Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
LITTLE MISS BY-THE-DAY
LUCILLE VAN SLYKE
_Author of “Eve’s Other Children”_
_With A Frontispiece In Color By MABEL HATT_
I IN THE BARRED GARDEN
II THE HOUSE IN THE WOODS
III LOST DREAMS
IV THE UNFINISHED SONG
V “CERTAIN LEGAL MATTERS”
VI THE LAST PRETENDING
The older I get the more convinced I become that the most fascinating persons in this world are those elusive souls whom we know perfectly well but whom we never, as children say, “get to meet.” They slip out of countries, or towns–_or rooms even,_–just before we arrive, leaving us with an inexplicable feeling of having been cheated of something that was rightfully and divinely ours. That’s the way I still feel about little Miss By-the-Day. Perhaps you, too, have been baffled by the will-o’-the-wispishness of that whimsical young person. Perhaps you, too, tried to find her but never did.
She sounded so casual and commonplace when I first began hearing about her that I let her slip through my fingers. She was just a little seamstress who had a “vairee” odd way of speaking; it was quite a long time before I realized that everybody who spoke about her was unconsciously trying to imitate her drawling voice. And then I noticed that everybody who mentioned her smiled dreamily and wondered where on earth she’d come from. I kept hearing, just as you probably did, odd scraps of things she had said, droll adventures in which she had figured, extraordinary and fantastic tales about the house in which she lived. And presently, when it was too late, I found myself listening to regretful murmurings of scores of baffled persons who couldn’t find out what had become of her. She suddenly vanished, leaving nothing behind her save her delectable house.
If you’ll lend me your pencil a minute I’ll show you on the back of this envelope just how that house was situated. You can understand the whole amazing story better if you keep in mind how the church on the corner and the rectory were tucked in beside that great house. For it _is_ a big house, so huge that the six prim brownstones across the street from it look like toy houses. But I’ve been told that in Brooklyn’s early days there was no street, just a long terraced garden that sloped down to the river.
For all that the streets have crowded so disrespectfully about it the whole place still has a sort of “world-with-out-end-amen” air–perhaps because of the impressive squareness of its structure, great blocks of brownstone joined solidly; perhaps because of the enormous gnarled wistaria vines that stretch above its massive cornices–but one does feel as Felicia Day herself did when some one asked her how long she thought it had been there. She said she thought it must have been there “Much, much more than Always–it must have been _jamais au grand_ –forevaire and more than evaire!”
Maybe, like me, you’ve passed that house a dozen times and shuddered at the filth of the little street.
[Illustration: Town map.]
I used to hold my breath as I hurried by that dismal old rookery. I thought it the most hideous purgatory that ever sheltered a horde of miserable humans. But you needn’t be afraid to pass it now! The immaculate sweetness and serenity of that wee street is like a miracle and the old house is a fairy dream come true.
Its marble steps are softly yellowed with age, an exquisitely wrought iron balcony stretches across the front above the high ceilinged basement and great carved walnut doors open into a wide vestibule with a marble floor exactly like a bit of a gigantic chessboard. The transformation had so astounded me that I was almost afraid to touch the neatly polished beaten silver bell for fear the whole house would vanish.
“Coom in!” cried a Scotchy voice from the basement. So I stepped across the tessellated floor of the hall into the broad drawing-room and stared out through the long French doors of the glass room at the green smudge of Battery Park beyond the river. There wasn’t a soul in sight in any of the rooms and yet I felt as if some one was there. Perhaps it was just that I was awed by the disconcerting loveliness of the portrait of the brunette lady that hung in a tarnished oval frame above the drawing-room mantel. I looked at her and waited. Presently I coughed apologetically.
“Could I please find out if a–er–Miss Day lives here? Or–if anybody here knows her?”
The Scotchy voice lifted itself grudgingly above the vigorous swish of a scrubbing brush.
“I dinna think ony one’s home but th’ Sculptor Girl–she’s on th’ top floor an’ it’s not I that knows whether she’s in a speaking humor, but you’re weelcoom to try her–“
It was raining, a miserable spring drizzle, yet the spacious hall seemed flooded with sunlight. There’s an oval skylight fitted with amber glass; silhouetted against its leaded rims are outlined flying birds.
“Hark, hark! The lark at heaven’s gate sings!” I read beneath the margins when I looked up to find the sunlight. I knew that I ought to feel like an impertinent intruder but I just couldn’t! And I defy any one to go up those wonderful circling stairs and not smile! For at the head of each flight of steps is a recessed niche such as used to be built to hold statuary and in the one near the second floor is a flat vase filled with flowers–little saffron rosebuds the day I passed by –with an ever so discreet card engraved in sizable old English script that hinted:
“One’s for you.”
I was still sniffing at my buttonhole when I reached the second niche. There was a black varnished wicker tray heaped with fruit and a Brittany platter filled with raison cookies.
“Aren’t you hungry?” the card above them suggested. I nibbled an apricot all the way up the third flight and almost laughed aloud when I reached the top, though of course I was expecting something. There’s a yellow glazed vase there,
“For pits and stones
Or skins and bones”
and above it in the back of the niche through a marble dolphin’s mouth cold water trickles into a bronze holder with a basket of cups beside it.
“Thirsty?” asks the dolphin.
“Dulcie Dierck” I read on the Sculptor Girl’s doorplate. It took me a full minute to get the courage to tap her gargoyle knocker because I was so awestricken at remembering that she was the girl who won the Ambrose Medal and the Pendleton Prize and goodness only knows how much other loot and glory.
The door jerked open to let me peer into the cleanest, barest skylit spot,–with flat creamy walls and a little old fireplace with a Peggoty grate just like the pictures in “David Copperfield.” And a trig young person who didn’t look a bit like an artist, because she was so neatly belted and so smoothly coiffed, waved a clayey thumb tip toward a bench by the fire.
“Sit down and get your breath,” she suggested chirkily, “then you won’t feel quite so dumfoundered–“
An overwhelming sense of my colossal cheekiness made me stammer.
“Do–do you h-happen to know–” I burst forth desperately, “if there’s really any such person as a–a Miss Day?”
“Does that fire look real?”
“Well, then put another stick on that fire and hang the kettle on the hob–” she was washing the clay from her hands in an old brass basin. “Don’t get peeved with me because I’m grouchy and bossy–” she flung over her shoulder at me. “I always start off badly when I’m tired and that fool question always makes me just darned tireder!”
She reached for a fat brown teapot and dumped in tea-leaves recklessly. “I’ll be decenter directly I’m fed. I’m a beast just before tea–you won’t find me half bad half an hour from now–“
We were both silent while the water boiled. She shoved her table nearer the fire, so near that I found myself looking down at the writing things that were arranged so primly at one end. There was an ink bottle on a gray blotter, a pewter tray for pens and a queer shaped lump of bronze, a paper weight I supposed. I wouldn’t have been human if I could have kept my fingers off that bit of metal. I pretended to pick it up accidentally but I did it as guiltily as a child touches something forbidden. She didn’t say a word, just watched me mischievously while she arranged the tea cups on the other end of the table. Presently she lighted a tiny temple lamp, melted a dab of sealing wax in its wavering blue flames–rose-colored wax it was–and it splashed out on the gray blotter like molten fire.
She took the bit of bronze from my fingers and pressed it firmly on the wax.
“It’s a mouth–” I murmured. “It’s lips–“
“It’s her kiss,” she answered me. “That’s the most beautiful and the most difficult thing I ever made. It’s Felicia Day’s letter seal.”
“Then she really is a real person–” I stammered fatuously.
“Real?” The girl’s low voice lifted itself belligerently. “What do you think she is? Imitation? Why, she’s the one REAL thing in this whole sham world! I guess you’ve never met anybody who knew her or you wouldn’t keep gulping out idiotic things like that! I guess if you ever talked with her even a minute you’d understand how real she is. She has the crispest–the sincerest way of speaking. Though of course it’s not a bit like other people’s ways. She probably doesn’t talk like anybody you’ve ever listened to. Not like anybody I’ve ever heard of anyway.” The girl’s eyes were glowing. “Are you musical?” she demanded. “Because I need a musical word to tell you how she talks. She talks _rubato_. Her short words drawl ever so long and her long ones hurry so’s to let her make up for the stolen time. And she has a sort of trace of accent like–well, it’s not like anything except herself really. You see, her mother wasn’t French but she was brought up with French people and Felice says ‘evaire’ and ‘nevaire’ and uses funny little Frenchy phrases she heard her mother use though she doesn’t really talk French at all. And she has a bossy way of speaking, kind of –well, humbly bossing, if you can get me. Talks like a Lady Pied Piper and sweeps you along with her just about six minutes after she’s begun coaxing you to do whatever she’s decided is the best thing for you to do. Believe me, I know she does it! Because I was one of the first ones she swept along!” The girl’s words were tumbling so fast now that I could hardly follow.
“Did you ever find yourself in heaps of trouble? Too much trouble to stand? Did you? I was that way the day she opened my door. It made me perfectly furious to have her open my door. And she looked so little and so old and so frumpy–she’d been sewing all day for my beastly step-aunt and I’d been trying all day to get the courage to–to–” the girl’s tears were streaming now and she didn’t bother to wipe them away, she seemed utterly unashamed of them, “to get rid of myself. And just the minute I got the cork out of the bottle that little old angel opened the door. She was so darned different from anybody I’d ever seen in all my life and she talked so differently from anybody I’d ever listened to, I–well, I sort of forgot wanting to die because I was curious to find out where on earth she’d come from–or where on earth she was going to! She had a funny little dog under her arm; she gave it to me to hold. And the next thing I knew she was inviting me to go home with her. She thought I might like this room, she said. She told me it was filled ‘with-an-abundance-of-weeds-we-have-not-any- names-for–‘ Wasn’t that an absolute corker? That was her way of describing the Italian family with too many brats that were living here. She’d got that apology for ’em out of her great-great-grandma’s garden book! Can you beat it? She talks about everybody as if they belonged in a garden. She called me–” the girl’s lips quivered,–“a rosebush that had been pruned too much–roots cramped–she said– anyway she picked me up to transplant me! Marched me into the ‘orrible, messy, noisy, smelly hutch that this house used to be, up all those eighty ‘leven stairs, and she kept her chin in the air as though it was a royal palace she was taking me into! She just kept saying,
“‘Come! You’ll love, love, love it! And you’re going to be proud, proud, proud to live here–‘
“I was proud, all right,” the girl’s voice choked. “I wouldn’t have missed living here those next two months, not for all the marble that was ever quarried nor for all the glory that was Greece! That first night we both slept in this room–” she paused dramatically and threw open the door in the east wall to let me peer into the narrow hall room, “there–see–“
Ah! that bare little room! So tidy! With faded discolored wall paper and a scrubbed pine floor! With its battered iron bed! There’s an old table by the one window with a child’s silver mug and plate and spoon on it, each of them with a great bee carved upon it. That’s all there is in that room save a low chair and a superb but shabby walnut bureau.
