[Transcriber's note: Susan Warner (1819-1885) & Anna Warner (1824-1915), Say and seal (1860), Tauchnitz edition 1860 volume 2]
SAY AND SEAL.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
SAY AND SEAL.
THE AUTHOR OF "WIDE WIDE WORLD,"
THE AUTHOR OF "DOLLARS AND CENTS."
IN TWO VOLUMES.
SAY AND SEAL.
So came the holiday week, wherein was to be done so much less than usual—and so much more. Mr. Linden's work, indeed, was like to double on all hands; for he was threatened with more tea-drinkings, dinners, suppers, and frolics, than the week would hold. How should he manage to give everybody a piece of him, and likewise present himself entire to the assembled boys when ever they chose to assemble?—which promised to be pretty often. How should he go skating, sliding, and sleigh-riding, at all hours of the day and night, and yet spend all those hours where he wanted to spend them? It was a grave question; and not easy, as he remarked to Faith, to hold so many feelings in his hands and hurt none of them. So with the question yet undecided, Christmas day came.
It was a brilliant day—all white and blue; the sky like a sapphire, the earth like a pearl; the sunbeams burnished gold.
"Ha' ye but seen the light fall of the snow, Before the soil hath smutched it?"—
Such was Pattaquasset, Christmas morning. And the bright lily,
"Before rude hands have touched it,"
that was Faith Derrick when she came down stairs. The dainty little crimson silk hood which Mrs. Derrick had quilted for her, was in her hand, brought down for display; but at present the sitting-room was empty, and Faith passed on to her work-basket, to put the hood in safe keeping. She found a pre-occupied basket. At some unknown hour of the night, Santa Claus had come and left upon it his mark in the shape of a package: a rather large and rather thin package, but done up with that infallible brown paper and small cord which everybody knows by instinct. Who ever looked twice at a parcel from that wagon, and doubted whence it came?
Faith's cheeks took an additional tinge, quite as brilliant as if the crimson hood had been on. What doubtful fingers lifted the package from the basket!
The thing—whatever it was—had been done up carefully. Beneath the brown paper a white one revealed itself, beneath that a red leather portfolio—made in the pretty old-fashioned style, and securing its contents by means of its red leather tongue. But when Faith had withdrawn this, and with the caution always exercised on such occasions had also drawn out the contents, she found the prettiest continuation of her Italian journey, in the shape of very fine photographs of all sorts of Italian places and things, mingled with here and there an excursion into the Swiss mountains.
A few almost awe-stricken glances Faith gave; then she put the photographs in the portfolio again, scarcely seen, and looked at the outside of the red leather; felt of its smooth surface with admiring fingers that hardly believed what they touched, and a face glowing with a very deep glow by this time. Faith thought herself rich, beyond the imagination of a millionaire. But after a little mute amazed consideration of her happiness, she rushed off to the kitchen to signalize the Christmas breakfast—and perhaps spend a few of her too many thoughts—by the preparation and production of one of Madame Danforth's nice, but in Pattaquasset unheard of, delicacies; and when all the rest of the breakfast was ready, Faith demurely went in with her dish.
She had not a word of acknowledgment for Mr. Linden, which was ungrateful. She gave him her hand, however, with a manner and look which were graceful enough; being at once open and shy, very bright, and yet veiled with a shade of reserve. She had been over the fire, so her face was naturally a little rosy. There was no particular reserve about him,—his "Merry Christmas" was not only wished but carried out, so far as breakfast time extended. Faith might be as demure as she liked, but she had to be merry too; so on the whole the breakfast room was beaming with more than sunlight. Yes, it was a merry Christmas!—merry without and merry within,—that sort of merriment which "doeth good like a medicine." Gay voices and steps and snowballing on the broad street; gay snowbirds and chickadees in the branches; in the house glad faces; over and upon all, clear sunshine and the soft hush of a winter's morning.
"What are you going to do to-day, mother?" said Faith towards the close of breakfast time.
"I'd rather look at you than anything else, child," said her mother, "but I've got to go out, you know. What are you going to do Faith?"
"All sorts of things, mother. Mr. Linden?"—
"All sorts of things, Miss Faith—therefore we shall probably meet quite often in the course of the day," he said smiling. "Will you give me any commands?"
"Perhaps—if I can. Mother, how are we to get to Mrs. Somers to-night?—is Crab well?"
"O Crab's gone away for the winter, child, and we've got Mr. Stoutenburgh's Jerry. To be sure—that's since you went away."
The first thing for Faith was the Christmas dinner, into which she plunged, heart and hand. The turkey, the apples, and the pies, were all seen to at last; and about an hour before dinner Faith was ready to take off her kitchen apron and go into the parlour. She longed for a further touch and eyesight of that red leather.
She had it, for that hour; as dainty a luxuriating over her treasures as anybody ever had. Faith pondered and dreamed over the photographs, one after another; with endless marvel and querying of numberless questions springing out of them,—general and particular, historical, natural, social, and artistic or scientific. Questions that sometimes she knew only enough to form vaguely. What a looking over of prints that was! such an hour as is known by few, few of those who have seen engravings all their lives. Nay, further than that;—such as is not known by many a one that stands on the Bridge of sighs, and crosses the Mer de glace, and sees the smoke curling up from Vesuvius. For once in a while there is an imaginary traveller at home to whom is revealed more of the spirit of beauty residing in these things, than hundreds of those who visit them do ever see. Who
"Feels the warm Orient in the noontide air, And from cloud-minarets hears the sunset call to prayer."
Before dinner time was quite on the stroke came home Mr. Linden, who betaking himself first upstairs and then into the sitting-room, brought Faith her Christmas breastknot of green and red. Stiff holly leaves, with their glossy sheen, and bright winterberries—clear and red, set each other off like jewellers' work; and the soft ribbon that bound them together was of the darkest possible blue. It was as dainty a bit of floral handicraft as Faith had often seen.
"Will you wear it, Miss Faith?" Mr. Linden said as he laid it on the table by her.
Faith had come out of her dream, and gave the holly and winterberries a downcast look of recognition. It was given in silence, but the pleasure which had been uppermost for some time presently made her overcome shyness, and looking up gratefully she exclaimed, "Mr. Linden—what pleasure you have given me!"—The soft colour which had been in her cheeks before, mounted instantly to deep crimson, and she added timidly, "Wasn't it you?"
"What pleasure you give me!"—he said with a smile at her crimson and all. "Yes, it was I."
"It seems to me I have been at those places to-day," she went on, looking over at the sofa where her portfolio lay. "I have been fancying your sister standing here and there and looking at something I saw in the picture. Now I can understand a little better what she was writing about."
"I am very glad you like them! Some time you must let me give you any explanations they may need. What have you found for me to do this afternoon?"
"Aren't you going to be busy, Mr. Linden?"
"About something—your business shall come first."
"It can wait," said Faith very brightly. "It was just that, Mr. Linden.—I was going to ask you some time to shew them to me. I have been looking at some of them by myself, and going into a great many things over them that I could not understand. But any time will do for that—as well as to-day."
"And to-day as well as any time"—he said smiling; "but I suppose we must wait till after dinner."
There was great satisfaction at that dinner, not to say in it—which indeed the dinner merited. There was the remaining glow of the pleasant morning, and a little dawning of the afternoon, besides the hour's own light. Faith indeed was the radiating point of pleasure, which the two others watched and furnished with new supplies. Then after dinner came the Italian work, and she had as elaborate and careful answers and information as she wished for. Mr. Linden could go back and tell her where each place got its name, and what had been its history, with many stories of its climate and productions and traditions; and so one by one Faith went over again her new treasures. One by one,—until the short afternoon began to fade, and it was time to dress for Mrs. Somers'; and they had made but little progress into the portfolio, after all. Yet it was a great "progress" to Faith;—a grand procession through the years of history and the stages of civilization and the varying phases of nature and humanity.
Very tenderly the photographs were restored to the portfolio and the red leather tongue drawn through, with a little breath heavy with pleasure, and Faith carried off the whole to be put where profane hands should not get hold of it. Then the comparatively ignoble business of dressing occupied her. And Mrs. Derrick yet more, who of course was there to help and look on; while Faith's head was erratically in her portfolio, or at Rome, or at Florence, or—elsewhere,—as the case might be. Her dress was this evening the same she had worn to Mrs. Stoutenburgh's, but the knot of holly and winterberries transformed her more than the rose and myrtle had done; and she stood an undoubted guest of Christmas night. Faith herself took somewhat of the effect, which her thought however concentrated.
