ONLY AN INCIDENT
BY GRACE DENIO LITCHFIELD
IV. MRS. UPJOHN'S ENTERTAINMENT
VI. THE PICNIC
VII. TRIED AS BY FIRE
VIII. GERALD OBEYS ORDERS
IX. JOPPA'S MINISTRATIONS TO THE SICK
X. AN APOLOGY AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
XI. "MY SON DICK"
XII. WHY DO SUMMER ROSES FADE?
XIII. JOPPA'S TRIAL
XIV. PHEBE'S GOOD-BY
XV. ONLY AN INCIDENT
TO GRACE HILL AND EDWIN C. LITCHFIELD.
TO HER FOR WHOSE DEAR SAKE THE STORY WAS PENNED, ALTHOUGH HER EYES HAVE NEVER REST UPON ITS PAGES, AND TO HIM WHOSE TENDER WATCH OVER ITS GROWTH HAS BEEN ITS VITAL INSPIRATION—TO THE TWO WHO ARE BUT ONE FOREVER IN THE HEART OF THEIR DAUGHTER, THIS LITTLE FIRST BOOK IS MOST LOVINGLY INSCRIBED.
ONLY AN INCODENT
Joppa was the very centre of all things. That was the opening clause in the creed of every well-educated and right-thinking Joppite. Geographically, however, it was not the centre of any thing, being considerably off from the great lines of railway travel, but possessing two little independent branch roads of its own, that connected it with all the world, or rather that connected all the world with it. For though there were larger places than Joppa even in the county in which it condescended to find itself, and though New York, and Philadelphia, and even Boston, were undeniably larger, as its inhabitants reluctantly admitted when hard pressed, yet they were unanimous in agreeing, nevertheless, that the sun rose and set wholly and entirely for the benefit of their one little aristocratic community.
Yes; the world was created for Joppa, that the Joppites might live, move, and have their being with as much convenience and as little trouble as possible. Bethany, a considerable town near by, was built to be its shopping emporium; Galilee, a little farther off, to accommodate its art needs; Morocco, a more considerable town still farther off, to be the birthplace of those ancestors who were so unfortunate as to come into the world before there was any Joppa to be born in. Even New York was erected mainly to furnish it with a place of comfortable resort once a year, when it transplanted itself there bodily in a clan, consoling itself for its temporary aberration of body by visiting exclusively and diligently back and forth among its own people, and conforming life in all particulars as far as possible to home rules, still doing when in New York, not as the New Yorkers but as the Joppites did, and never for a moment abandoning its proud position as the one only place in the world worth living in.
There certainly was much to say in favor of Joppa. In the first place, it was remarkably salubrious. Its inhabitants died only of old age,—seldom even of that,—or of diseases contracted wholly in other localities. Measles had indeed been known to break out there once in the sacred person of the President of the village, but had been promptly suppressed; besides, it was universally conceded that being in his second childhood he should be considered liable. The last epidemic of small-pox even had swept by them harmless. Only two old and extremely ugly women took it, whereas Bethany and Upper Jordan were decimated. So Joppa was decidedly healthy, for one thing. For another, it was moral. There had not been a murder heard of in ever so long, or a forgery, and the last midnight burglar was such a nice, simple fellow that he did not know real silver when he saw it, and ran off with the plated ware instead. And Joppa was not only moral, but religious; went to church no end of times on Sundays, and kept as many of the commandments as it conveniently could. It had four churches: one Methodist, frequented exclusively by the plebeians; one Baptist, of a mixed congregation; one Presbyterian, where three fourths of the best people went; and one Episcopal, which the best quarter of the best people attended, and which among the Presbyterians was popularly supposed to be, if not exactly the entrance to the infernal regions, yet certainly only one short step removed from it. And added to all these good traits, Joppa was a beautiful place. There were a few common, ugly little houses in it, of course, but they were all tucked away out of sight at one end, constituting what was known as "the village," while the real Joppa meant in the thoughts of the inhabitants only the West End so to speak, where was a series of pretty villas and commodious mansions running along a broad, handsome street, and stretching for quite a distance along the border of the lake. For, oh! best of all, Joppa had a lake. To speak of Joppa in the presence of a Joppite, and not in the same breath to mention the lake with an appreciative adjective, was to make as irrevocable a mistake as to be in conversation with a poet and forget to quote from his latest poem; for next to their wives, their dinners, and their ease, the Joppites loved their beautiful little lake. And they had cause thus to love it, for apart from its exquisite charm as the main feature of their landscape, it gave them a substantial reason for existence. What could they have done with their dolce far niente lives, but for the fishing and rowing and sailing and bathing and sliding and skating which it afforded them in turn? It was all they had to keep them from settling down into a Rip Van Winkle sleep, this dear little restless lake, that coaxed them out of their land-torpor, and forced them occasionally to lend a manly hand to a manly pursuit. For there was this distinguishing peculiarity about Joppa, that no one in it seemed to need to work, or to have any manner of business whatever. Its society, outside of the village, was formed wholly of cultivated, refined, wealthy people, who had nothing in the world to do, but idly to eat and drink up the riches of the previous generation. It is a widely admitted truth, that one generation always gathers for another, never for itself, and that the generation which is thus generously gathered for, is invariably found willing to sacrifice without a murmur any latent duty to harvest on its own account, consenting to live out its life softly upon the hard-earned savings of its predecessors, without regard to posterity, and calling itself "gentlemen" where its fathers were content to be known as "men."
So this was Joppa, a place mighty in its own conceit, and high too in the estimate of others, to whom it was becoming known as the gayest and the prettiest of all dear little summer resorts; and thither strangers were beginning to flock in considerable numbers each year, made warmly welcome by the Joppites as an occasion for breaking out into an unending round of parties and picnics and dinners and lunches and teas, and even breakfasts when there was not room to crowd in any thing else. The summer was one continual whirl from beginning to end. There were visitors and visits; there was giving and receiving; there were flirtations and rumors of flirtations; there was everything the human heart could desire in the way of friendly hospitality and liveliest entertainment. Saratoga might be well enough, and Newport would do in its way; but for solid perfection, said the Joppites, there was no place in the world quite like Joppa.
But unknown to itself, Joppa nursed one apostate in its midst, one unavowed but benighted little heretic, who so far from sharing these sentiments and offering up nightly thanksgiving that despite her great unworthiness she had been suffered to be born in Joppa, made it one of her most fervent and reiterated petitions that she might not always have to live there; that some time, if she were very good and very patient, it might be granted her to go. She was so weary of it all: of the busy idleness and the idle business, of the unthinking gayety and the gay thoughtlessness, and of the nothingness that made up its all. She wanted, she did not exactly know what, only something different; and to go, she did not quite know where, only somewhere else. But she had been born in Joppa, (quite without her permission,) and in Joppa she had lived for all of twenty-four healthful, tranquil, uneventful years, spending semi-occasional winters in New York, and, unlike all other Joppites, returning always more and more discontented with her native place. Who could ever have expected such treason in the heart of dear little Phebe Lane? Of course it would not have mattered much had it been suspected, since it was only Phebe Lane after all who entertained it,—little Phebe Lane, whose ancestors, though good and well-born enough, did not hail from Morocco, and who lived, not in the West End proper, but only on the borders of it, in a street where one could not get so much as a side peep at the lake. It was not a pretty house either where she lived. It was square and clumsy and without any originality, and, moreover, faced plump on the street, so that one could look right into its parlor and sitting-room windows as one strolled along the wooden sidewalks. And people were in the habit of looking in that way a good deal. Nothing was ever going on in there that could not bear this sudden outside inspection, and it was the shortest way to call Phebe when she was wanted for any thing of a sudden,—to bear a fourth hand at whist, or to stone raisins for Mrs. Adams the day before her luncheon, or to run on an errand down town for some lazy body who preferred other people's legs to her own for locomotion, or to relieve some wearied host in the entertainment of his dull guest, or to help in some way or other, here, there, and yonder. She was just the one to be called upon, of course, for she was just the one who was always on hand, and always ready to go. She never had any thing to keep her at home. Her father had long been dead, and she lived alone with her step-mother and step-aunt in the house which was left her by her mother, but in which the present Mrs. Lane still ruled absolute, as she did when she first came into it in Phebe's childish days. Mrs. Lane was strong and energetic and commonplace; and she ran the little house from garret to cellar with a thoroughness that left Phebe no part whatever to take in it, while the remainder of her energy she devoted to nursing her invalid sister, Miss Lydia, a little weak, complaining creature, who had had not only every ill that flesh is heir to, but a great many ills besides that she was firmly persuaded no other flesh had ever inherited, and who stood in an awe of her sister Sophia only equalled by her intense admiration of her.
