BETWEEN FRIEND AND SWEETHEART.
AMANDA M. DOUGLAS,
AUTHOR OF "FROM HAND TO MOUTH," "NELLY KINNARD'S KINGDOM," "IN TRUST," &C., &C.
"Abou spake more low, But cheerly still; and said, 'I pray thee, then, Write me as one that loves his fellow-men.'"
BOSTON: LEE AND SHEPARD, PUBLISHERS. NEW YORK: CHARLES T. DILLINGHAM.
THE DOUGLAS NOVELS.
OSBORNE OF ARROCHAR. A MODERN ADAM AND EVE IN A GARDEN. THE FORTUNES OF THE FARADAYS. FOES OF HER HOUSEHOLD. A WOMAN'S INHERITANCE. CLAUDIA. FLOYD GRANDON'S HONOR. FROM HAND TO MOUTH. HOME NOOK. HOPE MILLS. IN TRUST. LOST IN A GREAT CITY. NELLIE KINNARD'S KINGDOM. OUT OF THE WRECK. SEVEN DAUGHTERS. STEPHEN DANE. SYDNIE ADRIANCE. THE OLD WOMAN WHO LIVED IN A SHOE. WHOM KATHIE MARRIED.
* * * * *
PRICE PER VOL., $1.50.
* * * * *
LEE AND SHEPARD, PUBLISHERS, BOSTON.
COPYRIGHT, 1879, BY LEE AND SHEPARD.
All rights reserved.
HON. MARCUS L. WARD,
As a Tribute
TO ONE WHO HAS HELD LOYALLY TO GOD AND HIS FELLOW-MEN, WHO HAS LABORED IN THE NOBLE CAUSE OF HUMANITY, NOT DISHEARTENED WHEN RESULTS WERE INFREQUENT, BUT CONTENT TO REAP THE REWARD IN THE GREAT HEREAFTER.
BETWEEN FRIEND AND SWEETHEART.
"THERE is Fred again with his arm around Jack Darcy's neck. I declare, they are worse than two romantic schoolgirls. I am so thankful Fred goes away to-morrow for a year! and I do hope by that time he will have outgrown that wretched, commonplace youth. Mother, it is very fortunate that Jack is the sole scion of the Darcy line; for, if there were a daughter, you would no doubt be called upon to receive her into the bosom of the family."
"Which I never should do," remarked quiet, aristocratic Mrs. Lawrence, not even raising her eyes from her book.
"Not for the sake of your only son?" continued Agatha, with an irritating laugh.
"Don't be silly, Agatha," returned the mother, with an indifference that took off the point of the query.
Her second sister glanced up from a bit of pencil-drawing, then lowered her eyes to the street where the boy friends stood, one with his arm over the other's shoulder.
"Think of a Harvard graduate arm-in-arm with—well, a mill-hand! No doubt Jack's father will put him in the mill. I cannot see any sense in a boy of that class taking two years at the academy."
On the opposite side of the room were two girls, hardly more than children, busily engaged in ornamenting a box with transfer-pictures. One had a rather haughty mien, as became a Lawrence; the other, pretty, piquant little Sylvie Barry, looked toward the elders, knit her brow, with both thought and indignation visible in its lines, and held her picture absently in her hand.
"Why do you listen to that?" asked Irene Lawrence disdainfully. "It is only Jack Darcy, and he's nobody. His father works in the mill."
"I know that!" was Sylvie's rather sharp retort, answering the latter part of the sentence merely. Child as she was, she experienced a strong desire to do battle, not only for Jack, but for some puzzling cause she could not quite comprehend. With the blood of a French duke in her veins, of soldiers and martyrs as well, she was a sturdy little democrat. It seemed cowardly not to take up arms.
"That butterfly is to go next," remarked Irene, reaching out for it; and Sylvie held her peace, though she felt the warm blood burning in her cheeks.
Jack Darcy did not need any champion within doors; for Fred stood up bravely against these three girls, and from them received his first impression that women were small of soul and narrow of mind. As they stood by the gate now, this last hour grudged to them, neither dreamed that this was the final canto in the poem of boyhood. They had been fast friends since the first day pale, puny Fred made his appearance in school, and was both laughed at and bullied by some boys larger in size, but younger in years.
"He will have to get the nonsense rubbed out of him some time," thought Jack; "and it can never be younger." But, when the contest degenerated into the force of the strong against the weak, one blow of Jack's fist sent Brown reeling and howling.
"Try a fellow of your own size next time," was Jack's pithy advice.
Fred came to him, and cried hysterically in his arms. Jack had experienced the same feeling for some poor rescued kitten. Fred, with his head full of King Arthur and his knights, mythology, and bits of children's histories, wherein figured heroes and soldiers, elected Jack to the highest niche in his regard.
Jack Darcy was a wonderful boy withal, a very prince of boys, who hated study and work, and loved play; who despised Sunday clothes and girls' parties; but who had not his equal for spinning a top, or raising a kite, and when it came to leap-frog, or short stop, he was simply immense. Then he always knew the best places to dig worms, and the little nooks where fish were sure to bite, the best chestnut and walnut trees; and, with years and experience, he excelled in baseball, skating, wrestling, leaping, and rowing. Jack Darcy was no dunce, either. Only one subject extinguished him entirely, and that was composition. Under its malign influence he sank to the level of any other boy. And here Fred shone pre-eminently, kindly casting his mantle over his friend,—further, sometimes, than a conscientious charity would have admitted; but a boy's conscience is quite as susceptible of a bias as that of older and wiser people. On the other hand, Jack wrestled manfully with many a tough problem on which Fred would have been hopelessly stranded. Once rouse the belligerent impulse in Jack, and he would fight his way through.
These two were at different ends of the social plane. Fred's father was the great man of Yerbury, the present owner of Hope Mills; not only rich, but living in luxury. He had married Miss Agatha Hope, and by the death of her two brothers she had become sole heir to the Hope estate: though it was whispered that her brothers had left a heavy legacy of debts behind them. There was family on the Lawrence side as well, but not much money. David Lawrence had prospered beyond his wildest dreams. He had twice been mayor of Yerbury, gone to the State Legislature, and been spoken of as a possible senator; but he did not sigh for political distinction.
Agatha was their first-born; then Frederic De Woolfe, named for some Hope ancestor. Two girls afterward; but Fred remained the only son. He was a delicate boy, and, until he reached the age of ten, studied with his sisters' governess, when he rebelled, and insisted upon his boy's prerogative of going to school. Here he met and loved Jack Darcy.
Jack was a few months the elder,—a stout, hardy, robust boy, full of mischief, falling into scrapes, and slipping out easily. Not vicious or ugly; in fact, he had thrashed Ned Thomas for robbing birds' nests, been known to rescue a miserable kitten from its tormentors, and was always bringing home sore-eyed, mangy curs to be nursed and healed. If he had cared, he could have boasted as good a pedigree as the Hopes and the Lawrences. For his grandmother was of pure old French Jacobin descent, titled too. Many a wild romance and adventure had her family figured in,—now on the top round of prosperity, now in bitter poverty and exile. At the age of eighteen she was living on the western coast of Ireland with her old father, when she fell in love with handsome Jack Darcy, whose persuasive blue eyes were enough to melt the heart of the most obdurate woman; the merriest, wittiest, best-tempered lad for miles around, the owner of a small farm and numberless family traditions that counted back to the time when
"Malachi wore the collar of gold, He won from the proud invader."
For a while they were prosperous and happy: then came bad seasons, famine, and finally typhus. Two bright, handsome sons and a little daughter were victims, leaving only baby Bernard. They came to the New World, and began life again, managing thriftily, and buying a house and garden in the quaint old town of Yerbury. Mr. Darcy died; and his son grew to man's estate, settled to the business of carpenter and builder (as he possessed a good deal of mechanical skill), married a pretty, delicate girl, but did not seem to make of life a signal success. Still it is possible that a life of happiness and content may have its use in this world, if it does not serve to point a prosperous moral.
He added a wing to the house, he raised fruit and flowers that were marvels. Grandmother preferred for several years to keep house by herself, raise chickens and geese, and keep putting by a little of her very own. They had a choice garden and a soft-eyed Alderney cow, but Bernard Darcy had surely missed his vocation. He should have been a scientific farmer.
Baby Jack came to them. He certainly had not inherited the beauty of the Darcys nor the Beaumanoirs, not even the delicacy of his mother. The eyes of Irish blue were tinged with gray, his hair inclined to the warmer tints of chestnut, and now he always kept the curls cropped short. However, his magnificently shaped head was not disfigured by the process. He did get terribly freckled and tanned as warm weather came on, and the hair turned almost red by much bathing and sunshine. A striking contrast indeed to the handsome, well-dressed Frederic.
When Fred went to the academy he pleaded for Jack to go, and Grandmother Darcy decided that he should. She had never taken kindly to her son's rather plebeian occupation. After several years of indifferent success, Mr. Darcy had accepted a position at the mill, in which, if there was not so much profit, there were no losses.
Jack was not a student in an intellectual point of view. He did not care to be a doctor, lawyer, or clergyman, and certainly not a professor. He would have liked to pack a satchel, and start westward, prospect for a railroad, gold or silver mine, and live the rugged, unconventional camp-life. Once he had ventured to suggest this noble ambition; but his timid mother was startled out of her wits, and his grandmother said with a sage shake of the head,—
"A rolling stone gathers no moss."
"Grandmother," began Jack argumentatively, "of what real value is the moss to the stone, except in the picturesque aspect? Do you know that a great many of these time revered and honored adages are the greatest humbugs in the world?" asked the audacious young iconoclast. "Who wants to be a stone or a clod, or even a bit of velvet moss? They go to make up the world, it is true; but is that narrow, torpid, insensate life any pattern for human souls and active bodies? I think a man's business in this world is to find out new channels, to build up, to broaden and deepen, and somehow to make the world feel that he has been in it. I can't just explain,"—and his brows knit into a puzzled frown,—"but it seems to me there is something grander than plodding along and saving a little money."
