A CHRISTMAS ACCIDENT
AND OTHER STORIES
BY ANNIE ELIOT TRUMBULL
A Christmas Accident
ANNIE ELIOT TRUMBULL
A CHRISTMAS ACCIDENT AND OTHER STORIES. 16mo. Cloth $1.00
ROD'S SALVATION AND OTHER STORIES. 16mo. Cloth 1.00
A CAPE COD WEEK. 16mo. Cloth 1.00
MISTRESS CONTENT CRADOCK. Cloth. 16mo. 1.00
A. S. BARNES & CO., PUBLISHERS, New York.
A Christmas Accident
And Other Stories
Annie Eliot Trumbull
Author of "White Birches," "A Masque of Culture," etc.
New York A. S. Barnes and Company 1900
Copyright, 1897, BY A. S. BARNES AND COMPANY.
University Press: JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE, U.S.A.
OF the stories included in this volume, the first originally appeared in the Hartford Courant; "After—the Deluge," in the Atlantic Monthly; "Mary A. Twining," in the Home Maker; "A Postlude" and "Her Neighbor's Landmark," in the Outlook; "The 'Daily Morning Chronicle,'" in The New England Magazine; and "Hearts Unfortified," in McClure's Magazine. To the courtesy of the editors of these periodicals I am indebted for permission to reprint them.
A. E. T.
A CHRISTMAS ACCIDENT 1
AFTER—THE DELUGE 32
MEMOIR OF MARY TWINING 67
A POSTLUDE 99
THE "DAILY MORNING CHRONICLE" 139
HEARTS UNFORTIFIED 177
HER NEIGHBOR'S LANDMARK 210
A Christmas Accident
AT first the two yards were as much alike as the two houses, each house being the exact copy of the other. They were just two of those little red brick dwellings that one is always seeing side by side in the outskirts of a city, and looking as if the occupants must be alike too. But these two families were quite different. Mr. Gilton, who lived in one, was a pretty cross sort of man, and was quite well-to-do, as cross people sometimes are. He and his wife lived alone, and they did not have much going out and coming in, either. Mrs. Gilton would have liked more of it, but she had given up thinking about it, for her husband had said so many times that it was women's tomfoolery to want to have people, whom you weren't anything to and who weren't anything to you, ringing your doorbell all the time and bothering around in your dining-room,—which of course it was; and she would have believed it if a woman ever did believe anything a man says a great many times.
In the other house there were five children, and, as Mr. Gilton said, they made too large a family, and they ought to have gone somewhere else. Possibly they would have gone had it not been for the fence; but when Mr. Gilton put it up and Mr. Bilton told him it was three inches too far on his land, and Mr. Gilton said he could go to law about it, expressing the idea forcibly, Mr. Bilton was foolish enough to take his advice. The decision went against him, and a good deal of his money went with it, for it was a long, teasing lawsuit, and instead of being three inches of made ground it might have been three degrees of the Arctic Circle for the trouble there was in getting at it. So Mr. Bilton had to stay where he was.
It was then that the yards began to take on those little differences that soon grew to be very marked. Neither family would plant any vines because they would have been certain to heedlessly beautify the other side, and consequently the fence, in all its primitive boldness, stood out uncompromisingly, and the one or two little bits of trees grew carefully on the farther side of the enclosure so as not to be mixed up in the trouble at all. But Mr. Gilton's grass was cut smoothly by the man who made the fires, while Mr. Bilton only found a chance to cut his himself once in two weeks. Then, by and by, Mr. Gilton bought a red garden bench and put it under the tree that was nearest to the fence. No one ever went out and sat on it, to be sure, but to the Bilton children it represented the visible flush of prosperity. Particularly was Cora Cordelia wont to peer through the fence and gaze upon that red bench, thinking it a charming place in which to play house, ignorant of the fact that much of the red paint would have come off on her back. Cora Cordelia was the youngest of the five. All the rest had very simple names,—John, Walter, Fanny, and Susan,—but when it came to Cora Cordelia, luxuries were beginning to get very scarce in the Bilton family, and Mrs. Bilton felt that she must make up for it by being lavish, in one direction or another. She had wished to name Fanny, Cora, and Susan, Cordelia, but she had yielded to her husband, and called one after his mother and one after herself, and then gave both her favorite names to the youngest of all. Cora Cordelia was a pretty little girl, prettier even than both her names put together.
After the red bench came a quicksilver ball, that was put in the middle of the yard and reflected all the glory of its owner, albeit in a somewhat distorted form. This effort of human ingenuity filled the Bilton children with admiration bordering on awe; Cora Cordelia spent hours gazing at it, until called in and reproved by her mother for admiring so much things she could not afford to have. After this, she only admired it covertly.
Small distinctions like these barbed the arrows of contrast and comparison and kept the disadvantages of neighborhood ever present.
Then, it was a constant annoyance to have their surnames so much alike. Matters were made more unpleasant by mistakes of the butcher, the grocer, and so on,—Gilton, 79 Holmes Avenue, was so much like Bilton, 77 Holmes Avenue. Gilton changed his butcher every time he sent his dinner to Bilton; and though the mistakes were generally rectified, neither of the two families ever forgot the time the Biltons ate, positively ate, the Gilton dinner, under a misapprehension. Mrs. Bilton apologized, and Mrs. Gilton boldly told her husband that she was glad they'd had it, and she hoped they'd enjoyed it, which only made matters worse; and altogether it was a dark day, the only joy of it being that fearful one snatched by John, Walter, Susan, Fanny, and Cora Cordelia from the undoubted excellence of the roast.
Of course there was an assortment of minor difficulties. The smoke from the Biltons' kitchen blew in through the windows of the Giltons' sitting-room when the wind was in one direction, and, when it was in the other, many of the clothes from the Giltons' clothesline were blown into the Biltons' yard, and Fanny, Susan, or Cora Cordelia had to be sent out to pick them up and drop them over the fence again, which Mrs. Bilton said was very wearing, as of course it must have been. Things like this were always happening, but matters reached a climax when it came to the dog. It wasn't a large dog, but it was a tiresome one. It got up early in the morning and barked. Now we all know that early rising is a good thing and honorable among all men, but it is something that ought to be done quietly, out of regard to the weaker vessels; and a dog that barks between five and seven in the morning, continuously, certainly ought to be suppressed, even if it be necessary to use force. Everybody agreed with the Biltons about that,—everybody except the Giltons themselves, who, by some one of nature's freaks, didn't mind it. Mrs. Bilton often said she wished Mrs. Gilton could be a light sleeper for a week and see what it was like. So, too, everybody thought that Mr. Bilton had right on his side when he complained that this same dog came into his yard, being apparently indifferent to any coolness between the estate owners, and ran over a bed of geraniums and one thing and another, that was the small Bilton offset to the Gilton bench and ball. But when one morning, for the first time, that dog remained quiet and restful, and was found cold and poisoned, and Mr. Gilton was loud in his accusations of the Bilton boys and their father, public opinion wavered for a moment. After that accident, no member of either family spoke to any member of the other. That was the way matters stood the day before Christmas.
* * * * *
It was snowing hard, and the afternoon grew dark rapidly, and the whirling flakes pursued a blinding career. In spite of that, everybody was out doing the last thing. Mrs. Gilton was not, to be sure. Of course they would have a big dinner, but even that was all arranged for, although the turkey hadn't come and her husband was going to stop and see about it on his way home. She shuddered as the possibility of its having gone to the Biltons occurred to her. But she didn't believe it had,—they hadn't the same butcher any longer. Meanwhile there was so little to do. It was too dark to read or sew, and she sat idly at the window looking out at the passers and the driving snow. Everybody else was in a hurry. She wished she, too, had occasion to hasten down for a last purchase, or to light the lamp in order to finish a last bit of dainty sewing, as she used to do when she was a girl. She seemed to have so few friends now with whom she exchanged Christmas greetings. Was it then only for children and youth, this Christmas cheer? And must she necessarily have left it behind her with her girlhood? No, she knew better than that. She felt that there was a deeper significance in the Christmas-tide than can come home to the hearts of children and unthoughtfulness, and yet it had grown to be so painfully like other days,—an occasion for a little bigger dinner, that was about all. With an unconscious sigh she looked across to the Bilton house. Plenty of people over there to make merry. Five stockings to hang up. She wished she might have sent something in. To be sure, there was the dog, but that was some time ago. Very likely the dog would have been dead now, anyhow. She felt, herself, that this logic was not irrefutable, but she wished she could have sent some paper parcels just the same. So strong had this impulse been that she had said to her husband somewhat timidly that morning,—
"There are a good many of those Bilton children to get presents for."
"More fools they that get 'em presents, then," he had pleasantly replied.
"I don't suppose he has much to buy them with," she continued.
"He had enough to buy poison for my dog," exclaimed her husband, giving his newspaper an angry shake.
"I'd almost like to send them in some cheap little toys."
"Well, as long as you don't quite like to, it won't do any harm," he said with some violence, laying down his newspaper, and looking at her in a manner not to be misunderstood. "But you see that the liking doesn't get any farther."
"It's Christmas, you know," said his plucky wife.
"Oh, no, I don't know it!" he replied gruffly. "I haven't fallen over forty children a minute in the street with their ridiculous parcels, and I haven't had women drop brown-paper bundles that come undone all over me when they crowd into the horse car, and I haven't found it impossible to get to the shirt-collar counter on account of Christmas novelties! Oh, no, I didn't know it was Christmas!"
