Part 4 out of 5
little arbours were formed by large Japanese umbrellas, under which tea
tables were placed, and the sweet air of the summer afternoon was
changed and made suffocatingly heavy by burning incense.
Of course all this paraphernalia belonged to the festival, and yet
Bradford was not prepared to find Sylvia living in such daily state as
the other surroundings implied. He knew that she belonged to a prosperous
family, but his entrance to what he supposed would be, as the name
implied, a country cottage, was a decided shock to him.
He had been drawn irresistibly toward Sylvia almost from their meeting
in the lecture room several years before, but he could hardly allow
himself the luxury of day dreams then, and it was not until his
promotion had seemed to him to place him upon a safe footing, that he
had paused long enough to realize how completely she was woven into all
his thoughts of the future. Now, as he waited there, a broad gulf, not a
crossable river, seemed to stretch before him, not alone financial but
ethical,--a sweeping troublous torrent, the force of which he could
neither stem nor even explain to himself,--verily the surging of the
Whirlpool at his feet.
Babbling girlish voices waked him from his revery, and half a dozen young
figures, disguised in handsomely embroidered Japanese costumes and
headgear, their eyes given the typical almond-shaped and upward slant by
means of paint and pencil, came down the stairs, followed a moment later
by a taller figure in still richer robes, and so carefully made up by
powder and paint that at a distance she looked but little older than the
girls. Coming toward Bradford with an expression of playful inquiry, she
said: "Is this Mr. Bradford? I am Mrs. Latham. Did you wish to see me?
I've only a moment to spare, for at three o'clock I lose my identity and
become a Geisha girl."
Bradford was embarrassed for a moment, even quite disconcerted. Why
should he have taken it for granted that Sylvia had spoken of him, and
that he should be known to her mother? But such was the case, and he felt
"I was one of Miss Latham's instructors at Rockcliffe two years ago. I
have returned now to spend the vacation with my mother, whom perhaps you
know, at Pine Ridge, and finding that you have come to live
here--I--ventured to call." If poor Bradford had desired to be stiff and
uninterestingly didactic, he could not have succeeded better.
"Ah, yes--Rockcliffe--Sylvia was there for a couple of years, and will
doubtless be glad to hear of the place. I myself never approved of
college life for girls, it makes them so superior and offish when they
return to society. Even two years abroad have not put Sylvia completely
at her ease among us again.
"We do not live here; this is merely a between-season roost, and we leave
again next week, so I have not met your mother. The only one of the name
I recollect is an old country egg woman back somewhere in the hills
toward Pine Ridge. You will find Sylvia at Mrs. Jenks-Smith's, just
above, at the rose booth. Pardon me if I leave you now, I have so much on
my hands this afternoon."
Thus dismissed, Bradford went out into the light again. He noticed for
the first time that his horse and buggy, standing unheeded where he left
them, looked strangely out of date, and as he went down the steps, the
horse turned his head, and recognizing him, gave a joyful whinny that
caused the grooms to grin. He could feel the colour rising to his very
eyes, and for a moment he determined to go home without making any
further effort to find Sylvia, and he felt grateful that his mother had
declined his invitation to come with him to the festival.
His mother, "the egg-woman"! What would she have thought of Sylvia's
mother thus painted and transformed in the name of charity? He
experienced a thrill of relief at the escape.
As he found himself on the free highway once more, he faltered. He would
see how Sylvia bore herself in the new surroundings before he put it all
behind him. This time he found a bit of shade and a fence rail for the
too friendly nag, and entering the Jenks-Smith grounds afoot, followed
the crowd that was gathering.
The rose garden of five years' well-trained growth was extremely
beautiful, while the pergola that separated it from the formal garden of
the fountain, and at the same time served as a gateway to it, was
utilized as the booth where roses and fanciful boxes of giant
strawberries were to be sold.
Bradford, standing at a little distance, under an archway, scanned the
faces of the smart married women who bustled about canvassing, and the
young girls who carelessly gathered the sumptuous roses into bouquets for
the buyers, making a great fuss over the thorns as they did so. Then one
tall, white-clad figure arrested his attention. It was Sylvia. She
handled the flowers lovingly, and was bestowing patient attention upon a
country woman, to whom these pampered roses were a revelation, and who
wished a bouquet made up of samples, one of each variety, and not a mass
all of a colour like the bunches that were arranged in the great baskets.
As Sylvia held the bouquet up for the woman's approval, adding a bud
here and there, pausing to breathe its fragrance herself before handing
it to the purchaser, Horace's courage came back. She was plainly not a
part of the vortex that surrounded her. Circumstances at present seemed
to stand between. He could not even venture a guess if she ever gave him
other than a friendly thought; but a feeling came over him as he stood in
the deep shade, that some day she might be lonely and need steadfast
friendship, and then the opportunity to serve her would give him the
right to question.
Now thoroughly master of himself, he went toward her, and was rewarded by
a greeting of unfeigned pleasure, a few moments of general talk, and a
big bunch of roses for his mother.
"No, you shall not buy these. I am sending them to your mother with my
love, to beg pardon for Miss Lavinia and myself, for we've been trying to
go to Pine Ridge all the week; but this affair has kept me spinning like
a top, and when I do stop I expect to fall over with weariness. I was
_so_ sorry about Rockcliffe Commencement. Some day, perhaps, mamma will
have finished bringing me out, and then I can crawl in again where it is
quiet, and live. Ah, you went to the house and saw her, and she said we
were going away next week? I did not know it, but we flit about so one
can never tell. I've half a mind to be rebellious and ask to be left here
with Lavinia Dorman for guardian, I'm so tired of change. Yes, I enjoyed
my flying trip to the West, in a way, though father only came as far as
Chicago with me, but I expect him to-morrow."
Then the crowd surged along, peering, staring, and feeling, so that it
would have blocked the way conspicuously if Bradford had lingered longer.
As he vanished, Monty Bell sauntered up, and, entering the booth, took
his place by Sylvia. Under pretext of good-naturedly saving her fingers
from thorns by tying the bouquets for her, kept by her side all the
afternoon, and when a lull came at tea time, strolled with her toward the
refreshment tent, where he coaxed her to sit down to rest in one of the
little recesses that lined the garden wall, where she would be free from
the crowd while he brought her some supper.
This she did the more readily because she was really tired, almost to the
point of faintness, and even felt grateful when Mr. Bell returned with
some dainty food, and sat beside her to hold her plate. She was so used
to seeing him about at all hours, making himself generally useful, that
the little attentions he continually showered upon her never held a
fragment of personality in her eyes.
Now, however, something familiar in his manner jarred upon her and put
her strangely on her guard. One of the man's peculiarities was that he
had a hypnotic manner, and presently, almost before she could really
understand what he was about, he had put his arm around her and was
making an easy, take-it-all-for-granted declaration of love.
For an instant she could not believe her ears, and then his tightening
clasp brought realization. Tearing herself away, and dropping her plate
with a crash, she faced him with white face and blazing eyes, saying but
one word--"Stop!" in so commanding a tone that even his fluency faltered,
and he paused in exceeding amaze at the result of what he had supposed
any woman of his set would esteem an honour, much more this strange girl
whose mother was engaged so systematically in securing a place at the
"If I had understood that your casual politeness to me and usefulness to
my mother meant insult such as this, we should have checked it long ago."
"Insult?" ejaculated Monty Bell, looking over his shoulder, apprehensive
lest some one should be within ear-shot, for to be an object of ridicule
was the greatest evil that could come to him. "You don't understand. I
want you to marry me."
"Insult, most certainly! What else do you call it for a man with two
little daughters, and divorced by his wife for his own unforgivable
fault, to ask any woman to marry him! Yes, I know, you see. Lavinia
Dorman is a friend of Mrs. Bell!"
"The devil!" muttered the man, still looking about uneasily, under the
gaze of her uncompromising accusation. In some way the directness of her
words made him feel uncomfortable for the moment, but he quickly
recovered, changed his tactics, and burying his hands in his pockets,
assumed his usually jaunty air, while half a smile, half a sneer, crossed
his face as he said lightly: "What a droll, Puritan spitfire we are,
aren't we? As if rearranged families were not a thing of daily happening.
Don't feel called upon to kick up a rumpus, it isn't necessary; besides,
take a tip from me, _your mother won't like it!_ If you are through with
that cup, I will take the things back," and nonchalantly shying the bits
of the broken plate into the bushes, he went toward the refreshment tent,
saying to his host, Mrs. Jenks-Smith, who was inquiring for Sylvia: "Yes,
she is yonder in the second arbour. I've taken her some tea, for she's
quite done up; that beastly overland trip home was too much for her in
the first hot weather."
Consequently the warm-hearted Lady of the Bluffs was naturally prepared
to find Sylvia sick and faint, and urged sending her home, where she
could slip in and get to bed unobserved, which was the one thing that the
girl most desired. Also this shrewd lady was wise enough to give no sign,
even though she drew her conclusions, when on turning to leave the arbour
she saw a bit of the broken plate lying on the ground at the opposite
side near where a point of the rustic work had torn a shred from Sylvia's
mull drapery as she had pulled herself away.
* * * * *
By the time that Sylvia had gained her room the warm twilight sky had
been transformed to a silver lake by the moon, but she neither enjoyed
its beauty nor heard the music that was beginning to come from the rose
garden above, as well as the tea room below stairs. She sat by the
window, deaf to all outside things, with only one thought in her mind;
she would gladly have buried the occurrence of the arbour, if it were
possible, but as it was, she must tell her mother, as now, that his
motive was made plain, Monty Bell, as a matter of course, could no longer
come to the house. Finally she went to bed and slept from sheer
exhaustion, never for a moment doubting that her mother would take her
view of the matter. Presently the French maid crept in and closed the
blinds, wondering why Mademoiselle often seemed to take pleasure so
sadly, and appeared older than Madame, her mother, and then, feeling at
liberty, hurried down gayly to dance on the back porch with the loitering
gentlemen's gentlemen who gathered there.
* * * * *
Mrs. Latham slept late the next morning, and at eleven o'clock had only
finished looking over her mail without yet touching her breakfast, when,
without waiting for an answer to her knock, Sylvia entered. Her mother
looked up in some surprise, for she did not encourage running in and out
at all hours, or any of the usual intimacies between a mother and grown
daughter who are companions. In fact she did not even ask Sylvia to sit
down, or if she was ill, though her pallor was very apparent, but merely
raised questioning eyebrows, saying, "What is it?" as she turned her
attention to some legal-looking documents in her lace-decked lap.
Chilled to the heart Sylvia seated herself in a low chair by her mother,
so that she need not raise her voice, and twisting her hands nervously,
told what had happened in as few words as possible, much as if she had
repeated them over and over until they were learned like a lesson.
Mrs. Latham's cold gray eyes at first snapped viciously, and then grew
big with wonder as Sylvia ended by saying, "I should never have spoken of
this to any one, and tried to forget, but you would think it strange that
Mr. Bell should stop coming here--and--"
"Think it strange?" said Mrs. Latham, speaking harshly and rapidly, a
thing she rarely did. "Do you know what I think of you? That you are the
most absolute little fool I ever imagined. You not only refuse a man who
could make your social position secure, but rant and get into tantrums
over the compliment he pays you, and call it an 'insult,' exactly as your
canting grandmother Latham might have done. I've no patience with you;
and if you think that this nonsense of yours shuts the door in Monty
Bell's face, you are wholly mistaken.