"No doubt you would be glad enough to have the money, when you have gone off like the prodigal son, and wasted health and substance in foreign lands," said grandmother with some asperity.
Jack had been brought up to reverence the Bible and religion, and to respect his grandmother was the first article in his creed. He relapsed into silence, but the busy brain kept up a vigorous ferment. What was life all about, anyhow? Why did people come into the world, live thirty, sixty, or even eighty years, and then drop out of it. Was it merely to eat, drink, and sleep?
The wider lore at the academy had a peculiar effect upon Jack, tangled his brain, begat confusing mental processes. Greek he hated; Latin he barely endured; chemistry and mineralogy interested him, and in mathematics he excelled. Fred carried every thing before him, graduated with honors, and was to enter Harvard. The Lawrences went to Newport, and Jack missed his bosom friend sorely. He rambled through the woods, read every thing that came in his way, and thought a good deal in his crude, undisciplined fashion.
What was he to do with this tough problem of unknown quantities?
He ventured at last to broach the subject to his father.
Bernard Darcy studied his son gravely. Now, it must be considered that he had never been troubled with this hungry, perplexing view of life that urges one on to dip deep into the secrets of existence. To have a pretty house and garden, to watch his flowers, vegetables, and chickens grow, to dream over his books in his cosey sitting-room, not to be pinched for money, not to be anxious about employment, but to go on serenely day after day,—this was Mr. Darcy's idea of happiness; and, having this, he was perfectly content.
His mother secretly chafed at his lack of ambition; his neighbors said, "A good, honest fellow, but with no 'push' in him." Curiously enough, the virtues that are preached from pulpits Sunday after Sunday, that we are always recommending to our friends, are not the ones that gain any vast amount of credit in this life. "Be content! be content!" cries every one, from revelation downward; yet content, pure and simple, is rather despised and flouted by our fellow-men.
"I don't know, Jack," said the elder, gravely shaking his head with slow dubiousness. "What would you do if you were once away?"
"I'd go on until I found some place into which I just fitted;" and the boy glanced over westward with hungering eyes.
"But, Jack," said his father, after a pause, "I think people oftener fit themselves into a place. There are so few places ready made to one's hand. It's always something. Now, I'll venture to say that David Lawrence, with all his money, doesn't see as much real happiness as I do. His is a slave's life, after all. It's day and night, bills to pay and stock to get, dissatisfied hands, poor hands spoiling work, losses here and there, little leisure, small peace of mind; and all for what? There was a time when I might have envied him: I don't now."
Jack had lost all but the first two sentences.
"That's the thing!" he cried, with boyish enthusiasm,—"fitting yourself; coming to something that takes hold of you like an inspiration; that you could work for, fight for, that rouses soul and body."
Bernard Darcy studied the youthful face, eager, alert, hopeful, and with something else in it that he could not understand.
"I never had any such dreams or desires," he said in an uncertain tone, as if fearful he might lose his way among his son's vagaries. "I wanted a pleasant home, and a loving wife and children. I wish there had been more of them, Jack, for your sake," and his voice took on a tender inflection. "Then, if one wanted to go away, there would have been others left. You see, Jack, mother's heart is bound up in you, and she's getting to be an old woman with but few ties. I might manage to comfort your own mother; but you are so young, Jack. There will be many years before you, doubtless; and if you could give a few to us," with a wistful, loving look. "Now, if you wanted to study"—
"But I don't," in a hasty, husky tone. "I believe I hate quiet. I want life, adventure! I've staid in school this last year just to please Larry."
"Have a little patience, Jack. Old people are not like young ones. They feel the changes keenly. And you are all we have. It would take the sunshine out of our lives. It would seem as if there had been a funeral."
"Yes," said Jack with meek hopelessness that one would hardly look for in a vigorous boy; and winking hard to keep back some tears. No logical argument, no stricture of duty, could have half the weight of this bit of love pleading. Father was right. God had made him a son first of all, given him a son's duties. Jack had never troubled his head much about religion in any theological sense; but his simple creed had some great if old-fashioned truths in it.
"If there's any thing you would like to do, I'd be glad to give you a chance. And there's no need to hurry. You may come to the right thing presently."
Jack swallowed over a great lump in his throat. The two kittens came scampering up the walk, and he caught one, lifting it to his shoulder. Then Sylvie Barry entered the gate with her dainty milk-kettle shining like silver.
They were in a manner neighbors, for Larch Avenue was the next street to Maple Place. Both streets were now given over to what is termed decayed gentility. The larches were old and ragged and brown with clustering cones, and the blue blood of the denizens had grown a little sluggish.
Miss Honoria Barry and her small niece lived together, with a tall and gaunt handmaiden Norman French, and a broad Yorkshire gardener. Miss Barry was the old cream of Yerbury. Here her family had lived since the Huguenot persecution, and dwindled finally to two. Louis Barry was a dissipated spendthrift. He married, and tormented his wife into an early grave, and might have worn out his sister, but Providence kindly removed him. Miss Honoria retrenched, paid off debts and mortgage by degrees, and brought up Sylvie in a quaint, refined, old-world fashion.
Old Mrs. Darcy and Miss Barry exchanged formal calls, and discussed la belle France. Sylvie took great delight in listening to grandmother's stories of brave heroes and handsome women who figured in old legends.
Oddly enough, one of the many points of agreement between Jack and Fred had been their aversion to girls in general. Fred judged them from his sisters, who were always nagging, always exhorting him to be a gentleman, and always holding up Jack Darcy to ridicule. Jack, on the other hand, had a bashful fear of girls, and fancied they were laughing at every little awkwardness; then they cried so easily, went off in a huff if they could not have their own way, were silly, vain, and tattling, ready enough to beg your assistance if there was a munching cow by the roadside, a worm swinging from a tree, or a harmless mouse running across the floor. The great fascination to the Darcy house was, that the boys could sit in the large, clean kitchen, trying all sorts of crude experiments, with Ann to clear away the debris and find no fault. Jack never wanted to go to the great house. In true boy fashion he understood without any explanation. But they both liked little Sylvie. She was taught at home except in music and drawing, and she was as much interested in grandmother's heroes as the two boys.
On the other hand, the Hopes and the Barrys had always been great friends; and, from some odd freak of unlikeness, Sylvie and Irene Lawrence carried on the intimacy.
She stopped now, and talked about the kitten with Jack; and he carried her milk-pail home to the gate.
It was a long, wearisome vacation to poor Jack. Fishing lost its charm, even tramps in the woods became monotonous. He spent hours in his father's shop, inspecting machinery, though he seldom asked a question or ventured upon a remark. Indeed, some of the hands thought "Darcy's boy wasn't over-bright." Yet here he laid the foundation of the problem that was to vex and puzzle his soul in after-years. Here was the great, whirring machinery, belts, bands, spindles, looms, and oftentimes a stupid and stolid enough workman at one end, grinding out luxury and elegance for David Lawrence, Esq.; that his family might tread on Wilton and Axminster, dine from silver and crystal, dress in silks and velvets, drive about with high-stepping bays, and scorn all beneath them. Once as Jack was thinking it over he laughed aloud.
"You must feel very much amused," said a rather sour-looking man standing near by, with a peculiar touchiness as if he had been laughed at.
"No, I wasn't amused, I was only thinking"— But Jack stopped in the middle of his sentence. Could this man take any such position as that of Mr. Lawrence?
Then he came across a volume of self-made men, which he eagerly devoured. Every one seemed to have commenced life without a dollar, and almost without friends. Were those the important factors in the race, to be light-weighted? And he had a triple chain.
Fred returned, handsomer than ever, and doubly glad to get back to Jack. There was just four days grace. They revisited old haunts, talked endlessly and to little purpose, like so much of the talk of youth, and now they were parting at the gate for the last time. Unlike girls they exchanged no vows or kisses. It is not in boy-nature to be effusive.
"To think that I shall not be home until Christmas! If only you were going with me, Jack, what jolly times we would have!"
"I could have gone," answered Jack with some pride, "that is, if I had been prepared. Father was willing, and grandmother would have been proud enough;" and just then Jack wondered why going to seek his fortune appeared so much more terrible to them.
"Well, why not, Jack?" with impetuous eagerness. "It isn't too late."
"I don't want the years of study. I should come to hate the sight of a book. No, I'll find out where I belong, some day. Don't worry about me," with an abrupt laugh.
"But I am so sorry!" Then they looked into each other's eyes. All these years had been filled with such good, honest boy-love.
"Good-by, old chap!" cried Jack suddenly; for the wrench must come, and lingering over it was painful. "I shall miss you lots! it seems so queer to be without you! Of course you'll succeed: there's no use wishing about that."
"It's a good wish from you, Jack. Good-by. I hate awfully to say it: I hate to think that our jolly boyish frolics are over."
"But we'll have many a good row on the river, and tramps through the woods. We can't outgrow every thing. And there'll be summers and summers."
The gate-latch clicked: Jack walked rapidly down the street, whistling "Kathleen Mavourneen" unconsciously. Did he dream the simple faith of boyhood had reached its culmination, and was henceforth to wane?
"Dear old Jack," thought Fred: "I don't know as he is quite Launcelot, though I used to think so at first. But there was Sir Gawain and Sir Bedevere and a host of worthies, and if he only would he could come up to the highest. What makes him so obstinate and unambitious, I wonder? Are there any King Arthurs and loyal knights nowadays, or only common men and women?"
His sisters opened upon him with the fatal persistency of narrow feminine natures.
"You may say what you like about Jack Darcy," he flung out angrily, "but you'll never make me give him up,—never, never!"
"Do hush, children," interposed Mrs. Lawrence. "Fred, I hope you will learn to modulate your voice, and not shriek so."
Sylvie put on her hat to go home. As she passed Fred she said just above her breath,—
"You are right and brave. I wouldn't give up my friend because he was poor; and Jack is so nice!"
"Much she knows about it," thought Fred, with a true boyish disdain. Yet her approval of Jack was a virtue in his eyes.
