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Lady Baltimore by Owen Wister

Part 6 out of 6

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"Dear me!" I laughed. "So that is what it has grown to already! I did go
out on the boat boom, and I did drop off--but into a boat."

At this confession of mine the up-country bride became extraordinarily
arch on the subject of the well-known hospitality of steam yachts, and
for this I was honestly grateful to her; but Juno brooded still. "I hope
there is nothing wrong," she said solemnly.

Feeling that silence at this point would not be golden, I went into it
with spirit I told them of our charming party, of General Rieppe's rich
store of quotations, of the strict discipline on board the well-appointed
Hermana, of the great beauty of Hortense, and her evident happiness when
her lover was by her side. This talk of mine turned off any curiosity or
suspicion which the rest of the company may have begun to entertain; but
upon Juno I think it made scant impression, save causing her to set me
down as an imbecile. For there was Doctor Beaugarcon when we came into
the sitting-room, who told us before any one could even say
"How-do-you-do," that Miss Hortense Rieppe had broken her engagement with
John Mayrant, and that he had it from Mrs. Cornerly, whom he was visiting
professionally. I caught the pitying look which Juno threw at me at this
news, and I was happy to have acquitted myself so creditably in the
manipulation of my secret: nobody asked me any more questions!

There is almost nothing else to tell you of how the splashes broke on
Kings Port. Before the day when I was obliged to call in Doctor
Beaugarcon's professional services (quite a sharp attack put me to bed
for half a week) I found merely the following things: the Hermana gone
to New York, the automobiles and the Replacers had also disappeared, and
people were divided on the not strikingly important question as to
whether Hortense and the General had accompanied Charley on the yacht,
or continued northward in an automobile, or taken the train. Gone, in
any case, the whole party indubitably was, leaving, I must say, a sense
of emptiness: the comedy was over, the players departed. I never heard
any one, not even Juno, doubt that it was Hortense who had broken the
engagement; this part of the affair was conducted by the principals with
great skill. Hortense had evidently written her version to the
Cornerlys, and not a word to any other effect ever came from John's
mouth, of course. One result I had not looked for, though it was a
natural one: if the old ladies had felt indignation at Hortense for her
determination to marry John Mayrant, this indignation was doubled by her
determination not to! I fear that few of us live by logic, even in Kings
Port; and then, they had all called upon her in that garden for nothing!
The sudden thought of this made me laugh alone in my bed of sickness;
and when I came out of it, had such a thing been possible, I should have
liked to congratulate Miss Josephine St. Michael on her absence from the
garden occasion. I said, however, nothing to her, or to any of the other
ladies, upon this or any subject, for I was so unlucky as to find them
not at home when I paid my round of farewell visits. Nor (to my real
distress) did I see John Mayrant again. The boy wrote me (I received it
in bed) a short, warm note of regret, with nothing else in it save the
fact that he was leaving town, having become free from the Custom House
at last. I fancy that he ran away for a judicious interval. Who would

Was there one person to whom he told the truth before he went? Did the
girl behind the counter hear the manner in which the engagement was
broken? Ah, none of us will ever know that! But, although I could not,
without the highest impropriety, have spoken to any of the old ladies
about this business, unless they had chosen to speak to me--and somehow I
feel that after the abrupt close of it not even Mrs. Gregory St. Michael
would have been likely to touch on the subject with an outsider--there
was nothing whatever to forbid my indulging in a skirmish with Eliza La
Heu; therefore I lunched at the Exchange on my last day.

"To the mountains?" she said, in reply to my information about my plans
of travel.

"Doctor Beaugarcon says nothing else can so quickly restore me."

"Stay there for the rhododendrons, then," she bade me. "No sight more
beautiful in all the South."

"Town seems deserted," I pursued. "Everybody gone."

"Oh, not everybody!"

"All the interesting people."

"Thank you."

"I meant, interesting to you."

I saw her decide not to be angry; and her decision changed and saved our
conversation from the trashy, bantering tone which it was taking, and
brought it to a pass most unexpected to both of us.

She gave me a charming and friendly smile. "Well, you, at any rate, are
going away. And I am really sorry for that."

