by Grace Livingston Hill Lutz
Edition 1, (August 2007)
Copyright by C. Klackner "OH, YOU NAUGHTY MAN!" SHE EXCLAIMED PRETTILY, "HOW DARE YOU!"
Grace Livingston Hill Lutz Author of "The Story of a Whim," "According to the Pattern," "An Unwilling Guest," etc.
Illustrations by E. L. HENRY, N.A.
GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS . NEW YORK
Copyright, 1908 By J. B. Lippincott Company
Published February, 1908
Electrotyped and printed by J. B. Lippincott Company The Washington Square Press, Philadelphia, U. S. A.
TO THE DEAR MEMORY OF MY FATHER The Rev. CHARLES MONTGOMERY LIVINGSTON WHOSE COMPANIONSHIP AND ENCOURAGEMENT HAVE BEEN MY HELP THROUGH THE YEARS
CHAPTER I CHAPTER II CHAPTER III CHAPTER IV CHAPTER V CHAPTER VI CHAPTER VII CHAPTER VIII CHAPTER IX CHAPTER X CHAPTER XI CHAPTER XII CHAPTER XIII CHAPTER XIV CHAPTER XV CHAPTER XVI CHAPTER XVII CHAPTER XVIII CHAPTER XIX CHAPTER XX CHAPTER XXI CHAPTER XXII CHAPTER XXIII CHAPTER XXIV CHAPTER XXV CHAPTER XXVI CHAPTER XXVII CHAPTER XXVIII CHAPTER XXIX AD PAGES ERRATA
The sun was already up and the grass blades were twinkling with sparkles of dew, as Marcia stepped from the kitchen door.
She wore a chocolate calico with little sprigs of red and white scattered over it, her hair was in smooth brown braids down her back, and there was a flush on her round cheeks that might have been but the reflection of the rosy light in the East. Her face was as untroubled as the summer morning, in its freshness, and her eyes as dreamy as the soft clouds that hovered upon the horizon uncertain where they were to be sent for the day.
Marcia walked lightly through the grass, and the way behind her sparkled again like that of the girl in the fairy-tale who left jewels wherever she passed.
A rail fence stopped her, which she mounted as though it had been a steed to carry her onward, and sat a moment looking at the beauty of the morning, her eyes taking on that far-away look that annoyed her stepmother when she wanted her to hurry with the dishes, or finish a long seam before it was time to get supper.
She loitered but a moment, for her mind was full of business, and she wished to accomplish much before the day was done. Swinging easily down to the other side of the fence she moved on through the meadow, over another fence, and another meadow, skirting the edge of a cool little strip of woods which lured her with its green mysterious shadows, its whispering leaves, and twittering birds. One wistful glance she gave into the sweet silence, seeing a clump of maiden-hair ferns rippling their feathery locks in the breeze. Then resolutely turning away she sped on to the slope of Blackberry Hill.
It was not a long climb to where the blackberries grew, and she was soon at work, the great luscious berries dropping into her pail almost with a touch. But while she worked the vision of the hills, the sheep meadow below, the river winding between the neighboring farms, melted away, and she did not even see the ripe fruit before her, because she was planning the new frock she was to buy with these berries she had come to pick.
Pink and white it was to be; she had seen it in the store the last time she went for sugar and spice. There were dainty sprigs of pink over the white ground, and every berry that dropped into her bright pail was no longer a berry but a sprig of pink chintz. While she worked she went over her plans for the day.
There had been busy times at the old house during the past weeks. Kate, her elder sister, was to be married. It was only a few days now to the wedding.
There had been a whole year of preparation: spinning and weaving and fine sewing. The smooth white linen lay ready, packed between rose leaves and lavender. There had been yards and yards of tatting and embroidery made by the two girls for the trousseau, and the village dressmaker had spent days at the house, cutting, fitting, shirring, till now there was a goodly array of gorgeous apparel piled high upon bed, and chairs, and hanging in the closets of the great spare bedroom. The outfit was as fine as that made for Patience Hartrandt six months before, and Mr. Hartrandt had given his one daughter all she had asked for in the way of a "setting out." Kate had seen to it that her things were as fine as Patience's,—but, they were all for Kate!
Of course, that was right! Kate was to be married, not Marcia, and everything must make way for that. Marcia was scarcely more than a child as yet, barely seventeen. No one thought of anything new for her just then, and she did not expect it. But into her heart there had stolen a longing for a new frock herself amid all this finery for Kate. She had her best one of course. That was good, and pretty, and quite nice enough to wear to the wedding, and her stepmother had taken much relief in the thought that Marcia would need nothing during the rush of getting Kate ready.
But there were people coming to the house every day, especially in the afternoons, friends of Kate, and of her stepmother, to be shown Kate's wardrobe, and to talk things over curiously. Marcia could not wear her best dress all the time. And he was coming! That was the way Marcia always denominated the prospective bridegroom in her mind.
His name was David Spafford, and Kate often called him Dave, but Marcia, even to herself, could never bring herself to breathe the name so familiarly. She held him in great awe. He was so fine and strong and good, with a face like a young saint in some old picture, she thought. She often wondered how her wild, sparkling sister Kate dared to be so familiar with him. She had ventured the thought once when she watched Kate dressing to go out with some young people and preening herself like a bird of Paradise before the glass. It all came over her, the vanity and frivolousness of the life that Kate loved, and she spoke out with conviction:
"Kate, you'll have to be very different when you're married." Kate had faced about amusedly and asked why.
"Because he is so good," Marcia had replied, unable to explain further.
"Oh, is that all?" said the daring sister, wheeling back to the glass. "Don't you worry; I'll soon take that out of him."
But Kate's indifference had never lessened her young sister's awe of her prospective brother-in-law. She had listened to his conversations with her father during the brief visits he had made, and she had watched his face at church while he and Kate sang together as the minister lined it out: "Rock of Ages cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee," a new song which had just been written. And she had mused upon the charmed life Kate would lead. It was wonderful to be a woman and be loved as Kate was loved, thought Marcia.
So in all the hurry no one seemed to think much about Marcia, and she was not satisfied with her brown delaine afternoon dress. Truth to tell, it needed letting down, and there was no more left to let down. It made her feel like last year to go about in it with her slender ankles so plainly revealed. So she set her heart upon the new chintz.
Now, with Marcia, to decide was to do. She did not speak to her stepmother about it, for she knew it would be useless; neither did she think it worth while to go to her father, for she knew that both his wife and Kate would find it out and charge her with useless expense just now when there were so many other uses for money, and they were anxious to have it all flow their way. She had an independent spirit, so she took the time that belonged to herself, and went to the blackberry patch which belonged to everybody.
Marcia's fingers were nimble and accustomed, and the sun was not very high in the heavens when she had finished her task and turned happily toward the village. The pails would not hold another berry.
Her cheeks were glowing with the sun and exercise, and little wisps of wavy curls had escaped about her brow, damp with perspiration. Her eyes were shining with her purpose, half fulfilled, as she hastened down the hill.
Crossing a field she met Hanford Weston with a rake over his shoulder and a wide-brimmed straw hat like a small shed over him. He was on his way to the South meadow. He blushed and greeted her as she passed shyly by. When she had passed he paused and looked admiringly after her. They had been in the same classes at school all winter, the girl at the head, the boy at the foot. But Hanford Weston's father owned the largest farm in all the country round about, and he felt that did not so much matter. He would rather see Marcia at the head anyway, though there never had been the slightest danger that he would take her place. He felt a sudden desire now to follow her. It would be a pleasure to carry those pails that she bore as if they were mere featherweights.
He watched her long, elastic step for a moment, considered the sun in the sky, and his father's command about the South meadow, and then strode after her.
It did not take long to reach her side, swiftly as she had gone.
As well as he could, with the sudden hotness in his face and the tremor in his throat, he made out to ask if he might carry her burden for her. Marcia stopped annoyed. She had forgotten all about him, though he was an attractive fellow, sometimes called by the girls "handsome Hanford."
She had been planning exactly how that pink sprigged chintz was to be made, and which parts she would cut first in order to save time and material. She did not wish to be interrupted. The importance of the matter was too great to be marred by the appearance of just a schoolmate whom she might meet every day, and whom she could so easily "spell down." She summoned her thoughts from the details of mutton-leg sleeves and looked the boy over, to his great confusion. She did not want him along, and she was considering how best to get rid of him.
"Weren't you going somewhere else?" she asked sweetly. "Wasn't there a rake over your shoulder? What have you done with it?"
The culprit blushed deeper.
"Where were you going?" she demanded.
"To the South meadow," he stammered out.
"Oh, well, then you must go back. I shall do quite well, thank you. Your father will not be pleased to have you neglect your work for me, though I'm much obliged I'm sure."
Was there some foreshadowing of her womanhood in the decided way she spoke, and the quaint, prim set of her head as she bowed him good morning and went on her way once more? The boy did not understand. He only felt abashed, and half angry that she had ordered him back to work; and, too, in a tone that forbade him to take her memory with him as he went. Nevertheless her image lingered by the way, and haunted the South meadow all day long as he worked.
