MRS. A. D. T. WHITNEY
I. THIS WAY, AND THAT II. LUCLARION III. BY STORY-RAIL: TWENTY-SIX YEARS AN HOUR IV. AFTERWARDS IS A LONG TIME V. HOW THE NEWS CAME TO HOMESWORTH VI. AND VII. WAKING UP VIII. EAVESDROPPING IN ASPEN STREET IX. HAZEL'S INSPIRATION X. COCKLES AND CRAMBO XI. MORE WITCH-WORK XII. CRUMBS XIII. PIECES OF WORLDS XIV. "SESAME; AND LILIES" XV. WITH ALL ONE'S MIGHT XVI. SWARMING XVII. QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS XVIII. ALL AT ONCE XIX. INSIDE XX. NEIGHBORS AND NEXT OF KIN XXI. THE HORSESHOE XXII. MORNING GLORIES
THIS WAY, AND THAT.
The parlor blinds were shut, and all the windows of the third-story rooms were shaded; but the pantry window, looking out on a long low shed, such as city houses have to keep their wood in and to dry their clothes upon, was open; and out at this window had come two little girls, with quiet steps and hushed voices, and carried their books and crickets to the very further end, establishing themselves there, where the shade of a tall, round fir tree, planted at the foot of the yard below, fell across the building of a morning.
"It was prettier down on the bricks," Luclarion had told them. But they thought otherwise.
"Luclarion doesn't know," said Frank. "People don't know things, I think. I wonder why, when they've got old, and ought to? It's like the sea-shore here, I guess, only the stones are all stuck down, and you mustn't pick up the loose ones either."
Frank touched lightly, as she spoke, the white and black and gray bits of gravel that covered the flat roof.
"And it smells—like the pine forests!"
The sun was hot and bright upon the fir branches and along the tar-cemented roof.
"How do you know about sea-shores and pine forests?" asked Laura, with crushing common sense.
"I don't know; but I do," said Frank.
"You don't know anything but stories and pictures and one tree, and a little gravel, all stuck down tight."
"I'm glad I've got one tree. And the rest of it,—why listen! It's in the word, Laura. Forest. Doesn't that sound like thousands of them, all fresh and rustling? And Ellen went to the sea-shore, in that book; and picked up pebbles; and the sea came up to her feet, just as the air comes up here, and you can't get any farther,"—said Frank, walking to the very edge and putting one foot out over, while the wind blew in her face up the long opening between rows of brick houses of which theirs was in the midst upon one side.
"A great sea!" exclaimed Laura, contemptuously. "With all those other wood-sheds right out in it, all the way down!"
"Well, there's another side to the sea; and capes, and islands," answered Frank, turning back. "Besides, I don't pretend it is; I only think it seems a little bit like it. I'm often put in mind of things. I don't know why."
"I'll tell you what it is like," said Laura. "It's like the gallery at church, where the singers stand up in a row, and look down, and all the people look up at them. I like high places. I like Cecilia, in the 'Bracelets,' sitting at the top, behind, when her name was called out for the prize; and 'they all made way, and she was on the floor in an instant.' I should like to have been Cecilia!"
"Leonora was a great deal the best."
"I know it; but she don't stand out."
"Laura! You're just like the Pharisees! You're always wishing for long clothes and high seats!"
"There ain't any Pharisees, nowadays," said Laura, securely. After which, of course, there was nothing more to be insisted.
Mrs. Lake, the housekeeper, came to the middle upper window, and moved the blind a little. Frank and Laura were behind the fir. They saw her through the branches. She, through the farther thickness of the tree, did not notice them.
"That was good," said Laura. "She would have beckoned us in. I hate that forefinger of hers; it's always hushing or beckoning. It's only two inches long. What makes us have to mind it so?"
"She puts it all into those two inches," answered Frank. "All the must there is in the house. And then you've got to."
"I wouldn't—if father wasn't sick."
"Laura," said Frank, gravely, "I don't believe father is going to get well. What do you suppose they're letting us stay at home from school for?"
"O, that," said Laura, "was because Mrs. Lake didn't have time to sew the sleeves into your brown dress."
"I could have worn my gingham, Laura. What if he should die pretty soon? I heard her tell Luclarion that there must be a change before long. They talk in little bits, Laura, and they say it solemn."
The children were silent for a few minutes. Frank sat looking through the fir-tree at the far-off flecks of blue.
Mr. Shiere had been ill a long time. They could hardly think, now, what it would seem again not to have a sick father; and they had had no mother for several years,—many out of their short remembrance of life. Mrs. Lake had kept the house, and mended their clothes, and held up her forefinger at them. Even when Mr. Shiere was well, he had been a reserved man, much absorbed in business since his wife's death, he had been a very sad man. He loved his children, but he was very little with them. Frank and Laura could not feel the shock and loss that children feel when death comes and robs them suddenly of a close companionship.
"What do you suppose would happen then?" asked Laura, after awhile. "We shouldn't be anybody's children."
"Yes, we should," said Frank; "we should be God's.'
"Everybody else is that,—besides," said Laura.
"We shall have black silk pantalets again, I suppose,"—she began, afresh, looking down at her white ones with double crimped ruffles,—"and Mrs. Gibbs will come in and help, and we shall have to pipe and overcast."
"O, Laura, how nice it was ever so long ago!" cried Frank, suddenly, never heeding the pantalets, "when mother sent us out to ask company to tea,—that pleasant Saturday, you know,—and made lace pelerines for our dolls while we were gone! It's horrid, when other girls have mothers, only to have a housekeeper! And pretty soon we sha'n't have anything, only a little corner, away back, that we can't hardly recollect."
"They'll do something with us; they always do," said Laura, composedly.
The children of this world, even as children, are wisest in their generation. Frank believed they would be God's children; she could not see exactly what was to come of that, though, practically. Laura knew that people always did something; something would be sure to be done with them. She was not frightened; she was even a little curious.
A head came up at the corner of the shed behind them, a pair of shoulders,—high, square, turned forward; a pair of arms, long thence to the elbows, as they say women's are who might be good nurses of children; the hands held on to the sides of the steep steps that led up from the bricked yard. The young woman's face was thin and strong; two great, clear, hazel eyes looked straight out, like arrow shots; it was a clear, undeviating glance; it never wandered, or searched, or wavered, any more than a sunbeam; it struck full upon whatever was there; it struck through many things that were transparent to their quality. She had square, white, strong teeth, that set together like the faces of a die; they showed easily when she spoke, but the lips closed over them absolutely and firmly. Yet they were pleasant lips, and had a smile in them that never went quite out; it lay in all the muscles of the mouth and chin; it lay behind, in the living spirit that had moulded to itself the muscles.
This was Luclarion.
"Your Aunt Oldways and Mrs. Oferr have come. Hurry in!"
Now Mrs. Oldways was only an uncle's wife; Mrs. Oferr was their father's sister. But Mrs. Oferr was a rich woman who lived in New York, and who came on grand and potent, with a scarf or a pair of shoe-bows for each of the children in her big trunk, and a hundred and one suggestions for their ordering and behavior at her tongue's end, once a year. Mrs. Oldways lived up in the country, and was "aunt" to half the neighborhood at home, and turned into an aunt instantly, wherever she went and found children. If there were no children, perhaps older folks did not call her by the name, but they felt the special human kinship that is of no-blood or law, but is next to motherhood in the spirit.
Mrs. Oferr found the open pantry window, before the children had got in.
"Out there!" she exclaimed, "in the eyes of all the neighbors in the circumstances of the family! Who does, or don't look after you?"
"Hearts'-sake!" came up the pleasant tones of Mrs. Oldways from behind, "how can they help it? There isn't any other out-doors. If they were down at Homesworth now, there'd be the lilac garden and the old chestnuts, and the seat under the wall. Poor little souls!" she added, pitifully, as she lifted them in, and kissed them. "It's well they can take any comfort. Let 'em have all there is."
Mrs. Oferr drew the blinds, and closed the window.
Frank and Laura remembered the strangeness of that day all their lives. How they sat, shy and silent, while Luclarion brought in cake and wine; how Mrs. Oferr sat in the large morocco easy-chair and took some; and Mrs. Oldways lifted Laura, great girl as she was, into her lap first, and broke a slice for her; how Mrs. Oldways went up-stairs to Mrs. Lake, and then down into the kitchen to do something that was needed; and Mrs. Oferr, after she had visited her brother, lay down in the spare chamber for a nap, tired with her long journey from New York, though it had been by boat and cars, while there was a long staging from Homesworth down to Nashua, on Mrs. Oldways' route. Mrs. Oldways, however, was "used," she said, "to stepping round." It was the sitting that had tired her.
How they were told not to go out any more, or to run up and down-stairs; and how they sat in the front windows, looking out through the green slats at so much of the street world as they could see in strips; how they obtained surreptitious bits of bread from dinner, and opened a bit of the sash, and shoved out crumbs under the blinds for the pigeons that flew down upon the sidewalk; how they wondered what kind of a day it was in other houses, where there were not circumstances in the family, where children played, and fathers were not ill, but came and went to and from their stores; and where two aunts had not come, both at once, from great ways off, to wait for something strange and awful that was likely to befall.
When they were taken in, at bedtime, to kiss their father and say good-night, there was something portentous in the stillness there; in the look of the sick man, raised high against the pillows, and turning his eyes wistfully toward them, with no slightest movement of the head; in the waiting aspect of all things,—the appearance as of everybody being to sit up all night except themselves.
Edward Shiere brought his children close to him with the magnetism of that look; they bent down to receive his kiss and his good-night, so long and solemn. He had not been in the way of talking to them about religion in his life. He had only insisted on their truth and obedience; that was the beginning of all religion. Now it was given him in the hour of his death what he should speak; and because he had never said many such words to them before, they fell like the very touch of the Holy Ghost upon their young spirits now,—
"Love God, and keep His commandments. Good-by."
