HIS FAULTS, HIS FRIENDSHIPS AND HIS FORTUNES
His Faults, His Friendships and His Fortunes
MAUD WILDER GOODWIN
AUTHOR OF "THE HEAD OF A HUNDRED," "WHITE APRONS," "THE COLONIAL CAVALIER," ETC.
BOSTON LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
Published, 1897, BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.
University Press: JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE, U.S.A.
Dedicated to Miriam.
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
* * * * * *
I. THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS 1
II. MINGLED YARN 11
III. OLD FRIENDS 35
IV. THE DAVITTS 57
V. THE OLD SHOP 71
VI. THE GLORIOUS FOURTH 87
VII. ON THE BEACH 102
VIII. THE MARY ANN 125
IX. NORA COSTELLO 139
X. FLYING POINT 154
XI. THE POINT OF VIEW 174
XII. "PIPPA PASSES" 188
XIII. A SOLDIER 205
XIV. TWO SOUL-SIDES 218
XV. A BIRTHDAY 236
XVI. YES OR NO 252
XVII. A LITTLE DINNER 270
XVIII. A MAIDEN'S VOW 289
XIX. A SLUM POST 303
XX. THE UNFORESEEN 323
XXI. GOD'S PUPPETS 338
XXII. THE END 356
His Faults, His Friendships, and His Fortunes
THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS
"Say not 'a small event.' Why 'small'? Costs it more pain that this ye call 'A great event' should come to pass Than that? Untwine me from the mass Of deeds which make up life, one deed Power should fall short in, or exceed."
The following chapter is an Extract from the Journal of Miss Susan Standish, dated Nepaug, July 1, 189-.
We are a house-party.
To be sure we find pinned to our cushions on Saturday nights a grayish slip of paper, uncertain of size and ragged of edge, stating with characteristic New England brevity and conciseness the amount of our indebtedness to our hostess; but what of that? The guests in those stately villas whose lights twinkle at us on clear evenings from the point along the coast, have their scores to settle likewise, and though the account is rendered less regularly, it is settled less easily and for my part, I prefer our Nepaug plan.
We are congenial.
I don't know why we should be, except that no one expects it of us. We have no tie, sacred or secular, to bind our hearts in Christian love. We have in fact few points in common, save good birth, good breeding, and the ability to pay our board-bills as they fall due; but nevertheless we coalesce admirably.
We are Bohemian.
That is, our souls are above the standards of fashion, and our incomes below them, and of such is the kingdom of Bohemia. A life near to Nature's heart, at eight dollars a week, appeals to us all alike.
We are cross.
Yes, there is no denying it. Not one of us has escaped the irritation of temper naturally resulting from ten days experience of the fog which has been clinging with suffocating affection to earth and sea, putting an end to outdoor sport and indoor comfort, taking the curl out of hair, the starch out of dresses, the sweetness out of dispositions, and hanging like a pall over all efforts at jollity.
Irritation shows itself differently in each individual of our community. As is the temperament, so is the temper.
Master Jimmy Anstice, aged twelve, spends his time in beating a tattoo on the sofa-legs with the backs of his heels. His father says: "Stop that!" at regular intervals with much sharpness of manner; but lacks the persistent vitality to enforce his command.
My nephew, Ben Bradford, permanently a resident of Oldburyport, and temporarily of Cambridge, sits in a grandfather's chair in the corner, "Civil Government" in his lap, and "Good-Bye, Sweetheart," in his hand. Even this profound work cannot wholly absorb his attention; for he fidgets, and looks up every few minutes as if he expected the sunshine to walk in, and feared that he might miss its first appearance.
I, for occupation, have betaken myself to writing in this diary, having caught myself cheating at solitaire,—a deed I scorn when I am at my best.
Doctor Cricket, his hands nervously clasped behind him, has been walking up and down the room, now overlooking my game and remonstrating against the liberties I was taking with the cards (as if I had not a right to cheat myself if I like!) and then flying off to peer through his gold-bowed spectacles at the hygrometer, which will not budge, though he thrusts out his chin-whisker at it for the fortieth time.
"The weather is in a nasty, chilly sweat," he says grumpily; "if it were my patient, I would roll it in a blanket, and put it to bed with ten grains of quinine."
"Not being your patient, and not being dosed with quinine, it may be better to-morrow," Ben retorts saucily.
Ordinarily, the Doctor takes Ben's sallies with good-humored contempt. To-day, he is in other mood. He smiles—always a bad sign with him, as the natural expression of his truly benignant mood is a fierce little terrier-like frown.
"My poor boy!" he says sympathetically. "The brain is going fast, I observe. Steep a love-story, and apply it over the affected part!"
I see Ben wrestling with a retort; but before he has it to his mind, something happens. The door opens and a girl enters. Ben's face lights up. The sunshine has come.
There is something more than a suggestion of sunshine about Winifred Anstice, even to those of us who are neither of the age nor the sex to fall under the glamour of sentimental illusions. I have often speculated on the precise nature of her charm, without being able to satisfy myself. She is not so extraordinarily pretty, though her hair ripples away from her forehead after the American classic fashion, to which style also belongs the little nose, straight in itself, but set on at an angle from the brow, which, to my thinking, forms a pleasing variation from the heavier, antique type. The classic repose is wholly lacking. The eyes are arch, bright, and a little daring; the mouth always on the verge of laughter, which is not quite agreeable, for sometimes when there is no visible cause for amusement, it gives one an uncomfortable feeling that perhaps he is being laughed at unbeknown, and a person need not be very stingy not to relish a joke at his expense.
Perhaps this sounds as if Winifred were hard, which she is not, and unsympathetic, which she never could be; but it is not that at all. It comes, I think, of a kind of bubbling over of the fun and spirits which belong to perfect physical condition and which few girls have nowadays. I suppose I ought not to wonder if a little of this vigor clings to her manner, making it not hoidenish exactly, but different from the manner of Beacon Street girls, who, after all said and done, have certainly the best breeding of any girls the world over. Ben doesn't admire Boston young ladies; but then he hates girls who are what he calls "stiff," as much as I dislike those whom he commends as "easy." Of course he gets on admirably with Winifred, who accepts his adoration as a matter of course, and rewards him with a semi-occasional smile, or a friendly note in her voice.
After all, Winifred's chief charm lies in her voice. For myself, I confess to a peculiar sensitiveness in the matter of voices,—an unfortunate peculiarity for one condemned to spend her life in a sea-board town of the United States. Like Ulysses, I have endured greatly, have suffered greatly; but when this girl speaks, I am repaid. I often lose the sense of what she is saying, in the pure physical pleasure of listening to her speech. It has in it a suggestion of joy, and little delicate trills of hidden laughter which, after all, is not laughter, but rather the mingling of a reminiscence and an anticipation of mirth. I cannot conceive where she picked up such a voice, any more than where she came by that carriage of the head, and that manner, gracious, yet imperative like a young queen's. Professor Anstice is a worthy man and a learned scholar; but the grand air is not acquired from books.
"How glum you all look!" Winifred exclaims, as she looks in upon us.
At his daughter's entrance, the face of Professor Anstice relaxes by a wrinkle or two; but he answers her words as academically as though she had been one of his class in English.
"Glum is hardly the word, my dear; it conveys the impression of unamiability."
"Precisely," persists Mistress Winifred, not to be put down, "that is just the idea you all convey to me."
"Why shouldn't we be unamiable," answers Ben, eager to get into the conversation, "when there is nothing to amuse us, and you go off upstairs to write letters?"
"You should follow my example, and do something. When I went upstairs Miss Standish was in a terrible temper, scowling at the ace of spades as if it were her natural enemy; but since she has taken to writing in that little green diary that she never will let me peep into, she has a positively beatified, not to say sanctified, expression. And there is Ellen Davitt hard at work too, and as cheerful as a squirrel—just listen to her!"
With this the girl stands still, and we listen. The waitress in the next room, apparently in the blithest of spirits, is setting the tea-table to the accompaniment of her favorite tune, sung in a high, sharp, nasal voice, and emphasized by the slapping down of plates.
"Tell me one thing—tell me trooly; Tell me why you scorn me so. Tell me why, when asked the question, You will always answer 'No'— No, sir! No, sir! No-o-o, sir—No!"
The voice is lost in the pantry. Smiles dawn upon all our faces.
"A beautiful illustration of the power of imagination!" says Dr. Cricket. "Ellen is contentedly doing the housework because she fancies herself an heiress haughtily repulsing a host of suitors. It is the same spirit which keeps the poet cheerful in his garret, or a young Napoleon in his cellar, where he dines on a crust and fancies himself an emperor."
"Steep an illustration and apply it over the affected part!" drawls Ben.
The Doctor prepares to be angry; but Winifred, scenting the battle and eager to keep the peace, claps her hands and cries out, "Excellent!" with that pretty enthusiasm which makes the author of a remark feel that there must have been more in his observation than he himself had discovered.
"There, Ben, if you are wise you will act on this clever suggestion of Dr. Cricket's, and travel off to the land of fancy, where you can make the weather to suit yourself, where fogs never fall, and fish always bite, and sails always fill with breezes from the right quarter, and whiff about at a convenient moment when you want to come home—oh, I say!" she adds with a joyful upward inflection, "there's the sun, and I am going for the mail."
"I'll go with you," volunteers Master Ben.