Marcia, unconscious of the admiration she had stirred in the boyish heart, went her way on fleet feet, her spirit one with the sunny morning, her body light with anticipation, for a new frock of her own choice was yet an event in her life.
She had thought many times, as she spent long hours putting delicate stitches into her sister's wedding garments, how it would seem if they were being made for her. She had whiled away many a dreary seam by thinking out, in a sort of dream-story, how she would put on this or that at will if it were her own, and go here or there, and have people love and admire her as they did Kate. It would never come true, of course. She never expected to be admired and loved like Kate. Kate was beautiful, bright and gay. Everybody loved her, no matter how she treated them. It was a matter of course for Kate to have everything she wanted. Marcia felt that she never could attain to such heights. In the first place she considered her own sweet serious face with its pure brown eyes as exceedingly plain. She could not catch the lights that played at hide and seek in her eyes when she talked with animation. Indeed few saw her at her best, because she seldom talked freely. It was only with certain people that she could forget herself.
She did not envy Kate. She was proud of her sister, and loved her, though there was an element of anxiety in the love. But she never thought of her many faults. She felt that they were excusable because Kate was Kate. It was as if you should find fault with a wild rose because it carried a thorn. Kate was set about with many a thorn, but amid them all she bloomed, her fragrant pink self, as apparently unconscious of the many pricks she gave, and as unconcerned, as the flower itself.
So Marcia never thought to be jealous that Kate had so many lovely things, and was going out into the world to do just as she pleased, and lead a charmed life with a man who was greater in the eyes of this girl than any prince that ever walked in fairy-tale. But she saw no harm in playing a delightful little dream-game of "pretend" now and then, and letting her imagination make herself the beautiful, admired, elder sister instead of the plain younger one.
But this morning on her way to the village store with her berries she thought no more of her sister's things, for her mind was upon her own little frock which she would purchase with the price of the berries, and then go home and make.
A whole long day she had to herself, for Kate and her stepmother were gone up to the neighboring town on the packet to make a few last purchases.
She had told no one of her plans, and was awake betimes in the morning to see the travellers off, eager to have them gone that she might begin to carry out her plan.
Just at the edge of the village Marcia put down the pails of berries by a large flat stone and sat down for a moment to tidy herself. The lacing of one shoe had come untied, and her hair was rumpled by exercise. But she could not sit long to rest, and taking up her burdens was soon upon the way again.
Mary Ann Fothergill stepped from her own gate lingering till Marcia should come up, and the two girls walked along side by side. Mary Ann had stiff, straight, light hair, and high cheek bones. Her eyes were light and her eyelashes almost white. They did not show up well beneath her checked sunbonnet. Her complexion was dull and tanned. She was a contrast to Marcia with her clear red and white skin. She was tall and awkward and wore a linsey-woolsey frock as though it were a meal sack temporarily appropriated. She had the air of always trying to hide her feet and hands. Mary Ann had some fine qualities, but beauty was not one of them. Beside her Marcia's delicate features showed clear-cut like a cameo, and her every movement spoke of patrician blood.
Mary Ann regarded Marcia's smooth brown braids enviously. Her own sparse hair barely reached to her shoulders, and straggled about her neck helplessly and hopelessly, in spite of her constant efforts.
"It must be lots of fun at your house these days," said Mary Ann wistfully. "Are you most ready for the wedding?"
Marcia nodded. Her eyes were bright. She could see the sign of the village store just ahead and knew the bolts of new chintz were displaying their charms in the window.
"My, but your cheeks do look pretty," admired Mary Ann impulsively. "Say, how many of each has your sister got?"
"Two dozens," said Marcia conscious of a little swelling of pride in her breast. It was not every girl that had such a setting out as her sister.
"My!" sighed Mary Ann. "And outside things, too. I 'spose she's got one of every color. What are her frocks? Tell me about them. I've been up to Dutchess county and just got back last night, but Ma wrote Aunt Tilly that Mis' Hotchkiss said her frocks was the prettiest Miss Hancock's ever sewed on."
"We think they are pretty," admitted Marcia modestly. "There's a sprigged chin—" here she caught herself, remembering, and laughed. "I mean muslin-de-laine, and a blue delaine, and a blue silk——"
"My! silk!" breathed Mary Ann in an ecstasy of wonder. "And what's she going to be married in?"
"White," answered Marcia, "white satin. And the veil was mother's—our own mother's, you know."
Marcia spoke it reverently, her eyes shining with something far away that made Mary Ann think she looked like an angel.
"Oh, my! Don't you just envy her?"
"No," said Marcia slowly; "I think not. At least—I hope not. It wouldn't be right, you know. And then she's my sister and I love her dearly, and it's nearly as nice to have one's sister have nice things and a good time as to have them one's self."
"You're good," said Mary Ann decidedly as if that were a foregone conclusion. "But I should envy her, I just should. Mis' Hotchkiss told Ma there wa'nt many lots in life so all honey-and-dew-prepared like your sister's. All the money she wanted to spend on clo'es, and a nice set out, and a man as handsome as you'll find anywhere, and he's well off too, ain't he? Ma said she heard he kept a horse and lived right in the village too, not as how he needed to keep one to get anywhere, either. That's what I call luxury—a horse to ride around with. And then Mr. What's-his-name? I can't remember. Oh, yes, Spafford. He's good, and everybody says he won't make a bit of fuss if Kate does go around and have a good time. He'll just let her do as she pleases. Only old Grandma Doolittle says she doesn't believe it. She thinks every man, no matter how good he is, wants to manage his wife, just for the name of it. She says your sister'll have to change her ways or else there'll be trouble. But that's Grandma! Everybody knows her. She croaks! Ma says Kate's got her nest feathered well if ever a girl had. My! I only wish I had the same chance!"
Marcia held her head a trifle high when Mary Ann touched upon her sister's personal character, but they were nearing the store, and everybody knew Mary Ann was blunt. Poor Mary Ann! She meant no harm. She was but repeating the village gossip. Besides, Marcia must give her mind to sprigged chintz. There was no time for discussions if she would accomplish her purpose before the folks came home that night.
"Mary Ann," she said in her sweet, prim way that always made the other girl stand a little in awe of her, "you mustn't listen to gossip. It isn't worth while. I'm sure my sister Kate will be very happy. I'm going in the store now, are you?" And the conversation was suddenly concluded.
Mary Ann followed meekly watching with wonder and envy as Marcia made her bargain with the kindly merchant, and selected her chintz. What a delicious swish the scissors made as they went through the width of cloth, and how delightfully the paper crackled as the bundle was being wrapped! Mary Ann did not know whether Kate or Marcia was more to be envied.
"Did you say you were going to make it up yourself?" asked Mary Ann.
"Oh, my! Ain't you afraid? I would be. It's the prettiest I ever saw. Don't you go and cut both sleeves for one arm. That's what I did the only time Ma ever let me try." And Mary Ann touched the package under Marcia's arm with wistful fingers.
They had reached the turn of the road and Mary Ann hoped that Marcia would ask her out to "help," but Marcia had no such purpose.
"Well, good-bye! Will you wear it next Sunday?" she asked.
"Perhaps," answered Marcia breathlessly, and sped on her homeward way, her cheeks bright with excitement.
Copyright by C. Klackner KATE AND HER STEPMOTHER WERE GONE UP TO THE NEIGHBORING TOWN ON THE PACKET.
In her own room she spread the chintz out upon the bed and with trembling fingers set about her task. The bright shears clipped the edge and tore off the lengths exultantly as if in league with the girl. The bees hummed outside in the clover, and now and again buzzed between the muslin curtains of the open window, looked in and grumbled out again. The birds sang across the meadows and the sun mounted to the zenith and began its downward march, but still the busy fingers worked on. Well for Marcia's scheme that the fashion of the day was simple, wherein were few puckers and plaits and tucks, and little trimming required, else her task would have been impossible.
Her heart beat high as she tried it on at last, the new chintz that she had made. She went into the spare room and stood before the long mirror in its wide gilt frame that rested on two gilt knobs standing out from the wall like giant rosettes. She had dared to make the skirt a little longer than that of her best frock. It was almost as long as Kate's, and for a moment she lingered, sweeping backward and forward before the glass and admiring herself in the long graceful folds. She caught up her braids in the fashion that Kate wore her hair and smiled at the reflection of herself in the mirror. How funny it seemed to think she would soon be a woman like Kate. When Kate was gone they would begin to call her "Miss" sometimes. Somehow she did not care to look ahead. The present seemed enough. She had so wrapped her thoughts in her sister's new life that her own seemed flat and stale in comparison.
The sound of a distant hay wagon on the road reminded her that the sun was near to setting. The family carryall would soon be coming up the lane from the evening packet. She must hurry and take off her frock and be dressed before they arrived.
Marcia was so tired that night after supper that she was glad to slip away to bed, without waiting to hear Kate's voluble account of her day in town, the beauties she had seen and the friends she had met.