In the morning, when they woke, Mrs. Lake was in their room, talking in a low voice with Mrs. Oferr, who stood by an open bureau. They heard Luclarion dusting down the stairs.
Who was taking care of their father?
They did not ask. In the night, he had been taken care of. It was morning with him, now, also.
Mrs. Lake and Mrs. Oferr were calculating,—about black pantalets, and other things.
This story is not with the details of their early orphan life. When Edward Shiere was buried came family consultations. The two aunts were the nearest friends. Nobody thought of Mr. Titus Oldways. He never was counted. He was Mrs. Shiere's uncle,—Aunt Oldways' uncle-in-law, therefore, and grand-uncle to these children. But Titus Oldways never took up any family responsibilities; he had been shy of them all his single, solitary life. He seemed to think he could not drop them as he could other things, if he did not find them satisfactory. Besides, what would he know about two young girls?
He saw the death in the paper, and came to the funeral; then he went away again to his house in Greenley Street at the far West End, and to his stiff old housekeeper, Mrs. Froke, who knew his stiff old ways. And, turning his back on everybody, everybody forgot all about him. Except as now and then, at intervals of years, there broke out here or there, at some distant point in some family crisis, a sudden recollection from which would spring a half suggestion, "Why, there's Uncle Titus! If he was only,"—or, "if he would only,"—and there it ended. Much as it might be with a housewife, who says of some stored-away possession forty times, perhaps, before it ever turns out available, "Why, there's that old gray taffety! If it were only green, now!" or, "If there were three or four yards more of it!"
Uncle Titus was just Uncle Titus, neither more nor less; so Mrs. Oferr and Aunt Oldways consulted about their own measures and materials; and never reckoned the old taffety at all. There was money enough to clothe and educate; little more.
"I will take home one," said Mrs. Oferr, distinctly.
So, they were to be separated?
They did not realize what this was, however. They were told of letters and visits; of sweet country-living, of city sights and pleasures; of kittens and birds' nests, and the great barns; of music and dancing lessons, and little parties,—"by-and-by, when it was proper."
"Let me go to Homesworth," whispered Frank to Aunt Oldways.
Laura gravitated as surely to the streets and shops, and the great school of young ladies.
"One taken and the other left," quoted Luclarion, over the packing of the two small trunks.
"We're both going," says Laura, surprised. "One taken? Where?"
"Where the carcass is," answered Luclarion.
"There's one thing you'll have to see to for yourselves. I can't pack it. It won't go into the trunks."
"What your father said to you that night."
They were silent. Presently Frank answered, softly,—"I hope I shan't forget that."
Laura, the pause once broken, remarked, rather glibly, that she "was afraid there wouldn't be much chance to recollect things at Aunt Oferr's."
"She isn't exactly what I call a heavenly-minded woman," said Luclarion, quietly.
"She is very much occupied," replied Laura, grandly taking up the Oferr style. "She visits a great deal, and she goes out in the carriage. You have to change your dress every day for dinner, and I'm to take French lessons."
The absurd little sinner was actually proud of her magnificent temptations. She was only a child. Men and women never are, of course.
"I'm afraid it will be pretty hard to remember," repeated Laura, with condescension.
"That's your stump!"
Luclarion fixed the steadfast arrow of her look straight upon her, and drew the bow with this twang.
How Mrs. Grapp ever came to, was the wonder. Her having the baby was nothing. Her having the name for it was the astonishment.
Her own name was Lucy; her husband's Luther: that, perhaps, accounted for the first syllable; afterwards, whether her mind lapsed off into combinations of such outshining appellatives as "Clara" and "Marion," or whether Mr. Grapp having played the clarionet, and wooed her sweetly with it in her youth, had anything to do with it, cannot be told; but in those prescriptive days of quiet which followed the domestic advent, the name did somehow grow together in the fancy of Mrs. Luther; and in due time the life-atom which had been born indistinguishable into the natural world, was baptized into the Christian Church as "Luclarion" Grapp. Thenceforth, and no wonder, it took to itself a very especial individuality, and became what this story will partly tell.
Marcus Grapp, who had the start of Luclarion in this "meander,"—as their father called the vale of tears,—by just two years' time, and was y-clipped, by everybody but his mother "Mark,"—in his turn, as they grew old together, cut his sister down to "Luke." Then Luther Grapp called them both "The Apostles." And not far wrong; since if ever the kingdom of heaven does send forth its Apostles—nay, its little Christs—into the work on earth, in these days, it is as little children into loving homes.
The Apostles got up early one autumn morning, when Mark was about six years old, and Luke four. They crept out of their small trundle-bed in their mother's room adjoining the great kitchen, and made their way out softly to the warm wide hearth.
There were new shoes, a pair apiece, brought home from the Mills the night before, set under the little crickets in the corners. These had got into their dreams, somehow, and into the red rooster's first halloo from the end room roof, and into the streak of pale daylight that just stirred and lifted the darkness, and showed doors and windows, but not yet the blue meeting-houses on the yellow wall-paper, by which they always knew when it was really morning; and while Mrs. Grapp was taking that last beguiling nap in which one is conscious that one means to get up presently, and rests so sweetly on one's good intentions, letting the hazy mirage of the day's work that is to be done play along the horizon of dim thoughts with its unrisen activities,—two little flannel night-gowns were cuddled in small heaps by the chimney-side, little bare feet were trying themselves into the new shoes, and lifting themselves up, crippled with two inches of stout string between the heels.
Then the shoes were turned into spans of horses, and chirruped and trotted softly into their cricket-stables; and then—what else was there to do, until the strings were cut, and the flannel night-gowns taken off?
It was so still out here, in the big, busy, day-time room; it was like getting back where the world had not begun; surely one must do something wonderful with the materials all lying round, and such an opportunity as that.
It was old-time then, when kitchens had fire-places; or rather the house was chiefly fire-place, in front of and about which was more or less of kitchen-space. In the deep fire-place lay a huge mound of gray ashes, a Vesuvius, under which red bowels of fire lay hidden. In one corner of the chimney leaned an iron bar, used sometimes in some forgotten, old fashioned way, across dogs or pothooks,—who knows now? At any rate, there it always was.
Mark, ambitious, put all his little strength to it this morning and drew it down, carefully, without much clatter, on the hearth. Then he thought how it would turn red under those ashes, where the big coals were, and how it would shine and sparkle when he pulled it out again, like the red-hot, hissing iron Jack-the-Giant-Killer struck into the one-eyed monster's eye. So he shoved it in; and forgot it there, while he told Luke—very much twisted and dislocated, and misjoined—the leading incidents of the giant story; and then lapsed off, by some queer association, into the Scripture narrative of Joseph and his brethren, who "pulled his red coat off, and put him in a fit, and left him there."
"And then what?" says Luke.
"Then,—O, my iron's done! See here, Luke!"—and taking it prudently with the tongs, he pulled back the rod, till the glowing end, a foot or more of live, palpitating, flamy red, lay out upon the broad open bricks.
"There, Luke! You daresn't put your foot on that!"
Dear little Luke, who wouldn't, at even four years old, be dared!
And dear little white, tender, pink-and-lily foot!
The next instant, a shriek of pain shot through Mrs. Grapp's ears, and sent her out of her dreams and out of her bed, and with one single impulse into the kitchen, with her own bare feet, and in her night-gown.
The little foot had only touched; a dainty, timid, yet most resolute touch; but the sweet flesh shriveled, and the fierce anguish ran up every fibre of the baby body, to the very heart and brain.
"O! O, O!" came the long, pitiful, shivering cries, as the mother gathered her in her arms.
"What is it? What did you do? How came you to?" And all the while she moved quickly here and there, to cupboard and press-drawer, holding the child fast, and picking up as she could with one hand, cotton wool, and sweet-oil flask, and old linen bits; and so she bound it up, saying still, every now and again, as all she could say,—"What did you do? How came you to?"
Till, in a little lull of the fearful smart, as the air was shut away, and the oil felt momentarily cool upon the ache, Luke answered her,—
"He hed I dare-hn't, and ho I did!"
"You little fool!"
The rough word was half reaction of relief, that the child could speak at all, half horrible spasm of all her own motherly nerves that thrilled through and through with every pang that touched the little frame, hers also. Mothers never do part bonds with babies they have borne. Until the day they die, each quiver of their life goes back straight to the heart beside which it began.
"You Marcus! What did you mean?"
"I meant she darsn't; and she no business to 'a dars't," said Mark, pale with remorse and fright, but standing up stiff and manful, with bare common sense, when brought to bay. And then he marched away into his mother's bedroom, plunged his head down into the clothes, and cried,—harder than Luclarion.
Nobody wore any new shoes that day; Mark for a punishment,—though he flouted at the penalty as such, with an, "I guess you'd see me!" And there were many days before poor little Luclarion could wear any shoes at all.
The foot got well, however, without hindrance. But Luke was the same little fool as ever; that was not burnt out. She would never be "dared" to anything.
They called it "stumps" as they grew older. They played "stumps" all through the barns and woods and meadows; over walls and rocks, and rafters and house-roofs. But the burnt foot saved Luke's neck scores of times, doubtless. Mark remembered it; he never "stumped" her to any certain hurt, or where he could not lead the way himself.
The mischief they got into and out of is no part of my story; but one day something happened—things do happen as far back in lives as that—which gave Luclarion her clew to the world.
They had got into the best parlor,—that sacred place of the New England farm-house, that is only entered by the high-priests themselves on solemn festivals, weddings and burials, Thanksgivings and quiltings; or devoutly, now and then to set the shrine in order, shut the blinds again, and so depart, leaving it to gather the gloom and grandeur that things and places and people do when they are good for nothing else.
The children had been left alone; for their mother had gone to a sewing society, and Grashy, the girl, was up-stairs in her kitchen-chamber-bedroom, with a nail over the door-latch to keep them out while she "fixed over" her best gown.