"Mother," she said as she looked in the glass,—"I never saw anything so pretty!"
"Neither did I, child," said Mrs. Derrick smiling.
Faith took still closer note of the beauty of her breastknot; and then gathering up her crimson hood and cloak, they went down stairs. It was not quite the hour yet for Mrs. Somers'. Mr. Linden was ready and in the sitting-room; but Faith did not this time call his attention to her bouquet. She came in and sat down very quietly in a corner of the sofa. He paused in his walk up and down the room however, noting her well as she came in and took her seat; coming presently to take one at her side; and then catching up a book from the table he proceeded to give her the ice palace of the little brook, with which he had threatened her before.—
"Down swept the cold wind from the mountain peak, From the snow five thousand summers old"—etc.
"O," exclaimed Faith, "I have seen just such a brook! I have played in it; when mother was afraid I should take cold, and wouldn't let me stay. But that's as good as the brook," she added timidly.
"Without the danger of taking cold. You are quite sure it has not chilled you, Miss Faith?—do you feel 'winter-proof'?"
"I think I do, for to-day," said Faith. "If the evening were to be even very disagreeable, I think I could stand it."
Which remark was perhaps significant.
The tinkle of Jerry's bells now made itself heard at the door, and Faith was shawled and cloaked and wrapped up by her mother in the house and by Mr. Linden in the sleigh. He was more skilful about it than Squire Stoutenburgh; and contrived to enclose Faith in a little wigwam of buffalo robes, without letting her feel the weight of them. Then they dashed off—Jerry well disposed for exercise after his five minutes' stand, and spurning the snow from a light enough pair of heels. How merrily the bells jingled! how calmly and steadily the stars shone down! There was no moon now, but the whitened earth caught and reflected every bit of the starlight, and made it by no means dark; and the gleams from cottage windows came out and fell on the snow in little streaks of brightness. Sleighs enough abroad!—from the swift little cutters and large family sleighs that glided on towards the parsonage, down to sledding parties of boys, cheered only by a cow-bell and their own laughter. Tinkle, tinkle—everywhere,—near by and in the distance; the dark figures just casting a light shadow on the roadside, the merry voices ignoring anything of the kind.
Mrs. Somers' house was a good long drive from Mrs. Derrick's. The road was first on the way to Mr. Simlins'; from there it turned off at right angles and went winding crookedly down a solitary piece of country; rising and falling over uneven ground, twisting out of the way of a rock here and there, and for some distance skirting the edge of a woodland. There was light enough to see by, but it was not just the piece of road one would choose of a dark night; and Faith felt thankful Squire Deacon was gone to Egypt.
In the dressing-room Faith was seized upon in the warmest manner by Mrs. Stoutenburgh, who looked very pretty in her dress of bright crimson silk.
"I'm so glad you've come back, dear. And how well you're looking!—a little thin, though. But you'll soon make up for that. You're just as lovely as you can be, Faith—do you know it?"
"No, ma'am."—Her flowers, she knew, were as lovely as they could be. "Jerry brought us, Mrs. Stoutenburgh, after all, and pretty fast too."
"O he can go fast enough. You needn't look so sober, child—of course no one thinks so but me, and nobody ever minds what I say. That's pretty, I suppose you'll allow," she said laughing, and bending down closer to Faith's holly leaves,—"what is it, Faith? basswood?"
"Don't you know holly, Mrs. Stoutenburgh? And the berries are winterberries."
"Yes my dear—I perceive. You mustn't get angry with me, child—I tell you nobody does, not even your grave escort. At least not for anything I do to him. Well I'll go down and electrify people with the news that you're coming." And the crimson dress floated off to the tune of a light step and a merry voice. And more slowly and more doubtfully the black dress and winterberries followed her. Perhaps in very truth Faith would have been willing that Mr. Stoutenburgh should have taken her under his broad wing for that going down stairs. At least she was as absolutely grave and quiet as anybody ever saw her, and a little more inclined to be shrinking. But Mr. Linden was alone in the hall at that minute, so there was no one else to shrink from; and if Faith wanted to shrink from him, she hardly could,—there was such an absence of anything to alarm her, both in his look and manner. Therefore, though she had to go down stairs upon his arm, and pass sundry people on their way up, Faith felt that he was a shield between her and the glances and words which he so little regarded. Eyes and tongues indeed ventured hut little in his presence; but that protection of course extended only to the centre of the drawing-room, and the welcome which Faith received from Mrs. Somers,—then she must shield herself. Then truly, for a while, she was taken possession of by Squire Stoutenburgh, who walked with her up and down, and said all manner of kind things.
Faith had no particular skill to shield herself from anything, and indeed gave herself no thought about it. She took what came, in a simple and quiet spirit, which was very apt to strike like a bee the right part of every flower; or that perhaps carried its own honey along. So she walked up and down with Mr. Stoutenburgh; and so she afterwards entered into the demands of a posse of her old and young friends who had not seen her for a good while.
Amidst a little group of these people, collected benignly around Faith, Dr. Harrison presently intruded himself. Now Dr. Harrison was a lion, and the smaller animals naturally fell off from him, which was precisely what he expected them to do. The doctor had the field soon clear.
"What have you been doing to yourself?" he said to Faith with the kindly, familiar manner which had grown up between them.
"Taking good care,"—she said, in smiling answer to his question.
"Who took the care? yourself?"
"I thought so."
"Why, Dr. Harrison?"
"Excuse me," said he. "Anybody else would have done it better."
"No," said she shaking her head,—"you are wrong."
"You have been—" said he, looking at her,—"you have been 'doing your duty' too hard."
"Can one do that, Dr. Harrison?"
"I haven't been doing it this time."
"Do you remember," he said sitting down by her and lowering his voice,—"what you said once about the flowers of the wilderness?"
"Would you like to see some of them?"
"In the wilderness?"
"No," said he smiling. "I can shew you one family of them, by their portraits, here—to-night."
"I would like to see them in the wilderness or anywhere!" said Faith.
"Then if you'll come with me"—
And the next thing was Dr. Harrison's walking off the black silk and winterberries before all the eyes of the people and through one room after another, till a little one-side room was reached which was not a thoroughfare to anything. In this little room was a table and a lamp upon it, and also several very large thin books. There was also, which was singular, a very comfortable easy chair. In this Dr. Harrison installed his charge close by the table, and drew up one of the volumes.
"I am going to introduce to you," he said, "the whole family of the Rhododendrons."
"Rhododendron?"—said Faith. "I never saw them."
"It is their loss," said the doctor; "but here they are."
It was as he said;—the whole family of the plant, in the most superb style of portraiture and presentation. Full size and full colour; one of the most magnificent of such works. Faith had never seen a Rhododendron, and even in her dreams had never visited a wilderness where such flowers grew. Her exquisite delight fully satisfied Dr. Harrison, and quite kept her attention from herself and the fact of her being shut off from the rest of the company. Now and then one and another would drop in and look at what they were about, with curiosity if not with sympathy; but Rhododendrons were not alluring to most of the people, nor to say truth was Dr. Harrison. With most urbane politeness he dispersed any desire to remain and look over his proceedings which might have been felt by some of the intruders; or contrived that they should find nothing to detain them.
It was a long business, to turn over all those delicious portraits of floral life and give anything like a sufficient look at each one. Such glories of vegetable beauty Faith had never imagined. It was almost a new revelation. There were deep brilliant crimsons; there was the loveliest rose-colour, in large heads of the close elegant flowers; there were, larger still and almost incredible in their magnificence, enormous clusters of cream-coloured and tinted and even of buff. There were smaller and humbler members of the family, which would have been glorious in any other companionship. There were residents of the rich regions of the tropics; and less superb members of the temperate zones; there were trees and shrubs; and there were little bushy, hardy denizens of the highest and barrenest elevations of rocks and snow to which inflorescence ever climbs. Faith almost caught her breath.
"And these are in the wilderness!" she said.
"Yes. What then?" said the doctor. Faith did not say.
"You are thinking they 'waste their sweetness'?"