“She loved it so much that she wouldn’t change it when she was building Octavia House over–“
“Octavia House!” I cried. “Why, that’s that queer house where all the young geniuses live! The one that the Peter Alden money built–“
“It’s not a queer house!” the girl defied me. “It’s–it’s this house! And you can’t say Money built this house! Money couldn’t have done it! Not all the money in the world, couldn’t! It wasn’t Money! It was– Pride! Not the sort of pride that goeth before _de_struction but that mightier pride that goeth before _con_struction! No, no!” she murmured vehemently, “it wasn’t Money! It was really almost done before the money came! And she didn’t just build the house over, she built all of us over. And built the whole world over for us all. Just with her pride in us! Just with the pride she made us feel in ourselves! And do you know, we were all such self-centered idiots, that it wasn’t until after she was gone that we grasped what she’d done with us? We didn’t know the glory and the wonder of her until after she was gone–“
The Sculptor Girl answered my half-asked question almost ferociously.
“Of course she’s not dead! She is the alivest person in this whole world–aliver than you or I can ever be! And yet,–we’ve lost her. She isn’t just _ours_ any more. And when she was blessedly, absolutely just ours–we didn’t appreciate her. You see, she was so frumpy and absurd and quiet we didn’t think about her–we scarcely saw her. But oh–the minute when we did see her! It came in a flash for me! I just knew, all of a sudden, that she was perfectly beautiful–as beautiful as her own whistle–her lovely, lovely Mademoiselle Folly whistle–“
“Oh! Oh!” I gasped, “_You can’t mean that she was–is–Mademoiselle Folly?_”
“Mean it? Didn’t you know it? Didn’t you ever hear her whistle? Oh, even now that she’s gone it seems to me that I can still hear her whistling! And no matter what any one has said about it–they couldn’t all of them, put together, say half enough–not even if they all said things as gushy as the Poetry Girl–she said it was like water trickling in a moonlit fountain! I only know it’s like what I tried to put into my little Pandora–that it was like what Barrie was thinking when he let Peter Pan cry, ‘I’m Joy! Joy! Joy!’–Even the Painter Boy, who has a silly pose that he hates music, used to hang around to hear her whistle–he pretended he was just looking at her so’s he could paint her, but that didn’t fool me–Listen, there’s Nor’ stumping up stairs now–he’s awfully lame on these rainy days and _that_ moody–“
“Do you mean Noralla? The one who did ‘The Spirit of Romance’? Does he live here?”
She nodded impishly.
“And Thad, the cartoonist and Blythe Modder and–” she began reeling off a victorious list of young celebrities.
“And that one little dressmaker discovered you all?” I asked, quite awestricken, “How could she? What sort of a wonder was she? How can you explain it?”
The girl swung her lithe self up on the table, clasped her narrow hands about her knees and smiled benignly down upon me. She seemed naively content with herself, relaxed and quiet after her tempestuous storm of words.
“You can’t explain it, you just accept it–just as you accept sunshine and rain–you can’t explain any more than you can describe. And she’s the sort of woman that all of us who dwell within this house will go on all the rest of our lives trying to describe and I’ll bet that not all of us put together can tell more’n half that there is to tell about her. Why, her very faults are different than other people’s faults! She has a pippin of a temper and such stub-stub-stubborn ways! Don’t you think Thad’s cartoons of ‘Temperamental Therese’ are peaches? Well, they are nothing but Felice in her illogical crotchety unfair minutes–Thad says the only way to explain such heavenly rudeness as Felicia’s is to remember that she began being rude in 1817–“
“How old is she?” I fairly shouted, “Oh, please get down to earth and tell me something definite about her! You’re perfectly maddening!”
The girl jumped lightly to the floor and slipped across the room to swing the casement in the north wall and let me peer down into Felicia’s garden. If you’ll look on the back of your envelope you can see just how it was, just how the walls shut off the rectory yard.
“She’s exactly twenty-seven,” she sighed, “the most perfect age to be! And if you were really going to tell her story you wouldn’t have to go back all the way to 1817, you’d begin it about–well, let me see– you’d begin it about 1897, I think, and right down there in that wee little garden. And of course you’d begin it with her whistling. And you’d ask anybody you were trying to tell about her whether they’d ever heard Mademoiselle Folly whistle–“
Did you? For if you have, I’m sure you’ve never forgotten the droll way that Mademoiselle Folly stepped out upon a stage in her quaint green frock and made her frightened curtsy. Can you recall her low contralto drawl and her inevitable,
“Oh, my dears, I do _so_ hope that you’re going to be good at pretending! You all of you look as though you could pretend if you just started! So let’s you and I pretend that–“
Oh, I do so hope that you, too, are going “to be good at pretending”! That you can make yourself pretend that it’s twenty years ago and that you’re a nice invisible somebody standing down in a wee back yard of Felicia’s. From the garden you can’t see the river because the walls are too high. But now you’re so close to them you see that they’re crumbly brick walls almost covered with vines and that at prim intervals along their tops there are elaborate wrought-iron urns, each filled with a huge dusty century plant. And in the side wall toward the rectory yard of the church you can see an unused iron gate, its rusty lock and hinges matted through and through with ancient ivy. Pretend that it’s moon-light and it’s spring and that it’s early evening in the year of our Lord 1897 and that over there by the gate is Felicia Day, about seven years old, peering through the gate into the rectory yard, laughing softly as she always laughs on choir practise nights. There was a certain bald dyspeptic choirmaster who was most irritable as he drilled his unruly boy choir and on warm evenings, when the oaken door under the heavy Gothic arches of the church was ajar, she could watch their garbed figures and wide opened mouths as they giggled over Gregorian chants under the swaying altar lights.
Once the tallest, naughtiest boy of all, the one with the cherubic “soprano” voice that was just threatening to break into piping uselessness, had climbed to the top of the wall and dropped his little black velvet cap at her feet.
“Get down from that wall!” the choirmaster had shouted.
Though the boy had ducked from view as suddenly as he had appeared he had managed to demand of the small person under the wall,
“Who are you, girl?”
She was holding the cap tightly while she answered,
“I don’t know, ‘zactly who I are–” when she heard the choirmaster shrieking,
“Dudley Hamilt! Come here at once!”
And though she watched every choir-practise night for ever so long she never caught another glimpse of the mischievous-eyed boy, a nasal- voiced woman sang in his stead and she never, never climbed walls.
But Felicia always waited patiently with the small black cap in her hands until a night when she summoned courage to call softly through the barred gate,
“Dudley! Dudley Hamilt!”
A fat boy ran to her and jeered,
“He’s expelled! He can’t come back till he’s a tenor!”
So that’s what you must pretend! That you can smile in the shadows of that moonlit garden, that you can smile at a dear little stupid who is waiting joyously for the time when Dudley Hamilt will come back a tenor!
IN THE BARRED GARDEN
She was a distinctly droll looking child at the age of seven, our little Felicia Day! With straight black hair brushed smoothly back and bound with a “circle comb,” with short-waisted dresses that left her neck and arms bare. Her slender feet were encased in short white socks and low black slippers. And at her dear little feet was usually– Babiche.
Babiche was so old that she whined at the evening chill; she perpetually teased to be taken back to her comfortable cushion at the foot of her mistress’s bed. She was really very amusing when she sat up on her haunches and begged to be carried. For she was so fat that she hated to walk and she was a very spoiled doggy, that wee spaniel! A sort of a dowager queen of a doggy, a nice little old grandma lady of a dog.
The gentle yap-yap-yapping that could always be heard beyond the rear wall was from the throats of some score or more of her expensive great-great-great offspring who lived in the stable in tiny stalls with their pedigree cards tacked neatly under their elaborate kennel names.
It was a cross to Felice that she was not allowed to go through the small arched doorway at the back of the garden that led to the stable that opened on the narrow cobblestone “Tradespersons’ Street.” The Major didn’t approve of the manners of Zeb Smathers the kennel man, or Zeb’s wife Marthy, though he knew there wasn’t a pair with their patience and skill to be found for miles around. All the same Felice adored the stable yard and would have dearly loved to climb the narrow stairs up to the low-ceilinged rooms above the stables where Marthy liked to sit.
Lean, grizzled old Marthy! There was usually a dog or two in her lap, either a sickly pup or a grieving-eyed mother dog whose babies had been taken away from her. Such tiny creatures, even the mother dogs– those little Blenheim spaniels! Snub-nosed, round-headed with long silky flopping ears, soft curly coats and feathery tails. Felice liked the yellow and white ones, and always reached for them, but her grandfather coolly “weeded them out,” as Zeb expressed it, because the Trenton ideal was a white dog marked with red.
Felicia knew when the dogs were going away. They always went the day after the Basket Man came with a pole tied full of oval gilded wicker hampers. Sometimes she, was allowed to stand in the gateway and watch them have their farewell bath, only of course she sniffed uncomfortably when Zeb let brown drops drip into the rinsing water from a fat bottle with a gay red skull and cross-bones on the label. “Scarbolic” was what she understood it to be, she mustn’t touch it or she’d “go dead,” whatever that was. But she forgot all about the smell as she watched the fluffy doggies drying in the sunny stable yard while Marthy sang vociferously to cheer her own drooping spirits; the silly old woman never could bear the days the dogs went away.
And so Felice on her side of the gate could listen rapturously to the throaty drone in which Marthy asked the world
“What’s this dull town to me?
Rob-in’s not here–“
or warbled heavily
“Churry Ripe, Churry Ripe,
Who’ll buy my churries–“
“Where have you been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy? Where have you been, charming Billy?”
