Prepared By: Duncan Harrod – DuncanHarrod@excite.com
THE FORTUNES OF
by F. Hopkinson Smith
I DEDICATE THIS BOOK TO THE MEMORY OF
“THE MAN OF ALL OTHERS ABOUT KENNEDY
SQUARE MOST BELOVED, AND THE MAN OF ALL OTHERS LEAST UNDERSTOOD–RICHARD HORN,
THE DISTINGUISHED INVENTOR.”
THE FORTUNES OF
THE OLD HOUSE IN KENNEDY SQUARE
Kennedy Square, in the late fifties, was a place of birds and trees and flowers; of rude stone benches, sagging arbors smothered in vines, and cool dirt-paths bordered by sweet-smelling box. Giant magnolias filled the air with their fragrance, and climbing roses played hide and seek among the railings of the rotting fence. Along the shaded walks laughing boys and girls romped all day, with hoop and ball, attended by old black mammies in white aprons and gayly colored bandannas; while in the more secluded corners, sheltered by protecting shrubs, happy lovers sat and talked, tired wayfarers rested with hats off, and staid old gentlemen read by the hour, their noses in their books.
Outside of all this color, perfume, and old-time charm, outside the grass-line and the rickety wooden fence that framed them in, ran an uneven pavement splashed with cool shadows and stained with green mould. Here, in summer, the watermelon-man stopped his cart; and here, in winter, upon its broken bricks, old Moses unhooked his bucket of oysters and ceased for a moment his droning call.
On the shady side of the square, and half-hidden in ivy, was a Noah’s Ark church, topped by a quaint belfry holding a bell that had not rung for years, and faced by a clock-dial all weather-stains and cracks, around which travelled a single rusty hand. In its shadow to the right lay the home of the Archdeacon, a stately mansion with Corinthian columns reaching to the roof and surrounded by a spacious garden filled with damask roses and bushes of sweet syringa. To the left crouched a row of dingy houses built of brick, their iron balconies hung in flowering vines, the windows glistening with panes of wavy glass purpled by age.
On the sunny side of the square, opposite the church, were more houses, high and low; one all garden, filled with broken-nosed statues hiding behind still more magnolias, and another all veranda and honeysuckle, big rocking-chairs and swinging hammocks; and still others with porticos curtained by white jasmine or Virginia creeper.
Half-way down this stretch of sunshine–and what a lovely stretch it was–there had stood for years a venerable mansion with high chimneys, sloping roof, and quaint dormer-windows, shaded by a tall sycamore that spread its branches far across the street. Two white marble steps guarded by old-fashioned iron railings led up to the front door, which bore on its face a silver-plated knocker, inscribed in letters of black with the name Of its owner–“Richard Horn.” All three, the door, the white marble steps, and the silver-plated knocker–not to forget the round silver knobs ornamenting the newel posts of the railings– were kept as bright as the rest of the family plate by that most loyal of servants, old Malachi, who daily soused the steps with soap and water, and then brought to a phenomenal polish the knocker, bell-pull, and knobs by means of fuller’s-earth, turpentine, hard breathing, and the vigorous use of a buckskin rag.
If this weazened-faced, bald-headed old darky, resplendent in white shirt-sleeves, green baize apron, and never-ceasing smile of welcome, happened to be engaged in this cleansing and polishing process–and it occurred every morning–and saw any friend of his master approaching, he would begin removing his pail and brushes and throwing wide the white door before the visitor reached the house, would there await his coming, bent double in profound salutation. Indeed, whenever Malachi had charge of the front steps he seldom stood upright, so constantly was he occupied– by reason of his master’s large acquaintance–in either crooking his back in the beginning of a bow, or straightening it up in the ending of one.
To one and all inquiries for Mr. Horn his answer during the morning hours was invariably the same:
“Yes, sah, Marse Richard’s in his li’l room wrastlin’ wid his machine, I reckon. He’s in dar now, sah–” this with another low bow, and then slowly recovering his perpendicular with eyes fixed on the retreating figure, so as to be sure there was no further need of his services, he would resume his work, drenching the steps again with soap-suds or rubbing away on the door-plate or door-pull, stopping every other moment to blow his breath on the polished surface.
When, however, someone asked for young Oliver, the inventor’s only son, the reply was by no means so definite, although the smile was a trifle broader and the bow, if anything, a little more profound.
“Marse Oliver, did you say, sah? Dat’s a difficult question, sah. Fo’ Gawd I ain’t seen him since breakfas’. You might look into Jedge Ellicott’s office if you is gwine downtown, whar dey do say he’s studyin’ law, an’ if he ain’t dar–an’ I reckon he ain’t–den you might drap in on Mister Crocker, whar Marse Oliver’s paintin’ dem pictures; an’ if he ain’t dar, den fo-sho he’s wid some o’ do young ladies, but which one de Lawd only knows. Marse Oliver’s like the rabbit, sah–he don’t leab no tracks,” and Malachi would hold his sides in a chuckle of so suffocating a nature that it would have developed into apoplexy in a less wrinkled and emaciated person.
Inside of the front door of this venerable mansion ran a wide hall bare of everything but a solid mahogany hat-rack and table with glass mirror and heavy haircloth settee, over which, suspended from the ceiling, hung a curious eight-sided lantern, its wick replaced with a modern gas-burner. Above were the bedrooms, reached by a curved staircase guarded by spindling mahogany bannisters with slender hand-rail –a staircase so pure in style and of so distinguished an air that only maidens in gowns and slippers should have tripped down its steps, and only cavaliers in silk stockings and perukes have waited below for their hands.
Level with the bare hall, opened two highly polished mahogany doors, which led respectively into the drawing-room and library, their windows draped in red damask and their walls covered with family portraits. All about these rooms stood sofas studded with brass nails, big easy-chairs upholstered in damask, and small tables piled high with magazines and papers. Here and there, between the windows, towered a bookcase crammed with well-bound volumes reaching clear to the ceiling. In the centre of each room was a broad mantel sheltering an open fireplace, and on cold days –and there were some pretty cold days about Kennedy Square–two roaring wood-fires dispensed comfort, the welcoming blaze of each reflected in the shining brass fire-irons and fenders.
Adjoining the library was the dining-room with its well-rubbed mahogany table, straight-backed chairs, and old sideboard laden with family silver, besides a much-coveted mahogany cellaret containing some of that very rare Madeira for which the host was famous. Here were more easy-chairs and more portraits–one of Major Horn, who fell at Yorktown, in cocked hat and epaulets, and two others in mob-caps and ruffles –both ancient grandmothers of long ago.
The “li’l room ob Marse Richard,” to which in the morning Malachi directed all his master’s visitors, was in an old-fashioned one-story out-house, with a sloping roof, that nestled under the shade of a big tulip- tree in the back yard–a cool, damp, brick-paved old yard, shut in between high walls mantled with ivy and Virginia creeper and capped by rows of broken bottles sunk in mortar. This out-building had once served as servants’ quarters, and it still had the open fireplace and broad hearth before which many a black mammy had toasted the toes of her pickaninnies, as well as the trap-door in the ceiling leading to the loft where they had slept. Two windows which peered out from under bushy eyebrows of tangled honeysuckle gave the only light; a green-painted wooden door, which swung level with the moist bricks, the only entrance.
It was at this green-painted wooden door that you would have had to knock to find the man of all others about Kennedy Square most beloved, and the man of all others least understood–Richard Horn, the distinguished inventor.
Perhaps at the first rap he would have been too absorbed to hear you. He would have been bending over his carpenter-bench–his deep, thoughtful eyes fixed on a drawing spread out before him, the shavings pushed back to give him room, a pair of compasses held between his fingers. Or he might have been raking the coals of his forge–set up in the same fireplace that had warmed the toes of the pickaninnies, his long red calico working-gown, which clung about his spare body, tucked between his knees to keep it from the blaze. Or he might have been stirring a pot of glue–a wooden model in his hand– or hammering away on some bit of hot iron, the brown paper cap that hid his sparse gray locks pushed down over his broad forehead to protect it from the heat.
When, however, his ear had caught the tap of your knuckles and he had thrown wide the green door, what a welcome would have awaited you! How warm the grasp of his fine old hand; how cordial his greeting.
“Disturb me, my dear sir,” he would have said in answer to your apologies, “that’s what I was put in the world for. I love to be disturbed. Please do it every day. Come in! Come in! It’s delightful to get hold of your hand.”
If you were his friend, and most men who knew him were, he would have slipped his arm through your own, and after a brief moment you would have found yourself poring over a detailed plan, his arm still in yours, while he showed you the outline of some pin, or lever, needed to perfect the most marvellous of all discoveries of modern times–his new galvanic motor.