After that there was really not much to be said, for we all know Christmas is dreadfully annoying, and the last thing a man in this sort of temper wants to hear about is peace and good will.
Notwithstanding the fact that Mrs. Gilton looked over to her neighbors' with an envious feeling this dark afternoon, their Christmas cheer was not so abounding as it had been in more prosperous times. There was not very much money to be spent this year, and they were obliged to give up something. Mr. and Mrs. Bilton had decided that it should be the Christmas dinner; they would have a simple luncheon, and let all the money that could be spared go for the stockings. Each child had its own sum to invest for others, and there was still a small amount for the older members of the family. That it was a small amount Mrs. Bilton felt strongly, as she went from shop to shop. But when she reached home again she was somewhat encouraged; there was such an air of joyous expectation in the house, and her purchases looked larger now that they were away from the glittering counters. Then each of the five children came to her separately and confided to her the nothing less than wonderful results of judicious bargaining which had enabled them to buy useful and beautiful presents for each of the others out of the sums intrusted to their care, ranging in amount from the two dollars of John to the fifty cents of Cora Cordelia. She felt sure that there were further secrets yet; secrets attended by brown paper and string, which she had taken the greatest care for the last two weeks not heedlessly to expose,—riddles of which the solution lay perilously near her eyes, which would be revealed to her astonished gaze the next morning.
She had reason to believe that even Cora Cordelia was making something for her, and though it was difficult for her to ignore the fact that it was a knit washcloth, she had hitherto avoided absolute certainty on the subject. So that altogether it was a pretty cheerful afternoon at the Biltons'.
Meanwhile, down in the main street of the city it was a confusing scene. It was darker there than where the streets were more open; and although there were several daring spirits of that adventurous turn of mind which leads people into byways of discovery, who asserted that the street lamps were lighted, it was not generally believed. The snow was blowing down and up and across, and getting more and more unmanageable under the feet of foot passengers every moment. It was cold and windy and blinding and crowded, and a good many other disconcerting things, all of which Mr. Gilton felt the full force of as he stood on the corner where he had just bought his turkey. It was a fine turkey, and had been a good bargain, and though he had to carry it home himself, there was nothing derogatory in that. If it had been anybody else he would have been thrilled with a glow of satisfaction, but Mr. Gilton was long past glows of satisfaction—it was years since he had permitted himself to have such things.
"Jour—our—nal! fi-i-i-ve cents!" screamed an intermittent newsboy in his ear.
"Get out!" replied Mr. Gilton, the uncompromising nature of his language being intensified by the fact that he jumped nearly two feet from the suddenness of the newsboy's attack. Even the newsboy, inured to the short words of an unfriendly world, and usually quite indifferent thereto, was impressed by the asperity of the suggestion and moved somewhat hastily on. Possibly his cold, wet little existence had been rendered morbidly susceptible by the general good feeling of the hour, one lady having even spontaneously given him five cents.
After this exchange of amenities Mr. Gilton stepped into his horse car. It was crowded, of course, as horse cars that are small and run once in half an hour are apt to be, and he had to stand up, and the turkey legs stuck out of the brown paper in a very conspicuous way. If Mr. Gilton had been anybody else he would have been chaffed about his turkey, because to make up for the conveniences that the horse car line did not furnish the public, the large-hearted public furnished the horse car line with an unusual amount of friendliness. There was almost always something going on in these horse cars. Their social privileges were quite a feature. To-night they were in unusual force on account of the season. But nobody said anything to Mr. Gilton. Only when he jerked the bell and stepped off, one stout man with his overcoat collar turned up to his ears said, without turning his head:—
"I supposed of course he was going to give the turkey to the conductor."
Everybody laughed in that end of the car except one small old lady in the corner, who was a stranger and visiting, and who was left with the impression that the gentleman who got off must be a very kind man. It was darker and blowier and snowier than when he had left the corner, and Mr. Gilton floundered through the unbroken drifts up the little path to the door with increasing grudges in his heart against the difficulties of Christmas. The lock was off, and he went in slamming the door after him. There was no light in the hall, and he murmured loudly against the inconvenience.
"Confound it!" he said, "why didn't they light the gas? I'm not one of those confounded Biltons; I can afford to pay for what I don't get;" and, without pausing to take off his hat and coat, he strode to the sitting-room door and flung it open. That was an awful moment. The sudden change from the cold and darkness almost blinded him, and confirmed the impression that he was the victim of an illusion. The sound of many voices, and then the hush of sudden consternation, was in his ears. There was a lamp and there was a fire, and there between them sat Mr. Bilton on one side and Mrs. Bilton on the other, and round about, in various unconventional attitudes, sat four Bilton children. And there in the very midst of them, in his heavy overcoat, with snow melting on his hat, his beard, and his shoulders, stood Mr. Gilton. The unexpected scene, the amazed faces gazing into his, rendered him speechless; he wondered vaguely if he were losing his reason. Then, in a flush of enlightenment, he realized what had happened; thanks to the storm outside, he had come into the wrong house. Naturally his first impulse was towards flight, but as his bewildered gaze slipped about the room it fell upon five stockings hung against the mantelpiece, and stayed there fascinated. Five foolish, limp, expressionless stockings,—it was long since he had seen such an unreasonable spectacle. Then he recollected himself and looked around him. Perhaps even then, if he had made a dash for the door, he might have escaped and matters have been none the worse. But in that instant of hesitation caused by the sudden sight of those five stockings something dreadful occurred. It must be premised that Cora Cordelia did not know Mr. Gilton very well by sight, being in the first place small and not noticing, and in the second, filled with an unreasoning fear that caused her to flee whenever she had seen him approach. This is the only excuse for what she did; for while her mother was feebly murmuring, as if in extenuation, "We thought it was John coming in," Cora Cordelia clasped her hands in delirious delight, and cried aloud, "It's Santa Claus! Oh, it's Santa Claus!" Could anything more awful happen to a cross man, a very cross man, than to be taken for Santa Claus!
Mr. Gilton looked at Cora Cordelia, and wondered why she had not been slaughtered in her cradle.
"And," exclaimed Susan Bilton, with sudden communicative fervor, "he has come and brought us a turkey for to-morrow's dinner!"
The truth was that Susan had been coming to the age that is sceptical about Santa Claus, but she could not resist this sudden appearance.
No one could appreciate the nonsense of the whole situation better than Mr. Gilton; and yet, strangely enough, together with his annoyance was mingled a touch of the strange feeling that had dawned upon him first when he saw the stockings. To be sure, it only added to his annoyance, but it was there. By this time—it was really a very short time—Mrs. Bilton had recovered herself and risen, and Mr. Bilton had risen too.
"Hush, children; it is not Santa Claus," she said, "it is Mr. Gilton. We are glad to see you, Mr. Gilton;" and she held out her hand to him. "Won't you sit down?" She felt that he had come in the Christmas spirit, and she was anxious to meet him half-way.
"Yes," said her husband, coming forward, and instantly taking his cue from his wife,—for he was really a very nice man,—"we are very glad." To be sure, in his manner there was a certain stiffness, for a man cannot always change completely in a moment, as a woman can; but Mr. Gilton was too perplexed to notice this. In the incomprehensible way that one's mind has of clinging to unimportant things at great crises, while he was fuming with rage and bothered with this strange feeling which was not precisely rage, he was wondering how in the world he was going to sit down with that ridiculous turkey, with its ridiculous legs, in his arms, and not look more absurd than he did now. In this moment of absentmindedness he had mechanically taken Mrs. Bilton's hand and shaken it, and after that of course there was nothing to do except to shake Mr. Bilton's. Then he began to know it was all up. He had not spoken yet, but now he made a frantic effort to save what might be left besides honor. "I came—" he began, "I came—came to your house—" There he paused a moment, and that unlucky child with that tendency to be possessed by one idea, which is characteristic of small and trivial minds, and for which she should have been shaken, burst in with, "And did the reindeer bring you, and are they outside?"
He almost groaned, so overwhelmed was he by this new idiocy. Reindeer! If those overworked, struggling car-horses could have heard that! Then Mrs. Bilton, pitying his evident confusion, came to his assistance.
"Don't mind the children, Mr. Gilton," she said, her cheeks flushing, and looking very pretty with the excitement of the unusual circumstances, "we are glad you came, however you made your way here. I think we may thank Christmas Eve for it. Now do take off your overcoat and sit down."
Oh, mispraised woman's tact! What complications you may produce! That finished it, of course. He sat down. In those few moments that strange feeling had grown marvellously stronger. It seemed to be made up of the most diverse elements,—a mixture of green wreaths and his own childhood, and his mother, and a top he had not thought of for years, and the wide fireplace at home, and a stable with a child in it, and a picture, in a book he used to read, of a lot of angels in the sky, one particular one in the middle, and underneath it some words—what were the words? He'd forgotten they had anything to do with Christmas, anyway.
"But you did bring us the turkey, didn't you?" said Cora Cordelia, helping her mother on.
To do the child justice,—for even Cora Cordelia has a right to demand justice,—her manners were corrupted by Christmas expectancy.
"Cora Cordelia, I'm ashamed of you," said Mrs. Bilton.
"Yes," said Mr. Gilton, the words wrung from his lips, while beads stood on his forehead,—"yes, I brought you the turkey."
"Did you really?" exclaimed Mrs. Bilton, who thought he had all the time. "That was very kind of you."