It almost made up for not being allowed to go out of the garden.
If Felice only could have been allowed to go around into the Tradespersons’ Street just once! I wish she could have gone–just once! On one of the days when the swinging sign, that was gilded and painted so beautifully, was hung outside to announce
“KING CHARLES AND BLENHEIM SPANIELS For sale within.”
I’m sure she would have loved the line of carriages waiting in the cobble-stoned alley when the fine ladies came to buy. I think she would have clapped her hands at the gay boxes of geraniums and the crisp white curtains in Marthy’s shining windows over the stable door.
But she could only stay in the garden with the thin visaged old French woman who taught her to read and to write and to embroider and to play upon an old lute and to curtsy and to dance. One thing she learned that the French woman did not teach her–to whistle! She remembers answering the sea-gulls who mewed outside in the harbor and the sparrows who twittered in the ivy and the tiny pair of love-birds who dwelt in a cage at her mother’s bedroom window. She learned to whistle without distorting her lips because her grandfather had forbidden her to whistle and if she held her mouth almost normal he couldn’t tell when he looked out into the garden whether it was Felice or the birds who were twittering.
Her first memories of her mother were extremely vague. She remembers she was pretty and smiling and that most of the time she lay in a “sleighback” bed and that in the morning she would say,
“Go out into the garden and be happy,” and that at twilight she would say, “You look as though you had been very happy in the garden–“
Sometimes Maman wasn’t awake when Felicia came in from her long day in the garden. And the little girl always knew if her mother’s door were closed that she must tiptoe softly so as not to disturb her. There was a reward for being quiet. In the niche of the stairway Felice would find a good-night gift–sometimes a cooky in a small basket or an apple or a flower,–something to make a little girl smile even if her mother was too tired or too ill to say good-night. She never clambered past the other niches that she didn’t whimsically wish there was a Maman on every floor to leave something outside for her. So after a time the canny child began leaving things for herself, tucked slyly back where the housemaids wouldn’t find them. She used to hide her silver mug with water at the very top stair because she was so thirsty from the climb.
She was always happy in Maman’s room and in the garden but she had many unhappy times in that nursery. It was at the very top of the back of the house. From the barred windows under the carved brownstone copings she could peer out at the ships in the harbor and the shining green of Battery Park. The nursery had a fireplace just opposite the door that connected with the tiny room in which the old French woman slept. Both these rooms had been decorated with a landscape paper peopled with Watteau shepherds and shepherdesses and oft-repeated methodical groups of lambs. On the cold mornings she was bathed beside the fire–which she very much hated–and once when she was especially angry at the sharp dash of the bath sponge against her thin shoulders she clutched at the flabby dripping thing with all her might and sent it hurtling through the doorway where it splashed against the side wall of the tiny room and smudged out the flock of a simpering shepherdess. And instead of being sorry that she had obliterated the paper lambs she remembers shaking her fist at the discolored spot and shrieking “Nevaire come back, nevaire!”
Mademoiselle D’Ormy made her tell Maman. Mademoiselle’s disapproval made it seem an admirable crime until Maman said ever se gently,
“I’m sorry you were unhappy!”
“_I was happy_,” persisted Felicia, “I was proud, proud, proud when I threw it!”
“But you made Mademoiselle unhappy and you’ve made me unhappy–and you can’t be truly happy, Felicia, when you’re making some one else unhappy–“
Felicia discovered that she couldn’t. Not with Maman’s gentle eyes looking into hers, so she threw herself on her knees and kissed her mother’s hand. Just as she had seen her grandfather kiss it.
“Let’s pretend!” she whispered, “Let’s pretend I didn’t do it! Now let’s pretend I’m Grandy!”
Pretending she was her Grandfather Trenton was one of their most delicious games. She would tap on the door, delicately, and ask in mincing imitation of the French woman,
“Madame, will you see ze Major?” Then, with great dignity she would advance to the bedside.
“Ah! Octavia!” she would say, eloquently, “How charming you look to- day!”
For that was what Grandy always said when he came into the room to see Maman.
You’d have liked Major Trenton. You’d have liked him a lot. But you could have liked him more if he’d been a little kinder to Felice. For by one of those strange, unexplained twists of human nature this fine gentleman, who was so tolerant with his uncouth servants and so admirably gentle with his wee dogs, was unconsciously cruel to the small grand-daughter who so adored him. She adored his immaculate neatness, the ruddy pinkness of his skin; she loved his wavy white hair and the deep sparkle of his dark eyes. She saw nothing droll about the peaked felt hat and long black coat that he persisted in wearing, or about the ruffled shirt, with its absurd flaring collar and black satin stock. She even loved the empty coat sleeve pinned inside his breast pocket. She thought him the most beautiful human in the whole world. She lived in constant dread of what Grandy would or would not be pleased to have her do. And though she was unaware of it, her everyday behavior was exactly what that silent man had so ordered. She did not know there was a God because the Major was an atheist–who out-Ingersolled Robert G. in the violence of his denial of deity. She did not know there was a world of reality outside the garden because he did not choose to have her mingle with that world. She was not taught French because he vowed he hated France and the French and all their ways. She was taught to curtsy and to dance because it pleased him to have a woman walk well and he believed dancing kept the figure supple. She was taught needlework because he thought it seemly for a woman to sew and he liked the line of the head and neck bent over an embroidery frame. She was taught to knit because he remembered that his mother had told him that delicate finger tips were daintily polished by an hour’s knitting a day. He was–though he wouldn’t have admitted it–proud of her slender hands–they looked exactly as his wife’s had looked. It was the only trait she had inherited from that particular ancestor and he had been inordinately vain of his wife’s hands. Mademoiselle had been ordered never to let the child “spread her hand by opening door knobs or touching the fire-stones–or–er– any clumsy thing–” and it was droll to see the little girl, digging in her bit of garden with those lovely hands incased in long flopping cotton gloves–not to forget the broad sunbonnet that shaded her earnest little face. In short, he was jealous of her complexion and her manners–But beyond that and the desire that she absolutely efface herself, he did not concern himself with his granddaughter.
It was really her mother’s gentle tact that fostered love for the stern old man. While Felice was still young, Octavia began to teach her child pride of race. The pretty invalid was pathetically eager to have Felice impressed with the dignity of Major Trenton’s family.
“If you look over the dining-room fireplace you can see how fine his father was–“
So the child stared up the stately panelled wall at the gloomy old portrait of Judge Trenton with his much curled wig and black satin gown and the stiff scroll of vellum with fat be-ribboned seals attached and asked naively,
“If your father was a judge-man why aren’t we judge-mens?” Grandy laughed his short, hard laugh.
“Oh, because we’ve gone straight to the dogs–and very small bow-wows at that–“
It was about this time that Octavia began to teach Felice to play chess. The child hated it. It must have taken a sort of magnificent patience to teach her. For a long time no one save Mademoiselle D’Ormy had known what a struggle it meant for that gay little invalid to make herself lovely for that afternoon hour over the chess board. Yet, when the Major entered he would always find his daughter smiling from her heap of gay rose-colored cushions, her thin hair curled prettily under her lace cap and her hand extended for his courteous kiss. They were almost shyly formal with each other, those two, while Mademoiselle D’Ormy screwed the tilt table into place and brought the ebony box of carved chess men. It was leaning forward to move the men that took so much strength. Octavia was too proud to admit how weak she was growing. So she coaxed her small daughter,
“It will be a little stupid at first, Cherie, but we will try to make it go–and think what fun it will be that day when we tell the Major, ‘It is Felice and not stupid old Octavia who is going to play with you.’ First you shall learn where to move the pieces and how to tell me what Grandy has moved–then, we shall tie a handkerchief over my eyes–as we do when you and I play hide the thimble–my hands shall not touch the men at all. I shall say ‘Pawn to Queen’s Rook’s square’ and you shall put this little man here–this is the Queen’s Rook’s square–” It must have been the oddest game in the world, really, between that stern old man and the blindfolded invalid and the grave little girl who was learning to play. Of course it was easier for Octavia–she didn’t have to move her hands or keep her eyes open. She could lie lower on the pillows–she smiled–a wavering smile when her father’s triumphant “Check!” would ring out.
“Alas, Felice!” she would murmur gaily, “are we not stupid! Together we can’t checkmate him–” They talked a great deal about chess. And how you can’t expect to do so much with pawns and how you mustn’t mind if you lose them. But how carefully you must guard the queen–or else you’ll lose your king–and how if “You just learn a little day by day soon you’ll have a gambit,” and how “even if you don’t care much about doing the silly game, you like it because you know that it gives Grandy much happiness.”
It was in those days that Felice learned that not only must she keep very happy herself but she must keep other people happy.
“It’s not easy,” Octavia assured her, “but it’s rather amusing. It’s a game too. You see some one who is tired or cross or worried and you think ‘This isn’t pleasant for him or for me!’ Then you think of something that may distract the tiredness or the worry–maybe you play softly on the lute–maybe you suggest chess–maybe you tell something very droll that happened in the garden or the kennel–he doesn’t suspect why you’re telling him, at first he scarcely seems to hear you and then–when he does stop thinking about the unpleasantness–he smiles!–Watch Grandfather when he says ‘Check!’ and you will see what I mean–“
One comfort was, Felice didn’t have to play chess all of the days. Never on the days when Certain Legal Matters came. Then Grandfather disappeared into the gloomy depths of the library and from the garden Felice could hear the disagreeable grumble of the burly lawyer as he consulted with his extraordinary old client.
“Absolutely no! Absolutely no!” her grandfather’s voice would ring out, “I tell you I will not! A man who takes a pension for doing his duty to his country is despicable! And as for the other matter–I do not have to touch anything that was my wife’s! I do not approve of the manner whereby she obtained that income–if Octavia wishes it, that is a different matter–it can be kept for the child if Octavia chooses to look at the matter that way–but for myself I will not touch it! I do not require it–I will not touch it–it was a bad business–There is nothing quixotic about my refusal, nothing whatever, sir! We differ absolutely on that point, as we do on most others!”
Felicia heard that speech so often that she could almost have recited it, she heard it nearly every time that Certain Legal Matters appeared, he always put the Major in a temper. Grandy couldn’t get himself sufficiently calm for chess on such days.