So what was there for Phebe to do? She was fond of music, and whistled like a bird, but she had no piano and did not know one note from another; and she did not care for books, which was fortunate, as their wee library, all told, did not count a hundred volumes, most of which, too, were Miss Lydia's, and were as weak and wishy-washy as that poor little woman herself. And she did not care for sewing, though she made nearly all her own clothes, besides attending at any number of impromptu Dorcas meetings, where the needy were the unskilled rich instead of the helpless poor, so that of course her labor did not count at all as a virtue, since it was not doing good, but only obliging a friend. And she did not care for parties, though she generally went and was always asked, being such a help as regarded wall-flowers, while none of the young girls dreaded her as a rival, it being a well known fact that Phebe Lane, general favorite though she was, somehow or other never "took" with the men, or at least not sufficiently to damage any other enterprising girl's prospects. Why this was so, was hard to say. Phebe was pretty, and lovable, and sweet tempered. If she was not sparkling or witty, neither was she sarcastic; and bright enough she was certainly, though not intellectual, and though she talked little save with a few. It was strange. True as steel, possessed of that keen sense of justice and honor so strangely lacking in many women, with a passionate capability for love and devotion and self-sacrifice beyond power of fathoming, and above all with a clinging womanly nature that yearned for affection as a flower longs for light, she was yet the only girl out of all her set who had never had any especial attention. Perhaps it was because she was no flirt. Bell Masters said no girl could get along who did not flirt. Perhaps because in her excessive truthfulness she was sometimes blunt and almost brusque; it is dreadfully out of place not to be able to lie a little at times. Even Mrs. Upjohn, the female lay-head of the Presbyterians, who was a walking Decalogue, her every sentence being a law beginning with Thou shalt not, admitted practically, if not theoretically, that without risk of damnation it was possible to swerve occasionally from a too rigid Yea and Nay. Perhaps,—ah, well, there is no use in exhausting the perhapses. The fact remained. Of girl-friends she had plenty, and of men-friends she had plenty; but of lovers she had none.
And this was why when the Rev. Mr. Denham Halloway was called to the vacant parish of St. Joseph's and fell down in its maidenly midst like a meteor from an unexplored heaven,—a young, handsome divine, in every way marriageable, though still unmarried, and in every way attractive, though still to the best of hope and belief unattracted,—this was why no girl of them all thought her own chances lessened in the least when he and Phebe became such friends. No one gossiped. No one ah-ah'd, or oh-oh'd. No one thought twice about it. What difference could it make? If it had been anybody else now! But it was only Phebe Lane.
"Oh, Mr. Halloway!"
"Hush. Don't let them know I'm here. I couldn't help peeping in as I went by. You look done up."
"What's going on?"
"Come in and see."
"Heaven forbid! Gracious! Mrs. Upjohn will think that's a swear. Don't look this way, Miss Phebe. They'll discover me. What's Mr. Hardcastle saying?"
"The world is very evil."
"'The times are waxing late.' Why doesn't he add that and go?"
"He never goes. He only comes."
"What is Mrs. Upjohn so wrought up about?"
"She caught one of her Sunday-school boys breaking Sunday."
"Up in a tree."
"That's where the unpardonable comes in. Her tree."
"Poor boy; what a mistake! What are you doing with that hideous silk stocking?"
"Picking up dropped stitches."
"Whose stitches? Yours?"
"Don't aid and abet her in creating that monstrosity. It's participation in crime. It's worse than eating apples up a tree. Do you always have such a crowd here in the morning?"
"How long have they been here?"
"Nearly two hours."
"What do they come for?"
"Miss Lydia's asleep."
"What shall you do when you are done with that odious stocking?"
"Sort crewels for Mrs. Upjohn."
"Iron out my dress for the party."
"Oh, at Mrs. Anthony's? Who'll be there?"
"Everybody who has dropped in here this morning."
"Those who dropped in yesterday."
"But what will you do to make it party-like?"
"Simper. Aren't you coming too?"
"Not if you think it would do for me to say that I held party-going wrong for a clergyman. Could I? I might win over Mrs. Upjohn to the Church by so holy a statement."
"You had better take to round-dancing instead, then, to keep her out of it."
"Miss Phebe, is it possible you are severe on poor Mrs. Upjohn?"
"As your pastor I must admonish you. Don't be. Besides, it's safer to keep on her blind side."
"She hasn't any."
"Unhappy woman! What a blaze of moral light she must live in! But I ought to have been in my study an hour ago. I must tear myself away. I wish you all ill-luck possible with those stitches."
"Ah, is that you, Mr. Halloway? I was wondering what kept Phebe so long in the window. Good-morning, sir. Good-morning, sir. Pray, come in." And having, by a turn of his slow old head, discovered the young man standing just outside the window, Mr. Hardcastle came pompously forward, waving his hand in a grand way he had, that seemed to bespeak him always the proprietor, no matter in whose house he chanced to be.
"Thank you, Mr. Hardcastle, not this morning. I was just telling Miss Phebe I ought to be at work. Good-morning, Mrs. Lane. Good-morning, Mrs. Upjohn—Mrs. Hardcastle—Miss Delano—Miss Brooks."
And with a cheery bow to each individual head, craning itself forward to have a look at the unusual young man who had work to do, the Rev. Mr. Halloway walked off to his rectory, which was directly opposite, giving a merry glance back at Phebe from the other side of the street. Phebe was still smiling as she went with the stocking to its owner.
"Thank you, my dear," said Mrs. Hardcastle, taking it from her without looking. "Oh, my child, how could you be so careless! You have let me pull out one of the needles. Well—well."
Phebe took the work silently back, and sat herself down on a stool to remedy the mischief.
"A nice young fellow enough," remarked Mr. Hardcastle, condescendingly, returning to the group of ladies. "But he'll never set the river on fire."
"No need he should, is there?" said Mrs. Upjohn, looking up sharply from her embroidery. She always contradicted, if only for argument's sake, so that even her assents usually took a negative form. "It's enough if he's able to put out a fire in that Church. It doesn't take much of a man, I understand, to fill an Episcopalian pulpit." (Nobody had ever yet been able to teach the good dame the difference between Episcopal and Episcopalian, and she preferred the undivided use of the latter word.) "Any thing will go down with them."
"Yes, my dear Mrs. Upjohn. It's undeniably a poor Church, a poor Church, and I hope we may all live to witness its downfall. It must have been a hard day for you, Mrs. Lane, when Phebe went over to it. I never forgave old Mr. White for receiving her into it; I never did, indeed."
Phebe only smiled.
"Humph!" said Mrs. Lane, biting off a thread. "Phebe may go where she likes, for all me, so long as only she goes. Baptist I was bred, and Baptist I'll be buried; but it's with churches as with teas, I say. One's as good as another, but people may take green, or black, or mixed, as best agrees with their stomachs."
"That's a very dangerous doctrine," said Mrs. Upjohn. "Push it a little further, and you'll have babes and sucklings living on beef, and their elders dining on pap."
"Humph!" ejaculated Mrs. Lane again. "If they like it, what's the odds?"
"He-he!" snickered Miss Brooks.
"Well, now," resumed Mr. Hardcastle, "it stands to reason children should learn to like what their elders have liked before them. That's the only decent and Christian way of living. And as I said to my son,—to my Dick, you know" (Mr. Hardcastle had a son of whom he always spoke as if sole owner of him, and indeed solely responsible for his being),—"'Dick,' I said, when he spoke disrespectfully of Mr. Webb's prayers,—and Mr. Webb is a powerful prayer-maker, to be sure,—'Dick,' I said, 'church is like physic, and the more you don't like it, the more good it does you. And if you think Mr. Webb's prayers are too long, it's a sign that for your soul's salvation they ought to be longer.' And I said—"
Mrs. Lane knew by long experience that now or never was the time to stop Mr. Hardcastle. Once fairly started on the subject of his supposed advice to Dick on any given occasion, there was no arresting his eloquence. She started up abruptly from her sewing-machine with her mouth full of pins, emptying them into her hand as she went. "Those ginger-cookies—" she mumbled as she passed Mr. Hardcastle. "They ought to be done by this."
A promissory fragrance caught the old gentleman's nostrils as she opened the door, dispelling sterner thoughts. "Ah," he said, sniffing the air with evident approbation, "I was about going, but I don't mind if I stay and try a few. Your make, Phebe?"
"No," answered Phebe, shortly, moving just out of reach of the bland old hand, which stretched itself out to chuck her under the chin, and was left patting the air with infinite benevolence "mother made them."
"All wrong," commented Mrs. Upjohn. "All wrong. You should not leave your mother any work that you could spare her. One of the first things I taught our Maria" (Mrs. Upjohn in Mr. Hardcastle's presence always said our Maria with great distinctness),—"one of the first things I taught her was, that it was her privilege to save me in every thing. I don't believe in idleness for girls. Aren't you ready yet to attend to these crewels, Phebe? Miss Brooks is snarling them terribly."
"Phebe's really a very good girl in her way though," remarked Mrs. Hardcastle, indulgently, from her easy chair. "I will testify that she can make quite eatable cake at a pinch."
Phebe secretly thought Mrs. Hardcastle ought to know. She remembered her once spoiling a new-made company loaf by slashing into it without so much as a by-your-leave.
"That was very nice cake Miss Lynch gave us last night," piped in Miss Delano.
"Too much citron," pronounced Mrs. Upjohn, decisively. "You should never overload your cake with citron. It turns it out heavy, as sure as there's a sun in the heavens."
"There isn't any to-day; it's cloudy," Phebe could not help putting in, demurely, but no one paid any attention, except that Mrs. Upjohn turned on her an unworded expression of: "If I say so, it is so whether or no."
