Part 2 out of 5
a gorgeous garnet engagement ring, also very new, merely rested her
hand on her lover's coat sleeve where she could see the light play
upon the stones.
When, after the first act, in answer to hearty rounds of applause, varied
with whistles and shouts from the gallery, the characters stepped
forward, not in the unnatural string usual in more genteel play-houses,
where victor and vanquished join hands and bow, but one by one, each
being greeted by cheers, hisses, or groans, according to the part, and
when the villain appeared I found myself groaning with the rest, and
though Evan laughed, I know he understood.
After it was over, as we went out into the night, Evan headed toward
Sixth Avenue instead of homeward.
"May I ask where we are going now?" said Miss Lavinia, meekly. She had
really enjoyed the play, and I know I heard her sniff once or twice at
the proper time, though of course I pretended not to.
"Going?" echoed Evan. "Only around the corner to get three fries in a
box, with the usual pickle and cracker trimmings, there being no
restaurant close by that you would care for; then we will carry them home
and have a little supper in the pantry, if your Lucy has not locked up
the forks and taken the key to bed. If she has, we can use wooden
At first Miss Lavinia seemed to feel guilty at the idea of disturbing
Lucy's immaculate pantry at such an hour; but liberty is highly
infectious. She had spent the evening out without previous intent; the
next step was to feel that her soul was her own on her return. She
unlocked the forks, Evan unpacked the upstairs ice-chest for the dog's
head bass that wise women always have when they expect visiting
Englishmen, even though they are transplanted and acclimated ones, and
she ate the oysters, still steaming from their original package, with
great satisfaction. After we had finished Miss Lavinia bravely declared
her independence of Lucy. The happy don't-care feeling produced by
broiled oysters and bass on a cold night is a perfect revelation to
people used to after-theatre suppers composed of complications, sticky
sweets, and champagne.
When we had finished I thought for a moment that she showed a desire to
conceal the invasion by washing the dishes, but she put it aside, and we
all went upstairs together.
A little shopping being in order, Evan took himself off in the morning,
leaving Miss Lavinia and me to prowl, after we had promised to meet him
at a downtown restaurant at one.
Little boys are delightful things to shop for,--there is no matching this
and that, no getting a yard too much or too little, everything is
substantial and straight away, and all you have to do when the bundles
are sent home by express is to strengthen the sewing on of buttons and
reinforce the seats and knees of everyday pantikins from the inside.
We strolled about slowly, and at half past one were quite ready to sit
still and not only eat our lunch but watch business mankind eat his. If
any one wishes to feel the clutch and motive power of the Whirlpool let
him go to the Mazarin any time between twelve-thirty and two o'clock. The
streets themselves are surging with men, all hurrying first in one
direction, then another, until it seems as if there either must be a fire
somewhere, or else a riot afoot. The doors of the restaurant open and
shut incessantly, corks pop, knives and forks rattle, everything is being
served from a sandwich and a glass of beer to an elaborate repast with a
wine to every course, while through and above it all the stress of
business is felt. Of course the great financiers usually have luncheon
served in their offices, to save them from the crowd; besides, it might
give common humanity a chance to scrutinize their countenances, and
perchance read what they thought upon some question of moment, for it
sometimes seems as if the eye of the New York journalist has X-ray power.
On the other hand, the humbler grade, with less of either time or money
to spare, go to the "quick lunch" counters and "dime-in-the-slot"
sandwich concerns; yet Evan says that the gathering at the Mazarin is
Miss Lavinia was bewildered. Her downtown visits to her broker's office
were always made in a cab, with Lucy to stay in it as a preventative of
the driver's taking a sly glass or a thief snatching her lap-robe--she
never uses public carriage rugs. She clung to the obsolete idea that Wall
Street was no place for women, and saw, as in a dream, the daintily
dressed stenographers, bookkeepers, and confidential clerks mingling with
the trousered ranks in the street, not to mention the damsels in tidy
shirtwaists, with carefully undulated hair and pointed, polished finger
nails, who were lunching at near-by tables, sometimes seemingly with
their employers as well as with other male or female friends.
"I wonder how much of all this is bad for uptown home life?" Miss Lavinia
queried, gazing around the room; but as she did not address either of us
in particular, we did not answer, as we did not know,--who does?
A spare half-hour before closing time we gave to the Stock Exchange, and
it was quite enough, for some one was short on something, and pandemonium
reigned. As we stood on the corner of Rector Street and Broadway,
hesitating whether to take surface or elevated cars, faint strains of
organ music from Trinity attracted us.
"Service or choir practice; let us go in a few moments," said Evan, to
whom the organ is a voice that never fails to draw. We took seats far
back, and lost ourselves among the shadows. A special service was in
progress, the music half Gregorian, and the congregation was too
scattered to mar the feeling that we had slipped suddenly out of the
material world. The shadows of the sparrows outside flitted upward on the
stained glass windows, until it seemed as if the great chords had broken
free and taking form were trying to escape.
Now and then the door would open softly and unaccustomed figures slip in
and linger in the open space behind the pews. Aliens, newly landed and
wandering about in the vicinity of their water-front lodging-houses,
music and a church appealed to their loneliness. Some stood, heads bowed,
and some knelt in prayer and crossed themselves on leaving; one woman,
lugging a great bundle tied in a blue cloth, a baby on her arm and
another clinging to her skirts, put down her load, bedded the baby upon
it, and began to tell her beads.
The service ended, and the people scattered, but the organist played on,
and the boy choir regathered, but less formally.
"What is it?" we asked of the verger, who was preparing to close
"There will be a funeral of one of the oldest members of the
congregation to-morrow, and they are about to go through the music of
Suddenly a rich bass voice, strong in conviction, trumpeted forth--"I am
the resurrection and the life!" And only a stone's throw away jingled the
money market of the western world. The temple and the table of the money
changers keep step as of old. Ah, wonderful New York!
* * * * *
The afternoon was clear staccato and mild withal, and the sun, almost at
setting, lingered above orange and dim cloud banks at the end of the
vista Broadway made.
"Are you tired? Can you walk half a dozen blocks?" asked Evan of Miss
Lavinia, as we came out.
"No, quite the reverse; I think that I am electrified," she
"Then we will go to Battery Park," he said, turning south.
"Battery Park, where all the immigrants and roughs congregate! What an
idea! We shall catch smallpox or have our pockets picked!"
"Have you ever _been_ there?" persisted Evan.
"Yes, once, I think, when steamship passengers lathed at the barge
office, and of course I've seen it often in going to Staten Island to
visit Cousin Lucretia."
Evan's only reply was to keep on walking. We did not cross the "bowling
green," but swung to the right toward Pier I, and took the path between
old Castle Garden and the sea wall at the point where one of the fire
patrol boats was resting, steam up and hose nozzles pointed, lance
Ah, what a picture! No wonder Miss Lavinia adjusted her glasses quickly
(she is blindly nearsighted), caught her breath, and clung to Evan's arm
as the fresh sea breeze coming up from the Narrows wheeled her about.
Before us Staten Island divided the water left and right, while between
it and the Long Island shore, just leaving quarantine and dwarfing the
smaller craft, an ocean liner, glistening with ice, was coming on in
majestic haste. All about little tugs puffed and snorted, and freighters
passed crosswise, parting the floating ice and churning it with their
paddles, scarcely disturbing the gulls, that flew so close above the
water that their wings touched, or floated at leisure.
The sun that had been gilding everything from masthead to floating spar
gathered in its forces, and for one moment seemed to rest upon Liberty's
torch, throwing the statue into clear relief, and then dropped rapidly
behind the river's night-cloud bank, and presently lights began to
glimmer far and near, the night breath rose from the water, and the
wave-cradled gulls slept.
"Do you like our New York?" asked Evan, turning to go.
"Don't speak," whispered Miss Lavinia, hanging back.
But we were no sooner on the elevated train than she found use for her
tongue, for whose feet should I stumble over on entering, quite big feet
too, or rather shoes, for the size of the man, but Martin Cortright's,
and of course he was duly presented to Miss Lavinia.
That night Miss Lavinia was forced to ask "for time for 'forty winks'"
before she could even think of dinner, and Evan and I sat them out in the
deep, hospitable chairs by the library fire. We were not tired, simply
held in check; country vitality shut off from certain ways for six months
is not quickly exhausted, but, on the other hand, when it is spent, it
takes several months to recuperate.
The first night that I leave home for these little excursions I have a
sense of virtue and simmering self-congratulation. I feel that I am doing
a sensible thing in making a break from what the theorists call "the
narrowing evenness of domestic existence." Of course it is a good thing
for me to leave father and the boys, and see and hear something new to
take back report of to them; it is better for them to be taught
appreciation of me by absence; change is beneficial to every one, etc.,
etc., and all that jargon.
The second night I am still true to the theory, but am convinced that to
the highly imaginative, a city day and its doings may appear like the
Biblical idea of eternity--reversed--"a thousand years." The third
night I am painfully sure of this, and if I remain away over a fourth,
which is very rare, I cast the whole theory out to the winds of
scepticism, and am so restless and disagreeable that Evan usually
suggests that I take a morning train home and do not wait for him, which
is exactly the responsibility that I wish him to assume, thus saving me
from absolute surrender.
We always have a good time on our outings, and yet after each the
pleasure of return grows keener, so that occasionally Evan remonstrates
and says: "Sometimes I cannot understand your attitude; you appear to
enjoy every moment keenly, and yet when you go home you act as if you had
mercifully escaped from a prison that necessitated going through a sort
of thanksgiving ceremony. It seems very irrational."
But when I ask him if it would be more rational to be sorry to come home,
he does not answer,--at least not in words.
"Where do we dine to-night?" I asked Evan, as he was giving unmistakable
signs of "meditation," and I heard by the footsteps overhead that Miss
Lavinia was stirring.
"At the Art and Nature Club. You can dress as much or as little as you
please, and we can get a table in a cosey corner, and afterward sit about
upstairs for an hour, for there will be music to-night. I have asked
Martin Cortright to join us. It has its interesting side, this--a
transplanted Englishman married to a country girl introducing old
bred-in-the-bone New Yorkers to New Manhattan."
When I go to town my costuming consists merely in change of waists, as
street and public conveyances alike are a perpetual menace to one's best
petticoats, so in a few moments we were on our way uptown.
We did not tell Miss Lavinia where we were going until we were almost
there, and she was quite upset, as dining at the two or three hotels and
other places affected by the Whirlpoolers implies a careful and special
toilet to run the gantlet of society reporters, for every one is somebody
in one sense, though in another "nobody is really any one."
She was reassured, however, the moment that she drew her high-backed oak
chair up to the table that Evan had reserved in a little alcove near the
fireplace. Before the oysters arrived, and Martin Cortright appeared to
fill the fourth seat, she had completely relaxed, and was beaming at the
brass jugs and pottery beakers ranged along a shelf above the dark
wainscot, and at the general company, while the warmth from the fire logs
gave her really a very pretty colour, and she began to question Martin as
to who all these people, indicating the rapidly filling-up tables, were.
But Martin gazed serenely about and confessed he did not know.
The people came singly, or in twos and threes, men and women together or
alone, a fact at which Miss Lavinia greatly marvelled. Greetings were
exchanged, and there was much visiting from table to table, as if the
footing was that of a private house.
"Nice-looking people," said Miss Lavinia, meditatively scrutinizing the
room through her lorgnette without a trace of snobbery in her voice or
attitude, yet I was aware that she was mentally drawing herself apart.
"Some of them quite unusual, but there is not a face here that I ever saw
in society. Are they members of the Club? Where do they come from? Where
do they live?"
