PEOPLE OF THE WHIRLPOOL
FROM THE EXPERIENCE BOOK OF A COMMUTER'S WIFE
BY MABEL OSGOOD WRIGHT
CHAPTER I ON THE ADVANTAGE OF TWINS
CHAPTER II MISS LAVINIA'S LETTERS TO BARBARA
CHAPTER III MARTIN CORTRIGHT'S LETTERS
CHAPTER IV WHEN BARBARA GOES TO TOWN
CHAPTER V FEBRUARY VIOLETS
CHAPTER VI ENTER A MAN
CHAPTER VII SYLVIA LATHAM
CHAPTER VIII THE SWEATING OF THE CORN
CHAPTER IX A WAYSIDE COMEDY
CHAPTER X THE WHIRL BEGINS
CHAPTER XI REARRANGED FAMILIES
CHAPTER XII HIS MOTHER
CHAPTER XIII GOSSIP AND THE BUG HUNTERS
CHAPTER XIV THE OASIS
ON THE ADVANTAGE OF TWINS
February 2. Candlemas and mild, gray weather. If the woodchuck stirs up his banked life-fire and ventures forth, he will not see his shadow, and must straightway arrange with winter for a rebate in our favour. To-day, however, it seems like the very dawn of winter, and as if the cloud brooms were abroad gathering snow from remote and chilly corners of the sky.
Six years ago I began the planting of my garden, and at the same time my girlish habit of journal keeping veered into the making of a "Garden Boke," to be a reversible signal, crying danger in face of forgotten mistakes, then turning to give back glints of summer sunshine when read in the attic of winter days and blue Mondays. Now once again I am in the attic, writing. Not in a garden diary, but in my "Social Experience Boke" this time, for it is "human warious," and its first volume, already filled out, is lying in the old desk. Martin Cortright said, one stormy day last autumn when he was sitting in the corner I have loaned him of my precious attic retreat, that, owing to the incursion of the Bluff Colony of New Yorkers, which we had been discussing, I should call this second volume "People of the Whirlpool," because—ah, but I must wait and hunt among my papers for his very words as I wrote them down.
My desk needs cleaning out and rearranging, for the dust flies up as I rummage among the papers and letters that are a blending of past, present, and future. All my pet pens are rusty, and must be replaced from the box of stubs, for a stub pen assists one to straightforward, truthful expression, while a fine point suggests evasion, polite equivocation, or thin ideas. Even Lavinia Dorman's letters, whose cream-white envelopes, with a curlicue monogram on the flap, quite cover the litter below, have been, if possible, more satisfactory since she has adopted a fountain stub that Evan gave her at Christmas.
There are many other things in the desk now beside the hickory-nut beads and old papers. Little whiffs of subtle fragrance call me backward through time faster than thought, and make me pinch myself to be sure that I am awake, like the little old woman with the cutabout petticoats, who was sure that if she was herself, her little dog would know her,—but then he didn't!
I am awake and surely myself, yet my old dog is not near to recognize me. This ring of rough, reddish hair, tied with a cigar ribbon and lying atop the beads, was Bluff's best tail curl. Dear, happy, brave-hearted Bluff with the human eyes; after an honourable life of fifteen years he stole off to the happy hunting grounds of perpetual open season, quail and rabbit, two years ago at beginning of winter, as quietly as he used to slip out the back door and away to the fields on the first fall morning that brings the hunting fever. For a long while not only I, but neither father nor Evan could speak of him, it hurt so. Yet by a blessed dispensation a good dog lives on in his race, and may be renewed (I prefer that word to replaced) after a season, in a way in which our best human friends may not be, so that we do not lack dogs. Lark is senior now, and Timothy Saunders's sheep dog, The Orphan, is also a veteran; the foxhounds are in their prime, while Martha Corkle, as we shall always call her, is raising a promising pair of collie pups.
Beside the curl, and covering mother's diaries, lies a square white volume, the first part of my "Experience Boke" before mentioned, and upon it two queer fat little pairs of bronze kid shoes, buttonless and much worn on the toes, telling a tale of feet that dragged and ankles that wobbled through inexperience in walking. Ah yes! I'm quite awake and the same Barbara, though looking over a wider and eye-opening horizon, having had three rows of candles, ten in a row, around my last birthday cake and one extra in the middle, which extravagance has constrained the family to use lopsided, tearful, pink candles ever since.
And the two pairs of feet that first touched good earth so hesitatingly with those crumpled shoes are now standing firmly in wool-lined rubber boots topped by brown corduroy trousers, upon the winter slat walk that leads to the tool house, while their owners, touched by the swish of the Whirlpool that has recently drawn this peaceful town into its eddies, are busy trying to turn their patrol wagon, that for a year has led a most conservative existence as a hay wain and a stage-coach dragged by a curiously assorted team of dogs and goat, into the semblance of some weird sort of autocart, by the aid of bits of old garden hose, cast-away bicycle gearing, a watering-pot, and an oil lantern.
I have wondered for a week past what yeast was working in their brains. Of course, the seven-year-old Vanderveer boy on the Bluffs had an electric runabout for a Christmas gift, also a man to run it! Corney Delaney, as Evan named the majestic gray goat—of firm disposition blended with a keen sense of humour—that father gave the boys last spring and who has been their best beloved ever since, has for many days been left in duress with the calves in the stack-yard, where the all-day diet of cornstalks is fatally bulging his once straight-fronted figure.
In fact, it is the doings of these two pairs of precious feet, with the bodies, heads, and arms that belong to them, that have caused the dust to gather in my desk, and the "Garden Boke," though not the garden, which is more of a joy than ever, to be suspended and take a different form. Flesh-and-blood books that write themselves are so compelling and absorbing that one often wonders at the existence of any other kind, and, feeling this strongly, yet I turn to paper pages as silent confidants. Why? Heredity and its understudy, Habit, the two h's that control both the making of solitary tartlets as well as family pies.
So the last entry in the "Garden Boke" was made a week before the day recorded in the white book with the cherubs' heads painted on it that underlies the shoes.
It seems both strange and significant to me now that this book chanced to be given me by Lavinia Dorman, mother's school friend and bridesmaid, a spinster of fifty-five, and was really the beginning of the transfer of her friendship to me, the only woman friendship that I have ever had, and its quality has that fragrant pungence that comes from sweet herbs, that of all garden odours are the most lasting.
I suppose that it is one of the strongest human habits to write down the very things that one is least likely to forget, and vice-versa; for certainly I shall never forget the date and double record on that first fair page beneath the illuminated word Born,—yet I often steal up here to peep at it,—and live the intervening five years backward for pure joy. January 10, 189-, Richard Russell——— and John Evan———.
Every time I read the names anew I wonder what I should have done if there had been a single name upon the page. I must then have chosen between naming him for father or Evan—an impossibility; for even if the names had been combined, whose should I have put first?
No, the twins are in every way an advantage. To Evan, in providing him at once with a commuted family sufficient for his means; to father, among other reasons, by giving him the pleasure of saying, to friends who felt it necessary to visit him in the privacy of his study and be apologetically sympathetic, "I have observed that the first editions of very important books are frequently in two volumes," sending them away wondering what he really meant; to me by saving the rack of argument, the form of evil I most detest, and to their own chubby selves no less, in that neither one has been handicapped for a single day by the disadvantage of being an only child!
It doubtless seems very odd for me to feel this last to be a disadvantage, being myself an only child, and always a happy one, sharing with mother all the space in father's big heart. But this is because God has been very good to me, leaving me safe in the shelter of the home nest. Suppose it had been otherwise and I had been forced to face the world, how it would have hurt, for individual love is cruelly precious sometimes, and an "onliest" cannot in the very nature of things be as unselfish and adaptable as one of many.
I was selfish even when the twins came. I was so glad that they were men-children. I could not bear to think of other woman hands ministering to father and Evan, and I rejoiced in the promise of two more champions. I often wonder how mother felt when I was born and what she thought. Was she glad or disappointed? I wish that she had left written words to guide me, if ever so few,—they would mean so much now; and let me know if in her day social things surprised and troubled her as for the first time they now stir me, and therefore belong to all awakening motherhood. Her diaries were a blending of simple household happenings and garden lore, nothing more; for when I was five years old and her son came, he stayed but a few short hours and then stole her away with him.
I wonder if my boys, when they are grown and begin to realize woman, will care to look into this book of mine, and read in and between the lines of its jumble of scraps and letters what their mother thought of them, and how things appeared to her in the days of their babyhood. Perhaps; who knows? At present, being but five years old, they are centred in whatever thing the particular day brings forth, and but that they are leashed fast by an almost prenatal and unconscious affection, they are as unlike in disposition, temperament, and colouring as they are alike in feature. Richard is dark, like father and me, very quiet, except in the matter of affection, in which he is clingingly demonstrative, slow to receive impressions, but withal tenacious. He clearly inherits father's medical instinct of preserving life, and the very thought of suffering on the part of man or beast arouses him to action. When he was only a little over three years old, I found him carefully mending some windfall robins' eggs, cracked by their tumble, with bits of rubber sticking-plaster, then putting them hopefully back into the nest, with an admonition to the anxious parents to "sit very still and don't stwatch." While last summer he unfortunately saw a chicken decapitated over at the farm barn, and, in Martha Corkle's language, "the way he wound a bit o' paper round its poor neck to stop its bleedin' went straight to my stummick, so it did, Mrs. Evan;" for be it said here that Martha has fulfilled my wildest expectations, and whereas, as queen of the kitchen, she was a trifle unexpected and uncomfortable, as Mrs. Timothy Saunders, now comfortably settled in the new cottage above the stable at the north corner of the hayland, she is a veritable guardian angel, ready to swoop down with strong wings at a moment's notice, in sickness or health, day or night, and seize the nursery helm.
It is owing to her that I have never been obliged to have a nursemaid under my feet or tagging after the boys, to the ruin of their independence. For the first few years Effie, whose fiery locks have not yet found their affinity, helped me, but now merely sees to buttons, strings, and darns.
I found out long ago that those who get the best return from their flower gardens were those who kept no gardeners, and it is the same way with the child garden; those who are too overbusy, irresponsible, ignorant, or rich to do without the orthodox nurse, never can know precisely what they lose. To watch a baby untrammelled with clothes, dimple, glow, and expand in its bath, is in an intense personal degree like watching, early of a June morning, the first opening bud of a rose that you have coaxed and raised from a mere cutting. You hoped and believed that it would be fair and beautiful, but ah, what a glorious surprise it is!
And so it is at the other end of day, when sleep comes over the garden and all the flowers that have been basking in sun vigour relax and their colours are subdued, blended by the brush of darkness, and the night wind steals new perfumes from them, and wings of all but a few night birds have ceased to cleave the air. As you walk among the flowers and touch them, or throw back the casement and look out, you read new meanings everywhere. In the white cribs in the alcove the same change comes, bright eyes, hair, cheeks, and lips lie blended in the shadow, the only sound is the even breath of night, and when you press your lips behind the ear where a curl curves and neck and garments meet, there comes a little fragrance born of sweet flesh and new flannel, and the only motion is that of the half-open hand that seems to recognize and closes about your fingers as a vine to its trellis, or as a sleeping bird clings to its perch.
A gardener or a nurse is equally a door between one and these silent pleasures, for who would not steal up now and then from a troubled dream to satisfy with sight and touch that the babes are really there and all is well?
* * * * *
Richard has a clinging way even in sleep, and his speech, though very direct for his age, is soft and cooing; he says "mother" in a lingering tone that might belong to a girl, and there are what are called feminine traits in him.
Ian (to save confusion, we called him from the first by the pretty Scotch equivalent of Evan's first name) is of a wholly masculine mould, and like his father in light hair, gray eyes, and determination. His very speech is quick and staccato, his tendency is to overcome, to fight rather than assuage, though he is the champion of everything he loves. From the time he could form distinct sounds he has called me Barbara, and no amount of reasoning will make him do otherwise, while the imitation of his father's pronunciation of the word goes to my heart.
Recently, now that he is fully able to comprehend, Evan took him quietly on his knee and told him that he must say "mother" and that he was not respectful to me. He thought a few minutes, as if reasoning with himself, and then the big gray eyes filled with tears, a very rare occurrence, as he seemed to feel that he could not yield, and he said, trying very hard to steady his voice, "Favver, I truly can't, I _think it _muvver_ inside, but you and I, we must _say it_ Barbara," and I confess that my heart leaped with joy, and I begged Evan to let the matter end here. To be called, if it so may be, by one name from the beginning to the end of life by the only true lovers that can never be rivals, is bliss enough for any woman.
Equally resolved, but in a thing of minor importance, is Ian about his headgear. As a baby of three, when he first tasted the liberty of going out of garden bounds daily into the daisy field beyond the wild walk, while Richard clung to his protecting baby sunbonnet, Ian spurned head covering of any kind, and blinked away at the sun through his tangled curls whenever he had the chance, in primitive directness until his cheeks glowed like burnished copper; and his present compromise is a little cap worn visor backward.
When the twins were very young, people were most funny in the way in which they seemed to think it necessary to feel carefully about to make sure whether condolence or congratulations were in order. The Severely Protestant was greatly agitated, as, being himself the possessor of an overflowing quiverful, his position was difficult. After making sure which was the right side of the fence, and placing himself on it, he tugged painfully at his starved red beard, and made an elaborate address ending in a parallel,—the idea of the complete Bible being in two volumes, the Old and New Testament, each being so necessary to the other, and so inseparable, that they were only comparable to twins!
Father and Evan were present at the time,—I dared not look at either,—and as soon as we were again alone, the room shook with laughter, until Martha Corkle, who was then in temporary residence, popped in to be sure that I was not being unduly agitated.
"The Old and New Testament, I wonder which is which?" gasped father, going upstairs to look at the uninteresting if promising woolly bundles by light of this startling suggestion.
Now, however, the joke has developed a serious side, as their two characters, though in no wise precocious, have become distinctive. Ian represents the Old, primitive and direct, the "sword of the Lord and Gideon" type, while Richard is the New, the reconciler and peacemaker.
* * * * *
The various congratulations that the twins were boys, from my standpoint I took as a matter of course, even though I had always heard that boys gave the most worry and girls were referred to among our friends and neighbours as the greatest comforts in a home unless they did something decidedly unusual, fitting into nooks, and often taking up and bearing burdens the brothers left behind. But when many people who had either daughters or nieces of their own, and might be said to be in that mystic ring called "Society," congratulated me pointedly about the boys, I began to ponder about the matter mother-wise. Then, three years ago the New York Colony seized upon the broad acres along the Bluffs, and dotted two miles with the elaborate stone and brick houses they call cottages; not for permanent summer homes (the very rich, the spenders, have no homes), but merely hotels in series. These, for the spring and fall between seasons and week-end parties and golfing, men and girls gay in red and green coats, replaced the wild flowers in the shorn outlying fields. I watched these girls, and, beginning to understand, wondered if I had grown old before my time, or if I were too young to comprehend their point of view, for, to their strange enlightenment I was practically as yet unborn.
Lavinia Dorman says caustically that I really belong with her in the middle of the last century, and she, born to what father says was really the best society and privilege of New York life, like his college chum Martin Cortright, is now swept quite aside by the swirl.
"Yes, dear child," she insists (how different this use of the word sounds from when the Lady of the Bluffs uses the universal "my dear" impartially to mistress and maid, shopgirl and guest), "you not only belong to the last century, but as far back in it as myself, and I am fifty-five, full measure.
"The new idea among the richer and consequently more privileged classes is, that girls are to be fitted not only to go out into the world and shine in different ways unknown to their grandmothers, but to be superior to home, which of necessity unfits them for a return trip if the excursion is unsuccessful.
"What with high ideas, high rents, and higher education, the home myth is speedily following Santa Claus out of female education, and, argue as one may, New York is the social pace-maker 'East of the Rockies,' as the free delivery furniture companies advertise. I congratulate you anew that the twins are boys!"
I laughed to myself over Miss Lavinia's letter; she is always so deliciously in earnest and so perturbed over any change in the social ways of her dearly beloved New York, that I'm wondering how she finds it, on her return after two years or more abroad (she was becoming agitated before she left), and whether she will ask me down for another of those quaint little visits, where she so faithfully tours me through the shops and a few select teas, when, to wind it up, Evan buys opera box seats so that she may have the satisfaction of having her hair dressed, wearing her point lace bertha and aigret, and showing us who is who, and the remainder who are not. For she is well born, intricately related to the original weavers of the social cobweb, and knows every one by name and sight; but has found lately, I judge, that this knowledge unbacked by money is no longer a social power that carries beyond mixed tea and charity entertainments. Never mind, Lavinia Dorman is a dear! Ah, if she would only come out here, and return my many little visits by a long stay, and act as a key to the riddle the Whirlpool people are to me. But of course she will not; for she frankly detests the country,—that is, except Newport and Staten Island,—is wedded even in summer to her trim back-yard that looks like a picture in a seed catalogue, and, like a faithful spouse, declines to leave it or Josephus for more than a few days. Josephus is a large, sleek, black cat, a fence-top sphinx, who sits all day in summer wearing a silver collar, watching the sparrows and the neighbourhood's wash with impartial interest, while at night he goes on excursions of his own to a stable down a crooked street in "Greenwich Village," where they still keep pigeons. Some day he won't come back!
Yet Martin Cortright, the Bookworm, was a pavement worshipper too, and he came last fall for over a Sunday to wake father up; for I believe men sometimes need the society of others of their own age and past, as much as children need childlife, and Martin stayed a month, and is promising to return next spring. I wonder if the Sylvia Latham who has been travelling with Miss Lavinia is any kin of the Lathams who are building the great colonial home above the Jenks-Smiths. I have never seen any of the family except Mrs. Latham, a tall, colourless blonde, who reminds one of a handsome unlit lamp. She seems to be superintending the work by coming up now and then, and I met her at the butcher's where she was buying sweetbreads—"a trifle for luncheon." Accusation No. 1, against the Whirlpoolers: Since their advent sweetbreads have risen from two pairs for a quarter, and "thank you kindly for taking them off our hands," to fifty cents to a dollar a "set." We no longer care for sweetbreads!
* * * * *
I was therefore amused, but no longer surprised, at the exaggerated way in which the childless Lady of the Bluffs,—her step-daughter having ten years back made a foolish foreign marriage,—gave me her views upon the drawbacks of the daughters of her world, when she made me, on her return from a European trip, a visit upon the twins' first birthday,—bearing, with her usually reckless generosity, a pair of costly gold apostle spoons, as she said, "to cut their teeth on." I admired, but frugally popped them into the applewood treasure chests that father has had made for the boys from the "mother tree," that was finally laid low by a tornado the winter of their birth and is now succeeded by a younger one of Richard's choice.
"My dear woman," she gasped, turning my face toward the light and dropping into a chair at the same time, "how well you look; not a bit upset by the double dose and sitting up nights and all that. But then, maybe, they sleep and you haven't; for it's always the unexpected and unusual that happens in your case, as this proves. But then, they are boys, and that's everything nowadays, the way society's going, especially to people like you, whose husband's trade, though pretty, is too open and above-board to be a well-paying one, and yet you're thoroughbreds underneath." (Poor vulgar soul, she didn't in the least realize how I might take her stricture any more than she saw my desire to laugh.)
"Of course here and there a girl in society does turn out well and rides an elephant or a coronet,—of course I mean wears a coronet,—though ten to one it jams the hairpins into her head, but mostly daughters are regular hornets,—that is, if you're ambitious and mean to keep in society. Of course you're not in it, and, being comfortably poor, so to speak, might be content to see your girls marry their best chance, even if it wasn't worth much a year, and settle down to babies and minding their own business; but then they mightn't agree to that, and where would you and Evan be?
"This nice old house and garden of yours wouldn't hold 'em after they got through with dolls, and some girls don't even have any doll-days now. It would be town and travel and change, and you haven't got the price of that between you all, and to keep this going, too. You'd have to go to N'York, for a couple of months at least, to a hotel, and what would that Evan of yours do trailing round to dances? For you're not built for it, though I did once think you'd be a go in society with that innocent-wise way, and your nose in the air, when you don't like people, would pass for family pride. I'd wager soon, in a few years, he'd stop picking boutonnieres in the garden every morning and sailing down to that 8:15 train as cool as if he owned time, if those boys were girls! Though if Jenks-Smith gets the Bluff Colony he's planned under way next spring, there'll soon be some riding and golfing men hereabouts that'll shake things up a bit,—bridge whist, poker, and perhaps red and black to help out in the between-seasons." (I little thought then what this colony and shaking would come to mean.)
"Money or not, it's hard lines with daughters now—work and poor pay for the mothers mostly. You know that Mrs. Townley that used to visit me? He was a banker and very rich; died four years ago, and left his wife with one son, who lived west, and five daughters, four that travelled in pairs and an odd one,—all well fixed and living in a big house in one of those swell streets, east of the park, where never less than ten in help are kept. Well, if you'll believe it, she's living alone with a pet dog and a companion, except in summer, when the Chicago son and his wife and babies make her a good visit down at North East, the only home comfort she has.
"All the girls married to foreigners? Not a blessed one. Two were bookish and called literary, but not enough to break out into anything; they didn't agree with society (had impossible foreheads that ran nearly back to their necks, and thin hair); they went to college just to get the name of it and to kill time, but when they got through they didn't rub along well at home; called taking an interest in the house beneath them and the pair that liked society frivolous; so they took a flat (I mean apartment—a flat is when it's less than a hundred a month and only has one bathroom), and set up for bachelor girls. The younger pair did society for a while, and poor Mrs. Townley chaperoned round after them, as befitted her duty and position, and had gorgeous Worth gowns, all lace and jets, that I do believe shortened her breath, until one night in a slippery music-room she walked up the back of a polar bear rug, fell off his head, and had an awful coast on the floor, that racked her knee so that she could stay at home without causing remark, which she cheerfully did. The two youngest girls were pretty, but they were snobs, and carried their money on their sleeves in such plain sight that they were too suspicious, and seemed to expect every man that said 'good evening' was waiting to grab it. So they weren't popular, and started off for Europe to study art and music. Of course when they came back they had a lot of lingo about the art atmosphere and all that; home was a misfit and impossible, so they went to live in a swell studio with two maids and a Jap butler in costume, and do really give bang-up musicals, with paid talent of course. I went to one.
"That left Georgie, the odd one, who was the eldest, with poor Mrs. Townley. By this time the old lady was kind of broken-spirited, and worried a good deal as to why all her girls left her,—'she'd always tried to do her duty,'—and all that. This discouraged Georgie; she got blue and nervous, had indigestion, and, mistaking it for religion, vamoosed into a high-church retreat. And I call it mighty hard lines for the old lady."
I thought "too much money," but I didn't say it, for this brutally direct but well-meaning woman could not imagine such a thing, and she continued: "Yet Mrs. Townley had a soft snap compared to some, for she was in the right set at the start, with both feet well up on the ladder, and didn't have to climb; but Heaven help those with daughters who have thin purses and have to stretch a long neck and keep it stiff, so, in a crowd at least, nobody'll notice their feet are dangling and haven't any hold.
"Ah, but this isn't the worst yet; that's the clever 'new daughter' kind that sticks by her ma, who was herself once a particular housekeeper, and takes charge of her long before there's any need; regulates her clothes and her food and her callers, drags her around Europe to rheumatism doctors, and pushes her into mud baths; jerks her south in winter and north in summer, for her 'health and amusement,' so she needn't grow narrow, when all the poor soul needs and asks is to be let stay in her nice old-fashioned country house, and have the village children in to make flannel petticoats; entertain the bishop when he comes to confirm, with a clerical dinner the same as she used to; spoil a lot of grandchildren, of which there aren't any; and once in a while to be allowed to go into the pantry between meals, when the butler isn't looking, and eat something out of the refrigerator with her fingers to make sure she's got them!
"No, my dear, rather than that, I choose the lap dog and poor relation, who is generally too dejected to object to anything. Besides, lap dogs are much better now than in the days when the choice lay only between sore-eyed white poodles and pugs. Boston bulls are such darlings that for companions they beat half the people one knows!"
I am doubly glad that the twins are boys! Well, so be it, for women do often frighten me and I misunderstand them, but men are so easy to comprehend and love. While now, when Richard and Ian puzzle me, all I need to do is to point to father and Evan, and say, "Look! ask them, for they can tell you all you need to know!"
* * * * *
Almost sunset, the boys climbing up stairs, and Effie bringing a letter? Yes, and from Lavinia Dorman, pages and pages—the dear soul! I must wait for a light. What is this?—she wishes to see me—will make me a long visit—in May—if I like—has no longer the conscience to ask me to leave the twins to come to her—boys of their age need so much care—then something about Josephus! Yes, Sylvia Latham is the daughter of the new house on the Bluffs, etc. You blessed twins! here is another advantage I owe to you—at last a promised visit from Lavinia Dorman!
Ah, as I push my book into the desk the reason for its title turns up before me, worded in Martin Cortright's precise language:—
"Everything, my dear Barbara, has a precedent in history or the basis of it. It is well known that the Indian tribes have taken their distinctive names chiefly from geographical features, and these often in turn control the pace of the people. The name for the island since called New Amsterdam and York was Mon-ah-tan-uk, a phrase descriptive of the rushing waters of Hell Gate that separated them from their Long Island neighbours, the inhabitants themselves being called by these neighbours Mon-ah-tans, anglice Manhattans, literally, People of the Whirlpool, a title which, even though the termagant humour of the waters be abated, it beseems me as aptly fits them at this day."
MISS LAVINIA'S LETTERS TO BARBARA
NEW YORK, "GREENWICH VILLAGE," January 20, 19—.
"So you are glad that I have returned? I wish that I could say so also, in your hearty tone of conviction. Every day of the two years that I have been scattering myself about Europe I have wished myself at home in the house where I was born, and have wandered through the rooms in my dreams; yet now that I am here, I find that I was mixing the past impossibly with the present, in a way common to those over fifty. Yes, you see I no longer pretend, wear unsuitable headgear, and blink obliviously at my age as I did in those trying later forties. I not only face it squarely, but exaggerate it, for it is so much more comfortable to have people say 'Fifty-five! Is it possible?'
"By the way, do you know that you and I share a distinction in common? We are both living in the houses where we were born, for the reason that we wish to and not because we cannot help ourselves. Since I have been away it appears that every one I know, of my own age, has made a change of some sort, and joined the two streams that are flowing steadily upward, east and west of the Park; while the people who were neither my financial nor social equals thirty years ago are dividing the year into quarters, with a house for each. A few months in town, a few of hotel life for 'rest' in the south, then a 'between-season' residence near by, seaside next, mountains in early autumn, and the 'between-season' again before the winter cruise through the Whirlpool.
"I like that name that your Martin Cortright gives to New York. Before I went abroad I should have resented it bitterly, but the two months since my return have convinced me of its truth, which I have fought against for many years; for even the most staid of us who, either of choice or necessity, give the social vortex a wide berth, cannot escape from the unrest of it, or sight of the wreckage it from time to time gives forth. It is strange that I have not met this Cortright, or never even knew that he shared your father's admiration of your mother, though owing to our school tie we were like sisters. Yet it was like her to regret and hold sacred any pain she might have caused, no matter how unwillingly. Did his elder sister marry a Schuyler, though not one of the well-known branch, and did he as a boy live in one of those houses on the west side of Lafayette Place that were later turned into an hotel?
"The worst of it all appears to me to be that the increase of wealth in the upper class is exterminating the home idea, to which I cling, single woman as I am; and consequently the middle classes, as blind copyists, also are tending to throw it over.
"The rich, having no particular reason for remaining in any particular place until they become attached to it, live in half a dozen houses, which seems to have a deteriorating effect upon their domesticity; just as the Sultan, with fifty wives that may be dropped or replaced according to will, cannot prize them as does the husband of only one.
"Your letters are so full of questions and wonderments about ways in your mother's day, that they set me rambling in the backwoods of the sixties, when women were sending their lovers to the Civil War, and then bravely sitting down and rolling their own hearts up with the bandages with which they busied their fingers. I suppose you are wondering if I lost a lover in those days, or why I have not married, as I am in no wise opposed to the institution, but consider it quite necessary to happiness. The truth is, I never saw but two men whose tastes so harmonized with mine that I considered them possible as companions, and when I first met them neither was eligible, one being my own father and the other yours! I shall have to list your queries, to be answered deliberately, write my letters in sections, day by day, and send them off packet-wise, like the correspondence of the time of two-shilling post and hand messengers. To begin with, I will pick out the three easiest:—
"1. What is it in particular that has so upset me on my home-coming?
"2. Do I think that I could break through my habits sufficiently to make you a real country visit this spring or early summer, before the mosquitoes come? (Confessing with your altogether out-of-date frankness that there are mosquitoes, a word usually dropped from the vocabulary of commuters and their wives, even though they live in Staten Island or New Jersey.)
"3. Is the Sylvia Latham, to whom I have been a friendly chaperon during my recent travels, related to the Lathams who are building the finest house on the Bluffs? You have never seen the head of the house, but his initials are S.J.; he is said to be a power in Wall Street, and the family consists of a son and daughter, neither of whom has yet appeared, although the house is quite ready for occupancy.
"(My German teacher has arrived.)"
* * * * *
"1. Why am I upset? For several reasons, some of which have been clouding the horizon for many years, others crashing up like a thunder-storm.
"I have for a long time past noticed a certain apathy in the social atmosphere of the little circle that formed my world. I gave up any pretensions to general New York society after my father's death, which came at a time when the social centre was splitting into several cliques; distances increased, New Year's calling ceased, going to the country for even midwinter holidays came in vogue, and cosmopolitanism finally overcame the neighbourhood community interest of my girlhood. People stopped making evening calls uninvited; you no longer knew who lived in the street or even next house, save by accident; the cosey row of private dwellings opposite turned to lodging houses and sometimes worse; friends who had not seen me for a few months seemed surprised to find me living in the same place. When I began to go about again, one day Cordelia Martin (she was a Bleecker—your father will remember her) met me in the street and asked me to come in the next evening informally to dinner and meet her sister, an army officer's wife, who would be there en route from one post to another, and have an old-time game of whist.
"I went, glad to see old friends, and anticipating a pleasant evening. I wore a new soft black satin gown slightly V in front, some of my best lace, and my pearl ornaments; I even wondered if the latter were in good taste at a family dinner. You know I never dwell much upon attire, but it is sometimes necessary when it is in a way epoch making.
"A butler had supplanted Cordelia's usual cordial waitress; he presented a tray for the card that I had not brought and said 'second story front.' This seemed strange to me, as Cordelia herself had always come to the stairway to greet me when the door opened.
"The 'second story front' had been done over into a picturesque but useless boudoir, a wood floor polished like glass was dotted by white fur islands; the rich velvet carpets, put down a few years before, had in fact disappeared from the entire house. A maid, anything but cordial, removed my wrap, looking me and it over very deliberately as she did so. I wondered if by mistake I had been bidden to a grand function—no, there were no visible signs of other guests.
"Not a word was spoken, so I made my way down to where the library living-room had been, not a little curious to see what would come next. Thick portieres covered the doorway, and by them stood the butler, who asked my name. Really, for a moment I could not remember it, I was so startled at this sudden ceremony in the house of a friend, of such long standing that I had jumped rope on the sidewalk with her, making occasional trips arm-in-arm around the corner to Taffy John's little shop for molasses peppermints and 'blubber rubbers.'
"My hesitation seemed to add to the distrust that my appearance had in some way created. The butler also swept me from head to foot with his critical stare, and at the same moment I became internally aware that I had forgotten to remove my arctic over-boots. Never mind, my gown was long, I would curl up my toes, but return to the dressing-room in full sight of that man, I whose forbears had outbowled Peter Stuyvesant, and, I fear, outdrunk him—never! Then the portieres flew apart, and facing a glare of bilious-hued electric light, I heard the shouted announcement of 'Miss Doormat' as I stumbled over a tiger rug into the room. I believe the fellow did it on purpose. However, it was very funny, and my rubber-soled arctics probably prevented my either coasting straight across into the open fireplace, or having a nasty fall, while the laugh that the announcement created on the part of my host, Archie Martin, saved me from an awkward moment, for from a sort of gilt throne-like arrangement at one side of the hearth, arrayed in brocaded satin gowns cut very low and very long, heads crimped to a crisp, and fastened to meagre shoulders by jewelled collars, the whole topped by a group of three 'Prince of Wales' feathers, Cordelia and her sister came forward two steps to greet me.
"Of course, I thought to myself, they are going to a ball later on. I naturally made no comment, and we went in to dinner. The dining room was very cold, as extensions usually are, and the ladies presently had white fur capes brought to cover their exposure, while I, sitting in the draught from the butler's pantry, was grateful for my arctics. The meal was more pretentious than edible,—a strange commentary upon many delightful little four or at most five course affairs I had eaten in the same room. I soon found that there was no ball in prospect, also that Cordelia and her sister seemed ill at ease, while Archie had a look of suppressed mischief on his face, which in spite of warning signals broke forth as soon as, the coffee being served, the butler left.
"One great comfort about men is that they do not take easily to being unnatural. Archie and I, having been brought up like brother and sister from the time we went to a little mixed school over in old Clinton Hall, were always on cordial terms.
"'Well, Lavvy,' he began, 'I see you're surprised at the change of base here, and I'm going to let you in on the ground floor, if Cordelia won't. You see, Janet (she's not in town to-night, by the way) is coming out next month, and we are getting in training for what her mother thinks is her duty toward her, or else what they both think is their duty to society, or something else equally uncomfortable.'
"'Archie!' remonstrated Cordelia, but he good-naturedly ignored her and continued: 'Now I want Janet to have a jolly winter and marry a good fellow when the time comes, but as we've got the nicest sort of friends, educated and all that, who have travelled along with us, as you have, from the beginning, why should we change our habits and feathers and try to fly for a different roost?'
"'Archibald,' said Cordelia, in such a tone that she was not to be gainsaid, 'Lavinia, as a woman of the world, will understand what you refuse to: that it is very important that our daughter should have the surroundings that are now customary to the social set with whom she has been educated, and into which, if she is to be happy, she must marry. If she is to meet the right people, she must be rightly presented. All her set wear low gowns at dinner, whether guests are present or not, just as much as men wear their evening dress at night and their business suits in the morning. That we have kept up our old-fogy habits so long has nothing to do with the present question.'
"'Except that I have to strain my purse to bring up everything else to suit the clothes, as naturally gaslight, a leg of mutton, and two vegetables do not make a good foreground to bare shoulders and a white vest! And I'd rather fund the cash as a nest-egg for Jenny.'
"'Archie, you are too absurd!' snapped Cordelia, yet more than half inclined to laugh; for she used to be the jolliest woman in the world before the spray of the Whirlpool got into her eyes.
"'As to meeting suitable people to marry, and all that rubbish,' pursued Archie, relentlessly, 'I was considered fairly eligible in my time, and did you meet me at any of the dances you went to, or at the Assemblies at Fourteenth Street Delmonico's that were the swell thing in those days? No; I pulled you out of an old Broadway stage that had lost a wheel and keeled over into a pile of snow opposite father's office, when you were practically standing on your head. You didn't fuss, and I got to know you better in five minutes than any one could in five years of this rotten fuss and feathers.'
"'That was purely accidental, and I wish you wouldn't mention it so often,' said Cordelia, flushing; and so the conversation, at first playful, gradually working toward a painful dispute, went on, until my faithful Lucy came to escort me home, without our having our game of whist, that excuse for intelligent and silent companionship."
* * * * *
"I dwelt on that little dinner episode, my dear Barbara, because in it you will find an answer to several questions I read between your lines. Since my return I find that practically all my old friends have flown to what Archie Martin called 'a different roost,' or else failing, or having no desire so to do, have left the city altogether, leaving me very lonely. Not only those with daughters to bring out, but many of my spinster contemporaries are listed with the buds at balls and dinner dances, and their gowns and jewels described. Ah, what a fatal memory for ages one has in regard to schoolmates! Josephine Ponsonby was but one class behind us, and she is dancing away yet.
"The middle-aged French women who now, as always, hold their own in public life have better tact, and make the cultivation of some intellectual quality or political scheme at least the excuse for holding their salons, and not the mere excuse of rivalry in money spending.
"I find the very vocabulary altered—for rest read change, for sleep read stimulation, etc, ad infin.
"Born a clergyman's daughter of the old regime, I was always obliged to be more conservative than was really natural to my temperament; even so, I find myself at middle life with comfortable means (owing to that bit of rock and mud of grandma's on the old Bloomingdale road that father persistently kept through thick and thin), either obliged to compromise myself, alter my dress and habits, go to luncheons where the prelude is a cocktail, and the after entertainment to play cards for money, contract bronchitis by buzzing at afternoon teas, make a vocation of charity, or—stay by myself,—these being the only forms of amusement left open, and none offering the intimate form of social intercourse I need.
"I did mission schools and parish visiting pretty thoroughly and conscientiously during forty years of my life,—on my return an ecclesiastical, also, as well as a social shock awaited me. St. Jacob's has been made a free church, and my special department has been given in charge of two newly adopted Deaconesses, 'both for the betterment of parish work and reaching of the poor.' So be it, but Heaven help those who are neither rich nor poor enough to be of consequence and yet are spiritually hungry.
"The church system is necessarily reduced to mathematics. The rector has office hours, so have the curates, and they will 'cheerfully come in response to any call.' It was pleasant to have one's pastor drop in now and then in a sympathetic sort of way, pleasant to have a chance to ask his advice without formally sending for him as if you wished to be prayed over! But everything has grown so big and mechanical that there is not time. The clergy in many high places are emancipating themselves from the Bible and preaching politics, history, fiction, local sensation, and what not, or lauding in print the moral qualities of a drama in which the friendship between Mary Magdalene and Judas Iscariot is dwelt on and the latter adjudged a patriot. I don't like it, and I don't like hurrying to church that I may secure my seat in the corner of our once family pew, where as a child I loved to think that the light that shone across my face from a particular star in one of the stained-glass windows was a special message to me. It all hurts, and I do not deny that I am bitter. Those in charge of gathering in new souls should take heed how they ignore or trample on the old crop!
"So I attend to my household duties, marketing, take my exercise, and keep up my French and German; but when evening comes, no one rings the bell except some intoxicated person looking for one of the lodging houses opposite, and the silence is positively asphyxiating—if they would only play an accordion in the kitchen I should be grateful. I'm really thinking of offering the maids a piano and refreshments if they will give an 'at home' once a week, as the only men in the neighbourhood seem to be the butchers and grocery clerks and the police. There is an inordinate banging going on in the rear of the house, and I must break off to see what it is."
* * * * *
"MY DEAR CHILD:—
"Your second question, regarding visiting you the coming season, was answering itself the other day when I was writing. Life here, except in winter, is becoming impossible to me. I have lost not only Josephus, but my back yard! The stable where they keep the pigeons has changed hands. Yes, you were right,—he did haunt the place, the postman says; and I suppose they did not understand that he was merely playful, and not hungry, or who he was, else maybe he was too careless about sitting on the side fence by the street. I could replace Josephus, but not the yard,—there are no more back yards to be had; their decadence is complete. I've closed my eyes for years to the ash heap my neighbour on the right kept in hers; also to the cast-off teeth that came over from the 'painless' dentist's on the left.
"When the great tenement flat ran up on the north, where I could, not so long ago, see the masts of the shipping in the Hudson, I sighed, and prayed that the tins and bottles that I gathered up each morning might not single me out when I was tying up my vines in the moonlight of early summer nights.
"Josephus resented these missiles, however, and his foolish habit of sitting on the low side fence under the ailantus tree then began. Next, I was obliged to give up growing roses, because, as you know, they are fresh-air lovers; and so much air and light was cut off by the high building that they yielded only leaves and worms. Still I struggled, and adapted myself to new conditions, and grew more of the stronger summer bedding plants.
"Five days ago I heard a banging and pounding. Only that morning Lucy had been told that the low, rambling carpenter's shop, that occupied a double lot along the 'street to the southwest, had been sold, and we anxiously waited developments. We were spared long suspense; for, on hearing the noise, and going to the little tea-room extension where I keep my winter plants, I saw a horde of men rapidly demolishing the shop, under directions of a superintendent, who was absolutely sitting on top of my honeysuckle trellis. After swallowing six times,—a trick father once taught me to cure explosive speech,—I went down and asked him if he could tell me to what use the lot was to be put. He replied: 'My job is only to clean it up; but the plans call for a twelve-story structure,—warehouse, I guess. But you needn't fret; it's to be fireproof.'
"'Fireproof! What do I care?' I cried, gazing around my poor garden—or rather I must have fairly snorted, for he looked down quickly and took in the situation at a glance, gave a whistle and added: 'I see, you'll be planted in; but, marm, that's what's got to happen in a pushing city—it don't stop even for graveyards, but just plants 'em in.'
"My afternoon sun gone. Not for one minute in the day will its light rest on my garden, and finis is already written on it, and I see it an arid mud bank. I wonder if you can realize, you open-air Barbara, with your garden and fields and all space around you, how a city-bred woman, to whom crowds are more vital than nature, still loves her back yard. I had a cockney nature calendar planted in mine, that began with a bunch of snowdrops, ran through hot poppy days, and ended in a glow of chrysanthemums, but all the while I worked among these I felt the breath of civilization about me and the solid pavement under my feet.
"I believe that every woman primarily has concealed in the three rounded corners of her heart, waiting development, love of home, love of children, and love of nature, and my nature love has yet only developed to the size of a back yard.
"Yes, I will come to visit you at Oaklands gladly, though it's a poor compliment under the circumstances. The mother of twins should be gone to; but tremble! you may never get rid of me, for I may supplant Martha Corkle, the miraculous, in spoiling the boys."
* * * * *
"One more question to answer and this budget of letters will go to the post with at least four stamps on it, for since you have yoked me to a stub pen and begged me not to criss-cross the sheets, my bills for stamps and stationery have increased.
"Sylvia Latham is the daughter of your Bluff people. Her father's name is Sylvester Johns Latham, and he is a Wall Street broker and promoter, with a deal of money, and ability for pulling the wires, but not much liked socially, I should judge,—that is, outside of a certain commercial group.
"Mrs. Latham was, at the time of her marriage, a pretty southern girl, Vivian Carhart, with only a face for a fortune. In a way she is a beautiful woman now, has quite a social following, a gift for entertaining, and, I judge, unbounded vanity and ambition.
"Quite recently some apparently valueless western land, belonging to her people, has developed fabulous ore, and they say that she is now more opulent than her husband.
"They were pewholders at St. Jacob's for many years, until three seasons ago, when they moved from a side street near Washington Square to 'Millionaire Row,' on the east side of the Park. There are two children, Sylvia, the younger, and a son, Carhart, a fine-looking blond fellow when I knew him, but who got into some bad scrape the year after he left college,—a gambling debt, I think, that his father repudiated, and sent him to try ranch life in the West. There was a good deal of talk at the time, and it was said that the boy fell into bad company at his mother's own card table, and that it has caused a chilliness between Mr. and Mrs. Latham.
"However it may be, Sylvia, who is an unspoiled girl of the frank and intellectual type, tall, and radiant with warm-hearted health, was kept much away at boarding-school for three years, and then went to college for a special two years' course in literature. She had barely returned home when her mother, hearing that I was going abroad, asked me to take Sylvia with me, as she was deficient in languages, which would be a drawback to her social career.
"It seemed a trifle strange to me, as she was then nineteen, an age when most girls of her class are brought out, and had been away for practically five years. But I took her gladly, and she has been a most lovable companion and friend. She called me Aunt, to overcome the formal Miss, and I wish she were my daughter. I'm only wondering if her high, unworldly standpoint, absorbed from wise teachers, and the halo that she has constructed from imagination and desire about her parents during the years of her separation from them, will not embarrass them a little, now that she is at home for good.
"By the way, we met in England last spring a young sub-professor, Horace Bradford, a most unusual young man for nowadays, but of old New England stock. He was one of Sylvia's literature instructors at Rockcliffe College, and he joined our party during the month we spent in the Shakespeare country. It was his first trip, and, I take it, earned by great self-sacrifice; and his scholarly yet boyish enthusiasm added hugely to our enjoyment.
"He spoke constantly of his mother. Do you know her? She lives on the old place, which was a farm of the better class, I take it, his father having been the local judge, tax collector, and general consulting factotum of his county. It is at Pine Ridge Centre, which, if I remember rightly, is not far from your town. I should like you to know him.
"I have only seen Sylvia twice since our return, but she lunches with me to-morrow. You and she should be fast friends, for she is of your ilk; and if this happens, I shall not regret the advent of the Whirlpool Colony in your beloved Oaklands as much as I do now.
"I am really beginning to look forward to my country visit, and am glad to see that some 'advance season' tops are spinning on the pavement in front of the house, and a game of marbles is in progress in my front yard itself, safe from the annoying skirts of passers-by. For you should know, dear Madam Pan, that marbles and tops are the city's first spring sign.
"By the way, I am sure that Horace Bradford and Sylvia are keeping up a literary correspondence. They are perfectly suited to each other for any and every grade of friendship, yet from her family standpoint no one could be more unwelcome. He has no social backing; his mother is a religious little country woman, who doubtless says 'riz' and 'reckon,' and he only has what he can earn by mental effort. But this is neither here nor there, and I'm sure you and I will have an interesting summer croon in spite of your qualms and resentment of the moneyed invasion.—Not another word, Lucy is waiting to take this to the post-box.
"P. S.—Josephus has just come back! Lean, and singed by hot ashes, I judge. I dread the shock to him when he knows about the yard!"
MARTIN CORTRIGHT'S LETTERS TO BARBARA AND DOCTOR RICHARD RUSSELL
"December 10, 19—.
"MY DEAR BARBARA:—
"You have often asked me to write you something of myself, my youth, but where shall I begin?
"I sometimes think that I must have been born facing backward, and a fatality has kept me walking in that direction ever since, so wide a space there seems to be to-day between myself and those whose age shows them to be my contemporaries.
"My father, being a man of solid position both in commerce and society, and having a far greater admiration for men of art and letters than would have been tolerated by his wholly commercial Knickerbocker forbears, I, his youngest child and only son, grew up to man's estate among the set of contemporaries that formed his world, men of literary and social parts, whose like I may safely say, for none will contradict, are unknown to the rising generation of New Yorkers; for not only have types changed, but also the circumstances and appreciations under which the development of those types was possible.
"In my nineteenth year events occurred that altered the entire course of my life, for not only did the almost fatal accident and illness that laid me low bar my study of a profession, but it rendered me at the same time, though I did not then realize it, that most unfortunate of beings, the semi-dependent son of parents whose overzeal to preserve a boy's life that is precious, causes them to deprive him of the untrammelled manhood that alone makes the life worth living.
"I always had a bent for research, a passion for following the history of my country and city to its fountain heads. I devoured old books, journals, and the precious documents to which my father had ready access, that passed from the attic treasure chests of the old houses in decline to the keeping of the Historical Society. As a lad I besought every gray head at my father's table to tell me a story, so what more natural, under the circumstances, than that my father should make me free of his library, and say: 'I do not expect or desire you to earn your living; I can provide for you. Here are companions, follow your inclinations, live your own life, and do not be troubled by outside affairs.' At first I was too broken in health and disappointed in ambition to rebel, then inertia became a habit.
"As my health unexpectedly improved and energy moved me to reassert myself and step out, a soft hand was laid on mine—the hand of my mother, invalided at my birth, retired at forty from a world where she had shone by force of beauty and wit—and a gentle voice would say: 'Stay with me, my son, my baby. Oh, bear with me a little longer. If you only knew the comfort it is to feel that you are in the house, to hear your voice. You will pen a history some day that will bring you fame, and you will read it to me here—we two, all alone in my chamber, before the world hears it.' So I stayed on. How mother love often blinds the eyes to its own selfishness.
"That fatal twentieth year, the time of my overthrow, brought me one good gift, your father's friendship. It was a strange chance, that meeting, and it was my love of hearing of past events and the questions concerning them that brought it about. Has your father ever told you of it?
"Likely not, for his life work has been the good physician's, to bring forth and keep alive, and mine the antiquarian's, dreaming and groping among ruins for doubtful treasure of fallen walls.
"My mother came of English, not Knickerbocker stock like my father, though both belong distinctly to New York; and female education being in a somewhat chaotic state between the old regime and new, her parents, desirous of having her receive the genteel polish of courtly manners, music, and dancing, sent her, when about fifteen, to Mrs. Rowson's school, then located at Hollis Street, Boston. The fame of this school had travelled far and wide, for not only had the preceptress in her youth, as Susanna Haswell, been governess to the children of the beautiful Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, one of the most accomplished women of her day, and profited by her fine taste, but her own high morals and literary gifts made her tutorship a much sought privilege.
"While there my mother met the little New England girl who was long afterward to become your grandmother. She had also come to study music, for which she had a talent. My mother related to me, when I was a little lad and used to burrow in her carved oak treasure chest and beg for stories of the articles it contained, many fascinating tales of those two school years, a pretty colour coming to her cheeks as she told of the dances learned together, pas-de-deux and minuet, from old 'Doctor' Shaffer, who was at the time second violin of the Boston Theatre, as well as authority in the correct methods of bowing and courtesying for gentlewomen. Your grandmother married first, and the letter telling of it was stored away with others in the oak chest.
"Some months before the steamboat accident that shattered my nerves, and preceded the long illness, I was browsing at a bookstall, on my way up from college homeward, when I came across a copy of Charlotte Temple—one of the dozen later editions—printed in New York by one R. Hobbs, in 1827, its distinguishing interest lying in a frontispiece depicting Charlotte's flight from Portsmouth.
"The story had long been a familiar one, and I, in common with others of many times my age and judgment, had lingered before the slab that bears her name in the graveyard of old Trinity, and sometimes laid a flower on it for sympathy's sake, as I have done many times since.
"On my return home I showed the little book to my mother, and as she held it in her hinds and read a word here and there, she too began to journey backward to her school days, and asked my father to bring out her treasure chest, and from it she took her school relics,—a tattered ribbon watch-guard fastened by a flat gold buckle that Mrs. Rowson had given her as a reward for good conduct, and a package of letters. She spent an hour reading these, and old ties strengthened as she read. I can see her now as she sat bolstered by pillows in her reclining chair, a writing tray upon her knees, penning a long letter.
"A few months afterward, as I lay in my bed too weak even to stir, your father stood there, looking across the footboard at me,—the answer to that letter. Your father, tall and strong of body and brain, a Harvard graduate drawn to New York to study medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. His eyes of strengthening manly pity looked into mine and drew me slowly back to life with them.
"His long absence as surgeon in the Civil War, the settling down as a country doctor, and even loving the same woman, has not separated us. Never more than a few months passed but our thoughts met on paper, or our hands clasped. His solicitude in a large measure restored my health, so that at sixty-three, physically, I can hold my own with any man of my age, and to-day I walk my ten miles with less ado than many younger men. Because of my intense dislike of the modern means of street transportation, I have kept on walking ever since the time that your father and I footed it from Washington Park to Van Cortlandt Manor, through the muskrat marshes whereon the park plaza now stands, up through the wilds of the future Central Park, McGowan's Pass, and northwestward across the Harlem to our destination. He will recollect. We were two days picking our way in going and two days on the return, for we scorned the 'bus route, and that was only in the later fifties. Never mind, if we ever do get back to small clothes and silk stockings, Martin Cortright can show a rounded calf, if he has been esteemed little more than a crawling bookworm these many years.
"Methinks I hear you yawn and crumple these sheets together in your hand, saying: 'What ails the man—is he grown doity? I thought he was contented, even if sluggishly serene.'
"And so he was, as one grown used to numbness, until last summer one Mistress Barbara visited the man-snail in his shell and exorcised him to come forth for an outing, to feed among fresh green leaves and breathe the perfume of flowers and young lives. When lo and behold, on the snail's return, the shell had grown too small!
* * * * *
(To R. R.)
"December 22, 19—.
"So social change has also cast its shadow across even your country pathway, dear Hippocrates? I wish it had spared you, but I feared as much when I heard that your peaceful town had been invaded by an advance guard of those same People of the Whirlpool who keep the social life of their own city in a ferment.
"You ask what is the matter, what the cause of the increasing restlessness that appears on every side, driving the conservative thinking class of moderate means to seek home shelter beyond city limits, and drawing the rest into a swirl that, sooner or later, either casts them forth as wrecks or sucks them wholly down.
"The question is difficult of answer, but there are two things that are potent causes of the third. Money too quickly earned, or rather won, causes an unwise expansion, and a fictitious prosperity that has degraded the life standard. Except in exclusively academic circles, the man is gauged by his power of financial purchase and control, and the dollar is his hall mark. He is forced to buy, not win, his way. Of course, if pedigree and private character correspond in quantity, so much the better, but their importance is strictly held in abeyance.
"Even in the legendary classic shades of learning, the cold pressure of the golden thumb crowds down and chills penniless brains. All students do not have equal chance and equal rights. How can they, when the exclusiveness of many fraternities is not by intellectual gauge or the capability for comradeship, but the power to pay high dues and spend lavishly. Of later years, in several conspicuous cases, even the choice of college officials of high control has been guided rather by their capacity as financiers than for ripened and inspiring scholarship.
"Then, too, the rack of constant change is detrimental to the finer grade of civic sentiment. It would seem that the Island's significant Indian name was wrought into its physical construction like the curse that kept the Jew of fable a wanderer. Periodically the city is rent and upheaved in unison with the surrounding changes of tide. Here one does not need to live out his threescore years and ten to see the city of his youth slip away from him. Even his Alma Mater packs her trunks and moves about too rapidly to foster the undying loyal home spirit among her sons—my college has lived in three houses since my freshman year. How I envy the sons of Harvard, Yale, and all the rest who can go back, and, feeling at least a scrap of the old campus turf beneath their feet, close their eyes and be young again for one brief minute. Is not this the reason why so many of Columbia's sons, in spite of the magnificent opportunities she offers, send their sons elsewhere, because they realize the value of associations they have missed, and recognize the Whirlpool's changefulness?
"What would be the feelings of an Oxford man, on returning from his life struggle in India or Australia, to visit his old haunts, if he found, as a sign of vaunted progress, the Bodleian Library turned into an apartment house!
"The primal difference between civilized men and the nameless savage is love of home, and the powerful races are those in whom this instinct is the strongest. Such fealty is not born in the shifting almost tent-dwellers of Manhattan.
"It was in the late seventies, the winter before his passing, that one mild night I walked home from a meeting of the Goethe Club in company with the poet Bryant. He and my father had been stanch comrades, and many a time had I studied his Homeric head silhouetted by firelight on our library wall. As we crossed the Park front going from Fifth Avenue east to west, he paused, and leaning on his cane gazed skyward, where the outlines of some buildings, in process of construction on Fifty-ninth Street, and then considered high, stood out against the sky. "'Poor New York,' he said, half to himself, half to me, 'created and yet cramped by force of her watery boundaries, where shall her sons and daughters find safe dwelling-places? They have covered the ground with their habitations, and even now they are climbing into the sky.' And he went on leaving his question unanswered.
* * * * *
"A caller interrupted me yesterday, a most persistent fellow and a dangerous one to the purse of the tyro collector of Americana, though not to me. He was a man of some pretence to classic education, and superficially versed in lore of title, date, and editio princeps. He had half a dozen prints of rarity and value had they not been forgeries, and a book ... that I had long sought after in its original form, but the only copy I had seen for many years when put up at auction lacked the title page and fully half a dozen leaves, besides having some other defects. Would you believe it, Dick, this copy was that from the auction, its defects repaired, its missing leaves replaced by careful forgery, and what is more, I know the vender was aware of the deceit. But he will sell it to some young moneyed sprig who will not know.
"I was angry, Dick, very angry, and yet all this is a trivial part of what we have a long time been discussing. The sudden glint of wealth in certain quarters has changed the aspect of even book collecting, that once most individual of occupations, and syndicated it.
"Once a book collection was the natural accumulation, more or less perfect according to purse and opportunity, of one following a certain line of thought, and bore the stamp of individuality; but as these bibliophiles of the old regime pass away, the ranks are recruited by men to whom money is of no account, whose competition forces irrational prices and creates false values. Methinks I see the finish of the small collectors like ourselves. Meanwhile, just so much intellectual pleasure is wrested from the modern scholar of small means who dares not make beginning. I do not like it, Dick, indeed I do not.
"But we were discussing domesticity, I think, when this wretch rang the bell. The restlessness I speak of as born of undisciplined bigness, of moneyed magnitude, is visible everywhere, and more so in the hours of relaxation than those of business.
"We have acquired the knowledge of many arts in these late years, and we needed it; but we have lost one that is irreparable—sociality. There is no longer time to know oneself, how then shall we know our neighbours?
"The verb to entertain has largely driven the verb to enjoy from the social page. It is not too extreme, I think, to say the home and playhouse have changed places. Many conservative people that I know turn to the theatre as the only safe means of relaxation and enjoyment within their reach, the stress and penalty of criticism in entertaining modern company being unbearable to them.
"To the bachelor who, like myself, has a modest hearthstone, yet no hand but his own to stir the fire, the dinner tables of his married friends and his clubs have been supposed to replace, in a measure at least, the need of family ties. Once they did this as far as such things may, but the easy sociality of the family board has almost ceased, and the average club has so expanded that it savours more of hotel freedom than home cosiness.
"I am not a misanthrope or a woman hater, as you know, yet from what I gather I fear that, in the upper middle class at least, it is the women who are responsible for this increased formality that most men naturally would avoid. Led by personal ambition, or that of young daughters, they seek to maintain a standard just enough beyond their easy grasp to feel ill at ease, if not humiliated, to be caught off guard. I remember once when I was a mere boy hearing my father say in a sorrowing tone to my eldest sister, who was giving fugitive reasons for not being able to array herself quickly for some festivity for which the invitation had been delayed, yet to which she longed to go: 'Wherever woman enters socially, then complications begin that are wholly of her own making. I warrant before Eve had finished her fig-leaf petticoat she was bothering Adam to know if he thought there could be another woman anywhere who had a garment of rarer leaves than her own.'
"The clubs do somewhat better, being under male management, but those among them that ranked as so conservative that membership was the hall mark of intellectual acquirements and stamped a man as either author, artist, or amateur of letters and the fine arts, have had their doors pushed open by many of those who wish to wear in public the name of being without good right, and so the little groups of kindred spirits have broken away, the authors in one direction, the followers of the drama to habitations of their own, artists who are too independent to be overborne by money in another, and thus the splitting spirit increases until it vanishes in a maze of cliques and coteries. The names may stand on the lists, the faces are absent, and one must wander through half a dozen clubs to really meet the aggregation of thinkers and workers of the grade who gathered in the snug corners of the Century's old club house in East Fifteenth Street when we were young fellows, and my father secured us cards for an occasional monthly meeting as the greatest favour he could do us.
"Come down if you can, take a holiday, or rather night, and go with me to the January meeting, and we will also stroll among some of our old haunts. You may perhaps realize, what I cannot altogether explain, the reason why I feel almost a stranger though at home."
* * * * *
(To DR. R. R.)
"January 10, 19—.
"Could not get away, you conscientious old Medicus, because of the strange accidents and holiday doings of the Whirlpool Colony at the Bluffs!
"Well, well! I read your last with infinite amusement. You are in a fair way to have enlightenment borne in upon you without leaving your surgery, or at least travelling farther than your substantial gig will take you.
"Meanwhile I have had what should be a crushing blow to my vanity, and in analyzing it I've made an important discovery. One night last week I was sitting quietly in the card room at the Dibdin Club, awaiting my whist mates (for here at least one may be reasonably sure of finding a group with bibliographic interests in common, and the pleasures of a non-commercial game of cards), when I heard a voice, one of a group outside, belonging to a wholesome, smooth-faced young fellow, with good tastes and instincts, say:—
"'I don't know what happened to the old boy when he took that unheard-of vacation of his last fall, or where he went, but one thing's very sure, since his return Cortright's grown pudgy and he's waked bang up. Wonder if he's finished that Colonial History, that's to be his monument, he's been working on all his life, or if he's fallen in love?'
"'If he'd fall in love, he might stand more chance of finishing his history,' replied a graybeard friend in deep didactic tones; 'he has material in plenty, but no vital stimulus for focussing his work.'
"I gave an unpremeditated laugh that dwindled to a chuckle, as if it were produced by a choking process. Two heads appeared a second at the doorway of the room they had thought empty, and then vanished!
"When I came home I sat a long while before my den fireplace thinking. They were right in two things, though not in the falling in love—that was done thirty-five years ago once and for all. I wondered if I had grown pudgy, dreadful word; stout carries a certain dignity, but pudgy suggests bunchy, wabbling flesh. I've noticed my gloves go on lingeringly, clinging at the joints, but I read that to mean rheumatism!
"That night I stood before the mirror and studied my face as I unbuttoned my vest and loosened my shirt band at the neck. Suddenly I experienced great relief. For several months past I have felt a strange asphyxiation and a vertigo sensation when wearing formal clothes of any kind, enjoying complete comfort only in the loose neckcloth and wrapper of my private hours. I had thought of asking medical advice, but having acquired a distrust of general physic in my youth, and hoping you might come down, I put it off.
"Unfasten your own top button, and now prepare to laugh—Martin Cortright is not threatened with apoplexy or heart failure, he's grown pudgy, and his clothes are all too small! Yet but for that boy's good-tempered ridicule he might not have discovered it.
"Think of it, Richard! I, whom my mother considered interesting and of somewhat distinguished mien, owing to my pallor and slim stature! A pudgy worm belongs to chestnuts, not to books. A pudgy antiquarian is a thing unheard of since monastic days, when annal making was not deemed out of place if mingled with the rotund jollity of a Friar Tuck. You must bear half the blame, for it must be the butter habit that your Martha Corkle's fresh churned pats inoculated me with, for I always detested the stuff before.
"Graybeard's stricture, however, struck a deeper chord—'He has material in plenty for his book, but no vital stimulus.' This, too, is deeply true, and I have felt it vaguely so for some time, but no more realized it than I did my pudginess.
"No matter how much material one collects, if the vitalizing spirit is not there, no matter how realistically the stage may be set if the actors are mere dummies. The only use of the past is to illuminate and sustain the present.
"Your own home life and work, the honest questions of little Richard and Ian waken me from a long sleep, I believe, and set me thinking. What is a man remembered by the longest? Brain work, memorial building, or heart touching? Do you recollect once meeting old Moore—Clement Clark Moore—at my father's? He was a profound scholar in Greek and Hebrew lexicology, and gave what was once his country house and garden in old Chelsea Village to the theological seminary of his professorship. How many people remember this, or his scholarship? But before that old rooftree was laid low, he wrote beneath it, quite offhand, a little poem, 'The Night Before Christmas,' that blends with childhood's dreams anew each Christmas Eve—a few short verses holding more vitality than all his learning.
"If my book ever takes body, my friend, it will be under your roof, where you and yours can vitalize it. This is no fishing for invitations—we know each other too frankly well for that. What I wish to do is to come into your neighbourhood next springtime, without encroaching on your hospitality, and work some hours every day in the library, or that corner of her charmed attic that Barbara has shared with me. It is bewitching. Upon my word, I do not wonder that she sees the world rose-colour as she looks upon it from that window. I, too, had long reveries there, in which experience and tradition mixed themselves so cleverly that for the time I could not tell whether it was my father or myself who had sometimes proudly escorted the lovely Carroll sisters upon their afternoon promenade down Broadway, from Prince Street to the Bowling Green, each leading her pet greyhound by a ribbon leash, or which of us it was that, in seeking to recapture an escaping hound, was upset by it in the mud, to the audible delight of some rivals in a 'bus and his own discomfiture, being rendered thereby unseemly for the beauty's further company."
* * * * *
"January 20, 19—.
"Thank you, dear Richard, for your brotherly letter. I make no protestations, for I know your invitation would not be given if you felt my presence would in any way be a drawback or impose care on any member of your household, and the four little hearts that Barbara drew, with her own, Evan's, and the boys' initials in them, are seals upon the invitation.
"Do not deplore, however, the lack of nearness of my haunts in Astor and Lenox libraries. Times are changed, and the new order condemns me to sit here if I read, there if I take out pencil and pad to copy—the red tape distracts me. The old Historical Society alone remains in comfortable confusion, and that is soon to move upward half a day's walk.
"But, as it chances, you have collected many of the volumes that are necessary to me, and I will use them freely, for some day, friend of mine, my books will be joined to yours, and also feel the touch of little Richard's and Ian's fingers, and of their sons, also, I hope.
"I declare, I'm growing childishly expectant and impatient for spring, like Barbara with her packages of flower seeds.
"You ask if I ever remember meeting one Lavinia Dorman. I think I used to see her with a bevy of girls from Miss Black's school, who used sometimes to attend lectures at the Historical Society rooms, and had an unlimited appetite for the chocolate and sandwiches that were served below in the 'tombs' afterward, which appetite I may have helped to appease, for you know father was always a sort of mine host at those functions.
"The girls must have all been eight or ten years my junior, and you know how a fellow of twenty-three or four regards giggling schoolgirls—they seem quite like kittens to him.
"Stop, was she one of the older girls, the special friend of—Barbara's mother? If so, I remember her face, though she did not walk in the school procession with the other 'convicts,' as the boys called them; but I was never presented.
"I'm sending a small birthday token to the boys—a little printing-press. Richard showed no small skill in setting the letters of my rubber stamp. It is some days late, but that will separate it from the glut of the Christmas market. Ask Evan to notify me if he and Barbara go to town.
WHEN BARBARA GOES TO TOWN
March 4. I like to go to a plain people's play, where the spectators groan and hiss the villain. It is a wholesome sort of clearing house where one may be freed from pent-up emotion under cover of other people's tears and smiles; the smiles triumphing at the end, which always winds up with a sudden recoil, leaving the nerves in a healthy thrill. I believe that I can only comprehend the primal emotions and what is called in intellectual jargon mental dissipation, and the problem play, in its many phases, appeals to me even less than crude physical dissipation.
We have seen a drama of the people played quite recently, having been to New York to spend part of a "midwinter" week's vacation, which father insisted that Evan should take between two rather complex and eye-straining pieces of work. Speaking by the almanac, it wasn't midwinter at all, but pre-spring, which, in spite of lengthening days, is the only uncompromisingly disagreeable season in the country—the time when measles usually invades the village school, the dogs come slinking in guiltily to the fire, pasted with frozen mud, the boys have snuffle colds, in spite of father's precautions, and I grow desperate and flout the jonquils in my window garden, it seems so very long since summer, and longer yet to real budding spring. We arrived at home last night in the wildest snowstorm of the season, and this morning Evan, having smoothed out his mental wrinkles by means of our mild city diversions, is now filling his lungs and straightening his shoulders by building a wonderful snow fort for the boys. Presently I shall go down to help them bombard him in it, and try to persuade them that it will last longer if they do not squeeze the snowballs too hard, for Evan has prohibited "baking" altogether.
The "baking" of snowballs consists of making up quite a batch at once, then dipping them in water and leaving them out until they are hard as rocks, and really wicked missiles.
The process, unknown in polite circles here, though practised by the factory town "muskrats," was taught my babies by the Vanderveer boy during the Christmas holidays, which, being snowy and bright, drew the colony to the Bluffs for coasting, skating, etc., giving father such a river of senseless accidents to wade through that he threatens to absent himself and take refuge with Martin Cortright in his Irving Place den for holiday week next year. Father has ridden many a night when the roads would not admit of wheeling, without thought of complaint, to the charcoal camp to tend a new mother, a baby, or a woodchopper suddenly stricken with pneumonia, that is so common a disease among men living as these do on poor food, in tiny close cabins, and continually getting checks of perspiration in the variable climate. During the holidays he was called to the Bluffs in the middle of two consecutive nights, first to the Vanderveers, and requested to "drug" the second assistant butler, who was wildly drunk, and being a recent acquisition had been brought to officiate at the house party without due trial, "so that he wouldn't be used up the next day," and then to the Ponsonby's, where the family had evidently not yet gone to bed. Here he found that the patient, a visiting school friend of one of the daughters, from up the state, and evidently not used to the whirl of the pool, had skated all day, and, kept going by unaccustomed stimulants, taken half from ignorance, half from bravado, had danced the evening through at the club house, and then collapsed. Her hostess, careless through familiarity with it, had given her a dose of one of the chloral mixtures "to let her have a good night's sleep"; but instead it had sent her into hysterics, and she was calling wildly for her mother to come and take her home. Father returned from both visits fairly white with rage. Not at the unfortunates themselves, be it said, but at the cool nonchalance of those who summoned him.
The butler's was a common enough case. That of the young girl moved him to pity, and then indignation, as he sifted, out the cause of the attack, in order to treat her intelligently. This questioning Mrs. Ponsonby resented most emphatically, telling him "to attend to his business and not treat ladies as if they were criminals." This to a man of father's professional ability, and one of over sixty years of age in the bargain.
"Madam," said he, "you are a criminal; for to my thinking all preventable illness, such as this, is a crime. Leave the room, and when I have soothed this poor child I will go home; and remember, do not send for me again; it will be useless."
Never a word did he say of the matter at home, though I read part in his face; but the Ponsonby's housekeeper, a countrywoman of Martha Corkle's, took the news to her, adding "and the missus stepped lively too, she did; only, law's sakes, by next mornin' she'd forgot all about it, and, we being short-handed, wanted me to go down with James and get the Doctor up to spray her throat for a hoarseness, and I remindin' her what he'd said, she laughed and answered, 'He had a bear's manners,' but to go tell him she'd pay him city prices, and she bet that would mend him and them!"
I took good care not to repeat this to father, for he would be wounded. He is beginning to see that they use him as a sort of ambulance surgeon, but he does not yet understand the absolute money insolence of these people to those not of their "set," whom they consider socially or financially beneath them, and I hope he never may. He is so full of good will to all men, so pitiful toward weakness and sin, and has kept his faith in human nature through thirty-five years' practice in a factory town, hospital wards, charcoal camp, and among the odd characters of the scattering hillsides, that it would be an undying shame to have it shattered by the very people that the others regard with hopeless envy.
Shame on you, Barbara, but you are growing bitter. Yes, I know you do not yourself mind left-handed snubs and remarks about your being "comfortably poor," but you won't have that splendid old father of yours put upon and sneezed at, with cigarette sneezes, too. You should realize that they don't know any better, also that presently they may become dreadfully bored after the manner of degenerates and move away from the Bluffs, and then companionable, commuting, or summer resident people will have a chance to buy their houses.
Shrewd Martha Corkle foresaw the probable outcome the day that the foundation-stone for the first cottage was laid, even before our prettiest flower-hedged lane was shorn and torn up to make it into a macadam road, in order to shorten the time, for motor vehicles, between the Bluffs and the station by possibly three minutes. Not that the people were obliged to be on time for early trains, for they are mostly the reapers of other people's sowing; but to men of a certain calibre, born for activity, the feeling that, simply for the pleasure of it, they can wait until the very latest moment and still get there, is an amusement savouring of both chance and power.
"Yes, Mrs. Evan," said Martha, with as much of a sniff as she felt compatible with her dignity, "I knows colernies of folks not born to or loving the soil, but just trying to get something temporary out o' it in the way o' pleasure, as rabbits, or mayhap bad smelling water for the rheumatics. (It was the waters Lunnon swells came for down on the old estate.) To my thinkin' these pleasure colernies is bad things; they settles as senseless as a swarm of bees, just because their leader's lit there first; and when they've buzzed themselves out and moved on, like as not some sillies as has come gapin' too close is bit fatal or poisoned for life."