Her eyes rested upon me with perfect frankness. I was not in love with
Eliza La Heu, but nearer to love than I had ever been then, and it would
have been easy, very easy, to let one's self go straight onward into
love. There are for a man more ways of falling into that state than
romancers would have us to believe, and one of them is by an assent of
the will at a certain given moment, which the heart promptly follows--
just as a man in a moment decides he will espouse a cause, and soon finds
himself hotly fighting for it body and soul. I could have gone out of
that Exchange completely in love with Eliza La Heu; but my will did not
give its assent, and I saw John Mayrant not as a rival, but as one whose
happiness I greatly desired.

"Thank you," I said, "for telling me you are sorry I am going. And now,
may I treat you more than ever as a friend, and tell you of a
circumstance which Kings Port does not know?"

It put her on her guard. "Don't be indiscreet," she laughed.

"Isn't timely indiscretion discretion?"

"And don't be clever," she said. "Tell me what you have to say--if you're
quite sure you'll not be sorry."

"Quite sure. There's no reason--now that the untruth is properly and
satisfactorily established--that one person should not know that John
Mayrant broke that engagement." And I told her the whole of it. "If I'm
outrageous to share this secret with you," I concluded, "I can only say
that I couldn't stand the unfairness any longer."

"He jumped straight in?" said Eliza.

"Oh, straight!"

"Of course," she murmured.

"And just after declaring that he wouldn't."

"Of course," she murmured again. "And the current took them right away?"


"Was he very tired when you got to him?"

I answered this question and a number of others, backward and forward,
until she had led me to cover the whole incident about twice-and-a-half
times. Then she had a silence, and after this a reflection.

"How well they managed it!"

"Managed what?"

"The accepted version."

"Oh, yes, indeed!"

"And you and I will not spoil it for them," she declared.

As I took my final leave of her she put a flower in my buttonhole. My
reflection was then, and is now, that if she already knew the truth from
John himself, how well she managed it!

So that same night I took the lugubrious train which bore me with the
grossest deliberation to the mountains; and among the mountains and their
waterfalls I stayed and saw the rhododendrons, and was preparing to
journey home when the invitation came from John and Eliza.

I have already said that of this wedding no word was in the papers. Kings
Port by the war lost all material things, but not the others, among which
precious privacy remains to her; and, O Kings Port, may you never lose
your grasp of that treasure! May you never know the land where the
reporter blooms, where if any joy or grief befall you, the public press
rings your doorbell and demands the particulars, and if you deny it the
particulars, it makes them up and says something scurrilous about you
into the bargain. Therefore nothing was printed, morning or evening,
about John and Eliza. Nor was the wedding service held in church to the
accompaniment of nodding bonnets and gaping stragglers. No eye not tender
with regard and emotion looked on while John took Eliza to his wedded
wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy state of

In Royal Street, not many steps from South Place, there stands a quiet
house a little back, upon whose face sorrow has struck many blows, but
made no deep wounds yet; no scorch from the fires of war is visible, arid
the rending of the earthquake does not show too plainly; but there hangs
about the house a gravity that comes from seeing and suffering much, and
a sweetness from having sheltered many generations of smiles and tears.
The long linked chain of births and deaths here has not been broken and
scattered, and the grandchildren look out of the same windows from which
the grandsires gazed, whose faces now in picture frames still watch
serenely the sad present from their happy past. Therefore the rooms lie
in still depths of association, and from the walls, the stairs, the
furniture, flows the benign influence of undispersed memories; it sheds
its tempered radiance upon the old miniatures, and upon every fresh
flower that comes in from the garden; it seems to pass through the open
doors to and fro like a tranquil blessing; it is beyond joy and pain,
because time has distilled it from both of these; it is the assembled
essence of kinship and blood unity, enriched by each succeeding brood
that is born, is married, is fruitful in its turn, and dies remembered;
only the balm of faith is stronger to sustain and heal; for that comes
from heaven, while it is earth that gives us this; and the sacred cup of
it which our native land once held is almost empty.

Amid this influence John and Eliza were made one, and the faces of the
older generations grew soft beneath it, and pensive eyes became lustrous,
and into pale cheeks the rosy tint came like an echo faintly back for a
short hour. They made so little sound in their quiet happiness of
congratulation that it might have been a dream; and they were so few
that the house with the sense of its memories was not lost with the
movement and crowding, but seemed still to preside over the whole,
and send down its benediction.

When it was my turn to shake the hands of bride and groom, John asked:--

"What did your friend do with your advice?"

And I replied. "He has taken it."

"Perhaps not that," John returned, "but you must have helped him to see
his way."

When the bride came to cut the cake, she called me to her and fulfilled
her promise.

"You have always liked my baking," she said.

"Then you made it after all," I answered.

"I would not have been married without doing so," she declared sweetly.

When the time came for them to go away, they were surrounded with
affectionate God-speeds; but Miss Josephine St. Michael waited to be the
last, standing a little apart, her severe and chiselled face turned
aside, and seeming to watch a mocking-bird that was perched in his cage
at a window halfway up the stairs.

"He is usually not so silent," Miss Josephine said to me. "I suppose we
are too many visitors for him."

Then I saw that the old lady, beneath her severity, was deeply moved; and
almost at once John and Eliza came down the stairs. Miss Josephine took
each of them to her heart, but she did not trust herself to speak; and a
single tear rolled down her face, as the boy and girl continued to the
hall-door. There Daddy Ben stood, and John's gay good-by to him was the
last word that I heard the bridegroom say. While we all stood silently
watching them as they drove away from the tall iron gate, the
mocking-bird on the staircase broke into melodious ripples of song.

XXIII: Poor Aunt Carola!

And now here goes my language back into the small-clothes that it wore at
the beginning of all, when I told you something of that colonial society,
the Selected Salic Scions, dear to the heart of my Aunt. It were beyond
my compass to approach this august body of men and women with the respect
that is its due, did I attire myself in that modern garment which, in the
phrase of the vulgar, is denoted pants.

You will scarce have forgot, I must suppose, the importance set by my
Aunt Carola upon the establishing of the Scions in new territories,
wherever such persons as were both qualified by their descent and in
themselves worthy, should be found; and you will remember that I was
bidden by her to look in South Carolina for members of the Bombo
connection which she was inclined to suspect existed in that state. My
neglect to make this inquiry for my kind Aunt now smote me sharply when
all seemed too late. John Mayrant had spoken of Kill-devil Bombo, the
very personage through whom lay Aunt Carola's claim to kingly lineage,
and I had let John Mayrant go away upon his honeymoon without ever
questioning him upon this subject. As I looked back upon the ease with
which I might have settled the matter, and forward to my return empty-
handed to the generous relative to whom I owed this agreeable experience
of travel, I felt guilty indeed. I wrote a letter to follow John Mayrant
into whatever retreat of bliss he had betaken himself to, and I begged
him earnestly to write me at his early convenience all that he might know
of Bombos in South Carolina. Consequently, I was able, on reaching home,
to meet Aunt Carola with some sort of countenance, and to assure her that
I expected presently to be furnished with authentic and valuable

I now learned that the Selected Salic Scions had greatly increased in
numbers during my short absence. It appeared that the origin of the whole
movement had sprung from a needy but ingenious youth in some
manufacturing town of New England. This lad had a cousin, who had amassed
from nothing a noble fortune by inventing one day a speedy and convenient
fashion of opening beer bottles; and this cousin's achievement had set
him to looking about him. He soon discovered that in our great republic
everywhere there were living hundreds and thousands of men and women who
were utterly unaware that they were descended from kings. Borrowing a
little money to float him, he set up The American Almanach de Gotha and
began (for the minimum sum of fifty dollars a pedigree) to reveal to
these eager people the chain of links that connected them with royalty.
Thus, in a period of time the brevity of which is incredible, this young
man passed from complete indigence to a wife and four automobiles, or an
automobile and four wives--I don't remember which he had the four of.
There was so much royal blood about that it had spilled into several
rival organizations, each bitterly warring with the other; but my Aunt
assured me that her society was the only one that any respectable person
belonged to.

I am minded to announce a rule of discreet conduct: Never read aloud any
letter that you have not first read to yourself. Had I observed this
rule--but listen:--

It so happened that Aunt Carola was at luncheon with us when the postman
brought John Mayrant's answer to my inquiry, and at the sight of his
handwriting I thoughtlessly exclaimed to my Aunt that here at last we had
all there was to be known concerning the Bombos in South Carolina; with
this I tore open the missive and embarked upon a reading of it for the
edification of all present. I pass over the beginning of John's
communication, because it was merely the observations of a man upon his
honeymoon, and was confined to laudatory accounts of scenery and weather,
and the beauty of all life when once one saw it with his eyes truly

"No Bombos ever came to Carolina," he now continued, "that I know of, or
that Aunt Josephine knows of, which is more to the point. Aunt Josephine
has copied me a passage from the writings of William Byrd, Esq., of
Westover, Virginia, in which mention is made, not of the family, but of a
rum punch which seems to have been concocted first by Admiral Bombo, from
a New England brand of rum so very deadly that it was not inaptly styled
'kill-devil' by the early planters of the colony. That the punch drifted
to Carolina and still survives there, you have reason to know. Therefore
if any remote ancestors of yours contracted an alliance with Kill-devil
Bombo, I can imagine no resulting offspring of such union but a series of
severe attacks of delir--"

"What?" interrupted Aunt Carola, at this point, in her most formidable
voice. "What's that stuff you're reading, Augustus?"

I shook in my shoes. "Why, Aunt, it's John--"

"Not another word, sir! And never let me hear his name again. To think--
to think--" But here Aunt Carola's face grew extremely red, and she
choked so decidedly that Uncle Andrew poured her a glass of water.

The rest of our luncheon was conducted with remarkable solemnity.

As we were rising from table, my Aunt said:--

"It was high time, Augustus, that you came home. You seem to have got
into very strange company down there."

This was the last reference to the Bombos that my Aunt ever made in my
hearing. Of course it is preposterous to suppose that she traces her
descent from a king through a mere bowl of punch, and her being still the
president of the Selected Salic Scions is proof irrefutable that her
claim rests upon a more solid foundation.

XXIV: Post Scriptum

I think that John Mayrant, Jr., is going to look like his mother. I was
very glad to be present when he was christened, and at this ceremony I
did not feel as I had felt the year before at the wedding; for then I had
known well enough that if the old ladies found any blemish on that
occasion, it was my being there! To them I must remain forever a
"Yankee," a wall perfectly imaginary and perfectly real between us; and
the fact that young John could take any other view of me, was to them a
sign of that "radical" tendency in him which they were able to forgive
solely because he was of the younger generation and didn't know any

And with these thoughts in my mind, and remembering a certain very grave
talk I had once held with Eliza in the Exchange about the North and the
South, in which it was my good fortune to make her see that there is on
our soil nowadays such a being as an American, who feels, wherever he
goes in our native land, that it is all his, and that he belongs
everywhere to it, I looked at the little John Mayrant, and then I said to
his mother:--

"And will you teach him 'Dixie' and 'Yankee Doodle' as well?"

But Eliza smiled at me with friendly, inscrutable eyes.

"Oh," said John, "you mustn't ask too much of the ladies. I'll see to all

Perhaps he will. And an education at Harvard College need not cause the
boy to forget his race, or his name, or his traditions, but only to value
them more, as they should be valued. And the way that they should be
valued is this: that the boy in thinking of them should say to himself,
"I am proud of my ancestors; let my life make them proud of me."

But, in any case, is it not pleasant to think of the boy being brought up
by Eliza, and not by Hortense?

And so my portrait of Kings Port is finished. That the likeness is not
perfect, I am only too sensible. No painter that I have heard of ever
satisfies the whole family. But, should any of the St. Michaels see this
picture, I trust they may observe that if some of the touches are faulty,
true admiration and love of his subject animated the artist's hand; and
if Miss Josephine St. Michael should be pleased with any of it, I could
wish that she might indicate this by sending me a Lady Baltimore; we have
no cake here that approaches it.

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