By F. Hopkinson Smith
"Kennedy Square, in the late fifties, was a place of birds and trees and flowers; of rude stone benches, sagging arbors smothered in vines, and cool dirt paths bordered by sweet-smelling box. Giant magnolias filled the air with their fragrance, and climbing roses played hide-and-seek among the railings of the rotting fence. Along the shaded walks laughing boys and girls romped all day, with hoop and ball, attended by old black mammies in white aprons and gayly colored bandannas; while in the more secluded corners, sheltered by protecting shrubs, happy lovers sat and talked, tired wayfarers rested with hats off, and staid old gentlemen read by the hour, their noses in their books.
"Outside of all this color, perfume, and old-time charm; outside the grass-line and the rickety wooden fence that framed them in, ran an uneven pavement splashed with cool shadows and stained with green mould. Here, in summer, the watermelon man stopped his cart; and there, in winter, upon its broken bricks, old Moses unhooked his bucket of oysters and ceased for a moment his droning call.
"On the shady side of the square, and half hidden in ivy, was a Noah's Ark church, topped by a quaint belfry holding a bell that had not rung for years, and faced by a clock-dial all weather-stains and cracks, around which travelled a single rusty hand. In its shadow to the right lay the home of the archdeacon, a stately mansion with Corinthian columns reaching to the roof and surrounded by a spacious garden filled with damask roses and bushes of sweet syringa. To the left crouched a row of dingy houses built of brick, their iron balconies hung in flowering vines, the windows glistening with panes of wavy glass purpled by age.
"On the sunny side of the square, opposite the church, were more houses, high and low: one all garden, filled with broken-nosed statues hiding behind still more magnolias; and another all veranda and honeysuckle, big rocking-chairs and swinging hammocks; and still others with porticos curtained by white jasmine or Virginia creeper."—From "The Fortunes of Oliver Horn."
On the precise day on which this story opens—some sixty or more years ago, to be exact—a bullet-headed, merry-eyed, mahogany-colored young darky stood on the top step of an old-fashioned, high-stoop house, craning his head up and down and across Kennedy Square in the effort to get the first glimpse of his master, St. George Wilmot Temple, attorney and counsellor-at-law, who was expected home from a ducking trip down the bay.
Whether it was the need of this very diet, or whether St. George had felt a sudden longing for the out-of-doors, is a matter of doubt, but certain it is that some weeks before the very best shot in the county had betaken himself to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, accompanied by his guns, his four dogs, and two or three choice men of fashion—young bloods of the time—men with whom we shall become better acquainted as these chronicles go on—there to search for the toothsome and elusive canvas-back for which his State was famous.
That the darky was without a hat and in his shirt-sleeves, and it winter—the middle of January, really—the only warm thing about him being the green baize apron tied about his waist, his customary livery when attending to his morning duties—did not trouble him in the least. Marse George might come any minute, and he wanted to be the first to welcome him.
For the past few weeks Todd had had the house to himself. Coal-black Aunt Jemima, with her knotted pig-tails, capacious bosom, and unconfined waist, forty years his senior and ten shades darker in color, it is true, looked after the pots and pans, to say nothing of a particular spit on which her master's joints and game were roasted; but the upper part of the house, which covered the drawing-room, dining-room, bedroom, and dressing-room in the rear, as well as the outside of the dwelling, including even the green-painted front door and the slant of white marble steps that dropped to the brick sidewalk, were the especial property of the chocolate-colored darky.
To these duties was added the exclusive care of the master himself—a care which gave the boy the keenest delight, and which embraced every service from the drawing off of St. George Wilmot Temple's boots to the shortening of that gentleman's slightly gray hair; the supervision of his linen, clothes, and table, with such side issues as the custody of his well-stocked cellar, to say nothing of the compounding of various combinations, sweet, sour, and strong, the betrayal of whose secrets would have cost the darky his place.
"Place" is the word, for Todd was not St. George's slave, but the property of a well-born, if slightly impoverished, gentleman who lived on the Eastern Shore, and whose chief source of income was the hiring out to his friends and acquaintances of just such likely young darkies as Todd—a custom common to the impecunious of those days.
As Mr. Temple, however, did not come under either one of the above-mentioned classes—the "slightly impoverished gentleman" never having laid eyes on him in his life—the negotiations had to be conducted with a certain formality. Todd had therefore, on his arrival, unpinned from the inside of his jacket a portentous document signed with his owner's name and sealed with a red wafer, which after such felicitous phrases as—"I have the distinguished honor," etc.—gave the boy's age (21), weight (140 pounds), and height (5 feet 10 inches)—all valuable data for identification in case the chattel conceived a notion of moving further north (an unnecessary precaution in Todd's case). To this was added the further information that the boy had been raised under his master's heels, that he therefore knew his pedigree, and that his sole and only reason for sparing him from his own immediate service was his own poverty and the fact that while under St. George's care the boy could learn how "to wait on quality."
As to the house itself—the "Temple Mansion," as it was called—that was as much a part of Kennedy Square as the giant magnolias gracing the park, or the Noah's Ark church, with its quaint belfry and cracked bell, which faced its shady walks. Nobody, of course, remembered how long it had been built—that is, nobody then alive—I mean the very date. Such authorities as Major Clayton were positive that the bricks had been brought from Holland; while Richard Horn, the rising young scientist, was sure that all the iron and brass work outside were the product of Sheffield; but in what year they had all been put together had always been a disputed question.
That, however, which was certain and beyond doubt, was that St. George's father, old General Dorsey Temple, had purchased the property near the close of the preceding century; that he had, with his characteristic vehemence, pushed up the roof, thrust in two dormer windows, and smashed out the rear wall, thus enlarging the dining-room and giving increased space for a glass-covered porch ending in a broad flight of wooden steps descending to a rose-garden surrounded by a high brick wall; that thus encouraged he had widened the fireplaces, wainscoted the hall, built a new mahogany spider-web staircase leading to his library on the second floor, and had otherwise disported himself after the manner of a man who, having suddenly fallen heir to a big pot of money, had ever after continued oblivious to the fact that the more holes he punched in its bottom the less water would spill over its top. The alterations complete, balls, routs, and dinners followed to such distinguished people as Count Rochambeau, the Marquis de Castellux, Marquis de Lafayette, and other high dignitaries, coming-of-age parties for the young bloods—quite English in his tastes was the old gentleman—not to mention many other extravagances which were still discussed by the gossips of the day.
With the general's death—it had occurred some twenty years before—the expected had happened. Not only was the pot nearly empty, but the various drains which it had sustained had so undermined the family rent-roll that an equally disastrous effect had been produced on the mansion itself (one of the few pieces of property, by the way, that the father had left to his only son and heir unencumbered, with the exception of a suit in chancery from which nobody ever expected a penny), the only dry spots in St. George's finances being the few ground rents remaining from his grandmother's legacy and the little he could pick up at the law.
It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that certain changes and deteriorations had taken place inside and out of the historic building—changes which never in the slightest degree affected the even-tempered St. George, who had retained his own private apartments regardless of the rest of the house—but changes which, in all justice to the irascible old spendthrift, would have lifted that gentleman out of his grave could he have realized their effect and extent. What a shock, for instance, would the most punctilious man of his time have received when he found his front basement rented for a law office, to say nothing of a disreputable tin sign nailed to a shutter—where in the olden time he and his cronies had toasted their shins before blazing logs, the toddies kept hot on the hearth! And what a row would he have raised had he known that the rose-garden was entirely neglected and given over to the dogs and their kennels; the library in the second story stripped of its books and turned into a guest-chamber, and the books themselves consigned to the basement; the oak-panelled dining-room transformed into a bedchamber for St. George, and the white-and-gold drawing-room fronting the street reduced to a mere living-room where his son and heir made merry with his friends! And then the shrinkages all about! When a room could be dispensed with, it was locked up. When a shingle broke loose, it stayed loose; and so did the bricks capping the chimneys, and the leaky rain-spouts that spattered the dingy bricks, as well as the cracks and crannies that marred the ceilings and walls.
And yet so great was Todd's care over the outside fittings of the house—details which were necessarily in evidence, and which determined at a glance the quality of the folks inside—that these several crumblings, shake-downs, and shrinkages were seldom noticed by the passer-by. The old adage that a well-brushed hat, a clean collar, polished shoes, and immaculate gloves—all terminal details—make the well-dressed man, no matter how shabby or how ill-fitting his intermediate apparel, applied, according to Todd's standards, to houses as well as Brummels. He it was who soused the windows of purple glass, polished the brass knobs, rubbed bright the brass knocker and brass balls at the top and bottom of the delightful iron railings, to say nothing of the white marble steps, which he attacked with a slab of sandstone and cake of fuller's-earth, bringing them to so high a state of perfection that one wanted to apologize for stepping on them. Thus it was that the weather-beaten rainspouts, stained bricks, sagging roof, and blistered window-sashes were no longer in evidence. Indeed, their very shabbiness so enhanced the brilliancy of Todd's handiwork that the most casual passers-by were convinced at a glance that gentlefolk lived within.