"O no, indeed! I don't think that."
"You are thinking something. Please let me be the better for it."
"One ought to be the better for it," said Faith.
"Then I hope you won't refuse it to me," said Dr. Harrison gently laughing at her.
"I was thinking, Dr Harrison, what the Bible says,—'He hath made everything beautiful in his time';—and, 'God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good.'"
The doctor turned over the leaf to a new Rhododendron. Faith's thoughts went to Pequot, and her heart gave a bound of joy at the remembrance of the sick woman there.
Mrs. Stoutenburgh's crimson dress was so softly worn and managed, that the wearer thereof was close in Dr. Harrison's neighbourhood for a minute before he was aware of her presence; which quiet motions, it should be observed, were habitual to Mrs. Stoutenburgh, and not at all assumed for the occasion. Therefore it was with no idea of startling anybody, that she said presently, "My dear Faith, what are you looking at through those Rhododendrons?" Faith started, and looked up with a bit of a smile.
"What do you see, Mrs. Stoutenburgh?" said the doctor.
"O several things," said the lady, passing her hand softly over Faith's brow, and then with one of her sudden impulses putting her lips there. "Do you like them, Faith?"
"Does not Mrs. Stoutenburgh like them?" said the doctor, as he placed a chair for her in the best position left for seeing.
"Thank you," said she laughing. "I came here to be seen this evening. And so ought some other people. How much do you pay for the monopoly, doctor?"
"I really don't know!" said Dr. Harrison with a very slight rise of his handsome eyebrows. "I am in Pattaquasset—which is to me a region of uncertainties. You will know better than I, Mrs. Stoutenburgh."
"Well," said Mrs. Stoutenburgh with a wicked look at the doctor for his sole benefit,—"speaking of Rhododendrons, which you've seen often enough before,—don't you admire this—which you have not seen before?" and she touched Faith's holly leaves with the tip of her little glove. "I should think it must stir what Mr. Linden calls your 'nerves of pleasant sensation'."
"I am honoured by your estimation," said the doctor laughing slightly. "Miss Derrick's taste is matchless. It is an act of benevolence for her to wear flowers."
Faith's very brow crimsoned, till she bent it from view as much as she could. In all her truth she could not rise up there and confess that her skill was not the skill to be commended. She wanted a shield then.
"Don't flatter yourself that you are an object of charity," said Mrs. Stoutenburgh turning over another leaf to give Faith employment. "They're talking of games in the other room, dear," she added in a gentle voice,—"may I tell Mrs. Somers you will play too?"
"Yes ma'am, certainly!"
"They're not ready yet—sit still and enjoy your prints—I'll see what they are about." And the lady left the room. Dr. Harrison sought some particularly fine specimens and engaged Faith in talk about them and their localities and habits, till her self-possession was restored.
"Have you heard the news about Mr. Linden?" he asked with most nonchalant carelessness.
"What news?" said Faith, doubtful whether he meant Squire Stoutenburgh's chapter or some other.
"Then he hasn't told you himself?"
"No," said Faith.
"I thought you ought to be authority," the doctor went on in the same tone. "It is very good news—for him—I hope it is true. They say—I have heard,—how beautiful the droop of those petals is!—and the shade of colour is rare—They say, that he has a very dear friend abroad; I mean in Europe, somewhere. Do you think it is true?"
"Yes," said Faith. She thought it was not wonderful news.
"I mean a lady friend?" said the doctor.
"Yes," said Faith again. She knew now what the doctor meant, but she did not feel inclined to enter into the subject or to enlighten him at all. Then too Mr. Linden might have more friends than one abroad!—It flashed upon her like a curious illumination.
"Then the story is true?" said the doctor.
"I don't know, sir," said Faith in some distress. "I know nothing about it."
"But you don't know that it is not true?" said he looking at her.
"No, sir. I don't know."
Dr. Harrison's further questions and remarks were cut short by the entrance of the very person referred to; who coming up with his usual light, alert step, held out his hand first of all to the questioner.
"Good evening, doctor!—how do you do again? Miss Faith, may I take you away from these beauties?" And the released hand was offered to her. She put hers in it very willingly but very silently; Faith dared not say a word to him about the Rhododendrons or about anything else.
"Ah, you have two hands again," said Dr. Harrison, "and you turn it against me!"
"Not that fact—" Mr. Linden said as he went off. And then slackening his step, he talked or made Faith talk—and laugh—every inch of the way into the room where all the rest were clustered ready for blind man's buff. It was a triumph of his skill,—or of his power,—for she had left the Rhododendrons in a mood most shy and quiet, and disposed to keep so. Dr. Harrison had not followed them, but soon made his entrance upon the company by another door.
"What is going on? or off, Mrs. Stoutenburgh?" he whispered to that lady.
"Why the bandage is going on, and we're going off," said she laughing. "Will you be blinded first, doctor?"
"Blind man's buff!" said the doctor shrugging his shoulders comically. "Barbarous! I would rather 'go off' too—but anything to please you, Mrs. Stoutenburgh. A game to see how much a man without his five senses can do against other people who have them." But the doctor gallantly stepped up to Mrs. Somers.
"I represent the forlorn hope for the evening, aunt Ellen. Has anybody volunteered to be the first victim?"
"You are the last person in the room that ought to volunteer," said Mrs. Somers,—"however, blindness is proverbial in some cases. Miss Essie will bandage your eyes, Julius—and use her own for you in the meanwhile, I dare say. Miss Essie, here is a candidate."
"Not for Miss Essie's good offices!" said the doctor. "I know her. I shall not trust her. I will put myself in safe hands."
And with an inexpressible air of carelessness and easy pleasure-taking, Dr. Harrison carried his handsome person across the room to where Faith yet stood by the side of Mr. Linden; stood looking rather sober. She had not brought any of the rosy Rhododendron colour away in her face; or else it had faded. The doctor came up and spoke in an undertone as wilfully and gracefully independent as his manner.
"If I ask you to do me the honour to put this handkerchief over my eyes, Miss Derrick, I suppose you will not know what it signifies?"
"No, sir," said Faith, with a very slight smile and extra colour.
"Where I have been," said the doctor,—"where we never play it!—it is played in this way. My entreating you to blind my eyes, signifies that without them I shall endeavour to find you."
"Then I wish you'd get somebody else to do it, Dr. Harrison."
"You are not in earnest?" said the doctor.
"Very much in earnest."
"But I should observe," said he smiling, "that even the unkindness of your refusal would not change my endeavour. I only give you, as in honour bound, the chance of doing all you can to prevent my succeeding. Will you do it?"
He tendered the handkerchief. Faith coloured a little more, but to put a stop to his absurdities, as they seemed to her, and to her consequent prominence before the eyes of people, she accepted the office. Dr. Harrison kneeled at her feet, and Faith put the handkerchief round his eyes and tied it on; endeavouring, to do her justice, to perform the task thoroughly. She was not quite sure how well it was done, after all,—for the doctor had interposed a gentle "Softly," as she was drawing the knot and had at the same time also raised his hand to ease the bandage. But Faith had to let it go so; and simply resolved to take care of herself.
Many eyes, meanwhile, surveyed this performance with much edification, glancing too at the motionless figure who at Faith's side looked down upon it. But when the smile in those eyes touched the lips as well, Mrs. Stoutenburgh was roused to a pitch of delight; and running into the middle of the room to meet the doctor as he came to take his stand, she clapped her hands exclaiming, "O, doctor! doctor!—how could you let anybody tie anything over your eyes!"
"Is there treachery, Mrs. Stoutenburgh?" said the doctor with a comic stop.
"Where?"—said the lady.
"Nay,—I know where," said the doctor. And turning from her he addressed himself to the game.
But though Dr. Harrison shewed himself a keen player the game came to no sudden termination. And Faith could not help doubting that her work had not been too effectual. It was beyond question, even if she had not been forewarned, that the doctor was endeavouring to find—or endeavouring to catch her. In vain Mrs. Stoutenburgh's crimson and Miss Essie's blue floated past him and rustled behind him. In vain Mrs. Somers' purple stood in his way. The skirt of that one black silk could go nowhere that some one of the doctor's senses did not inform him of it. Closely he followed upon her flight, and keen work Faith found it, play as well as she would. She began to get out of breath, and the amusement and fun grew uproarious.