She lay down and dreamed of the morrow, and of the next day, and the next. In strange bewilderment she awoke in the night and found the moonlight streaming full into her face. Then she laughed and rubbed her eyes and tried to go to sleep again; but she could not, for she had dreamed that she was the bride herself, and the words of Mary Ann kept going over and over in her mind. "Oh, don't you envy her?" Did she envy her sister? But that was wicked. It troubled her to think of it, and she tried to banish the dream, but it would come again and again with a strange sweet pleasure.
She lay wondering if such a time of joy would ever come to her as had come to Kate, and whether the spare bed would ever be piled high with clothes and fittings for her new life. What a wonderful thing it was anyway to be a woman and be loved!
Then her dreams blended again with the soft perfume of the honeysuckle at the window, and the hooting of a young owl.
The moon dropped lower, the bright stars paled, dawn stole up through the edges of the woods far away and awakened a day that was to bring a strange transformation over Marcia's life.
As a natural consequence of her hard work and her midnight awakening, Marcia overslept the next morning. Her stepmother called her sharply and she dressed in haste, not even taking time to glance toward the new folds of chintz that drew her thoughts closetward. She dared not say anything about it yet. There was much to be done, and not even Kate had time for an idle word with her. Marcia was called upon to run errands, to do odds and ends of things, to fill in vacant places, to sew on lost buttons, to do everything for which nobody else had time. The household had suddenly become aware that there was now but one more intervening day between them and the wedding.
It was not until late in the afternoon that Marcia ventured to put on her frock. Even then she felt shy about appearing in it.
Madam Schuyler was busy in the parlor with callers, and Kate was locked in her own room whither she had gone to rest. There was no one to notice if Marcia should "dress up," and it was not unlikely that she might escape much notice even at the supper table, as everybody was so absorbed in other things.
She lingered before her own little glass looking wistfully at herself. She was pleased with the frock she had made and liked her appearance in it, but yet there was something disappointing about it. It had none of the style of her sister's garments, newly come from the hand of the village mantua-maker. It was girlish, and showed her slip of a form prettily in the fashion of the day, but she felt too young. She wanted to look older. She searched her drawer and found a bit of black velvet which she pinned about her throat with a pin containing the miniature of her mother, then with a second thought she drew the long braids up in loops and fastened them about her head in older fashion. It suited her well, and the change it made astonished her. She decided to wear them so and see if others would notice. Surely, some day she would be a young woman, and perhaps then she would be allowed to have a will of her own occasionally.
She drew a quick breath as she descended the stairs and found her stepmother and the visitor just coming into the hall from the parlor.
They both involuntarily ceased their talk and looked at her in surprise. Over Madam Schuyler's face there came a look as if she had received a revelation. Marcia was no longer a child, but had suddenly blossomed into young womanhood. It was not the time she would have chosen for such an event. There was enough going on, and Marcia was still in school. She had no desire to steer another young soul through the various dangers and follies that beset a pretty girl from the time she puts up her hair until she is safely married to the right man—or the wrong one. She had just begun to look forward with relief to having Kate well settled in life. Kate had been a hard one to manage. She had too much will of her own and a pretty way of always having it. She had no deep sense of reverence for old, staid manners and customs. Many a long lecture had Madam Schuyler delivered to Kate upon her unseemly ways. It did not please her to think of having to go through it all so soon again, therefore upon her usually complacent brow there came a look of dismay.
"Why!" exclaimed the visitor, "is this the bride? How tall she looks! No! Bless me! it isn't, is it? Yes,—Well! I'll declare. It's just Marsh! What have you got on, child? How old you look!"
Marcia flushed. It was not pleasant to have her young womanhood questioned, and in a tone so familiar and patronizing. She disliked the name of "Marsh" exceedingly, especially upon the lips of this woman, a sort of second cousin of her stepmother's. She would rather have chosen the new frock to pass under inspection of her stepmother without witnesses, but it was too late to turn back now. She must face it.
Though Madam Schuyler's equilibrium was a trifle disturbed, she was not one to show it before a visitor. Instantly she recovered her balance, and perhaps Marcia's ordeal was less trying than if there had been no third person present.
"That looks very well, child!" she said critically with a shade of complacence in her voice. It is true that Marcia had gone beyond orders in purchasing and making garments unknown to her, yet the neatness and fit could but reflect well upon her training. It did no harm for cousin Maria to see what a child of her training could do. It was, on the whole, a very creditable piece of work, and Madam Schuyler grew more reconciled to it as Marcia came down toward them.
"Make it herself?" asked cousin Maria. "Why, Marsh, you did real well. My Matilda does all her own clothes now. It's time you were learning. It's a trifle longish to what you've been wearing them, isn't it? But you'll grow into it, I dare say. Got your hair a new way too. I thought you were Kate when you first started down stairs. You'll make a good-looking young lady when you grow up; only don't be in too much hurry. Take your girlhood while you've got it, is what I always tell Matilda."
Matilda was well on to thirty and showed no signs of taking anything else.
Madam Schuyler smoothed an imaginary pucker across the shoulders and again pronounced the work good.
"I picked berries and got the cloth," confessed Marcia.
Madam Schuyler smiled benevolently and patted Marcia's cheek.
"You needn't have done that, child. Why didn't you come to me for money? You needed something new, and that is a very good purchase, a little light, perhaps, but very pretty. We've been so busy with Kate's things you have been neglected."
Marcia smiled with pleasure and passed into the dining room wondering what power the visitor had over her stepmother to make her pass over this digression from her rules so sweetly,—nay, even with praise.
At supper they all rallied Marcia upon her changed appearance. Her father jokingly said that when the bridegroom arrived he would hardly know which sister to choose, and he looked from one comely daughter to the other with fatherly pride. He praised Marcia for doing the work so neatly, and inwardly admired the courage and independence that prompted her to get the money by her own unaided efforts rather than to ask for it, and later, as he passed through the room where she was helping to remove the dishes from the table, he paused and handed her a crisp five-dollar note. It had occurred to him that one daughter was getting all the good things and the other was having nothing. There was a pleasant tenderness in his eyes, a recognition of her rights as a young woman, that made Marcia's heart exceedingly light. There was something strange about the influence this little new frock seemed to have upon people.
Even Kate had taken a new tone with her. Much of the time at supper she had sat staring at her sister. Marcia wondered about it as she walked down toward the gate after her work was done. Kate had never seemed so quiet. Was she just beginning to realize that she was leaving home forever, and was she thinking how the home would be after she had left it? How she, Marcia, would take the place of elder sister, with only little Harriet and the boys, their stepsister and brothers, left? Was Kate sad over the thought of going so far away from them, or was she feeling suddenly the responsibility of the new position she was to occupy and the duties that would be hers? No, that could not be it, for surely that would bring a softening of expression, a sweetness of anticipation, and Kate's expression had been wondering, perplexed, almost troubled. If she had not been her own sister Marcia would have added, "hard," but she stopped short at that.
It was a lovely evening. The twilight was not yet over as she stepped from the low piazza that ran the length of the house bearing another above it on great white pillars. A drapery of wistaria in full bloom festooned across one end and half over the front. Marcia stepped back across the stone flagging and driveway to look up the purple clusters of graceful fairy-like shape that embowered the house, and thought how beautiful it would look when the wedding guests should arrive the day after the morrow. Then she turned into the little gravel path, box-bordered, that led to the gate. Here and there on either side luxuriant blooms of dahlias, peonies and roses leaned over into the night and peered at her. The yard had never looked so pretty. The flowers truly had done their best for the occasion, and they seemed to be asking some word of commendation from her.
They nodded their dewy heads sleepily as she went on.
To-morrow the children would be coming back from Aunt Eliza's, where they had been sent safely out of the way for a few days, and the last things would arrive,—and he would come. Not later than three in the afternoon he ought to arrive, Kate had said, though there was a possibility that he might come in the morning, but Kate was not counting upon it. He was to drive from his home to Schenectady and, leaving his own horse there to rest, come on by coach. Then he and Kate would go back in fine style to Schenectady in a coach and pair, with a colored coachman, and at Schenectady take their own horse and drive on to their home, a long beautiful ride, so thought Marcia half enviously. How beautiful it would be! What endless delightful talks they might have about the trees and birds and things they saw in passing only Kate did not love to talk about such things. But then she would be with David, and he talked beautifully about nature or anything else. Kate would learn to love it if she loved him. Did Kate love David? Of course she must or why should she marry him? Marcia resented the thought that Kate might have other objects in view, such as Mary Ann Fothergill had suggested for instance. Of course Kate would never marry any man unless she loved him. That would be a dreadful thing to do. Love was the greatest thing in the world. Marcia looked up to the stars, her young soul thrilling with awe and reverence for the great mysteries of life. She wondered again if life would open sometime for her in some such great way, and if she would ever know better than now what it meant. Would some one come and love her? Some one whom she could love in return with all the fervor of her nature?