"While we are upon this subject of divorce that seems to shock you so, I
may as well tell you what you will not see for yourself, and your father
appears to have been too mealy-mouthed to explain,--we have agreed to
separate. No need of your getting tragic, there are no public
recriminations on either side, no vulgar infidelity or common
quarrelling, everything quite amicable, I assure you. Simply we find our
tastes totally different, and have done so for several years. Mr.
Latham's ambitions are wholly financial, mine are social. He repelled and
ignored my best friends, and as we are in every way independent of each
other, he has been wise enough to avoid possible and annoying
complications by standing out of my way and making it easy for me to
legalize the arrangement and readjust myself completely to new
"But what of Carthy and me?" gasped Sylvia, in a voice so choked and
hollow that the older woman hesitated, but for a single instant only.
"Have neither you nor father thought of us? Where do we belong? Where is
our home? Can people who have once loved each other forget their children
and throw them off so? Does God allow it? You must have cared for father
once, for I remember when I was a little girl you told me that you called
me Sylvia, to have my name as nearly like father's--Sylvester--as
possible. Have you forgotten it all, that you can do this thing, when you
say in the same breath that father has done no evil?"
"Don't be tragic, Sylvia, and rake up things that have nothing to do with
the matter. As to your brother, it was your father's foolish severity
about a card debt, and insisting upon placing him away from me, that is
primarily responsible for the divorce, not any wish of mine to exile
Carthy. And you ask where your home is, as if I had turned you out, when
you have just refused an offer that any unmarried society woman, who can
afford it, would clutch."
Sylvia sat silent, looking blindly before her. Her mother waited a
moment, as if expecting some reply, and then continued: "Now that the
matter is virtually settled, I suppose in a few days the papers will
save me the trouble of announcing it. Under the circumstances, I shall
rent the Newport house for the season, as I have had several good
offers, and go abroad for two or three months on the continent, so that
before my return the town house will be redecorated and everything will
be readjusted for a successful winter. You had better take a few days
before deciding what to do. You can, of course, come with me, if you are
not sick of travel, or go to your father, who is ready to make you a
handsome allowance; though you will find that awkward at present, as he
is moving about so much. If you choose to feel aggrieved just now, you
might persuade your dear, prim Miss Dorman to either stay here with you
or take that little furnished house that is to rent on the lower road,
if you prefer that form of discomfort they call simplicity. You needn't
decide now; take time," she added genially, as if she was doing all that
could be asked.
When she ceased speaking, Sylvia, with bowed head, rose and quickly
left the room.
Then Mrs. Latham gave a sigh of relief that the interview was over, threw
the papers into a bureau drawer, called to the maid, who had been all the
while listening in the dressing room, to prepare to arrange her hair,
and, taking the chances that Sylvia would keep her room, at least for
some hours, wrote a hasty note to Monty Bell, inviting him to luncheon.
Meanwhile, Sylvia, instead of going to her room to cry, took her hat and
crept out into the lane that led to the woods. She must be quite away by
herself and gain time to think. This was a terrible sort of grief that
could neither be kept secret nor halved by sympathy, but must be worn in
the full glare of day. Her heart condemned her mother wholly, and she
understood why her father kept the silence of shame,--to whom could she
turn? As she gained the woods, and throwing herself down on a soft bed of
hemlock needles, closed her dry, burning eyes, two people seemed to stand
side by side and look at her pityingly,--Lavinia Dorman and Horace
Bradford,--and mentally she turned toward one and shrank from the other.
In Miss Lavinia she saw her only refuge, but between herself and Horace
the shadow of his upright mother seemed to intervene. What could they
think of her mother playing at Geisha girl in her own home at the very
hour of its wreck?
_July_ 1. It was several days after the festival before the news of the
Latham divorce was made definitely public by a paragraph under the
heading of "Society News," in one of the New York papers, though of
course the rumour had crept into every house on the Bluffs, by way of the
Miss Lavinia was greatly distressed, and yet did not know exactly how to
act in the matter; for though Mrs. Latham was seen driving by, as usual,
Sylvia made no sign.
We may read of such cases often enough, and yet when the blow falls in
the immediate neighbourhood, one must feel the reflex of the shock. While
sympathy for Sylvia keeps the thing ever present, like a weight upon the
chest, I find myself wondering if anything could have been done to avert
the disaster, and we all rove about in a half unsettled condition. Half a
dozen times a day Lavinia Dorman starts up with the determination of
calling upon Sylvia, but this morning decided upon writing her a letter
instead, and having sent it up by Timothy Saunders, is now sitting out in
the arbour, while Martin Cortright is reading to her from his manuscript;
but her attention is for the first time divided, and she is continually
glancing up the road as if expecting a summons,--a state of things that
causes an expression of mild surprise and disappointment to cross
Martin's countenance at her random and inapropos criticisms. I see that
in my recent confusion I have forgotten to record the fact that Miss
Lavinia has fallen into the role of critic for Martin's book, and that
for the last ten days, as a matter of course, he reads to her every
afternoon the result of his morning's work, finding, as he says, that her
power of condensation is of the greatest help in enabling him to
eliminate much of the needless detail of his subject that blocked him,
and to concentrate his vitality upon the rest.
This all looks promising, to my romantic mind; for the beginning of all
kinds of affection, physical, mental, and spiritual, that are huddled
together in varying proportions as component parts of love, has its
origin in dependence. Father declares independence, selfishness, and
aloofness to be the trinity of hell. Now Martin Cortright has come to
depend upon Lavinia Dorman's opinion, and she is beginning not only to
realize and enjoy his dependence, but to aid and abet it. Is not this
When I approach father upon the Latham affair, he says that he thinks the
rupture was inevitable from the point of view and conditions that
existed. He feels, from the evidence that long experience with the inner
life of households has given him, that though a thoughtless woman may be
brought to realize, and a woman with really bad inherited instincts
reclaimed, through love, the wholly selfish woman of Mrs. Latham's type
remains immovable to word of God or man, and is unreachable, save through
the social code of the class that forms her world, and this code
sanctions both the marriage and the divorce of convenience, and receives
the results equally with open arms.
As to the effect upon Sylvia, father exhibits much concern, and no
little anxiety, for he has read her as a nature in some respects old for
her twenty-one years, and in others, the side of the feminine, wholly
young and unawakened, so that this jar, he thinks, comes at a most
He has a pretty theory that the untroubled heart of a young girl is like
a vessel full of the fresh spring sap of the sugar maple that is being
freed by slow fire from its crudities and condensed to tangible form.
When a certain point is reached, it is ready to crystallize about the
first object that stirs it ever so lightly, irrespective of its quality:
this is first love. But if the condensing process is lingering, no jar
disturbing it prematurely until, as it reaches perfection, the vital
touch suddenly reaches its depths, then comes real love, perfected at
first sight, clinging everlastingly to the object, love that endures by
its own strength, not by mere force of habit; and this love belongs only
to the heart's springtime, before full consciousness has made it
* * * * *
When Horace Bradford drove homeward the afternoon of the fete, he was in
a brown study, having no realization of time or place until the wise
horse turned in at the barnyard gate, and after standing a moment by his
usual hitching post, looked over his shoulder and gave a whinny to
attract his master's attention. Then Horace started up, shook off his
lethargy, and hurried to the porch, where his mother stood waiting, to
give her the roses, and Sylvia's message.
Mrs. Bradford was, for one of her reserve, almost childishly eager to
hear of the experiences of the afternoon, and was prepared to sit down
comfortably on the porch and have her son give a full account of it; but
instead, he gave her a few rather incoherent details, and leaving her
standing with the splendid roses held close to her face, very much in
Sylvia's own attitude, he hurried up to his room, where she could hear
him moving about as if unpacking his things, and opening and shutting
"Never mind," she said softly to herself, "he will tell me all about her
when he is ready. Meanwhile, I'll wait, and not get in his way,--that is
what mothers are for." But by some strange impulse she loosened the
string that bound the roses, and placed them in one of her few treasures,
a silver bowl, in the centre of the supper table, and going to her
bedchamber, which was, country fashion, back of the sitting room, arrayed
herself in Horace's gifts,--the silk gown and fichu, with the onyx bar
and butterflies to fasten it,--and then returned to the porch to watch
the twilight gently veil sunset.
Upstairs, Horace unpacked his trunks in a rebellious mood. In the morning
he had felt in the proper sense self-sufficient and contented,--the
position, which a few months before he thought perhaps ten years ahead of
him, had suddenly dropped at his feet, and he felt a natural elation,
though it stopped quite short of self-conceit. He could afford to relax
the grip with which he had been holding himself in check, and face the
knowledge that he loved Sylvia; while the fact that fate had brought her
to summer in his vicinity seemed but another proof that fortune was
smiling upon him.
Now everything, though outwardly the same, was changed by the new point
of view, which he realized that he had already tried to conceal from his
mother, by his scanty account of the festival. He had been suddenly
confronted by conditions that he never expected to meet outside of the
pages of fiction, and felt himself utterly unable to combat them. Under
the present circumstances even neighbourly friendship with Sylvia would
be difficult. It was not that Mrs. Latham had overawed him in the least,
but she had raised in him so fierce and blinding a resentment by her only
half unconscious reference to his mother, that he resolved that under no
circumstances should she run the risk of being equally rebuffed. He would
protect her from a possible intercourse, where she could not be expected,
at her age, to hold her own, at no matter what cost to himself.
"Egg woman!" Was it not his mother's pride and endeavour, her thrift and
courage to carry on the great farm alone, and the price of such things as
those very eggs, that had carried through his dying father's wish, and
sent him to college, thus giving him his chance in the world? No regret
at the fact, no false pride, dawned on him even for a second. All his
rage was that such a woman as Sylvia's mother should have the power to
stir him so, and then his love for Sylvia herself, intensified by pity
for the unknown trouble that he sensed rather than read in her face, cut
into him like a wound. He felt as if he must pick her up in his strong
arms and bear her away from all those clamouring people; and then the
realization both of his inability and ignorance of her own attitude fell
upon him like a chill, for she had never written or said a word to him
that might not have passed between any two college friends. Such thoughts
occupied him, until finally, as often fortunately happens in our mental
crises, a humdrum, domestic voice, the supper bell, called him, and
leaving his garments strewn about the room, he went downstairs.
His mother was still sitting in the porch, and he became at once
conscious of a change in her appearance. As she looked up in pleased
expectancy, he recognized the cause, and his sternness vanished
instantly, as he said, "How fine we look to-night," and half sitting on
the little foot-bench beside her, and half kneeling, he touched the soft
lace, and gently kissed the withered cheek whose blood was still not so
far from the surface but that it could return in answer to the caress,
while she looked yearningly into the eyes that even now were hardly on a
level with hers, as if searching for the cause of what might be troubling
him. Yet she only said, as they rose and went indoors, "I put on your
gifts for you, at our first supper together," adding with an
unconsciousness that made Horace smile in spite of himself,--"besides, I
shouldn't wonder if some of the neighbours might drop in to see us, for
it must have got about by this time that you've come home; the mail
carrier saw you drive out this morning, I'm quite sure."
Neighbours did call; some from pure friendliness, others to see if
"Horace acted set up by his new callin' and fortune," and still others,
who had been to the Bluffs that afternoon, to tell of the wonders of the
festival, their praise or condemnation varying according to age, until
Mrs. Bradford was at a loss whether to think the affair a spectacle of
fairyland or a vision of the bottomless pit, and Horace was in torment
lest he should be appealed to for an opinion, which he was presently.
