From the Young Woman’s Journal, December 1901 –
A Newspaper Clipping
By Annie Pike
He had been staring a long time at the newspaper clipping held tightly between his fingers. It was evidently an extract from some local “society column.”
“At noon today Miss Janetta Sampson and R.K. Johnson, the wealthy stock broker, were united in marriage. The wedding party expects to leave immediately for Utah to enjoy a short visit with relatives of the bride.” – After which followed a description of the quiet but elegant home wedding.
The man who held the clipping was young, very big, with brown hair and a very good chin. There was an unusual pallor about the face; his lips were closely shut, and the pupils of his eyes were so dilated that there was but a narrow blue rim around them.
Still holding the scrap of print, he opened the dull blue paper which held the following girlish scrawl: –
“Dear old Jim: – I’m coming! I’m coming!! I’m coming!!! And that is about all I have time to write. At the present moment I am scribbling this in the room with our packed trunks. So glad you are going to meet R.K. He is a dear – jolly and rich and about forty. Aunt Janetta thinks that is just the right age. He is a perfect gem to me. I am so happy. We will be home almost as soon as this scratch fro the pen of
“The Returning Prodigal,
“P.S. I have come to believe that there is something greater in life than fame and that is – love. Don’t you? Janie.”
The young man crumpled the letter in his hand.
He had no reason for blaming her, nor any desire to do so, although it meant so much to him. She was married, and she had a right to be; for, excepting his undeclared love – a love that must no longer exist – he had no claim upon her.
Half an hour before the mail came there was no one happier than he, possessed of health, and, if not wealth, comfortable means, and the hope that had sustained him through two years of hard work and harder waiting – that of some day making Janie his wife. She had made her choice.
He remembered her on that last day, and it was from that last day he had gathered so much hope. She was so excited with the thought of this long-planned eastern trip.
“At last I shall have my voice cultivated,” she had said, gathering up the stray curls that would tumble out of place. She was perched on the top of her trunk. Jim was seated on the grass at her feet. He had been helping her father move the trunk down stairs.
“You look so absurdly like a funeral, Jim. Aren’t you glad?”
“Of course I’m glad,” he looked straight into her eyes. “You know it is what I have always wanted, Janie.”
“You’ll have to learn to call me Janetta when I’m famous,” she wagged her head at him; “I suppose you’ll marry Sadie Brooks and rear a large family.” (Sadie Brooks was the one girl Janie saw fit to consider a rival.)
Jim smiled. “If you are not going for more than two or three years I’m afraid I’ll disappoint you in the size of my ‘family’! But the girl – I might do worse.” (This last with a meditative air.)
“Oh, I have no doubt!” The curls were tossed down with the shake she gave her head. “I – I didn’t know you had thought seriously of her. It is a good thing I found out, for I was just going to ask you –” she stopped, and looked reproachfully at him, then continued, – “but I won’t!”
Jim was interested. “You won’t what?”
“I won’t ask you.”
“Ask me what?”
“Don’t be stubborn, Janie.”
“I’m not! And what’s more, I don’t appreciate being called names.”
“I didn’t call you a name.”
“You say I am stubborn.”
“And I shall say that you are willfully misunderstanding if you persist.”
Janie’s eyes snapped.
“I suppose you will say I prevaricate, next.”
“No; but I wills ay that we are trying to quarrel over nothing.”
“Oh, we are, are we? It is so gallant of you to make that pronoun plural!”
Jim looked calmly and steadily at her. “You have been working too hard, Janie.”
Nothing makes a woman more angry than to have some one else offer an apology for what she considers her righteous indignation. Jim did not know this. For one instant her eyes flamed at him, then she got down from the trunk, and with a cool little, “Thank you for helping us today,” went into the house, leaving Jim about the most surprised young man one could imagine.