She had dreamed such dreams before many times, as girls will, while lovers and future are all in one dreamy, sweet blending of rosy tints and joyous mystery, but never had they come to her with such vividness as that night. Perhaps it was because the household had recognized the woman in her for the first time that evening. Perhaps because the vision she had seen reflected in her mirror before she left her room that afternoon had opened the door of the future a little wider than it had ever opened before.
She stood by the gate where the syringa and lilac bushes leaned over and arched the way, and the honeysuckle climbed about the fence in a wild pretty way of its own and flung sweetness on the air in vivid, erratic whiffs.
The sidewalk outside was brick, and whenever she heard footsteps coming she stepped back into the shadow of the syringa and was hidden from view. She was in no mood to talk with any one.
She could look out into the dusty road and see dimly the horses and carryalls as they passed, and recognize an occasional laughing voice of some village maiden out with her best young man for a ride. Others strolled along the sidewalk, and fragments of talk floated back. Almost every one had a word to say about the wedding as they neared the gate, and if Marcia had been in another mood it would have been interesting and gratifying to her pride. Every one had a good word for Kate, though many disapproved of her in a general way for principle's sake.
Hanford Weston passed, with long, slouching gait, hands in his trousers pockets, and a frightened, hasty, sideways glance toward the lights of the house beyond. He would have gone in boldly to call if he had dared, and told Marcia that he had done her bidding and now wanted a reward, but John Middleton had joined him at the corner and he dared not make the attempt. John would have done it in a minute if he had wished. He was brazen by nature, but Hanford knew that he would as readily laugh at another for doing it. Hanford shrank from a laugh more than from the cannon's mouth, so he slouched on, not knowing that his goddess held her breath behind a lilac bush not three feet away, her heart beating in annoyed taps to be again interrupted by him in her pleasant thoughts.
Merry, laughing voices mingling with many footsteps came sounding down the street and paused beside the gate. Marcia knew the voices and again slid behind the shrubbery that bordered all the way to the house, and not even a gleam of her light frock was visible. They trooped in, three or four girl friends of Kate's and a couple of young men.
Marcia watched them pass up the box-bordered path from her shadowy retreat, and thought how they would miss Kate, and wondered if the young men who had been coming there so constantly to see her had no pangs of heart that their friend and leader was about to leave them. Then she smiled at herself in the dark. She seemed to be doing the retrospect for Kate, taking leave of all the old friends, home, and life, in Kate's place. It was not her life anyway, and why should she bother herself and sigh and feel this sadness creeping over her for some one else? Was it that she was going to lose her sister? No, for Kate had never been much of a companion to her. She had always put her down as a little girl and made distinct and clear the difference in their ages. Marcia had been the little maid to fetch and carry, the errand girl, and unselfish, devoted slave in Kate's life. There had been nothing protective and elder-sisterly in her manner toward Marcia. At times Marcia had felt this keenly, but no expression of this lack had ever crossed her lips, and afterwards her devotion to her sister had been the greater, to in a measure compensate for this reproachful thought.
But Marcia could not shake the sadness off. She stole in further among the trees to think about it till the callers should go away. She felt no desire to meet any of them.
She began again to wonder how she would feel if day after to-morrow were her wedding day, and she were going away from home and friends and all the scenes with which she had been familiar since babyhood. Would she mind very much leaving them all? Father? Yes, father had been good to her, and loved her and was proud of her in a way. But one does not lose one's father no matter how far one goes. A father is a father always; and Mr. Schuyler was not a demonstrative man. Marcia felt that her father would not miss her deeply, and she was not sure she would miss him so very much. She had read to him a great deal and talked politics with him whenever he had no one better by, but aside from that her life had been lived much apart from him. Her stepmother? Yes, she would miss her as one misses a perfect mentor and guide. She had been used to looking to her for direction. She was thoroughly conscious that she had a will of her own and would like a chance to exercise it, still, she knew that in many cases without her stepmother she would be like a rudderless ship, a guideless traveller. And she loved her stepmother too, as a young girl can love a good woman who has been her guide and helper, even though there never has been great tenderness between them. Yes, she would miss her stepmother, but she would not feel so very sad over it. Harriet and the little brothers? Oh, yes, she would miss them, they were dear little things and devoted to her.
Then there were the neighbors, and the schoolmates, and the people of the village. She would miss the minister,—the dear old minister and his wife. Many a time she had gone with her arms full of flowers to the parsonage down the street, and spent the afternoon with the minister's wife. Her smooth white hair under its muslin cap, and her soft wrinkled cheek were very dear to the young girl. She had talked to this friend more freely about her innermost thoughts than she had ever spoken to any living being. Oh, she would miss the minister's wife very much if she were to go away.
The names of her schoolmates came to her. Harriet Woodgate, Eliza Buchanan, Margaret Fletcher, three girls who were her intimates. She would miss them, of course, but how much? She could scarcely tell. Margaret Fletcher more than the other two. Mary Ann Fothergill? She almost laughed at the thought of anybody missing Mary Ann. John Middleton? Hanford Weston? There was not a boy in the school she would miss for an instant, she told herself with conviction. Not one of them realized her ideal. There was much pairing off of boy and girl in school, but Marcia, like the heroine of "Comin' thro' the Rye," was good friends with all the boys and intimate with none. They all counted it an honor to wait upon her, and she cared not a farthing for any. She felt herself too young, of course, to think of such things, but when she dreamed her day dreams the lover and prince who figured in them bore no familiar form or feature. He was a prince and these were only schoolboys.
The merry chatter of the young people in the house floated through the open windows, and Marcia could hear her sister's voice above them all. Chameleon-like she was all gaiety and laughter now, since her gravity at supper.
They were coming out the front door and down the walk. Kate was with them. Marcia could catch glimpses of the girls' white frocks as they came nearer. She saw that her sister was walking with Captain Leavenworth. He was a handsome young man who made a fine appearance in his uniform. He and Kate had been intimate for two years, and it might have been more than friendship had not Kate's father interfered between them. He did not think so well of the handsome young captain as did either his daughter Kate or the United States Navy who had given him his position. Squire Schuyler required deep integrity and strength of moral character in the man who aspired to be his son-in-law. The captain did not number much of either among his virtues.
There had been a short, sharp contest which had ended in the departure of young Leavenworth from the town some three years before, and the temporary plunging of Kate Schuyler into a season of tears and pouting. But it had not been long before her gay laughter was ringing again, and her father thought she had forgotten. About that time David Spafford had appeared and promptly fallen in love with the beautiful girl, and the Schuyler mind was relieved. So it came about that, upon the reappearance of the handsome young captain wearing the insignia of his first honors, the Squire received him graciously. He even felt that he might be more lenient about his moral character, and told himself that perhaps he was not so bad after all, he must have something in him or the United States government would not have seen fit to honor him. It was easier to think so, now Kate was safe.
Marcia watched her sister and the captain go laughing down to the gate, and out into the street. She wondered that Kate could care to go out to-night when it was to be almost her last evening at home; wondered, too, that Kate would walk with Captain Leavenworth when she belonged to David now. She might have managed it to go with one of the girls. But that was Kate's way. Kate's ways were not Marcia's ways.
Marcia wondered if she would miss Kate, and was obliged to acknowledge to herself that in many ways her sister's absence would be a relief to her. While she recognized the power of her sister's beauty and will over her, she felt oppressed sometimes by the strain she was under to please, and wearied of the constant, half-fretful, half playful fault-finding.
The gay footsteps and voices died away down the village street, and Marcia ventured forth from her retreat. The moon was just rising and came up a glorious burnished disk, silhouetting her face as she stood a moment listening to the stirring of a bird among the branches. It was her will to-night to be alone and let her fancies wander where they would. The beauty and the mystery of a wedding was upon her, touching all her deeper feelings, and she wished to dream it out and wonder over it. Again it came to her what if the day after the morrow were her wedding day and she stood alone thinking about it. She would not have gone off down the street with a lot of giggling girls nor walked with another young man. She would have stood here, or down by the gate—and she moved on toward her favorite arch of lilac and syringa—yes, down by the gate in the darkness looking out and thinking how it would be when he should come. She felt sure if it had been herself who expected David she would have begun to watch for him a week before the time he had set for coming, heralding it again and again to her heart in joyous thrills of happiness, for who knew but he might come sooner and surprise her? She would have rejoiced that to-night she was alone, and would have excused herself from everything else to come down there in the stillness and watch for him, and think how it would be when he would really get there. She would hear his step echoing down the street and would recognize it as his. She would lean far over the gate to listen and watch, and it would come nearer and nearer, and her heart would beat faster and faster, and her breath come quicker, until he was at last by her side, his beautiful surprise for her in his eyes. But now, if David should really try to surprise Kate by coming that way to-night he would not find her waiting nor thinking of him at all, but off with Captain Leavenworth.
With a passing pity for David she went back to her own dream. With one elbow on the gate and her cheek in her hand she thought it all over. The delayed evening coach rumbled up to the tavern not far away and halted. Real footsteps came up the street, but Marcia did not notice them only as they made more vivid her thoughts.