It was when her foot was failing that the doctor's gained strength: between him and the prize there was now no barrier; no leap could avail Faith in the corner where she was at last hemmed in. Slowly and securely the doctor advanced, first himself and then his hands, and caught—Mr Linden! Caught him unmistakeably too,—there was no help for it; and Dr. Harrison in his astonishment forgot to pronounce him somebody else!
"Confound you!" said the doctor slowly and comically—"how did you get here?"
"Are you fatigued?" said Mr. Linden, taking off the bandage. "Miss Faith, you did this part of your work very ill."
"How did you get here?" repeated the doctor, taking hold of his arm and shaking it slightly. "I wasn't looking for you, man."
"What were you looking for?" said Mr. Linden, with a laughing return of the doctor's gaze.
"Shall I put that on for you?" said the latter with a sort of complicate expression, which however never lost its grace and ease. And then began another chase—but not of Faith this time,—perhaps Mr. Linden thought she needed rest. And the changes ran round the company, but never (as it happened) including Faith or Dr. Harrison, until they reached the finishing round of the game. Then it was Mr. Linden's turn again to wear the bandage, and then he gave Faith the sort of run he had given her before at Mrs. Stoutenburgh's—and with the same success.
"Haven't they played blind man's buff long enough?" Faith whispered, when the bandage was taken off her captor. She was flushed, a little, and sober more than a little.
"Yes—I will move a change," he answered in the same tone. Which he did, after a short consultation.
"Dr. Harrison—you have seen the 'Butterfly,' I suppose?"
"The butterfly?" said the doctor. "I have seen many—of all colours; but the butterfly par excellence, I know not. Unless it is one with white wings and black body, and spots of most brilliant red on the breast."
"The one I mean combines more colours," said Mr. Linden. "What were you doing in France, not to see it?"
"Seeing other things, I suppose. However, now you speak of it, I believe that butterfly has flown over me—sometime."
"Please to imagine yourself a gay rover for the nonce," said Mr. Linden, leading the doctor persuasively into the middle of the floor. "Just suppose you are a Purple Emperor—will you doctor? Miss Essie wants a story and forfeits,—I shall leave you to gratify her." But he himself went to give Miss Faith a seat. That was done with a very different manner from the gay, genial way in which he had addressed the doctor: it was genial enough, certainly, but grave.
"You do not feel well?" he said, as he wheeled up an easy chair for her. It was spoken too low for any one else to hear.
"Yes, I do,"—said Faith quickly. But her face flushed deep, and her eye though it glanced towards him, failed timidly of meeting his; and her voice had lost all the spring of pleasure.
"Then cannot you keep the promise you made about a disagreeable evening?" The tone was very low still—(he was arranging her footstool and chair) a little concerned too, a little—or Faith fancied it—but indeed she was not quite sure what the third part was; and then the doctor began his work.
For a minute or two she did not hear him, or heard without heed. She was thinking over Mr. Linden's question and struggling with it. For its slight tone, of remonstrance perhaps, only met and stirred into life the feeling she was trying to keep down. Her lip took one of its sorrowful curves for an instant; but then Dr. Harrison came towards them.
"What insect on the face of the earth, Linden, will you be? What does he resemble most, Miss Derrick?"
"I am not particular about being on the face of the earth," said Mr. Linden,—"the air will do just as well."
The doctor was waiting for Faith's answer. Under the exigency of the moment she gave it him, glancing up first at the figure beside her, perhaps to refresh her memory—or imagination—and smiling a little as she spoke.
"I don't think of any he is like, Dr. Harrison."
"Do you think I am like a purple butterfly?" said the doctor.
"Yes, a little,"—said Faith. But it was with a face of such childlike soberness that the doctor looked hard at her.
"What do you think you are like yourself?" said he; not lightly.
"I think I am a little like an ant," said Faith.
The doctor turned half round on his heel.
"'Angels and ministers of grace'!" was his exclamation. "Most winged, gentle, and etherial of all the dwellers in, or on, anthills,—know that thy similitude is nothing meaner than a flower. You must take the name of one, Miss Faith—all the ladies do—what will you be?"
"What will you be?" Mr. Linden repeated,—"Mignonette?—that is even below the level of some of your anthills."
"If you please,"—she said.
"Or one of your Rhododendrons?" said the doctor—"that is better; for you have the art—or the nature, indeed,—of representing all the tints of the family by turns—except the unlovely ones. Be a Rhodora!"
"No"—said Faith—"I am not like that—nor like the other, but I will be the other."
"Mignonette"—said the doctor. "Well, what shall we call him? what is he like?"
"I think," said Faith, looking down very gravely, not with the flashing eye with which she would have said it another time,—"he is most like a midge."
The little laugh which answered her, the way in which Mr. Linden bent down and said, "How do you know, Miss Faith?" were slightly mystifying to Dr. Harrison.
"I don't know,"—she said smiling; and the doctor with one or two looks of very ungratified curiosity left them and returned to his post.
"What are they going to play, Mr. Linden?" said Faith. The doctor's explanation, given to the rest generally, she had not heard.
"Do you know what a family connexion you have given me, Miss Faith?—The proverb declares that 'the mother of mischief is no bigger than a midge's wing.'"
An involuntary little caught breath attested perhaps Faith's acquiescence in the truth of the proverb; but the doctor's words prevented the necessity of her speaking.
"Miss Essie—Ladies and gentlemen! Please answer to your names, and thereby proclaim your characters. Mrs. Stoutenburgh, what are you?"
"A poppy, I think," said Mrs. Stoutenburgh laughing. "I like to be beforehand with the public."
"Will you please to name your lord and master? He is incapable of naming himself."
"I think you've named him!" said Mrs. Stoutenburgh with a gay toss of her pretty head. "I'm not learned in insects, doctor,—call him anything that eats up butter-flies."
"Mr. Stoutenburgh will—you be a grub?" said the doctor. "Or a beetle? I don't know anything else that I—as a butterfly—dislike more."
"No, I'll be a cricket—I'm so spry," said the Squire,—"and I'll be down upon you in some other form, doctor."
"You'll have to fly higher first," said the doctor. "Miss Essie declares herself to be a purple Althaea. Miss Davids—an evening primrose. Miss Deacon—a cluster rose. Miss Fax—a sweet pink. Miss Chester—a daisy. Miss Bezac—what shall I put you down?" The butterfly was making a list of his flowers and insects, and cards had been furnished to the different members of the party, and pencils, to do as much for themselves.
"I'd as lieve be balm as anything else, if I knew how," said Miss Bezac; "but I shouldn't call that putting me down."
"That fits, anyhow," said Squire Stoutenburgh.
"'Balm for hurt minds'"—said Dr. Harrison writing. "Miss Julia De Staff is a white lily. Miss Emmons—a morning glory. Mrs. Churchill a peony. Miss Derrick is mignonette. Mrs. Somers—?"
"I may as well be lavender," said Mrs. Somers. "You say I am in a good state of preservation."
"What is Mr. Somers?"
"Mr. Somers—what are you?" said his wife.
"Ha!—I don't know, my dear," said Mr. Somers blandly. "I think I am—a—out of place."
"Then you're a moth," said the doctor. "That is out of place too, in most people's opinion. Miss Delaney, I beg your pardon—what are you?"
"Here are the two Miss Churchills, doctor," said Miss Essie—"hyacinth and laburnum."
"I am sure you have been sponsor, Miss Essie. Well this is my garden of flowers. Then of fellow insects I have a somewhat confused variety. Mr. Stoutenburgh sings round his hearth in the shape of a black cricket. Mr. Linden passes unnoticed in the invisibility of a midge—nothing more dangerous. Mr. Somers does all the mischief he can in the way of devouring widows' houses. The two Messrs. De Staff" (two very spruce and moustachioed young gentlemen) "figure as wasp and snail—one would hardly think they belonged to the same family—but there is no accounting for these things. Mr. George Somers professes to have the taste of a bee—but luckily the garden belongs to the butterfly."
"In other words, some one has put Dr. Harrison in a flutter," said Mrs. Stoutenburgh.
"I haven't begun yet," said the doctor wheeling round to face her; "when I do, my first business will be to cut you up, Mrs. Stoutenburgh."