For the moment Jim was inclined to let her alone in what he thought her unreasonable temper. But the thought that it was their last day made him decide more kindly. He followed her into the house. A sound of smothered sobs brought him into the dark little library. Janie had thrown herself on a couch. Her face was buried in a variegated pillow.
When she heard his step she stopped crying, and intense stillness reigned. He stood beside her, bit yet helpless at sight of her unaccountable grief. He looked at her, then walked to the window and back again. This performance he repeated three times before he mustered courage to say, in the most contrite accents:
“Whatever I’ve done, Janie, I’m sorry for, and I’ll do anything on earth to make it right.”
He had to bend toward her to hear a little choked voice, most ungrammatical:
“It was me, Jim, – and – and I’m sorry!’
Jim’s heart jumped in a disgraceful manner as he drew a chair beside her.
“And you are going to ask me, Janie –” he suggested softly.
But the girl’s head moved in a negative.
“If it is very serious, Janie, I think you ought to, for – you know – it is our last day.”
She must have noticed the peculiar hitch in his voice at the end of this speech. At least no refusal followed, and she seemed to be considering.
“It will be a long time till I see you again – probably never.” (Jim felt guilty after saying this, for he knew the only “probably never” that could keep him away from Janetta Sampson would be her own desire for him to stay away.)
The bit of girlish neck exposed suddenly turned pink.
“For the sake of old times you might tell me.”
“But it isn’t anything,” was the muffled response.
“Oh, but it is!”
“I – I was just – ”
“You were just –”
“Going to ask if you would –” a pause.
“I will, Janie! What is it?”
“If you would take care of my – my dog!”
The expression on Jim’s face underwent several changes. He resumed his gravity almost immediately, and all would have been as solemn as could have been desired while he agreed to care for her dog, and nothing but her dog, and forever her dog, if need be, – but at this particular moment Janie lifted her tear-stained and smiling countenance from the pillow.
A sudden smile broke over Jim’s face. With an unprecedented boldness he picked her up and put her in front of a large mirror. Whatever reprimand she was about to give him was silenced by the horror she experienced at sight of her reflection.
She had chosen her pillow unwisely. Her physiognomy was ornamented with the same plaid design, somewhat blurred, as was the cushion.
Janie’s indignation at appearing ridiculous was fighting with her sense of humor. The latter was victorious.
“All wool, and a yard wide! Warranted to wear longer than desired.” She lifted her laughing face.
Jim had done one unprecedented thing. And now he did a more daring one. he made his exit immediately after, so he never knew what she thought of him. Whenever it occurred to him afterward it was with a sense of wonder that he had dared to do it, and it was always accompanied by the knowledge, like a warm, live thing next his heart, that she had let him do it!
And that night how she had sung!
The more Jim considered how he had taken advantage of Janie, in an unguarded moment, the more ashamed he became – an unreasonable sense of shame that could not prevent him from feeling glad that he had done it. Therefore it is doubtful whether he would have gone to her house before her hour of departure had he not meet her father in the post-office.
He was informed that “the crowd” was all there and that he could not play truant. The information was accompanied by a hearty grasp of Jim’s arm, which persuaded the victim in spite of his lack of courage to meet Janie’s eyes.
“The crowd” was talking all at once, so he was able to enter the room quite unobserved.
Janie was standing by the piano, slim and fair in her white dress. He loved to see her in white. At the first notes of the piano, conversation ceased, and her pure, round voice sang that pretty little ballad of Burns,
“O, my Love’s like a red, red rose
that’s newly sprung in June!
O, my Love’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly played in tune.”
Jim felt stifled. it was his favorite little song. He had been standing by the door. A moment later found him standing at the gate, staring straight ahead with both fists tightly clenched.
“And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:”
“till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
And I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.”
“And fare thee weel, my only Love!
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my Love,
tho’ it were ten thousand mile.”
Jim lifted his chin with a quick jerk.
“Oh, Janie!” he said in a low, agitated voice.
He was startled by a light touch on his arm. It was Janie, looking half-timidly into his eyes. The moon-light was shining on her face and white frock.