If it were your first visit, and he had touched in you some sympathetic chord, he would have uncovered a nondescript combination of glass jars, horse-shoe magnets, and copper wires which lay in a curious shaped box beneath one of the windows, and in a voice trembling with emotion as he spoke, he would have explained to you the value of this or that lever, and its necessary relation to this new invention of his which was so soon to revolutionize the motive power of the world. Or he would perhaps have talked to you as he did to me, of his theories and beliefs and of what he felt sure the future would bring forth.
“The days of steam-power are already numbered. I may not live to see it, but you will. This new force is almost within my grasp. I know people laugh, but so they have always done. All inventors who have benefited mankind have first been received with ridicule. I can expect no better treatment. But I have no fear of the result. The steady destruction of our forests and the eating up of our coal-fields must throw us back on chemistry for our working power. There is only one solution of this problem–it lies in the employment of a force which this machine will compel to our uses. I have not perfected the apparatus yet, as you see, but it is only a question of time. To- morrow, perhaps, or next week, or next year–but it will surely come. See what Charles Bright and this Mr. Cyrus Field are accomplishing. If it astonishes you to realize that we will soon talk to each other across the ocean, why should the supplanting of steam by a new energy seem so extraordinary? The problems which they have worked out along the lines of electricity, I am trying to work out along the lines of galvanism. Both will ultimately benefit the human race.
And while he talked you would have listened with your eyes and ears wide open, and your heart too, and believed every word he said, no matter how practical you might have been or how unwilling at first to be convinced.
On another day perhaps you might have chanced to knock at his door when some serious complication had vexed him–a day when the cogs and pulleys upon which he had depended for certain demonstration had become so tangled up in his busy brain that he had thoughts for nothing else. Then, had he pushed pack his green door to receive you, his greeting might have been as cordial and his welcome as hearty, but before long you would have found his eyes gazing into vacancy, or he would have stopped half-way in an answer to your question, his thoughts far away. Had you loved him you would then have closed the green door behind you and left him alone. Had you remained you would, perhaps, have seen him spring from his seat and pick up from his work-bench some unfinished fragment. This he would have plunged into the smouldering embers of his forge and, entirely forgetful of your presence, would have seized the handle of the bellows, his eyes intent on the blaze, his lips muttering broken sentences. At these moments, as he would peer into the curling smoke, one thin hand upraised, the long calico gown wrinkling about his spare body, the paper cap on his head, he would have looked like some alchemist of old, or weird necromancer weaving a mystic spell. Sometimes, as you watched his face, with the glow of the coals lighting up his earnest eyes, there would have flashed across his troubled features, as heat lightning illumines a cloud, some sudden brightness from within followed by a quick smile of triumph. The rebellious fragment had been mastered. For the hundredth time the great motor was a success!
And yet, had this very pin or crank or cog, on which he had set such store, refused the next hour or day or week to do its work, no trace of his disappointment would have been found in his face or speech. His faith was always supreme; his belief in his ideals unshaken. If the pin or crank would not answer, the lever or pulley would. It was the “adjustment” that was at fault, not the principle. And so the dear old man would work on, week after week, only to abandon his results again, and with equal cheerfulness and enthusiasm to begin upon another appliance totally unlike any other he had tried before. “It was only a mile-stone,” he would say; “every one that I pass brings me so much nearer the end.”
If you had been only a stranger–some savant, for instance, who wanted a problem in mechanics solved, or a professor, blinded by the dazzling light of the almost daily discoveries of the time, in search of mental ammunition to fire back at curious students daily bombarding you with puzzling questions; or had you been a thrifty capitalist, holding back a first payment until an expert like Richard Horn had passed upon the merits of some new labor-saving device of the day; had you been any one of these, and you might very easily have been, for such persons came almost daily to see him, the inventor would not only have listened to your wants, no matter how absorbed he might have been in his own work, but he would not have allowed you to leave him until he was sure that your mind was at rest.
Had you, however, been neither friend nor client, but some unbeliever fresh from the gossip of the Club, where many of the habitues not only laughed at the inventor’s predictions for the future, but often lost their tempers in discussing his revolutionary ideas; or had you, in a spirit of temerity, entered his room armed with arguments for his overthrow, nothing that your good-breeding or the lack of it would have permitted you to have said could have ruffled his gentle spirit. With the tact of a man of wide experience among men, he would have turned the talk into another channel–music, perhaps, or some topic of the day–and all with such exquisite grace that you would have forgotten the subject you came to discuss until you found yourself outside the yard and half- way across Kennedy Square before realizing that the inventor had made no reply to your attacks.
But whoever you might have been, whether the friend of years, the anxious client, or the trifling unbeliever, and whatever the purpose of your visit, whether to shake his hand again for the very delight of touching it, to seek advice, or to combat his theories, you would have carried away the impression of a man whose like you had never met before–a man who spoke in a low, gentle voice, and yet, with an authority that compelled attention; enthusiastic over the things he loved, silent over those that pained him; a scholar of wide learning, yet skilled in the use of tools that obeyed him as readily as nimble fingers do a hand; a philosopher eminently sane on most of the accepted theories of the day and yet equally insistent in his support of many of the supposed sophistries and so-called “fanaticisms of the hour”; an old-time aristocrat holding fast to the class distinctions of his ancestors and yet glorying in the dignity of personal labor; a patriot loyal to the traditions of his State and yet so opposed to the bondage of men and women that he had freed his own slaves the day his father’s will was read; a cavalier reverencing a woman as sweetheart, wife, and mother, and yet longing for the time to come when she, too, could make a career, then denied her, coequal in its dignity with that of the man beside her.
A composite personality of strange contradictions; of pronounced accomplishments and yet of equally pronounced failures. And yet, withal, a man so gracious in speech, so courtly in bearing, so helpful in counsel, so rational, human, and lovable, that agree with him or not, as you pleased, his vision would have lingered with you for days.
When night came the inventor would rake the coals from the forge, and laying aside his paper cap and calico gown, close the green door of his shop, cross the brick pavement of the back yard, and ascend the stairs with the spindling bannisters to his dressing room. Here Malachi would have laid out the black swallow-tail coat with the high velvet collar, trousers to match, double-breasted waistcoat with gilt buttons, and fluffy cravat of white silk.
Then, while his master was dressing, the old servant would slip down-stairs and begin arranging the several rooms for the evening’s guests–for there were always guests at night. The red damask curtains would be drawn close, the hearth swept clean, and fresh logs thrown on the andirons. The lamp in the library would be lighted, and his master’s great easy- chair wheeled close to a low table piled high with papers and magazines, his big-eyed reading-glasses within reach of his hand. The paper would be unfolded, aired at the snapping blaze, and hung over the arm of the chair. These duties attended to, the old servant, with a last satisfied glance about the room, would betake himself to the foot of the stair- case, there to await his master’s coming, glancing overhead at every sound, and ready to conduct him to his chair by the fire.
When Richard, his toilet completed, appeared at the top of the stairs, Malachi would stand until his master had reached the bottom step, wheel about, and, with head up, gravely and noiselessly precede him into the drawing-room–the only time he ever dared to walk before him–and with a wave of the hand and the air of a prince presenting one of his palaces, would say–“Yo’ char’s all ready, Marse Richard; bright fire burnin’.” Adding, with a low, sweeping bow, now that the ceremony was over– “Hope yo’re feelin’ fine dis evenin’, sah.”
He had said it hundreds of times in the course of the year, but always with a salutation that was a special tribute, and always with the same low bow, as he gravely pulled out the chair, puffing up the back cushion, his wrinkled hands resting on it until Richard had taken his seat. Then, with equal gravity, he would hand his master the evening paper and the big-bowed spectacles, and would stand gravely by until Richard had dismissed him with a gentle “Thank you, Malachi; that will do.” And Malachi, with the serene, uplifted face as of one who had served in a temple, would tiptoe out to his pantry.
It had gone on for years–this waiting for Richard at the foot of the staircase. Malachi had never missed a night when his master was at home. It was not his duty–not a part of the established regime of the old house. No other family servant about Kennedy Square performed a like service for master or mistress. It was not even a custom of the times.
It was only one of “Malachi’s ways,” Richard would say, with a gentle smile quivering about his lips.
“I do dat ’cause it’s Marse Richard–dat’s all,” Malachi would answer, drawing himself up with the dignity of a chamberlain serving a king, when someone had the audacity to question him–a liberty he always resented.
They had been boys together–these two. They had fished and hunted and robbed birds’ nests and gone swimming with each other. They had fought for each other, and been whipped for each other many and many a time in the old plantation-days. Night after night in the years that followed they had sat by each other when one or the other was ill.
And now that each was an old man the mutual service was still continued.
“How are you getting on now, Malachi–better? Ah, that’s good–” and the master’s thin white hand would be laid on the black wrinkled head with a soothing touch.