"Will you please take it—take it away?" he said, with that wish to have something over which we associate with the dentist. So Mrs. Bilton took the turkey and thanked him, and gave it to Fanny, who carried it out to the kitchen, and Mr. Gilton gave one last look at its legs as it went through the door, feeling that now he must wake up from this nightmare. But things only went farther and became more incredible and upsetting, only that, strangely enough, that feeling of horror began to wear off, and that singular strain of association with all sorts of Christmas things to grow stronger. He himself could hardly believe that it was no worse, when he found himself seated by the littered table, with Mrs. Bilton near and Mr. Bilton over by the fire again, listening to first one and then the other, and occasionally letting fall a word himself, his conversational powers seeming to thaw out along with the snow on his greatcoat. These words themselves were a surprise to him. He was quite sure that he started them with a creditable gruffness, but the Christmas air mellowed them in a highly unsatisfactory fashion, so that they fell on his own ears quite otherwise than as he had meant they should sound. Moreover the general tenor of the conversation was exceedingly perplexing. It was all about how fine it was of him to come this evening, and how they had often regretted the hard feeling, and how things always did get exaggerated. Of course he would not have believed a word of it, if he had been able to get any grip on the situation, but he wasn't, and he just went on assenting to it all as if it were true. There came a time when Mr. Bilton cleared his throat, hesitated a moment, and then said boldly,—
"I think I ought to tell you, Mr. Gilton, that I had nothing whatever to do with the death of your dog." Mr. Gilton felt the ground slipping away from under his very feet. That dog had been his piece of resistance, as it were. "I wouldn't have poisoned him," went on Mr. Bilton, "for a hundred dollars. But," he added, with a queer little smile, "I wasn't going to tell you so, you know."
"Of course you wasn't," exclaimed Mr. Gilton, hurriedly, with a touch of that unholy excitement that a lapse from grammar imparts.
"We wouldn't any of us," asserted Walter.
"No," said Susan, Fanny, and Cora Cordelia.
Then it came out that the whole family had rather admired the dog than otherwise. It was here that John did really come in, his entrance sounding very much as had Mr. Gilton's. He nearly fell over when he saw the visitor, but he had time to pull himself together, for Cora Cordelia had snatched that moment for showing Mr. Gilton her gifts for the family, and he was bound hand and foot with helplessness. Then they all came and showed him their gifts. While he examined them Mr. and Mrs. Bilton carefully averted their eyes and gazed hard at the opposite wall, while Cora Cordelia urged him, in stage whispers, not to let them suspect. It was pitiable the state to which he was reduced. Of course resisting this Christmas enthusiasm was out of the question. To be sure it came over him once with startling force, as she showed him a toy water-wheel, that went by sand,—which she had purchased for her father at a phenomenally low rate because the wheel could not be made to go,—that Cora Cordelia was the very child that he had fallen over as she came hastening out of a toy-shop with a queerly shaped bundle, the day before, and so been further imbittered towards Christmas. Susan had purchased a cup and ball for her mother, and as she went out of the room for a moment, insisted upon Mr. Gilton's trying to do it and see what fun it was. If Mr. Gilton lives to be a hundred he will never forget the mingled feelings with which he awkwardly tried to get that senseless ball into that idiotic cup. At last he stood up to go—it was after six o'clock—and they went with him to the door, and wished him Merry Christmas, and sent Merry Christmas to Mrs. Gilton, and said good-night several times, and he stumbled on through the snow, this time towards his own door. It had stopped snowing as suddenly and quietly as it had begun, and the stars had come out. He gazed up at them,—something he very rarely did. They seemed a part of Christmas. Just before he turned in at his own gate, he looked back at the Bilton house and shook his fist at it, but the expression on his face was such that the very same newsboy who had accosted him earlier failed utterly to recognize him and was emboldened to offer him a paper. He too was pushing his way home with two papers left, in a somewhat dispirited way.
"I'll take 'em both," said this singular customer. "Here's a quarter—never mind the change. It's Christmas Eve, I believe—" and this when he knew perfectly well that a copy of that very same journal was waiting for him on his table. The boy looked at his quarter and looked again at his customer, and recognized him, and made up his mind to buy a couple of hot sausages on the corner, and went on his way feeling that there was a new heaven and a new earth. Mrs. Gilton was standing at the parlor window, peering out anxiously as he came up the path. She was in the hall as he entered.
"Why, Reuben," she said, "I was afraid something had happened."
Goodness gracious! As if something hadn't happened! He turned away to hang up his overcoat and tried to speak crossly.
"Well," he said, "I've lost my turkey. That's happened."
"Never mind," said Mrs. Gilton, quickly; "the other one came later, the first one, you know—so—so the Biltons didn't get it this time."
"They got the second one, though," said Reuben, hanging up his hat.
"Oh, dear, did they!" said Mrs. Gilton. Then she went on, "Well, I don't care if they did, so there! I guess they need it for their Christmas dinner."
"No, they don't," said Reuben, turning around and facing her, "because they are going to eat part of ours. They are coming in to-morrow to have dinner with us,—every one of them!" he asserted more loudly, on account of the expression on his wife's face. "Bilton, and his wife, and all the five children, down to Cora Cordelia! So we'll have to have something for them to eat."
If Mr. Gilton will never forget the cup and ball, Mrs. Gilton will never forget that moment. She went all over it in her mind whether she could manage him herself to-night, or whether to send Bridget right away then for the doctor, and if she hadn't better say a policeman too, and whether he could be kept for the future in a private house, or would have to be confined in an asylum. She was inclining towards the asylum when he, who was going into the sitting-room before her, turned round and laughed an odd little laugh. She began to think then that a private house would do.
The next day they all dined together, which proved that it was not all a Christmas Eve illusion. There is a report in the neighborhood that the fence between the houses is to be taken down to make room for a tennis court for the Bilton children, but of course this may not be true. It would have to be done in the summer, and if the effect of Christmas could be depended upon to last into the summer this would be a very different sort of world.
THE sombre tints of Grayhead were slightly suffused by a pink light sifting from the west through the clear air. The yachts in the harbor lay idly beneath the mellow influences of the passing of the summer day,—idly as only sailboats can lie, a bit of loose sail or cordage now and then flapping inconsistently in a breath of wind, which seemed to come out of the west for no other purpose, and to retire into the east afterward, its whole duty done. On board, men were moving about, hanging lanterns, making taut here, setting free there, all with an air of utter peace and repose such as is found only on placid waterways beneath a setting sun. Occasionally an oar dipped in the still water, a hint of action, modified, softened into repose. Along one of the quaint streets of the irregular town, winding where it would, climbing where it climbed, hurried an angular figure,—that of a woman of about fifty years, whose tense expression suggested an unrest at variance with the keen calmness of that of the other faces about the streets and doorways. Not that it was feverish in its intensity; rather, it was an expression of resolution, undeviating and persistent, but not sure of sympathy or support.
"They've gone down yonder, t'other side of the wharf, Mis' Pember," said a middle-aged sea captain, whose interest in his kind had not been obliterated by the forced loneliness of northern voyages.
The woman paused and glanced doubtfully down one of the byways that led between small, weather-beaten houses and around disconcerting abutments to the water, and then forward, straight along the way she had been travelling, which led out of the town.
"I'd rather fixed on their going down Point-ways this evening," she said.
"Well, they ain't," rejoined Captain Phippeny, with that absence of mere rhetoric characteristic of people whose solid work is done otherwise than by speech.
Mrs. Pember nodded, at once in acknowledgment and farewell, and, turning about, followed the path he had indicated, her gait acquiring a certain precipitancy as she went down the rough, stony slope. At the foot of the descent she paused again, and looked to the right and left. Captain Phippeny was watching her from his vantage ground above. His figure was one unmistakably of the seaboard. His trousers were of a singular cut, probably after a pattern evolved in all its originality by Mrs. Phippeny, her active imagination working towards practical effect. In addition, he wore a yellow flannel shirt ribbed with purple, which would hopelessly have jaundiced a rose-leaf complexion, but which, having exhausted its malignancy without producing any particular effect, ended by gently harmonizing with the captain's sandy hair, reddish beard, and tanned skin. His mouth was like a badly made buttonhole, which gaped a little when he smiled. He had a nose like a parrot's beak, and his eyes were blue, kindly, and wise in their straightforwardness. When he would render his costume absolutely de rigueur, he wore a leathern jacket with manifold pockets, from one to another of which trailed a gold watch-chain with a dangling horseshoe charm.
"I wonder the old woman don't take a dog with her and trace 'em out, she spends so much time on the hunt," he said to himself. "I declare for't, it's a sing'lar thing the way she everlastin' does get onto them 'prentices; ain't old enough to talk about settin' sail by themselves."
His quid of tobacco again resumed its claim to his undivided attention, and he leaned back against the fence and waited as idly as the drooping sails for a breath of something stirring. By and by it appeared in the shape of another old sailor, between whom and himself there was the likeness of two peas, save for a slight discrepancy of feature useful for purposes of identification.
"You told her where they'd gone, I reckon," he remarked, with a slight chuckle, as he too leaned up against the fence and looked out over the harbor.
"Yes, I did," replied Captain Phippeny. "I didn't have no call to tell her a lie."
"Kinder hard on the young uns," observed the new-comer.
"They ain't ever anythin' as hard on the young uns as on the old uns," asserted Captain Phippeny, "because—well, because they're young, I guess. That's Chivy's yacht that came in just at sundown, ain't it?"
"Yare. They say she's seen dirty weather since she was here last."
