feeling that you're in the grip of a power that sweeps your life beyond your guidance. I'm trying hard to be big enough to live in this century, but I'd have liked the last better."

"Don't you consider that there's anything voluntary in the way women are acting now?" Lorenzo asked, with real interest.

"No, I'm afraid not. I think that there's something we don't understand, or grasp, or – or quite see rightly. I believe that everything is ordered and ordered ultimately for the best, and I see the problems of to-day as surely here by God's will and to be worked out by learning the conduct of the current instead of opposing it. But still I really don't understand it all as I wish that I did."

"You really do feel God as a friend," said Lorenzo, watching her illuminated face. "He isn't just a religion to you, then?"



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