Nor did she play chess on the days when the Wheezy came to sew.
The advent of the Wheezy was an enormous affair in Felice’s life. It was one of the first times that the child was taken outside of the house or the garden–that blustery March day when she and Mademoiselle walked around the corner to a small house in whose basement window rested a sign, WOMAN’S EXCHANGE AND EMPLOYMENT AGENCY. A tiny bell jingled as they entered and from behind the curtains at the rear emerged a little woman whose face looked like the walnuts that were served with grandpapa’s wine, very disagreeable indeed. Felice always spoke of her as The Disagreeable Walnut. It was in this shop that she saw her first doll, a ridiculous fat affair constructed of a hank of cotton with shoe buttons for eyes and a red silk embroidered mouth and an enormous braid of string for hair. And it was while she was rapturously contemplating it that she heard the wizened proprietor say, “Do you wish to have the work done by the job or by the day?” Then the Disagreeable Walnut pompously consulted a huge dusty ledger from which she decided that a certain Miss Pease would suit their requirements.
“Two dollars a day and lunch,” she informed them curtly and that was the way that Wheezy came into Felicia’s life.
Short, fat, asthmatic and crotchety, she grumbled incessantly because there wasn’t anything so modern as a sewing machine in the house and said that for her part she didn’t see how people thought they could get along on nothing except what had done for their ancestors, that she certainly couldn’t.
“Haven’t you any ancestors?” Felice asked her eagerly. The Wheezy snorted.
“Of course. And they have been poor but they were honest,” she added deeply.
Which Felice repeated gravely to Grandy in the garden and added eagerly, “Were our ancestors poor but honest?”
He smiled grimly.
“I shouldn’t say,” he answered her curtly, “that they were either conspicuously poor or conspicuously honest.”
The Wheezy not only remodeled ancient dresses into stiff pinafores for Felice but she had to make the cushions that fitted in the dog hampers, down-stuffed oval affairs covered with heavy dull blue silk. The Wheezy sputtered that she couldn’t see why “under the shining heavens, dogs should sleep on things traipsed out like comp’ny bedroom pin-cushions with letters tied onto their collars–“
Which so puzzled Felice that on one of those furtive occasions when she managed a few words with Zeb she demanded an answer. Zeb slapped his sides and chuckled.
“Because, Missy, putting on the frills and writing out the pedigree in French like he does makes folks pay jes’ about twict as much for those dogs–“
Which was very bewildering, for Felice had not the remotest idea in this world what to pay for anything meant. How could she?
There was one very vivid recollection of Octavia. The recollection of the only time that the child remembered seeing her mother in a chair. How this miracle was accomplished only Octavia and Mademoiselle D’Ormy could have told, but on a certain day in a chair she was and the heavy rose silk curtains were drawn before the bed alcove and the room was gay with flowers and a ruddy fire glowed in the iron grate under the carved white mantlepiece. Felice sat adoringly on a footstool at her feet and they talked a great deal about a time when Maman should not only sit in a chair but should walk. It seemed that Octavia hoped to take her daughter to a place she referred to rather vaguely as The House in the Woods. Octavia had lived in this house in the woods when she was a girl and she was very much worried about what might have happened to the garden of that house. She thought that she and Felice ought to make it lovely again–if Piqueur were only still strong enough to help them. But before Felice had had time to find out just who Piqueur was, Mademoiselle had ushered in a curly-haired young man who carried a portfolio exactly like the one that Certain Legal Matters carried. And it was while Mademoiselle was taking Felice back to the garden that she heard her mother say,
“You must be patient with the silly fears of a woman who mistrusts all lawyers–these deeds are duplicates of those that another–“
In the garden Felice told Mademoiselle D’Ormy who the curly-haired person was–it was not for nothing that Felice had been staring at the pictures in the big Shakespeare Illustrated on the drawing-room table.
“It’s the Portia Person who is talking with Maman–” she assured Mademoiselle gravely, “she looks like a man but she’s really a lady–“
The Portia Person was surely as gentle as a lady when he hurried into the garden a little later and sent Mademoiselle back to his client by the fireside. He looked down at Felice–she was embroidering that day, seated primly before the ebony tambour frame.
“Felicia,” he said chokily, “will you try to remember something? Will you try to remember–if–if your mother goes away and you’re ever in trouble that you’re to come to see me? That my name is Ralph–John Ralph? And that you’ll find me at Temple Bar, here in Brooklyn?”
“Yes, Portia Person,” she answered sweetly, after she had risen as Mademoiselle had told her to when a visitor should arrive. Although she must have been eleven she was trembling with excitement, because he was her first visitor. “Yes, Portia Person, I will–only, how will I know–that I am in–Trouble–where is Trouble?”
Which seemed to make it hard for the Portia Person.
“I mean, if there’s anything you need that you haven’t–if there’s anything you want some one to tell you about–now do you know?”
She nodded thoughtfully.
“Why, there are things right now that I want some one to tell me about–“
Before he could tell her any of them Mademoiselle came swiftly and let him out through the stable gate talking excitably and softly in French, which Felicia thought most unfair of her.
It is not at all strange that she does not remember when her mother died. You see sometimes there were several days when her mother was too tired or too ill to see such a vigorous person as Felice must have been. She merely remembers that there came a time when she was no longer asked to tiptoe past the door on the second floor landing. But she does remember that the thin visaged old French woman wept one day when she asked her,
“Shall we not go tell Maman I was happy today in the garden?”
She remembers it because they were the first tears she had ever seen and she clapped her hands and said “How queer, Mademoiselle! There are little rains in your eyes.”
She did not ask to see her mother any more, for when she did Mademoiselle would answer “Not to-day.” It was somehow a rather difficult time for them all; the Major was morose and sullen and Mademoiselle often had “little rains” in her eyes. She was not very patient with the lively young person who had grown tall enough to reach even the topmost drawer of the high walnut bureau.
Felicia was exploring them thoroughly one rainy afternoon while Mademoiselle dozed by the nursery fireside. She found a beautiful box with an inlaid cover that was filled with all sorts of fascinating trinkets; earrings and breastpins and droll bracelets of tarnished silver set with jade and coral–queer little letters folded in triangles with gay red wax seals, addressed in French, most of them–a soft black lace shawl–Felicia was trailing about grandly when Mademoiselle awoke to rage and scold.
The child was beginning to long for freedom, she was constantly questioning. Octavia’s gentle raillery, Octavia’s delicious half answers to the “Whys and wheres and whens and whats” had satisfied, but Mademoiselle’s abrupt, “I can’t tell you–” “It does not concern you–” “Zat is not of consequence–” were teaching the child to scheme. She was perpetually trying to find out for herself the things that Mademoiselle declined to tell her. She was especially curious about Maman’s closed door. Mademoiselle refused to open it.
But there came a day, when Mademoiselle wasn’t looking, when Felice tapped gently at her mother’s door and opened it and went in. And when she saw the empty bed and the empty chair she ran in great glee to her grandfather.
“Oh, Oh,” she cried, “Why didn’t you tell me that Maman had gone to the House in the Woods? Why didn’t you let me go with her? For she said we would make the garden together!”
He did not answer her at once.
“How did you know?”
“Because Babiche is gone,” she answered triumphantly. “And Babiche wouldn’t be gone from the house unless Maman were gone–so they’ve gone to the House in the Woods–to attend to the garden–with–” she frowned until she remembered “with Piqueur–unless he is too old to help–and now I will go–“
It was curious how his voice faltered, he looked tireder and more unhappy than in the days when Octavia had made a game of making him happy.
“Felicia,” he groped for words as he faced the questioning-eyed child, “I–we–you–cannot go to the House in the Woods just now–I have Certain Legal Matters that must be attended to–but we–we will go some day–“
She accepted this with all the earnestness of her eleven years. But at the door she paused, shyly. He looked very “cross and worried.”
“This afternoon, if you wish,” she said, “I will play chess with you. I can do three gambits. I tried them alone yesterday. We’ll not play in Maman’s room–but in the garden–“
But for some strange reason he did not smile at all when he called “Check!” He only bent his head over her hand and kissed it as he had kissed her mother’s. It was the first caress he had ever given her. She put the hand against her cheek and loved it when he was gone. And clambering up to bed she paused outside her mother’s door.
“Maman, we were a little happy in the garden–” she whispered, “were you happy in your garden?”
Interminable days followed, dreary days punctuated with quarrel after quarrel. It sometimes seemed to Octavia’s unhappy daughter that there was nothing she could touch without Mademoiselle’s disapproval.
The garments that had hung in the wardrobes, lovely things that tempted the beauty-loving child, were all packed away in the storeroom back of the linen closet; the bits of ornaments and jewelry that Octavia had let the child play with were all tucked away.
“It was Maman’s–do not touch it!” “That was Louisa’s, you cannot have it!” Or most fearful cry of all, “Put that shawl back, Felicia! It was Madame Josepha’s–Louisa herself never wore it, it cost so much!”
The storeroom key was kept in the pocket of Mademoiselle’s black silk apron. Gradually the miserly soul locked away all that seemed desirable or lovely to Felicia.
Of course there came a day when she stole the key and when she hid herself a whole blissful afternoon and rummaged joyously through dusty bandboxes and huge curved-top trunks. She had opened an iron-bound box last. And in the top had found a case marked,
“Mme. J. Trenton,
8 Rue de la–“
the rest was blurred. There were a lot of papers–all of them in French, in a queer old case of crushed leather. And when she thrust them carelessly underneath she found the tiniest muslin garments she had ever seen. They puzzled her greatly; she held one against her cheek instinctively.
“What a very little woman must have worn you–” she whispered, “As little as–” she frowned, “the thing made of string in the shop where we got the Wheezy–as little as Babiche. I wish–I wish I could have seen as little a woman as that–“
She sprang up startled, Mademoiselle was coming. Felicia had the door locked and was standing outside, a slim, dusty, shining-eyed figure when the woman began berating her. The girl slid cunningly along the wall, for Mademoiselle’s wrinkled, trembling hand was stretched out as she demanded the key.
There was a grating, a round bronze grating in the side wall for the furnace pipe. Felice moved toward it. She was not answering Mademoiselle; just breathing hard, just staring.
