Part 3 out of 5
They were not there! Father had disappeared to make some preparations
for the drive, and so I asked Timothy to drive with me along the
highway toward the village. I did not feel exactly worried, but then
one never knows.
We had gone half a mile perhaps, vainly questioning every one, when I
spied two small figures coming across a field from the east, where the
ground fell lower and lower for a mile or so until it reached salt water.
"There be the lads!" shouted Timothy Saunders, as if I had been a
hundred yards away, and deaf at that; but the noise meant joy, so it was
welcome. "My, but they're fagged and tattered well to boot!" And so they
were; but they struggled along, hand in hand, waving cheerfully when
they caught sight of me, and finally crept through the pasture bars by
which I was waiting, and enveloped me with faint, weary hugs. Then I
noticed that they wore no hats, their fresh suits were grimy with a gray
dust like cement, the knees of their stockings and underwear were worn
completely through to red, scratched skin, and the tips entirely scraped
from their shoes.
I gathered them into the gig, and sought the explanation as we drove
homeward, Timothy hurried by the vision of tearful Martha, whom he had
seen with the tail of his eye dodge into the kitchen, her apron over her
head, as he turned out the gate.
"We've been playing we was moles," said Ian, in answer to the first
question as to where they had been. "Yesterday we tried to do it wif
our own noses, but we couldn't, 'cause it hurt, and we wanted to go
ever so far."
"So we went down to where those big round stone pipes are in the long
hole," said Richard, picking up the story as Ian paused. (Workmen had
been laying large cement sewer pipes from the foot of the Bluffs, a third
of a mile toward the marshes, but were not working that day, owing to
lack of material.) "They made nice mole holes, so I crawled right in, and
for a little it was bully fun."
"Oh Richard, Richard, what made you?" I cried, holding him so tight that
he squirmed away. "Suppose the other end had been closed, and you had
smothered in there, and mother had never found you?" for the ghastly
possibility made my knees quake.
"Oh no, mother," he pleaded, taking my face between his grimy hands and
looking straight in my eyes, "it wasn't a dark hole. I could see it light
out 'way at the other end, and it didn't look so vely far as it was to
crawl it. And after a little I'd have liked to back out, only--only,
well, you see, I couldn't."
"Why not?" I asked, and, as he did not answer, I again saw a vision of
two little forms wedged in the pipes.
"That _why_ was 'cause _I_ was in behind, and I _wouldn't_ back, and so
Dick couldn't," said Ian. "You see, Barbara, I really, truly had to be a
mole and get very far away, not to stay, only just for fun, you know," he
added, as he saw signs of tears in his brother's eyes, and began to feel
the smarting in his own bruised knees.
One blessed thing about Ian, even though he is sometimes passionate and
stubborn, and will probably have lots of trouble with himself by and by,
there isn't a drop of sneaky cur blood in him, which is the only trait
that need make a mother tremble.
What should I do, punish, or act as I longed to, coddle the boys and
comfort the poor knees? True, I had not forbidden them to crawl through
the sewer pipes, because the idea of their doing it had never occurred to
me, so they could not be said to have exactly disobeyed; but, on the
other hand, there was an unwritten law that they must not go off the
place without my permission, and the torn stockings furnished a hint.
"Mother is going away for all day with grandfather," I said slowly, as I
examined their knees. "Even though I never told you not to do it, if you
had stopped to think, you would have known it was wrong to crawl through
"But, Barbara," argued Ian, as we reached the porch, "it wasn't us that
crawled, it was moles, and they just digs right ahead and turns up the
ground and flowers and everything, and never thinks things, do they,
"Martha will take you in," I said, steadying my voice with difficulty,
"and bathe your knees and let you rest a while before she dresses you
again. Martha, please put away those stockings for me to mend when I
return; I cannot ask Effie to darn such holes for two little moles; she
is only engaged to sew for boys."
"But, mother, you don't like to sew stockings; it makes you tight in your
chest. I heard you tell father so," objected Richard, while Ian's face
quivered and reddened, and he pounded his fists together, saying to
himself, "Barbara shall _not_ sit in the house and mend moles'
stockings. I won't let her," showing that they were both touched in a
Father only laughed when they went in, and said: "I'm glad you didn't do
anything more than that to the little chaps, daughter; it's only a bit of
boy life and impulse working in them, after all; their natural way of
cooling the 'sweating of the corn.'" Then we drove away through the lanes
draped with birch tassels and willow wands, while bloodroot and
marshmarigold kept pace in the runnels, and I heard the twitter of the
first barn-swallow of the year.
As we drove along we talked or were silent without apology and according
to mood; and as father outlined his route to me, I resolved that I would
call upon Horace Bradford's mother, for our way lay in that direction.
Many things filled father's mind aside from the beauty of the perfect
April day, that held even the proper suggestion of hidden showers behind
the curtain of hazy sunshine. The sweating of the human corn that came
under father's eye was not always to be cured by air and sun, or rather,
those who turned uneasily would not accept the cure.
The germ of unrest is busy in the village this spring. Not that it is
wholly new, for unrest is wherever people congregate. But this year the
key is altered somewhat. The sight of careless ease, life without
labour, and a constant change of pleasures, that obtain in the Bluff
Colony, is working harm. True, the people can always read of this life in
book and paper, but to come in direct contact is another thing. Father
said the other day that he wished that conservative country places that
had lived respected and respectable lives for years could have the power
to socially quarantine all newcomers before they were allowed to purchase
land and set a pace that lured the young cityward at any cost. I, too,
realize that the striving in certain quarters is no longer for home and
love and happy times, but for something new, even if it is merely for the
sake of change, and that this infection of social unrest is quickly
spreading downward from the Bluffs, touching the surface of our little
community, if not yet troubling its depths.
The leading merchant's daughter, Cora Blackburn, fresh from a college
course that was a strain upon the family means, finds that she has built
a wall four years wide between herself and her family; henceforth life
here is a vacuum,--she is misunderstood, and is advertising for an
opportunity to go to New York and the independence of a dreary back third
or fourth story hall bedroom. But, as she said the other day, putting on
what Evan calls her "capability-for-better-things" air, "One's scope is
so limited here, and one never can tell whom one may meet in New York,"
which is, of course, perfectly true.
It was only last night that father returned from the hospital, distressed
and perplexed, and called me into the office. A young woman of
twenty-two, that I know very well, of a plain middle-class family over in
town, had, it seems, sent her name for admission to the training-school
for nurses. Father, in his friendly way, stopped at the house on his way
home to talk with her about the matter, and found from a little sister,
who was washing dishes, that the mother of the family was ill and being
cared for by a neighbour. Presently, down tripped the candidate for
nursing, well dressed, well shod, and with pink, polished finger nails.
Father, wondering why she did not care for her mother, asked his usual
questions: "What leads you to wish to take up nursing? Are you interested
in medicine, and fond of caring for the sick? For you should be, to enter
such an exacting life." She seemed to misunderstand him altogether and
take his inquiry for prying. She coloured, bit her lip, then lost her
head and blurted out: "Interested in the sick! Of course not. Who could
be, for they are always so aggravating. I don't mean to stay so very long
at it, but it's a good chance to go into some swell family, and maybe
marry and get into society."
[Illustration: His Mother]
Poor father was fairly in a rage at the girl's idea of what he deems a
sacred calling, and it was not until Richard had kissed him from the end
of his nose up over his short thick gray hair, and down again to the
tickle place in his neck, that he calmed down. Unless my instinct fails
me, he will have his social experience considerably widened during the
coming season, even if his trustful nature is not strengthened.
Father had made three calls, and we had eaten our luncheon by the
wayside, unhooking the horses, and baiting them by a low bridge rail that
sloped into the bushes, where they could eat and drink at leisure, before
we reached Pine Ridge. Once there, he dropped me at the Bradford farm,
while he drove westward, along the Ridge, to a consultation with the
local doctor over a complicated broken leg that would not knit.
As I closed the neat white picket gate behind me, and walked slowly
toward the porch, a blaze of yellow on the south side of the red brick
house drew my attention. It was the Forsythia, the great bush of "yellow
bells," of which Horace Bradford had spoken as blooming in advance of any
in the neighbourhood, and for a moment I felt as if I were walking into
the pages of a story-book.
I wielded the heavy brass knocker on the half-door, with diamond-paned
glass top, and paused to look off to where the flower and fruit garden
sloped south and west. Presently, as no one answered the knock, I peered
through the glass, into an open square, that was evidently both hall and
sitting room. In one corner was a chimney place, in which a log burned
lazily, opposite a broad, low window, its shelves filled with flower
pots, near which, in a harp-backed chair, an old lady sat sewing. She
wore a simple black gown, with a small shawl thrown across her shoulders,
and her hair, clear steel colour and white, was held in a loose knot by
an old-fashioned shell comb. In spite of the droop and lines of age (for
Horace Bradford's mother must have been quite seventy), the nose had a
fine, strong Roman curve, and the brow a thoughtful width.
What was she thinking of as she sat there alone, this bright April
afternoon, shaping a garment, with a smile hovering about her lips? Her
son's promotion and bright prospects, perhaps.
I looked across at the old mahogany chest of drawers behind her, to see
if I could recognize any of the framed photographs that stood there.
One, evidently copied from a daguerrotype, was of a curly-haired girl,
about fourteen, probably the daughter who died years ago, and another,
close at her elbow, was of a lanky boy of eight or ten, wearing a broad
straw hat, and grasping a fishing pole, probably Horace, as a child, but
there was nowhere to be seen the photograph of him in cap, gown, and hood
that stood on Miss Lavinia's chimney shelf.
Then as Mrs. Bradford folded her hands over her work, and gazed through
the plants and window, at some far-away thought, I felt like a detective,
spying upon her, and hastily knocked again.
This time she heard at once, and coming quickly to the door, admitted
me, with a cordial smile and a hearty grasp of the hand that reminded
me of her son, and was totally unlike the clammy and noncommittal touch
of so many of the country folk, bred evidently of their general habit
"You are Mrs. Evan, the Doctor's daughter. I know your father well,
though I have never met you face to face since you were a little girl."
Then the conversation drifted easily along to Miss Lavinia, and my
meeting with Horace, his professorship, the prospect of his being at home
all summer, and to the different changes in the community, especially
that wrought by the colony at the Bluffs, which were really the halfway
mark between Oaklands and Pine Ridge.
Mrs. Bradford saw the purely commercial and cheerful side of the matter;
as yet, few of the new places were well equipped with gardens,--it had
opened a good market for the farmers on the Ridge, and they were no
longer obliged to take their eggs, fruit, poultry, and butter into town.
In spite of a certain reticence, she was eager to know the names of all
the newcomers; but when I mentioned Mrs. Latham, saying that she was the
mother of Sylvia, one of her son's pupils, and described the beauty of
their place, I thought that she gave a little start, and that I heard her
speak the initials S. L. under her breath; but when I looked up, I could
detect nothing but a slight quiver of the eyelids.
Then we went out into the garden, arm in arm, for Mrs. Bradford's footing
seemed insecure upon the cobbled walk, and she turned to me at once as
naturally as if I were a neighbour's daughter. Together we grew
enthusiastic over the tufts of white violets, early hyacinths, and
narcissi, or equally so over the mere buds of things. For it is the
rotary promise that is the inspiration of a garden; it is this that
lures us on from year to year, and softens the sharp punctuation of
Was there anything in her garden that I had not? She would be so pleased
to exchange plants with me, and had I any of the new cactus Dahlias, and
so on, until we reached the walk's end, and turned about under a veteran
cherry tree that showered us with its almond-scented petals.