"Le's play Lake Ontario," says Marcus.
Now Lake Ontario, however they had pitched upon it, stood with them for all the waters that are upon the face of the earth, and all the confusion and peril of them. To play it, they turned the room into one vast shipwreck, of upset and piled up chairs, stools, boxes, buckets, and what else they could lay hands on; and among and over them they navigated their difficult and hilarious way. By no means were they to touch the floor; that was the Lake,—that were to drown.
It was Columbus sometimes; sometimes it was Captain Cook; to-day, it was no less than Jason sailing after the golden fleece.
Out of odd volumes in the garret, and out of "best books" taken down from the secretary in the "settin'-room," and put into their hands, with charges, of a Sunday, to keep them still, they had got these things, jumbled into strange far-off and near fantasies in their childish minds. "Lake Ontario" included and connected all.
"I'll tell you what it is," said Marcus, tumbling up against the parlor door and an idea at once. "In here!"
"What?" asked Luke, breathless, without looking up, and paddling with the shovel, from an inverted rocking-chair.
"The golden thing! Hush!"
At this moment Grashy came into the kitchen, took a little tin kettle from a nail over the dresser, and her sun-bonnet from another behind the door, and made her way through the apartment as well as she could for bristling chair-legs, with exemplary placidity. She was used to "Lake Ontario."
"Don't get into any mischief, you Apostles," was her injunction. "I'm goin' down to Miss Ruddock's for some 'east."
"Good,"; says Mark, the instant the door was shut "Now this is Colchis, and I'm going in."
He pronounced it much like "cold-cheese," and it never occurred to him that he was naming any unusual or ancient locality. There was a "Jason" in the Mills Village. He kept a grocer's shop. Colchis might be close by for all he knew; out beyond the wall, perhaps, among the old barrels. Children place all they read or hear about, or even all they imagine, within a very limited horizon. They cannot go beyond their world. Why should they? Neither could those very venerable ancients.
"'Tain't," says Luclarion, with unbeguiled practicality. "It's just ma's best parlor, and you mustn't."
It was the "mustn't" that was the whole of it. If Mark had asserted that the back kitchen, or the cellar-way closet was Colchis, she would have indorsed it with enthusiasm, and followed on like a loyal Argonaut, as she was. But her imagination here was prepossessed. Nothing in old fable could be more environed with awe and mystery than this best parlor.
"And, besides," said Luclarion, "I don't care for the golden fleece; I'm tired of it. Let's play something else."
"I'll tell you what there is in here," persisted Mark. "There's two enchanted children. I've seen 'em!"
"Just as though," said Luke contemptuously. "Ma ain't a witch."
"Tain't ma. She don't know. They ain't visible to her. She thinks it's nothing but the best parlor. But it opens out, right into the witch country,—not for her. 'Twill if we go. See if it don't."
He had got hold of her now; Luclarion could not resist that. Anything might be true of that wonderful best room, after all. It was the farthest Euxine, the witch-land, everything, to them.
So Mark turned the latch and they crept in
"We must open a shutter," Mark said, groping his way.
"Grashy will be back," suggested Luke, fearfully.
"Guess so!" said Mark. "She ain't got coaxed to take her sun-bonnet off yet, an' it'll take her ninety-'leven hours to get it on again."
He had let in the light now from the south window.
The red carpet on the floor; the high sofa of figured hair-cloth, with brass-headed nails, and brass rosettes in the ends of the hard, cylinder pillows; the tall, carved cupboard press, its doors and drawers glittering with hanging brass handles; right opposite the door by which they had come in, the large, leaning mirror, gilt—garnished with grooved and beaded rim and an eagle and ball-chains over the top,—all this, opening right in from the familiar every-day kitchen and their Lake Ontario,—it certainly meant something that such a place should be. It meant a great deal more than sixteen feet square could hold, and what it really was did not stop short at the gray-and-crimson stenciled walls.
The two were all alone in it; perhaps they had never been all alone in it before. I think, notwithstanding their mischief and enterprise, they never had.
And deep in the mirror, face to face with them, coming down, it seemed, the red slant of an inner and more brilliant floor, they saw two other little figures. Their own they knew, really, but elsewhere they never saw their own figures entire. There was not another looking-glass in the house that was more than two feet long, and they were all hung up so high!
"There!" whispered Mark. "There they are, and they can't get out."
"Of course they can't," said sensible Luclarion.
"If we only knew the right thing to say, or do, they might," said Mark. "It's that they're waiting for, you see. They always do. It's like the sleeping beauty Grashy told us."
"Then they've got to wait a hundred years," said Luke.
"Who knows when they began?"
"They do everything that we do," said Luclarion, her imagination kindling, but as under protest. "If we could jump in perhaps they would jump out."
"We might jump at 'em," said Marcus. "Jest get 'em going, and may-be they'd jump over. Le's try."
So they set up two chairs from Lake Ontario in the kitchen doorway, to jump from; but they could only jump to the middle round of the carpet, and who could expect that the shadow children should be beguiled by that into a leap over bounds? They only came to the middle round of their carpet.
"We must go nearer; we must set the chairs in the middle, and jump close. Jest shave, you know," said Marcus.
"O, I'm afraid," said Luclarion.
"I'll tell you what! Le's run and jump! Clear from the other side of the kitchen, you know. Then they'll have to run too, and may-be they can't stop."
So they picked up chairs and made a path, and ran from across the broad kitchen into the parlor doorway, quite on to the middle round of the carpet, and then with great leaps came down bodily upon the floor close in front of the large glass that, leaned over them, with two little fallen figures in it, rolling aside quickly also, over the slanting red carpet.
But, O dear what did it?
Had the time come, anyhow, for the old string to part its last fibre, that held the mirror tilting from the wall,—or was it the crash of a completed spell?
There came a snap,—a strain,—as some nails or screws that held it otherwise gave way before the forward pressing weight, and down, flat-face upon the floor, between the children, covering them with fragments of splintered glass and gilded wood,—eagle, ball-chains, and all,—that whole magnificence and mystery lay prostrate.
Behind, where it had been, was a blank, brown-stained cobwebbed wall, thrown up harsh and sudden against them, making the room small, and all the enchanted chamber, with its red slanting carpet, and its far reflected corners, gone.
The house hushed up again after that terrible noise, and stood just the same as ever. When a thing like that happens, it tells its own story, just once, and then it is over. People are different. They keep talking.
There was Grashy to come home. She had not got there in time to hear the house tell it. She must learn it from the children. Why?
"Because they knew," Luclarion said. "Because, then, they could not wait and let it be found out."
"We never touched it," said Mark.
"We jumped," said Luke.
"We couldn't help it, if that did it. S'posin' we'd jumped in the kitchen, or—the—flat-irons had tumbled down,—or anything? That old string was all wore out."
"Well, we was here, and we jumped; and we know."
"We was here, of course; and of course we couldn't help knowing, with all that slam-bang. Why, it almost upset Lake Ontario! We can tell how it slammed, and how we thought the house was coming down. I did."
"And how we were in the best parlor, and how we jumped," reiterated Luclarion, slowly. "Marcus, it's a stump!"
They were out in the middle of Lake Ontario now, sitting right down underneath the wrecks, upon the floor; that is, under water, without ever thinking of it. The parlor door was shut, with all that disaster and dismay behind it.
"Go ahead, then!" said Marcus, and he laid himself back desperately on the floor. "There's Grashy!"
"Sakes and patience!" ejaculated Grashy, merrily, coming in. "They're drownded,—dead, both of 'em; down to the bottom of Lake Ontariah!"
"No we ain't," said Luclarion, quietly. "It isn't Lake Ontario now. It's nothing but a clutter. But there's an awful thing in the best parlor, and we don't know whether we did it or not. We were in there, and we jumped."
Grashy went straight to the parlor door, and opened it. She looked in, turned pale, and said "'Lection!"
That is a word the women have, up in the country, for solemn surprise, or exceeding emergency, or dire confusion. I do not know whether it is derived from religion or politics. It denotes a vital crisis, either way, and your hands full. Perhaps it had the theological association in Grashy's mind, for the next thing she said was, "My soul!"
"Do you know what that's a sign of, you children?"
"Sign the old thing was rotten," said Marcus, rather sullenly.
"Wish that was all," said Grashy, her lips white yet. "Hope there mayn't nothin' dreadful happen in this house before the year's out. It's wuss'n thirteen at the table."
"Do you s'pose we did it?" asked Luke, anxiously.
"Where was you when it tumbled?"
"Right in front of it. But we were rolling away. We tumbled."
"'Twould er come down the fust jar, anyway, if a door had slammed. The string's cut right through," said Grashy, looking at the two ends sticking up stiff and straight from the top fragment of the frame. "But the mercy is you war'n't smashed yourselves to bits and flinders. Think o'that!"
"Do you s'pose ma'll think of that?" asked Luclarion.
"Well—yes; but it may make her kinder madder,—just at first, you know. Between you and me and the lookin'-glass, you see,—well, yer ma is a pretty strong-feelin' woman," said Grashy, reflectively. "'Fi was you I wouldn't say nothin' about it. What's the use? I shan't."
"It's a stump," repeated Luclarion, sadly, but in very resolute earnest.
"Well, if you ain't the curiousest young one, Luke Grapp!" said she, only half comprehending.
When Mrs. Grapp came home, Luclarion went into her bedroom after her, and told her the whole story. Mrs. Grapp went into the parlor, viewed the scene of calamity, took in the sense of loss and narrowly escaped danger, laid the whole weight of them upon the disobedience to be dealt with, and just as she had said, "You little fool!" out of the very shock of her own distress when Luke had burned her baby foot, she turned back now, took the two children up-stairs in silence, gave them each a good old orthodox whipping, and tucked them into their beds.
They slept one on each side of the great kitchen-chamber.
"Mark," whispered Luke, tenderly, after Mrs. Grapp's step had died away down the stairs. "How do you feel?"
