A WOMAN NAMED SMITH
MARIE CONWAY OEMLER
Author of Slippy McGee, etc.
Grosset & Dunlap Publishers New York
[Frontispiece illustration: "Sophy," he said, "I have found the lost key of Hynds House"]
ELIZABETH HEYWARD OEMLER
Sometimes my Little Girl.
When you were yet an Awful Baby, And bawled o' bed-time, I said "Maybe It is not best to spank or scold her: Suppose a fairy-tale were told her?" And gave you then, to my undoing, The wolf Red Riding-Hood pursuing; Sang Mother Goose her artless rhyming; Showed Jack the Magic Beanstalk climbing; Three Little Pigs were so appealing, You set up sympathetic squealing! Then, Bitsybet, you had your mother— You bawled until I told another!
The Awful Baby's gone. Here lately You bear your little self sedately. You've shed your rompers; you want dresses Prinked out with frillies; fluff your tresses; Delight your daddy, aunts, and mother; And sisterly set straight your brother. Your bib-and-tucker days abolished, Your manners and your nails are polished. One baby trait remains, thank glory! You're still a glutton for a story. Still, Bitsybet, you beg another: So here's one for you from
I THE SCARLET WITCH DEPARTS II AND ARIEL MAKES MUSIC III THE DEAR LITTLE GOD! IV THE HYNDSES OF HYNDS HOUSE V "THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF" VI GLAMOURY VII A BRIGHT PARTICULAR STAR VIII PEACOCKS AND IVORY IX THE JUDGMENT OF SPRING X THE FOREST OF ARDEN XI THE JINNEE INTERVENES XII MAN PROPOSES XIII FIRES OF YESTERDAY XIV THE TALISMAN XV THE HEART OF HYNDS HOUSE XVI THE DEVILL HIS RAINBOW XVII ON THE KNEES OF THE GODS XVIII THE GREATEST GIFT XIX DEEP WATERS XX HARBOR
SOPHY: A woman named Smith.
ALICIA GAINES: Flower o' the Peach.
NICHOLAS JELNIK: Peacocks and Ivory.
DOCTOR RICHARD GEDDES: Coeur-de-Lion.
THE AUTHOR: Himself.
THE SECRETARY: A Pleasant Person.
MISS EMMELINE PHELPS-PARSONS: of Boston, Massachusetts.
MISS MARTHA HOPKINS: "Clothed in White Samite."
JUDGE GATCHELL: The Law.
SCHMETZ AND RIEDRIECH: Workmen and Visionaries.
THE JINNEE: A Son of the Prophet.
SOPHRONISBA SCARLETT: "The Scarlett Witch."
THE HYNDSES OF HYNDS HOUSE.
THE PEOPLE OF HYNDSVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA.
MARY MAGDALEN; QUEEN-OF-SHEEBA; FERNOLIA: Important Persons.
BORIS: A Russian Wolfhound.
THE BLACK FAMILY: A Witch's Cat's Kittens.
BEAUTIFUL DOG: Last but not Least.
A WOMAN NAMED SMITH
THE SCARLETT WITCH DEPARTS
If it had been humanly possible for Great-Aunt Sophronisba Scarlett to lug her place in Hyndsville, South Carolina, along with her into the next world, plump it squarely in the middle of the Elysian Fields, plaster it over with "No Trespassing" signs, and then settle herself down to a blissful eternity of serving writs upon the angels for flying over her fences without permission, and setting the saved by the ears in general, she would have done so and felt that heaven was almost as desirable a place as South Carolina. But as even she couldn't impose her will upon the next world, and there was nobody in this one she hated less than she did me—possibly because she had never laid eyes on me—she willed me Hynds House and what was left of the Hynds fortune; tying this string to her bequest: I must occupy Hynds House within six months, and I couldn't rent it, or attempt to sell it, without forfeiture of the entire estate.
I can fancy the ancient beldam sniggering sardonically the while she figured to herself the chagrined astonishment, the helpless wrath, of her watchfully waiting neighbors, when they should discover that historic Hynds House, dating from the beginning of things Carolinian, had passed into the unpedigreed hands of a woman named Smith. I can fancy her balefully exact perception of the attitude so radically conservative a community must needs assume toward such an intruder as myself, foisted upon it, so to speak, by an enemy who never failed to turn the trick.
Because I'm not a Hynds, at all. Great Aunt Sophronisba was my aunt not by blood but by marriage; she having, when she was no longer what is known as a spring chicken, met my Great-Uncle Johnny Scarlett and scandalized all Hyndsville by marrying him out of hand.
I have heard that she was insanely in love with him, and I believe it; nothing short of an over-mastering passion could have induced one of the haughty Hyndses to marry a person with such family connections as his. For my father, George Smith, was a ruddy English ship-chandler who pitched upon Boston for a home, and lived with his family in the rooms above his shop; and my grandmother Smith dropped her "aitches" with the cheerful ease of one to the manner born, bless her stout old Cockney heart! I can remember her hearing me my spelling-lesson of a night, her spectacles far down on her old button of a nose, her white curls bobbing from under her cap.
"What! Carn't spell 'saloon'? Listen, then, Miss: There's a hess and a hay and a hell and two hoes and a henn! Now, then, d 'ye spell it!"
Not that Mrs. Johnny ever accepted us. It was borne in upon the Smiths that undesirable in-laws are outlaws. This despite the fact that my mother's pink-and-white English face was a gentler copy of what her uncle's had been in his youth; and that when I came along, some years after the dear old man's death, I was named Sophronisba at Mrs. Johnny's urgent request.
After Great-Uncle Johnny died, as if the last tie which bound her to ordinary humanity had snapped, his widow retired into a seclusion from which she emerged only to sue somebody. She said the world was being turned topsyturvy by people who were allowed to misbehave to their betters, and who needed to be taught a lesson and their proper place; and that so long as she retained her faculties, she would do her duty in that respect, please God!
She did her duty so well in that respect that the Hynds fortune, which even civil war and reconstruction hadn't been able altogether to wreck, dwindled to a mere fifteen thousand dollars; and she wasn't on speaking terms with anybody but Judge Gatchell, her lawyer. She would have quarreled with him, too, had she dared.
To the minister, who bearded her for her soul's sake every now and then, she spoke in words brief and curt:
"You here again? Wanted to see me, hey? Well, you've done it. Now get out!"
And in the meantime the years passed and my own immediate family passed with them; but still the gaunt old woman lived on in her gaunt old house, becoming in time a myth to me, and to Hyndsville as well; where they referred to her, succinctly, as "the Scarlet Witch." I heard from her directly only once, and that was the year she sent me a red flannel petticoat for a Christmas present. After that, as if she'd done her worst, she ignored me altogether.
My mother had wanted me to be a school-teacher, in her eyes the acme of respectability. But as it happens, there are two things I wouldn't be: one's a school-teacher, the other a minister's wife. If I had to marry the average minister, I should infallibly hate all church-goers; if I had to teach the average school-child and wrestle with the average school-board, I should end by burning joss-sticks to Herod.
So I disappointed my mother by becoming a typist. After her death I secured a foothold in a New York house—I'd always wanted to live in New York—and went up, step by step, from what may be called a rookie in the outside office, to private secretary to the Head. And I'd been a business woman for all of seventeen years when Great-Aunt Sophronisba Scarlett departed at the age of ninety-eight years and eleven months, and willed that I should take up my life in the house where she had dropped hers.
"Oh, Sophy!" cried Alicia Gaines, the one person in the world who didn't call me Miss Smith. "Oh, Sophy, it's like a fairy-story come true! Think of falling heir to an old, old, old lady's old, old, old house, in South Carolina! I hope there's a big old door with a fan-light, and a Greeky front with white pillars, and a big old hall, and a big old garden—"
"And an old stove that smokes and old windows that rattle and an old roof that leaks, and maybe big, big old rats that squeak o' nights," I said darkly. For the first rapture of the astonishing news was beginning to wear thin, and doubt was appearing in spots.
"Sophy Smith! Why, if such a wonderful, beautiful, unexpected thing had happened to me—" Alicia's blue eyes misted. I have known her since the day she was born, next door to us in Boston, and she is the only person I have ever seen who can cry and look pretty while she's doing it; also, she can cry and laugh at the same time, being Irish. Some foolish people, who have been deceived by Alicia Gaines's baby stare and complexion, have said she hasn't sense enough to get in out of a shower of rain. This is, of course, a libel. But what's the odds, when every male being in sight would rush to her aid with an umbrella?
After her mother's death I fell heir to Alicia, who, like me, was an only child, and without relatives. Lately, I'd gotten her into our filing-department. She didn't belong in a business office, she whose proper background should have been an adoring husband and the latest thing in pink-and-white babies.
"But somebody's got to think of stoves and roofs and rats and such, or there'd be no living in any old house," I reminded her, practically. "My dear girl, don't you realize that this thing isn't all beer and skittles?"
Alicia wrinkled her white forehead.
"Consider me, a hardy late-summer plant forced to uproot and transplant myself to a soil which may not in the least agree with me. Why, this means changing all my fixed habits, to trot off to live in an old house that is probably haunted by the cross-grained ghost of a lady of ninety-nine!"
"If I were a ghost, you'd be the very last person on earth I'd want to tackle, Sophy," remarked Alicia, dimpling. "And as for that new soil, why, you'll bloom in it! You—well, Sophy dear, up to now you have been root-bound; you've never had a chance to grow, much less to blossom. Now you can do both."
I who was confidential secretary to the Head, looked at the girl who was admittedly the worst file-clerk on record; and she looked back at me, nodding her bright head with young wisdom.
"I hope," she said, wistfully, "that there'll be all sorts of lovely things in your house, Sophy,—old mirrors, old books, old pictures, old furniture, old china. Lord send you'll find an attic! All my life I've day-dreamed of finding an attic that's been shut up and forgotten for ages and ages, and discovering all sorts of lovely things in all sorts of hiding-places. When I think my day-dream may come true for you, Sophy, it almost reconciles me to the pain of parting from you; though what on earth I'm to do without you, goodness only knows!" She was sitting on my bed, kimonoed, slippered, and braided. And now she looked at me with a suddenly quivering chin.