An animated debate on cake followed, in the middle of which Mrs. Lane reappeared with a trayful of cookies hot from the oven; and two more callers came in, Bell Masters and Dick Hardcastle, which last first woke up Miss Lydia with a boisterous kiss, frightening the poor soul half to death by assuring her she had been snoring so that he heard her way down street, and then devoted himself to the cookies with a good-will and large capacity that filled one with compassionate feelings toward his mother's larder. With these new and younger elements the talk varied a little. They discussed last night's party, the supper, the dresses, the people, and then the probabilities of to-night's party, the people, the dresses, the supper. And then Dick made a sensation by saying right out, that he had just met Mr. Upjohn on Main Street with Mrs. Bruce, holding a parasol gallantly over her head. And everybody looked at once at Mrs. Upjohn, and then back at the graceless Dick, and an awful silence succeeded, broken by Mrs. Upjohn's reaching out her hand and saying in the tone of a Miss Cushman on the stage: "Dick, dear, I'll take another cookie." If Mr. Upjohn chose to walk down town shielding women's complexions for them, why in the world should she trouble herself about it, beyond making sure that he did not by mistake take her parasol for the kindly office? And so the talk went on, people coming and people going, and Mrs. Lane did up a whole basketful of work undisturbed, and Phebe inwardly chafed and fumed and longed for dinner-time, that at last the ceaseless, aimless chatter might come to an end.
She went to the party that night, because in Joppa everybody had to go when asked. To refuse was considered tantamount to an open declaration of war, unless in case of illness, and then it almost required a doctor's certificate to get one off. It was a good law and ensured the suppers being disposed of. There was no dancing to-night, it being an understood thing that when Mrs. Upjohn was asked there should be none or she would not come; but there was music. Bell Masters had a very nice contralto voice, and was always willing to sing, thus sure of securing one of Joppa's few young gentlemen to stand by and turn over her leaves; she thoughtfully took her music on that account, giving out that she could not play without notes. Phebe had been doing her best all unconsciously to herself to help her hosts entertain, but when the singing began she stole away to the nearly empty piazza, and stood leaning by the window, enjoying the cool air and softly whistling an accompaniment to the song; and there Mr. Halloway found her. She looked up at him and smiled as he joined her, but went on with her low, sweet whistling all the same.
"I like that better than the singing," he said, when at last it came to an end with the music.
"You ought not to, Mr. Halloway. Don't you know it's very unlady-like to whistle? Mrs. Upjohn puts Maria to bed for it."
"Dear me. I must take care she doesn't ever catch me at it. Ah! the dress has ironed nicely, hasn't it? Would you mind standing out a little from the shadow?"
Phebe moved a step forward into the stream of light that shot across the piazza from the open window, and stood so, looking up at him out of her soft white muslin draperies and white ribbons, not a ray of color about her anywhere, like a very material and sweet little ghost.
"Yes, you look very nice, very nice indeed," he said, after a grave inspection that took in every detail of face and figure. A young, innocent face it was, with soft brown hair as bright and as fine as silk, all turned back from a low forehead, around which it grew in the very prettiest way in the world, and gathered in loose braids in the neck; and she had such a fresh, clear complexion, and such honest, loving, gray eyes, and such a round, girlish figure,—how was it people never made more of her prettiness?
"I think you look nicer than any one here," Mr. Halloway added, in thorough conviction. "You must be an adept in ironing." Phebe laughed softly in pure pleasure. It was so new to have such pretty things said to her. "Would it be very wrong to slip away together for a rest?" he continued, leading her a little farther along. "Let us sit down on the steps here and recruit. I have talked my throat hoarse to each of the very deafest old ladies in turn,—I suppose they came here purposely to be screeched at,—and I saw you working valiantly among the old men. What a place this is for longevity!"
"You are finding out its characteristics by degrees, I see."
"Yes, am I not?" said he, with his pleasant laugh. "I know intimately every member of my parish and every member of every other parish by this time from sheer hearsay. Each house I visit gives me no end of valuable and minute information about all the other houses. I am waiting to come out with a rousing sermon against gossip, till I shall have gained all possible enlightenment and help from it. I mustn't kill my goose that lays the golden eggs before I have all the eggs I want, must I?"
"And knowing us all so well, what do you think of Joppa as a whole?" asked Phebe, curiously. "You always say it is too soon to judge, but surely you must really know by this time."
He did not answer for a moment, then turned to her very seriously. "I think," he said slowly, "it is a place that needs a much older, a much better, and a much wiser man than I am to be among its leaders in any sense. It is not at all what I thought it would be when I accepted the trust. It is beyond me. But since the Bishop sent me here, I mean to stay and do my best."
"How will you begin?"
"I will begin with you," he answered, lightly, with a smile that lit up all his face, the moment's seriousness quite gone. "You were my first friend, and I ought to take you first in hand, ought I not? I am going to do you a great deal of good."
"I'm going to teach you to love books."
"Yes, I can. You don't know books, that is all. I intend to introduce you to each other. I have some so interesting you can't help liking them, and you'll find yourself crying for more before you know it. I am going to bring them over to you. You shall have something better to do than fill up all your mornings with promoting stockings of exasperating colors, and listening to tales of Sabbath-breakers. Just wait and see. I am going to metamorphose you."
"Oh, I wish you would!" sighed Phebe, clasping her hands and speaking so earnestly that he looked at her in surprise. "I am so sick of myself. I do want to be something better than I am. I am so dreadfully common-place. I amount to so little. I know so little. I can do so little. And there is no one here who cares to help me to any thing better. I don't know enough even to know how to improve myself. But I do want to. Will you help me, Mr. Halloway? Will you really help me?" She positively had tears shining in her eyes.
Mr. Halloway leaned forward and gently took her hand. "Am I not here for that?" he asked. "Here purposely to help you and all who need me in any way? Will it not be my greatest pleasure to do so, as well as my best and truest work? You may be sure, Miss Phebe, I will do all I can for you, with God's help."
"Rather damp for you to be sitting there without a shawl, isn't it, my child?"
It was only Mrs. Anthony's friendly voice, as that lady passed hurriedly by, intent on hospitable duties, but Phebe started guiltily. What right had she to be out here with Mr. Halloway, keeping him from the other girls, when she ought, of course, to be in the parlors seeing that the old ladies got their ice-cream safely? "I'll go right in," she said, rising hastily; but Mr. Halloway drew her hand through his arm to detain her.
"Why? Because it is damp?"
"No; because I ought not to be selfish, ought to go back and help."
"Ah," said he, "I am getting new lights every moment. Then you don't go to parties just to enjoy yourself?"
She opened wide, serious eyes. "Oh, no." He smiled down at her very kindly, "You shall go right away," he said, releasing her. "I will not keep you another instant from dear Mr. Hardcastle and that nice Mrs. Upjohn. But before you go let me tell you, Miss Phebe, that, if only in view of your latest confession, I do not think you commonplace at all!"
It was another article of the Joppian creed, that there was no such thing possible as a purely Platonic friendship between a young man and a young woman; there must always be "something in it": either a mitten for him, or a disappointment for her, or wedding-cake for all—generally and preferably, of course, the wedding-cake;—and belonging to such friendship as lawfully as a tail belongs to a comet, was a great, wide-spreading area of gossip. It was only in the case of Phebe Lane that this universal and common-sense rule had its one particular and unreasonable exception; and it was acting upon a speedily acquired knowledge of this by-law, that Mr. Halloway boldly pursued his plan for metamorphosing his young friend, right under the open eyes and ears of the Joppites. He lived so near that it was the most natural thing in the world for him to stop for a moment's chat, as every one else did, either inside or outside of the window as he went by; and as he was always sure of meeting others, call when he would, it certainly never could have been asserted of him that he went there only to see Phebe. Indeed, he often scarcely spoke with her at all when he so dropped in, and yet out of these frequent and informal meetings an intimacy had sprung up between them such as Phebe at least had never known before. She submitted herself to him docilely, reading his books patiently even when they bored her unutterably, as not seldom happened, and endeavoring to form her opinion straitly upon his on all intellectual questions, recognizing her own fallibility with a humility that at once touched and charmed him. Real humility is rare enough the world over, but nowhere is it less conspicuously apparent than among the flourishing virtues of Joppa; and it was not long before this fact was discovered by Denham Halloway, who, with all his gayety and light-heartedness, was a keen and discriminating observer of character. He was one of those interesting people whom all other people interest; one of those who derive their peculiar charm more from what they find in you than from what they show you of themselves, though one might be ashamed to confess the truth so baldly. These are the people who, without any especial gift of either mind or person, wheedle your secrets out of you before you know it, possessing all your trust and your liking before they have given any real evidence of deserving your confidence, and yet, somehow or other, though rarely either great or talented, or even heroically good, never for one moment abusing it. Such characters are not at all unusual, yet are generally accounted so; one of their chief qualities, according to their friends, being that they are so unlike everybody else. But Phebe certainly had never met any one at all like Mr. Halloway, and she was soon of the settled conviction that she should never meet any one quite like him again. He was true to his promise to help her; (he never made a promise that he did not honestly try to keep;) and he applied himself to the by no means thankless task with the good-humored directness and energy that characterized all his actions. There was quite a number of young girls in his parish, more proportionately than in the others. Bell Masters and Amy Duckworth had long been hovering on its borders, and the advent of so young and prepossessing a rector had instantly removed their last scruples as to infant baptism, and settled forever their doubts as to the apostolic succession. They had come in at once. It was even whispered that Maria Upjohn had in an incautious moment confessed that she preferred the litany to Mr. Webb's spontaneous effusions, and had been summarily sat upon by her mother, whose Bible contained an eleventh commandment curiously omitted from the twentieth chapter of Exodus in other versions, and reading: "Thou shalt not become an Episcopalian, and if possible, thou shalt not be born one." Then there were Nellie Atterbury, and Janet Mudge, and Polly and Mattie Dexter; there certainly was no lack of active young teachers for the Sunday-school, and Phebe was well content to remain passively aside, as of old. But, as Mrs. Lane remarked, there were no drones allowed in Mr. Halloway's hive, and before long Phebe found herself insensibly drawn in to be one of the workers too, with any amount of business growing upon her hands, and herself, under this new and wise guidance, becoming more and more capable for it every day.