Suddenly the key dropped. The two could hear it tinkling, down, down, through the rusty metal of the furnace pipe.
And that was the moment that the infuriated little French woman struck Felice.
The child was nearly as tall as the woman, she could have struck back, but instead she ran. She fled down the stairway, her angry breath coming in choking gasps. She flung herself against the door of her mother’s room.
“Maman! Maman!” she screamed.
And that was where the Major found her.
“I hate–hate–hate–Mademoiselle!” And down the stair came the thin visaged French woman crying.
“And I monsieur, I hate zis ongrateful child! I theenk I hate your whole ongrateful race–I served your wife like one slave! And for Miss Octavia I was like two slaves! Zis child has ever hated me! I am weary of your whole race–I shall go back to ze country where I belong–“
So there they stood, those two antagonists, the woman with her eyes snapping and the outraged child with the tears streaming.
“Felicia,” the Major’s tone was terrifying, “you must apologize at once!”
Felicia was silent. She shook her head. The Major bowed to the French woman. “I apologize for her,” he continued. “But I think Mademoiselle D’Ormy, you are right. She is growing into a woman and you are growing into a child–” And whatever else he said after Felice had fled to the garden doesn’t matter. Yet two days later when Mademoiselle bade her farewell the two enemies flung themselves on each others’ necks and wept. Much to the disgust of the Major, who fairly shoved Mademoiselle away and who appeared not to see the sobbing and impetuous young person who dashed headlong to the nursery.
But after that life was much more serene, much sweeter. To be sure she could no longer ransack the storeroom. She never had to explain to the Major what had occasioned that last tempestuous quarrel but she roamed at will through the whole dusty house and possessed herself gloriously of all its treasures.
You should have seen her in those days, tricking herself out in what finery she could muster from the walnut bureau. For after Mademoiselle’s departure the afternoon chess prolonged itself into twilight and Felicia proudly dined with the Major instead of in the nursery.
She knew how one should look for dinner because there was Maman’s portrait over the drawing-room fireplace, in the frock she’d worn when she had dined “with her family in France–” Mademoiselle had dressed Octavia for that wonderful party and she had never tired of telling Felicia how beautiful the eighteen-year Octavia had been.
“It is a woman’s duty to think of her charms,” Mademoiselle had said, “that is what the husband of Julie, Madame Recamier, said, it is what Madame Louise taught Miss Octavia–“
And so Felicia naively parted her hair and brushed it satin-smooth and coiled it neatly on the nape of her white neck with the same big carved coral Spanish comb tucked into the shining mass that Octavia had worn when she sat for the portrait. Sometimes she wore the lovely black lace shawl, sometimes the creamy white embroidered silk one, and always the delicate coral and silver jewelry. Yet she couldn’t possibly have known from the pale image that stared back at her from the dim shimmer of the drawing-room mirrors, how exquisitely lovely she was, not even when the Major bent over her hand and said, as he had said so often to her mother,
“You are very charming today, my dear!”
He did not know himself, the grim old stoic, how much he adored her.
At length there came a certain spring, seductive, too early warm, when the Major grew thoughtful, when Certain Legal Matters came frequently in the evening and left Felicia to ponder over her embroidery frame or wander restlessly in the bit of garden. She was seventeen now, a glowing, radiant seventeen, so divinely happy that the Major smiled whenever he looked at her.
For it had come, the Beautiful, Wonderful time when they were going to the House in the Woods! Already the rooms were filled with trunks and packing boxes, Marthy and Zeb and the housemaids were sorting and folding incessantly. And around them, wandered, starry-eyed, a useless young person who hugged to her heart a joyous dream of a woman in a garden–a woman in a little lace cap and a trailing rose-colored dressing-gown, a woman who would say,
“Oh Felicia! I hope you’ll be happy today in the garden!”
You mustn’t blame the Major too much that he did not know what a cruel thing he had done–he did not even dream that Felicia believed she was going to find Octavia in the garden. Those long ago evasions that had silenced her little-girl questions he had forgotten. Indeed I think he never let himself remember those days in which the child had asked, “Where is she gone?”
And so they had come to the last night of all, the night before they should start their journey.
Inside the gloomy library grandfather and Certain Legal Matters discussed stupid details about where the furniture should go to storage and whether they should change the route and instead of going around the coast by steamer and down the St. Lawrence, travel part of the way overland–they consulted long yellow time-tables.
Felicia drifted across the dismantled library. She was pulling Octavia’s adorable white lace shawl about her firm young shoulders, the flickering gas lights made her rather pale.
“It’s hot–” she remarked plaintively. “I think I’ll go into the garden–” Her grandfather nodded. She slipped through the French windows out to the narrow balcony and down the circular iron stairway.
A thousand million stars above her, shining through the tops of the old trees of heaven–a tender breeze that blew Marthy’s curtains ever so gently and let the wistaria banners stream back and forth–if she shoved it carefully, that smallest iron bench, and then stood tiptoe upon it, she could peer through the top of the gate into the rectory yard.
Fairy land! A score of merry young humans dashing about–a babble of noise and laughter and the dyspeptic choir master nearly wild with the confusion–“Order! Order!” he screamed, “Ladies and gentlemen! Boys! Kindly remember this is the last rehearsal, the final rehearsal! When the organist begins the choir should file in very slowly–the principals remain outside until the choir is in–I would like the tenor and the baritone soloists’ voices to sound as far off as possible as they approach–will those gentlemen be so good as to stand at the extreme end of the yard?”
Felicia, behind the ivied gate, caught her breath. For as the rather disorderly procession drifted away through the arch the soloists moved easily toward her. One of them was disgracefully fat, he puffed as he mopped his brow, but the other walked lightly, tossing his cap boyishly as he walked. Close to the wall, he laughed, a youthful, buoyant laugh,
“Jove!” he ejaculated, “Now I _have_ done it–my cap’s on top of the wall–“
The music was growing softer, fainter, the fat man had cleared his throat for singing.
Felicia’s heart stood still. The moon shone gloriously, it made little white eyes of the narcissi that stared up at her from the garden border. The wind stirred in the ivy. Felicia sighed. His head, beautifully rumpled, topped the wall, he was still laughing softly, talking to the man below.
“Second cap I lost here, lost one when I was a little shaver–there was a girl–“
He was looking straight into her eyes now, he caught at the rusty top of the gate and stared.
“Why–girl!” he murmured.
Oh! if you could have seen Felice! Felice, with her hair coifed smoothly on her dear little head! Felice, with the big carved Spanish comb holding that hair in place! And her white, white throat and the tangle of old lace about it! He stared into her grave young eyes, he looked at that lovely young mouth of hers, that mouth that was wide enough for laughter but small enough for kisses. They swayed toward each other, those two, as naturally as a butterfly sways toward a flower. He kissed her.
As she leaned toward him the treacherous bench toppled too far. She dropped away from his caress as suddenly as a star falls in the heavens. She lay in a little crumpled heap crushing the sweetness of the narcissi. She didn’t know what had happened to her, she just lay there and laughed softly and put her hand to her mouth gently.
A perfect din of voices blotted out her consciousness. After all you know, a sprained ankle is a sprained ankle even if you don’t know you have it.
THE HOUSE IN THE WOODS
However good at pretending Felice might wish you to be she would never like you to pretend you were the crumpled little person that Major Trenton and Certain Legal Matters picked up from the narcissi border. It wasn’t only her sprained ankle that frightened her, though that hurt dreadfully of course, but it was all of the persons running with lanterns, the housemaids from the kitchen and Zeb and Marthy from the stable, and from over the top of the wall had vaulted an enormously tall young man who had insisted on dashing off for a doctor. Just having so many persons about all at once terrified her.
But when the ankle was bandaged and the doctor had left her lying comfortably on her own bed with Marthy beside her, Grandfather came and sent Marthy away. It was nearly midnight, the world outside was still save for the hoarse sounds of the shipping craft outside in the bay.
“You may as well know,” said the Major sternly, “that I happened to look out of the window, just before you fell–this young man who was kissing you has been chivalrous enough to insist that it was quite all his fault, that you did not know he was going to kiss you–but of course I am not so stupid as to believe that you did not expect something of the sort when you climbed up to the top of the wall. Knowing the women of your race as I do I might have suspected something of the sort–” he folded his arms, and looked so stern in the dim light of her bedside lamp that Felicia shivered, “et I hardly thought you would have the opportunity, carefully guarded as you have been. I have told the young man that he must make no further attempt to see you. And the doctor assures me you will be able to continue the journey that we have planned.”
And when he was gone and Marthy had come back to put out the light Felicia asked just one thing.
“Did Maman have to stay in bed because she fell off a bench?”
Marthy’s gruff voice cleared itself in her throat, she wasn’t sure whether she wanted to laugh or cry at the absurd question.
“Not for that,” she answered briefly, “don’t let that fret ye, my precious lamb, that foot of yours will be good as new in the matter of a week maybe.”
“Even if it wasn’t evaire,” Felicia persisted, “I’d be proud, proud, proud I climbed the wall–I shall tell Maman so–“
There was a long silence in the room. The lamp was out now; Marthy was at the door ready to go. Felice could only feel her approaching the bed. Her rough kindly voice blurred out of the darkness.
“Precious lamb, were you thinking to see your mother?”
In spite of her aching ankle the girl sat up in the bed. She laughed softly.
“Silly old Marthy! Don’t you know? That’s what we’re going to the House in the Woods for–to see how Maman has made her garden lovely–I was so proud, proud, proud when I knew Grandy was going to take me– I’ve waited so long since Maman went away–“
“God forgive him!” moaned Marthy, so softly that the girl did not hear her, but aloud she said compassionately, “Don’t be settin’ your heart too much–on seeing her–” and shut the door softly without saying goodnight.
But when the kindly soul came to help her down the stately stairway in the morning the tears were coursing freely over her lean and grizzled cheeks. She talked in a husky whisper all the way down.
“We’ve not been in the manner of friends, him being so careful and all of ye, but oh, Miss Felice, it’s proud I am that I watched you in your bit of a yard and it’s sorry I am that you’re going–and it’s long the days will be till you come back–and if there’s anything that Zeb or I could do for you–“
They were in the hallway now, the Major was waiting and some strange men were carrying the last of the baggage outside to the carriage. Suddenly Felice put her two arms around Marthy’s neck and whispered, whispered very softly and lifted her face away blushing,
“You can tell Dudley Hamilt I’ve gone to the House in the Woods–when he comes to ask you–” she said.