“Allus feels better, Marse Richard, when I kin git hold ob yo’ han’, sah–” Malachi would answer.
Not his slave, remember. Not so many pounds of human flesh and bone and brains condemned to his service for life; for Malachi was free to come and go and had been so privileged since the day the old Horn estate had been settled twenty years before, when Richard had given him his freedom with the other slaves that fell to his lot; not that kind of a servitor at all, but his comrade, his chum, his friend; the one man, black as he was, in all the world who in laying down his life for him would but have counted it as gain.
Just before tea Mrs. Horn, with a thin gossamer shawl about her shoulders, would come down from her bedroom above and join her husband. Then young Oliver himself would come bounding in, always a little late, but always with his face aglow and always bubbling over with laughter, until Malachi, now that the last member of the family was at home, would throw open the mahogany doors, and high tea would be served in the dining-room on the well- rubbed, unclothed mahogany table, the plates, forks, and saucers under Malachi’s manipulations touching the polished wood as noiselessly as soap-bubbles.
Tea served and over, Malachi would light the candies in the big, cut-glass chandelier in the front parlor –the especial pride of the hostess, it having hung in her father’s house in Virginia.
After this he would retire once more to his pantry, this time to make ready for some special function to follow; for every evening at the Horn mansion had its separate festivity. On Mondays small whist-tables that unfolded or let down or evolved from half-moons into circles, their tops covered with green cloth, were pulled out or moved around so as to form the centres of cosey groups. Some extra sticks of hickory would be brought in and piled on the andirons, and the huge library-table, always covered with the magazines of the day–Littell’s, Westminster, Blackwood’s, and the Scientific Review, would be pushed back against the wall to make room.
On Wednesdays there would be a dinner at six o’clock, served without pretence or culinary assistance from the pastry-cook outside–even the ices were prepared at home. To these dinners any distinguished strangers who were passing through the city were sure to be invited. Malachi in his time had served many famous men–Charles Dickens, Ole Bull, Macready, and once the great Mr. Thackeray himself with a second glass of “that pale sherry, if you please,” and at the great man’s request, too. An appreciation which, in the case of Mr. Thackeray, had helped to mollify Malachi’s righteous wrath over the immortal novelist’s ignorance of Southern dishes:
“Dat fat gemman wid de gold specs dat dey do say is so mighty great, ain’t eat nuffin yet but soup an’ a li’l mite o’ ‘tater,” he said to Aunt Hannah on one of his trips to the kitchen as dinner went on. “He let dat tar’pin an’ dem ducks go by him same as dey was pizen. But I lay he knows ’bout dat ole yaller sherry,” and Malachi chuckled. “He keeps a’ retchin’ fur dat decanter as if he was ‘feared somebody’d git it fust.”
On Fridays there would invariably be a musicale– generally a quartette, with a few connoisseurs to listen and to criticise. Then the piano would be drawn out from its corner and the lid propped up, so that Max Unger of the “Harmonie” could find a place for his ‘cello behind it, and there still be room for the inventor with his violin–a violin with a tradition, for Ole Bull had once played on it and in that same room, too, and had said it had the soul of a Cremona –which was quite true when Richard Horn touched its strings.
On all the other nights of the week Mrs. Horn was at home to all who came. Some gentle old lady from across the Square, perhaps, in lace caps and ribbons, with a work-basket filled with fancy crewels, and whose big son came at nine o’clock to take her home; or Oliver’s young friends, boys and girls; or old Doctor Wallace, full of the day’s gossip; or Miss Lavinia Clendenning, with news of the latest Assembly; or Nathan Gill with his flute.
But then it was Nathan always, whatever the occasion. From the time Malachi unlocked the front doors in the morning until he bolted them for the night, Nathan came and went. The brick pavements were worn smooth, the neighbors said, between the flute-player’s humble lodgings in a side street and the Horn house, so many trips a day did the old man make. People smiled at him as he hurried along, his head bent forward, his long pen-wiper cloak reaching to his heels, a wide-brimmed Quaker hat crowning his head.
And always, whenever the night or whatever the function or whoever the guests, a particular side-table was sure to be moved in from Malachi’s pantry and covered with a snow-white cloth which played an important part in the evening’s entertainment. This cloth was never empty. Upon its damask surface were laid a pile of India-blue plates and a silver basket of cake, besides a collection of low glass tumblers with little handles, designed to hold various brews of Malachi’s own concoctions, which he alone of all the denizens of Kennedy Square could compound, and the secret of which unhappily has perished with him.
And what wondrous aromas, too!
You may not believe it, but I assure you, on the honor of a Virginian, that for every one of these different nights in the old house on Kennedy Square there were special savory odors emanating from these brews, which settled at once and beyond question the precise function of the evening, and all before you could hand your hat to Malachi. If, for instance, as the front door was opened the aroma was one of hot coffee and the dry smell of fresh wafer-biscuit mingled with those of a certain brand of sherry, then it was always to be plain whist in the parlor, with perhaps only Colonel Clayton and Miss Clendenning or some one of the old ladies of the neighborhood, to hold hands in a rubber. If the fumes of apple-toddy mingled with the fragrance of toasted apples were wafted your way, you might be sure that Max Unger, and perhaps Bobbinette, second violin, and Nathan–whatever the function it was always Nathan, it must be remembered–and a few kindred spirits who loved good music were expected; and at the appointed hour Malachi, his hands encased in white cotton gloves, would enter with a flourish, and would graciously beg leave to pass, the huge bowl held high above his head filled to the brim with smoking apple-toddy, the little pippins browned to a turn floating on its top.
If the occasion was one of great distinction, one that fell on Christmas or on New Year’s, or which celebrated some important family gathering, the pungent odor of eggnog would have greeted you even before you could have slipped off your gum-shoes in the hall, or hung your coat on the mahogany rack. This seductive concoction–the most potent of all Malachi’s beverages–was always served from a green and gold Chinese bowl, and drunk not from the customary low tumblers, but from special Spode cups, and was, I must confess, productive of a head–for I myself was once tempted to drink a bumper of it at this most delightful of houses with young Oliver, many years ago, it is true, but I have never forgotten it–productive of an ACHING head, I think I said, that felt as big in the morning as the Canton bowl in which the mixture had been brewed.
Or, if none of these functions or festivals were taking place, and only one or two old cronies had dropped in on their way from the Club, and had drawn up their chairs close to the dining-room table, and you had happened to be hanging up your hat in the hall at that moment, you would have been conscious of an aroma as delicate in flavor as that wafted across summer seas from far-off tropic isles; of pomegranates, if you will, ripening by crumbling walls; of purple grapes drinking in the sun; of pine and hemlock; of sweet spices and the scent of roses. or any other combination of delightful things which your excited imagination might suggest.
You would have known then just what had taken place; how, when the gentlemen were seated, Malachi in his undress blue coat and brass buttons had approached his master noiselessly from behind, and with a gravity that befitted the occasion had bent low his head, his hands behind his back, his head turned on one side, and in a hushed voice had asked this most portentous question:
“Which Madeira, Marse Richard?”
The only answer would have been a lifting of the eyebrow and an imperceptible nod of his master’s head in the direction of the mahogany cellaret.
It was the Tiernan of ’29.
And that worthy “Keeper of the Privy Seal and Key,” pausing for an instant with his brown jug of a head bent before the cellaret, as a Mohammedan bends his head before a wall facing Mecca, had there- upon unlocked its secret chambers and had produced a low, deeply cut decanter topped by a wondrous glass stopper. This he had placed, with conscious importance, on a small table before the two or three devotees gathered together in its honor, and the host, removing the stopper, had filled the slender glasses with a vintage that had twice rounded the Cape– a wine of such rare lineage and flavor that those who had the honor of its acquaintance always spoke of it as one of the most precious possessions of the town– a wine, too, of so delicate an aroma that those within the charmed circle invariably lifted the thin glasses and dreamily inhaled its perfume before they granted their palates a drop.
Ah, those marvellous, unforgettable aromas that come to me out of the long ago with all the reminders they bring of clink of glass and touch of elbow, of happy boys and girls and sweet old faces. it is forty years since they greeted my nostrils in the cool, bare, uncurtained hall of the old house in Kennedy Square, but they are still fresh in my memory. Sometimes it is the fragrance of newly made gingerbread, or the scent of creamy custard with just a suspicion of peach-kernels; sometimes it is the scent of fresh strawberries–strawberries that meant the spring, not the hot-house or Bermuda–and sometimes it is the smell of roasted oysters or succulent canvas-backs! Forty years ago–and yet even to-day the perfume of a roasted apple never greets me but I stand once more in the old-fashioned room listening to the sound of Nathan’s flute; I see again the stately, silver-haired, high-bred mistress of the mansion with her kindly greeting, as she moves among her guests; I catch the figure of that old darkey with his brown, bald head and the little tufts of gray wool fringing its sides, as he shuffles along in his blue coat and baggy white waistcoat and much-too-big gloves, and I hear the very tones of his voice as he pushes his seductive tray before me and whispers, confidentially:
“Take a li’l ob de apple, sah; dat’s whar de real ‘spression oh de toddy is.”