"Miss Faith," said Mr. Linden while the roll went on, "I have not forgotten your question,—they, and we, are going to play a French game called 'the Butterfly and the Flowers;' wherein I, a midge, am in humble attendance oh a sprig of mignonette. Whenever our butterfly gardener chooses to speak the name of any flower or insect, that Flower or insect must reply: when he speaks of the gardener, you flowers must extend one hand in token of welcome, we insects draw back in dismay: if the gardener brings his watering-pot, or there falls a shower of rain, you must hold up your head for joy—I must kneel down for fear. If the sunshine is mentioned, we are free to rejoice together—standing up and making demonstrations. You may reply, Miss Faith, either in your own words or quotations, so that you mention some one of your companions; but if you fail to speak, or break any other rule, you must pay a forfeit first and redeem it afterwards."
"I may mention either insect or flower?" said Faith.
"Yes, just what you like."
"If everybody is ready," said the doctor, "I will begin by remarking that I find myself in an 'embarras de richesses'—so many sweets around me that I—a butterfly—know not which to taste first; and such an array of enemies, hostile alike to the flowers and me, that I know not which to demolish first. I hope a demolishing rain will fall some of these days—ah! that is gratifying! behold my enemies shrinking already, while the flowers lift up their heads with pleasure and warm themselves in the rays of the sun. What is mignonette doing?"
There was a general outcry of laughter, for as the gentlemen had kneeled and bent their heads, and the flowers had risen to greet the sun,—Faith, in her amusement and preoccupation had sat still. She rose now, blushing a little at being called upon.
"Mignonette loves the sun without making any show for it. She has no face to lift up like the white lily."
"The white lily isn't sweet like lavender," said Miss Julia.
"And the lavender has more to do in the linen press than among butterflies," said Mrs. Somers.
"It is good to know one's place," said the doctor. "But the butterfly, seeking a safe resting place, flutters with unpoised flight, past the false poppy which flaunts its gay colours on the sight."
"And fixes its eyes on the distant gardener with his watering-pot," said Mrs. Stoutenburgh, stretching forth her hand, sibyl-like, towards the now prostrate doctor,—"whereat the mignonette rejoices."
"All the flowers rejoice," said the mignonette, "and the cricket jumps out of the way."
"Into the sunshine"—said Mr. Stoutenburgh, laughing;—"but the moth feels doubtful."
"The moth"—said Mr. Somers—"he—don't like the sunshine so well as the rain. He—ha—he wishes he was a midge there, to get under shelter."
"A midge here he can't be," said Mr. Linden, dropping his voice for Faith's benefit,—"'Two suns hold not their courses in one sphere!'"—Then aloud—"Invisibility is a great thing—when you can make up your mind to it, but 'Althaea with the purple eye' looks on life differently."
"I look on it soberly," said Miss Essie.—
"'Flutter he, flutter he, high as he will, A butterfly is but a butterfly still. And 'tis better for us to remain where we are, In the lowly valley of duty and care, Than lonely to soar to the heights above, Where there's nothing to do and nothing to love.'"
"I'll flutter no more! after that"—said the doctor. "I'll creep into the heart of the white lily and beg it to shelter me."
"It won't hide you from the sun nor from the rain," said the white lily,—"and I'd as lieve shelter a spider besides."
Faith forgot again that she must welcome the sun; but she was not the only one who had incurred forfeits. Nor the last one who should. For while that interesting member of society who called himself spider, made his reply, Mr. Linden's attention naturally wandered—or came back; and the lively dialogue which then ensued between Messrs. Snail, Wasp, Beetle, etc. failed to arouse him to the duties of a midge or the fear of the gardener: he forgot everything else in the pleasure of making Mignonette laugh. Standing half before her at last, in some animated bit of talk, more than one sunbeam and watering-pot had come and gone, unnoticed by both midge and mignonette,—a fact of which some other people took note, and smilingly marked down the forfeits.
"Mr. Linden"—said the voice of Miss Essie at his elbow—"do you know what the doctor is saying?—'The mother of mischief is no bigger than a midge's wing!' You'd better speak to him."
Mr. Linden turned, with a laughing, recollective glance—
"Who speaks slightingly of the midge?—let him have a dose of syrup of poppies!"
"I guess you can find balm," said Mrs. Stoutenburgh gaily.
"He shall have it if he wants it," said Miss Bezac—"that is if I've got it,—though I rather guess he's got it himself,—I'm sure I don't know what he hasn't got. And it don't strike me he looks as if he wanted it, either, if I had. But it's funny I should and not the doctor—though to be sure most things are,—and he's gone to 'the butterfly's ball and the grasshopper's feast.'"
"The grasshopper's feast being just now announced," said Mrs. Somers stepping forward, "I shall hope to set the flowers free from their natural enemies without more delay."
"I shall not confess to that!" said Mr. Linden under-tone. "But will you come, Miss Faith—the insects are all gone—
'Save the few that linger, even yet, Round the Alyssum's tuft and the Mignonette.'"
The midge's prompt action had perhaps disappointed several other people. Dr. Harrison at any rate contrived with Miss Essie to be the immediately preceding couple in the walk to the supper-room.
"I'm glad of some refreshment!" said the doctor; "butterflies cannot live on the wing. Linden! have you been singing all the evening, in the character of a midge?"
"No," said Mr. Linden—"all the singing I have done has been in my own character."
"I am glad to hear it. By the way," said Dr. Harrison as they reached the supper-room and paired off from their respective charges,—"I am sorry to hear that Pattaquasset has no hold on you, Linden."
"Indeed?" said Mr. Linden,—an "indeed" which might refer to the doctor's sorrow, or the supposed fact.
"Nay I know nothing about it!" said the doctor lightly as he attacked the supper-table—"but Miss Derrick tells me it is true that your heart is in another place."
"Dr. Harrison!" Mr. Linden said, with a momentary erectness of position. But he said no more; turning off then towards Faith with her oysters. And the gentle respect and quick attention with which she was served, Faith might feel, and take note of—yet not guess that its peculiar tone this night was warring, hand to hand, with the injustice done her name. The doctor had unwittingly betrayed at least one point of talk held over the Rhododendrons—furnished a clue he dreamed not of; and stirred a power of displeasure which perhaps he thought Mr. Linden did not possess.
Faith did not indeed guess anything from the manner of the latter to her, although she felt it; she felt it as his own, kind and watchful and even affectionate; but like him, belonging to him, and therefore not telling upon the question. With a very humbled and self-chiding spirit, she was endeavouring to keep the face and manner which suited the place, above a deep sinking of heart which was almost overcoming. Her success was like the balance of her mind—doubtful. Gentle her face was as ever; all the crosses of the evening had not brought an angle there; but it was shadowed beyond the fitness of things; and she was still and retiring so far as it was possible to be, shrinking into a very child's lowness of place.
Ladies were in the majority that night and the gentlemen were obliged to be constantly on the move. In one of the minutes when Faith was alone, Mrs. Stoutenburgh came up.
"Faith," she whispered, "have you been doing anything to vex my friend?"
Faith started a little, with a sort of shadow of pain crossing her face.
"Who is your friend, Mrs. Stoutenburgh?"
"Hush, child!" she answered—"your friend, if you like it better." And she added softly but seriously, "Don't vex him,—he doesn't deserve it."
Faith's lip was that touchingly sorrowful child's lip for an instant. She was beyond speaking. Then came up help, in the shape of Miss Essie; with questions about the forfeits and about Mr. Linden. All Mrs. Stoutenburgh's kindness made itself into a screen for Faith, on the instant,—neither eyes nor tongues were allowed to come near her.
"Mr. Linden!" said Miss Essie as he just then came up, "will you help us give out forfeits? Who do you think is best to do it?"
"Mr. Linden," said Mrs. Somers, "we are all very anxious to know whether all the reports about you are true."
Mr. Linden bowed to the anxiety, but gave it no further heed.
"Are they?" she repeated.
"Do all the reports agree, Mrs. Somers?"
"I must confess they are at swords' points."
"Then they cannot all be true,—let them fight it out."
"But suppose some of the fighting should come upon you?"
"That is a supposition I have just refused to take up," said Mr. Linden, stepping towards the table and bringing a bunch of grapes to Faith's plate.
"Yes, but everybody hasn't the patience of Job," said Mrs. Somers. "Julius, for instance."