Her dream went on and the steps drew nearer until suddenly they halted and some one appeared out of the shadow. Her heart stood still, for form and face in the darkness seemed unreal, and the dreams had been most vivid. Then with tender masterfulness two strong arms were flung about her and her face was drawn close to his across the vine-twined gate until her lips touched his. One long clinging kiss of tenderness he gave her and held her head close against his breast for just a moment while he murmured: "My darling! My precious, precious Kate, I have you at last!"
The spell was broken! Marcia's dream was shattered. Her mind awoke. With a scream she sprang from him, horror and a wild but holy joy mingling with her perplexity. She put her hand upon her heart, marvelling over the sweetness that lingered upon her lips, trying to recover her senses as she faced the eager lover who opened the little gate and came quickly toward her, as yet unaware that it was not Kate to whom he had been talking.
Marcia stood quivering, trembling. She comprehended all in an instant. David Spafford had come a day earlier than he had been expected, to surprise Kate, and Kate was off having a good time with some one else. He had mistaken her for Kate. Her long dress and her put-up hair had deceived him in the moonlight. She tried to summon some womanly courage, and in her earnestness to make things right she forgot her natural timidity.
"It is not Kate," she said gently; "it is only Marcia. Kate did not know you were coming to-night. She did not expect you till to-morrow. She had to go out,—that is—she has gone with—" the truthful, youthful, troubled sister paused. To her mind it was a calamity that Kate was not present to meet her lover. She should at least have been in the house ready for a surprise like this. Would David not feel the omission keenly? She must keep it from him if she could about Captain Leavenworth. There was no reason why he should feel badly about it, of course, and yet it might annoy him. But he stepped back laughing at his mistake.
"Why! Marcia, is it you, child? How you have grown! I never should have known you!" said the young man pleasantly. He had always a grave tenderness for this little sister of his love. "Of course your sister did not know I was coming," he went on, "and doubtless she has many things to attend to. I did not expect her to be out here watching for me, though for a moment I did think she was at the gate. You say she is gone out? Then we will go up to the house and I will be there to surprise her when she comes."
Marcia turned with relief. He had not asked where Kate was gone, nor with whom.
The Squire and Madam Schuyler greeted the arrival with elaborate welcome. The Squire like Marcia seemed much annoyed that Kate had gone out. He kept fuming back and forth from the window to the door and asking: "What did she go out for to-night? She ought to have stayed at home!"
But Madam Schuyler wore ample satisfaction upon her smooth brow. The bridegroom had arrived. There could be no further hitch in the ceremonies. He had arrived a day before the time, it is true; but he had not found her unprepared. So far as she was concerned, with a few extra touches the wedding might proceed at once. She was always ready for everything in time. No one could find a screw loose in the machinery of her household.
She bustled about, giving orders and laying a bountiful supper before the young man, while the Squire sat and talked with him, and Marcia hovered watchfully, waiting upon the table, noticing with admiring eyes the beautiful wave of his abundant hair, tossed back from his forehead. She took a kind of pride of possession in his handsome face,—the far-removed possession of a sister-in-law. There was his sunny smile, that seemed as though it could bring joy out of the gloom of a bleak December day, and there were the two dimples—not real dimples, of course, men never had dimples—but hints, suggestions of dimples, that caught themselves when he smiled, here and there like hidden mischief well kept under control, but still merrily ready to come to the surface. His hands were white and firm, the fingers long and shapely, the hands of a brain worker. The vision of Hanford Weston's hands, red and bony, came up to her in contrast. She had not known that she looked at them that day when he had stood awkwardly asking if he might walk with her. Poor Hanford! He would ill compare with this cultured scholarly man who was his senior by ten years, though it is possible that with the ten years added he would have been quite worthy of the admiration of any of the village girls.
The fruit cake and raspberry preserves and doughnuts and all the various viands that Madam Schuyler had ordered set out for the delectation of her guest had been partaken of, and David and the Squire sat talking of the news of the day, touching on politics, with a bit of laughter from the Squire at the man who thought he had invented a machine to draw carriages by steam in place of horses.
"There's a good deal in it, I believe," said the younger man. "His theory is all right if he can get some one to help him carry it out."
"Well, maybe, maybe," said the Squire shaking his head dubiously, "but it seems to me a very fanciful scheme. Horses are good enough for me. I shouldn't like to trust myself to an unknown quantity like steam, but time will tell."
"Yes, and the world is progressing. Something of the sort is sure to come. It has come in England. It would make a vast change in our country, binding city to city and practically eradicating space."
"Visionary schemes, David, visionary schemes, that's what I call them. You and I'll never see them in our day, I'm sure of that. Remember this is a new country and must go slow." The Squire was half laughing, half in earnest.
Amid the talk Marcia had quietly slipped out. It had occurred to her that perhaps the captain might return with her sister.
She must watch for Kate and warn her. Like a shadow in the moonlight she stepped softly down the gravel path once more and waited at the gate. Did not that sacred kiss placed upon her lips all by mistake bind her to this solemn duty? Had it not been given to her to see as in a revelation, by that kiss, the love of one man for one woman, deep and tender and true?
In the fragrant darkness her soul stood still and wondered over Love, the marvellous. With an insight such as few have who have not tasted years of wedded joy, Marcia comprehended the possibility and joy of sacrifice that made even sad things bright because of Love. She saw like a flash how Kate could give up her gay life, her home, her friends, everything that life had heretofore held dear for her, that she might be by the side of the man who loved her so. But with this knowledge of David's love for Kate came a troubled doubt. Did Kate love David that way? If Kate had been the one who received that kiss would she have returned it with the same tenderness and warmth with which it was given? Marcia dared not try to answer this. It was Kate's question, not hers, and she must never let it enter her mind again. Of course she must love him that way or she would never marry him.
The night crept slowly for the anxious little watcher at the gate. Had she been sure where to look for her sister, and not afraid of the tongues of a few interested neighbors who had watched everything at the house for days that no item about the wedding should escape them, she would have started on a search at once. She knew if she just ran into old Miss Pemberton's, whose house stood out upon the street with two straight-backed little, high, white seats each side of the stoop, a most delightful post of observation, she could discover at once in which direction Kate had gone, and perhaps a good deal more of hints and suggestions besides. But Marcia had no mind to make gossip. She must wait as patiently as she could for Kate. Moreover Kate might be walking even now in some secluded, rose-lined lane arm in arm with the captain, saying a pleasant farewell. It was Kate's way and no one might gainsay her.
Marcia's dreams came back once more, the thoughts that had been hers as she stood there an hour before. She thought how the kiss had fitted into the dream. Then all at once conscience told her it was Kate's lover, not her own, whose arms had encircled her. And now there was a strange unwillingness to go back to the dreams at all, a lingering longing for the joys into whose glory she had been for a moment permitted to look. She drew back from all thoughts and tried to close the door upon them. They seemed too sacred to enter. Her maidenhood was but just begun and she had much yet to learn of life. She was glad, glad for Kate that such wonderfulness was coming to her. Kate would be sweeter, softer in her ways now. She could not help it with a love like that enfolding her life.
At last there were footsteps! Hark! Two people—only two! Just what Marcia had expected. The other girls and boys had dropped into other streets or gone home. Kate and her former lover were coming home alone. And, furthermore, Kate would not be glad to see her sister at the gate. This last thought came with sudden conviction, but Marcia did not falter.
"Kate, David has come!" Marcia said it in low, almost accusing tones, at least so it sounded to Kate, before the two had hardly reached the gate. They had been loitering along talking in low tones, and the young captain's head was bent over his companion in an earnest, pleading attitude. Marcia could not bear to look, and did not wish to see more, so she had spoken.
Kate, startled, sprang away from her companion, a white angry look in her face.
"How you scared me, Marsh!" she exclaimed pettishly. "What if he has come? That's nothing. I guess he can wait a few minutes. He had no business to come to-night anyway. He knew we wouldn't be ready for him till to-morrow."
Kate was recovering her self-possession in proportion as she realized the situation. That she was vexed over her bridegroom's arrival neither of the two witnesses could doubt. It stung her sister with a deep pity for David. He was not getting as much in Kate as he was giving. But there was no time for such thoughts, besides Marcia was trembling from head to foot, partly with her own daring, partly with wrath at her sister's words.
"For shame, Kate!" she cried. "How can you talk so, even in fun! David came to surprise you, and I think he had a right to expect to find you here so near to the time of your marriage."
There was a flash in the young eyes as she said it, and a delicate lifting of her chin with the conviction of the truth she was speaking, that gave her a new dignity even in the moonlight. Captain Leavenworth looked at her in lazy admiration and said:
"Why, Marsh, you're developing into quite a spitfire. What have you got on to-night that makes you look so tall and handsome? Why didn't you stay in and talk to your fine gentleman? I'm sure he would have been just as well satisfied with you as your sister."
Marcia gave one withering glance at the young man and then turned her back full upon him. He was not worth noticing. Besides he was to be pitied, for he evidently cared still for Kate.