STRAINS FROM NATHAN’S FLUTE
It was one of those Friday evenings, then, when the smell of roast apples steeping in hot toddy came wafting out the portals of Malachi’s pantry–a smell of such convincing pungency that even the most infrequent of frequenters having once inhaled it, would have known at the first whiff that some musical function was in order. The night was to be one of unusual interest.
Nathan Gill and Max linger were expected, and Miss Lavinia Clendenning, completing with Richard a quartette for ‘cello, flute, piano, and violin, for which Unger had arranged Beethoven’s Overture to “Fidelio.”
Nathan, of course, arrived first. On ordinary occasions another of those quaint ceremonies for which the house was famous would always take place when the old flute-player entered the drawing-room–a ceremony which brought a smile to the lips of those who had watched it for years, and which to this day brings one to those who recall it. Nathan, with a look of quizzical anxiety on his pinched face, would tiptoe cautiously into the room, peering about to make sure of Richard’s presence, his thin, almost transparent fingers outspread before him to show Richard that they were empty. Richard would step forward and, with a tone of assumed solicitude in his voice, would say:
“Don’t tell me, Nathan, that you have forgotten your flute?” and Nathan, pausing for a moment, would suddenly break into a smile, and with a queer little note of surprise in his throat, and a twinkle in his eye, would make answer by slowly drawing from his coat-tail pocket the three unjointed pieces, holding them up with an air of triumph and slowly putting them together. Then these two old “Merry-Andrews” would lock arms and stroll into the library, laughing like school-boys.
To-night, however, as Nathan had been specially invited to play, this little ceremony was omitted. On entering the hall the musician gave his long, black, pen-wiper cloak and his hat to Malachi, and supporting himself by his delicate fingers laid flat on the hall-table, extended first one thin leg, and then the other, while that obsequious darky unbuttoned his gaiters. His feet free, he straightened himself up, pulled the precious flute from his coat-tail pocket and carefully joined the parts. This done, he gave a look into the hall-mirror, puffed out his scarf, combed his straight white hair forward over his ears with his fingers, and at Malachi’s announcement glided through the open doorway to Mrs. Horn’s chair, the flute in his hand held straight out as an orator would have held his roll.
The hostess, who had been sitting by the fire, her white gossamer shawl about her spare shoulders, rose from her high-backed chair and, laying aside her knitting-needles and wools, greeted the musician with as much cordiality–and it must be confessed with as much ceremony–as if she had not seen him a dozen times that week. One of the charms of the Horn mansion lay in these delightful blendings of affection and formality.
“Am I a little early?” he asked with as much surprise as if he were not as certain to be early when music was concerned as he was to be late in everything else. “Yes, my dear madam–I see that I am early, unless Miss Lavinia is late.”
“You never could be too early, Nathan. Lavinia will be here in a moment,” she answered, with a smile, resuming her seat.
“I’m glad that I’m ahead of her for once,” he replied, laughing. Then, turning to the inventor, who had come forward from where he had been studying the new score, he laid his hand affectionately on Richard’s shoulder, as a boy would have done, and added: “How do you like Unger’s new arrangement?–I’ve been thinking of nothing else all day.”
“Capital! Capital!” answered Richard, slipping his arm into Nathan’s, and drawing him closer to the piano. “See how he has treated this adagio phrase,” and he followed the line with his finger, humming the tune to Nathan. “The modulation, you see, is from E Major to A Major, and the flute sustains the melody, the effect is so peculiarly soft and the whole so bright with passages of sunshine all through it –oh, you will love it.”
While these two white-haired enthusiasts with their heads together were studying the score, beating time with their hands, after the manner of experts to whom all the curious jumble of dots and lines that plague so many of us are as plain as print, Malachi was receiving Miss Clendenning in the hall. Indeed, he had answered her knock as Nathan was passing into the drawing-room.
The new arrival bent her neck until Malachi had relieved her of the long hooded cloak, gave a quick stamp with her little feet as she shook out her balloon skirts, and settled herself on the hall-settee while Malachi unwound the white worsted “nubia” from her aristocratic throat. This done, she, too, held a short consultation with the hall-mirror, carefully dusting, with her tiny handkerchief, the little pats of powder still left on her cheeks, and with her jewelled fingers smoothing the soft hair parted over her forehead, and tightening meanwhile the side- combs that kept in place the clusters of short curls which framed her face. Then, with head erect and a gracious recognition of the old servant’s ministrations, she floated past Malachi, bent double in her honor.
“Oh, I heard you, Nathan,” she laughed, waving her fan toward him as she entered the room. “I’m not one minute late. Did you ever hear such impudence, Sallie, and all because he reached your door one minute before me,” she added, stooping to kiss Mrs. Horn. Punctuality was one of the cardinal virtues of this most distinguished, prim, precise, and most lovable of old maids. “You are really getting to be dreadful, Mr. Nathan Gill, and so puffed up –isn’t he, Richard?” As she spoke she turned abruptly and faced both gentlemen. Then, with one of her rippling laughs–a laugh that Richard always said reminded him of the notes of a bird–she caught her skirts in her fingers, made the most sweeping of courtesies and held out her hands to the two gentlemen who were crossing the room to meet her.
Richard, with the bow of a Cavalier, kissed the one offered him as gallantly as if she had been a duchess, telling her he had the rarest treat in store for her as soon as Unger came, and Nathan with mock devotion held the other between his two palms, and said that to be scolded by Miss Clendenning was infinitely better than being praised by anybody else. These pleasantries over, the two old gallants returned to the piano to wait for Max Unger and to study again the crumpled pages of the score which lay under the soft light of the candles.
The room relapsed once more into its wonted quiet, broken only by the whispered talk of well-bred people careful not to disturb each other. Mrs. Horn had begun to knit again. Miss Clendenning stood facing the fire, one foot resting on the fender.
This wee foot of the little lady was the delight and admiration of all the girls about Kennedy Square, and of many others across the seas, too– men and women for that matter. To-night it was encased in a black satin slipper and in a white spider- web stocking, about which were crossed two narrow black ribbons tied in a bow around the ankle–such a charming little slipper peeping out from petticoats all bescalloped and belaced! Everything in fact about this dainty old maid, with her trim figure filling out her soft white fichu, still had that subtlety of charm which had played havoc with more than one heart in her day. Only Sallie Horn, who had all the dear woman’s secrets, knew where those little feet had stepped and what hopes they had crushed. Only Sallie Horn, too, knew why the delicate finger was still bare of a plain gold ring. The world never thought it had made any difference to Miss Lavinia, but then the world had never peeped under the lower lid of Miss Clendenning’s heart.
Suddenly the hushed quiet of the room was broken by a loud knock at the front door, or rather by a series of knocks, so quick and sharp that Malachi started from his pantry on the run.
“That must be Max,” said Richard. “Now, Lavinia, we will move the piano, so as to give you more room.”
Mrs. Horn pushed back her chair, rose to her feet, and stood waiting to receive the noted ‘cellist, without whom not a note could be sounded, and Miss Clendenning took her foot from the fender and dropped her skirts.
But it was not Max!
Not wheezy, perspiring old Max Unger after all, walking into the room mopping his face with one hand and with the other lugging his big ‘cello, embalmed in a green baize bag–he would never let Malachi touch it–not Max at all, but a fresh, rosy- cheeked young fellow of twenty-two, who came bounding in with a laugh, tossing his hat to Malachi –a well-knit, muscular young fellow, with a mouth full of white teeth and a broad brow projecting over two steel-blue eyes that were snapping with fun.
With his coming the quiet of the place departed and a certain breezy atmosphere permeated the room as if a gust of cool wind had followed him. With him, too, came a hearty, whole-souled joyousness– a joyousness of so sparkling and so radiant a kind that it seemed as if all the sunshine he had breathed for twenty years in Kennedy Square had somehow been stored away in his boyish veins.
“Oh, here you are, you dear Miss Lavinia,” he cried out, his breath half gone from his dash across the Square. “How did you get here first?”
“On my two feet, you stupid Oliver,” cried Miss Lavinia, shaking her curls at him. “Did you think somebody carried me?”
“No, I didn’t; but that wouldn’t be much to carry, Miss Midget.” His pet name for her. “But which way did you come? I looked up and down every path and–“
“And went all the way round by Sue Clayton’s to find me, didn’t you? Oh, you can’t throw dust in the Midget’s eyes, you young rascal!” and she stretched up her two dainty hands; drew his face toward her, and kissed him on the lips.