"He has at least his own ways of obtaining information," said Mr. Linden, and Faith felt the slight change of voice. "Miss Essie, what will you have?"
"Has the doctor any forfeits to pay?" was the somewhat irrelevant answer. "I should so like to see you two set against each other! Dr. Harrison!—have you any forfeits?"
"No," said the doctor;—"but as severe service to perform as if I had. Linden, we shall want your help—it's too much for one man."
Faith edged away behind this growing knot of talkers, and presently was deeply engaged in conversation with Miss Cecilia Deacon, at a table in the corner, and alternating her attention between grapes and words. Then Squire Stoutenburgh walked softly up and stood behind Faith's chair.
"My dear, will you have anything more?"
"No, sir, thank you."
"Then I am going to carry you off!" said the Squire,—"if I wait a quarter of a second more I shall lose my chance. Come!"
Faith was very willing to come, indeed; and they went back to the drawing-room, all the company pouring after them; and Faith feeling as if she had got under a kind of lee shore, on Mr. Stoutenburgh's arm. It could not shelter her long, for the forfeits began.
The doctor and Mr. Linden, with Miss Essie and Mrs. Stoutenburgh for coadjutors, were constituted the awarding committee; and the forfeits were distributed to them indifferently. There were many to be redeemed; and at first there was a crowd of inferior interest, Messrs. Spider and Wasp, Mesdemoiselles White Lily and Cluster rose; who were easily disposed of and gallantly dismissed. But there were others behind. One of Faith's forfeits came up; it was held by Dr. Harrison.
"Please to stand forth, Miss Derrick, and hear your sentence," said the doctor, leading her to a central position in the floor; which Faith took quietly, but with what inward rebellion one or two people could somewhat guess.
"Have the goodness to state to the company what you consider to be the most admirable and praiseworthy of all the characters of flowers within your knowledge; and to describe the same, that we may judge of the justness of your opinion."
"Describe the character?" said Faith in a low voice.
"Yes. If you please."
She stood silent a moment, with downcast eyes, and did not raise them when she spoke. Her colour was hardly heightened, and though her voice rose little above its former pitch, its sweet accents were perfectly audible everywhere. The picture would have been enough for her forfeit.
"The prettiest character of a flower that I know, is that of a little species of Rhododendron. It is one of the least handsome, to look at, of all its family; its beauty is in its living. It grows on the high places of high mountains, where frost and barrenness give it no help nor chance; but there, where no other flower ever blossoms, it opens its flowers patiently and perseveringly; and its flowers are very sweet. Nothing checks it nor discourages it. As soon as the great cold lets it come, it comes; and as long as the least mildness lets it stay, it stays. Amidst snow and tempest and desolation it opens its blossoms and spreads its sweetness, with nobody to see it nor to praise it; where from the nature of the place it lives in, its work is all alone. For no other flower will bear what it bears.—Will that do?" said Faith, looking up gravely at her questioner.
Very gently, very reverently even, he took her hand, put it upon his arm and led her to a seat, speaking as he went low words of gratified pardon asking. "You must forgive me!" he said. "Forfeits must be forfeits, you know. I couldn't resist the temptation."
"Now wasn't that pretty?" whispered Miss Essie in the mean time in Mr. Linden's ear.
He had listened, leaning against the mantelpiece, and with shaded eyes looking down; and now to Miss Essie's question returned only a grave bend of the head.
"If you have been looking at the floor all this while, you have lost something," said the lady. "Do you know your turn comes next? Mr. Linden—ladies and gentlemen!—is condemned to tell us what he holds the most precious thing in this world; and to justify himself in his opinion by an argument, a quotation, and an illustration!"—
"Now will he find means to evade his sentence!" said Mrs. Stoutenburgh laughing.
"He has confessed himself addicted to witchcraft in my hearing," said the doctor, who had remained standing by Faith's chair.
"The most precious thing in the world," said Mr. Linden, in a tone as carelessly graceful as his attitude, "is that which cannot be bought,—for if money could buy it, then were money equally valuable. Take for illustration, the perfection of a friend."
"I don't understand,"—said Miss Essie; "but perhaps I shall when I hear the rest."
He smiled a little and gave the quotation on that point in his own clear and perfect manner.
"'A sweet, attractive kind of grace; A full assurance given by looks; Continual comfort in a face; The lineaments of gospel books,— I trow that countenance cannot lye Whose thoughts are legible in the eye.'"
The quotation was received variously, but in general with vast admiration. Miss Essie turned to Mrs. Stoutenburgh and remarked, half loud,
"That's easy to understand. I was dull."
"What do you think of it?" said the doctor softly, stooping towards Faith. But if she heard she did not answer him. She sat with downcast eyes that did not move. She had been wondering whether that was a description of "Pet,"—or of somebody else.
"Faith," whispered Mrs. Stoutenburgh's kind mischievous voice in her ear,—"in whose face do you suppose he finds 'continual comfort'?" But she was sorry the next instant, for the pained, startled look which flashed up at her. Sorry and yet amused—the soft little kiss on Faith's cheek was smiling although apologetic.
"Mr. Linden," said the doctor, who held the bag of forfeits,—"it is your duty to punish Miss Essie with some infliction, such as you can devise."
"Miss Essie," said Mr. Linden, walking gravely up to her, "if there is any person in this room towards whom you entertain and practise malicious, mischievous, and underhand designs, you are hereby sentenced to indicate the person, declare the designs, and to 'shew cause.'"
"Why I never did in my life!" said Miss Essie, with a mixture of surprise and amusement in her gracious black eyes.
"The court is obliged to refuse an unsupported negative," said Mr. Linden bowing.
"Well," said Miss Essie, with no diminishing of the lustre of her black orbs,—"I had a design against you, sir!"
"Of what sort?" said Mr. Linden with intense gravity, while everybody else laughed in proportion.
"I had a design to enter your mind by private fraud, and steal away its secrets;—and the reason was, because the door was so terribly strong and had such an uncommon good lock! and I couldn't get in any other way."
"I hope that is news to the rest of the company," said Mr. Linden laughing as he bowed his acknowledgments. "It is none to me! Miss Essie, may your shadow never be less!"—
"Aint you ashamed!" said Miss Essie reproachfully. "Didn't such a confession deserve better? Who's next, Mr. Harrison?"
Some unimportant names followed, with commonplace forfeits according; then Faith's name came to Mr. Linden. Then was there an opening of eyes and a pricking of ears of all the rest of the company. Only Faith herself sat as still as a mouse, after one little quick glance over to where the person stood in whose hands she was. He stood looking at her,—then walked with great deliberation across the room to her low seat, and taking both her hands lifted her up.
"You need not be frightened," he said softly, as keeping one hand in his clasp he led her back to where he had been standing; then placed her in a great downy easy chair in that corner of the fireplace, and drew up a footstool for her feet.
"Miss Faith," he said, "you are to sit there in absolute silence for the next fifteen minutes. If anybody speaks to you, you are not to answer,—if you are longing to speak yourself you must wait. It is also required that you look at nobody, and hear as little as possible." With which fierce sentence, Mr. Linden took his stand by the chair to see it enforced.
"What a man you are!" said Mrs. Stoutenburgh laughing.
"That's not fair play!" said Mrs. Somers. "She don't want to sit there—if you think she does, you're mistaken."
"She should have been more careful then," said Mr. Linden. "Dr. Harrison, you have the floor."
Dr. Harrison did not appear to think that was much of a possession;—to judge by his face, which cast several very observant glances towards the chair, and by his manner which for a moment was slightly abstracted and destitute of the spirit of the game. Miss Essie's eyes took the same direction, with a steady gaze which the picture justified. Faith sat where she had been placed, in most absolute obedience to the orders she had received,—except possibly—not probably—the last one. The lids drooped over her eyes, which moved rarely from the floor, and never raised themselves. Her colour had risen indeed to a rich tint, where it stayed; but Mrs. Somers' declaration nevertheless was hardly borne out by a certain little bit-in smile which lurked there too, spite of everything. Otherwise she sat like an impersonation of silence, happily screened, by not looking at anybody, from any annoyance of the eyes that were levelled at her and at the figure that held post by her side.
"Mrs. Stoutenburgh," said the doctor, "you have my aunt Ellen."
Mrs. Stoutenburgh however was lenient in that quarter, and told Mrs. Somers they would require nothing of her but the three last items of Pattaquasset news—which she, as pastor's wife, was bound to know. And Mrs. Somers was not backward in declaring them; the first being the engagement of two people who hated each other, the second the separation of two people who loved each other; the third, that Mr. Linden shot himself—to make a sensation.
"Mr. Linden," said the doctor, "you come next—and you are mine. What shall I do with you?"
"Why—anything," said Mr. Linden.
"Well—I am greatly at a loss what you are good for," said the doctor lightly,—"but on the whole I order you to preach a sermon to the company."
"Have you any choice as to the text?"
"I am not in the way of those things," said the doctor laughingly. "Give us the lesson you think we want most."
The clear, grave look that met him—Dr. Harrison had seen it before. The change was like the parting of a little bright vapour, revealing the steadfast blue beneath.
"Nay doctor, you must bid me do something else! I dare not play at marbles with precious stones."
There was probably a mixture of things in the doctor's mind;—but the outward show in answer to this was in the highest degree seemly and becoming. The expression of Dr. Harrison's face changed; with a look gentle and kind, even winning, he came up to Mr. Linden's side and took his hand.
"You are right!" said he, "and I have got my sermon—which I deserve. But now, Linden, that is not your forfeit;—for that you must tell me—honestly—what you think of me." There was always a general air of carelessness about Dr. Harrison, as to what he said himself or what others said in his presence. Along with this carelessness, which whether seeming or real was almost invariable, there mingled now a friend's look and tone and something of a friend's apology making.
"But do you want me to tell everybody else?" said Mr. Linden, smiling in his old way at the doctor. "Do you like to blush before so many people?"
"That's your forfeit!" said the doctor resuming also his old-fashioned light tone. "You're to tell me—and you are not to tell anybody else!"
"Well—if you will have it," said Mr. Linden looking at him,—"Honestly, I think you are very handsome!—of course that is news to nobody but yourself."
"Mercy on you, man!" said the doctor; "do you think that is news to me?"
"It is supposed to be—by courtesy," said Mr. Linden laughing.
"Well—give me all the grace courtesy will let you," said the doctor; whether altogether lightly, or with some feeling, it would have been hard for a by-stander to tell. "Is Miss Derrick's penance out? She comes next—and Miss Essie has her."
"No,"—said Mr. Linden consulting his watch. "I am sorry to interfere with your arrangements, doctor, but justice must have its course."
"Then there is a 'recess'"—said the doctor comically. "Ladies and gentlemen—please amuse yourselves."—
He had no intention of helping them, it seemed, for he stood fast in his place and talked to Mr. Linden in a different tone till the minutes were run out. No thing could be more motionless than the occupant of the chair.
"Miss Faith," Mr. Linden said then, "it is a little hard to pass from one inquisitor to another—but I must hand you over to Miss Essie."
Faith's glance at him expressed no gratification. Meanwhile the doctor had gone for Miss Essie and brought her up to the fireplace.
"Miss Derrick," said the black-eyed lady, "I wish you to tell—as the penalty of your forfeit—why, when you thought the Rhododendron the most perfect flower, you did not take it for your name?"
If anybody had known the pain this question gave Faith—the leap of dismay that her heart made! Nobody knew it; her head drooped, and the colour rose again to be sure; but one hand sheltered the exposed cheek and the other was turned to the fire. She could not refuse to answer, and with the doctor's weapons she would not; but here, as once before, Faith's straightforwardness saved her.
"Why didn't you call yourself Rhodora?" repeated Miss Essie. And Faith answered,—
"Because another name was suggested to me."
The question could not decently be pushed any further; and both Miss Essie and the doctor looked as if they had failed. Faith's own tumult and sinking of heart prevented her knowing how thoroughly this was true.
"And you two people," said Mr. Linden, "come and ask Miss Derrick why she chose to appropriate a character that she thought fell short of perfection!—what is the use of telling anybody anything, after that?"
"I am only one people," said Miss Essie.
"I am another," said the doctor; "and I confess myself curious. Besides, a single point of imperfection might be supposed, without injury to mortal and human nature."
"Julius," said Miss Harrison, "will you have the goodness to do so impolite a thing as to look at your watch? Aunt Ellen will expect us to set a proper example. Dear Faith, are you bound to sit in that big chair all night?"
Then there was a general stir and break-up of the party. One bit of conversation Faith was fated to hear as she slowly made her way out of the dressing-room door, among comers and goers: the first speaker was a young De Staff.
"Since that shooting affair there's been nothing but reports about you, Linden."
"Reports seldom kill," said Mr. Linden.
"Don't trust to that!" said another laughing moustache,—"keep 'em this side the water. By the way—is there any likeness of that fair foreigner going? How do you fancy she would like reports?"
"When you find out I wish you would let me know," said Mr. Linden with a little accent of impatience, as he came forward and took Faith in charge.
It was pretty late when Jerry and his little sleigh-load got clear of the gates. The stars were as bright as ever, and now they had the help of the old moon; which was pouring her clear radiance over the snow and sending long shadows from trees and fences. The fresh air was pleasant too. Faith felt it, and wondered that starlight and snow and sleigh-bells were such a different thing from what they were a few hours before. She chid herself, she was vexed at herself, and humbled exceedingly. She endeavoured to get back on the simple abstract ground she had held in her own thoughts until within a day or two; she was deeply ashamed that her head should have allowed even a flutter of imagination from Mr. Stoutenburgh's words, which now it appeared might bear a quite contrary sense to that which she had given them. What was she, to have anything to do with them? Faith humbly said, nothing. And yet,—she could not help that either,—the image of the possibility of what Dr. Harrison had suggested, raised a pain that Faith could not look at. She sat still and motionless, and heard the sleigh-bells without knowing to what tune they jingled.
It was a quick tune, at all events,—for the first ten or fifteen minutes Jerry dashed along to his heart's content, and his driver even urged him on,—then with other sleighs left far behind and a hill before him, Jerry brought the tune to a staccato, and Mr. Linden spoke. But the words were not very relevant to either stars or sleigh-bells.
"Miss Faith, I thought you knew me better."
They startled her, for she was a minute or two without answering; then came a gentle, and also rather frightened,
"Why?—why do you say that, Mr. Linden?"
"Do you think you know me?" he said, turning towards her with a little bit of a smile, though the voice was grave. "Do you think you have any idea how much I care about you?"
"I think you do," she said. "I am sure you do—very much!"
"Do you know how much?"—and the smile was full then, and followed by a moment's silence. "I shall not try to tell you, Miss Faith; I could not if I would—but there is something on the other side of the question which I want you to tell me."
And Jerry walked slowly up the snowy hill, and the slight tinkle of his bells was as silvery as the starlight of Orion overhead.
Faith looked at her questioner and then off again, while a rich colour was slowly mantling in her cheeks. But the silence was breathless. Jerry's bells only announced it. And having by that time reached the top of the hill he chose—and was permitted—to set off at his former pace; flinging off the snow right and left, and tossing his mane on the cool night air. Down that hill, and up the next, and down that—and along a level bit of road to the foot of another,—then slowly.
"Miss Faith," said Mr. Linden when they were half way up, "do you never mean to speak to me again?"
A very low-breathed although audible "yes."
"Is that all you mean to say?—I shall take it very comprehensively."
She was willing probably that he should take it any way that he pleased; but to add was as much beyond Faith's power at the moment as to subtract from her one word. She did not even look.
"Do you know what this silence is promising?" Mr. Linden said in the same tone, and bending down by her. "I do—and yet I want to hear you speak once more. If there is any reason why I should try not to love you better than all the rest of the world, you must tell me now."
One other quick, inquiring, astonished glance her eyes gave into his face; and then, as usual, his wish to have her speak made her speak, through all the intense difficulty. There was a minute's further hesitation, and then the words, very low, very simple, and trembling,
"Do—if you can."
"Do try?" he said in a lower and graver tone.
"Try?"—she said; then with a change of voice and in very much confusion,—"O no, Mr. Linden!"
"I should not succeed"—was all his answer, nor was there time for much more; for having now turned into the main street where other homeward-bound sleighs were flying along, there was nothing to do but fly along with the rest; and a very few minutes brought them home.