"Alicia," said I, "ever since I discovered that there's no mistake about that lawyer's letter—that Hynds House is unaccountably, but undoubtedly mine and I've got to live in it if I want to keep it—it has been borne in upon me that you are just about the worst file-clerk on earth. You're a navy-blue failure in a business office. Business isn't your motif. Now, will you resign the job you fill execrably, and accept one you can fill beyond all praise—come South with me, share half-and-half whatever comes, and help make that old house a happy home for us both?"
"Don't joke." Her lips went white. "Please, please, Sophy dear, don't joke like that! I—well, I just couldn't bear it."
"I never joke," I said indignantly. "You little goose, did you imagine for one minute that I contemplated leaving you here by yourself, any more than I contemplate going down there by myself, if I can help it? Stop to think for a moment, Alicia. You have been like a little sister to me, ever since you were born. And—I'm alone, except for you—and not in my first youth—and not beautiful—and not gifted."
At that she hurled herself off my bed and cried upon my shoulder, with her slim arms around my neck. Those young arms were beginning to make me feel wistful. If things had been different—if I had been lovely like the Scarletts, instead of looking like the Smiths—there might have been—
Well, I don't look like the Scarletts; so there wasn't. The best I could do was to drop a kiss on Alicia's forehead, where the bright young hair begins to break into curls.
And that is how, neither of us having the faintest notion of what was in store for us, Alicia Gaines and I turned our backs upon New York and set our faces toward Hynds House.
AND ARIEL MAKES MUSIC
We had wired Judge Gatchell when to expect us, but the venerable negro hackman who was on the lookout for us explained that the judge had a "misery in the laigs" which confined him to his room, and that he advised us to go to the hotel for a while.
We couldn't, for wasn't our own house waiting for us? A minute later we had bundled into the ancient hack and were bumping and splashing through unpaved streets, getting wet, gray glimpses of old houses in old gardens, and every now and then a pink crape-myrtle blushing in the pouring rain. Hyndsville was, it seemed, one of those sprawling, easy-going old Carolina towns that liked plenty of elbow-room and wasn't particular about architectural order. Hynds House itself was on the extreme edge of things.
The hack presently stopped before a high iron gate in a waist-high brick wall with a spiked iron railing on top of it, the whole overrun with weeds and creepers. Of Hynds House itself one couldn't see anything but a stack of chimneys above a forest of trees.
The gate creaked and groaned on its rusty hinges; then we were walking up a weedy, rain-soaked path where untrimmed branches slapped viciously at our faces, and tough brambles, like snares and gins, tried to catch our feet. On each side was a jungle. Of a sudden the path turned, widened into a fairly cleared space; and Hynds House was before us.
We had expected a fair-sized dwelling-house in its garden. And there confronted us, glooming under the gray and threatening sky that seemed the only proper and fitting canopy for it, what looked like a pile reared in medieval Europe rather than a home in America. Its stained brick walls, partly covered with ivy and lichens; its smokeless chimneys; its barred doors; its many shuttered windows, like blind eyes—all appeared deliberately to thrust aside human habitancy.
A residence for woman, child, and man, A dwelling-place,—and yet no habitation; A House,—but under some prodigious ban Of Excommunication.
Yet there was nothing ruinous about it, for the Hyndses had sought to build it as the old Egyptians sought to build their temples—to last forever, to defy time and decay. It was not only meant to be a place for Hyndses to be born and live and die in: it was a monument to Family Pride, a brick-and-granite symbol of place and power.
The walls were of an immense thickness, the corners further strengthened with great blocks of granite. The house had but two stories, with an attic under its sloping roofs, but it gave an effect of height as well as of solidity. Behind it was another brick building, the lower part of which had been used for stables and carriage house, and the upper portion as quarters for the house slaves, in the old days. Another smaller building, slate-roofed and ivy covered, was the spring-house, with a clear, cold little spring still bubbling away as merrily in its granite basin, as if all the Hyndses were not dead and gone. And there was a deep well, protected by a round stone wall, with a cupola-like roof supported by four slender pillars. And everything was dank and weedy and splotched with mildew and with mold.
O'er all there hung a shadow and a fear A sense of mystery the spirit daunted And said, as plain as whisper in the ear, The place is Haunted!
When we opened the great front door, above which was the fan-light of Alicia's hope, just as the round front porch had the big pillars, a damp and moldy air met us. The house had not been opened since Sophronisba's funeral, and everything—stairs, settles, tables, cabinets, pictures, the chairs backed inhospitably against the wall as if to prevent anybody from sitting in them—was covered with a shrouding pall of dust.
The hall was cross-shaped, the side passage running between the back drawing-room and library on one side, and the dining-room and two locked rooms on the other. It was a nice place, that side passage, with a fireplace and settles; and beautiful windows opening upon the tangled garden. All the down-stairs walls were paneled: precious woods were not so hard to come by when Hynds House was built. It was lovely, of course, but depressingly dark.
We got one of the big windows open, and let some stale damp air out and some fresh damp air in. Then, having despatched our hackman for certain necessities, Alicia and I turned and stared at each other, another Alicia and Sophy staring back at us from a dim and dusty mirror opposite. If, at that moment, I could have heard the familiar buzzer at my elbow! If I could have heard the good everyday New York "Miss Smith, attend to this, please"! God wot, if I had not literally burned my bridges behind me—Oh, oh, I had!
"The garden around this house,"—Alicia spoke in a whisper—"stretches to the end of the world and then laps over. It hasn't been trimmed since Adam and Eve moved out. But those crape-myrtle trees are quite the loveliest things left over from Paradise, and I'm glad we came here to see them with our own eyes! Brace up, Sophy! We'll feel heaps better when we've had something to eat. Aren't you frightfully hungry, and doesn't a chill suspicion strike you, somewhere around the wishbone, that if that Ancient Mariner of a hackman doesn't get back soon we shall starve?"
At that moment, from somewhere—it seemed to us from up-stairs—a sudden flood of sweetest sound poured goldenly through that sad, dim, dusty house, as if a blithe spirit had slipped in unawares and was bidding us welcome. For a few wonderful moments the exquisite music filled the dark old place and banished gloom and neglect and decay; then, with a pattering scamper, as of the bare, rosy feet of a beloved and mischievous child making a rush for his crib, it went as suddenly as it had come. There was nothing to break the silence but the swishing downpour of the outside rain.
When I could speak: "It came from up-stairs! Somebody's playing a violin up-stairs. I'm going up-stairs to find out who it is."
Alicia demurred: "It may be a real person, Sophy!—a real person with a real violin. But I'd rather believe it's Ariel's self, come out of those pink crape-myrtles. Don't go up-stairs, please, Sophy!"
"Nonsense!" said I. "Somebody's played a violin and I mean to know who he is!"
And up-stairs I went, into a huge dark hall, with the cross-passage cutting it, and closed doors everywhere. At the front end was a most beautiful window, opening doorlike upon a tiny iron bird-cage of a balcony, hung up Southern fashion under the roof of the pillared front porch. At the rear a more ordinary door opened upon the broad veranda that ran the full width of the house. Both door and window were closed, and bolted on the inside, and the big, dark, dusty rooms which I resolutely entered were quite empty, their fireplaces boarded up, their windows close-shuttered. There was no sign anywhere of violin or player. I went down-stairs just as wise as I had gone up.
"I told you it was Ariel!" Alicia stood by the open window—our windows are sunk into the walls, and cased with solid black walnut as Impervious to decay as the granite itself—and leaned out to the wet and dripping garden.
"Sophy," said she, in her high, sweet voice that carries like a thrush's. "Sophy, the best thing about this world is, that the best things in it aren't really real. This is one of its enchanted places. Sycorax used to live in this house: that's what you feel about it yet. But now she's gone, her spell is lifting, and Hynds House is going to come alive and be young again!"
"At least," I grumbled, "admit that the dust inside and the rain outside and the weeds and mud are real; and I'm really hungry!"
"Me too!" Alicia assented instantly and ungrammatically. "Oh, for a square meal!" She thrust her charming head out far enough for the rain to splatter on her bright hair and whip it into curls, and bring a deeper shade of pink to her cheeks, and a deeper blue to her eyes. "Ariel!" she fluted, "Spirit of the Violin, I'm hungry—earthily, worm-of-the-dustly, unromantically hungry! Send us something to eat."
"Why don't you rap on one of the tables," I suggested ironically, "and call up your high spirits to do your bidding?"
"My high spirits won't be above making you a soothing cup of coffee just as soon as that ancient African returns. In the meantime, let's look around us."
People had forests to draw from when they built rooms like those in Hynds House. There were eight of them on the first floor. On one side the two drawing-rooms, the library, and behind that a room evidently used for an office. We didn't know it then, of course, but that library was treasure trove. Almost every book and pamphlet covering the early American settlements, that is of any value at all, is in Hynds House library; we have some pamphlets that even the British Museum lacks.
The rooms had enough furniture to stock half a dozen antique-shops, all of it in a shocking state, the brocades in tatters, the carvings caked with dust. You couldn't see yourself in the tarnished mirrors, the portraits were black with dirt, and most of the prints were badly stained. Alicia swooped upon a pair of china dogs with mauve eyes and black spots and sloppy red tongues, on a what-not in a corner. She said she had been aching for a china dog ever since she was born.
"Oh, Sophy!" cried she, dancing, "wasn't it heavenly of that old soul to die and leave you two whole china dogs! I wouldn't want sure-enough dogs that looked like these, but as china dogs they're perfect! And cast your eyes about you, Sophy! Have you ever in all your life seen a house that needed so much done to it as this house does?
"'If seven maids with seven mops, Swept it for half a year, Do you suppose,' the Walrus said, 'That that would make it clear?' 'I doubt it,' said the Carpenter, 'And—'
"Sophy! I shall clean some of these windows myself. Did you know that Queen Victoria, when she was a child, had the same virtuous inclination? Well, she had, and you see how she turned out!"