"FATHER!" exclaimed Jack a few days after this parting from his bosom friend, "I think I will go in the mill for a year or two, if there is any thing for me to do. Meanwhile my inspiration may come along."
"But what would you like best, Jack?"
"That's just the trouble," and the youthful brows knit in perplexity. "All things seem alike to me: I haven't any choice."
Mr. Darcy drew a long breath that was almost a sigh. If Jack only would evince some preference!
However, a place was found as under-bookkeeper. It was desperately tiresome to Jack to sit perched on a high stool all day; and after three months of it he begged to be put at something else.
At this period we had gone through our costly civil war; and, instead of being exhausted as friends and enemies predicted, the machinery of business appeared to have been set in motion with a new and overwhelming impetus. Every thing was wanted; everybody had work or money; and the most useless commodity found a purchaser: as if our anguish had crazed us, and we went into a delirium of mental opium, and dreamed wild, exhilarating dreams which we mistook for reality.
Yerbury had been a slow, solid, conservative town. Property was low, taxes light and easily paid, a balance on hand in the treasury to commence the new year, and very little pauperism in the town. Yerbury officials utilized their inefficient population, and their county jail was not made a palace of luxury. The old-fashioned element in the place held crime as the result of sin instead of occult disease,—a thing to be punished, rather than petted. It had good railroad connections, plenty of water, with one navigable stream, and a variety of industries. Iron, shoes, hats, paper, and clothing were manufactured to a considerable extent, to say nothing of many smaller branches. Hope Mills was the largest, the focus of the town, and had the prestige of being handed down through three generations, though never as extensive as now.
Toward the west there was a succession of pretty hills that lay in the broad sunshine, making you think somehow of Spanish slopes, covered with vineyards, olives, and luxuriant verdure. Over beyond, a wide, diversified country range, farms, woodland, hills and valleys, with a branch of the river winding through, called, rather unromantically, Little Creek.
On these slopes, the new part, dwelt the aristocracy. Streets wound around in picturesque fashion to make easy grades, and many old forest-trees were preserved by that means, giving the place an air of years, rather than yesterday and improvement. There were two pretty parks,—one devoted to Fourth-of-July orations from time immemorial; there were churches of every denomination; a boarding and day school for young ladies, the academy, some excellent district schools; a hall with library and reading-room; a bank; rows of attractive shops and stores; and, coming down in the scale of refinement, beer-saloons and concert-halls, kept generally up to a certain point of morality. There were so many laboring-men, and they must have something by way of entertainment.
It struck Jack with a curious wonder. These stolid faces and plodding steps were part of the human machines out of which wealth was being ground. They went to the beer-shops at night in their dirty clothes, smelling of grease and dye, drank beer, played a few games, and harangued each other, and went home maudlin or stupefied. Perhaps it was more comfortable than the slatternly wives and crying children. Did it need to be so? If you gave the workingman a helping hand, did he turn straightway into an unreasoning demagogue?
He was not likely to be tempted by such doings. His home had always been too clean and pleasant. He still kept up with the boys, and joined the lyceum club; but the intimate companionship of his life was gone.
Fred did not come home for Christmas. College-life was delightful,—would be just perfect if dear old Jack were there. The glowing letters kept alive his own secret dissatisfaction. But how explain it to one who would be sure to say, "Get out of it all, Jack: no one has any right to keep you in such a distasteful round, and thwart your life-plans." To be sure, he had no life-plans.
One raw, cold March day, Mr. Darcy went out to repair a roof that had leaked in the previous storm. He rarely minded wind or weather.
"I declare," he said that evening, dropping into his capacious armchair, "I feel as if I should never get warmed through. I do believe we shall have a tremendous snowstorm to take this chill out of the air. Jack, read the paper aloud, won't you?"
Jack complied. Local items, bits of State news, and the general progress of the country; the starvation of a nation at the antipodes, the discovery of a wonderful silver-mine, plans for new railroads,—how busy the world was! It stirred Jack's youthful blood.
"I'd like to be a railroad-president," said Jack suddenly.
His father stared, then laughed at the absurdity. "Why, you're only a boy, Jack," he replied.
"I know it. But the boy who means to be a railroad-president must begin somewhere. Or if I could own a silver-mine," he went on, with the boundless audacity of youth.
"Could you find use for the silver?" asked his father humorously.
Jack flushed, and lapsed into dreams. Grandmother opposite was nodding in her chair, her knitting still in her fingers. Jack left his vision for a moment, to calculate if the old chest upstairs was not nearly full of stockings. His mother sat sewing some trifle, and just raised her eyes with that longing, beseeching glance mothers so often give to their sons.
"If women only did not care so much for one," thought Jack, "or if there had been a great family of us. And still I can't see the wonderful difference between going to college, and going to seek your fortune. Does two or three hundred miles more matter when you are once away?"
The snow came on through the night. There being nothing urgent on hand, Mr. Darcy remained within; but Jack buffeted the storm gallantly. It would be worse than this out in the new countries where he meant to go some time.
The next day Mr. Darcy was out. There was a dull pain in his breast, going through to his back, and he coughed a little. It went on thus for forty-eight hours, when the pain became intense, and fever set in. Dr. Kendrick was summoned; and, though the case was severe, it had no alarming symptoms at first. Jack went to and fro with his merry whistle; speculative he might be, but he was not introspective or morbid: wife and mother watched at home.
There came one of those sudden and inexplicable turns in the disease. Jack was stunned, incredulous. In his mother's eyes lay a look of helpless terror he was never to forget.
"You'll care for them always, Jack; you'll never leave them," said his father imploringly, in one lucid interval.
"Always," answered the young voice bravely.
"Thank you, my son, my dear boy;" and there was a fervent clasp of the hand.
A few days later Bernard Darcy lay coffined in the pretty parlor, while wife and mother were crushed with grief.
"Dust to dust, ashes to ashes;" and Jack dropped the first handful of earth in his father's open grave. The two women clung to him,—he was their all. Here lay his duty as long as God pleased.
It seemed for weeks after this as if Mrs. Darcy would follow her husband. She looked so white and wan, she was so feeble that some days she could not leave her bed. Grandmother rallied with that invincible determination not to be beaten down if her prop was wrenched away.
Jack was now a few months past eighteen, stout, and growing tall rapidly. There was about him a sturdy persistence and the good common sense that lends an adaptiveness or pliability of disposition, so to speak, that is often mistaken for content. Since he must stay here for some years to come, he would devote himself to learning the business of manufacturing woollen cloth. It entertained him more than keeping books. For the sake of these two bereaved women, he would take an actual interest in the work he had to do.
Looking back in after-years, he was glad he made the resolve, and stood by it manfully. It gave ballast to his character, shaped him to a definite purpose. A narrow life, to be sure; nay, more, a distasteful one: but he did his best, and waited, and that was all that could be asked of him.
Early in June there was a great commotion at the mansion on Hope Terrace. Miss Agatha Lawrence was married to Hamilton Minor, one of the great firm of brokers in Wall Street, 'Morgan, Minor, & Co.' For weeks it had been the talk of the town. The trousseau came from Paris, and was marvellous. The presents were on exhibition, and created a vast amount of envy and admiration,—silver, jewels, pictures, crystal, china, and laces. And last of all a sumptuous wedding,—every delicacy in season and out of season, costly wines, pyramids of cake, and a lavish profusion of flowers. Nothing so grand had ever occurred in Yerbury.
Fred and a stylish Miss Minor were to stand. He reached home just in time; and, as he was to be off again with the bridal party, he sent a note of regret to Jack.
Jack had too much good sense to feel hurt, though he was disappointed. A few weeks later he took his mother and grandmother up to the mountains for change of air, and enjoyed the vacation hugely himself. So it happened he did not see Fred at all.
The second year letters languished, indeed failed, I may as well admit. Jack was being rapidly inducted into the wisdom of the world, Fred into the wisdom of society. They would never meet on the old plane again. The mill-hand would be no companion for the son and heir of David Lawrence, Esq.
It was not in Jack Darcy's nature to be bitter or cynical. He just accepted the fact. Somewhere he and Fred had outgrown each other, and the boyish interests, once such a bond of union. Fred would be an educated and cultivated gentleman.
Why should he be left in the background? His ambition was suddenly roused again, and he more than half wished himself in college. He went back to his books; he joined a debating-society. There was no need of being a mere clod because he had to work. David Lawrence was a gentleman. And the next spring he took up a little botany and horticulture with his gardening. Old Mr. Rising down the street, who had been gardener to some great lord,—a peculiar, obstinate Englishman, with his head crammed full of odd bits of knowledge,—took a fancy to Jack. They discussed not only fruit and flowers, but trade in its various aspects, as Mr. Rising had relatives at Manchester who had soared to the ambitions of mills and factories.
Time sped on, and they came to the second summer. Miss Gertrude Lawrence was a belle now, and the great house was constantly filled with guests. The Lawrence equipages were seen in every direction. Mrs. Minor was up frequently, in grand state. The lawn was gay with croquet-parties, the evenings were brilliant with lights and music: they had two elegant garden-parties, when the grounds were illuminated with colored lanterns, and the teas were festivals in themselves. Fred had brought home two college chums, and for the first fortnight was deeply engrossed. Then, too, the girls no longer nagged at him. He was developing into an elegant young man, with due regard for the proprieties.
He did go to call on Jack one evening. It was a duty, a rather awkward and embarrassing one, and he took to himself great credit in the point of moral courage. He understood thoroughly now what Agatha had striven so sedulously to explain, the difference in social station. He was not likely in the future to make a blunder on that side, but it would not do to turn the cold shoulder to Jack all at once. "A boy's will's the wind's will," he repeated with much complacency, and it was but natural that it should veer in other directions. Jack was a good enough fellow, but no Sir Galahad or Sir any one now.
He was a little shocked at Mrs. Darcy in her mourning dress and widow's cap. She was pale, and with the extreme delicacy so often pronounced characteristic of American women. Grandmother sat in state and dignity, rather resentful of what she termed in her secret heart Fred's neglect, but a thing she would not have confessed openly if she had been put to torture. And Jack?