"Has? Well, you can't stay in harbor allers, and git your livin' at the same time. She's got toler'ble good men to handle her."
There was a pause. The soft twilight was battening down the hatches of the day, to drop into the parlance of the locality.
"Well, I do suppose old Pember warn't an easy shipmate, blow or no blow," observed Captain Smart. He was a small, keen-eyed, quickly moving old man, seasoned with salt.
"I reckon he warn't. And she thinks she can keep that girl of hers out of the same kind of discipline that she had to take,—that's the truth of it."
"Cur'ous, ain't it?" ruminated Captain Smart. "A woman's bound to take it one way or 'nother; there seems to be more sorts of belayin' pins to knock 'em over with than they, any on 'em, kinder cal'late on at first."
"So there be," assented Captain Phippeny.
Near the water, with its fading, rose-colored reflections, not so far from the anchored vessels but they might, had they chosen, have spoken across to those on board, the monotonous, austere, and yet vaguely soft gray of the old town rising behind them against the melting sky, sat Mellony Pember and Ira Baldwin.
"If you'd only make up your mind, Mellony," urged the young man.
"I can't, Ira; don't ask me." The young girl's face, which was delicate in outline, was troubled, and the sensitive curves of her lips trembled. The faded blue of her dress harmonized with the soft tones of the scene; her hat lay beside her, an uncurled, articulated ostrich feather standing up in it like an exclamation point of brilliant red.
The young man pulled his hat over his eyes and looked over to the nearest boat. Mellony glanced at him timidly.
"You see, I'm all she's got," she said.
"I ain't goin' to take you away from her, unless you want to go," he replied, without looking at her.
"She thinks I'll be happier if I don't—if I don't marry."
"Happier!"—he paused in scorn—"and she badgerin' you all the time if you take a walk with me, and watchin' us as if we were thieves! You ain't happy now, are you?"
"No." Mellony's eyes filled, and a sigh caught and became almost a sob.
"Well, I wish she'd give me a try at makin' you happy, that's all." His would-be sulkiness softened into a tender sense of injury. Mellony twisted her hands together, and looked over beyond the vessels to the long, narrow neck of land with its clustering houses, beyond which again, unseen, were booming the waves of the Atlantic.
"Oh, if I only knew what to do!" she exclaimed,—"if I only knew what to do!"
"I'll tell you what to do, Mellony," he began.
"There's ma, now," she interrupted.
Ira turned quickly and looked over his shoulder. Across the uneven ground, straight towards them, came the figure of Mrs. Pember. The tenseness of her expression had further yielded to resolution, which had in turn taken on a stolidity which declared itself unassailable. No one of the three spoke as she seated herself on a bit of timber near them, and, folding her hands, waited with the immobility and the apparent impartiality of Fate itself. At last Mellony spoke, for of the three she was the most acutely sensitive to the situation, and the least capable of enduring it silently.
"Which way did you come, ma?" she asked.
"I come down Rosaly's Lane," Mrs. Pember answered. "I met Cap'n Phippeny, and he told me you was down here."
"I'm obligated to Cap'n Phippeny," observed Ira, bitterly.
"I dono as he's partickler to have you," remarked Mrs. Pember, imperturbably.
There was another silence. Mrs. Pember's voice had a marked sweetness when she spoke to her daughter, which it lost entirely when she addressed her daughter's companion, but always it was penetrated by the timbre of a certain inflexibility.
The shadows grew deeper on the water, the glow-worms of lanterns glimmered more sharply, and the softness of the night grew more palpable.
"I guess I may as well go back, ma," said Mellony, rising.
"I was wonderin' when you cal'lated on going," remarked her mother, as she rose too, more slowly and stiffly, and straightened her decent black bonnet.
"I suppose you was afraid Mellony wouldn't get back safe without you came after her," broke out Ira.
"I guess I can look after Mellony better than anybody else can, and I count on doing it, and doing it right along," she replied.
"Come, ma," said Mellony, impatiently; but she waited a moment and let her mother pass her, while she looked back at Ira, who stood, angry and helpless, kicking at the rusted timbers.
"Are you coming, too, Ira?" she asked in a low voice.
"No," he exclaimed, "I ain't coming! I don't want to go along back with your mother and you, as if we weren't old enough to be out by ourselves. I might as well be handcuffed, and so might you! If you'll come round with me the way we came, and let her go the way she came, I'll go with you fast enough."
Mellony's eyes grew wet again, as she looked from him to her mother, and again at him. Mrs. Pember had paused, also, and stood a little in advance of them. Her stolidity showed no anxiety; she was too sure of the result.
"No,"—Mellony's lips framed the words with an accustomed but grievous patience,—"I can't to-night, Ira; I must go with ma."
"It's to-night that'll be the last chance there'll be, maybe," he muttered, as he flung himself off in the other direction.
The two women walked together up the rough ascent, and turned into Rosaly's Lane. Mellony walked wearily, her eyes down, the red feather, in its uncurled, unlovely assertiveness, looking more like the oriflamme of a forlorn hope than ever. But Mrs. Pember held herself erect, and as if she were obliged carefully to repress what might have been the signs of an ill-judged triumph.
Ira prolonged his walk beyond the limits of the little gray town, goaded by the irritating pricks of resentment. He would bear it no longer, so he told himself. Mellony could take him or leave him. He would be a laughing-stock not another week, not another day. If Mellony would not assert herself against her tyrannical old mother, he would go away and leave her! And then he paused, as he had paused so often in the flood of his anger, faced by the realization that this was just what Mrs. Pember wanted, just what would satisfy her, what she had been waiting for,—that he should go away and leave Mellony alone. It was an exasperating dilemma, his abdication and her triumph, or his uncertainty and her anxiety.
Mellony and her mother passed Captain Phippeny and Captain Smart, who still stood talking in the summer evening, the fence continuing to supply all the support their stalwart frames needed in this their hour of ease. Captain Smart nudged Captain Phippeny as the two figures turned the corner of Rosaly's Lane.
"So you found 'em, Mis' Pember," remarked Captain Phippeny. He spoke to the mother, but he looked, not without sympathy at the daughter.
"Yes, I found 'em."
"You reckoned on fetchin' only one of 'em home, I take it," said Captain Smart.
"I ain't responsible but for one of 'em," replied Mrs. Pember with some grimness, but with her eyes averted from Mellony's crimsoning face.
"Come, ma," said Mellony again, and they passed on.
"Mis' Pember is likely enough lookin' woman herself," observed Captain Smart; "it's kind of cur'ous she should be so set agen marryin,' just as marryin'."
"'Tis so," assented Captain Phippeny, thoughtfully, looking after the two women.
Without speaking, Mellony and her mother entered the little house where they lived, and the young girl sank down in the stiff, high-backed rocker, with its thin calico-covered cushion tied with red braid, that stood by the window. Outside, the summer night buzzed and hummed, and breathed sweet odors. Mrs. Pember moved about the room, slightly altering its arrangements, now and then looking at her daughter half furtively, as if waiting for her to speak; but Mellony's head was not turned from the open window, and she was utterly silent. At last this immobility had a sympathetic effect upon the mother, and she seated herself not far from the girl, her hands, with their prominent knuckles and shrunken flesh, folded in unaccustomed idleness, and waited, while in the room dusk grew to dark. To Mellony the hour was filled with suggestions that emphasized and defined her misery. In her not turbulent or passionate nature, the acme of its capacity for emotional suffering had been reached. Hitherto this suffering had been of the perplexed, patient, submissive kind; to-night, the beauty of the softly descending gloom, the gentle freedom of the placid harbor, the revolt of her usually yielding lover, deepened it into something more acute.
"Mellony," said her mother, with a touch of that timidity which appeared only in her speech with her daughter, "did you count on going over to the Neck to-morrow, as you promised?"
"I'll never count on doing anything again," said Mellony, in a voice she tried to make cold and even, but which vibrated notwithstanding,—"never, so long as I live. I'll never think, or plan, or—or speak, if I can help it—of what I mean to do. I'll never do anything but just work and shut my eyes and—and live, if I've got to!" Her voice broke, and she turned her head away from the open window and looked straight before her into the shadowed room. Her mother moved uneasily, and her knotted hands grasped the arms of the stiff chair in which she sat.
"Mellony," she said again, "you've no call to talk so."
"I've no call to talk at all. I've no place anywhere. I'm not anybody. I haven't any life of my own." The keen brutality of the thoughtlessness of youth, and its ignoring of all claims but those of its own happiness, came oddly from the lips of submissive Mellony. Mrs. Pember quivered under it.
"You know you're my girl, Mellony," she answered gently. "You're all I've got."
"Yes," the other answered indifferently, "that's all I am,—Mellony Pember, Mrs. Pember's girl,—just that."
"Ain't that enough? Ain't that something to be,—all I plan for and work for? Ain't that enough for a girl to be?"
Mellony turned her eyes from emptiness, and fixed them upon her mother's face, dimly outlined in the vagueness.
"Is that all you've been," she asked, "just somebody's daughter?"
It was as if a heavy weight fell from her lips and settled upon her mother's heart. There was a silence. Mellony's eyes, though she could not see them, seemed to Mrs. Pember to demand an answer in an imperative fashion unlike their usual mildness.
"It's because I've been,—it's because I'd save you from what I have been that I—do as I do. You know that," she said.
"I don't want to be saved," returned the other, quickly and sharply.
The older woman was faced by a situation she had never dreamed of,—a demand to be allowed to suffer! The guardian had not expected this from her carefully shielded charge.
"I want you to have a happy life," she added.
"A happy life!" flashed the girl. "And you're keeping me from any life at all! That's what I want,—life, my own life, not what anybody else gives me of theirs. Why shouldn't I have what they have, even if it's bad now and then? Don't save me in spite of myself! Nobody likes to be saved in spite of themselves."
It was a long speech for Mellony. A large moon had risen, and from the low horizon sent golden shafts of light almost into the room; it was as if the placidity of the night were suddenly penetrated by something more glowing. Mellony stood looking down at her mother, like a judge. Mrs. Pember gazed at her steadily.
"I'm going to save you, Mellony," she said, her indomitable will making her voice harsher than it had been, "whether you want to be saved or not. I'm not going to have you marry, and be sworn at and cuffed." Mellony moved to protest, but her strength was futility beside her mother's at a time like this. "I'm not going to have you slave and grub, and get blows for your pains. I'm going to follow you about and set wherever you be, whenever you go off with Ira Baldwin, if that'll stop it; and if that won't, I'll try some other way,—I know other ways. I'm not going to have you marry! I'm going to have you stay along with me!"
With a slight gesture of despair, Mellony turned away. The flash had burned itself out. The stronger nature had reasserted itself. Silently, feeling her helplessness, frightened at her own rebellion now that it was over, she went out of the room to her own smaller one, and closed the door.
Mrs. Pember sat silent in her turn, reviewing her daughter's resentment, but the matter admitted no modifications in her mind; her duty was clear, and her determination had been taken long ago. Neither did she fear anything like persistent opposition; she knew her daughter's submissive nature well.
Brought up in a country village, an earnest and somewhat apprehensive member of the church, Mrs. Pember had married the captain early in life, under what she had since grown to consider a systematic illusion conceived and maintained by the Evil One, but which was, perhaps, more logically due to the disconcerting good looks and decorously restrained impetuosity of Captain Pember himself. Possibly he had been the victim of an illusion too, not believing that austerity of principle could exist with such bright eyes and red cheeks as charmed him in the country girl. At least, he never hesitated subsequently, not only to imply, but to state baldly, a sense of the existence of injury. Captain Phippeny was one of those sailors whom the change of scene, the wide knowledge of men and of things, the hardships and dangers of a sea life, broaden and render tolerant and somewhat wise. Pember had been brutalized by these same things.
The inhabitants of Grayhead were distinguished by the breadth and suggestiveness of their profanity, and Captain Pember had been a past master of the accomplishment. Praise from Sir Hubert Stanley could have been no more discriminating than the local acknowledgment of his proficiency in this line. No wonder Mrs. Pember looked back at the ten years of her married life with a shudder. With the rigid training of her somewhat dogmatic communion still potent, she listened in a horrified expectancy, rather actual than figurative, for the heavens to strike or the earth to swallow up her nonchalant husband. Nor was this all. The weakness for grog, unfortunately supposed to be inherent in a nautical existence, was carried by Captain Pember to an extent inconsiderate even in the eyes of a seafaring public; and when, under its genial influence, he knocked his wife down and tormented Mellony, the opinion of this same public declared itself on the side of the victims with a unanimity which is not always to be counted upon in such cases.
In fact, her married life had, as it were, formalized many hitherto somewhat vague details of Mrs. Pember's conception of the place of future punishment; and when her husband died in an appropriate and indecorous fashion as the result of a brawl, he continued to mitigate the relief of the event by leaving in his wife's heart a haunting fear, begotten of New England conscientiousness, that perhaps she ought not to be so unmistakably glad of it. It was thus that, with Mellony's growth from childhood to womanhood, the burning regret for her former unmarried state, whose difficulties had been mainly theological, had become a no less burning resolve that her child should never suffer as she had suffered, but should be guarded from matrimony as from death. That she failed to distinguish between individuals, that she failed to see that young Baldwin was destitute of those traits which her sharpened vision would now have detected in Pember's youth, was both the fault of her perceptive qualities and the fruit of her impregnable resolve. She had been hurt by Mellony's rebellion, but not influenced by so much as a hair's-breadth.
Early one morning, two or three days later, Mrs. Pember, lying awake waiting for the light to grow brighter that she might begin her day, heard a slight sound outside, of a certain incisiveness out of proportion to its volume. With an idleness that visited her only at early day-break, she wondered what it was. It was repeated, and this time, moved by an insistent curiosity blended with the recognition of its probable cause, she rose and looked out of the window which was close to the head of her bed. A little pier was a stone's throw from the house on that side, at which were moored several boats belonging to the fishermen about. It was as she thought; a stooping figure, dim and hazy in the morning fog, which blurred the nearest outlines and veiled the more distant, was untying one of the boats, and had slipped the oars into the rowlocks.
"Going fishing early," she said to herself. "I wonder which of 'em it is. They are all alike in this light."
Then she stood and looked out upon the morning world. It would soon be sunrise. Meanwhile, the earth was silent, save for the soft rippling of the untired waves that scarcely rose and fell in this sheltered harbor; the land had been at rest through the short night, but they had climbed and lapsed again steadily through its hours; the paling stars would soon have faded into the haze. The expectation of the creature waited for the manifestation.
Softly the boat floated away from its moorings. It seemed propelled without effort, so quietly it slipped through the water. In the bottom lay the sail and the nets, a shadowy mass; the boat itself was little more than a shadow, as it glided on into the thicker fog which received and enveloped it, as into an unknown vague future which concealed and yet held promise and welcome.
Mrs. Pember glanced at the clock. It was very early, but to go back to bed was hardly worth while. The sun was already beginning to glint through the fog. She dressed, and, passing softly the door of the room where Mellony slept,—rather fitfully of late,—began to make the fire.
The morning broadened and blazed into the day, and the whole town was making ready for its breakfast. Mellony was later than usual,—her mother did not hear her moving about, even; but she was unwilling to disturb her; she would wait a while longer before calling her. At last, however, the conviction of the immorality of late rising could no longer be ignored, and she turned the knob of Mellony's door and stepped into the room.
She had been mistaken in supposing that Mellony was asleep; the girl must have risen early and slipped out, for the room was empty, and Mrs. Pember paused, surprised that she had not heard her go. It must have been while she was getting kindling-wood in the yard that Mellony had left by the street door. And what could she have wanted so early in the village?—for to the village she must have gone; she was nowhere about the little place, whose flatness dropped, treeless, to the shore. Her mother went again to the kitchen, and glanced up and down the waterside. There was no one on the little wooden pier, and the boats swung gently by its side, their own among them, so Mellony had not gone out in that. Yes, she must have gone to the village, and Mrs. Pember opened the front door and scanned the wandering little street. It was almost empty; the early morning activity of the place was in other directions.
With the vague uneasiness that unaccustomed and unexplained absence always produces, but with no actual apprehension, Mrs. Pember went back to her work. Mellony had certain mild whims of her own, but it was surprising that she should have left her room in disorder, the bed unmade; that was not like her studious neatness. With a certain grimness Mrs. Pember ate her breakfast alone. Of course no harm had come to Mellony, but where was she? Unacknowledged, the shadow of Ira Baldwin fell across her wonder. Had Mellony cared so much for him that her disappointment had driven her to something wild and fatal? She did not ask the question, but her lips grew white and stiff at the faintest suggestion of it. Several times she went to the door, meaning to go out, and up the street to look for her daughter, but each time something withheld her. Instead, with that determination that distinguished her, she busied herself with trifling duties. It was quite nine o'clock when she saw Captain Phippeny coming up the street. She stood still and watched him approach. His gait was more rolling than ever, as he came slowly towards her, and he glanced furtively ahead at her house, and then dropped his eyes and pretended not to have seen her. She grew impatient to have him reach her, but she only pressed her lips together and stood the more rigidly still. At last he stood in front of her doorstone, his hat in his hand. The yellow shirt and the leathern jacket were more succinctly audacious than ever, but doubt and irresolution in every turn of his blue eyes and line of his weather-beaten face had taken the place of the tolerant kindliness.
"It's a warm mornin', Mis' Pember," he observed, more disconcerted than ever by her unsmiling alertness.
"You came a good ways to tell me that, Captain Phippeny."
"Yes, I did. Leastways I didn't," he responded. "I come to tell you about—about Mellony."
"What about Mellony, Captain Phippeny?" she demanded, pale, but uncompromising. "What have you got to tell me about Mellony Pember?" she reiterated as he paused.
"Not Mellony Pember," gasped the captain, a three-cornered smile trying to make headway against his embarrassment as he recalled the ancient tale of breaking the news to the Widow Smith; "Mellony Baldwin."
"Mellony Baldwin!" repeated Mrs. Pember, stonily, not yet fully comprehending.
The captain grew more and more nervous.
"Yes," he proceeded, with the haste of despair, "yes. Mis' Pember, you see Mellony—Mellony's married."
"Mellony married!" Strangely enough she had not thought of that. She grasped the doorpost for support.
"Yes, she up and married him," went on the captain more blithely. "I hardly thought it of Mellony," he added in not unpleasurable reflection, "nor yet of Ira."
"Nor I either." Mrs. Pember's lips moved with difficulty. Mellony married! The structure reared with tears and prayers, the structure of Mellony's happiness, seemed to crumble before her eyes.
"And I was to give you this;" and from the lining of his hat the captain drew forth a folded paper.
"Then you knew about it?" said Mrs. Pember, in a flash of cold wrath.