But Kate was fairly white with anger. Perhaps her own accusing conscience helped it on. Her voice was imperious and cold. She drew herself up haughtily and pointed toward the house.
"Marcia Schuyler," she said coldly, facing her sister, "go into the house and attend to your own affairs. You'll find that you'll get into serious trouble if you attempt to meddle with mine. You're nothing but a child yet and ought to be punished for your impudence. Go! I tell you!" she stamped her foot, "I will come in when I get ready."
Marcia went. Not proudly as she might have gone the moment before, but covered with confusion and shame, her head drooping like some crushed lily on a bleeding stalk. Through her soul rushed indignation, mighty and forceful; indignation and shame, for her sister, for David, for herself. She did not stop to analyze her various feelings, nor did she stop to speak further with those in the house. She fled to her own room, and burying her face in the pillow she wept until she fell asleep.
The moon-shadows grew longer about the arbored gateway where the two she had left stood talking in low tones, looking furtively now and then toward the house, and withdrawing into the covert of the bushes by the walk. But Kate dared not linger long. She could see her father's profile by the candle light in the dining room. She did not wish to receive further rebuke, and so in a very few minutes the two parted and Kate ran up the box-edged path, beginning to hum a sweet old love song in a gay light voice, as she tripped by the dining-room windows, and thus announced her arrival. She guessed that Marcia would have gone straight to her room and told nothing. Kate intended to be fully surprised. She paused in the hall to hang up the light shawl she had worn, calling good-night to her stepmother and saying she was very tired and was going straight to bed to be ready for to-morrow. Then she ran lightly across the hall to the stairs.
She knew they would call her back, and that they would all come into the hall with David to see the effect of his surprise upon her. She had planned to a nicety just which stair she could reach before they got there, and where she would pause and turn and poise, and what pose she would take with her round white arm stretched to the handrail, the sleeve turned carelessly back. She had ready her countenances, a sleepy indifference, then a pleased surprise, and a climax of delight. She carried it all out, this little bit of impromptu acting, as well as though she had rehearsed it for a month.
They called her, and she turned deliberately, one dainty, slippered foot, with its crossed black ribbons about the slender ankle, just leaving the stair below, and showing the arch of the aristocratic instep. Her gown was blue and she held it back just enough for the stiff white frill of her petticoat to peep below. Well she read the admiration in the eyes below her. Admiration was Kate's life: she thrived upon it. She could not do without it.
David stood still, his love in his eyes, looking upon the vision of his bride, and his heart swelled within him that so great a treasure should be his. Then straightway they all forgot to question where she had been or to rebuke her that she had been at all. She had known they would. She ever possessed the power to make others forget her wrong doings when it was worth her while to try.
The next morning things were astir even earlier than usual. There was the sound of the beating of eggs, the stirring of cakes, the clatter of pots and pans from the wide, stone-flagged kitchen.
Marcia, fresh as a flower from its morning dew in spite of her cry the night before, had arisen to new opportunities for service. She was glad with the joyous forgetfulness of youth when she looked at David's happy face, and she thought no more of Kate's treatment of herself.
David followed Kate with a true lover's eyes and was never for more than a few moments out of her sight, though it seemed to Marcia that Kate did not try very hard to stay with him. When afternoon came she dismissed him for what she called her "beauty nap." Marcia was passing through the hall at the time and she caught the tender look upon his face as he touched her brow with reverent fingers and told her she had no need for that. Her eyes met Kate's as they were going up the stairs, and in spite of what Kate had said the night before Marcia could not refrain from saying: "Oh, Kate! how could you when he loves you so? You know you never take a nap in the daytime!"
"You silly girl!" said Kate pleasantly enough, "don't you know the less a man sees of one the more he thinks of her?" With this remark she closed and fastened her door after her.
Marcia pondered these words of wisdom for some time, wondering whether Kate had really done it for that reason, or whether she did not care for the company of her lover. And why should it be so that a man loved you less because he saw you more? In her straightforward code the more you loved persons the more you desired to be in their company.
Kate had issued from her "beauty nap" with a feverish restlessness in her eyes, an averted face, and ink upon one finger. At supper she scarcely spoke, and when she did she laughed excitedly over little things. Her lover watched her with eyes of pride and ever increasing wonder over her beauty, and Marcia, seeing the light in his face, watched for its answer in her sister's, and finding it not was troubled.
She watched them from her bedroom window as they walked down the path where she had gone the evening before, decorously side by side, Kate holding her light muslin frock back from the dew on the hedges. She wondered if it was because Kate had more respect for David than for Captain Leavenworth that she never seemed to treat him with as much familiarity. She did not take possession of him in the same sweet imperious way.
Marcia had not lighted her candle. The moon gave light enough and she was very weary, so she undressed in the dim chamber and pondered upon the ways of the great world. Out there in the moonlight were those two who to-morrow would be one, and here was she, alone. The world seemed all circling about that white chamber of hers, and echoing with her own consciousness of self, and a loneliness she had never felt before. She wondered what it might be. Was it all sadness at parting with Kate, or was it the sadness over inevitable partings of all human relationships, and the all-aloneness of every living spirit?
She stood for a moment, white-robed, beside her window, looking up into the full round moon, and wondering if God knew the ache of loneliness in His little human creatures' souls that He had made, and whether He had ready something wherewith to satisfy. Then her meek soul bowed before the faith that was in her and she knelt for her shy but reverent evening prayer.
She heard the two lovers come in early and go upstairs, and she heard her father fastening up the doors and windows for the night. Then stillness gradually settled down and she fell asleep. Later, in her dreams, there echoed the sound of hastening hoofs far down the deserted street and over the old covered bridge, but she took no note of any sound, and the weary household slept on.
The wedding was set for ten o'clock in the morning, after which there was to be a wedding breakfast and the married couple were to start immediately for their new home.
David had driven the day before with his own horse and chaise to a town some twenty miles away, and there left his horse at a tavern to rest for the return trip, for Kate would have it that they must leave the house in high style. So the finest equipage the town afforded had been secured to bear them on the first stage of their journey, with a portly negro driver and everything according to the custom of the greatest of the land. Nothing that Kate desired about the arrangements had been left undone.
The household was fully astir by half past four, for the family breakfast was to be at six promptly, that all might be cleared away and in readiness for the early arrival of the various aunts and uncles and cousins and friends who would "drive over" from the country round about. It would have been something Madam Schuyler would never have been able to get over if aught had been awry when a single uncle or aunt appeared upon the scene, or if there seemed to be the least evidence of fluster and nervousness.
The rosy sunlight in the east was mixing the morning with fresher air, and new odors for the new day that was dawning, when Marcia awoke. The sharp click of spoons and dishes, the voices of the maids, the sizzle, sputter, odor of frying ham and eggs, mingled with the early chorus of the birds, and calling to life of all living creatures, like an intrusion upon nature. It seemed not right to steal the morning's "quiet hour" thus rudely. The thought flitted through the girl's mind, and in an instant more the whole panorama of the day's excitement was before her, and she sprang from her bed. As if it had been her own wedding day instead of her sister's, she performed her dainty toilet, for though there was need for haste, she knew she would have no further time beyond a moment to slip on her best gown and smooth her hair.
Marcia hurried downstairs just as the bell rang for breakfast, and David, coming down smiling behind her, patted her cheek and greeted her with, "Well, little sister, you look as rested as if you had not done a thing all day yesterday."
She smiled shyly back at him, and her heart filled with pleasure over his new name for her. It sounded pleasantly from his happy lips. She was conscious of a gladness that he was to be so nearly related to her. She fancied how it would seem to say to Mary Ann: "My brother-in-law says so and so." It would be grand to call such a man "brother."
They were all seated at the table but Kate, and Squire Schuyler waited with pleasantly frowning brows to ask the blessing on the morning food. Kate was often late. She was the only member of the family who dared to be late to breakfast, and being the bride and the centre of the occasion more leniency was granted her this morning than ever before. Madam Schuyler waited until every one at the table was served to ham and eggs, coffee and bread-and-butter, and steaming griddle cakes, before she said, looking anxiously at the tall clock: "Marcia, perhaps you better go up and see if your sister needs any help. She ought to be down by now. Uncle Joab and Aunt Polly will be sure to be here by eight. She must have overslept, but we made so much noise she is surely awake by this time."
Marcia left her half-eaten breakfast and went slowly upstairs. She knew her sister would not welcome her, for she had often been sent on like errands before, and the brunt of Kate's anger had fallen upon the hapless messenger, wearing itself out there so that she might descend all smiles to greet father and mother and smooth off the situation in a most harmonious manner.
Marcia paused before the door to listen. Perhaps Kate was nearly ready and her distasteful errand need not be performed. But though she held her breath to listen, no sound came from the closed door. Very softly she tried to lift the latch and peep in. Kate must still be asleep. It was not the first time Marcia had found that to be the case when sent to bring her sister.
But the latch would not lift. The catch was firmly down from the inside. Marcia applied her eye to the keyhole, but could get no vision save a dim outline of the window on the other side of the room. She tapped gently once or twice and waited again, then called softly: "Kate, Kate! Wake up. Breakfast is ready and everybody is eating. Aunt Polly and Uncle Joab will soon be here."