Frederic De Woolfe Lawrence studied him with a critical eye. A great, lumbering, inelegant fellow! Jack seemed to have grown out in every direction, without being finished up in any. He was taken somewhat at a disadvantage, too: somehow he fancied, if he had met Fred alone in a stray walk, there would have been less formality.
They talked about college. Fred was doing well, for he was by nature a student. Society's arts and airs would never entirely uproot that love. He meant to distinguish himself, and have one of the prize essays. Jack was rather grave and quiet, hard to get on with, Fred thought; and he was relieved when the duty was ended, and he could go with a good grace.
Jack lingered on the porch, clinching his fingers, and listening to the jaunty retreating footstep. There was something different in Fred's walk even, a buoyancy as if he could override any little difficulties that fate might have in store for him. Jack smiled grimly. Fortune had showered every good gift upon him. He would go proudly, successfully, through life. He would be praised and honored—and for what?
For a moment Jack felt like wrestling with him, shoulder to shoulder, to distance him, to defeat him, to lower his complacent pride. His half-patronizing manner had stung keenly. Then the real nobility of his nature cropped out, and he laughed at his own sudden heat and passion.
"It would be folly," he said softly to himself. "I could not distinguish myself in any line he will be likely to follow. He must work his way: I must work mine. He knows what he means to do; and there he has gone ahead of me, for I really do not know my own mind. No, there's no further basis for a friendship: the boy-love has had its day, and died. After all, isn't that the history of every thing?" and Jack looked up to the stars, still with a little wordless pain at his heart.
He heard during the next week that Fred had gone West with one of his friends, who was nephew to a great railway magnate. It would be only a flying trip, to be sure, but here Jack was tempted to envy him. That boundless West, the land of his own dreams!
Grandmother grew a trifle less energetic, still it could not be said that her health began to fail. Mrs. Darcy remained about the same. Every day Jack realized how much he was to the two women. To leave them would be absolute cruelty.
At Christmas of this year Miss Gertrude Lawrence was married. The wedding was rather quieter, from the fact that it was winter, and the bride was to leave for Europe the next day. Irene was shooting up into a tall girl, and being educated at a fashionable and expensive boarding-school. Nothing happened to impair her friendship with Sylvie Barry, though the two girls were as dissimilar in many respects as Jack and Fred, but they both stood on the same social plane.
Meanwhile matters at Yerbury prospered mightily. The town was quite bright at night with the glow from factory-windows, and people seemed always hurrying to and fro. New shops and stores were started, new streets were laid out, rows of houses built in town, and out on the edge pretty and ugly suburban villas. Property began to increase everywhere.
Gertrude and her husband George Eastman came back to Yerbury in about five months. He had begun his career as clerk in a bank, and joined his brother afterward as an army-contractor. From thence they had branched into general speculating, and were both considered rich men. Mr. Minor owned a Fifth-avenue palace, and Mrs. Minor never came to Yerbury without her maid. Mrs. Eastman could not have the palace in town, so she decided to have a handsome summer residence at Yerbury, and spend her winters at different hotels. Mr. Eastman thought he saw a grand opening just in this pretty spot. Property was ridiculously low. Here were farms and farms that might as well be cut up into building-lots, and turned into cities. Here was the river-front, here were railroads: why not have twice or thrice as many shops? why not call in the people from far and wide, and make Yerbury a place of note? Time had been when our fathers were content to dream and doze, but now it behooved everybody to be up and stirring. In the new race the laggards would fall far behind.
Mr. Eastman set the example by purchasing one large tract, and laying out streets. Then uprose houses as if by magic. Modern improvements, water, gas, bath, butler's pantries, and dumb-waiters; and the houses offered so cheaply that the solid, slow-going, honest business-men wondered how it could be done. The places had a wonderfully seductive look, and were sought after eagerly.
There was a peculiar interest in all this to Jack. When one day somebody said,—
"Downer's property south of the bridge has gone for thirty thousand dollars. Five years ago he'd been glad to have taken ten for it. Crater and Harmon are going to build a big factory,"—Jack's heart went up with a bound.
He still wanted to get away from Yerbury. He began to feel that he had made a mistake with his life, and was anxious to rectify it if possible. He did not see how he could do it here. He had gone into the groove, and it was hard getting out. But if some one came along, and offered them a fortune!
The chance drew near. A new street was prospected through Miss Barry's grounds, through the Lanier place farther back, and the southern end would touch the Darcy place, giving it some new fronts and available lots, and placing the house on the corner. There would be sufficient ground for the width of the street. A petition was forthwith circulated.
Alas that there could be people so blind to their own interests and the general welfare of the community! Miss Barry stoutly resisted. She even inspired some of her neighbors to that extent of opposition that they would not sell at any price. Destroy the beauty of Larch Avenue, that had been "Lovers' Walk" in the old days, and held so many tender reminiscences!
"When I am gone I don't care what is done with the place," said Miss Barry. "It will have but little sentiment for the next generation. A change to me now would be like tearing up an old tree by the roots. I could not endure it. They may have their elegant new houses; but give me my large airy rooms and my old-time flowers, my nectarines and apricots. Let me live my few years in peace and quiet."
"There is certainly enough to improve," returned Grandmother Darcy. "There are miles and miles that people are glad to sell. Let them take that. Let them build up the vacant lots. And where are all the people coming from to fill them?"
"The factories and mills will bring in the people," said Jack sturdily.
"There is plenty of room elsewhere," returned Miss Barry with some asperity. "There certainly is no need of turning people out of homes they like, and have made comfortable."
"I suppose you cannot look at it in a business light," said Jack. "Women rarely do"—
"There have been just such whirlwinds before, Mr. Darcy," said the shrewd little old lady. "I have lived through two of them myself. And it seems to me it is an epidemic of running in debt, rather than prosperity. If everything were paid for; but you see here are improvement-bonds, and our town runs in debt: here is everybody raising money on mortgages. How is it to be paid? Do wages and salaries double? History proves that it is a bad thing for a state when its rich men grow richer, and its poor poorer."
"I am sure they need not," said Jack valiantly. "There is a higher scale of wages paid than ever before."
"And no account made of thrift or economy. Enticements at every corner; women flaunting silks and laces as everyday gear, with no sacredness; old-fashioned neatness despised, industry ridiculed; men lounging in beer-shops; girls flirting on the public streets, having no duties beyond a day's work in a mill. What will the homes and the wives of the next generation be like?"
"But that was all so irrelevant," said Jack after she had gone. "Women mix up everything. Now, here: you are offered a big price for this property. You two could live at ease all the rest of your life, and I"—
"You would go away," said his mother sorrowfully.
"Well, perhaps not," trying to make the tone indifferent.
"Jack," began his grandmother, sitting very erect, and glancing straight before her into vacancy, "I am an old woman now; and, like Miss Barry, I could not take a change comfortably. No other place will ever be home to your mother or me. There is some money,—enough, I think, to take care of us both. So, if you cannot be content, if you must have the restless roving of youth out before your blood can cool, go and try the world. It is pretty much alike all over,—some one going up while another goes down; chances here, and chances there. As for the few years left me"— And there was a slight tremble in her voice.
"Don't fret. I'm not going away," said Jack crossly, huskily, too much hurt to study his tone. "If I can't always see things as you do"—
There were tears in his mother's eyes. Jack rose suddenly, thrust his hands in his pockets, and walked out into the twilight. There was nothing to be done with so obstinate a problem as his life. He would learn the business thoroughly, getting on as fast as possible, and some time make a strike out for himself, become a manufacturer in turn. The thing was settled now. Maybe some one would want him for mayor or congressman. There was a time when David Lawrence, Esq., had been a comparatively poor man; and though Jack felt that he would hardly turn his hand over to have a million of dollars put in it for the mere money's worth, if he could not discover a silver-mine, or build a railroad over the Rocky Mountains, he might become a rich man. Wealth was a mighty lever, after all. He shut his lips grimly, and pushed his hat down over his eyes. In the early summer dusk, fragrant with rose and violet, he went over the old battle-ground. Did some enemy sow it continually with dragon's teeth? To stay here eight or ten years, mayhap, to make all the money he could. Not one year of her life did he mean to grudge grandmother.
It was quite late when he came in, but his mother was watching for him. She put her arms softly about his neck, and kissed him.
"Have a little patience, dear," she said, in tender, motherly tones; but he knew her sympathy was with him.
"Yes, I mean to. I don't care as much as I did an hour ago. I'm going to set myself steadily to business. You'll hear no more moans or groans out of me, mother."
"Jack—you know I would go to the end of the world with you."
"I believe you would—yes, I do. There, good-night!" for she was crying.
"This is the way we rule circumstances," said Jack dryly, sitting down in his own room, and taking up Carlyle. "What an amount of humbug is talked in this world,—yes, and written too!"
THERE was an influx of new blood in Yerbury, and it brought in fresh ideas. A new railroad touched it at one edge, and real-estate dealers left off fighting about Larch Avenue. The ancient stages were laid aside for the more modern horse-cars: there was bustle and rivalry on every hand. George Eastman began to be quoted, and his advice asked generally. Mrs. Eastman held her head loftily. Then there came on the arena of action a certain Horace Eastman, cousin to George, who had been abroad as agent for a large firm, and who slipped into the place of general manager of Hope Mills.
Plainly, F. De Woolfe Lawrence was not preparing to follow in his father's steps. He had graduated with honors, and taken a prize essay, and was now a fully-fledged modern young man. He was fond of discoursing on abstruse subjects, he dabbled a little into art, wrote some mystical poems, tied a cravat beyond criticism, and wore faultless gloves and boots. His mother and Mrs. Eastman were extremely proud of him. His father wondered a little what the young man's future would be.
"I have not decided upon a profession," he said, with a just perceptible but extremely stylish drawl. "The next thing is going abroad. I want at least two years of travel, and I should not wonder if I settled myself at some German or Parisian university. We, as a nation, are so sadly deficient in culture. Our country is crude, as I suppose all young countries must be."
David Lawrence nodded slowly, and asked,—
"When did you think of going?"