The Major was very impressive in his travelling coat, so stern and solemn that Felicia hardly dared to look at him until after they were on the steamer. He was really very gentle with her, he tried his best to make her comfortable, he did not refer at all to the events of the night before as he wrapped a steamer rug about her and helped the whining-voiced stewardess to prop a pillow under the bandaged ankle.
It was a desolate day, gray and overcast. The shore-line was blurred out before Felicia had so much as a fair look at it. The wind blew, raw and cold, but she shook her head when they suggested she let them take her into the cabin. She just lay with closed eyes and cuddled a little black velvet cap, a boy’s cap, under her chin and with every chug of the engines her heart echoed,
“This is too far for Dudley Hamilt to come–he will nevaire find me–” She scarcely spoke to the Major. Poor Major! He walked the deck, his thin cane, tap, tap, tapping and his great caped coat bundled tight around him.
The morning of the second day they changed to an even smaller and dingier steamer. That was the day that the spring rain fell heavier and heavier. Felice lay bundled in blankets in the narrow stateroom and cried softly. There wasn’t even a stewardess on this steamer to comfort her. Sometimes the Major stopped outside and asked her quietly what she would like. There was nothing she liked, but in the mid- afternoon she pulled herself together and let the Major wrap her coat about her and leaned on his arm to limp out of her stateroom and down the wobbling gang-plank and across a dirty, water-soaked wharf to the platform where the local train awaited. And after that she sat another dreary hour, while the ancient engine complainingly coughed its way through the bleak, gray woods to the ugly brown station that was their destination.
It was late afternoon. The rain had not really ceased to fall, but the sky was clearing a bit in the west as the girl stared curiously about her, while the baggage man helped the trainmen with their luggage. Suddenly the girl cried out with joy,
“Look, there is Maman’s cart–“
For around the corner of the station space crept an ox-cart driven by a half grown boy. But in the hollow of the plains, just before he had reached that dreary town, the boy had stopped his cart and gathered sprawling boughs of wild cherry blossoms, those first harbingers of spring in that bleak northern country, and fastened them to the wooden yoke that held the oxen to the wagon and tied the lovely things sweet with rain, to the poles at the rear and made a sort of fairy chariot for the little lady who was coming to dwell in the woods.
He smiled at her under his slouchy cap as he stumbled stiffly toward the Major.
“The horse,” he stammered, “–her foot got sore las’ thing–this were all we had to fetch ye in–Piqueur–he’s too old fur drivin’ to the village any more, so Margot–she sends me–“
There were chairs in the back of the ox cart, odd chairs built of bent hickory with buffalo robes tucked in them. The boy swung Felice into one of them easily. He tucked the soft fur about her vigorously.
“Better wrop up good,” he warned her solemnly, “S’cold.” He was perfectly good-humored at the Major’s sharp reprimand at the way he handled the luggage. The Major clambered in, the oxen started slowly. As soon as they had passed through the ugly village they turned out of the woods into a narrow road through sandy plains, an interminable road it seemed to Felice. Last year’s sere leaves rattled on the scrub oaks; the wind-blown juniper bushes made dark spots against the wet brown of the sand and the cart swayed lumberingly through the heavy road. The girl was cold and tired and hungry but she held her head high and gazed straight before her into the fast falling twilight.
Up hill, the narrow winding road across that almost endless plain led. Sometimes the boy let the oxen stop to rest and the rising steam from their wet flanks told how hard even those sturdy beasts found the climb. Just as she was thinking that she could endure it no longer, Felice glimpsed a faint light on a plateau-like place above them. The boy gestured with his whip.
“Thar, Major,” he called back cheerfully over his shoulder, “We’re a- gittin’ thar–“
They were through the plains at last, ascending a sharp, rocky road for the last quarter of a mile which grew still narrower but was lined with enormous bare trees that creaked and moaned in the evening wind. Felice was really very frightened.
“Now that’s luck,” cried the boy cheerily, looking back at her. He was pointing with his crude whip. It was quite dark now save for a faint light below the horizon of the sand dunes, but over her shoulder as she looked where he gestured Felice saw the thin crescent of the new moon.
When she looked ahead again she could glimpse the dark outlines of the great stone house. It looked cold and formidable. It was set far back from the rising road, a long way back from the massive gate posts beside the tiny gate house where flickering lights burned on the sills of three little mullioned windows. They drove through the gates, across the flagstone-paved drive of the stable yard and came to a slow stop under the inky shadows of the wooden gallery that was built across the front of the house. A woman was hurrying down the sagging steps, such a fat, comfortable woman that Felice unconsciously leaned toward her even before she could see the alert black eyes and the wide smiling mouth. She held a lantern high above her gray curly head. It shone upon the figure of a bent old man, who stood, his cap in his hands, at the foot of the steps. He was weeping. His voice was throaty with suppressed sobs and Felice couldn’t understand at all what he said because he cried out in French when he saw the Major. But she could understand the welcome cheer of the fat woman’s greeting as she called,
“It’s all ready–supper and all–just as though it were twenty years ago, Monsieur! Ah–” sympathy rang in her voice as the Major helped Felice descend, “I did not know–she is–lame–” Her lantern was on the ground now, her sturdy arm had encircled the slender figure in the coat, “Margot will help–so–“
And that was the way that Felice went into the House in the Woods. That was the way she entered the broad and draughty hall, with the formidably big rooms on either side dimly lighted by the queer candle lamps and the faint glow from the fires on the chilly marble hearths.
A table was set before the fire in the dining salon. It looked dismayingly long, with its deep lace cover and the branched candelabra. The very height of the carved chairs that were placed at either end seemed appalling.
But when Felice was seated in one of them, with her coat still huddled about her, she looked around with artless curiosity, and watched as in a dream, while the Major put his hand on Margot’s sturdy shoulder.
“You’ve kept it well–” was all he said. But when he had dropped his hand Margot was wiping her eyes on her apron.
Piqueur served supper, his old hands trembling as he placed the dishes before them. A hot thin soup, that warmed Felice and made her send a wavering smile across the table, a platter of ham boiled in apple cider whose delicious odors made her sniff hungrily, and after he had served the meat the old man put thin glasses beside their plates and brought a bottle of wine, wrapped carefully in an old napkin, and stood behind his master’s place.
And the Major, standing after he had filled Felice’s glass, lifted his own high:
“Felicia,” he said slowly, “We will drink to your home coming–“
It was all so, strange that she did not notice until Piqueur set a dish of custard before her that all the silver with which she was eating was marked with the same odd mark that had adorned her silver drinking mug back in the nursery in Brooklyn. She stared at it as she held a thin spoon aloft.
“Look, Grandy,” she cried, “it has my honey bee!”
He scarcely seemed to heed her, already he had risen and was pacing restlessly about the room, peering out the windows, addressing staccato questions in French to Piqueur. He pulled the shabby silken rope at the doorway and a bell trilled somewhere faintly. Margot came running.
“It is good to hear” she said as she entered. And helping Felice up the circular stairway she murmured tenderly, “You cannot know, Miss Felicia, how glad we are, my uncle Piqueur and I, that the house is opened once more–you’re not so tall as your mother, are you?” She was positively chattering now. Felice caught her arm more closely.
“Oh, where is Maman?” she demanded. Margot shook her head. She sighed. She was opening the door of the upper room. She did not answer for a full moment. Her lips worked nervously before she spoke.
“She is not here. But this is the bed where she always slept when she was young–the bed at which she laughed so much–ah, Miss Felicia, don’t you think you will like it? See how droll–” her brown wrinkled hand rested on a beautifully carved corner post, “These are little monkeys climbing for fruit–when she was a baby Mademoiselle Octavia used to put her hands on them so–“
“I know. She used to tell me,” she confided. “She told me that Poquelin, the father of Moliere, made it.” She was wan with fatigue, poor child, even after she lay, warm and cozy, in the great bed that had been her mother’s. And the last thing she saw as she closed her eyes in the wavering candle light was Margot’s fat and comfortable figure, trudging toward the fireplace to spread out her coat to dry–
It had been a fearful week for Margot, this week since the Major’s curt message to make the house ready had come. For all that she was forty-five and sturdy and skilful at the myriad tasks that her uncle Piqueur’s rheumatism and age had gradually let fall upon her shoulders during the slow passing years, this had been a job that put her on her mettle. Eighteen years of dust and disorder had Margot somehow or other weeded out of that building. But even with the pale spring sunshine and wind to help her and even with the huge fires they had kept kindled all day in the broad fireplaces, the corridors were still damp and cold and musty. And she was weak with fatigue and excitement. She sat down beside the fireplace, her tired body relaxing as she stared through the gloom at the figure in the canopied bed.
“She is not so beautiful as Octavia–” she thought, “but she is very sweet–and her eyes–they have that same longing to be happy–” she sighed as she tiptoed clumsily out of the room and down the draughty stairway. She stood respectfully beside the Major’s chair. “Monsieur,” she said gravely, “does Miss Felicia know anything at all about all of us?”
He looked up at her quickly, his dark eyes sparkling with anger at her audacity, but something in her sober, respectful gaze quieted him.
“I do not desire that she shall–” he answered. “It is better not to have her–but–” his voice faltered. “I regret that she does not understand that her mother–that Miss Octavia–” his thin old hand tightened its grip on the frail arm of the chair, “I do not know,” he ended miserably, “just how it came about that she is expecting to find Miss Octavia here–in the garden. Perhaps you can tell her something to comfort her–perhaps–“
Gray-haired, wrinkled, her skin brown from exposure, Margot leaned forward, her eyes shining with excitement.
“Sometimes I think,” she said distinctly, “that Miss Octavia _is_ in the garden, Monsieur–” She laughed softly at his start. “Do not think I am out of my wits–” She tapped her head significantly. “I do not mean like a ghost–I do not see her. Only there is something, most of all in the springtime–that makes me happy. Perhaps Octavia’s daughter will feel it. Perhaps that thing, whatever it is, will make it easier for me–” she wiped her eyes, “to answer all things she will ask me–“
Upstairs in the four-poster bed that Poquelin had carved, Felicia slept, she smiled as she stirred in her slumbers. She was very tired. “Maman,” she muttered drowsily as the Major paused outside her door on his way to his room, “In the garden–” and the Major listened and sighed.