"A new broom sweeps clean," remarked Mrs. Upjohn, contemptuously, as she heard of the stir and life in St. Joseph's heretofore-dull little parish. "For my part, I would rather have Mr. White back—if he weren't dead. He was a good, sensible old man, who knew his place, and was contented to let his Church simmer in the background, where it belongs. He didn't go flaunting his white gown in people's faces every Saint's day he could trump up, let alone the Wednesday and Friday services. Who's Mr. Halloway? What does anybody know about him beyond that the Bishop recommended him, as if a Bishop must know what's what better than other people, forsooth! Don't tell me!" said Mrs. Upjohn, in unutterable scorn. "He's a new broom, and he's raising a big dust, and I would liefer have Mr. White back and let the dust lie,—that's all!"
But the Joppites were far from sharing Mrs. Upjohn's sentiments. Mr. Halloway did, it is true, belong to the wrong Church, but there was a strong suspicion among them that neither had this man sinned, nor his parents, that he was born to so grievous a fate. It was rather his misfortune. And as for the rest, he was thoroughly a gentleman; was excellently well educated; and was, moreover, comely to look upon, and eminently agreeable in his bearing. No; Joppa was far from begrudging Mr. White his departure to the land of the blessed. It was time the good old man went to his reward, they said.
And as to Mrs. Whittridge, Mr. Halloway's sister, who kept house for him at the rectory, through all the length and the breadth of Joppa there were no two opinions with regard to her. She was a woman of about fifty, enough older than her brother to have been his mother, and she seemed indeed to cherish almost a mother's idolatrous affection for him. She had lost her husband many years before, and had been left with considerable fortune and no family besides this one brother. So much information, after repeated and unabashedly point-blank questions, had the Joppites succeeded in extracting from Mr. Halloway, who with all his apparent frankness was the most difficult person in the world ever to be brought to talk of himself and his own affairs. But just to see Mrs. Whittridge, with her sweet face and perfect manners, was to recognize her at once for a gentlewoman in every sense of the word, while to be in her society, if but for ten minutes, was to come very nearly to loving her. The Joppites saw but one fault in her; she did not and would not visit. All who sought her out were made more than welcome; but whether from the extreme delicacy of her health, which rendered visiting a burden, or because of her widow's dress of deepest mourning, which she had never laid aside, it came to be an accepted thing that she went nowhere. It was a great disappointment in Joppa; nevertheless it was impossible to harbor ill-will toward this lovely, high-bred lady, who drew all hearts to herself by the very way she had of seeming never to think of herself at all. She won Phebe Lane's affection at once and forever with almost her first words, spoken in the low, clear, sweet tones that sounded always like Sunday-night's music.
"Do you know, Mr. Halloway," Phebe said to him one day, "I think it does me more good only to hear your sister's voice than to listen to the very best sermon ever preached."
"Miss Phebe," he rejoined, with a merry twinkle in his brown eyes, "if you propagate that doctrine largely, I am a ruined man. I must hold you over to eternal secrecy. But as regards the fact,—there is my hand,—I am quite of your way of thinking! I am persuaded an angel's voice got into Soeur Angelique by mistake." Mrs. Whittridge's baptismal name was Angelica, but to her brother she had always been "Soeur Angelique" and nothing else.
"Yes, and an angel's soul too," said Phebe.
"Even that," replied Mr. Halloway. "She is all and more than you can possibly imagine that she is. But I positively forbid your putting her up on a pedestal and worshipping her. In the first place, too great a sense of her own holiness might mar her present admirable but purely earthly management of our little household, thus seriously interfering with my comforts. And in the second place, I feel it my duty to warn you from a habit of canonization, which, if too extensively indulged in, will inevitably warp your powers of frank and right judgment."
Phebe laughed, but did not forget.
One afternoon, some time later, she was at the rectory, whither she had gone, at Mrs. Whittridge's request, to explain a new and intricate embroidery stitch. They were upstairs in that lady's charming little sitting-room, Phebe on a low stool by her friend's side, and Halloway had just come in from a round of parochial visits and joined them there.
"Mrs. Whittridge," said Phebe, suddenly, "do you think it is possible to care too much for one's friends? Mr. Halloway says one can. I know he means that I do."
Mrs. Whittridge laid her hand caressingly on the girl's bonny brown hair. "How can I judge, my child? I do not even know who your friends are."
"Who are they, in fact?" said Denham, drawing up a chair and seating himself in front of the group by the table. "Oh, Miss Phebe is friends with the entire village in a way. They all call her 'Phebe,' and keep accurate track of her birthdays, from Dick Hardcastle up. And I am sure she hasn't an enemy in the world. But there is this remarkable feature in the case, that you could go over the entire population of Joppa by name without eliciting a single thrill of enthusiasm from this really enthusiastic young lady."
"I cannot help it," Phebe murmured, a little shamefacedly. "I bore them, and they bore me."
"That's a point in your education I am going to take up later," remarked Mr. Halloway, cheerfully. "The art of not being bored by people. Once acquired, the other, that of not boring them, follows of itself. Society hangs on it."
"I wish you would teach me that right away," said Phebe, earnestly. "I believe I need that more than any thing else."
"Well, I will, immediately,—after supper, that is. I am exhausted now with ministerial duties. You have asked Miss Phebe to tea have you not, Soeur Angelique? You cannot stay? Oh, but of course you must."
"Of course she will," said Mrs. Whittridge, with her tender smile. "Phebe only lives to give pleasure to others. Now tell me something about your friends. Who are they?"
"I haven't any here. Mr. Halloway is quite right," answered Phebe, locking her hands over one of Mrs. Whittridge's. "Not real, real friends. As a child I had ever so many, and Bell Masters and I quite grew up together, but somehow we have all grown away from each other, and—oh, I don't know!—it seems as if there wasn't any thing in the girls here. Not that there's more in me. They are brighter and better than I in every way, but we don't get on together; they don't seem to have any thing to give me, any thing they can help me to. I can't get at them. Oh! Mr. Halloway is quite right. In all Joppa I haven't a single friend—except just you and him."
"We are indeed your friends," said Mrs. Whittridge. "You need never doubt that."
The girl turned and threw her arms impulsively around the other's neck. "Oh, no, no!" she said. "I could not doubt it. I know it. I feel it! Oh, you can't guess what it is to me to know it! I have so little in my life to make it grow to any thing, and I want so much! And you can give me all I want—all, all; and it makes me so happy when I think of it,—that I have got you and can have all I want!"
"And is this frantic outburst meant exclusively for Soeur Angelique?" asked Denham. "I am green with unutterable jealousy. I thought I was your friend too, Miss Phebe."
Phebe still knelt with her arms around Mrs. Whittridge, but she looked up at him with her frank, loving eyes and smiled. "You know I meant you both," she said softly.
An almost irresistible impulse came over the young man to lay his hand, as his sister had done, on the soft, bright-brown hair. Clergymen are but human after all. He bent forward, but only lifted one of his sister's thin white hands and held it a moment between his. "We must both do our best by this foolish little girl who trusts us so frankly with her friendship, must we not, Soeur Angelique?" he said gravely.
"I for one am very glad to assume the trust," said Mrs. Whittridge.
"And won't you ever tire of me? ever? ever?" asked the girl.
"You won't ever be tired helping me, or tired of having me come to you for help, or tired of my loving you?"
"Where is your faith gone, my child?"
Phebe drew a deep sigh of content. "I am just as happy as can be," she said. "I don't want any thing else now in the world except just Gerald."
"Ah, Gerald again. I expected that," said Mr. Halloway, raising his eyebrows humorously.
"Gerald? Pray, who is Gerald?" inquired Mrs. Whittridge.
Her brother lifted his hands in mock amazement. "Is it possible you know Miss Phebe so long and need ask who Gerald is? I will tell you. Gerald is perfection individualized. Gerald has all the qualities, mental, physical, and spiritual, that it is possible to compress into the limited compass of even an overgrown human frame. Gerald, you must know, is intellectual to a degree, beautiful as an archangel, adorable as—as you, Soeur Angelique, and clever—almost—as myself."
Phebe clapped her hands and nodded, "Yes, yes, all that!"
"I can tell you all about Gerald," continued Halloway. "I have heard of nothing else since I came. Gerald, my dear sister, is Miss Phebe's idol; I rather think she says her prayers before Gerald's picture every night."
"Oh, please!" cried Phebe.
"But who is this Gerald?" asked Mrs. Whittridge. "Does he live here?"
"No, Soeur Angelique, and by the way he is not he at all, but she, and will be known in history as Miss Geraldine Vernor. She lives in New York, rolls in wealth, and is one of a large family of whom she is the sun-flower. Let me give you her portrait as I have it from fragmentary but copious descriptions. She is, I should say, five feet eleven and three quarter inches in height—don't shake your head, Miss Phebe,—and slender in disproportion. She has the feet of a Chinese, the hands of a baby, and the strength of a Jupiter Ammon. She has hair six yards long and blacker than Egyptian darkness. She has a forehead so low it rests upon her eyebrows, which, by the way, have been ruled straight across the immeasurable breadth of it with a T square. She has eyes bluer one minute than the grotto at Capri, greener the next than grass in June, grayer the next than a November day, and so on in turn through all the prismatic colors. Her eyelashes are only not quite so long as her hair. She has a mouth which would strike you as large,—it is five and a half inches across,—but when she speaks, and you hear the combined wisdom of Solomon, and Plato, and Socrates, and Solon, and the rest of the ancients (not to mention the moderns), falling from her lips, your only wonder is that her mouth keeps within its present limits. Her nose—Miss Phebe, can it be? Is it possible you have left out her nose? Soeur Angelique, I am forced to the melancholy conclusion that Gerald has none. Miss Phebe would never have omitted mentioning it."
"You may make all the fun of her and of me that you like," said Phebe, half provoked. "But there is not anybody else in the world like Gerald Vernor. Wait till you see her. You will say then that I was right, only that I did not say enough."
"You shan't tease her, Denham. Tell me, Phebe, where did you know this friend so well?"
"Three years ago, when she spent a summer here, I saw a great deal of her,—oh, it made it such a happy summer, knowing her!—and I have corresponded with her ever since."
"Without meeting her again?"
"Oh, no. I saw her twice last summer. I went to the train both times to see her as she passed through."
"But our trains don't pass through; they stop here."
"Yes, I know; but I went to Galilee to meet her as she passed through there."
"Would she have gone as far as that to meet you, Miss Phebe?"
"That is very different, Mr. Halloway," answered Phebe, simply. "I am not worth going so far for. Besides, I don't expect people ever to do as much for me as I would for them."
"Denham, you are cruel," said Mrs. Whittridge. "Phebe, my child, your love for your friend is to me sufficient proof that she must be lovely. I know I should love her too."
Phebe looked at her gratefully. "Oh, you would,—you would indeed! You could not help it. You would admire her so much. There is so much in her."
"Ah, yes, I forgot," interrupted Denham, "I did not finish my portrait. This marvellous being is an athlete. She can ride any Bucephalus produced, and rather prefers to do so bareback. She is a Michael Angelo at painting, and has represented striking scenes from his 'Last Judgment' on a set of after-dinner coffee cups. She drives, she skates, she swims, she rows, she sails, has a thorough knowledge of business, and is up in stocks, is femininely masculine and masculinely feminine, scorns novels, and can order a dinner, is a churchwoman, and dresses always in the latest style. Is there any thing else, Miss Phebe?"
"Only one thing else that I think you have rather forgotten, Mr. Halloway: I love her and she is my friend."
"Miss Phebe," cried the young man in instant contrition, "have I hurt you? Have I been thoughtless enough for that with my foolish fun? You know I did not mean it. Will you forgive me?" He held out his hand.
Phebe hesitated. "Will you not make fun of her any more? And will you like her if she comes? You know she may come here this summer; there is just a chance of it. Will you promise?"
"I can safely promise to like any one whom you like, I know, Miss Phebe. Soeur Angelique, make this stubborn child give me her hand. It is not fitting that I crave absolution so abjectly."
"You are two silly children together," said Soeur Angelique, rising and laughing. "You may settle your quarrels as you can while I order tea."
"Miss Phebe, have I really vexed you so much?" asked the young man, earnestly, as his sister left the room. "You must know I would not do that for the world."
"I don't think you could hurt or vex me in any way," said Phebe, "excepting only through Gerald. For you don't know how I love her, Mr. Halloway. I love her with all my heart and soul, I think, oh, more—almost more—than any one else in the world."
"I know you do," he answered. "It is a love to envy her." Phebe was still looking up at him from her low stool, her face raised as if in appeal. She always looked very young for her years, and now she seemed not more than a child of sixteen in the waning light. He could not help it this time; he laid his hand very lightly for one briefest instant on her pretty hair. "But you will not be less friends with me because I like you best?"
"I will not ever be less friends with you," Phebe replied, soberly. "I don't change so."
"No," he said; "I know you do not. Nor do I."
And then he moved away from her, and began telling an irresistibly comic story about a call he had made on a poor woman that afternoon (he could not for the life of him help seeing the ludicrous side of every thing), and from one subject they passed to another, and when Soeur Angelique summoned them to tea, she found her reverend brother standing in the middle of the room in the full swing of a chorus from "The Pirates," with Phebe whistling the liveliest possible accompaniment, and both of them gesticulating wildly. He stopped with a laugh as his sister appeared in the door-way.
"Don't be shocked, Soeur Angelique. I shut the window lest Mrs. Upjohn should chance to go by and hear me. She would telegraph the Bishop. I am only resting. It wore me out working for Miss Phebe's pardon. No; wait a moment, Soeur Angelique. Don't let's go to tea instantly. I would rather quiet down a little before I go in and say grace." He took up a chance book from the table, and turning to the window to catch the light, read a few lines to himself, then threw it down, and came forward with a smile. "There, I am ready now. Take my arm, Soeur Angelique. Miss Phebe, will you come, please?"
MRS. UPJOHN'S ENTERTAINMENT.
Mrs. Upjohn was going to give an entertainment. She was about to open the hospitable doors of the great house upon the hill, which seemed to have chosen that pre-eminence that it might the better overlook the morals of its neighbors. Joppa held its breath in charmed suspense. The question was not, Will I be asked? that was affirmatively settled for every West-End Joppite of party-going years; nor was it, What shall I wear? which was determined once for all at the beginning of the season; but, What will be done with me when I get there? For to go to Mrs. Upjohn's was not the simple thing that it sounded. She wished it to be distinctly understood that she did not ask people to her house for their amusement, but for their moral and spiritual improvement; any one could be amused anywhere, but she wished to show her guests that there were pleasanter things than pleasure to be had even in social gatherings, and to teach them to hunger and thirst after better than meat and drink, while at the same time she took pains always to provide a repast as superior to the general run as her sentiments, quite atoning to the Joppites for the spiritual accompaniments to her feast by its material and solid magnificence, which lingered appetizingly in their memories long after they had settled their consequent doctors' bills. Yes, the Joppites were not asked to Mrs. Upjohn's to eat and drink only, or merely to have a good time, with whatever ulterior intentions of so doing they may have gone thither. They were asked for a purpose,—a purpose which it was vain to guess, and impossible to escape. Go they must, and be improved they must, bon gre mal gre, and enjoy themselves they would if they could.
So there were mingled feelings abroad when Mrs. Upjohn's neatly written invitations found their way into each of the West-End houses, embracing natives and strangers alike in their all-hospitable sweep, and even creeping into some outlying less aristocratic quarters, where confusion worse confounded, in the shape of refurbishing and making over, followed agonizingly in their wake. The invitations were indited by Miss Maria Upjohn, it being an opportunity to improve that young lady's handwriting which her mother could not have conscientiously suffered to pass, and stated that Mr. and Mrs. Reuben O. Upjohn requested the honor of your company on Thursday, July 14th, punctually at four o'clock. R.S.V.P. Joppa immediately R.S.V.P.'d that it would feel flattered to present itself at that hour, and then looked anxiously around and asked itself "What will it be this time?" The day dawned, and still the great question agitated public minds unsolved.
"There isn't a word to be coaxed or threatened out of Maria," said Bell Masters. "I believe it's something too awful to tell. Mr. De Forest, can't you hazard a guess?"
Mr. Ogden De Forest was lazily strolling past the Masters' front steps, where a knot of girls had gathered after a game of lawn tennis, and were imbibing largely of lemonade, which was being fabricated on the spot, according to demand, by Phebe and Janet Mudge. The spoons stopped clinking in the various glasses as Bell thus audaciously called out to the gentleman. He was not a Joppite by either birth or education; indeed, he had but lately arrived on his first visit as a summer guest, and was hardly known to anybody personally as yet, though there was not a girl in the place but was already perfectly well aware of his existence, and had placed him instantly as "one of the very swellest of the swells." He was a short, dark, well-dressed man, and so exceedingly handsome that every feminine heart secretly acknowledged that only to have the right to bow to him would be a joy and pride indescribable. And here was Bell, who had accidentally been introduced to him the day before, calling to him as unceremoniously as if he were Dick Hardcastle or Jake Dexter. He turned at her voice and paused at the gate, lifting his hat. "I beg you pardon, Miss Masters, you called me?"
"Yes," said Bell. "Have some lemonade?"
"Thanks, not this morning. I shall see you later at Mrs. Upjohn's, I suppose."
"Yes, you'll see us all later," said Miss Bell, fishing out a lemon-seed from her goblet. "We shall have on different dresses, and you'll be offering us lemonade instead of our offering it to you. Take a good look at us so as to see how much prettier we are now than we shall be then."
Mr. De Forest obeyed literally, staring tranquilly and critically at each in turn, his glance returning slowly to the young lady of the house. "Unless you introduce me to your friends I shall not be able to tell them so," he replied, in the slow, deliberate voice that seemed always to have a ring of suppressed sarcasm in it, no matter what he said.
"Then I'll certainly not introduce you," said Bell, composedly, with a saucy shot at him from her handsome black eyes. "And so I'll be the only girl to get the compliment. Phebe, more sugar, please."
"I will endeavor to work one up between now and then regardless of cost. Four o'clock, I believe. What is it to be? A dance?"
"Holy Moses! at Mrs. Upjohn's!"
"Oh, she doesn't go in for that kind of thing? A card-party, then?"
"Great heavens! Mr. De Forest, are you mad? I don't doubt she struggles with herself over every visiting card that she uses,—and playing-cards—!"
Bell gave a positive howl. "Theatricals! Hear him, girls!"
"We hear well enough. You don't give us a chance to do any thing but listen," said Amy Duckworth, pointedly.
"My dear, you'll converse all the more brilliantly this afternoon for a brief period of silence now," said Bell, sweetly. "Mr. De Forest, you are not happy in your guesses."
"I have exhausted them, unless it is to be a musicale."
"No. That's what we are going to have to-morrow ourselves. I sing, you know."
"Do you? Well, a garden party perhaps?"
"That's what the Ripleys are going to have Thursday."
"Then, so far as I can see, there is nothing left for it to be except a failure," said De Forest, lifting his arms off the gate. "And, in view of so much coming dissipation, I feel constrained to retire and seek a little preparatory repose. Good-morning, Miss Masters."
"How hateful not to introduce him, Bell! And when he distinctly asked you to! How abominably mean of you! How selfish, how horrid! I wouldn't have done so," broke out in an indignant chorus, as the gentleman walked off.
"Do you think I would be such a goose as to go shares in the handsomest man Joppa ever laid eyes on, so long as I can keep him to myself?" said Bell, honestly. "Fish for yourselves, girls. The sea is open to all, and you may each land another as good."
Phebe's lip curled very disdainfully. What a fuss to make over a man, and how Bell had changed in the last few years!
"Well, keep him, if you can, but I'll be even with you yet," said Amy, with an ominous smile. "And what luck! Here comes Mr. Moulton now, and I know him and you don't, and I'll pay you off on the spot. Good-morning, Mr. Moulton."
The young gentleman stopped, in his turn, at the gate as Amy spoke to him.
"Oh, Miss Duckworth, I was on my way to call on you."
"I will go home with you in a minute," said Amy, graciously. "I wouldn't miss your call for any thing. But first let me introduce you to my friends. Miss Mudge, Mr. Moulton,—Miss Lane, the Misses Dexter. You will meet us all again at Mrs. Upjohn's. Of course, you are going?"
"Certainly, now I am told that I shall meet you there, and if you will promise that I shan't be called upon to do any thing remarkable. I have heard alarming reports."
"That is out of anyone's power to promise," replied Miss Duckworth. "No genius is safe from her."
"Amy, love," broke in Bell, with infinite gentleness of tone and manner, "you have forgotten to present your friend to me, and I cannot be so impolite as to leave him standing outside my own gate. I am Miss Masters, Mr. Moulton. Pray excuse the informality, and come in to share our lemonade."
Mr. Moulton, nothing loath, accordingly came in, took his glass, and sat himself just where Bell directed, on a step at her feet. Amy colored, and there was a subdued titter somewhere in the background, and Bell calmly resumed the reins of the conversation. "No, there is no knowing what we shall be put through this afternoon. One time when Mrs. Upjohn had got us all safely inside her doors, she divided us smartly into two classes, set herself in the middle, and announced that we were there for a spelling bee. We shouldn't say we hadn't learned something at her house. And upon my word we did learn something. Never before or since have I heard such merciless words as she dealt us out. My hair stands on end still when I recollect the horrors I underwent that day."
"I'll smuggle in a dictionary," declared Mr. Moulton. "I'll be ready for her."
"No use. She never runs twice in the same groove. It's only sure not to be a spelling bee this time."
"When we last went there it turned out to be a French soiree," said one of the Misses Dexter, "and she announced that there would be a penny's fine collected at the end of the evening for each English word spoken."
"Proceeds to go to a lately imported poor family," added the sister Dexter. "There was quite a sum raised, and the head of the family decamped with it two days after, for Heaven knows where, leaving his wife and infants on Mrs. Upjohn's hands poorer than ever."
But Mrs. Upjohn's entertainment proved to be neither orthographic nor linguistic. The guests arrived punctually as bidden, and their hostess, clad in her most splendid attire, received them with her most gracious manner. There was nothing to foretell the fate that awaited them. Her tall, awkward daughter stood nervously by her side. Mr. Upjohn, too, kept there valiantly for a time, then his round, ample figure and jolly face disappeared somewhere, under chaperonage of Mrs. Bruce, his latest admiration. But no one ever thought of Mr. Upjohn as the host, any way; beseemed rather to be a sort of favored guest in his own parlor; and his place was more than made good by Mr. Hardcastle, who, standing in the centre of the room, exactly as he always stood in the centre of everybody's room on such an occasion, appeared himself to be quite master of ceremonies, from the grand way in which he stepped forward to meet each guest and hope he or she "would make out to enjoy it." The rooms filled rapidly, and before long Mrs. Upjohn turned from the door and stood an instant reviewing her guests with the triumphant mien of a victorious general. Then she advanced solemnly to the middle of the room, displacing Mr. Hardcastle, who graciously made way and waved his hand to signify to her his permission to proceed.
"My friends," said the great lady, with her deep, positive voice, drawing her imposing figure to its fullest height, "as you know, it is never my way to give parties. I leave that for the rest of you to do. When I ask you to my house, it is with a higher motive than to make a few hours lie less heavily on your hands."
"Dear soul!" muttered Dick Hardcastle to his crony, Jake. "Nobody could have the conscience to charge her with ever having lightened them to us."
"And therefore," continued the lady, gazing around upon her victims with a benignant smile, "without further prelude, I will inform you for what object I have asked you to honor me with your presence this afternoon."
She paused, and a cold chill ran through the company. What would she do? Would she open on them with the Westminster Catechism this time, or set them to shelling peas for some poor man's dinner, or would she examine them in the multiplication table? A few had run it hastily over before leaving home to make sure that they were ready for such an emergency.
"I had thought first," Mrs. Upjohn proceeded, "of a series of games as instructive as delightful, games of history and geography, and one particularly of astronomy, which I am persuaded would be very helpful. It brought out the nature of the spectroscope in a remarkably clear and intelligent light, and after a few rounds I am sure none of us could ever again have forgotten those elusive figures relative to the distances and proportions of the planets. However, that must be for another time. For today I thought it would be a pleasure as well as a benefit to us all to learn something about a gifted and noble person who, I am surprised to find, is not so well known in Joppa as she should be, and whom, I am convinced, we should all be infinitely the better and happier for knowing. I have, therefore, persuaded Mr. Webb, with whose powers as a reader long years of acquaintanceship have so pleasantly familiarized us, to read to us this afternoon extracts from the 'Life and Letters of the Baroness Bunsen.'"
"Good Lord!" ejaculated Dick beneath his breath, "who's that?"
"Hush," whispered Jake. "I've got a novel of Miss Braddon's in my pocket. I thought it might come in handy. That'll help us through till feed time."
"You are all familiar with the name, of course," pursued Mrs. Upjohn, smiling graciously around the dismayed circle of her guests. "The book has been in the library this long time past, and observing with regret that only its first fifty pages had been cut, I caught at this invaluable opportunity to make you further acquainted with it."
Mr. Webb now came forward, a thick, green-bound volume in his hand, and a look on his face as if he were about to open the proceedings with a prayer, but Mrs. Upjohn held up her hand.
"One moment, please, before we begin. We ladies are so unaccustomed to sitting with idle hands, even when listening to so absorbing a theme as the virtues of this truly excellent Christian wife and mother, that I thought it would be a kindness to ourselves to provide some simple work which should occupy our fingers and at the same time be in itself a worthy object of industry. Maria, my dear."
The silence in the room was appalling; one could almost hear the shiver of apprehension running down the silk-and muslin-clad backs. The sign was given, however, by the docile Maria, and immediately two enormous baskets were brought in: one, the smaller, containing every possible implement for unlimited sewing by unlimited hands; the other, of alarming dimensions, filled to overflowing with shapeless and questionable garments of a canton-flannel coarse, so yellow, so indestructible, so altogether unwearable and hideous, that had it been branded "charity" in flaming letters, its object could not have been more plainly designated. Mrs. Upjohn lifted the top article and unfolded it lovingly. It was a night-dress, atoning in lavishness of material for deficiency in grace of make, and would have been a loose fit for the wife of the giant Chang.
"These, ladies," she said, "as you will have guessed, are for the winter wear of our parish poor. Though you are not all so fortunate as to belong to our church, still I feel there is not one of you here but will be more than glad to help forward so blessed a charity as clothing the naked" (Mrs. Upjohn, in view of the nature of the garments, spoke even more literally than she intended), "who none the less need your ministrations whether you worship with us or apart. Maria, my child, Bell, Phebe, Mattie, will you kindly distribute the work among the ladies? There is another basket ready outside if the supply gives out. Dick, I would like you to carry around the thimbles. Jake, here are the needles and the spools and the scissors. If I may be permitted, ladies, I would suggest that we should all begin with the button-holes."
Nothing but the thought of the recompense in the coming supper could have sustained Mrs. Upjohn's doomed guests in the prospect before them. Extracts from Baroness Bunsen, and buttonholes in canton-flannel charity nightgowns, and a hot July afternoon, made a sum of misery that was almost too great a tax upon even Joppian amiability.
"I say it's a shame!" cried Bell Masters, in unconcealed wrath. "The idea of springing such a trap on us! Let Mrs. Upjohn's parish sew for its own poor, I won't crease my fresh dress holding that great, thick lump on my lap all the afternoon. I'm not going to be swindled into helping in this fashion."
"Oh, yes you are," said Mr. Halloway, bubbling over with suppressed merriment at the intense fun of it all. "There isn't one of you here who will refuse. I never knew any thing so delightful and novel in my whole life. This condensed combination, in one afternoon party of charity, literature, and indigestion is masterly. Miss Mudge, here is a seat for you right by Miss Masters. Miss Phebe, let me find you a chair."
And in a few moments, simply, it seemed, by the natural law of gravitation, without any engineering whatever, Mrs. Upjohn's guests had resolved themselves into two distinct parties, the elders all in the drawing-room, the younger ones in the parlor across the hall, too far off from Mr. Webb for their gay whispering to disturb that worthy as he boldly plunged headlong at his work, to do or die written on every feature of his thin, long face.
"So this is what the party turned out, Miss Masters, is it?" said Moulton, pulling his moustache as he stood up beside her. "A first-class Dorcas society."
"Charity covereth a multitude of sins," said Bell, crossly, giving a vindictive snap with her scissors, "but it won't begin to cover the enormity of Mrs. Upjohn's transgressions on this occasion. You gentlemen must be very devoted to atone to us for the button-holes. There's Mr. De Forest standing in the other room looking as if he wished he were dead. Go and bring him here."
Thus summoned, Mr. De Forest came leisurely enough, looking, if possible, a little more languid and blase than he did in the morning. Bell instantly made a place for him on the sofa by her side.
"Thanks, I would rather stand. I can take it all in better."
"Well?" asked Bell, after a pause, looking saucily up at him. "Was I right this morning? Didn't we look prettier then?"
Bell colored rather angrily, and Phebe laughed outright. Mr. De Forest favored her with a stare, chewed the end of his side-whiskers reflectively a moment, then deliberately walked over to her. "Miss Lane, I believe."
Phebe bowed, but somewhat stiffly.
"Excuse me," continued De Forest, imperturbably. "There doesn't seem to be any one to introduce us, and we know perfectly well who we each are, you know, and I wanted to ask about a mutual friend of ours,—Miss Vernor."
Phebe brightened and softened instantly. "Oh!" she exclaimed, dropping her work, "you know her? you have seen her? lately?"
"I know her, yes, quite well. I saw her some weeks since. I understood then that there was a little talk of her coming up here this summer. One of those fearful children, Olly, or Hal, or some one of the superfluous young ones, was a little off condition,—not very well, you know,—and the doctor said he mustn't go with the rest to the sea-shore, and she mentioned bringing him up here to recruit. I heard her mention your name, too, and didn't know but you might have heard something of it."
"I have, I have!" cried Phebe, her face all aglow, "She is coming,—she and Olly. She is going to stay with me. I wrote and begged her to."
"Ah, that will be very pleasant for you. Do you expect her soon?"
"Ah!" Mr. De Forest ruminated silently a moment. "She'll be bored to death up here, won't she?" he asked, presently.
"Then she can go home again," replied Phebe, shortly.
"True, true," said her companion, thoughtfully. "I forgot that. And she probably will. It would be like her to go if it bored her."
"Only there's Olly," said Phebe, grimly, the light fading out of her face a little. "She'll have to stay for him."
"Oh, no. She can put him to board somewhere and leave him. Miss Vernor doesn't concern herself overmuch with the young ones. They are an awful nuisance to her."
"She does every thing for them. You can't know her," said Phebe, indignantly. "Did you say you knew her well, Mr. De Forest?"
"I don't remember just what I said, Miss Lane, but it would have been the truth if I did, and I generally speak the truth when it's equally convenient. Yes, I do know Miss Vernor very well, and I have worsted her in a great many arguments,—you know her argumentative turn, perhaps? If you will allow me, I will do myself the honor of calling upon her when she comes,—and upon yourself, if I may have the pleasure."
"Not if you come with the intention of putting Gerald out of conceit with Joppa. I want her to stay a long, long time."
"Don't be afraid, Miss Lane. I'll do my best to help keep her here, so long, at least, as I stay myself. 'Apres cela le deluge.'"
"I don't speak French."
"Ah? No? I regret it. You might have assisted me in my genders. I am never altogether sure of them."
"Mr. De Forest," called Bell, imperatively, from the other side of the room, displeased at the defalcation of her knight, "I want to introduce you to Miss Mudge."
Miss Mudge tried to make Bell understand by frantic pantomime that she hadn't meant just now,—any time would do,—but Bell chose it should be just now; and slightly lifting his eyebrows, Mr. De Forest took his handsome person slowly back to Bell to make an almost impertinently indifferent bow to the new claimant upon him.
Mr. Halloway had been standing near Phebe, too near not to overhear the conversation, and he turned to her now quickly.
"So this accounts for your beaming face," he said in a low tone, as he took a seat just back of her in the window niche. "The mysterious Gerald is really coming, then. I wondered what had happened as soon as I saw you. Why did you not tell me?"
"I was only waiting till I had the chance," she answered, all the brightness coming back into her bonny face as she smiled up at him.
"Do you think I could keep any thing so nice from you for long? It seems to make every thing nicer when you know it too. She is coming to-morrow,—only think,—to-morrow,—just twenty-one hours more now. I can hardly wait!"
"It will be a great happiness to her, surely, to see you again," said Denham.
"That's what she writes in her letter. At least she says: 'I shall be glad to see you again, Phebe, my dear' Isn't that nice? 'Phebe, my dear,' she says. That is a great deal for Gerald to say."
"Is it? But I believe some young ladies are less effusive with their pens than with their tongues."
"It isn't Gerald's nature ever to be effusive. But oh, I'm so glad she's coming! I only got her letter last night. See, doesn't she write a nice hand?" And cautiously, lest any one else should see too, Phebe slipped an envelope into Denham's hand. He bent back behind the lace curtains to inspect it.
"Do you generally carry about your letters in your pocket, Miss Phebe?"
"No, only Gerald's. I love so always to have something of hers near me. Isn't it a nice hand?"
Halloway looked silently at the upright, angular, large script. "It's legible, certainly."
"But you don't like it?"
"Miss Phebe, I am torn between conflicting truth and politeness. It is like a man's hand, if I must say something."
"And so are her letters like a man's. Read it and see. Oh, she wouldn't mind! There is nothing in it, and yet somehow it seems just like Gerald. Do read it. Oh, I want you to. Please, please do."
And led half by curiosity, half by the eagerness in Phebe's pretty face, Denham opened the letter and read, Phebe glancing over it with him as if she couldn't bear to lose sight of it an instant.
"DEAR PHEBE," so ran the letter, "your favor of 9th inst. rec. I had no idea of intruding ourselves upon you when I asked you to look up rooms, but as you seem really to want us"—("seem!" whispered Phebe, putting her finger on the word with a pout)—"I can only say we shall be very glad to come to you. You may look for Olly and myself Friday, July 15th, by the P.M. train. Olly isn't really ill, only run down. He is as horrid a little bear as ever. All are well, and started last week for Narragansett Pier. I shall rejoice to get away from the art school and guilds, which keep on even in this intemperate weather, and I shall be glad to see you again, Phebe, my dear," (Phebe looked up triumphantly in Denham's face as she reached the words.) "Remember me to Mrs. Lane and Miss—, I can't think of her name,—Aunt Lydia, I mean.
"P.S.—Olly only drinks milk."
Phebe took back the letter and folded it up. "Well?" she said.
"Well?" said Denham, looking at her and smiling.
"It's just like her," declared Phebe. "It's so downright and to the point. Gerald never wastes words."
"You said it was like a man's letter," said Denham. "But I must beg leave to differ with you there. I don't think it is at all such a letter as I would have written you, for instance."
"Of course not. It wouldn't be proper for you to say 'Phebe, my dear,' as Gerald does. Yours would have to be a very dignified, pastoral letter."
"Yes, addressed to 'My Lamb,' which you couldn't object to in a pastoral letter of course, and which sounds nearly as affectionate, blaming you for having caused me to lose the valuable information I might have gained about the Baroness Bunsen. I never got much farther than her birth in that famous history. I see poor Miss Delano casting longing glances in here. I'll smuggle her in among you young people."
He departed on his errand of mercy, and soon had the timid little old maid in the more congenial atmosphere of the parlor, where little by little, though in a very stealthy and underhand way, the talk grew more general, and the restraint slackened more and more, until sewing and reading were both forgotten and the fun became fast and furious, culminating in the sudden appearance of Jake Dexter dressed up as an ancient and altogether unlovely old woman, whom Dick Hardcastle presented in a stage whisper as "Baroness Bunsen in the closing chapter," and who forthwith proceeded to act out in dumb show the various events of that admirable woman's life, as judiciously and sonorously touched upon by Mr. Webb in the drawing-room opposite. Jake was a born actor, and having "done up" the Baroness, he proceeded to "do up" several other noted historical characters, not omitting a few less celebrated contemporaries of his own, each representation better and truer to life than the last; and winding up with snatching away their work from the young ladies' not unwilling hands, and piling it in heaps on the floor around him, he sat himself in the middle with an armful hugged close and an air of comically mingled resignation and opulence, and announced himself as "a photo from life of ye destitute poor of Joppa."
Mrs. Upjohn may have had suspicions that all was not going on precisely as she had planned in that other half of her domains which she had surrendered to Maria's feeble guardianship, but it certainly could not be laid to her blame if young people would amuse themselves even at her house. If they wilfully persisted in neglecting the means of grace she had conscientiously provided for them, so much the worse for them, not for her; and if Mr. Upjohn found the contemplation of Mrs. Bruce's profile, and her occasional smiles at him as she bent over her ugly work, not sufficient of an indemnity for his enforced silence, and chose to sneak over to the young people's side and enjoy himself too, as an inopportune and hearty guffaw from thence testified just at the wrong moment, when Mr. Webb had reached the culminating point of the Baroness' death, and was drawing tears from the ladies' eyes by the irresistible pathos of his voice,—why, Mrs. Upjohn owned in her heart that it was only what might be expected of him, and that she couldn't help that either.
So at last the reading came to an end. Everybody said it had been unprecedentedly delightful, and they should never forget that dear Baroness so long as they lived, and they thought Mrs. Upjohn herself might have sat for the original of the biography, so identical were her virtues with those of the departed saint, and so exactly did she resemble her in every particular except just in the outward circumstances of her life. And Mrs. Upjohn modestly entreated them to desist drawing so unworthy a comparison, and said it was an example of a life they should each and all do well to imitate so far as in them lay, and then she went about collecting the nightgowns, and (oh, cruellest of all!) inspecting the button-holes. It was an excellent day's work, she reported, fanning herself vigorously, and Miss Brooks, as champion button-hole-maker, having made three more than any one else, should have the post of honor and be taken in to supper by Mr. Upjohn, who was routed out from the parlor for the purpose, very red in the face, and still convulsed with laughter. Mrs. Bruce may have suspected this to be designed as a neat way of cutting her out, but there is no knowing to what lengths a flippant widow's imagination will not go, and any way Mr. Upjohn quite atoned afterward for any temporary neglect, by paying her the most assiduous attentions right in the face of his wife, who apparently did not care a straw, and only thought her husband a little more foolish than usual. Did not everybody know that it was only Mr. Upjohn's way, and that it did not mean any thing?
And so the doors were thrown open, supper was announced, and Joppa, as it swarmed around the loaded tables, felt that its hour of merited reward was come; and Mr. Hardcastle, when at last he could eat and drink no more, stood up and pronounced, in the name of the united assembly, that Mrs. Upjohn's entertainment had been a very, very great success, as all that dear Mrs. Upjohn undertook always was sure to be, and particularly those devilled crabs were unapproachable for perfection. Nobody could make him believe that even the Baroness Bunsen with all her learning could ever have spiced them better.
Several days later, as Mr. Halloway was leaving the rectory one afternoon, he saw Phebe standing in her door-way, and crossed to speak to her.
"Alone?" he asked, smiling. "I supposed that now you would never be without a shadow."
"Gerald is up-stairs dressing. She is going to ride with Mr. De Forest. He has been to see her twice already, and you have not called yet." There was the faintest possible reproach in her voice and in her eyes.
"I have been really busy the last few days, Miss Phebe. You may know there is always some desperate reason when I am long absent. But here I am now. Shall I send in my card for Miss Vernor? Must I do it up in New York or Joppa style?"
Phebe laughed. "Never mind the card, Gerald will be down soon. It is nearly time, and she is always so punctual. What is it, Olly, dear?"
An ugly little boy, with a pale, pinched face and impish eyes, was pulling smartly at her dress.
"I say, Pheeb, can I have a cookie?"
"Does Gerald let you have cookies between meals, Olly?"
"Yes," answered Olly, unhesitatingly. "Always."
"What's that?" broke in an unexpected voice behind,—a clear, ringing, decided voice. "I will not have you tell such lies, Olly! Why will you do it!"
"I'll have the cookie anyhow," said Olly, starting on a run. "Pheeb said I could, and this is Pheeb's house, and I will."
"And you won't," said the voice, sharply. There was a scuffle, a rush, the sound of a smart box on the ear, a sudden childish howl, and Olly fled back to Phebe and buried his face in her dress. Phebe folded her arms protectingly around him, and looked up appealingly at the tall, slender figure approaching.
"Oh, Gerald, must you?"
"Phebe, I can't have you spoil that boy so. I won't have him a liar and a gourmand; he's bad enough without that. Olly, stop bawling this moment."
"I won't," screamed Olly. "You hurt me, you did, and if I can't have a cookie I'll cry just as loud as ever I can; so there!"
"Then you'll cry in the house and not on the front steps. I won't have it. Come in immediately."
And holding up her habit with one hand, the young lady reached out with the other,—a very small and white but determined-looking little hand Denham noticed (from where he stood he could not see her face)—and wrenching the child by no means gently away from Phebe, she dragged him with her toward the parlor.
"I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!" cried Olly, vociferously, doing battle valiantly with hands and feet as he went. "I hate you every day worse than ever!"
"Hate me all you like," said Gerald, with utmost coolness and disdain. "I leave you perfectly free in that direction, but you shan't tell lies or disobey me. Now stay in there and be still."
And closing the door on the sobbing culprit, she came slowly back to Phebe, still scowling and pressing her lips firmly together as she drew on her gauntlets. "Little wretch!" she muttered.
"Gerald, please," said Phebe, flushing scarlet with mortification, "here is Mr. Halloway. I want to introduce him to you."
Gerald stopped abruptly and looked up. She had not seen him before. A fleet, faint color tinged her clear cheeks an instant, but there was no other sign of embarrassment or annoyance as her dark blue eyes met his with the singularly penetrating gaze with which they looked out on all the world. There was no denying it. With her clear-cut, aristocratic face, and her slim, straight figure, stately perhaps rather than graceful, and a trifle haughty in its unbending erectness, Gerald Vernor was very, very handsome.
"I am happy to meet you at last, Miss Vernor," said Denham, with his pleasant smile. "But you are no stranger to me, I assure you. Miss Phebe made us all friends of yours long since."
Gerald's brows contracted. "Phebe is very kind," she said, with quite the opposite from gratitude in her voice, "but I hate to be talked about beforehand. One starts on a false basis from the first. Besides, it gives every one else the advantage over one."
"To be sure," replied Denham, "we cannot expect you to know us as well from hearsay. It would be too much to hope that Miss Phebe should have had as much to say for any of the rest of us." He turned laughingly to Phebe as he spoke, and she looked at him with eyes full of implicit faith.
"No," she said, simply; "I haven't told Gerald any thing about you, only your name. She will find it all out for herself so much better than I can tell her."
"I am afraid I am not very good at finding people out," remarked Gerald, bluntly, "unless I am extraordinarily interested in them—"
"Which I imagine you generally are not," interrupted Denham.
"True," she answered, smiling a little, "which I generally am not; I am content with a very superficial knowledge. The world is crowded so full, where could one stop who set out to know thoroughly all he met?"
"It is a bitter thought that you will never know more of me than just the color of my beard," said Denham, reflectively, "but if such is your habit I suppose I must resign myself to it. Now, I am exactly the reverse from you; I am always extraordinarily interested in everybody."
"Ah, because as a clergyman you must be."
"No; simply because it happens to be my nature. One has one's individual characteristics, you know, quite independently of one's profession."
"Yes, in other professions; but in yours—"
"But we are men first, Miss Vernor, afterward clergymen. Why may we not keep our distinct idiosyncrasies, even in our clerical uniform?"
Gerald slashed her dress gently with her riding whip. "It seems to me as if you should all be clergymen first and men afterward, fitting yourselves to the profession rather than the profession to you; and so by all confessedly following one pattern, you would be necessarily drawn into a greater similitude with each other than any other class of men. Ah, here is Mr. De Forest at last."
"At last?" repeated that gentleman as he joined the group, or rather paused just beyond it, surveying Gerald with a critical glance which seemed to take in accurately at one swift sweep every least detail of her dress. "My watch stands at the minute, Miss Vernor."
"And here come the horses," added Phebe.
"Not much to boast of," said De Forest, turning the severe criticism of his look upon the animals as the boy brought them up. "I wouldn't let you be seen in Central Park with them. However, they are the best Joppa can do for us. They are not very good-natured brutes either, but I believe you look to a horse's hoofs rather than his head."
"I do, decidedly," laughed Gerald, as De Forest raised her deftly to the saddle and arranged bridle and girths to her liking, turning to tighten his own before mounting, and kicking away a small dog that had run up to sniff at his heels.
"What did you bring along this ugly little beast of yours for, Jim? I abhor curs."
"Tain't none of mine, Mister," said the stable-boy, grinning. "It's one of them street dogs that ain't nobody's." And he in his turn gave a push to the puppy, while Gerald leaned down and hit at it lightly with her whip.
"Get away, my friend. There isn't room both for you and for us here," she said, turning her horse toward it playfully as the little creature slunk aside. In another instant her horse kicked violently, there was a single sharp yelp, and the dog lay motionless in the road.
"Hi!" exclaimed Jim, quite in accents of admiration, as he ran up and bent over the poor thing. "That was a good un! Right on the head! He won't trouble any other genelman again, I'm thinking."
"What!" cried Gerald, sharply. "You don't mean the dog is dead?"
"Don't I?" said the boy, moving a little aside so that she should see. "That was a neat un and no mistake."
Gerald looked down with a cry of horror; then suddenly sprang from her horse and caught up the poor little limp animal in her arms.
"Take away the horse," she said to the boy, imperiously. "I shall not ride to-day."
"But, Miss Vernor!" expostulated De Forest, "for heaven's sake don't take it so to heart. It's unfortunate, of course, but no one is to blame. Do put the thing down. It's dead. You can't do any thing more for it."
"I know it," said Gerald. "I did all I could; I killed him. But you'll have to excuse me, Mr. De Forest, I can't ride."
De Forest caught her by the arm impatiently, as she turned from him. "What nonsense, Miss Vernor! What is the good of playing tragedy queen over a dead dog? I'll have him buried in a silver coffin if you like and raise a memorial to his inestimable virtues, but in the name of all that is sensible, do get on the horse again and let us have our ride."