"I may as well go at once, and have it over," returned the young man, with the princely indifference he affected.
His father did not dissent. As well in Europe as here, or anywhere.
As for Jack, he was quite as much out of his reach as if the ocean already rolled between. They used to pass each other quietly, nodding if they came face to face, but often evading any kind of recognition. Was the old regard dead?
Fred smiled rather pityingly on the boy who had been so blinded in his first love.
"I used to think him such a hero, because he once thrashed a boy in my behalf," mused the young man. "And how I used to fly at the girls, who were always looking at the feet of clay my idol possessed! How I did coax him to go to college!" and Fred gave a little rippling laugh. "I must admit that he has good common sense,—he has found his place, and keeps it. There could be nothing between us now, of course. My lines lie in such different ways."
No moan for a lost ideal under all that self-complacency.
Jack Darcy took the defection in good part. He did see the utter incongruity of keeping up even the semblance of the old dream. But, where Fred had made dozens of new friends, Jack had admitted no one to his vacant shrine. He liked, even now, to recall those old hours, so bright and gay with childish whims and frolics. And he did envy Fred, just a little, that ramble over Europe. Would it be a ramble? It was Jack's turn to smile. Would it not be bits and pictures seen through coach-windows, rather than getting close to Nature's heart? No, that would not suit him.
And so glided by two more years. De Woolfe Lawrence—he had dropped the initial now—returned home in a still higher state of cultivation, and quite as undecided as to his future career. A life of leisure and belles-lettres looked the most tempting to him. He had read up a little in medicine, but the practice would not please his fastidious inclinations. Law had its objections. In fact, Mr. Lawrence had dropped into that dilettante state into which extreme cultivation, without genius or ambition, is apt to drift its possessor. He was nearing twenty-four now,—handsome, aristocratic, the pride of his family, and the distraction of young women in general. Invitations were showered upon him, and the delicate flattery society loves to use, ministered to his vanity.
Meanwhile what of Jack?
He had improved considerably through these years. The rough angularity of twenty had softened. Tall, but robust and compact, no stooping shoulders or slouching gait. The chestnut hair was no longer faded, but still cropped close; and the eyes were so deep that they seemed to have a blue-black tint, large, slow-moving, with that unutterable wistfulness which makes one sad. The face was good, strong, and earnest; and, if his manners were not those of a gentleman of leisure, they bore the impress of something quite as noble, honor, tenderness, and sincerity. The old restlessness had dropped out. Love, being larger than duty, hinted now at no sacrifice. Grandmother Darcy, now grown quite feeble, leaned on this strong arm, always outstretched, forgetting there had ever been any wild dreams of youth.
And, though Yerbury had changed so much, they and the old street remained unchanged. Mrs. Darcy was a little thinner and older, the light hair just touched with silver. The garden was the same: wherever his father's favorite flowers had died out, Jack had replaced them. Only the honeysuckle was like great twisted ropes, and the syringas and lilacs were trees instead of bushes.
Old neighbors had gone, and new ones come, but they were of the quiet, steady kind. Miss Barry seemed smaller and frailer, but she was as active as ever in her refined way. Sylvie no longer came to the gate for milk: indeed, the wide-eyed Alderney had long been given up, and Sylvie was a young woman. Irene Lawrence had been sent to a fashionable boarding-school; but Sylvie had been educated at home, under her aunt's eye, by a French governess who had proved something more than a mere teacher. The coming of Madame Trepier served to cement more closely the intimacy with the Darcy family. Indeed, Jack took a queer, half-shy liking for madame, and began to study French. He had a great fondness for music, and a fine, rich tenor-voice: so he and Sylvie sang duets together, and often walked in the twilight with madame. Indeed, Miss Barry would have kept her for friend and companion all the rest of her life; but there came a very persistent wooer, and madame succumbed a second time to the destiny of women.
Sylvie Barry was piquant rather than pretty: a soft peachy skin neither dark nor fair, with a creamy tint; deep lustrous hazel eyes, that seemed to change with her moods; hair that had barely shaken off the golden tint, and clustered in rings about the low broad forehead; a passable nose of no particular design, but a really beautiful mouth and chin, the latter dimpled, the former with a short curved upper lip, displaying the pearly teeth at the faintest smile; barely medium height, with a figure that was slim yet not thin, rounded, graceful, pliant, with some of the swift dazzling motions of a bird.
While Jack and Fred had drifted so apart, Sylvie and Irene still kept up a curious friendship. On Sylvie's part there was no election: indeed, Irene in her imperious fashion took Sylvie up as the mood seized her. Mrs. Lawrence, now quite an invalid, was fond of Sylvie's bright face and gay inspiriting voice. In Irene's absence she was often sending for her. "Play me a little song before you go," she would say; or, "Read a chapter in my book for me, will you not? You always make people seem so real." Consequently Sylvie had never left off going to the great house. Mrs. Eastman would fain have patronized her, but in her spirited way she shook off the faintest attempt. But Irene flew to her, and insisted upon a croquet-party or a drive, or a musical soiree.
"I can't do without you, you obstinate little thing," she would exclaim. "I don't know why I take so much trouble about you; for I don't believe you like me at all, but just tolerate me for the sake of old times. There are twenty girls in Yerbury who would go wild with delight if I were to ask them."
"Why do you not, then?" inquired Sylvie with a tantalizing light in her eyes.
"Because I don't choose to, Miss Impertinence! Don't be cross now, and torment me to death with your perverse ways."
"You surely need not be tormented."
"Sylvie, you are exasperating."
"Why do you ask me, then, or tease me to do any of these things? I would rather stay at home to-day, and paint."
"But I shall not give you up. I'll stay here, and talk so that your wits will wander!"
And so at last Sylvie would consent to her friend's demands.
One evening she came over to discuss a costume for a fancy-dress garden-party. Mrs. Eastman had brought some fashion-plates up from New York, but they did not altogether suit her fancy: so the carriage was ordered, and in a few moments it rolled to Sylvie's door.
Sylvie and Jack were at the piano. There was a soft, drizzling, summer-night rain, that made all the air fragrant without any noisy patter. It was just the evening for an old Latin hymn; and Sylvie was playing the strong, rich chords that had in them mysterious hints of heavenly joy, coming up through waves of passionate suffering. Jack's voice seemed toned to these sympathetic vibrations, and the grand old words rolled out simply, with none of the vicious taste of the more modern fashionable school. So engrossed were they, that they did not hear the carriage stop; but Sylvie caught her aunt's voice.
They had reached the end of a verse. "Let me see what auntie wants," said Sylvie, running into the next room; and then it was, "Oh, Irene! oh, Sylvie!"
"Singing to yourself in the twilight!" laughed Irene. "How romantic! I'm going to interrupt you now, and put you in better business. I am just loaded down with the excellent fripperies of this world, and unable to make a choice. And the grand occasion is Mrs. Avery Langton's garden-party. Now, be good-natured, and help me decide."
Uttering this in a rapid breath, she had walked through the sitting-room to the parlor, and tumbled her parcel down on the great antique sofa, whose edges everywhere were studded with brass nails. And there stood Jack, thinking, if he had been quicker, he could have stepped out of the window into Miss Sylvie's pretty flower-bed, now purple with odorous heliotrope. But, as he had not, there was nothing to do but to stand his ground manfully.
He had often seen Irene Lawrence in the carriage and on horseback; but as she stepped into the room now, and stood there rather surprised, she might have been a daughter of Juno. Tall, slender, arrowy straight, but lithe and faultlessly rounded, her fleecy white shawl like a gossamer web falling off her shoulders, her haughty carriage, her wealth of purple-black hair coiled about her shapely head, a hundred times handsomer than any artifice of dressing, her brilliant complexion, her large eyes with their long sweeping lashes that veiled their depth, but seemed to add a certain imperiousness, her coral-red lips that shaped differently with every breath, her straight nose, with the nostrils thin as a bit of shell, and the softly rounded chin, made her a picture that Jack Darcy never forgot.
"Oh!" in a tone of surprise, "I thought you were alone: pardon me."
Sylvie was bringing in another lamp, and placed it on the great clawfoot centre-table. Then it occurred to her that Irene might not know Jack. She should recognize him here socially, anyhow.
"My friend Miss Lawrence," she said with a world of dignity, "Mr. Darcy."
Jack bowed, in no wise abashed by this proud and handsome Miss Lawrence, though as a child she had snubbed him many a time. And she glanced him over with a sudden interest. It was a manly face and a manly figure; and she wondered from what remote corner of the earth Sylvie Barry had summoned this fair, stout giant, who made her think of the Norse gods of her childish romances. She always liked strength: Sylvie was for tenderness, pathos, and beauty.
"Good-evening," inclining her proud head. "Did I interrupt? You were singing?"
"That is finished," returned Sylvie, with her peculiar manner, as if, being hostess here, she should have proper respect paid to her position; and each guest should be as deferent to the other as if she were a little queen, and this her court.
She picked up a stray piece of music that had fallen to the floor, seated Irene, and half turned to Jack. Any other woman might have been awkward.
"I will leave you two ladies to yourselves," began Jack; but Irene interrupted,—
"No, Mr. Darcy: I shall think I have driven you away;" with a beguiling smile. "If you understand music, you may have a taste in the fine arts of dress as well. At all events, look over these elegant women in their party-gowns, and tell me which is fairest and rarest."
The honesty of the glance, although it was coquettish, told Jack that Miss Irene did not remember him. For, of all the haughty Lawrence women, she had the name of being the haughtiest. She gathered up her skirts in other people's houses when the plebeian element came too near. Now she waved him to a chair, and gently sank into another, her trailing robe of thin filmy black with golden flecks falling about her like clouds in a gusty sky.
He took the seat indicated. Some strange feeling moved him, an enchantment that he had never before experienced. The very air about her was filled with a subtle, indescribable perfume that he should always associate with a tall, dark-eyed woman,—a glimpse of the Orient and its sweetness, he fancied.
Sylvie took her place, and began to tumble over the colored plates.