On this particular morning, then, Todd had spent most of the time since daylight—it was now eight o'clock—in the effort to descry his master making his way along the street, either afoot or by some conveyance, his eyes dancing, his ears alert as a rabbit's, his restless feet marking the limit of his eagerness. In his impatience he had practised every step known to darkydom in single and double shuffle; had patted juba on one and both knees, keeping time with his heels to the rhythm; had slid down and climbed up the railings a dozen times, his eyes on the turn in the street, and had otherwise conducted himself as would any other boy, black or white, who was at his wits' end to know what to do with the next second of his time.
Aunt Jemima had listened to the racket until she had lost all patience, and at last threw up the basement window:
"Go in an' shet dat do'—'fo' I come up dar an' smack ye—'nough ter make a body deef ter hear ye," she called, her black shining face dividing the curtains. "How you know he's a-comin'?"
Todd leaned over the railing and peered down: "Mister Harry Rutter done tol' me—said dey all 's a-comin'—de jedge an' Doctor Teackle an' Marse George an' de hull kit an' bilin'. Dey's been gone mos' two weeks now,—dey's a-comin' I tell ye—be yere any minute."
"I b'liebe dat when I sees it. Fool nigger like you b'liebe anything. You better go inside 'fo' you catch yo' dea'f. I gin ye fair warnin' right now dat I ain't gwineter nuss ye,—d'ye yere?—standin' out dar like a tarr-pin wid yo' haid out. Go in I tell ye!" and she shut the window with a bang and made her way to the kitchen.
Todd kept up his double shuffle with everything going—hands, feet, and knees—thrashed his arms about his chest and back to keep up the circulation and with a final grimace in the direction of the old cook maintained his watch.
"I spec's it's de fog dat's kep' 'em," he muttered anxiously, his feet still in action. "Dat bay boat's mos' allus late,—can't tell when she'll git in. Only las' week—Golly!—dar he is—DAT'S HIM!"
A mud-bespattered gig was swinging around the corner into the Square, and with a swerve in its course was heading to where Todd stood.
The boy sprang down the steps:
"Yere he is, Aunt Jemima!" he shouted, as if the old cook could have heard him through three brick walls.
The gig came to a stand-still and began to unload: first the dogs, who had been stowed under their master's feet since they left the steamboat wharf, and who with a clear bound to the sidewalk began scouring in mad circles, one after another, up and down Todd's immaculate steps, the four in full cry until the entire neighborhood was aroused, the late sleepers turning over with the remark—"Temple's at home," and the early risers sticking their heads out of the windows to count the ducks as they were passed out. Next the master: One shapely leg encased in an English-made ducking boot, then its mate, until the whole of his handsome, well-knit, perfectly healthy and perfectly delightful body was clear of the cramped conveyance.
"Hello, Todd!" he burst out, his face aglow with his drive from the boat-landing—"glad to see you! Here, take hold of these guns—-easy now, they won't hurt you; one at a time, you lunkhead! And now pull those ducks from under the seat. How's Aunt Jemima?—Oh, is that you aunty?" She had come on the run as soon as she heard the dogs. "Everything all right, aunty—howdy—" and he shook her hand heartily.
The old woman had made a feint to pull her sleeves down over her plump black arms and then, begrudging the delay, had grasped his outstretched hand, her face in a broad grin.
"Yes, sah, dat's me. Clar' to goodness, Marse George, I's glad ter git ye home. Lawd-a-massy, see dem ducks! Purty fat, ain't dey, sah? My!—dat pair's jes' a-bustin'! G'long you fool nigger an' let me hab 'em! G'way f'om dere I tell ye!"
"No,—you pick them up, Todd—they're too heavy for you, aunty. You go back to your kitchen and hurry up breakfast—waffles, remember,—and some corn pone and a scallop shell or two—I'm as hungry as a bear."
The whole party were mounting the steps now, St. George carrying the guns, Todd loaded down with the game—ten brace of canvas-backs and redheads strung together by their bills—the driver of the gig following with the master's big ducking overcoat and smaller traps—the four dogs crowding up trying to nose past for a dash into the wide hall as soon as Todd opened the door.
"Anybody been here lately, Todd?" his master asked, stopping for a moment to get a better grip of his heaviest duck gun.
"Ain't nobody been yere partic'ler 'cept Mister Harry Rutter. Dey alls knowed you was away. Been yere mos' ev'ry day—come ag'in yisterday."
"Mr. Rutter been here!—Well, what did he want?"
"Dunno, sah,—didn't say. Seemed consid'ble shook up when he foun' you warn't to home. I done tol' him you might be back to-day an' den ag'in you mightn't—'pended on de way de ducks was flyin'. Spec' he'll be roun' ag'in purty soon—seemed ter hab sumpin' on his min'. I'll tu'n de knob, sah. Yere—git down, you imp o' darkness,—you Floe!—you Dandy! Drat dem dogs!—Yere, YERE!" but all four dogs were inside now, making a sweepstakes of the living-room, the rugs and cushions flying in every direction.
Although Todd had spent most of the minutes since daylight peering up and down the Square, eager for the first sight of the man whom he loved with an idolatry only to be found in the negro for a white man whom he respects, and who is kind to him, he had not neglected any of his other duties. There was a roaring wood fire behind brass andirons and fender. There was a breakfast table set for two—St. George's invariable custom. "Somebody might drop in, you know, Todd." There was a big easy-chair moved up within warming distance of the cheery blaze; there were pipes and tobacco within reach of the master's hand; there was the weekly newspaper folded neatly on the mantel, and a tray holding an old-fashioned squat decanter and the necessary glasses—in fact, all the comforts possible and necessary for a man who having at twenty-five given up all hope of wedded life, found himself at fifty becoming accustomed to its loss.
St. George seized the nearest dog by the collar, cuffed him into obedience as an example to the others, ordered the four to the hearth rug, ran his eye along the mantel to see what letters had arrived in his absence, and disappeared into his bedroom. From thence he emerged half an hour later attired in the costume of the day—a jaunty brown velveteen jacket, loose red scarf, speckled white waistcoat—single-breasted and of his own pattern and cut—dove-gray trousers, and white gaiters. No town clothes for St. George as long as his measure was in London and his friends were good enough to bring him a trunk full every year or two. "Well-cut garments may not make a gentleman," he would often say to the youngsters about him, "but slip-shod clothes can spoil one."
He had drawn up to the table now, Todd in white jacket hovering about him, bringing relays of waffles, hot coffee, and more particularly the first of a series of great scallop-shells filled with oysters which he had placed on the well-brushed hearth to keep hot while his master was dressing.
Fifty he was by the almanac, and by the old family Bible as well, and yet he did not look it. Six feet and an inch; straight, ruddy-checked, broad-shouldered, well-rounded, but with his waist measure still under control; slightly gray at the temples, with clean-shaven face, laughing eyes, white teeth, and finely moulded nose, brow, and chin, he was everything his friends claimed—the perfect embodiment of all that was best in his class and station, and of all that his blood had bequeathed him.
And fine old fellows they were if we can believe the historians of the seventeenth century: "Wearing the falchion and the rapier, the cloth coat lined with plush and embroidered belt, the gold hat-band and the feathers, silk stockings and garters, besides signet rings and other jewels; wainscoting the walls of their principal rooms in black oak and loading their sideboards with a deal of rich and massive silver plate upon which was carved the arms of their ancestors;—drinking, too, strong punch and sack from 'silver sack-cups'—(sack being their favorite)—and feasting upon oysters and the most delicious of all the ducks of the world."
And in none of their other distinguishing qualities was their descendant lacking. In the very lift of his head and brace of his shoulders; in the grace and ease with which he crossed the room, one could see at a glance something of the dash and often the repose of the cavalier from whom he had sprung. And the sympathy, kindness, and courtesy of the man that showed in every glance of his eye and every movement of his body—despite his occasional explosive temper—a sympathy that drifted in to an ungovernable impulse to divide everything he owned into two parts, and his own half into two once more if the other fellow needed it; a kindness that made every man his friend, and a courtesy which, even in a time when men lifted their hats to men, as well as to women, had gained for him, the town over, the soubriquet of "Gentleman George"; while to every young girl and youth under twenty he was just "dear Uncle George"—the one man in all Kennedy Square who held their secrets.
But to our breakfast once more. All four dogs were on their feet now, their tails wagging expectantly, their noses at each of his knees, where they were regaled at regular intervals with choice bits from his plate, the snapping of their solemn jaws expressing their thanks. A second scallop-shell was next lifted from the hearth with the tongs, and deposited sizzling hot on a plate beside the master, the aroma of the oysters filling the room. These having disappeared, as had the former one, together with the waffles and coffee, and the master's appetite being now on the wane, general conversation became possible.
"Did Mr. Rutter look ill, Todd?" he continued, picking up the thread of the talk where he had left it. "He wasn't very well when I left."