"Hot!" said Mark. "How do you?"
"You ain't mad with me, be you?"
"Then I feel real cleared up and comfortable. But it was a stump, wasn't it?"
* * * * *
From that time forward, Luclarion Grapp had got her light to go by. She understood life. It was "stumps" all through. The Lord set them, and let them; she found that out afterward, when she was older, and "experienced religion." I think she was mistaken in the dates, though; it was recognition, this later thing; the experience was away back,—at Lake Ontario.
It was a stump when her father died, and her mother had to manage the farm, and she to help her. The mortgage they had to work off was a stump; but faith and Luclarion's dairy did it. It was a stump when Marcus wanted to go to college, and they undertook that, after the mortgage. It was a stump when Adam Burge wanted her to marry him, and go and live in the long red cottage at Side Hill, and she could not go till they had got through with helping Marcus. It was a terrible stump when Adam Burge married Persis Cone instead, and she had to live on and bear it. It was a stump when her mother died, and the farm was sold.
Marcus married; he never knew; he had a belles-lettres professorship in a new college up in D——. He would not take a cent of the farm money; he had had his share long ago; the four thousand dollars were invested for Luke. He did the best he could, and all he knew; but human creatures can never pay each other back. Only God can do that, either way.
Luclarion did not stay in ——. There were too few there now, and too many. She came down to Boston. Her two hundred and eighty dollars a year was very good, as far as it went, but it would not keep her idle; neither did she wish to live idle. She learned dress-making; she had taste and knack; she was doing well; she enjoyed going about from house to house for her days' work, and then coming back to her snug room at night, and her cup of tea and her book.
Then it turned out that so much sewing was not good for her; her health was threatened; she had been used to farm work and "all out-doors." It was a "stump" again. That was all she called it; she did not talk piously about a "cross." What difference did it make? There is another word, also, for "cross" in Hebrew.
Luclarion came at last to live with Mrs. Edward Shiere. And in that household, at eight and twenty, we have just found her.
BY STORY-RAIL: TWENTY-SIX YEARS AN HOUR.
Laura Shiere did not think much about the "stump," when, in her dark gray merino travelling dress, and her black ribbons, nicely appointed, as Mrs. Oferr's niece should be, down to her black kid gloves and broad-hemmed pocket-handkerchief, and little black straw travelling-basket (for morocco bags were not yet in those days), she stepped into the train with her aunt at the Providence Station, on her way to Stonington and New York.
The world seemed easily laid out before her. She was like a cousin in a story-book, going to arrive presently at a new home, and begin a new life, in which she would be very interesting to herself and to those about her. She felt rather important, too, with her money independence—there being really "property" of hers to be spoken of as she had heard it of late. She had her mother's diamond ring on her third finger, and was comfortably conscious of it when she drew off her left-hand glove. Laura Shiere's nature had only been stirred, as yet, a very little below the surface, and the surface rippled pleasantly in the sunlight that was breaking forth from the brief clouds.
Among the disreputable and vociferous crowd of New York hack drivers, that swarmed upon the pier as the Massachusetts glided into her dock, it was good to see that subduedly respectable and consciously private and superior man in the drab overcoat and the nice gloves and boots, who came forward and touched his hat to Mrs. Oferr, took her shawl and basket, and led the way, among the aggravated public menials, to a handsome private carriage waiting on the street.
"All well at home, David?" asked Mrs. Oferr.
"All well, ma'am, thank you," replied David.
And another man sat upon the box, in another drab coat, and touched his hat; and when they reached Waverley Place and alighted, Mrs. Oferr had something to say to him of certain directions, and addressed him as "Moses."
It was very grand and wonderful to order "David" and "Moses" about. Laura felt as if her aunt were something only a little less than "Michael with the sword." Laura had a susceptibility for dignities; she appreciated, as we have seen out upon the wood-shed, "high places, and all the people looking up."
David and Moses were brothers, she found out; she supposed that was the reason they dressed alike, in drab coats; as she and Frank used to wear their red merinos, and their blue ginghams. A little spasm did come up in her throat for a minute, as she thought of the old frocks and the old times already dropped so far behind; but Alice and Geraldine Oferr met her the next instant on the broad staircase at the back of the marble-paved hall, looking slight and delicate, and princess-like, in the grand space built about them for their lives to move in; and in the distance and magnificence of it all, the faint little momentary image of Frank faded away.
She went up with them out of the great square hall, over the stately staircase, past the open doors of drawing-rooms and library, stretching back in a long suite, with the conservatory gleaming green from the far end over the garden, up the second stairway to the floor where their rooms were; bedrooms and nursery,—this last called so still, though the great, airy front-room was the place used now for their books and amusements as growing young ladies,—all leading one into another around the skylighted upper hall, into which the sunshine came streaked with amber and violet from the richly colored glass. She had a little side apartment given to her for her own, with a recessed window, in which were blossoming plants just set there from the conservatory; opposite stood a white, low bed in a curtained alcove, and beyond was a dressing-closet. Laura thought she should not be able to sleep there at all for a night or two, for the beauty of it and the good time she should be having.
At that same moment Frank and her Aunt Oldways were getting down from the stage that had brought them over from Ipsley, where they slept after their day's journey from Boston,—at the doorstone of the low, broad-roofed, wide-built, roomy old farm-house in Homesworth.
Right in the edge of the town it stood, its fields stretching over the south slope of green hills in sunny uplands, and down in meadowy richness to the wild, hidden, sequestered river-side, where the brown water ran through a narrow, rocky valley,—Swift River they called it. There are a great many Swift Rivers in New England. It was only a vehement little tributary of a larger stream, beside which lay larger towns; it was doing no work for the world, apparently, at present; there were no mills, except a little grist-mill to which the farmers brought their corn, cuddled among the rocks and wild birches and alders, at a turn where the road came down, and half a dozen planks made a bit of a bridge.
"O, what beautiful places!" cried Frank, as they crossed the little bridge, and glanced either way into a green, gray, silvery vista of shrubs and rocks, and rushing water, with the white spires of meadow-sweet and the pink hardback, and the first bright plumes of the golden rod nodding and shining against the shade,—as they passed the head of a narrow, grassy lane, trod by cows' feet, and smelling of their milky breaths, and the sweetness of hay-barns,—as they came up, at length, over the long slope of turf that carpeted the way, as for a bride's feet, from the roadside to the very threshold. She looked along the low, treble-piled garden wall, too, and out to the open sheds, deep with pine chips; and upon the broad brown house-roof, with its long, gradual decline, till its eaves were within reach of a child's fingers from the ground; and her quick eye took in facilities.
"O, if Laura could see this! After the old shed-top in Brier Street, and the one tree!"
But Laura had got what the shed-top stood for with her; it was Frank who had hearkened to whole forests in the stir of the one brick-rooted fir. To that which each child had, it was already given.
In a week or two Frank wrote Laura a letter. It was an old-fashioned letter, you know; a big sheet, written close, four pages, all but the middle of the last page, which was left for the "superscription." Then it was folded, the first leaf turned down twice, lengthwise; then the two ends laid over, toward each other; then the last doubling, or rather trebling, across; and the open edge slipped over the folds. A wafer sealed it, and a thimble pressed it,—and there were twenty-five cents postage to pay. That was a letter in the old times, when Laura and Frank Shiere were little girls. And this was that letter:—
DEAR LAURA,—We got here safe, Aunt Oldways and I, a week ago last Saturday, and it is beautiful. There is a green lane,—almost everybody has a green lane,—and the cows go up and down, and the swallows build in the barn-eaves. They fly out at sundown, and fill all the sky up. It is like the specks we used to watch in the sunshine when it came in across the kitchen, and they danced up and down and through and away, and seemed to be live things; only we couldn't tell, you know, what they were, or if they really did know how good it was. But these are big and real, and you can see their wings, and you know what they mean by it. I guess it is all the same thing, only some things are little and some are big. You can see the stars here, too,—such a sky full. And that is all the same again.
There are beautiful roofs and walls here. I guess you would think you were high up! Harett and I go up from under the cheese-room windows right over the whole house, and we sit on the peak by the chimney. Harett is Mrs. Dillon's girl. Not the girl that lives with her,—her daughter. But the girls that live with people are daughters here. Somebody's else, I mean. They are all alike. I suppose her name is Harriet, but they all call her Harett. I don't like to ask her for fear she should think I thought they didn't know how to pronounce.
I go to school with Harett; up to the West District. We carry brown bread and butter, and doughnuts, and cheese, and apple-pie in tin pails, for luncheon. Don't you remember the brown cupboard in Aunt Oldways' kitchen, how sagey, and doughnutty, and good it always smelt? It smells just so now, and everything tastes just the same.
There is a great rock under an oak tree half way up to school, by the side of the road. We always stop there to rest, coming home. Three of the girls come the same way as far as that, and we always save some of our dinner to eat up there, and we tell stories. I tell them about dancing-school, and the time we went to the theatre to see "Cinderella," and going shopping with mother, and our little tea-parties, and the Dutch dolls we made up in the long front chamber. O, don't you remember, Laura? What different pieces we have got into our remembrances already! I feel as if I was making patchwork. Some-time, may-be, I shall tell somebody about living here. Well, they will be beautiful stories! Homesworth is an elegant place to live in. You will see when you come next summer.
There is an apple tree down in the south orchard that bends just like a horse's back. Then the branches come up over your head and shade you. We ride there, and we sit and eat summer apples there. Little rosy apples with dark streaks in them all warm with the sun. You can't think what a smell they have, just like pinks and spice boxes. Why don't they keep a little way off from each other in cities, and so have room for apple trees? I don't see why they need to crowd so. I hate to think of you all shut up tight when I am let right out into green grass, and blue sky, and apple orchards. That puts me in mind of something! Zebiah Jane, Aunt Oldways' girl, always washes her face in the morning at the pump-basin out in the back dooryard, just like the ducks. She says she can't spatter round in a room; she wants all creation for a slop-bowl. I feel as if we had all creation for everything up here. But I can't put all creation in a letter if I try. That would spatter dreadfully.