"I'm so tired of those Watteau things!" began Miss Lawrence disdainfully. "They all savor of bread-and-butter girls,—a shepherdess with her crook,—bah! And I've been Marie Stuart so many times. If it were a masquerade; but garden-parties are beginning to prove bores, after all. There is nothing new about them, only to out-shine every other woman. A high ambition, is it not, Mr. Darcy?"
"A temptation perhaps."
The tone had in it a bit of delicate homage. Irene understood. She knew at once that this man was a little dazed by her beauty, just as many other men had been. Puny, delicate, namby-pamby men she despised, and always gave them a cut with her sharp tongue. Where had Sylvie picked up this Saul among his peers?
They were all interested in the pictures, and soon fell to making merry comments on them. Sylvie had a quick eye and a bright wit, and something made Jack Darcy brilliant. They selected bits of fine taste here, they made an elegant costume of no particular style, and Irene was struck with what she knew would be its becomingness.
"Mr. Darcy, are you an artist?" She remembered just then what an odd way the Barrys had of picking up people with some gift or grace.
"No," and Jack flushed boyishly.
"Then you must have a houseful of sisters."
"No, I never had a sister."
"When all things else fail with you, you can set up opposition to Worth. I shall come to you for designs. Now, this will be a peculiar source of gratification to me, because no one can possibly have the same combination. And you never can depend upon a modiste. Mr. Darcy, what makes women so faithless to one another?"
"Are they?" he asked with a man's simplicity.
She laughed gayly, and met Jack's fun-loving, shady blue eyes. How handsome they were!
Miss Barry entered the room, and joined in the pleasant chat: then a rumble of carriage-wheels was heard.
"It has stopped raining," said Sylvie, going to the window. "A few soft, melancholy stars have come out."
"You have been very obliging, Sylvie," said Miss Lawrence. "Miss Barry, I shall send the carriage over to-morrow. Good-night."
Jack Darcy handed her out, pushing aside a trailing rose that it might not catch her shawl. Then she half turned, and said "Good-night" in a softer tone.
Sylvie was standing on the porch. "It has been as good as a play, Jack," she said with her gay-humored laugh. "I don't believe she ever thought"—
"That I worked in her father's mill!" and Jack laughed; but it was a rather pained, jarring sound.
"Jack—why do you? You are a puzzle to me!" and Sylvie's voice sharpened unconsciously. "You do not like it. Why did you not go on at the academy, or"—
"Raise myself in the social scale? That's what you mean, Sylvie; although we pass just as pleasant hours as if I were a prince, and you the lady of high degree. Well, we have gone over the ground a good many times, and it is always the same thing. I have no fancy for a profession; I have no genius for art, though Miss Lawrence suggests that I might become a man-milliner—is that what you call it? You know, I am staying here because mother and grandmother will not go anywhere else. And I dare say I make as much money as young Dr. Romer or Ned Remington. And somehow, now that I'm in it, I go on with a stubborn, plucky feeling. Some day I'll be a great manufacturer."
This time his laugh was cheerful and ringing.
"You see, Sylvie, your good-nature places you on the debatable ground. You and your aunt could be hand-in-glove with all these great people, and yet you open your generous heart to take in everybody."
"No, not everybody, Jack. And what a little coward I am just this minute! No, it is not that either. Jack, you do know that I should never be a bit ashamed of you before any one. I feel vexed when I think that you could take the high places, and yet you let people put you down,—people not half as worthy or half as good as you. There's Horace Eastman. He came here a comparatively poor man; and now he owns half Yerbury, and talks of the mill-hands as if they were—well, a flock of sheep."
"An apt comparison, Sylvie. To my mind, they are shorn pretty close to make broadcloth for their masters."
"And there is Fred—have you seen him since his return?"
"Not to speak to him, of course." And then Jack flushed deeply, with a little hurt feeling.
"And what friends you were! Is it the way of the world? Then it is a mean, hateful world!"
"Sylvie, you are talking wildly. Don't you see there is no point of union in our lives? Now, I do not feel so badly over an outgrown friendship. When I was a little boy, I remember having a wonderful fancy for Tom Deane. We traded jack-knives; we told each other of the best nut-trees; we hunted squirrels; we coasted together; and, I dare say, he was as much of a hero in my childish eyes as I used to be in Fred's. But think of any friendship between us now! There isn't a greater loafer in all Yerbury than Tom Deane. Why, we have not a feeling in common."
"Still I think it is rather different," and a shade of annoyance passed over her face. If Jack only would not call up these people below him, if he would not identify himself so strongly with that common brotherhood! He had so many nice tastes, such a clean, pure, honest soul. And, young as Sylvie was, she knew this was not always the result of culture or wealth or ambition.
Jack guessed what was passing in her mind. From his father he had inherited a kind of womanish intuition. A pleasant-tempered man Bernard Darcy had always been called, but it was that delicate tact, the intuitive knowledge of what would be pleasant to others.
"What else can I do here, Sylvie?" Jack cried with sudden heat. "If the chance ever comes, I shall be fitted for a good business man. You may think there is no worthy ambition in that, but wait. Do not judge me too hastily."
"I am impatient at times, I know; but it is because I see your capabilities, and I can't bear to think of your going through the world unappreciated."
"Do not worry about that. Good-night!" rather abruptly. "Miss Barry, I have forgotten myself. Pleasant dreams!"
"And we did not have our old hymn, after all," said Sylvie regretfully.
Jack took the short cut across the garden. There was a dim light in the sitting-room; and his mother lay in the hammock on the latticed porch, her favorite evening resort. She came in now, and Jack bolted the doors. Then, with a good-night kiss, he went to his room, and in ten minutes was asleep. Sylvie, on the other hand, girl-like, tossed and tumbled. Why was the world so queer and awry and obstinate? After all, you could do so little with it. Your plans came to nought so easily. Lizzie Wise, in her Sunday-school class, preferred going in the mill, and buying herself cheap finery, because the other girls did it. And so all through. You tried to train some one, and he or she followed the ignis fatuus more readily than any high, ennobling truth. It was hard lifting people out of their old grooves.
How bright and entertaining Jack had been this evening! Of course Irene had not remembered him. Would she be vexed, Sylvie wondered,—she who held herself up so high, and believed in a separate world as it were?
THE garden-party was a success, and Miss Lawrence the acknowledged belle of the evening. No one else could have carried off the peculiar style of dress. She knew that she was radiant; and triumphs were a necessary sweet incense, that she always kept alive on her shrine. There was no need of making a hurried election: indeed, her chief aim now was pleasure and conquest.
They were sitting over their dainty lunch, Mrs. Eastman having dropped in; and, after the party had been pretty thoroughly discussed, a little lull ensued. Fred toyed with some luscious cherries, in his usual indolent manner. Nothing in this world was worth a hurry or a worry, according to this young man's creed. He had dawdled through the party, waltzing with a languid grace that most girls considered the essence of high-breeding. It was all one to him. His "set" affected to think life something of a bore. Intense emotion of any kind was vulgar.
"By the by, Rene," said Mrs. Eastman, "do you suppose Sylvie Barry is engaged to that Darcy fellow? It was odd that she should go off on a picnic with him, instead of the party. She has the queerest, mixed-up tastes."
"What Darcy fellow?" asked Irene in surprise.
"Sylvie Barry! Jack Darcy!" exclaimed Fred, in as much amazement as his superfine breeding would allow.
Mrs. Eastman gave a mellifluous laugh.
"Don't you remember? but you were such a child! Fred does. The Damon to his Pythias."
A vivid scarlet ran up to the edge of Irene's white brow. So that was Jack Darcy. What a blind fool she had been, not to think! She had laughed and chatted with him, smiled on him, worn the costume of his designing,—a common workingman! For a moment she could have torn her hair, or beaten her slender white hands against the table. What had possessed her?
"I do recall some green and salad days," rejoined Fred with a laugh.
"How Agatha and I used to badger you! We were little fools to think such a thing ever went on when one came to years of discretion. Only I believe we were afraid the elder and idiotic Darcy might foist his son on some college. I must say Yerbury has become quite endurable now that party lines have been set up;" and Mrs. Eastman crumbed her cake, watching her diamond sparkle.
"How do you know Sylvie went on a picnic?" asked Rene, with an angry glitter in her eyes.
"Didn't the dear confess? Rene, you do not keep your penitent in very good order."
Mrs. Eastman had a faculty of putting something extremely irritating in her voice. It was honey smooth, and yet it rasped.
"Really," answered Irene indifferently, "I do not see that Miss Barry's selection of friends need affect me much, so long as she keeps the distasteful ones out of my way. I may wonder at her choice of pleasures, but I suppose she suits herself."
"My nursery-girl belongs to the mission-school. It was very good of Lissette to let her off for a whole day, I thought. I left her to settle it. What Sylvie sees in such people, I cannot imagine. I own I was a trifle surprised when I found this remarkable Mr. Darcy was our old bete noir, Jack. Is he still in the mill, I wonder?"
"Apply to papa," laughed Irene.
"I don't believe papa could tell you the names of five workmen. As if he troubled his head about that!"
"Sylvie is a nice little thing," remarked Fred patronizingly.
"I have no patience with her!" declared Mrs. Eastman. "As if it was not necessary to have a line drawn somewhere! These people are all well enough in their way: they are a necessary factor,"—picking the words slowly to give them weight,—"and society establishes schools and homes for them, trains teachers, provides employment: what more do they want? A holiday now and then, of course; but why not go off by themselves as a class, as the French do? This maudlin, morbid sympathy we Americans give, spoils them. There is no keeping a servant in her place here. Before you know it she studies and graduates at some school, teaches for a while, goes abroad, and paints a picture, likely as not."
"Do not excite yourself, Gerty," and Fred pulled the ends of his silky moustache.
"Well, it does annoy me to see a young girl like Sylvie Barry with no better sense. Some day we shall have all these people rising up against us, as they did in the French Revolution. I hate socialism and all that; and I took good care to say to Mrs. Langton that Miss Barry had been casting in her lot that day with a parcel of charity-children, and would no doubt be too tired to enjoy the exquisite pleasure of her fete."