"What did he think of the tea room? Was Mrs. Latham painted? Was she
Sylvia's mother, or step-mother, and if she was the former, didn't she
act dreadful giddy for the mother of grown children? And didn't he think
Sylvia was just sweet, so different from the rest, and sort of sad, as
if she had a step-mother, as people said, and was sat on?" The questioner
being the very woman for whom Sylvia had taken such pains in selecting
the bouquet of specimen roses, who proved to be the new wife of a
neighbour whom Horace had not met.
It seemed to Horace that his mother purposely looked away from him as he
tried to pull himself together, and answer nonchalantly that he believed
that Mrs. Latham was Sylvia's own mother, though she did appear very
young, and that of course she was acting the part of a Geisha girl, a
tea-seller, which would account for her sprightly manner, etc.,
unconsciously putting what he wished in the place of what he knew, adding
with a heartiness that almost made his voice tremble that Miss Sylvia
certainly did seem different, and as if she was no kin of her mother's.
"I guess, then, likely it isn't her step-mother, but that she's worried
in her mind about her beau," continued the loquacious woman, pleased at
having such a large audience for her news. "I heard some folks say,--when
I was waitin' about for my cream, and havin' a good look at all the
millionnaires, which they didn't mind, but seemed to expect, the same
bein' fair enough, seein' as it's what I paid to go in for,--that the
man they call Mr. Bell, that's been hangin' around the Bluffs since
spring, is courtin' her steady, but she can't seem to make up her mind.
Thinks I to myself, I don't wonder, for I've had a good look at him, and
he's well over forty, and though he dresses fine, from his eyes I
wouldn't trust him, if he was a pedler, even to weigh out my rags and
change 'em for tin, without I'd shook the scales well first. The same
folks was sayin' that he's a grass widower, anyway, and I shouldn't think
her folks would put up with that, fixed as they be, yet they do say," and
here her voice dropped mysteriously, "that Mrs. Latham's a kind of grass
widder herself, for her husband hasn't turned up in all the year she's
been here, and nobody's so much as seen his name to a check."
At this point Mrs. Bradford made an effort to turn the conversation into
other channels; for friendly as she always was with her neighbours of all
degrees, she never allowed unkind gossip in her house, and only a
newcomer would have ventured upon it. As it was, the loquacious one felt
the rebuke in the air, and made hasty adieus on the plea of having to set
bread, leaving the rest to talk to their host of themselves, their
pleasure at his return, and the local interests of Pine Ridge.
When they had all gone, Horace locked the back door, after filling an
old yellow and bronze glazed pitcher, which bric-a-brac hunters would
have struggled for, at the well, as he had done every night during his
boyhood, he left it on the hall table, and going out the front way to the
garden, walked up and down the long straight walk, between the sweet peas
and rose bushes, for more than an hour, until, having fought to no
conclusion the battle into which a new foe had entered, he returned to
the house and went noiselessly to his room.
Here, in place of the confusion he had left, quiet and order reigned. All
his clothes were laid away in their old places. He had but to reach his
hand inside the closet, the door of which hesitated before opening in its
familiar way, to find his night gear; the sheets were turned down at the
exact angle, and the pillows arranged one crosswise, one upright, as he
liked them,--his mother's remembering touch was upon everything.
He undressed without striking a light, and lay down, only to look
wakefully out at the dark lattice of tree branches against the moonlit
sky. Presently a step sounded on the stairs and paused at his partly open
door. He raised himself on his elbow, and peering through the crack saw
his mother standing there in night-dress and short sack, shading the
candle with her hand as she used when he was a little chap, to make sure
that he was safe asleep and had not perhaps crept out the window to go
coon hunting with the bigger boys,--a proceeding his father always winked
at, but which she feared would lead him to overdo and get a fever.
"I'm here, mother," he said cheerfully.
"Are you quite comfortable, Horace? Is there nothing that you want?"
He hesitated a moment, and then said frankly, "Yes and no, mother."
"Is it anything that I can do for you?" she asked, coming into the room
and smoothing his hair as she spoke.
"Ah, that is the _no_ of it, and the hard part," he answered, capturing
the hand and holding it tight between his own.
"And the hard part for your old mother too, when the one thing comes
that she cannot give or do. Whatever it is, don't shut me out from it,
Horace,--that is, unless you must," and tucking the light summer quilt in
Under the pillow by one of his hands, she kissed his forehead and went
Horace Bradford must have slept, for his next consciousness was of the
fresh wind and light of morning, and as he drew his cramped hand from
under his pillow, something soft and filmy came with it,--a woman's
handkerchief edged with lace.
For a minute he held it in surprise, and then began to search the
corners for the marking. There it was, two embroidered initials, S.L.
Where had it dropped from? Who had put it there? Was it a message or an
accident? Yet it was both and neither. His mother had found the dainty
thing in the package from New York that held the gown and ornaments,
where it had dropped from Sylvia's waist that night, four months before,
when she stood leaning on Miss Lavinia Dorman's table, as the parcel was
Mrs. Bradford had pondered over it silently until, the day when I went to
see her and chanced to mention Sylvia Latham's name, its identity flashed
upon her; and when gropingly she came to associate this name with
something that troubled Horace, obliterating self and mother jealousy,
she tucked the bit of linen underneath his pillow, with an undefined
idea, knowing nothing, in the hope that it might comfort him. And so it
did; for even when he learned the manner of its coming, he put it in his
letter case as a reminder not to despair but wait.
* * * * *
When a week had passed and the matter of the divorce had been well aired,
discussed, and was no longer a novelty to her neighbours on the Bluffs,
Mrs. Latham's plan of soon closing her cottage and transferring the
servants to Newport, with the exception of the stable men and a couple of
caretakers, was announced, as she was going abroad for the baths. The
same day Lavinia Dorman received an urgent note from Sylvia, asking her
"when and where she could see her alone, if, as she thought likely, she
did not feel inclined to come to the house." The tone of the brief note
showed that Sylvia felt the whole matter to be a keen disgrace that not
only compromised herself but her friends.
Of course Miss Lavinia went, and would have gone even if she had to
combat Mrs. Latham, for whom she asked courteously at the door; but that
lady, for some reason, did not choose to appear and run the gantlet, and
sent an elaborate message about a sick headache by the now somewhat
crestfallen Perkins. Presently Sylvia slipped into the morning room, and
crouching by Miss Lavinia, buried her face in her friend's lap, the
tension at last giving way, and it was some time before she grew quiet
enough to talk coherently, and tell her plan, which is this: she wishes
Miss Lavinia to take the Alton cottage (which is furnished) at the foot
of the Bluffs, for the rest of the season, and live there with her. Then
as soon as Mrs. Latham has gone, and the poor girl has steadied herself,
her father, to whom she has already written, will come, and what she will
do in the autumn will be arranged. Everything is as yet vague; but one
thing she has decided for herself--under no circumstances will she again
live with her mother, and she is now staying quietly in the house and
taking her meals in her room, in order to give the scandalmongers and
gossips as little material as possible.
Lavinia Dorman, who readily consented to do as she asked, says that
Sylvia is brave and heartbroken at the same time, that all her girlish
spontaneity has gone, and she is like a statue.
I am so sorry to have Miss Lavinia go, even a few hundred yards down the
road, it has seemed so good to have an older woman in the house to whom I
can say, "Would you, or wouldn't you?" Martin is also quite upset, and
has stopped writing and begun fumbling and pulling the reference books
about again; but Miss Lavinia says that she is not going to give up the
afternoon reading, for she thinks the history is a work of importance not
to be slighted, and that Sylvia will doubtless take up her own reading
and practising after a time; that while she herself has willingly
consented to chaperon her, she does not intend to give up her own
freedom, nor would it be good for Sylvia if she did.
Yesterday morning Miss Lavinia received a letter from Sylvester Latham,
thanking her for the offer of temporary protection for his daughter, and
telling her, in curt business terms, meant to be affable, to name her own
price for the office.
I have never before seen the ladylike Lavinia Dorman so completely and
ungovernably angry. I could do nothing with her, and last evening it took
the united efforts of Martin, father, and Evan to convince her that it
was not a real affront. Poor Mr. Latham, he has not yet gotten beyond
money valuation of friendship; but then it is probably because he has had
no chance. Perhaps--but no, life is too serious just now in that quarter
for me to allow myself remotely pleasant perhapses.
Miss Lavinia was too agitated to play piquet to-night, so she and Martin
sat in the porch where the light from the hall lamp was sufficient to
enable them to play a couple of games of backgammon, to steady her
nerves, she said; and presently, as the dice ceased rattling, Evan gave
me a nudge of intelligence, and looking over I found that they had
reversed the board and were playing "Give away" with checkers.
"After this, what?" I whispered to Evan.
"Jackstraws," he answered, shaking with silent laughter.
* * * * *
Horace Bradford turned his mind for the next few days to the many things
about the place that needed his attention, resolving that he would let a
week or so elapse before making any further attempt to see Sylvia, and in
that time hoped to find Miss Lavinia at home, and from her possibly
receive some light upon the gossip about Mr. Bell, as well as news of
The sinking-fund for repairs and rebuilding the house that he and his
mother had been accumulating ever since he had made his own way, he found
to be in a healthy condition. A new hay barn and poultry house was to be
put up at once; and, as soon as practicable, his wish of many years, to
restore the brick house, that had been marred by "lean-tos" in the wrong
places, to its colonial simplicity, could be at least begun.
Every day until two or three o'clock in the afternoon he gave to these
affairs, and then he went to his books. But here again he met with a
strange surprise, a new sensation,--he could neither fix his mind upon
writing, nor take in what he read; the letters were as meaningless as
fly specks on the pages. After a day or two he gave up the attempt. He
had worked too closely during the last term, he thought; his sight did
not register on his brain,--he had heard of such cases; he would rest a
week or so.
Then every afternoon he walked over the Ridge to the little river in the
valley, carrying a book in his pocket, and his fishing-rod as a sort of
excuse, and poling an old flatboat down-stream to a shady spot under the
trees, propped his rod in place, where by a miracle he occasionally
caught a perch or bass, sat looking idly into the water, the brim of an
old felt hat turned down about his eyes. One day, near the week's end, as
he was lounging thus, his eye was attracted by a headline in a bit of
newspaper in which he had wrapped his bait box to save his pocket. It was
a semi-local paper from town, one that his mother took, but which they
seldom either of them read, and the date was three days back. He turned
it over idly, pausing as he did so to pull up the line which was being
jerked violently, but only by a mud eel. Why did he return again to the
scrap of paper when he had freed his hook? His eyes caught strange words,
and his hands began to tremble as he read. It was the condensed report of
the Latham divorce that was now going the rounds of the journals.
He paused a moment, then folded the paper, put it in his pocket, poled
the boat with vigorous strokes to the landing-place, and strode through
the woods and across the cornfields homeward, his heart beating
tumultuously until he seemed almost to be struggling with suffocation.
He stopped at the barn and harnessed a horse to the old buggy, passing by
the new one that he had recently ordered from town, and then went into
the house, where, taking off his slouchy fishing clothes, he put on the
same ceremonious afternoon wear that he would have worn at Northbridge if
going to call, put Sylvia's handkerchief in his inner pocket, and went in
search of his mother.
He found her in the kitchen, tying the covers upon countless jars of
currant jam. She looked surprised to see him back at such an hour,
but said nothing, as Esther Nichols was close by, employed in wiping
off the jars.