"Thank you, but Mr. Marsden said that I might drive his colt in the sulky."
"Not the colt!" we all cry in chorus.
"The colt," she answers with decision.
"Not in the sulky?"
"Yes, in the sulky."
"Surely, Professor Anstice—" I begin; but before I have time for more, Winifred is out of the room, and reappears, after ten minutes, strangely transformed by her short corduroy skirt and gaiters, her cap and gauntleted gloves, to a Lady Gay Spanker. I do not like to see her so; but then I am fifty years old, and I live in Massachusetts. Perhaps my aversion to the sporting proclivities of the modern woman is only an inheritance of the prejudices of my ancestors, who thought all worldly amusements sinful, and worst of all in a woman. Even the Mayflower saints and heroes had their cast-iron limitations, and we can't escape from them, try as we will. We may throw over creed and catechism; but inherited instinct remains. The shadow of Plymouth Rock is over us all.
Just here I look up to see Winifred spin along the road before the house, seated in a yellow-wheeled sulky, behind the most unmanageable colt on this side of the Mississippi, as I verily believe. Of course Mr. Marsden is very glad to have the breaking process taken off his hands; but if I were Professor Anstice I don't think I should like to have my daughter take up the profession of a jockey. I must admit, however, that she looks well in that tight-fitting jacket, with the bit of scarlet at her throat, and her hair rippling up over the edges of her gray cap.
I wonder why I chronicle all this small beer about Winifred Anstice and old Marsden's colt. I suppose because nothing really worth noting has occurred, and it is not for nothing that a diary is called a commonplace book. I find that if I wait for clever thoughts and important events, my journal shows portentous gaps at the end of the week, and I promised myself that I would write something in it every day while I was at Nepaug. For my part, I enjoy the old-fashioned diary,—a sort of almanac, confessional, receipt-book, and daily paper rolled together; so I will just go on in my humdrum way. As it is only for myself, I need not fear to be as garrulous and egotistical as I please. Besides, a journal is such a good escape-valve for one's feelings! Having written them out, one is so much less impelled to confide them, and confidences are generally a mistake—yes, I am sure of it. They only intensify feelings, and at my age that is not desirable. At twenty, we put spurs into our emotions. At fifty, we put poultices onto them.
"The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together."
The road from the station at South East to Nepaug Beach was long and dusty, tedious enough to the traveller at any time, but especially on this July afternoon when the sun beat down pitilessly upon its arid stretches, and the dust, stirred by passing wheels, rose in choking masses.
Jonathan Flint, however, surveyed the uninteresting length of highway with grim satisfaction. It was the inaccessibility and general lack of popular attractions which had led him to select Nepaug as a summering place. Mosquitoes and sand-fleas abounded; but one need not say "good-morning" to mosquitoes and sand-fleas, it is true. The fare at the inn was poor; but one was spared that exchange of inanities which makes the average hotel appear a kindergarten for a lunatic asylum; and, finally, the tediousness of the journey was a safeguard against the far greater tedium resulting from the companionship of "nauseous intruders," striding in white duck, or simpering under rose-lined parasols.
The horse which was drawing the ramshackle carryall in which Flint sat, toiled on with sweating haunches, switching his tail, impatient of the flies, and now and then shaking his head deprecatingly, as if in remonstrance against the fate which destined him to work so hard for the benefit of a lazy human being reclining at ease behind him.
Flint was, indeed, the image of slothful content, as he sat silent by the side of old Marsden, who drove like a woman, with a rein in each hand, twitching them uselessly from time to time, and clucking like a hen to urge on his horse when the sand grew unusually deep and discouraging.
Ignoring his companion, or dreading perhaps to let loose the floods of his garrulity by making any gap in the dam of silence, Flint sat idly inspecting his fishing-tackle, shutting it up, then drawing it out, and finally topping it with the last, light, slender tip, quivering like the outmost delicate twig of an aspen as he shook it over the side of the carryall. In fancy, he saw it bending beneath the weight of a black bass such as haunted the translucent depths of a freshwater pond a mile or two away. In fancy, he could feel the twitch at the end of the line, then the run, then the steady pull, growing weaker and weaker as the strength of the fish was exhausted. Suddenly into the idler's lotus-eating Paradise came a rushing sound. A sharp swerve of the horse was followed by an exasperating crackle, and, lo! the beloved fishing-rod was broken,—yes, broken, and that delicate, quivering, responsive, tapering end lay trailing in the dust which whirled in eddies around a flying vehicle.
Flint saw flashing past him a racing sulky drawn by a half-tamed colt, and driven by a girl—if indeed it was a girl and not, as he was at first inclined to think, a boy in petticoats.
The young woman took the situation jauntily. She reined in the colt, adjusted her jockey-cap, and pulled her dog-skin gauntlets further over her sleeves.
"I beg your pardon," she called out as Flint's wagon overtook her. "I'm awfully sorry to have broken your rod; but I saw that we had room to pass, and I didn't see the pole hanging out. It never occurred to me," she added with a dimpling smile, "that any one would be fishing on the Nepaug road."
Flint had labored hard to subdue the outburst of profanity which was the first impulse of the natural man, and had almost achieved a passing civility, but the smile and the jest put his good resolutions to flight. The milk of human kindness curdled within him.
"You could hardly," he answered, raising his hat, "have been more surprised than I was to see a horse-race."
A trace of resentment lingered in his tone. The mirth died out of the girl's eyes. She returned his bow quietly, leaned forward and touched the colt with the tassel of her whip. The creature reared and plunged.
"Great Heavens!" exclaimed Flint, preparing to jump out and go to her assistance.
"Let her alone!" said Marsden, with unmoved calmness, shifting the tobacco from one side of his mouth to the other. "That girl don't need no guardeen. She's been a-drivin' raound here all summer, and I reckon she knows more about managin' that there colt'n you do. It's my colt, and I wouldn't let her drive it ef she didn't."
"I hope to thunder you won't again, at least while I'm about, unless you intend to pay for damage to life and property," Flint answered testily.
By this time colt and driver had been whirled away in a cloud, Elijah-like.
"Nice kind of a girl that!" said Flint to himself with savage, solitaire sarcasm. He felt that he had appeared like a fool; and it must be a generous soul which can forgive one who has been both cause and witness of such humiliation. To conquer his irritation, Flint proceeded to take his injured rod to pieces, and repack it gloomily in its bag of green felt. When he looked up again, all petty annoyances faded out of his mind, for there ahead of him, behind the little patch of pines, lay the great cool, cobalt stretch of ocean, unfathomably deep, unutterably blue.
The young man felt a vague awe and exaltation tugging at his heart. But the only outward expression they gained was a throwing back of the head, and a deep indrawing of the breath, followed by the quite uninspired exclamation, "Holloa, there's the ocean!"
"Why shouldn't it be there?" inquired the practical Marsden. "You didn't think it had got up and moved inland after you left, did you?"
"Well, I didn't know," Flint answered carelessly. "I've seen it come in a good two hundred feet while I was here, and I couldn't tell how far it might have been carried, allowing for its swelling emotions over my departure. But I'm glad to see it at the old stand still; and there's the pond too, and the cross-roads and the Nepaug Inn. I declare, Marsden, it is like its owner,—grows better looking as it gets old and gray."
Marsden's face assumed that grim New England smile which gives notice that a compliment has been received and its contents noted, but that the recipient does not commit himself to undue satisfaction therein.
"Yes," he responded, "the old inn weathers the winters down here pretty middlin' well; but it's gettin' kind o' broken down, and its doors creak in a storm like bones that's got the rheumatiz. I wish I could afford to give it a coat o' paint."
"Ah!" said Flint, with a shrug, "I hope, for my part, you never can! I can see it now as it would be if you had your way—spick and span in odious, glaring freshness, insulting the gray old ocean. The only respectable buildings in America are those which the owner is too poor to improve."
Marsden turned sulky. He did not more than half understand Flint's remarks; but he had a dim impression that he was being lectured, and he did not enjoy it; few of us do.
Flint, however, was wholly unconscious of having given offence. It would have been difficult to make him understand what there was objectionable in his remark, and indeed the offence lay more in the tone than in the words. Flint's sympathies were imperfect, and he had no gift for discerning the sensitiveness which lay outside his sphere of vision. To all that came within that rather limited range, he was kind and considerate; beyond, he saw nothing and therefore felt nothing.
Yet he himself was keenly sensitive, especially to anything approaching ridicule. He had not yet forgiven his parents, for instance, for naming him Jonathan Edwards. He was perpetually alive to the absurdity of the contrast.
"What if the great Jonathan was an ancestor! Why flaunt one's degeneracy in the face of the public?" As soon as he arrived at years of discretion, he had proceeded to drop the Jonathan from his name; but it was continually cropping up in unexpected places to annoy him. The very trunk strapped onto the back of the carryall, that sole-leather trunk which had travelled with him ever since he started off as a freshman for the university, was marked, in odiously prominent letters, "Jonathan Edwards Flint."
It provoked him now as he reflected that that female Jehu must have seen it as she drove by. Perhaps that accounted for the suspicion of a smile on her face. He didn't care a fig what she thought, and he longed to tell her so.
The most tedious road has an ending, and the Nepaug highway was no exception, except that instead of a dignified and impressive ending, it only narrowed to a grass-grown track, and finally pulled up in the backyard of the Nepaug Inn. The inn had stood in this same spot since the days of Washington, and there was a tradition that he had spent a night beneath its roof, though it puzzled even legend-mongers to invent an errand which could have taken him there, unless he was seized with a sudden desire for salt-water bathing, and even then it must have been of a peculiar kind, for the inn stood far back from the ocean, at the head of a salt-water pond, shadeless and low-banked, a mere inlet of the sea.
This pond, however, was the great attraction of Nepaug to Flint, for in one of its coves lay an ungainly boat of which he was the happy owner. She was a bargain, and, like most bargains, had proved a dear purchase. True, the hull had cost only five dollars and the sails ten; but she yawed so badly that a new rudder had become a necessity, and that article, being imported, cost almost more than hull and sails together. When all was done, however, and a new coat of paint applied, Flint vowed she was worth any sixty-dollar boat on the pond. Once afloat in "The Aquidneck" (for so Flint had christened her, finding her a veritable "isle of peace" to his tired nerves) he seemed to become a boy again. The Jonathan in him got the upper hand. All the super-subtleties of self-analysis which in other conditions paralyzed his will, and congealed his manner, gave place here to the genial glow of careless happiness.
It was his fate to be dominated alternately through life by the differing strains in his blood: one, flowing through the veins of the old Puritans, chilled by the creed of Calvin; the other, of a more expansive strain perpetually mocking the strenuousness of its companion mood. Flint's friends were wont to say, "Flint will do something some day." His enemies, or rather his indifferents, scoffingly asked, "What has Flint ever done anyway?" Flint himself would have answered, "Nothing, my friends, less than nothing; but more than you, because he is aware that he has done nothing."
The morning after Flint's arrival at Nepaug broke clear and cloudless, yet he was in no haste to be up and actively enjoying it. Instead, he lay a-bed, taking an indolent satisfaction in the thought that no bustling duty beckoned him, and amusing himself by a leisurely survey of the various corners of his bed-room.
It was scarcely eight feet in height, and the heavy, whitewashed beams made it look still lower. In the narrow space between the ceiling and wainscot, the wall was covered with an old-fashioned paper, florid of design, and musty of odor. On the mantel-shelf stood two brass candle-sticks with snuffer and extinguisher. As Flint stared idly at them, wondering what varied scenes their candles had shone upon, his eyes were drawn above them to a picture which, once having seen, he wondered that he could ever have overlooked so long. It was a portrait of great beauty. He propped himself on his elbows to study it more closely.
"It looks like a Copley," he said to himself, "or perhaps a Gilbert Stuart. How the devil could such a picture get here, and how could I have failed to see it last year? I must have it—of course I must! It is absurd that it should be wasted here! I wonder if Marsden knows anything of its value?"
Here Flint fell back upon his pillow and found, to his disgust, that his metaphysical conscience was already at work on the problem of the equity of a bargain in which the seller is ignorant of facts known to the buyer, and whether the buyer is in honor bound not to take advantage of his professional training.
The picture which had given rise to this long and complicated train of thought was the portrait of a young woman in Quaker dress, her hair rolled back above a low and subtle brow, her lace kerchief demurely folded over a white neck. Her head was bent a little to one side, and rested upon her hand. At her breast sparkled a ruby,—a spot of rich, luminous flame.
"That is odd," thought Flint. "I fancied Quakers never wore jewels—conscientiously opposed to them, and all that sort of thing. Perhaps this damsel was a renegade from the faith, or perhaps this was some heirloom,—a protest against the colorless limitations of the creed. Queer thing the human soul. Can't be formulated, not even to ourselves. Sometimes I've seen people show more of their real selves to utter strangers at odd moments than their nearest and dearest get at in a life-time."
This disjointed philosophy beguiled so much time, that Flint was late to breakfast. His fellow-boarders, a pedler and a fisherman, had gone about their business, and he sat down alone at the oilcloth-covered table, and twirled the pewter caster while he waited for his egg to be boiled. It was one of his beliefs that a merciful Heaven had granted eggs and oranges to earth for the benefit of fastidious travellers who could wreak their appetites in comparative security, especially if they did their own cracking and peeling. At length the breakfast appeared, and with it the innkeeper, who sat down opposite Flint.
He had many weighty questions to put.
Should oakum or putty be used in the seams of "The Aquidneck"?
Should he pack the dinner-basket with beef or ham sandwiches?
Would Flint take lines for fishing, or a net for crabbing?
When all these were settled, Flint's thoughts drifted back to the portrait in the bed-room overhead. He began his questioning somewhat warily. "I suppose you've lived in this house for some time?"
"Wall, ever since I wuz born."
"And your father before you?"
"Yes, and my gran'father before him, and hisn fust."
"Ah, I see—an old homestead; and that portrait in my room is the wife of 'hisn'?"
"Not exactly—we never had no womenfolks in our family ez looked like that—stronger built is ourn, with more backbone, and none of that lackadaisical look raound the eyes."
"Pre-cisely," answered Flint. "And how does it happen that this lackadaisical-eyed portrait has hung so long without getting packed off to the garret?"
"Wall, you see," began Marsden, slowly and with evident relish, "thet's quite a story about thet theer."
"Yes?" said Flint, with a rising inflection which invited further confidence.
"Yes, indeed," answered Marsden, expanding still further and stroking his chin-whisker as he proceeded. "You see 't wuz this way—Captain Wagstaff—he wuz the portrait's uncle—wall, he wuz in command of a fleet that lay in the harbor up yonder, in the Revolutionary War. When he wuz ashore, he spent most of his time to this haouse; and when his sister down to Philadelphy died, leavin' this daughter and no one to take care on her, he brought her on here to live with him. He'd been brought up a Quaker,—'Friend,' he called it,—though he did fight for his country, and right enough, sez I. Wall, this girl,—Ruth, her name wuz,—she came here and stopped awhile; and then there wuz a fight off the shore between the Captain's ship and a British cruiser. The cruiser wuz run down and sunk; but one of the officers they picked up waounded and brought ashore, to this house, and Miss Ruth she set to work takin' care on him.
"Wall, what with cossettin' of him, and all sorts of philanderin', she got kinder soft on him, and one day, fust any one knowed, she'd jest run off with him."
"And what did the Captain say to that?" asked Flint, more interested than he was wont to be in Marsden's narratives.
"The Captain? Oh, they say he took on about it like thunder, and swore he'd never forgive her. But Ruth, she sent him her marriage lines, and wrote him what a good husband she'd got; and after the war wuz over, she kep' a-beggin' the Captain to come over and live with them. He wouldn't go; and I don't know ez I blame him any. Europe is so fur off, and such a wicked place—seems onsafer ez you get old. New England's the best place in the world to die in, and so he thought.
"Howsumever, she kep' a-sendin' him money and things; and one day ther came this here box—I've often heard my gran'mother tell how she looked on when 't wuz opened, and this picter turned out. Gran'ma wuz only a little thing, and she didn't know what to make of it all; for the Cap'n, he cried like a baby when he seen it. He had it taken up right away to his room (thet's whar you're a-sleepin') and hung over the mantel jest whar he could see it from his bed. Thar it stayed ez long ez he stayed on airth, and when he lay a-dyin',—He died, you know, in that very bed you're a-sleepin' in—only o' course the mattress is new—the old one wuz a feather-bed. My gran'mother wuz with him at the end, and she said he stretched out his arms to the pictur, same ez ef 't ed been his niece herself; and he sort o' cried out, 'God bless you, Ruth! I wish I'd 'a' understood you better!' Wuzn't that a queer thing for him to say when he wuz a-dyin'?"
"Poor Ruth!" murmured Flint, with that placid, mild melancholy born of a sad story heard under comfortable circumstances. His fancy travelled back to the damsel in her Quaker dress, and he fell to wondering if the garb had been donned, with innocent hypocrisy, to please her old uncle, or if she always wore it in her faraway new home.
When he had got so far in his musings, his host recalled him to the present by continuing, "I dunno ez we've a very good claim to the pictur; but there ain't no heirs turned up, so ez the Cap'n wuz a little behind in his board bills, we sort o' kep' it."
Flint sat drumming with his fingers on the table, while his host still maundered on after the fashion of old age, which has so few topics that it cannot drop them with the light touch-and-go of youth.
Flint had already firmly determined that he would be the possessor of that portrait; but he was too shrewd to make any further advances now.
Instead, he turned again to the subject of "The Aquidneck," and, rising, made his way to the porch, where he almost walked over a speckled hen so nearly a match for the floor that his near-sighted eyes failed to perceive her, paying as little heed to her clucking and fluttering as he bestowed upon the smiles of a girl who stood in the doorway and moved, with conspicuous civility as he passed. He stalked around to the corner of the porch where stood his long boots, for which he exchanged his low ties of russet leather, and, picking up fishing-tackle and crabbing nets, started off at a brisk pace for the shore of the pond, leaving Marsden to follow with the pail of dinner.
When all these were stowed away in the locker of "The Aquidneck," together with a straw-covered flask and a volume of Omar Khayyam, Flint bade a cheerful good-bye to Marsden, who stood rolling up his shirt-sleeves, and giving copious advice. The amateur skipper cast off from the little dock, lowered the centreboard, and stretched himself lazily in the stern, with one hand on the tiller. Peace was in his heart, and a pipe in his mouth—what could man ask more of the gods?
The white sails of "The Aquidneck" fluttered in the light breeze as if tremulous with the ecstasy of motion. The sea, beyond the low grass-covered sand-bar which enclosed the pond, lay bright and smooth to southward, its surface dotted with craft of various sizes. Here skimmed a white-winged schooner; there panted and puffed a tug absurdly inadequate to its tow of low-lying coal-barges. Far on the horizon, a swelling island raised its bulk, purple as Capri, against the golden haze.
Flint might have been a better sailor had he not been so good a swimmer; but, having no fear of the consequences of a sudden bath, he took all risks, sailed into the very apple of the eye of the wind, and habitually fastened his sheet,—a practice strongly reprehended by old Marsden.
"There's a new boat on the pond," said Flint to himself, as a cat-rigged craft, white-hulled with a band of olive, shot out from behind a point of rock. "Her lines are rather good. A good sailor aboard too, I should say, for she runs free and yet steady. I'd like to try a race with the chap some day; maybe it would be hardly fair if he's a new comer, for I know the pond like—Damn it! what's that?"
That was a sunken rock which Flint, in his self-satisfied musings, had failed to keep a lookout for. It had struck "The Aquidneck" full (or vice versa, which amounts to the same thing); and here was a pretty pickle. Navigation is like flirtation: all goes smoothly till the shock comes, and then everything capsizes, with no chance for explanation.
"The Aquidneck" began to fill, and then to sink so rapidly that Flint, not caring to risk entanglement in the sheets, thought it prudent to jump overboard, and struck out lustily for the shore. Fortunately for Flint, the shore was near and the water shallow. Unfortunately, the shore was at the end further from the inn, his clothes were soaking, and his tobacco and whiskey flask in the locker, already under water in the midst of mud and eel-grass.
Determined to make the best of a bad situation, Flint swam ashore, calmly disposed his coat and knickerbockers over the bayberry bushes, and seated himself, in his dripping under-garments, to dry in the sun to consider his next move.
"Certainly things couldn't be much nastier," he grumbled. "Yes, they could too," he added, as he heard a female voice calling from beyond the screen of bayberry bushes.
"Boat ahoy! What's the matter?"
Flint's first impulse was to hide; but fearing the voice and its owner might come ashore to investigate the extent of the calamity, he hastily donned his outer clothing and emerged, like a dripping seal, from his retreat. "All right!" he called out.
"All wrong! I should say," the voice replied; and in an instant he knew it for the voice which had called to him from the sulky on the previous afternoon.
"That girl is a hoodoo!" he muttered.
"Can I do anything for you?" inquired the voice, with that super-solemnity which results from the effort to conceal amusement,—a solemnity doubly insulting to its object, implying at once his absurdity and his vanity.
"Thank you!" answered Flint, stiffly; "if you will be kind enough to send some one over to give me a lift, I will be greatly obliged."
"Why not get in with us? Luff her in, Jim!" With this the girl and her companion, a boy of twelve years old, bare of leg and freckled of face, brought the boat around, and Flint climbed aboard with rather a bad grace.
To tell the truth, he was in a fit of the sulks. I admit that the sulks are not heroic; but Homer permitted them to Achilles, and why should I conceal the fact, unpleasing though it be, about my lesser hero.
Doubtless his ancestor, Jonathan Edwards, would have felt a like discomposure, had his pulpit given way under him in the presence of his congregation; and even that other fiery orator, Patrick The Great, might have lost his balance had his new peach-colored coat split up the back, when he was hurling death and destruction upon tyrants and pleading for liberty or death. To be ridiculous with equanimity is the crowning achievement of philosophy.
The boy addressed as "Jim" stared at Flint with open-mouthed enjoyment.
"You didn't fetch where you meant to, did you?"
"Why, Fred, what am I saying wrong now? You're always hushing me up. I didn't mean to guy him, but he did look so jolly glum."
Seeing that intervention was vain in this quarter, his sister essayed a change of topic, and, womanlike, rushed on to the one she had most steadfastly promised herself to avoid.
"Were you fishing when the accident happened?" She stopped and colored nervously.
"No," observed Flint, dryly. (His remarks were the only dry things about him.) "My fishing-rod happened to be broken. It is of no consequence however," he hastened to add, seeing her blush deepen painfully. "The fish about here are not gamey enough to make fishing an exciting sport. Do you find it so?"
"I never fish."
"Ah, I am surprised."
"I hate to see the poor things suffer—"
"You are too tender-hearted?"
"Say rather too weak-nerved—I should not care if every fish in the sea died a violent death after prolonged suffering, provided I was not obliged to watch the process."
"But don't you know these cold-blooded creatures can't be made to suffer? I dare say the keenest enjoyment a fish ever feels is when his nervous system is gently stimulated by a hook in his mouth."
"Perhaps—I don't know—I tell you it is no question of sympathy. It is simply physical repulsion; and then I loathe the soft slipperiness of the bait."
"That's so," put in the boy at the tiller. "Fred groans every time I put a worm on the hook, and squeals when the fish flop round in the bottom of the boat, especially if they come anywhere near her skirts."
"Fred," repeated Flint to himself, "I might have known she would have a boy's name—" Aloud, he said: "I suppose, Master Jim, you have found all the best fishing-grounds in the pond."
Jim softened visibly at this tribute to his skill.
"Well, I know one good one over at Brightman's, and I'll show it to you to-morrow, if you like."
His sister shot a warning glance from under her level eyebrows.
"Don't make plans too far ahead, Jim. Sufficient unto the day, you remember—and unless this gentleman gets dry and warm soon, I am afraid he will spend some days to come under the doctor's care. Haven't you some brandy or whiskey?" she asked, turning more fully toward Flint, and noticing for the first time that his lips were blue and his teeth chattering in spite of his efforts at unconcerned conversation.
"Yes," he answered; "a flask full of excellent old whiskey—over there," and he pointed disconsolately to the line of green water where the tell-tale fluttered above the wrecks of "The Aquidneck."
The young lady knit her brows in puzzled thought, "What is in our locker, Jim?"
"Bread and butter, cocoanut balls and ginger-ale."
"Get out the ginger-ale."
"But it is your luncheon," deprecated Flint.
"No, it isn't—it is your medicine. Try it."
Flint pressed the iron spring, and poured down the spluttering liquid, striving to conceal his wry face.
"Bully, ain't it?" exclaimed Jim, not without a tinge of regret for lost joys in his tone.
"Excellent!" returned Flint, perjuring himself like a gentleman.
"It is better than nothing," Miss Fred answered judicially. "I will send Jim up to the inn with some brandy; Marsden's stuff is rank poison. I had some once this summer when I was ill, and straightway sent off to town for a private supply. If you feel able to exercise, I should advise you to let us put you off at this point, and make a run across country to Marsden's."
"I don't know how to thank you," Flint murmured as Jimmy pulled the row-boat up, and the young man prepared to climb in after him.
"There is no occasion for thanks. But if you insist on a debit and credit account, please charge it off against the ruin of your fishing-rod."
"I am humiliated."
"Yes; I must have been a model of incivility."
"No; it was I who was in fault, rushing about the country like a jockey riding down everything in sight."
"Who except a fool would have had a fishing-rod trailing half-way across the road?"
"Look here," grumbled Jim, "I can't hold this dory bumping against the side of the boat forever—"
"Don't be impertinent, Jim. Besides apologies never last long. It is only explanations which take time—"
Flint jumped from the gunwale of the sail-boat into the dory, and took the oars. As he headed for shore, he turned his eyes once more to the sail-boat, and the glimpse that he had of its skipper he carried for long after—the vision of her standing there in the stern, against the stretch of blue water, her soft handkerchief of some red stuff knotted about her throat above the gray jacket, her felt hat thrust up in front above the waves of her hair, and her eyes smiling with frank mirthfulness.
"It's an ower-come sooth For age and youth, And it brooks wi' nae denial, That the oldest friends Are the dearest friends, And the new are just on trial."
Flint was glad enough on reaching the inn to creep into bed. In spite of his cross-country run he was chilled through. Little shivers ran down his back, and his hands and feet seemed separated by spaces of numbness from the warmth of his body. The brandy arrived, and he swallowed some eagerly; but it had little effect on his chilly apathy. The dinner-bell clanged below. Flint heard it, but he paid no heed to the summons. He had forgotten what it was to desire food. A blur before his eyes, and an iron band about his head, occupied his attention to the exclusion of the outside world.
By three o'clock the headache-fiend had entered into full possession, had perched itself in the centre of consciousness, and seemed to Flint's excited nerves to be working its octopus claws in and out among the folds of his brain.
Waves of pain vibrated outward to his ears and eyes. He watched the shade against the blindless window flap to and fro. Each streak of light admitted, struck the sufferer like a blow. He got up, went to the washbasin and sopped a towel, which he bound about his head and lay down again—no relief. He could endure it no longer. He dropped his boots one after the other on the floor, till at length Marsden heard the signal of distress, came lumbering up the stairs, and thumped upon his door.
Flint bade him come in and state in the fewest possible words whether there was any doctor within reach.
"How long would it take to fetch him?"
"About half an hour."
"Let it be done."
Again Flint sank into a sort of stupor, from which he was awakened by a knock, and the entrance of a nervous, little wiry gentleman whose clothes of rusty black had the effect of having been purchased in a fit of absence of mind.
The sufferer roused himself as the physician came in.
"My name is Flint, and I sent for you to give me a dose of morphine."
"My name, sir, is Cricket, and I'm damned if I do any such thing."
"Why did they send for you then?"
"They sent for me to see what I thought you needed—not to take your orders for a drug. I am not an apothecary."
"More's the pity!" returned Flint, flouncing across to the inner side of the bed, and turning his back unceremoniously upon his visitor.
Dr. Cricket received this demonstration with unconcern. He took out his thermometer and shook it against his wrist. Then resting one knee on the bed he thrust the thermometer into his recalcitrant patient's mouth, saying: "Don't crunch on it, unless you want your mouth full of glass, and your belly full of mercury. Now for the pulse. Ah! too fast—I expected as much."
He took out the thermometer and held it to the light. "Over one hundred—see here, young man, it's well you sent for me when you did."
"I wish I hadn't."
"So do I, from a professional point of view. Nothing so good for doctors' business as delay in sending for us. As it is, I fear I can't conscientiously make more than two calls, or keep you in bed after to-morrow."
"But what are you going to do for this accursed pain in the head?"
"Oh, that's of no consequence—only a symptom. It's the fever that worries me."
"Oh, it is—is it? Well, it is the pain that worries me, and if you don't do something about it, I'll fire your old bottles out of the window."
"Very good. Then I will send back to Mrs. White's for more bottles and a straight-jacket to boot—"
"So you live at Mrs. White's, do you?"
"No, sir, I do not live anywhere in summer—I board."
The doctor chuckled over his little joke as genially as if it had never seen the light before; but humor does not appeal to a man with a headache, and antique humor least of all.
"That's where Miss Fred and that freckled-faced brother of hers stay—isn't it?" Flint continued.
"Ah, do you know the Anstices?"
"Not I—that is, I never saw the young woman till yesterday; but to the best of my belief she is not human at all, only an evil genius of the region who goes about with incantations which cause fishing-rods to break at the end, and boats to run onto rocks."
"So—ho! You were the skipper of 'The Aquidneck,' were you? Well, well! no wonder you're laid up with a chill. We nearly burst our blood-vessels, laughing over Miss Fred's account of you, rising up like a ghost out of the eel-grass, and the topmast of your boat sticking up out of the water like a dead man's finger."
Dr. Cricket's little black eyes twinkled with enjoyment as he recalled the scene. The misguided man fancied he was helping to take his patient's thoughts off himself, and, having measured out his powders and potions, he took his departure, leaving Flint inwardly raging.
To be made the butt of a boarding-house table! Really it was too much; and this girl, of whom he had begun to think rather well—this girl doubtless mimicked his disconsolate tones and his chattering teeth, and made all manner of fun of his sorry plight.
Folk with a headache see life quite out of focus; and at the moment it really would have been a comfort to Flint to know that this mocking maid had been drowned, or struck by lightning, or in any fashion disabled from repeating the story of his discomfiture. He writhed and twisted, and at last fell asleep, still alternately vowing never to forgive, and never to give her another thought.
In the morning when he woke, free from pain and, except for a certain languor, quite himself again, he wondered at his childishness of the night before, though in spite of reason a certain sub-conscious resentment lingered still.
At seven o'clock Matilda Marsden knocked at his door and gave warning that the breakfast-hour drew near.
"I say," he called in response, "will you please send some one with a pitcher of hot water? I'll have my breakfast in bed."
Flint knew perfectly well that she would bring the water herself; but it was necessary to keep up the fiction of intermediate agency in deference to her position.
From October until June she was "Miss Marsden," in a shop of a small New England town; and when from June to October she condescended to become plain "Tilly," and to lend her assistance to her parents at the Nepaug Inn, she made it distinctly understood that she did so without prejudice to her social claims.
She waited at the table to be sure; but she shaded her manner with nice precision to meet the condition of the guest she served. To the timid pedler, she was encouraging; to the encroaching commercial traveller, she was haughty, and to Flint gently and insinuatingly sympathetic.
Flint, on his part, treated her with the deference which he accorded to all women; but it never occurred to him to consider her as an individual at all. To him she was simply an agency for procuring food and towels; and when she lingered on the stairs, or at the doorway, making little efforts at conversation, he cut her ruthlessly short.
The result of this mingling of courtesy and neglect was of course that the girl fell promptly and deeply in love with the young man, cut out from the current magazines every picture which bore the slightest resemblance to his features, and went about sighing sighs and dreaming dreams, in a fashion at once pathetic and ridiculous. Flint, meanwhile, always obtuse on the side of sympathy, went his way wholly oblivious of her state of mind. How should he know that his rolls were hotter and his coffee stronger than those of his fellow-boarders, or that to him alone was accorded the friendly advice as to the comparative merits of "Injun pudd'n" and huckleberry pie, which constituted the staple of desserts at the inn?
This morning, as usual, he was wholly unconscious of the effort to beautify the tray set down outside his door. It meant nothing to him, that the pitcher holding the hot water was of red and yellow majolica, that the coarse napkin was embroidered with a wreath of impossible roses, and the coffee-cup bore the legend "Think of me" in gilt lettering. In fact the only thing which attracted his attention at all was a pile of letters on the tray. He glanced hastily over the envelopes, swallowed his breakfast, and returned to closer inspection of the correspondence. The first letter which he opened was written by the editor of an English "Quarterly," informing him that his recent critique on Balzac had found favor in high places, and that the "Quarterly" would like to engage a series.
Flint tried not to seem, even to himself, as pleased as he felt.
The next note was of a different tone, a grieved rejoinder from a young author whose book had been reviewed by Flint with more light than sweetness. Less stoical to reproaches than to compliment, Flint kicked vigorously at the bedclothes, as though they had been the offending note-writer.
"Great Heavens!" he growled. "Does the man think his budding genius must be fed on sugar-plums? What I said about him and his book was either true or false; and here he spends his whole sheet prating about 'sensitive feelings,' as if they had anything to do with the matter."
Oh, imperfect sympathies! How large a part you play in the unhappiness of the world!
The third envelope on the tray was yellow, and contained a large, careless scrawl on a half-sheet of business paper; but it seemed to afford Flint unalloyed delight.
"Brady coming to-day!" he almost shouted aloud. "That is what I call jolly. I would like to see forty Dr. Crickets keep me in bed."
Brady and Flint had been college friends in the old days, at Harvard, and after that for years had drifted apart. Flint betaking himself to a German university, and Brady to a business career in Bison, a flourishing town of the great Northwest, wherein he too had flourished mightily, and whence he sent imploring messages to Flint, begging him not to waste his life in the effete civilization of New York, but to come out and get a view of real folks in the fresh new world of the West.
To these messages Flint had replied with more candor than courtesy, that the only fault he had to find with New York was its lack of civilization, that he was saving every nickel in hopes of getting away from it to eastward, and that if he were condemned to spend his life in Bison, or any other prairie town, he would make short work of matters with a derringer.
This slight difference of opinion had not at all interfered with the attachment of the two; and few things would have roused Flint to such enthusiasm as this expectation of a fortnight—a leisurely, gossiping, garrulous, quarrelsome fortnight—with his old friend. The prospect of the visit was a better tonic than any contained in the little doctor's black-box. Indeed it drove all thoughts of doctors and their medicines so completely out of his head that he was quite surprised when, having dressed and descended to the ground-floor, he saw Dr. Cricket standing at the foot of the stairs, wiping the perspiration off his forehead with a large silk handkerchief.
The Doctor looked fiercely at him from under his shaggy eyebrows.
"Is this Mr. Flint?" he asked, as if unable to believe the testimony of his eyes.
"It is," Flint answered with unconcern.
"Why did you get up?"
"Because I formed the habit in my youth."
"Didn't I tell you to lie in bed till I came?"
"I don't remember."
The Doctor quivered with rage.
"I am an old man, sir," he said, "and I've walked a mile in the heat of this devilish sun, and all for a patient who is determined to kill himself, and such a fool that it doesn't matter much whether he does or not."
"Every man, you know, must be either a fool or a physician when he reaches maturity. Some may be both. However, since you were kind enough to come to my assistance last night, I cannot be induced to quarrel with you this morning, and you ought to be the last man to find fault with me for feeling the benefit of your medicine sooner than you expected."
Dr. Cricket was as easy to be placated as to be stirred to anger; and when Flint urged him to come into the stuffy little office and partake of a lemonade with the addition of a stronger fluid from a bottle in Flint's room, he forgot his wrath or drowned it in the cooling drink, and at length parted in kindliness, only bidding his patient wear cabbage-leaves in his hat, and be sure to take wraps in case of a change in the weather, not forgetting to put on his "gums" if he walked on the wet beach.
When he had gone, Flint found the Doctor's gold-bowed spectacles in a chair. "Brady and I will walk up with them this evening," he said to himself. "Perhaps I was not as civil to the old gentleman as I might have been."
When Marsden learned that Flint was planning an expedition to South East, he suggested that he would "take it kindly" if Flint could make it convenient to bring down a few packages of groceries, as some of the store supplies had run out, and the relays were not expected until the next day.
Flint reproached himself for weakness in complying, and growled still further when he saw the length of the list which Marsden handed to him as he took his seat in the carryall.
"What a cursed fool I am," he muttered as he drove off, "to hire this man's beast for the privilege of doing his errands!"
The three-o'clock train puffed into the station at South East nearly an hour behind time. The period of waiting in the intense mid-day heat had not improved Flint's temper. For all his hearty greeting to Brady, he could not shake off a sense of irritation, intensified by the fact that he had no one on whom to wreak it.
Brady's trunk was strapped onto the carryall, the various bottles, jugs, and packages which Flint, with such unusual urbanity, had consented to bring down to the Beach for Marsden, were stowed away under the seat, and nothing remained but the mail. To get this Flint drew up at the post-office. The postmaster was a grouty old store-keeper who, through political influence, retained his position in spite of the efforts of the town's-folk to oust him. This afternoon a line of wagons stood at the door, and a line of men stood at the little window within. Seeing his own name in the list of those for whom there were letters, Flint waited for the window to open, and took his place in the line. When he reached the window, he asked for his letter.
"No letter for you," growled the postmaster.
Flint stepped out of line and consulted the list. There was no mistake. Again he presented himself before the window.
"What cher want?"
"Ain't no letter, I told cher."
"Perhaps you will be kind enough to look at the list."
The postman, in the worst of humors, went to a drawer of his desk, and, after much hunting about and turning over of parcels, he found a letter which he threw out at Flint without a remark. Flint took it also in silence, turned away and resumed his place at the end of the line. Again he returned to his old post before the little window. This time the postman grew purple with rage.
"Get out o' this you! What cher want now?"
"I simply wish," answered Flint, in his low, clear, gentlemanly voice, "to tell you that you have behaved like an insolent blackguard, and deserve to be removed from office."
Flint's words were the signal for a storm of applause from the loiterers, and he walked out a hero. He was in a more amiable frame of mind when he climbed into the carryall. The old horse, feeling his head turned homeward, needed less urging than usual, and the young men lolled back, talking busily of old times and new.
Brady was a typical business-man of the West,—cheerful, practical, a bit boastful, square-shouldered, clear-eyed and ruddy-faced, confident of himself, proud of his surroundings, sure that there were no problems of earth or Heaven with which America in general, and Philip Brady in particular, were not fitted to cope.
Before he had uttered a dozen sentences, Flint began to realize how far apart they had drifted in the ten years since they had met. He experienced a vaguely hopeless sense of complexity in the presence of his friend's bustling frankness. He felt almost a hypocrite, and yet it seemed to him that any attempt at self-revelation would be useless, because the relative value, the chiaro-oscuro of life, was so different to each. He took refuge, as we all do under such circumstances, in objectivity—asked heartily for the health of each member of Brady's family, listened with polite interest to the statistics of the growth of Bison, and then began to wonder what he should talk about next. As he cast his eye downward, a very practical subject suggested itself, for he saw with dismay that the cork was out of the molasses jug, from which the sticky fluid had already oozed forth, and was rapidly spreading itself over the floor of the carryall.
"This is what comes of being obliging. Just look at this mess! What in time are we going to do about it, Brady?"
Brady, being a man of action, wasted no energy in discussion. He jumped to the ground, pulled out first his overcoat and gripsack, fortunately unharmed, then the paper parcels of oatmeal and hominy, sticky and dripping. Swiftly corking the jug, he lifted it out of the carryall, together with the oilcloth strip, and deftly stood both against a fence by the roadside. Flint watched him with admiration. He felt himself supremely helpless in the presence of the direful calamity. How was he ever to get these bundles into condition to be put back into the wagon? How cleanse the oilcloth and the fatal jug?
No house was in sight.
Flint stood gloomily gazing down at his boots covered with the oozy brown fluid. "Jupiter aid us!" he exclaimed; and as if in answer to his call, "a daughter of the gods, divinely tall," rose on their sight, coming towards them from over the ridge of the hill. She came on swiftly, yet without hurry. She walked (a process little understood by the feminine half of the world, hampered as they are by their stays and tenpenny heels). This woman neither hobbled, nor waddled, nor tripped. With the leg swinging out from the hip (no awkward knee-movement, yet no stride), she swept down the hill as serenely as though she were indeed a messenger sent by Jupiter to their assistance. Beside her trotted a large dog who now and again excursionized in search of tempting adventure, but as constantly returned to rub his head lovingly against his mistress's skirt, and lick her hand, as if to assure her that, in spite of his wandering propensities, his heart remained faithful.
"The hoodoo!" muttered Flint.
"What a pretty girl!" exclaimed Brady.
The object of these widely differing criticisms moved steadily nearer. She wore a white gown. A basket was on her arm, and her wide-brimmed straw hat was pulled low over her eyes to shield them from the sun. She was close upon the scene of accident before she discerned it. Catching at the same moment a look of annoyance on Flint's face, she swerved a little, as if with intent to pass by, like the priest and the Levite, on the other side; then, reassured by Brady's look of half-comic despair, she set down her basket and paused.
"You have met with an accident, I see," she observed, as casually as though she had never before heard of any catastrophe in connection with Flint. "The molasses worked, I suppose. It will, sometimes, if it is not tightly corked. It was stupid in the grocer not to warn you."
"It is kind of you," said Brady, "to lay the accusation of stupidity so far off; but, wherever it lies, the results are the same, and we are in a bad way."
"What can we find to wipe these things off with?" the good Samaritan asked, making common cause in the misfortune.
"Nothing," answered Flint, with extravagant gloom, striving as he spoke to cleanse his shoes by rubbing them against the grass-grown bank.
The girl put her finger to her lips,—a characteristic gesture when she was puzzled. Then, unfastening her basket with sudden energy, she exclaimed: "Why won't this do? Here is some sea-moss which I was taking to an old woman who lives a little further down the road. She makes some stuff which she calls farina out of it, and grieves bitterly that she is no longer young and spry enough to gather it for herself along the shore. My basket is full of this moss, and if we could wet it in the brook down yonder, we might sponge off the things with it, and then dry them with big leaves, backed up by those newspapers which I see you have in your parcel of mail."
"What a clever notion!" Brady said, as he plunged down to the brook, and came up again with the dripping moss. He and the Samaritan scrubbed merrily away, while Flint stood by with an uncomfortable sense that he was out of it all, and that no one but himself knew or cared.
When comparative cleanliness was restored, and the bundles returned to the bottom of the wagon, the girl scrambled down to the brook, and, pushing back her wide cuffs, knelt by the water, where she washed the traces of sticky substance from her long slender fingers.
"You have relieved us from a very awkward situation," said Flint, as she rose; "but your basket of moss is spoiled and your long walk rendered futile. Surely you will permit us at least to drive you home."
"Thank you, no. Mrs. Davitt will like to talk a while, and to know that I have not forgotten her and her farina. So I will bid you 'good afternoon.'"
"That is the most charming girl I ever met," observed Brady, as he stood watching her disappear around the turn of the road.
"Did you ever meet one who was not?" asked Flint.
"The way she took hold was magnificent," continued Brady, unmoved by his companion's raillery. "And then when it was all over she was so unself-conscious; and the best of all was her politeness in never laughing at us, for really, you know, we must have looked rather ridiculous, standing gawking there like two escaped imbeciles."
This allusion irritated Flint, as he remembered the last two occasions, when she had borne herself less seriously. The recollection colored his first remark, after they had clambered into the carryall, and persuaded Dobbin to resume his leisurely trot.
"I am afraid myself, inconsistent as it seems, I should have liked her better if she had not taken hold in such a capable, mannish fashion. There is a certain appealing dependence which is rather becoming to a woman—to my thinking, that is—it is an old-fashioned notion, I admit."
"Well, I must say I don't think an attitude of appealing dependence would have been very serviceable to us to-day; and as an habitual state of mind, while it may be very attractive, it seems to imply having some one at hand to appealingly depend upon. Our sex must have reciprocal duties; but I don't notice that you have offered yourself as a support for any of these clinging natures."
"Nevertheless," answered Flint, "if I ever did fall in love, it would be with a woman of the clinging kind. But don't let us get to talking like a couple of sentimental schoolgirls! Here we are, anyway, at the last turn of the road, and there is Nepaug Beach. How does it strike you?"
"It reminds me," said Brady, smiling, "of the Walrus and the Carpenter:—
"'They wept like anything to see Such quantities of sand. If this were only cleared away They said it would be grand.'"
"Brady, you are a sentimentalist! You sigh for brooks and willows and, for all I know, people."
"Flint, you are a misanthrope! You have searched out this God-forsaken stretch of sand just for the purpose of getting away from your kind. Now I have hunted you to your lair, and I propose to stay with you for a fortnight; but I am not to be dragooned into saying that I think your resort is a scene of beauty, for I don't; but that is a jolly, old, gray, tumbled-down building over there—a barn, I suppose."
"No, sir; that is the Nepaug Inn. As it has neither porters, waiters, nor electric bells, you are expected to shoulder your own luggage and march upstairs—second room to the right. Whoa, there!" he called out to the old horse a full minute after the animal had come to a dead halt in front of the inn door. The noise, however, served its purpose in bringing Marsden to the door, and loading the old inn-keeper with imprecations for their unlucky experience with the molasses, Flint left him to struggle with the contents of the wagon, while he himself escorted Brady up the narrow, sagging stairs, and ensconced him in a room next his own,—a room whose windows looked out like his over the purple stretch of ocean, now opalescent with reflection of the clouds.
"Where do you take your bath?" Brady asked, looking round somewhat helplessly.
"In there, you land-lubber!" answered Flint, pointing out to sea; "isn't the tub big enough?"
Brady laughed, a hearty, boyish, infectious laugh. "All right," he said, "only it seems rather odd to come East for pioneering. Did you know, by the way, that I am to be in New York this winter?"
"Yes. Our house is just establishing a branch office there, and I am to be at the head of it."
"Bison establishing a branch office in New York! The humor of the thing delights me."
"I don't see anything so very funny about it," answered Brady, rather testily; "but I have no stomach for a quarrel till I have had some supper—unless you sup out there," he added with a lordly wave of his hand towards the ocean in imitation of Flint's gesture. "I hope, at any rate, our evening meal is not to be of farina. The associations might be a little too strong even for my appetite."
"The short and simple annals of the poor."
After taking leave of Flint and his companion in misfortune, Winifred quickened her pace. The lengthening shadows warned her that if she intended to return to the White House before supper was over, she had no time to lose.
"Come, Paddy!" she said, laying her hand with a light, caressing gesture on the shaggy red-brown head of the Irish setter, which had kept closer guard than ever since the meeting with the strangers in the road,—"come, Paddy! we must make a sprint for it."
The dog, glad enough to be allowed the luxury of a gallop, set off pell-mell, and Winifred followed at a gait which soon brought her, flushed and out of breath, before the unpainted house where the Davitt family made their abode. It was not characterized by great order or tidiness. Clothes-lines, hung with underwear of various shapes and sizes, decorated the side-yard, and proclaimed Mrs. Davitt's calling. A whole section of the front fence had taken itself off. The gate swung aimlessly on one rusty hinge, and a brood of chickens wandered at will over the unmown grass before the house: yet the place was not wholly unattractive, for it bore evidences of human love and happiness; and, after all, these are the objects for which the most orderly and elegant mansions exist, if indeed they are so fortunate as to attain them. These are the essence of a home.
An old dory filled with geranium and nasturtium brightened the centre of the yard. Beneath the wide spreading maples, which lent their unbought adornment to the shabby old house, hung a child's swing, and near by stood a rickety express-cart, to which an unlucky goat was tethered by a multi-colored harness made of rope, tape, and bits of calico. The driver of this equipage, a tow-headed lad of some five years old, stood with his thumb in his mouth, gazing with open-eyed amazement at the young lady who thought it worth while to walk so fast.
"Good afternoon, John!" said Winifred, when she had regained her breath. "Is your mother at home?"
The practice of answering questions is an acquired habit, and comes only after long acquaintance with society. Children left in a state of nature rarely think it necessary or even safe to commit themselves so far. John Davitt only pulled his thumb out of his mouth, poked his pink toes deeper into the grass, and gave a hitch at the single suspender supporting the ragged knickerbockers which formed two-thirds of his costume.
"Oh!" continued the visitor, not in the least disconcerted by the lack of response to her advances, "you don't want to leave your goat long enough to go and ask about your mother, do you? Well, I should not like to be asked to leave my colt if I were driving. People should do their own errands, I think, and not be bothering other folks with their business. You will not be afraid of my dog if I leave him here while I go into the house, will you?"
"Whath hith name?" asked John, discovering for the first time that he had a tongue and knew its use.
"Paddy," answered the visitor.
"I uthed to have a brother Paddy. He died."
"Then you must make friends with the dog for his sake. Would you like to see how my Paddy can chase a stone?" With this Winifred picked up a large pebble, and threw it far down the road. Paddy, with a bark of animated enjoyment, made after it, with wagging tail and ears laid back against his head. John laughed loud, wrinkled up his little pug nose and showed his white teeth.
"Now when he brings it back, you throw it again, and I will go in and try to find your mother; I think I see her now," she added, as she turned the angle of the house and caught a glimpse of Mrs. Davitt, seated in the wooden rocking-chair beside the kitchen-table, paring potatoes.
To the casual glance she was only a homely old Irish woman who might have been the original of "The shape which shape had none." The only semblance of waist was the line drawn by her gingham apron-string. Her form bulged where it should have been straight, and was straight where it should have curved. Her face, however, had a gentle motherliness, and still bore traces of the comeliness which had marked it a quarter of a century earlier, when, as Bridget O'Hara, she had set sail from "the owld counthry" to try her fortune in the new.
After a few months' experience of city life over here, she had drifted to South East, where she found employment in a thread factory which stood on the bank of the tiniest stream that ever, outside of England, called itself a river. Its current ran swiftly, however; its mimic falls were forced into the service of trade; and the wheels of the thread factory whirred busily, except when bad times brought wheels and bobbins to a standstill.
For three years after her arrival in South East, Bridget O'Hara stood beside her wheel, and fed her bobbin faithfully. Her blue Irish eyes were bright in those days, and her cheeks red as the roses of County Meath, where the thatched homestead of the O'Haras lifted its humble head. More than one of the men working in the factory took notice of the blue eyes and the red cheeks, and would have been glad to secure their owner for a wife; but she was not for any of them. Before she had been in the village six months, she had given her faithful heart to Michael Davitt, the young New England fisherman whose boat lay below the bridge which she crossed every morning on her way to her work in the factory. Many a time on bright spring mornings she loitered on the bridge, leaning over its wooden railing to watch Michael as he washed out his boat, and made ready for the day's sail. Sometimes the talk grew so absorbing that the factory bell sounded out its last warning call before Bridget could tear herself away, and afterward, through the long day, shut up among the whirring wheels, in the dust and heat of the big dreary room, she kept the vision of the white flapping sail, and of Michael Davitt standing by the tiller of the boat under the bridge.
At last the fisherman asked her to marry him, and she accepted him joyously, undismayed by the diminutive proportions of their united incomes.
"Sure, Mike dear," Bridget had declared cheerfully, "what's enough for wan will be enough for two, and you'll never feel the bit I'll be afther atin'."
This specious theory of political economy has beguiled into matrimony many a young couple who fail to take account of the important difference that what is enough for two may not be enough for three, and still less for three times three. So it fell out with the Davitts. For the first year of their married life, Bridget went on working in the factory, and kept her tiny tenement tidy, and Michael mended nets on the doorstep, and sold fish in summer, and loafed in the winter in contented assurance that life would continue to treat him well. But the next year opened less prosperously. Bridget was compelled to give up her work in the factory, and when, in the middle of a particularly rigorous winter, a baby was born to the house of Davitt, the outlook would have appeared discouraging to any one less optimistic than Bridget. But she found much cause for satisfaction in the thought that the baby had come at this particular time, when Michael could be at home to help take care of the house; and above all in the reflection that the baby was a boy, "who'd not be thrubblin' any wan long, for before we know it, Mike, me jewel, he'll be lookin' afther you and me."
Part of her self-congratulation had justified itself, for the baby Leonard had grown up into one of those helpful, "handy" lads who sometimes are sent to be the salvation of impecunious households. At an incredibly early age, he began to feel the responsibilities of the family on his manly little shoulders, and as the procession of small Davitts entered the world, he took each one under his protecting care. Dennis, Ellen, Maggie, Tommy, Katie, and John had found their way into the family circle, and no one hinted that there was not place and porridge for the last as well as the first.
As the years went on, Michael Davitt lost whatever alertness of temperament he might once have possessed. New England seems to endow some of her children with such a surplus of energy, that she is compelled to subtract a corresponding amount from the share of others. Michael Davitt was one of the others. His experiences as a fisherman had persuaded him that it was useless to put forth effort, unless he had wind and tide in his favor. Consequently, his life was spent in waiting for encouragement from the forces of nature,—encouragement which never came; so that at last he gave up the struggle, and sat by the chimney-corner all winter, as contentedly as he sat on the stern of his boat all summer, ready to move if circumstances favored, but serene under all conditions. His silence was as marked as his serenity. On occasions, he could be moved to smiles, but seldom to speech. He sat quiet and unmoved amid the family hubbub, his long limbs twisted together, his arms folded above his somewhat hollow chest, and his protruding tusks of teeth firmly fastened over his nether lip, as if constraining it to silence.
Tommy might lift off the cover of the beehive, and rush into the house shrieking with wrath and terror over the result; Maggie might upset the milk, and John drag the kitten about the room by its tail,—no matter! the father of the family continued to sit unmoved as Brahma. But when Leonard entered the door, some appearance of life began to show itself in Michael. He untwisted his legs, moved a little to make room on the settle, and even went so far as to make an entering wedge of conversation with a "Well, Leon!"
Leonard Davitt was a boy to warm any father's heart,—stout and strong, hearty and frank, cheerful as the day was long, with the smile and jest of his race ready for any chance comer. This light-heartedness had made him a favorite not only in his own family, but among all the youth and maidens who dwelt in the outlying farmhouses around South East; but of late an unaccountable change had come over the lad. This merry, careless happiness had deserted him. He had taken to going about with hair unbrushed, and a "dejected 'havior of his visage."
The noisy mirth of his little brothers and sisters irritated him, and their noisier quarrels exasperated him. He kept away from them as much as he could, and when he was not off in his boat, he sat on the fence under the maples as taciturn as Michael himself. The children wondered at him, and gradually began to draw away at his approach, instead of rushing toward him as of old. Maggie, who was fifteen now, and worked in the factory, suspected the cause of his trouble, and once ventured to rally him on "the girl that was so cool she'd give a man the mitten in summer;" but her pleasantry was ill-received. Leonard scowled at her, and stalked away muttering to himself.
His mother saw him from her window, and she too knew what was the trouble with her boy; but she only dropped a few tears among the potato-parings, and resolved to make griddle-cakes for supper,—as though Leonard were still a child whose heart could be cheered through his stomach. As Mrs. Davitt laid down her knife to wipe her eyes, she heard the barking of a dog, and then a rapid double knock on the half-open kitchen-door.
"Come in, Miss," she said, rising and wiping her hands on her gingham apron. "Come in and take the rocker. Don't be standin' when sittin' down is chape enough, even for the poor. It's yourself hezn't forgot me, nor me bit o' farina."
"No, indeed, Mrs. Davitt, I did not forget you: but you won't get your farina after all; for I met some poor men in distress, and I handed over all the sea-moss to them."
"Poor craytyurs! Wuz they that hungry they could ate it raw?"
"Hardly," answered Winifred, smiling at her remembrance of the peculiarly well-fed looking recipients of her bounty, "they were not hungry at all; but they had come to grief with a molasses jug. The carriage and everything in it was sticky, and I don't know what they would have done to get it clean without your moss; but you shall surely have some more to-morrow, and now tell me how you are feeling."
"Is it meself? Thank ye kindly, me dear. I'm jest accordin' to the common, save where I'm worse; me legs ache me nights, and I fale the washin' in me back some days; but if me moind wuz right, it's little I'd moind the thrubble in me bones."
"Why, what is wrong, Mrs. Davitt?" Winifred asked with sympathy in her voice. "The children all look well. John's cheeks are red as apples, and Katie is as round as a butter-ball."
"Oh, the childers is all right," answered Mrs. Davitt, with an air of mystery, but evidently not unwilling to be pressed further as to the source of her trouble.
"Surely it is not your husband? He looked better than usual this morning when he came around to the White House, and he had as fine a catch of fish as I have seen this summer."
"Yea, himself's all right."
"Then it must be Leonard; but I am sure he is a boy of whom any mother might be proud."
"Proud? Yea, but many's the proud heart is the sore heart."
"Tell me all about it," said her young visitor, laying her delicate hand on the red fingers which still clasped the bone-handled steel knife. Mrs. Davitt looked down for a moment in silence, playing with the bent joint of her stiff third finger, then she broke out with a fierceness in curious contrast to her usual gentle speech.
"It's that Tilly Marsden. Bad luck to her for a bowld hussy! She's put the insult on Leonard."
"Yea, 'tis the same as an insult for all the neighbors to take notice of, whin a gurrl ez hez been kapin' company with a man fur goin' on two years, walks by him now with her nose in the air, lek wan wuz too good to be shpakin' with the praste himself."
"Don't be too hard on Tilly, Mrs. Davitt," remonstrated Winifred, soothingly. "Perhaps she is fond of Leonard still, but does not want him to feel too sure of her. I dare say you were a little like that yourself, when you were a girl."
"Thrue fer ye, me dear!" Mrs. Davitt answered, with that delightful Irish readiness to be diverted from her woes to a more cheerful frame of mind. "Thrue fer ye! I'd never let Michael be sayin' me heart wuz caught before ever he'd shpread the net."
"Then, depend upon it, Tilly feels the same."
"Mebbe it's the thruth you're afther findin' out; but I misthrust, and it's meself will never fergive her if she breaks the heart of the best by in the counthry."
The possibility was too much for the sorrowful mother. She threw her apron over her head, and abandoned herself once more to despair, swaying to and fro disconsolately in the black wooden chair from the back of which the gilt had been half rubbed away by quarter of a century of rocking.
"Do you think it could possibly do any good for me to talk with Leonard?" Winifred ventured, quite dubious in her own mind of the wisdom of the proceeding.
"Ow, if yez would, 'twould like be the savin' o' the by. He'll not bear any of us to shpake wid him at all at all."
"Very well then, I will try to get him to talk about it. Only don't be disappointed if I do not succeed! The chances are that he will not listen to me."
"Not listen to yoursilf, is it!" cried Mrs. Davitt, once more transported to the heights of hope. "Sure, the saints in Hiven would lay down their harps to hear your swate vice. Yes, and aven to look at ye, as ye shtand there, in that white dhress, jist like what wan o' thimsilves 'ud be wearin'! How becomin' ye are to your clothes!"
Winifred smiled at the subtle flattery; but before she could muster an appropriate acknowledgment, she caught sight of Leonard loitering at the gate.
"There is Leon now; I will ask him to walk part way home with me. It is growing dark, and you know," she added, laughing, "how timid I am!"
Mrs. Davitt smiled in answer to the laugh, for Winifred's daring was the talk of the countryside. She dried her eyes, and peered over her spectacles at her visitor as she picked her way among the chickens, feathered and human, who thronged about the doorstep, to the spot where Leonard stood, listlessly hanging over the gate gazing idly up and down the road.
Mrs. Davitt's heart beat anxiously as she marked the girl stop to speak to him, and when at last she saw him turn and walk beside her up the road, followed suspiciously by Paddy with the basket in his mouth, she burst out into a tearful torrent of joy and thanksgiving.
THE OLD SHOP
"Ah! poor Real Life, which I love, can I make others share the delight I find in thy foolish and insipid face?"
The sun was already low in the west, when Flint and Brady, having supped heartily on boiled lobster and corn bread, lighted their pipes and strolled toward the door of the tiny shop which leaned up against the inn as if for support. A bird, looking down upon it in his flight, might have mistaken it for some great mud-turtle, so close did it sprawl along the ground.
For some years it had served as a turkey-house on the farm; but as Marsden had begun to discover possibilities of profit in a shop which should both draw custom to the inn, and find customers in the chance guests of the tavern, he had turned his attention to the work of transforming the poultry-house into a village store, and had been surprised to find how well it adapted itself to its new purpose. True, the beams ran across only a few inches above Marsden's head; but that was rather an advantage than otherwise, for they thus made an excellent substitute for counters, and the wares were well displayed and within easy reach. Along one beam hung a row of boots of every style and size,—from giant rubbers, reaching to the thighs, in which the Nepaug farmers went wading for seaweed fertilizer, to the clumsy baby shoes, jauntily set off with a scarlet tassel at the top, in that pathetic effort of the poor to express in their children's dress the poetry so scantily supplied in their own lives. Another beam was hung with wooden pails, and a third gleamed with the reflections of bright-new tinware.
On the shelves opposite the door lay bright hued calicoes flanked by jars of peppermint candies, some of which were rendered doubly irresistible to youthful customers by being cut in heart-shape and decorated with sentimental mottoes chiefly in verse.
Marsden fitted his shop so well, that he seemed little more than an animated bundle of secondhand goods. His cowhide boots were the fellows of those that dangled from the fourth beam. His gayly checked flannel shirt harmonized delightfully with the carriage robes in the corner, and the soft brown-felt hat toned aesthetically with the plug tobacco in the case behind him.
When Flint and Brady looked in at the door, a girl was standing at the counter, turning over the pile of calicoes. She had brought with her a pailful of blueberries which she evidently wished to barter for a remnant of the prints. She showed much disappointment when Marsden declined to trade except upon a cash basis.
"What might this be wuth?" she asked at length, pointing to a red and white calico on the second shelf. Marsden, Yankee-like, answered her question by another. "What'll ye give fur it? It's the end of the piece, and I dunno but I'd as lives you'd hev it ez anybody."
"Wall," answered the girl, cautiously, "I wouldn't give no more'n six cents a yard for it."
"Take it along," said Marsden, wrapping it, as he spoke, in coarse brown paper. As he handed it to her he said: "I wuz goin' to offer it to you for five cent."
The girl's face fell.
"You see," whispered Flint to Brady, "there never was a woman who could really enjoy anything unless she thought she had paid less than it was worth. It is my own belief that Eve bought the apple from the Serpent as a bargain, and that Satan assured her that he would not have sold it to Adam at double the price."
As the maiden withdrew, a buggy rattled up to the door of the little shop. In the broad strip of light formed by the lamp opposite the door, the creaking vehicle stopped short. A dumpy female in a nondescript black garment took the reins, while her male companion descended heavily, putting both feet upon the step, and cautiously lowering himself to the ground close beside the spot where Flint and Brady stood. Once assured that he had reached the ground in safety, he proceeded to take off his wrinkled duster, fold it tenderly, and lay it on the seat, from beneath which he pulled out a bulky bundle, securely tied up in bed-ticking.
Flint watched the rustic with idle curiosity, as the old man entered the store and deposited his bundle on the counter. Marsden sat on a chair with no back, nursing his knee and assuming indifference to the entrance of the new-comer.
"Be thar any market naow for quilts, or be thar?" asked the old farmer, somewhat anxiously, while untying the knots of his parcel.
"I dunno ez thar be, and I dunno ez thar be," Marsden answered.
Both parties seemed to understand each other perfectly. They approached as warily as two foxes. When the roll was finally spread out on the counter, the dim lamplight flickered over a patchwork quilt of the familiar log-cabin pattern, gay with colors as varied as those of Joseph's coat.