Evan's lips shut together a moment before he answered, and I saw a
certain steely gleam in his eye that I always regarded as a danger
"Perhaps they might ask the same questions about you," he answered;
"though they are not likely to, their world is so much broader. They are
men and women chiefly having an inspiration, an art or craft, or some
vital reason for living besides the mere fact that it has become a habit.
They are none of them rich enough to be disagreeable or feel that they
own the right to trample on their fellows. They all live either in or
near New York, as best suits their means, vocations, and temperaments.
Men and women together, they represent, as well as a gathering can, the
hopeful spirit of our New York of New Manhattan that does not grovel to
mere money power."
Miss Lavinia seemed a little abashed, but Martin Cortright, who had been
a silent observer until now, said: "It surprises me to see fraternity of
this sort in the midst of so many institutions of specialized
exclusiveness and the decadence of clubs, that used to be veritable
brotherhoods, by unwise expansion. I like the general atmosphere, it
seems cheerful and, if one may blend the terms, conservatively Bohemian."
"Come upstairs before the music begins, so that we can get comfortably
settled in the background, that I may tell you who some of these
'unknown-to-Whirlpool-society' people are. You may be surprised," said
Evan to Miss Lavinia, who had by this time finished her coffee.
The rooms were cheerful with artistic simplicity. The piano had been
moved from the lounging room into the picture gallery opposite to where a
fine stained glass window was exhibited, backed by electric lights.
We stowed ourselves away in a deep seat, shaped something like an
old-fashioned school form, backed and cushioned with leather, to watch
the audience gather. Every phase of dress was present, from the ball gown
to the rainy weather skirt, and enough of each grade to keep one another
in countenance. About half the men wore evening suits, but those who did
not were completely at their ease.
There was no regular ushering to seats, but every one was placed
easily and naturally. Evan, who had Miss Lavinia in charge, was
alert, and rather, it seemed to me, on the defensive; but though
Martin asked questions, he was comfortably soothing, and seemed to
take in much at a glance.
That short man with the fine head, white hair and beard, aquiline nose,
and intense eyes is not only a poet, but the first American critic of
pure literature. He lives out of town, but comes to the city daily for a
certain stimulus. The petite woman with the pretty colour who has crossed
the room to speak to him is the best known writer of New England romance.
That shy-looking fellow standing against the curtain at your right, with
the brown mustache and broad forehead, is the New England sculptor whose
forcible creations are known everywhere, yet he is almost shrinkingly
modest, and he never, it seems, even in thought, has broken the
injunction of "Let another praise thee, not thine own lips."
Half a dozen promising painters are standing in the doorway talking to a
young woman who, beginning with newspaper work, has stepped suddenly into
a niche of fiction. The tall, loose-jointed man at the left of the group,
the editor of a conservative monthly, has for his vis-a-vis the artist
who has had so much to do with the redemption of American architecture
and decoration from the mongrel period of the middle century. Another
night you may not see a single one of these faces, but another set, yet
Meanwhile Martin Cortright had discovered a man, a financier and also a
book collector of prominence, who was reputed to have a complete set of
some early records that he had long wished to consult; he had never found
a suitable time for meeting him, as the man, owing to having been
oftentime the prey of both unscrupulous dealers and parasitic friends,
was esteemed difficult.
Infected by the freedom of his surroundings, Martin plucked up courage
and spoke to him, the result being an interchange of cards, book talk,
and an invitation to visit the library.
Then the music began, and lasted not above an hour, with breathing and
chatting intervals, followed by claret cup and lemonade. A pleasant
evening's recreation, with no opportunity of accumulating the material
for either mental or physical headache.
The night air was very soft, but of that delusive quality that in
February portends snow, and not the return of bluebirds, as the
uninitiated might expect. Miss Lavinia was fascinated by the lights and
motion of Herald Square, and at her suggestion, it being but a little
past ten, we strolled homeward down Broadway instead of taking a car. Her
delight at the crowd of promenaders, the picturesque florists' shops, and
the general buzz of night life was almost pathetic. Her after-dark
experience having been to get to and from specified places as quickly as
possible with Lucy for escort, solicitous when in a street car lest they
should pass their destination, and trembling even more when in a cab lest
the driver should have committed the variable and expansive crime of
"taking something." She bought a "ten o'clock edition" of the _Telegram_,
some of "Match Mary's" wares, that perennially middle-aged woman who
haunts the theatre region, and suggested that we have ice-cream soda at a
particularly glittering drug store, but this desire was switched into hot
bouillon by Evan, who retains the Englishman's dislike of chilling his
New York is really a fine city by night, that is, in parts at least, and
yet it is very strange how comparatively few of the rank and file of its
inhabitants walk abroad to see the spectacle.
By lamplight the scars and wounds of subways appear less vivid, and the
perpetual skeleton of the skyscraper merges in its background. The
occasional good bit of architecture steps out boldly from the surrounding
shadows of daylight discouragement. City life does not seem to be such an
exhausting struggle, and even the "misery wagons," as I always call
ambulances to myself, look less dreary with the blinking light fore and
aft, for you cannot go far in New York without feeling the pitying thrill
of their gongs.
After the brightness of Broadway the side streets seemed cavernous. As we
turned westward and crossed Sixth Avenue a dark figure, outlined full
length against the blazing window of a corner liquor saloon, lined with
mirrors, in some way fixed my attention. It was a woman's figure, slight,
and a little crouching. The hat was gay and set on puffy hair, the jacket
brave with lace, but the skirt was frayed where it lapped the pavement,
and the boot that was pushed from beneath it, as if to steady a swaying
frame, was thin and broken. I do not know why I looked back after I had
passed, but as I did so, I saw the girl, for she was little more, pull a
scrap of chamois from a little bag she carried and quickly rub rouge upon
her hollow cheeks, using the saloon mirror for a toilet glass. But when I
saw the face itself I stopped short, giving Evan's arm such a tug that he
The woman was Jennie, the Oakland baker's only daughter, who had no lack
of country beaus, but was flattered by the attentions of one of the
Jenks-Smith's butlers, whose irreproachable manners of the
count-in-disguise variety made the native youths appear indeed uncouth.
She grew discontented, thought it beneath her social position to help her
mother in the shop, and went to town to work in a store, it was said
until her wedding, which was to be that autumn. Father worried over her
and tried to advise, but to no purpose. This was more than two years ago.
The butler left the Jenks-Smith's, and we heard that he was a married
man, with a family who had come to look him up.
Jennie's mother said she had a fine place in a store, and showed us, from
time to time, presents the girl had sent her, so thus to find the truth
was a shock indeed. Not but what all women who are grown must bear upon
them the weight of the general knowledge of evil, but it is none the
less awful to come face to face on a street corner with one who was the
pretty village girl, whom you last saw standing behind the neat counter
with a pitcher of honeysuckles at her elbow as she filled a bag with
sugar cookies for your clamouring babies.
* * * * *
I suppose that I must have exclaimed aloud, for Jennie started back and
saw us, then dropped her bag and began to grope about for it as if she
was in a dream.
"Can't we do something?" I whispered to Evan, but he only gravely
shook his head.
"Give her this for the boys' sake," I begged, fumbling in his change
pocket and finding a bill there. "Tell her it's home money from the
Doctor's daughter--and--to go home--or--buy--a--pair of shoes."
At first I thought she was not going to take it; but having found her bag
she straightened herself a moment, and without looking at Evan gave me a
glance, half defiant, half beseeching, grasped the money almost fiercely,
and scuttled away in the darkness, and I found that I was crying. But
Evan understood,--he always does,--and I hope that if the boys read this
little book fifteen or twenty years hence, that they will also.
[Illustration: FEBRUARY VIOLETS.]
As we reached the door the first snowflakes fell. Poor Jennie!
* * * * *
The third day of our stay began in country quiet. In fact we did not wake
up until eight; everything was snowbound, and even the occasional horse
cars that pass the front of the house had ceased their primitive
tinkling. The milkman did not come, neither did the long crispy French
rolls, a New York breakfast institution for which the commuters
confessedly have no substitute, and it was after nine before breakfast
Evan, who had disappeared, returned at the right moment with his
newspaper and two bulky tissue paper bundles all powdered with snow, one
of which he gave to Miss Lavinia, the other to me. I knew their contents
the moment I set eyes on them, and yet it was none the less a
Down in a near-by market is a little florist's shop, so small that one
might pass twenty times without noticing it; the man, a local authority,
who has kept it for years, makes a specialty of the great long-stemmed
single violets, whose fleeting fragrance no words may express. They call
them Californias now, but they are evidently the opulent kin of those
sturdy, dark-eyed Russian violets of my mother's garden, and as they mean
more than any other flower to me, Evan always brings them to me when I
come to town. This morning he trudged out in the snow, hardly thinking
this man would have any, but by mere chance the grower, suspecting snow,
brought in his crop the night before, and in spite of the storm I had the
first morning breath of these flowers of a day.
Miss Lavinia sniffed and sighed, and then buried her aristocratic, but
rather chilly, nose in the mass. "I feel like a young girl with her first
bouquet," she said presently.
"Ah, how good it is to be given something with a meaning. Most people
think that to be able to buy what they wish, within reason, is perfect
happiness, but it isn't. Barbara, you and this man of yours quite
unsettle me and shake my pet theories. You show sides of things in my own
birthplace that I never dreamed of looking up, and you convince me, when
I am on the wane, that married friendship is the only thing worth living
for. It's too bad of you, but fortunately for me the notion passes off
after you have gone away," and Miss Lavinia, after loving her violets a
bit longer, put them in a chubby jug of richly chased old silver. After
breakfast we tried to coax her to bundle up and come with us to
Washington Square to see the crystal trees in all their beauty; but that
was too unorthodox a feat. To plough through snow in rubber boots in the
very heart of the city was entirely too radical a move. She knew people
about the square, and I suppose did not wish to be seen by them, so she
was obliged to content herself with sight of the snow draperies and ice
jewels that decked the trees and shrubs of the doomed back yard.
Even though the storm called a halt in our plans for Miss Lavinia,
Evan and I had a little errand of our own, our annual pilgrimage to
see the auction room where we first met that February afternoon. The
room is not there now, to be sure, but we go to see it all the same,
and have our little thrill and buy something near the place to take
home to the boys, and we shall continue to come each year unless
public improvement causes the thoroughfare itself to be hung up in the
sky, which is quite possible.
Then Evan went down town, and I returned to lunch with Miss Lavinia, for,
if possible, we were to call on Sylvia Latham and ask her to dinner on
the morrow, the last day of our stay. Miss Lavinia proposed to invite
Sylvia to spend the night also, that we might become acquainted upon a
basis less formal than a mere dinner.
Shortly after three o'clock we started in a coupe with two stout horses
driven by a man above suspicion of having "taken anything," at least at
the start. It is a curious fact that eight or ten inches of damp snow
can so nearly paralyze the transportation facilities of a city like New
York, but such is the case. The elevated rails become slippery, the
wheels will not grip, and the entire wheel traffic of the streets
betakes itself to the tracks of the surface lines, where trolley, truck,
and private carriage all move along solemnly in a strange procession,
like a funeral I once saw outside of Paris, where the hearse was
followed by two finely draped carriages, then by the business wagon of
the deceased, filled with employees, the draperies on this arranged so
as not to disturb the sign,--he kept a patisserie,--while a donkey cart,
belonging to the market garden that supplied the deceased with
vegetables, brought up the rear.
In the middle and lower parts of New York the streets and their life
dominate the houses; on the east side of the park the houses dominate the
streets, and the flunkies, whose duty it is either to let you in or
preferably to keep you out of these houses, control the entire
situation. I may in the course of time come to respect or even like some
of these mariners of the Whirlpool, but as a class their servants are
wholly and unendurably objectionable, and the sum of all that is most
The house faced the park. A carpet was spread down the steps, but we
could not conjecture if it was an ordinary custom in bad weather, or if
some function was afoot. Evidently the latter, as I had barely touched
the bell when the door flew open. Two liveried attendants were within,
one turned the door knob and the other presented his tray for the cards,
while in the distance a third, wearing the dress of a butler or
majordomo, stood by closed portieres.
We had asked for Mrs. and Miss Latham, and evidently the combination
caused confusion. No. 1 remained by the front door, No. 2, after a
moment's hesitation, motioned us to seats near the fireplace in the great
reception hall, a room by itself, wainscoted with carved oak, that also
formed the banisters and the railing of a sort of balcony above, while
the walls were hung with rich-hued tapestries, whose colours were
revealed by quaint shield-shaped electroliers of gilded glass. Man No. 3
disappeared within the portieres bearing our cards. In a moment he
reappeared, drew them apart, and stood aside as his mistress swept out,
the same cold blond woman I had seen in the market, but now most
exquisitely clad in a pale gray gown of crepe embroidered with silver
fern fronds and held at the neck by a deep collar of splendid pearls,
pearl rings alone upon her hands, in her hair a spray of silver mistletoe
with pearls for berries. She made an exquisite picture as she advanced
swiftly to meet us, a half smile on her lips and one pink-tipped hand
extended. I love to look at beautiful women, yet the sight of her gave me
a sort of Undine shiver.
"Dear Miss Dorman, so glad to see you, and Mrs. Evan of Oaklands also. I
have seen, but never met you, I believe," she said, giving us her hand in
turn. "I must ask you to the library, (Perkins, Miss Sylvia," she said in
an aside to No. 2, who immediately vanished upstairs,) "and then excuse
myself regretfully, for this is my afternoon for 'bridge,' as Monty Bell
and a friend or two of his are good enough to promise to come and give us
hints. Monty is so useful, you know, and so good-natured. I think you
knew his mother, didn't you, Miss Lavinia? No, Sylvia is not to play; she
is not up enough for 'bridge.' I wish you could persuade her to take
lessons and an interest in the game, for when Lent begins she will be
horribly bored, for there will be a game somewhere every day, and
sometimes two and three, and she will be quite out of it, which is very
ill-advised for a girl in her first winter, and especially when she
starts as late as Sylvia. I'm afraid that I shall have to take her south
to wake her up, and that is not in my schedule this season, I've so much
to oversee at my Oaklands cottage.
"It is a very cold afternoon for you to have come so far, dear Miss
Lavinia; a cup of tea or something? No? Ah, here comes Sylvia, and I know
you will forgive me for going," and Mrs. Latham glided away with a glance
toward the stairs. She evidently was in a desperate hurry to return to
her guests, and yet she spoke slowly, with that delightful southern
deliberation that suits women with pretty mouths so well, and still as I
felt her eyes upon me I knew that to move her in any way against her own
will would be impossible, and that she could never love anything but
herself, and never would.
I did not look at Miss Lavinia in the brief moment before Sylvia entered,
for we were both too well bred to criticise a woman in her own house,
even with our eyes, which had they met would have been inevitable.
At first Sylvia only saw Miss Lavinia, and gathered her into her arms
spontaneously, as if she were the elder, as she was by far the bigger of
the two. Then seeing me, the cards not having been sent up, she
hesitated a moment, colouring shyly, as a girl of sixteen might, and then
straightway greeted me without embarrassment. As we laid aside our wraps
and seated ourselves in a sort of cosey corner nook deep with pillows,
and fur rugs nestling about the feet, I drew my first comfortable breath
since entering, and as Miss Lavinia naturally took the lead in the
conversation, giving her invitation for the next night, I had ample time
to study Sylvia. She was fine looking rather than handsome, a warm
brunette with copper glints threading her brown hair, thick curved
lashes, big brown eyes, a good straight nose, and a decidedly humorous,
but not small mouth, with lips that curled back from even teeth, while
her whole face was punctuated and made winningly feminine by a deep
dimple in the chin and a couple of vagrant ones that played about her
mouth corners when she spoke, as she always did, looking directly at one.
Her hands were long and well shaped, not small, but competent looking, a
great contrast to her mother's, as well as to Miss Lavinia's, that could
slip easily into a five-and-a-half glove. She wore a graceful afternoon
gown of pale blue with lace butterflies on the blouse and skirt, held in
at waist and neck by enamelled butterfly buckles. She moved gracefully,
and had a strong individuality, a warmth of nature that contrasted
keenly with the statuesque perfection of her mother, and I fell to
wondering what her father was like, and if she resembled him.
"Not yet, not until late spring," I heard her say in answer to Miss
Lavinia's question as to whether her father had returned from his
"He is detained by railway business in San Francisco, and cannot go
farther north to settle it until winter breaks. I've written him to ask
leave to join him and perhaps stop awhile at Los Angeles and go up to see
my brother on his Wyoming ranch in May. I do so hope he will let me. I've
tried to coax mamma to go too, she has had such a wearing life this
winter in trying to make it pleasant for me and introduce me to her
friends. I wish I could tell her exactly how much I should prefer to be
more alone with her. I do not want her to think me ungrateful, but to go
out with her to father and pay dear old Carthy a visit would be simply
Then turning to me she said, I thought with a little quiver in her
voice, "They tell me you live with your father, Mrs. Evan--even though
you are married, and I have not seen mine for more than two years, only
think of it!"
Whereat my heart went out to her, and I prayed mentally that her father
might have a broad warm shoulder to pillow her head and a ready ear to
hear her confidences, for the perfectly rounded neck and shell ear of
the mother playing cards in the next room would never give harbour or
heed, I knew.
Sylvia was as pleased as a child at the idea of coming down to spend the
night, stipulating that if it was still cold she should be allowed to
make taffy and put it on the shed to harden, saying, with a pout: "At
school and college there was always somewhere that I could mess with
sticky things and cook, but here it is impossible, though mamma says I
shall have an outdoor tea-room at the Oaklands all to myself, and give
chafing-dish parties, for they are quite the thing. 'The thing' is my
boogy man, I'm afraid. If what you wish to do, no matter how silly,
agrees with it, it's all right, but if it doesn't, all the wisdom of
Solomon won't prevail against those two words."
Man No. 2 at this juncture came in and presented a florist's box and
envelope in a tray, saying, _sotto voce,_ as he did so, "Shall I hopen it
and arrange them, miss, or will you wear them?" for, as the result of
lavish entertaining and many hothouses as well as friends, flowers
showered upon the Latham house at all hours, and both library and hall
were almost too fragrant. Sylvia glanced at the note, saying, "I will
wear them," to the man, handed the card to Miss Lavinia, her face
flushing with pleasure, while No. 2 extracted a modest bunch of
California violets from the paper, handed them to his young mistress, and
retired with the box on his tray.
The name on the card was Horace Bradford, the pencilled address
University Club, on the reverse were the words, "May I give myself the
pleasure of calling to-morrow night? These February violets are in
remembrance of a May ducking. Am in town for two days only on college
"The day that he rowed us on the Avon and reached too far up the bank to
pick you wild violets and the boat shot ahead and he fell into the
water," laughed Miss Lavinia, as pleased as Sylvia at the recollection.
"But I am going to you to-morrow evening," said Sylvia, ruefully at
thought of missing a friend, but quite heart-free, as Miss Lavinia saw.
"Let me take the card, and I will ask him to dinner also," said the
dear, comfortable, prim soul, who was still bubbling over with love of
youth, "and Barbara shall ask her adopted uncle Cortright to keep the
Time, it seems, had flown rapidly. She had barely slipped the card in
her case when the door opened and No. 3 approached solemnly and
whispered, "Mrs. Latham requests, Miss, as how you will come and pour
tea, likewise bringing the ladies, if _still here_!" How those words
_still here_ smote the silence.
We immediately huddled on our wraps, anxious to be gone and spare Sylvia
possible embarrassment, in spite of her protestations. As No. 2 led the
way to the door a gentleman crossed the hall from the card-room and
greeted Sylvia with easy familiarity. He was about forty, a rather
colourless blonde, with clean shaven face of the type so commonly seen
now that it might belong equally either to footman or master. His eyes
had a slantwise expression, but his dress was immaculate.
Strolling carelessly by the girl's side I heard him say, "I came to see
if you needed coaxing; some of the ladies are green over their losses, so
have a care for your eyes." Then he laughed at the wide-eyed look of
wonder she gave him as he begged a violet for his coat.
But Sylvia drew herself up, full an inch above him, and replied,
decidedly, but with perfect good nature, "No, those violets are a message
from Shakespeare,--one does not give such away."
"That is Monty Bell," said Miss Lavinia, tragically, as soon as the
"Is there anything the matter with him except that his colouring is like
a summer squash?" I asked.
"He's been divorced by his wife, and it was her mother that was my
friend, not his, as Mrs. Latham hinted. I know the story; it makes me
shiver to see him near Sylvia." Then Miss Lavinia drew into a shell, in
which she remained until we reached home.
Meanwhile, as we drove in silence, I remembered that Richard's rubber
boots leaked, and I wondered if Martha Corkle would discover it, or if he
was paddling about getting his feet wet and bringing on a sore throat.
But when I got home Evan said he had sent the boots to the bicycle tire
mender's the morning I came away. It was the third night of my stay, and
he would not have known what to make of it if I had not raised some sort
of a ghost.
* * * * *
The sidewalks being clear, we dined at the Laurent, giving Miss Lavinia
a resurrection of French cooking, manners, women, ogling, ventilation,
wine, and music. Then we took her, on the way home, to see some horrible
wax figures, listen to a good Hungarian band, and nearly put her eyes
out with a cinematograph show of the Coronation and Indian Durbar.
Finishing up by brewing French chocolate in the pantry and stirring it
with stick bread, and our guest, in her own house, went to bed fairly
giggling in Gallic gayety, declaring that she felt as if she had spent
the evening on the Paris boulevards, that she liked our New York, and
felt ten years younger.
ENTER A MAN
If I weather my fourth day in town I am apt to grow a trifle waspish,
even though I may not be goaded to the stinging point. This is especially
the case if, as on this recent visit, I am obliged to do any shopping for
myself. Personally, I prefer the rapid transit shopping of ordering by
mail, it avoids so many complications. Having made up your mind what you
need, or perhaps, to speak more truthfully, what you want, for one can
hardly be quite content with mere necessities until one grows either so
old or shapeless that everything is equally unbecoming, samples are
forthcoming, from which an intelligent selection can be made without the
demoralizing effect of glib salespeople upon one's judgment.
I know my own shortcomings by heart, and I should never have
deliberately walked into temptation yesterday morning if Lavinia Dorman
had not said that she wished my advice. Last year I went with the
intention of buying substantial blue serge for an outing gown, and was
led astray by some gayly flowered muslins. I have a weakness for gay
colours, especially red. These when made up Evan pronounced "extremely
pretty--in the abstract"--which is his way of saying that a thing is
either unsuitable or very unbecoming. When I went to father, hoping for
consolation, he was even less charitable, remarking that he thought now
long lines were more suitable and graceful for me than bunches and
bowknots. True, the boys admired the most thickly flowered gown
immensely for a few minutes, Richard bringing me a posy to match for my
hair, while Ian walked about me in silence which he broke suddenly with
the trenchant remark--"Barbara, I think your dwess would be prettier if
it was weeded some!"