"I'm going over to Oaklands for a drive," he said, handing her the scrap
of newspaper with a gesture that meant silence.
"Shall I wait supper for you, or will you be late?" she said, touching
his hand with a gesture almost of entreaty.
"I may be late, but--yes, you may wait supper," he replied, looking back
at her in going out, as if he wanted to carry the picture well forward in
his mind, against any forgetfulness.
The miles between Pine Ridge and the Bluffs seemed endless. He had at
first intended to go to Oaklands village to see Miss Lavinia and gather
such tidings as he could of the calamity that had overtaken Sylvia; for
he never for a moment questioned but that the girl, who had been
entirely straightforward, even in days of college pranks, should so
regard the matter. But as he drove along, and the very fact that he was
moving toward a definite end calmed him and clarified his judgment, he
resolved to go directly to Sylvia herself. He would certainly do this
if he had seen the announcement of her parents' deaths; then why not
now, when their love that gave her birth was officially and publicly
He drove through the wide gateway and left his horse standing by a stone
pillar outside the porte-cochere,--the beast would stand anywhere if
there was a bar or post for him to look at,--and walked up the steps with
the air of one who is not to be gainsaid.
"Not at home," replied the singsong voice of Perkins, in answer to
Bradford's demand for Miss Latham, Potts and Parker having already gone
to open the Newport house for the renter, as a staff of servants was let
with it, and then he added, as if conferring a favour, "and Mrs. Latham
has gone on the coach to the station to meet some guests, the last 'ouse
party before she sails."
"Before she sails," thought Bradford, numbly. Sylvia was going? Could he
believe the man? Should he go through the formality of leaving a card
that she might not get? No, he would go home and write a letter.
Sylvia kept the house until late in the afternoon, these days. Then she
slipped out by the servants' stairway, and through the garden, to walk in
the wood lane that ran northward, joining the two parallel highroads; for
her healthy body needed air, and she knew that if she did not have it,
she could not control herself to keep peaceful silence for even the few
days that remained. So it chanced this afternoon that she was walking to
and fro in the quiet lane where the ferns crept down quite to the grassy
wheel tracks, when Perkins said those repellent words, "Not at home."
As Bradford turned out the gate and noticed that the sun was already
setting, he thought to save time by cutting through the almost unused
lane to the turnpike that led directly to Pine Ridge. He had driven but
halfway across, when a flutter of light garments a little way ahead
attracted him. Could it be? Yes, it was Sylvia, in truth, and at the
moment that he recognized her and sprang to the ground she heard the
approaching hoofs and turned. For a full minute neither spoke nor moved,
then going quickly to her and stretching out both hands, he said, his
heart breaking through his voice, "I have been to see you. I did not know
She gave her hands, and in another moment his strong arms held her fast
and unresisting--the purifying friendship of those unconscious years
crystallized and perfected at love's first touch.
They said but very little as they walked up and down the lane together,
for half an hour; but as the shadows lengthened, the thought came equally
to both--"What should they do next? How could they part, and yet how stay
together?" Horace, with man's barbarian directness, would have liked to
bear her home to safety and his mother; but the shadow of usage and her
mother stood between, for in spite of the hollow mockery of it all,
Sylvia was still of her household.
"I must take you home," he said at last, "and to-morrow I will come--all
shall be arranged."
"To-night," she whispered, clasping his arm in nervous terror. "Come
back with me and tell her to-night; then I shall feel sure, and not
as if it was not real. And when you have told her,--before whoever
may be there, remember,--go home; do not stop to listen to anything
she may say."
They drove slowly back, and went up the steps to the house, from which
voices and laughter came, hand in hand, like two children; but they were
children no longer when they crossed the threshold and saw Monty Bell in
the group that loitered with Mrs. Latham in the reception hall, waiting
for dinner to be announced.
Sylvia's thin gown was wet with dew, her hair was tossed about, her eyes
big with excitement, and a red spot burned in each cheek in startling
contrast to her pallor--all of which gave her a wild and unusual beauty
that absolutely startled as well as shocked her mother, letting her think
for a second that Sylvia was going to make a scene, had gone mad,
perhaps, and run away, and that the tall man holding her by the hand had
found her and brought her home.
Taking a few hasty steps forward, and dreading anything disagreeably
tragic, she said: "Mr. Bradford, I believe. What is it? What has
"Only this, that Miss Sylvia has promised to be my wife, and that, as her
mother, we have come to tell you of it before I go home to tell my own."
Horace Bradford drew himself up to every inch of his full height as he
spoke, bowed to Mrs. Latham, then led Sylvia to the foot of the stairs,
saying, "Until to-morrow," and walked quietly out of the house.
No one spoke. Then Mrs. Latham, choking with rage, feeling herself
helplessly at bay (Sylvia was of age, and she could not even assume
authority under the circumstances), collapsed on a divan in modified
hysterics, and Monty Bell, completely thunderstruck, finally broke the
silence by his characteristic exclamation, "I'll be damned!"
* * * * *
After their belated supper, when Esther Nichols had gone over to a
neighbour's, Horace, sitting by his mother's side, out in the
honeysuckled porch, where the sphinx moths whirred like humming-birds of
night, holding her hands in his, told her all. And she, stifling the
mother pain that, like a birth pang, expected yet dreaded, must come at
first when the other woman, no matter how welcome, steps between, folded
his hands close, as if she held him again a baby in her arms, and said,
smiling through vague tears, "To-morrow we will go together to her, my
"I cannot ask you to do that; there are reasons--I will bring Sylvia to
you later, when her mother has gone," he answered hastily, resolving that
he would do anything to shield her self-respect from the possible shock
of meeting that other mother.
"Horace, you forget yourself, and your father too," she said almost
sternly. "I am country bred, but still I know the world's ways. Your
father's wife will go first to greet her who will be yours; you need not
fear for me," and he sat silent.
That next afternoon, when Horace's first and last love met, they looked
into each other's hearts and saw the same image there, while Mrs. Latham
lay on the lounge in her room, raging within, that again her tongue had
failed her in her own house, and realizing that, woman of the world as
she aimed to be, the "egg woman" had rendered her helpless by mere force
of homely courtesy. Presently she rose, and railing and scolding the
bewildered maid, sent a message to New York to transfer her passage, if
possible, to an earlier steamer.
GOSSIP AND THE BUG HUNTERS
_July_ 18. It is such a deadly sin to marry outside of the limited set
that is socially registered, that I now understand why many of the
Whirlpoolers are mentally inbred, almost to the vanishing point, so that
they have lost the capacity of thinking for themselves, and must
necessarily follow a leader.
Sylvia Latham's engagement to Horace Bradford has caused a much greater
sensation than her mother's divorce. To be sure, every one who has met
Horace, not only fails to find anything objectionable about him, but
accords him great powers of attraction; yet they declare in the same
breath that the affair will not do for a precedent, and deplore its
To-day we have settled down to midsummer quiet and to a period of silence
after much talking. The Bluffs are quite deserted except by a bevy of
children left with governesses while their parents are yachting or in
Europe, and the servants in charge of the various houses. But a trail of
discontent is left behind, for these servants, by their conspicuous
idleness, are having a very demoralizing effect upon the help in the
plain houses hereabout, who are necessarily expected to do more work for
I am fully realizing, also, that the excitement of living other people's
lives, which we cannot control, through sympathetic imagination, is even
more wearing than meeting one's own responsibilities. A certain amount of
separateness--I use the word in an entirely opposite meaning to that of
aloofness--is, I find, necessary to every member of our household, and
this chance for intimacy with oneself is a luxury denied to those who
live all their lives taking joy and sorrow equally in a crowd.
Even the boys, young as they are, recognize it unconsciously, and have
separate tree lairs, and neither may enter the other's, without going
through some mysterious and wonderful ceremony and sign language, by
which permission is asked and granted.
There are often days when father sits in his study with closed door or
drives over the hills without desire for even the boys as companions.
This need not signify that he is either ill or worried,--it is simply the
need of separateness. The same thing applies to Evan when he sometimes
slips out through the garden at night, without word or sign, and is only
traceable by the beacon his cigar point makes, as he moves among the
trees, until this also vanishes, while my attic corner and the seat at
the end of the wild walk offer me similar relief.
At least the attic did until Martin Cortright, at my own invitation,
established a rival lair at the opposite end. I did not think that it
would matter, the presence of this quiet man barricaded by his books and
papers, but it does, because the charm of isolation is destroyed. I would
not have done otherwise, however; I have all outdoors, and he will have
returned to New York to find winter quarters, and arrange for the
publication of the first volume of his history when autumn and shut-in
time draws near.
Mrs. Latham sailed last week, and Sylvia is now in New York visiting her
father at his hotel and arranging her future plans. To-morrow she
returns, and together with Lavinia Dorman goes to the Alton cottage
until late August or early September, when her wedding is expected to
At the last moment Mrs. Latham changed her plan of leaving the Bluff
cottage in the charge of servants, had all her personal belongings moved
away, and offered the place for sale.
"Yes, my dear," said Mrs. Jenks-Smith, who, being a sort of honorary
stewardess of the Colony, usually remains a full week after the
breaking-up time, and frequently runs in to report progress, "she's not
coming back; being divorced she doesn't need to claim residence here. The
place is so convenient to town, too, but I can't really blame
her,--though of course I'm glad poor Sylvia's to be happy in her own way,
and all that, for it's plain to be seen with one eye she's too slow to go
her mother's pace--you couldn't expect Vivvy Latham, over all the hurdles
but one, and almost at the end of the race, to relish her daughter's
mother-in-law being in the egg trade in the very neighbourhood.
"At first everybody thought that the Bradfords, mother and son, would
probably give up work and float on Sylvester J. Latham's money, for they
say (to spite Vivvy, most likely) he took to Horace Bradford at the
first, for what did the young fellow do but go straight to town and look
Sylvester up, and make a clean breast of it before the gossips could even
twist their tongues around the affair.
"Sylvester thought he could handle Bradford to suit himself, move him to
New York, jam him into business, cut up the farm in house lots,
reorganize his affairs, and declare a dividend out of him for his own
benefit, as he does with lame railroads,--but not a bit of it!
"'With what you may choose to do for Sylvia personally, it would be
selfish for me to interfere; but our way of living can only be planned
upon the basis of what I earn,' said Horace, looking Mr. Latham in the
face, and he's a big man too,--Sylvia gets her height from him.
"It rather knocked Sylvester out, because it was a kind of spunk he'd
never met, and he told Jenks-Smith about it. Thought they didn't speak?
Oh yes, they're thick again, just now, over some kind of a deal.
"Did you know Jenks-Smith had bought Vivvy's house here? Yes, the deed
was passed the day she sailed. We've got to keep the Bluffs select, you
know, and if the house was put on the market, goodness knows who might
buy it, just to get in with us.
"Mr. Latham had an idea of taking it and giving it to Sylvia, but they
wouldn't have that either,--are just fixing up the old house a bit, and
going to summer at the farm, while the old lady will keep on selling eggs
the same as ever. Not but what she's a thoroughbred all right, though in
a cheap stable. I was down at Vivvy's the day she came to call on Sylvia!
Just as quiet and cool, except that her hands in the openwork silk mits
shook, as if her son was a duke. I thought there would be a lively row,
and I wished myself out of it, but Vivvy hadn't a chance to strike out
until the old lady got up to go, then she only said: 'You must not
understand that I approve of Sylvia's folly, or in any way give my
consent to this rash engagement. I cannot prevent it, that is all.'
