An Honorable Retreat
"For I will ease my heart
Although, it be with hazard
Of my head."
Miss Bell sat in her neat little office, with the evening paper in her hand.
The hour before tea was the one time of the day she reserved for herself. Susie
Smithers declared that she sat before the fire at such times and took naps, but
Susie's knowledge was not always trustworthy — it depended entirely on the
position of the keyhole.
At any rate, Miss Bell was not sleeping to-night; she moved about restlessly,
brushing imaginary ashes from the spotless hearth, staring absently into the
fire, then recurring again and again to an item in the paper which she held:
DIED. Kate Rider, in her twenty-fourth year, from injuries received in an
Miss Bell seemed to cringe before the words. Her face looked old and drawn.
"And to think I kept her from having her child!" she said to herself as she
paced up and down the narrow room. "No matter what else Kate was, she was his
mother and had the first right to him. But I acted for the best; I could see no
other way. If I had only known!"
There were steps on the pavement without; she went to the window, and shading
her eyes with her hands, gazed into the gathering dusk. Some one was coming up
the walk, some one very short and fat. No; it was a girl carrying a child. Miss
Bell reached the door just in time to catch Tommy in her arms as Lovey Mary
staggered into the hall. They were covered with sleet and almost numb from the
"Kate's dead!" cried Lovey Mary, as Miss Bell hurried them into the office.
"I didn't know she was going to die. Oh, I've been so wicked to you and to Kate
and to God! I want to be arrested! I don't care what they do to me."
She threw herself on the floor, and beat her fists on the carpet. Tommy stood
near and wept in sympathy; he wore his remnant trousers, and his little straw
hat, round which Mrs. Wiggs had sewn a broad band of black.
Miss Bell hovered over Lovey Mary and patted her nervously on the back.
"Don't, my dear, don't cry so. It's very sad — dear me, yes, very sad. You
aren't alone to blame, though; I have been at fault, too. I — I — feel
dreadfully about it."
Miss Bell's face was undergoing such painful contortions that Lovey Mary
stopped crying in alarm, and Tommy got behind a chair.
"Of course," continued Miss Bell, gaining control of herself, "it was very
wrong of you to run away, Mary. When I discovered that you had gone I never
stopped until I found you."
"Till you found me?" gasped Lovey Mary.
"Yes, child; I knew where you were all the time."
Again Miss Bell's features were convulsed, and Mary and Tommy looked on in
awed silence. "You see," she went on presently, "I am just as much at fault as
you. I was worried and distressed over having to let Tommy go with Kate, yet
there seemed no way out of it. When I found you had hidden him away in a safe
place, that you were both well and happy, I determined to keep your secret. But
oh, Mary, we hadn't the right to keep him from her! Perhaps the child would have
been her salvation; perhaps she would have died a good girl."
"But she did, Miss Bell," said Lovey Mary, earnestly. "She said she was sorry
again and again, and when she went to sleep Tommy's arms was round her neck."
"Mary!" cried Miss Bell, seizing the girl's hand eagerly, "did you find her
and take him to her?"
"No, ma'am. I brought her to him. She didn't have no place to go, and I
wanted to make up to her for hating her so. I did ever'thing I could to make her
well. We all did. I never thought she was going to die."
Then, at Miss Bell's request, Lovey Mary told her story, with many sobs and
tears, but some smiles in between, over the good times in the Cabbage Patch; and
when she had finished, Miss Bell led her over to the sofa and put her arms about
her. They had lived under the same roof for fifteen years, and she had never
before given her a caress.
"Mary," she said, "you did for Kate what nobody else could have done. I thank
God that it all happened as it did."
"But you'd orter scold me and punish me," said Lovey Mary. "I'd feel better
if you did."
Tommy, realizing in some vague way that a love-feast was in progress, and
always ready to echo Lovey Mary's sentiments, laid his chubby hand on Miss
"When my little sled drows up I'm doin' to take you ridin'," he said
Miss Bell laughed a hearty laugh, for the first time in many months. The
knotty problem which had caused her many sleepless nights had at last found its