"No, sah,—neber see him look better. Been up a li'l' late I reckon,—Marse Harry mos' gen'ally is a li'l' mite late, sah—" Todd chuckled. "But dat ain't nuthin' to dese gemmans. But he sho' do wanter see ye. Maybe he stayed all night at Mister Seymour's. If he did an' he yered de rumpus dese rapscallions kicked up—yes—dat's you I'm talkin' to"—and he looked toward the dogs—"he'll be roun' yere 'fo' ye gits fru yo' bre'kfus'. Dey do say as how Marse Harry's mighty sweet in dat quarter. Mister Langdon Willits's snoopin' roun' too, but Miss Kate ain't got no use fer him. He ain't quality dey say."
His master let him run on; Aunt Jemima was Todd's only outlet during his master's absence, and as this was sometimes clogged by an uplifted broom, he made the best use he could of the opportunities when he and his master were alone. When "comp'ny" were present he was as close-mouthed as a clam and as noiseless as a crab.
"Who told you all this gossip, Todd?" exclaimed St. George with a smile, laying down his knife and fork.
"Ain't nary one tol' me—ain't no use bein' tol'. All ye got to do is to keep yo' eyes open. Be a weddin' dar 'fo' spring. Look out, sah—dat shell's still a-sizzlin'. Mo' coffee, sah? Wait till I gits some hot waffles—won't take a minute!" and he was out of the room and downstairs before his master could answer.
Hardly had he slammed the kitchen door behind him when the clatter and stamp of a horse's hoofs were heard Outside, followed by an impatient rat-a-tat-tat on the knocker.
The boy dropped his dishes: "Fo' Gawd, dat's Mister Harry!" he cried as he started on a run for the door. "Don't nobody bang de do' down like dat but him."
A slender, thoroughly graceful young fellow of twenty-one or two, booted and spurred, his dark eyes flashing, his face tingling with the sting of the early morning air, dashed past the obsequious darky and burst into Temple's presence with the rush of a north-west breeze. He had ridden ten miles since he vaulted into the saddle, had never drawn rein uphill or down, and neither he nor the thoroughbred pawing the mud outside had turned a hair.
"Hello, Uncle George!" Temple, as has been said, was Uncle George to every girl and youth in Kennedy Square.
"Why, Harry!" He had sprung from his seat, napkin in hand and had him by both shoulders, looking into his eyes as if he wanted to hug him, and would the first thing he knew. "Where are you from—Moorlands? What a rollicking chap you are, and you look so well and handsome, you dog! And now tell me of your dear mother and your father. But first down with you—here—right opposite—always your place, my dear Harry. Todd, another shell of oysters and more waffles and coffee—everything, Todd, and blazing hot: two shells, Todd—the sight of you, Harry, makes me ravenous again, and I could have eaten my boots, when I got home an hour ago, I was so hungry. But the mare"—here he moved to the window—"is she all right? Spitfire, I suppose—you'd kill anything else, you rascal! But you haven't tied her!"
"No—never tie her—break her heart if I did. Todd, hang up this coat and hat in the hall before you go."
"That's what you said of that horse you bought of Hampson—ran away, didn't he?" persisted his host, his eyes on the mare, which had now become quiet.
"Yes, and broke his leg. But Spitfire's all right—she'll stand. Where will I sit—here? And now what kind of a time did you have, and who were with you?"
"Clayton, Doctor Teackle, and the judge."
"And how many ducks did you get?" and he dropped into his chair.
"Twenty-one," answered St. George, dry-washing his white shapely hands, as he took his seat—a habit of his when greatly pleased.
"No—five redheads and a mallard."
"Where did you put up?" echoed Harry, loosening his riding-jacket to give his knife and fork freer play.
"I spent a week at Tom Coston's and a week at Craddock. Another lump of sugar, Todd."
The boy laughed gently: "Lazy Tom's?"
"Lazy Tom's—and the best-hearted fellow in the world. They're going to make him a judge, they say and—"
"—What of—peach brandy? No cream in mine, Todd."
"No—you scurrilous dog—of the Common Court," retorted St. George, looking at him over the top of his cup. "Very good lawyer is Tom—got horse sense and can speak the truth—make a very good judge."
Again Harry laughed—rather a forced laugh this time, as if he were trying to make himself agreeable but with so anxious a ring through it that Todd busied himself about the table before going below for fresh supplies, making excuse of collecting the used dishes. If there were to be any revelations concerning the situation at the Seymour house, he did not intend to miss any part of them.
"Better put Mrs. Coston on the bench and set Tom to rocking the cradle," said the young man, reaching for the plate of corn pone. "She's a thoroughbred if ever I saw one, and does credit to her blood. But go on—tell me about the birds. Are they flying high?—and the duck blinds; have they fixed them up? They were all going to pot when I was there last."
"Birds out of range, most of them—hard work getting what I did. As to the blinds, they are still half full of water—got soaking wet trying to use one. I shot most of mine from the boat just as the day broke," and then followed a full account of what the party had bagged, with details of every day's adventures. This done, St. George pushed back his chair and faced the young man.
"And now you take the witness-stand, sir—look me in the eyes, put your hand on your fob-pocket and tell me the truth. Todd says you have been here every day for a week looking as if you had lost your last fip-penny-bit and wild to see me. What has happened?"
"Todd has a vivid imagination." He turned in his seat, stretched out his hand, and catching one of the dogs by the nose rubbed his head vigorously.
"Go on—all of it—no dodging the king's counsellor. What's the matter?"
The young man glanced furtively at Todd, grabbed another dog, rubbed their two ears together in play, and in a lowered voice, through which a tinge of sadness was only too apparent, murmured:
"Miss Kate—we've had a falling out."
St. George lowered his head suddenly and gave a low whistle:—"Falling out?—what about?"
Again young Rutter glanced at Todd, whose back was turned, but whose ears were stretched to splitting point. His host nodded understandingly.
"There, Todd—that will do; now go down and get your breakfast. No more waffles, tell Aunt Jemima. Bring the pipes over here and throw on another log... that's right." A great sputtering of sparks followed—a spider-legged, mahogany table was wheeled into place, and the dejected darky left the room for the regions below.
"So you two have had a quarrel! Oh, Harry!—when will you learn to think twice before you speak? Whose fault was it?" sighed St. George, filling the bowl of his pipe with his slender fingers, slowly tucking in each shred and grain.
"What did you say?" (Puff-puff.)
"Nothing—I couldn't. She came in and saw it all." The boy had his elbows on the table now, his cheeks sunk in his hands.
St. George looked up: "Drunk, were you?"
"At Mrs. Cheston's ball last week."
"Have you seen her since?"
"No—she won't let me come near her. Mr. Seymour passed me yesterday and hardly spoke to me."
St. George canted his chair and zigzagged it toward the blazing hearth; then he said thoughtfully, without looking at the young man:
"Well, this is a pretty kettle of fish! Have you told your father?"
"No—he wouldn't understand."
"And I know you didn't tell your mother." This came with the tone of positive conviction.
"No—and don't you. Mother is daft on the subject. If she had her way, father would never put a drop of wine on the table. She says it is ruining the county—but that's mother's way."
St. George stooped over, fondled one of the dogs for a moment—two had followed Todd out of the room—settled back in his chair again, and still looking into the fire, said slowly:
"Bad business—bad business, Harry! Kate is as proud as Lucifer and dislikes nothing on earth so much as being made conspicuous. Tell me exactly what happened."
"Well, there isn't anything to tell," replied the young fellow, raising his head and leaning back in his chair, his face the picture of despair. "We were all in the library and the place was boiling-hot, and they had two big bowls, one full of eggnog and the other full of apple-toddy: and the next thing I knew I was out in the hall and met Kate on the stairs. She gave a little smothered scream, and moaned—'Oh, Harry!—and you promised me!'—and then she put her hands to her face, as if to shut me out of her sight. That sobered me somewhat, and after I got out on the porch into the night air and had pulled myself together, I tried to find her and apologize, but she had gone home, although the ball wasn't half over.
"Then this was not the first time?" He was still at the hot coals, both hands outfanned, to screen his face from the blaze.
"No—I'm sorry to say it wasn't. I told her I would never fail her again, and she forgave me, but I don't know what she'll do now. She never forgives anybody who breaks his word—she's very queer about it. That's what I came to see you about. I haven't slept much nights, thinking it over, and so I had the mare saddled, as soon as it got light, hoping you would be home. Todd thought you might be—he saw Dr. Teackle's Joe, who said you were all coming to-day."
Again there was a long pause, during which Temple continued to study the coals through his open fingers, the young man sitting hunched up in his chair, his handsome head dropped between his shoulders, his glossy chestnut hair, a-frouze with his morning ride, fringing his collar behind.
"Harry," said St. George, knocking the ashes slowly from his pipe on the edge of the fender, and turning his face for the first time toward him,—"didn't I hear something before I went away about a ball at your father's—or a dance—or something, when your engagement was to be announced?"
The boy nodded.