"The old lady's eyes flashed, and I thought, now for it; but she only
looked Vivvy through and through, and said very clearly: 'Most brides are
better for their mother's blessing, but under the circumstances I think
we prefer to do without it.'"
Well-meaning Lady of the Bluffs, I'm really acquiring a sort of affection
for her in spite of her crudity. If all the Whirlpoolers were like her,
the pool might be a noisy torrent, but never a dangerous one.
* * * * *
This is Lavinia Dorman's last day with me, and I know she is really sorry
to go, in spite of a sort of pleasurable responsibility and excitement
she feels in managing Sylvia's affairs for a time.
She waked up with a bad headache--a rare thing for her--and after
breakfast seemed so forlorn and blue that I coaxed her into my room and
petted her for a while, almost as I would one of the children; and as she
no longer conceals the fact of the false front from me, I took it off,
brushed and brushed her lovely hair until it grew supple and alive, and
began to glisten, and the pain gradually slipped through it into the air;
then I drew it up cushionwise from her forehead and coiled it loosely on
top, and she, declaring that my fingers had a magic touch, spent the rest
of the morning at my desk in writing letters.
The lovable woman who has no one specially to love her is a common
tragedy of everyday life. Strangely enough it more often draws
ridicule than sympathy, and it seems to be always considered the
woman's own fault, instead of a combination of circumstances, woven
often of self-sacrifice, mistaken duty, and the studied suppression of
I think that both Miss Lavinia and Martin Cortright dread the going back
to their old existence, and yet I am not sure that either of them would
consent to change it in any way, in spite of their growlings at the
modern conditions of life in New York. They have learned to lean upon the
very restrictions that cramp them, until the idea of cutting free seems
as impossible as for the bulky woman to sever the stay-lace that at once
suffocates and supports her.
Martin Cortright stayed to luncheon to-day. Not that it is an unusual
occurrence, but he wished to have a long afternoon to finish reading a
certain portion of his manuscript to Miss Lavinia before her flitting in
We were seated at the table when she came in hurriedly, apologizing for
being late, saying that she had become so absorbed in finishing her
letters that she did not realize that it was even noon. I did not look at
her particularly until a few moments later, when Martin, after fussing
with his bread a good deal, looked up and said, with a charming smile,
"What a very becoming gown you have on to-day, Miss Lavinia."
"Yes," said father, "I was thinking precisely the same thing myself, so
you see that in spite of our condemning your sex for paying so much
attention to clothes, we men are the first to note the result of them."
Miss Lavinia looked puzzled. She was too much the politic woman of the
world to say that the dimity gown was the same one that she had worn for
the two or three days previous; besides, the fact would have cast a doubt
upon their judgment, and she was particular in all such little details of
good breeding; so she parried the compliment deftly, and straightway fell
to pondering as to what circumstance the remark might refer. Glancing
toward the open window, she caught a reflection of herself where the
glass, backed by the dark green curtain, made a mirror. She had forgotten
to rearrange her hair, and her burnished silver-shot locks remained
rolled back lightly from her white forehead without the ugly, concealing
front! I rejoiced inwardly, for the spontaneous tribute to the
improvement by those two dear, stupid, discriminating men, has settled
the fronts in a way in which no arguments of mine could, for to-night she
came to dinner not only with her own emancipated hair, but wearing a bit
of red geranium stuck fetchingly in the puff.
* * * * *
_August_ 1. Sylvia has returned, and Miss Lavinia has gone to her, Lucy
and the portly cook having arrived from New York last night, in company
with Josephus, confined in a large hamper borrowed from the fishmonger,
in the top of which a ventilator had been introduced. Josephus was
naturally indignant when first let out, and switched his tail in wrath,
declining to recognize his mistress, and starting to explore the house
like an evil spirit. This morning I found him calmly perched on our
woodshed roof, gazing wickedly at the boys' banty chickens in the coop
below. I predict that he gets into trouble, unless his silver collar,
like a badge of aristocracy, protects him. But what can you expect of a
misguided Whirlpool cat, whose only conception of a bird is a dusty
street sparrow, when he meets face to face the delicious and whetting
elusiveness of a banty chick or a young robin.
Poor Sylvia is nervously tired out, and the month's rest will be a real
boon. Her plans are quite settled, and there is nothing for her to do but
rest until the time comes to carry them out. She and Horace are to be
married the last week in August, so that they will have time for a
Canadian trip before College begins and they return to settle down in a
scrap of a house in Northbridge.
August seems to be considered an unusual month for a wedding; but it
suits the circumstances, and as Sylvia has decided to be married quite
privately here at Oaklands, for her own sake, as well as for Mrs.
Bradford's convenience, she wisely wishes to have it over before the
possible return of the Whirlpoolers.
Horace had hoped that his mother would join them in Northbridge, but
she said "No," very firmly, adding, with a quaint, twinkling smile,
"Horace, nobody ever loved each other closer than your father and I,
but there were times in the beginning when ever so well meaning a third
finger in our pie would have spoiled the baking. Best leave old mother
on the farm until by and by, when she can't tell a fresh egg from a
bad one any longer."
So Horace comes down twice a week to visit Sylvia, and Miss Lavinia often
drives to Pine Ridge with her and leaves her for a day, so that Mrs.
Bradford may share the pleasant woman's talk of linen for table and bed,
and other details of a bridal outfit.
We all missed Miss Lavinia when she left, that is, all but the boys, and
they hailed the change with joy, as giving them another house to roam in
and out of. How much of the joy of childhood that we so envy comes from
their freedom from prejudice, the ability they have for adapting
Martin was so distrait for a time that father absolutely ventured to
tease him a little, whereupon he turned stoutly about and declared: "I
have never denied the inspiration and value of congenial female society,
and the mere fact that circumstances have shut me from it so much of late
years makes me all the more appreciative of present privileges. Oh, Dick,
old friend, isn't it some credit to a man who has lived backward almost
from his birth, if, after he's sixty, he realizes it and tries to catch
up with the present? It seems to me as if the best things had always
been just within my grasp, only to slip away again, through unforeseen
circumstances, and my ill luck reminds me of a story and picture in a
comic paper that the boys were chuckling over last night. It was of a
well-intentioned beetle who fattened a nice green caterpillar for its
family's thanksgiving dinner, and the thing went and spun itself into a
cocoon the night before!"
Martin Cortright at times verges on the pathetic, but always cures
himself by his appreciation of his own limitations before he reaches the
bore stage. He too is taking a short vacation from work, or rather I
should say that he has developed industry in a new direction and become
absorbed in entomology, to the extent of waging war on the tent
caterpillars that are disfiguring both the orchards and the wild cherry
trees of the highways with their untidy filmy nests, leaving the foliage
prematurely brown and sere, from their ravages. Yesterday, in driving
home from Pine Ridge with Sylvia, we noticed that even the wood edges had
the appearance of being scorched by fire, and many of the old orchards
where we go in May for apple blossoms are wrecks meshed in the
treacherous slimy webs.
Martin's methods are regular and very simple, but he goes about his task
each day as if the matter was a marvel of military strategy. First he
puts a book ostentatiously in one pocket and a flask of alcohol in the
other. Next he takes his torch, consisting of a piece of sponge wired to
an old rake handle, which he keeps on the back stoop, and makes sure that
it is tight and secure, finally searching me out to say that in case he
meets Miss Lavinia, have I any message for her.
Why he does not keep his outfit up at Martha's I do not know; perhaps
because of Timothy's keen tongue.
Miss Lavinia, after her morning housekeeping is over, takes her work bag
to the narrow cottage porch and apparently gives herself up to the task
of making pin-cushions for Sylvia or embroidering initials on napery.
Suddenly she will get up, say that her feet are falling asleep and that
she needs a walk to restore her circulation. Will Sylvia go with her?
Sylvia, after pretending to consider, thinks not, making some excuse of
its being too warm or that she expects Horace that day. Presently two
prim people walking in opposite directions meet and, taking the same
path, may be seen any morning along the less frequented roads and orchard
paths, sometimes repairing the torch that has a constant tendency to lose
its head, sometimes watching the destruction by fire of an unusually
wicked worm city, and frequently with their heads stuck into some
suspicious bush, where they appear to be watching invisible things with
[Illustration: The Bug Hunters.]
Father and I chanced upon them when thus employed the other morning.
Martin turned about and in the most serious manner began to dilate upon
the peculiarities of worms in general and particular, as well as of the
appropriateness of their study by the book collector, as the score and a
half insects that injure books and their bindings are not worms at all,
having none of the characteristics of the veritable book worm _Sitodrepa
panicea_, to all of which Miss Lavinia listened with devout attention.
"What makes them act so?" I said, half to myself, as we drove on, and
father stopped shaking with laughter. "There isn't the slightest reason
why they should not go to walk together; why do they manoeuvre with all
the transparency of ostriches?"
"It's another manifestation of suppressed youth," said father, wiping his
eyes, "upon the principle that the boy would rather slip out of the
window to go coasting at night than ask leave and walk out publicly, and
that when a young girl begins to grow romantic, she often takes infinite
pains to go round the back way to meet some one who is quite welcome at
the front door. When young folks have not had a chance to do these
things, and the motive for them lies dormant, heaven alone knows how or
when it will break loose."
Others, however, have observed, and the "Bug Hunters" has now come to be
the local nickname of these two most respectable middle-aged people with
Josephus, who has been leading a sporting life for many days, or rather
nights, has at last returned minus his long tail with which he used to
express his displeasure in such magnificent sweeps. Miss Lavinia is in
tears, and wishes to have a reward offered for the apprehension of the
doer of the deed.
Evan says that if she does, and thus acknowledges the cat as hers, she
may be deluged with bills for poultry, as he has been hearing weird tales
on the train, such as are often current among commuters who are not
zoologists, of a great black lynx that has been invading chicken coops
and killing for pleasure, as his victims are usually left on the ground.
Thus has country freedom corrupted the manners of a polite cat, and at
the same time a hay knife (probably) has rendered him tailless.
* * * * *
_August_ 20. Summer is at high tide. How I dread its ebbing; yet even now
the hastening nights are giving warning. Evan has been taking a
vacation, and we have spent many days, we four, following the northward
windings of the river in a wide, comfortable boat and lunching in the
woods. We are pagans these days, basking in the sun, cooling in the
shade, and living a whole life between sunrise and sunset. The boys are
showing unconscious kinship with wood things, and getting a wholesome
touch of the earth in their thoughts.
I am sure that the mind often needs a vacation more than the body, and
yet the condition of change that bears the name of rest frequently merely
gives the head fresh work.
How far away the Whirlpool and its people seem as we sit perhaps on one
of the many tiny river islands enjoying this time separateness, not as
individuals, but as a family, for the whirl of the pool is tiresome even
to watch. I have felt old these last three months, and I suppose it is a
still further carrying out of the allegory and penalty of eating the
fruit of the tree of knowledge; only the discipline does seem a little
hard when, having no desire either to pluck or taste the apple, one
stands actually away with hands safely behind back, and yet has the fruit
absolutely thrust between unwilling lips.
Even the feathered things about us are in this mood; their family life
is over, the companionship of fall travel has not begun, and the woods
are full of moulting birds choosing this separateness in preparation for
the tension of new flight and its perils. Everything, in short, in wild
nature has its corresponding note in our own humanity,--the sweating of
the corn, the moulting of the bird, the contraction of the earth by
frost, all have a kindred season or experience in the heart.