"No, no, I didn't. My daughter's boy brought this to me, and I was to tell you they was married. And why they set the job onto me the Lord he only knows!" and Captain Phippeny wiped his heated forehead with feeling; "but that's all I know."
Slowly, her fingers trembling, she unfolded the note.
"I have married Ira, mother," she read. "He took me away in a boat early this morning. It was the only way. I will come back when you want me. If I am to be unhappy, I'd rather be unhappy this way. I can't be unhappy your way any longer. I'm sorry to go against you, mother; but it's my life, after all, not yours, MELLONY."
As Mrs. Pember's hands fell to her side and the note slipped from her fingers, the daily tragedy of her married life seemed to pass before her eyes. She saw Captain Pember reel into the house, she shuddered at his blasphemy, she felt the sting of the first blow he had given her, she cowered as he roughly shook Mellony's little frame by her childish arm.
"She'd better be dead!" she murmured. "I wish she was dead."
Captain Phippeny pulled himself together. "No, she hadn't,—no, you don't, Mis' Pember," he declared stoutly. "You're making a mistake. You don't want to see Mellony dead any more'n I do. She's only got married, when all's said and done, and there's a sight of folks gets married and none the worse for it. Ira Baldwin ain't any great shakes,—I dono as he is; he's kinder light complected and soft spoken,—but he ain't a born fool, and that's a good deal, Mis' Pember." He paused impressively, but she did not speak. "And he ain't goin' to beat Mellony, either; he ain't that sort. I guess Mellony could tackle him, if it came to that, anyhow. I tell you, Mis' Pember, there's one thing you don't take no reckonin' on,—there's a difference in husbands, there's a ter'ble difference in 'em!" Mrs. Pember looked at him vaguely. Why did he go on talking? Mellony was married. "Mellony's got one kind, and you—well," he went on, with cautious delicacy, "somehow you got another. I tell you it's husbands as makes the difference to a woman when it comes to marryin'."
Mrs. Pember stooped, picked up the note, turned and walked into the living-room and sat down. She looked about her with that sense of unreality that visits us at times. There was the chair in which Mellony sat the night of her rebellious outbreak,—Mellony, her daughter, her married daughter. Other women talked about their "married daughters" easily enough, and she had pitied them; now she would have to talk so, too. She felt unutterably lonely. Her household, like her hope, was shattered. She looked up and saw that Captain Phippeny had followed her in and was standing before her, turning his hat in his brown, tattooed hands.
"Mis' Pember," he said, "I thought, mebbe, now Mellony was married, you'd be thinkin' of matrimony yourself agen." As Mrs. Pember gazed at him dumbly it seemed as if she must all at once have become another person. Matrimony had suddenly become domesticated, as it were. Her eyes travelled over the horseshoe charm and the long gold chain, as she listened, and from pocket to pocket. "And so I wanted to say that I'd like to have you think of me, if you was making out the papers for another v'yage. The first mate I sailed with, she says to me when she died, 'You've been a good husband, Phippeny,' says she. I wouldn't say anythin' to you, I wouldn't take the resk, if she hadn't said that to me. Mis' Pember, and I'm tellin' it to you now because there's such a difference; and I feel kinder encouraged by it to ask you to try me. I'd like to have you marry me, Mis' Pember."
It was a long speech, and the captain was near to suffocation when it was finished, but he watched her with anxious keenness as he waited for her to reply. The stern lines of her mouth relaxed slowly. A brilliant red geranium in the window glowed in the sunlight which had just reached it. The world was not all dark. The room seemed less lonely with the captain in it, as she glanced around it a second time. She scanned his face: the buttonhole of a mouth had a kindly twist; he did not look in the least like handsome Dick Pember. Mellony had married, and her world was in fragments, and something must come after.
"I never heard as you weren't a good husband to Mis' Phippeny," she said calmly, "and I dono as anybody'll make any objection if I marry you, Captain Phippeny."
Memoir of Mary Twining
THE other day I spent several hours in looking over a lot of dusty volumes which had fallen to me in the way of inheritance. In the somewhat heterogeneous collection I came upon a brief memoir which, after a glance within, I laid aside as worthy, at least, of perusal. The other books were of little value of any sort—an orthodox commentary, an odd volume of a county history, one or two cook-books, a worn and broken set of certain standard British authors,—the usual assortment to be found in a country farmhouse, whose occupants soon ceased to keep up with the times. But this little book seemed to me unusual,—an opinion subsequently confirmed by examination. I had long ago discovered the fallacy of that tradition of early youth that a memoir is, of necessity, dull, and I was in nowise unfavorably affected by the title, "Memoir of Mary Twining." There proved to be something to me singularly quaint and charming in this little sketch, something fresh and new in this voice from bygone years. The subject of the memoir attracted me powerfully, both from the simplicity and naturalness of her own words, and the freedom and occasional depth of both thought and expression, in a day when freedom and thinking for one's self were less the fashion of New England maidens than they have since become. Or, it may be that the Editor, notwithstanding an occasional stiffness and apparent want of sympathy, has so well done his work, has understood so well what to give us and what to keep from us, that the reader's interest is skilfully fostered from the start. Be this as it may, I have not been able to resist the temptation to write, myself, a little of this memoir and its subject, to make a little wider, if I may, the public who have been told the story of this life. Not that it was an exciting or an eventful one, though lived in stirring times, but as I have already said, it seems to have a certain charm which should not be left forgotten in country garrets or unnoticed in second-hand bookstores. With no further apology for this review of it, I shall let the book, as far as possible, speak for itself.
Mary Twining was born in Middleport, Massachusetts, June 27, 1757. Her father fought with Colonel Washington in the French and Indian War, and subsequently under General Washington in a later disturbance. Her mother was a granddaughter of one of the early colonial governors. Mary seems to have come naturally enough by fine impulses and good breeding.
"It is not," says the conscientious biographer, "from any vain Partiality for high-sounding names, or any poor Pretense of good blood, which were most out of place in this our Republic, made so by the Genius and enduring Fortitude of all classes of Men, that I claim for Mary Twining stately Lineage, but that when such Accidents fall in the lives of Human Beings, it is not a thing to make light of, but worthy of study in its Results. Besides which is General Washington none the less a Good Soldier in that he is a Gentleman."
I suspect the traditions of a loyal Englishman had not been wholly eradicated from the mind of this biographer by a few years of plebeian institutions. With equal truth he goes on, however, to say that what was "of an Importance swallowing up the Lesser Matter of Lineage and Station, Richard Twining was an upright and a God-fearing man, and Mary, his wife, patterned in all things after the Behaviour of her godly Ancestor." Either Richard or Mary, his wife, must have something "patterned" after a liberal and occasionally self-willed model, else whence came the spice of independence in the little Mary's character? She was an only child, and only children were probably in the middle of the eighteenth very much what they are in the close of the nineteenth century,—little beings allowed greater liberties, and burdened with heavier accountabilities, than where there are more to divide both. There are several incidents told of her childhood, not particularly remarkable, perhaps, but showing that her mind and her imagination were alive. She was not by any means a precocious child; her mind was but little, if at all, in advance of her years. If one may judge from detached anecdotes and descriptions, she showed no more than the receptivity and quickness natural to a bright and somewhat unusually clear intellect. Through all these anecdotes there runs a vein denoting what is less common in childhood than a certain precocity,—a keen sense of justice. She appears to have reasoned of many things, usually taken by childhood for granted, and assented to their results only if they seemed to her childishness just. If after life showed her that the affairs of this life can be but seldom regulated according to the ideas of finite justice, she never seems to have lost a certain fairness of judgment and opinion, which is rare in one of her sex and circumstances. When five years old, her mother, wishing her to give up a pet doll to a little crippled friend, told her that sympathy should suggest her doing it; that it was a privilege to make another happy; that it was selfishness to prefer her own pleasure of possession to that of another. But Mary listened unmoved to these arguments. Nevertheless the struggle was not a long one. With a good grace, after a few moments of silence, she carried the doll to her unfortunate friend. "Mamma," she said soberly, "she shall have it, for it is right that she should. I feel it. I shall have many things that she can never have."
For the logic of five years it was no small thing to have settled this question in this way. It would take too much time and too much space to dwell on the anecdotes of her childhood. Indeed, the biographer does not linger on them long himself.
"It is meet," he says, "to speak of these early Years, not from a desire to show that there was aught in the Childhood of Mary Twining remarkable or unnatural, that should be the Cause of Wonder or Admiration. But the rather that there may be evinced the Presence, even in the Germ, of certain Qualities of Soundness of Judgment and of Thoughtfulness unusual in a Female, which grew with her Growth, and which were in later Years, developed into stronger Traits by no unnatural means."
In 1773 she was sent away to a school in which she remained three years, varied by occasional visits at home. She made several friends here, and here, for the first time, kept a methodical and somewhat extended diary. From this diary her biographer makes copious extracts. In fact, from this period the memoir is chiefly made up from her several journals, in whose continuity there are now and then large gaps, with occasional notes. I shall make less copious extracts, principally those bearing upon that matter of which we always, more or less consciously, seek traces in the lives of individuals, distinguished or obscure, the love story. But first for her school life, into which few whispers of sentiment penetrated. It was no fashionable boarding-school to which she was sent, attended by young ladies whose dreams of what they will soon be doing in society monopolize the hours nominally devoted to literature and the sciences. An old friend of her mother opened her house to a few representatives of those families with whom she was acquainted, where, under the best teachers the country afforded, they were trained in such acquirements as were prescribed by the canons of the day. On the fifteenth of September she says:—
"I have been something more than a week at the good School which my kind Parents have chosen for me. There seems, after all, to be little doing here. The few exercises in Mathematics, and the selections from the works of the most Highly Endowed of the Authors of England appear to me to be the most Profitable. As for the matter of Embroidery, I worked with Patience, ten years ago, a Sampler which was not considered discreditable, and it seems to me that of the multiplying of Stitches there is no end, and it were, perhaps, as well to go no farther. My daily Practice on the Spinet, may, perhaps, be the means of giving Pleasure at some Future Time, but it is the Occasion of but little Benefit in the Present, and of the Future can we be never certain."