"I do not think Sylvie cares a penny!" said Irene with a touch of scorn, anxious to return her sister's little stab. "I suppose she comforts herself with the remembrance of her old blue blood, while Mr. Langton made his fortune as an army-contractor."
"The Wylies were a very good family, Irene."
"If you are through eating, I will have a cigar," said the young man, sauntering over to the bay-window.
What was there in this simple announcement of Sylvie having gone on a charity-school picnic with Jack Darcy that should so rouse the art-cultured pulses of Fred Lawrence? He had always liked Sylvie: her freshness and piquancy stirred him like a whiff of mountain air,—a sure sign that all healthy tone had not been cultivated out of him. It would be very foolish for Sylvie to commit a mesalliance with this young man, who was no doubt good enough in his way,—a rather rough, awkward, clownish fellow, with a coarsely generous heart. Sylvie so delicate and refined, with her pretty ways, her genius,—yes, she really did have a genius! In Paris or Rome she might make herself quite a name. He must see a little more of her: he must—well, did he want to marry any one?
Irene and Gertrude retired to the room of the former, and discussed Newport and Saratoga.
"I do hope we shall have a cottage at Newport another summer," said Mrs. Eastman.
"It gives you tone, of course," was Irene's response; "but honest, now, Gerty, don't you think it a little poky? I do not want to go anywhere for a whole summer: I like the fun of all. Agatha is to spend a month at Long Branch, and I am going down just for a little dazzle and to give my gowns an airing."
Their siesta was passed in this kind of small talk. Late in the afternoon she drove Mrs. Eastman home, and then went for Sylvie in her pretty pony-phaeton. As Sylvie was about nothing more important than a pale-blue zephyr "fascinator," she accepted the invitation.
What a delicious drive it was! A dappled under-roof of cloud with the sun just behind it, a golden-gray haze filming the air, and fragrant breezes suggestive of roses and honeysuckle. All the way was starred with daisies. Sylvie drew in long breaths of delight, for she never wearied of nature.
They turned homeward early. The bells were ringing for six, and the mills and factories began to empty out their swarm of human beings.
"Why do you go through here?" asked Sylvie in surprise. "I thought you hated all this."
"So I do," briefly.
She let the pony walk now. These shrill sounds jarred on the summer air. Groups of girls in procession in faded gear or tawdry finery; brawny men with an old-country, heavy cast of feature, in blue flannel, with arms bared to the elbow, and throats exposed; pale stripling youths of the American type, boys with the rough fun not yet knocked out of them by hard work or the harder blows of fate,—a motley crowd indeed.
It thinned a little just here. Two or three men came along leisurely,—one tall and compact, with a slow, firm step, the face grave, the eyes glancing over beyond the hills. Irene Lawrence shut her lips with a touch of displeasure. Was she to miss the satisfaction that had been brooding in her mind for the last hour, for the accomplishment of which she had driven through this dusty, ill-smelling street?
The pedestrian raised his head. A sudden warm, smiling glow overspread the face, no longer grave, but brightening like an April sky. The outlook of the eyes was so frank and clear; the half-smile playing about the parted lips had the honesty of a child. He touched his hat, and bowed with an almost stately deference.
Sylvie nodded and smiled, leaning forward a bit. What sent the glad light so quickly out of his countenance? The girl glanced at Irene.
Miss Lawrence had stared coolly, haughtily, decisively. This man might look at her hundreds of times in the days to come, but he would never again expect a social recognition from her. And, oh, perfection of cruelty! Sylvie, his fellow-sinner in these social laws, had witnessed his pain and discomfiture.
She turned with her face at white heat, one of those inward flashes of indignation that transcend any scarlet blaze of anger. Her eyes glowed with a fiery ray, and the curves of mouth and chin seemed as if frozen.
"It was a deliberate insult, Irene! How dared you"—
"How dared I pass one of my father's workmen? Well, Miss Barry, I happen not to be hand-in-glove with them. I can relegate them to their proper place when an ill-judged vanity brings them unduly forward."
"You met him at my house: he is my friend, and the friend of my aunt. His birth is as good as yours, or mine."
"Oh, I dare say!" with a satirical laugh. "Are you really going to marry him, Sylvie? Have you the courage to throw yourself quite away?"
"Stop!" and she caught at the reins. The next moment she was on the sidewalk. "Good-evening," she exclaimed with the dignity of a queen.
"The little spitfire!" laughed Miss Lawrence.
Sylvie's displeasure mattered very little to her. A few days later she was on her way to Long Branch, and the episode was soon danced out of mind.
As for Sylvie Barry, she made up her mind never to go to Hope Terrace again. The friendship was not of her seeking, and now it should end. Friendship, indeed! It disgraced the word to use it in connection with Irene Lawrence.
That very evening she went around to the Darcys. Neither she nor Jack mentioned the rencontre, but there was an indescribable something in her manner that told Jack the insult had been as much to her as to him.
Hardly a fortnight later the Lawrence carriage stood at the gate of the pretty court-yard, and the liveried driver brought a note to the door.
DEAR SYLVIE,—[in a tremulous, uncertain hand] I am wretched and lonely. Fred and Irene are away, and Mr. Lawrence has gone West on business. Will you not, out of the generosity of your heart, come and cheer me up a bit? I was in bed all day yesterday with a frightful headache, and can just crawl to-day. Do not disappoint me. I have set my heart on hearing you read, and have some nice new books.
Ever your obliged friend, A. L.
"You must go," was her aunt's comment in a sympathizing tone. "I have promised all the afternoon to the School Club, you know, and you would only be home alone. Poor Mrs. Lawrence! What an invalid she has become! And think of me,"—with a cheery laugh,—"able to get about anywhere!"
So Sylvie went up to Hope Terrace in the luxurious carriage she thought she had tabooed forever.
Mrs. Lawrence did look very poorly. She kept to her room a great deal nowadays; or rather there were two of them,—one off the bedchamber, with a pretty oriel window, and exquisitely fitted up with every luxury wealth and taste could devise.
Mrs. Lawrence had already lost her interest in life. Her two daughters were well married. Irene would be, of course; but marriages were an old story for her. She had loved to shine at watering-places, but the gayety no longer lured her. She had dazzled in diamonds, silks, and velvets, been admired on the right hand and on the left, until it was an old, trite story. Servants managed her house admirably. Mr. Lawrence never wearied her with any business details. Her clothes were ordered, and made, and hung in the closets. The carriage was always at hand. Not a want of any kind, hardly a desire, that could not be instantly satisfied. She had sunk into a kind of graceful semi-invalidism, and enjoyed the coming and going of her children, but her own time was over.
"How good you are, Sylvie dear!" and, drawing the young girl to her, she kissed her fondly. "I don't know what I should do without you. Irene would stay at home if I wanted her; but she is so full of life and excitement, that it wears me out. You are not always in such a whirl of society, and then you are different. You have such a sweet, sympathetic nature, child! I can always feel it in your hand, and your voice is so soothing. What a difference there is in voices!"
Her own was finely modulated: indeed, Sylvie used to think sometimes that these Lawrences had more than their share of the good things of this world. No physical gift or grace had been denied them.
So Sylvie read and talked, and sang two or three songs before she went home. Then she came again and again, sometimes with her aunt, oftener alone. Miss Barry took duty calls with her neighbors as one of the demands of society, to be fulfilled with the fine grace of thorough good-breeding. Beyond the little formalities that always surrounded her like a delicate hoar-frost, there was a large heart for the weal and woe of all who could in any way be benefited.
"It is a pity to see such a waste of life," she said of Mrs. Lawrence. "Some people, after they have served their own turn, and had their good time, set about doing something for God and their neighbors at the eleventh hour; but she still clings to self, even when all the pleasure has dropped out. If she only would exert herself a little, her health and interest would improve, and she has so much in her hands."
One day Sylvie had turned the last leaf of her book, when Fred Lawrence crossed the hall, having come home unexpectedly half an hour before. "Miss Sylvie is with your mother," the housekeeper had said; and he had begged that they should not be disturbed. He stood now listening to the cool, soft voice, and an odd thought entered his mind.
Sylvie should really be a daughter of the house. How his mother liked her, depended upon her! She was not always going to watering-places and parties and theatres, she did not talk continually of dress and conquests. He did not despise cultivated elegance: in fact, it was a strong point with all the Lawrences; but he knew that a great deal of this much-praised culture ran into artificiality, while Sylvie's elegance had the comprehensiveness of nature. It would be quite impossible for her to do an awkward or ungraceful act; for her innate sense of beauty, harmony, and right guided her. Something higher than worldly maxims toned her soul. And though he, a man with his hands full of gold that he had never earned, could content himself with indolent dilettanteism, he wanted an earnest, honest, truthful woman, if he ever took a wife. He had flirted in a lazy fashion, common with young men who find themselves an object to women, and who have only to raise their hand, sultan-like, to bring a host of houris. That he had kept out of many grosser pleasures was perhaps a credit to him, although that was not the weak side of his character.
He did not fall in love with the picture before him, sweet as it was,—the young girl in a soft flowing white dress (she was too true an artist to have starchy outlines), the shimmering hair, the delicate wavering color, the proud poise of the head, the plump white arm and slender fingers with their pale-pink nails, and, above all, the exquisite voice that seemed so to enter into the culmination of the story, the last few sentences of pathos, joy, and complete fruition.
She closed her book. Neither of the ladies spoke. Mrs. Lawrence had been deeply touched. She lived almost exclusively in this world of fictitious sentiment, I was going to say; but I remember that it is often a transcript of human lives. Still she liked sentiment in books, out of them she scarcely recognized it.
There was a step and a low tap at the door; then, before Mrs. Lawrence could answer, Fred marched in, kissed his mother dutifully, and shook hands with Sylvie.
He had always liked Sylvie better as a little girl than any one else who ever came to the house, and he liked her now. How happy his mother would be! for of course they would go on living here. Irene would be away presently, and his parents would need some one. His summer work was mapped out before him; and really it was a pleasure to think he should escape the bore of society as one found it at summer-resorts, and entertain himself with this piquant brown-eyed girl with a heart fresh as a rose. He did not want a woman who had been wooed by every Tom, Dick, and Harry.