I expect a long letter from you every day now. But I don't see what you will make it out of. I think I have got all the things and you won't have anything left but the words. I am sure you don't sit out on the wood-shed at Aunt Oferr's, and I don't believe you pound stones and bricks, and make colors. Do you know when we rubbed our new shoes with pounded stone and made them gray?
I never told you about Luclarion. She came up as soon as the things were all sent off, and she lives at the minister's. Where she used to live is only two miles from here, but other people live there now, and it is built on to and painted straw color, with a green door.
Your affectionate sister, FRANCES SHIERE.
When Laura's letter came this was it:—
DEAR FRANK,—I received your kind letter a week ago, but we have been very busy having a dressmaker and doing all our fall shopping, and I have not had time to answer it before. We shall begin to go to school next week, for the vacations are over, and then I shall have ever so much studying to do. I am to take lessons on the piano, too, and shall have to practice two hours a day. In the winter we shall have dancing-school and practicing parties. Aunt has had a new bonnet made for me. She did not like the plain black silk one. This is of gros d'Afrique, with little bands and cordings round the crown and front; and I have a dress of gros d'Afrique, too, trimmed with double folds piped on. For every-day I have a new black mousseline with white clover leaves on it, and an all-black French chally to wear to dinner. I don't wear my black and white calico at all. Next summer aunt means to have me wear white almost all the time, with lavender and violet ribbons. I shall have a white muslin with three skirts and a black sash to wear to parties and to Public Saturdays, next winter. They have Public Saturdays at dancing-school every three weeks. But only the parents and relations can come. Alice and Geraldine dance the shawl-dance with Helena Pomeroy, with crimson and white Canton crape scarfs. They have showed me some of it at home. Aunt Oferr says I shall learn the gavotte.
Aunt Oferr's house is splendid. The drawing-room is full of sofas, and divans, and ottomans, and a causeuse, a little S-shaped seat for two people. Everything is covered with blue velvet, and there are blue silk curtains to the windows, and great looking-glasses between, that you can see all down into through rooms and rooms, as if there were a hundred of them. Do you remember the story Luclarion used to tell us of when she and her brother Mark were little children and used to play that the looking-glass-things were real, and that two children lived in them, in the other room, and how we used to make believe too in the slanting chimney glass? You could make believe it here with forty children. But I don't make believe much now. There is such a lot that is real, and it is all so grown up. It would seem so silly to have such plays, you know. I can't help thinking the things that come into my head though, and it seems sometimes just like a piece of a story, when I walk into the drawing-room all alone, just before company comes, with my gros d'Afrique on, and my puffed lace collar, and my hair tied back with long new black ribbons. It all goes through my head just how I look coming in, and how grand it is, and what the words would be in a book about it, and I seem to act a little bit, just to myself as if I were a girl in a story, and it seems to say, "And Laura walked up the long drawing-room and took a book bound in crimson morocco from the white marble pier table and sat down upon the velvet ottoman in the balcony window." But what happened then it never tells. I suppose it will by and by. I am getting used to it all, though; it isn't so awfully splendid as it was at first.
I forgot to tell you that my new bonnet flares a great deal, and that I have white lace quilling round the face with little black dotty things in it on stems. They don't wear those close cottage bonnets now. And aunt has had my dresses made longer and my pantalettes shorter, so that they hardly show at all. She says I shall soon wear long dresses, I am getting so tall. Alice wears them now, and her feet look so pretty, and she has such pretty slippers: little French purple ones, and sometimes dark green, and sometimes beautiful light gray, to go with different dresses. I don't care for anything but the slippers, but I should like such ones as hers. Aunt says I can't, of course, as long as I wear black, but I can have purple ones next summer to wear with my white dresses. That will be when I come to see you.
I am afraid you will think this is a very wearing kind of a letter, there are so many 'wears' in it. I have been reading it over so far, but I can't put in any other word.
Your affectionate sister, LAURA SHIERE.
P.S. Aunt Oferr says Laura Shiere is such a good sounding name. It doesn't seem at all common. I am glad of it. I should hate to be common.
I do not think I shall give you any more of it just here than these two letters tell. We are not going through all Frank and Laura's story. That with which we have especially to do lies on beyond. But it takes its roots in this, as all stories take their roots far back and underneath.
Two years after, Laura was in Homesworth for her second summer visit at the farm. It was convenient, while the Oferrs were at Saratoga. Mrs. Oferr was very much occupied now, of course, with introducing her own daughters. A year or two later, she meant to give Laura a season at the Springs. "All in turn, my dear, and good time," she said.
The winter before, Frank had been a few weeks in New York. But it tired her dreadfully, she said. She liked the theatres and the concerts, and walking out and seeing the shops. But there was "no place to get out of it into." It didn't seem as if she ever really got home and took off her things. She told Laura it was like that first old letter of hers; it was just "wearing," all the time.
Laura laughed. "But how can you live without wearing?" said she.
Frank stood by, wondering, while Laura unpacked her trunks that morning after her second arrival at Aunt Oldways'. She had done now even with the simplicity of white and violet, and her wardrobe blossomed out like the flush of a summer garden.
She unfolded a rose-colored muslin, with little raised embroidered spots, and threw it over the bed.
"Where will you wear that, up here?" asked Frank, in pure bewilderment.
"Why, I wear it to church, with my white Swiss mantle," answered Laura. "Or taking tea, or anything. I've a black silk visite for cool days. That looks nice with it. And see here,—I've a pink sunshade. They don't have them much yet, even in New York. Mr. Pemberton Oferr brought these home from Paris, for Gerry and Alice, and me. Gerry's is blue. See! it tips back." And Laura set the dashy little thing with its head on one side, and held it up coquettishly.
"They used them in carriages in Paris, he said, and in St. Petersburg, driving out on the Nevskoi Prospekt."
"But where are your common things?"
"Down at the bottom; I haven't come to them. They were put in first, because they would bear squeezing. I've two French calicoes, with pattern trimmings; and a lilac jaconet, with ruffles, open down the front."
Laura wore long dresses now; and open wrappers were the height of the style.
Laura astonished Homesworth the first Sunday of this visit, with her rose-colored toilet. Bonnet of shirred pink silk with moss rosebuds and a little pink lace veil; the pink muslin, full-skirted over two starched petticoats; even her pink belt had gay little borders of tiny buds and leaves, and her fan had a pink tassel.
"They're the things I wear; why shouldn't I?" she said to Frank's remonstrance.
"But up here!" said Frank. "It would seem nicer to wear something—stiller."
So it would; a few years afterward Laura herself would have seen that it was more elegant; though Laura Shiere was always rather given to doing the utmost—in apparel—that the occasion tolerated. Fashions grew stiller in years after. But this June Sunday, somewhere in the last thirties or the first forties, she went into the village church like an Aurora, and the village long remembered the resplendence. Frank had on a white cambric dress, with a real rose in the bosom, cool and fresh, with large green leaves; and her "cottage straw" was trimmed with white lutestring, crossed over the crown.
"Do you feel any better?" asked Aunt Oldways of Laura, when they came home to the country tea-dinner.
"Better—how?" asked Laura, in surprise.
"After all that 'wear' and stare," said Aunt Oldways, quietly.
Aunt Oldways might have been astonished, but she was by no means awestruck, evidently; and Aunt Oldways generally spoke her mind.
Somehow, with Laura Shiere, pink was pinker, and ribbons were more rustling than with most people. Upon some quiet unconscious folks, silk makes no spread, and color little show; with Laura every gleam told, every fibre asserted itself. It was the live Aurora, bristling and tingling to its farthest electric point. She did not toss or flaunt, either; she had learned better of Signor Pirotti how to carry herself; but she was in conscious rapport with every thing and stitch she had about her. Some persons only put clothes on to their bodies; others really seem to contrive to put them on to their souls.
Laura Shiere came up to Homesworth three years later, with something more wonderful than a pink embossed muslin:—she had a lover.
Mrs. Oferr and her daughters were on their way to the mountains; Laura was to be left with the Oldways. Grant Ledwith accompanied them all thus far on their way; then he had to go back to Boston.
"I can't think of anything but that pink sunshade she used to carry round canted all to one side over her shoulder," said Aunt Oldways, looking after them down the dusty road the morning that he went away. Laura, in her white dress and her straw hat and her silly little bronze-and-blue-silk slippers printing the roadside gravel, leaning on Grant Ledwith's arm, seemed only to have gained a fresh, graceful adjunct to set off her own pretty goings and comings with, and to heighten the outside interest of that little point of eternity that she called her life. Mr. Ledwith was not so much a man who had won a woman, as Laura was a girl who had "got a beau."
She had sixteen tucked and trimmed white skirts, too, she told Frank; she should have eight more before she was married; people wore ever so many skirts now, at a time. She had been to a party a little while ago where she wore seven.
There were deep French embroidery bands around some of these white skirts; those were beautiful for morning dresses. Geraldine Oferr was married last winter; Laura had been her bridesmaid; Gerry had a white brocade from Paris, and a point-lace veil. She had three dozen of everything, right through. They had gone to housekeeping up town, in West Sixteenth Street. Frank would have to come to New York next winter, or in the spring, to be her bridesmaid; then she would see; then—who knew!
Frank was only sixteen, and she lived away up here in Homesworth among the hills; she had not "seen," but she had her own little secret, for all that; something she neither told nor thought, yet which was there; and it came across her with a queer little thrill from the hidden, unlooked-at place below thought, that "Who" didn't know.
Laura waited a year for Grant Ledwith's salary to be raised to marrying point; he was in a wholesale woolen house in Boston; he was a handsome fellow, with gentlemanly and taking address,—capital, this, for a young salesman; and they put his pay up to two thousand dollars within that twelvemonth. Upon this, in the spring, they married; took a house in Filbert Street, down by the river, and set up their little gods. These were: a sprinkle of black walnut and brocatelle in the drawing-room, a Sheffield-plate tea-service, and a crimson-and-giltedged dinner set that Mrs. Oferr gave them; twilled turkey-red curtains, that looked like thibet, in the best chamber; and the twenty-four white skirts and the silk dresses, and whatever corresponded to them on the bride-groom's part, in their wardrobes. All that was left of Laura's money, and all that was given them by Grant Ledwith's father, and Mr. Titus Oldways' astounding present of three hundred dollars, without note or comment,—the first reminder they had had of him since Edward Shiere's funeral, "and goodness knew how he heard anything now," Aunt Oferr said,—had gone to this outfit. But they were well set up and started in the world; so everybody said, and so they, taking the world into their young, confident hands for a plaything, not knowing it for the perilous loaded shell it is, thought, merrily, themselves.
Up in Homesworth people did not have to wait for two thousand dollar salaries. They would not get them if they did.
Oliver Ripwinkley, the minister's son, finished his medical studies and city hospital practice that year, and came back, as he had always said he should do, to settle down for a country doctor. Old Doctor Parrish, the parson's friend of fifty years, with no child of his own, kept the place for Oliver, and hung up his old-fashioned saddle-bags in the garret the very day the young man came home. He was there to be "called in," however, and with this backing, and the perforce of there being nobody else, young Doctor Ripwinkley had ten patients within the first week; thereby opportunity for shewing himself in the eyes of ten families as a young man who "appeared to know pretty well what he was about."
So that when he gave further proof of the same, by asking, within the week that followed, the prettiest girl in Homesworth, Frances Shiere, to come and begin the world with him at Mile Hill village, nobody, not even Frank herself, was astonished.
She bought three new gowns, a shawl, a black silk mantle, and a straw bonnet. She made six each of every pretty white garment that a woman wears; and one bright mellow evening in September, they took their first tea in the brown-carpeted, white-shaded little corner room in the old "Rankin house;" a bigger place than they really wanted yet, and not all to be used at first; but rented "reasonable," central, sunshiny, and convenient; a place that they hoped they should buy sometime; facing on the broad sidegreen of the village street, and running back, with its field and meadow belongings, away to the foot of great, gray, sheltering Mile Hill.
And the vast, solemn globe, heedless of what lit here or there upon its breadth, or took up this or that life in its little freckling cities, or between the imperceptible foldings of its hills,—only carrying way-passengers for the centuries,—went plunging on its track, around and around, and swept them all, a score of times, through its summer and its winter solstices.
AFTERWARDS IS A LONG TIME.
Old Mr. Marmaduke Wharne had come down from Outledge, in the mountains, on his way home to New York. He had stopped in Boston to attend to some affairs of his own,—if one can call them so, since Marmaduke Wharne never had any "own" affairs that did not chiefly concern, to their advantage, somebody else,—in which his friend Mr. Titus Oldways was interested, not personally, but Wharne fashion. Now, reader, you know something about Mr. Titus Oldways, which up to this moment, only God, and Marmaduke Wharne, and Rachel Froke, who kept Mr. Oldways' house, and wore a Friend's drab dress and white cap, and said "Titus," and "Marmaduke" to the two old gentlemen, and "thee" and "thou" to everybody,—have ever known. In a general way and relation, I mean; separate persons knew particular things; but each separate person thought the particular thing he knew to be a whimsical exception.
Mr. Oldways did not belong to any church: but he had an English Prayer-book under his Bible on his study table, and Baxter and Fenelon and a Kempis and "Wesley's Hymns," and Swedenborg's "Heaven and Hell" and "Arcana Celestia," and Lowell's "Sir Launfal," and Dickens's "Christmas Carol," all on the same set of shelves,—that held, he told Marmaduke, his religion; or as much of it as he could get together. And he had this woman, who was a Friend, and who walked by the Inner Light, and in outer charity, if ever a woman did, to keep his house. "For," said he, "the blessed truth is, that the Word of God is in the world. Alive in it. When you know that, and wherever you can get hold of his souls, then and there you've got your religion,—a piece at a time. To prove and sort your pieces, and to straighten the tangle you might otherwise get into, there's this," and he laid his hand down on the Four Gospels, bound in white morocco, with a silver cross upon the cover,—a volume that no earthly creature, again, knew of, save Titus and Marmaduke and Rachel Froke, who laid it into a drawer when she swept and dusted, and placed it between the crimson folds of its quilted silken wrapper when she had finished, burnishing the silver cross gently with a scrap of chamois leather cut from a clean piece every time. There was nothing else delicate and exquisite in all the plain and grim establishment; and the crimson wrapper was comfortably worn, and nobody would notice it, lying on the table there, with an almanac, a directory, the big, open Worcester's Dictionary, and the scattered pamphlets and newspapers of the day.
Out in the world, Titus Oldways went about with visor down.
He gave to no fairs nor public charities; "let them get all they could that way, it wasn't his way," he said to Rachel Froke. The world thought he gave nothing, either of purse or life.
There was a plan they had together,—he and Marmaduke Wharne,—this girls' story-book will not hold the details nor the idea of it,—about a farm they owned, and people working it that could go nowhere else to work anything; and a mill-privilege that might be utilized and expanded, to make—not money so much as safe and honest human life by way of making money; and they sat and talked this plan over, and settled its arrangements, in the days that Marmaduke Wharne was staying on in Boston, waiting for his other friend, Miss Craydocke, who had taken the River Road down from Outledge, and so come round by Z——, where she was staying a few days with the Goldthwaites and the Inglesides. Miss Craydocke had a share or two in the farm and in the mill.
And now, Titus Oldways wanted to know of Marmaduke Wharne what he was to do for Afterwards.
It was a question that had puzzled and troubled him. Afterwards.
"While I live," he said, "I will do what I can, and as I can. I will hand over my doing, and the wherewith, to no society or corporation. I'll pay no salaries nor circumlocutions. Neither will I—afterwards. And how is my money going to work on?"
"How did it work when it came to you?"
Mr. Oldways was silent.
"He chose to send it to you. He made it in the order of things that it should come to you. You began, yourself, to work for money. You did not understand, then, that the money would be from God and was for Him."
"He made me understand."
"Yes. He looked out for that part of it too. He can look out for it again. His word shall not return unto him void."
"He has given me this, though, to pass on; and I will not put it into a machine. I want to give some living soul a body for its living. Dead charities are dead. It's of no use to will it to you, Marmaduke; I'm as likely to stay on, perhaps, as you are."
"And the youngest life might drop, the day after your own. You can't take it out of God's hand."
"I must either let it go by law, or will it—here and there. I know enough whom it would help; but I want to invest, not spend it; to invest it in a life—or lives—that will carry it on from where I leave it. How shall I know?"
"He giveth it a body as it pleaseth Him," quoted Marmaduke Wharne, thoughtfully. "I am English, you know, Oldways; I can't help reverencing the claims of next of kin. Unless one is plainly shown otherwise, it seems the appointment. How can we set aside his ways until He clearly points us out his own exception?"
"My 'next' are two women whom I don't know, my niece's children. She died thirty years ago."
"Perhaps you ought to know them."
"I know about them; I've kept the run; but I've held clear of family. They didn't need me, and I had no right to put it into their heads they did, unless I fully meant"—
He broke off.
"They're like everybody else, Wharne; neither better nor worse, I dare say; but the world is full of just such women. How do I know this money would be well in their hands—even for themselves?"
"One of 'em was brought up by an Oferr woman!"
The tone in which he commonized the name to a satiric general term, is not to be written down, and needed not to be interpreted.
"The other is well enough," he went on, "and contented enough. A doctor's widow, with a little property, a farm and two children,—her older ones died very young,—up in New Hampshire. I might spoil her; and the other,—well, you see as I said, I don't know."
"Find out," said Marmaduke Wharne, again.
"People are not found out till they are tried."
Mr. Oldways had been sitting with his head bent, thoughtfully, his eyes looking down, his hands on the two stiff, old-fashioned arms of his chair. At this last spondaic response from Marmaduke, he lifted his eyes and eyebrows,—not his head,—and raised himself slightly with his two hands pressing on the chair arms; the keen glance and the half-movement were impulsively toward his friend.
"Eh?" said he.
"Try 'em," repeated Marmaduke Wharne. "Give God's way a chance."
Mr. Oldways, seated back in his chair again, looked at him intently; made a little vibration, as it were, with his body, that moved his head up and down almost imperceptibly, with a kind of gradual assenting apprehension, and kept utterly silent.
So, their talk being palpably over for this time, Marmaduke Wharne got up presently to go. They nodded at each other, friendlily, as he looked back from the door.
Left alone, Mr. Titus Oldways turned in his swivel-chair, around to his desk beside which he was sitting.
"Next of kin?" he repeated to himself. "God's way?—Well! Afterwards is a long time. A man must give it up somewhere. Everything escheats to the king at last."
And he took a pen in his hand and wrote a letter.
HOW THE NEWS CAME TO HOMESWORTH.
"I wish I lived in the city, and had a best friend," said Hazel Ripwinkley to Diana, as they sat together on the long, red, sloping kitchen roof under the arches of the willow-tree, hemming towels for their afternoon "stent." They did this because their mother sat on the shed roof under the fir, when she was a child, and had told them of it. Imagination is so much greater than fact, that these children, who had now all that little Frank Shiere had dreamed of with the tar smell and the gravel stones and the one tree,—who might run free in the wide woods and up the breezy hillsides,—liked best of all to get out on the kitchen roof and play "old times," and go back into their mother's dream.
"I wish I lived in a block of houses, and could see across the corner into my best friend's room when she got up in the morning!"
"And could have that party!" said Diana.
"Think of the clean, smooth streets, with red sidewalks, and people living all along, door after door! I like things set in rows, and people having places, like the desks at school. Why, you've got to go way round Sand Hill to get to Elizabeth Ann Dorridon's. I should like to go up steps, and ring bells!"
"I don't know," said Diana, slowly. "I think birds that build little nests about anywhere in the cunning, separate places, in the woods, or among the bushes, have the best time."
"Birds, Dine! It ain't birds, it's people! What has that to do with it?"
"I mean I think nests are better than martin-boxes."
"Let's go in and get her to tell us that story. She's in the round room."
The round room was a half ellipse, running in against the curve of the staircase. It was a bit of a place, with the window at one end, and the bow at the other. It had been Doctor Ripwinkley's office, and Mrs. Ripwinkley sat there with her work on summer afternoons. The door opened out, close at the front, upon a great flat stone in an angle, where was also entrance into the hall by the house-door, at the right hand. The door of the office stood open, and across the stone one could look down, between a range of lilac bushes and the parlor windows, through a green door-yard into the street.
"Now, Mother Frank, tell us about the party!"
They called her "Mother Frank" when they wished to be particularly coaxing. They had taken up their father's name for her, with their own prefix, when they were very little ones, before he went away and left nobody to call her Frank, every day, any more.
"That same little old story? Won't you ever be tired of it,—you great girls?" asked the mother; for she had told it to them ever since they were six and eight years old.
"Yes! No, never!" said the children.
For how should they outgrow it? It was a sunny little bit out of their mother's own child-life. We shall go back to smaller things, one day, maybe, and find them yet more beautiful. It is the going back, together.
"The same old way?"
"Yes; the very same old way."
"We had little open-work straw hats and muslin pelisses,—your Aunt Laura and I,"—began Mrs. Ripwinkley, as she had begun all those scores of times before. "Mother put them on for us,—she dressed us just alike, always,—and told us to take each other's hands, and go up Brier and down Hickory streets, and stop at all the houses that she named, and that we knew; and we were to give her love and compliments, and ask the mothers in each house,—Mrs. Dayton, and Mrs. Holridge (she lived up the long steps), and Mrs. Waldow, and the rest of them, to let Caroline and Grace and Fanny and Susan, and the rest of them, come at four o'clock, to spend the afternoon and take tea, if it was convenient."
"O, mother!" said Hazel, "you didn't say that when you asked people, you know."
"O, no!" said Mrs. Ripwinkley. "That was when we went to stop a little while ourselves, without being asked. Well, it was to please to let them come. And all the ladies were at home, because it was only ten o'clock; and they all sent their love and compliments, and they were much obliged, and the little girls would be very happy.
"It was a warm June day; up Brier Street was a steep walk; down Hickory we were glad to keep on the shady side, and thought it was nice that Mrs. Bemys and Mrs. Waldow lived there. The strings of our hats were very moist and clinging when we got home, and Laura had a blue mark under her chin from the green ribbon.
"Mother was in her room, in her white dimity morning gown, with little bows up the front, the ends trimmed with cambric edging. She took off our hats and our pelisses,—the tight little sleeves came off wrong side out,—sponged our faces with cool water, and brushed out Laura's curls. That was the only difference between us. I hadn't any curls, and my hair had to be kept cropped. Then she went to her upper bureau drawer and took out two little paper boxes.
"'Something has come for Blanche and Clorinda, since you have been gone,' she said, smiling. 'I suppose you have been shopping?' We took the paper boxes, laughing back at her with a happy understanding. We were used to these little plays of mother's, and she couldn't really surprise us with her kindnesses. We went and sat down in the window-seat, and opened them as deliberately and in as grown-up a way as we could. Inside them were two little lace pelerines lined with rose-colored silk. The boxes had a faint smell of musk. The things were so much better for coming in boxes! Mother knew that.
"Well, we dressed our dolls, and it was a great long sunshiny forenoon. Mother and Luclarion had done something in the kitchen, and there was a smell of sweet baking in the house. Every now and then we sniffed, and looked at each other, and at mother, and laughed. After dinner we had on our white French calicoes with blue sprigs, and mother said she should take a little nap, and we might go into the parlor and be ready for our company. She always let us receive our own company ourselves at first. And exactly at four o'clock the door-bell rang, and they began to come.
"Caroline and Fanny Dayton had on white cambric dresses, and green kid slippers. That was being very much dressed, indeed. Lucy Waldow wore a pink lawn, and Grace Holridge a buff French print. Susan Bemys said her little sister couldn't come because they couldn't find her best shoes. Her mother thought she had thrown them out of the window.
"When they all got there we began to play 'Lady Fair;' and we had just got all the 'lady fairs,' one after another, into our ring, and were dancing and singing up and down and round and round, when the door opened and mother walked in.
"We always thought our mother was the prettiest of any of the girls' mothers. She had such bright shining hair, and she put it up with shell combs into such little curly puffs. And she never seemed fussy or old, but she came in among us with such a beautiful, smiling way, as if she knew beforehand that it was all right, and there was no danger of any mischief, or that we shouldn't behave well, but she only wanted to see the good time. That day she had on a white muslin dress with little purple flowers on it, and a bow of purple ribbon right in the side of her hair. She had a little piece of fine work in her hand, and after she had spoken to all the little girls and asked them how their mothers were, she went and sat down in one of the front windows, and made little scollops and eyelets. I remember her long ivory stiletto, with a loop of green ribbon through the head of it, and the sharp, tiny, big-bowed scissors that lay in her lap, and the bright, tapering silver thimble on her finger.
"Pretty soon the door opened again, softly; a tray appeared, with Hannah behind it. On the tray were little glass saucers with confectionery in them; old-fashioned confectionery,—gibraltars, and colored caraways, and cockles with mottoes. We were in the middle of 'So says the Grand Mufti,' and Grace Holridge was the Grand Mufti. Hannah went up to her first, as she stood there alone, and Grace took a saucer and held it up before the row of us, and said, 'Thus says the Grand Mufti!' and then she bit a red gibraltar, and everybody laughed. She did it so quickly and so prettily, putting it right into the play. It was good of her not to say, 'So says the Grand Mufti.' At least we thought so then, though Susan Bemys said it would have been funnier.
"We had a great many plays in those days, and it took a long afternoon to get through with them. We had not begun to wonder what we should do next, when tea time came, and we went down into the basement room. It wasn't tea, though; it was milk in little clear, pink mugs, some that mother only had out for our parties, and cold water in crimped-edge glasses, and little biscuits, and sponge-cakes, and small round pound-cakes frosted. These were what had smelt so good in the morning.
"We stood round the table; there was not room for all of us to sit, and mother helped us, and Hannah passed things round. Susan Bemys took cake three times, and Lucy Waldow opened her eyes wide, and Fanny Dayton touched me softly under the table.
"After tea mother played and sung some little songs to us; and then she played the 'Fisher's Hornpipe' and 'Money Musk,' and we danced a little contra-dance. The girls did not all know cotillons, and some of them had not begun to go to dancing-school. Father came home and had his tea after we had done ours, and then he came up into the parlor and watched us dancing. Mr. Dayton came in, too. At about half past eight some of the other fathers called, and some of the mothers sent their girls, and everybody was fetched away. It was nine o'clock when Laura and I went to bed, and we couldn't go to sleep until after the clock struck ten, for thinking and saying what a beautiful time we had had, and anticipating how the girls would talk it all over next day at school. That," said Mrs. Ripwinkley, when she had finished, "was the kind of a party we used to have in Boston when I was a little girl. I don't know what the little girls have now."
"Boston!" said Luclarion, catching the last words as she came in, with her pink cape bonnet on, from the Homesworth variety and finding store, and post-office. "You'll talk them children off to Boston, finally, Mrs. Ripwinkley! Nothing ever tugs so at one end, but there's something tugging at the other; and there's never a hint nor a hearing to anybody, that something more doesn't turn up concerning it. Here's a letter, Mrs. Ripwinkley!"
Mrs. Ripwinkley took it with some surprise. It was not her sister's handwriting nor Mr. Ledwith's, on the cover; and she rarely had a letter from them that was posted in Boston, now. They had been living at a place out of town for several years. Mrs. Ledwith knew better than to give her letters to her husband for posting. They got lost in his big wallet, and stayed there till they grew old.
Who should write to Mrs. Ripwinkley, after all these years, from Boston?
She looked up at Luclarion, and smiled. "It didn't take a Solomon," said she, pointing to the postmark.
"No, nor yet a black smooch, with only four letters plain, on an invelup. 'Taint that, it's the drift of things. Those girls have got Boston in their minds as hard and fast as they've got heaven; and I mistrust mightily they'll get there first somehow!"
The girls were out of hearing, as she said this; they had got their story, and gone back to their red roof and their willow tree.
"Why, Luclarion!" exclaimed Mrs. Ripwinkley, as she drew out and unfolded the letter sheet. "It's from Uncle Titus Oldways."
"Then he ain't dead," remarked Luclarion, and went away into the kitchen.
"MY DEAR FRANCES,—I am seventy-eight years old. It is time I got acquainted with some of my relations. I've had other work to do in the world heretofore (at least I thought I had), and so, I believe, have they. But I have a wish now to get you and your sister to come and live nearer to me, that we may find out whether we really are anything to each other or not. It seems natural, I suppose, that we might be; but kinship doesn't all run in the veins.
"I do not ask you to do this with reference to any possible intentions of mine that might concern you after my death; my wish is to do what is right by you, in return for your consenting to my pleasure in the matter, while I am alive. It will cost you more to live in Boston than where you do now, and I have no business to expect you to break up and come to a new home unless I can make it an object to you in some way. You can do some things for your children here that you could not do in Homesworth. I will give you two thousand dollars a year to live on, and secure the same to you if I die. I have a house here in Aspen Street, not far from where I live myself, which I will give to either of you that it may suit. That you can settle between you when you come. It is rather a large house, and Mrs. Ledwith's family is larger, I think, than yours. The estate is worth ten thousand dollars, and I will give the same sum to the one who prefers, to put into a house elsewhere. I wish you to reckon this as all you are ever to expect from me, except the regard I am willing to believe I may come to have for you. I shall look to hear from you by the end of the week.
"I remain, yours truly,
"Luclarion!" cried Mrs. Ripwinkley, with excitement, "come here and help me think!"
"Only four days to make my mind up in," she said again, when Luclarion had read the letter through.
Luclarion folded it and gave it back.
"It won't take God four days to think," she answered quietly; "and you can ask Him in four minutes. You and I can talk afterwards." And Luclarion got up and went away a second time into the kitchen.
That night, after Diana and Hazel were gone to bed, their mother and Luclarion Grapp had some last words about it, sitting by the white-scoured kitchen table, where Luclarion had just done mixing bread and covered it away for rising. Mrs. Ripwinkley was apt to come out and talk things over at this time of the kneading. She could get more from Luclarion then than at any other opportunity. Perhaps that was because Miss Grapp could not walk off from the bread-trough; or it might be that there was some sympathy between the mixing of her flour and yeast into a sweet and lively perfection, and the bringing of her mental leaven wholesomely to bear.
"It looks as if it were meant, Luclarion," said Mrs. Ripwinkley, at last. "And just think what it will be for the children."
"I guess it's meant fast enough," replied Luclarion. "But as for what it will be for the children,—why, that's according to what you all make of it. And that's the stump."
Luclarion Grapp was fifty-four years old; but her views of life were precisely the same that they had been at twenty-eight.
There is a piece of Z——, just over the river, that they call "And."
It began among the school-girls; Barbara Holabird had christened it, with the shrewdness and mischief of fourteen years old. She said the "and-so-forths" lived there.
It was a little supplementary neighborhood; an after-growth, coming up with the railroad improvements, when they got a freight station established on that side for the East Z—— mills. "After Z——, what should it be but 'And?'" Barbara Holabird wanted to know. The people who lived there called it East Square; but what difference did that make?
It was two miles Boston-ward from Z—— centre, where the down trains stopped first; that was five minutes gained in the time between it and the city. Land was cheap at first, and sure to come up in value; so there were some streets laid out at right angles, and a lot of houses put up after a pattern, as if they had all been turned out of blanc-mange moulds, and there was "East Square." Then people began by-and-by to build for themselves, and a little variety and a good deal of ambition came in. They had got to French roofs now; this was just before the day of the multitudinous little paper collar-boxes with beveled covers, that are set down everywhere now, and look as if they could be lifted up by the chimneys, any time, and be carried off with a thumb and finger. Two and a half story houses, Mansarded, looked grand; and the East Square people thought nothing slight of themselves, though the "old places" and the real Z—— families were all over on West Hill.
Mrs. Megilp boarded in And for the summer.
"Since Oswald had been in business she couldn't go far from the cars, you know; and Oswald had a boat on the river, and he and Glossy enjoyed that so much. Besides, she had friends in Z——, which made it pleasant; and she was tired, for her part, of crowds and fashion. All she wanted was a quiet country place. She knew the Goldthwaites and the Haddens; she had met them one year at Jefferson."
Mrs. Megilp had found out that she could get larger rooms in And than she could have at the mountains or the sea-shore, and at half the price; but this she did not mention. Yet there was nothing shabby in it, except her carefully not mentioning it.
Mrs. Megilp was Mrs. Grant Ledwith's chief intimate and counselor. She was a good deal the elder; that was why it was mutually advantageous. Grant Ledwith was one of the out-in-the-world, up-to-the-times men of the day; the day in which everything is going, and everybody that is in active life has, somehow or other, all that is going. Grant Ledwith got a good salary, an inflated currency salary; and he spent it all. His daughters were growing up, and they were stylish and pretty; Mrs. Megilp took a great interest in Agatha and Florence Ledwith, and was always urging their mother to "do them justice." "Agatha and Florence were girls who had a right to every advantage." Mrs. Megilp was almost old enough to be Laura Ledwith's mother; she had great experience, and knowledge of the world; and she sat behind Laura's conscience and drove it tandem with her inclination.
Per contra, it was nice for Mrs. Megilp, who was a widow, and whose income did not stretch with the elasticity of the times, to have friends who lived like the Ledwiths, and who always made her welcome; it was a good thing for Glossy to be so fond of Agatha and Florence, and to have them so fond of her. "She needed young society," her mother said. One reason that Glossy Megilp needed young society might be in the fact that she herself was twenty-six.
Mrs. Megilp had advised the Ledwiths to buy a house in Z——. "It was just far enough not to be suburban, but to have a society of its own; and there was excellent society in Z——, everybody knew. Boston was hard work, nowadays; the distances were getting to be so great." Up to the West and South Ends,—the material distances,—she meant to be understood to say; but there was an inner sense to Mrs. Megilp's utterances, also.
"One might as well be quite out of town; and then it was always something, even in such city connection as one might care to keep up, to hail from a well-recognized social independency; to belong to Z—— was a standing, always. It wasn't like going to Forest Dell, or Lakegrove, or Bellair; cheap little got-up places with fancy names, that were strung out on the railroads like French gilt beads on a chain."
But for all that, Mrs. Ledwith had only got into "And;" and Mrs. Megilp knew it.
Laura did not realize it much; she had bowing and speaking acquaintance with the Haddens and the Hendees, and even with the Marchbankses, over on West Hill; and the Goldthwaites and the Holabirds, down in the town, she knew very well. She did not care to come much nearer; she did not want to be bound by any very stringent and exclusive social limits; it was a bother to keep up to all the demands of such a small, old-established set. Mrs. Hendee would not notice, far less be impressed by the advent of her new-style Brussels carpet with a border, or her full, fresh, Nottingham lace curtains, or the new covering of her drawing-room set with cuir-colored terry. Mrs. Tom Friske and Mrs. Philgry, down here at East Square, would run in, and appreciate, and admire, and talk it all over, and go away perhaps breaking the tenth commandment amiably in their hearts.
Mrs. Ledwith's nerves had extended since we saw her as a girl; they did not then go beyond the floating ends of her blue or rose-colored ribbons, or, at furthest, the tip of her jaunty laced sunshade; now they ramified,—for life still grows in some direction,—to her chairs, and her china, and her curtains, and her ruffled pillow-shams. Also, savingly, to her children's "suits," and party dresses, and pic-nic hats, and double button gloves. Savingly; for there is a leaven of grace in mother-care, even though it be expended upon these. Her friend, Mrs. Inchdeepe, in Helvellyn Park, with whom she dined when she went shopping in Boston, had nothing but her modern improvements and her furniture. "My house is my life," she used to say, going round with a Canton crape duster, touching tenderly carvings and inlayings and gildings.
Mrs. Megilp was spending the day with Laura Ledwith; Glossy was gone to town, and thence down to the sea-shore, with some friends.
Mrs. Megilp spent a good many days with Laura. She had large, bright rooms at her boarding-house, but then she had very gristly veal pies and thin tapioca puddings for dinner; and Mrs. Megilp's constitution required something more generous. She was apt to happen in at this season, when Laura had potted pigeons. A little bird told her; a dozen little birds, I mean, with their legs tied together in a bunch; for she could see the market wagon from her window, when it turned up Mr. Ledwith's avenue.
Laura had always the claret pitcher on her dinner table, too; and claret and water, well-sugared, went deliciously with the savory stew.
They were up-stairs now, in Laura's chamber; the bed and sofa were covered with silk and millinery; Laura was looking over the girls' "fall things;" there was a smell of sweet marjoram and thyme and cloves, and general richness coming up from the kitchen; there was a bland sense of the goodness of Providence in Mrs. Megilp's—no, not heart, for her heart was not very hungry; but in her eyes and nostrils.
She was advising Mrs. Ledwith to take Desire and Helena's two green silks and make them over into one for Helena.
"You can get two whole back breadths then, by piecing it up under the sash; and you can't have all those gores again; they are quite done with. Everybody puts in whole breadths now. There's just as much difference in the way of goring a skirt, as there is between gores and straight selvages."
"They do hang well, though; they have such a nice slope."
"Yes,—but the stripes and the seams! Those tell the story six rods off; and then there must be sashes, or postillions, or something; they don't make anything without them; there isn't any finish to a round waist unless you have something behind."
"They wore belts last year, and I bought those expensive gilt buckles. I'm sure they used to look sweetly. But there! a fashion doesn't last nowadays while you're putting a thing on and walking out of the house!"
"And don't put in more than three plaits," pursued Mrs. Megilp, intent on the fate of the green silks. "Everything is gathered; you see that is what requires the sashes; round waists and gathers have a queer look without."
"If you once begin to alter, you've got to make all over," said Mrs. Ledwith, a little fractiously, putting the scissors in with unwilling fingers. She knew there was a good four days' work before her, and she was quick with her needle, too.
"Never mind; the making over doesn't cost anything; you turn off work so easily; and then you've got a really stylish thing."
"But with all the ripping and remodelling, I don't get time to turn round, myself, and live! It is all fall work, and spring work, and summer work and winter work. One drive rushes pell-mell right over another. There isn't time enough to make things and have them; the good of them, I mean."
"The girls get it; we have to live in our children," said Mrs. Megilp, self-renouncingly. "I can never rest until Glossy is provided with everything; and you know, Laura, I am obliged to contrive."
Mrs. Megilp and her daughter Glaucia spent about a thousand dollars a year, between them, on their dress. In these days, this is a limited allowance—for the Megilps. But Mrs. Megilp was a woman of strict pecuniary principle; the other fifteen hundred must pay all the rest; she submitted cheerfully to the Divine allotment, and punctually made the two ends meet. She will have this to show, when the Lord of these servants cometh and reckoneth with them, and that man who has been also in narrow circumstances, brings his nicely kept talent out of his napkin.