“There–” and she patted his cheek– “now tell me all about it, you dear Ollie. What did you want to see me for?” she added with one of those quick divinations that made her so helpful a confidante. Then, in a lowered voice– “What has Sue done?”
“Nothing–not one thing. She isn’t bothering her head about me. I only stopped there to leave a book, and–“
Mrs. Horn, with laughing, inquiring eyes, looked up from her chair at Miss Clendenning, and made a little doubting sound with her lips. Black-eyed Sue Clayton, with her curls down her back, home from boarding-school for the Easter holidays, was Oliver’s latest flame. His mother loved to tease him about his love-affairs; and always liked him to have a new one. She could see farther into his heart she thought when the face of some sweet girl lay mirrored in its depths.
Oliver heard the doubting sound his mother made, and, reaching over her chair, flung his arms about her neck and kissed her as if she had been a girl.
“Now, don’t you laugh, you dear old motherkins,” he cried, drawing her nearer to him until her face touched his. “Sue don’t care a thing about me, and I did promise her the book, and I ran every step of the way to give it to her–didn’t I, Uncle Nat?” he added, gayly, hoping to divert the topic. “You were behind the sun-dial when I passed–don’t you remember?” He shrank a little from the badinage.
The old musician heard the question, but only waved his flute behind him in answer. He did not even lift his head from beside Richard’s at the score.
Oliver waited an instant, and getting no further reply, released his hold about his mother’s neck, now that he had kissed her into silence, and turned to Miss Clendenning again.
“Come, Miss Lavinia–come into the library. I’ve something very important to talk to you about. Really, now; no nonsense about it! You’ve plenty of time–old Max won’t be here for an hour, he’s always late, isn’t he, mother?”
Miss Clendenning turned quietly, lifted her eyes in a martyr-like way toward Mrs. Horn, who shook her head playfully in answer, and with Oliver’s arm about her entered the library. She could never refuse any one of the young people when they came to her with their secrets–most important and never- to-be-postponed secrets, of course, that could hardly wait the telling. Her little tea-room across the Square, with its red damask curtains, its shiny brass andirons, easy-chairs and lounges, was really more of a confessional than a boudoir. Many a sorrow had been drowned in the cups of tea that she had served with her own hand in egg-shell Spode cups, and many a young girl and youth who had entered its cosey interior with heavy hearts had left it with the sunshine of a new hope breaking through their tears. But then everybody knew the bigness of Miss Clendenning’s sympathies. It was one of the things for which they loved her.
She, of course, knew what the boy wanted now. If it were not to talk about Sue Clayton it was sure to be about some one of the other girls. The young people thought of nothing else but their love-affairs, and talked of nothing else, and the old people loved to live their youth over again in listening. It was one of the traditional customs of Kennedy Square.
Miss Clendenning settled herself in a corner of the carved haircloth sofa, touched her side-combs with her finger to see that they were in place, tucked a red cushion behind her back, crossed her two little feet on a low stool, the two toes peeping out like the heads of two mice, and taking Oliver’s hand in hers said, in her sweet, coaxing voice:
“Now, you dear boy, it is Sue, isn’t it?”
“Not Sue? Who then?”
“What Mr. Crocker?” She arched her eyebrows and looked at him in surprise. The name came as a shock. She knew of Mr. Crocker, of course, but she wanted Oliver to describe him. Surely, she thought, with a sudden sense of alarm, the boy has not fallen in love with the daughter of that shabby old man.
“Why, the landscape-painter–the one father knows. I have been taking drawing lessons of him and he says I’ve got a lot of talent and that all I want is practice. He says that if I begin now and draw from the cast three or four hours a day that by the end of the year I can begin in color; and then I can go to New York and study, and then to Paris.”
The little lady scrutinized him from under her eyelids. The boy’s enthusiasm always delighted her; she would often forget what he was talking about, so interested was she in following his gestures as he spoke.
“And what then?”
“Why then I can be a painter, of course. Isn’t that a great deal better than sitting every day in Judge Ellicott’s dingy office reading law-books? I hate the law!”
“And you love Mr. Crocker?”
“Yes, don’t you?”
“I don’t know him, Ollie. Tell me what he is like.”
“Well, he isn’t young any more. He’s about father’s age, but he’s a splendid old man, and he’s so poor! Nobody buys his pictures, nor appreciates him, and, just think, he has to paint portraits and dogs and anything he can get to do. Don’t you think that’s a shame? Nobody goes to see him but father and Uncle Nat and one or two others. They don’t seem to think him a gentleman.” He was putting the case so as to enlist all her sympathies at once.
“He has a daughter, hasn’t he?” She was probing him quietly and without haste. Time enough for her sympathies to work when she got at the facts.
“Yes, but I don’t like her very much, for I don’t think she’s very good to him.” Miss Clendenning smothered a little sigh of relief; there was no danger; thank Heaven, in that direction! What, then, could he want, she thought to herself.
“And he’s so different from anybody I ever met,” Oliver continued. “He doesn’t talk about horses and duck-shooting and politics, or music or cards like everyone you meet, except Daddy, but he talks about pictures and artists and great men. Just think, he was a young student in Dusseldorf for two years, and then he shouldered a knapsack and tramped all through Switzerland, painting as he went, and often paying for his lodgings with his sketches. Then he was in Paris for ever so long, and now he is here, where–“
“Where you tell me he is painting dogs for a living,” interrupted Miss Clendenning. “Do you think, you young scapegrace, that this would be better than being a lawyer like Judge Ellicott?” and she turned upon him with one of her quick outbursts of mock indignation.
“But I’m not going to paint dogs,” he replied, with some impatience. “I am going to paint women, like the Sir Peter Lely that Uncle John Tilghman has. Oh, she’s a beauty! I took Mr. Crocker to see her the other day. It had just been brought in from the country, you know. You should have heard him go on. He says there’s nobody who can paint a portrait like it nowadays. He raved about her. You know it is Uncle John Tilghman’s grandmother when she was a girl.” His voice suddenly dropped to a more serious tone as he imparted this last bit of information.
Miss Clendenning knew whose grandmother it was, and knew and loved every tone in the canvas. It had hung in the Tilghman Manor-House for years and was one of its most precious treasures, but she did not intend to stop and discuss it now.
“Mr. Crocker wants me to copy it just as soon as I draw a little better. Uncle John will let me, I know.”
Miss Clendenning tapped her foot in a noiseless tattoo upon the stool, and for a time looked off into space. She wanted to draw him out, to know from what depth this particular enthusiasm had sprung. She was accustomed to his exuberance of spirits, it was one of the many things she loved him for. If this new craze were but an idle fancy, and he had had many of them, it would wear itself out, and the longer they talked about it the better. If, however, it sprang from an inborn taste, and was the first indication of a hitherto undeveloped talent forcing itself to the surface, the situation was one demanding the greatest caution. Twigs like Oliver bent at the wrong time might never straighten out again.
“And why did you come to me about this, Ollie; why don’t you talk to your father?”
“I have. He doesn’t object. He says that Mr. Crocker is one of the rare men of the time, and that only inexperience among the people here prevents him from being appreciated. That’s what he goes to see him for. It isn’t father that worries me, it’s mother. I know just whet she’ll say. She’s got her heart set on my studying law, and she won’t listen to anything else. I wouldn’t object to the law if I cared for it, but I don’t. That’s what makes it come so hard.”
“And you want me to speak to your mother?”
“Yes, of course. That’s just what I DO want you to do. Nobody can help me but you,” he cried with that coaxing manner which would have seemed effeminate until one looked at his well-built, muscular body and the firm lines about his mouth. “You tell her of all the painters you knew in London when you lived there, and of what they do and how they are looked up to, and that some of them are gentlemen and not idlers and loafers. Mother will listen to you, I know, and maybe then when I tell her it won’t be such a shock to her. Do you know it is incomprehensible to me, all this contempt for people who don’t do just the same things that their grandfathers did. And how do I know, too, that they are right about it all? It seems to me that when a man is born a gentleman and is a gentleman he can follow any occupation he pleases. Instead of his trade making him respectable he should make IT so.” He spoke with a virility she had never suspected in him before, this boy whom she had held in her arms as a baby and who was still only the child to her.
“But, Ollie,” she interrupted, in some surprise, “you must never forget that you are your father’s son. No one is absolutely independent in this world; everyone has his family to consider.” She was becoming not only interested now, but anxious. Mr. Crocker had evidently been teaching the boy something besides the way to use his pencil. Such democratic ideas were rare in Kennedy Square.