Then, too, the August nights--so heavy with the intensity of sleep that
is akin to sleeplessness, broken by peremptory thunder voices and
searching lightning, or again enveloped by moonlight that floods the
room--shut out the world until, kneeling in its tide between the little
white beds, I can feel the refrain of that hymn of mother's that father
taught me long ago to say to myself in the night when she had gone away
from sight and I was lonely:--
"Father, on thy heart I lean
When the world comes not between."
* * * * *
_August_ 30. Sylvia and Horace were married under sunshine yesterday in
the little chantry of the church that is used in winter and for week-day
services. To-day the cold northeasterly storm has come, under cover of
which August so often disappears and September enters the marshes upon
the wings of low-flying plovers, to the discordant call of the first
waterfowl of the return migration.
Mr. Latham came to the wedding. In fact, he has been here several times
during the month. He is a well-built man, under sixty, dark and taciturn,
and would be handsome but for the hard expression of his face.
His attitude toward the world has seemed to be one of perpetual parry and
self-defence; of course he may have good reason for this distrust, or, as
Evan says, he may have brought the necessity upon himself by his constant
severity of attack on others. Yesterday I partly changed my mind about
him. He evidently once had tender feelings, but, from what cause who can
say, they have in some way been compressed and frozen until they exist
only as hurts.
Sylvia was married in bridal white. She had wished to wear a travelling
gown and go away from the chantry door, but Miss Lavinia argued her out
of the notion, saying, "Horace has the right to a pretty bride, even if
you do not care." It would have taken but very little, after the strain
of the last two months, to make Sylvia morbid and old beyond her years,
her one thought seeming to be to get away from the surroundings of the
past year and begin to live anew.
Our group, and a dozen friends of the Bradfords, including some from
Northbridge who belonged to both, filled the little chapel which Horace,
Martin, and Evan had trimmed with flowers wholly from our garden. At the
last moment, Mrs. Jenks-Smith, whom we thought abroad, dashed up in a
depot hack, perspiring and radiant, her smart gown having a most peculiar
and unnatural looking promontory on the chest. "No, my dear, I'm not in
Carlsbad. Jenks-Smith was called back on business, and I sniffed the
wedding in the air and hooked on,--only arrived last night. _Have_ you
seen the papers? Hush, I'll tell you later," and her voice sank into an
awed whisper, and she gave a startled look as the bride entered on her
father's arm, with Ian and Richard as her only attendants. Having heard
so much talk of marrying and of weddings, they had asked Sylvia to let
them be "bridesmaids," and it seemed she really wanted them. Their faces
were solemn to the verge of comedy as they walked hand in hand before
her, their feet in brand-new pumps, keeping step and pointing out
carefully, while their evident satisfaction brought a smile like a ray of
belated sunshine to the face of the serious bride.
I watched Mr. Latham, usually so immovable, during the ceremony as he
stepped back from the altar into the shadows, when he left Sylvia finally
with Horace. His shoulders lost their squareness, his head drooped; but
when I saw that it was to hide the tears that filled his eyes, I looked
away. Father says he has seen this type of man, contracted by
money-getting, hardened by selfish misunderstanding, recover himself,
soften, and grow young again at the transforming touch of grandchildren.
Who knows, Sylvia may find her childhood's father again some day.
When we went back to the cottage for luncheon, the bump in Mrs.
Jenks-Smith's corsage was removed, and proved to be a gift for
Sylvia,--a thick leather case, holding a rich neck ornament of diamonds,
a sort of collar with pendants, for the Lady of the Bluffs is nothing if
"I got it in this way without paying a cent of duty," she said in a stage
whisper to Miss Lavinia and me in the hall, as she struggled to release
the box, wrenching off a waist hook or two as she did so.
"Jenks-Smith said it didn't look natural, and I'd surely be spotted, but
I said I'd like to see mere hired men try to tell a lady how stout or how
thin she had a right to be. Almost too gorgeous for a professor's wife?
Not a bit; Miss Lavinia, you're not advanced. Nobody knows nowadays, at
the launching, how anybody's going to turn out,--whether they'll sink or
float,--and diamonds are an all-right cargo, anyway. If she moves up, she
can wear 'em, if she slumps, she can sell 'em, and if she just drifts
along on the level, she can look at 'em once in a time. No, my dear,
diamonds are a consolation that no woman can afford to miss."
Considering her usual careless good nature, it seemed to me that Mrs.
Jenks-Smith was very fussy during the luncheon, ill at ease, and
strangely anxious to hurry the departure of Sylvia and Horace. The
guests, all but ourselves, left first, then Mr. Latham, who went upstairs
to take leave of his daughter alone. When Sylvia finally came down, her
colour had returned and she looked her radiant self again as she kissed
Miss Lavinia and Mrs. Bradford, and went down the steps holding Horace,
not by the arm, but clinging to his hand.
As the carriage disappeared around the bend of the road, and as we
stood looking at one another, feeling for a second the reaction and the
sense of an empty house that always follows the going of a bride, the
Lady of the Bluffs sank into a deep chair exclaiming, "Thank the Lord,
"Why, what is it? Are you ill?" cried father, who was just leaving,
coming quickly to her side.
"It's this. I wanted to get her started north ahead of it. When she comes
back she won't care so much," she replied incoherently, pulling a scrap
of a morning newspaper from her card-case and holding it out at random
for the nearest one to take. Father caught it from her hand, and going
to the window, read aloud in slow, precisive accents of astonishment:--
"AN EVENT OF INTEREST TO NEW YORK SOCIETY.
"(SPECIAL CABLE TO NEW YORK HERALD.)
"LONDON, Aug. 29.--Yesterday the marriage took place of Montgomery Bell
to Mrs. Vivian Latham, both of New York. The wedding, at the registrar's
and quite informal, was followed by a breakfast given the couple by
Mrs. Center--who chanced, with several other intimates of the American
colony, to be in the city en route to the German baths,--at her apartment
which she always keeps in readiness for occupancy. Mr. Bell, who is a
member of all the best clubs, is known socially as the 'Indispensable.'
Mr. and Mrs. Bell will return to New York in November and open their
magnificent house at Central Park East with a series of the delightful
entertainments which they both so well know how to render unique."
_September_ 8. Three lowering days of wind and rain, and Summer, after a
feigned departure, has returned to complete her task of perfecting.
She does this year after year--the marvel is that we are ever deceived;
but after all, what is it but the conflict between arbitrary and natural
law? The almanac-maker says that on the first day of September autumn is
due. Nature, the orbit-maker, proclaims it summer until, the month
three-quarters old, the equinox is crossed. Nature is always right, and
after the usual breezy argument sends Summer, her garments a bit
storm-tattered, perchance, back to her own.
The ill wind that dashed the tall auratum lilies in the garden to the
ground, stripped the clinging fingers of the sweet peas from their
trellis, and decapitated the heavy-headed dahlias, has blown me good,
held me indoors awhile, sent me to my attic confessional once more, with
conscience for priest, and the twins for acolytes, though they presently
turned catechists with an entirely new series of questions.
When I have not opened my desk or my garden book for some time, and the
planting season, be it of spring or of autumn, as now, overtakes me
unawares, I am always newly convinced that gardening is the truly
religious life, for it implies a continual preparation for the future, a
treading in the straight and narrow path that painful experience alone
can mark, an absorption beyond compare, and the continual exercise of
hope and love, but above all, of entire childlike faith.
When the time had come in the creative evolution for the stamping of the
perfected animal with the Divine image that forever separates him from
all previous types, it was no wonder that God set man, in whom the
perpetual struggle between the body and soul was to take place, in a
garden for his education.
* * * * *
Recently the boys have been absorbed in their little printing press,
which they have established in my attic corner, the present working
motive having come from the card announcing Sylvia's marriage to the
world in general, according to Mr. Latham's desire. Richard secured one
of these and busied himself an entire morning in setting it in type, for
the first time in his experience getting the capitals and small letters
in their proper places. The result was so praiseworthy that Evan hunted
up a large box of ornamental cards for them in town, and for two days
they have been "filling orders" for every one in the household.
I print the names they wish to copy very distinctly in big letters.
Richard does the type-setting, which is altogether too slow work for Ian,
who, as pressman, does the inking and printing, and in the process has
actually learned his tardy letters. As to the distributing and cleaning
of the type, I find a little assistance is gratefully accepted, even by
patient Richard, whose dear little pointed fingers by this time have
become tired, and fumble.
To-day, having exhausted the simple family names, they have tried
combinations and experiments with the words Mr., Mrs., and Miss, much
to their own amusement, "_Miss_ Timothy Saunders" being considered a
Suddenly Ian looked up with one of his most compelling, whimsical smiles,
and said, "Barbara, grandpop's Mrs. was grandma, and she's in heaven, but
where is Mrs. Uncle Martin?"
Rather startled, I said that I didn't know,--that there had never been
any Mrs. Uncle Martin.
"Why not?" persisted Ian, an answer that is simply an acknowledgment of
ignorance never being accepted by a child. Before I could think Richard
chirped out: "But Aunt Lavinia hasn't any Mr. for her card neiver, and
Martha, she said the other day that there was a Mr. and a Mrs. for
everybody, only sometimes they couldn't find each other for ever so long.
She told that to Effie, and I heard her."
A short pause, and then Ian jumped up, clapping his hands with joy, as
the solution of the problem flashed across him.
"I know what's happened, Barbara; maybe Uncle Martin's Mrs. and Aunt
Lavinia's Mr. has gone and got lost together, and some day they'll find
it out and bring each ovver back! Do you think they will, so we can have
some more weddings and pink ice cream, and couldn't we hurry up and help
find them? I guess we better print him some Mrs. cards so as in case."
I had drifted into gardening work on paper again, and I believe I said
that he had better ask Uncle Martin what he thought about the matter, and
at that moment the bell rang for luncheon.
The ringing of bells for meals in this house is what Lavinia Dorman
calls "a relic of barbarism," that she greatly deplores; but as I tell
her, our family gathers from so many points of the compass that if the
maid announced the meals, she would have to be gifted with the instinct
of a chaser of strayed freight cars.
Ian's queries have brought up a subject that has deluded and eluded my
hopes all summer, and has finally ended in the people that I hoped would
drift through the doorway of one of my most substantial air castles
refusing so to do, or else being too blind to see the open door.
Martin and Lavinia are the best possible friends, have been constantly in
each other's society, see from nearly the same point of view, and both
agree and disagree upon the same subjects, but they have not settled the
question of loneliness of living as I hoped, by making the companionship
permanent, _via_ matrimony.
Of course, I did not expect them to fall in love exactly as Evan and I or
Horace and Sylvia did--that belongs to spring and summer; still, I
thought that when they started worm-hunting together, and played checkers
every evening, that they were beginning to find each other mutually
indispensable, at least.
But no. Martin stored away his papers in the old desk, and went to New
York a week ago to see several suites of bachelor apartments that had
been offered him.
He writes this morning that he has found one to his liking, and will
return to-night, if he may, and stay over to-morrow to pack his things.
Meanwhile Miss Lavinia has sent her maids to clean and open her house in
"Greenwich Village," and will go home on Monday, spending her final
Sunday with me. Josephus went with the maids; the country had a
demoralizing effect upon him.
