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XXI. The Impossible Word
John Meredith walked meditatively through the clear crispness of a winter night in
Rainbow Valley. The hills beyond glistened with the chill splendid lustre of
moonlight on snow. Every little fir tree in the long valley sang its own wild song to
the harp of wind and frost. His children and the Blythe lads and lasses were
coasting down the eastern slope and whizzing over the glassy pond. They were
having a glorious time and their gay voices and gayer laughter echoed up and
down the valley, dying away in elfin cadences among the trees. On the right the
lights of Ingleside gleamed through the maple grove with the genial lure and
invitation which seems always to glow in the beacons of a home where we know
there is love and good-cheer and a welcome for all kin, whether of flesh or spirit.
Mr. Meredith liked very well on occasion to spend an evening arguing with the
doctor by the drift wood fire, where the famous china dogs of Ingleside kept
ceaseless watch and ward, as became deities of the hearth, but to-night he did
not look that way. Far on the western hill gleamed a paler but more alluring star.
Mr. Meredith was on his way to see Rosemary West, and he meant to tell her
something which had been slowly blossoming in his heart since their first meeting
and had sprung into full flower on the evening when Faith had so warmly voiced
her admiration for Rosemary.
He had come to realize that he had learned to care for Rosemary. Not as he had
cared for Cecilia, of course. THAT was entirely different. That love of romance
and dream and glamour could never, he thought, return. But Rosemary was
beautiful and sweet and dear--very dear. She was the best of companions. He
was happier in her company than he had ever expected to be again. She would
be an ideal mistress for his home, a good mother to his children.
During the years of his widowhood Mr. Meredith had received innumerable hints
from brother members of Presbytery and from many parishioners who could not
be suspected of any ulterior motive, as well as from some who could, that he
ought to marry again: But these hints never made any impression on him. It was
commonly thought he was never aware of them. But he was quite acutely aware
of them. And in his own occasional visitations of common sense he knew that the
common sensible thing for him to do was to marry. But common sense was not
the strong point of John Meredith, and to choose out, deliberately and cold-
bloodedly, some "suitable" woman, as one might choose a housekeeper or a
business partner, was something he was quite incapable of doing. How he hated
that word "suitable." It reminded him so strongly of James Perry. "A SUIT able
woman of SUIT able age," that unctuous brother of the cloth had said, in his far
from subtle hint. For the moment John Meredith had had a perfectly unbelievable
desire to rush madly away and propose marriage to the youngest, most
unsuitable woman it was possible to discover.
Mrs. Marshall Elliott was his good friend and he liked her. But when she had
bluntly told him he should marry again he felt as if she had torn away the veil that
hung before some sacred shrine of his innermost life, and he had been more or
less afraid of her ever since. He knew there were women in his congregation "of