“Yes, I know what you mean.” He had sprung from his seat now and was standing over her, she looking up into his face. “You mean that it is all right for me to go into old Mr. Wardell’s counting- house because he sells coffee by the cargo, but that I can’t take a situation in Griggson’s grocery here on the corner because he sells coffee by the pound. You mean, too, that it is possible for a man to be a professor or president of a college and still be a gentleman, but if he teaches in the public school he is done for. You mean, too, that I could saw off a patient’s leg and still be invited to Uncle Tilghman’s house to dinner, but that if I pulled out one of his teeth I could only eat in his kitchen.”
Miss Clendenning threw back her head and laughed until the combs in her side-curls needed refastening, but she did not interrupt him.
“I can’t get this sort of thing into my head and I never will. And father doesn’t believe in it any more than I do, and I don’t think that mother would if it wasn’t for a lot of old people who live around this square and who talk of nothing all day but their relations and think there’s nobody worth knowing but themselves. Now, you’ve GOT to talk to mother; I won’t take no for an answer,” and he threw himself down beside her again. “Come, dear Midget, hold up your right hand and promise me now, before I let you go,” he pleaded in his wheedling way that made him so lovable to his intimates, catching her two hands in his and holding them tight.
Of course she promised. Had she ever refused him anything? And Oliver, a boy again, now that his confessions were made, kissed her joyously on both cheeks and instantly forgetting his troubles as his habit was when prospects of relief had opened, he launched out into an account of a wonderful adventure Mr. Crocker once had in an old town in
Italy, where he was locked up over-night in a convent by mistake; and how he had slept on his knapsack in the chapel, and what the magistrate had said to him the next day, and how he had to paint a portrait of that suspicious officer to prove he was a painter and a man of the best intentions. In his enthusiasm he not only acted the scene, but he imitated the gesture and dialect of the several parties to the escapade so perfectly that the little lady, in her delight over the story, quite forgot her anxiety and even the musicale itself, and only remembered the quartette when Malachi, bowing obsequiously before her, said:
“Dey’s a-waitin’ for you, Miss Lavinia. Mister Unger done come and Marse Richard say he can’t wait a minute.”
When she and Oliver entered the drawing-room the ‘cellist was the centre of the group. He was stripping off the green baize cover from his instrument and at the same time was apologizing, in his broken English, for being so late. Richard was interrupting him with enthusiastic outbursts over the new score which still lay under the wax candles lighting the piano, and which he and Nathan, while waiting for the musician, had been silently practising in sundry bobs of their heads and rhythmic beatings of their hands.
“My dear Max,” Richard continued, with a hand on the musician’s shoulder, patting him in appreciation as he spoke, “we will forgive you anything. You have so exactly suited to the ‘cello the opening theme. And the flute passages!–they are exquisitely introduced. We will let Miss Clendenning decide when she hears it–” and he turned Unger’s head in the direction of the advancing lady. “Here she comes now; you, of course, know the fine quality of Miss Clendenning’s ear.”
Herr Unger placed his five fat fingers over his waist-baud, bowed as low to Miss Lavinia as his great girth would permit, and said:
“Ah, yes, I know. Miss Clendenning not only haf de ear she haf de life in de end of de finger. De piano make de sound like de bird when she touch it.”
The little lady thanked him in her sweetest voice, made a courtesy, and extended her hand to Max, who kissed it with much solemnity, and Richard, putting his arm around the ‘cellist’s fat shoulders, conducted him across the room, whereupon Nathan, with the assumed air of an old beau, offered his crooked elbow to Miss Clendenning as an apology for having reached the house before her. Then, seating her at the piano with a great flourish, he waved his hand to Oliver, who had drawn up a chair beside his mother, and with a laugh, cried:
“Here, you young love; come and turn the leaves for Miss Lavinia. It may keep you from running over other people in the dark, even if they are accused of hiding behind sun-dials.”
With the beginning of the overture Mrs. Horn laid down her work, and drawing her white gossamer shawl about her shoulders gave herself up to the enjoyment of the music. The overture was one of her favorites–one she and Richard had often played together as a duet in their younger days.
Leaning back in her easy-chair with half-closed eyes, her clear-cut features in silhouette against the glow of the fire, her soft gray curls nestling in the filmy lace that fell about her temples, she expressed, in every line of her face and figure, that air of graceful repose which only comes to those highly favored women who have all their lives been nurtured in a home of loving hands, tender voices, and noiseless servants–lives of never-ending affection without care or sorrow.
And yet had you, even as she sat there, studied carefully this central figure of the Horn mansion –this practical, outspoken, gentle-voiced, tender wife and mother, tenacious of her opinions, yet big enough and courageous enough to acknowledge her mistakes; this woman, wise in counsel, sympathetic in sorrow, joyous with the young, restful with the old, you would have discovered certain lines about her white forehead which advancing years alone could not have accounted for.
These lines seemed all the deeper to-night. Only a few hours before, Richard had come to her, while Malachi was arranging his clothes, with the joyful news of a new device which he had developed during the day for his motor. He could hardly wait to tell her, he had said. The news was anything but joyful to her. She knew what it meant–she knew what sums had been wasted on the other devices, involving losses which at this time they could so little afford. She was glad, therefore, to free her mind for the moment from these anxieties; glad to sit alone and drink in the melodies that the quartette set free.
As she sat listening, beating time noiselessly with her thin, upraised hand, her head resting quietly, a clear, silvery note–clear as a bird’s–leaped from Nathan’s flute, soared higher and higher, trembled like a lark poised in air, and died away in tones of such exquisite sweetness that she turned her head in delight toward the group about the piano, fixing her gaze on Nathan. The old man’s eyes were riveted on the score, his figure bent forward in the intensity of his absorption, his whole face illumined with the ecstasy that possessed him. Then she looked at Richard, standing. with his back to her, his violin tucked under his chin, his body swaying in rhythm with the music. Unger sat next to him, his instrument between his knees, his stolid, shiny face unruffled by the glorious harmonies of Beethoven.
Then her glance rested on Oliver. He was hanging over the piano whispering in Miss Clendenning’s. ear, his face breaking into smiles at her playful chidings. If the pathos of the melody had reached him he showed no sign of its effects.
Instantly there welled up in her heart a sudden gush of tenderness–one of those quick outbursts that often overwhelm a mother when her eyes rest on a son whose heart is her own–an outburst all the more intensified by the melody that thrilled her. Why should her heart have been troubled? Here was her strong hope! Here was her chief reliance! Here the hope of the future. How could she doubt or suffer when this promise of the coming day was before her in all the beauty and strength of his young manhood.
With the echoes of Nathan’s flute still vibrating in her, and with her mind filled with the delight of these fresh hopes, she suddenly recalled the anxious look on her boy’s face as he led Miss Clendenning into the library–a new look–one she had never seen before. Still under the quickening spell of the music she began to exaggerate its cause. What had troubled him? Why had he told Lavinia, and not her? Was there anything serious?–something he had kept from her to save her pain?
From this moment her mind became absorbed in her boy. With restless, impatient fingers she began thrumming on the arm of her chair. Oliver would tell her, she knew, before many hours, but she could not wait–she wanted to know at once.
With the ending of the first part of the overture, and before the two gentlemen had laid down their instruments to grasp Unger’s hands, she called to Miss Clendenning, who sat at the piano alone, Oliver having slipped away unobserved.
Miss Clendenning raised her eyes in answer. “Come over and sit by me, dear, while the gentlemen rest.”
Miss Clendenning picked up her white silk mits and fan lying beside the candles, and moved toward the fireplace. Malachi saw her coming–he was always in the room during the interludes–and with an alacrity common to him when the distinguished little lady was present, drew up a low chair beside his mistress and stood behind it until she took her seat. Miss Clendenning smoothed out her skirt and settled herself with the movement of a pigeon filling her nest. Then she laid her mits in her lap and fanned herself softly.
“Well, Sallie, what is it? Did you ever hear Nathan play so well!” she asked, at last.
“What did Oliver want, my dear?” replied Mrs. Horn, ignoring her question. “Is there anything worrying him, or is Sue at the bottom of it!”
The little woman smiled quizzically. “No, Sallie –not Sue–not this time. That little rattle-brain’s affections will only last the week out. Nothing very important–that is, nothing urgent. We were talking about the Tilghman portraits and the Lely that Cousin John has brought into town from Claymore Manor, and what people should and should not do to earn their living, and what professions were respectable. I thought one thing and Ollie thought another. Now, what profession of all others would you choose for a young man starting out in life?”
“What has he been telling you, Lavinia? Does he want to leave Judge Ellicott’s office?” Mrs. Horn asked, quietly, She always went straight to the root of any matter.
“Just answer my question, Sallie.”
“I’d rather he’d be a lawyer, of course; why?”
“Suppose he won’t, or can’t?”
“Is that what he told you, Lavinia, on the sofa?” She was leaning forward, her cheek on her hand, her eyes fixed on the blazing logs.