Miss Lavinia has been agitating moving uptown, several of her friends at
the Bluffs insisting that an apartment near the Park is much more
suitable for her than the little house so far from the social centre,
saying it is no wonder she is lonely and out of things; but yesterday she
told me that she had abandoned the idea of change, and had sent orders to
have her old back yard garden dismantled and the whole plot paved, as it
was now only a suitable place for drying clothes. Also that she had
written to ask her father's cousin Lydia, whose Staten Island home had
been built in by progress, very much like her own garden, to come to pass
the winter with her; and, lest she should repent of so rash an act, she
had given the letter to Evan before the ink was fairly dry, as he passed
the cottage on the way to the train, that he might post it in the city.
One consolation remains to me in the wreck of my romantic hopes for
her--Miss Lavinia has liked our neighbourhood so well that she has taken
the Alton cottage that she now occupies on a three years' lease, and
intends living here from May to October. The rambling garden is full of
old-time, hardy plants and roses, and oh, what good times we shall have
together there next spring, for of course she will stop with me when she
is getting things in order, and I can spare her enough roots and cuttings
to fill every spare inch of ground,--so, with Sylvia at Pine Ridge, what
more can I ask? The strain and hubbub of the Bluffs seems to be quite
vanishing from the foreground and merging with the horizon.
That reminds me that the people are drifting back quite rapidly now. The
golfers are afield again Sundays, and all talk of introducing fox hunting
with tame foxes; but they will have to learn the land, with its dips and
rocks, better first, or there will be a pretty crop of cracked crowns for
father. At present, I think that New England Prejudice will soon however
get the upper hand here, and tighten her hold of the reins that seemed
slipping from her grasp, which is well, for she has long borne aloft the
only standard of national morality whose code is not a sliding scale.
* * * * *
_September_ 9. Martin came back to-night. As he entered the house with
Evan I positively did not know him, for he has shaved off his mustache
and queer little pussy-cat whiskers, and with them has gone his
"pudgyness." He is really a very fine-looking man, and his features are
developed by the shaving process in an unexpected way. He seems so wide
awake, too, and alive to everything that passes, that I could see that
father, who came from the office to greet him, had difficulty in
restraining his surprise, but he contented himself by asking:--
"How did you fare with the publishers? Did you fall among thieves or
"That is equivalent to asking if my book has been accepted, as it is only
when work is refused that we call the mediums through which we seek to
reach the public hard names. Yes, the fate of my book is soon told; it
has found its place, and is to be fully illustrated as well, though it
will take me many months to collect the unique material they desire; this
insures me a busy winter, for which I am not only prepared but eager.
"I wish I could as easily tell you what this summer here has done for me,
Dick," and he leaned over the chair in which father had seated himself
and laid his arm affectionately across his shoulder. "I think in asking
me here you rescued me from as dangerous a condition of mental apathy as
when you stood by my bed so many years ago."
"Don't thank me," said father, leaning back and looking up at him, "thank
God's sunshine, work, the babies here, and why not woman's society
also,--you used to appreciate that, too, eh, Martin, old man? Give
everybody his, or rather her, due."
"Yes," I heard him answer, as if pondering the matter, while I fled
discreetly upstairs at this juncture, "you doubtless are right; Lavinia
Dorman's criticisms have been of infinite value in ridding my work of a
litter of words that encumbered the spirit and purpose of it. She is
direct and to the point, and yet withal most sympathetic. I had thought
of dedicating the book to her in some private way, for really we are
joint heirs, as it were, in so many traditions and habits of old New
York, that it would not seem strained or inappropriate."
"On the contrary, I think it most suitable, and I would not go to any
great pains to hide the compliment of the dedication under a bushel of
disguise either, if I were you. The Lydia Languish age of abnormal
privacy and distorted, unhealthy sensibility has fortunately passed.
Nowadays women like men to be direct, outspoken, definite, where they are
"Do you think so?" asked Martin, in real surprise. "I feared possibly
that it might annoy her."
"I know so--annoy her, fudge!" was father's comment.
* * * * *
When we went in to dinner, Miss Lavinia at once noticed the change in
Martin's appearance, and said, in a spirit of mischief which of course I
"Back from the city, and with new clothes, too,--how very smart and
becoming they are."
But poor Martin was quite guileless, and looking down at his coat in a
puzzled way, as if to make doubly sure, replied, "No, it cannot be my
clothes, for they are the same." Then, brightening, as the possible
reason occurred to him: "Perhaps it may be my shaven face; you see, the
barber made an error in the trimming of my decorations yesterday, and he
thought it better to take them entirely off and have them grow afresh,
but I had not thought of the matter in the light of an improvement."
"But it is one, most decidedly," continued Miss Lavinia, nodding brightly
across at him, while father, who now realized the change he could not
"Don't let them grow again, my boy. You look ten years younger, at the
very least, which you know at our age is not to be despised!"
Then we all grew hilarious, and talked together like a lot of school
children, and when the boys came in to dessert, as usual, they also were
infectiously boisterous over the catching of some bass in the river where
Timothy Saunders had taken them that afternoon as a special treat. They
clamoured and begged so for Uncle Martin to stop over the next day for
fishing and have one more good time with them, that he, feeling flattered
almost to the point of embarrassment, yielded upon Evan's suggesting
that, instead of going by the eight o'clock morning train as he intended,
he could wait for one late in the evening, which would get him to town
before eleven. For Martin was to move into his new bachelor apartments
the following morning.
The three men lingered long at the table, smoking, the talk punctuated by
long periods of silence, each regretting in his own way the present
terminating of the summer intercourse, and yet, I fancy, realizing that
it had lasted exactly the safe length of time. To be able to adapt
oneself temporarily to the presence of outsiders in a house is a healthy
habit, but to adjust a family to do it permanently is to lose what can
never be regained. Miss Lavinia and I agreed upon that long ago, and for
this reason I am very much surprised that she has asked her cousin Lydia
to spend the winter, with a view of making the arrangement permanent.
The boys brought some of their games downstairs, and succeeded in adding
half an hour to their bedtime by coaxing Aunt Lavinia to play with them,
until I finally had to almost carry them to bed, they grew so suddenly
sleepy from their day's fishing.
When I returned below stairs after the boys were asleep, father had gone
to the village, Evan was walking up and down outside, all the windows and
doors were open again, and the sultry air answered the katydids' cry for
Miss Lavinia was still in the hall, sitting on the lower step of the
stairs, for the boys had been using the broad landing that made a turn at
the top of the three steps as a place to play their games. Martin stood
leaning on the newel post, and from the few words I heard I knew that he
was telling her about the proposed dedication, so I went out and joined
Evan, for it seems as though we had had little leisure outdoors together
of late, and as if it was time to make it up as best we might.
Then, once again, as we crossed the streak of light that streamed like a
narrow moon path from the doorway, Evan paused and nodded his head toward
the hall. I turned--there sat Miss Lavinia and Martin Cortright on the
stairs, playing with the boys'--jack-straws!
"After this, what?" I asked, in my mirth leaning backward on Evan's
"To be pat, it ought to be the deluge," chuckled Evan; "but as these are
prosy times, it simply means the end has been reached, and that to-morrow
they will put away mild summer madness, and return to the Whirlpool to
paddle about decorously as of yore."
I find that I am not the only person who is disappointed at the absence
of matrimonial intentions between Martin and Miss Lavinia. The
postmistress told me yesterday that she's been expecting to hear of a
second wedding any day, as when one took place it always meant three,
though she couldn't "fetch the third couple together, even in her mind's
eye," which I have found to be usually a capacious and well filled optic.
Mrs. Barton also stopped Martha Corkle on the road, and said with an
insinuating sneer, "She'd always supposed that the gentleman from New
York who lodged with her was making up to the proud old maid at the
Doctor's, but as he evidently wasn't going to, she'd advise Mrs. Evan to
watch out, as Miss Lavinia, doubtless being disappointed, might set her
cap for the Doctor himself, and then the Lord knows what would happen,
men being so easily flattered and trapped."
Martha was indignant, and I must say very rude, for she snapped back: "I
wonder at that same bein' your holdin', Mrs. Barton, bein' as you've five
maid daughters that's not so by their desirin', folks do say as knows."
Mud throwers should be careful to wear gloves,--their ammunition
* * * * *
_September_ 10. This morning father and I were obliged to go to town upon
some hospital business, and as we had to remain there for luncheon, or
perhaps longer, we took the train instead of driving over, leaving
Lavinia to pack, so that she might have a free Saturday to drive with me
to bid Mrs. Bradford good-by, and learn the latest news of Sylvia and
Horace. Meanwhile the boys were to go fishing with Martin, who is as
careful of them as possible, taking their lunch with them.
They did not have good luck, however, and growing restless and tired of
fishing without catching, Martin brought them home by three o'clock, and
as both he and Miss Lavinia had finished their preparations for leaving,
they went out to the seat by the rose arbour to enjoy what was left of
the glorious afternoon, for it has been one of those days that come in
dreams, so perfect that one knows it cannot last.
"I hope that I shall not lose all track of you this winter," said Miss
Lavinia. "Of course you will be busy, but you might spare a lonely woman
an evening now and then for piquet, or whist if Evan or the Doctor should
come to town."
"Lose track of you, Miss Lavinia,--how could that be possible?" queried
Martin in mild-eyed astonishment. "You know there will be a second volume
of the book for you to read and criticise, besides all the illustrations
to discuss. No, I hoped that you could spare me two definite evenings
every week, at least until the work is in press, though I suppose that is
asking a great deal of a woman having so many friends, and places to go."
"If you could see the way I spend my evenings alone, you would not
hesitate. Of course I do dine out once in a time, and people come to me,
but between times--I envy even Josephus, who can have social enjoyment
any time by merely scratching on the door and running along the palings
to the neighbours."
"I am glad, for I decided upon taking the Washington Square rooms,
instead of moving up nearer the Clubs as my friends advised, because I
thought it would be so much more convenient if, in proof correcting, I
should require to consult you hastily."
Miss Lavinia felt a pleasurable flush rising to her cheeks, when it was
chilled by the memory of her invitation to her cousin Lydia. Why had she
given it? Then the realization that a third party would be unwelcome to
her made the flush return and deepen.
* * * * *
"Uncle Martin, where is your Mrs.? Barbara said I'd have to ask you
'cause she didn't know," suddenly asked Ian's voice, so close behind
them that they both started. He had been up in the attic to get some of
his precious cards, one of which he now held in front of Martin
"My Mrs.! Why, what do you mean?" he asked in uncomprehending
astonishment, taking the boy on his knee; but when the little scamp had
explained, the stupidest person in the world could not plead ignorance.
"And," Ian continued, "Dick and me thought that p'r'aps if your Mrs. and
Aunt Lavinia's Mr. had got lost together we could find them for you, and
then there'd be two more weddings with pink ice cream. We're going to
look this afternoon, and we're going to ask Martha to help us, 'cause she
found her Mr. after he'd been lost a great while, Effie says."
"And he was right here in the place, too," chimed in Richard, "only he
didn't seem to see her, so p'r'aps yours aren't far off, and we might get
them in time to have the wedding to-night before you go. Wouldn't you
like to be in a wedding, Aunt Lavinia?"
"Mercy no, child, I'm too old!" she ejaculated, now as red as a
Jacqueminot rose, while the boys ran off in the direction of Martha's, to
ask her where it was best to begin this important quest, the prize for
which was pink ice cream.