“You came away, Jim?” she said, reproach in her tone.
“Yes, I came away.”
Something in his voice satisfied her. She tilted her head playfully.
“You won’t marry Sadie Brooks before I get back?”
He lifted his eyes from the temptation of a little white hand resting near on the gate.
“No, I shall not marry Sadie Brooks. Oh, Janie, it isn’t right to tell you before you go, for you have before you more than I can ever give you, but you know – you do know that I – ”
“Don’t – don’t,” she said softly, putting a hand over his lips, “I – I think I understand – but it is better to part as we are.” She paused. Her words hurt him and yet –
“Have you a knife, Jim?” she asked irrelevantly.
He took one from his pocket and handed it to her. It was a big knife with a sharp blade that shone in the moonlight.
“How easy it would be!” she laughed, touching the ugly blade to her white throat.
His hand shot forward and grasped her wrist.
“How you look, Jim! Do you suppose I would hurt myself when I can’t stand even a scratch? Do let me have the knife – and shut your eyes. Trust me, Jim. I won’t touch myself.”
“I don’t like to see you play with it, Janie, so please be quick.”
“Close your eyes.”
He closed them.
“Aren’t you afraid I shall use the knife on you, Jim?”
He said nothing, but an insane desire came upon him to have her slim white hand push the blade against his throat.
There was a sudden snip.
“Open your hand, Jim.”
Something soft touched his palm. She put his knife on the gate-post. There was a flurry of skirts, and a voice sung back to him,
“And fare thee weel, my only Love!
And fare thee weel, awhile!
And I will come again, my Love,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.”
Upon his palm lay a ring of dark hair.
“At noon today Miss Janetta Sampson and R.K. Johnson, the wealthy stock-broker, were united in marriage. The wedding –”
The newspaper clipping slipped from his relaxed fingers. A big brown dog came close to him, flourishing its tail and thrusting its nose affectionately into his hand. it was her dog. He had fed it with his own hands every day since she left. It had accompanied him wherever he went. At night it had slept on the rug at his door. He had learned to love it as he would a friend. Now that she had come back he was wondering if the dog would forget him.
Suddenly the dog stopped wagging its tail, gazed intently toward the gate, then with yelps of delight bounded in the direction of an approaching figure. It was a young woman in white. Jim knew her instantly. He did not go forward to meet her, but stood awaiting her, his face colorless.
She was too eager at first to notice his attitude.
“Jim!” she cried.
“It is you, Janie,” he managed to say. His lips refused to smile.
“It is, Jim! there have been so many miles between us and now there is nothing.”
She was trying, laughingly, to ward off the frantic advances of the dog who was leaping about her; consequently she did not see the look on Jim’s face. he gave her a cool little shake of the hand, with a sudden despairing wish that he had never released the little fingers.
“There are more things than space and time to part people,” he said.
She looked at him in alarm, the joy of her face fading into doubtfulness.
“Marriage, for instance,” he finished with an effort.
“Marriage! Oh, Jim! why didn’t you tell me?” Her face blanched.
“I didn’t know –”
Then she added, bravely, “I hope you’ll be happy, Jim – I hope –”
“Why, I’m not married! I meant you!”
“Your husband – you said he was coming with you, Janie. You sent me a newspaper clipping and – ”
Then she saw it all.
“You dear, old Jim! It was Aunt Janetta who married R.K. – you know, papa’s sister, the one I was named after – her name was Janetta Sampson, too. And you thought – Oh, Jim!”
she spoke his name with a gurgle and a sob. Indeed, it mattered little how she spoke, for her voice was smothered in the bosom of Jim’s coat.
She lifted her face and whispered,
“And I will come again, my Love
tho’ it were ten thousand mile.”
Do you remember, Jim, dear, bend down. You – you took something from me on that last day after you made me cry and – and – I want to give it back.”
And Jim accepted payment without a murmur.