"I don't believe it!"
"Don't be skeptical!—Look at that pink mustache-cup over there on that little table! Who do you suppose had a mustache and drank out of that cup? It couldn't have been Sophronisba herself? I insist that it was a black-mustached Confederate with a red sash around his waist. I adore Confederates! They're the most glamorous, romantic figures in American history. I wish a black mustache went along with the cup and the house; don't you? It would make things so much more interesting!" And she began to sing, at the top of her voice, in the sad and faded room that hadn't heard a singing voice these many, many years:
"'Arrah, Missis McGraw,' the Captain said, 'Will ye make a sojer av your son Ted? Wid a g-r-rand mus-tache, an' a three-cocked hat, Wisha, Missis McGraw, wouldn't you like that! You like that—tooroo looroo loo! Wisha, Missis McGraw, wouldn't you like that!'"
If Great-Aunt Sophronisba's ghost, and the scandalized ghosts of all the haughy Hyndses ever intended to walk, now was the accepted time! And as if that graceless ballad were the signal for something to happen, upon the hall window-shutter sounded three loud, imperative knocks.
Alicia dashed down the hall.
"Sophy!" she called, breathlessly, "Sophy!"
Framed in the open window, with the dripping trees and the slanting rain behind him, was the bizarre, the astounding figure of a gnomelike negro in a terra-cotta robe fastened about the waist with a girdle made of a twisted black shawl with the most beautiful Persian border and fringe. A striped silk scarf was bound turban-wise about his head, from which tufts of snowy wool protruded. From his ears hung crescent-shaped silver ear-rings studded with coral and turquoise; a necklace of the same barbaric magnificence was about his neck, and his arms were covered with bracelets. His deep-set eyes, his flat nose, his mouth set in a thousand fine wrinkles, the whole aspect of him, breathed a sly and impish drollery. He glanced from Alicia to me with the smiling malice of a jinnee delighted to mystify mortals. Then with a rapid movement he shifted the umbrella he carried over a large linen-covered tray, eased the latter upon the deep window-ledge, and beckoned with a very black and beringed hand.
"For us?" breathed Alicia.
With a fine flourish he swept aside the linen covering. And there was golden-brown chicken, white rice, cream gravy, hot biscuit, cool sliced tomatoes with sprigs of green parsley, fresh butter, fresh cream, a great slab of heavenly cake, a wicker basket of Elberta peaches, rain-cooled, odorous, delicious, and a pot of steaming coffee. On the edge of the tray was a cluster of rain-washed roses.
"No," Alicia doubted, "this is not true: it can't be!—Sophy, do you see it, too?"
He motioned her to take the tray; and his ear-rings swung, and all his bracelets set up a silver tinkling. An automobile honked outside in the street shut off by our garden trees, and a dog barked. Our jinnee cocked a cautious head and a listening ear, thrust the tray upon Alicia, and with inconceivable swiftness vanished around a corner.
"Let's hurry and eat it before it, too, takes to its heels," said Alicia, practically. Without further ado we dragged forward a small table, and fell to. Aladdin probably tasted fare like that, the first time he rubbed the magic lamp.
When we had polished the last chicken bone, and had that comfortable feeling that nothing can give so thoroughly as a good meal, Alicia carefully examined the china and silver.
"Old blue-and-white English china; English silver initialed 'R.H.G.' Sophy, handle this prayerfully: it's an apostle spoon. Think of having a jinnee fetch you your coffee, and of stirring it with an apostle spoon."
She spoke reverently. Alicia is the sort who flattens her nose against antique-shop windows, and would go without dessert for a month of Sundays and trudge afoot to save carfare, if thereby she might buy an old print, or a bit of pottery; just as I am content to admire the print or the pottery in the shop window, feeling sure that when they are finally sold to somebody better able to buy them, something else I can admire just as much will take their place. Mine is a philosophy not altogether to be despised, though Alicia rejects it. She handled the blue-and-white ware with tender hands, laid the silver together, and set the tray upon the window-ledge. Then, on a leaf of my pocket memorandum—she never carries one of her own—she scribbled the following absurdity and pinned it to the linen cover:
Ariel, accept the gratitude of mortals set down hungry in the house of Sycorax. Gay and kind spirit, when we broke your bread you broke her spell: the wishbone of your chicken has cooked her goose! Maker of Music, Donator of Dinners, thanks!
"And now," said she, "having been serenaded, and satisfied with nothing short of perfection, let's go up-stairs, Sophy, and decide where we shall sleep to-night."
We chose the front room because of a gate-legged table that Alicia wanted to say her prayers beside, and because of the particularly fine portrait of a colonial gentleman above the mantel, a very handsome man in claret-colored satin, with a vest of flowered gold brocade, a gold-hilted sword upon which his fine fingers rested, and a pair of silk-stockinged legs of which he seemed complacently aware.
"I wish you weren't dead," Alicia told him regretfully. "Your taste in clothes is above all praise, though I fancy you were somewhat too vain of your legs, sir. I never knew before that men had legs like that, did you, Sophy?"
"I take no pleasure in the legs of a man." I quoted the Psalmist acridly enough.
"Don't pay any attention to Sophy," Alicia advised the portrait, naughtily. "Just to prove how much we both admire you, you shall have Ariel's roses." She had brought them up-stairs with us, and now she walked over to the mantel to place them beneath the picture.
"Why!" exclaimed Alicia, "why!" and she held up nothing more remarkable than a package of cigarettes, evidently left there recently, for it was not dusty.
"I dare say Judge Gatchell forgot it, when he was looking over the house. That reminds me: the silver you admired so much was marked 'G.' Then, in all probability, Judge Gatchell sent us that spread, and very thoughtful it was of him, I must say."
"Rheumatic old judges don't smoke superfine cigarettes, Sophy, nor send black tray-bearers in terra-cotta robes out on rainy days for the entertainment of strange ladies. No: this is something, or somebody, young. But since when did Ariel take to tobacco?"
"Let's go down-stairs," I suggested, "and wait for that old darky, if he is a real darky and ever means to return." I did not fancy those big forlorn rooms, with their great beds that didn't seem made for people to sleep and dream in, but to stay awake and worry over their sins—and then die in.
The down-stairs halls had grown darker, and the rain came down in a gray sheet, so that the open window seemed a hole cut into it. The tray we had left on the window-ledge was gone. In its place was nothing more romantic than a freshly filled and trimmed kerosene lamp, two candles, and a box of matches.
When our Jehu finally returned he rummaged out some firewood from the sooty kitchen and built us a fire in the hall. He was a pleasant old negro, garrulous and kindly, by name Adam King, or, as he informed us, "Unc' Adam" to all Hyndsville folks.
"Uncle Adam," Alicia asked, while he was drying himself before the blazing logs, "Uncle Adam, who's the violinist around here?"
Uncle Adam looked at the Yankee lady a bit doubtfully. The old fellow was slightly deaf, but he would have died rather than admit it.
"Wellum," he told us, "since ol' Mis' Scarlett's gone, folks does say de doctor is. Dat's 'cause ob de Hynds' blood in 'im. All dem Hyndses was natchelly de violentest kind o' pussons, an' Doctor, he ain't behin' de do'." He rubbed his hands and chuckled. "Lawd, yes! I know de Doctor, man an' boy, an' he suttinly rips an' ta'hs when he's riled! You ought ter seen 'im de day ol' Mis' Scarlett let fly wid 'er shot-gun an' blowed de tails spang off'n two of 'is hens an' de haid off'n 'is prize rooster! De fowls come thoo' de haidge, an' ol' Mis' grab 'er gun an' blaze away. De Doctor hear de squallation, an' come flyin' outer de office an' right ovah de haidge. I 'uz totin' fiahwood fo' ol' Mis' dat day, an' I drap een de bushes; it ain't no place fo' sensible niggahs when white folks grab shot-guns. Doctor see me an' holler: 'Adam! git outer dem bushes, you ol' fool! You my witness what dis hellion's done to my fowls!'
"Ol' Mis' Scarlett she s'anter ter de winder wid 'er gun sort o' hangin' loose, an' holler: 'Adam! Come outer dem bushes 'fo' I pickle yo' hide! You my witness ob dis ruffian trispassin' on my prop'ty an' cussin' an' seducin' a ol' woman widout 'er consent,' she says. 'Has I retched my age,' says ol' Mis' Scarlett, 'to have his fowls ruinin' my gyardin', an' him whut's a dunghill rooster himself flyin' ovah my fences unbeknownst?'
"'If there evah was a leather-hided ol' hen ripe foh roastin' on Beelzebub's own griddle, it's you, you gallows ol' witch!' says Doctor, shakin' 'is fist up at her.
"'Aha! I got a plain case!' says ol' Mis', grim-like. 'I'll have a warrant out foh you dis day, Geddes, you owdacious villyum!'
"And she done it. Yas'm. An' dey done sont de shariff atter me for witness, all two bofe o' dem."
"Well, and what did you do?" I asked, curiously. I was getting a side-light on Great-Aunt Sophronisba.
"Me? I got on muh knees an' wrastled wid de speret," said Uncle Adam. "I done tuck mah troubles to de Lawd, whichin He 'bleeged ter know I cyant deal wid ol' Mis' Scarlett an' de Doctor. Missis, I prayed!"
"Oh! And what happened then?"
The old man looked around him, cautiously, and lowered his voice: "Wellum, Mis' Scarlett she tuck an' went an' up an' died. Yessum! She done daid. An' next thing we-all heah, she 'd went an' lef de Hynds place to youna, 'stead ob de Doctor, or dat furriner."
"She had Hynds relatives, then? I didn't know."
"Wellum, de Doctor an' ol' Mis' Scarlett wuz cousins. Dat's how come dey could fight so powerful. Ain't you nevah had no relations to fight wid, ma'ams?"
We explained, regretfully, that we hadn't.
"Den you ain't nevah knowed, an' you ain't nevah gwine ter knew, whut real, sho-nough fightin' is," said Unc' Adam, with conviction.