Then Mrs. Bradford relaxed completely, and pulling down a branch, buried
her face in the blossoms, drawing long breaths.
"I've kept away from the garden all day," she said, "because I had some
sewing to finish, so those unfortunate Hornblower children might begin
the spring term at school to-morrow; and when I once smell the cherry
flowers, my very bones ache to be out doors, and I'm not good for a thing
but to potter about the garden from now on, until the strawberries show
red, and everything settles down for summer. It's always been the same,
since I was a little girl, and used to watch the cherry blooms up through
the top sash of the schoolhouse windows, when they had screened the lower
part to keep us from idling, and it's lasted all through my married life.
The Squire and I always went on a May picnic by ourselves, until the
year he died, though the neighbours all reckoned us feeble-minded."
The "Sweating of the Corn," I almost said aloud.
"I've reasoned with myself every spring all through the between years,
until now I've made up my mind it's something that's meant to be, and I'm
going to give in to it. Sit down here under the trees, my dear, and
Esther Nichols will bring us some tea and fresh cider cake. Yes, I see
that you look surprised to have afternoon tea offered on Pine Ridge, but
I got the habit from the English grandmother that reared me, and I've
always counted it a better hospitality than the customary home-made
cordials and syrups that, between ourselves, make one stomach-sick. Yes,
there comes Esther now; she always knows my wants. She and her husband
are distant cousins of the Bradfords, and my helpers indoors and out, for
I am too old to manage farm hands, especially now that they are mostly
Slavs, and it makes Horace feel happier to have kinsfolk here than if I
trusted to transient service."
So we sipped the well-made breakfast tea beneath the cherry blossoms as I
told her about my boys and Miss Lavinia's expected visit. When father
called for me I left reluctantly, feeling as if nobody need be without a
family, when one becomes necessary, for in addition to an aunt in Lavinia
Dorman I had found a sort of spirit grandmother there in the remote and
peaceful highlands,--a woman at once simple and restful, yet withal
having no narrowness or crudity to cramp or jar.
It was nearly five o'clock when we turned into the highway west of the
Bluffs. We had gone but a few rods when a great clanking of chains and
jar of wheels sounded behind. As I stretched out to see what was coming,
a horn sounded merrily.
"A coaching party," said father. "I will turn out of the road, for there
is a treacherous pitch on the other side, and for me to let them topple
into the ditch might be profitable, but hardly professional."
We had barely turned into low bushes when the stage came alongside. The
horses dropped back to a walk, as they passed, for it was a decided up
grade for thirty yards, so that we had a good chance to view both
equipage and occupants. To my surprise I saw that the coach was the
Jenks-Smith's. I did not know they had returned from the trip abroad
where they had been making their annual visit to repair the finances of
Monty Bell was driving, with Mrs. Jenks-Smith at his side. The robust
Lady of the Bluffs, evidently having some difficulty in keeping her
balance, was clutching the side bar desperately. She was dressed in
bright-figured hues from top to toe, her filmy hat had lurched over one
eye, and all together she looked like a Chinese lantern, or a balloon
inflated for its rise but entangled in its moorings.
Jenks-Smith sat behind, with Mrs. Latham and a very pretty young girl as
seatmates, while behind them came a giggling bevy of young people and the
grooms,--Sylvia being of course absent.
Mrs. Latham was clad in pale violet embroidered with iris in deeper
tones, her wide hat was irreproachably poised, her veil draped
gracefully, her white parasol, also embroidered with iris, held at as
becoming an angle, and her corsage violets as fresh as if she was but
starting out, while in fact the party must have driven up from New York
They did not even glance at the gray horses which had been drawn aside to
give them right of way, much less acknowledge the courtesy, but clanked
by in a cloud of misty April dust.
"What a contrast between his mother and hers," I said unconsciously,
"Which? Whose? I did not quite catch the connection of that remark,"
said father, turning toward me with his quizzical expression, for a
standing joke of both father and Evan was to thus trip me up when I
uttered fragmentary sentences, as was frequently the case, taking it for
granted, they said, that they either dreamed the connection or could
read my thoughts.
"I meant what a great contrast there is between Mrs. Bradford and Mrs.
Latham," I explained, at once realizing that there was really no sense in
the comparison outside of my own irrepressibly romantic imagination, even
before father said:--
"And why, pray, should they not be different? Under the circumstances
it would be very strange if they were not. And where does the _his_ and
_her_ come in? Barbara, child, I think you are 'dreaming pussy
willows,' as you used to say you did in springtime, when you were a
very little girl."
* * * * *
The boys were having their supper in the hall when I arrived home, for,
warm as the days are, it grows cool toward night until we are past
The scraped knees were still knobby with bandages, but the lads were in
good spirits, and seemed to have some secret with Martha that involved a
deal of whispering and some chuckling. After the traces of bread and
butter were all wiped away, they came hobbling up (for the poor knees
were sadly stiff and lame), and wedged themselves, one on each side of
me, in the window seat of the den, where I was watching for the smoke of
Evan's train, my signal for going down the road. Ah, how I always miss
the sight of the curling smoke and the little confidential walk in the
dark winter days!
There was some mystery afoot, I could see, for Martha hovered about the
fireplace, asking if a few sticks wouldn't temper the night air, to which
I readily assented, yet still she did not go, and the boys kept the hands
close against their blouse fronts.
Suddenly Ian threw his arms about my neck and bent my head close to his,
saying, in his abrupt voice of command, "Barbara must not stay indoors
tomorrow and be sad and mend the moles' stockings."
"Yes, Barbara must," I answered firmly, feeling, yet much dreading, the
necessity of the coming collision.
"No, she can't," said Ian, trying to look stern, but breaking into little
twinkling smiles at the mouth corners. "She can't, because the moles'
stockings haven't any more got holes!" and he pulled something from his
blouse and spread it in my lap, Richard doing likewise.
There were two stockings mended, fearfully and wonderfully, to be sure,
and quite unwearable, but still legally mended.
"I don't understand," I said, while the boys, seeing my puzzled
expression, clapped their hands and hopped painfully about as well as
they were able.
Then Martha Corkle emerged from the background and explained: "The boys
they felt most terrible in their minds, Mrs. Evan, soon after you'd went
(their sore knees, I think, also keepin' them in sight of their doings),
and they begged me, Mrs. Evan, wouldn't I mend the stockings, which I
would most cheerfully, only takin' the same as not to be your idea, mum.
So I says, says I, somebody havin' to be punished, your ma's goin' to do
it to take the punishment herself, that is, in lest you do it your own
selves instead. So, says I, I'll mend one stocking of each if you do the
other, Mrs. Evan, and no disrespect intended.
"I borried Effie's embroidery rings and set the two holes for them and
run them in one way, leavin' them the fillin' to do, which they have,
sittin' the whole afternoon at it most perseverin'."
"Richard did his one stitch, but I did mine four stitch; it ate up the
hole quicker, and it's more different," quoth Ian, waving his stocking,
into the knee of which he had managed to introduce a sort of
kindergarten weaving pattern.
"But mine looks more like Martha's, doesn't it, mother?" pleaded patient
Richard, who, though the threads were drawn and gathered, had kept to the
regular one up and one down throughout.
Then the signal of the smoke arose against the opal of the twilight sky,
and we went out hand in hand, all three happy, to meet our breadwinner.
Late that night, when all the household slept, I added a little package
to my treasures in the attic desk,--two long stockings with queer darned
knees,--and upon the paper band that bound them is written a date and
"The Sweating of the Corn."
A WAYSIDE COMEDY
_May 5th_. Madame Etiquette has entered this peaceful village. Not,
however, as the court lady of the old French regime, but travelling in
the wake of the Whirlpoolers under dubious aliases, being sometimes
called Good Form and at other The Correct Thing. At present she is having
a hand-to-hand encounter with New England Prejudice, a once stalwart old
lady of firm will, but now considerably weakened by age and the incessant
arguing of her great-grandchildren.
The result of the conflict is quite uncertain, for actually even the
Sunday question hangs in the balance; while the spectacle is most amusing
to the outsider and embarrassing to the referees.
Father, seeing through medical eyes, regards the matter merely in the
light of a mild epidemic. Evan is rather sarcastic; he much preferred
garden quiet and smoking his evening pipe to the tune of soothing
conversation concerning the rural days' doings, to the reflex anxiety of
settling social problems. In these, lo and behold, I find myself
unwillingly involved, for one New England habit has not been
abandoned--that of consulting the wife of minister and doctor, even if
holes are afterward picked in the result, and in this case a daughter
stands in the wife's place.
The beginning was two years back, when the Bluff colony began to be an,
object of speculation, followed in turn by censure, envy, and finally
aspiration that has developed this spring into an outbreak of emulation.
Ever since I can remember, social life has moved along quite smoothly
hereabout, the doings being regulated by the age and purses of the
participants. The householders who went to the city for a few winter
months were a little more precise in their entertaining than the born and
bred country folk. As they commonly dined at night, they asked people to
dinner rather than to supper, which is the country meal of state. But
lawn parties, picnics, and clambakes at the shore were pretty much on the
same scale, those who could afford it having music and employing a
caterer, while those who could not made no secret of the cause, and felt
neither jealous nor humiliated. A wagon load of neighbourly young people
might go on a day's excursion uncriticised, without thought of dragging a
mother or aunt in their wake as chaperon. In fact, though no one is more
particular than father in matters of real propriety, I cannot remember
being formally chaperoned in my life or of suffering a shadow of
annoyance for the lack.
Weddings were always home affairs among the strictly country folk, by
common consent and custom, no matter to what denomination the people
belonged. Those with contracted houses went quietly to parsonage or
rectory with a few near friends; others were married at the bride's home,
the ceremony followed by more or less merrymaking. A church wedding was
regarded as so great a strain upon the families that the young people had
no right to ask it, even if they so desired.
That has passed, at least for the time being, and all eyes are fixed upon
the movements of the Bluff people, and many feet are stumbling along in
their supposed footsteps. It would be really funny if it were not half
pitiful. The dear simple folk are so terribly in earnest that they do not
see that they are losing their own individuality and gaining nothing to
The Whirlpoolers, though only here for the between seasons, are
constantly entertaining among themselves, and hardly a day passes but a
coaching party drives up from town with week-end golfers for whom a dance
is given, or stops _en route_ to the Berkshires or some farther point. A
few outsiders are sometimes asked to the more general of these
festivities, friends of city friends who have places hereabout, the
clergy and their wives, and, alas, the Doctor's daughter; but
society-colonies do not intend associating with the-natives except purely
for their own convenience, and when they do, pay no heed to the code they
enforce among themselves.
It is not harsh judgment in me, I feel sure, when I say that Evan would
not be asked so often to the Bluffs to dinner if he were not a well-known
landscape architect whose advice has a commercial value. They always
manage to obtain enough of it in the guise of after-dinner conversation
and the discussion of garden plans to make him more than earn his fare.
For the Whirlpoolers are very thrifty, the richer the more so, especially
those of Dutch trading blood, and they are not above stopping father on
the road, engaging in easy converse, praising the boys, and then asking
his opinion about a supposititious case, rather than send for him in the
regular way and pay his modest fee.
In fact, Mrs. Ponsonby asked me to a luncheon last autumn, and it
quickly transpired afterward, that she had an open trap for sale suitable
for one horse; she knew that Evan was looking for such a vehicle for me,
and suggested that I might like this one.