“He told me a great many things, half of them boy’s talk. Now answer my question; suppose he couldn’t study law because his heart wasn’t in it, what then?”
“I know, Lavinia, what you mean.” There was an anxious tone now in the mother’s voice. “And Oliver talked to you about this?” As she spoke she settled back in her chair and a slight sigh escaped her.
“Don’t ask me, Sallie, for I’m not going to tell you. I want to know for myself what you think, so that I can help the boy.”
Mrs. Horn turned her head and looked toward Richard. She had suspected as much from some hints that Judge Ellicott had dropped when she had asked him about Oliver’s progress. “He is still holding down his chair, Madam.” She thought at the time that it was one of the Judge’s witticisms, but she saw now that it had a deeper meaning. After some moments she said, fixing her eyes on Miss Clendenning:
“Well, now, Lavinia, tell me what YOU think. I should like your opinion. What would you wish to do with him if he were your son?”
Miss Lavinia smiled and her eyes half-closed. For a brief moment there came to her the picture of what such a blessing would have been. Her son! No! It was always somebody else’s son or daughter to whom her sympathy must go.
“Well, Sallie,” she answered–she was leaning over now, her hands in her lap, apparently with lowered eyelids, but really watching Mrs. Horn’s, face from the corner of her eye–“I don’t think we can make a clergyman out of him, do you?” Mrs. Horn frowned, but she did not interrupt. “No, we cannot make a parson out of him. I meant, my love, something in surplices, not in camp-meetings, of course. Think of those lovely pink cheeks in a high collar and Bishop’s sleeves, wouldn’t he be too sweet for anything?” and she laughed one of her little cooing laughs. “Nor a doctor,” she continued, with a slight interrogation in her tone, “nor a shopkeeper, nor a painter”–and she shot a quick glance from under her arching eyebrows at her companion –but Mrs. Horn’s face gave no sign–“nor a musician. Why not a musician, Sallie, he sings like an angel, you know?” She was planting her shafts all about the target, her eyes following the flight of each arrow.
Mrs. Horn raised her head and laid her hand firmly on Miss Clendenning’s wrist.
“We won’t have him a shopkeeper, Lavinia,” she said with some positiveness, “nor a barber, nor a painter, nor a cook, nor a dentist. We’ll try and keep him a gentleman, my dear, whatever happens. As for his being a musician, I think you will agree with me, that music is only possible as an accomplishment, never when it is a profession. Look at that dear old man over there”–and she pointed to Nathan, who was bending forward running over on his flute some passages from the score, his white hair covering his coat-collar behind–“so absolutely unfitted for this world as he is, so purposeless, so hopelessly inert. He breathes his whole soul into that flute and yet–“
“And a good deal comes out of it sometimes, my dear–to-night, for instance,” laughed Miss Lavinia. “Did you catch those bird-like notes?”
“Yes, and they thrilled me through and through, but sweet as they are they haven’t helped him make a career.”
At this moment Richard called to Unger, who had been sitting on the sofa in the library, “cooling off,” he said, as he mopped his head with a red handkerchief, one of Malachi’s cups in his hand.
Miss Lavinia caught sight of the ‘cellist’s advancing figure and rose from her seat. “I must go now,” she said, “they want to play it again.” She moved a step forward, gave a glance at her side-curls in the oval mirror over the mantel, stopped hesitatingly, and then bending over Mrs. Horn said, thoughtfully, her hand on her companion’s shoulder, “Sallie, don’t try to make water run uphill. If Ollie belonged to me I’d let him follow his tastes, whatever they were. You’ll spoil the shape of his instep if you keep him wearing Chinese shoes,” and she floated over to join the group of musicians.
Mrs. Horn again settled herself in her chair. She understood now the look on Oliver’s face. She was right then; something was really worrying him. The talk with Miss Lavinia had greatly disturbed her–. so much so that she could not listen to the music. Again her eyes rested on Oliver, who had come in and joined the group at the piano, all out of breath with his second run across the Square–this time to tell Sue of Miss Clendenning’s promise. He was never happy unless he was sharing what was on his mind with another, and if there was a girl within reach he was sure to pour it into her willing ears.
Mrs. Horn looked at him with a pang about her heart. From which side of the house had come this fickleness, this instability and love of change in Oliver’s character? she asked herself–a new interest every day–all the traditions of his forefathers violated. How could she overcome it in him? how make him more practical? Years before, when she had thought him proud, she had sent him to market and had made him carry home the basket on his arm, facing the boys who laughed at him. He had never forgotten the lesson; he was neither proud nor lazy any more. But what could she do in a situation like this?
Harassed by these doubts her eyes wandered over Oliver’s slender, well-knit muscular figure as he stood whispering to Miss Clendenning. She noticed the fine, glossy hair brushed from the face and worn long in the neck, curling behind the ears. She noted every movement of his body: the graceful way in which he talked with his hands, using his fingers to accentuate his words, and the way in which he shrugged his shoulders–the shrug of a Frenchman, although not a drop of their blood could be found in his veins–and in the quick lifting of the hand and the sidelong glance of the eye, all so characteristic of Richard when some new thought or theory reached his brain for the first time. Gradually and unconsciously she began to compare each feature of Oliver’s face with that of the father who stood beside him: the alert blue, eyes; overhanging brow and soft silkiness of the hair–identically the name, even the way it lay in the neck. And again she looked at Richard, drawing the bow as if in a dream.
Instantly a thought entered her mind that drove the blood from her cheeks. These vacillations of her husband’s! This turning from one thing to another –first the law, then these inventions that never lead anywhere, and now Oliver beginning in the same way, almost in the same steps! Could these traits be handed down to the children? Would Oliver be like Richard in—-
Instinctively she stopped short before the disloyal thought could form itself in her brain, straightened herself in her chair, and closed her lips tight.
The music ceased; Nathan laid his flute on the piano; Unger rose. from his seat, and Richard turned to talk to Miss Clendenning. But she was unmindful of it all–she still sat in her chair, her eyes searching the blazing logs, her hands in her lap.
Only Malachi with his silver tray recalled her to consciousness.
THE OPEN-AIR DRAWING-ROOMS OF KENNIDY SQUARE
If in the long summer days Kennedy Square was haunted by the idle and the weary, in the cool summer nights its dimly lighted paths were alive with the tread of flying feet, and its shadowy benches gay with the music of laughter and merry greetings.
With the going down of the sun, the sidewalks were sprinkled, and the whole street about the Square watered from curb to curb, to cool its sun-baked cobbles. The doors and windows of all the houses were thrown wide to welcome the fresh night-air, laden with the perfume of magnolia, jasmine, and sweet-smelling box. Easy-chairs and cushions were brought out and placed on the clean steps of the porches, and the wide piazzas covered with squares of china-matting to make ready for the guests of the evening.
These guests would begin to gather as soon as the twilight settled; the young girls in their pretty muslin frocks and ribbons, the young men in white duck suits and straw hats. They thronged the cool, well- swept paths, chattered in bunches under the big trees, or settled like birds on the stone seats and benches. Every few minutes some new group, fresh from their tea-tables, would emerge from one of the houses, poise like a flock of pigeons on the top step, listen to the guiding sound of the distant laughter, and then swoop down in mad frolic, settling in the midst of the main covey, under the big sycamores until roused at the signal of some male bird in a straw hat, or in answer to the call of some bare-headed songstress from across the Square, the whole covey would dash out one of the rickety gates, only to alight again on the stone steps of a neighbor’s porch, where their chatter and pipings would last far into the night.
It was extraordinary how, from year to year, these young birds and even the old ones remembered the best perches about the Square. On Colonel Clayton’s ample portico–big enough to shelter half a dozen covies behind its honeysuckles–both young and old would settle side by side; the younger bevy hovering about the Judge’s blue-eyed daughter–a bird so blithe and of so free a wing, that the flock always followed wherever she alighted. On Judge Bowman’s wide veranda only a few old cocks from the club could be found, and not infrequently, some rare birds from out of town perched about a table alive with the clink of glass and rattle of crushed ice, while next the church, on old Mrs. Pancoast’s portico, with its tall Corinthian columns–Mr. Pancoast was the archdeacon of the Noah’s ark church–one or two old grandmothers and a grave old owl of a family doctor were sure to fill the rocking-chairs. As for Richard Horn’s marble steps they were never free from stray young couples who flew in to rest on Malachi’s chairs and cushions. Sometimes only one bird and her mate would be tucked away in the shadow of the doorway; sometimes only an old pair, like Mrs. Horn and Richard, would occupy its corners.