"You mentioned a foreigner," hinted Alicia.
The old man shook his head deprecatingly. "Don't seem lak I evah able to rickermembah dat boy's name, nohow. His grampa' 'uz a Hynds, likewise his ma, but she 'sisted on marryin' er furriner, an' de boy takes atter de furriners 'stead er we-all. 'Taint de po' boy's fault, but ol' Mis' Scarlett hated 'im wuss 'n pizen. De only notice she take er de boy is ter warrant 'im fo' trispassin'. Dat 's how come folkses ter say—" he paused suddenly.
"Well, what do folks say?" I wanted to know.
"Well, Missis," he admitted, "dey say it's natchel to fight wid yo' kin whilst you 're livin', but 'taint natchel ter carry de fight inter de grave-yahd. Dat's whut she done, ma'ams. An' folks is outdone wid 'er, whichin' she ain't lef de Hynds place to de Hyndses, but done tuhn it ovah ter—uh—ah—"
"To a Yankee woman named Smith?"
"Yessum, dat's it."
"Had either the Doctor or the foreigner any real claim or right to this property, do you know?"
"No, ma'am, we-all 'lows dey ain't got no mo' law-right dan whut you's got. Ol' Mis' Scarlett ain't 'bleeged ter lef it to de Hyndses, but folks thinks she oughter done it, an' dey's powerful riled 'cause she ain't. Dey minds dis wuss'n all de warrantin' an' rampagin' an' rucusses she cut up whilst she wuz wid us."
"I see," said I, thoughtfully.
"Missises," said the old man, anxiously, "you-all ain't meanin' ter stay hyuh to-night, is you?" He seemed really distressed at the notion. "Lemme take you-all to de hotel, please, Missises! Don't stay hyuh to-night!"
"Why not? What's the matter with this house?"
Again he looked around him, stealthily.
"It's h'anted!" said he, desperately. "Missis, listen: I 'uz comin' home from prayer-meetin', 'bout two weeks ago, walkin' back er dis same place in de dark ob de moon. An' all ob a suddin I hyuh de pianner in de pahlor, ting-a-ling-a-ling! ting-a-ling-a-ling! I say, 'Who de name er Gawd in ol' Mis' Scarlett's pahlor, when dey ain't nobody in it?' I look thoo de haidge, an' dey's one weenchy light in de room, an' whilst I'm lookin', it goes out! An' de pianner, she's a-playin' right along! Yessum, de pianner, she's er tingalingin' by 'erself in de middle o' de night!"
"And who was playing it, Uncle Adam?"
"Dat's what I axin yit: who playin' Mis' Scarlett's pianner when dey wasn't nobody in de house?"
"Why didn't you find out?"
"Who, me?" cried the old man, with horror. "If I could er borried a extra pahr er laigs from er yaller dawg, I'd a did it right den, so 's I could run twict faster 'n I done!—Whichin' please, ma'ams, lemme take you-all ter de hotel."
When he saw that he couldn't prevail upon us to do so, he left us regretfully, shaking his head. He would come back early in the morning to do anything we might require. But he wouldn't stay overnight in Hynds House for any consideration. No negro in the county would.
"Alicia," said I, when we had had a cup of tea made over our spirit lamp, and firelight and lamplight made the place less depressing and eerie, "Alicia, that terrible old woman has played me, like an ace up her sleeve, against her neighbors and her family. She has left me a house that needs everything done to it except to burn it down and rebuild it, and a garden that will have to be cleared out with dynamite. And she has seen to it that I have the preconceived prejudice of all Hyndsville."
Alicia's pretty, soft lips closed firmly.
"Here we are and here we stay!" she said determinedly. "Nobody's been disinherited to make room for us. Sophy, in all our lives we have never had a chance to make a real home. Well, then, Hynds House is our chance, and I'd just like to see anybody take it away from us!"
"Up, Guards, and at 'em!" said I, smiling at her tone. I am slower than she, but even more stubborn, as the English are.
"Tell your admiral that if he gets in my way I will blow his ships out of the water!" said Alicia, gallantly.
But when we went up-stairs, we took good care to lock our door, and bolt it, too. Alicia said her prayers kneeling by the gate-legged table, snuggled into bed between the clean sheets we had brought with us, tucked a china dog under her chin, and went to sleep like the child that she was. I said the Shepherd's Psalm and went to sleep, too.
I was awakened suddenly, and found myself sitting up in bed, staring wildly about the strange room. The house was breathlessly still. My heart pounded against my ribs, the blood beat in my ears. I was oppressed with a nameless terror, an anguished sense that something had happened, something irremediable. The feeling was so strong that my throat closed chokingly.
I am particular in thus setting it down, because it was an experience that all of us under that roof had to undergo. You had to fight it, shut your mind against it, oppose your will to it like a stone wall, refuse to let it master you. Then, as if defeated, it would go as suddenly, as inexplicably, as it had come.
That's what I did then, more by instinct than reason. But I was exhausted when I finally got back to sleep.
THE DEAR LITTLE GOD!
When we went over Hynds House the next morning and took stock, I began to entertain very, very peculiar feelings toward Great-Aunt Sophronisba Scarlett, who, it would appear, had given me a white elephant which I could neither hire out for its keep, nor yet sell out of hand. I had to live in Hynds House, and Hynds House as it stood wasn't to be lived in.
The rain had ceased, and from the outside jungle came innumerable calls of birds, and fresh and woodsy odors; but the whole aspect of the place was grim and forbidding. At the back, where there wasn't such an overgrowth, the lane had been closed, barricaded with barbed-wire entanglements, and fairly bristled with thistles and "No Trespassing" signs.
"All this house needs is a mortuary tablet set up over the front door."
But Alicia demurred.
"I'm not a bit disheartened," she declared stoutly. "There's just one thing to be done to this house—first make it beautiful, and then make it pay. It can be done. It's going to be done. It's got to be done. And when it's done—we'll have a home. Vision it as it's going to be, Sophy—rosewood and mahogany and walnut, old brass and china and prints and portraits, the sort of things we've only been able to dream of up to now. Why, this house has been waiting for us! We were born to come here and make it over: it's our house!" Alicia, has the gay courage of the Irish.
The heavy iron knocker on the front door resounded clamorously.
"Uncle Adam thinks we've been ha'nted out of existence, and he's hammering to wake the dead," said I.
But it wasn't Uncle Adam to whom we opened the door. An enormous, square-shouldered man stood there, looking from me to Alicia with bright, keen blue eyes behind glasses. He was so big, so magnificently proportioned, that he held one's attention, at first, by mere size. Then one had time to observe that although he hadn't the sleek and careful grooming of successful New Yorkers, he wore his clothes as, say, Coeur de Lion must have worn mail. He hadn't the brisk business manner, either; but there radiated from him an assured authority, as of one used to having his orders obeyed without question. No one could pass him over with a casual eye. I have known people who hated him frankly and heartily; I have known people who adored him. I have never known any one who was lukewarm where he was concerned.
"Which of you is Miss Smith?" he asked, in a very pleasant voice. "Miss Smith, I'm your next-door neighbor, house to the right: Doctor Richard Geddes, at your service."
We gave him to understand, with the usual polite commonplaces, that we were pleased to make his acquaintance, and ushered him into the dilapidated drawing-room.
"I'd have come over yesterday, when I learned you'd arrived, except that my cook was suddenly seized with the notion she'd been conjured, and I had to—er—stand by and persuade her she wasn't. Swore she had my lunch ready, as usual; swore she'd placed it on a tray, left it on the kitchen table for a few minutes, and when she came back from the pantry, not ten feet away, the tray was gone. Vanished. Disappeared. Nowhere to be found. She flopped on the floor and howled. She weighs two hundred and forty pounds and I hadn't a derrick handy. I had to roll her up on bed-slats. You've never had a conjured two-hundred-and-forty-pounder on your hands, have you? No? Well, then, don't. But if you ever do, try a bed-slat. This morning she discovered the tray in its usual place, dishes and silver intact, nothing missing. She's looking for the end of the world."
"O-o-h!" quavered Alicia, while I could feel my knees knocking together. "O-o-o-h! How very, very singular! And—and was that all?"
"All! Wasn't that enough? I've had burned biscuit and muddy coffee, because my cook's got liver and nerves, and insists it's her soul," said the doctor, grimly. "I've given her to understand that if she hasn't got her soul saved before to-night, I'll physic it out of her and hang her hide on the bushes, inside out, salted." He added, hastily: "In the meantime, I hope you haven't fared too badly in this mildewed jail?"
"Thank you, no," Alicia said demurely. "We have fared very well."
"Glad to hear it." The big man looked at her with the frank pleasure all masculinity evinces at sight of Alicia. And then he asked, abruptly:
"Has Jelnik called yet?—gray house on the other side of you.—No? I dare say he's off on one of his prowls then. A bit of a lunatic, but a very charming fellow, Jelnik, though your amiable predecessor, Miss Smith, chose to consider him a sort of outlawed tom-cat, and warned him off with a shot-gun." The doctor paused, stroked his beard, and regarded me earnestly.
"Having heired the old girl's domain, I hope you won't consider it necessary to heir her—er—prejudices," he remarked hopefully. "Bad lot, Sophronisba. Very bad!"
"Mrs. Scarlett," I reminded him gently, "was my relative only by marriage."
"Cousin of mine; mother's relative. Not on speaking-, only on fighting-terms," he interjected.
I remembered what Uncle Adam had told us; and I'm afraid I eyed him a bit harder than politeness warranted.
"I discern by your eye, Miss Smith," said the doctor, "that you think a blood relation is more likely to walk in that old demon's footsteps than an outsider is. My dear lady, under ordinary circumstances and with human neighbors, I'm as meek as Moses; I am a lamb, a veritable lamb! As for your aunt, she was a man-eating, saber-toothed tigress!"
"Not my aunt, Doctor Geddes; your cousin."
"Your aunt-by-marriage. It's just as bad. Anyhow, she preferred you to any of us, didn't she?"
"Perhaps because she didn't know me."
"Have it so. But she did whatever she did because she was an old devil of a woman, and an old devil of a woman can give points to Satan. If," cried the doctor, vehemently, "there is one great reason why a man should be glad he's a man, it is because he will never live to be an old woman!"
"That depends upon one's point of view," I told him firmly. "Now, I'm glad I'm a woman because I shall never live to be an old man. Old ladies are far, far nicer. Have you ever known an old lady who thought herself captivating? Have you ever known any old man who didn't think he could be if he wished?"
"Yes," shouted the doctor, "and no!—in both cases! There is no sex in fools. There is no age limit, either."
"The Talmud says: 'An old woman in the house is a blessing; but an old man is a nuisance.'"
"I don't give a bobtailed scat what the Talmud says. I know what I know.—Miss Gaines, I leave it to you."
"Why, I like them both, when they're nice; and I'm sorry for them both when they're not." And she added, with a naive air of confidence: "But I think I like young men better than either, as a rule."
The doctor removed his hat again, and sat down. His eyebrows went up, his eyes crinkled.
"Miss Alicia Gaines," he said genially, "I perceive you are a girl-child of fine promise.—As for us, Miss Smith, what have we to do with age and foolishness, who, as yet, have neither? Let's get down to business. What are you going to do about the lane behind Hynds House? We had the use of that lane this hundred years and more, until the devil got too strong in Sophronisba and she shut it up. Now, shall you keep the lane closed, or shall you dismiss the injunctions?"
"I shall have to consult Judge Gatchell."
"Gatchell's a fossilized remains. He's got no more blood in his liver than a flea. Gatchell would hang his grandmother on a point of law. Why should you, or any other ordinarily intelligent person, be guided by Gatchell?"
"By whom, then, shall I be guided? You?" I wondered.
"That's not in my line," replied the doctor, shortly, and thrust his hands into his gloves. "In the meantime, ladies, I'm your next-door neighbor; I have no wife to gossip about you, no children to annoy you; I'm far enough away to keep you from smelling my pipe; and I shall quarrel with you only when I can't help it. In return, I have but one favor to beg of you: don't use a shot-gun on my prize chickens! Get a dog and train him to chase them home, if they get into your yard. Or catch them and throw them over the hedge. I'll pay any damages within reason. And please send for your cat."
"We have a cat?"
"You have. After Sophronisba's death, Mandy took her in; or rather, Mandy was afraid to turn her out, for it's bad luck to cross a witch's cat. In return for this charity the hussy immediately foisted upon us two wholly unnecessary kittens. Mandy wouldn't allow them to be decently drowned, for it's worse luck yet to tamper with a witch's cat's kittens, particularly when they're as black as the hinges of Gehenna. Mandy thinks their mother had them black as a delicate mark of respect for the late crone."
"Send them over, please. Black cats will just go with this house. It was very thoughtful of that cat to have two black kittens ready for us, and very kind of you to let them stay with you until we came."
"I? I abhor the whole tribe of cats!" cried the doctor. "Don't thank my kindness: thank Mandy's idiocy, of which she has more than her just share. To my mind, the best place for cats is under the grape arbor."
"Let us strike a bargain. You keep your chickens in your own yard, and we'll keep our cats in our own house."
"Compromise: you get a dog," suggested the doctor.
"Perhaps I may. I've always wanted a poodle."
"I said a dog!" said the doctor, lifting his lip. "A poodle! In Hynds House! The lamented Sophronisba had a bloodhound."
"The lamented Sophronisba could have what she chose. This Sophronisba prefers a poodle."
"Sophronisba? What! Another one? Good God!" cried the doctor. "All right! Get a poodle. Keep the cats. Get a parrot—and an orphan with the itch—and a hyena—and a blunderbuss! Her name is Sophronisba!—I—oh, Lord, where's Jelnik? I have got to go and warn Jelnik!" And he made for the door.
At that Alicia laughed. Peal upon peal, like silver bells, irrepressibly, infectiously, irresistibly, Alicia laughed. She cries with her eyes open and her mouth shut, and she laughs with her eyes shut and her mouth open. The effect is beyond all words enchanting. The doctor paused in his headlong flight.
"All right: laugh!" he said, darkly. "But I shall warn Jelnik, none the less!" And muttering: "Sophronisba! Lord have mercy on us! Sophronisba!" he departed hastily.
"What a nice neighbor!" commented Alicia. She added, musingly: "Sophy, this is an enchanted place—a place where one has good meals, bad advice, and black cats showered on one, free and gratis. All one has to do is to stand still and take things as they come!"
"And hope one won't follow in the footsteps of one's predecessor, who was an unmitigated old devil."
"At least," said Alicia, laughing, "he'll never live to be an old woman, will he, Sophy?"
"The man has the tact of a cannibal—"
"The shoulders of a Hercules—"
"An abominable temper—"
"And a beautiful beard. Somehow, Sophy, I rather approve of a beard, on somebody his size. I decidedly approve of a beard!"
"If his miserable hens come over here, I shall most certainly—"
"Keep the eggs. We'll tell him so when he comes again."
"Comes again? What, and my name Sophronisba?"
"My own grandmother had the second sight; and I don't need spectacles," said Alicia. "Sophy, that man has come into our lives to stay. I feel it in my bones! It's not an unpleasant feeling," she finished gracelessly.
When Unc' Adam presently put in his appearance, he was profoundly impressed and respectful: we were brisk, unhaunted, and unafraid, after a night in Hynds House! The three colored women who had come with him, induced by cupidity and curiosity to enter ol' Mis' Scarlett's ill-omened domain, at first hung back. They were plainly prepared to bolt at the first unusual noise.
Of the three, one—by name Mary Magdalen—proved to be a heaven-born, predestinated cook; and her we persuaded, by bribery, cajolery, and subornation of scruples, to remain with us permanently. Only, she flatly refused to stay on the place overnight. Darkness shouldn't catch Mary Magdalen under the Scarlett Witch's roof-tree.
There are certain gifted beings who possess the secret of bringing order out of chaos; for them the total depravity of inanimate objects has no terrors; inanimate objects become docile to their will. Such a one was Mary Magdalen. In two days she had transformed a sooty cavern into a clean and orderly kitchen. For she was a singing and a scourful woman, and her Sign was the speretual and the scrubbing-brush. It is true that she put a precious old Spode tea-pot on the stove and boiled the tea in it; that she hung her wig and the dish-towel on the same nail; and that she immediately asked for a white stocking foot to use as a coffee-bag.
"But don't you-all go bust no new pai'h," she advised economically. "Ah 'd rathah make mah coffee in a ol' white stockin' foot any day, jes' so you ain't done wo' out de toes too much."
"Sophy," said the horror-struck Alicia, "that woman must be watched until we can buy a percolater. Suppose she's got 'a ol' white stockin' foot' of her own!"
Despite which there never was, never will be, such another cook as Mary Magdalen. It is true she wasn't amenable to discipline, and reason wasn't her guiding-lamp. And nothing—not bribes, threats, entreaties, prayers, orders, commands, moral suasion—could break her of doing just what she wanted to do just when and how she wanted to do it. You'd be entertaining your dearest enemies, serene in the consciousness that your house was a credit to your good management; and behold, Mary Magdalen in the drawing-room door, with her wig askew and her hands rolled in her apron:
"Oh, Miss Sophy!"
"Well?" say you, resignedly, with a feigned smile; "what is it, Mary Magdalen?"
"Miss Sophy, you know we-all's sugah?"
"Wellum, Miss Sophy, 't ain't any."
"I have already ordered more, Mary Magdalen."
"An' you know ouah flouah, Miss Sophy?"
"Us ain't got a Gawd's speck!"
Then she would beam upon the visitors, all of whom were known to her.
"Howdy, Miss Sally! How you-all comin' on? Ah comin' 'round to see de baby soon 's Ah gits chanst." Or, "Lawsy me, Miss Jinny, dat boy o' yo's is jes' natchelly bustin' outer da clo'es wid growin', ain't he? He jes' de spit o' he pa, bless 'im!"
Which untoward confidence didn't seem to surprise our visitors. They had Mary Magdalens of their own.
A few days later Doctor Geddes sent us Schmetz, the gardener, a gnarled little man with a peppery temper, a torrential flow of Alsatian French, and a tireless energy. I don't know why nor how Schmetz had come to Hyndsville, except that somehow he had acquired a small farm near by and couldn't get away from it. He explained to us, gently but firmly, that if we wouldn't meddle after the manner of women, but would leave his job in his own hands, it would be better for us, and for the garden. We meekly acquiescing, he called in helpers and with a wave of his hand set hoe and ax and spade to work.
The weather had changed into days of deep blue skies, splendid days full of the warmth of potential power; and nights filled with fragrance, nights of fierce beauty, and the glamour of golden moons, and the thrilling melody of that feathered Israfel, the mocking-bird. Through our open windows immense moths, spirits of the summer nights, drifted in on enameled and jeweled wings and circled in a fire-worshiping dance around our light.
Those were wonderful days. For that was a house of surprises, a house full of laid-by things. One never knew what one was going to find. One morning it might be a Ridgway jug all delicate vine leaves and faun heads, or an old blue-and-white English platter, or a piece of fine salt-glaze. On the top shelf of a long-locked closet, pushed back in the corner, you'd discover a full set of the most beautiful sapphire glassware, and a pagoda work-box with ivory corners; and on a lower shelf, wrapped in half a moth-eaten shawl, two glowing luster jugs in proof condition. Mary Magdalen salvaged a fine china sillabub stand, with little white-and-gold covered cups on it, from a sooty box under a kitchen cupboard. A back drawer of the dusty office desk yielded up half a dozen exquisite prints. And I'm sure Alicia will remember even in heaven the ecstasy she experienced when a battered bureau gave into her hands the adorable Bow figures of Kitty Clive and Woodward the actor, she pink-and-white, petticoated and furbelowed, lovely as when London went mad over her, and he cocked-hatted and ruffled and dandified; and neither with so much as the least littlest chip to mar their perfection.
Or a hair trunk would reveal little frocks stitched by hand, and a pair of tiny flat slippers with strings gone to dust like the little feet that had worn them. With these were two dolls, one dressed in sprigged India muslin and lace, with a shepherdess hat glued on her painted head; the other dressed in a poke-bonnet, a satin sack, and a much-flounced skirt. They had evidently belonged to "Lydia, our Darling Child," whose name, in unsteady letters, was painfully set down in the printed picture-books at the bottom of the trunk. These things that had belonged to a "darling child" so long dead lent the grim old house a softening touch. Poor old house, whose little children had all gone, so long ago!
It was the day we were taking up the beautiful old carpet in the back drawing-room. Alicia was rejoicing for the thousandth time over this treasure of hand-woven French art. Of a sudden, horrible yells rose from the garden, and a shrieking negro went by the window like an arrow. We caught "Murder!—Ol' Witch!—Corpses!" as he disappeared. Uncle Adam, catching his panic, bolted with him; the two negro women followed. Only Mary Magdalen, amazonian arms bare, a rolling-pin grasped in a formidable fist, stood like a rock of defense behind us.
"Ah jes' wants to catch any ol' corpses trapesin' 'round mah kitchin, trackin' up mah clean flo', an Ah 'll suah settle day hash once fo' all!" trumpeted Mary Magdalen.
Outside, Schmetz was jumping up and down, flapping his arms, and screaming in voluble French:
"Name of a dog! Senseless Senegambians, remain! Iron-skulled offspring of the union of a black mule and a pickax, cease to fly!"
"What is the matter? For heaven's sake? what is the matter?" I shouted.
"We done dig up de corpses! We done fin' wha'h dat ol' witch 'oman bury de bodies!" howled a workman in reply.
"Imbeciles, asses, beings without brains, listen to me!" shrieked Schmetz, this time in good English. "This corpse is not alive! Never yet was he alive! Return, sons of perdition, and assist me to raise him—may he fall upon your brain-pans of donkeys!"
As if that had been all that was needed, the last wavering workman flung down his shovel and took to his heels, running like a rabbit and roaring as he ran.
"Schmetz!" called a clear and peremptory voice. "Schmetz! what's the matter over there?"
"Ah! It is Monsieur Jelnik!" bawled Schmetz. "Nom de Dieu, Monsieur Jelnik, come with a great quickness! I have dug from the earth the leetle boy of stone—you know him, hein? Those niggers, sacrement! they think they have uncovered the deceased corpse, the victim of Madame the late mistress, with which she made her spells of a sorceress."
"What!" said the voice. "You've found the statue, Schmetz? Ask, my good fellow, if it is permitted that I come and view it."
"Why, of course!" said I, quickly.
"Thank you," said the voice.
There had been a great space cleared in our garden, and on the edge of this, in removing a stubborn gum-tree, the negroes had uncovered what they supposed to be the body of one murdered. Upon our knees, with Schmetz helping us, we were trying to tear away the rotten coverings, and the dirt and mold. And there, beautiful despite the stains disfiguring him, lay the boy Love. The marble pedestal from which he had been removed lay near him. On the base, decipherable, was the sculptor's name, and on one side, in small letters, "Brought from Italy, 1803, by R.H."
"Why, he is perfect!" cried Alicia, joyfully. "Oh, who could have been so stupid and so cruel as to hide away something so lovely? Poor dear little god, aren't you glad to get out of that grave and come back to the sun? Aren't you grateful, little god, that Sophy and I came to Hynds House?"
And at that moment a tall, slim, dark-skinned young man walked up, hands behind his back, and stood there regarding us with eyes as clear and cool as mountain water when the sunlight is upon it and golden flecks come and go in its brown depths. The exquisitely aquiline features, the small black mustache, an indescribably proud and high-bred ease and grace of manner and bearing, were oddly exotic and even more oddly fascinating. His slenderness was as strong as a tempered sword-blade, his quietness was trained power in repose. And the hair of his head was so black that a purplish shadow rested upon it, and so thick that one was minded of Absalom:
... in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.
And when he polled his head (for it was at every year's end that he polled it: because the hair was heavy on him, therefore he polled it:), he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels after the king's weight.
He was so vivid and so new to me that my whole being was breathless with the wonder of him. I knew, of course, that he did not belong to my world at all. King's sons are for princesses, for those human birds of paradise that flash, beautiful and fortunate, in larger spheres than those prosaic paths trodden by a workaday woman named Smith.
"What have you found?" he asked, in a delightful voice.
Alicia looked up. Her face was like the break of day for youngness and freshness, and a wisp of a bright curl misbehaved itself on her cheek, a flirtatious curl that knew exactly how to make the most of its opportunities. The young man's eyes approved of it.
"We have found Love!" cried Alicia, breathlessly. "Sophy and I have found Love in our garden! Isn't it wonderful and impossible and exciting and delightful? But it's true! And it just goes with this whole place!" cried Alicia, morning-eyed and May-faced.
The young man's glance came back to me. I should hate to be untruthful, and have to meet so straight a glance!
"Why, yes. It is impossible, and, like all impossible things, perfectly true," he agreed, with the golden flecks dancing in and out of his eyes and a slow and lazy smile, a sort of secret smile, curving his beautiful, mocking mouth. "Fancy finding Love, of all things, in Sophronisba's garden!" A fine black line of eyebrow went up whimsically. "And now that you have found him," said Mr. Jelnik, "hadn't you better let me help you set him up?"
THE HYNDSES OF HYNDS HOUSE
When the fine weather had taken the kinks out of Judge Gatchell's joints, he came to see us—a tall, thin, punctilious, saturnine old gentleman with frosty Scotch eyes and the complexion of a pair of washed khaki trousers. Chaos reigned in Hynds House then, and he was forced to pick his way, like an elderly and cautious cat, between piled-up chairs, tables, and rolls of carpet. In the most stately manner he parted the tails of his skirted coat, seated himself upon the sofa, placed his hat beside him, drew up the knees of his black broadcloth trousers, took off and wiped his spectacles with great thoroughness and deliberation upon a large silk handkerchief, replaced them upon the middle of his Roman nose, cleared his throat, pursed his lips, and drily but clearly talked business.
Great-Aunt Sophronisba would have left a much larger fortune had she been less addicted to lawsuits. You wouldn't think an old soul of almost a hundred could find very much chance to brew mischief, would you? You didn't know Great-Aunt Sophronisba!
I was informed that the case of Scarlett vs. Geddes had been automatically closed by the death of the plaintiff; but I had inherited along with Hynds House:
The case of Scarlett vs. The Vestry and Pastor of St. Polycarp's Church, from whom Mrs. Scarlett sought to recover three paintings—"Faith," "Hope," and "Charity"—which her father had commissioned a visiting artist to paint, and had then presented to St. Polycarp's, with the stipulation that they should "forever hang in the sacred edifice, reminding the brethren of the Cardinal Virtues of the Christian Religion."
They did hang in the church for a century. Then, when the Ladies' Missionary Society was helping "do over" the parsonage, a faded Faith, a dulled Hope, and a fly-specked Charity were transported thither. Whereupon suit was immediately brought by the donor's daughter, who averred that the church had lost all right and title to the paintings by an action directly contrary to her father's will, and insisted that they should be turned over to herself as sole heiress. It was a nice little case, and called forth an imposing array of counsel. Mrs. Scarlett had added a codicil to her will, leaving me her claim to the three paintings "fraudulently withheld by the pastor and vestrymen of St. Polycarp's Church."
There was, too, the question of the lot on Lafayette Street, between Zion Church on the one hand, and the Y.M.C.A. on the other. Both had tried to buy it; and both had been refused with contumely. Instead, that nice old lady ran up extra-sized bill-boards. Every time the Zionist brethren looked out of their side windows of a Sunday, they had ample opportunity to learn considerable about the art of advertising on bill-boards. And if a circus happened to be coming to Hyndsville, they could count on every child in their Sunday school missing his lesson, unless the text, by a fortunate chance, happened to touch upon the prophet Daniel.
And when the Y.M.C.A. people looked out of their side windows, Sophronisba's alluring bill-boards besought them to smoke only certain cigarettes and to be sure to look for the trademark on their playing-cards. Naturally, this made the Y.M.C.A. secretaries very, very happy.
A weather-beaten picket fence protected the lot upon the street front; the bill-boards formed the side attractions; and in the center front was the monument, a stone of stumbling and offense. It was a neat, plain granite obelisk, which bore this inscription:
This Stone is Erected By the Affection of Sophronisba Hynds Scarlett To Commemorate the Many Virtues of The Most Perfect Gentleman in Hyndsville Her Bloodhound NIPPER
"There should have been an open season for Sophronisba," Alicia said with conviction. Then she put her head down and laughed.
The judge looked at her over his glasses, doubtfully. With a slight edge to his voice he referred to the several prosecutions "for wanton and wilful trespassings" upon the closed, barbed-wire lane behind Hynds House. As the strip in question was not a public thoroughfare, and Mrs. Scarlett had rock-ribbed titles covering it, she could close it; and she did, greatly to the inconvenience of her immediate neighbors, particularly Doctor Richard Geddes.
"There is something to be said for Mrs. Scarlett's methods," said the judge dryly. "The Lafayette Street bill-boards are the best-paying ones in Hyndsville. As to closing the lane, Miss Smith, let me remind you that Doctor Geddes, although an estimable man and a very able physician, is not at all backward in coming forward in a quarrel. He greatly angered my late client."
"Nevertheless, that barbed wire comes down. He may use the lane whenever he wants to," I decided.
The judge bowed. "And now," he said, politely, "let us take up the case of Mr. Nicholas Jelnik, if you please. It was Mrs. Scarlett's wish that you should be fully informed concerning Mr. Jelnik's antecedents, that you might be on your guard."
"Against Mr. Jelnik? But, good heavens, why? Why?" I was beginning to get angry. "Let me see: I am to make myself odious to Mr. Jelnik, and I am to refuse to allow a physician to run his car through a barren strip of weeds and sand, because they are her relatives and she hated her relatives. I am to vex the souls of harmless Christians with bill-posters of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and I'm to pay taxes on a lot that's been turned into a cemetery for a hound dog. I'm to fight St. Polycarp's Church, for a couple of chromos I should probably loathe.—I don't like pictures of cardinal virtues, anyhow. It altogether depends on who possesses them as to whether I can stand for the cardinal virtues themselves."
"Faith looking up, and Charity looking down, and Hope hanging to an anchor, something like Britannia-Rules-the-Waves. Make the church keep them, please, Sophy!" begged Alicia.
Judge Gatchell made an odd noise in his throat.
"One of my little granddaughters, taken to Saint Polycarp's by her mother, asked, 'Mamma, who is that big woman up there with the pick-axe?' And they told her," said the Judge, scathingly, "they told her it was Hope!
"When the vestry came to me about the case, I reminded them that Aholah and Aholibah were damned for doting upon paintings on the wall, painted in vermilion, which in plain English is Scarlett!" A covenanting gleam shot into his frosty eyes, and the old fighting Scotch blood showed for a second in his lank cheek. He was a godly man, and when he saw confusion in the ranks of the Philistines, he rejoiced.
"I can't help who was damned," said I. "My job is to live in peace with my neighbors. St. Polycarp's people may hang their Virtues wherever they please, for all of me."
Did a faint, faint shade of regret flit over the parchment-like face? It seemed so to me. But he said, composedly:
"You must act according to your best judgment. And now, please, let us go back to Mr. Nicholas Jelnik."
We rather prided ourselves upon the possession of so pleasant a neighbor, and we said so. He had helped us with our garden, and it was he who selected the spot upon which the resurrected Love should be set up.
"Ah, yes, the statue, brought from Italy by Richard Hynds, a great grandfather of his. Did he tell you anything about Richard?" asked the judge.
"I shall have to go a long way back, more than a hundred years, to make you understand," said the judge. "When I was a boy some of the oldest folk here in Hyndsville used to say that Hynds House never should have come to Freeman Hynds, Mrs. Scarlett's father; but to Richard Hynds, his elder brother—that same Richard whose initials are cut in the base of the statue he brought in his pagan godlessness from Italy, and which his brother afterward buried, wishing to remove all trace of him and his follies.
"You are to understand that it was the unwritten law of the Hyndses' that this house should come to the eldest son. Primogeniture is of course foreign to American ideas, but this is an old house, Miss Smith. When it was built, American ideas hadn't been born. And the Hyndses were a law to themselves.
"The then head of the house was James Hampden Hynds, a man of an immense pride, a rigid sense of duty, and the nicest notions of honor. He had two sons, Richard, and the younger brother, Freeman. The daughters do not count: it is with these two sons we are concerned.
"From every account Freeman Hynds was a good man, a quiet, God-fearing, methodical man, attentive to his affairs, and meticulously exact in all his dealings; not warm-hearted, perhaps, but just. But as if the bad blood of the entire family had come to a head in one man, Richard was born a roisterer and a spendthrift.
"He grew up a magnificent young scapegrace, reckless to the point of madness, and with that inherent love of risk that is the very breath of life to such men. Despite these defects there is no doubt that his was one of those personalities that win love without effort. So of course it was a foregone conclusion that he should win the girl that his younger brother, among others, adored to distraction.
"His family hoped that his love for his young wife would change him for the better. But there was something tamelessly wild in Richard Hynds. He would have done very well, very well indeed, in the Golden Hind with Drake, or in the Jesus with Morgan. He did not fit in a gentler generation, and a mild life had no charm for him. Gossip buzzed with his name, even in a day when gentlemen were permitted to behave pretty much as they pleased.
"Up to this time there had never been anything altogether unpardonable charged against him. But one fine morning the Hynds jewels were missing. Remember that the Hyndses had always been a wealthy and powerful family. The theft of those jewels was no trumpery affair. For generations they had been adding to that collection—sometimes a lustrous pearl, sometimes a flawless emerald; once it was a sapphire that had belonged to a French queen, once a pair of rubies that had hung in the ears of a duchess beloved of King Charles.
"Richard's mother happened to be a meek and quiet body, deeply religious, something of a Quakeress, so she wore them but seldom. It was upon the occasion of a ball to be given in honor of Freeman's twenty-first birthday that the question of what jewels his mother should wear came up, and the strong-box in which they were kept was opened. Only the settings remained.
"When the clamor quieted and sane questions began to be asked, suspicion fastened upon Richard Hynds. His affairs were chaotic, his needs imperative and desperate. He had been heard to ask his mother if she intended wearing what he called 'the Hynds fortune' at Freeman's ball. He knew, of course, where they were kept—in the anteroom of his mother's apartment. It was not only possible but easy for him to gain access to them.
"Let us consider the case without prejudice: Here is a young man—a gambler, a wastrel—with pressing debts, and clamoring creditors threatening what might be considered dishonor. Within reach of this young man's hand are certain very valuable properties which he might even consider his own, since they would in time descend to him. His mother's resources are exhausted, his father's heart steeled against further advancements. Cause and effect, you see—debts: missing jewels.
"The case not only formed two factions in public opinion; it split the Hynds family itself. His two sisters, and his cousin Jessamine, raised in this house, believed him guilty. His mother and his wife believed in his innocence and refused to hear a word against him. These two things only did Richard Hynds salvage in that utter wreck and catastrophe—his mother's faith and his wife's love.
"He lost his father's. This was a man, who, under his pleasant exterior of a landed gentleman, was rigid and inflexible. He had already borne a great deal, remember; but this was disgrace, an indelible stain upon a stainless name. Therefore this father, who was at the same time a just and good man, disinherited his favorite child and eldest son. House, slaves, lands, money, the great position of the head of a powerful family, came to Freeman Hynds, my late client's father, born five years later than his brother, on the twentieth day of September, 1785—a long time ago! a long time ago!
"Richard was disgraced, and a beggar. And it seemed that the rod that had lain in pickle for the Hyndses for their pride, was brought forth to scourge them all. For Richard, desperate, distracted, careless of what happened to him, rode out one day through a pelting rain. Result, congested lungs; the poor wastrel, who had no wish to live, was soon satisfactorily dead.
"When James Hampden got that news, he rose up from his chair, laid the book he had been reading—it was Baxter's 'Saint's Rest'—down on the library table and fell as if lightning had struck him. Apoplexy, it was said; a thrust through the heart, I should call it. Richard the sinner was none the less Richard his first-born.
"Hard upon the heels of these two disasters came a third, the case of Jessamine Hynds. This Jessamine—a highly gifted, imperious creature, proud as Lucifer, after the manner of the Hyndses—was an orphan, reared in Hynds House. She was some several years older than her cousins, to whom she was greatly attached. The trouble so preyed upon her that she became melancholy, and one fine day disappeared and was never afterward found. There was great hue and cry made for her, and men riding hither and yon, for this was a Hynds woman, and her story touched popular imagination, so that she is supposed," said the lawyer dryly, "to wander around Hynds House o' nights, crying for Richard and searching for the lost jewels.
"After the death of James Hampden Hynds, it was discovered that he had added a singular enough codicil to his will. This codicil provided that in the event the jewels were found intact, and Richard Hynds's innocence thereby incontrovertibly established, Hynds House as it stood should revert to him as eldest son, after the custom of the family. But until the jewels were recovered, Richard and his heirs were to have exactly—nothing. And nothing is what Richard and his heirs got."
"And was he really guilty?" breathed Alicia. Her sympathy was instantly with Richard. That is exactly like Alicia, who is sorry for the fatted calf, and the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea, and Esau swindled out of his birthright; had she been one of the wise virgins she would have trimmed the lamps of all the foolish ones and waked them up in time.
"In theory," said the judge, "a man is innocent until he is proved guilty. In practice, he is guilty until he can prove his innocence."
"And was nothing, absolutely nothing, ever heard or known further?—nothing that would justify his mother's faith, or comfort his poor young wife's heart?"
"There was but one incident to which even the most credulous could attach the slightest importance. You shall judge for yourself whether it deserved any. Freeman Hynds, riding about the plantation after his habit, was thrown from his horse and died from the injuries sustained. He recovered consciousness for a few minutes before he died; some said he never really regained it. Be that as it may, the dying man cried out, in a voice of great anguish and affliction: 'Richard! Brother Richard! The jewels—the jewels!' He struggled to say more, and failed; looked into the concerned faces around him, with the awful look of the soul about to depart; struggled to raise himself; and fell back upon his pillow a corpse.
"Some—they were in the majority—said, sensibly enough, that the pain and disgrace of his brother's downfall had haunted the poor gentleman's death-bed, and occasioned that last sad cry. Some few said he had wished to confess a thing heavy upon his conscience, who had taken his brother's place as Jacob took Esau's. Richard's wife, of course, was of these latter. She went to her grave a passionate believer in the innocence of her husband, whom she averred to have been a deeply wronged and cruelly used man; and, for heaven's sake, who do you suppose she claimed had wronged him? Freeman! She couldn't prove anything; she hadn't the ghost of a clue to hang the ghost of an accusation upon; yet, womanlike, she clung to her notion, and she taught it to her son as one teaches a holy creed.
"The Hyndses were excellent haters. Freeman's daughter, born into an atmosphere of family disruption, abhorred the very memory of her uncle, and hated her uncle's wife, the woman who doubted and led others to doubt her father's honesty. This hatred she discovered for Richard's son, who, as he grew older, referred to Freeman as 'my Uncle Judas.'
"This second Richard became in time a highly successful physician, a man honored and beloved by this community. There was no wildness in him, nor in his son, the third Richard. His granddaughter Sarah Hynds married Professor Doctor Max Jelnik, the celebrated Viennese alienist, whom she met abroad. Your next-door neighbor is Sarah's son, born somewhere in Hungary, I believe. Both the young man's parents are dead, and I understand he has led a vagrant and irresponsible life, preferring to rove about rather than follow his father's profession, to which he was educated.
"My late client, indeed, held that he had inherited the deplorable characteristics of the first Richard. She asserted—she allowed herself great freedom of speech—that you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. It displeased her that he should come to Hyndsville. She thought it showed a malignant nature and a peculiar shamelessness that he chose to reside next door to Hynds House, from which his great-great-grandfather had been so ignominously driven. Her first meeting with the young man bred in her an ineradicable dislike."
Now what really happened is this: The fences having been neglected, and in consequence fallen down, and the hedge broken in many places, Mr. Jelnik, just come to Hyndsville, thoughtlessly and perhaps ignorantly crossed the sacred Scarlett boundaries. Up-stairs behind her blind, like an ancient spider in her web, the old lady spied him. She flung open the window and leaned out.
"Who are you that prowl about other peoples' yards like a thievish cat?" she demanded peremptorily.
The young man looked up, uncovering his beautiful head.
"I am Nicholas Jelnik. And I pray your pardon, Madame: I did not mean to intrude," and he made as if to go.
"Jelnik!" said she, in a hoarse and croaking voice. "Jelnik! Aha! I know your breed! I smell the blood in you—bad blood! rotten bad blood! You've a bad face, young man: a scoundrelly face, the face of a fellow whose grandfather robbed his house and shamed his name! And why have you come near Hynds House, at this hour of the day? He, he, he! I know, I know!"
Lost in astonishment, Jelnik remained staring up at her. The apparition of this venerable vixen, who had hated Richard's son and now hated him of a later generation, who had seen those that had talked to Richard himself in his ill-fated lifetime, so stirred his imagination that it deprived him of utterance. All he could do was to stand still and stare and stare and stare. He had never seen anybody so old—she was nearly a hundred, and looked a thousand—and he stared at the old, old, wrinkled, yellow face, the unhuman face, in which the beady black eyes burned with wicked fire; at the nearly bald head, thinly covered with a floating wisp or so of wool-like white hair; at the claw-like, shriveled, yellow hands, the stringy neck, the whole sexless meager wreck of what had been a woman. It was a stare made up of wonder, and instinctive dislike, and human pity, and young disgust. She raised her voice:
"Did you not see those signs? Scoundrel, puppy, foreign-born poacher, didn't you see my sign-boards?" And as she looked down at him—Richard's blood alive and red in a youthful and beautiful body: and she what she was—she fell into one of those futile and dreadful fits of rage to which the evil old are subject; and mumbled with her skinny bags of lips, and shook and nodded her deathly head, and waved her claw-like hands, screeching insults and abuse.
The pity died out of Jelnik's face. He regarded her with his father's eyes, the calm, impersonal, passionless gaze of the trained alienist. She was an unlovely exhibition, to be studied critically. In some subtle manner she understood, for she jerked herself out of her anger, and fell silent, regarding him with a glance as brilliantly, deadly bright as a tarantula's. The cold, relentless hate of that glance chilled him. He forced himself to bow to her again, and to beat a dignified retreat, when his inclination was to take to his heels like a school-boy caught pilfering apples.
The next morning a bailiff presented Mr. Nicholas Jelnik with a notice forbidding him to enter the grounds of Hynds House without the written permission of the owner, and threatening prosecution should he disobey.
"The Hyndses, as I have said, are good haters," finished Judge Gatchell.
"And so she left Hynds House to me," said I without, I am afraid, much gratitude.
"It was hers, to dispose of as she chose." The lawyer spoke crisply. "If you have any scruples, dismiss them. My late client understood that it was far better for the estate to fall into the hands of a sensible woman like yourself than into the keeping of a young man with what foolish people like to call the artistic temperament, which in plain English means a person who can't earn his salt in any useful, sensible business.
"You doubt this? Let us consider this same artistic temperament and its results," continued the judge, making a wry face. "Once or twice it has been my bad fortune to meet it. One trifling scamp I have in mind, painted. A house, a fence, a barn, even a sign-board? Not at all, but messes he called 'The Sea,' one doesn't know why, save that the things slightly resembled raw oysters. However, the women raved over him. His laundress and his landlady had good cause to rave!
"He wrote, too. A text-book, a title, a will, a deed, a business letter? Far from it! He wrote poetry, if you please! The little wretch wrote poetry! That's what the artistic temperament leads a man to! Bah! I hate, I despise, I abhor, the artistic temperament!"
We looked at the judge, open-mouthed. "Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?"
"There have been times," admitted the judge, subsiding, "when I radically disagreed with my late client; when I opposed her strongly. But when she willed her whole estate to you, Miss Smith, instead of to Nicholas Jelnik, I heartily approved. Understand, I have no personal bias, no animosity against this young man; but he is, I am told, more or less of an artist, and one might as well leave an estate to an anarchist at once. I have expressed this opinion to the town at large, and I seldom express my opinion publicly," finished the old jurist stiffly.
I heard that opinion with mingled emotions.
"But we like Mr. Jelnik," I said at last. "The injunction against him doesn't hold water. Personally, I feel like apologizing to him."
"Oh, no! One can't afford to cuddle an old vendetta, as Abishag dry-nursed old King David. I always hated Abishag!" Alicia said naively.
"My late client," said the judge enigmatically, "hadn't counted on you." He almost succeeded in looking human when he said it, and his eyes upon Alicia weren't at all frosty. Then he folded his papers, replaced them in his wallet, wiped his glasses, shot his cuffs, hoped we'd find Hynds House all we'd hoped, hoped the town would be to our liking, hoped he could be of further service to us, bowed creakily, and took his departure.
"Sophy," said Alicia, after a long pause, "if ever I had to rechristen this house, I'd call it Hornets' Nest."
* * * * *
We had not attended church on our first Sunday, because we were too tired. But on our second Sunday we plucked up heart of grace and went to St. Polycarp's.
The old town wore an air of Sabbath peace and quietness infinitely soothing to the spirit. People passed and repassed us. We knew they knew who we were. The old gentlemen, indeed, bowed to us with stately uncoverings of the head; the rest regarded us with the sort of impersonal and perfunctory interest one bestows upon uninteresting passing strangers. Nobody spoke to us, though the eyes of the young men were not unaware of Alicia's fairness.
In a great city, of course, one takes that sort of thing for granted; but in this small town, where everybody knew and spoke to everybody else, the effect was chilling.
"Talk about the sunny South!" murmured Alicia. "Why, my teeth want to chatter!"
During the services I was conscious of covert glances in our direction, but whenever a pair of feminine eyes met mine, they slid off like lizards and glided another way, with calculated Christian indifference. They weren't hostile, nor unfriendly: they were just deliberately indifferent. Nobody had the faintest notion of being heedful of us strangers among them; and I should be sorry for angels who expected to be entertained unawares in South Carolina!
When the congregation had filed out and gone about its leisurely business, the minister and his wife came forward to greet us. They were a bit nervous, remembering the diabolic uproar about Faith, Hope, and Charity. Mr. Haile was a mild-mannered little man of the saved-sheep type, with box-plaited teeth and a bleating voice. His wife had the worried face and the anxious eyes of the minister's helpmeet, and the painfully ready smile for newcomers who might, or might not, prove desirable parishioners.
She wanted to be nice to us as a Christian woman to women, but not too nice as the minister's wife of a church whose members looked upon us as interlopers. I had deputed Judge Gatchell to inform the trustees that the suit was dropped. I suppose Mrs. Haile was timid about broaching the delicate subject, for she ignored it with a nervous intensity that made me feel sorry for her. She and Mr. Haile would call just as soon as it was convenient for us to receive visitors; and then they shook hands with us, and I think they breathed a sigh of relief.
"Oh, Sophy! And we've got to keep on going there!—next Sunday, and Sunday after next Sunday, and maybe every Sunday after that until we die! Perhaps after a while some of them will bow to us, or maybe even say, 'How do you do?' but we'll feel as if we'd been put in cold storage every time we enter that door!" wailed Alicia.
"It is our Father's house," I reminded her.
"But I don't want to be made to feel like a spanked child, in anybody's house!" Alicia said, resentfully.
"You say that because you're Irish."
"You say I say it because I'm Irish because you're English." Then she screwed up her mouth like a coral button, and squinted her eyes: "I'm Irish, and you're English, and we're both American. Sophy, let's join my Irish and your English to our Yankee, and teach this town a lesson!"
"Barkis is willin'. But in the meantime let's go home and see what Mary Magdalen has for lunch."
We walked slowly, enjoying the calm, lovely late-summer day. Hyndsville at its best was a big, green, sprawling old town, a quaint, unpainted, leisurely, flowery, bird-haunted place, with glorious trees, and do-as-they-please, independent gardens. Nobody ever seemed to be in a hurry, and at first we used to wonder how they ever got anything done, or kept pace with the moving world; yet they did. Only, they did it without haste and without noise. And they were always polite. Though they should take your substance, your reputation, or even, perhaps, your life, they would do it like ladies and gentlemen.
We paused a while, just inside the big brick-pillared gate, and looked up the oak-arched garden path toward our house. Of course one can't expect an old fortress of a brick house that's been neglected for more than three quarters of a century to look spick and span inside of a brief fortnight, but already Hynds House was sitting up, so to speak, and taking notice.
Life had begun to flow back into it. Mary Magdalen had brought a dog with her—a yellow dog of unknown ancestry, of shamefaced demeanor, a ropy tail, splay feet, and a rolling eye; named, she and heaven alone knew why, Beautiful Dog.
He shunned Alicia and me because we were white people: Beautiful Dog was intuitively aware that colored people's dogs must meet white people with suspicion, aloofness, and reserve. When we fatuously sought to make friends with him, he tucked his tail between his legs, and shivered as if we made goose-flesh come out on his spine; and once when I took him by his rope collar he fell down and shrieked. But just let Mary Magdalen roll out an unctious, "Whah is yuh, Beaut'ful Dawg?" and his ears and tail went up, he curveted, and made uncouth movements with his splay feet, and grinned from ear to ear.