She repeated her tapping and calling, growing louder as she received no answer. Kate would often keep still to tease her thus. Surely though she would not do so upon her wedding morning!
She called and called and shook the door, not daring, however, to make much of an uproar lest David should hear. She could not bear he should know the shortcomings of his bride.
But at last she grew alarmed. Perhaps Kate was ill. At any rate, whatever it was, it was time she was up. She worked for some minutes trying to loosen the catch that held the latch, but all to no purpose. She was forced to go down stairs and whisper to her stepmother the state of the case.
Madam Schuyler, excusing herself from the table, went upstairs, purposeful decision in every line of her substantial body, determination in every sound of her footfall. Bride though she be, Kate would have meted out to her just dues this time. Company and a lover and the nearness of the wedding hour were things not to be trifled with even by a charming Kate.
But Madam Schuyler returned in a short space of time, puffing and panting, somewhat short of breath, and color in her face. She looked troubled, and she interrupted the Squire without waiting for him to finish his sentence to David.
"I cannot understand what is the matter with Kate," she said, looking at her husband. "She does not seem to be awake, and I cannot get her door open. She sleeps soundly, and I suppose the unusual excitement has made her very tired. But I should think she ought to hear my voice. Perhaps you better see if you can open the door."
There was studied calm in her voice, but her face belied her words. She was anxious lest Kate was playing one of her pranks. She knew Kate's careless, fun-loving ways. It was more to her that all things should move decently and in order than that Kate should even be perfectly well. But Marcia's white face behind her stepmother's ample shoulder showed a dread of something worse than a mere indisposition. David Spafford took alarm at once. He put down the silver syrup jug from which he had been pouring golden maple syrup on his cakes, and pushed his chair back with a click.
"Perhaps she has fainted!" he said, and Marcia saw how deeply he was concerned. Father and lover both started up stairs, the father angry, the lover alarmed. The Squire grumbled all the way up that Kate should sleep so late, but David said nothing. He waited anxiously behind while the Squire worked with the door. Madam Schuyler and Marcia had followed them, and halting curiously just behind came the two maids. They all loved Miss Kate and were deeply interested in the day's doings. They did not want anything to interfere with the well-planned pageant.
The Squire fumbled nervously with the latch, all the time calling upon his daughter to open the door; then wrathfully placed his solid shoulder and knee in just the right place, and with a groan and wrench the latch gave way, and the solid oak door swung open, precipitating the anxious group somewhat suddenly into the room.
Almost immediately they all became aware that there was no one there. David had stood with averted eyes at first, but that second sense which makes us aware without sight when others are near or absent, brought with it an unnamed anxiety. He looked wildly about.
The bed had not been slept in; that they all saw at once. The room was in confusion, but perhaps not more than might have been expected when the occupant was about to leave on the morrow. There were pieces of paper and string upon the floor and one or two garments lying about as if carelessly cast off in a hurry. David recognized the purple muslin frock Kate had worn the night before, and put out his hand to touch it as it lay across the foot of the bed, vainly reaching after her who was not there.
They stood in silence, father, mother, sister, and lover, and took in every detail of the deserted room, then looked blankly into one another's white faces, and in the eyes of each a terrible question began to dawn. Where was she?
Madam Schuyler recovered her senses first. With her sharp practical system she endeavored to find out the exact situation.
"Who saw her last?" she asked sharply looking from one to the other. "Who saw her last? Has she been down stairs this morning?" she looked straight at Marcia this time, but the girl shook her head.
"I went to bed last night before they came in," she said, looking questioningly at David, but a sudden remembrance and fear seized her heart. She turned away to the window to face it where they could not look at her.
"We came in early," said David, trying to keep the anxiety out of his voice, as he remembered his well-beloved's good-night. Surely, surely, nothing very dreadful could have happened just over night, and in her father's own house. He looked about again to see the natural, every-day, little things that would help him drive away the thoughts of possible tragedy.
"Kate was tired. She said she was going to get up very early this morning and wash her face in the dew on the grass." He braved a smile and looked about on the troubled group. "She must be out somewhere upon the place," he continued, gathering courage with the thought; "she told me it was an old superstition. She has maybe wandered further than she intended, and perhaps got into some trouble. I'd better go and search for her. Is there any place near here where she would be likely to be?" He turned to Marcia for help.
"But Kate would never delay so long I'm sure," said the stepmother severely. "She's not such a fool as to go traipsing through the wet grass before daylight for any nonsense. If it were Marcia now, you might expect anything, but Kate would be satisfied with the dew on the grass by the kitchen pump. I know Kate."
Marcia's face crimsoned at her stepmother's words, but she turned her troubled eyes to David and tried to answer him.
"There are plenty of places, but Kate has never cared to go to them. I could go out and look everywhere." She started to go down, but as she passed the wide mahogany bureau she saw a bit of folded paper lying under the corner of the pincushion. With a smothered exclamation she went over and picked it up. It was addressed to David in Kate's handwriting, fine and even like copperplate. Without a word Marcia handed it to him, and then stood back where the wide draperies of the window would shadow her.
Madam Schuyler, with sudden keen prescience, took alarm. Noticing the two maids standing wide-mouthed in the hallway, she summoned her most commandatory tone, stepped into the hall, half closing the door behind her, and cowed the two handmaidens under her glance.
"It is all right!" she said calmly. "Miss Kate has left a note, and will soon return. Go down and keep her breakfast warm, and not a word to a soul! Dolly, Debby, do you understand? Not a word of this! Now hurry and do all that I told you before breakfast."
They went with downcast eyes and disappointed droops to their mouths, but she knew that not a word would pass their lips. They knew that if they disobeyed that command they need never hope for favor more from madam. Madam's word was law. She would be obeyed. Therefore with remarkable discretion they masked their wondering looks and did as they were bidden. So while the family stood in solemn conclave in Kate's room the preparations for the wedding moved steadily forward below stairs, and only two solemn maids, of all the helpers that morning, knew that a tragedy was hovering in the air and might burst about them.
David had grasped for the letter eagerly, and fumbled it open with trembling hand, but as he read, the smile of expectation froze upon his lips and his face grew ashen. He tottered and grasped for the mantel shelf to steady himself as he read further, but he did not seem to take in the meaning of what he read. The others waited breathless, a reasonable length of time, Madam Schuyler impatiently patient. She felt that long delay would be perilous to her arrangements. She ought to know the whole truth at once and be put in command of the situation. Marcia with sorrowful face and drooping eyelashes stood quiet behind the curtain, while over and over the echo of a horse's hoofs in a silent street and over a bridge sounded in her brain. She did not need to be told, she knew intuitively what had happened, and she dared not look at David.
"Well, what has she done with herself?" said the Squire impatiently. He had not finished his plate of cakes, and now that there was word he wanted to know it at once and go back to his breakfast. The sight of his daughter's handwriting relieved and reassured him. Some crazy thing she had done of course, but then Kate had always done queer things, and probably would to the end of time. She was a hussy to frighten them so, and he meant to tell her so when she returned, if it was her wedding day. But then, Kate would be Kate, and his breakfast was getting cold. He had the horses to look after and orders to give to the hands before the early guests arrived.
But David did not answer, and the sight of him was alarming. He stood as one stricken dumb all in a moment. He raised his eyes to the Squire's—pleading, pitiful. His face had grown strained and haggard.
"Speak out, man, doesn't the letter tell?" said the Squire imperiously. "Where is the girl?"
And this time David managed to say brokenly: "She's gone!" and then his head dropped forward on his cold hand that rested on the mantel. Great beads of perspiration stood out upon his white forehead, and the letter fluttered gayly, coquettishly to the floor, a reminder of the uncertain ways of its writer.
The Squire reached for it impatiently, and wiping his spectacles laboriously put them on and drew near to the window to read, his heavy brows lowering in a frown. But his wife did not need to read the letter, for she, like Marcia, had divined its purport, and already her able faculties were marshalled to face the predicament.
The Squire with deepening frown was studying his elder daughter's letter, scarce able to believe the evidence of his senses that a girl of his could be so heartless.
"DEAR DAVID," the letter ran,—written as though in a hurry, done at the last moment,—which indeed it was:—
"I want you to forgive me for what I am doing. I know you will feel bad about it, but really I never was the right one for you. I'm sure you thought me all too good, and I never could have stayed in a strait-jacket, it would have killed me. I shall always consider you the best man in the world, and I like you better than anyone else except Captain Leavenworth. I can't help it, you know, that I care more for him than anyone else, though I've tried. So I am going away to-night and when you read this we shall have been married. You are so very good that I know you will forgive me, and be glad I am happy. Don't think hardly of me for I always did care a great deal for you.