She awoke to the diddling drone of Piqueur’s quavering voice. In the clear sweetness of the May morning above the twittering of the birds it raised itself, the quaint measures delighting her ears. Even in Piqueur’s thin falsetto the old melody sang itself–tender, graceful, spirited, never lagging–he was dropping pea seeds into the trench that Margot had prepared in the kitchen dooryard, he was always content when he was planting.
Felicia limped to the window across the moth-eaten carpet with its faded doves and roses. She flung the casement out and listened eagerly.
“Piqueur,” she cried entreatingly “tell me just what it says–that song you sing.” But it was Margot who leaned on her hoe and looked up at the girl and laughed.
“He sings of a girl–of more than one girl–who takes care of sheep– the song tells them to hurry up–that time drips through the fingers like water–” Margot’s own throaty voice joined lustily into her uncle’s refrain, but a second later she was translating once more. “You must find your fun in the spring forests–when you’re young–“
The girl in the window above them clapped her hands. A slender black- haired, eager-eyed dryad, whose shabby brocaded dressing gown trailed around her bandaged foot–
“Oh, wait! wait!” she cried, “Wait until I can do it–” her lips pursed themselves delicately and a second later the lilting trill of her lovely whistle took up the refrain of Maitre Guedron’s song.
She stretched out her young hands toward the woods. The tardy tree tops were budding at last, their lovely bronze and red and tender green shining in the morning light.
“‘In the spring forests,'” she cried, “‘you must find your fun’–are those the words of the song, Margot?–Oh, look, look!” she pointed joyously to a blackbird on top the swaying maple outside her window. He whistled–she whistled, saucily back.
“Oh!” sighed Margot. “It is good to be young. It is good–go back to your bed, little one, I’ll bring your breakfast.”
But Felicia couldn’t go back to bed. She hobbled delightedly from window to window, staring out at the open space in front of the house, with its descending terraces and the gray jungle of underbrush that hid the edge of the clearing. She turned eagerly when Margot entered with a tray. She was bubbling with joy.
“Is Maman comfortable this morning?” she was chattering. “Will she be in the garden? Where is the garden? I’ve looked and I can’t see it–or is she in her bed yet? And is it up-stairs?”
Margot’s hands trembled. She put the tray down on the bedside table and pulled the girl across the room and coaxed her into the bed, rubbing the small bandaged foot, cuddling the quilts about her, as she tucked the pillows. “So many questions!” she evaded. “Eat your breakfast and I will help you dress–“
Felicia snuggled under the covers and nibbled her toast hungrily.
“Yesterday,” she confided, “I was unhappy; it seemed too far to come– I was afraid, from something Marthy said, that I wasn’t going to find Maman–she said I mustn’t set my heart on it–“
Margot sighed. She came close to the bed and took Felicia’s hands in hers.
“Listen carefully,” she entreated, “the thing I have to tell you is hard. You see when Octavia went away from you she did not come here, she–“
“Where did she go?” demanded Felicia sitting bolt upright.
“She went–” Margot’s throaty voice dragged painfully, “She went where all good women go when their work is done–“
“Her work wasn’t done,” objected Felice. “She said it would be a great deal of work to build the garden over, she said she was afraid it would be all weeds–Piqueur was so old–she said–Oh! why are you weeping, Margot?”
“When she went away from me first,” moaned Margot, “I thought I could never stand it–it was so still and so lonely here in the woods without her–and now, after all these years that I have learned to live without her–it is as if she had gone away again to have to try– to tell you–” she knelt at the bedside, her lips moved piteously. “Try to understand, little one, she is gone–neither you nor I can find her–“
“Nor the Major?” asked Felicia incredulously.
“The Major least of all,” said Margot firmly. “She is not–“
“Not what?” demanded Felicia..
She was sitting on the edge of the bed now looking very little in the ancient dressing gown.
“She is not living any more,” sighed Margot.
There was a long pause, a pause in which the drone of Piqueur’s voice, still singing Maitre Guedron’s old song, floated through the open casement.
“Not living?” questioned Felicia, her eyes widening with frightened– comprehension–“Oh! Oh!” her voice rose tempestuously, angrily, “You shall not say such dreadful things! They are not true! The Major said we should come to this house in the Woods, he said–” she paused, her mind groped back over the years.
The rising tide of her anger swept her fear that this strange woman was telling the truth farther and farther out of her thoughts. She rose, absurdly majestic as she steadied herself with one slender arm against the quaint carved post of the bed. She pointed toward the doorway.
“You’d better go away, Margot,” she ordered clearly, “You can’t stay here and talk so to me–” the childish simplicity of her phrases was absurdly inadequate to express her scorn, “You do not know that I have a vairee bad temper–I make myself proud, proud, proud when I lose it –but it will make you vairee unhappy if I do–I say and I do most dreadful things when I’m angry–If I call for the Major he will come and send you away–for always and forevaire–as he did Mademoiselle D’Ormy–and no matter how sorry I am afterward he will not let you stay–“
Indeed, this idea of appealing to her grandfather had come the instant before when she heard his voice outside interrupting Piqueur’s song. She limped swiftly across the space toward the window, she leaned far out and called to her grandfather, who stood in the courtyard below, gravely inspecting the lame mare that the boy had brought from the stable. So intent was Felicia with her question that she forgot her recent fear of the Major.
“Grandy!” she called, her clear tones ringing down to him, “Grandy, you will have to come and send this Margot away–you will–“
He came up the stairs to her slowly, pausing formally outside her door to tap for Margot to open for him; but even before he was in the room, looking very pale and stern and old with his beautiful head lifted high above the ruffled shirt and his peaked hat held in his hand, the girl’s eager appeal had begun.
“This Margot,” Felicia’s words tumbled impetuously, “She’s been telling me lies–she says Maman isn’t here–that she isn’t in the garden–or in the house–she says she–“
“You’d better stay, Margot,” said Major Trenton, “I think Miss Felicia will need you. Felicia, let Margot wrap that gown about you, it’s chilly here. Felicia, we do not know how to make you understand about your mother–we did not want to make you sad when you were little so I did not tell you. It was her wish that I should not distress you–” his face worked pitifully, “–with the manner of her going–what she said to you about the garden–you did not understand, my dear–She had a notion, my little Octavia, that we do not die–that only our bodies die–many other people believe this–are you listening, Felicia? She thought that her spirit,” he groped for words, “the Something she called the ‘Happy part of her’ couldn’t–‘stop’–as she called it–she said-” his lips were quivering, “that part of her would always try to stay in the house where you lived so long and in this garden and house in which she lived when she was young–like you–that is all–What Margot tells you is quite true–she is not living–she has not been living since you were eleven–she died–” his words trailed miserably, “She is not living–” he repeated feebly.
The girl’s eyes had never left his since he had begun his inadequate explanation, she did not cry out, she merely stood there, pale, unbelieving and stared at him.
“And she said the Happy Part of her would be here?”
“Then,” said Felicia calmly, “If she said so, she will, and you and Margot are both stupid and bad to tell me that she won’t–If you will find my shoes–” she turned petulantly to Margot, “I will walk until I find her–“
“But you cannot find her, she is gone–” the deep agony of his voice rang in the great room, “Quite gone–“
“Where has she gone?” demanded Felice stubbornly.
He gestured his despair.
It was Margot who came to the rescue, sane Margot, who had collected her senses once more. She pattered across the room to the wardrobe, calling over her shoulder as she tugged at the door.
“Wait, wait,” she entreated, “You will understand some day! Just now we won’t talk about it any more. She’s not here but she has left so many things for you! So many messages for you! So much for you to do! Look, Miss Felicia!” She held aloft a broad sun-hat and a pair of gauntleted gloves, “Just where she hung them–as if she knew you might want them! These are the things she wore when she worked in the garden–here’s her wicker basket with the trowel and the hand fork– and here’s the garden book–” She was standing before Felicia now holding out the treasures. “If you’ll sit over there by the window I can tell you about the day she found this book–“
The hurt look was fading from the girl’s eyes; she reached out her hands for these things that had been her mother’s; she was quite docile as the Major helped her to the chair by the window. She had the garden book cuddled under her arm; she was holding the gloves against her cheek; she looked like a child instead of a grown-up person.
You won’t have to pretend you can see Felicia’s great-great- grandmother’s garden book–you can really see it in the library of Octavia House if you care to ask the Poetry Girl to show it to you– but perhaps you’ll like to pretend that you can see the seventeen year old Felicia, wrapped in that shabby brocaded dressing gown sitting beside the window staring at the stained title page, trying to read the faint inked inscription. Perhaps you’ll like to pretend too, that you can hear her grandfather’s voice steadying itself as he leans over the back of the chair and translates the inscription for her. The book’s in English, you know, but that written inscription is in French.
“It says,” read her grandfather, “something like this:
“‘To my little Madame Folly
Whom others call Prudence Langhorne I present this book, for I have heard A woman can be very happy building a garden–‘”
“And whose name is this?” Felicia put her finger on the broad sprawl after the inscription.
“It’s the initial of the man who gave it to her–J.–” said her grandfather grimly.
“And J. gave this book to Maman?”
“No–no–” she explained. “Your Maman found this book over there in the cupboard–it’s a very old book, Cherie. It is a book that a man gave to–” her fat fingers checked off the generations lightly, “a lady named Prudence–she was the mother of Josepha–and Josepha was the mother of a Louisa. It was this Louisa who was your mother’s mother–now do you see? And think, Miss Felicia–” she waved her hand toward the opened door of the wardrobe, “what many, many things they’ve left here for you! When Octavia was just as old as you she rummaged and rummaged every day–” Margot wiped her eyes with the back of her hand–the Major moved toward the window and looked down upon the garden. “She put them all in order, each one’s clothes in a different place, I was the one who helped her. And she used to laugh while we sorted the things and say what fun it would be for the next one who came to see them–that’s you, Miss Felicia–“
“Oh! Oh!” breathed Felicia, her eyes shining like stars. “How sweet of her! How sweet of you, Margot, to keep them all for me! You are sweet, sweet, sweet to bring me her gloves! Once she told me about this hat, I knew its ribbons would be blue! I know how they tie in back so’s it won’t make me warm under my chin–she told me–look, isn’t this the way?” Her slender hands lifted the hat to her hair, so sweetly rumpled from her pillows, “Look, Grandy, look at me! I am wearing Maman’s hat –she told me I could wear it when I came to the House in the Woods! Do you think it looks well on me?” Her naive vanity almost broke their hearts. “Do you, Grandy? Look at me!”