A bulky and curious correspondence grew up around the transaction, and
the letters are now lying in my desk marked "Mrs. Ponsonby, and the road
cart." Finally I took the vehicle out on a trial trip. I noticed that it
had a peculiar gait, and stopping at the blacksmith's, called him to
examine the running gear. He gave one look and burst into a guffaw: "Land
alive, Mrs. Evan, that's Missis Ponsonby's cart, that stood so long in
the city stable, with the wheels on, that they're off the circle and no
good. I told her she'd have to get new ones; but her coachman allowed
she'd sell it to some Jay. You ain't bought it, hev yer?"
Good-natured Mrs. Jenks-Smith, the pioneer of the Bluffs, was the
first one to throw open her grounds, when completed, for an afternoon
and evening reception, with all the accompaniments of music, electric
lit fountains, and unlimited refreshments. Everybody went, and
satisfaction reigned for the time; but when another season it was
found that she had no intention of returning calls, great
disappointment was felt. Others in turn exhibited their grounds for
the benefit of the different churches, while the Ponsonbys gave a lawn
party for the orphan asylum, and considering that they had done their
duty, straightway forgot the village.
The village did not forget; it had observed and has begun to put in
practice. The first symptom was noticed by Evan. Last summer several
family horses of respectable mien and Roman noses appeared with their
tails banged. Not docked, mind you, but squared-off as closely as might
be without resorting to cruelty; while their venerable heads,
accustomed to turn freely and look their drivers in the face
reproachfully if kept standing too long, were held in place by overdraw
checks. At the same time the driver's seat in the buggy or runabout was
raised from beneath so as to tilt the occupant forward into an almost
standing posture. This worked well enough in an open wagon, but in a
buggy the view was apt to be cut off by the hood, if the driving lady
(it was always a woman) was tall.
The second sign was when Mrs. Barton--a widow of some sixty odd years,
with some pretensions to breeding, but who had been virtually driven from
several villages where she had located since her widowhood, owing to
inaccuracy of speech, beside which the words of the Village Liar and the
Emporium were quite harmless--contracted inflammatory rheumatism by
chaperoning her daughters' shore party and first wetting her lower half
in clamming and then the upper _via_ a thunder shower. The five "Barton
girls" range from twenty-five to forty, and are so mentally and
physically unattractive and maladroit that it would be impossible to
regard them as in any danger if they went unattended to the uttermost
parts of the earth. On this particular occasion the party consisted of
two dozen people, ranging from twenty to fifty, which it would seem
afforded ample protection.
To be chaperoned was the swell thing, however, and chaperoned the "Barton
girls" would be.
"I cannot compete with multi-millionnaires," said Mrs. Barton, lowering
her voice, when father, on being called in, asked if she had not been
rather rash at her age to go wading in cold water for clams; "but as a
woman of the world I must do all that I can to follow the customs of good
society, and give my daughters protection from even a breath that might
affect their reputations."
The drawling tone was such a good imitation of Mrs. Ponsonby's that
father could barely control his laughter, especially as she continued: "I
also feel that I owe it to the neighbourhood to do all in my power to
put a stop to buggy riding, the vulgar recreation of the unmarried. Of
course all cannot afford suitable traps and grooms to attend them, but
good form should be maintained at all hazards, and mothers should not
begrudge taking trouble."
Father said that the vision of shy young folks driving miserably along
the country lanes on Sunday afternoons in the family carryall, with mamma
seated in the middle of the back seat, rose so ludicrously before him
that he was obliged to beat a retreat, promising to send a special remedy
for the rheumatism by Timothy Saunders.
All winter I have noticed that great local interest has been taken in the
fashion journals that treat of house decoration and etiquette, and on one
occasion, when making a call at one of our most comfortable farms, I
found the worthy Deacon's wife poring over an ornamental volume, entitled
"Hints to those about to enter Society."
After she had welcomed me and asked me to "lay off" my things, she
hesitated a moment, and then, opening the book where her fat finger was
keeping the place, she laid it on my lap, saying in a whisper: "Would you
tell me if that is true, Mrs. Evan? Lurella says you hobnob some with the
Bluff folks, and I wanted to make sure before we break it to pa."
The sentence to which she pointed read, "No gentleman will ever come
to the table without a collar, or be seen on porch or street in his
shirt sleeves." Here, indeed, was a difficulty and a difference. How
should I explain?
I compromised feebly and advised her not to worry the Deacon about what
the Bluff people did or the book said, for it need not apply to the Cross
"I'm reel glad you don't hold it necessary fer pa," she said with a sigh
of relief; "he'd take it so hard, eatin' gettin' him all het up anyhow.
Now between ourselves, Mrs. Evan, don't you think writ out manners is
terrible confusin' and contradictin'? I wouldn't hev Lurella hear me say
so, she's so set on keepin' up with things, but she's over to town this
"I've been readin' for myself some, and observin' too. The Bluff folks
that plays grass hockey, all over what was Bijah Woods's farm, men and
girls both, has their sleeves pushed up as if they were going at a day's
wash, and their collars open and hanging to the hind button, which to my
mind looks shiftlesser than doin' without. I do hear also that those same
girls when they git in to dinner takes off their waists altogether and
sets down to eat all stripped off to a scrap of an underbody. That's
true, for pa saw it when he was takin' cream over to Ponsonby's; the
windows was open on the piazza, and he couldn't refrain from peekin',
though I hope you'll not repeat. Of course they may feel dreadful sweaty
after chasin' round in the sun all day, though I wouldn't hold such
sudden coolin' wholesome; but why if women so doin' should they insist on
men folks wearin' collars, say I?"
I told the dear soul that I had never quite been able to understand the
_reason why_ of many of these things, and that my ways were also quite
different from those of the Bluff people; for though father and Evan had
been brought up to wear collars, I had never yet stripped to my underbody
at dinner time.
Thus emboldened, she beckoned me mysteriously toward the best parlour,
saying as she went, "Lurella seen the picture of a Turkey room in the
pattern book, and as she's goin' to have a social this spring, she's
fixed a corner of it into our north room."
When the light was let in I beheld a "cosey corner" composed of a very
hard divan covered with a broche shawl, and piled high with pillows of
various hues, while a bamboo fishing-pole fastened crosswise between the
top of the window frames held a sort of beaded string drapery that hung
to the floor in front, and was gathered to the ceiling, in the corner,
with a red rosette. On close examination I found, to my surprise, that
the trailers were made of strings of "Job's Tears," the seed of a sort of
ornamental maize, the thought of the labour that the thing had involved
fairly making my eyes ache.
"That is a very pretty shawl," I remarked, as no other truthful word of
commendation seemed possible.
"Yes, it is handsome, and I miss it dreadful. You see, it belonged to
pa's mother, and I calkerlated to wear it a lifetime for winter best, but
the fashion papers do say shawls are out of it, and this is the only use
for them, which Lurella holds. I can't ever take the same comfert in a
bindin' sack, noway; and pa, he's that riled about the shawl bein' used
to set on, I daren't leave the door open. Says the whole thing's a 'poke
hole,' and the curt'in recollects him of 'strings of spinnin'
caterpillars,' and 'no beau that's worth his shoes won't ever get caught
in no such trap,' which is most tryin' to Lurella, so I hev to act
pleased, and smooth things over best I can."
Well-a-day, it is always easier to answer the riddles that puzzle others,
rather than those that confront ourselves.
Fully a year ago Mrs. Jenks-Smith gave me a well-meaning hint that it is
not "good form" for me to allow father or Evan to smoke while we drive
or walk in public together. The very next night we three happened to be
dining, why I don't know, at the most socially advanced house on the
Bluffs. When the moment came for the midway pause in the rotation of
foods, that we might tamp down and make secure what we had already eaten
by the aid of Roman punch, the gentlemen very nearly discounted the
effort, as far as I was concerned at least, by smoking cigarettes,
leaning easily back in their chairs, and with no more than a vague "by
your leave," to the ladies. What was more, there was a peculiarly
sickening sweet odour to the smoke that father afterward told me was
because the tobacco was tinctured with opium. Yet it is "bad form" for
Evan and father to smoke in my society, out in the road or street under
the big generous roof of the sky. Dear little boys, I wonder what the
custom will be when you are grown, and read your mother's social
* * * * *
The present crisis to be faced is in the form of a wedding,--an
apple-blossom wedding, to take place in St. Peter's Church. I have
been made a confident in the matter from the very beginning of the
wayside comedy which led to it; but I wish it understood that I am
not responsible for the list of invited guests, or the details of
the ceremony, which have been laboriously compiled from many
sources, any more than I shall be for the heartburnings that are
sure to follow in its wake.
* * * * *
One morning early last summer Fannie Penney was driving home from town,
with a rather lopsided load of groceries on the back of the buckboard.
Fanny did not enjoy these weekly trips for groceries, but she did not
rebel, as her sisters did; and though she had aspirations, they had not
developed as quickly in her as in the others, for she was considered
already an old maid (a state that in the country, strangely enough, sets
in long before it does in the city, often beginning quite at noonday) at
the time the Bluff colony began to attract attention.
The Penney family live in a plain but substantial house on the main road,
a little way north of the village, where Mr. Penney combines farming, a
blacksmith's shop, and a small line of groceries, for the benefit of his
family. Up to the present time this family has jogged along at a fairly
comfortable pace, only one daughter, the youngest, Mollie, having so far
escaped from the traditional female employments of the region as to spend
a season in New York, supplementing the grammar school education by a
course in elocution, with Delsarte accompaniments. When she returned she
gave her old friends to understand that she was thoroughly misunderstood
by her family; also, that she was now to be called Marie and preferably
Miss, hinted that she was soon going on a professional tour, and
condescendingly agreed to give a free recital at a Sunday-school
entertainment. At this she startled the community by reciting the
sleep-walking scene from Lady Macbeth, clad in a lace-trimmed Empire
nightgown, red slippers with high heels, whitened face, wild hair, and,
of course, the candlestick, with such terrible effect that the mothers of
the infant class had difficulty in getting their progeny to stay in bed
in the dark for some weeks to come. The pastor considered that, under the
circumstances, she gave the words "out damned spot" undue emphasis, while
the "Watch-out Committee" of the S. C. E. failed entirely to agree as to
what gave the nightgown a decided pink tint, opinions greatly varying.
Some insisted that it was flesh, while the pastor's wife, knowing the
flavour of persecution, firmly insisted that it was merely a pink cambric
slip, as was most right and proper. But her charity was immediately
discounted by Mrs. Barton, who said that likely it was pink lining, for
Marie's flesh was yellow, and not pink.
However, this event was soon forgotten in the greater interest that
gathered about Fannie Penney's return ride from town.
It seems that soon after Fannie left the town limits and was jogging
along the turnpike, the big roan horse of all work began to stumble, then
grew lame forward, and finally came to a standstill.
Fannie got out, examined his feet, soon found that not only had he cast a
shoe, but in doing so had managed to step on a nail and drive it into his
frog. With the good judgment of a farrier's daughter, she promptly
unharnessed him. Looking about and seeing cows grazing in a neighbouring
pasture, she led him slowly to the side of the road, let down the bars
and turned him loose, where he immediately showed his appreciation of the
situation by lying down and nibbling at the grass within reach.
So far so good, but when Fannie began to consider the possibility of
walking home, with the chance of being picked up on the road by some one,
and getting her father to come and remove the nail, the load of groceries
loomed up before her. Not only did they represent considerable money
value, country reckoning, and there was no house within half a mile
either way, but some of the articles, such as lard, were in danger of
being ruined by the hot sun; so Fannie walked along the road, searching
the dust for the lost shoe, seeing no way out of her dilemma unless some
one should come by.
