Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Lavender and Old Lace by Myrtle Reed

Part 3 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

trimmin'"--here Ruth felt the pangs of a guilty conscience--"and
I lay out to be married in it, quite private, with you and Hepsey
for witnesses."

"Why, it's quite a romance, isn't it, Aunty?"

"'T is in a way," interjected Mr. Ball, "and in another way, 't
ain't."

"Yes, Ruth," Aunt Jane continued, ignoring the interruption, "'t
is a romance--a real romance," she repeated, with all the hard
lines in her face softened. "We was engaged over thirty-five
year. James went to sea to make a fortin', so he could give me
every luxury. It's all writ out in a letter I've got upstairs.
They's beautiful letters, Ruth, and it's come to me, as I've been
settin' here, that you might make a book out'n these letters of
James's. You write, don't you?"

"Why, yes, Aunty, I write for the papers but I've never done a
book."

"Well, you'll never write a book no earlier, and here's all the
material, as you say, jest a-waitin' for you to copy it. I guess
there's over a hundred letters."

"But, Aunty," objected Ruth, struggling with inward emotion, "I
couldn't sign my name to it, you know, unless I had written the
letters."

"Why not?"

"Because it wouldn't be honest," she answered, clutching at the
straw, "the person who wrote the letters would be entitled to the
credit--and the money," she added hopefully.

"Why, yes, that's right. Do you hear James? It'll have to be your
book, 'The Love Letters of a Sailor,' by James, and dedicated in
the front 'to my dearly beloved wife, Jane Ball, as was Jane
Hathaway.' It'll be beautiful, won't it, James?"

"Yes'm, I hev no doubt but what it will."

"Do you remember, James, how you borrered a chisel from the
tombstone man over to the Ridge, and cut our names into endurin'
granite?"

"I'd forgot that--how come you to remember it?"

"On account of your havin' lost the chisel and the tombstone man
a-worryin' me about it to this day. I'll take you to the place.
There's climbin' but it won't hurt us none, though we ain't as
young as we might be. You says to me, you says: 'Jane, darlin',
as long as them letters stays cut into the everlastin' rock, just
so long I'll love you,' you says, and they's there still."

"Well, I'm here, too, ain't I?" replied Mr. Ball, seeming to
detect a covert reproach. "I was allers a great hand fer
cuttin'."

"There'll have to be a piece writ in the end, Ruth, explainin'
the happy endin' of the romance. If you can't do it justice,
James and me can help--James was allers a master hand at writin'.
It'll have to tell how through the long years he has toiled,
hopin' against hope, and for over thirty years not darin' to
write a line to the object of his affections, not feelin' worthy,
as you may say, and how after her waitin' faithfully at home and
turnin' away dozens of lovers what pleaded violent-like, she
finally went travellin' in furrin parts and come upon her old
lover a-keepin' a store in a heathen land, a-strugglin' to
retrieve disaster after disaster at sea, and constantly
withstandin' the blandishments of heathen women as endeavoured to
wean him from his faith, and how, though very humble and scarcely
darin to speak, he learned that she was willin' and they come a
sailin' home together and lived happily ever afterward. Ain't
that as it was, James?"

"Yes'm, except that there wa'n't no particular disaster at sea
and them heathen women didn't exert no blandishments. They was
jest pleasant to an old feller, bless their little hearts."

By some subtle mental process, Mr. Ball became aware that he had
made a mistake. "You ain't changed nothin' here, Jane," he
continued, hurriedly, "there's the haircloth sofy that we used to
set on Sunday evenins' after meetin', and the hair wreath with
the red rose in it made out of my hair and the white rose made
out of your grandmother's hair on your father's side, and the
yeller lily made out of the hair of your Uncle Jed's youngest
boy. I disremember the rest, but time was when I could say'm all.
I never see your beat for makin' hair wreaths, Jane. There ain't
nothin' gone but the melodeon that used to set by the mantel.
What's come of the melodeon?"

"The melodeon is set away in the attic. The mice et out the
inside."

"Didn't you hev no cat?"

"There ain't no cat, James, that could get into a melodeon
through a mouse hole, more especially the big maltese you gave
me. I kept that cat, James, as you may say, all these weary
years. When there was kittens, I kept the one that looked most
like old Malty, but of late years, the cats has all been
different, and the one I buried jest afore I sailed away was
yeller and white with black and brown spots--a kinder tortoise
shell--that didn't look nothin' like Malty. You'd never have
knowed they belonged to the same family, but I was sorry when she
died, on account of her bein' the last cat."

Hepsey, half frightened, put her head into the room. "Dinner's
ready," she shouted, hurriedly shutting the door.

"Give me your arm, James," said Mrs. Ball, and Ruth followed them
into the dining-room.

The retired sailor ate heartily, casting occasional admiring
glances at Ruth and Hepsey. It was the innocent approval which
age bestows upon youth. "These be the finest biscuit," he said,
"that I've had for many a day. I reckon you made 'em, didn't you,
young woman?"

"Yes, sir," replied Hepsey, twisting her apron.

The bride was touched in a vulnerable spot.

"Hepsey," she said, decisively, "when your week is up, you will
no longer be in my service. I am a-goin'to make a change."

Mr. Ball's knife dropped with a sharp clatter. "Why, Mis' Ball,"
he said, reproachfully, "who air you goin' to hev to do your
work?"

"Don't let that trouble you, James," she answered, serenely, "the
washin' can be put out to the Widder Pendleton, her as was Elmiry
Peavey, and the rest ain't no particular trouble."

"Aunty," said Ruth, "now that you've come home and everything is
going on nicely, I think I'd better go back to the city. You see,
if I stay here, I'll be interrupting the honeymoon."

"No, no, Niece Ruth!" exclaimed Mr. Ball, "you ain't interruptin'
no honeymoon. It's a great pleasure to your aunt and me to hev
you here--we likes pretty young things around us, and as long as
we hev a home, you're welcome to stay in it; ain't she Jane?"

"She has sense enough to see, James, that she is interruptin' the
honeymoon," replied Aunt Jane, somewhat harshly. "On account of
her mother havin' been a Hathaway before marriage, she knows
things. Not but what you can come some other time, Ruth," she
added, with belated hospitality.

"Thank you, Aunty, I will. I'll stay just a day or two longer, if
you don't mind--just until Mr. Winfield comes back. I don't know
just where to write to him."

"Mr.--who?" demanded Aunt Jane, looking at her narrowly.

"Mr. Carl Winfield," said Ruth, crimsoning --"the man I am going
to marry." The piercing eyes were still fixed upon her.

"Now about the letters, Aunty," she went on, in confusion, "you
could help Uncle James with the book much better than I could. Of
course it would have to be done under your supervision."

Mrs. Ball scrutinized her niece long and carefully. "You appear
to be tellin' the truth," she said. "Who would best print it?"

"I think it would be better for you to handle it yourself, Aunty,
and then you and Uncle James would have all the profits. If you
let some one else publish it and sell it, you'd have only ten per
cent, and even then, you might have to pay part of the expenses."
"How much does it cost to print a book?"

"That depends on the book. Of course it costs more to print a
large one than a small one."

"That needn't make no difference," said Aunt Jane, after long
deliberation. "James has two hundred dollars sewed up on the
inside of the belt he insists on wearin', instead of Christian
suspenders, ain't you, James?"

"Yes'm, two hundred and four dollars in my belt and seventy-six
cents in my pocket."

"It's from his store," Mrs. Ball explained. "He sold it to a
relative of one of them heathen women."

"It was worth more'n three hundred," he said regretfully.

"Now, James, you know a small store like that ain't worth no
three hundred dollars. I wouldn't have let you took three
hundred, 'cause it wouldn't be honest."

The arrival of a small and battered trunk created a welcome
diversion. "Where's your trunk, Uncle James?" asked Ruth.

"I ain't a needin' of no trunk," he answered, "what clothes I've
got is on me, and that there valise has more of my things in it.
When my clothes wears out, I put on new ones and leave the others
for some pore creeter what may need 'em worse'n me."

Aunt Jane followed Joe upstairs, issuing caution and direction at
every step. "You can set outside now, Joe Pendleton," she said,
"and see that them hosses don't run away, and as soon as I get
some of my things hung up so's they won't wrinkle no more, I'll
come out and pay you."

Joe obeyed, casting longing eyes at a bit of blue gingham that
was fluttering among the currant bushes in the garden. Mr. Ball,
longing for conversation with his kind, went out to the gate and
stood looking up at him, blinking in the bright sunlight.
"Young feller," he said, "I reckon that starboard hoss is my old
mare. Where'd you get it?"

"Over to the Ridge," answered Joe, "of a feller named Johnson."

"Jest so--I reckon 't was his father I give Nellie to when I went
away. She was a frisky filly then--she don't look nothin' like
that now."

"Mamie" turned, as if her former master's voice had stirred some
old memory. "She's got the evil eye," Mr. Ball continued. "You
wanter be keerful."

"She's all right, I guess," Joe replied.

"Young feller," said Mr. Ball earnestly, "do you chew terbacker?"

"Yep, but I ain't got no more. I'm on the last hunk."

Mr. Ball stroked his stained beard. "I useter," he said,
reminiscently, "afore I was merried."

Joe whistled idly, still watching for Hepsey.

"Young feller, "said Mr. Ball, again, "there's a great deal of
merryin' and givin' in merriage in this here settlement, ain't
there?"

"Not so much as there might be."

"Say, was your mother's name Elmiry Peavey?"

"Yes sir," Joe answered, much surprised.

"Then you be keerful," cautioned Mr. Ball. "Your hoss has got the
evil eye and your father, as might hev been, allers had a weak
eye fer women." Joe's face was a picture of blank astonishment.
"I was engaged to both of 'em," Mr. Ball explained, "each one
a-keepin' of it secret, and she--" here he pointed his thumb
suggestively toward the house--"she's got me."

"I'm going to be married myself," volunteered Joe, proudly.

"Merriage is a fleetin' show--I wouldn't, if I was in your place.
Merriage is a drag on a man's ambitions. I set out to own a
schooner, but I can't never do it now, on account of bein'
merried. I had a good start towards it--I had a little store all
to myself, what was worth three or four hundred dollars, in a
sunny country where the women folks had soft voices and pretty
ankles and wasn't above passin' jokes with an old feller to cheer
'im on 'is lonely way."

Mrs. Ball appeared at the upper window. "James," she called,
"you'd better come in and get your hat. Your bald spot will get
all sunburned."

"I guess I won't wait no longer, Miss Hathaway," Joe shouted,
and, suiting the action to the word, turned around and started
down hill. Mr. Ball, half way up the gravelled walk, turned back
to smile at Joe with feeble jocularity.

Hearing the familiar voice, Hepsey hastened to the front of the
house, and was about to retreat, when Mr. Ball stopped her.

"Pore little darlin', he said, kindly, noting her tear stained
face. "Don't go--wait a minute." He fumbled at his belt and at
last extracted a crisp, new ten dollar bill. "Here, take that and
buy you a ribbon or sunthin' to remember your lovin' Uncle James
by."

Hepsey's face brightened, and she hastily concealed the bill in
her dress. "I ain't your niece," she said, hesitatingly, "it's
Miss Thorne."

"That don't make no difference," rejoined Mr. Ball, generously,
"I'm willin' you should be my niece too. All pretty young things
is my nieces and I loves 'em all. Won't you give your pore old
uncle a kiss to remember you by?"

Ruth, who had heard the last words, came down to the gravelled
walk. "Aunt Jane is coming," she announced, and Hepsey fled.

When the lady of the house appeared, Uncle James was sitting at
one end of the piazza and Ruth at the other, exchanging decorous
commonplaces.

XIII. Plans

Hepsey had been gone an hour before Mrs. Ball realised that she
had sent away one of the witnesses of her approaching wedding.
"It don't matter," she said to Ruth, "I guess there's others to
be had. I've got the dress and the man and one of 'em and I have
faith that the other things will come."

Nevertheless, the problem assumed undue proportions. After long
study, she decided upon the minister's wife. "If 'twa'nt that the
numskulls round here couldn't understand two weddin's," she said,
"I'd have it in the church, as me and James first planned."

Preparations for the ceremony went forward with Aunt Jane's
customary decision and briskness. She made a wedding cake,
assisted by Mr. Ball, and gathered all the flowers in the garden.
There was something pathetic about her pleasure; it was as though
a wedding had been laid away in lavender, not to see the light
for more than thirty years.

Ruth was to assist in dressing the bride and then go after the
minister and his wife, who, by Aunt Jane's decree, were to have
no previous warning. "'T ain't necessary to tell 'em beforehand,
not as I see," said Mrs. Ball. "You must ask fust if they're both
to home, and if only one of 'em is there, you'll have to find
somebody else. If the minister's to home and his wife ain't
gaddin', he'll get them four dollars in James's belt, leavin' an
even two hundred, or do you think two dollars would be enough for
a plain marriage?"

"I'd leave that to Uncle James, Aunty."

"I reckon you're right, Ruth--you've got the Hathaway sense."

The old wedding gown was brought down from the attic and taken
out of its winding sheet. It had been carefully folded, but every
crease showed plainly and parts of it had changed in colour. Aunt
Jane put on her best "foretop," which was entirely dark, with no
softening grey hair, and was reserved for occasions of high
state. A long brown curl, which was hers by right of purchase,
was pinned to the hard, uncompromising twist at the back of her
neck.

Ruth helped her into the gown and, as it slipped over her head,
she inquired, fiom the depths of it: "Is the front door locked?"
"Yes, Aunty, and the back door too."

"Did you bring up the keys as I told you to?"

"Yes, Aunty, here they are. Why?"

There was a pause, then Mrs. Ball said solemnly: "I've read a
great deal about bridegrooms havin' wanderin' fits immediately
before weddin's. Does my dress hike up in the back, Ruth?"

It was a little shorter in the back than in the front and cleared
the floor on all sides, since she had grown a little after it was
made, but Ruth assured her that everything was all right. When
they went downstairs together, Mr. Ball was sitting in the
parlour, plainly nervous.

"Now Ruth," said Aunt Jane, "you can go after the minister. My
first choice is Methodis', after that Baptis' and then
Presbyterian. I will entertain James durin' your absence."

Ruth was longing for fresh air and gladly undertook the delicate
mission. Before she was half way down the hill, she met Winfield,
who had come on the afternoon train.

"You're just in time to see a wedding," she said, when the first
raptures had subsided.

"Whose wedding, sweetheart? Ours?"

"Far from it," answered Ruth, laughing. "Come with me and I'll
explain."

She gave him a vivid description of the events that had
transpired during his absence, and had invited him to the wedding
before it occurred to her that Aunt Jane might not be pleased.
"I may be obliged to recall my invitation," she said seriously,
"I'll have to ask Aunty about it. She may not want you."

"That doesn't make any difference," announced Winfield, in high
spirits, "I'm agoin' to the wedding and I'm a-goin' to kiss the
bride, if you'll let me."

Ruth smothered a laugh. "You may, if you want to, and I won't be
jealous. Isn't that sweet of me?"

"You're always sweet, dear. Is this the abode of the parson?"

The Methodist minister was at home, but his wife was not, and
Ruth determined to take Winfield in her place. The clergyman said
that he would come immediately, and, as the lovers loitered up
the hill, they arrived at the same time.

Winfield was presented to the bridal couple, but there was no
time for conversation, since Aunt Jane was in a hurry. After the
brief ceremony was over, Ruth said wickedly:

"Aunty, on the way to the minister's, Mr. Winfield told me he was
going to kiss the bride. I hope you don't mind?"

Winfield looked unutterable things at Ruth, but nobly fulfilled
the obligation. Uncle James beamed upon Ruth in a way which
indicated that an attractive idea lay behind it, and Winfield
created a diversion by tipping over a vase of flowers. "He
shan't," he whispered to Ruth, "I'll be darned if he shall!"

"Ruth," said Aunt Jane, after a close scrutiny of Winfield, "if
you' relayin' out to marry that awkward creeter, what ain't
accustomed to a parlour, you'd better do it now, while him and
the minister are both here."

Winfield was willing, but Ruth said that one wedding at a time
was enough in any family, and the minister, pledged to secrecy,
took his departure. The bride cut the wedding cake and each
solemnly ate a piece of it. It was a sacrament, rather than a
festivity.

When the silence became oppressive, Ruth suggested a walk.

"You will set here, Niece Ruth," remarked Aunt Jane, "until I
have changed my dress."

Uncle James sighed softly, as she went upstairs. "Well," he said,
"I'm merried now, hard and fast, and there ain't no help for it,
world without end."

"Cheer up, Uncle," said Winfield, consolingly, "it might be
worse."

"It's come on me all of a sudden," he rejoined. "I ain't had no
time to prepare for it, as you may say. Little did I think, three
weeks ago, as I set in my little store, what was wuth four or
five hundred dollars, that before the month was out, I'd be
merried. Me! Merried!" he exclaimed, "Me, as never thought of
sech!"

When Mrs. Ball entered, clad in sombre calico, Ruth, overcome by
deep emotion, led her lover into the open air. "It's bad for you
to stay in there, "she said gravely, "when you are destined to
meet the same fate."

"I've had time to prepare for it," he answered, "in fact, I've
had more time than I want."

They wandered down the hillside with aimless leisure, and Ruth
stooped to pick up a large, grimy handkerchief, with "C. W." in
the corner. "Here's where we were the other morning," she said.

"Blessed spot," he responded, "beautiful Hepsey and noble Joe! By
what humble means are great destinies made evident! You haven't
said you were glad to see me, dear."

"I'm always glad to see you, Mr. Winfield," she replied primly.

"Mr. Winfield isn't my name," he objected, taking her into his
arms.

"Carl," she whispered shyly, to his coat collar.

"That isn't all of it."

"Carl--dear--" said Ruth, with her face crimson.

"That's more like it. Now let's sit down--I've brought you
something and you have three guesses."

"Returned manuscript?"

"No, you said they were all in."

"Another piece of Aunt Jane's wedding cake?"

"No, guess again."

"Chocolates?"

"Who'd think you were so stupid," he said, putting two fingers
into his waistcoat pocket.

"Oh--h!" gasped Ruth, in delight.

"You funny girl, didn't you expect an engagement ring? Let's see
if it fits."

He slipped the gleaming diamond on her finger and it fitted
exactly. "How did you guess?" she asked, after a little.

"It wasn't wholly guess work, dearest." From another pocket, he
drew a glove, of grey suede, that belonged to Ruth's left hand.

"Where did you get that?"

"By the log across the path, that first day, when you were so
cross to me."

"I wasn't cross!"

"Yes you were--you were a little fiend."

"Will you forgive me?" she pleaded, lifting her face to his.

"Rather!" He forgave her half a dozen times before she got away
from him. "Now let's talk sense," she said.

"We can't--I never expect to talk sense again."

"Pretty compliment, isn't it?" she asked. "It's like your telling
me I was brilliant and then saying I wasn't at all like myself."
"Won't you forgive me?" he inquired significantly.

"Some other time," she said, flushing, "now what are we going to
do?"

"Well," he began, "I saw the oculist, and he says that my eyes
are almost well again, but that I mustn't use them for two weeks
longer. Then, I can read or write for two hours every day,
increasing gradually as long as they don't hurt. By the first of
October, he thinks I'll be ready for work again. Carlton wants me
to report on the morning of the fifth, and he offers me a better
salary than I had on The Herald."

"That's good!"

"We'll have to have a flat in the city, or a little house in the
country, near enough for me to get to the offce."

"For us to get to the office," supplemented Ruth.

"What do you think you're going to do, Miss Thorne?"

"Why--I'm going to keep right on with the paper," she answered in
surprise.

"No you're not, darling," he said, putting his arm around her.
"Do you suppose I'm going to have Carlton or any other man giving
my wife an assignment? You can't any way, because I've resigned
your position for you, and your place is already filled. Carlton
sent his congratulations and said his loss was my gain, or
something like that. He takes all the credit to himself."

"Why--why--you wretch!"

"I'm not a wretch--you said yourself I was nice. Look here,
Ruth," he went on, in a different tone, "what do you think I am?
Do you think for a minute that I'd marry you if I couldn't take
care of you?"

"'T isn't that," she replied, freeing herself from his encircling
arm, "but I like my work and I don't want to give it up.
Besides-- besides--I thought you'd like to have me near you."

"I do want you near me, sweetheart, that isn't the point. You
have the same right that I have to any work that is your natural
expression, but, in spite of the advanced age in which we live, I
can't help believing that home is the place for a woman. I may be
old-fashioned, but I don't want my wife working down town--I've
got too much pride for that. You have your typewriter, and you
can turn out Sunday specials by the yard, if you want to.
Besides, there are all the returned manuscripts--if you have the
time and aren't hurried, there's no reason why you shouldn't do
work that they can't afford to refuse."

Ruth was silent, and he laid his hand upon hers. "You understand
me, don't you, dear? God knows I'm not asking you to let your
soul rust out in idleness, and I wouldn't have you crave
expression that was denied you, but I don't want you to have to
work when you don't feel like it, nor be at anybody's beck and
call. I know you did good work on the paper--Carlton spoke of it,
too--but others can do it as well. I want you to do something
that is so thoroughly you that no one else can do it. It's a hard
life, Ruth, you know that as well as I do, and I--I love you."

His last argument was convincing. "I won't do anything you don't
want me to do, dear," she said, with a new humility.

"I want you to be happy, dearest," he answered, quickly. "Just
try my way for a year--that's all I ask. I know your independence
is sweet to you, but the privilege of working for you with hand
and brain, with your love in my heart; with you at home, to be
proud of me when I succeed and to give me new courage when I
fail, why, it's the sweetest thing I've ever known."

"I'll have to go back to town very soon, though," she said, a
little later, "I am interrupting the honeymoon."

"We'll have one of our own very soon that you can't interrupt,
and, when you go back, I'm going with you. We'll buy things for
the house."

"We need lots of things, don't we?" she asked.

"I expect we do, darling, but I haven't the least idea what they
are. You'll have to tell me."

"Oriental rugs, for one thing," she said, "and a mahogany piano,
and an instrument to play it with, because I haven't any parlour
tricks, and some good pictures, and a waffle iron and a porcelain
rolling pin."

"What do you know about rolling pins and waffle irons?" he asked
fondly.

"My dear boy," she replied, patronisingly, "you forget that in
the days when I was a free and independent woman, I was on a
newspaper. I know lots of things that are utterly strange to you,
because, in all probability, you never ran a woman's department.
If you want soup, you must boil meat slowly, and if you want
meat, you must boil it rapidly, and if dough sticks to a broom
straw when you jab it into a cake, it isn't done."

He laughed joyously. "How about the porcelain rolling pin?"

"It's germ proof," she rejoined, soberly.

"Are we going to keep house on the antiseptic plan?"

"We are--it's better than the installment plan, isn't it? Oh,
Carl!" she exclaimed, "I've had the brightest idea!"

"Spring it!" he demanded.

"Why, Aunt Jane's attic is full of old furniture, and I believe
she'll give it to us!"

His face fell. "How charming," he said, without emotion.

"Oh, you stupid," she laughed, "it's colonial mahogany, every
stick of it! It only needs to be done over!"

"Ruth, you're a genius."

"Wait till I get it, before you praise me. Just stay here a
minute and I'll run up to see what frame of mind she's in."

When she entered the kitchen, the bride was busily engaged in
getting supper. Uncle James, with a blue gingham apron tied under
his arms, was awkwardly peeling potatoes. "Oh, how good that
smells!" exclaimed Ruth, as a spicy sheet of gingerbread was
taken out of the oven.

Aunt Jane looked at her kindly, with gratified pride beaming from
every feature. "I wish you'd teach me to cook, Aunty," she
continued, following up her advantage, "you know I'm going to
marry Mr. Winfield."

"Why, yes, I'll teach you--where is he?"

"He's outside--I just came in to speak to you a minute."

"You can ask him to supper if you want to."

"Thank you, Aunty, that's lovely of you. I know he'll like to
stay."

"James," said Mrs. Ball, "you're peelin' them pertaters with
thick peelins'and you'll land in the poorhouse. I've never knowed
it to fail."

"I wanted to ask you something, Aunty," Ruth went on quickly,
though feeling that the moment was not auspicious, "you know all
that old furniture up in the attic?"

"Well, what of it?"

"Why--why--you aren't using it, you know, and I thought perhaps
you'd be willing to give it to us, so that we can go to
housekeeping as soon as we're married."

"It was your grandmother's," Aunt Jane replied after long
thought, "and, as you say, I ain't usin' it. I don't know but
what you might as well have it as anybody else. I lay out to buy
me a new haircloth parlour suit with that two hundred dollars of
James's--he give the minister the hull four dollars over and
above that--and--yes, you can have it," she concluded.

Ruth kissed her,with real feeling. "Thank you so much, Aunty. It
will be lovely to have something tlhat was my grandmother's."

When she went back to Winfield, he was absorbed in a calculation
he was making on the back of an envelope.

"You're not to use your eyes," she said warningly, "and, oh Carl!
It was my grandmother's and she's given us every bit of it, and
you're to stay to supper!"

"Must be in a fine humour," he observed. "I'm ever so glad. Come
here, darling, you don't know how I've missed you."

"I've been earning furniture," she said, settling down beside
him. "People earn what they get from Aunty--I won't say that,
though, because it's mean."

"Tell me about this remarkable furniture. What is it, and how
much of it is destined to glorify our humble cottage?"

"It's all ours," she returned serenely, "but I don't know just
how much there is. I didn't look at it closely, you know, because
I never expected to have any of it. Let's see--there's a heavy
dresser, and a large, round table, with claw feet--that's our
dining-table, and there's a bed, just like those in the windows
in town, when it's done over, and there's a big old-fashioned
sofa, and a spinning-wheel--"

"Are you going to spin?"

"Hush, don't interrupt. There are five chairs--dining-room
chairs, and two small tables, and a card table with a leaf that
you can stand up against the wall, and two lovely rockers, and I
don't know what else."

"That's a fairly complete inventory, considering that you 'didn't
look at it closely.' What a little humbug you are!"

"You like humbugs, don't you?"

"Some, not all."

There was a long silence, and then Ruth moved away from him.
"Tell me about everything," she said. "Think of all the years I
haven't known you!"

"There's nothing to tell, dear. Are you going to conduct an
excavation into my 'past?'"

"Indeed, I'm not! The present is enough for me, and I'll attend
to your future myself."

"There's not much to be ashamed of, Ruth," he said, soberly.
"I've always had the woman I should marry in my mind--'the not
impossible she,' and my ideal has kept me out of many a pitfall I
wanted to go to her with clean hands and a clean heart, and I
have. I'm not a saint, but I'm as clean as I could be, and live
in the world at all."

Ruth put her hand on his. "Tell me about your mother."

A shadow crossed his face and he waited a moment before speaking.
"My mother died when I was born," he said with an effort. "I
can't tell you about her, Ruth, she--she--wasn't a very good
woman."

"Forgive me, dear," she answered with quick sympathy, "I don't
want to know!"

"I didn't know about it until a few years ago," he continued,
"when some kindly disposed relatives of father's gave me full
particulars. They're dead now, and I'm glad of it.
She--she--drank."

"Don't, Carl!" she cried, "I don't want to know!"

"You're a sweet girl, Ruth," he said, tenderly, touching
her hand to his lips. "Father died when I was ten or twelve years
old and I can't remember him very well, though I have one
picture, taken a little while before he was married. He was a
moody, silent man, who hardly ever spoke to any one. I know now
that he was broken-hearted. I can't remember even the tones of
his voice, but only one or two little peculiarities. He couldn't
bear the smell of lavender and the sight of any shade of purple
actually made him suffer. It was very strange.

"I've picked up what education I have," he went on. "I have
nothing to give you, Ruth, but these--" he held out his
hands--"and my heart."

"That's all I want, dearest--don't tell me any more!"

A bell rang cheerily, and, when they went in, Aunt Jane welcomed
him with apparent cordiality, though a close observer might have
detected a tinge of suspicion. She liked the ring on Ruth's
finger, which she noticed for the first time. "It's real pretty,
ain't it, James?" she asked.

"Yes'm, 't is so."

"It's just come to my mind now that you never give me no ring
except this here one we was married with. I guess we'd better
take some of that two hundred dollars you've got sewed up in that
unchristian belt you insist on wearin' and get me a ring like
Ruth's, and use the rest for furniture, don't you think so?"

"Yes'm," he replied. "Ring and furniture--or anythin' you'd
like."

"James is real indulgent," she said to Winfield, with a certain
modest pride which was at once ludicrous and pathetic.

"He should be, Mrs. Ball," returned the young man, gallantly.

She looked at him closely, as if to discover whether he was in
earnest, but he did not flinch. "Young feller," she said, "you
ain't layin' out to take no excursions on the water, be you?"

"Not that I know of," he answered, "why?"

"Sea-farin' is dangerous," she returned.

"Mis' Ball was terrible sea sick comin' here," remarked her
husband. "She didn't seem to have no sea legs, as you may say."

"Ain't you tired of dwellin' on that?" asked Aunt Jane, sharply.
"'T ain't no disgrace to be sea sick, and I wan't the only one."

Winfield came to the rescue with a question and the troubled
waters were soon calm again. After supper, Ruth said: "Aunty, may
I take Mr. Winfield up to the attic and show him my grandmother's
things that you've just given me?"

"Run along, child. Me and James will wash the dishes."

"Poor James, "said Winfield, in a low tone, as they ascended the
stairs. "Do I have to wash dishes, Ruth?"

"It wouldn't surprise me. You said you wanted to work for me, and
I despise dishes."

"Then we'll get an orphan to do 'em. I'm not fitted for it, and I
don't think you are."

"Say, isn't this great!" he exclaimed, as they entered the attic.
"Trunks, cobwebs, and old furniture! Why have I never been here
before?"

"It wasn't proper," replied Ruth, primly, with a sidelong glance
at him. "No, go away!"

They dragged the furniture out into the middle of the room and
looked it over critically. There was all that she had described,
and unsuspected treasure lay in concealment behind it. "There's
almost enough to furnish a flat!" she cried, in delight.

He was opening the drawers of a cabinet, which stood far back
under the eaves. "What's this, Ruth?"

"Oh, it's old blue china--willow pattern! How rich we are!"

"Is old blue willow-pattern china considered beautiful?"

"Of course it is, you goose! We'll have to have our dining-room
done in old blue, now, with a shelf on the wall for these
plates."

"Why can't we have a red dining-room?"

"Because it would be a fright. You can have a red den, if you
like."

"All right," he answered, "but it seems to me it would
be simpler and save a good deal of expense, if we just pitched
the plates into the sad sea. I don't think much of 'em."

"That's because you're not educated, dearest," returned Ruth,
sweetly. "When you're married, you'll know a great deal more
about china--you see if you don't."

They lingered until it was so dark that they could scarcely see
each other's faces. "We'll come up again to-morrow," she said.
"Wait a minute."

She groped over to the east window, where there was still a faint
glow, and lighted the lamp, which stood in its accustomed place,
newly filled.

"You're not going to leave it burning, are you?" he asked.

"Yes, Aunt Jane has a light in this window every night."

"Why, what for?"

"I don't know, dearest. I think it's for a lighthouse, but I
don't care. Come, let's go downstairs."

XIV. "For Remembrance"

The next day, while Ruth was busily gathering up her few
belongings and packing her trunk, Winfield appeared with a
suggestion regarding the advisability of outdoor exercise. Uncle
James stood at the gate and watched them as they went down hill.
He was a pathetic old figure, predestined to loneliness under all
circumstances.

"That's the way I'll look when we've been married a few years,"
said Carl.

"Worse than that," returned Ruth, gravely. "I'm sorry for you,
even now."

"You needn't be proud and haughty just because you've had a
wedding at your house--we're going to have one at ours."

"At ours?"

"At the 'Widder's,' I mean, this very evening."

"That's nice," answered Ruth, refusing to ask the question.

"It's Joe and Hepsey," he continued, "and I thought perhaps you
might stoop low enough to assist me in selecting an appropriate
wedding gift in yonder seething mart. I feel greatly indebted to
them."

"Why, of course I will; it's quite sudden, isn't it?"
"Far be it from me to say so. However, it's the most reversed
wedding I ever heard of. A marriage at the home of the groom, to
say the least, is unusual. Moreover, the 'Widder' Pendleton is to
take the bridal tour and leave the happy couple at home. She's
going to visit a relative who is distant in both position and
relationship--all unknown to the relative, I fancy. She starts
immediately after the ceremony and it seems to me that it would
be a pious notion to throw rice and old shoes after her."

"Why, Carl! You don't want to maim her, do you?"

"I wouldn't mind. If it hadn't been for my ostrich-like
digestion, I wouldn't have had anything to worry about by this
time. However, if you insist, I will throw the rice and let you
heave the shoes. If you have the precision of aim which
distinguishes your sex, the 'Widder' will escape uninjured."

"Am I to be invited?"

"Certainly--haven't I already invited you?"

"They may not like it."

"That doesn't make any difference. Lots of people go to
weddings who aren't wanted."

"I'll go, then," announced Ruth, "and once again, I give you my
gracious permission to kiss the bride."

"Thank you, dear, but I'm not going to kiss any brides except my
own. I've signed the pledge and sworn off."

They created a sensation in the village when they acquired the
set of china which had been on exhibition over a year. During
that time it had fallen at least a third in price, though its
value was unchanged. Ruth bought a hideous red table-cloth, which
she knew would please Hepsey, greatly to Winfield's digust.

"Why do you do that?" he demanded. "Don't you know that, in all
probability, I'll have to eat off of it? I much prefer the
oilcloth, to which I am now accustomed."

"You'll have to get used to table linen, dear," she returned
teasingly; "it's my ambition to have one just like this for state
occasions."

Joe appeared with the chariot just in time to receive and
transport the gift. "Here's your wedding present, Joe!" called
Winfield, and the innocent villagers formed a circle about them
as the groom-elect endeavoured to express his appreciation.
Winfield helped him pack the "101 pieces" on the back seat and
under it, and when Ruth, feeling like a fairy godmother,
presented the red table-cloth, his cup of joy was full.

He started off proudly, with a soup tureen and two platters on
the seat beside him. The red table-cloth was slung over his arm,
in toreador fashion, and the normal creak of the conveyance was
accentuated by an ominous rattle of crockery. Then he circled
back, motioning them to wait.

"Here's sunthin' I most forgot," he said, giving Ruth a note.
"I'd drive you back fer nothin', only I've got sech a load."

The note was from Miss Ainslie, inviting Miss Thorne and her
friend to come at five o'clock and stay to tea. No answer was
expected unless she could not come.

The quaint, old-fashioned script was in some way familiar. A
flash of memory took Ruth back to the note she had found in the
dresser drawer,beginning: "I thank you from my heart for
understanding me." So it was Miss Ainslie who had sent the
mysterious message to Aunt Jane.

"You're not paying any attention to me," complained Winfield. "I
suppose, when we're married, I'll have to write out what I want
to say to you, and put it on file."

"You're a goose," laughed Ruth. "We're going to Miss Ainslie's
to-night for tea. Aren't we getting gay?"

"Indeed we are! Weddings and teas follow one another like Regret
on the heels of Pleasure."

"Pretty simile," commented Ruth. "If we go to the tea, we'll have
to miss the wedding."

"Well, we've been to a wedding quite recently, so I suppose it's
better to go to the tea. Perhaps, by arranging it, we might be
given nourishment at both places--not that I pine for the
'Widder's' cooking. Anyhow, we've sent our gift, and they'd
rather have that than to have us, if they were permitted to
choose."

"Do you suppose they'll give us anything?"

"Let us hope not."

"I don't believe we want any at all," she said. "Most of them
would be in bad taste, and you'd have to bury them at night, one
at a time, while I held a lantern."

"The policeman on the beat would come and ask us what we were
doing," he objected; "and when we told him we were only burying
our wedding presents, he wouldn't believe us. We'd be dragged to
the station and put into a noisome cell. Wouldn't it make a
pretty story for the morning papers! The people who gave us the
things would enjoy it over their coffee."

"It would be pathetic, wouldn't it?"

"It would, Miss Thorne. I think we'd better not tell anybody
until its all safely over, and then we can have a little card
printed to go with the announcement, saying that if anybody is
inclined to give us a present, we'd rather have the money."

"You're a very practical person, Carl. One would think you had
been married several times."

"We'll be married as often as you like, dear. Judging by your
respected aunt, one ceremony isn't 'rightfully bindin', and I
want it done often enough to be sure that you can't get away from
me."

As they entered the gate, Uncle James approached stealthily by a
roundabout way and beckoned to them. "Excuse me," he began, as
they came within speaking distance, "but has Mis' Ball give you
furniture?"

"Yes," replied Ruth, in astonishment, "why?"

"There's clouds to starboard and she's repentin'. She's been
admirin' of it the hull mornin' in the attic. I was sot in the
kitchen with pertaters," he explained, "but the work is wearin'
and a feller needs fresh air."

"Thank you for the tip, Uncle," said Winfield, heartily.

The old man glowed with gratification. "We men understand each
other," was plainly written on his expressive face, as he went
noiselessly back to the kitchen.

"You'd better go home, dear," suggested Ruth.

"Delicate hint," replied Winfield. "It would take a social
strategist to perceive your hidden meaning. Still, my finer
sensibilities respond instantly to your touch, and I will go. I
flatter myself that I've never had to be put out yet, when I've
been calling on a girl. Some subtle suggestion like yours has
always been sufficient."

"Don't be cross, dear--let's see how soon you can get to the
bottom of the hill. You can come back at four o'clock."

He laughed and turned back to wave his hand at her. She wafted a
kiss from the tips of her fingers, which seemed momentarily to
impede his progress, but she motioned him away and ran into the
house.

Aunt Jane was nowhere to be seen, so she went on into the kitchen
to help Uncle James with the potatoes. He had peeled almost a
peck and the thick parings lay in a heap on the floor. "My
goodness'" she exclaimed. "You'd better throw those out, Uncle,
and I'll put the potatoes on to boil."

He hastened out, with his arms full of peelings. "You're a real
kind woman, Niece Ruth," he said gratefully, when he came in.
"You don't favour your aunt none--I think you're more like me."

Mrs. Ball entered the kitchen with a cloud upon her brow, and in
one of those rare flashes of insight which are vouchsafed to
plodding mortals, a plan of action presented itself to Ruth.
"Aunty," she said, before Mrs. Ball had time to speak, "you know
I'm going back to the city to-morrow, and I'd like to send you
and Uncle James a wedding present--you've been so good to me.
What shall it be?"

"Well, now, I don't know," she answered, visibly softening, "but
I'll think it over, and let you know."

"What would you like, Uncle James?"

"You needn't trouble him about it," explained his wife. "He'll
like whatever I do, won't you, James?"

"Yes'm, just as you say."

After dinner, when Ruth broached the suliject of furniture, she
was gratified to find that Aunt Jane had no serious objections.
"I kinder hate to part with it, Ruth," she said, "but in a way,
as you may say, it's yours."

"'Tisn't like giving it away, Aunty--it's all in the family, and,
as you say, you're not using it."

"That's so, and then James and me are likely to come and make you
a long visit, so I'll get the good of it, too."

Ruth was momentarily stunned, but rallied enough to express great
pleasure at the prospect. As Aunt Jane began to clear up the
dishes, Mr. Ball looked at his niece, with a certain quiet joy,
and then, unmistakably, winked.

"When you decide about the wedding present, Aunty, let me know,
won't you?" she asked, as Mrs. Ball came in after the rest of the
dishes. "Mr. Winfield would like to send you a remembrance also."
Then Ruth added, to her conscience, "I know he would."

"He seems like a pleasant-spoken feller," remarked Aunt Jane.
"You can ask him to supper to-night, if you like."

"Thank you, Aunty, but we're going to Miss Ainslie's."

"Huh!" snorted Mrs. Ball. "Mary Ainslie ain't got no sperrit!"
With this enigmatical statement, she sailed majestically out of
the room.

During the afternoon, Ruth finished her packing, leaving out a
white shirt-waist to wear to Miss Ainslie's. When she went down
to the parlour to wait for Winfield, Aunt Jane appeared, with her
husband in her wake.

"Ruth, "she announced, "me and James have decided on a weddin'
present. I would like a fine linen table-cloth and a dozen
napkins."

"All right, Aunty."

"And if Mr. Winfield is disposed to it, he can give me a lemonade
set--one of them what has different coloured tumblers belongin'
to it."

"He'll be pleased to send it, Aunty; I know he will."

"I'm a-layin' out to take part of them two hundred dollars what's
sewed up in James's belt, and buy me a new black silk," she went
on. "I've got some real lace to trim it with, whet dames give me
in the early years of our engagement. Don't you think a black
silk is allers nice, Ruth?"

"Yes, it is, Aunty; and just now, it's very stylish."

"You appear to know about such things. I guess I'll let you get
it for me in the city when you buy the weddin' present. I'll give
you the money, and you can get the linin's too, while you're
about it."

"I'll send you some samples, Aunty, and then you can take your
choice."

"And--" began Mrs. Ball.

"Did you know Mrs. Pendleton was going away, Aunty?" asked Ruth,
hastily.

"Do tell! Elmiry Peavey goin' travellin'?"

"Yes, she's going somewhere for a visit--I don't know just
where."

"I had laid out to take James and call on Elmiry," she said,
stroking herapron thoughtfully, while a shadow crossed Mr. Ball's
expressive face; "but I guess I'll wait now till I get my new
black silk. I want her to know I've done well."

A warning hiss from the kitchen and the odour of burning sugar
impelled Aunt Jane to a hasty exit just as Winfield came. Uncle
James followed them to the door.

"Niece Ruth," he said, hesitating and fumbling at his belt, "be
you goin' to get merried?"

"I hope so, Uncle," she replied kindly.

"Then--then--I wish you'd take this and buy you sunthin' to
remember your pore old Uncle James by." He thrust a trembling
hand toward her, and offered her a twenty dollar bill.

"Why, Uncle!" she exclaimed. "I mustn't take this! Thank you ever
so much, but it isn't right!"

"I'd be pleased," he said plaintively. "'Taint as if I wan's
accustomed to money. My store was wuth five or six hundred
dollars, and you've been real pleasant to me, Niece Ruth. Buy a
hair wreath for the parlour, or sunthin' to remind you of your
pore old Uncle."

Winfield pressed her arm warningly, and she tucked the bill into
her chatelaine bag. "Thank you, Uncle!" she said; then, of her
own accord, she stooped and kissed him lightly on the cheek.

A mist came into the old man's eyes, and he put his hand to his
belt again, but she hurriedly led Winfield away. "Ruth," he said,
as they went down the hill, "you're a sweet girl. That was real
womanly kindness to the poor devil."

"Shall I be equally kind to all 'poor devils'?"

"There's one more who needs you--if you attend to him properly,
it will be enough."

"I don't see how they're going to get Aunty's silk gown and a
ring like mine and a haircloth parlour suit and publish a book
with less than two hundred dollars, do you?"

"Hardly--Joe says that he gave Hepsey ten dollars. There's a
great discussion about the spending of it."

"I didn't know--I feel guilty."

"You needn't, darling. There was nothing else for you to do. How
did you succeed with your delicate mission?"

"I managed it," she said proudly. "I feel that I was originally
destined for a diplomatic career." He laughed when she described
the lemonade set which she had promised in his name.

"I'll see that the furniture is shipped tomorrow," he assured
her; "and then I'll go on a still hunt for the gaudy glassware.
I'm blessed if I don't give 'em a silver ice pitcher, too."

"I'm in for a table-cloth and a dozen napkins," laughed Ruth;
"but I don't mind. We won't bury Uncle's wedding present, will
we?"

"I should say not! Behold the effect of the card, long before
it's printed."

"I know, "said Ruth, seriously, "I'll get a silver spoon or
something like that out of the twenty dollars, and then I'll
spend the rest of it on something nice for Uncle James. The poor
soul isn't getting any wedding present, and he'll never know."

"There's a moral question involved in that," replied Winfield.
"Is it right to use his money in that way and assume the credit
yourself?"

"We'll have to think it over," Ruth answered. "It isn't so very
simple after all."

Miss Ainslie was waiting for them in the garden and came to the
gate to meet them. She wore a gown of lavender taffeta, vhich
rustled and shone in the sunlight. Th skirt was slightly trained,
with a dust ruffle underneath, and the waist was made in surplice
fashion, open at the throat. A bertha of rarest Brussels lace was
fastened at her neck with the amethyst pin, inlaid with gold and
surrounded by baroque pearls. The ends of the bertha hung loosely
and under it she had tied an apron of sheerest linen, edged with
narrow Duchesse lace. Her hair was coiled softly on top of her
head, with a string of amethysts and another of pearls woven
among the silvery strands.

"Welcome to my house," she said, smiling, Winfield at once became
her slave. She talked easily, with that exquisite cadence which
makes each word seem like a gift, but there was a certain subtle
excitement in her manner, which Ruth did not fail to perceive.
When Winfield was not looking at Miss Ainslie, her eyes rested
upon him with a wondering hunger, mingled with tenderness and
fear.

Midsummer lay upon the garden and the faint odour of mignonette
and lavender came with every wandering wind. White butterflies
and thistledown floated in the air, bees hummed drowsily, and fhe
stately hollyhocks swayed slowly back and forth.

"Do you know why I asked you to come today?" She spoke to Ruth,
but looked at Winfield.