Miss Lavinia did not look up for a moment, and when she did she found
Martin's eyes fastened on her face, and in them a strange
enlightenment that shook her like an electric bolt, as he arose and
stood before her, saying:--
"You need never be old. Some prefer June strawberries and others
September peaches, that is all. When once in June I thought to gather the
strawberries, I found they belonged to another, for I loved your friend,
who was Barbara's mother."
"And I loved your friend, who is Barbara's father," Miss Lavinia said,
rising and facing him.
"As they married each other, why may not we? I know now why my work has
prospered this summer and why life seems good again. Ian's little fancy
shows me the truth."
"Our Mr. and Mrs. were not far off, then," said she, laying her hand on
his, while she looked into his face with one of those rare smiles of
unreserved confidence that makes Lavinia Dorman more fascinating than
half the younger women that I know.
After a moment of romance they waked up to the fact of the present and
its comical aspect; the boys' talk of weddings brought that necessary
episode quickly before them.
"May I tell the Doctor when he returns? Shall we tell them all?" asked
Martin, eagerly, and Miss Lavinia sat suddenly down again and realized
that she still was in the world of responsibilities.
"I think I would rather wait and do it all at once, after--after the pink
ice-cream," she said, as he laughed at her hesitation over the word. "I
don't like keeping it from Barbara, but I'm so tired of talk and fuss and
feathers and Mrs. Grundy." "Then let us get it quietly over next week,
or tomorrow, if you say, unless you wish time to feel sure, or perhaps to
think it over," said Martin, with enthusiasm.
"Time to think it over!" cried Miss Lavinia, springing lightly to her
feet. "No, I'm sure I don't wish to think, I want to act--to do things my
own way and give no one a chance to speak until it is done. What have I
been doing all my life but thinking, and waiting for it to be a
convenient and suitable time for me to do this or that, wondering what
others will think if I do or don't; thinking that the disagreeable was
duty, often simply because it was disagreeable. Surely you have been
hampered by this perpetual thinking too, and watching the thumb of custom
to see if it pointed up or down. No, I'm done with it. We've agreed to be
married, so why not this very afternoon, and have the wedding over before
you go, as the boys suggested?"
"The best possible idea, though I should have hardly dared suggest it,"
said Martin, tramping to and fro in excitement. "How shall we manage? Go
down here to the rectory?"
"I would rather go over to town," said Miss Lavinia, beginning, in
spite of herself, to realize difficulties. "We do not know who might
drop in here."
"Very well," said Martin, decisively, looking at his watch. "I have it!
Timothy is off to-day; I will harness the grays to the stanhope, as we
can't wait to send to the stable, and we will drive over the back way by
the Ridge and be home again by dinner time. The rector of All Saints' was
a classmate of mine, and I met him again only the other day, so we shall
have no trouble there."
"Are you sure you can harness the horses properly?" asked Miss Lavinia,
with characteristic caution, and then smiling at herself, as Martin
hurried off to the stable.
* * * * *
In less than twenty minutes the sober gray horses turned out of the
stable yard and up the road upon the most remarkable trip of their
career. Nothing strange was noticeable about the turnout, except that the
traces hung a trifle loose, and that the occupants sat unusually far back
under the hood for so pleasant an afternoon. That is, until after they
had passed Martha's house in the lane and turned into the unfrequented
back highway, then they both leaned forward, gave a sigh of relief, and,
looking at each other, laughed aloud.
"Do you realize that we are eloping, like runaway school children?" said
Miss Lavinia, "we two hitherto sober-minded Knickerbockers?"
"I realize that I like what we are doing very much, whatever it may be
called," replied Martin, "and that it is very considerate of you to spare
me and do it in this way. The conventional affair is very hard on a man
of my years, all of whose contemporaries are either bald or rheumatic;
besides, now I think of it, it is merely carrying out the ever-present
precedent. My father's great-great-grand father and mother eloped in
1689 from Staten Island to the Bouerie, and the boat upset when they
were going back."
"Mercy on us!" exclaimed Miss Lavinia, "I hope we shall not upset! I
wonder if the wheels are on securely. I thought I heard something rattle.
There it is again."
As they reached the bottom of the long hill, Martin let the reins hang
loose on the horses' necks and, lowering the hood, looked back to see if
he could find the cause of the jolting sound, accompanied by panting, as
of a dog running. Then he gave an exclamation of impatience, and pulled
the horses up short, for there, alternately running and lifting up their
feet and swinging, were the twins, clinging to the back of the gig!
Miss Lavinia gave a cry of dismay. "Where did you come from, and where
are you going?" she questioned rather sharply. "We went to Martha's, you
know," said Ian, as if his errand had been one of such importance that it
was impossible she should forget it, "and she wasn't there, so we thought
we'd just look for those people we said about, by ourselves. But we
couldn't find anybody, only a shiny black snake by the road, and he
rubber-necked at us and spit some 'fore he ran away. Then we saw
grandpop's horses coming, and when you went by we hooked on, and--"
"'Cause we thought if you was looking for those people and found them,
then we'd be there for the pink ice cream," added Richard, cheerfully,
supplementing Ian's story when his breath gave out.
"I suppose we must turn around and take them home," said Miss Lavinia,
with a sigh.
"Not a bit of it. Let them come with us; it is too late to turn back,
unless," he added, with a ring of mock humility in his tone, "you have
changed your mind and wish time to think. As for me, I've turned my back
on even thinking whether they will be missed or who will worry.
"Scramble in, boys, and curl up here in front. You are just in time; two
of these people you were searching for are going to be married this
afternoon. We are going to the wedding, and you shall be best men," and
the boys settled down, chuckling and whispering, but presently Ian
looked up, as light dawned, and cried: "I spy! It's you, Uncle Martin,
and Aunt Lavinia is your Mrs., only you couldn't find her all summer till
to-day," and he hugged his friend around the legs, which were all he
could reach, but Richard leaned backward until his head rested on Miss
Lavinia's knees, and he reached up his cooing lips to be kissed.
The rest of the ride to town was uneventful, except that when they
reached the outskirts they met Jenks-Smith's coach loaded with Whirlpool
people, but the Lady of the Bluffs saw nothing strange in the
combination, and merely shook her parasol at them, calling, "I'm sorry to
hear you're flitting, just when it's getting lively again, too!"
Fortunately the rector of All Saints' was at home, likewise the requisite
number of his family, for witnesses. Then it transpired that the couple
had never thought of the ring, and while Martin went out to buy one, Miss
Lavinia was left sitting on the edge of a very stiff sofa with a boy on
either side of her, with the Rectory family drawn up opposite like an
opposing force, which did not encourage easy conversation.
However, the agony was soon over, and the bride and groom left,
Martin giving his old classmate, to whom the world had been
penurious, a hand-shake that, when examined by the breathless family
a few moments later, was found to yield at least a new parlour
carpet, an easy-chair for the Rector's bent back, and a new clerical
suit to cover his gaunt frame.
"Now comes the pink ice cream," sang Ian, dancing a-tiptoe as they
reached the street; and there being but one good restaurant in town, on
the high street, next to the saddler's shop where the red goat harness
was still displayed, the party drove there, and the pink ice cream was
eaten, good and full measure thereof, while on their way out the coveted
goat harness found itself being taken from the window to be packed away
under the seat of the gig.
* * * * *
It was almost dinner time when father and I returned to-night, and the
boys were squeezed together in a chair on the piazza, close to Miss
Lavinia, while Martin sat near by on the balustrade. The boys were in a
great state of giggles, and kept clapping their hands to their mouths as
if they feared something would escape. I hurried upstairs, not wishing to
make dinner late, as I knew Martin expected to take the nine o'clock
train, just as father came in saying that Timothy had returned, and that
he found the horses in a wonderful sweat, and feared they were sick, as
they hadn't been out all day.
By this time we were in the hall and walking toward the dining room.
Martin stopped short, as if to say something, and then changed his mind,
while a bumping at the pantry door attracted the attention of us all.
Out came Ian, a portion of the goat harness on his head and shoulders,
followed by Richard, around whose neck the reins were fastened, and
between them they carried the great heavy silver tea-tray only used on
state occasions. In the centre of it rested a pink sofa pillow, upon
which some small, flat object like a note was lying.
They came straight across the hall, halting in front of me, and saying
earnestly, "We didn't ask for the harness, but Uncle Martin says that
people always give their best mens presents." I looked at him for a
second, not understanding, then Evan, with a curious twinkle in his eye,
strode across, whispering to me, "The Deluge," as he picked up the card
and read aloud, "Mr. and Mrs. Martin Cortright!" It was the card that
Richard had printed several days before and carried in strange company in
his warm, mussy little pocket ever since.
There was tense silence, and then a shout, as Martin took his wife's hand
that wore the wedding ring and laid it on mine; then he and father
fairly hugged each other, for father did not forget those long-ago days
of the strawberries that Martin could not gather.
When the excitement had subsided and dinner was over, Martha and Tim, to
whom the horse matter had been explained, came over to offer their
congratulations,--at least Martha did. Timothy merely grinned, and, to
the best of my belief, winked slyly at Martin, as much as to say, "We may
be long in knowing our minds, but when we men are ready, the weemen fair
tumble over us."
"Indeed, mum, but I wish you joy, and that he'll lead you as easy a life
as Tim'thy here does me, 'deed I do, and _no_ disrespeck intended," was
Martha's parting sentence; and then our wonder as to whether Martin was
going to town, or what, was cut short by his rising, looking at his
watch, and saying in the most matter-of-fact way to Lavinia: "Is your bag
ready? You know we leave in an hour."
"Does Lucy expect you?" I ventured to ask.
"Oh no, I shall not trouble her until the day appointed. We shall go to
the Manhattan, I think."
"How about your cousin Lydia?" asked father, who could not resist a
chance to tease.
"I forgot all about her!" exclaimed poor Lavinia, clasping her hands
tragically and looking really conscience-stricken. "And I," said Evan,
who had suddenly jumped up and rammed his hand into his side pocket,
"forgot to post your letter to her!"
* * * * *
_October_ 31. We have all been to New York to visit the runaway
Cortrights, as Evan calls them, now that they are settled, and it is
pleasant to see that so much belated happiness is possible. The fate of
Lavinia's house is definitely arranged; they will remain in "Greenwich
Village," in spite of all advice to move up in town. The defunct back
yard is being covered by an extension that will give Martin a fine
library, with a side window and a scrap of balcony, while the ailantus
tree is left, that bob-tailed Josephus may not be deprived of the feline
pleasures of the street or his original way of reaching it over the side
fence; and the flower garden that was, will be the foundation of a garden
of books under the kindly doctrine of compensation.
Above is to be a large guest room for Sylvia and Horace, or Evan and me,
so that there will be room in plenty when by and by we bring the boys to
see our New York.
Mrs. Jenks-Smith, who has formed a sincere attachment to Lavinia
Cortright, did all in her power to persuade her to be her neighbour up in
town, offering a charming house at a bargain and many advantages.
Finally becoming piqued at the refusal, she said:--
"Why will you be so stupid? Don't you know that this out-of-the-way
street is in the social desert?"
"It may be in a desert, as you say," said Lavinia, gently, "but we mean
at least to make it an oasis for our friends who are weary of the
whirling of the pool."
* * * * *
We stood looking at the boys as they slept tonight. Strange thoughts will
crop up at times most unexpectedly. Horns blowing on the highway
proclaimed the late arrival of a coaching party at the Bluffs. "Would you
like to have money if you could, and go about the world when and where
you please?" I asked Evan, but he, shaking his head, drew me towards him,