The question of profitableness of a good many of her employments was often in her mind during these three years. She cannot help feeling that there are times when it is hard to contentedly fold the hands over even the worsted marvels of a "not discreditable" sampler. A year later, she says again:—
"More Practice and more Embroidery this afternoon. There are those of my Companions who ask nothing better than such unvarying Exercises. In them they find room for the employing of their Imagination and their Spirit. I wonder if it be so great a Fault in me, that I find them wearying. It is not that they are in themselves so distasteful, as it is that there seemeth much work waiting to be done, which a woman's Hands might well do, were it not reckoned somewhat unseemly."
"Her's was a somewhat restless Soul," says her biographer, "perplexing itself with Questions which it was not for her to answer."
Yes, with questions with which many a restless woman's soul has since perplexed itself, and which are now only beginning to attain solution. It is pleasant to find, in these early times, when we fancy New England maidens well content with their spinning and bread-making, hints that there were enterprising spirits who thought the prescribed round a too narrow one.
She finds some fault with one of her teachers for being too lenient with her.
"I received no Reproof," she says, "to-day when I most Richly deserved it. A Disturbance in the Hour for Study was entirely of my own making, but the Person who is Master at that Hour refused, with Persistence, to see it. I made it most evident, but he remarked, with a frown for a less Offender, that he should hold Mistress Twining excused. I shall find Occasion to address him on this Subject, for if I receive due Credit for that which I do that is Well Done, I shall show no unwillingness to bear the Brunt of my Superior's Displeasure for what is Ill Done. Moreover, I will not have it otherwise."
"It were better," is the brief comment, "it were better had Mary Twining shown more Regret for what she herself confesses was ill done, rather than that she should take upon herself to correct the Faults of those towards whom she was somewhat lacking in Reverence." But it is droll enough to fancy the scene—the pretty schoolgirl gravely rebuking her delinquent master for the too great partiality her own bright eyes had won for her. Poor man! His was no sinecure. To hold rule over a parcel of unruly girls, with the graces of one so tugging at his heartstrings! His path might at least have been spared the thorn of having his fault denounced by the very voice that had done the mischief.
During the last year of her stay she writes less. Did the objectlessness of this education of hers pall upon the energy of her nature more and more? Or was her woman's heart preparing the way for the answer to this restless questioning? It is only now and then that we catch a glimpse of this development, which was singularly mature and singularly free from restriction.
"I have read many Tales," she says, "how true, in my small Experience, I know not, of the aptitude of Women, particularly those young women whose characters are in a state of most Imperfect Development, to yield in matters essential to their best Happiness to the Opposing Wishes of Parents and Guardians. I speak of those Matters, perhaps not the most fitting for the Speculations of a but Partially-schooled Maiden—Love, and the Choosing of a Husband. While in these matters, as in all others, the Wishes of Wise and Fond Parents and Guardians are the only safe Guides for a young and Untrained Spirit, there are other Cases where Injustice and a Desire to Rule are but slender Grounds for the exercise of Authority. I know that my Boldness in this Opinion cannot pass even my own mind unchallenged, but when I read of Unwilling Maids forced to the very Church Door or Languishing under unmerited sternness, and Yielding up their own Happiness, and that of another (though he be a Man) into the Hands of an unwise Judge through inability to resist such unloving Pressure, my Nature rebels against it. It would seem to me cause for a Glad and an Unfaltering Resistance. For a Husband is, after all, a Matter for a Maid's own choosing."
"The beaten path," says the biographer, "had ever but little attraction for Mary Twining. It had been well had she been less fain to seek Opportunity for a Lawful Resistance to Bonds. It seemeth ever to the Young that such opportunities are not long in coming."
It was not only from the consciences of the colonial fathers that the stirrings of independence went forth. Apparently there was a spirit abroad that breathed now and then from the lips of but partially-schooled maidens. Still, it is not unruliness, this protest of a young and independent spirit against the slavishness now and then upheld in certain forms of literature. There is little revolutionary, after all, in Mary's sentiment that "a Husband is a matter for a Maid's own choosing."
But we must pass over the last few notes of her school life. At nineteen she left school forever.
"I am about to leave this little Life of School," she writes, "for a larger Life of Home, and mayhap a Taste of that Life which is called of the World. And if I be not now, at the age of Nineteen years, equipped for the change and able to comport myself with a becoming Discretion and Dignity, then such equipment is not to be found within these Four Walls or in daily Practice of Music and Mathematics. Which, though I be filled with no over-weening Distrust of my own Capabilities, seemeth to my eyes of some Doubt and Difference of Opinion."
"On a certain day of June," her biographer goes on to state, "Mistress Mary Twining was placed in the Coach which should take her a Two Days' Journey to her Father's House. She was in Company with an old and Reverend Gentleman of friendly Disposition, who was well known to her Father and held in excellent esteem of him. The Fairness of a Maid is but a vain Toy, but," declares this most staid biographer, with a refreshing candor, "as it is a matter which is not without its effect on the Fortunes of many, it is not always to be passed over in the Silence which would befit a Sober Pen. Mary Twining's Hair was of a golden Colour and wound itself in small, and not always tidy, Rings about her Neck and Forehead. Her eyes were of a darker appearance than is common, and her Mouth, though not without a certain Winsomeness, gave Promise of a Firmness of Opinion and an Independence which was perhaps but a Sign of the Times, which her small and shrewdly-set Nose did not deny."
I more than suspect that, disclaim it as he may, our discreet biographer was in nowise loath to dwell a little on this vain toy of Mary's personal appearance. I even fancy that he was tempted to employ greater latitude of expression, which only his stern sense of his responsibilities led him to reject, in the description of that uncompromising mouth, not to mention the spice of naughtiness involved in that nose so "shrewdly set."
Not an unattractive picture in the coach window, this June day, is this of Mary Twining, in her big poke bonnet, white kerchief and short-waisted gown. And who is this, who, coming at the last moment, springs into a vacant place at her side, under the very eyes of the reverend old gentleman, her father's friend? The three-cornered hat which he doffs with ceremonious courtesy to the fair vision before him, the powdered queue, the high boots with jingling spurs, the sword at his side, are not unpicturesque items in our nineteenth-century eyes. Were they likely to be so in the eyes of this nineteen-year-old maiden just out of boarding-school?
"As it happened," says the biographer, "there went down the same day, and by the same Coach, one of the young Aids of our General. He was a personable Youth, and the Arrangement of the many Fripperies of the Costume of a young Gallant did naught to take away from the Face and Figure which Providence had accorded him. It were better had he or Mary Twining chosen another Time for the Journey."
Neither, probably, did a natural timidity of disposition do aught to lessen the impression which a personable young man has it in his power in any century to make upon a fair and observing girl. Mary herself says:—
"There rode down with us a young gallant of most holiday Appearance, but not ignorant withal of the working days of a Soldier. It was not long before he had entered into Conversation with Mr. Edwards, who had knowledge of the young Man's Parents, from which Conversation I learned something of himself, though most modestly told. He would fain have opened the Way for me to join in my Guardian's Questioning, but I bore in Mind the Unseemliness of an unwarranted Acquaintanceship, and sought rather to avoid than to court the Glances which he was not over cautious in sending in my Direction."
"A Maid's avoidance," observes the biographer, "of a Youth's Glances, is not of that Nature that is the Cutting off of all Hope."
And Fortune, too, was not of so perverse a disposition in this June weather as she is sometimes. For, on the second day, when probably glances, so conscientiously evaded, had become but the accompaniment of spoken words, there was an accident. The coach, as coaches are apt to do, was upset, and its occupants "made haste rather as they could than as they would," to leave it. In the confusion and tumbling about of heavy boxes Mary might have been badly hurt, had not the young gallant, quickly springing to his feet, caught her as she was thrown forward by a second lurch of the unwieldy thing, and, lifting her up, carried her out of the way of falling luggage and struggling horses to a place of safety.
"He lifted me as though I had been but a Feather's weight, showing a Strength which is indeed Goodly in the Sons of Men," says Mary demurely, "and which was most grateful in the Stress and Confusion, and in its display most Timely, though perhaps," she adds, with delicious frankness, "he was not over ready to put me down that he might hasten back to be of further help."
"My Bonnet was awry," she continues, "my Hair in sad confusion, and my Face a Milkmaid Red, so that I said with but little Grace, 'Sir, I fear you have found me a grievous Weight.' Whereupon he answered me that so light was my weight, that his Heart was the Heavier for the Putting of me down, which was a Conceit not reasonable but most kindly intended. Whereon I thanked him, and he vowed such a Burden would he gladly carry to the World's End had he but Leave given."