"And was it not to be something out of the ordinary?" he continued, looking at the boy from under his eyelids—"Teackle certainly told me so—said that your mother had already begun to get the house in order—"
Again Harry nodded—as if he had been listening to an indictment, every word of which he knew was true.
St. George roused himself and faced his guest: "And yet you took this time, Harry, to—"
The boy threw up both hands in protest:
"Don't!—DON'T! Uncle George! It's the ball that makes it all the worse. That's why I've got no time to lose; that's why I've haunted this place waiting for you to get back. Mother will be heart-broken if she finds out and I don't know what father would do."
St. George laid his empty pipe on the table and straightened his body in the chair until his broad shoulders filled the back. Then his brow darkened; his indignation was getting the better of him.
"I don't know what has come over you young fellows, Harry!" he at last broke out, his eyes searching the boy's. "You don't seem to know how to live. You've got to pull a shoat out of a trough to keep it from overeating itself, but you shouldn't be obliged to pull a gentleman away from his glass. Good wine is good food and should be treated as such. My cellar is stocked with old Madeira—some port—some fine sherries—so is your father's. Have you ever seen him abuse them?—have you ever seen Mr. Horn or Mr. Kennedy, or any of our gentlemen around here, abuse them? It's scandalous, Harry! damnable! I love you, my son—love you in a way you know nothing of, but you've got to stop this sort of thing right off. And so have these young roysterers you associate with. It's getting worse every day. I don't wonder your dear mother feels about it as she does. But she's always been that way, and she's always been right about it, too, although I didn't use to think so." This last came with a lowered voice and a deep, indrawn sigh, and for the moment checked the flow of his wrath.
Harry hung his head still lower, but he did not attempt to defend himself.
"Who else were making vulgarians of themselves at Mrs. Cheston's?" St. George continued in a calmer tone, stretching his shapely legs until the soles of his shoes touched the fender.
"Mark Gilbert, Tom Murdoch, Langdon Willits, and—"
"Willits, eh?—Well, I should expect it of Willits. He wasn't born a gentleman—that is, his grandfather wasn't a gentleman—married his overseer's daughter, if I remember right:—but you come of the best blood in the State,—egad!—none better! You have something to maintain—some standard to keep up. A Rutter should never be found guilty of anything that would degrade his name. You seem to forget that—you—damn me, Harry!—when I think of it all—and of Kate—my sweet, lovely Kate,—and how you have made her suffer—for she loves you—no question of that—I feel like wringing your neck! What the devil do you mean, Sir?" He was up on his feet now, pacing the room, the dogs following his every movement with their brown agate eyes, their soft, silky ears straightening and falling.
So far the young fellow had not moved nor had he offered a word in defence. He knew his Uncle George—better let him blow it all out, then the two could come together. At last he said in a contrite tone—his hands upraised:
"Don't scold me, Uncle George. I've scolded myself enough—just say something to help me. I can't give Kate up—I'd sooner die. I've always made a fool of myself—maybe I'll quit doing it after this. Tell me how I can straighten this out. She won't see me—maybe her father won't. He and my father—so Tom Warfield told me yesterday—had a talk at the club. What they said I don't know, but Mr. Seymour was pretty mad—that is, for him—so Tom thought from the way he spoke."
"And he ought to be mad—raging mad! He's only got one daughter, and she the proudest and loveliest thing on earth, and that one he intends to give to you"—Harry looked up in surprise—"Yes—he told me so. And here you are breaking her heart before he has announced it to the world. It's worse than damnable, Harry—it's a CRIME!"
For some minutes he continued his walk, stopping to look out of the window, his eyes on the mare who, with head up and restless eyes, was on the watch for her master's return; then he picked up his pipe from the table, threw himself into his chair again, and broke into one of his ringing laughs.
"I reckon it's because you're twenty, Harry, I forgot that. Hot blood—hot temper,—madcap dare-devil that you are—not a grain of common-sense. But what can you expect?—I was just like you at your age. Come, now, what shall we do first?"
The young fellow rose and a smile of intense relief crept over his face. He had had many such overhaulings from his uncle, and always with this ending. Whenever St. George let out one of those big, spontaneous, bubbling laughs straight from his heart, the trouble, no matter how serious, was over. What some men gained by anger and invective St. George gained by good humor, ranging from the faint smile of toleration to the roar of merriment. One reason why he had so few enemies—none, practically—was that he could invariably disarm an adversary with a laugh. It was a fine old blade that he wielded; only a few times in his life had he been called upon to use any other—when some under-dog was maltreated, or his own good name or that of a friend was traduced, or some wrong had to be righted—then his face would become as hot steel and there would belch out a flame of denunciation that would scorch and blind in its intensity. None of these fiercer moods did the boy know;—what he knew was his uncle's merry side—his sympathetic, loving side,—and so, following up his advantage, he strode across the room, settled down on the arm of his uncle's chair, and put his arm about his shoulders.
"Won't you go and see her, please?" he pleaded, patting his back, affectionately.
"What good will that do? Hand me a match, Harry."
"Everything—that's what I came for."
"Not with Kate! She isn't a child—she's a woman," he echoed back between the puffs, his indignation again on the rise. "And she is different from the girls about here," he added, tossing the burned match in the fire. "When she once makes up her mind it stays made up."
"Don't let her make it up! Go and see her and tell her how I love her and how miserable I am. Tell her I'll never break another promise to her as long as I live. Nobody ever holds out against you. Please, Uncle George! I'll never come to you for anything else in the world if you'll help me this time. And I won't drink another drop of anything you don't want me to drink—I don't care what father or anybody else says. Oh, you've GOT to go to her!—I can't stand it any longer! Every time I think of Kate hidden away over there where I can't get at her, it drives me wild. I wouldn't ask you to go if I could go myself and talk it out with her—but she won't let me near her—I've tried, and tried; and Ben says she isn't at home, and knows he lies when he says it! You will go, won't you?"
The smoke from his uncle's pipe was coming freer now—most of it escaping up the throat of the chimney with a gentle swoop.
"When do you want me to go?" He had already surrendered. When had he ever held out when a love affair was to be patched up?
"Now, right away."
"No,—I'll go to-night,—she will be at home then," he said at last, as if he had just made up his mind, the pipe having helped—"and do you come in about nine and—let me know when you are there, or—better still, wait in the hall until I come for you."
"But couldn't I steal in while you are talking?"
"No—you do just as I tell you. Not a sound out of you, remember, until I call you."
"But how am I to know? She might go out the other door and—"
"You'll know when I come for you."
"And you think it will be all right, don't you?" he pleaded. "You'll tell her what an awful time I've had, won't you, Uncle George?"
"Yes, every word of it."
"And that I haven't slept a wink since—"
"Yes—and that you are going to drown yourself and blow your head off and swallow poison. Now off with you and let me think how I am to begin straightening out this idiotic mess. Nine o'clock, remember, and in the hall until I come for you."
"Yes—nine o'clock! Oh!—you good Uncle George! I'll never forget you for it," and with a grasp of St. George's hand and another outpouring of gratitude, the young fellow swung wide the door, clattered down the steps, threw his leg over Spitfire, and dashed up the street.
If Kate's ancestors had wasted any part of their substance in too lavish a hospitality, after the manner of the spendthrift whose extravagances were recounted in the preceding chapter, there was nothing to indicate it in the home of their descendants. No loose shutters, crumbling chimneys, or blistered woodwork defaced the Seymour mansion:—the touch of the restorer was too apparent. No sooner did a shutter sag or a hinge give way than away it went to the carpenter or the blacksmith; no sooner did a banister wabble, or a table crack, or an andiron lose a leg, than up came somebody with a kit, or a bag, or a box of tools, and they were as good as new before you could wink your eye. Indeed, so great was the desire to keep things up that it was only necessary (so a wag said) to scratch a match on old Seymour's front door to have its panels repainted the next morning.
And then its seclusion:—while its neighbors—the Temple mansion among them—had been placed boldly out to the full building line where they could see and be seen, the Seymours, with that spirit of aloofness which had marked the family for generations, had set their dwelling back ten paces, thrown up a hedge of sweet-smelling box to screen the inmates from the gaze of passers-by, planted three or four big trees as protection for the upper windows, and, to insure still greater privacy, had put up a swinging wooden gate, kept shut by a ball and chain, its clang announcing the entrance of each and every visitor.
And this same spirit was manifest the moment you stepped into the wide hall, glanced at the old family portraits marching steadily, one after another, up the side of the spacious stairs (revarnished every other year)—entered the great drawing-room hung with yellow satin and decorated with quaint mirrors, and took a scat in one of the all-embracing arm-chairs, there to await the arrival of either the master of the house or his charming daughter.
If it were the master to whom you wished to pay your respects, one glance at the Honorable Howard Douglass Seymour would have convinced you that he was precisely the kind of man who should have had charge of so well-ordered a home: so well brushed was he—so clean-shaven—so immaculately upholstered—the two points of his collar pinching his cheeks at the same precise angle; his faultless black stock fitting to perfection, the lapels of his high-rolled coat matching exactly. And then the correct parting of the thin gray hair and the two little gray brush-tails of lovelocks that were combed in front of his ears, there to become a part of the two little dabs of gray whiskers that stretched from his temples to his bleached cheekbones. Yes—a most carefully preserved, prim, and well-ordered person was Kate's father.
As to the great man's career, apart from his service in the legislature, which won him his title, there was no other act of his life which marked him apart from his fellows. Suffice it to say that he was born a gentleman without a penny to his name; that he married Kate's mother when she was twenty and he forty (and here is another story, and a sad one)—she the belle of her time—and sole heir to the estate of her grandfather, Captain Hugh Barkeley, the rich ship-owner—and that the alliance had made him a gentleman of unlimited leisure, she, at her death, having left all her property to her daughter Kate, with the Honorable Prim as custodian.
And this trust, to his credit be it said—for Seymour was of Scotch descent, a point in his favor with old Captain Barkeley, who was Scotch on his mother's side, and, therefore, somewhat canny—was most religiously kept, he living within his ample means—or Kate's, which was the same thing—discharging the duties of father, citizen, and friend, with the regularity of a clock—so many hours with his daughter, so many hours at his club, so many hours at his office; the intermediate minutes being given over to resting, dressing, breakfasting, dining, sleeping, and no doubt praying; the precise moment that marked the beginning and ending of each task having been fixed years in advance by this most exemplary, highly respectable, and utterly colorless old gentleman of sixty.
That this dry shell of a man could be the father of our spontaneous lovely Kate was one of the things that none of the younger people around Kennedy Square could understand—but then few of them had known her beautiful mother with her proud step and flashing eyes.
But it is not the punctilious, methodical Prim whom St. George wishes to see to-night; nor does he go through any of the formalities customary to the house. There is no waiting until old Ben, the family butler in snuff-colored coat and silver buttons, shuffles upstairs or into the library, or wherever the inmates were to be found, there to announce "Massa George Temple." Nor did he send in his card, or wait until his knock was answered. He simply swung back the gate until the old chain and ball, shocked at his familiarity, rattled itself into a rage, strode past the neatly trimmed, fragrant box, pushed open the door—no front door was ever locked in the daytime in Kennedy Square, and few at night—and halting at the bottom step, called up the silent stairs in a voice that was a joyous greeting in itself:
"Kate, you darling! come down as quick as your dear little feet will carry you! It's Uncle George, do you hear?—or shall I come up and bring you down in my arms, you bunch of roses? It won't be the first time." The first time was when she was a year old.
"Oh!—is that you, Uncle George? Yes,—just as soon as I do up my back hair." The voice came from the top of the stairs—a lark's voice singing down from high up. "Father's out and—"
"Yes—I know he's out; I met him on his way to the club. Hurry now—I've got the best news in the world for you."
"Yes—in a minute."
He knew her minutes, and how long they could be, and in his impatience roamed about the wide hall examining the old English engravings and colored prints decorating the panels until he heard her step overhead and looking up watched her cross the upper hall, her well-poised, aristocratic head high in air, her full, well-rounded, blossoming body imaged in the loose embroidered scarf wound about her sloping shoulders. Soon he caught the wealth of her blue-black hair in whose folds her negro mammy had pinned a rose that matched the brilliancy of her cheeks, two stray curls wandering over her neck; her broad forehead, with clearly marked eyebrows, arching black lashes shading lustrous, slumbering eyes; and as she drew nearer, her warm red lips, exquisite teeth, and delicate chin, and last, the little feet that played hide and seek beneath her quilted petticoat: a tall, dark, full-blooded, handsome girl of eighteen with an air of command and distinction tempered by a certain sweet dignity and delicious coquetry—a woman to be loved even when she ruled and to be reverenced even when she trifled.
She had reached the floor now, and the two arm in arm, he patting her hand, she laughing beside him, had entered the small library followed by the old butler bringing another big candelabra newly lighted.
"It's so good of you to come," she cried, her face alight with the joy of seeing him—"and you look so happy and well—your trip down the bay has done you a world of good. Ben says the ducks you sent father are the best we have had this winter. Now tell me, dear Uncle George"—she had him in one of the deep arm-chairs by this time, with a cushion behind his shoulders—"I am dying to hear all about it."
"Don't you 'dear Uncle George' me until you've heard what I've got to say."
"But you said you had the best news in the world for me," she laughed, looking at him from under her lashes.
"So I have."
"What is it?"
The girl's face clouded and her lips quivered. Then she sat bolt upright.
"I won't hear a word about him. He's broken his promise to me and I will never trust him again. If I thought you'd come to talk about Harry, I wouldn't have come down."
St. George lay back in his chair, shrugged his shoulders, stole a look at her from beneath his bushy eyebrows, and said with an assumed dignity, a smile playing about his lips:
"All right, off goes his head—exit the scoundrel. Much as I could do to keep him out of Jones Falls this morning, but of course now it's all over we can let Spitfire break his neck. That's the way a gentleman should die of love—and not be fished out of a dirty stream with his clothes all bespattered with mud."
"But he won't die for love. He doesn't know what love means or he wouldn't behave as he does. Do you know what really happened, Uncle George?" Her brown eyes were flashing, her cheeks aflame with her indignation.
"Oh, I know exactly what happened. Harry told me with the tears running down his cheeks. It was dreadful—INEXCUSABLE—BARBAROUS! I've been that way myself—tumbled half-way down these same stairs before you were born and had to be put to bed, which accounts for the miserable scapegrace I am to-day." His face was in a broad smile, but his voice never wavered.
Kate looked at him and put out her hand. "You never did—I won't believe a word of it."
"Ask your father, my dear. He helped carry me upstairs, and Ben pulled off my boots. Oh, it was most disgraceful! I'm just beginning to live it down," and he reached over and patted the girl's cheek, his hearty laugh ringing through the room.
Kate was smiling now—her Uncle George was always irresistible when he was like this.
"But Harry isn't you," she pouted.
"ISN'T ME!—why I was ten times worse! He's only twenty-one and I was twenty-five. He's got four years the better of me in which to reform."
"He'll NEVER be like you—you never broke a promise in your life. He gave me his word of honor he would never get—yes—I'm just going to say it—drunk—again: yes—that's the very word—DRUNK! I don't care—I won't have it! I won't have anything to do with anybody who breaks his promise, and who can't keep sober. My father was never so in his life, and Harry shall never come near me again if he—"
"Hold on!—HOLD ON! Oh, what an unforgiving minx! You Seymours are all like tinder boxes—your mother was just like you and so was—"
"Well, not father," she bridled, with a toss of her head.
St. George smiled queerly—Prim was one of his jokes. "Your father, my dear Kate, has the milk of human kindness in his veins, not red fighting blood. That makes a whole lot of difference. Now listen to me:—you love Harry—"
"No! I DESPISE him! I told him so!" She had risen from her seat and had moved to the mantel, where she stood looking into the fire, her back toward him.
"Don't you interrupt me, you blessed girl—just you listen to Uncle George for a minute. You DO love Harry—you can't help it—nobody can. If you had seen him this morning you would have thrown your arms around him in a minute—I came near doing it myself. Of course he's wild, reckless, and hot-headed like all the Rutters and does no end of foolish things, but you wouldn't love him if he was different. He's just like Spitfire—never keeps still a minute—restless, pawing the ground, or all four feet in the air—then away she goes! You can't reason with her—you don't wish to; you get impatient when she chafes at the bit because you are determined she shall keep still, but if you wanted her to go like the wind and she couldn't, you'd be more dissatisfied than ever. The pawing and chafing is of no matter; it is her temperament that counts. So it is with Harry. He wouldn't be the lovable, dashing, high-spirited young fellow he is if he didn't kick over the traces once in a while and break everything to pieces—his promises among them. And it isn't his fault—it's the Spanish and Dutch blood in his veins—the blood of that old hidalgo and his Dutch ancestor, De Ruyter—that crops out once in a while. Harry would be a pirate and sweep the Spanish main if he had lived in those days, instead of being a gentleman who values nothing in life so much as the woman he loves."
He had been speaking to her back all this time, the girl never moving, the outlines of her graceful body in silhouette against the blaze.
"Then why doesn't he prove it?" she sighed. She liked old hidalgos and had no aversion to pirates if they were manly and brave about their work.
"He does—and he lives up to his standard except in this one failing for which I am truly sorry. Abominable I grant you—but there are many things which are worse."
"I can't think of anything worse," she echoed with a deep sigh, walking slowly toward him and regaining her chair, all her anger gone, only the pain in her heart left. "I don't want Harry to be like the others, and he can't live their lives if he's going to be my husband. I want him to be different,—to be big and fine and strong,—like the men who have made the world better for their having lived in it—that old De Ruyter, for instance, that his father is always bragging about—not a weak, foolish boy whom everybody can turn around their fingers. Some of my girl friends don't mind what the young men do, or how often they break their word to them so that they are sure of their love. I do, and I won't have it, and I have told Harry so over and over again. It's such a cowardly thing—not to be man enough to stand up and say 'No—I won't drink with you!' That's why I say I can't think of his doing anything worse."
St. George fixed his eyes upon her. He had thought he knew the girl's heart, but this was a revelation to him. Perhaps her sorrow, like that of her mother, was making a well-rounded woman of her.
"Oh, I can think of a dozen things worse," he rejoined with some positiveness. "Harry might lie; Harry might be a coward; Harry might stand by and hear a friend defamed; Harry might be discourteous to a woman, or allow another man to be—a thing he'd rather die than permit. None of these things could he be or do. I'd shut my door in his face if he did any one of them, and so should you. And then he is so penitent when he has done anything wrong. 'It was my fault—I would rather hang myself than lose Kate. I haven't slept a wink, Uncle George.' And he was so handsome when he came in this morning—his big black eyes flashing, his cheeks like two roses—so straight and strong, and so graceful and wholesome and lovable. I wouldn't care, if I were you, if he did slip once in a while—not any more than I would if Spitfire stumbled. And then again"—here he moved his chair close to her own so he could get his hand on hers the easier—"if Spitfire does stumble, there is the bridle to pull her up, but for this she might break her neck. That's where you come in, Kate. Harry's in your hands—has been since the hour he loved you. Don't let him go headlong to the devil—and he will if you turn him loose without a bridle."
"I can't do him any good—he won't mind anything I say. And what dependence can I place on him after this?" her voice sank to a tone of helpless tenderness. "It isn't his being drunk altogether; he will outgrow that, perhaps, as you say you did, and be man enough to say no next time; but it's because he broke his promise to me. That he will never outgrow! Oh, it's wicked!—wicked for him to treat me so. I have never done anything he didn't want me to do! and he has no right to—Oh, Uncle George, it's—"
St. George leaned nearer and covered her limp fingers with his own tender grasp.
"Try him once more, Kate. Let me send him to you. It will be all over in a minute and you will be so happy—both of you! Nothing like making up—it really pays for the pain of a quarrel."
The outside door shut gently and there was a slight movement in the hall behind them, but neither of them noticed it. Kate sat with her head up, her mind at work, her eyes watching the firelight. It was her future she was looking into. She had positive, fixed ideas of what her station in life as a married woman should be;—not what her own or Harry's birth and position could bring her. With that will-o'-the-wisp she had no sympathy. Her grandfather in his early days had been a plain, seafaring man even if his ancestry did go back to the time of James I, and her mother had been a lady, and that too without the admixture of a single drop of the blood of any Kennedy Square aristocrat. That Harry was well born and well bred was as it should be, but there was something more;—the man himself. That was why she hesitated. Yes—it WOULD "all be over in a minute," just as Uncle George said, but when would the next break come? And then again there was her mother's life with all the misery that a broken promise had caused her. Uncle George was not the only young gallant who had been put to bed in her grandfather's house. Her mother had loved too—just as much as she loved Harry—loved with her whole soul—until grandpa Barkeley put his foot down.
St. George waited in silence as he read her mind. Breaches between most of the boys and girls were easily patched up—a hearty cry, an outstretched hand—"I am so sorry," and they were in each other's arms. Not so with Kate. Her reason, as well as her heart, had to be satisfied. This was one of the things that made her different from all the other girls about her, and this too was what had given her first place in the affections and respect of all who knew her. Her heart he saw was uppermost to-night, but reason still lurked in the background.
"What do you think made him do it again?" she murmured at last in a voice barely audible, her fingers tightening in his palm. "He knows how I suffer and he knows too WHY I suffer. Oh, Uncle George!—won't you please talk to him! I love him so, and I can't marry him if he's like this. I can't!—I CAN'T!"
A restrained smile played over St. George's face. The tide was setting his way.
"It won't do a bit of good," he said calmly, smothering his joy. "I've talked to him until I'm tired, and the longer I talk the more wild he is to see you. Now it's your turn and there's no time to lose. I'll have him here in five minutes," and he glanced at the clock. She raised her hand in alarm:
"I don't want him yet. You must see him first—you must—"
"No, I won't see him first, and I'm not going to wait a minute. Talk to him yourself; put your arms around him and tell him everything you have told me—now—to-night. I'm going for him," and he sprang to his feet.
"No!—you must not! You SHALL not!" she cried, clutching nervously at his arm, but he was out of the room before she could stop him.
In the silent hall, hat in hand, his whole body tense with expectancy, stood Harry. He had killed time by walking up and down the long strip of carpet between the front door and the staircase, measuring his nervous steps to the length of the pattern, his mind distracted by his fears for the outcome—his heart thumping away at his throat, a dull fright gripping him when he thought of losing her altogether.
St. George's quick step, followed by his firm clutch of the inside knob, awoke him to consciousness. He sprang forward to catch his first word.
"Can I go in?" he stammered.
St. George grabbed him by the shoulder, wheeled him around, and faced him.
"Yes, you reprobate, and when you get in go down on your knees and beg her pardon, and if I ever catch you causing her another heartache I'll break your damned neck!—do you hear?"
With the shutting of the swinging gate the wily old diplomat regained his normal good-humored poise, his face beaming, his whole body tingling at his success. He knew what was going on behind the closed curtains, and just how contrite and humble the boy would be, and how Kate would scold and draw herself up—proud duchess that she was—and how Harry would swear by the nine gods, and an extra one if need be—and then there would come a long, long silence, broken by meaningless, half-spoken words—and then another silence—so deep and absorbing that a full choir of angels might have started an anthem above their heads and neither of them would have heard a word or note.
And so he kept on his way, picking his steps between the moist places in the path to avoid soiling his freshly varnished boots; tightening the lower button of his snug-fitting plum-colored coat as a bracing to his waist-line; throwing open the collar of his overcoat the wider to give his shoulders the more room—very happy—very well satisfied with himself, with the world, and with everybody who lived in it.
Moorlands was ablaze!
From the great entrance gate flanked by moss-stained brick posts capped with stone balls, along the avenue of oaks to the wide portico leading to the great hall and spacious rooms, there flared one continuous burst of light. On either side of the oak-bordered driveway, between the tree-trunks, crackled torches of pine knots, the glow of their curling flames bringing into high relief the black faces of innumerable field-hands from the Rutter and neighboring plantations, lined up on either side of the gravel road—teeth and eyeballs flashing white against the blackness of the night. Under the porches hung festoons of lanterns of every conceivable form and color, while inside the wide baronial hall, and in the great drawing-room with the apartments beyond, the light of countless candles, clustered together in silver candelabras, shed a soft glow over the groups of waiting guests.
To-night Colonel Talbot Rutter of Moorlands, direct descendant of the house of De Ruyter, with an ancestry dating back to the Spanish Invasion, was to bid official welcome to a daughter of the house of Seymour, equally distinguished by flood and field in the service of its king. These two—God be thanked—loved each other, and now that the young heir to Moorlands was to bring home his affianced bride, soon to become his wedded wife, no honor could be too great, no expense too lavish, no welcome too joyful.
Moreover, that this young princess of the blood might be accorded all the honors due her birth, lineage, and rank, the colonel's own coach-and-four, with two postilions and old Matthew on the box—twenty years in the service—his whip tied with forget-me-nots, the horses' ears streaming with white ribbons—each flank as smooth as satin and each panel bright as a mirror—had been trundled off to Kennedy Square, there to receive the fairest of all her daughters, together with such other members of her royal suite—including His Supreme Excellency the Honorable Prim—not forgetting, of course, Kate's old black mammy, Henny, who was as much a part of the fair lady's belongings when she went afield as her ostrich-plume fan, her white gloves, or the wee slippers that covered her enchanting feet.
Every detail of harness, wheel, and brake—even the horn itself—had passed under the colonel's personal supervision; Matthew on the box straight as a hitching-post and bursting with pride, reins gathered, whip balanced, the leaders steady and the wheel horses in line. Then the word had been given, and away they had swept round the circle and so on down the long driveway to the outer gate and Kennedy Square. Ten miles an hour were the colonel's orders and ten miles an hour must Matthew make, including the loading and unloading of his fair passenger and her companions, or there would be the devil to pay on his return.
And the inside of the house offered no less a welcome. Drawn up in the wide hall, under the direct command of old Alec, the head butler, were the house servants;—mulatto maids in caps, snuff-colored second butlers in livery, jet-black mammies in new bandannas and white aprons—all in a flutter of excitement, and each one determined to get the first glimpse of Marse Harry's young lady, no matter at what risk.
Alec himself was a joy to look upon—eyeballs and teeth gleaming, his face one wide, encircling smile. Marse Harry was the apple of his eye, and had been ever since the day of his birth. He had carried him on his back when a boy; had taught him to fish and hunt and to ride to hounds; had nursed him when he fell ill at the University in his college days, and would gladly have laid down his life for him had any such necessity arisen. To-night, in honor of the occasion, he was rigged out in a new bottle-green coat with shiny brass buttons, white waistcoat, white gloves three sizes too big for him, and a huge white cravat flaring out almost to the tips of his ears. Nothing was too good for Alec—so his mistress thought—and for the best of reasons. Not only was he the ideal servant of the old school, but he was the pivot on which the whole establishment moved. If a particular brand or vintage was needed, or a key was missing, or did a hair trunk, or a pair of spurs, or last week's Miscellany, go astray—or even were his mistress's spectacles mislaid—Alec could put his hand upon each and every item in so short a space of time that the loser was convinced the old man had hidden them on purpose, to enjoy their refinding. Moorlands without old Alec would hive been a wheel without a hub.
As a distinct feature of all these preparations—and this was the best part of the programme—Harry was to meet Kate at the outer gate supported by half a dozen of his young friends and hers—Dr. Teackle, Mark Gilbert, Langdon Willits, and one or two others—while Mrs. Rutter, Mrs. Cheston, Mrs. Richard Horn, and a bevy of younger women and girls were to welcome her with open arms the moment her dainty feet cleared the coach's step. This was the way princesses of the blood had been welcomed from time immemorial to palaces and castles high, and this was the way their beloved Kate was to make entry into the home of her lord.
Soon the flash of the coach lamps was seen outside the far gate. Then there came the wind of a horn—a rollicking, rolling, gladsome sound, and in the wink of an eyelid every one was out on the portico straining their eyes, listening eagerly. A joyous shout now went up from the negroes lining the fences; from the groups about the steps and along the driveway.
"Here she comes!"
The leaders with a swing pranced into view as they cleared the gate posts. There came a moment's halt at the end of the driveway; a postilion vaulted down, threw wide the coach door and a young man sprang in. It was Harry!... Snap!! Crack!! Toot—toot!!—and they were off again, heading straight for the waiting group. Another prolonged, winding note—louder—nearer—one of triumph this time!—a galloping, circling dash toward the porch crowded with guests—the reining in of panting leaders—the sudden gathering up of the wheel horses, back on their haunches—the coach door flung wide and out stepped Kate—Harry's hand in hers, her old mammy behind, her father last of all.
"Oh, such a lovely drive! and it was so kind of you, dear colonel, to send for me! Oh, it was splendid! And Matthew galloped most all the way." She had come as a royal princess, but she was still our Kate. "And you are all out here to meet me!" Here she kissed Harry's mother—"and you too, Uncle George—and Sue—Oh, how fine you all look!"—and with a curtsy and a joyous laugh and a hand-clasp here and there, she bent her head and stepped into the wide hall under the blaze of the clustered candles.
It was then that they caught their breaths, for no such vision of beauty had ever before stood in the wide hall of Moorlands, her eyes shining like two stars above the rosy hue of her cheek; her skin like a shell, her throat and neck a lily in color and curves. And her poise; her gladsomeness; her joy at being alive and at finding everybody else alive; the way she moved and laughed and bent her pretty head; the ripples of gay laughter and the low-pitched tone of the warm greetings that fell from her lips!
No wonder Harry was bursting with pride; no wonder Langdon Willits heaved a deep sigh when he caught the glance that Kate flashed at Harry and went out on the porch to get a breath of fresh air; no wonder St. George's heart throbbed as he watched them both and thought how near all this happiness had come to being wrecked; no wonder the servants tumbled over each other in their eagerness to get a view of her face and gown, and no wonder, too, that the proud, old colonel who ruled his house with a rod of iron, determined for the first time in his life to lay down the sceptre and give Kate and Harry full sway to do whatever popped into their two silly heads.
And our young Lochinvar was fully her match in bearing, dress, and manners,—every inch a prince and every inch a Rutter,—and with such grace of movement as he stepped beside her, that even punctilious, outspoken old Mrs. Cheston—who had forgiven him his escapade, and who was always laughing at what she called the pump-handle shakes of some of the underdone aristocrats about her, had to whisper to the nearest guest—"Watch Harry, my dear, if you would see how a thoroughbred manages his legs and arms when he wishes to do honor to a woman. Admirable!—charming! No young man of my time ever did better." And Mrs. Cheston knew, for she had hobnobbed with kings and queens, her husband having represented his government at the Court of St. James—which fact, however, never prevented her from calling a spade a spade; nor was she ever very particular as to what the spade unearthed.
Yes—a very gallant and handsome young man was our prince as he handed Kate up the stairs on her way to the dressing-room, and looked it in his pearl-gray coat with buttons of silver, fluffy white silk scarf, high dog-eared collar, ivory-white waistcoat, and tight-fitting trousers of nankeen yellow, held close to the pumps with invisible straps. And a very gallant and handsome young fellow he felt himself to be on this night of his triumph, and so thought Kate—in fact she had fallen in love with him over again—and so too did every one of the young girls who crowded about them, as well as the dominating, erect aristocrat of a father, and the anxious gentle mother, who worshipped the ground on which he walked.
Kate had noted every expression that crossed his face, absorbing him in one comprehensive glance as he stood in the full blaze of the candles, her gaze lingering on his mouth and laughing eyes and the soft sheen of his brown hair, its curved-in ends brushing the high velvet collar of his coat—and so on down his shapely body to his shapely feet. Never had she seen him so adorable—and he was all her own, and for life!
As for our dear St. George Temple, who had never taken his eyes off them, he thought they were the goodliest pair the stars ever shone upon, and this his happiest night. There would be no more stumbling after this. Kate had the bridle well in hand now; all she needed was a clear road, and that was ahead of both horse and rider.
"Makes your blood jump in your veins, just to look at them, doesn't it, Talbot?" cried St. George to Harry's father when Kate disappeared—laying his hand as he spoke on the shoulder of the man with whom he had grown up from a boy. "Is there anything so good as the love of a good woman?—the wise old prophet places her beyond the price of rubies."
"Only one thing, St. George—the love of a good man—one like yourself, you dear old fellow. And why the devil you haven't found that out years ago is more than I can understand. Here you are my age, and you might have had a Kate and Harry of your own by this time, and yet you live a stupid old—"
"No, I won't hear you talk so, colonel!" cried a bride of a year. "Uncle George is never stupid, and he couldn't be old. What would all these young girls do—what would I have done" (another love affair with St. George as healer and mender!)—"what would anybody have done without him? Come, Miss Lavinia—do you hear the colonel abusing Uncle George because he isn't married? Speak up for him—it's wicked of you, colonel, to talk so."
Miss Lavinia Clendenning, who was one of St. George's very own, in spite of her forty-odd years, threw back her head until the feathers in her slightly gray hair shook defiantly:
"No—I won't say a word for him, Sue. I've given him up forever. He's a disgrace to everybody who knows him."
"Oh, you renegade!" exclaimed St. George in mock alarm.
"Yes,—a positive disgrace! He'll never marry anybody, Sue, until he marries me. I've begged him on my knees until I'm tired, to name the day, and he won't! Just like all you shiftless Marylanders, sir—never know when to make up your minds."
"But you threw me over, Lavinia, and broke my heart," laughed Temple with a low bow, his palms flattened against his waistcoat in assumed humility.
"Oh, twenty years ago."
"Oh, my goodness gracious! Of course I threw you over then;—you were just a baby in arms and I was old enough to be your mother—but now it's different. I'm dying to get married and nobody wants me. If you were a Virginian instead of a doubting Marylander, you would have asked me a hundred times and kept on asking until I gave in. Now it's too late. I always intended to give in, but you were so stupid you couldn't or wouldn't understand."
"It's never too late to mend, Lavinia," he prayed with hands extended.
"It's too late to mend you, St. George! You are cracked all over, and as for me—I'm ready to fall to pieces any minute. I'm all tied up now with corset laces and stays and goodness knows what else. No—I'm done with you."
While this merry badinage was going on, the young people crowding the closer so as not to lose a word, or making room for the constant stream of fresh arrivals on their way toward the dressing-rooms above, their eyes now and then searching the top of the stairs in the hope of getting the first glimpse of Kate, our heroine was receiving the final touches from her old black mammy. It took many minutes. The curl must be adjusted, the full skirts pulled out or shaken loose, the rare jewels arranged before she was dismissed with—"Dah, honey chile, now go-long. Ain't nary one on 'em ain't pizen hongry for ye—any mos' on 'em 'll drown derselves 'fo' mawnin' becos dey can't git ye."
She is ready now, Harry beside her, her lace scarf embroidered with pink rosebuds floating from her lovely shoulders, her satin skirt held firmly in both hands that she might step the freer, her dainty silk stockings with the ribbons crossed about her ankles showing below its edge.
But it was the colonel who took possession of her when she reached the floor of the great hall, and not her father nor her lover.
"No, Harry—stand aside, sir. Out with you! Kate goes in with me! Seymour, please give your arm to Mrs. Rutter." And with the manner of a courtier leading a princess into the presence of her sovereign, the Lord of Moorlands swept our Lady of Kennedy Square into the brilliant drawing-room crowded with guests.
It was a great ball and it was a great ballroom—in spaciousness, color, and appointments. No one had ever dreamed of its possibilities before, although everybody knew it was the largest in the county. The gentle hostess, with old Alec as head of the pulling-out-and-moving-off department, had wrought the change. All the chairs, tables, sofas, and screens, little and big, had either been spirited away or pushed back against the wall for tired dancers. Over the wide floor was stretched a linen crash; from the ceiling and bracketed against the white walls, relieved here and there by long silken curtains of gold-yellow, blazed clusters of candles, looking for all the world like so many bursting sky-rockets, while at one end, behind a mass of flowering plants, sat a quartette of musicians, led by an old darky with a cotton-batting head, who had come all the way from Philadelphia a-purpose.
Nor had the inner man been forgotten: bowls of hot apple toddy steamed away in the dining-room; bowls of eggnog frothed away in the library; ladlings of punch, and the contents of several old cut-glass decanters, flanked by companies of pipe-stem glasses, were being served in the dressing-rooms; while relays of hot terrapin, canvas-back duck, sizzling hot; olio, cold joints; together with every conceivable treatment and condition of oysters—in scallop shells, on silver platters and in wooden plates—raw, roasted, fried, broiled, baked, and stewed—everything in fact that could carry out the colonel's watchword, "Eat, drink, and be merry," were within the beck and call of each and every guest.
And there were to be no interludes of hunger and thirst if the host could help it. No dull pauses nor recesses, but one continued round, lasting until midnight, at which hour the final banquet in the dining-room was to be served, and the great surprise of the evening reached—the formal announcement of Harry and Kate's engagement, followed by the opening of the celebrated bottle of the Jefferson 1800 Monticello Madeira, recorked at our young hero's birth.
And it goes without saying that there were no interludes. The fun began at once, a long line of merry talk and laughter following the wake of the procession, led by the host and Kate, the colonel signalling at last to the cotton-batting with the goggle spectacles, who at once struck up a polka and away they all went, Harry and Kate in the lead, the whole room in a whirl.
This over and the dancers out of breath, Goggles announced a quadrille—the colonel and St. George helping to form the sets. Then followed the schottische, then another polka until everybody was tired out, and then with one accord the young couples rushed from the hot room, hazy with the dust of lint from the linen crash, and stampeded for the cool wide stairs that led from the great hall. For while in summer the shadows on some vine-covered porch swallowed the lovers, in winter the stairs were generally the trysting-place—and the top step the one most sought—because there was nobody behind to see. This was the roost for which Kate and Harry scampered, and there they intended to sit until the music struck up again.
"Oh, Kate, you precious darling, how lovely you look!" burst out Harry for the hundredth time when she had nestled down beside him—"and what a wonderful gown! I never saw that one before, did I?"
"No—you never have," she panted, her breath gone from her dance and the dash for the staircase. "It's my dear mother's dress, and her scarf too. I had very little done to it—only the skirt made wider. Isn't it soft and rich? Grandpa used to bring these satins from China."
"And the pearls—are they the ones you told me about?" He was adjusting them to her throat as he spoke—somehow he could not keep his hands from her.
"Yes—mother's jewels. Father got them out of his strong-box for me this morning. He wanted me to wear them to-night. He says I can have them all now. She must have been very beautiful, Harry—and just think, dear—she was only a few years older than I am when she died. Sometimes when I wear her things and get to thinking about her, and remember how young and beautiful she was and how unhappy her life, it seems as if I must be unhappy myself—somehow as if it were not right to have all this happiness when she had none." There was a note of infinite pathos in her voice—a note one always heard when she spoke of her mother. Had Harry looked deeper into her eyes he might have found the edges of two tears trembling on their lids.
"She never was as beautiful as you, my darling—nobody ever was—nobody ever could be!" he cried, ignoring all allusion to her mother. Nothing else counted with the young fellow to-night—all he knew and cared for was that Kate was his very own, and that all the world would soon know it.
"That's because you love me, Harry. You have only to look at her portrait in father's room to see how exquisite she was. I can never be like her—never so gracious, so patient, no matter how hard I try."
He put his fingers on her lips: "I won't have you say it. I won't let anybody say it. I could hardly speak when I saw you in the full light of the hall. It was so dark in the coach I didn't know how you looked, and I didn't care; I was so glad to get hold of you. But when your cloak slipped from your shoulders and you—Oh!—you darling Kate!" His eye caught the round of her throat and the taper of her lovely arm—"I am going to kiss you right here—I will—I don't care who—"
She threw up her hands with a little laugh. She liked him the better for daring, although she was afraid to yield.
"No—NO—Harry! They will see us—don't—you mustn't!"
"Mustn't what! I tell you, Kate, I am going to kiss you—I don't care what you say or who sees me. It's been a year since I kissed you in the coach—forty years—now, you precious Kate, what difference does it make? I will, I tell you—no—don't turn your head away."
She was struggling feebly, her elbow across her face as a shield, meaning all the time to raise her lips to his, when her eyes fell on the figure of a young man making his way toward them. Instantly her back straightened.
"There's Langdon Willits at the bottom of the stairs talking to Mark Gilbert," she whispered in dismay. "See—he is coming up. I wonder what he wants."
Harry gathered himself together and his face clouded. "I wish he was at the bottom of the sea. I don't like Willits—I never did. Neither does Uncle George. Besides, he's in love with you, and he always has been."
"What nonsense, Harry," she answered, opening her fan and waving it slowly. She knew her lover was right—knew more indeed than her lover could ever know: she had used all the arts of which she was mistress to keep Willits from proposing.
"But he IS in love with you," Harry insisted stiffly. "Won't he be fighting mad, though, when he hears father announce our engagement at supper?" Then some tone in her voice recalled that night on the sofa when she still held out against his pleading, and with it came the thought that while she could be persuaded she could never be driven. Instantly his voice changed to its most coaxing tones: "You won't dance with him, will you, Kate darling? I can't bear to see you in anybody else's arms but my own."
Her hand grasped his wrist with a certain meaning in the pressure.
"Now don't be a goose, Harry. I must be polite to everybody, especially to-night—and you wouldn't have me otherwise."
"Yes, but not to him."
"But what difference does it make? You are too sensible not to understand, and I am too happy, anyway, to want to be rude to anybody. And then you should never be jealous of Langdon Willits."
"Well, then, not a round dance, please, Kate." He dare not oppose her further. "I couldn't stand a round dance. I won't have his arm touch you, my darling." And he bent his cheek close to hers.
She looked at him from under her shadowed lids as she had looked at St. George when she greeted him at the foot of the stairs; a gleam of coquetry, of allurement, of joy shining through her glances like delicate antennae searching to feel where her power lay. Should she venture, as her Uncle George had suggested, to take the reins in her own hands and guide this restive, mettlesome thoroughbred, or should she surrender to him? Then a certain mischievous coquetry possessed her. With a light, bubbling laugh she drew her cheek away.
"Yes, any kind of a dance that he or anybody else wants that I can give him," she burst out with a coquettish twist of her head, her eyes brimming with fun.
"But I'm on your card for every single dance," he demanded, his eyes again flashing. "Look at it—I filled it up myself," and he held up his own bit of paste-board so she could read the list. "I tell you I won't have his arm around you!"
"Well, then, he sha'n't touch even the tips of my fingers, you dreadful Mr. Bluebeard." She had surrendered now. He was never so compelling as when determined to have his own way. Again her whole manner changed; she was once more the sweetheart: "Don't let us bother about cards, my darling, or dances, or anything. Let us talk of how lovely it is to be together again. Don't you think so, Harry?" and she snuggled the closer to his arm, her soft cheek against his coat.
Before Harry could answer, young Willits, who had been edging his way up the stairs two steps at a time, avoiding the skirts of the girls, reaching over the knees of the men as he clung to the hand-rail, stood on the step below them.
"It's my next dance, Miss Kate, isn't it?" he asked eagerly, scanning her face—wondering why she looked so happy.
"What is it to be, Mr. Willits?" she rejoined in perfunctory tones, glancing at her own blank card hanging to her wrist: he was the last man in the world she wanted to see at this moment.
"The schottische, I think—yes, the schottische," he replied nervously, noticing her lack of warmth and not understanding the cause.
"Oh, I'm all out of breath—if you don't mind," she continued evasively; "we'll wait for the next one." She dared not invite him to sit down, knowing it would make Harry furious—and then again she couldn't stand one discordant note to-night—she was too blissfully happy.
"But the next one is mine," exclaimed Harry suddenly, examining his own dancing-card. He had not shifted his position a hair's breadth, nor did he intend to—although he had been outwardly polite to the intruder.
"Yes—they'd all be yours, Harry, if you had your way," this in a thin, dry tone—"but you mustn't forget that Miss Kate's free, white, and twenty-one, and can do as she pleases."
Harry's lips straightened. He did not like Willits's manner and he was somewhat shocked at his expression; it seemed to smack more of the cabin than of the boudoir—especially the boudoir of a princess like his precious Kate. He noticed, too, that the young man's face was flushed and his utterance unusually rapid, and he knew what had caused it.