"Why, Miss Ainslie?"

"Because it is my birthday--I am fifty-five years old."

Ruth's face mirrored her astonishment. "You don't look any older
than I do," she said.

Except for the white hair, it was true. Her face was as fresh as
a rose with the morning dew upon it, and even on her neck, where
the folds of lace revealed a dazzling whiteness, there were no
lines.

"Teach us how to live, Miss Ainslie," said Winfield, softly,
"that the end of half a century may find us young."

A delicate pink suffused her cheeks and she turned her eyes to
his. "I've just been happy, that's all," she answered.

"It needs the alchemist's touch," he said, "to change our sordid
world to gold."

"We can all learn," she replied, "and even if we don't try, it
comes to us once."

"What?" asked Ruth.

"Happiness--even if it isn't until the end. In every life there
is a perfect moment, like a flash of sun. We can shape our days
by that, if we will--before by faith, and afterward by memory."

The conversation drifted to less serious things. Ruth,
remembering that Miss Ainslie did not hear the village gossip,
described her aunt's home-coming, the dismissal of Hepsey, and
told her of the wedding which was to take place that evening.
Winfield was delighted, for he had never heard her talk so well,
but Miss Ainslie listened with gentle displeasure.

"I did not think Miss Hathaway would ever be married abroad," she
said. "I think she should have waited until she came home. It
would have been more delicate to let him follow her. To seem to
pursue a gentleman, however innocent one may be, is--is
unmaidenly."

Winfield choked, then coughed violently.

"Understand me, dear," Miss Ainslie went on, "I do not mean to
criticise your aunt--she is one of my dearest friends. Perhaps I
should not have spoken at all," she concluded in genuine
distress.

"It's all right, Miss Ainslie," Ruth assured her, "I know just
how you feel."

Winfield, having recovered his composure, asked a question about
the garden, and Miss Ainslie led them in triumph around her
domain. She gathered a little nosegay of sweet-williams for Ruth,
who was over among the hollyhocks, then she said shyly: "What
shall I pick for you?"

"Anything you like, Miss Ainslie. I am at a loss to choose."

She bent over and plucked a leaf of rosemary, looking at him long
and searchingly as she put it into his hand.

"For remembrance," she said, with the deep fire burning in her
eyes. Then she added, with a pitiful hunger in her voice:

"Whatever happens, you won't forget me?"

"Never!" he answered, strangely stirred.

"Thank you," she whispered brokenly, drawing away from him. "You
look so much like--like some one I used to know."

At dusk they went into the house. Except for the hall, it was
square, with two partitions dividing it. The two front rooms were
separated by an arch, and the dining-room and kitchen were
similarly situated at the back of the house, with a china closet
and pantry between them.

Miss Ainslie's table, of solid mahogany, was covered only with
fine linen doilies, after a modern fashion, and two quaint
candlesticks, of solid silver, stood opposite each other. In the
centre, in a silver vase of foreign pattern, there was a great
bunch of asters--white and pink and blue.

The repast was simple--chicken fried to a golden brown, with
creamed potatoes, a salad made of fresh vegetables from the
garden, hot biscuits, deliciously light, and the fragrant Chinese
tea, served in the Royal Kaga cups, followed by pound cake, and
pears preserved in a heavy red syrup.

The hostess sat at the head of the table, dispensing a graceful
hospitality. She made no apology, such as prefaced almost every
meal at Aunt Jane's. It was her best, and she was proud to give
it--such was the impression.

Afterward, when Ruth told her that she was going back to the
city, Miss Ainslie's face grew sad.

"Why--why must you go?" she asked.

"I'm interrupting the honeymoon," Ruth answered, "and
when I suggested departure, Aunty agreed to it immediately. I
can't very well stay now, can I?"

"My dear," said Miss Ainslie, laying her hand upon Ruth's, "if
you could, if you only would--won't you come and stay with me?"

"I'd love to," replied Ruth, impetuously, "but are you sure you
want me?"

"Believe me, my dear," said Miss Ainslie, simply, "it will give
me great happiness."

So it was arranged that the next day Ruth's trunk should be taken
to Miss Ainslie's, and that she would stay until the first of
October. Winfield was delighted, since it brought Ruth nearer to
him and involved no long separation.

They went outdoors again, where the crickets and katydids were
chirping in the grass, and the drowsy twitter of birds came from
the maples above. The moon, at its full, swung slowly over the
hill, and threads of silver light came into the fragrant dusk of
the garden. Now and then the moonlight shone full upon Miss
Ainslie's face, touching her hair as if with loving tenderness
and giving her an unearthly beauty. It was the face of a saint.

Winfield, speaking reverently, told her of their betrothal. She
leaned forward, into the light, and put one hand caressingly upon
the arm of each.

"I am so glad," she said, with her face illumined. Through the
music of her voice ran lights and shadows, vague, womanly appeal,
and a haunting sweetness neither could ever forget.

That night, the gates of Youth turned on their silent hinges for
Miss Ainslie. Forgetting the hoary frost that the years had laid
upon her hair, she walked, hand in hand with them, through the
clover fields which lay fair before them and by the silvered
reaches of the River of Dreams. Into their love came something
sweet that they had not found before--the absolute need of
sharing life together, whether it should be joy or pain.
Unknowingly, they rose to that height which makes sacrifice the
soul's dearest offering, as the chrysalis, brown and unbeautiful,
gives the radiant creature within to the light and freedom of
day.

When the whistle sounded fcr the ten o'clock train, Ruth said it
was late and they must go. Miss Ainslie went to the gate with
them, her lavender scented gown rustling softly as she walked,
and the moonlight making new beauty of the amethysts and pearls
entwined in her hair.

Ruth, aglow with happiness, put her arms around Miss Ainslie's
neck and kissed her tenderly. "May I, too?" asked Winfield.

He drew her toward him, without waiting for an answer, and Miss
Ainslie trembled from head to foot as she lifted her face to his.

Across the way the wedding was in full blast, but neither of them
cared to go. Ruth turned back for a last glimpse of the garden
and its gentle mistress, but she was gone, and the light from her
candle streamed out until it rested upon a white hollyhock,
nodding drowsily.

To Ruth, walking in the starlight with her lover, it seemed as if
the world had been made new. The spell was upon Winfield for a
long time, but at last he spoke.

"If I could have chosen my mother," he said, simply, "she would
have been like Miss Ainslie."

XV. The Secret and the Dream

Ruth easily became accustomed to the quiet life at Miss
Ainslie's, and gradually lost all desire to go back to the city.
"You're spoiling me," she said, one day. "I don't want to go back
to town, I don't want to work, I don't want to do anything but
sit still and look at you. I didn't know I was so lazy."

"You're not lazy, dear," answered Miss Ainslie, "you were tired,
and you didn't know how tired you were."

Winfield practically lived there. In the morning, he sat in the
garden, reading the paper, while Ruth helped about the house. She
insisted upon learning to cook, and he ate many an unfamiliar
dish, heroically proclaiming that it was good. "You must never
doubt his love," Miss Ainslie said, "for those biscuits--well,
dear, you know they were--were not just right."

The amateur cook laughed outright at the gentle criticism. "They
were awful," she admitted, "but I'm going to keep at it until I
learn how."

The upper part of the house was divided into four rooms, with
windows on all sides. One of the front rooms, with north and east
windows, was Miss Ainslie's, while the one just back of it, with
south and east windows, was a sitting-room.

"I keep my prettiest things up here, dear," she explained to
Ruth, "for I don't want people to think I'm crazy." Ruth caught
her breath as she entered the room, for rare tapestries hung on
the walls and priceless rugs lay on the floor. The furniture,
like that downstairs, was colonial mahogany, highly polished,
with here and there a chair or table of foreign workmanship.
There was a cabinet, filled with rare china, a marquetry table,
and a chair of teakwood, inlaid with mother of pearl. In one
corner of the room was a large chest of sandal wood, inlaid with
pearl and partly covered by a wonderful antique rug.

The world had seemingly given up its beauty to adorn Miss
Ainslie's room. She had pottery from Mexico, China and Japan;
strange things from Egypt and the Nile, and all the Oriental
splendour of India and Persia. Ruth wisely asked no questions,
but once, as before, she said hesitating; "they were given to me
by a--a friend."

After much pleading on Ruth's part, Winfield was allowed to come
to the sitting room. "He'll think I'm silly, dear," she said,
flushing; but, on the contrary, he shared Ruth's delight, and won
Miss Ainslie's gratitude by his appreciation of her treasures.

Day by day, the singular attraction grew between them. She loved
Ruth, but she took him unreservedly into her heart. Ruth
observed, idly, that she never called him "Mr. Winfield." At
first she spoke of him as "your friend" and afterward, when he
had asked her to, she yielded, with an adorable shyness, and
called him Carl.

He, too, had eaten of the lotus and lost the desire to go back to
town. From the hilltop they could see the yellow fields and hear
the soft melody of reaping from the valley around them. He and
Ruth often walked together, but Miss Ainslie never would go with
them. She stayed quietly at home, as she had done for many years.

Every night, when the last train came from the city, she put a
lighted candle in her front window, using always the candlestick
of solid silver, covered with fretwork in intricate design. If
Winfield was there, she managed to have him and Ruth in another
room. At half-past ten, she took it away, sighing softly as she
put out the light.

Ruth wondered, but said nothing, even to Winfield. The grain in
the valley was bound in sheaves, and the first colour came on the
maples--sometimes in a delicate flush, or a flash of gold, and
sometimes like a blood-red wound.

One morning, when Miss Ainslie came downstairs, Ruth was startled
at the change in her. The quick, light step was slow and heavy,
the broad, straight shoulders drooped a little, and her face,
while still dimpled and fair, was subtly different. Behind her
deep, violet eyes lay an unspeakable sadness and the rosy tints
were gone. Her face was as pure and cold as marble, with the
peace of the dead laid upon it. She seemed to have grown old in a
single night.

All day she said little or nothing and would not eat. She simply
sat still, looking out of the east window. "No," she said,
gently, to Ruth, "nothing is the matter, deary, I'm just tired."

When Winfield came, she kept him away from Miss Ainslie without
seeming to do so. "Let's go for a walk," she said. She tried to
speak lightly, but there was a lump in her throat and a
tightening at her heart.

They climbed the hill and took the side path which led to the
woods, following it down and through the aisles of trees, to the
log across the path. Ruth was troubled and sat there some little
time without speaking, then suddenly, she knew that something was
wrong with Carl.

Her heart was filled with strange foreboding and she vainly tried
to swallow the persistent lump in her throat. She spoke to him,
gently, once or twice and he did not seem to hear. "Carl!" she
cried in agony, "Carl! What is it?"

He tried to shake off the spell which lay upon him. "Nothing,
darling," he said unsteadily, with something of the old
tenderness. "I'm weak--and foolish--that's all."

"Carl! Dearest!" she cried, and then broke down, sobbing
bitterly.

Her tears aroused him and he tried to soothe her. "Ruth, my
darling girl, don't cry. We have each other, sweetheart, and it
doesn't matter--nothing matters in the whole, wide world."

After a little, she regained her self-control.

"Come out into the sun," he said, "it's ghostly here. You don't
seem real to me, Ruth."

The mist filled her eyes again. "Don't, darling," he pleaded,
"I'll try to tell you."

They sat down on the hillside, where the sun shone brightly, and
where they could see Miss Ainslie's house plainly. She waited,
frightened and suffering, for what seemed an eternity, before he
spoke.

"Last night, Ruth," he began, "my father came to me in a
dream. You know he died when I was about twelve years old, and
last night I saw him as he would have been if he had lived until
now--something over sixty. His hair and beard were matted and
there was the most awful expression in his eyes--it makes me
shudder yet. He was in his grave clothes, dead and yet not dead.
He was suffering--there was something he was trying to say to me;
something he wanted to explain. We were out here on the hill in
the moonlight and I could see Miss Ainslie's house and hear the
surf behind the cliff. All he could say to me was:
'Abby--Mary--Mary --Abby--she--Mary,' over and over again. Once
he said 'mother.' Abby was my mother's name.

"It is terrible," he went on. "I can't understand it. There is
something I must do, and I don't know what it is. A command is
laid on me by the dead--there is some wrong for which I must
atone. When I first awoke, I thought it was a dream, but it
isn't, it's real. It seems as though that was the real world, and
this--all our love and happiness, and you, were just dreams. I
can't bear it, Ruth!"

He shuddered, and she tried to comfort him, though she was cold
as a marble statue and her lips moved with difficulty. "Don't,
dear," she said, "It was only a dream. I've had them sometimes,
so vividly that they haunted me for days and, as you say, it
seemed as if that was the real world and this the dream. I know
how you feel--those things aren't pleasant, but there's nothing
we can do. It makes one feel so helpless. The affairs of the day
are largely under our control, but at night, when the body is
asleep, the mind harks back to things that have been forgotten
for years. It takes a fevered fancy as a fact, and builds upon it
a whole series of disasters. It gives trivial things great
signif!cance and turns life upside down. Remembering it is the
worst of all."

"There's something I can't get at, Ruth," he answered. "It's just
out of my reach. I know it's reasonable to suppose it was a dream
and that it can be explained by natural causes, but I don't dream
very often."

"I dream every night," she said. "Sometimes they're just silly,
foolish things and sometimes they're vivid and horrible realities
that I can't forget for weeks. But, surely, dear, we're not
foolish enough to believe in dreams?"

"No, I hope not," he replied, doubtfully.

"Let's go for a little walk," she said, "and we'll forget it."

Then she told him how changed Miss Ainslie was and how she had
left her, sitting aimlessly by the window. "I don't think I'd
better stay away long," she concluded, "she may need me."

"I won't be selfish, Ruth; we'll go back now. "I'm sorry Miss
Ainslie isn't well."

"She said she was 'just tired' but it isn't like her to be tired.
She doesn't seem to want anybody near her, but you can sit in the
garden this afternoon, if you'd like to, and I'll flit in and out
like an industrious butterfly. Some new books have just come, and
I'll leave them in the arbour for you."

"All right, dear, and if there's anything I can do, I hope you'll
tell me."

As they approached the house, a brisk little man hurried out of
the gate and went toward the village.

"Who's that?" asked Winfield.

"I don't know--some one who has brought something, probably. I
trust she's better."

Miss Ainslie seemed more like herself, as she moved about the
house, dusting and putting the rooms in order, as was her wont.
At noon she fried a bit of chicken for Ruth, but took nothing
herself except a cup of tea.

"No, deary," she said, in answer to Ruth's anxious question, "I'm
all right--don't fret about me."
"Have you any pain, Miss Ainslie?"

"No, of course I haven't, you foolish child!"

She tried to smile, but her white lips quivered pitifully.

In the afternoon, when she said she was cold, Ruth made a fire in
the open fireplace, and wheeled Miss Ainslie's favourite chair in
front of it. She drew her shawl about her shoulders and leaned
back.

"I'm so comfortable, now, she said drowsily; "I think I'm
going to sleep, dear."

Ruth sat by her, pretending to read, but, in reality, watching
her closely, until the deep, regular breathing assured her that
she was asleep. She went out into the garden and found Winfield
in the arbour.

"How's this patient?" she asked, kissing him lightly on the
forehead.

"I'm all right, dearest," he answered, drawing her down beside
him, "and I'm ashamed of myself because I was so foolish."

During the afternoon Ruth made frequent trips to the house, each
time finding Miss Ainslie sound asleep. It was after six o'clock
when she woke and rubbed her eyes, wonderingly.

"How long have I been asleep, Ruth?"

"All the afternoon, Miss Ainslie--do you feel better now?"

"Yes, I think I do. I didn't sleep last night, but it's been
years since I've taken a nap in the daytime."

Ruth invited Carl to supper, and made them both sit still while
she prepared the simple meal, which, as he said, was
"astonishingly good." He was quite himself again, but Miss
Ainslie, though trying to assume her old manner, had undergone a
great change.

Carl helped Ruth with the dishes, saying he supposed he might as
well become accustomed to it, and, feeling the need of s!eep,
went home very early.

"I'm all right," he said to Ruth, as he kissed her at the door,
"and you're just the sweetest girl in the world. Good night,
darling."

A chill mist came inland, and Ruth kept pine knots burning in the
fireplace. They sat without other light, Miss Ainslie with her
head resting upon her hand, and Ruth watching her narrowly. Now
and then they spoke aimlessly, of commonplaces.

When the last train came in, Miss Ainslie raised her eyes to the
silver candlestick that stood on the mantel and sighed.

"Shall I put the light in the window?" asked Ruth.

It was a long time before Miss Ainslie answered.

"No, deary," she said sadly, "never any more."

She was trying to hide her suffering, and Ruth's heart ached for
her in vain. The sound of the train died away in the distance and
the firelight faded.

"Ruth," she said, in a low voice, "I am going away."

"Away, Miss Ainslie? Where?"

"I don't know, dear--it's where we all go--'the undiscovered
country from whose bourne no traveller returns.' Sometimes it's a
long journey and sometimes a short one, but we all take
it--alone--at the last."

Ruth's heart throbbed violently, then stood still.

"Don't!" she cried, sharply.

"I'm not afraid, dear, and I'm ready to go, even though you have
made me so happy--you and he."

Miss Ainslie waited a moment, then continued, in a different
tone:

"To-day the lawyer came and made my will. I haven't much--just
this little house, a small income paid semi-annually, and my--my
things. All my things are for you--the house and the income are
for--for him."

Ruth was crying softly and Miss Ainslie went to her, laying her
hand caressingly upon the bowed head. "Don't, deary," she
pleaded, "don't be unhappy. I'm not afraid. I'm just going to
sleep, that's all, to wake in immortal dawn. I want you and him
to have my things, because I love you--because I've always loved
you, and because I will--even afterward."

Ruth choked down her sobs, and Miss Ainslie drew her chair
closer, taking the girl's cold hand in hers. That touch, so
strong and gentle, that had always brought balm to her troubled
spirit, did not fail in its ministry now.

"He went away," said Miss Ainslie, after a long silence, as if in
continuation of something she had said before, "and I was afraid.
He had made many voyages in safety, each one more successful than
the last, and he always brought me beautiful things, but, this
time, I knew that it was not right for him to go."

"When he came back, we were to be married." The firelight shone
on the amethyst ring as Miss Ainslie moved it on her finger.
"He said that he would have no way of writing this time, but
that, if anything happened, I would know. I was to wait--as women
have waited since the world began.

"Oh, Ruth, do you know what waiting means? Mine has lasted
through thirty-three interminable years. Each day, I have said:
'he will come to-morrow.' When the last train came in, I put the
light in the window to lead him straight to me. Each day, I have
made the house ready for an invited guest and I haven't gone
away, even for an hour. I couldn't bear to have him come and find
no welcome waiting, and I have always worn the colour he loved.
When people have come to see me, I've always been afraid they
would stay until he came, except with you--and Carl. I was glad
to have you come to stay with me, because, lately, I have thought
that it would be more--more delicate than to have him find me
alone. I loved you, too, dear," she added quickly.

"I--I asked your aunt to keep the light in the window. I never
told her why, but I think she knew, and you must tell her, dear,
the next time you see her, that I thank her, and that she need
never do it again. I thought, if he should come in a storm, or,
perhaps, sail by, on his way to me--"

There was another long silence, then, with an effort, she went
on. "I have been happy, for he said he wanted me to be, though
sometimes it was hard. As nearly as I could, I made my dream
real. I have thought, for hours, of the things we would say to
each other when the long years were over and we were together
again. I have dressed for his eyes alone, and loved him--perhaps
you know--"

"I know, Miss Ainslie," said Ruth, softly, her own love surging
in her heart, "I know."

"He loved me, Ruth," she said, lingering upon the words, "as man
never loved before. In all of God's great universe, there was
never anything like that--even in Heaven, there can't be anything
so beautiful, though we have to know human love before we can
understand God's. All day, I have dreamed of our little home
together, and at night, sometimes--of baby lips against my
breast. I could always see him plainly, but I never could see
our--our child. I have missed that. I have had more happiness
than comes to most women, but that has been denied me."

She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. Her lips were
white and quivering, but there were no tears. At length she sat
upright and fixed her eyes upon Ruth.

"Don't be afraid of anything," she said in a strange tone,
"poverty or sickness or death, or any suffering God will let you
bear together. That isn't love--to be afraid. There's only one
thing--the years! Oh, God, the bitter, cruel, endless years!"

Miss Ainslie caught her breath and it sounded like a sob, but she
bravely kept it back. "I have been happy," she said, in pitiful
triumph; "I promised him that I would be, and I have kept my
word. Sometimes it was hard, but I had my dream. Lately, this
last year, I have often been afraid that--that something had
happened. Thirty-three years, and you know, dear," she added,
with a quaint primness, "that I am a woman of the world."

"In the world, but not of it," was on Ruth's lips, but she did
not say it.

"Still, I know it was wrong to doubt him--I couldn't, when I
thought of our last hour together, out on the hill in the
moonlight. He said it was conceivable that life might keep him
from me, but death never could. He told me that if he died, I
would know, that he would come and tell me, and that in a little
while afterward, we should be together."

The dying embers cast a glow upon her face. It was almost waxen
in its purity; she seemed transfigured with the light of another
world. "Last night, he came to me--in a dream. He is dead--he
has been dead for a long time. He was trying to explain something
to me--I suppose he was trying to tell me why he had not come
before. He was old--an old man, Ruth, and I have always thought
of him as young. He could not say anything but my
name--'Mary--Abby--Mary-- Abby--' over and over again; and, once,
'mother.' I was christened 'Mary Abigail,' but I never liked the
middle name, so I dropped it; and he used to tease me sometimes
by calling me 'Abby.' And--from his saying 'mother,' I know that
he, too, wherever he may be, has had that dream of --of our
child."

Ruth was cold from head to foot, and her senses reeled. Every
word that Winfield had said in the morning sounded again in her
ears. What was it that went on around her, of which she had no
ken? It seemed as though she stood absolutely alone, in endless
space, while planets swept past, out of their orbits, with all
the laws of force set suddenly aside.

Miss Ainslie felt her shuddering fear. "Don't be afraid, dear,"
she said again, "everything is right. I kept my promise, and he
kept his. He is suffering--he is very lonely without me; but in a
little while we shall be together."

The fire died out and left the room in darkness, broken only by
the last fitful glow. Ruth could not speak, and Miss Ainslie sat
quietly in her chair. "Come," she said at last, stretching out
her hand, "let's go upstairs. I have kept you up, deary, and I
know you must be very tired."

The house seemed filled with a shadowy presence--something
intangible, but portentous, for both good and ill. Ruth took down
the heavy mass of white hair and brushed it back, tying it at the
neck with a ribbon, in girlish fashion, as Miss Ainslie always
did. Her night gown, of sheerest linen, was heavy with
Valenciennes lace, and where it fell back from her throat, it
revealed the flesh, exquisitely white, set in gracious curves and
womanly softness, as if by a sculptor who loved his clay.

The sweet, wholesome scent of the lavender flowers breathed from
the folds of Miss Ainslie's gown, as she stood there in the
candle light, smiling, with the unearthly glow still upon her
face.

"Good night, deary," she said; "you'll kiss me, won't you?"

For a moment the girl's face was buried among Miss Ainslie's
laces, then their lips met. Ruth was trembling and she hurried
away, swallowing the lump in her throat and trying to keep back
the tears.

The doors were open, and there was no sound save Miss Ainslie's
deep breathing, but Ruth kept a dreary vigil till almost dawn.

XVI. Some One Who Loved Her

The summer waned and each day, as it slipped away, took a little
of Miss Ainslie's strength with it. There was neither disease nor
pain--it was simply a letting go. Carl sent to the city for a
physician of wide repute, but he shook his head. "There's nothing
the matter with her," he said, "but she doesn't want to live.
Just keep her as happy as you can."

For a time she went about the house as usual, but, gradually,
more and more of her duties fell to Ruth. Hepsey came in every
day after breakfast, and again in the late afternoon.

Ruth tried to get her to go out for a drive, but she refused.
"No, deary," she said, smiling, "I've never been away, and I'm
too old to begin now." Neighbours, hearing of her illness, came
to offer sympathy and help, but she would see none of them--not
even Aunt Jane.

One night, she sat at the head of the table as usual; for she
would not surrender her place as hostess, even though she ate
nothing, and afterward a great weakness came upon her. "I don't
know how I'll ever get upstairs," she said, frightened; "it seems
such a long way!"

Winfield took her in his arms and carried her up, as gently and
easily as if she had been a child. Her cheeks were flushed and
her eyes bright when he put her down. "I never thought it would
be so easy," she said, in answer to his question. "You'll stay
with me, won't you, Carl? I don't want you to go away."

"I'll stay as long as you want me, Miss Ainslie, and Ruth will,
too. We couldn't do too much for you."

That night, as they sat in front of the fire, while Miss Ainslie
slept upstairs, Ruth told him what she had said about leaving him
the house and the little income and giving her the beautiful
things in the house.

"Bless her sweet heart," he said tenderly, "we don't want her
things--we'd rather have her."

"Indeed we would," she answered quickly.

Until the middle of September she went back and forth from her
own room to the sitting-room with comparative ease. They took
turns bringing dainties to tempt her appetite, but, though she
ate a little of everything and praised it warmly, especially if
Ruth had made it, she did it, evidently, only out of
consideration for them.

She read a little, talked a little, and slept a great deal. One
day she asked Carl to pull the heavy sandal wood chest over near
her chair, and give her the key, which hung behind a picture.

"Will you please go away now," she asked, with a winning smile,
"for just a little while?"

He put the bell on a table within her reach and asked her to ring
if she wanted anything. The hours went by and there was no sound.
At last he went up, very quietly, and found her asleep. The chest
was locked and the key was not to be found. He did not know
whether she had opened it or not, but she let him put it in its
place again, without a word.

Sometimes they read to her, and she listened patiently,
occasionally asking a question, but more often falling asleep.

"I wish," she said one day, when she was alone with Carl, "that I
could hear something you had written."

"Why, Miss Ainslie," he exclaimed, in astonishment, "you wouldn't
be interested in the things I write--it's only newspaper stuff."

"Yes, I would," she answered softly; "yes, I would."

Something in the way she said it brought the mist to his eyes.

She liked to have Ruth brush her hair, but her greatest delight
was in hearing Winfield talk about her treasures.

"Won't you tell me about the rug, Carl, the one on the sandal
wood chest?" she asked, for the twentieth time.

"It's hundreds of years old," he began, "and it came from Persia,
far, far beyond the sea. The shepherds watched their flocks night
and day, and saved the finest fleeces for the rug. They made
colour from flowers and sweet herbs; from strange things that
grew on the mountain heights, where only the bravest dared to go.
The sumac that flamed on the hills, the rind of the swaying
pomegranates, lichens that grew on the rocks by the Eastern sea,
berries, deep-sea treasures, vine leaves, the juice of the
grape--they all made colours for the rug, and then ripened, like
old wine.

"After a long time, when everything was ready, the
Master Craftsman made the design, writing strange symbols into
the margin, eloquent with hidden meanings, that only the wisest
may understand. "They all worked upon it, men and women and
children. Deep voices sang love songs and the melody was woven
into the rug. Soft eyes looked love in answer and the softness
and beauty went in with the fibre. Baby fingers clutched at it

Book of the day: