Susan Warner (1819-1885), Queechy (1852), Tauchnitz edition 1854
Produced by Daniel FROMONT
QUEECHY. BY ELIZABETH WETHERELL .
IN TWO VOLUMES.
by the same author,
THE WIDE WIDE WORLD 1 vol.
THE HILLS OF THE SHATEMUC 2 vols.
SAY AND SEAL 2 vols.
THE OLD HELMET 2 vols.
AUTHOR OF "THE WIDE, WIDE WORLD."
IN TWO VOLUMES.
IN TWO VOLUMES
OF VOLUME II.
Chapter I. The Brook's old Song, and the new
II. Flighty and unsatisfactory
III. Disclosures by Mr. Skillcorn
IV. Mr. Olmney's cause argued
V. Sometimes inconvenient, "from the loop-hole of retreat, to peep at such a world"
VI. Fleda's white Muslin
VII. How the Fairy engaged two Englishmen
VIII. Fleda forgets herself
IX. The Roses and the Gentlemen
X. "An unseen enemy round the corner"
XI. The Fairy at her work again
XII. A Night of uncertain length
XIII. A Thorn enters
XIV. Dealings with the Press
XV. Ends with soft music
XVI. How Fleda was watched by blue eyes
XVII. What pleasant people one meets in Society
XVIII. How much trouble one may have about a note
XIX. Aromatic vinegar
XX. The fur-cloak on a journey
XXI. Quarrenton to Queechy
XXII. Montepoole becomes a point of interest
XXIII. The house on "the hill" once more
XXIV. The first one that left Queechy
XXV. The last Sunset there
XXVI. Fleda alone on an Isthmus
XXVII. The Gothic chapel before breakfast
"He that has light within his own clear breast, May sit i' th' centre and enjoy bright day." MILTON.
The farming plan succeeded beyond Fleda's hopes thanks not more to her wisdom than to the nice tact with which the wisdom was brought into play. The one was eked out with Seth Plumfield's; the other was all her own. Seth was indefatigably kind and faithful. After his own day's work was done, he used to walk down to see Fleda, go with her often to view the particular field or work just then in question, and give her the best counsel dictated by great sagacity and great experience. It was given, too, with equal frankness and intelligence, so that Fleda knew the steps she took, and could maintain them against the. prejudice or the ignorance of her subordinates. But Fleda's delicate handling stood her yet more in stead than her strength. Earl Douglass was sometimes unmanageable, and held out in favour of an old custom or a prevailing opinion in spite of all the weight of testimony and light of discovery that could be brought to bear upon him. Fleda would let the thing go. But seizing her opportunity another time, she would ask him to try the experiment on a piece of the ground, so pleasantly and skilfully, that Earl could do nothing but shut his mouth and obey, like an animal fairly stroked into good humour. And as Fleda always forgot to remind him that she had been right and he wrong, he forgot it too, and presently took to the new way kindly. In other matters he could be depended on, and the seed-time and harvest prospered well. There was hope of making a good payment to Dr. Gregory in the course of a few months.
As the spring came forward, Fleda took care that her garden should both gardens, indeed. There she and Philetus had the game in their own hands, and beautifully it was managed. Hugh had full occupation at the mill. Many a dollar this summer was earned by the loads of fine fruits and vegetables which Philetus carried to Montepoole; and accident opened a new source of revenue. When the courtyard was in the full blaze of its beauty, one day an admiring passer-by modestly inquired if a few of those exquisite flowers might be had for money. They were given him most cheerfully that time; but the demand returned, accompanied by the offer, and Fleda obliged herself not to decline it. A trial it was, to cut her roses and jessamines for anything but her own or her friends' pleasure, but, according to custom, she bore it without hesitation. The place became a resort for all the flower-lovers who happened to be staying at the Pool; and rose-leaves were changed into silver pennies as fast as in a fairy-tale.
But the delicate mainspring that kept all this machinery in order suffered from too severe a strain. There was too much running, too much considering, too much watchfulness. In the garden, pulling peas, and seeing that Philetus weeded the carrots right in the field or the wood-yard, consulting and arranging, or maybe debating, with Earl Douglass, who acquired by degrees an unwonted and concentrated respect for womankind in her proper person; breakfast waiting for her often before she came in; in the house, her old housewifery concerns, her share in Barby's cares or difficulties, her sweet countenancing and cheering of her aunt, her dinner, her work; then when evening came, budding her roses, or tying her carnations, or weeding, or raking the ground between them (where Philetus could do nothing), or training her multiflora and sweet-brier branches; and then often, after all, walking up to the mill to give Hugh a little earlier a home smile, and make his way down pleasant. No wonder if the energies which owed much of their strength to love's nerving, should at last give out, and Fleda's evening be passed in wearied slumbers. No wonder if many a day was given up to the forced quietude of a headache, the more grievous to Fleda, because she knew that her aunt and Hugh always found the day dark that was not lightened by her sun-beam. How brightly it shone out the moment the cloud of pain was removed, winning the shadow from their faces and a smile to their lips, though solitude always saw her own settle into a gravity as fixed as it was soft.
"You have been doing too much, Fleda," said Mrs. Rossitur, one morning when she came in from the garden.
"I didn't know it would take me so long," said Fleda, drawing a long breath: "but I couldn't help it. I had those celery plants to prick out and then I was helping Philetus to plant another patch of corn."
"He might have done that without help, I should think."
"But it must be put in to-day, and he had other things to do."
"And then you were at your flowers?"
"Oh, well! budding a few roses that's only play. It was time they were done. But I am tired; and I am going up to see Hugh it will rest me and him too."
The gardening frock and gloves were exchanged for those of ordinary wear, and Fleda set off slowly to go up to the saw- mill.
She stopped a moment when she came upon the bridge, to look off to the right where the waters of the little run came hurrying along through a narrow wooded chasm in the hill, murmuring to her of the time when a little child's feet had paused there, and a child's heart danced to its music. The freshness of its song was unchanged, the glad rush of its waters was as joyous as ever, but the spirits were quieted that used to answer it with sweeter freshness and lighter joyousness. Its faint echo of the old-time laugh was blended now in Fleda's ear with a gentle wail for the rushing days and swifter-fleeing delights of human life; gentle, faint, but clear she could hear it very well. Taking up her walk again, with a step yet slower, and a brow yet more quiet, she went on till she came in sight of the little mill; and presently, above the noise of the brook, could hear the saw going. To her childish ears what a signal of pleasure that had always been! and now she sighed, and stopping at a little distance, looked for Hugh. He was there; she saw him in a moment going forward to stop the machinery, the piece of timber in hand having walked its utmost length up to the saw; she saw him throwing aside the new-cut board, and adjusting what was left till it was ready for another march up to head-quarters. When it stopped the second time, Fleda went forward. Hugh must have been busy in his own thoughts, for he did not see her until he had again adjusted the log, and set the noisy works in motion. She stood still. Several huge timbers lay close by, ready for the saw; and on one of them where he had been sitting, Fleda saw his Bible lying open. As her eye went from it to him, it struck her heart with a pang that he looked tired, and that there was a something of delicacy, even of fragility, in the air of face and figure both.
He came to meet her, and welcomed her with a smile, that coming upon this feeling set Fleda's heart a-quivering. Hugh's smile was always one of very great sweetness, though never unshadowed; there was often something ethereal in its pure gentleness. This time it seemed even sweeter than usual; but though not sadder, perhaps less sad, Fleda could hardly command herself to reply to it. She could not at the moment speak; her eye glanced at his open book.
"Yes, it rests me," he said, answering her.
"Rests you, dear Hugh!"
He smiled again. "Here is somebody else that wants resting, I am afraid," said he, placing her gently on the log; and before she had found anything to say, he went off again to his machinery. Fleda sat looking at him, and trying to clear her bosom of its thick breathing.
"What has brought you up here through the hot sun?" said he, coming back after he had stopped the saw, and sitting down beside her.
Fleda's lip moved nervously, and her eye shunned meeting his. Softly pushing back the wet hair from his temples, she said
"I had one of my fits of doing nothing at home I didn't feel very bright, and thought perhaps you didn't so, on the principle that two negatives make an affirmative "
"I feel bright," said Hugh, gently.
Fleda's eye came down to his, which was steady and clear as the reflection of the sky in Deepwater lake and then hers fell lower.
"Why don't you, dear Fleda?"
"I believe I am a little tired," Fleda said, trying, but in vain, to command herself and look up "and there are states of body when anything almost is enough to depress one."
"And what depresses you now?" said he, very steadily and quietly.
"Oh I was feeling a little down about things in general," said Fleda, in a choked voice, trying to throw off her load with a long breath; "it's because I am tired, I suppose "
"I felt so too, a little while ago," said Hugh. "But I have concluded to give all that up, Fleda."
Fleda looked at him. Her eyes were swimming full, but his were clear and gentle as ever, only glistening a little in sympathy with hers.
"I thought all was going wrong with us," he went on. "But I found it was only I that was wrong; and since that, I have been quite happy, Fleda."
Fleda could not speak to him; his words made her pain worse.
"I told you this rested me," said he, reaching across her for his book; "and now I am never weary long. Shall I rest you with it? What have you been troubling yourself about to-day?"
She did not answer while he was turning over the leaves, and he then said,
"Do you remember this, Fleda 'Truly God is good to Israel, even to them that are of a clean heart.' "
Fleda bent her head down upon her hands.
"I was moody and restless the other day," said Hugh; "desponding of everything; and I came upon this psalm; and it made me ashamed of myself. I had been disbelieving it; and because I could not see how things were going to work good, I thought they were going to work evil. I thought we were wearing out our lives alone here in a wearisome way, and I forgot that it must be the very straightest way that we could get home. I am sure we shall not want anything that will do us good; and the rest I am willing to want and so are you, Fleda?"
Fleda squeezed his hand that was all. For a minute he was silent, and then went on, without any change of tone.
"I had a notion, awhile ago, that I should like if it were possible for me to go to college; but I am quite satisfied now. I have good time and opportunity to furnish myself with a better kind of knowledge, that I shall want where college learning wouldn't be of much use to me; and I can do it, I dare say, better here in this mill, than if we had stayed in New York, and I had lived in our favourite library."
"But, dear Hugh," said Fleda, who did not like this speech in any sense of it; "the two things do not clash! The better man, the better Christian always, other things being equal. The more precious kind of knowledge should not make one undervalue the less?"
"No," he said; but the extreme quietness and simplicity of his reply smote Fleda's fears; it answered her words and waved her thought. She dared not press him further. She sat looking over the road with an aching heart.
"You haven't taken enough of my medicine," said Hugh, smiling. "Listen, Fleda 'All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.' "
But that made Fleda cry again.
" 'All his paths,' Fleda; then, whatever may happen to you, and whatever may happen to me, or to any of us, I can trust him. I am willing any one should have the world, if I may have what Abraham had 'fear not; I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward;' and I believe I shall, Fleda; for it is not the hungry that he has threatened to send empty away."
Fleda could say nothing, and Hugh just then said no more. For a little while, near and busy as thoughts might be, tongues were silent. Fleda was crying quietly, the utmost she could do being to keep it quiet; Hugh, more quietly, was considering again the strong pillars on which he had laid his hope, and trying their strength and beauty, till all other things were to him as the mist rolling off from he valley is to the man planted on a watch-tower.
His meditations were interrupted by the tramp of horse; and a party of riders, male and female, came past them up the hill. Hugh looked on as they went by; Fleda's head was not raised.
"There are some people enjoying themselves," said Hugh. "After all, dear Fleda, we should be very sorry to change places with those gay riders. I would not, for a thousand worlds, give my hope and treasure for all other they can possibly have in possession or prospect."
"No, indeed!" said Fleda, energetically, and trying to rouse herself, "and, besides that, Hugh, we have, as it is, a great deal more to enjoy than most other people. We are so happy "
In each other, she was going to say, but the words choked her.
"Those people looked very hard at us, or at one of us," said Hugh. "It must have been you, I think, Fleda."
"They are welcome," said Fleda; "they couldn't have made much out of the back of my sun-bonnet."
"Well, dear Fleda, I must content myself with little more than looking at you now, for Mr. Winegar is in a hurry for his timber to be sawn, and I must set this noisy concern a-going again."
Fleda sat and watched him, with rising and falling hopes and fears, forcing her lips to a smile when he came near her, and hiding her tears at other times; till the shadows stretching well to the east of the meridian, admonished her she had been there long enough; and she left him still going backward and forward tending the saw.
As she went down the hill, she pressed involuntarily her hands upon her heart, for the dull heavy pain there. But that was no plaster for it; and when she got to the bridge the soft singing of the little brook was just enough to shake her spirits from the doubtful poise they had kept. Giving one hasty glance along the road and up the hill, to make sure that no one was near, she sat down on a stone in the edge of the woods, and indulged in such weeping as her gentle eyes rarely knew; for the habit of patience so cultivated for others' sake constantly rewarded her own life with its sweet fruits. But deep and bitter in proportion was the flow of the fountain once broken up. She struggled to remind herself that "Providence runneth not on broken wheels;" she struggled to repeat to herself what she did not doubt, that, "all the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth" to his people; in vain. The slight check for a moment to the torrent of grief but gave it greater head to sweep over the barrier; and the self-reproach that blamed its violence and needlessness only made the flood more bitter. Nature fought against patience for awhile; but when the loaded heart had partly relieved itself, patience came in again, and she rose up to go home. It startled her exceedingly to find Mr. Olmney standing before her, and looking so sorrowful that Fleda's eyes could not bear it.
"My dear Miss Ringgan! forgive me I hope you will forgive me but I could not leave you in such distress. I knew that in you it could only be from some very serious cause of grief."
"I cannot say it is from anything new, Mr. Olmney except to my apprehensions."
"You are all well?" he said, inquiringly, after they had walked a few steps in silence.
"Well? yes, Sir," said Fleda, hesitatingly; "but I do not think that Hugh looks very well."
The trembling of her voice told him her thought. But he remained silent.
"You have noticed it?" she said, hastily looking up.
"I think you have told me he always was delicate?"
"And you have noticed him looking so, lately, Mr. Olmney!"
"I have thought so but you say he always was that. If you will permit me to say so, I have thought the same of you, Miss Fleda."
Fleda was silent: her heart ached again.
"We would gladly save each other from every threatening trouble," said Mr. Olmney again, after a pause; "but it ought to content us that we do not know how. Hugh is in good hands, my dear Miss Ringgan."
"I know it, Sir," said Fleda, unable quite to keep back her tears; "and I know very well this thread of our life will not bear the strain always and I know that the strands must, in all probability, part unevenly and I know it is in the power of no blind fate but that "
"Does not lessen our clinging to each other. O no! it grows but the tenderer and the stronger for the knowledge."
Fleda could but cry.
"And yet," said he, very kindly, "we who are Christians may and ought to learn to take troubles hopefully, for 'tribulation worketh patience, and patience,' that is, quiet waiting on God, 'works experience' of his goodness and faithfulness; and 'experience worketh hope,' and that 'hope,' we know, 'maketh not ashamed.' "
"I know it," said Fleda; "but, Mr. Olmney, how easily the brunt of a new affliction breaks down all that chain of reasoning!"
"Yes!" he said, sadly and thoughtfully; "but, my dear Miss Fleda, you know the way to build it up again. I would be very glad to bear all need for it away from you."
They had reached the gate. Fleda could not look up to thank him; the hand she held out was grasped, more than kindly, and he turned away.
Fleda's tears came hot again as she went up the walk; she held her head down to hide them, and went round the back way.
"Now the melancholy god protect thee: and the tailor make thy doublet of changeable taffeta, for thy mind is a very opal." TWELFTH NIGHT.
"Well, what did you come home for?" was Barby's salutation; "here's company been waiting for you till they're tired, and I am sure I be."
"Company!" said Fleda.
"Yes, and it's ungrateful in you to say so," said Barby; "for she's been in a wonderful hurry to see you, or to get somethin' to eat I don't know which; a little o' both, I hope in charity."
"Why didn't you give her something to eat? Who is it?"
"I don't know who it is! It's one of your highfliers, that's all I can make out. She 'a'n't a hat a bit better than a man's beaver; one 'ud think she had stole her little brother's for a spree, if the rest of her was like common folks; but she's got a tail to her dress as long as from here to Queechy Run, and she's been tiddling in and out here, with it puckered up under her arm, sixty times. I guess she belongs to some company of female militie, for the body of it is all thick with braid and buttons. I believe she ha'n't sot still five minutes since she come into the house, till I don't know whether I am on my head or my heels."
"But why didn't you give her something to eat?" said Fleda, who was hastily throwing off her gloves, and smoothing her disordered hair with her hands into something of composure.
"Did!" said Barby; "I give her some o' them cold biscuit and butter and cheese, and a pitcher of milk sot a good enough meal for anybody; but she didn't take but a crumb, and she turned up her nose at that. Come, go! you've slicked up enough; you're handsome enough to show yourself to her any time o' day, for all her jig-em bobs."
"Where is aunt Lucy?"
"She's up stairs; there's been nobody to see to her but me. She's had the hull lower part of the house to herself, kitchen and all, and she's done nothing but go out of one room into another ever since she come. She'll be in here again directly, if you aint spry."
Fleda went in, round to the west room, and there found herself in the arms of the second Miss Evelyn, who jumped to meet her, and half-stifled her with caresses.
"You wicked little creature! what have you been doing? Here have I been growing melancholy over the tokens of your absence, and watching the decline of the sun, with distracted feelings these six hours."
"Six hours!" said Fleda, smiling.
"My dear little Fleda! it's so delicious to see you again!" said Miss Evelyn, with another prolonged hug and kiss.
"My dear Constance! I am very glad! but where are the rest?"
"It's unkind of you to ask after anybody but me, when I came here this morning on purpose to talk the whole day to you. Now, dear little Fleda," said Miss Constance, executing an impatient little persuasive caper round her, "won't you go out and order dinner? for I'm raging. Your woman did give me something, but I found the want of you had taken away all my appetite; and now the delight of seeing you has exhausted me, and I feel that nature is sinking. The stimulus of gratified affection is too much for me."
"You absurd child!" said Fleda; "you haven't mended a bit. But I told Barby to put on the tea-kettle, and I will administer a composing draught as soon as it can be got ready; we don't indulge in dinners here in the wilderness. Meanwhile, suppose that exhausted nature try the support of this easy-chair."
She put her visitor gently into it, and, seating herself upon the arm, held her hand, and looked at her with a smiling face, and yet with eyes that were almost too gentle in their welcoming.
"My dear little Fleda! you're as lovely as you can be! Are you glad to see me?"
"Why don't you ask after somebody else?"
"I was afraid of overtasking your exhausted energies."
"Come, and sit down here upon my lap! You shall, or I won't say another word to you. Fleda! you've grown thin! what have you been doing to yourself?"
"Nothing, with that particular purpose."
"I don't care you've done something. You have been insanely imagining that it is necessary for you to be in three or four places at the same time; and in the distracted effort after ubiquity, you are in imminent danger of being nowhere; there's nothing left of you!"
"I don't wonder you were overcome at the sight of me," said Fleda.
"But you are looking charmingly for all that," Constance went on; "so charmingly, that I feel a morbid sensation creeping all over me while I sit regarding you. Really, when you come to us next winter, if you persist in being by way of showing your superiority to ordinary human nature a rose without a thorn, the rest of the flowers may all shut up at once. And the rose reddens in my very face, to spite me!"
"Is 'ordinary human nature' typified by a thorn? You give it rather a poor character."
"I never heard of a thorn that didn't bear an excellent character," said Constance, gravely.
"Hush!" said Fleda, laughing; "I don't want to hear about Mr. Thorn. Tell me of somebody else."
"I haven't said a word about Mr. Thorn!" said Constance, ecstatically; "but since you ask about him, I will tell you. He has not acted like himself since you disappeared from our horizon that is, he has ceased to be at all pointed in his attentions to me; his conversation has lost all the acuteness for which I remember you admired it; he has walked Broadway in a moody state of mind all winter, and grown as dull as is consistent with the essential sharpness of his nature. I ought to except our last interview, though, for his entreaties to Mamma that she would bring you home with her were piercing."
Fleda was unable, in spite of herself, to keep from laughing; but entreated that Constance would tell her of somebody else.
"My respected parents are at Montepoole, with all their offspring that is, Florence and Edith; I am at present anxiously inquired after, being nobody knows where, and to be fetched by Mamma this evening. Wasn't I good, little Fleda, to run away from Mr. Carleton, to come and spend a whole day in social converse with you!"
"Carleton!" said Fleda.
"Yes? Oh, you don't know who he is! he's a new attraction; there's been nothing like him this great while, and all New York is topsy-turvy about him; the mothers are dying with anxiety, and the daughters with admiration; and it's too delightful to see the cool superiority with which he takes it all; like a new star that all the people are pointing their telescopes at, as Thorn said, spitefully, the other day. Oh, he has turned my head! I have looked till I cannot look at anything else. I can just manage to see a rose, but my dazzled powers of vision are equal to nothing more."
"My dear Constance!"
"It's perfectly true! Why, as soon as we knew he was coming to Montepoole, I wouldn't let Mamma rest till we all made a rush after him; and when we got here first, and I was afraid he wasn't coming, nothing can express the state of my feelings! But he appeared the next morning, and then I was quite happy," said Constance, rising and falling in her chair, on what must have been ecstatic springs, for wire ones it had none.
"Constance," said Fleda, with a miserable attempt at rebuke, "how can you talk so!"
"And so we were all riding round here this morning, and I had the self-denial to stop to see you, and leave Florence and the Marlboroughs to monopolize him all the way home. You ought to love me for ever for it. My dear Fleda!" said Constance, clasping her hands, and elevating her eyes in mock ecstasy, "if you had ever seen Mr. Carleton!"
"I dare say I have seen somebody as good," said Fleda, quietly.
"My dear Fleda!" said Constance, a little scornfully this time; "you haven't the least idea what you are talking about! I tell you, he is an Englishman; he's of one of the best families in England: not such as you ever see here but once in an age; he's rich enough to count Mr. Thorn over, I don't know how many times."
"I don't like anybody the better for being an Englishman," said Fleda; "and it must be a small man whose purse will hold his measure."
Constance made an impatient gesture.
"But I tell you it isn't! We knew him when we were abroad; and we know what he is; and we know his mother very well. When we were in England, we were a week with them down at their beautiful place in shire the loveliest time! You see, she was over here with Mr. Carleton once before, a good while ago; and mamma and papa were polite to them, and so they showed us a great deal of attention when we were in England. We had the loveliest time down there you can possibly conceive. And, my dear Fleda, he wears such a fur cloak! lined with the most exquisite black fox."
"But, Constance!" said Fleda, a little vexed, though laughing "any man may wear a fur cloak; the thing is, what is inside of it."
"It is perfectly indifferent to me what is inside of it," said Constance, ecstatically. "I can see nothing but the edges of the black fox, especially when it is worn so very gracefully."
"But, in some cases, there might be a white fox within."
"There is nothing of the fox about Mr. Carleton," said Constance, impatiently. "If it had been anybody else, I should have said he was a bear two or three times; but he wears everything as he does his cloak, and makes you take what he pleases from him what I wouldn't take from any- body else, I know."
"With a fox lining," said Fleda, laughing.
"Then foxes haven't got their true character, that's all. Now I'll just tell you an instance it was at a party somewhere it was at that tiresome Mrs. Swinburne's, where the evenings are always so stupid, and there was nothing worth going or staying for but the supper except Mr. Carleton and he never stays five minutes, except at two or three places; and it drives me crazy, because they are places I don't go to very often "
"Suppose you keep your wits, and tell me your story."
"Well don't interrupt me he was there, and he had taken me into the supper-room, when mamma came along, and took it into her head to tell me not to take something I forget what punch, I believe because I had not been well in the morning. Now, you know, it was absurd. I was perfectly well then, and I told her I shouldn't mind her; but do you believe, Mr. Carleton wouldn't give it to me? absolutely told me he wouldn't, and told me why, as coolly as possible, and gave me a glass of water, and made me drink it; and if it had been anybody else, I do assure you I would have flung it in his face, and never spoken to him again; and I have been in love with him ever since. Now, is that tea going to be ready?"
"Presently. How long have you been here?"
"Oh, a day or two and it has poured with rain every single day since we came, till this one; and just think," said Constance with a ludicrously scared face "I must make haste, and be back again. You see, I came away on principle, that I may strike with the effect of novelty when I appear again; but if I stay too long, you know there is a point "
"On the principle of the ice-boats," said Fleda, "that back a little to give a better blow to the ice, where they find it tough?"
"Tough!" said Constance.
"Does Florence like this paragon of yours as well as you do?"
"I don't know she don't talk so much about him, but that proves nothing; she's too happy to talk to him. I expect our family concord will be shattered by and by," said Constance, shaking her head.
"You seem to take the prospect philosophically," said Fleda, looking amused. "How long are you going to stay at the Pool?"
Constance gave an expressive shrug, intimating that the deciding of that question did not rest with her.
"That is to say, you are here to watch the transit of this star over the meridian of Queechy?"
"Of Queechy! of Montepoole."
"Very well of Montepoole. I don't wonder that nature is exhausted. I will go and see after this refection."
The prettiest little meal in the world was presently forth for the two. Fleda knew her aunt would not come down, and Hugh was yet at the mill; so she led her visitor into the breakfast- room alone Constance, by the way, again fondly embracing her, and repeating, "My dear little Fleda, how glad I am to see you!"
The lady was apparently hungry, for there was a minute of silence while the refection begun, and then Constance claimed, perhaps with a sudden appreciation of the delicious bread and butter, and cream and strawberries
"What a lovely old room this is and what lovely times you have here, don't you, Fleda?"
"Yes sometimes," Fleda said, with a sigh.
"But I shall tell mamma you are growing thin, and the first minute we get home I shall send for you to come us. Mrs. Thorn will be amazingly glad to see you."
"Has she got back from Europe?" said Fleda.
"Ages! and she's been entertaining the world as hard as she could ever since. I have no doubt Lewis has confided to the maternal bosom all his distresses; and there never was anything like the rush that I expect will be made to our greenhouse next winter. Oh, Fleda, you should see Mr. Carleton's greenhouses!"
"Should I?" said Fleda.
"Dear me! I hope mamma will come!" said Constance, with a comical, fidgety shake of herself; "when I think of those greenhouses I lose my self-command. And the park! Fleda, it's the loveliest thing you ever saw in your life; and it's all that delightful man's doing; only he wont have a geometric flower-garden, as I did everything I could think of to persuade him. I pity the woman that will be his wife she wont have her own way in a single thing; but then he will fascinate her into thinking that his way is the best so it will do just as well, I suppose. Do you know, I can't conceive what he has come over here for. He has been here before, you know, and he don't seem to me to know exactly what he means to do; at least, I can't find out, and I have tried."
"How long has he been here?"
"Oh, a month or two since the beginning of April, I believe. He came over with some friends of his a Sir George Egerton and his family; he is going to Canada, to be established in some post there, I forget what; and they are spending part of the summer here before they fix themselves at the North. It is easy to see what they are here for they are strangers, and amusing themselves; but Mr. Carleton is at home, and not amusing himself, at least, he don't seem to be. He goes about with the Egertons, but that is just for his friendship for them; and he puzzles me. He don't know whether he is going to Niagara he has been once already and 'perhaps' he may go to Canada and 'possibly' he will make a journey to the West and I can't find out that he wants anything in particular."
"Perhaps he don't mean that you shall," said Fleda.
"Perhaps he don't; but you see that aggravates my state of mind to a distressing degree. And then I'm afraid he will go somewhere where I can't keep watch of him!"
Fleda could not help laughing.
"Perhaps he was tired of home, and came for mere weariness."
"Weariness! it's my opinion he has no idea there is such a word in the language I am certain, if he heard it, he would call for a dictionary the next minute. Why, at Carleton, it seems to me he was half the time on horseback, flying about from one end of the country to the other; and, when he is in the house, he is always at work at something; it's a piece of condescension to get him to attend to you at all; only when he does, my dear Fleda! he is so enchanting that you live in a state of delight till next time. And yet, I never could get him to pay me a compliment to this minute I tried two or three times, and he rewarded me with some very rude speeches."
"Rude!" said Fleda.
"Yes that is, they were the most graceful and fascinating things possible, but they would have been rudeness in anybody else. Where is mamma?" said Constance, with another comic counterfeit of distress. "My dear Fleda, it's the most captivating thing to breakfast at Carleton!"
"I have no idea the bread and butter is sweeter there than in some other parts of the world," said Fleda.
"I don't know about the bread and butter," said Constance, "but those exquisite little sugar-dishes! My dear Fleda, every one has his own sugar-dish and cream-ewer the loveliest little things!"
"I have heard of such things before," said Fleda.
"I don't care about the bread and butter," said Constance "eating is immaterial, with those perfect little things right opposite to me. They weren't like any you ever saw, Fleda the sugar-bowl was just a little, plain, oval box, with the lid on a hinge, and not a bit of chasing, only the arms on the cover like nothing I ever saw but a old-fashioned silver tea-caddy; and the cream-jug, a little, straight, up-and-down thing to match. Mamma said they were clumsy, but they bewitched me!"
"I think everything bewitched you," said Fleda, smiling. "Can't your head stand a sugar-dish and milk-cup?"
"My dear Fleda, I never had your superiority to the ordinary weaknesses of human nature I can stand one sugar-bowl, but I confess myself overcome by a dozen. How we have all wanted to see you, Fleda! and papa you have captivated papa! and he says "
"Never mind; don't tell me what he says," said Fleda.
"There! that's your modesty that everybody rave about: I wish I could catch it. Fleda, where did you get that little Bible? While I was waiting for you I tried to soothe my restless anticipations with examining all the things in all the rooms. Where did you get it?"
"It was given me a long while ago," said Fleda.
"But it is real gold on the outside the clasps and all. Do you know it? it is not washed."
"I know it," said Fleda, smiling; "and it is better than gold inside."
"Wasn't that mamma's favourite, Mr. Olmney, that parted from you at the gate?" said Constance, after a minute's silence.
"Is he a favourite of yours, too?"
"You must define what you mean by a favourite," said Fleda, gravely.
"Well, how do you like him?"
"I believe everybody likes him," said Fleda, colouring, and vexed at herself that she could not help it. The bright eyes opposite her took note of the fact with a sufficiently wide- awake glance.
"He's very good!" said Constance, hugging herself, and taking a fresh supply of butter; "but don't let him know I have been to see you, or he'll tell you all sorts of evil things about me, for fear you should innocently be contaminated. Don't you like to be taken care of?"
"Very much," said Fleda, smiling, "by people that know how."
"I can't bear it!" said Constance, apparently with great sincerity; "I think it is the most impertinent thing in the world people can do; I can't endure it, except from ! Oh, my dear Fleda, it is perfect luxury to have him put a shawl round your shoulders!"
"Fleda," said Earl Douglass, putting his head in from the kitchen, and before he said any more, bobbing it frankly at Miss Evelyn, half in acknowledgment of her presence, and half, as it seemed, in apology for his own; "Fleda, will you let Barby pack up somethin' 'nother for the men's lunch? my wife would ha' done it, as she had ought to, if she wa'n't down with the teethache, and Catherine's away on a jig to Kenton, and the men wont do so much work on nothin', and I can't say nothin' to 'em if they don't; and I'd like to get that 'ere clover-field down afore night: it's goin' to be a fine spell o' weather. I was a-goin' to try to get along without it, but I believe we can't."
"Very well," said Fleda. "But, Mr. Douglass, you'll try the experiment of curing it in cocks?"
"Well, I don't know," said Earl, in a tone of very discontented acquiescence; "I don't see how anythin' should be as sweet as the sun for dryin' hay; I know folks says it is, and I've heerd 'em say it is, and they'll stand to it, and you can't beat 'em off the notion it is, but somehow or 'nother I can't seem to come into it. I know the sun makes sweet hay, and I think the sun was meant to make hay, and I don't want to see no sweeter hay than the sun makes; it's as good hay as you need to have."
"But you wouldn't mind trying it for once, Mr. Douglass, just for me?"
"I'll do just what you please," said he, with a little exculpatory shake of his head; " 'tain't my concern it's no concern of mine; the gain or the loss 'll be your'n, and it's fair you should have the gain or the loss, whichever on 'em you choose to have. I'll put it in cocks: how much heft should be in 'em?"
"About a hundred pounds; and you don't want to cut any more than you can put up to-night, Mr. Douglass. We'll try it."
"Very good! And you'll send along somethin' for the men. Barby knows," said Earl, bobbing his head again intelligently at Fleda; "there's four on 'em, and it takes somethin' to feed 'em: workin' men 'll put away a good deal o' meat."
He withdrew his head and closed the door, happily for Constance, who went off into a succession of ecstatic convulsions.
"What time of day do your eccentric hay-makers prefer for the rest of their meals, if they lunch at three o'clock? I never heard anything so original in my life."
"This is lunch number two," said Fleda, smiling; "lunch number one is about ten in the morning, and dinner at twelve."
"And do they gladden their families with their presence at the other ordinary convivial occasions?"
"And what do they have for lunch?"
"Varieties. Bread and cheese, and pies, and Quirl-cakes; at every other meal they have meat."
"It is only during haying and harvesting."
"And you have to see to all this, poor little Fleda! I declare, if I was you, I'd do something "
"No," said Fleda, quietly, "Mrs. Douglass and Barby manage the lunch between them. I am not at all desperate."
"But to have to talk to these people!"
"Earl Douglass is not a very polished specimen," said Fleda, smiling; "but I assure you, in some of 'these people' there is an amount of goodness and wit, and shrewd practical sense and judgment, that would utterly distance many of those that would call them bears."
Constance looked a good deal more than she said.
"My dear little Fleda! you're too sensible for anything; but as I don't like sense from anybody but Mr. Carleton, I would rather look at you in the capacity of a rose, smiling a gentle rebuke upon me while I talk nonsense."
And she did talk, and Fleda did smile and laugh, in spite of herself, till Mrs. Evelyn and her other daughters made their appearance.
Then Barby said she thought they'd have talked the house down; and she expected there'd be nothing left of Fleda after all the kissing she got. But it was not too much for Fleda's pleasure. Mrs. Evelyn was so tenderly kind, and Miss Evelyn as caressing as her sister had been, and Edith, who was but a child, so joyously delighted, that Fleda's eyes were swimming in happiness as she looked from one to the other, and she could hardly answer kisses and questions fast enough.
"Them is good-looking enough girls," said Barby, as Fleda came back to the house after seeing them to their carriage, if they knowed how to dress themselves. I never see this fly-away one afore. I knowed the old one as soon as I clapped my eyes onto her. Be they stopping at the Pool again?"
"Well, when are you going up there to see 'em?"
"I don't know," said Fleda, quietly. And then, sighing as the thought of her aunt came into her head, she went off to find her and bring her down.
Fleda's brow was sobered, and her spirits were in a flutter that was not all of happiness, and that threatened not to settle down quietly. But as she went slowly up the stairs, faith's hand was laid, even as her own grasped the balusters, on the promise
"All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep His covenant and His testimonies."
She set faith's foot down on those sure stepping-stones; and she opened her aunt's door and looked in with a face that was neither troubled nor afraid.
"Ant. He misses not much. Seb. No, he doth but mistake the truth totally." TEMPEST.
It was the very next morning that several ladies and gentlemen were gathered on the piazza of the hotel at Montepoole, to brace minds or appetites with the sweet mountain air while waiting for breakfast. As they stood there, a young countryman came by bearing on his hip a large basket of fruit and vegetables.
"Oh, look at those lovely strawberries!" exclaimed Constance Evelyn, running down the steps. "Stop, if you please where are you going with these?"
"Marm!" responded the somewhat startled carrier.
"What are you going to do with them?"
"I aint going to do nothin' with 'em."
"Whose are they? Are they for sale?"
"Well, 'twon't deu no harm, as I know," said the young man, making a virtue of necessity, for the fingers of Constance were already hovering over the dainty little leaf-strewn baskets, and her eyes complacently searching for the most promising; "I ha'n't got nothin' to deu with 'ern."
"Constance!" said Mrs. Evelyn, from the piazza, "don't take that. I dare say they are for Mr. Sweet."
"Well, Mamma," said Constance, with great equanimity, "Mr. Sweet gets them for me, and I only save him the trouble of spoiling them. My taste leads me to prefer the simplicity of primitive arrangements this morning."
"Young man!" called out the landlady's reproving voice, "wont you never recollect to bring that basket round the back way!"
" 't aint no handier than this way," said Philetus, with so much belligerent demonstration, that the landlady thought best, in presence of her guests, to give over the question.
"Where do you get them?" said Mrs. Evelyn.
"How?" said Philetus.
"Where do they come from? Are they fresh picked?"
"Just afore I started."
"Started from where?" said a gentleman, standing by Mrs. Evelyn.
"From Mr. Rossitur's, down to Queechy."
"Mr. Rossitur's!" said Mrs. Evelyn. "Does he send them here?"
"He doos not," said Philetus "he doosn't keep to hum for a long spell."
"Who does send them, then?" said Constance.
"Who doos? It's Miss Fliddy Ringgan."
"Mamma!" exclaimed Constance, looking up.
"What does she have to do with it?" said Mrs. Evelyn.
"There don't nobody else have nothin' to deu with it I guess she's pretty much the hull," said her coadjutor. "Her and me was a-picking 'em afore sunrise."
"All that basketful?"
" 't aint all strawberries there's garden sass up to the top."
"And does she send that, too?"
"She sends that teu," said Philetus, succinctly.
"But hasn't she any help in taking care of the garden?" said Constance.
"Yes, Marm I calculate to help considerable in the back garden she wont let no one into the front where she grows her posies."
"But where is Mr. Hugh?"
"He's to hum."
"But has he nothing to do with all this? Does he leave it all to his cousin?"
"He's to the mill."
"And Miss Ringgan manages farm, and garden, and all?" said Mrs. Evelyn.
"She doos," said Philetus.
And receiving a gratuity, which he accepted without demonstration of any kind whatever, the basket-bearer, at length released, moved off.
"Poor Fleda!" said Miss Evelyn, as he disappeared with his load.
"She's a very clever girl," said Mrs. Evelyn, dismissing the subject.
"She's too lovely for anything!" said Constance. "Mr. Carleton, if you will just imagine we are in China, and introduct a pair of familiar chopsticks into this basket, I shall be repaid for the loss of a strawberry by the expression of ecstasy which will immediately spread itself over your features. I intend to patronize the natural mode of eating in future. I find the ends of my fingers decidedly odoriferous."
He smiled a little as he complied with the young lady's invitation, but the expression of ecstasy did not come.
"Are Mr. Rossitur's circumstances so much reduced?" he said, drawing nearer to Mrs. Evelyn.
"Do you know them?" exclaimed both the daughters at once.
"I knew Mrs. Rossitur very well some years ago, when she was in Paris."
"They are all broken to pieces," said Mrs. Evelyn, as Mr. Carleton's eye went back to her for his answer; "Mr. Rossitur failed and lost everything bankrupt a year or two after they came home."
"And what has he been doing since?"
"I don't know trying to farm it here; but I am afraid he has not succeeded well I am afraid not. They don't look like it. Mrs. Rossitur will not see anybody, and I don't believe they have done any more than struggle for a living since they came here."
"Where is Mr. Rossitur now?"
"He is at the West, somewhere Fleda tells me he is engaged in some agencies there; but I doubt," said Mrs. Evelyn, shaking her head, compassionately, "there is more in the name of it than anything else. He has gone down hill sadly since his misfortunes. I am very sorry for them."
"And his niece takes care of his farm in the meantime?"
"Do you know her?" asked both the Miss Evelyns again.
"I can hardly say that," he replied. "I had such a pleasure formerly. Do I understand that she is the person to fill Mr. Rossitur's place when he is away?"
"So she says."
"And so she acts," said Constance. "I wish you had heard her yesterday. It was beyond everything. We were conversing very amicably, regarding each other through a friendly vista formed by the sugar-bowl and tea-pot, when a horrid man, that looked as if he had slept all his life in a haycock, and only waked up to turn it over, stuck his head in, and immediately introduced a clover-field; and Fleda and he went to tumbling about the cocks till, I do assure you, I was deluded into a momentary belief that hay-making was the principal end of human nature, and looked upon myself as a burden to society; and after I had recovered my locality, and ventured upon a sentence of gentle commiseration for her sufferings, Fleda went off into a eulogium upon the intelligence of hay-makers in general, and the strength of mind barbarians are universally known to possess."
The manner, still more than the matter of this speech, was beyond the withstanding of any good-natured muscles, though the gentleman's smile was a grave one, and quickly lost in gravity. Mrs. Evelyn laughed and reproved in a breath, but the laugh was admiring, and the reproof was stimulative. The bright eye of Constance danced in return with the mischievous delight of a horse that has slipped his bridle and knows you can't catch him.
"And this has been her life ever since Mr. Rossitur lost his property?"
"Entirely, sacrificed!" said Mrs. Evelyn, with a compassionately resigned air; education, advantages, and everything given up, and set down here, where she has seen nobody from year's end to year's end but the country people about very good people but not the kind of people she ought to have been brought up among."
"Oh, Mamma!" said the eldest Miss Evelyn, in a deprecatory tone, "you shouldn't talk so it isn't right I am sure she is very nice nicer now than anybody else I know, and clever too."
"Nice!" said Edith. "I wish I had such a sister."
"She is a good girl a very good girl," said Mrs. Evelyn, in a tone which would have deterred any one from wishing to make her acquaintance.
"And happy, Mamma Fleda don't look miserable she seems perfectly happy and contented."
"Yes," said Mrs. Evelyn, "she has got accustomed to this state of things it's her life she makes delicious bread and puddings for her aunt, and raises vegetables for market, and oversees her uncle's farmers; and it isn't a hardship to her she finds her happiness in it. She is a very good girl, but she might have been made something much better than a farmer's wife."
"You may set your mind at rest on that subject, Mamma," said Constance, still using her chopsticks with great complacency; "it's my opinion that the farmer is not in existence who is blessed with such a conjugal futurity. I think Fleda's strong pastoral tastes are likely to develop themselves in a new direction."
Mrs. Evelyn looked, with a partial smile, at the pretty features which the business of eating the strawberries displayed in sundry novel and picturesque points of view, and asked what she meant?
"I don't know," said Constance, intent upon her basket; "I feel a friend's distress for Mr. Thorn it's all your doing, Mamma you wont be able to look him in the face when we have Fleda next fall. I am sure I shall not want to look at his. He'll be too savage for anything."
"Mr. Thorn!" said Mr. Carleton.
"Yes," said Mrs. Evelyn, in an indulgent tone "he was very attentive to her last winter when she was with us, but she went away before anything was decided. I don't think he has forgotten her."
"I shouldn't think anybody could forget her," said Edith.
"I am confident he would be here at this moment," said Constance, "if he wasn't in London."
"But what is 'all mamma's doing,' Constance?" inquired her sister.
"The destruction of the peace of the whole family of Thorns; I shouldn't sleep sound in my bed if I were she, with such a reflection. I look forward to heart-rending scenes, with a very disturbed state of mind."
"But what have I done, my child?" said Mrs. Evelyn.
"Didn't you introduce your favourite, Mr. Olmney, to Miss Ringgan, last summer? I don't know" her native delicacy shrunk from making any disclosures, and, of course, the tongue of friendship is silent "but they were out ages yesterday while I was waiting for her, and their parting at the gate was I feel myself unequal to the task of describing it," said Constance, ecstatically; "and she was in the most elevated tone of mind during our whole interview afterwards, and took all my brilliant remarks with as much coolness as if they had been drops of rain more, I presume, considering that it was hay-time."
"Did you see him?" said Mrs. Evelyn.
"Only at that impracticable distance, Mamma; but I introduced his name afterwards, in my usual happy manner, and I found that Miss Ringgan's cheeks were by no means indifferent to it. I didn't dare go any further."
"I am very glad of it. I hope it is so," said Mrs. Evelyn, energetically. "It would be a most excellent match. He is a charming young man, and would make her very happy."
"You are exciting gloomy feelings in Mr. Carleton's mind, Mamma, by your felicitous suggestions. Mr. Carleton, did your ears receive a faint announcement of ham and eggs, which went quite through and through mine just now?"
He bowed, and handed the young lady in; but Constance declared, that though he sat beside her, and took care of her at breakfast, he had on one of his intangible fits, which drove her to the last extreme of impatience and captivation.
The sun was not much more than two hours high the next morning, when a rider was slowly approaching Mr. Rossitur's house from the bridge, walking his horse, like a man who wished to look well at all he was passing. He paused behind a clump of locusts and rose-acacias, in the corner of the court- yard, as a figure, bonneted and gloved, came out of the house, and began to be busy among the rose-bushes. Another figure presently appeared at the hall door, and called out
"Well, Barby "
This second voice was hardly raised, but it came from so much nearer that the words could be distinctly heard.
"Mr. Skillcorn wants to know if you're going to fix the flowers for him to carry?"
"They're not ready, and it wont do for him to wait Mr. Sweet must send for them if he wants them. Philetus must make haste back, for you know Mr. Douglass wants him to help in the barn meadow. Lucas wont be here, and now the weather is so fine, I want to make haste with the hay."
"Well, will you have the samp for breakfast?"
"No we'll keep that for dinner. I'll come in and poach some eggs, Barby, if you'll make me some thin pieces of toast and call me when it's time. Thin, Barby."
The gentleman turned his horse, and galloped back to Montepoole.
Some disappointment was created among a portion of Mr. Sweet's guests that afternoon, by the intelligence that Mr. Carleton purposed setting off the next morning to join his English friends at Saratoga, on their way to the Falls and Canada. Which purpose was duly carried into effect.
"With your leave, Sir, an' there were no more men living upon the face of the earth, I should not fancy him, by St. George." EVERY MAN OUT OF HIS HUMOUR.
October had come, and a fair season and a fine harvest, had enabled Fleda to ease her mind by sending a good remittance to Dr. Gregory. The family were still living upon her and Hugh's energies. Mr. Rossitur talked of coming home, that was all.
It sometimes happened that a pause in the urgency of business permitted Hugh to take a day's holiday. One of these falling soon after the frosts had opened the burrs of the chestnut- trees, and the shells of the hickories, Fleda seized upon it for a nutting frolic. They took Philetus, and went up to the fine group of trees on the mountain, the most difficult to reach, and the best worth reaching of all their nut wood. The sport was very fine; and after spoiling the trees, Philetus was left to "shuck" and bring home a load of the fruit, while Fleda and Hugh took their way slowly down the mountain. She stopped him, as usual, on the old look-out place. The leaves were just then in their richest colouring, and the October sky, in its strong vitality, seemed to fill all inanimate nature with the breath of life. If ever, then on that day, to the fancy, "the little hills rejoiced on every side." The woods stood thick with honours, and earth lay smiling under the tokens of the summer's harvest, and the promise for the coming year; and the wind came in gusts over the lower country and up the hill-side, with a hearty good-will that blew away all vapours, physical and mental, from its path, bidding everything follow its example and be up and doing. Fleda drew a long breath or two that seemed to recognise its freshening power.
"How long it seems," she said "how very long since I was here with Mr. Carleton; just nine years ago. How changed everything is! I was a little child then. It seems such an age ago!"
"It is very odd he didn't come to see us," said Hugh.
"He did don't you know? the very next day after we heard he was here when, most unluckily, I was up at aunt Miriam's."
"I should think he might have come again, considering what friends you used to be."
"I dare say he would, if he had not left Montepoole so soon. But, dear Hugh, I was a mere child how could he remember me much?"
"You remember him," said Hugh.
"Ah, but I have good reason. Besides, I never forget anything. I would have given a great deal to see him if I had it."
"I wish the Evelyns had staid longer," said Hugh. "I think you have wanted something to brighten you up. They did you a great deal of good last year. I am afraid all this taking care of Philetus and Earl Douglass is too much for you."
Fleda gave him a very bright smile, half affection, half fun.
"Don't you admire my management?" said she. "Because I do. Philetus is firmly persuaded that he is an invaluable assistant to me in the mystery of gardening; and the origin of Earl Douglass's new ideas is so enveloped in mist, that he does not himself know where they come from. It was rich to hear him the other day descanting to Lucas upon the evil effects of earthing up corn, and the advantages of curing hay in cocks, as to both which matters Lucas is a thorough unbeliever, and Earl was a year ago."
"But that doesn't hinder your looking pale and thin, and a great deal soberer than I like to see you," said Hugh. "You want a change, I know. I don't know how you are to get it. I wish they would send for you to New York again."
"I don't know that I should want to go, if they did," said Fleda. "They don't raise my spirits, Hugh. I am amused sometimes I can't help that but such excessive gaiety rather makes me shrink within myself; I am, too, out of tone with it. I never feel more absolutely quiet than sometimes when I am laughing at Constance Evelyn's mad sallies and sometimes I cannot laugh at them. I do not know what they must think of me; it is what they can have no means of understanding."
"I wish you didn't understand it, either, Fleda."
"But you shouldn't say that. I am happier than they are, now, Hugh now that you are better with all their means of happiness. They know nothing of our quiet enjoyments; they must live in a whirl, or they would think they are not living at all; and I do not believe that all New York can give them the real pleasure that I have in such a day as this. They would see almost nothing in all this beauty that my eyes 'drink in,' as Cowper says; and they would be certain to quarrel with the wind, that to me is like the shake of an old friend's hand. Delicious!" said Fleda, as the wind rewarded this eulogium with a very hearty shake indeed.
"I believe you would make friends with everything, Fleda, said Hugh, laughing.
"The wind is always that to me," said Fleda; "not always in such a cheerful mood as to-day, though. It talks to me often of a thousand old-time things, and sighs over them with me, a most sympathizing friend! but to-day he invites me to a waltz Come!"
And pulling Hugh after her, away she went down the rocky path, with a step too light to care for the stones; the little feet capering down the mountain with a disdain of the ground that made Hugh smile to see her; and eyes dancing for company, till they reached the lower woodland.
"A most spirited waltz!" said Hugh.
"And a most slack partner. Why didn't you keep me company?"
"I never was made for waltzing," said Hugh, shaking his head.
"Not to the tune of the north wind? That has done me good, Hugh."
"So I should judge, by your cheeks."
"Poverty need not always make people poor," said Fleda, talking breath and his arm together. "You and I are rich, Hugh."
"And our riches cannot take to themselves wings and fly away," said Hugh.
"No, but besides those riches, there are the pleasures of the eye and the mind, that one may enjoy everywhere everywhere in the country at least unless poverty bear one down very hard; and they are some of the purest and most satisfying of any. Oh, the blessing of a good education! how it makes one independent of circumstances!"
"And circumstances are education, too," said Hugh, smiling. "I dare say we should not appreciate our mountains and woods so well, if we had had our old plenty of everything else."
"I always loved them," said Fleda. "But what good company they have been to us for years past, Hugh! to me especially; I have more reason to love them."
They walked on quietly and soberly to the brow of the table- land, where they parted; Hugh being obliged to go home, and Fleda wishing to pay a visit to her aunt Miriam.
She turned off alone to take the way to the high road, and went softly on, no longer, certainly, in the momentary spirits with which she had shaken hands with the wind, and skipped down the mountain; but feeling, and thankful that she felt, a cheerful patience to tread the dusty highway of life.
The old lady had been rather ailing, and from one or two expressions she had let fall, Fleda could not help thinking that she looked upon her ailments with a much more serious eye than anybody else thought was called for. It did not, however, appear to-day. She was not worse, and Fleda's slight anxious feeling could find nothing to justify it, if it were not the very calm and quietly happy face and manner of the old lady; and that, if it had something to alarm, did much more to soothe. Fleda had sat with her a long time, patience and cheerfulness all the while unconsciously growing in her company; when, catching up her bonnet with a sudden haste very unlike her usual collectedness of manner, Fleda kissed her aunt and was rushing away.
"But stop! where are you going, Fleda?"
"Home, aunt Miriam; I must, don't keep me."
"But what are you going that way for? you can't go home that way?"
"Yes, I can."
"I can cross the blackberry hill behind the barn, and then over the east hill, and then there's nothing but the water- cress meadow."
"I sha'n't let you go that way alone; sit down and tell me what you mean what is this desperate hurry?"
But, with equal precipitation, Fleda had cast her bonnet out of sight behind the table, and the next moment turned, with the utmost possible quietness, to shake hands with Mr. Olmney. Aunt Miriam had presence of mind enough to make no remark, and receive the young gentleman with her usual dignity and kindness.
He stayed some time, but Fleda's hurry seemed to have forsaken her. She had seized upon an interminable long gray stocking her aunt was knitting, and sat in the corner working at it most diligently, without raising her eyes unless spoken to.
"Do you give yourself no rest, at home or abroad, Miss Fleda?" said the gentleman.
"Put that stocking down, Fleda," said her aunt; "it is in no hurry."
"I like to do it, aunt Miriam."
But she felt, with warming cheeks, that she did not like to do it with two people sitting still and looking at her. The gentleman presently rose.
"Don't go till we have had tea, Mr. Olmney," said Mrs. Plumfield.
"Thank you, Ma'am; I cannot stay, I believe, unless Miss Fleda will let me take care of her down the hill by and by."
"Thank you, Mr. Olmney," said Fleda, "but I am not going home before night, unless they send for me."
"I am afraid," said he, looking at her, "that the agricultural turn has proved an overmatch for your energies."
"The farm don't complain of me, does it?" said Fleda, looking up at him with a comic, grave expression of countenance.
"No," said he, laughing, "certainly not; but, if you will forgive me for saying so, I think you complain of it, tacitly and that will raise a good many complaints in other quarters, if you do not take care of yourself."
He shook hands and left them; and Mrs. Plumfield sat silently looking at Fleda, who, on her part, looked at nothing but the gray stocking.
"What is all this, Fleda?"
"What is what, aunt Miriam?" said Fleda, picking up a stitch with desperate diligence.
"Why did you want to run away from Mr. Olmney?"
"I didn't wish to be delayed, I wanted to get home."
"Then, why wouldn't you let him go home with you?"
"I liked better to go alone, aunt Miriam."
"Don't you like him, Fleda?"
"Certainly, aunt Miriam; very much."
"I think he likes you Fleda," said her aunt, smiling.
"I am very sorry for it," said Fleda, with great gravity.
Mrs. Plumfield looked at her for a few minutes in silence, and then said
"Fleda, love, come over here and sit by me, and tell me what you mean. Why are you sorry? It has given me a great deal of pleasure to think of it."
But Fleda did not budge from her seat or her stocking, and seemed tongue-tied. Mrs. Plumfield pressed for an answer.
"Because, aunt Miriam," said Fleda, with the prettiest red cheeks in the world, but speaking very clearly and steadily, "my liking only goes to a point which, I am afraid, will not satisfy either him or you."
"But why? it will go further."
"Why not? why do you say so?"
"Because I must, if you ask me."
"But what can be more excellent and estimable, Fleda? who could be more worth liking? I should have thought he would just please you. He is one of the most lovely young men I have ever seen."
"Dear aunt Miriam," said Fleda, looking up beseechingly, "why should we talk about it?"
"Because I want to understand you, Fleda, and to be sure that you understand yourself."
"I do," said Fleda, quietly, and with a quivering lip.
"What is there that you dislike about Mr. Olmney?"
"Nothing in the world, aunt Miriam."
"Then, what is the reason you cannot like him enough?"
"Because, aunt Miriam," said Fleda, speaking in desperation, "there isn't enough of him. He is very good and excellent in every way, nobody feels that more than I do; I don't want to say a word against him, but I do not think he has a very strong mind, and he isn't cultivated enough."
"But you cannot have everything, Fleda."
"No, Ma'am, I don't expect it."
"I am afraid you have set up too high a standard for yourself," said Mrs. Plumfield, looking rather troubled.
"I don't think that is possible, aunt Miriam."
"But I am afraid it will prevent your ever liking anybody."
"It will not prevent my liking the friends I have already; it may prevent my leaving them for somebody else," said Fleda, with a gravity that was touching in its expression.
"But Mr. Olmney is sensible, and well educated."
"Yes, but his tastes are not. He could not at all enter into a great many things that give me the most pleasure. I do not think he quite understands above half of what I say to him."
"Are you sure? I know he admires you, Fleda."
"Ah, but that is only half enough, you see, aunt Miriam, unless I could admire him too."
Mrs. Plumfield looked at her in some difficulty; Mr. Olmney was not the only one, clearly, whose powers of comprehension were not equal to the subject.
"Fleda," said her aunt, inquiringly, "is there anybody else that has put Mr. Olmney out of your head?"
"Nobody in the world!" exclaimed Fleda, with a frank look and tone of astonishment at the question, and cheeks colouring as promptly. "How could you ask? but he never was in my head, aunt Miriam."
"Mr. Thorn?" said Mrs. Plumfield.
"Mr. Thorn!" said Fleda, indignantly. "Don't you know me better than that, aunt Miriam? But you do not know him."
"I believe I know you, dear Fleda; but I heard he had paid you a great deal of attention last year; and you would not have been the first unsuspecting nature that has been mistaken."
Fleda was silent, flushed, and disturbed; and Mrs. Plumfield was silent and meditating; when Hugh came in. He came to fetch Fleda home. Dr. Gregory had arrived. In haste again, Fleda sought her bonnet, and exchanging a more than usually wistful and affectionate kiss and embrace with her aunt, set off with Hugh down the hill.
Hugh had a great deal to say to her all the way home, of which Fleda's ears alone took the benefit, for her understanding received none of it; and when she at last came into the breakfast-room where the doctor was sitting, the fact of his being there was the only one which had entered her mind.
"Here she is, I declare!" said the doctor, holding her back to look at her after the first greetings had passed. "I'll be hanged if you aint handsome. Now, what's the use of pinking your cheeks any more at that, as if you didn't know it before? eh?"
"I will always do my best to deserve your good opinion, Sir," said Fleda, laughing.
"Well, sit down now," said he, shaking his head, "and pour me out a cup of tea your mother can't make it right."
And sipping his tea for some time, the old doctor sat listening to Mrs. Rossitur, and eating bread and butter, saying little, but casting a very frequent glance at the figure opposite him, behind the tea-board.
"I am afraid," said he, after a while, "that your care for my good opinion wont outlast an occasion. Is that the way you look for every day?"
The colour came with the smile; but the old doctor looked at her in a way that made the tears come too. He turned his eyes to Mrs. Rossitur for an explanation.
"She is well," said Mrs. Rossitur, fondly "she has been very well except her old headaches now and then; I think she has grown rather thin, lately."
"Thin!" said the old doctor "etherealized to a mere abstract of herself; only that is a very bad figure, for an abstract should have all the bone and muscle of the subject; and I should say you had little left but pure spirit. You are the best proof I ever saw of the principle of the homeopaths I see now, that though a little corn may fatten a man, a great deal may be the death of him."
"But I have tried it both ways, uncle Orrin," said Fleda, laughing. "I ought to be a happy medium between plethora and starvation. I am pretty substantial, what there is of me."
"Substantial!" said the doctor; "you look as substantial a personage as your old friend, the 'faire Una' just about. Well, prepare yourself, gentle Saxon, to ride home with me the day after to-morrow. I'll try a little humanizing regimen with you."
"I don't think that is possible, uncle Orrin," said Fleda, gently.
"We'll talk about the possibility afterwards at present, all you have to do is to get ready. If you raise difficulties, you will find me a very Hercules to clear them away I'm substantial enough, I can tell you so it's just as well to spare yourself and me the trouble."
"There are no difficulties," Mrs. Rossitur and Hugh said, both at once.
"I knew there weren't. Put a pair or two of clean stockings in your trunk that's all you want Mrs. Pritchard and I will find the rest. There's the people in Fourteenth street want you the first of November, and I want you all the time till then, and longer too. Stop I've got a missive of some sort here for you."
He foisted out of his breast-pocket a little package of notes one from Mrs. Evelyn, and one from Florence, begging Fleda to come to them at the time the doctor had named; the third from Constance:
"MY DARLING LITTLE FLEDA,
"I am dying to see you so pack up and come down with Dr. Gregory, if the least spark of regard for me is slumbering in your breast. Mamma and Florence are writing to beg you but though an insignificant member of the family, considering that instead of being 'next to head', only little Edith prevents my being at the less dignified end of this branch of the social system, I could not prevail upon myself to let the representations of my respected elders go unsupported by mine especially as I felt persuaded of the superior efficacy of the motives I had it in my power to present to your truly philanthropical mind.
"I am in a state of mind that baffles description Mr. Carleton is going home!
"I have not worn ear-rings in my ears for a fortnight; my personal appearance is become a matter of indifference to me; any description of mental exertion is excruciating; I sit constantly listening for the ringing of the door-bell, and when it sounds, I rush frantically to the head of the staircase, and look over to see who it is; the mere sight of pen and ink excites delirious ideas judge what I suffer in writing to you.
"To make the matter worse (if it could be), I have been informed privately, that he is going home to crown at the altar of Hymen an old attachment to one of the loveliest of all England's daughters. Conceive the complication of my feelings!
"Nothing is left me but the resources of friendship so come, darling Fleda, before a barrier of ice interposes itself between my chilled heart and your sympathy.
"Mr. Thorn's state would move my pity if I were capable of being moved by anything by this you will comprehend he is returned. He has been informed by somebody, that there is a wolf in sheep's clothing prowling about Queechy, and his head is filled with the idea that you have fallen a victim, of which, in my calmer moments, I have in vain endeavoured to dispossess him. Every morning we are wakened up at an unseasonable hour by a furious ringing at the door-bell Joe Manton pulls off his nightcap, and slowly descending the stairs, opens the door, and finds Mr. Thorn, who inquires distractedly whether Miss Ringgan has arrived; and being answered in the negative, gloomily walks off towards the East river. The state of anxiety in which his mother is thereby kept is rapidly depriving her of all her flesh but we have directed Joe lately to reply, 'No, Sir, but she is expected' upon which Mr. Thorn regularly smiles faintly, and rewards the 'fowling-piece' with a quarter dollar
"So make haste, dear Fleda, or I shall feel that we are acting the part of innocent swindlers.
There was but one voice at home on the point whether Fleda should go. So she went.
Host. Now, my young guest! methinks you're allycholy; I pray you why is it? Jul. Marry, mine host, because I cannot be merry. TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA.
Some nights after their arrival, the doctor and Fleda were seated at tea in the little snug old-fashioned back parlour, where the doctor's nicest of housekeepers, Mrs. Pritchard, had made it ready for them. In general, Mrs. Pritchard herself poured it out for the doctor, but she descended most cheerfully from her post of elevation, whenever Fleda was there to fill it.
The doctor and Fleda sat cozily looking at each other across the toast and chipped beef, their glances grazing the tea-urn, which was just on one side of their range of vision. A comfortable Liverpool-coal fire in a state of repletion burned away indolently, and gave everything else in the room somewhat of its own look of sonsy independence except, perhaps, the delicate creature at whom the doctor, between sips of his tea, took rather wistful observations.
"When are you going to Mrs. Evelyn?" he said, breaking the silence.
"They say next week, Sir."
"I shall be glad of it!" said the doctor.
"Glad of it?" said Fleda, smiling. "Do you want to get rid of me, uncle Orrin?"
"Yes!" said he. "This isn't the right place for you. You are too much alone."
"No, indeed, Sir. I have been reading voraciously, and enjoying myself as much as possible. I would quite as lieve be here as there, putting you out of the question."
"I wouldn't as lieve have you," said he, shaking his head.
"What were you musing about before tea? your face gave me the heartache."
"My face!" said Fleda, smiling, while an instant flush of the eyes answered him; "what was the matter with my face?"
"That is the very thing I want to know."
"Before tea? I was only thinking," said Fleda, her look going back to the fire from association "thinking of different things not disagreeably; taking a kind of bird's- eye view of things, as one does sometimes."
"I don't believe you ever take other than a bird's-eye view of anything," said her uncle. "But what were you viewing just then, my little Saxon?"
"I was thinking of them at home," said Fleda, smiling, thoughtfully; "and I somehow had perched myself on a point of observation, and was taking one of those wider views which are always rather sobering."
"Views of what?"
"Of life, Sir."
"As how?" said the doctor.
"How near the end is to the beginning, and how short the space between, and how little the ups and downs of it will matter if we take the right road and get home."
"Pshaw!" said the doctor.
But Fleda knew him too well to take his interjection otherwise than most kindly. And, indeed, though he whirled round and ate his toast at the fire discontentedly, his look came back to her after a little, with even more than its usual gentle appreciation.
"What do you suppose you have come to New York for?" said he.
"To see you, Sir, in the first place, and the Evelyns in the second."
"And who in the third?"
"I am afraid the third place is vacant," said Fleda, smiling.
"You are, eh? Well I don't know but I know that I have been inquired of by two several and distinct people as to your coming. Ah! you needn't open your bright eyes at me, because I shall not tell you. Only let me ask you have no notion of fencing off, my Queechy rose, with a hedge of blackthorn, or anything of that kind, have you?"
"I have no notion of any fences at all, except invisible ones, Sir," said Fleda, laughing, and colouring very prettily.
"Well, those are not American fences," said the doctor; "so, I suppose, I am safe enough. Whom did I see you out riding with yesterday?"
"I was with Mrs. Evelyn," said Fleda. "I didn't want to go, but I couldn't very well help myself."
"Mrs. Evelyn! Mrs. Evelyn wasn't driving, was she?"
"No, Sir; Mr. Thorn was driving."
"I thought so. Have you seen your old friend, Mr. Carleton, yet?"
"Do you know him, uncle Orrin?"
"Why shouldn't I? What's the difficulty of knowing people? Have you seen him?"
"But how did you know that he was an old friend of mine?"
"Question!" said the doctor. "Hum well, I won't tell you; so there's the answer. Now, will you answer me?"
"I have not seen him, Sir."
"Haven't met him, in all the times you have been to Mrs. Evelyn's?"
"No, Sir. I have been there but once in the evening, uncle Orrin. He is just about sailing for England."
"Well, you're going there to-night, aren't you? Run, and bundle yourself up, and I'll take you there before I begin my work."
There was a small party that evening at Mrs. Evelyn's. Fleda was very early. She ran up to the first floor rooms lighted and open, but nobody there.
"Fleda Ringgan," called out the voice of Constance from over the stairs, "is that you?"
"No," said Fleda.
"Well, just wait till I come down to you. My darling little Fleda, it's delicious of you to come so early. Now, just tell me, am I captivating?"
"Well, I retain self-possession," said Fleda. "I cannot tell about the strength of head of other people."
"You wretched little creature! Fleda, don't you admire my hair? it's new style, my dear just come out; the Delancys brought it out with them; Eloise Delancy taught it us; isn't it graceful? Nobody in New York has it yet, except the Delancys and we."
"How do you know but they have taught somebody else?" said Fleda.
"I won't talk to you! Don't you like it?"
"I am not sure that I do not like you in your ordinary way better."
Constance made a gesture of impatience, and then pulled Fleda after her into the drawing-rooms.
"Come in here; I wont waste the elegancies of my toilet upon your dull perceptions; come here and let me show you some flowers aren't those lovely? This bunch came to-day, 'for Miss Evelyn', so Florence will have it it is hers, and it's very mean of her, for I am perfectly certain it is mine; it's come from somebody who wasn't enlightened on the subject of my family circle, and has innocently imagined that two Miss Evelyns could not belong to the same one! I know the floral representatives of all Florence's dear friends and admirers, and this isn't from any of them. I have been distractedly endeavouring all day to find who it came from, for if I don't, I can't take the least comfort in it."
"But you might enjoy the flowers for their own sake, I should think," said Fleda, breathing the sweetness of myrtle and heliotrope.
"No, I can't, for I have all the time the association of some horrid creature they might have come from, you know; but it will do just as well to humbug people: I shall make Cornelia Schenck believe that this came from my dear Mr. Carleton!"
"No, you wont, Constance," said Fleda, gently.
"My dear little Fleda, I shock you, don't I? but I sha'n't tell any lies; I shall merely expressively indicate a particular specimen, and say, 'My dear Cornelia, do you perceive that this is an English rose?' and then it's none of my business, you know, what she believes; and she will be dying with curiosity and despair all the rest of the evening."
"I shouldn't think there would be much pleasure in that, I confess," said Fleda, gravely. "How very ungracefully and stiffly those are made up!"
"My dear little Queechy rose," said Constance, impatiently, "you are, pardon me, as fresh as possible. They can't cut the flowers with long stems, you know; the gardeners would be ruined. That is perfectly elegant; it must have cost at least ten dollars. My dear little Fleda!" said Constance, capering off before the long pier-glass, "I am afraid I am not captivating! Do you think it would be an improvement if I put drops in my ears? or one curl behind them? I don't know which Mr. Carleton likes best!"
And with her head first on one side and then on the other, she stood before the glass looking at herself and Fleda by turns with such a comic expression of mock doubt and anxiety, that no gravity but her own could stand it.
"She is a silly girl, Fleda, isn't she?" said Mrs. Evelyn, coming up behind them.
"Mamma! am I captivating?" cried Constance, wheeling round.
The mother's smile said "Very!"
"Fleda is wishing she were out of the sphere of my influence, Mamma. Wasn't Mr. Olmney afraid of my corrupting you?" she said, with a sudden pull-up in front of Fleda. "My blessed stars! there's somebody's voice I know. Well, I believe it is true that a rose without thorns is a desideratum. Mamma, is Mrs. Thorn's turban to be an invariable pendant to your coiffure all the while Miss Ringgan is here?"
With the entrance of company came Constance's return from extravaganzas to a sufficiently graceful every-day manner, only enough touched with high spirits and lawlessness to free it from the charge of commonplace. But the contrast of these high spirits with her own rather made Fleda's mood more quiet, and it needed no quieting. Of the sundry people that she knew among those presently assembled there were none that she wanted to talk to; the rooms were hot, and she felt nervous and fluttered, partly from encounters already sustained, and partly from a little anxious expecting of Mr. Carleton's appearance. The Evelyns had not said he was to be there, but she had rather gathered it; and the remembrance of old times was strong enough to make her very earnestly wish to see him, and dread to be disappointed. She swung clear of Mr. Thorn, with some difficulty, and ensconced herself under the shadow of a large cabinet, between that and a young lady who was very good society, for she wanted no help in carrying on the business of it. All Fleda had to do was to sit still and listen, or not listen, which she generally preferred. Miss Tomlinson discoursed upon varieties, with great sociableness and satisfaction; while poor Fleda's mind, letting all her sense and nonsense go, was again taking a somewhat bird's-eye view of things, and from the little centre of her post in Mrs. Evelyn's drawing-room, casting curious glances over the panorama of her life England, France, New York, and Queechy! half coming to the conclusion that her place henceforth was only at the last, and that the world and she had nothing to do with each other. The tide of life and gaiety seemed to have thrown her on one side, as something that could not swim with it, and to be rushing past too strongly and swiftly for her slight bark ever to launch upon it again. Perhaps the shore might be the safest and happiest place; but it was sober in the comparison; and, as a stranded bark might look upon the white sails flying by, Fleda saw the gay faces and heard the light tones with which her own could so little keep company. But as little they with her. Their enjoyment was not more foreign to her than the causes which moved it were strange. Merry? she might like to be merry, but she could sooner laugh with the north wind than with one of those vapid faces, or with any face that she could not trust. Conversation might be pleasant, but it must be something different from the noisy cross-fire of nonsense that was going on in one quarter, or the profitless barter of nothings that was kept up on the other side of her. Rather Queechy and silence, by far, than New York and this!
And through it all, Miss Tomlinson talked on and was happy.
"My dear Fleda! what are you back here for?" said Florence, coming up to her.
"I was glad to be at a safe distance from the fire."
"Take a screen here! Miss Tomlinson, your conversation is too exciting for Miss Ringgan; look at her cheeks! I must carry you off; I want to show you a delightful contrivance for transparencies that I learned the other day."
The seat beside her was vacated, and, not casting so much as a look towards any quarter whence a possible successor to Miss Tomlinson might be arriving, Fleda sprang up and took a place in the far corner of the room by Mrs. Thorn, happily not another vacant chair in the neighbourhood. Mrs. Thorn had shown a very great fancy for her, and was almost as good company as Miss Tomlinson not quite, for it was necessary sometimes to answer, and therefore necessary always to hear. But Fleda liked her; she was thoroughly amiable, sensible, and good-hearted; and Mrs. Thorn, very much gratified at Fleda's choice of a seat, talked to her with a benignity which Fleda could not help answering with grateful pleasure.
"Little Queechy, what has driven you into the corner?" said Constance, pausing a moment before her.
"It must have been a retiring spirit," said Fleda.
"Mrs. Thorn, isn't she lovely?"
Mrs. Thorn's smile at Fleda might almost have been called that, it was so full of benevolent pleasure. But she spoiled it by her answer. "I don't believe I am the first one to find it out.".
"But what are you looking so sober for?" Constance went on, taking Fleda's screen from her hand and fanning her diligently with it "you don't talk. The gravity of Miss Ringgan's face casts a gloom over the brightness of the evening. I couldn't conceive what made me feel chilly in the other room till I looked about and found that the shade came from this corner; and Mr. Thorn's teeth, I saw, were chattering."
"Constance," said Fleda, laughing and vexed, and making the reproof more strongly with her eyes "how can you talk so?"
"Mrs. Thorn, isn't it true?"
Mrs. Thorn's look at Fleda was the essence of good humour.
"Will you let Lewis come and take you a good long ride to- morrow?"
"No, Mrs. Thorn, I believe not I intend to stay perseveringly at home to-morrow, and see if it is possible to be quiet a day in New York."
"But you will go with me to the concert to-morrow night? both of you and hear Truffi; come to my house and take tea, and go from there? will you, Constance?"
"My dear Mrs. Thorn," said Constance, "I shall be in ecstasies, and Miss Ringgan was privately imploring me last night to find some way of getting her to it. We regard such material pleasures as tea and muffins with great indifference, but when you look up after swallowing your last cup you will see Miss Ringgan and Miss Evelyn, cloaked and hooded, anxiously awaiting your next movement. My dear Fleda, there is a ring!"
And giving her the benefit of a most comic and expressive arching of her eyebrows, Constance flung back the screen into Fleda's lap, and skimmed away.
Fleda was too vexed for a few minutes to understand more of Mrs. Thorn's talk than that she was first enlarging upon the concert, and afterwards detailing to her a long shopping expedition in search of something which had been a morning's annoyance. She almost thought Constance was unkind, because she wanted to go to the concert herself, to lug her in so unceremoniously, and wished herself back in her uncle's snug, little, quiet parlour, unless M. Carleton would come.
And there he is, said a quick beat of her heart, as his entrance explained Constance's "ring."
Such a rush of associations came over Fleda that she was in imminent danger of losing Mrs. Thorn altogether. She managed, however, by some sort of instinct, to disprove the assertion that the mind cannot attend to two things at once, and carried on a double conversation with herself and with Mrs. Thorn for some time very vigorously.
"Just the same! he has not altered a jot," she said to herself as he came forward to Mrs. Evelyn; "it is himself! his very self he doesn't look a day older I'm very glad! (Yes, Ma'am, it's extremely tiresome ). How exactly as when he left me in Paris, and how much pleasanter than anybody else! more pleasant than ever, it seems, to me, but that is because I have not seen him in so long; he only wanted one thing. That same grave eye but quieter, isn't it than it used to be? I think so (It's the best store in town, I think, Mrs. Thorn, by far yes, Ma'am ). Those eyes are certainly the finest I ever saw. How I have seen him stand and look just so when he was talking to his workmen without that air of consciousness that all these people have, comparatively what a difference! (I know very little about it, Ma'am; I am not learned in laces I never bought any ). I wish he would look this way I wonder if Mrs. Evelyn does not mean to bring him to see me she must remember; now there is that curious old smile and looking down! how much better I know what it means than Mrs. Evelyn does! (Yes, Ma'am, I understand I mean! it is very convenient I never go anywhere else to get anything at least, I should not if I lived here ). She does not know whom she is talking to. She is going to walk him off into the other room! How very much more gracefully he does everything than anybody else it comes from that entire high-mindedness and frankness, I think not altogether, a fine person must aid the effect, and that complete independence of other people I wonder if Mrs. Evelyn has forgotten my existence? he has not, I am sure I think she is a little odd (Yes, Ma'am, my face is flushed the room is very warm .)"