All of which is of course perfectly true. I have not been growing
thinner all these six years, but this morning, in stooping over one of
the cold frames to see how the plants within had weathered the storm, it
came quite as a shock to me to feel that, like Martin Cortright, I am
getting stout and in the way of myself when I bend, like an impediment
in a door hinge.
However, as Miss Lavinia desired guidance in buying some real country
clothes, I felt it my duty to give it. She is already making elaborate
preparations for her visit to me. It seems strange, that simplicity is
apparently one of the most laborious things in the world to those
unaccustomed to it, yet so it is.
She is about to make her initial venture in shirtwaists, and she
approaches them with as much caution as if she were experimenting with
tights and trunks. The poor little seamstress who is officiating has, to
my certain knowledge, tried one waist on five times, because, as Miss
Lavinia does not "feel it," she thinks it cannot fit properly.
Never mind, she will get over all that, of course. The plan that she has
formed of spending five or six months in the real country must appear
somewhat in the light of a revolution to her, and the preparation of a
special uniform and munitions for the campaign a necessary precaution.
Her present plan is to come to me for May, then, if the life suits her,
she will either take a small house that one of our farmer neighbours
often rents for the summer months, or else, together with her maid, Lucy,
board at one of the hill farms.
I have told her plainly (for what is friendship worth if one may not be
frank) that if after trial we agree with each other, I hope she will
stay with us all the season; but as for her maid, I myself will supply
her place, if need be, and Effie do her mending, for I could not have
Perhaps it may be very narrow and provincial, but to harbour other
people's servants seems to me like inviting contagion and subjecting
one's kitchen to all the evils of boarding house atmosphere.
I used to think last summer, when I saw the arrival of various men and
maids belonging to guests of the Bluff Colony, that I should feel much
more at ease in the presence of royalty, and that I could probably
entertain Queen Alexandra at dinner with less shock to her nerves and
traditions than one of these ladies' maids or gentlemen's gentlemen.
Martha Corkle expresses her opinion freely upon this subject, and I must
confess to being a willing listener, for she does not gossip, she
portrays, and often with a masterly touch. The woes of her countrywoman,
the Ponsonby's housekeeper, often stir her to the quick. The Ponsonby
household is perhaps one of the most "difficult" on the Bluffs, because
its members are of widely divergent ages. The three Ponsonby girls range
from six to twenty-two, with a college freshman son second from the
beginning, while Josephine, sister of the head of the family, though
quite Miss Lavinia's age, is the gayest of the gay, and almost outdoes
her good-naturedly giddy sister-in-law.
"It's just hawful, Mrs. Evan," Martha said one day, when, judging by the
contents of the station 'bus and baggage wagon, almost the entire
Ponsonby house staff must have left at a swoop; "my eyes fairly bleeds
for poor Mrs. Maggs" (the housekeeper), "that they do. 'Twas bad enough
in the old country, where we knew our places, even though some was
ambitioned to get out of them; but here it's like blind man's buff, and
enough to turn a body giddy. Mrs. Maggs hasn't a sittin' room of her own
where she and the butler and the nurse can have their tea in peace or
entertain guests, but she sets two tables in the servants' hall, and a
pretty time she has of it.
"The kitchen maid and the laundress's assistant wait on the first table;
but one day when, the maid of one of Miss Ponsonby's friends comin' down
over late, she was served _with_ instead o' _by_ them, she gave Mrs.
Maggs the 'orriblest settin' down, as not knowin' her business in puttin'
a lady's lady with servants' servants, the same which Mrs. Maggs does
know perfectly (accidents bein' unpreventable), bein' child of Lord
Peacock's steward and his head nurse, and swallowin' it all in with her
mother's milk, so to speak, not borrowin' it second hand as some of the
great folks on the Bluffs themselves do from their servants, not feelin'
sure of the kerrect thing, yet desirin' so to do. Mrs. Maggs, poor body,
she has more mess with that servants' hall first table than with all the
big dinners the master gives.
"'Mrs. Corkle,' says she, bein' used to that name, besides Corkle bein'
kin to her husband, 'what I sets before my own household, as it were,
they leaves or they eats, it's one to me; but company's got to be handled
different, be it upstairs or down, for the name of the 'ouse, but when
Mr. Jollie, the French valet that comes here frequent with the master's
partner, wants dripped coffee and the fat scraped clean from his chop
shank, else the flavour's spoiled for him, and Bruce the mistress'
brother's man wants boiled coffee, and thick fat left on his breakfast
ham, what stands between my poor 'ead and a h'assleyum? that's what I
wants to know. Three cooks I've had this very season, it really bein' the
duty of the first kitchen maid to cook for the servants' hall; but if a
cook is suited to a kitchen maid, as is most important, she'll stand by
her. No, Martha Corkle, wages is 'igh, no doubt,--fortunes to what they
were when we were gells,--but not 'igh for the worry; and bein' in
service ain't what it were.'"
Then I knew that Martha, even as her bosom heaves over her friend's
grievances, was also sighing with content at thought of Timothy Saunders
and her own lot; and I recalled the Lady of the Bluffs' passing remark,
and felt that I am only beginning to realize the deliciousness of
* * * * *
Miss Lavinia and I spent some time browsing among the shops, finally
bringing up at an old conservative dry goods concern in Broadway, the
most satisfactory place to shop in New York, because there is never a
crowd, and the salesmen, many of them grown gray in the service, take an
Old World interest in their wares and in you.
While I was trying to convince Miss Lavinia as to the need of the
serviceable, she was equally determined to decoy me toward the frivolous;
and I yielded, I may say fell, to the extent of buying a white crepey
sort of pattern gown that had an open work white lilac pattern
embroidered on it. It certainly was very lovely, and it is nice to have a
really good gown in reserve, even if a plainer one that will stand
hugging, sticky fingers, and dogs' damp noses is more truly enjoyable.
N.B.--I must get over apologizing to myself when I buy respectable
clothes. It savours too much of Aunt Lot's old habit of saying, every
time she bought a best gown, and I remonstrated with her for the colour
(it was always black in those days; since she's married the Reverend
Jabez she's taken to greens), "When I consider that a black dress would
be suitable to be buried in, it seems less like a vain luxury."
We were admiring the dainty muslins, but only in the "abstract," when I
looked up, conscious that some one was coming directly toward us, and saw
Sylvia Latham crossing the shop from the door, her rapid, swinging gait
bringing her to us before short-sighted Miss Lavinia had a chance to
raise her lorgnette.
Sylvia was genuinely glad to see us, and she expressed it both by look
and speech, without the slightest symptom of gush, yet with the confiding
manner of one who craves companionship. I had, in fact, noticed the same
thing during our call the afternoon before.
"Well, and what are we buying to-day?" asked Miss Lavinia, clearing her
voice by a little caressing sound halfway between a purr and a cluck, and
patting the hand that lingered affectionately on hers.
"I really--don't--know," answered Sylvia, smiling at her own hesitation.
"Mamma says that if I do not get my clothes together before people begin
to come back from the South, I shall be nowhere, so she took me with
her to Mme. Couteaux's this morning. Mamma goes there because she says
it saves so much trouble. Madame keeps a list of every article her
customers have, and supplies everything, even down to under linen and
hosiery, so she has made for mamma a plan of exactly what she would need
for next season, and after having received her permission, will at once
begin to carry it out. Of course the clothes will be very beautiful and
harmonious, and mamma has so much on her hands, now that father is
away,--the new cottage at Oaklands is being furnished, and me to
initiate in the way I'm supposed to go,--that it certainly simplifies
matters for her.
"Me? Ah, I do not like the system at all, or Madame Couteaux either, and
the feeling is mutual, I assure you. Without waiting to be asked, even,
she looked me over from head to foot and said that my lines are very bad,
that I curve in and out at the wrong places, that I must begin at once by
wearing higher heels to throw me forward!
"At first I was indignant, and then the ludicrous climbed uppermost, and
I laughed, whereat Madame looked positively shocked, and even mamma
seemed aghast and murmured something apologetic about my having been at
boarding-school in the country, and at college, where I had ridden
horseback without proper instruction, which had injured my figure. Only
imagine, Aunt Lavinia, those glorious gallops among the Rockcliffe Hills
hurting one's body in any way! But then, I suppose body and figure are
wholly different things; at any rate, Madame Couteaux gave a shrug, as if
shedding all responsibility for my future from her fat shoulders, and so,
while mamma is there, I am taking a run out in the cold world of raw
material and observing for myself.
"Of course I shall make mistakes, but I have had everything done for me
to such an extent, during the last four months, that I really must make a
point of picking and choosing for once. I've had a mad desire since the
last storm to stir up the pools in the gutters with my best shoes, as the
happy little children do with their rubber boots. How I shall enjoy it
when we go to Oaklands, and there is really something to _do_ instead of
merely being amused.
"By the way, Mrs. Evan, won't you and Miss Lavinia join us at luncheon?
We are to have it somewhere downtown, to-day,--the Waldorf, I
believe,--as mamma expects to spend most of the afternoon at the
decorators, to see the designs for the Oaklands hangings and furniture,
and," glancing at the big clock, between the lifts, as Miss Lavinia made
her last purchase, "it's high time for me to go and pick her up."
Having a feeling that possibly mamma might not be so cordial, in addition
to being due at home for more shirtwaist fittings, Miss Lavinia declined,
and reminding Sylvia that dinner would be at the old-fashioned hour of
half-past six, we drifted out the door together, Sylvia going toward
Fifth Avenue, while we turned the corner and sauntered down Broadway,
pausing at every attractive window.
Miss Lavinia's short-sightedness caused her to bump into a man, who was
intently gazing, from the height of six feet, at jewelled bugs, displayed
in the window of a dealer in Oriental wares.
The man, thinking himself to blame, raised his hat in apology, glancing
casually down as he did so, whereupon the hat remained off, and he and
Miss Lavinia grasped hands with sudden enthusiasm, followed by a medley
of questions and answers, so that before she remembered me, and turned to
introduce the stranger, I knew that it was Horace Bradford himself. A
strange, but positive, fact about New York is that one may at one time be
in it but a few hours and run across half the people of one's
acquaintance, gathered from all parts of the country, and at another,
wander about for weeks without seeing a familiar face.
I liked Bradford from the moment I shook hands with him. There is so much
in the mere touching of hands. His neither crushed as if to compel, nor
flopped equivocally, but said, as it enclosed yours in its bigness, "I am
here, command me."
Broadway, during shopping hours, is not an ideal place for the
interchange of either ideas, or more, even, than the merest
courtesies; but after thanking Miss Lavinia for the dinner invitation,
to which he had just sent the answer, and inquiring for Sylvia Latham,
as he walked beside us for a block or two, it was very evident that he
had something on his mind that he wished to say, and did not know how
to compass the matter.
As he talked to Miss Lavinia in jerky monosyllables,--the only speech
that the noise made possible,--I had a chance to look at him. He did not
possess a single feature of classic proportions, and yet he was a
handsome man, owing to the illumination of his face. Brown, introspective
eyes, with a merry way of shutting; heavy, dark hair and brows, and a few
thoughtful lines here and there; mustache pulled down at the corners, as
if by the unconscious weight of a nervously strong hand; and a firm jaw,
but not squared to the point that suggests the dominance of the
physical. He wore a dark gray Inverness coat, evidently one of the fruits
of his English tour, and a well-proportioned soft felt hat, set on
firmly, the crown creased in the precise way necessary to justify the
city use of the article by a man of thirty. He seemed to be in excellent,
almost boyish spirits, and so natural and wholesome withal, that I am
sure I should not feel at all embarrassed at finding myself alone with
him on a desert island. This is one of my pet similes of approval.