She did not find the shoe, but soon a cloud of dust from the town side
told of an approaching team, and she went to the shade of the only
near-by tree and waited.
A moment later, the team coming up proved to be a freshly painted
runabout, drawn by a fine bay horse in trim harness, driven by the
average stable boy; while beside him sat a smooth-faced, keen-eyed man,
rather under middle age, dressed in a spotless light suit, tan shoes,
lilac shirt, opalesque tie, finished above by a Panama hat pinched into
He was evidently a man of quick action, for he saw the girl and horseless
wagon at a glance, touched the reins, stopped the horse, and jumped out
before Fannie could think, taking off his hat and saying:--
"Lady in distress, runaway horse, lucky not to have upset load--can I be
of any use?" all in one breath.
Fannie had never read Dickens, so that no comparison with the speech of
Alfred Jingle arose to make her distrustful, which was unnecessary, and
the bowing figure appeared to her the perfection of up-to-date manly
elegance. Could it--yes, it must be a guest on the way to the Bluffs.
She blushingly explained the complication, feeling almost ashamed to
mention her fears as to the melting lard, it seemed so insignificant in
such a presence; but he quickly reassured her by going to the wagon,
pulling it energetically under the tree, and spreading the linen lap-robe
over the goods, the effort causing streams of perspiration to alter the
stately appearance of a three-inch high collar. Next he sprang over the
fence into the field, found that the nail was too firmly wedged to be
drawn from the horse's hoof with either fingers or a wagon wrench, and
returned to the road again.
"Now, may I ask where you live?" he said, dusting himself off with
vigorous flips of a large Yale blue silk handkerchief.
Fannie told him, and her name, also, and ventured to ask that, if he was
going through Oaklands, he would be good enough to tell her uncle, who
kept the livery stable, to send out for her.
"I guess we can better that," he said, smiling genially. "I'm going to
Oaklands to meet my trunk and stop over a day. I'll leave the boy here
with your goods, drive you in, pick up your father, he returns with this
horse, brings tools, fixes up his own, boy takes rig back to town, your
father drives goods home, see?"
Fannie saw that the arrangements were unanswerably suitable; also, that
to carry them out she must take a drive with the unknown, a drive of
necessity to be sure, yet one that she could safely call romantic,
especially as, when he turned to help her into the runabout, he picked up
a horseshoe that lay in the bottom and gave it to her, saying, "It's
yours; I found it half a mile back; I never pass a horseshoe, never can
tell when it'll bring luck."
Before they had gone very far her dream of his being a guest on his way
to the Bluffs was shattered by his saying: "I've got the advantage of
you--know your name, you don't know mine. That's not fair. 'Aim to be
fair' 's my motto, even if I don't chance to hit it," and he pulled out a
bulky wallet and held it toward her with one hand, that she might help
herself to one of the cards with which it was filled.
Her hand touched his; she blushed so that her freckles were veiled for
the moment as she read, half aloud: "L. Middleton--with Frank Brothers.
Dealers in first-class canned goods," the New York address being in the
corner. The feeling of disappointment only lasted for a moment, for was
not a travelling man, as the drummer is always called in country towns,
a person of experience and knowledge of the world, as well as being not
infrequently shrouded in mystery? As she pondered on the card, wondering
if she dared put it in her pocket, he said in a matter-of-fact way,
again extending the wallet: "Don't hesitate, take the deck, may come
handy, father like to keep goods in stock some time. That's my regular;
carry a side line too, perfumes and an A1 hair restorer. Got all my
samples at Oaklands depot. You mind stopping there on the way? Want to
get fresh collar."
No, of course Fannie would not mind; this last request fixed her
companion firmly in her esteem. Any other man of her acquaintance would
have removed his collar and proceeded without one, never giving the
matter a thought; in fact, she had been momentarily expecting that this
would happen. Now she would have the bliss of taking him home in all the
perfection of his toilet as she first beheld him.
From that moment she grew more conversational, and his utterance became
less jerky, until, when they finally drove up back of the long red brick
railway station at Oaklands, a little before noon, she had not only given
him a synopsis of local history, but was, in her excitement, vainly
trying to recollect what day of the week it was, so that she might judge
of the dinner probabilities at home, also if it would be safe to ask him
to stay. Fortunately remembering that she saw her father beheading
chickens the night before, which guaranteed a substantial meal, she
decided it was an absolute duty.
As L. Middleton emerged from the baggage room in a fresh collar, even
higher than the other, he threw an ornamental bottle of violet water into
Fannie's lap to keep company with the horseshoe. Immediately Hope arose
at the combination, and Settled under the left folds of Fannie's pink
shirt waist; for Middleton seems a distinguished name to one who has been
called Penney for twenty-eight years, and romance had never died in the
heart under the pink waist for the reason that it was only at this moment
On arriving at home, Fate continued to prove kind. Mrs. Penney was
inspired to ask the guest to "stop to dinner," without any hints or
gesticulations being necessary, which might have marred the first
impression. Not only did the chickens appear at the table, where no
canned food was present, but there was a deep cherry pie as well, which
was eaten with peculiar relish by the commercial traveller, accustomed to
the awful fare of New England country hotels, where he was often obliged
to use his own samples to fill gaps. He gazed about at the comfortable
kitchen, and won Mamma Penney by praising the food and saying that he was
raised on a farm. Father Penney took a hasty bite in the buttery, and
soon disappeared to rescue his goods from the highway. He was always
considered something of a drawback to the matrimonial prospects of his
daughters; for, as his nose indicated, he had a firm, not to say
combative, disposition, and frequently insisted upon having not only the
last but the first word upon every subject, so that Fannie regarded his
going in the light of a special providence.
After dinner the three other Penney sisters all tried their best to be
agreeable, Marie donning a clinging blue gown and walking up and down the
piazza watering plants at this unusual hour of the day for his particular
benefit, a performance which caused L. Middleton to ask, "Say, did you
ever do a vaudeville turn?" And Marie, not knowing whether to take the
remark as a criticism or a compliment, preferred to take the latter view
and answer in languid tones,--
"No, but I have acted, and I've been seriously advised to go on
In the middle of the afternoon, the load of groceries having arrived
safely, Fannie's "hero" took his leave, Papa Penney driving him to the
village inn, where he was to unpack his samples.
For a while L. Middleton was a standard topic of conversation among the
girls. They wondered for what L. stood. Fannie guessed Louis, Marie
spitefully suggested that it might be Lucifer, and that was why he didn't
spell it out. Then as he seemed about fading from the horizon, he
reappeared suddenly one crisp October morning, just starting on his
eastern fall route, he said, and invited Fanny to go to the County Fair.
Again a period of silence followed. The sisters remarked that most
travelling men were swindlers, etc., but Fannie persistently put violet
water on the handkerchief that she tucked under her pillow every night,
until, as winter set in, the supply failed.
Then an idea came to her, she took the horseshoe from where it had been
hanging over her door, covered its dinginess with two coats of gold
paint, cut the legend, "Sweet Violets," together with the embossed
flowers, from the label on the perfume bottle, and pasted them on the
horseshoe, which she further ornamented with an enormous ribbon bow, and
despatched it secretly to L. Middleton by express a few days before
At New Year's a box arrived for Fannie. It contained a gold pin in the
shape of a horseshoe, in addition to a large, heart-shaped candy box
filled with such chocolates that each was as a foretaste of celestial
bliss to Fannie, who now thought she might fairly assume airs of
Half a dozen letters went rapidly back and forth, and then the proposal
bounded along as unexpectedly as every other detail of the courtship.
There was very little sentiment of expression about it, but he was in
earnest and gave references as to his respectability, etc., much as if he
were applying for a business position, and ended by asking her at which
end of his route she preferred to live, New York, or Portland, Maine, and
if in New York, would she prefer Brooklyn or Harlem?
Fannie quickly decided upon Harlem, for, as Marie said, "There one only
need give the street name and number, while very few people yet realize
that Brooklyn really is in New York."
This important matter settled, the Penney girls arose in their might upon
the wings of ambition. There should be a church wedding.
Now the Penneys were, as all their forbears had been, Congregationalists;
but that church had no middle aisle, besides, as there was no giving away
of the bride in the service, there was little chance for pomp and
ceremony. It was discovered that the groom's parents had been
Episcopalians, and though he was liberal to the degree of indifference
upon such matters, it was decided that to have the wedding in St. Peter's
would be a delicate compliment to him.
All the spring the village dressmaker has been at work upon the gowns of
bride and of bridesmaids, of whom there are to be six, and now the cards
are out and the groom's name also, the L at the last moment having been
found to stand for Liberty. If they had consulted the groom, he would
have decried all fuss, for Fannie's chief attraction was that he thought
her an unspoiled, simple-minded country girl.
The hour was originally set for the morning, but as Fannie saw in her
fashion paper that freckled people often developed a peculiarly charming
complexion when seen by lamplight, the time was changed to eight at
night, in spite of the complications it caused.
A week before the invitations were issued Fannie came to see me and after
some preamble said: "Mrs. Evan, I want my wedding to be good form, and
I'd like to do the swell thing all through. Now the _Parlour Journal_
says that the front pews that are divided off by a white ribbon should be
for the bride's folks on one side of the aisle and the groom's on the
other. Mr. Middleton hasn't any people near by enough to come, so I
thought I'd have the Bluff folks sit on that side."
"The Bluff people?" I queried, in amazement. "You surely aren't going to
invite them? Do you know any of them?"
"Well, not intimately, but Mrs. Ponsonby has been to the house for eggs,
and Mrs. Latham's horse dropped a shoe last week and father set it, and
the Vanderveer boy's pony ran away into our front yard the other day, so
I don't feel as if they were strangers and to be left out. Oh, Mrs. Evan,
if they'd only come and wear some of their fine clothes to light up the
church, it would be in the papers, the _Bee_ and the _Week's News_ over
town maybe, and give me such a start! For you know I'm to live in New
York, and as I've never left home before, it would be so pleasant to know
I almost made up my mind to try to put things before her in their true
light, and save her from disappointment, but then I realized that I was
too near her own age. Ah, if Lavinia Dorman had only been here that day
she could possibly have advised Fannie without giving offence.
* * * * *
_May 16th._ The wedding is over. Shall I ever forget it? The rain and
cool weather of the past ten days kept back the apple blossoms, so that
the supply for decorating the church was poor and the blossoms
themselves only half open and water-soaked. Mrs. Jenks-Smith, who always
hears everything, knowing of the dilemma, in the goodness of her heart
sent some baskets of hothouse flowers, but the girls and men who were
decorating did not know how to handle them effectively, for Fannie, still
clinging to sentiment, had gilded nearly a barrel of old horseshoes,
which were tied with white ribbon to every available place, being
especially prominent on the doors of the reserved pews.
Late in the afternoon a fine mist set in with clouds of fog, which, if it
got into the church, I knew would completely conceal the glimmer of the
oil lamps. It seems that Papa Penney was not told until an hour before
the ceremony that he was to walk up the aisle with the bride on his arm
and give her away. This he flatly refused to do. He considered it enough
of an affliction to have the wedding in church at all, and it was not
until his wife had given her first exhibition of fainting, and Fannie had
cried her eyes red, that he apparently yielded.
We arrived at the church at about ten minutes to eight, father and Evan
having been persuaded to come in recognition of good neighbourhood
feeling. The back part of the church was well filled, but the space
above the ribbon was painfully empty. The glimmering lamps did little
more than reveal the gloom, and the horseshoes gave a strange
We tried to spread ourselves out as much as possible to fill up, and
presently the Ponsonby girls entered with some friends, seemingly
astonished at being seated within the barrier, for they had never seen
their cards of invitation, and had come as a sort of lark to kill time on
a wet evening.
The ushers wandered dismally up and down, stretching their hands
nervously as if unused to gloves. Presently they fell back, and the
organ, in the hands of an amateur performer and an inadequate blower,
began to chirp and hoot merrily, by which we knew the bridal party was
about to appear.
The ushers came first, divided, and disappeared successfully in the
shadows, on either side of the chancel steps. A long wait and then Marie
Penney followed, walking alone, as maid of honour; she had insisted upon
having plenty of room, as she said so few people walked well that they
spoiled her gait. Next came the six bridesmaids on a gallop, then Papa
Penney and the bride. He walked along at a jog trot, and he looked
furtively about as if for a loophole of escape. As for poor Mrs. Penney,
instead of being seated in the front pew before the procession entered,
she was entirely forgotten in the excitement, and stood trembling near
the door, until some one drew her into a seat in neighbourly sympathy.
The clergyman stood waiting, the bridesmaids grouped themselves behind
papa, so that there was no retreat, but where was the groom and the best
man? One, two, three minutes passed, but no sign. He had been directed to
the vestry door as the bridal party drove up. Could he suddenly have
changed his mind, and disappeared?
The silence was awful, the Ponsonby girls giggled aloud, and finally got
into such gales of laughter that I was ashamed. The organ had dropped
into the customary groaning undertone that is meant, I suppose, to give
courage to the nervous and weak-voiced during the responses.
* * * * *
Outside the church, in the rear, two men in evening dress might have been
seen blundering about in the dark, vainly trying to find an open door,
for besides the door to the vestry there were three others close
together, one opening into the little chantry, one the Sunday-school
room, and one into the cellar. They battered and pulled and beat to no
purpose, until a mighty pound forced one in, and the two men found
themselves flying down a flight of steps, and landing in a heap of coal.
Dazed, and not a little bruised, the groom struck a match, and looked
about; the best man had sprained his ankle, and said so in language
unbefitting the location, but Liberty Middleton arose superior to the
coal. Judging by the music that the ceremony had begun, he told his
crippled friend to sit still until he came back for him, and, by lighting
a series of wax matches, found his way back to the front door of the
church, and strode up the aisle dishevelled, and with a smutty forehead,
just as Papa Penney had succeeded in breaking through the bridesmaids,
dragging Fannie with him. A sigh of relief arose. The couple stepped
forward and the ceremony began. When, however, the giving away time came,
it was found that Papa Penney had retreated to a pew, from which he could
not be dislodged. Another hitch was only averted by the groom turning
pleasantly toward his father-in-law, and saying, with a wave of his hand,
"It's all right, don't trouble to move; you said 'I do,' I think; the
Parson understands." The ceremony was ended without further complication.
When Fannie walked out upon the arm of the self-possessed Liberty, I
thought that the travelling man had the makings of a hero in him after
all. It afterward transpired that the hapless best man, left in the coal
cellar, and not missed until the party was halfway home, had only
wrenched his ankle, and made his escape to the village tavern for
consolation, proving that even commercial travellers may be upset by a
fashionable wedding ceremony.
THE WHIRL BEGINS
_May 30_. The People of the Whirlpool have come to the Bluffs, and the
swirl and spray has, in a measure, followed them. I had well-nigh
written, "are settled at the Bluffs," but the Whirlpoolers are perpetual
migrants, unlike the feathered birds of passage never absolutely settling
anywhere even for the nesting season, sometimes even taking to the water
by preference, at the time, of all others, when home is most loved and
cherished by the "comfortably poor."
The houses, nominally closed since the holidays, have been reopened, one
by one, ever since the general return from the south in April, after
which season, Mrs. Jenks-Smith assures me, it is bad form to be seen in
New York on Sunday.
This fiat, however, does not prevent members of almost every family from
spending several days a week in the city, thus protecting themselves
against the possible monotony of home living by lunching and dining,
either singly or in informal groups, at the public restaurants.
Father has always held the theory that ladies should dress
inconspicuously in the public streets and hostelries, and for a woman to
do otherwise, he considered, was to prove that she had no claim upon
gentility. Evan used to go so far as to say that the only people who
display their fine clothes in hotels are those who have no homes in which
to wear them.
Dear, innocent provincials, the Whirlpoolers have changed all that, and
given the custom their hall mark that stamps it vogue. In fact, in
glancing at the papers, by the light of our Bluff Colony, which, after
all, is but a single current of the pool that whirls in the shape of the
letter S, it seems to me that a new field has been opened for the society
journalist--the reporting of the gowns worn at the restaurants in the
One evening, a few weeks ago, Evan and I went, by request, to one of the
most celebrated of these resorts to call upon some friends of his, a
bride and groom, then passing through the city. We were directed where to
find them in the corridor--midway would have been a better term. We found
them, and many others beside!
"Where do these people come from?" I whispered to Evan, looking down the
row of women of all ages and, if expression may indicate, all grades,
who, dressed and undressed in lavish opulence, were lolling about, much
as if expecting a call to go upon the stage and take part in some
spectacle, but that the clothes and jewels were too magnificent to be
"Brewers' wives from the west, and unknown quantities; people who come to
New York to see and be seen," he answered carelessly; but almost as he
spoke his words were checked by the entrance of an equally gorgeous
group, composed of those who Lavinia Dorman had assured us were among the
most conservative of our new neighbours, all talking aloud, as if to an
audience, as they literally swept into the dining room, where Mrs. Center
was already seated. To be sure, the clothes, in their cases, were worn
with a difference,--the ease of habit,--but to all outward appearance the
distinction began and ended there. Ah me! to think of having such things
cross the horizon in May, when, unless one is forced to be miserable, one
must be inexpressibly happy.
I have been working all the month in my garden, as of old, or trying to,
at least, but upon the principle that no member of a community can either
live or die wholly to, or by, himself, I here missed the untrammelled
liberty of yore. Not that I care if I am detected collarless, in a brown
holland apron, with earthy fingers, and sometimes even a smutty nose, but
the Whirlpoolers, unable to regard the work as serious, do not hesitate
to interrupt, if nothing more.
Imagine the assurance of the twenty-two-year-old Ponsonby girl, who came
dashing up all of a fume last Saturday morning, when I was comfortably
seated on the old tea tray, transplanting a flat of my best ostrich
plume asters, and begging me, her mother being away, to chaperon her to
a ball game, in a town not far off up the railroad, with harmless,
pink-eyed Teddy Tice, one of her brother's college mates. It seems that
if she could have driven up and taken a groom it would have been good
form, but there was some complication about the horses, and to go by
rail unchaperoned, even though surrounded by a earful of people, was not
to be thought of. I pointed to the asters that must be set out and
covered before the sun was high, but she couldn't understand, and went
off in a huff.
What a disagreeable word chaperon is at best, and what a thankless
vocation the unlisted, active, and very irregular verb 'to chaperon'
implies. I quite agree with Johnson, who denounced the term as affected,
for certainly its application is, though Lavinia Dorman says it is the
natural effect of a definite cause, and that it is quite necessary from
the point of view of the quarter where it most obtains.
Monday morning I was again interrupted in my garden operations by a
Whirlpooler, but the reason was quite different. The twins have gardens
of their own, which are as individual and distinctive as their two
selves. Richard delights in straight rows, well patted down between, and
treats the small seeds that he plants with a sort of paternal patience.
Ian disdains any seed smaller than a nasturtium or bean, whose growth is
soon apparent, and has collected a motley assortment of bulbs, roots, and
plants, without regard to size or season, and bordered his patch with
onion sets for Corney Delaney's express benefit, the goat having a Gallic
taste for highly flavoured morsels. Both boys are fairly patient with
their own gardening operations, but their joy is to "help" me by handing
tools, watering plants, and squirting insecticides, in my society and
under my direction.
Of course I could do it all much quicker by myself, and it has hampered
me this spring, for last season they were too irresponsible to more than
play work a few minutes at a time.
Now I have come to the conclusion that it is their right to learn by
helping me, and that it is the denial of companionship, either from
selfishness or some absurd educational theory, that weakens the force of
home ties later on.
I have been frequently lectured by those older, but more especially "new
mothers" younger than I, about staying with the boys at bedtime until
they grow drowsy. "The baby is put to bed, and if he cries I pay no
attention; it is only temper, not pain, for he stops the minute I speak
to him," they say. I feel the blood rush to my face and the sting to my
tongue always when I hear this.
Not pain, not temper, but the unconscious yearning for companionship, for
mother-love, is oftener the motive of the pitiful cry. Why should it be
denied? The mother bird broods her young in the nest at twilight, and the
father bird sings a lullaby to both. The kittens luxuriously sup
themselves to sleep with the warm mother flesh responding to their
seeking paws. In wild life I know not an animal who does not in some way
soothe her young to sleep. Why should the human child, the son of man, be
forced to live without the dream memories that linger about happy
sleeping times? What can the vaunted discipline give to replace them? It
is then, as they grow, and speech forms on their lips, that little
confessions come out and wrongs are naturally righted through
confidence, before they can sprout and grow.
I was not quite five when I last watched mother sowing her flower seeds,
and yet I remember to this day the way in which she did it, and so when
it came time to give my bed of summer roses its first bath of whale oil,
soap, and water, and the boys gave whoops of joy when they saw Bertel
wheel out the tub and I appeared with the shining brass syringe, I
resolved to let them have the questionable delight of administering the
shower bath, even if it took all day.
I have appropriated a long strip of rich, deep soil for these tender
roses, quite away from the formal garden and across the path from the new
strawberry bed, which by the necessity of rotation has worked its way
from the vegetable garden to the open spot under the bank wall by the
stable where the hotbeds congregate. This wall breaks the sweep of the
wind, and so both our tender roses and strawberries are of the earliest,
the fruit already being well set and large.
It was the middle of the morning. The work was progressing finely,
without more than the usual amount of slop and misdirected effort, when a
violent tooting from the direction of the highway caused me to stop, and
Ian dropped the squirter that I had newly filled for his turn, upon the
grass border, while he and Richard scurried toward the gateway to see
what was the matter, for the sound was like the screech of an automobile
horn in distress. It was!
A streak of dark red and a glitter of brass flashed in between the gate
posts, grazing them, and barely escaping an upset, and then came plunging
toward me. I screamed to the boys, who seemed to me directly in the path
of the _Thing_, which in another moment I recognized as an automobile of
the battering-ram variety, belonging to Harvey Somers, Gwendolen Burton's
fiance, which for the past week had been the terror of father's steady
old gray horses, owing to its constitutional eccentricities.
Mr. Somers was handling it single-handed, and though he was coming at a
reckless speed, I expected that he would swing back of the house and come
to one of the dramatic sudden stops, on the verge of an accident, for
which he is famous. So he did, but not on the driveway!
The _Thing_ gave a lurch and veered toward the barn, spitting like a
cageful of tiger cats. Somers was pushing the lever and gripping the
brake with all his athletic might, but to no purpose. The children, who,
wild with excitement, had by this time sought the safety of the open barn
door, seemed a second time to be in the monster's path.
Another lurch! Surely man and machine would be dashed to bits against
the substantial stable wall!
Then the _Thing_ changed its course, and showing a ray of flustered
intelligence, made a mighty leap off the bank wall and landed hub deep in
the soft, friable soil of the new strawberry bed, where, after one
convulsive effort, some part of its anatomy blew up with the triple
report of a rapid-fire gun, and after having relieved itself of a cloud
of steam, it settled down peacefully, as if a strawberry bed was the
place of all others it preferred for a noonday nap.
Harvey Somers was shot with a left-handed twirl directly into one of the
hotbed frames, from which the sash was pushed back, and landed in a
doubled-up position, amid a tearing sound and the crash of broken glass.
Meanwhile, the boys, frightened at the cloud of steam, yelled "Fire!" at
the top of their lungs.
As I flew to help him, I could for the instant think of nothing but the
Lizard Bill's assisted progress up the chimney and into the cucumber
frame, but as a rather faint voice said, "Not you; kindly call the
Doctor," my mirth changed to alarm, which was not lessened when Timothy
Saunders, hearing the uproar and the cry of fire, arriving too late to
grasp the situation with his slow Scotch brain, and seeing me leaning
over the plant frame, picked up the squirt and deluged the unfortunate
man with whale-oil spray!
Coughing and choking, Mr. Somers finally sat up, but did not offer to do
more, wiped his eyes, and said to me in most delightful and courteous
tones, "Would you be so good as to allow your man to bring me either a
bath robe or a mackintosh?"
I was at once relieved, for I knew that the lacerations were of trousers
and not flesh, and at the same time I saw that the crash of glass was
caused merely by the toppling backward of the sash, also that all my
young heliotrope plants that were in the frame where the chauffeur
reposed were hopelessly ruined.
Timothy brought out Evan's bath gown, and in a few moments Mr. Somers was
himself again, and after surveying the scene of the disaster, he
approached me with a charming bow, and drawing a crumpled note from his
"I promised Bertie Chatterton to give you this invitation for his studio
tea to-morrow, in person, and I fear that I have rather overshot my
promise. Best way to get that brute up will be from the bank wall,--will
damage your fruit less. I will have a derrick sent up to-morrow, or if
possible this afternoon. I'm awfully sorry, Mrs. Evan, but I think you'll
bear me witness that the accident was quite out of my control. May I beg
the favour of a trap home? I'm a trifle shaken up, that's all." And as if
the accident were an everyday affair, he departed without fuss and having
steadied my nerves by his entire self-control.
As I stood by the gateway pondering upon the matter and the easy manners
of this Whirlpooler, Mrs. Jenks-Smith drove past. She had met Mr. Somers,
and as her curiosity was piqued by his strange attire, she stopped to see
if I could furnish a clew. She says, by the way, that he is not a New
Yorker, but from Boston, and that his father is an English Honourable and
his mother a Frenchwoman.
A gang of men with a sort of wrecking machine hired from the railroad
company removed the _Thing_ next day, and towed it off, but of course the
strawberries were half ruined; next a man from the florist's in town came
with directions to repair all damage to turf and replace the smashed
plants. Yet that is not all--the sense of peace and protection that I had
when working in my garden has had a shock. In spite of the inhospitable
air it gives the place, I think we must keep the gates closed.
Why was Jenks-Smith inspired to start a land-boom here and fate allowed
to make fashion smile on it, when we were so uneventfully happy, so
* * * * *
Martin Cortright arrived on Wednesday, and is safely ensconced with
Martha and Timothy Saunders, who could give him the couple of plainly
furnished rooms he desired, and breakfast at any hour. For a man of no
hours (which usually means he never breakfasts before nine) to forgather
cheerfully at a commuter's table at 7:15 A.M. is a trial to him, and a
second breakfast is apt to cause a cloud in Madam C.'s domestic horizon.
Therefore, father allowed Martin to do as he suggested, live at the farm
cottage and work here in the library or attic den, as suits his
convenience. In this way he feels quite independent, has motive for
exercise in walking to and fro, and as he is always welcome to dine with
us, can mix his portion of solitude and society in the exact proportion
of his taste, even as his well-shaped fingers carefully blend the tobacco
for his outdoor pipe.
Dear old fellow, he seems so happy and bubbling over with good temper at
having overstepped the tyranny of habit, that I shall almost expect to
see his gray hairs turn brown again as the wintry pelt of the weasel does
If the Vanderveer boy is diagnosed as a case of "suppressed boyhood,"
then Martin Cortright's only ailment should be dubbed "suppressed youth!"
He was to have come earlier in the month, but a singular circumstance
prevented. The old-time gentlewoman, at whose house in Irving Place he
has had his apartments so long that a change seemed impossible, died, and
he was obliged not only to move, but put his precious belongings in
storage until he can place himself suitably once more. So that his plan
of coming here bridges the break, and seems quite providential.
He and father walk up and down the garden together after dinner, smoking
and chatting, and it does me good to see dear daddy with one of his
old-time friends. I think I am only now realizing what he, with his
sociable disposition, gave up in all those years before Evan came, that I
should not be alone, and that he might be all in all to me.
It was quite cool yesterday. We had hearth fires all through the house,
and Martin, rearranging some reference books for his own convenience in
the little room that is an annex to father's library, wore his skull cap
and Chinese silk dressing gown, which gave him an antique air quite at
variance with his clear skin and eyes.
Lavinia Dorman had been due all the week, but worry with the workmen who
are building in the rear of her house detained her, and she telegraphed
me that she would take the morning express, and asked me to meet her over
in town. So I drove in myself, dropping father at the hospital on the
way, but on reaching the station the train brought me no passenger.
I returned home, hoping to be in time for our way train, thinking I had
mistaken her message, and missed it; but the postmistress,--for every
strange face is noticed in town,--told me that the lady who visited me
two weeks ago walked up from the ten o'clock train; that she had a new
bonnet and "moved right spry," and asked if she was a relative of mine.
"An aunt, maybe, and was the pleasant new gentleman an uncle, and did he
write a newspaper? She thought maybe he did because he was so particular
about his mail." I said something about their being adopted relations,
and hurried home.
The boys were industriously digging dandelions on the side lawn. I
inconsistently let the dear, cheery flowers grow and bloom their fill in
the early season, when they lie close to the sward, but when they begin
to stretch awkward, rubbery necks, and gape about as if to see where they
might best shake out their seed puffs, they must be routed. Do it as
thoroughly as possible, enough always remain to repay my cruelty with a
shower of golden coin the next spring. Bertel spends all his spare time
on the other bits of grass, but the side lawn is the boys' plunder,
where, by patiently working each day at grubbing out the roots at
twenty-five cents a hundred, they expect, before the dandelion season is
over, to amass wealth enough to buy an alluring red goat harness trimmed
with bells that is on exhibition at the harness shop in town, for Corney
Delaney. Yes, they said, Aunt Lavinia had just come, but she said they
need not stop, for she could go in by herself.
There was no one in the hall, sitting room, den, or upstairs, neither had
Effie seen any person enter. Thinking I heard voices in the direction of
father's office, I went there and through to the library "annex," where
an unexpected picture met my gaze. Martin Cortright, the precise, in
stocking feet, skull cap, and dressing gown, perched on top of the
step-ladder, was clutching a book in one hand, within the other he held
Miss Lavinia's slender fingers in greeting, while his face had a curious
expression of surprise, pleasure, and a wild desire to regain his
slippers that were down on the floor, a combination that made him look
extremely foolish as well as "pudgy."
Up to that moment, Miss Lavinia, who cannot distinguish a face three
feet away without her lorgnette, thought she was speaking to father.
Under cover of our mutual hilarity, I led her back to a seat in the
study, so that Martin might recover his wits, coat, and slippers at the
same time, for Miss Lavinia had stumbled over the latter and sent them
coasting in different directions.
Yes, the postmistress was right, Lavinia Dorman had a new bonnet. Not the
customary conservative but monotonous upholstered affair of jet and lace,
but a handful of pink roses in a tulle nest, held on by wisps of tulle
instead of ribbons.
"Hortense, who has made bonnets for years, said this was more appropriate
for the country, and would show dirt less than black,--and even went so
far as to suggest omitting the strings altogether," she said in rather
flurried tones, as a few moments later we went upstairs, and I removed
the pins that held the confection in place, and commented upon its
* * * * *
Martin Cortright stayed to dinner, and afterward he, Miss Lavinia,
father, and Evan sat down to a "real old-fashioned," serious game of
whist! Of all things, to the fifth wheel, who is out of it, would not be
in if she could, cannot learn, and prefers jackstraws to card games of
any sort, an evening of serious whist is the most aggravating. They were
too well matched to even enliven matters by squabbling or casting
venomous glances at each other. Evan played with Martin Cortright, whose
system he was absorbed in mastering, and he never spoke a word, and
barely looked up. This, too, when he had been away for several days on a
business trip. It was moonlight, and I wanted him to see the new iris
that were in bloom along the wild walk, dilate upon the game of leap-frog
that the automobile played, and--well--there is a great deal to say when
Evan has been away that cannot be thought of indoors or be spoken
hurriedly in the concise, compact, public terms in which one orders a
meal. Conversation is only in part made of words, its subtilties are
largely composed of touch and silence.
I myself, being wholly responsible for the present whist combination, of
course could say nothing except to myself and the moon. What a hoard of
personal reminiscences and heart to heart confessions the simpering old
thing must have stored away behind her placid countenance. It is a wonder
that no enterprising journal has syndicated her memoirs by wireless
telegraphy for the exclusive use of their Sunday issue.
I resolved that I must wait awhile, and then if this silence lasted many
evenings, I must hunt up a game of cards that takes only two. How could I
get out of the room without appearing to be in a huff or bored? Ah! a
wordless excuse; a slight noise upstairs. Ian sometimes walks in his
sleep. I go up and sit in my window and look out through the diamond
panes at the garden. Ian stirs and mutters something about a drink. I
hasten to get it, and he, gripping the glass with his teeth, swallows
eagerly, with a clicking noise in his throat.
"Is your throat sore?" I ask apprehensively. He opens his eyes, realizes
where he is, nestles his head into my neck and whispers,--
"Not zactly lumpy sore, Barbara, just crusty, 'cause I made--lots of
dandelion curls wif my tongue to-day, and they're--velly--sour," and with
a satisfied yawn he rolled back on his pillow, into the funny
spread-eagle attitude peculiar to himself, but Richard slept peacefully
on like a picture child, cheek on hand, and the other little
dandelion-stained paw above the sheet.
(N.B.--When one's husband and father together take to serious whist of a
moonlight night in spring, twins are not only an advantage but a
I have searched the encyclopedia for the description of an intellectual
game of cards, arranged as a duet, and found one. It is piquet! Now I
can wait developments peacefully, for are there not also in reserve
chess, checkers, backgammon, and--jackstraws?
* * * * *
_June_ 2. A gentle summer shower at sunset after a perfect day has filled
the world with fragrance and song, for do the birds ever sing so
perfectly with such serene full-noted ecstasy as after the rains of May
and June? Or is it the clearness of the air after the rain that transmits
each note in full, prisoning nothing of its value?
To-night I am unhappy. Perhaps that is an exaggeration, and perplexed is
the better word, and it is only in pages of my social experience book
that the cause can be given.
Friday was Peysey Vanderveer's eighth birthday, and it has been
celebrated by a party on a scale of magnificence that to my mind would
have been suitable for the only son of royalty.
Though the invitations fortunately were only given two days in advance,
Richard and Ian were agog over the matter to the extent of muttering in
their sleep, and getting up this morning before eight, in order, if
possible, to make the hour of three come quicker, and to be sure to be
ready in time.
When the invitation was brought by Mr. Vanderveer in person, he asked if
Lavinia Dorman and I would not like to come up also and see the children
play, adding that I need feel no responsibility about the boys, as he was
going to be at home and give himself up to seeing that the "kids" had a
jolly time, and got into no scrapes.
We agreed that it would be amusing to go up with the children, stay a
little while to be sure that they could adapt themselves, and then leave;
for if there is anything dampening to the ardour of children at play it
is a group of elders with minds divided between admiration and
correction, punctuating unwise remarks upon beauty and cleverness with
"Maud, you are overheated." "Tommy, don't! Use your handkerchief!"
"Billy, your stocking is coming down!" "Reggie, you must wait, girls
should be helped first."
The boys certainly looked comfortably and humanly handsome in their white
cheviot sailor suits, loose blue ties, black stockings and pumps. They
really are good-looking children. Lavinia Dorman, who is candour itself,
says so. I suppose people think that my opinion does not count, and that
I should consider them perfect if they were of the human chipmunk
variety. But I am sure I am not prejudiced, for I do _not_ think them
perfect, only well made and promising, thus having the two first
requisites of all young animals.
When we arrived at the Vanderveers a little late, owing to the fact of
father's having been obliged to use our horse for a hurry call, the party
had "gathered," to use an old-fashioned expression, and I saw that
Richard and Ian were by several years the youngest of the group of thirty
or more, the others ranging from eight to thirteen or fourteen.
The house and grounds were decorated wherever decoration was possible.
Though it was wholly a daylight affair, Japanese lanterns hung by
festoons of handsome ribbon from verandas, trees, and around the new
pergola, the marble columns of which, in the absence of vines, were wound
with ribbons and roofed with bright flags, to form a tent for the
collation. In an arbour decorated in a like manner, an Hungarian
orchestra in uniform, much in vogue, Miss Lavinia says, for New York
dinner dances, was playing ragtime, while a dozen smart traps and road
carts filled with exquisitely dressed women lining the driveway around
the sunken tennis court, indicated that a matched game was to take place.
Yes, after every one had exchanged greetings, Miss Lavinia, meeting
several friends who not only treated her with something akin to homage,
but were unfeignedly pleased to see her, the guests divided, a dozen of
the elder girls and boys going toward the tennis court, where Monty Bell
seemed to be acting as general manager. I afterward discovered that two
prizes for doubles and two for singles were to be played for, not pretty
trifles suitable for children, but jewellery, belt buckles of gold and
silver, gold sleeve links, and a loving cup.
Meanwhile Mr. Vanderveer took charge of the younger group and led them
through the garden to where some young spruce trees hid the wall. Here a
surprise awaited them in the shape of two of the largest of the growing
trees festooned with ribbons and laden with strange fruit in the shape of
coloured toy balloons that bobbed about and tugged at their moorings as
if anxious to escape.
On each balloon a number was painted in white. A wide ribbon was
stretched barrierwise across the walk about fifteen feet from the trees,
and near it were several large baskets, one full of bows and dart-pointed
arrows, and the other heaped with expensive toys and bonbon boxes of
painted satin, for prizes, each article being numbered.
"Step up, ladies and gentlemen. Stand in line by the ribbon and take your
turn at the most unique shooting match ever seen in this county,--one at
a time,--and whoever points the arrow at anything but the balloons is
ruled out," rattled Mr. Vanderveer, after the manner of a fakir at a
country fair, and beaming with pleasure. For Evan says that outside of
business dealings he has the reputation of being the most good-natured
and generous of men, and that to invent ways to lavish money upon his son
and his friends is almost as keen a pleasure to him as to promote schemes
for winning it.
Mr. Vanderveer picked up a bow and dart to illustrate the game, aimed at
a balloon, the arrow glanced off, but at the second shot the balloon went
pop and shrivelled away with the whistle of escaping gas and shouts of
applause from both children and their elders.
Feeling assured that my boys were quite at their ease and not likely to
balk and act like wild rabbits, as is sometimes the case with children
when they find themselves among strangers, and seeing nothing that they
would be likely to fall out of or into, except a great bowl of lemonade
arranged in a bower that represented a well, we came away, Lavinia Dorman
sniffing in the spectacle like a veteran war-horse scenting powder, and
enjoying the gayety, as I myself should have done heartily if it had not
been for the boys.
I was not worried about their clothes, their taking cold, or sticking
the darts into their fingers, but I was beginning to realize the
responsibility of consequences. What would the effect of this fete be
upon the birthday parties of our village community, where a dish of
mottoes, a home-made frosted sponge cake, and a freezer of ice cream
(possibly, but not always) from town, eaten out-of-doors, meant bliss.
I suppose it is only the comfortably poor who have to think of
consequences, the uncomfortably rich think they can afford not to,
and tired of mere possession, they must express their wealth audibly
at any cost.
* * * * *
Richard and Ian came home about half past six, driven by Timothy
Saunders, who was in a sulky mood. When I asked him, by way of cheerful
conversation, if the Vanderveer grounds did not look pretty, and if he
had heard the band (he is very fond of music), he fairly glowered at me
as he used in his bachelor days, before Martha's energetic affection had
mellowed him, and he began to jerk out texts, his dialect growing more
impossible each moment, so that the only words that I caught were
"scarlet weemen--Philistines--wrath--mammon o' the unriteous," etc.,
until I seized the boys and fled into the porch, because when Timothy
Saunders is wrathful, and quotes scripture as a means of expressing it,
some one must fly, and it is never Timothy.
The boys, however, were jubilant, and began at once to unwrap the various
bundles they were hugging, prizes, it seemed, for every game they played,
that represented enough plunder to deck a small Christmas tree. After
these had been duly admired, with some misgivings on my part, Ian jumped
up suddenly, clapping his hand to his pocket, and coming close, so that
he could rest upon my knee, he began pulling out shining new dimes and
quarters, until his hands, moist and trembling with excitement, could
hold no more, and he poured the coins into my lap.
"Count them please, Barbara, vely quick, 'cause I can't say so many," he
begged, standing with his curly head a little on one side, and his eyes
flashing with eagerness.
Wondering what new form of extravagance it was, I counted, "One, two,
three dollars and a half."
"Then we can go and buy the red harness for Corney to-morrow, without
bothering to dig up any more dandies, 'cause Dick's got some too," he
fairly shouted. "It was all bully fun, but that swizzle game where the
marble ran round was the bestest of all, only some numbers it sat on took
the pennies and some gave them back," and he indicated something flying
round in a circle as he capered about. Ian's slightest gestures, like his
father's, are very realistic, and I turned sick as I realized the game by
which the silver had been won was probably roulette! Could it be
possible? How had Mr. Vanderveer dared? No, there must be some mistake.
At that instant my attention was attracted by Richard, who, after
unpacking his toys, had curled up in a deep piazza chair, where he sat
without saying a word, but looking flushed and heavy-eyed.
"Do you feel sick? Perhaps you ate too much cream, and then ran too fast.
Come and let mother feel of your hands," I said. His hands were cold and
his head burning.
"It wasn't the cweam," he replied finally, as if not quite sure what was
the matter, "it was the lemonade with the bitter currant jelly in it
that made the cweam and all swell up,--and I guess it's going to spill
"Lemonade with bitter jelly in it?" queried father, coming out, "what
sort of a mess have they given him?" Father stooped, smelled his breath,
saying, "Astringent wine of some sort, unless my nose fails me. Did you
have any, Ian?"
"Not pink, only yellow. I was all full up by then."
"Why, when the big boys caught some of us and said we must drink pink
lemonade to make us grow quick."
Father gave me a keen glance of intelligence, and I took the boys
upstairs, where Richard's trouble soon righted itself, and, early as it
was, they went quickly to sleep with the precious money under their
pillows, fatigue conquering even their excitement.
Evan came home rather late, and at dinner we talked of other things. As
far back as I remember anything, I can hear father's voice saying alike
to Aunt Lot, myself, or a complaining servant, "The family board is
sacred; meals are not the time for disagreeables."
Immediately after dinner, and before I had a chance to tell Evan, Mrs.
Jenks-Smith stopped on her way home from a drive, the Whirlpoolers not
dining until eight, to ask father if she might take some friends in to
see the hospital to-morrow, an appeal having been recently made for new
bedding, etc., saying: "We're going to have smashing strawberries and
roses this year; they'll come on before the crowd moves along in July,
and we might as well shake up a fete for the hospital as anything else,
as we're bound to keep moving.
"Were you up at Vanderveers this afternoon? Oh, yes, to be sure, I saw
you going down hill as I drove in. Quite a chic affair for a little
between-season place like this; but after all, it's the people, not the
place, that make the pace, isn't it, Miss Dorman? And a swell New Yorker
can leave a wake that'll show the way anywhere.
"You don't look happy, though, Mrs. Evan. The boys ate too much? No?
Roulette a little too high for you?
"Well, my dear, I half agree with you. I think things were a little too
stiff this afternoon for such youngsters; but Vandy is such a liberal
fellow he couldn't do enough,--nor tell when to stop,--actually lugged up
half a dozen bags of new silver and dealt it to the kids in handfuls.
Harm? Why, he didn't see any, I dare say. He wasn't robbing anybody;
besides, I'll bet Monty Bell put him up to it. I know how you feel,
though. I wouldn't play for money myself, if I'd young boys; but as I
haven't, it doesn't matter, and one must be amused. That's the way Mrs.
Latham jogged poor Carthy off and began the gap with her husband. Latham
gambles on change, of course, but drew the line at his house. Didn't know
it? You poor innocent, you're as bad as Sylvia herself. Why, yes, they're
as good as divorced, by mutual agreement, though; he's kept away all of
two years. I expect that they will announce it any time now.
"Won't let the boys keep the money? Don't be silly now and make a fuss;
change it to bills and put it on the church plate; that's what all the
really conscientious women always do with their Lenten winnings
anyway,--that is, when they can afford it.
"I'll allow, though, they didn't manage the drinks well this afternoon.
The lemonade was for the youngsters, and their spread was in the pergola;
the next age had claret cup in the tea house back of the tennis court,
and there was also a spread there with champagne cup for the elders.
"Claret cup? Oh, yes, nowadays you insult a boy over twelve if you offer
him lemonade. But the trouble was, the big boys tumbled to the champagne
cup, got hold of a bowl of it, grew excited, and fed the youngsters with
the claret stuff, and made a lot of them sick. Your Richard one of them?
I see,--I don't wonder you're put out, my dear, indeed I don't. I should
be too, that is, if it mattered; but one person disapproving won't turn
the wheel the other way, it only means to lose your own footing." So
saying, the Lady of the Bluffs rustled away, promising to call for father
in her 'bus in the morning.
"Is this true?" asked Evan, presently, and I had never seen his eyes look
so steely cold.
"Yes, I'm afraid so," I answered, meeting his gaze.
"Where is the money?"
"Under their pillows; they expect to buy the red goat harness to-morrow."
"It's a crying shame, the whole thing. The poor little babies!"
"What shall I do?"
"You? Nothing. I shall return the money. This is my business; man to
man. As a woman you inevitably must be emotional and make a doubtful
issue of it. You mother the boys well, God knows; this is my chance to
"But the money,--shall I get it now?"
"No, in the morning; they will bring it to me, and I will make them
understand, as far as babies may. In one way, I fear, we are unwittingly
somewhat to blame ourselves. Every one who is drawn toward a social and
financial class a little beyond his depth, and yields, though feeling the
danger, is unwise. I think, sweetheart, this commuter, his wife, and
babies had better be content to wade in safe shallows and not go within
touch of the Whirlpool current."
Then Evan and I went and stood silently by the two white beds, and now he
is walking up and down in the garden smoking quietly, while I am writing
up here, and unhappy because I think of to-morrow and the boys'
disappointment about the little red harness.
_June_ 10. Sylvia Latham has returned alone. Her father came with her as
far as Chicago, where, having business that would detain him for perhaps
ten days, and warm weather having set in, he insisted that Sylvia should
at once proceed eastward. At least that is what Miss Lavinia tells me;
but she has suddenly turned quite reticent in everything that concerns
the Lathams, which, together with Mrs. Jenks-Smith's random remarks, have
inevitably set me to thinking.
I had hoped to form a pleasant friendship with Sylvia, for though I have
only met her two or three times, I feel as if I really knew her; but
there will be little chance now, as they go on to Newport the first of
July, and the continual procession of house parties, for golf, tennis,
etc., at the Bluffs, even though they are called informal, necessarily
stand in the way of intimate neighbourly relations between us. Monty Bell
has been dividing his week ends between the Ponsonby, Vanderveer, and
Jenks-Smith households, yet he always is in the foreground when I have
been to see Sylvia, even though I have tried to slip in between times in
I do not like this Monty Bell; he seems to be merely an eater of dinners
and a cajoler of dames, such superficial chivalry of speech as he
exhibits being only one of the many expedients that gain him the title of
"socially indispensable" that the Whirlpoolers accord him.
Personally anything but attractive, he seems able to organize and control
others in a most singular way. Perhaps it is because he has a genius for
taking pains and planning successful entertainments for his friends, even
to the minutest detail, and giving them the subtle distinction of both
originality and finish, without troubling their givers to think for
themselves. Miss Lavinia-says that he has the entree of the two or three
very exclusive New York houses that have never yet opened their doors to
Mrs. Latham and several more aspiring Whirlpoolers, Mrs. Jenks-Smith
having penetrated the sacred precincts, only by right of having been
presented at the English Court in the last reign through the influence of
her stepdaughter, who married a poverty-stricken title.
"I don't know what it all amounts to," said the outspoken Lady of
the Bluffs on her return, "except that I'm in it now with both feet,
which is little enough pay for the trouble I took and the money
Jenks-Smith put out.
"Our son-in-law? No, he's not exactly English, he's Irish, blood of the
old kings, they say; but all the good it does him is, that he can wear
his hat with a feather in it, or else his shoes, I can never remember
which, in the presence of royalty, when if it wasn't for good American
money he'd have neither one or the other.
"Money? Oh yes, that's all they want of us over there; we've no cause to
stick up our noses and think it's ourselves. We know, Jenks-Smith and I,
for haven't we been financial mother and father in law to a pair of them
for ten years? Jenks-Smith was smart, though; he wouldn't give a lump sum
down, but makes them an allowance, and we go over every year or so and
bail them out of some sort of a mess to boot, have the plumbing fixed up,
and start the children all over with new clothes. That's what we're doing
when the papers say, 'Mr. and Mrs. Jenks-Smith, who went to Carlsbad for
the waters, are now in Ireland, being entertained in regal style by their
daughter and son-in-law at Bally-whack House.'"
Miss Lavinia says with a shiver that whoever marries Monty Bell, and it
is absolutely necessary for him to make a wealthy connection in the
immediate future, will have all New York doors open to her, and that, as
Mrs. Latham is leaving no stone unturned in order to become a social
leader, a marriage between Sylvia and Mr. Bell would secure her the
complete prestige necessary to her ambition, while rearranged families
are so common and often the results of such trivial causes, that the fact
of the man's having a lovely wife and two children living abroad does not
militate against him in the least. It all seems ghastly, this living life
as if it was a race track, where to reach the social goal is the only
thought, no matter how, or over or through what wreckage, or in what
company the race is to be won.
Since her return Sylvia has looked pale and seemed less buoyant. She is
much disappointed because her plan of going to Rockcliffe to see her
class graduate cannot be carried out. Miss Lavinia had promised to go
with her, and the poor child was looking forward to a week of girlish
pleasure among the friends with whom she had spent two years, when, lo
and behold! the rose and strawberry festival, that the Lady of the Bluffs
had stirred up for the benefit of the hospital, assumed such huge
proportions that the entire colony became involved, and the dates
conflicting, it was impossible for Sylvia to leave home without entirely
tipping over her mother's plans.
The places on the north side of the Bluff road are to be thrown open,
grand-chain fashion, each contributing something by way of entertainment,
games, a merry-go-round brought with great expense from the city, fortune
telling, a miniature show of pet animals, and an amateur circus, being a
few of the many attractions offered.
The spectators are to pay a fee and enter by the Ponsonbys', the first
place on the south, and gradually work their way up to the Jenks-Smiths',
where the rose garden and an elaborate refreshment booth will be reached.
The Latham garden is too new to make any showing, but Mrs. Latham, who
has been much in New York of late, promises something novel in the way of
a tea room in her great reception hall, while Mrs. Jenks-Smith insisted
that Sylvia should have charge of her rose booth, saying: "Your name's
suitable for the business, you'll look well in a simple hat and baggy
mull gown, such as artists always want to put on the people they paint,
and I must positively have some one who'll stay by me and see that things
are not torn to bits, for all the rest of the girls will slide off with
the first pair of trousers that comes along. Anyway, you don't match the
little Ponsonby and Chatfield minxes that your mother has chosen for her
six Geisha girls, for you are a head taller than the bunch."
Nothing is talked of now but this fete. Of course it will help the
hospital, even though ten times the amount is being spent upon the
preparation than any sum that can possibly be made for the charity; but
it pleases the people to spend. Father says that the Whirlpoolers are
already bored; that they have used up the place, for the time being, and
if it were not for this festival, the Bluffs would be deserted for
Newport and Long Island long before July.
Social ambition has even infected our rector's jolly little wife, who has
never felt able or called upon to entertain in any but the most informal
way. After hearing the report of a clerical luncheon in New York, where
the clergyman sat at the foot of his own table with a miniature
shepherd's crook before him, and the favour beside the plate of each
female guest consisted of a woolly lamb, she, not to be outdone,
immediately imperilled the possibility of a new winter gown by inviting
all the non-resident members of the congregation to lunch, and serving
the ice cream in a toy Noah's Ark, while the animals from it were grouped
about a large dish of water, to form an appropriate decoration in the
centre of the table, and sugar doves at each plate held leaves in their
mouths, upon which the name of the guest was neatly pricked with a pin.
* * * * *
Lavinia Dorman has decided to stay with me and do without her maid,
rather than take a cottage, or board, for we find that we do not wear on
each other in the least. We never plan for one another, or interfere in
any way, and each takes it for granted that if the other desires
assistance of any sort, she will ask for it.
Miss Lavinia pokes about the garden at her own sweet will. I gather the
flowers,--I could not give that up to any one,--and she takes charge of
arranging them in the house. She is very fond of doing fancy work, I am
not, so that her offer to re-cover the sofa cushions in den, study, and
library comes in the light of a household benefaction.
Besides this, she has a very good effect upon the boys, and without being
at all fussy, she is instilling their absorbent minds quite unconsciously
with some little bits of the quaint good breeding of other days that they
will never forget. They love to go to town with her, one of her first
stipulations being that if I chose to include her in some of our long
drives, well and good, otherwise she wished the liberty of telephoning
the stable for horse and man, whenever she pleased, without my troubling
myself about her movements.
Meanwhile, I really think that this living in the midst of a family
without losing her independence is making Lavinia Dorman grow backwards
toward youth. She has bought an outing hat without strings, trimmed with
fluffy white, she takes her work out under the trees in a basket, and
has given up tying her head in a thin and a thick veil every time she
drives out. If she could learn to sit comfortably back and lounge a
trifle, and if a friendly magpie would only chance along and steal her
stock of fronts, for a nest, so that she would be obliged to show her
own lovely hair that shades like oxidized silver, the transformation
would be complete.
Martin Cortright also is developing mental energy. He always had
considerable physical vim, as I found the Sunday after he first came,
when he accompanied Evan upon one of his long walks, and was not used up
by it. He has stopped fumbling with reference books and shuffling bits of
paper by the hour, and writes industriously every day by the west window
of the attic, where he can refresh himself by looking out of the window
at the garden, or across at the passers on the highway. I was afraid that
he might wish to read the results nightly to either father or Evan, but
no, he keeps them safely under lock and key in a great teacher's desk
that he bought second hand over in town. He stays to dine with us two or
three nights a week, but he has grown flexible, and our meals are very
merry ones. Laugh softly to yourself, Experience Book, and flutter your
leaves just a bit as I write, that of their own volition, Miss Lavinia
and Martin have drifted from whist to piquet, as by natural transition,
and Evan is free for garden saunterings once more.
* * * * *
_June_ 25. Yesterday was the day of the festival, and it was neither
sultry, foggy, nor brought to a sudden stop by a thunder shower, as so
often happens at this season.
By half past two in the afternoon the country teams could be seen winding
Bluff ward by all the various roads, and before three, the hour at which
the gates were to be opened, every available hitching place was occupied,
and the line of vehicles extended well up one of the back lanes that was
bounded by a convenient rail fence.
Horace Bradford arrived home at Pine Ridge night before last. He had
expected to see Sylvia and Miss Lavinia at Rockcliffe. Missing them, and
not knowing the cause of their change of plan, very naturally his first
thought was to drive down to Oak-lands and make a double call. On taking
up the local paper he saw the announcement of the rose festival set forth
in ornamental type, which gave him a key to the situation, so that the
substantial, if not ornamental, farm buggy, drawn by a young horse with
plenty of free-gaited country go but no "manners," was one of the first
to reach the Bluffs, Horace innocently hoping to have a few moments with
Sylvia before the festivities began. He therefore inquired his way to the
Latham house direct, instead of going into the fair grounds by way of the
Ponsonbys', and encountered Perkins, Potts, and Parker, who were on guard
at the door, as well as two footmen who stood by the steps with straw
wheel guards ready to assist people from their traps, and two grooms in
silk-sleeved buff jackets, who waited to take charge of the horses of the
men who were expected to ride over from a neighbouring social settlement.
The outdoor group seemed to be in doubt how to proceed. Bradford had all
the ease of bearing that they instinctively felt belonged to a gentleman,
but his turnout was beyond the pale, and the grooms hesitated to give it
the shelter of the perfectly equipped stable.
Perkins, however, did not hesitate, and before Bradford could open his
lips, came through the doors that were fastened wide open, and, with a
wave of his hand said, in freezing tones, "You've come in the wrong way;
the entrance gate and ticket booth is below, as the sign shows."
"I wish to see Miss Latham," said Bradford, handing his card, and at
the same time with difficulty suppressing a violent desire to knock
the man down.
"Not at home," replied immovable Perkins, vouchsafing no further
"Then take my card to Mrs. Latham," thundered Bradford, nettled by his
slip in not asking for both at the first instance, and; as the man still
hesitated, he strode past him through the porch and into the hall.
As Perkins disappeared through one of the many doorways, Bradford stood
still for a moment before his eyes focussed to the change of light. The
pillars of the hall that supported the balcony corridor of the second
story were wreathed with light green vines, delicate green draperies
screened the windows, the pale light coming from many Japanese lanterns
and exquisitely shaded bronze lamps rather than outside. Half a dozen