Yet another and more heroic thought entered his mind after chatting with her a few moments. He would save her as well. She might have a slight fancy for Jack Darcy: his sisters had spoken of it, and these great, fair, muscular giants were often attractive to women, through the very strength and rude force with which they pushed their suit. But such a lumbering, vulgar fellow in Miss Barry's dainty, womanish parlor! and he smiled at the thought. Yes, he would be doing a good deed to snatch Sylvie from any such possibility.
Fred Lawrence suddenly assumed a new importance in his own eyes. He made himself very agreeable to both ladies. Sylvie remained to dinner; and, when Mrs. Lawrence would have sent her home in the carriage, he proposed to escort her,—he wished to pay his respects to Miss Barry.
They did not take the most direct course, but, leaving the streets with their noise of children and possibly vulgar contact, strolled through "Lovers' Lane." The old trees met overhead; there were dooryards full of sweet, old-fashioned flowers, and now and then the sound of a weak piano or a plaintive voice.
"I am glad these streets have been kept free from the vice of modern improvement," said he. "It always brings back a touch of my boyhood when I walk through them. Your aunt made a good fight, Miss Sylvie, when she refused to listen to the golden tongues of speculators, though of course you would have been much richer. But it can be turned into money any time."
"Money is not every thing," answered the young girl, with a touch of sharpness. "Are one's own desires and old associations to count for nothing? This place was very dear to my aunt and to many others. I am sure there is quite enough of Yerbury laid waste now. The town looks as if it were a sort of general house-cleaning, and every thing was thrust out of doors and windows. And it was so pretty!" with a curious heat and passion. "It was like a dream, with its winding river and green fields, and men at their hay, and cows grazing in knee-deep pastures. Now all the milkmaids are herded in mills and factories; and the children,—well, there are no children any more!"
"No children!" lifting his pencilled brows in languid surprise. "Why, I think you can find swarms of them. The poorer the man, the larger the family."
"There are babies and babies; then little prigs and drudges. I am not sure I am in love with the so-called civilization. For the great majority it only means harder work."
"Did we not learn in some school-book—I am quite sure I did—that
'Satan finds some mischief still, For idle hands to do'?"
"Are you not afraid?" She turned with a bright, tormenting smile to the handsome young fellow, who flushed under her clear glance.
"For those who have brains, manual labor may not be the only chance of salvation," he returned with a somewhat haughty flippancy.
"I wonder they do not turn their brains to some account."
They reached the gate, and Miss Barry was sitting on the porch. Sylvie was too pretty and too womanly to be quarrelled with for the sake of a subject that did not in the least interest him. Beside, he meant to come in; so he opened the gate for her, and followed in a well-bred, gentlemanly way, that had nothing obtrusive in it. Miss Barry welcomed him with the quaint formality, the subtile air of education, refinement, and morality, so much a part of herself. It pleased him extremely, and settled him in his determination.
"Sylvie has a touch of radicalism," he mused to himself; "but it is a disease of youth, and thrives by association. Take her quite away, and she will soon recover her normal tone."
He found his mother still up on his return, and rather restless. She lay on her sofa, and dozed so much through the day, that night had but little slumber to bring her.
"I am so glad you did not go to Long Branch," she remarked, as she toyed with her son's silken, perfumed hair. "I get so lonesome when your father is away; and he seems to think of nothing but business"—in a complaining tone. "I do not know what I should do but for Sylvie. She is such a charming little body! Fred, do you think there is any truth in Gertrude's gossip about her and that—one of your father's mill-hands, is it not? How can Miss Barry allow it?"
"There is no truth in it," with a light, scornful laugh. "The families are neighbors, you know; and I suppose the boor takes a look for encouragement. I shall not go away this summer. I can find pleasanter employment."
She pressed his hand, and smiled, as their eyes met. Sons-in-law were very little to one, except in the way of respectability, but a daughter like Sylvie would be such a comfort! Fred had no need to marry a fortune, but Sylvie would not be poor.
NOW that Fred Lawrence had come home, there was no need of going so often to Hope Terrace, Sylvie thought. Time never hung heavy on her hands; for she was not indolent, and there were friends and pleasures. Miss Barry had a conscientious misgiving that Sylvie ought to be taken about like other young ladies; but she shrank from fashionable life herself, and could not resolve to trust her darling with any other person. Beside, Sylvie always seemed contented.
She was content indeed; at least, with her home and her aunt. Up-stairs, just out of her sleeping-chamber, she had a studio, chosen because this room, of all in the house, had the finest view in summer, when the tall old trees shut out so much. From here there were two exquisite perspectives. The trees and houses were so arranged that a long, arrowy ray of light penetrated through a narrow space over to a small rise of ground called Berry Hill on account of its harvest of blueberries. Two old, scraggy, immense oak-trees still remained; and she used to watch them from their first faint green to the blood-red and copper tints of autumn, when the sun shone through them. Down behind he dropped when the day was done; sometimes a ball of fire, at others bathed in roseate hues, tinged with all the wondrous grades of color, and making fleecy islands in a far-off, weird world, dream-haunted. She used to study the grand effects of shifting light, that made the hill bold and strong, or fused it into dreamy harmonies that seemed to have the subtile essence of music; then contrasts that were abrupt and apparently dissonant, quite against well-known edicts of human taste. Who was right,—the great Author of all? She smiled to herself when she heard people talk so glibly of nature, as if the one little rose-leaf were the whole world.
The other picture held in its soft, still, light, an old-fashioned, low-gabled house with wide eaves; a broad doorway, with the upper half always open in summer; a well with curb and sweep and bucket where farm-hands came to drink; a pond with a shady side, where cows herded in their peaceful fashion, wading knee-deep on hot days, chewing their cud contentedly at others, browsing through golden hours; fields of glowing grain, then tawny stubble, a bit of corn with nodding tassels, and not infrequently a group of children, picturesque in this far light. It all stood out with the clearness of a stereoscope.
She had her ambitions too, this bright little girl. They were tinctured with the crudeness of youth, and its boundless vision, it is true; and sometimes the passion of despair seized her soul in a cold grasp, when she felt hemmed in on every side, and longed for some opening, some step in the great world higher than fashionable frivolity.
Miss Barry had no taste for famous women. They were well enough in the world: she paid a proper and polite deference to Mrs. Somerville, Mrs. Browning, and Rosa Bonheur,—that kind of intellectual deference that sets them out of the sphere of ordinary women. Wives and mothers were better for the every-day life of the world; since pictures and poetry were luxuries, accessories, but not home or food or clothes. Though she had missed her woman's destiny, she had not lost faith in it; though she had held out her hand to the woman who had made shipwreck of her own life for the wild, graceless brother's sake, she still looked on clear seas and smooth sailing as possible for lovers' barks. In her plans for Sylvie there was a fine, manly, generous husband; a love so sweet and entire that the girl should forget her restless yearnings; baby hands to cling to her, baby lips to press, young lives to mould, and a future to plan for others.
Miss Barry believed in work devoutly, but gentlewomen had a firm place in her creed. The paintings and music were well enough as accomplishments, and she was proud of them; but she delicately repressed the other dreams and desires until Sylvie ceased to speak of them except to her friend Jack.
Miss Barry had experienced some anxiety on this point, it must be confessed. You would never have perceived it from the wise little woman's face or any tone of her voice. She went more frequently to the Darcys of an evening with Sylvie: she rolled her easy-chair and work-table to the opposite side of the sitting-room, where it commanded a view of the piano and the sofa in the parlor, the door being always open. She could hear and see, she could make pleasant, trenchant remarks: indeed, she was one of themselves, as young in heart, if the hair did glisten silvery under the bit of exquisite thread-lace that did duty as an apology for a cap.
Jack and Sylvie were not lovers. A rare good friendship it was, more perfect than brotherly and sisterly regard, in that it held no duty-element, and was spontaneous. Sylvie never laughed at Jack in his awkward boyish days: he had never tormented her small belongings as brothers are wont to do.
Miss Barry feared the flame might be easily fanned. A little opposition or warning would bring Sylvie's innocent wandering thoughts to a focus, and kindle the fire. She was very wary. She trusted Sylvie to Jack with an air that said, "You are too honorable to betray the confidence I repose in you."
The old class prejudice spoke out in this covert objection to Jack as a suitor. She honored him sincerely for giving up the dreams of ambitious and energetic manhood to stay at home and comfort these two delicate women. Yet (strange contradiction) she had a half fancy that it betokened weakness or lack of some kind in the very content with which he seemed to go about his daily duties. Alas for consistency! We preach content from the pulpit on Sunday, and on Monday glance with quiet contempt on our plodding neighbor, who can commune with the daisies by the wayside, while there is gold lying untroubled in desert gulches.
Honest, sturdy Jack, taking up the duty of to-day cheerfully with a manful endurance, because the hands holding his fate were too weak and tender to be wrestled with, and that in his large, generous soul he could not war on a smaller antagonist, neither was it his nature to continually thrust any sacrifice he might make before the eyes of the one he was benefiting. How much silent heroism goes unpraised in the world, while we stand on the highways, and prate of our discrimination, our quick insight! Jack might be praised for his self-denial, but the higher appreciation was withheld. Even Sylvie was fretted at times, because he would get interested in all things pertaining to the mill.
Miss Barry said to herself, "It is best that Sylvie should marry in her own circle, a man of cultivation, refinement, and position. Jack is a dear good fellow, but not the person to satisfy her for a lifetime."
Jack thought nothing at all about it. He never gave up the idea of a great wide world, where he could have a hand-to-hand struggle with something as powerful as himself. He had come to no dreams of wife and children. He did like Sylvie with all his big, honest heart. If she had fallen in love with him, and betrayed it by some girlish sign, he would have been startled at first, then thought it over in his slow, careful way, asked her to marry him, and loved her devotedly all his days, leaving the dreams to the past with a tender benediction.