Finally he blurted out: "Miss Lavinia, I do so wish your advice upon a
strictly woman's matter; one, however, that is of great importance to me.
I shall have to take the night express back, and this is the only time I
have left. Would you--could we go in somewhere, do you think, and have
something while I explain?"
Miss Lavinia looked dubious as to whether his invitation might mean
drinks, man fashion, or luncheon. But as at that moment we reached the
chief New York residence of well-born ice cream soda, for which I always
hanker, in spite of snow and slush, much to Evan's disgust, I relieved
the situation by plunging in, saying that I was even more thirsty in
winter than in summer. Whereat Miss Lavinia shivered, but cheerfully
resigned herself to hot chocolate. "The matter in point is," continued
Bradford, feeling boyishly of one of the blocks of ice that decorated the
counter to find if it was real, and speaking directly to Miss Lavinia,
"I've had a great happiness come into my life this last week; something
that I did not expect to happen for years. My chief has retired, and I
have been promoted. I will not take your time to go selfishly into
details now. I can tell you to-night, if you care to hear. I cannot go
home until the Easter holidays, and so I want to send something to my
mother by way of celebration. Would you select it for me?" and the big
fellow swept the shop with an indefinite sort of gaze, as if buying candy
for the universe would but feebly express his feelings.
"Certainly I will," replied Miss Lavinia, warming at once;--"but what
kind of something?"
"I think,"--hesitating a trifle,--"a very good gown, and an ornament of
"Would she not prefer choosing the gown herself? People's tastes differ
so much about clothing," ventured Miss Lavinia, willing, even anxious, to
help the man, yet shrinking from the possibility of feminine criticism.
"No, I think not; that is, it doesn't work well. Beforetimes I've often
written her to buy some little finery to wear for my sake, but my gift
has generally been turned into flannels for poor children or to restock
the chickenyard of some unfortunate neighbour whose fowls have all died
of gapes. While if I send her the articles themselves, she will prize and
wear them, even if the gown was a horse blanket and the ornament a
Plymouth Rock rooster to wear on her head. You know how mothers are about
buying things for themselves, don't you, Mrs. Evan?" he said, turning to
me, that I need not consider myself excluded from the conversation.
"I have no mother, but I have two little sons," I answered.
"Ah, then you will know as soon as they grow old enough to wish to buy
things for you," and somehow the soda water flew up my nose, and I had to
grope for my handkerchief.
Miss Lavinia evidently did not like to ask Mrs. Bradford's age, so she
evaded it by asking, "Does your mother wear colours or black, Mr.
"She has worn black ever since my father died; for the last ten years, in
fact. I wish I could persuade her to adopt something that looks more
cheerful, for she is the very essence of cheerfulness herself. Do you
think this would be a good time to give a sort of hint by choosing a
coloured gown,--a handsome blue silk, for instance?" "I know precisely
how you feel," said Miss Lavinia, laying her hand upon his sleeve
sympathetically, "men never like mourning; but still I advise you not to
try the experiment or force the change. A brocaded black silk gown, with
a pretty lace fichu to soften it about the shoulders, and a simple pin to
hold it together at the neck,--how would that suit you?" As she spoke she
waved her dainty hands about so expressively in a way of her own that I
could seem to see the folds of the material drape themselves.
"That is it! You have exactly the idea that I could not formulate. How
clever women are!" he exclaimed, and for a minute I really thought he was
going to hug Miss Lavinia.
"One other favour. Will you buy these things for me? I always feel so out
of place and cowardly in the women's shops where such things are sold.
Will $100 be enough, think you?" he added a trifle anxiously, I thought,
as he drew a small envelope from a compartment of his letter book, where
it had evidently been stowed away for this special purpose.
"Yes, I can manage nicely with it," replied Miss Lavinia, cheerfully;
"and now you must leave us at once, so that we can do this shopping, and
not be too late for luncheon. Remember, dinner to-night at 6:30." "One
thing more," he said, as we turned to leave, "I shall not now have time
to present my respects to Miss Latham's mother as I intended; do you
think that she will hold me very rude? I remember that Miss Sylvia once
said her mother was very particular in matters of etiquette,--about her
going out unchaperoned and all that,--and should not wish her to feel
slighted." Miss Lavinia assured him very dryly that he need not worry
upon that score, that no notice would be taken of the omission. Not
saying, however, that in all probability he was entirely unconsidered,
ranked as a tutor and little better than a governess by the elder woman,
even if Sylvia had spoken of him as her instructor.
So, after holding open the heavy doors for us, he strode off down town,
the bright smile still lingering about his eyes, while we retraced our
steps to the shop we had visited early that morning, and then down
again to a jeweller's. The result was a dress pattern of soft black
silk, brocaded with a small leafy design, a graceful lace-edged, muslin
fichu, and an onyx bar pin upon which three butterflies were outlined
by tiny pearls.
"Isn't he a dear fellow?" asked Miss Lavinia, apparently of a big gray
truck horse that blocked the way as we waited at the last crossing before
reaching home. And I replied, "He certainly is," with rash but
unshakable feminine conviction.
Sylvia came that afternoon well before dark, a trim footman following
from the brougham with her suitcase and an enormous box of forced early
spring flowers, hyacinths, narcissi, tulips, English primroses,
lilies-of-the-valley, white lilacs, and some yellow wands of Forsythia,
"with Mrs. Latham's compliments to Miss Dorman."
"What luxury!" exclaimed Miss Lavinia, turning out the flowers upon the
table in the tea room where she kept her window garden, "and how pale and
spindling my poor posies look in comparison. Are these from the Bluffs?"
"Oh no, from Newport," replied Sylvia. "There is to be no glass at the
Bluffs, only an outdoor garden, mamma says, that will not be too much
trouble to keep up. Mrs. Jenks-Smith was dining at the house last night,
and told me what a lovely garden you have, Mrs. Evan, and I thought
perhaps, if we do not go to California to meet father, but go to Oaklands
early in April, you might be good enough to come up and talk my garden
over with me. The landscape architect has, I believe, made a plan for the
beds and walks about the house, but I am to have an acre or two of
ground on the opposite side of the highway quite to myself.
"Oh, please don't squeeze those tulips into the tight high vases, Aunt
Lavinia," she said, going behind that lady and giving her a hug with one
arm, while she rescued the tulips with the other hand; for Miss Lavinia,
feeling hurried and embarrassed by the quantity of flowers, was jumbling
them at random into very unsuitable receptacles.
"May I arrange the dinner table," Sylvia begged, "like a Dutch garden,
with a path all around, beds in the corners, and those dear little silver
jugs and the candlesticks for a bower in the middle?
"A month ago," she continued, as she surveyed the table at a glance and
began to work with charming enthusiasm, "mamma was giving a very
particular dinner. She had told the gardener to send on all the flowers
that could possibly be cut, so that there were four great hampers full;
but owing to some mistake Darley, the florist, who always comes to
decorate the rooms, did not appear. We telephoned, and the men flew
about, but he could not be found, and mamma was fairly pale with anxiety,
as Mrs. Center, who gives the swell dinner dances, was to dine with her
for the first time, and it was important to make an impression, so that
_I_ might be invited to one or possibly more of these affairs, and so
receive a sort of social hall mark, without which, it seems, no young New
York woman is complete. I didn't know the whole of the reason then, to be
sure, or very possibly I should not have worked so hard. Still, poor
mamma is so in earnest about all these little intricacies, and thinks
them so important to my happiness and fate, or something else she has in
view, that I am trying not to undeceive her until the winter is over."
Sylvia spoke with careless gayety, which was to my mind somehow belied by
the expression of her eyes.
"I asked Perkins to get out the Dutch silver, toys and all, that mamma
has been collecting ever since I can remember, and bring down a long
narrow mirror in a plain silver frame that backs my mantel shelf. Then I
begged mother to go for her beauty sleep and let me wrestle with the
flowers, also to be sure to wear her new Van Dyck gown to dinner.
"This was not according to her plan, but she went perforce. I knew that
she felt extremely dubious, and, trembling at my rashness, I set at work
to make a Dutch flower garden, with the mirror for a canal down the
centre. Perkins and his understudies, Potts and Parker, stood watching me
with grim faces, exchanging glances that seemed to question my sanity
when I told Parker to go out to the corner where I had seen workmen that
afternoon dump a load of little white pebbles, such as are used in
repairing the paving, and bring me in a large basketful. But when the
garden was finished, with the addition of the little Delft windmills I
brought home, and the family of Dutch peasant dolls that we bought at the
Antwerp fair, Perkins was absolutely moved to express his approval."
"What effect did the garden have upon the dance invitations?" asked Miss
Lavinia, highly amused, and also more eager to hear of the doings of
society than she would care to confess.
"Excellent! Mrs. Center asked mother who her decorator was, and said she
should certainly employ him; which, it seems, was a compliment so rare
that it was equivalent to the falling of the whole social sky at my feet,
Mr. Bell said, who let the secret out. I was invited to the last two of
the series,--for they come to a conspicuous stop and turn into theatre
parties when Lent begins,--and I really enjoyed myself, the only drawback
being that so few of the really tall and steady men care for dancing.
Most of my partners were very short, and loitered so, that I felt
top-heavy, and it reminded me of play-days, when I used to practise
waltzing with the library fire tongs. I dislike long elaborate
dinners, though mamma delights in them, and says one may observe so much
that is useful, but I do like to dance with a partner who moves, and not
simply progresses in languid ripples, for dancing is one of the few
indoor things that one is allowed to do for oneself.
"Now, Aunt Lavinia, you see the garden is all growing and blowing, and
there are only enough tulips left for the Rookwood jars in the library,"
Sylvia said, stepping back to look at the table, "and a few for us to
wear. Lilies-of-the-valley for you, pink tulips for you, Mrs. Evan,--they
will soon close, and look like pointed rosebuds,--yellow daffies to match
my gown, and you must choose for the two men I do not know. I'll take a
tuft of these primroses for Mr. Bradford, and play they grew wild. We
always joked him about these flowers at college until 'The Primrose' came
to be his nickname among ourselves. Why?
"One day when he was lecturing to us on Wordsworth, and reading
examples of different styles and metres, he finished a rather
sentimental phrase with
"'A primrose by a river's brim
A yellow primrose was to him
And it was nothing more.'
"Suddenly, the disparity between the bigness of the reader and the
slimness of the verse overcame me, and catching his eye, I laughed aloud.
Of course, the entire class followed in a chorus, which he, catching the
point, joined heartily. It sounds silly now, but it seemed very funny at
the time; and it is such little points that make events at school, and
even at college."
"Mr. Bradford told me some news this morning," said Miss Lavinia, walking
admiringly about the table as she spoke. "He is Professor Bradford, of
the University, not merely the women's college now, or rather will be at
the beginning of the next term."
"That is pleasant news. I wonder how old Professor Jameson happened to
step out, and why none of the Rockcliffe girls have written me about it."
"He did not tell me any details; said that they would keep until
to-night. We met him in the street this morning, immediately after we
left you," and Miss Lavinia gave a brief account of our shopping.
"That sounds quite like him. All his air castles seemed to be built about
his mother and the old farm at Pine Ridge. He has often told me how easy
it would be to get back the house to the colonial style, with wide
fireplaces, that it was originally, and he always had longings to be in a
position to coax his mother to come to Northbridge for the winter, and
keep a little apartment for him. Perhaps he will be able to do both now."
Sylvia spoke with keen but quite impersonal interest, and looking at her
I began to wonder if here might not, after all, be the comrade type of
woman in whose existence I never before believed,--feminine,
sympathetic, buoyant, yet capable of absolutely rational and unemotional
friendship with a man within ten years of her own age. But after all it
is common enough to find the first half of such a friendship, it is the
unit that is difficult; and I had then had no opportunity of seeing the
We went upstairs together, and lingered by the fire in Miss Lavinia's
sitting room before going to make ready for dinner. The thaw of the
morning was again locked by ice, and it was quite a nippy night for the
season. I, revelled mentally in the fact that my dinner waist was crimson
in colour, and abbreviated only in the way of elbow sleeves, and the
pretty low corn-coloured crepe bodice that I saw Lucy unpacking from
Sylvia's suit case quite made me shiver.
The only light in Miss Lavinia's den, other than the fire, was a low
lamp, with a soft-hued amber shade, so that the room seemed to draw close
about one like protecting arms, country fashion, instead of seeking to
turn one out, which is the feeling that so many of the stately apartments
in the great city houses give me.
When I am indoors I want space to move and breathe in, of course, but I
like to feel intrenched; and only when I open the door and step outside,
do I wish to give myself up to space, for Nature is the only one who
really knows how to handle vastness without overdoing it.
As we sat there in silence I watched the play of firelight on
Sylvia's face, and the same thought seemed to cross it as she closed
her eyes and nestled back in Miss Lavinia's funny little fat sewing
chair, that was like a squab done in upholstery. Then, as the clock
struck six, she started, rubbed her eyes, and crossed the hall to her
room half in a dream.
"She is as like her Grandmother Latham when I first saw her, as a girl
of twenty-one can be like a woman of fifty," said Miss Lavinia, from the
lounge close at my elbow. "Not in colouring or feature, but in poise
and gesture. The Lathams were of Massachusetts stock, and have, I
imagine, a good deal of the Plymouth Rock mixture in their back-bones.
Her father has the reputation, in fact, of being all rock, if not quite
of the Plymouth variety. Well, I think she will need it, poor child;
that is, if any of the rumours that are beginning to float in the air
settle to the ground."
"Meaning what?" I asked, half unconsciously, and paying little heed,
for I then realized that the daily letter from father had not arrived;
and Lucy at that moment came in, lit the lamps, and began to rattle
the hair-brushes in Miss Lavinia's bedroom, which I took as a signal
for me to leave.
The door-bell rang. It was Evan; but before I met him halfway on the
stairs, he called up: "I telephoned home an hour ago, and they are all
well. The storm held over last night there. Father says it was the most
showy snow they have had for years, and he was delayed in getting his
letter to the post."
"Is that all?" I asked, as I got down far enough to rest my hands on his
"Yes; the wires buzzed badly and did not encourage gossip. Ah!" (this
with an effort to appear as if it was an afterthought), "I told him I
thought that you would not wait for me tomorrow, but probably go home on
the 9:30. Not that I really committed you to it if you have other plans!"
* * * * *
Martin Cortright appeared some five minutes before Horace Bradford. As it
chanced, when the latter came in the door Sylvia was on the stairs, so
that her greeting and hearty handshake were given looking down at him,
and she waited in the hall, in a perfectly unembarrassed way, as a matter
of course, while he freed himself from his heavy coat. His glance at the
tall girl, who came down from the darkness above, in her shimmering gown,
with golden daffies in her hair and on her breast, like a beam of
wholesome sunshine, was full of honest, personal admiration. If it had
been otherwise I should have been disappointed in the man's completeness.
Then, looking at them from out of the library shadows, I wondered what he
would have thought if his entry had been at the Latham home instead of at
Miss Lavinia's, how he would have passed the ordeal of Perkins, Potts,
and Parker, and if his spontaneity would have been marred by the
Perhaps he would have been oblivious. Some men have the happy gift of
not being annoyed by things that are thorns in the flesh to otherwise
quite independent women. Father, however, is always amused by flunkies,
and treats them as an expected part of the show; even as the jovial
Autocrat did when, at a grand London house, "it took full six men in red
satin knee-breeches" to admit him and his companion.
Bradford did not wear an evening suit; neither did he deem apology
necessary. If he thought of the matter at all, which I doubt, he
evidently considered that he was among friends, who would make whatever
excuses were necessary from the circumstances of his hurried trip.
Then we went in to the dining-room, Miss Lavinia leading with Martin
Cortright, as the most recent acquaintance, and therefore formal guest,
the rest of us following in a group. Miss Lavinia, of course, took the
head of the table, Evan opposite, and the two men, Cortright on her right
and Bradford on her left, making Sylvia and me vis-a-vis.
The men appropriated their buttonhole flowers naturally. Martin smiled at
my choice for him, which was a small, but chubby, red and yellow,
uncompromising Dutch tulip, far too stout to be able to follow its family
habit of night closing, except to contract itself slightly. Evan
caressed his lilies-of-the-valley lightly with his finger-tips as he
fastened them in place, but Bradford broke into a boyish laugh, and then
blushed to the eyes, when he saw the tiny bunch of primroses, saying:
"You have a long memory, Miss Sylvia, yet mine is longer. May I have a
sprig of that, too?" and he reached over a big-boned hand to where the
greenhouse-bred wands of yellow Forsythia were laid in a formal pattern
bordering the paths. "That is the first flower that I remember. A great
bush of it used to grow in a protected spot almost against the kitchen
window at home; and when I see a bit of it in a strange place, for a
minute I collapse into the little chap in outrageous gathered trousers,
who used to reach out the window for the top twigs, that blossomed
earliest, so as to be the first to carry 'yellow bells' to school for a
teacher that I used to think was Venus and Minerva rolled in one. I saw
her in Boston the other day, and the Venus hallucination is shattered,
but the yellow bells look just the same, proving--"
"That every prospect pleases
And man (or woman) alone is vile,"
Grape fruit, with a dash of sherry, or the more wholesome sloe-gin, is
Miss Lavinia's compromise with the before-dinner cocktail of society,
that is really very awakening to both brain and digestion; and before the
quaint silver soup tureen had disappeared, even Martin Cortright had not
only come wholly out of his shell, but might have been said to have
fairly perched on top of it, before starting on a reminiscent career with
his hostess, beginning at one of the monthly meetings of the Historical
Society; for though Martin's past belonged more to the "Second Avenue"
faction of the old east side, and Miss Lavinia to the west, among the
environs of what had once been Greenwich and Chelsea villages, they had
trodden the same paths, though not at the same time. While Sylvia and the
"Professor," as she at once began to call him, picked up the web of the
college loom that takes in threads of silk, wool, and cotton, and mixing
or separating them at random, turns out garments of complete fashion and
pattern, or misfits full of false starts or dropped stitches that not
only hamper the wearers, but sometimes their families, for life. All that
Evan and I had to do was to maintain a sympathetic silence, kept by
occasional ejaculations and murmurs from growing so profound as to cause
a draught at our corner of the table. "Yes, we used to go there
regularly," I heard Miss Lavinia say; "when we were girls Eleanor
(Barbara's mother) and I attended the same school--Miss Black's,--Eleanor
being a boarding and I a day pupil and a clergyman's daughter also,
which, in those days, was considered a sort of patent of respectability.
Miss Black used to allow her to spend the shorter holidays with me and go
to those historical lectures as a matter of course. We never publicly
mentioned the fact that Eleanor also liked to come to my house to get
thoroughly warmed and take a bath, as one of Miss Black's principles of
education was that feminine propriety and cold rooms were synonymous, and
the long room with a glass roof, sacred to bathing, was known as the
'refrigerator'; but those atrocities that were committed in the name of
education have fortunately been stopped by education itself. I don't
think that either of us paid much attention to the lectures; the main
thing was to get out and go somewhere; yet I don't think any other later
good times were as breathlessly fascinating.
"Mother seldom went, the hermetically sealed, air-proof architecture of
the place not agreeing with her; so father, Eleanor, and I used to walk
over, crossing the head of Washington Square, until, as we passed St.
Mark's Church and reached the steps of the building, we often headed a
procession as sedate and serious as if going to Sunday meeting, for there
were fewer places to go in those days. Once within, we usually crept well
up front, for my father was one of the executive committee who sat in the
row of chairs immediately facing the platform, and to be near him added
several inches to my stature and importance, at least in my own
estimation. Then, too, there was always the awesome and fascinating
possibility that one of these honourable personages might fall audibly
asleep, or slip from his chair in a moment of relaxation. Such events had
been known to occur. In fact, my father's habit of settling down until
his neck rested upon the low chair back, made the slipping accident a
perpetual possibility in his case.
"Then, when the meeting was called to order, and the minutes read with
many h-hems and clearings of the throat, and the various motions put to
vote with the mumbled 'All-in-favour-of-the-motion-will-please-signify-
by-saying-Ay! Contrary-minded-no-the-motion-is-accepted!' that some one
would only say 'No' was our perpetual wish, and we even once meditated
doing it ourselves, but could not decide which should take the risk.
"Another one of our amusements was to give odd names to the dignitaries
who presided. One with lurching gait, erectile whiskers, and blinking
eyes we called 'The Owl'; while another, a handsome old man of the
'Signer' type, pink-cheeked, deep eyed, with a fine aquiline nose, we
named 'The Eagle.'"
"Oh, I know whom you mean, exactly!" cried Martin, throwing back his head
and laughing as heartily as Bradford might; "and 'The Owl' was supposed
to have intentions of perpetuating his name by leaving the society money
enough for a new building, but he didn't. But then, he doubtless
inherited his thrift from the worthy ancestors of the ilk of those men
who utilized trousers for a land measure. Do you also remember the
discussions that followed the reading of paper or lecture? Sometimes
quite heated ones too, if the remarks had ventured to even graze the
historical bunions that afflicted the feet of many old families."
"No, I think we were too anxious to have the meeting declared adjourned
to heed such things. How we stretched ourselves; the physical oppression
that had been settling for an hour or two lifting suddenly as we got on
our feet and felt that we might speak in our natural voices.
"Then father would say, 'You may go upstairs and examine the curiosities
before joining us in the basement,' and we would go up timidly and
inspect the Egyptian mummy. I wonder how he felt last year when there was
a reception in the hall and a band broke the long stillness with 'The Gay
Tomtit.' Was ever such chocolate or such sandwiches served in equally
sepulchral surroundings as in the long room below stairs. I remember
wondering if the early Christians ever lunched in the catacombs, and how
they felt; and I should not have been surprised if Lazarus himself had
appeared in one of the archways trailing his graveclothes after him, so
strong was the spell of the mummy upon us.
"It seems really very odd that you were one of those polite young men who
used sometimes to pass the plates of sandwiches to us where we stayed
hidden in a corner so that the parental eye need not see how many we
Thus did Martin Cortright and Miss Lavinia meet on common ground and
drift into easy friendship which it would have taken years of
conventional intercourse to accomplish, while opposite, the talk between
Sylvia and Bradford dwelt upon the new professorship and Sylvia's
roommate of two years, who, instead of being able to remain and finish
the course which was to fit her for gaining nominal independence through
teaching, had been obliged to go home and take charge, owing to her
"Yes, Professor Jameson's decision to give all his time to outside
literary work was very sudden," I heard Bradford say. "I thought that it
might happen two or three years hence; but to find myself now not only in
possession of a salary of four thousand dollars a year (hardly a fortune
in New York, I suppose), but also freed this season from being tied at
Northbridge to teach in the summer school, and able to be at home in
peace and quiet and get together my little book of the 'Country of the
English Poets,' seems to me almost unbelievable."
"I have been wondering how the book was coming on, for you never wrote of
it," answered Sylvia. "I have been trying all winter, without success, to
arrange my photographs in scrap-books with merely names and dates. But
though, as I look back over the four months, everything has been done for
me, even to the buttoning of my gloves, while I've seemingly done nothing
for any one, I've barely had a moment that I could call my own."
"I do not think that it is strange, after having been away practically
for six years, that family life and your friends should absorb you.
Doubtless you will have time now that Lent has come," said Bradford,
smiling. "Of course we country Congregationalists do not treat the
season as you Anglican Catholics do, and I've often thought it rather a
pity. It must be good to have a stated time and season for stopping and
sitting down to look at oneself. I picked up one of your New York church
papers in the library the other day, and was fairly surprised at the
number of services and the scope of the movement and the work of the
church in general."
Sylvia looked at him for a moment with an odd expression in her eyes, as
if questioning the sincerity of his remarks, and then answered, I thought
a little sadly: "I'm afraid it is very much like other things we read of
in the papers, half truth, half fiction; the churches and the services
are there, and the good earnest people, too--but as for our stopping! Ah,
Mr. Bradford, I can hardly expect to make you understand how it is, for I
cannot myself. It was all so different before I went to boarding school,
and we lived down in the house in Waverley Place where I was born. The
people of mamma's world do not stop; we simply whirl to a slightly
different tune. It's like waltzing one way around a ballroom until you
are quite dizzy, and then reversing,--there is no sitting down to rest,
that is, unless it is to play cards."
"Yet whist is a restful game in itself," said Bradford, cheerfully; "an
evening of whist, with even fairly intelligent partners, I've always
found a great smoother-out of nerves and wrinkles."
"They do not play it that way here," answered Sylvia, laughing, in spite
of herself, at his quiet assumption. "It's 'bridge' for money or
expensive prizes; and compared to the excitement it causes, the
tarantella is a sitting-down dance. I'm too stupid with cards to take the
risk of playing; even mamma does not advise it yet, though she wishes to
have me coached. So I shall have some time to myself after all, for my
defect puts me out of three Lenten card clubs to which mamma belongs, two
of which meet at our house. That leaves only two sewing classes, three
Lenten theatre clubs (one for lunch and matinee and two for dinner and
the evening), and Mr. Bell's cake-walk club, that practises with a
teacher at our house on Monday evenings. The club is to have a
semi-public performance at the Waldorf for charity, in Easter week, and
as the tickets are to be ten dollars each, they expect to make a great
deal of money. So you see there is very little time allowed us to sit
down and look at ourselves."
"I cannot excuse cake-walking off the stage, among civilized people,"
interpolated Miss Lavinia, catching the word but not the connection, and
realizing that, as hostess, she had inconsiderately lost the thread of
the conversation. "It appeals to me as the expression of physical
exuberance of a lower race, and for people of our grade of intelligence
to imitate it is certainly lowering! The more successfully it is carried
out the worse it is!"
Miss Lavinia spoke so fiercely that everybody laughed but Sylvia, who
coloured painfully, and Horace Bradford deftly changed the subject in the
lull that followed.
* * * * *
The men did not care to be left alone with their cigars and coffee, so we
lingered in the dining-room. Suddenly a shrieking whistle sounded in the
street, and the rapid clatter of hoofs made us listen, while Evan rushed
to the door, seizing his hat on the way.
"Only the fire engines," said Miss Lavinia; "you would soon be used to
them if you lived here; the engine house is almost around the corner."
"Don't you ever go after them?" I asked, without thinking, because
to Evan and me going to fires is one of the standard attractions of
our New York.
"Barbara, child, don't be absurd. What should I do traipsing after
"Yet a good fire is a very exciting spectacle. I once had the habit of
going," said Martin Cortright, emerging from a cloud of cigar smoke. "I
remember when Barnum's Museum was burned my father and I ran to the fire
together and stayed out, practically, all night."
More whistling and a fresh galloping of hoofs indicated that there was a
second call, and the engines from up town were answering. I began to tap
my feet restlessly, and Miss Lavinia noticed it.
"Don't hesitate to go if you wish to," she said. At the same moment Evan
dashed back, calling: "It's a fire on the river front, a lumber yard;
plenty of work ahead, with little danger and a wonderful spectacle. Why
can we not all go to see it, for it's only half a dozen blocks away?
Bundle up, though, it's bitterly cold."
Horace Bradford sprang to his feet and Sylvia was halfway upstairs and
fairly out of her evening gown when Miss Lavinia made up her mind to go
also, Evan's words having the infection of a stampede.
"Don't forget the apples," I called to Evan as I followed my hostess.
"The shops and stands are closed, I'm afraid," he called back from the
stoop where he was waiting; "perhaps Miss Lavinia has some in the house."
"Apples, yes, plenty; but for mercy's sake what for? You surely aren't
thinking of pelting the fire out with them!" she gasped, hurrying
downstairs and struggling to disentangle her eyeglasses from her bonnet
strings; a complication that was always happening at crucial moments,
such as picking out change in an elevated railway station, and thereby
blocking the crowd.
"No, apples to feed the fire horses; Barbara always does," Evan answered,
dashing down the basement stairs to the kitchen, and returning quickly
with a medley of apples and soup vegetables in a dish-towel bundle,
leaving the solemn cook speechlessly astonished.
Then we started off, Evan leading the way, and the procession straggling
after in Indian file; for the back streets were not well shovelled, and
to go two abreast meant that one foot of each was on a side hill. Evan
fairly dragged me along. Sylvia and Bradford, being fleet of foot, had no
difficulty in following, but Martin and Miss Lavinia had rather a bumpy
time of it. Still, as pretty much all the uncrippled inhabitants of the
district were going the same way, our flight was not conspicuous.
It was, as Evan had promised, a glorious fire! Long before we reached
the Hudson the sky rayed and flamed with all the smokeless change of the
Northern Lights. Once there, Evan piloted us through the densely packed
crowd to the side string-piece of a pier, Miss Lavinia giving little
shrieks the while, and begging not to be pushed into the water.
From this point the great stacks of lumber that made the giant bonfire
could be seen at the two points, from land and water side, where the
fire-boats were shooting streams from their well-aimed nozzles.
As usual, after running the steam-pumping engines as close as desirable
to the flames, the horses were detached, blanketed, and tied up safe from
harm, and we found a group of three great intelligent iron-gray beauties
close behind us, who accepted the contents of the dish-towel with almost
human appreciation, while a queer, wise, brown dog, an engine mascot, who
was perched on the back of the middle horse, shared the petting with a
politely matter-of-fact air.
"It is wonderful! I only wish I could see a little better," murmured Miss
Lavinia, who was short, and buried in the crowd.
"Why not stand on this barrel?" suggested Bradford, holding out his
"It's full of garbage and ashes," she objected.
"Never mind that, they are frozen hard," replied Bradford, poking the
Three pairs of hands tugged and boosted, and lo! Miss Lavinia was safely
perched; and as there were more barrels Sylvia and I quickly followed
suit, and we soon all became spellbound at the dramatic contrasts, for
every now and again a fresh pile of Georgia pine would be devoured by the
flames, the sudden flare coming like a noiseless explosion, making the
air fragrantly resinous, while at the same time the outer boundaries of
the doomed lumber yard were being draped with a fantastic ice fabric from
the water that froze as it fell.
As to the firemen! don't talk to me of the bygone bravery of the
crusaders and the lords of feudal times, who spent their lives in the
sport of encamping outside of fortresses, at whose walls they
occasionally butted with rams, lances, and strong language, leaving their
wives and children in badly drained and draughty castles. If any one
wishes to see brave men and true, simply come to a fire with Evan and me
in our New York.
We might have stood there on our garbage pedestals half the night if
Horace Bradford had not remembered that he must catch the midnight
express, glanced at his watch, found that it was already nearly half-past
ten, and realized that he had left his grip at Miss Lavinia's.
Consequently we dismounted and pushed our way home.
As we were half groping our way up ill-lighted West Tenth Street Martin
Cortright paused suddenly and, after looking about, remarked: "This is
certainly a most interesting locality. That building opposite, which has
long been a brewery, was once, in part at least, the first city or
State's Prison. How often criminals must have traversed this very route
we are following, on their way to Washington Square to be hanged. For you
know that place, of later years esteemed so select, was once not only the
site of Potter's Field, but of the city gallows as well!"
No one, however, joined more heartily than he in the merriment that his
inapropos reminiscence caused, and we reached home in a good humour that
effectually kept off the cold.
"Did you succeed in buying the gown?" Horace Bradford asked Miss Lavinia,
as he stood in the hall making his farewells.
"Oh, yes, I had almost forgotten. Here is the package only waiting for
your approval to be tied," and she led the way to the library.
Bradford touched the articles with his big fingers, as lovingly as if he
were smoothing his mother's hair, or her hand.
"They are exactly right," he said heartily, turning and grasping Miss
Lavinia's hand, as he looked straight into her eyes with an expression of
mingled gratitude and satisfaction. "She will thank you herself, when we
all meet next summer," and with a happy look at Sylvia, who had come to
the library to see the gifts, and was leaning on the table, he grasped
bag and parcel, shook hands all round, and hurried away.
"What do you think?" I asked Evan, as we closed our bedroom door.
"Of what?" he answered, with the occasional obtuseness that will overtake
the best of men.
"Of Sylvia and Bradford, of course. Are they in love, do you think?"
"I rather think that _he_ is," Evan answered, slowly, as if bringing
his mind from afar, "but that he doesn't know it, and I hope he may
stay in ignorance, for it will do him no good, for I am sure that she
is not, at least with Bradford. She is drifting about in the Whirlpool
now. She has not 'found herself' in any way, as yet. She seems a
charming girl, but I warn you, Barbara, don't think you scent romance,
and try to put a finger in this pie! Your knowledge of complex human
nature isn't nearly as big as your heart, and the Latham set are wholly
beyond your ken and comprehension." Then Evan, declining to argue the
matter, went promptly to sleep.
Not so Sylvia. When Miss Lavinia went to her room to see if the girl was
comfortable and have a little go-to-bed chat by the fire, she found her
stretched upon the bed; her head hidden between the pillows, in a vain
effort to stifle her passionate sobbing.
"What is it, my child?" she asked, truly distressed. "Are you tired, or
have you taken cold, or what?"
"No, nothing like that," she whispered, keeping her face hidden and
jerking out disjointed sentences, "but I can't do anything for anybody.
No one really depends on me for anything. Helen Baker must leave college,
because they need her _at home_,--just think, _need her_! Isn't that
happiness? And Mr. Bradford is so joyful over his new salary, thinks it
is a fortune, and with being able to buy those things for his
mother,--father has sent me more money during the four months I've been
back, so I may feel independent, he says, than the Professor will earn in
a year. Independent? deserted is a better word! I hardly know my own
parents, I find, and they expect nothing from me, even my companionship.
"Before I went away to school, if mamma was ill, I used to carry up her
breakfast, and brush her hair; now she treats me almost like a
stranger,--dislikes my going to her room at odd times. I hardly ever see
her, she is always so busy, and if I beg to be with her, as I did once,
she says I do not understand her duty to society.
"People should not have children and then send them away to school until
they feel like strangers, and their homes drift so far away that they do
not know them when they come back,--and there's poor Carthy out west all
alone, after the plans we made to be together. It is all so different
from what I expected. Why does not father come home, or mother seem to
mind that he stays away? What is the matter, Aunt Lavinia? Is mamma
hiding something, or is the fault all mine?"
Miss Lavinia closed the door, and soothed the excited girl, talking to
her for an hour, and in fact slept on the lounge, and did not return to
her own room until morning. She was surprised at the storm in a clear
sky, but not at the cause. Miss Lavinia was keenly observant, and from
two years' daily intercourse, she knew Sylvia's nature thoroughly. For
some reasons, she wished with all her heart that Sylvia was in love with
Horace Bradford, and at the same time feared for it; but before the poor
girl fell asleep, she was convinced that such was not the case, and that
the trouble that was already rising well up from her horizon was
something far more complicated.
THE SWEATING OF THE CORN
_April_ 14. Every one who has led, even in a partial degree, the life
outdoors, must recognize his kinship with the soil. It was the first
recorded fact of race history embodied in the Old Testament allegory of
the creation, and it would seem from the beginning that nations have been
strong or weak, as they acknowledged or sought to suppress it.
I read a deeper meaning in my garden book as the boys' human calendar
runs parallel with it, and I can see month by month and day by day that
it is truly the touch of Nature that makes kindred of us all--the throb
of the human heart and not the touch of learning or the arts.
Everything grows restless as spring comes on--animate, and what is called
inanimate, nature. March is the trying month of indecision, the
tug-of-war between winter and spring, pulling us first one way and then
the other, the victory often being, until the final moment, on the side
of winter. Then comes a languid period of inaction, and a swift recovery.
When the world finally throws off frost bondage, sun and the earth call,
while humanity, indoors and out, in city tenement as well as in
farmhouse, hears the voice, even though its words are meaningless, and
Lavinia Dorman writes that she is feeling tired and low-spirited, the
doctor has advised a tonic, and she misses the change of planting her
back-yard garden. Down in the streets the tenement children are swarming
in the sunny spots, and dancing to the hand-organs. I saw them early last
week when I was in town for a few hours.
In one of the downtown parks the youngsters were fairly rolling in the
dirt, and rubbing their cheeks on the scanty grass as they furtively
scooped up handfuls of cement-like soil to make mud pies, in spite of the
big policeman, who, I like to think, was sympathetically blind.
The same impulse stirs my boys, even though they have all outdoors around
them. They have suddenly left their house toys and outdoor games alike to
fairly burrow in the soil. The heap of beach sand and pebbles that was
carted from the shore and left under an old shed for their amusement, has
lost its charm. They go across the road and claw the fresh earth from an
exposed bank, using fingers instead of their little rakes and spades,
and decorate the moist brown "pies" they make with dandelion ornaments.
A few days ago the Vanderveer boy came down to play with them,
accompanied by an English head nurse of tyrannical mien, and an
assortment of coats and wraps. The poor little chap had been ailing half
the winter, it seems, with indigestion and various aches, until the
doctor told his mother that she must take him to the country and try a
change, as he feared the trouble was chronic appendicitis; so the entire
establishment has arrived to stay until the Newport season, and the boy's
every movement is watched, weighed, and discussed.
The nurse, having tucked him up in a big chair in the sun on the porch,
with the boys for company, and in charge of father, who was looking at
him with a pitying and critical medical eye, said she would leave him for
half an hour while she went up the lane to see Martha Corkle. A few
moments after, as I glanced across the road, I saw my boys burrowing away
at their dirt bank, and their guest with them. I flew downstairs to call
him in, fearing for the consequences, but father, who was watching the
proceedings from the porch, laid a detaining hand upon me, saying: "His
mother has consulted me about the child, and really sent him down here
that I may look him over, and I am doing it, in my own fashion. I've no
idea the trouble is appendicitis, though it might be driven that way. I
read it as a plain case of suppressed boyhood.
"He doesn't know how to play, or run naturally without falling; he's
afraid to sit down in the dirt--no wonder with those starched linen
clothes; and he keeps looking about for the nurse, first over one
shoulder and then over the other, like a hunted thing. Evidently they
have weighed his food, measured his exercise, and bought his amusements;
his only free will and vent is to get in a temper. They give him no
chance to sweat off his irritation, only to fume; while that shaking,
snorting teakettle of an automobile they bowl him about in, puts the
final touch to his nervousness."
Then I sat down by father and watched the three boys together, while
Richard was preventing his guest from pounding a toad with a stone
because it preferred to hop away instead of being made into a dirt pie,
and I saw the truth of what he said. The seven-year-old child who went to
riding school, dancing school, and a military drill, did not know how to
express his emotions in play, and frozen snowballs and other cruelty was
his distorted idea of amusement. Poor rich boy, sad little only son, he
was not allowed the freedom to respond to the voice of nature even as the
tenement children that dance in the streets to the hand-organs or stir
the mud in the gutter with their bare toes. It is not the tenement
children of New York who are to be pitied; it is those that are being
fitted to keep the places, in the unstable and frail crafts of the
Whirlpool, that their parents are either striving to seize or struggling
to reserve for them.
At the end of half an hour the boys came back to the porch, all three
delightfully and completely dirty, and clamouring that they were hungry.
The English tyrant not appearing, I took them into the house and, after a
washing of hands and faces, gave the boys the usual eleven o'clock lunch
of milk and simple cookies to take out in the sun to eat. As they were
thus engaged the tyrant appeared on the horizon, horror written in every
feature, and a volley of correction evidently taking shape on her lips,
while an ugly look of cowed defiance spread itself over the child's face
as he caught sight of her.
There was no scene, however. Father said in the most offhand way, as if
being obeyed was a matter of course, "Go back and tell your mistress that
I am carrying out her request, and that after luncheon I will send the
boy safely home, with a written message."
"But his medicines, his hour's rest alone in the dark, his special
food,--the medical man in New York said--" protested the woman,
completely taken aback.
"You heard my message?" said father, cheerfully, and that was all.
"What are you going to advise?" I asked, as in the middle of the
afternoon father came from his office, where he had given the lad a
"Simply to turn him loose in light woollen clothes, give him companions
of his age, and let him alone."
"Can't you word it differently?" I asked.
"Why, is not that fairly direct?" he replied, looking surprised; "and
surely the direct method is almost always the best."
"I think this is the one case where it is not, dear old Daddy. In fact,
if you are destined, as I see that you are, to pick up and tie the
threads of ravelled health in the Bluff Colony, you will have to become
more complicated, at least in speech, accustomed as they are to a series
of specialists, and having importance attached to the very key in which a
sneeze is pitched.
"Those few words would savour to the Whirlpoolers of lack of proper
respect and consideration. You must give a name to both ailment and cure
if you expect to be obeyed. Call the case a 'serious one of physical
suppression,' and the remedy the 'fresh earth cure,' to be taken only in
light woollen clothes, tell them to report progress to you every other
day, and you gain the boy his liberty."
Father laughed heartily, and his nose twitched in a curious way it has
when he is secretly amused and convinced against his will; but I think he
took my advice, at least in part, for the next morning Papa Vanderveer
drove down in the brake, announcing in a shout that "De Peyster slept all
night without waking up and crying, for the first time in months,"
adding, "And, Dr. Russell, if you've got anything further in this liberty
line to suggest, even to getting rid of the Duchess, now's your time.
'The Duchess?' Ah, she is that confounded head nurse woman that Maria
will keep so that things may be done properly, until the poor kid's
nearly been done for, I say. The Ponsonbys are crazy to get the woman to
break in their youngest girl and keep her down and from growing up until
they marry the others off; so Maria could part with her in the light of a
favour to them, don't you see, without spilling blood. Peysey'll have to
have some sort of a chaser, though, or Maria'll not hear of it."
Mr. Vanderveer glowed all over with delight when father condemned the
automobile as a nerve racker, and suggested that a young man of the
companionable tutor order, who could either play games, fish, and drive
with the boy and his chums, or at times leave him wholly alone, according
to need, would be a good substitute for a woman who viewed life as a
school of don'ts, and had either wholly outlived her youth, or else had
most unpleasant recollections of it.
"I've got my innings at last," he said. "You're the first doctor I've had
who hasn't sided with Maria and shut me out until pay day."
"I wonder why spring is such a restless season," I said half to myself
and half to father, as I sat on the porch half an hour later, trying to
focus my mind on writing to Lavinia Dorman, while father, lounging on the
steps opposite, was busy reading his mail.
"One would think we might be content merely to throw off winter and look
and enjoy, but no, every one is restless,--birds, fourfoots, and humans.
Lavinia Dorman writes that Sylvia Latham has just started for California
to see her brother, and she expects to bring her father back with her.
The boys disappeared mysteriously in the direction of Martha Corkle's
immediately after breakfast, Evan went reluctantly to the train,
declaring that it seemed impossible to sit still long enough to reach the
city, you are twisting about and shuffling your feet, looking far oftener
at the river woods than at your letters, and as for myself, it seems as
if I must go over yonder and seize Bertel's spade and show him how to dig
those seed beds more rapidly, so that I can begin to plant and kneel down
and get close to the ground. Yesterday when the boys came in with very
earthy faces, and I questioned them, I found that they had stuck their
precious noses in their mud pies, essaying to play mole and burrow
"It is the same mystery as the sweating of the corn," replied father,
gathering his letters in a heap and tossing them into a chair with a
gesture of impatience; "none of us may escape, even though we do not
"It was years ago that I first heard the legend from an old farmer of the
corn belt, who, longing for a sight of salt water, had drifted eastward
into one of the little hill farms beyond the charcoal camp. He had been
bedridden nearly all winter, but uncomplainingly, his wife and
daughter-in-law caring for him, and it was not until the early part of
May, when all the world was growing green, that he began to mend and at
the same time groan at his confinement.
"I tried to cheer him up, telling him that the worst was over, and that
he soon would be about again, and he replied: ''Tain't me that's doin' of
it, Doctor, hit's the sweatin' of the corn. You know everywhere in May
folks be plantin' corn, the time bein' the sign that frost is over and
done with.' I nodded assent, and he continued: 'Now naterally there's
lots of corn in ear and shelled and ground to meal that isn't planted,
and along as when the kernels in the ground begins to swell and sprout,
this other corn knows it and begins to heave and sweat, and if it isn't
handled careful-like, and taken in the air and cooled, it'll take on all
sorts of moulds and musts, and like as not turn useless. I holds it's
just the same with folks,--when springtime comes they fetch up restless
and need the air and turning out to sweeten in the sun until they settle
down again, else their naturs turn sour, pisen'us, and unwholesome,
breedin' worms like sweated corn!'
"Since then I've heard it here and there in other words, but always the
same motive, the old miller holding it all fact and no legend at all,
saying that if he can keep his surplus corn from sweating and well aired
through May and June, he never fears for it in the damper, more potent
August heat. One thing is certain, that in my practice in countryside,
village, and town, if strange doings break out and restless
discontentment arises, it is never in winter, when I should expect
partial torpidity to breed unrest, but in the pushing season of renewal,
and, as the old man terms it, 'corn sweating.'"
* * * * *
A little later I was going toward the garden when father called after me
to say that he was soon starting for a long trip, quite up to Pine Ridge,
and that if I cared to go, taking a lunch for both, it might give me a
chance to "turn and sweeten" in the sun and cure my restlessness with
Go? Of course my heart leaped at the very thought, because, in spite of
the boys, those long drives with father have grown more precious as they
grow more rare. But where were the twins? They had disappeared under my
very eyes; of a surety they must be at Martha's, but my conscience smote
me when, on glancing at the clock, I saw that it was two hours since they
left the breakfast table in their brand-new sailor suits, with the
intention of showing them to her.
No, they were not at Martha's, and she came hurrying back with me, a very
clucking hen of alarm. Timothy Saunders, who had by that time brought
round the horses in the stanhope, ventured the opinion that they might be
below, paddling in the duck pond, as all the village children gathered
there at the first warm weather, "jest fer all the world like gnats the
sun's drawd oot."