It was characteristic of Kate that she demanded the love and loyalty of her betrayed lover to the bitter end, false and heartless though she had been. The coquette in her played with him even now in the midst of the bitter pain she must have known she was inflicting. No word of contrition spoke she, but took her deed as one of her prerogatives, just as she had always taken everything she chose. She did not even spare him the loving salutation that had been her custom in her letters to him, but wrote herself down as she would have done the day before when all was fair and dear between them. She did not hint at any better day for David, or give him permission to forget her, but held him for all time as her own, as she had known she would by those words of hers, "I like you better than anyone else except!—" Ah! That fatal "except!" Could any knife cut deeper and more ways? They sank into the young man's heart as he stood there those first few minutes and faced his trouble, his head bowed upon the mantel-piece.
Meantime Madam Schuyler's keen vision had spied another folded paper beside the pincushion. Smaller it was than the other, and evidently intended to be placed further out of sight. It was addressed to Kate's father, and her stepmother opened it and read with hard pressure of her thin lips, slanted down at the corners, and a steely look in her eyes. Was it possible that the girl, even in the midst of her treachery, had enjoyed with a sort of malicious glee the thought of her stepmother reading that note and facing the horror of a wedding party with no bride? Knowing her stepmother's vast resources did she not think that at last she had brought her to a situation to which she was unequal? There had always been this unseen, unspoken struggle for supremacy between them; though it had been a friendly one, a sort of testing on the girl's part of the powers and expedients of the woman, with a kind of vast admiration, mingled with amusement, but no fear for the stepmother who had been uniformly kind and loving toward her, and for whom she cared, perhaps as much as she could have cared for her own mother. The other note read:
"DEAR FATHER:—I am going away to-night to marry Captain Leavenworth. You wouldn't let me have him in the right way, so I had to take this. I tried very hard to forget him and get interested in David, but it was no use. You couldn't stop it. So now I hope you will see it the way we do and forgive us. We are going to Washington and you can write us there and say you forgive us, and then we will come home. I know you will forgive us, Daddy dear. You know you always loved your little Kate and you couldn't really want me to be unhappy. Please send my trunks to Washington. I've tacked the card with the address on the ends.
"Your loving little girl,
There was a terrible stillness in the room, broken only by the crackling of paper as the notes were turned in the hands of their readers. Marcia felt as if centuries were passing. David's soul was pierced by one awful thought. He had no room for others. She was gone! Life was a blank for him! stretching out into interminable years. Of her treachery and false-heartedness in doing what she had done in the way she had done it, he had no time to take account. That would come later. Now he was trying to understand this one awful fact.
Madam Schuyler handed the second note to her husband, and with set lips quickly skimmed through the other one. As she read, indignation rose within her, and a great desire to outwit everybody. If it had been possible to bring the erring girl back and make her face her disgraced wedding alone, Madam Schuyler would have been glad to do it. She knew that upon her would likely rest all the re-arrangements, and her ready brain was already taking account of her servants and the number of messages that would have to be sent out to stop the guests from arriving. She waited impatiently for her husband to finish reading that she might consult with him as to the best message to send, but she was scarcely prepared for the burst of anger that came with the finish of the letters. The old man crushed his daughter's note in his hand and flung it from him. He had great respect and love for David, and the sight of him broken in grief, the deed of his daughter, roused in him a mighty indignation. His voice shook, but there was a deep note of command in it that made Madam Schuyler step aside and wait. The Squire had arisen to the situation, and she recognized her lord and master.
"She must be brought back at once at all costs!" he exclaimed. "That rascal shall not outwit us. Fool that I was to trust him in the house! Tell the men to saddle the horses. They cannot have gone far yet, and there are not so many roads to Washington. We may yet overtake them, and married or unmarried the hussy shall be here for her wedding!"
But David raised his head from the mantel-shelf and steadied his voice:
"No, no, you must not do that—father—" the appellative came from his lips almost tenderly, as if he had long considered the use of it with pleasure, and now he spoke it as a tender bond meant to comfort.
The older man started and his face softened. A flash of understanding and love passed between the two men.
"Remember, she has said she loves some one else. She could never be mine now."
There was terrible sadness in the words as David spoke them, and his voice broke. Madam Schuyler turned away and took out her handkerchief, an article of apparel for which she seldom had use except as it belonged to every well ordered toilet.
The father stood looking hopelessly at David and taking in the thought. Then he too bowed his head and groaned.
"And my daughter, my little Kate has done it!" Marcia covered her face with the curtains and her tears fell fast.
David went and stood beside the Squire and touched his arm.
"Don't!" he said pleadingly. "You could not help it. It was not your fault. Do not take it so to heart!"
"But it is my disgrace. I have brought up a child who could do it. I cannot escape from that. It is the most dishonorable thing a woman can do. And look how she has done it, brought shame upon us all! Here we have a wedding on our hands, and little or no time to do anything! I have lived in honor all my life, and now to be disgraced by my own daughter!"
Marcia shuddered at her father's agony. She could not bear it longer. With a soft cry she went to him, and nestled her head against his breast unnoticed.
"Father, father, don't!" she cried.
But her father went on without seeming to see her.
"To be disgraced and deserted and dishonored by my own child! Something must be done. Send the servants! Let the wedding be stopped!"
He looked at Madam and she started toward the door to carry out his bidding, but he recalled her immediately.
"No, stay!" he cried. "It is too late to stop them all. Let them come. Let them be told! Let the disgrace rest upon the one to whom it belongs!"
Madam stopped in consternation! A wedding without a bride! Yet she knew it was a serious thing to try to dispute with her husband in that mood. She paused to consider.
"Oh, father!" exclaimed Marcia, "we couldn't! Think of David."
Her words seemed to touch the right chord, for he turned toward the young man, intense, tender pity in his face.
"Yes, David! We are forgetting David! We must do all we can to make it easier for you. You will be wanting to get away from us as quickly as possible. How can we manage it for you? And where will you go? You will not want to go home just yet?"
He paused, a new agony of the knowledge of David's part coming to him.
"No, I cannot go home," said David hopelessly, a look of keen pain darting across his face, "for the house will be all ready for her, and the table set. The friends will be coming in, and we are invited to dinner and tea everywhere. They will all be coming to the house, my friends, to welcome us. No, I cannot go home." Then he passed his hand over his forehead blindly, and added, in a stupefied tone, "and yet I must—sometime—I must—go—home!"
The room was very still as he spoke. Madam Schuyler forgot the coming guests and the preparations, in consternation over the thought of David and his sorrow. Marcia sobbed softly upon her father's breast, and her father involuntarily placed his arm about her as he stood in painful thought.
"It is terrible!" he murmured, "terrible! How could she bear to inflict such sorrow! She might have saved us the scorn of all of our friends. David, you must not go back alone. It must not be. You must not bear that. There are lovely girls in plenty elsewhere. Find another one and marry her. Take your bride home with you, and no one in your home need be the wiser. Don't sorrow for that cruel girl of mine. Give her not the satisfaction of feeling that your life is broken. Take another. Any girl might be proud to go with you for the asking. Had I a dozen other daughters you should have your pick of them, and one should go with you, if you would condescend to choose another from the home where you have been so treacherously dealt with. But I have only this one little girl. She is but a child as yet and cannot compare with what you thought you had. I blame you not if you do not wish to wed another Schuyler, but if you will she is yours. And she is a good girl. David, though she is but a child. Speak up, child, and say if you will make amends for the wrong your sister has done!"
The room was so still one could almost hear the heartbeats. David had raised his head once more and was looking at Marcia. Sad and searching was his gaze, as if he fain would find the features of Kate in her face, yet it seemed to Marcia, as she raised wide tear-filled eyes from her father's breast where her head still lay, that he saw her not. He was looking beyond her and facing the home-going alone, and the empty life that would follow.
Her thoughts the last few days had matured her wonderfully. She understood and pitied, and her woman-nature longed to give comfort, yet she shrunk from going unasked. It was all terrible, this sudden situation thrust upon her, yet she felt a willing sacrifice if she but felt sure it was his wish.
But David did not seem to know that he must speak. He waited, looking earnestly at her, through her, beyond her, to see if Heaven would grant this small relief to his sufferings. At last Marcia summoned her voice:
"If David wishes I will go."
She spoke the words solemnly, her eyes lifted slightly above him as if she were speaking to Another One higher than he. It was like an answer to a call from God. It had come to Marcia this way. It seemed to leave her no room for drawing back, if indeed she had wished to do so. Other considerations were not present. There was just the one great desire in her heart to make amends in some measure for the wrong that had been done. She felt almost responsible for it, a family responsibility. She seemed to feel the shame and pain as her father was feeling it. She would step into the empty place that Kate had left and fill it as far as she could. Her only fear was that she was not acceptable, not worthy to fill so high a place. She trembled over it, yet she could not hold back from the high calling. It was so she stood in a kind of sorrowful exaltation waiting for David. Her eyes lowered again, looking at him through the lashes and pleading for recognition. She did not feel that she was pleading for anything for herself, only for the chance to help him.
Her voice had broken the spell. David looked down upon her kindly, a pleasant light of gratitude flashing through the sternness and sorrow in his face. Here was comradeship in trouble, and his voice recognized it as he said: