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Lavender and Old Lace by Myrtle Reed

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software donated by Caere.

LAVENDER AND OLD LACE by Myrtle Reed

1902

I. THE LIGHT IN THE WINDOW
II. THE ATTIC.
III. MISS AINSLIE
IV. A GUEST
V. THE RUMOURS OF THE VALLEY
VI. THE GARDEN
VII. THE MAN WHO HESITATES
VIII. SUMMER DAYS
IX. BY HUMBLE MEANS
X. LOVE LETTERS
XI. THE ROSE OF ALL THE WORLD
XII. BRIDE AND GROOM
XIII. PLANS
XIV. "FOR REMEMBRANCE"
XV. THE SECRET AND THE DREAM
XVI. SOME ONE WHO LOVED HER
XVII. DAWN

I. The Light in the Window

A rickety carriage was slowly ascending the hill, and from the
place of honour on the back seat, the single passenger surveyed
the country with interest and admiration. The driver of that
ancient chariot was an awkward young fellow, possibly twenty-five
years of age, with sharp knees, large, red hands, high
cheek-bones, and abundant hair of a shade verging upon orange. He
was not unpleasant to look upon, however, for he had a certain
evident honesty, and he was disposed to be friendly to every one.

"Be you comfortable, Miss?" he asked, with apparent solicitude.

"Very comfortable, thank you," was the quiet response. He urged
his venerable steeds to a gait of about two mles an hour, then
turned sideways.

"Be you goin' to stay long, Miss?"

"All Summer, I think."

"Do tell!"

The young woman smiled in listless amusement, but Joe took it for
conversational encouragement. "City folks is dretful bashful when
they's away from home," he said to himself. He clucked again to
his unheeding horses, shifted his quid, and was casting about for
a new topic when a light broke in upon him.

"I guess, now, that you're Miss Hathaway's niece, what's come to
stay in her house while she goes gallivantin' and travellin' in
furrin parts, be n't you?"

"I am Miss Hathaway's niece, and I have never been here before.
Where does she live?"

"Up yander."

He flourished the discarded fish-pole which served as a whip, and
pointed out a small white house on the brow of the hill.
Reflection brought him the conviction that his remark concerning
Miss Hathaway was a social mistake, since his passenger sat very
straight, and asked no more questions.

The weary wheels creaked, but the collapse which Miss Thorne
momentarily expected was mercifully postponed. Being gifted with
imagination, she experienced the emotion of a wreck without
bodily harm. As in a photograph, she beheld herself suddenly
projected into space, followed by her suit case, felt her new hat
wrenched from her head, and saw hopeless gravel stains upon the
tailored gown which was the pride of her heart. She thought a
sprained ankle would be the inevitable outcome of the fall, but
was spared the pain of it, for the inability to realise an actual
hurt is the redeeming feature of imagination.

Suddenly there was a snort of terror from one of the horses, and
the carriage stopped abruptly. Ruth clutched her suit case and
umbrella, instantly prepared for the worst; but Joe reassured
her.

"Now don't you go and get skeered, Miss," he said, kindly;
"'taint nothin' in the world but a rabbit. Mamie can't never get
used to rabbits, someways." He indicated one of the horses--a
high, raw-boned animal, sketched on a generous plan, whose ribs
and joints protruded, and whose rough white coat had been
weather-worn to grey.

"Hush now, Mamie," he said; "'taint nothin'."

"Mamie" looked around inquiringly, with one ear erect and the
other at an angle. A cataract partially concealed one eye, but in
the other was a world of wickedness and knowledge, modified by a
certain lady-like reserve.

"G' long, Mamie!"

Ruth laughed as the horse resumed motion in mincing, maidenly
steps. "What's the other one's name?" she asked.

"Him? His name's Alfred. Mamie's his mother."

Miss Thorne endeavoured to conceal her amusement and Joe was
pleased because the ice was broken. "I change their names every
once in a while," he said, "'cause it makes some variety, but now
I've named'em about all the names I know."

The road wound upward in its own lazy fashion, and there were
trees at the left, though only one or two shaded the hill itself.
As they approached the summit, a girl in a blue gingham dress and
a neat white apron came out to meet them.

"Come right in, Miss Thorne," she said, "and I'll explain it to
you."

Ruth descended, inwardly vowing that she would ride no more in
Joe's carriage, and after giving some directions about her trunk,
followed her guide indoors.

The storm-beaten house was certainly entitled to the respect
accorded to age. It was substantial, but unpretentious in
outline, and had not been painted for a long time. The faded
green shutters blended harmoniously with the greyish white
background, and the piazza, which was evidently an unhappy
afterthought of the architect, had two or three new shingles on
its roof.

"You see it's this way, Miss Thorne," the maid began, volubly;
"Miss Hathaway, she went earlier than she laid out to, on account
of the folks decidin' to take a steamer that sailed
beforehand--before the other one, I mean. She went in sech a
hurry that she didn't have time to send you word and get an
answer, but she's left a letter here for you, for she trusted to
your comin'."

Miss Thorne laid her hat and jacket aside and settled herself
comfortably in a rocker. The maid returned presently with a
letter which Miss Hathaway had sealed with half an ounce of red
wax, presumably in a laudable effort to remove temptation from
the path of the red-cheeked, wholesome, farmer's daughter who
stood near by with her hands on her hips.

"Miss Ruth Thorne," the letter began,

"Dear Niece:

"I am writing this in a hurry, as we are going a week before we
expected to. I think you will find everything all right. Hepsey
will attend to the house-keeping, for I don't suppose you know
much about it, coming from the city. She's a good-hearted girl,
but she's set in her ways, and you'll have to kinder give in to
her, but any time when you can't, just speak to her sharp and
she'll do as you tell her.

"I have left money enough for the expenses until I come back, in
a little box on the top shelf of the closet in the front room,
under a pile of blankets and comfortables. The key that unlocks
it is hung on a nail driven into the back of the old bureau in
the attic. I believe Hepsey is honest and reliable, but I don't
believe in tempting folks.

"When I get anywhere where I can, I will write and send you my
address, and then you can tell me how things are going at home.
The catnip is hanging from the rafters in the attic, in case you
should want some tea, and the sassafras is in the little drawer
in the bureau that's got the key hanging behind it.

"If there's anything else you should want, I reckon Hepsey will
know where to find it. Hoping that this will find you enjoying
the great blessing of good health, I remain,

"Your Affectionate Aunt,

"JANE HATHAWAY.

"P. S. You have to keep a lamp burning every night in the east
window of the attic. Be careful that nothing catches afire."

The maid was waiting, in fear and trembling, for she did not know
what directions her eccentric mistress might have left.

"Everything is all right, Hepsey," said Miss Thorne, pleasantly,
"and I think you and I will get along nicely. Did Miss Hathaway
tell you what room I was to have?"

"No'm. She told me you was to make yourself at home. She said you
could sleep where you pleased."

"Very well, I will go up and see for myself. I would like my tea
at six o'clock." She still held the letter in her hand, greatly
to the chagrin of Hepsey, who was interested in everything and
had counted upon a peep at it. It was not Miss Hathaway's custom
to guard her letters and she was both surprised and disappointed.

As Ruth climbed the narrow stairway, the quiet, old-fashioned
house brought balm to her tired soul. It was exquisitely clean,
redolent of sweet herbs, and in its atmosphere was a subtle,
Puritan restraint.

Have not our houses, mute as they are, their own way of conveying
an impression? One may go into a house which has been empty for a
long time, and yet feel, instinctively, what sort of people were
last sheltered there. The silent walls breathe a message to each
visitor, and as the footfalls echo in the bare cheerless rooms,
one discovers where Sorrow and Trouble had their abode, and where
the light, careless laughter of gay Bohemia lingered until dawn.
At night, who has not heard ghostly steps upon the stairs, the
soft closing of unseen doors, the tapping on a window, and,
perchance, a sigh or the sound of tears? Timid souls may shudder
and be afraid, but wiser folk smile, with reminiscent tenderness,
when the old house dreams.

As she wandered through the tiny, spotless rooms on the second
floor of Miss Hathaway's house, Ruth had a sense of security and
peace which she had never known before. There were two front
rooms, of equal size, looking to the west, and she chose the one
on the left, because of its two south windows. There was but one
other room, aside from the small one at the end of the hall,
which, as she supposed, was Hepsey's.

One of the closets was empty, but on a shelf in the other was a
great pile of bedding. She dragged a chair inside, burrowed under
the blankets, and found a small wooden box, the contents clinking
softly as she drew it toward her.

Holding it under her arm, she ascended the narrow, spiral stairs
which led to the attic. At one end, under the eaves, stood an old
mahogany dresser. The casters were gone and she moved it with
difficulty, but the slanting sunbeams of late afternoon revealed
the key, which hung, as her aunt had written, on a nail driven
into the back of it.

She knew, without trying, that it would fit the box, but idly
turned the lock. As she opened it, a bit of paper fluttered out,
and, picking it up, she read in her aunt's cramped, But distinct
hand: "Hepsey gets a dollar and a half every week. Don't you pay
her no more."

As the house was set some distance back, the east window in the
attic was the only one which commanded a view of the sea. A small
table, with its legs sawed off, came exactly to the sill, and
here stood a lamp, which was a lamp simply, without adornment,
and held about a pint of oil.

She read the letter again and, having mastered its contents, tore
it into small pieces, with that urban caution which does not come
amiss in the rural districts. She understood that every night of
her stay she was to light this lamp with her own hands, but why?
The varnish on the table, which had once been glaring, was
scratched with innumerable rings, where the rough glass had left
its mark. Ruth wondered if she were face to face with a mystery.

The seaward side of the hill was a rocky cliff, and between the
vegetable garden at the back of the house and the edge of the
precipice were a few stumps, well-nigh covered with moss. From
her vantage point, she could see the woods which began at the
base of the hill, on the north side, and seemed to end at the
sea. On the south, there were a few trees near the cliff, but
others near them had been cut down.

Still farther south and below the hill was a grassy plain,
through which a glistening river wound slowly to the ocean.
Willows grew along its margin, tipped with silvery green, and
with masses of purple twilight tangled in the bare branches
below.

Ruth opened the window and drew a long breath. Her senses had
been dulled by the years in the city, but childhood, hidden
though not forgotten, came back as if by magic, with that first
scent of sea and Spring.

As yet, she had not fully realised how grateful she was for this
little time away from her desk and typewriter. The managing
editor had promised her the same position, whenever she chose to
go back, and there was a little hoard in the savings-bank, which
she would not need to touch, owing to the kindness of this
eccentric aunt, whom she had never seen.

The large room was a typical attic, with its spinning-wheel and
discarded furniture--colonial mahogany that would make many a
city matron envious, and for which its owner cared little or
nothing. There were chests of drawers, two or three battered
trunks, a cedar chest, and countless boxes, of various sizes.
Bunches of sweet herbs hung from the rafters, but there were no
cobwebs, because of Miss Hathaway's perfect housekeeping.

Ruth regretted the cobwebs and decided not to interfere, should
the tiny spinners take advantage of Aunt Jane's absence. She
found an old chair which was unsteady on its rockers but not yet
depraved enough to betray one's confidence. Moving it to the
window, she sat down and looked out at the sea, where the slow
boom of the surf came softly from the shore, mingled with the
liquid melody of returning breakers.

The first grey of twilight had come upon the world before she
thought of going downstairs. A match-safe hung upon the window
casing, newly filled, and, mindful of her trust, she lighted the
lamp and closed the window. Then a sudden scream from the floor
below startled her.

"Miss Thorne! Miss Thorne!" cried a shrill voice. "Come here!
Quick!"

White as a sheet, Ruth flew downstairs and met Hepsey in the
hall. "What on earth is the matter!" she gasped.

"Joe's come with your trunk," responded that volcanic young
woman, amiably; "where'd you want it put?"

"In the south front room," she answered, still frightened, but
glad nothing more serious had happened. "You mustn't scream like
that."

"Supper's ready," resumed Hepsey, nonchalantly, and Ruth followed
her down to the little dining-room.

As she ate, she plied the maid with questions. "Does Miss
Hathaway light that lamp in the attic every night?"

"Yes'm. She cleans it and fills it herself, and she puts it out
every morning. She don't never let me touch it."

"Why does she keep it there?"

"D' know. She d' know, neither."

"Why, Hepsey, what do you mean? Why does she do it if she doesn't
know why she does it?"

"D'know.'Cause she wants to, I reckon."

"She's been gone a week, hasn't she?"

"No'm. Only six days. It'll be a week to-morrer."

Hepsey's remarks were short and jerky, as a rule, and had a
certain explosive force.

"Hasn't the lamp been lighted since she went away?"

"Yes'm. I was to do it till you come, and after you got here I
was to ask you every night if you'd forgot it."

Ruth smiled because Aunt Jane's old-fashioned exactness lingered
in her wake. "Now see here, Hepsey," she began kindly, "I don't
know and you don't know, but I'd like to have you tell me what
you think about it."

"I d' know, as you say, mum, but I think--" here she lowered her
voice--" I think it has something to do with Miss Ainslie."

"Who is Miss Ainslie?"

"She's a peculiar woman, Miss Ainslie is," the girl explained,
smoothing her apron, "and she lives down the road a piece, in the
valley as, you may say. She don't never go nowheres, Miss Ainslie
don't, but folks goes to see her. She's got a funny house--I've
been inside of it sometimes when I've been down on errands for
Miss Hathaway. She ain't got no figgered wall paper, nor no lace
curtains, and she ain't got no rag carpets neither. Her floors is
all kinder funny, and she's got heathen things spread down
onto'em. Her house is full of heathen things, and sometimes she
wears'em."

"Wears what, Hepsey? The'heathen things' in the house?"

"No'm. Other heathen things she's got put away somewheres. She's
got money, I guess, but she's got furniture in her parlour that's
just like what Miss Hathaway's got set away in the attic. We
wouldn't use them kind of things, nohow," she added complacently.

"Does she live all alone?"

"Yes'm. Joe, he does her errands and other folks stops in
sometimes, but Miss Ainslie ain't left her front yard for I d'
know how long. Some says she's cracked, but she's the best
housekeeper round here, and if she hears of anybody that's sick
or in trouble, she allers sends'em things. She ain't never been
up here, but Miss Hathaway, she goes down there sometimes, and
she'n Miss Ainslie swaps cookin' quite regler. I have to go down
there with a plate of somethin' Miss Hathaway's made, and Miss
Ainslie allers says: 'Wait just a moment, please, Hepsey, I would
like to send Miss Hathaway a jar of my preserves.'"

She relapsed unconsciously into imitation of Miss Ainslie's
speech. In the few words, softened, and betraying a quaint
stateliness, Ruth caught a glimpse of an old-fashioned
gentlewoman, reserved and yet gracious.

She folded her napkin, saying: "You make the best biscuits I ever
tasted, Hepsey." The girl smiled, but made no reply.

"What makes you think Miss Ainslie has anything to do with the
light?" she inquired after a little.

"'Cause there wasn't no light in that winder when I first
come--leastways, not as I know of--and after I'd been here a week
or so, Miss Hathaway, she come back from there one day looking
kinder strange. She didn't say much; but the next mornin' she
goes down to town and buys that lamp, and she saws off them table
legs herself. Every night since, that light's been a-goin', and
she puts it out herself every mornin' before she comes
downstairs."

"Perhaps she and Miss Ainslie had been talking of shipwreck, and
she thought she would have a little lighthouse of her own," Miss
Thorne suggested, when the silence became oppressive.

"P'raps so," rejoined Hepsey. She had become stolid again.

Ruth pushed her chair back and stood at the dining-room window a
moment, looking out into the yard. The valley was in shadow, but
the last light still lingered on the hill. "What's that, Hepsey?"
she asked.

"What's what?"

"That--where the evergreen is coming up out of the ground, in the
shape of a square."

"That's the cat's grave, mum. She died jest afore Miss Hathaway
went away, and she planted the evergreen."

"I thought something was lacking," said Ruth, half to herself.

"Do you want a kitten, Miss Thorne?" inquired Hepsey, eagerly. "I
reckon I can get you one--Maltese or white, just as you like."

"No, thank you, Hepsey; I don't believe I'll import any pets."

"Jest as you say, mum. It's sorter lonesome, though, with no cat;
and Miss Hathaway said she didn't want no more."

Speculating upon the departed cat's superior charms, that made
substitution seem like sacrilege to Miss Hathaway, Ruth sat down
for a time in the old-fashioned parlour, where the shabby
haircloth furniture was ornamented with "tidies" to the last
degree. There was a marble-topped centre table in the room, and a
basket of wax flowers under a glass case, Mrs. Hemans's poems,
another book, called The Lady's Garland, and the family Bible
were carefully arranged upon it.

A hair wreath, also sheltered by glass, hung on the wall near
another collection of wax flowers suitably framed. There were
various portraits of people whom Miss Thorne did not know, though
she was a near relative of their owner, and two tall, white china
vases, decorated with gilt, flanked the mantel-shelf. The carpet,
which was once of the speaking variety, had faded to the
listening point. Coarse lace curtains hung from brass rings on
wooden poles, and red cotton lambrequins were festooned at the
top.

Hepsey came in to light the lamp that hung by chains over the
table, but Miss Thorne rose, saying: "You needn't mind, Hepsey,
as I am going upstairs."

"Want me to help you unpack? she asked, doubtless wishing for a
view of "city clothes."

"No, thank you."

"I put a pitcher of water in your room, Miss Thorne. Is there
anything else you would like?"

"Nothing more, thank you."

She still lingered, irresolute, shifting from one foot to the
other. "Miss Thorne--" she began hesitatingly.

"Yes?"

"Be you--be you a lady detective?" Ruth's clear laughter rang out
on the evening air. "Why, no, you foolish girl; I'm a newspaper
woman, and I've earned a rest--that's all. You mustn't read books
with yellow covers."

Hepsey withdrew, muttering vague apologies, and Ruth found her at
the head of the stairs when she went up to her room. "How long
have you been with Miss Hathaway?" she asked.

"Five years come next June."

"Good night, Hepsey."

"Good night, Miss Thorne."

From sheer force of habit, Ruth locked her door. Her trunk was
not a large one, and it did not take her long to put her simple
wardrobe into the capacious closet and the dresser drawers. As
she moved the empty trunk into the closet, she remembered the box
of money that she had left in the attic, and went up to get it.
When she returned she heard Hepsey's door close softly.

"Silly child," she said to herself. I might just as well ask her
if she isn't a'lady detective.' They'll laugh about that in the
office when I go back."

She sat down, rocking contentedly, for it was April, and she
would not have to go back until Aunt Jane came home, probably
about the first of October. She checked off the free,
health-giving months on her tired fingers, that would know the
blue pencil and the typewriter no more until Autumn, when she
would be strong again and the quivering nerves quite steady.

She blessed the legacy which had fallen into Jane Hathaway's lap
and led her, at fifty-five, to join a "personally conducted"
party to the Old World. Ruth had always had a dim yearning for
foreign travel, but just now she felt no latent injustice, such
as had often rankled in her soul when her friends went and she
remained at home.

Thinking she heard Hepsey in the hall, and not caring to arouse
further suspicion, she put out her light and sat by the window,
with the shutters wide open.

Far down the hill, where the road became level again, and on the
left as she looked toward the village, was the white house,
surrounded by a garden and a hedge, which she supposed was Miss
Ainslie's. A timid chirp came from the grass, and the faint,
sweet smell of growing things floated in through the open window
at the other end of the room.

A train from the city sounded a warning whistle as it approached
the station, and then a light shone on the grass in front of Miss
Ainslie's house. It was a little gleam, evidently from a candle.

"So she's keeping a lighthouse, too," thought Ruth. The train
pulled out of the station and half an hour afterward the light
disappeared.

She meditated upon the general subject of illumination while she
got ready for bed, but as soon as her head touched the pillow she
lost consciousness and knew no more until the morning light crept
into her room.

II. The Attic

The maid sat in the kitchen, wondering why Miss Thorne did not
come down. It was almost seven o'clock, and Miss Hathaway's
breakfast hour was half past six. Hepsey did not frame the
thought, but she had a vague impression that the guest was lazy.

Yet she was grateful for the new interest which had come into her
monotonous life. Affairs moved like clock work at Miss
Hathaway's--breakfast at half past six, dinner at one, and supper
at half past five. Each day was also set apart by its regular
duties, from the washing on Monday to the baking on Saturday.

Now it was possible that there might be a change. Miss Thorne
seemed fully capable of setting the house topsy-turvy--and Miss
Hathaway's last injunction had been: "Now, Hepsey, you mind Miss
Thorne. If I hear that you don't, you'll lose your place."

The young woman who slumbered peacefully upstairs, while the rest
of the world was awake, had, from the beginning, aroused
admiration in Hepsey's breast. It was a reluctant, rebellious
feeling, mingled with an indefinite fear, but it was admiration
none the less.

During the greater part of a wondering, wakeful night, the
excited Hepsey had seen Miss Thorne as plainly as when she first
entered the house. The tall, straight, graceful figure was
familiar by this time, and the subdued silken rustle of her
skirts was a wonted sound. Ruth's face, naturally mobile, had
been schooled into a certain reserve, but her deep, dark eyes
were eloquent, and always would be. Hepsey wondered at the opaque
whiteness of her skin and the baffling arrangement of her hair.
The young women of the village had rosy cheeks, but Miss Thorne's
face was colourless, except for her lips.

It was very strange, Hepsey thought, for Miss Hathaway to sail
before her niece came, if, indeed, Miss Thorne was her niece.
There was a mystery in the house on the hilltop, which she had
tried in vain to fathom. Foreign letters came frequently, no two
of them from the same person, and the lamp in the attic window
had burned steadily every night for five years. Otherwise,
everything was explainable and sane.

Still, Miss Thorne did not seem even remotely related to her
aunt, and Hepsey had her doubts. Moreover, the guest had an
uncanny gift which amounted to second sight. How did she know
that all of Hepsey's books had yellow covers? Miss Hathaway could
not have told her in the letter, for the mistress was not awire
of her maid's literary tendencies.

It was half past seven, but no sound came from upstairs. She
replenished the fire and resumed meditation. Whatever Miss Thorne
might prove to be, she was decidedly interesting. It wis pleasant
to watch her, to feel the subtle refinement of all her
belongings, and to wonder what was going to happen next. Perhaps
Miss Thorne would take her back to the city, as her maid, when
Miss Hathaway came home, for, in the books, such things
frequently happened. Would she go? Hepsey was trying to decide,
when there was a light, rapid step on the stairs, a moment's
hesitation in the hall, and Miss Thorne came into the
dining-room.

"Good morning, Hepsey," she said, cheerily; "am I late?"

"Yes'm. It's goin' on eight, and Miss Hathaway allers has
breakfast at half past six."

"How ghastly," Ruth thought. "I should have told you," she said,
"I will have mine at eight."

"Yes'm," replied Hepsey, apparently unmoved. "What time do you
want dinner?"

"At six o'clock--luncheon at half past one."

Hepsey was puzzled, but in a few moments she understood that
dinner was to be served at night and supper at midday. Breakfast
had already been moved forward an hour and a half, and stranger
things might happen at any minute.

Ruth had several other reforms in mind, but deemed it best to
wait. After breakfast, she remembered the lamp in the window and
went up to put it out.

It was still burning when she reached it, though the oil was
almost gone, and, placing it by the stairway, that she might not
forget to have it filled, she determined to explore the attic to
her heart's content.

The sunlight streamed through the east window and searched the
farthest corners of the room. The floor was bare and worn, but
carefully swept, and the things that were stored there were
huddled together far back under the eaves, as if to make room for
others.

It was not idle curiosity, but delicate sentiment, that made Ruth
eager to open the trunks and dresser drawers, and to turn over
the contents of the boxes that were piled together and covered
with dust. The interest of the lower part of the house paled in
comparison with the first real attic she had ever been in.

After all, why not? Miss Hathaway was her aunt,--her mother's
only sister,--and the house was in her care. There was no earthly
reason why she should not amuse herself in her own way. Ruth's
instincts were against it, but Reason triumphed.

The bunches of dried herbs, hanging from the rafters and swaying
back and forth in ghostly fashion, gave out a wholesome
fragrance, and when she opened trunks whose lids creaked on their
rusty hinges, dried rosemary, lavender, and sweet clover filled
the room with that long-stored sweetness which is the gracious
handmaiden of Memory.

Miss Hathaway was a thrifty soul, but she never stored discarded
clothing that might be of use to any one, and so Ruth found no
moth-eaten garments of bygone pattern, but only things which
seemed to be kept for the sake of their tender associations.

There were letters, on whose yellowed pages the words had long
since faded, a dogeared primer, and several well worn
schoolbooks, each having on its fly-leaf: "Jane Hathaway, Her
Book"; scraps of lace, brocade ard rustling taffeta, quilt
patterns, needlebooks, and all of the eloquent treasures that a
well stored attic can yield.

As she replaced them, singing softly to herself, a folded
newspaper slipped to the floor. It was yellow and worn, like the
letters, and she unfolded it carefully. It was over thirty years
old, and around a paragraph on the last page a faint line still
lingered. It was an announcement of the marriage of Charles G.
Winfield, captain of the schooner Mary, to Miss Abigail
Weatherby.

"Abigail Weatherby," she said aloud. The name had a sweet,
old-fashioned sound. "They must have been Aunt Jane's friends."
She closed the trunk and pushed it back to its place, under the
eaves.

In a distant corner was the old cedar chest, heavily carved. She
pulled it out into the light, her cheeks glowing with quiet
happiness, and sat down on the floor beside it. It was evidently
Miss Hathaway's treasure box, put away in the attic when
spinsterhood was confirmed by the fleeting years.

On top, folded carefully in a sheet, was a gown of white brocade,
short-waisted and quaint, trimmed with pearl passementerie. The
neck was square, cut modestly low, and filled in with lace of a
delicate, frosty pattern--Point d'Alencon. Underneath the gown
lay piles of lingerie, all of the finest linen, daintily made by
hand. Some of it was trimmed with real lace, some with crocheted
edging, and the rest with hemstitched ruffles and
feather-stitching.

There was another gown, much worn, of soft blue cashmere, some
sea-shells, a necklace of uncut turquoises, the colour changed to
green, a prayer-book, a little hymnal, and a bundle of letters,
tied with a faded blue ribbon, which she did not touch. There was
but one picture--an ambrotype, in an ornate case, of a handsome
young man, with that dashing, dare-devil look in his eyes which
has ever been attractive to women.

Ruth smiled as she put the treasures away, thinking that, had
Fate thrown the dice another way, the young man might have been
her esteemed and respected uncle. Then, all at once, it came to
her that she had unthinkingly stumbled upon her aunt's romance.

She was not a woman to pry into others' secrets, and felt guilty
as she fled from the attic, taking the lamp with her. Afterward,
as she sat on the narrow piazza, basking in the warm Spring
sunshine, she pieced out the love affair of Jane Hathaway's early
girlhood after her own fashion.

She could see it all plainly. Aunt Jane had expected to be
married to the dashing young man and had had her trousseau in
readiness, when something happened. The folded paper would
indicate that he was Charles Winfield, who had married some one
else, but whether Aunt Jane had broken her engagement, or the
possible Uncle Charles had simply taken a mate without any such
formality, was a subject of conjecture.

Still, if the recreant lover had married another, would Aunt Jane
have kept her treasure chest and her wedding gown? Ruth knew that
she herself would not, but she understood that aunts were in a
class by themselves. It was possible that Charles Winfield was an
earlier lover, and she had kept the paper without any special
motive, or, perhaps, for "auld lang syne."

Probably the letters would have disclosed the mystery, and the
newspaper instinct, on the trail of a "story," was struggling
with her sense of honour, but not for the world, now that she
knew, would Ruth have read the yellowed pages, which doubtless
held faded roses pressed between them.

The strings of sea-shells, and the larger ones, which could have
come only from foreign shores, together with the light in the
window, gave her a sudden clew. Aunt Jane was waiting for her
lover and the lamp was a signal. If his name was Charles
Winfield, the other woman was dead, and if not, the marriage
notice was that of a friend or an earlier lover.

The explanation was reasonable, clear, and concise--what woman
could ask for more? Yet there was something beyond it which was
out of Miss Thorne's grasp--a tantalising something, which would
not be allayed. Then she reflected that the Summer was before
tier, and, in reality, now that she was off the paper, she had no
business with other people's affairs.

The sun was hidden by gathering clouds and the air was damp
before Ruth missed the bright warmth on the piazza, and began to
walk back and forth by way of keeping warm. A gravelled path led
to the gate and on either side was a row of lilac bushes, the
bare stalks tipped with green. A white picket fence surrounded
the yard, except at the back, where the edge of the precipice
made it useless. The place was small and well kept, but there
were no flower beds except at the front of the house, and there
were only two or three trees.

She walked around the vegetable garden at the back of the house,
where a portion of her Summer sustenance was planted, and
discovered an unused gate at the side, which swung back and
forth, idly, without latching. She was looking over the fence and
down the steep hillside, when a sharp voice at her elbow made her
jump.

"Sech as wants dinner can come in and get it," announced Hepsey,
sourly. "I've yelled and yelled till I've most bust my throat and
I ain't a-goin' to yell no more."

She returned to the house, a picture of offended dignity, but
carefully left the door ajar for Ruth, who discovered, upon this
rude awakening from her reverie, that she was very hungry.

In the afternoon, the chill fog made it impossible to go out, for
the wind had risen from the sea and driven the salt mist inland.
Miss Hathaway's library was meagre and uninteresting, Hepsey was
busy in the kitchen, and Ruth was frankly bored. Reduced at last
to the desperate strait of putting all her belongings in
irreproachable order, she found herself, at four o'clock, without
occupation. The temptation in the attic wrestled strongly with
her, but she would not go.

It seemed an age until six o'clock. "This won't do," she said to
herself; "I'll have to learn how to sew, or crochet, or make
tatting. At last, I am to be domesticated. I used to wonder how
women had time for the endless fancy work, but I see, now."

She was accustomed to self analysis and introspection, and began
to consider what she could get out of the next six months in the
way of gain. Physical strength, certainly, but what else? The
prospect was gloomy just then.

"It's goin' to rain, Miss Thorne," said Hepsey, at the door. "Is
all the winders shut?"

"Yes, I think so," she answered.

"Supper's ready any time you want it."

"Very well, I will come now."

When she sat down in the parlour, after doing scant justice to
Hepsey's cooking, it was with a grim resignation, of the Puritan
sort which, supposedly, went with the house. There was but one
place in all the world where she would like to be, and she was
afraid to trust herself in the attic.

By an elaborate mental process, she convinced herself that the
cedar chest and the old trunks did not concern her in the least,
and tried to develop a feminine fear of mice, which was not
natural to her. She had just placed herself loftily above all
mundane things, when Hepsey marched into the room, and placed the
attic lamp, newly filled, upon the marble table.

Here was a manifest duty confronting a very superior person and,
as she went upstairs, she determined to come back immediately,
but when she had put the light in the seaward window, she
lingered, under the spell of the room.

The rain beat steadily upon the roof and dripped from the eaves.
The light made distorted shadows upon the wall and floor, while
the bunches of herbs, hanging from the rafters, swung lightly
back and forth when the wind rattled the windows and shook the
old house.

The room seemed peopled by the previous generation, that had
slept in the massive mahogany bed, rocked in the chairs, with
sewing or gossip, and stood before the old dresser on tiptoe,
peering eagerly into the mirror which probably had hung above it.
It was as if Memory sat at the spinning-wheel, idly twisting the
thread, and bringing visions of the years gone by.

A cracked mirror hung against the wall and Ruth saw her
reflection dimly, as if she, too, belonged to the ghosts of the
attic. She was not vain, but she was satisfied with her eyes and
hair, her white skin, impervious to tan or burn, and the shape of
her mouth. The saucy little upward tilt at the end of her nose
was a great cross to her, however, because it was at variance
with the dignified bearing which she chose to maintain. As she
looked, she wondered, vaguely, if she, like Aunt Jane, would grow
to a loveless old age. It seemed probable, for, at twenty-five,
The Prince had not appeared. She had her work and was happy; yet
unceasingly, behind those dark eyes, Ruth's soul kept maidenly
match for its mate.

When she turned to go downstairs, a folded newspaper on the floor
attracted her attention. It was near one of the trunks which she
had opened and must have fallen out. She picked it up, to replace
it, but it proved to be another paper dated a year later than the
first one. There was no marked paragraph, but she soon discovered
the death notice of "Abigail Winfield, nee Weatherby, aged
twenty-two." She put it into the trunk out of which she knew it
must have fallen, and stood there, thinking. Those faded letters,
hidden under Aunt Jane's wedding gown, were tempting her with
their mute secret as never before. She hesitated, took three
steps toward the cedar chest, then fled ingloriously from the
field.

Whoever Charles Winfeld was, he was free to love and marry again.
Perhaps there had been an estrangement and it was he for whom
Aunt Jane was waiting, since sometimes, out of bitterness, the
years distil forgiveness. She wondered at the nature which was
tender enough to keep the wedding gown and the pathetic little
treasures, brave enough to keep the paper, with its evidence of
falseness, and great enough to forgive.

Yet, what right had she to suppose Aunt Jane was waiting? Had she
gone abroad to seek him and win his recreant heart again? Or was
Abigail Weatherby her girlhood friend, who had married unhappily,
and then died?

Somewhere in Aunt Jane's fifty-five years there was a romance,
but, after all, it was not her niece's business. "I'm an
imaginative goose," Ruth said to herself. "I'm asked to keep a
light in the window, presumably as an incipient lighthouse, and
I've found some old clothes and two old papers in the
attic--that's all--and I've constructed a tragedy."

She resolutely put the whole matter aside, as she sat in her
room, rocking pensively. Her own lamp had not been filled and was
burning dimly, so she put it out and sat in the darkness,
listening to the rain.

She had not closed the shutters and did not care to lean out in
the storm, and so it was that, when the whistle of the ten
o'clock train sounded hoarsely, she saw the little glimmer of
light from Miss Ainslie's window, making a faint circle in the
darkness.

Half an hour later, as before, it was taken away. The scent of
lavender and sweet clover clung to Miss Hathaway's linen, and,
insensibly soothed, Ruth went to sleep. After hours of dreamless
slumber, she thought she heard a voice calling her and telling
her not to forget the light. It was so real that she started to
her feet, half expecting to find some one standing beside her.

The rain had ceased, and two or three stars, like timid children,
were peeping at the world from behind the threatening cloud. It
was that mystical moment which no one may place--the turning of
night to day. Far down the hill, ghostly, but not forbidding, was
Miss Ainslie's house, the garden around it lying whitely beneath
the dews of dawn, and up in the attic window the light still
shone, like unfounded hope in a woman's soul, harking across
distant seas of misunderstanding and gloom, with its pitiful "All
Hail!"

III. Miss Ainslie

Ruth began to feel a lively interest in her Aunt Jane, and to
regret that she had not arrived in time to make her acquaintance.
She knew that Miss Hathaway was three or four years younger than
Mrs. Thorne would have been, had she lived, and that a legacy had
recently come to her from an old friend, but that was all, aside
from the discoveries in the attic.

She contemplated the crayon portraits in the parlour and hoped
she was not related to any of them. In the family album she found
no woman whom she would have liked for an aunt, but was
determined to know the worst.

"Is Miss Hathaway's picture here, Hepsey?" she asked.

"No'm. Miss Hathaway, she wouldn't have her picter in the
parlour, nohow. Some folks does, but Miss Hathaway says't'aint
modest."

"I think she's right, Hepsey," laughed Ruth, "though I never
thought of it in just that way. I'll have to wait until she comes
home."

In the afternoon she donned the short skirt and heavy shoes of
her "office rig," and started down hill to explore the village.
It was a day to tempt one out of doors,--cool and bright, with
that indefinable crispness which belongs to Spring.

The hill rose sheer from the highlands, which sloped to the river
on the left, as she went down, and on the right to the forest. A
side path into the woods made her hesitate for a moment, but she
went straight on.

It was the usual small town, which nestles at the foot of a hill
and eventually climbs over it, through the enterprise of its
wealthier residents, but, save for Miss Hathaway's house, the
enterprise had not, as yet, become evident. At the foot of the
hill, on the left, was Miss Ainslie's house and garden, and
directly opposite, with the width of the hill between them, was a
brown house, with a lawn, but no garden except that devoted to
vegetables.

As she walked through the village, stopping to look at the
display of merchandise in the window of the single shop, which
was also post-office and grocery, she attracted a great deal of
respectful attention, for, in this community, strangers were an
event. Ruth reflected that the shop had only to grow to about
fifty times its present size in order to become a full-fledged
department store and bring upon the town the rank and dignity of
a metropolis.

When she turned her face homeward, she had reached the foot of
the hill before she realised that the first long walk over
country roads was hard for one accustomed to city pavements. A
broad, flat stone offered an inviting resting-place, and she sat
down, in the shadow of Miss Ainslie's hedge, hoping Joe would
pass in time to take her to the top of the hill. The hedge was
high and except for the gate the garden was secluded.

"I seem to get more tired every minute," she thought. "I wonder
if I've got the rheumatism."

She scanned the horizon eagerly for the dilapidated conveyance
which she had once both feared and scorned. No sound could have
been more welcome than the rumble of those creaking wheels, nor
any sight more

pleasing than the conflicting expressions in "Mamie's" single
useful eye. She sat there a long time, waiting for deliverance,
but it did not come.

"I'll get an alpenstock," she said to herself, as she rose,
wearily, and tried to summon courage to start. Then the gate
clicked softly and the sweetest voice in the world said: "My
dear, you are tired--won't you come in?"

Turning, she saw Miss Ainslie, smiling graciously. In a moment
she had explained that she was Miss Hathaway's niece and that she
would be very glad to come in for a few moments.

"Yes, " said the sweet voice again, "I know who you are. Your
aunt told me all about you and I trust we shall be friends."

Ruth followed her up the gravelled path to the house, and into
the parlour, where a wood fire blazed cheerily upon the hearth.
"It is so damp this time of year," she went on, "that I like to
keep my fire burning."

While they were talking, Ruth's eyes rested with pleasure upon
her hostess. She herself was tall, but Miss Ainslie towered above
her. She was a woman of poise and magnificent bearing, and she
had the composure which comes to some as a right and to others
with long social training.

Her abundant hair was like spun silver--it was not merely white,
but it shone. Her skin was as fresh and fair as a girl's, and
when she smiled, one saw that her teeth were white and even; but
the great charm of her face was her eyes. They were violet, so
deep in colour as to seem almost black in certain lights, and
behind them lay an indescribable something which made Ruth love
her instinctively. She might have been forty, or seventy, but she
was beautiful, with the beauty that never fades.

At intervals, not wishing to stare, Ruth glanced around the room.
Having once seen the woman, one could not fail to recognise her
house, for it suited her. The floors were hardwood, highly
polished, and partly covered with rare Oriental rugs. The walls
were a soft, dark green, bearing no disfiguring design, and the
windows were draped with net, edged with Duchesse lace. Miss
Hathaway's curtains hung straight to the floor, but Miss
Ainslie's were tied back with white cord.

The furniture was colonial mahogany, unspoiled by varnish, and
rubbed until it shone.

"You have a beautiful home," said Ruth, during a pause.

"Yes," she replied, "I like it."

"You have a great many beautiful things."

"Yes," she answered softly, "they were given to me by a--a
friend."

"She must have had a great many," observed Ruth, admiring one of
the rugs.

A delicate pink suffused Miss Ainslie's face. "My friend," she
said, with quiet dignity, "is a seafaring gentleman."

That explained the rugs, Ruth thought, and the vase, of finest
Cloisonne, which stood upon the mantel-shelf. It accounted also
for the bertha of Mechlin lace, which was fastened to Miss
Ainslie's gown, of lavender cashmere, by a large amethyst inlaid
with gold and surrounded by baroque pearls.

For some little time, they talked of Miss Hathaway and her
travels. "I told her she was too old to go," said Miss Ainslie,.
smiling, "but she assured me that she could take care of herself,
and I think she can. Even if she couldn't, she is perfectly safe.
These'personally conducted' parties are by far the best, if one
goes alone, for the first time."

Ruth knew that, but she was surprised, nevertheless. "Won't you
tell me about my aunt, Miss Ainslie?" she asked. "You know I've
never seen her."

"Why, yes, of course I will! Where shall I begin?"

"At the beginning," answered Ruth, with a little laugh.

"The beginning is very far away, deary," said Miss Ainslie, and
Ruth fancied she heard a sigh. "She came here long before I did,
and we were girls together. She lived in the old house at the top
of the hill, with her father and mother, and I lived here with
mine. We were very intimate for a long time, and then we had a
quarrel, about something that was so silly and foolish that I
cannot even remember what it was. For five years--no, for almost
six, we passed each other like strangers, because each was too
proud and stubborn to yield. But death, and trouble, brought us
together again."

"Who spoke first," asked Ruth, much interested, "you or Aunt
Jane?"

"It was I, of course. I don't believe she would have done it. She
was always stronger than I, and though I can't remember the cause
of the quarrel, I can feel the hurt to my pride, even at this
day."

"I know," answered Ruth, quickly, "something of the same kind
once happened to me, only it wasn't pride that held me back--it
was just plain stubbornness. Sometimes I am conscious of two
selves--one of me is a nice, polite person that I'm really fond
of, and the other is so contrary and so mulish that I'm actually
afraid of her. When the two come in conflict, the stubborn one
always wins. I'm sorry, but I can't help it."

"Don't you think we're all like that?" asked Miss Ainslie,
readily understanding. "I do not believe any one can have
strength of character without being stubborn. To hold one's
position in the face of obstacles, and never be tempted to yield
--to me, that seems the very foundation."

"Yes, but to be unable to yield when you know you should--that's
awful."

"Is it?" inquired Miss Ainslie, with quiet amusement.

"Ask Aunt Jane," returned Ruth, laughing. "I begin to perceive
our definite relationship."

Miss Ainslie leaned forward to put another maple log on the fire.
"Tell me more about Aunt Jane," Ruth suggested. "I'm getting to
be somebody's relative, instead of an orphan, stranded on the
shore of the world."

"She's hard to analyse," began the older woman. "I have never
been able to reconcile her firmness with her softness. She's as
hard as New England granite, but I think she wears it like a
mask. Sometimes, one sees through. She scolds me very often,
about anything that occurs to her, but I never pay any attention
to it. She says I shouldn't live here all alone, and that I
deserve to have something dreadful happen to me, but she had all
the trees cut down that stood on the hill between her window and
mine, and had a key made to my lower door, and made me promise
that if I was ill at any time, I would put a signal in my
window--a red shawl in the daytime and a light at night. I hadn't
any red shawl and she gave me hers.

"One night--I shall never forget it--I had a terrible attack of
neuralgia, during the worst storm I have ever known. I didn't
even know that I put the light in the window--I was so beside
myself with pain--but she came, at two o'clock in the morning,
and stayed with me until I was all right again. She was so gentle
and so tender-- I shall always love her for that."

The sweet voice vibrated with feeling, and Ruth's thoughts flew
to the light in the attic window, but, no--it could not be seen
from Miss Ainslie's. "What does Aunt Jane look like?" she asked,
after a pause.

"I haven't a picture, except one that was taken a long time ago,
but I'll get that." She went upstairs and returned, presently,
putting an old-fashioned ambrotype into Ruth's hand.

The velvet-lined case enshrined Aunt Jane in the bloom of her
youth. It was a young woman of twenty or twenty-five, seated in a
straight-backed chair, with her hands encased in black lace mitts
and folded in the lap of her striped silk gown. The forehead was
high, protruding slightly, the eyes rather small, and very dark,
the nose straight, and the little chin exceedingly firm and
determined. There was an expression of maidenly wistfulness
somewhere, which Ruth could not definitely locate, but there was
no hint of it in the chin.

"Poor little Aunt Jane, " said Ruth. "Life never would be easy
for her."

"No," returned Miss Ainslie, "but she would not let anyone know."

Ruth strolled over to the window, thinking that she must be
going, and Miss Ainslie still held the picture in her hand. "She
had a lover, didn't she?" asked Ruth, idly.

"I-I-think so," answered the other, unwillingly. "You remember we
quarrelled."

A young man stopped in the middle of the road, looked at Miss
Ainslie's house, and then at the brown one across the hill. From
her position in the window, Ruth saw him plainly. He hesitated a
moment, then went toward the brown house. She noted that he was a
stranger--there was no such topcoat in the village.

"Was his name Winfield?" she asked suddenly, then instantly hated
herself for the question.

The ambrotype fell to the floor. Miss Ainslie stooped to pick it
up and Ruth did not see her face. "Perhaps," she said, in a
strange tone, "but I never have asked a lady the name of her
friend."

Gentle as it was, Ruth felt the rebuke keenly. An apology was on
her lips, but only her flushed cheeks betrayed any emotion. Miss
Ainslie's face was pale, and there was unmistakable resentment in
her eyes.

"I must go," Ruth said, after an awkward silence, and in an
instant Miss Ainslie was herself again.

"No-you mustn't go, deary. You haven't seen my garden yet. I have
planted all the seeds and some of them are coming up. Isn't it
beautiful to see things grow?"

"It is indeed," Ruth assented, forgetting the momentary
awkwardness, "and I have lived for a long time where I have seen
nothing grow but car tracks and high buildings. May I come again
and see your garden?"

"I shall be so glad to have you," replied Miss Ainslie, with a
quaint stateliness. "I have enjoyed your visit so much and I hope
you will come again very soon."

"Thank you--I will."

Her hostess had opened the door for her, but Ruth stood in the
hall, waiting, in obedience to some strange impulse. Then she
stepped outside, but something held her back-something that lay
unspoken between them. Those unfathomable eyes were fixed upon
her, questioning, pleading, and searching her inmost soul.

Ruth looked at her, wondering, and striving to answer the mute
appeal. Then Miss Ainslie laid her hand upon her arm. "My dear,"
she asked, earnestly, "do you light the lamp in the attic window
every night?"

"Yes, I do, Miss Ainslie," she answered, quickly.

The older woman caught her breath, as if in relief, and then the
deep crimson flooded her face.

"Hepsey told me and Aunt Jane left a letter about it," Ruth
continued, hastily, "and I am very glad to do it. It would be
dreadful to have a ship wrecked, almost at our door."

"Yes," sighed Miss Ainslie, her colour receding, "I have often
thought of 'those who go down to the sea in ships.' It is so
terrible, and sometimes, when I hear the surf beating against the
cliff, I--I am afraid."

Ruth climbed the hill, interested, happy, yet deeply disturbed.
Miss Ainslie's beautiful, changing face seemed to follow her, and
the exquisite scent of the lavender, which had filled the rooms,
clung to her senses like a benediction.

Hepsey was right, and unquestionably Miss Ainslie had something
to do with the light; but no deep meaning lay behind it--so much
was certain. She had lived alone so long that she had grown to
have a great fear of shipwreck, possibly on account of her
friend, the "seafaring gentleman," and had asked Miss Hathaway to
put the light in the window--that was all.

Ruth's reason was fully satisfied, but something else was not.
"I'm not going to think about it any more," she said to herself,
resolutely, and thought she meant it.

She ate her dinner with the zest of hunger, while Hepsey
noiselessly served her. "I have been to Miss Ainslie's, Hepsey,"
she said at length, not wishing to appear unsociable.

The maid's clouded visage cleared for an instant. "Did you find
out about the lamp?" she inquired, eagerly.

"No, I didn't, Hepsey; but I'll tell you what I think. Miss
Ainslie has read a great deal and has lived alone so much that
she has become very much afraid of shipwreck. You know all of us
have some one fear. For instance, I am terribly afraid of green
worms, though a green worm has never harmed me. I think she asked
Miss Hathaway to put the lamp in the window, and possibly told
her of something she had read which made her feel that she should
have done it before."

Hepsey's face took on its old, impenetrable calm.

"Don't you think so?" asked Miss Thorne, after a long pause.

"Yes'm."

"It's all very reasonable, isn't it?"

"Yes'm."

In spite of the seeming assent, she knew that Hepsey was not
convinced; and afterward, when she came into the room with the
attic lamp and a box of matches, the mystery returned to trouble
Ruth again.

"If I don't take up tatting," she thought, as she went upstairs,
"or find something else to do, I'll be a meddling old maid inside
of six months."

IV. A Guest

As the days went by, Ruth had the inevitable reaction. At first
the country brought balm to her tired nerves, and she rested
luxuriously, but she had not been at Miss Hathaway's a fortnight
before she bitterly regretted the step she had taken.

Still there was no going back, for she had given her word, and
must stay there until October. The months before her stretched
out into a dreary waste. She thought of Miss Ainslie gratefully,
as a redeeming feature, but she knew that it was impossible to
spend all of her time in the house--it the foot of the hill.

Half past six had seemed an unearthly hour for breakfast, and yet
more than once Ruth had been downstairs at five o'clock, before
Hepsey was stiring. There was no rest to be had anywhere, even
after a long walk through the woods and fields. Inaction became
irritation, and each day was filled with a thousand unbearable
annoyances. She was fretful, moody, and restless, always wishing
herself back in the office, yet knowing that she could not do
good work, even if she were there.

She sat in her room one afternoon, frankly miserable, when Hepsey
stalked in, unannounced, and gave her a card.

"Mr. Carl Winfield!" Ruth repeated aloud. "Some one to see me,
Hepsey?" she asked, in astonishment.

"Yes'm. He's a-waitin' on the piazzer."

"Didn't you ask him to come in?"

"No'm. Miss Hathaway, she don't want no strangers in her house."

"Go down immediately," commanded Ruth, sternly, "ask him into the
parlour, and say that Miss Thorne will be down in a few moments."

"Yes'm."

Hepsey shuffled downstairs with comfortable leisure, opened the
door with aggravating slowness, then said, in a harsh tone that
reached the upper rooms distinctly: "Miss Thorne, she says that
you can come in and set in the parlour till she comes down."

"Thank you," responded a masculine voice, in quiet amusement;
"Miss Thorne is kind--and generous."

Ruth's cheeks flushed hotly. "I don't know whether Miss Thorne
will go down or not," she said to herself. "It's probably a
book-agent."

She rocked pensively for a minute or two, wondering what would
happen if she did not go down. There was no sound from the
parlour save a subdued clearing of the throat. "He's getting
ready to speak his piece," she thought, "and he might as well do
it now as to wait for me."

Though she loathed Mr. Carl Winfield and his errand, whatever it
might prove to be, she stopped before her mirror long enough to
give a pat or two to her rebellious hair. On the way down she
determined to be dignified, icy, and crushing.

A tall young fellow with a pleasant face rose to greet her as she
entered the room. "Miss Thorne?" he inquired.

"Yes--please sit down. I am very sorry that my maid should have
been so inhospitable." It was not what she had meant to say.

"Oh, that's all right," he replied, easily; "I quite enjoyed it.
I must ask your pardon for coming to you in this abrupt way, but
Carlton gave me a letter to you, and I've lost it." Carlton was
the managing editor, and vague expectations of a summons to the
office came into Ruth's mind.

"I'm on The Herald," he went on; "that is, I was, until my eyes
gave out, and then they didn't want me any more. Newspapers can't
use anybody out of repair," he added, grimly.

"I know," Ruth answered, nodding.

"Of course the office isn't a sanitarium, though they need that
kind of an annex; nor yet a literary kindergarten, which I've
known it to be taken for, but--well, I won't tell you my
troubles. The oculist said I must go to the country for six
months, stay outdoors, and neither read nor write. I went to see
Carlton, and he promised me a berth in the Fall--they're going to
have a morning edition, too, you know."

Miss Thorne did not know, but she was much interested.

"Carlton advised me to come up here," resumed Winfield. "He said
you were here, and that you were going back in the Fall. I'm
sorry I've lost his letter."

"What was in it?" inquired Ruth, with a touch of sarcasm. "You
read it, didn't you?"

"Of course I read it--that is, I tried to. The thing looked like
a prescription, but, as nearly as I could make it out, it was
principally a description of the desolation in the office since
you left it. At the end there was a line or two commending me to
your tender mercies, and here I am."

"Commending yourself."

"Now what in the dickens have I done?" thought Winfield. "That's
it exactly, Miss Thorne. I've lost my reference, and I'm doing my
best to create a good impression without it. I thought that as
long as we were going to be on the same paper, and were both
exiles--"

He paused, and she finished the sentence for him: "that you'd
come to see me. How long have you been in town?"

"'In town' is good," he said. "I arrived in this desolate,
God-forsaken spot just ten days ago. Until now I've hunted and
fished every day, but I didn't get anything but a cold. It was
very good, of its kind--I couldn't speak above a whisper for
three days."

She had already recognised him as the young man she saw standing
in the road the day she went to Miss Ainslie's, and mentally
asked his pardon for thinking he was a book-agent. He might
become a pleasant acquaintance, for he was tall, clean shaven,
and well built. His hands were white and shapely and he was well
groomed, though not in the least foppish. The troublesome eyes
were dark brown, sheltered by a pair of tinted glasses. His face
was very expressive, responding readily to every change of mood.

They talked "shop" for a time, discovering many mutual friends,
and Ruth liked him. He spoke easily, though hurriedly, and
appeared to be somewhat cynical, but she rightly attributed it to
restlessness like her own.

"What are you going to do on The Tribune?" she asked.

"Anything," he answered, with an indefinable shrug. "'Theirs not
to reason why, theirs but to do and die.' What are you going to
do?"

"The same," replied Ruth. "'Society,''Mother's Corner,''Under the
Evening Lamp,' and'In the Kitchen with Aunt Jenny.'"

He laughed infectiously. "I wish Carlton could hear you say
that."

"I don't," returned Ruth, colouring faintly.

"Why; are you afraid of him?"

"Certainly I am. If he speaks to me, I'm instantly stiff with
terror."

"Oh, he isn't so bad," said Winfield, reassuringly, "He's
naturally abrupt, that's all; and I'll venture he doesn't suspect
that he has any influence over you. I'd never fancy that you were
afraid of anybody or anything on earth."

"I'm not afraid of anything else," she answered, "except burglars
and green worms."

"Carlton would ernjoy the classification--really, Miss Thorne,
somebody should tell him, don't you think? So much innocent
pleasure doesn't often come into the day of a busy man."

For a moment Ruth was angry, and then, all at once, she knew
Winfield as if he had always been her friend. Conventionality,
years, and the veneer of society were lightly laid upon one who
would always be a boy. Some men are old at twenty, but Winfield
would be young at seventy.

"You can tell him if you want to," Ruth rejoined, calmly. "He'll
be so pleased that he'll double your salary on the spot."

"And you?" he asked, his eyes twinkling with fun.

"I'll be pensioned, of course."

"You're all right," he returned, "but I guess I won't tell him.
Riches lead to temptation, and if I'm going to be on The Tribune
I'd hate to have you pensioned."

Hepsey appeared to have a great deal of employment in the
dining-room, and was very quiet about it, with long pauses
between her leisurely movements. Winfield did not seem to notice
it, but it jarred upon Ruth, and she was relieved when he said he
must go.

"You'll come again, won't you?" she asked.

"I will, indeed."

She stood at the window, unconsciously watching him as he went
down the hill with a long, free stride. She liked the strength in
his broad shoulders, his well modulated voice, and his clear,
honest eyes; but after all he was nothing but a boy.

"Miss Thorne," said Hepsey, at her elbow, "is that your beau?" It
was not impertinence, but sheer friendly interest which could not
be mistaken for anything else.

"No," she answered; "of course not."

"He's real nice-lookin', ain't he?

"Yes."

"Have you got your eye on anybody else?"

"No."

"Then, Miss Thorne, I don't know's you could do better."

"Perhaps not." She was thinking, and spoke mechanically. From
where she stood she could still see him walking rapidly down the
hill.

"Ain't you never seen him before?"

Miss Thorne turned. "Hepsey," she said, coldly, "please go into
the kitchen and attend to your work. And the next time I have
company, please stay in the kitchen--not in the dining-room."

"Yes'm," replied Hepsey, meekly, hastening to obey.

She was not subtle, but she understood that in some way she had
offended Miss Thorne, and racked her brain vainly. She had said
nothing that she would not have said to Miss Hathaway, and had
intended nothing but friendliness. As for her being in the
dining-room--why, very often, when Miss Hathaway had company, she
was called in to give her version of some bit of village gossip.
Miss Hathaway scolded her when she was displeased, but never
before had any one spoken to Hepsey in a measured, icy tone that
was at once lady-like and commanding. Tears came into her eyes,
for she was sensitive, after all.

A step sounded overhead, and Hepsey regained her self-possession.
She had heard nearly all of the conversation and could have told
Miss Thorne a great deal about the young man. For instance, he
had not said that he was boarding at Joe's, across the road from
Miss Ainslie's, and that he intended to stay all Summer. She
could have told her of an uncertain temper, peculiar tastes, and
of a silver shaving-cup which Joe had promised her a glimpse of
before the visitor went back to the city; but she decided to let
Miss Thorne go on in her blind ignorance.

Ruth, meanwhile, was meditating, with an aggravated restlessness.
The momentary glimpse of the outer world had stung her into a
sense of her isolation, which she realised even more keenly than
before. It was because of this, she told herself, that she hoped
Winfield liked her, for it was not her wont to care about such
trifles. He thought of her, idly, as a nice girl, who was rather
pretty when she was interested in anything; but, with a woman's
insight, influenced insensibly by Hepsey's comment, Ruth scented
possibilities.

She wanted him to like her, to stay in that miserable village as
long as she did, and keep her mind from stagnation--her thought
went no further than that. In October, when they went back, she
would thank Carlton, prettily, for sending her a friend--provided
they did not quarrel. She could see long days of intimate
companionship, of that exalted kind which is, possible only when
man and woman meet on a high plane. "We're both too old for
nonsense," she thought; and then a sudden fear struck her, that
Winfield might be several years younger than she was.

Immediately she despised herself. "I don't care if he is," she
thought, with her cheeks crimson; "it's nothing to me. He's a
nice boy, and I want to be amused."

She went to her dresser, took out the large top drawer, and
dumped its contents on the bed. It was a desperate measure, for
Ruth hated to put things in order. The newspaper which had lain
in the bottom of it had fallen out also, and she shook it so
violently that she tore it.

Then ribbons, handkerchiefs, stocks, gloves, and collars were
unceremoniously hustled back into the drawer, for Miss Thorne was
at odds with herself and the world. She was angry with Hepsey,
she hated Winfield, and despised herself. She picked up a scrap
of paper which lay on a glove, and caught a glimpse of unfamiliar
penmanship.

It was apparently the end of a letter, and the rest of it was
gone. "At Gibraltar for some time," she read, "keeping a shop,
but will probably be found now in some small town on the coast of
Italy. Very truly yours." The signature had been torn off.

"Why, that isn't mine," she thought. "It must be something of
Aunt Jane's." Another bit of paper lay near it, and,
unthinkingly, she read a letter which was not meant for her.

"I thank you from my heart," it began, "for understanding me. I
could not put it into words, but I believe you know. Perhaps you
think it is useless--that it is too late; but if it was, I would
know. You have been very kind, and I thank you."

There was neither date, address, nor signature. The message
stood alone, as absolutely as some far-off star whose light could
not be seen from the earth. Some one understood it--two
understood it--the writer and Aunt Jane.

Ruth put it back under the paper, with the scrap of the other
letter, and closed the drawer with a bang. "I hope," she said to
herself, "that while I stay here I'll be mercifully preserved
from finding things that are none of my business." Then, as in a
lightning flash, for an instant she saw clearly.

Fate plays us many tricks and assumes strange forms, but Ruth
knew that some day, on that New England hill, she would come face
to face with a destiny that had been ordained from the beginning.
Something waited for her there--some great change. She trembled
at the thought, but was not afraid.

V. The Rumours of the Valley

"Miss Thorne," said Hepsey, from the doorway of Ruth's room,
"that feller's here again." There was an unconscious emphasis on
the last word, and Ruth herself was someewhat surprised, for she
had not expected another call so soon.

"He's a-settinn' in the parlour,"continued Hepsey, "when he ain't
a-walkin' around it and wearin' out the carpet. I didn't come up
when he first come, on account of my pie crust bein' all ready to
put in the oven."

"How long has he been here?" asked Ruth, dabbing a bit of powder
on her nose and selecting a fresh collar.

"Oh, p'raps half an hour."

"That isn't right, Hepsey; when anyone comes you must tell me
immediately. Never mind the pie crust next time." Ruth
endeavoured to speak kindly, but she was irritated at the
necessity of making another apology.

When she went down, Winfield dismissed her excuses with a
comprehensive wave of the hand. "I always have to wait when I go
to call on a girl," he said; "it's one of the most charming
vagaries of the ever-feminine. I used to think that perhaps I
wasn't popular, but every fellow I know has the same experience."

"I'm an exception," explained Ruth; "I never keep any one
waiting. Of my own volition, that is," she added, hastily,
feeling his unspoken comment.

"I came up this afternoon to ask a favour of you," he began.
"Won't you go for a walk with me? It's wrong to stay indoors on a
day like this."

"Wait till I get my hat," said Ruth, rising.

"Fifteen minutes is the limit," he called to her, as she went
upstairs.

She was back again almost immediately, and Hepsey watched them in
wide-mouthed astonishment as they went down hill together, for it
was not in her code of manners that "walking out" should begin so
soon. When they approached Miss Ainslie's he pointed out the
brown house across from it, on the other side of the hill.

"Yonder palatial mansion is my present lodging," he volunteered,
"and I am a helpless fly in the web of the 'Widder' Pendleton."

"Pendleton," repeated Ruth; "why, that's Joe's name."

"It is," returned Winfield, concisely. "He sits opposite me at
the table, and wonders at my use of a fork. It is considered
merely a spear for bread and meat at the 'Widder's.' I am
observed closely at all times, and in some respects Joe admires
me enough to attempt imitation, which, as you know, is the
highest form of flattery. For instance, this morning he wore not
only a collar and tie, but a scarf pin. It was a string tie, and
I've never before seen a pin worn in one, but it's interesting."

"It must be."

"He has a sweetheart," Winfield went on, "and I expect she'll be
dazzled."

"My Hepsey is his lady love," Ruth explained.

"What? The haughty damsel who wouldn't let me in? Do tell!"

"You're imitating now," laughed Ruth, "but I shouldn't call it
flattery."

For a moment, there was a chilly silence. Ruth did not look at
him, but she bit her lip and then laughed, unwillingly. "'It's
all true," she said, "I plead guilty."

"You see, I know all about you," he went on. "You knit your brows
in deep thought, do not hear when you are spoken to, even in a
loud voice, and your mail consists almost entirely of bulky
envelopes, of a legal nature, such as came to the 'Widder'
Pendleton from the insurance people."

"Returned manuscripts," she interjected.

"Possibly--far be it from me to say they're not. Why, I've had
'em myself."

"You don't mean it!" she exclaimed, ironically.

"You seek out, as if by instinct, the only crazy person in the
village, and come home greatly perturbed. You ask queer questions
of your humble serving-maid, assume a skirt which is shorter than
the approved model, speaking from the village standpoint, and
unhesitatingly appear on the public streets. You go to the attic
at night and search the inmost recesses of many old trunks."

"Yes," sighed Ruth, "I've done all that."

"At breakfast you refuse pie, and complain because the coffee is
boiled. Did anybody ever hear of coffee that wasn't boiled? Is it
eaten raw in the city? You call supper'dinner,' and have been
known to seek nourishment at nine o'clock at night, when all
respectable people are sound asleep. In your trunk, you have
vainly attempted to conceal a large metal object, the use of
which is unknown."

"Oh, my hapless chafing-dish!" groaned Ruth.

"Chafing-dish?" repeated Winfield, brightening visibly. "And I
eating sole leather and fried potatoes? From this hour I am your
slave--you can't lose me now!

"Go on," she commanded.

"I can't--the flow of my eloquence is stopped by rapturous
anticipation. Suffice it to say that the people of this
enterprising city are well up in the ways of the wicked world,
for the storekeeper takes The New York Weekly and the 'Widder'
Pendleton subscribes for The Fireside Companion. The back
numbers, which are not worn out, are the circulating library of
the village. It's no use, Miss Thorne--you might stand on your
hilltop and proclaim your innocence until you were hoarse, and it
would be utterly without effect. Your status is definitely
settled."

"How about Aunt Jane?" she inquired. "Does my relationship count
for naught?"

"Now you are rapidly approaching the centre of things," replied
the young man. "Miss Hathaway is one woman in a thousand, though
somewhat eccentric. She is the venerated pillar of the community
and a constant attendant it church, which it seems you are not.
Also, if you are really her niece, where is the family
resemblance? Why has she never spoken of you? Why have you never
been here before? Why are her letters to you sealed with red wax,
bought especially for the purpose? Why does she go away before
you come? Lady Gwendolen Hetherington," he demanded, with
melodramatic fervour, "answer me these things if you can!"

"I'm tired," she complained.

"Delicate compliment," observed Winfield, apparently to himself.
"Here's a log across our path, Miss Thorne; let's sit down."

The budded maples arched over the narrow path, and a wild canary,
singing in the sun, hopped from bough to bough. A robin's cheery
chirp came from another tree, and the clear notes of a thrush,
with a mottled breast, were answered by another in the gold-green
aisles beyond.

"Oh," he said, under his breath, "isn't this great!"

The exquisite peace of the forest was like that of another
sphere. "Yes," she answered, softly, "it is beautiful."

"You're evading the original subject," he suggested, a little
later.

"I haven't had a chance to talk," she explained. "You've done a
monologue ever since we left the house, and I listened, as
becomes inferior and subordinate woman. I have never seen my
venerated kinswoman, and I don't see how she happened to think of
me. Nevertheless, when she wrote, asking me to take charge of her
house while she went to Europe, I gladly consented, sight unseen.
When I came, she was gone. I do not deny the short skirt and
heavy shoes, the criticism of boiled coffee, nor the disdain of
breakfast pie. As far is I know, Aunt Jane is my only living
relative."

"That's good," he said, cheerfully; "I'm shy even of an aunt. Why
shouldn't the orphans console one another?"

"They should," admitted Ruth; "and you are doing your share
nobly."

"Permit me to return the compliment. Honestly, Miss Thorne," he
continued, seriously, "you have no idea how much I appreciate
your being here. When I first realised what it meant to be
deprived of books and papers for six months at a stretch, it
seemed as if I should go mad. Still, I suppose six months isn't
as bad as forever, and I was given a choice. I don't want to bore
you, but if you will let me come occasionally, I shall be very
glad. I'm going to try to be patient, too, if you'll help
me--patience isn't my long suit."

"Indeed I will help you," answered Ruth, impulsively; "I know how
hard it must be."

"I'm not begging for your sympathy, though I assure you it is
welcome." He polished the tinted glasses with a bit of chamois..
and his eyes filled with the mist of weakness before he put them
on again. "So you've never seen your aunt," he said.

"No--that pleasure is still in store for me."

"They say down at the 'Widder's' that she's a woman with a
romance."

"Tell me about it!" exclaimed Ruth, eagerly.

"Little girls mustn't ask questions," he remarked, patronisingly,
and in his most irritating manner. "Besides, I don't know. If the
'Widder' knows, she won't tell, so it's fair to suppose she
doesn't. Your relation does queer things in the attic, and every
Spring, she has an annual weep. I suppose it's the house
cleaning, for the rest of the year she's dry-eyed and calm."

"I weep very frequently," commented Ruth.

"'Tears, idle tears--I wonder what they mean.'"

"They don't mean much, in the case of a woman."

"I've never seen many of'em," returned Winfield, "and I don't
want to. Even stage tears go against the grain with me. I know
that the lady who sobs behind the footlights is well paid for it,
but all the same, it gives me the creeps."

"It's nothing serious--really it isn't," she explained. "It's
merely a safety valve. If women couldn't cry, they'd explode."

"I always supposed tears were signs of sorrow," he said.

"Far from it," laughed Ruth. "When I get very angry, I cry, and
then I got angrier because I'm crying and cry harder."

"That opens up a fearful possibility. What would happen if you
kept getting angrier because you were crying and crying harder
because you got angrier?"

"I have no idea," she answered, with her dark eyes fixed upon
him, "but it's a promising field for investigation."'

"I don't want to see the experiment."

"Don't worry," said Ruth, laconically, "you won't."

There was a long silence, and Winfield began to draw designs on
the bare earth with a twig. "Tell me about the lady who is
considered crazy," he suggested.

Ruth briefly described Miss Ainslie, dwelling lovingly upon her
beauty and charm. He listened indifferently at first, but when
she told him of the rugs, the real lace which edged the curtains,
and the Cloisonne vase, he became much interested.

"Take me to see her some day, won't you," he asked, carelessly.

Ruth's eyes met his squarely. "'T isn't a 'story,'" she said,
resentfully, forgetting her own temptation.

The dull colour flooded his face. "You forget, Miss Thorne, that
I am forbidden to read or write."

"For six months only," answered Ruth, sternly, "and there's
always a place for a good Sunday special."

He changed the subject, but there were frequent awkward pauses
and the spontaniety was gone. She rose, adjusting her belt in the
back, and announced that it was time for her to go home.

On their way up the hill, she tried to be gracious enough to
atone for her rudeness, but, though he was politeness itself,
there was a difference, and she felt as if she had lost
something. Distance lay between them--a cold, immeasurable
distance, yet she knew that she had done right.

He opened the gate for her, then turned to go. "Won't you come
in?" she asked, conventionally.

"No, thank you--some other time, if I may. I've had a charming
afternoon." He smiled pleasantly, and was off down the hill.

When she remembered that it was a Winfield who had married
Abigail Weatherby, she dismissed the matter as mere coincidence,
and determined, at all costs, to shield Miss Ainslie. The vision
of that gracious lady came to her, bringing with it a certain
uplift of soul. Instantly, she was placed far above the petty
concerns of earth, like one who walks upon the heights,
untroubled, while restless surges thunder at his feet.

VI. The Garden

Miss Thorne wrote an apology to Winfield, and then tore it up,
thereby gaining comparative peace of mind, for, with some
natures, expression is the main thing, and direction is but
secondary. She was not surprised because he did not come; on the
contrary, she had rather expected to be left to her own devices
for a time, but one afternoon she dressed with unusual care and
sat in state in the parlour, vaguely expectant. If he intended to
be friendly, it was certainly time for him to come again.

Hepsey, passing through the hall, noted the crisp white ribbon at
her throat and the bow in her hair. "Are you expectin' company,
Miss Thorne?" she asked, innocently.

"I am expecting no one," answered Ruth, frigidly, "I am going
out."

Feeling obliged to make her word good, she took the path which
led to Miss Ainslie's. As she entered the gate, she had a glimpse
of Winfield, sitting by the front window of Mrs. Pendleton's
brown house, in such a dejected attitude that she pitied him. She
considered the virtuous emotion very praiseworthy, even though it
was not deep enough for her to bestow a cheery nod upon the
gloomy person across the way.

Miss Ainslie was unaffectedly glad to see her, and Ruth sank into
an easy chair with something like content. The atmosphere of the
place was insensibly soothing and she instantly felt a subtle
change. Miss Ainslie, as always, wore a lavender gown, with real
lace at the throat and wrists. Her white hair was waved softly
and on the third finger of her left hand was a ring of Roman
gold, set with an amethyst and two large pearls.

There was a beautiful serenity about her, evident in every line
of her face and figure. Time had dealt gently with her, and
except on her queenly head had left no trace of his passing. The
delicate scent of the lavender floated from her gown and her
laces, almost as if it were a part of her, and brought visions of
an old-time garden, whose gentle mistress was ever tranquil and
content. As she sat there, smiling, she might have been Peace
grown old.

"Miss Ainslie," said Ruth, suddenly, "have you ever had any
trouble?"

A shadow crossed her face, and then she answered, patiently,
"Why, yes--I've had my share."

"I don't mean to be personal," Ruth explained, "I was just
thinking."

"I understand," said the other, gently. Then, after a little, she
spoke again:

"We all have trouble, deary--it's part of life; but I believe
that we all share equally in the joy of the world. Allowing for
temperament, I mean. Sorrows that would crush some are lightly
borne by others, and some have the gift of finding great
happiness in little things.

"Then, too, we never have any more than we can bear--nothing that
has not been borne before, and bravely at that. There isn't a new
sorrow in the world--they're all old ones--but we can all find
new happiness if we look in the right way."

The voice had a full music, instinct with tenderness, and
gradually Ruth's troubled spirit was eased. "I don't know what's
the matter with me," she said, meditatively, "for I'm not morbid,
and I don't have the blues very often, but almost ever since I've
been at Aunt Jane's, I've been restless and disturbed. I know
there's no reason for it, but I can't help it."

"Don't you think that it's because you have nothing to do? You've
always been so busy, and you aren't used to idleness."

"Perhaps so. I miss my work, but at the same time, I haven't
sense enough to do it."

"Poor child, you're tired--too tired to rest."

"Yes, I am tired," answered Ruth, the tears of nervous weakness
coming into her eyes.

"Come out into the garden."

Miss Ainslie drew a fleecy shawl over her shoulders and led her
guest outdoors. Though she kept pace with the world in many other
ways, it was an old-fashioned garden, with a sun-dial and an
arbour, and little paths, nicely kept, that led to the flower
beds and circled around them. There were no flowers as yet,
except in a bed of wild violets under a bay window, but tiny
sprigs of green were everywhere eloquent with promise, and the
lilacs were budded.

"That's a snowball bush over there," said Miss Ainslie, "and all
that corner of the garden will be full of roses in June. They're
old-fashioned roses, that I expect you wouldn't care for-blush
and cinnamon and sweet briar--but I love them all. That long row
is half peonies and half bleeding-hearts, and I have a bed of
columbines under a window on the other side of the house. The
mignonette and forget-me-nots have a place to themselves, for I
think they belong together--sweetness and memory.

"There's going to be lady-slippers over there," Miss Ainslie went
on, "and sweet william. The porch is always covered with
morning-glories--I think they're beautiful and in that large bed
I've planted poppies, snap-dragon, and marigolds. This round one
is full of larkspur and bachelor's buttons. I have phlox and
petunias, too--did you ever see a petunia seed?"

Ruth shook her head.

"It's the tiniest thing, smaller than a grain of sand. When I
plant them, I always wonder how those great, feathery petunias

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