These porticoes and stone door-steps were really the open-air drawing-rooms of Kennedy Square in the soft summer nights. Here ices were served and cool drinks–sherbets for the young and juleps and sherry cobblers for the old. At the Horn house, on great occasions, as when some big melon that had lain for days on the cool cellar floor was cut (it was worth a day’s journey to see Malachi cut a melon), the guests would not only crowd the steps, but all the hall and half up the slender staircase, where they would sit with plates in their laps, the young men serving their respective sweethearts.
This open-air night-life had gone on since Kennedy Square began; each door-step had its habitues and each veranda its traditions. There was but one single porch, in fact, facing its stately trees whereon no flocks of birds, old or young, ever alighted, and that belonged to Peter Skimmerton–the meanest man in town–who in a fit of parsimony over candles, so the girls said, had bared his porch of every protesting vine and had placed opposite his door-step a glaring street gas-lamp—a monstrous and never-to- be-forgotten affront.
And yet, free and easy as the life was, no stranger sat himself down on any one of these porches until his pedigree had been thoroughly investigated, no matter how large might be his bank-account nor how ambitious his soarings. No premeditated discourtesy ever initialed this exclusiveness and none was ever intended. Kennedy Square did not know the blood of the stranger–that was all–and not knowing it they could not trust him. And it would have been altogether useless for him to try to disguise his antecedents –especially if he came from their own State– or any State south of it. His record could be as easily reached and could be as clearly read as a title- deed. Even the servants knew. Often they acted as Clerks of the Rolls.
“Dat Mister Jawlins, did you ask ’bout?” Malachi would say. “Why you know whar he comes f’om. He’s one o’ dem Anne Rundle Jawlinses. He do look mighty peart an’ dey do say he’s mighty rich, but he can’t fool Malachi. I knowed his gran’pa,” and that wise and politic darky, with the honor of the house before his eyes, would shake his head knowingly and with such an ominous look, that had you not known the only crime of the poor grandfather to have been a marriage with his overseer’s daughter– a very worthy woman, by the way–instead of with some lady of quality, you would have supposed he had added the sin of murder to the crime of low birth. On the other hand, had you asked Malachi about some young aristocrat who had forgotten to count his toddies the night before, that Defender of the Faith would have replied:
“Lawd bress ye! Co’se dese young gemmens like to frolic–an’ dey do git dat way sometimes–tain’t nuthin’. Dem Dorseys was allers like dat–” the very tones of his voice carrying such convictions of the young man’s respectability that you would have felt safe in keeping a place at your table for the delinquent, despite your knowledge of his habits.
This general intimacy between the young people, and this absolute faith of their elders in the quality of family blood, was one of the reasons why every man about Kennedy Square was to be trusted with every other man’s sister, and why every mother gave the latch-key to every other mother’s son, and why it made no difference whether the young people came home early or late, so that they all came home when the others did. If there were love-making–and of course there was love-making–it was of the old- fashioned, boy-and-girl kind, with keepsakes and pledges and long walks in the afternoons and whispered secrets at the merry-makings. Never anything else. Woe betide the swain who forgot himself ever so slightly–there was no night-key for him after that, nor would any of the girls on any front steps in town ever look his way again when he passed– and to their credit be it said, few of the young men either. From that day on the offender became a pariah. He had committed the unpardonable sin.
As for these young men, this life with the girls was all the life they knew. There were fishing parties, of course, at the “Falls” when the gudgeons were biting, and picnics in the woods; and there were oyster roasts in winter, and watermelon parties in summer–but the girls must he present, too. For in those simple days there were no special clubs with easy-chairs and convenient little tables loaded with drinkables and smokables–none for the young Olivers, and certainly none for the women. There was, to be sure, in every Southern city an old mausoleum of a club–sometimes two–each more desolate than the other–haunted by gouty old parties and bonvivants; but the young men never passed through
their doors except on some call of urgency. When a man was old enough to be admitted to the club there was no young damosel on Malachi’s steps, or any other steps, who would care a rap about him. HIS day was done.
For these were the days in which the woman ruled in court and home—championed by loyal retainers who strove hourly to do her bidding. Even the gray- haired men would tell you over their wine of some rare woman whom they had known in their youth, and who was still their standard of all that was gentle and gracious, and for whom they would claim a charm of manner and stately comeliness that–“my dear sir, not only illumined her drawing-room but conferred distinction on the commonwealth.”
“Mrs. Tilghman’s mother, were you talking about?” Colonel Clayton or Richard Horn, or some other old resident would ask. “I remember her perfectly. We have rarely had a more adorable woman, sir. She was a vision of beauty, and the pride of our State for years.”
Should some shadow have settled upon any one of these homes–some shadow of drunkenness, or love of play, or shattered brain, or worse–the woman bore the sorrow in gentleness and patience and still loved on and suffered and loved and suffered again, hoping against hope. But no dry briefs were ever permitted to play a part, dividing heart and hearth. Kennedy Square would have looked askance had such things been suggested or even mentioned in its presence, and the dames would have lowered their voices in discussing them. Even the men would have passed with unlifted hats either party to such shame.
Because of this loyalty to womankind and this reverence for the home–a reverence which began with the mother-love and radiated to every sister they knew–no woman of quality ever earned her own bread while there was an able-bodied man of her blood above ground to earn it for her. Nor could there be any disgrace so lasting, even to the third and fourth generation, as the stigma an outraged community would place upon the renegade who refused her aid and comfort. An unprogressive, quixotic life if you will–a life without growth and dominant personalities and lofty responsibilities and God-given rights–but oh! the sweet mothers that it gave us, and the wholesomeness, the cleanliness, the loyalty of it all.
With the coming of summer, then, each white marble step of the Horn mansion, under Malachi’s care, shone like a china plate.
“Can’t hab dese yere young ladies spile dere clean frocks on Malachi’s steps–no, sah,” he would say; “Marse Oliver’d r’ar an’ pitch tur’ble.”
There were especial reasons this year for these extra touches of rag and brush. Malachi knew “de signs” too well to be deceived. Pretty Sue Clayton, with her soft eyes and the mass of ringlets that framed her face, had now completely taken possession of Oliver’s heart, and the old servant already had been appointed chief of the postal service–two letters a day sometimes with all the verbal messages in between.
This love-affair, which had begun in the winter, was not yet of so serious a nature as to cause distress or unhappiness to either one of their respective houses, nor had it reached a point where suicide or an elopement were all that was left. It was, in truth, but a few months old, and so far the banns had not been published. Within the last week Miss Sue had been persuaded “to wait for him–” that was all. She had not, it is true, burdened her gay young heart with the number of years of her patience. She and Oliver were sweethearts–that was enough for them both. As proof of it, was she not wearing about her neck at the very moment a chain which he had fashioned for her out of cherry-stones; and had she not given him in return one of those same ringlets, and had she not tied it with a blue ribbon herself? And above all–and what could be more conclusive– had she not taken her hair down to do it, and let him select the very tress that pleased him best?–and was not this curl, at that very moment, concealed in a pill-box and safely hidden in his unlocked bureau- drawer, where his mother saw it with a smile the last time she put away his linen? This love-affair–as were the love-affairs of all the other young people– was common gossip around Kennedy Square. Had there been any doubts about it, it would only have been necessary to ask any old Malachi, or Hannah; or Juno. They could have given every detail of the affair, descanting upon all its joys and its sorrows.
Sweet girls of the days gone by, what crimes some of you have to answer for! At least one of you must remember how my own thumb was cut into slits over these same cherry-stones, and why the ends of your ringlets were tucked away in a miniature box in my drawer, with the pressed flowers and signet-ring, and the rest of it. And you could–if you would–recall a waiting promise made to me years and years ago. And the wedding! Surely you have not forgotten that. I was there, you remember–but not as the groom.
On one particular evening in June–an evening that marked an important stage in the development of Oliver’s fortunes–the front porch, owing to Malachi’s attentions, was in spotless condition–steps, knocker, and round silver knobs.
Sue and Oliver sat on the top step; they had stolen across from the Clayton porch on some pretended errand. Sue’s chin was in her hand, and Oliver sat beside her pouring out his heart as he had never done before. He had realized long ago that she could never understand his wanting to be a painter as Miss Clendenning had done, and so he had never referred to it since the night of the musicale, when he had raced across the Square to tell her of his talk with the little lady. Sue, as he remembered afterward, had listened abstractedly. She would have preferred at the time his running in to talk about herself rather than about his queer ambitions. She was no more interested now.
“Ollie, what does your father say about all this?” she finally asked in a perfunctory way. “Would he be willing for you to be a painter?” It bored her to listen to Oliver’s enthusiastic talk about light and shade, and color and perspective, and what Mr. Crocker had said and what Mr. Crocker was doing, and what Mr. Crocker’s last portrait was like. She was sure that nobody else around Kennedy Square talked of such things or had such curious ambitions. They shocked her as much as Oliver’s wearing some outlandish clothes would have done–making him conspicuous and, perhaps, an object of ridicule.