He turned slowly. He stepped bravely toward her and lifted her hand and kissed it.
“You look very charming, my dear,” he murmured, he was breathing hard, “very charming–I’ll go back to the stable, if you’ll excuse me– Margot will show you the other things–” he was in the doorway now, his head held high, “as she told you they’ve all been kept for you carefully. I hope they will make you very happy.”
He closed the door softly.
Things to make her happy! Ah! Margot! Cunning Margot! spreading the treasures of those dear dead women before their imperious little descendant! Wise old Margot, who must speak so carefully that she will not break that girl’s heart! Margot, who must undo all the trouble that years of evasions from Grandy and lies from Mademoiselle D’Ormy have stored up for her!
With what infinite tact did she bring them out, those vanities And trinkets of those girls of bygone days; with what adroit eloquence did she introduce all their foibles and virtues to Felicia! Oh, but she was a fine old gossip, was Margot! She couldn’t quite trust herself to touch Octavia’s clothes that first day. She plunged wildly into Louisa’s.
While Felice’s hands were busy over a shagreen jewel case filled with hideous garnet and gilt breast-pins and bracelets of the sixties, Margot leaned from the casement and called,
“Bele, oh, Bele! You careless boy! Bring some wood for Miss Felice! Make a fire up here! It’s damp!”
And while the boy, embarrassed and awkward, was kindling the fire Margot fled to the kitchen to juggle wildly with her pots and pans and leave a thousand directions for Piqueur about what to serve for the Major’s lunch.
“Never tell me a man knows how to bring up a child,” she scolded as she stirred her soup, “never tell me that! He’s done as well as he could but he’s made a fine mess of it–the poor child! Thinking Miss Octavia would be here–not knowing so much as a new-born kitten– that’s as much sense as she has–as a little new-born kitten!”
And she hurried back with a delectable luncheon on a tray.
Outside the sun had hid itself and the fickle spring clouds were dripping over the desolate garden. But at the fireside, curled up in the winged chair with her bandaged foot propped comfortably on a foot- stool, Felicia sat through the long afternoon and chattered and laughed and clapped her little hands.
Oh, those foolish clothes that had belonged to Louisa! With their silly–whaleboned waists and their grotesque basques and impossible pleatings! Felicia couldn’t get one of those bodies half around her healthy young waist. But she liked the bonnets and the shawls. They were adorable. The shawls were so soft, so quaintly shaped, the bonnets were fairly ravishing. Felicia tried them on, peering into a carved tortoise shell hand mirror, and giggled whimsically at the little flowered ones with lacy ties and the stuffy winter ones with velvet bows.
“Miss Louisa was very handsome,” Margot informed her, “My aunt says she was the handsomest girl she ever saw–but very high-minded, very uppish!”
“I know about her,” Felice answered easily, “Mademoiselle D’Ormy belonged to her. Louisa went to Paris, you know, and Mademoiselle lived there. Mademoiselle used to tell me she bought clothes and clothes and clothes! Are these those clothes?”
“Josepha’s clothes came from Paris too–” she spread a great brocaded velvet coat before her, “Josepha wasn’t pretty at all like the rest of them, she looked like her father, they said, and he was a homely old man–Josepha had a temper–I never saw her–I wasn’t even born when she went away, but my aunt served her and she said Mistress Josepha had an air–a way with her–if things didn’t suit her–” she lowered her voice impressively–“Ah–what she wouldn’t do, that Josepha! Once my aunt took her an omelette–a beautiful omelette cooked with chopped fine carrots and peas and parsley and a big tall glass of milk for her breakfast, but Josepha, she had desired broiled chicken that morning, so she walked straight to the window here where I’m standing and threw the omelette out–She would always throw things–that one–her shoes– or anything–when she was angry–“
“Margot,” she confided, “this morning when I was angry I was like that–I wanted to throw things, only I hadn’t anything just then to throw–but when I was little I did–my bath sponge, you know, and once a key–” she grew thoughtful, “the key to the storeroom where Mademoiselle hid things–Margot, you won’t hide these things, will you?” she hugged a wee muff jealously to her breast, “You won’t, will you?”
Margot chuckled and shrugged her shoulders. The room was filled with the finery she had dragged from the tall wardrobe. On the chairs, over the bed, hanging from the pegs of the cupboard, of every conceivable color and shape, those forgotten clothes glimmered and shone.
“These are the oldest of all–” Margot was kneeling and tugging at a carved cedar chest that was under the bed, “These are the things that belonged to the first one of you, the things that belonged to Prudence Langhorne.” She dragged the chest triumphantly to the girl’s side. “On top,–” the odor of the cedar was wafted out into the room like the odor of the pine plains through which Felice had been driving yesterday, “here, these are things she had when she came to live in this house that was built for her–plain enough, eh?” She spread the gray stuffs and brown linsey woolseys out scornfully. Their voluminous skirts and long tight sleeves and queer flat yellowed collars were stupid enough in the midst of all the splendor about them. “But look, now look, what she wore after she came–“
Felicia looked. And not even all the frills and fabrics that she had already exclaimed over could compare with the loveliness of these frocks of Mistress Prudence. They were so dainty, so fragile I With their delicate yellowed laces! They were so soft and faded with age! Each little frock was packed by itself in a yellowed linen case, each had shoes and stockings and sometimes a gay little head dress folded away with it. Short-waisted, scant skirted–
“Oh! Oh!” cried Felice, “these are the ones I love best of all! These are the ones I’ll wear! Oh Margot! That darling rosy one!” She bobbed out of the chair excitably, “Look at the little silver shoes for it! Oh Margot, dress me in it at once! Oh, Margot! How pretty I’ll be for dinner every day–“
You should have seen her when she limped down the stairs for supper! Margot had brought her one of the Major’s canes and tied some faded cherry ribbons on its gold handle. Piqueur was just lighting the candles when the two descended. Grandfather sat by the fire, his head drooping. It had been a hard day, this day he had spent with old memories. He had grieved over Octavia, he had yearned for Louisa, he had pondered mightily concerning Josepha who had been so angry with him when he had married her daughter. But he’d thought not at all of little Madame Folly in whose house he sat and brooded, not until he looked up and saw her great-great-granddaughter standing in the doorway, dressed in a cherry-colored gown, all gay with tarnished silver ribbons and yellowed lace. Because she didn’t know any other way to dress her hair, she had tucked it in its usual knot at the nape of her lovely neck, but on top the neat parting was perched a narrow gold circlet with a tiny cherry-colored plume and she held her head audaciously high as she swept him a mighty curtsy.
“Louisa’s things aren’t pretty at all,” she babbled breathlessly, “and Josepha’s I can’t wear–but oh, Grandy, aren’t Prudence’s just sweet!”
“They look like Imprudence’s,” he bantered as he rose.
She brought forth other treasures from under her curved arm.
“And look! Little chess men and a little chess board. Get a table! I’ll checkmate you before even dinner is ready! Margot has to go brown the chickens–hurry Margot, I’m hungry–“
She had come into her own. She was like a young queen come to her throne. From that very moment she ruled them all,–Grandy, Margot, Piqueur and Bele as though they were her slaves.
She adored every inch of her domain, she could scarcely wait for the ankle to heal so that she could rove about the overgrown paths in the woods and tumbled walks and weed-covered lawns. She could not get up early enough in the morning to do all her eager young heart longed to do. Rebuilding the garden was a sacred trust; hadn’t Maman told her to do it? All day long, her serious face shaded by the old garden hat, her slender hands encased in the gauntleted gloves, she prowled about the terraces or rummaged in the tool house, usually with the beloved THEORY AND PRACTISE OF GARDENING under her arm. Sometimes she spread it open on a dilapidated bench so that she could read its solemn dissertations. The very title page appalled one with the gravity of the task. In flourishing type it boasted of its august contents–
Wherein Is fully handled
all that relates to the fine gardens commonly called pleasure gardens
as Parterres, Groves, Bowling Greens. Containing
Divers plans and general dispositions. Methods of planting, and raising in little time, all the plants requisite in a garden.
Done from the French original in Paris anno domini 1709
Daytime was not long enough for its perusal. Night after night, she sat hunched up in the Poquelin bed and pored over her beloved book. Sometimes after she read she would run and peer out from her casement window in the moonlight and scowl over the wilderness that lay below her, the wilderness that had once been a garden. The cleared space that stretched for two or three hundred yards before the house was divided into three flat terraces whose crumbling banks had lost their once careful outlines; and at the bottom of the lowest terrace a tottering lattice, sagging with old vines, made a background for the fountain in whose rubbish-filled depths a chubby cupid struggled patiently with an impossible marble duck.
“If I could only see how it went–” she would fret, “I can’t see which one of them it is.”
For in the back of the Garden book were many folded charts and maps, so big that they stretched out enormously over the counterpane of the bed. Sometimes Felicia thought that Mistress Prudence’ garden must have been built after “The Sixteenth Practise”–that was a brave plan “with three terraces and a fountain at the base,” but sometimes she thought it must be after the “single star cut into cabinets.”
At first she contented herself with gardening in the Bowling Green with Piqueur feebly turning over the weedy sod and Bele tramping to and fro with barrows of manure. Her Bowling Green was in the very center of the second terrace. She had discovered that directly she began.
“In France,” she read, “a bowling green differs from what you call a bowling green in England. We mean no other by this word than certain hollow sinking and slopes of turf which are practised in the middle of a parterre. A Bowling Green is the most agreeable compartment of a garden, when rightly placed most pleasant to the eye beside the pleasure it affords us of lying on its sloping banks in the shade during hottest weather.”
Only it wasn’t so easy to read as it looks now we’re writing it over. For “The Theory and Practise of Gardening” made you rub your eyes and