Another picture not unpleasant to the mind's eye, the overturned coach, the esteemed guardian of the youthful beauty delaying a little in its immediate neighborhood, perhaps to secure the safety of some precious package, the farm laborers in the green adjacent fields dropping their tools and running forward to help, the outcry and confusion, and apart, in the summer sunshine, the handsome fellow with the flashing sword by his side, listening with bent head and admiring eyes to the thanks which Mistress Mary, with her untidy hair and lifted eyes, was tendering with "but little Grace."
"Such chance meeting of the Sexes," says our astute commentator, "where appear what is most commanding in the One and most dependent in the Other, are but ill advised. The Uttering of such vain proffers as the carrying the Burden of Mary Twining to the World's End, and other Foolishness, hath then a Savour of Reality which concealeth the vain Delusion."
We have delayed too long over these extracts, and though I am tempted to delay yet longer, so quaint is the contrast between Mary Twining's youthful and feminine pen and that of her critical biographer, I pass on to a time some months after her arrival home. Indeed, she writes little in the interval. The coming into a new and wider circle, the adapting herself to new conditions, leave her scant time for writing. There is a rapid noting of events, for it was an eventful time,—the mention of a few distinguished names, and that is all. But in order to follow the thread of Mary Twining's romance, we must pause at the account of a ball given to one of General Washington's regiments at a time before the rigor of war had quenched all thoughts of merry-making. It was not her first ball. She had mixed freely in society, and had measured herself with the men and women about her,—always an interesting experience to the free, unprejudiced and thoughtful girl.
"It was a joyous Scene enough," she writes, "but I myself not quite in the Humour for such Junketing. I had a gloomy Fancy that Reason would not dismiss, that in these Troublous Times there were Things outside of the Ball room Door, striving to enter, which having done, they would have proved of singular Inappositeness. None the less I danced with those who solicited me in due Form, and gave Heed to little else than the manner of the Solicitation. Not that there was Lack of Goodly Partners, but I was mindful of nothing beyond the Observance of the Courtesies of the Occasion. The only Annoyance of which I was sensible was the marked Attention of my Cousin Eustace Fleming, who is but recently come into this our Part of the Country, and claimeth Relationship. He is a most excellent Young Gentleman, but one who is likely to weary me with his over Appreciation of my own Qualities. It is but a Sign of my Stubbornness and Unregeneracy of Heart that, in that he is most approved and commended of my Parents, he wearieth me the more. I was fain to tell him, when he asked me a third Time to join the Dance, that there were fairer Maidens in the Hall who would be less loth to accord him the Favour, but as this would but have drawn from him a laboured compliment to my own Person, I prudently refrained."
It was in the weariness of this very encounter that, looking up, she saw approaching her the hero of her adventure in the coach, the impulsive youth whose former foolishness had won for him the semi-disapproval of our commentator. It seems possible that the gloomy fancies of shadowy things outside lightened a little, and the war ceased to be a background only for shapes of evil.
"It required not the space of a moment for me to recognize him, though his Attire had changed with the Circumstance, but as my Father's Friend, Mr. Edwards, had not deemed it of sufficient Importance to mention our former Rencontre, it now seemed to me useless to publicly recall that Incident. Particularly as being now duly presented to me in the Presence of my Parents, and with due Vouchers of his Credit, our Acquaintance could make such Progress as we should mutually consider profitable."
Prudent Mistress Mary and delinquent Mr. Edwards!
"After the Cotillion for which he had asked the Honour of my Hand, he led me to my Seat, but by a somewhat indirect Route. Upon my remarking upon which, he found Occasion to say that all Ways were short to him now after traversing the long and difficult one which he had followed that he might gain Admission to my Presence. I, laughing, said that my Presence were hardly worth such effort in Gaining, and that it was generally attained with more Ease, and he, replying with a Grace of Manner it were impossible not to remark, said hastily that he was well aware that he had found it easier to enter than he should to again forsake it."
"And so on with such Vanities," says the biographer, "as pass Current with young Men and Maidens in their shortsighted Enjoyment of the moment, and with which Mary Twining was but too fain to dally."
Yes, and so on, the old story. For there follow the frequent meetings, known and not unapproved of by the watchful parents, the half confessions, the vague wonderment, and at last the pledge given and received, and Mary Twining became the affianced wife of the handsome young officer. All this we trace in her journal, with satiric comments, now and then, of the Editor; but it is all so familiar that we will not dwell on it, pretty as it is. Only one shadow seems to have fallen on the lovers,—that of Mr. Eustace Fleming, the worthy cousin, whose importunities in the ball-room so tired the patience of Mistress Mary. The parentally favored candidate for Mary's hand, he finds it, evidently, too hard to give it up without a struggle. With a lack of that wisdom unfortunate lovers find it so hard to supply, he disturbed their interviews, forced himself on Mary's society, yet with no insolence and no self-betrayal that could lead to an outbreak. He is apparently a self-contained, and not a bad man, who finds it impossible to see that he is beaten. Of this period I make one or two extracts from Mary's journal, and then go on to the end.
"If I once marvelled at the yielding of those weak Women who find it easier to relinquish the Happiness that they find in the Love of Those bound to them by mutual attraction, than to contest the matter with all Dignity, Forbearance, Firmness and Patience, how much the more do I marvel now at their Shortsightedness! Were he, whom I gladly call my Betrothed, to be the Victim of Oppression or of Malice, it would seem to me but the throwing down of the Glove—a challenge to Battle, rather than a demand for Submission. Methinks it were not as a Suppliant that I should stoop to pick it up. But why talk of fighting, who am a peaceful Maid, who would labour, were it but Honourable towards her dear Country, to remove the Sound of Battle far from her Lover. For indeed he is more ready to fight than am I to have him. He would see an Opportunity to strike a Blow in my Cause where is none, so anxious is he to draw his Sword in my Behalf. Indeed so excellent an Opinion doth he entertain of my Person and my Mind and my Conditions, that he would not be long in finding one who should most justly contest the same. Heaven send that he may hold to the Opinion and forget the Wish to make Proselytes!
"It would seem that some men were created but as a sort of Makeweight, who, without active Hindrance, make it more difficult to row one's Boat up the Stream of Life. Of such kind is my Cousin Eustace Fleming. His most mistaken Admiration of me (for that in him is a Mistake which in Another is but a most fitting and a most reverenced Creed) serves but to make a Let and Hindrance where my satisfaction is concerned. I would that he could more easily learn the Lesson I have been at such Pains to mark out for him."
"It were vain," is the comment on the last passage, "to expect a Recognition of sober worth in the Day of Love and Ambition. And Mistress Twining, after the manner of her kind, pays but little Heed to lasting Affection before the Time comes when it shall be of Use to Her."
The wedding day approaches. Mary Twining does not lose her independence, though, woman like, she seems to enjoy losing herself in the love lavished upon her. Here and there are passages which show that in the warmth of her romance she thinks and judges and acts for herself, as she did in her school days. Mary Twining will never merge her individuality in that of another, however dear to her.
The entries grow briefer and more infrequent, as the month fixed upon for the marriage draws near. It is to be in June,—two years from that June when she rode down by coach, in the care of her father's friend.
"The day is fixed for the twenty-seventh of June," is the last entry but two in her journal. "Two years ago, Fate gave my Life into his Hands. At least, in giving it to him a second Time, Fate and I are at one."
The next entry is a month later. It is simply the statement,—
"May 24th. I have done my Cousin Eustace wrong." Then on—
"July 27th. And I am but twenty-one!"
And June comes and goes, and there is no word on her bridal day, no breathings of her new happiness from her ready pen. Is the book closed? Yes, but her biographer has a word to say.
"On the twenty-seventh of June, Mary A. Twining became the wife of her Cousin Eustace Fleming. Their Betrothal was but a short one, but in the eyes of her judicious Parents, there was no unseemly Haste. It had long been a cherished wish of their Hearts, and Eustace Fleming was a young man of Promise and of rare Discretion."
There it ends. The record of Mary Twining is finished. With Mary Fleming he has nothing to do. But where is the girl of ripened understanding, of freedom of thought, of directness of purpose? We do not know, for our biographer does not tell us. Was there a tragedy, and were the details too heart-breaking for even the stoical Editor to maintain his critical attitude?
Where is the gallant cavalier with his picturesque devotion, and his vain toys of pretty speech and gesture and his fiery and over-weening love and admiration for Mistress Mary Twining? He seemed to me a brave and loyal sort of young fellow enough. I cannot tell. Put the quaint old book back on the shelf, and let her romance rest again. But notwithstanding her husband of such promise and rare discretion, I cannot help sighing, "Poor Mary Twining!"
Fate and she had a difference, after all. And she was but twenty-one!
IT was almost time for the train to leave the station, and the seats were filling rapidly. The Irishwoman, with four children so near of a size that they seemed to be distinguished only by the variety of eatable each one was consuming, had entered the car and deposited her large newspaper bundle just inside the door, and driven her flock all into the little end seat, where they were stowed uncomfortably, one on top of another, gazing stolidly about the car. The young girl from the country who had been spending Sunday in town, and who was, consequently, somewhat overdressed for Monday morning, was wandering elegantly up and down the aisle, losing each possible place for a prospective better one, which became impossible before she reached it. The woman with a bag too large for her to carry, rested it on the arm of an occupied seat while she gazed vaguely about, indifferent to the fact that a crowd of impatient travellers of more concrete intentions were being delayed by her indecision. Meanwhile, among these disturbers of travel the man with a large bag passed rapidly along, found a place, put the bag in the rack, seated himself, and took out his newspaper. There is something in a man's management of a large travelling-bag in a railway train that leads the most unwilling to grudgingly yield him a certain superiority of sex.