Mr. Skip was probably reposing in parts unknown, for there was no sign of him at his post; and when Faith had been silently taken out of the sleigh and into the hall, Mr. Linden went back to Jerry—telling her she must take good care of herself for five minutes.
Bewilderedly, and trembling yet, Faith turned into the sitting-room. It was warm and bright, Mrs. Derrick having only lately left it; and taking off hood and cloak in a sort of mechanical way, with fingers that did not feel the strings, she sat down in the easy chair and laid her head on the arm of it; as very a child as she had been on the night of that terrible walk;—wondering to herself if this were Christmas day—if she were Faith Derrick—and if anything were anything!—but with a wonder of such growing happiness as made it more and more difficult for her to raise her head up. She dreaded—with an odd kind of dread which contradicted itself—to hear Mr. Linden come in; and in the abstract, she would have liked very much to jump up and run away; but that little intimation was quite enough to hold her fast. She sat still drawing quick little breaths. The loud voice of the clock near by, striking its twelve strokes, was not half so distinct to her as that light step in the hall which came so swiftly and quick to her side.
"What is the problem now, pretty child?" Mr. Linden said, laying both hands upon hers,—"it is too late for study to-night. You must wait till to-morrow and have my help."
She rose up at that, however gladly she would have hidden the face her rising revealed; but yet with no awkwardness she stood before him, rosily grave and shy, and with downcast eyelids that could by no means lift themselves up to shew what was beneath; a fair combination of the child's character and the woman's nature in one; both spoken fairly and fully. Mr. Linden watched her for a minute, softly passing his hand over that fair brow; then drew her closer.
"I suppose I may claim Mr. Stoutenburgh's privilege now," he said. But it was more than that he took. And then with one hand still held fast, Faith was put back in her chair and wheeled up to the fire "to get warm," and Mr. Linden sat down by her side.
Did he really think she needed it, when she was rosy to her fingers' ends? But what could she do, but be very still and very happy Even as a flower whose head is heavy with dew,—never more fragrant than then, yet with the weight of its sweet burden it bends a little;—like that was the droop of Faith's head at this minute. Whither had the whirl of this evening whirled her? Faith did not know. She felt as if, to some harbour of rest, broad and safe; the very one where from its fitness it seemed she ought to be. But shyly and confusedly, she felt it much as a man feels the ground, who is near taken off it by a hurricane. Yet she felt it, for her head drooped more and more.
"Faith," Mr. Linden said, half smiling, half seriously, "what has made you so sober all this evening—so much afraid of me?"
The quick answer of the eye stayed not a minute; the blush was more abiding.
"You don't want me to tell you that!"—she said in soft pleading.
"Do you know now who I think has—
'A sweet attractive kind of grace'?"
"O don't, please, speak so, Mr. Linden!" she said bowing her face in her hands,—"it don't belong to me."—And pressing her hands closer, she added, "You have made me all I am—that is anything."
"There is one thing I mean to make you—if I live," he answered smiling, and taking down her hand. "Faith, what do you mean by talking to me in that style?—haven't you just given me leave to think what I like of you? You deserve another half hour's silent penance."
A little bit of smile broke upon her face which for an instant she tried to hide with her other hand. But she dropped that and turned the face towards him, rosy, grave, and happy, more than she knew, or she perhaps would have hidden it again. Her eyes indeed only saw his and fell instantly; and her words began and stopped.
"There is one comfort—"
"What, dear child?"
"That you know what to think," she said, looking up with a face that evidently rested in the confidence of that fact.
"About what?" Mr. Linden said with an amused look. "I have known what to think about you for some time."
"I meant that,"—she said quietly and with very downcast eyes again.
"I am not in a good mood for riddles to-night," said Mr. Linden,—"just what does this one mean?"
"Nothing, only—" said Faith flushing,—"you said—"
She was near breaking down in sheer confusion, but she rallied and went on. "You said I had given you leave to think what you liked of me,—and I say it is a comfort that you know what to think."
Mr. Linden laughed.
"You are a dear little child!" he said. "Being just the most precious thing in the world to me, you sit there and rejoice that I am in no danger of overestimating you—which is profoundly true. My comfort in knowing what to think, runs in a different line."
It is hard to describe Faith's look; it was a mixture of so many things. It was wondering, and shamefaced; and curious for its blending of humility and gladness; but gladness moved to such a point as to be near the edge of sorrowful expression. She would not have permitted it to choose such expression, and indeed it easily took another line; for even as she looked, her eye caught the light from Mr. Linden's and the gravity of her face broke in a sunny and somewhat obstinate smile, which Faith would have controlled if she could.
"That penance was not so very bad," she said, perhaps by way of diversion.
"I enjoyed it," said Mr. Linden,—"I am not sure that everybody else did. Are you longing for another piece of rest?—Look up at me, and let me see if I ought to keep you here any longer."
She obeyed, though shyly; the smile lingering round her lips yet, and her whole face, to tell the truth, bearing much more resemblance to the dawn of a May morning than to the middle of a December night. Mr. Linden was in some danger of forgetting why he had asked to see it; but when her eyes fell beneath his, then he remembered.
"I must let you go," he said,—"I suppose the sooner I do that, the sooner I may hope to see you again. Will you sleep diligently, to that end?"
"I don't know—" she said softly; rising at the same time to gather up her wrappers which lay strewed about, around and under her. Her lips had the first answer to that; only as he let her go Mr. Linden said,
"You must try."
And a little scarce-spoken "yes" promised it.
It was easier than she thought. When Faith had got to her room, when she had as usual laid down her heart's burden—joyful or careful—in her prayer, there came soon a great subsiding; and mind and body slept, as sleep comes to an exhausted child; or as those sleep, at any age, whose hearts bear no weight which God's hand can bear for them, and who are contented to leave their dearest things to the same hand. There was no "ravelled sleeve of care" ever in Faith's mind, for sleep to knit up; but "tired nature's sweet restorer" she needed like the rest of the human family; and on this occasion sleep did her work without let or hindrance from the time ten minutes after Faith's head touched her pillow till the sun was strong and bright on the morning of the 26th of December. Yes, and pretty high up too; for the first thing that fell upon her waking senses was eight clear strokes of the town clock.
Faith got up and dressed herself in a great hurry and in absolute dismay; blushing to think where was her mother; and breakfast—and everybody—all this while, and what everybody was thinking of her. From her room Faith went straight to dairy and kitchen. She wanted her hands full this morning. But her duties in the kitchen were done; breakfast was only waiting, and her mother talking to the butcher. Faith stood till he was dismissed and had turned his back, and then came into Mrs. Derrick's arms.
"Mother!—why didn't you call me!"
"Pretty child!" was the fond answer, "why should I?—I've been up to look at you half a dozen times, Faith, to make sure you were not sick; but Mr. Linden said he was in no hurry for breakfast—and of course I wasn't. Did you have a good time last night?"
"I should think you ought to be in a hurry for breakfast by this time." And Faith busied herself in helping Cindy put the breakfast on the table.
"You run and call Mr. Linden, child," said her mother, "and I'll see to this. He was here till a minute ago, and then some of the boys wanted to see him."
Faith turned away, but with no sort of mind to present herself before the boys, and in tolerable fear of presenting herself before anybody. The closing hall door informed her that one danger was over; and forcing herself to brave the other, she passed into the sitting-room just as Mr. Linden reentered it from the hall. Very timidly then she advanced a few steps to meet him and stood still, with cheeks as rosy as it was possible to be, and eyes that dared not lift themselves up.
The greeting she had did not help either matter very much, but that could not be helped either.
"What colour are your cheeks under all these roses?" Mr. Linden said smiling at her. "My dear Faith, were you quite tired out?"
"No—You must think so," she said with stammering lips—"but breakfast is ready at last. If you'll go in—I'll come, Mr. Linden."
"Do you want me to go in first?"
"Yes. I'll come directly."
He let her go, and went in as she desired; and having persuaded Mrs. Derrick that as breakfast was on the table it had better have prompt attention, Mr. Linden engaged her with a lively account of the people, dresses, and doings, which had graced the Christmas party; keeping her mind pretty well on that subject both before and after Faith made her appearance. How little it engrossed him, only one person at the table could even guess. But she knew, and rested herself happily under the screen he spread out for her; as quiet and demure as anything that ever sat at a breakfast table yet. And all the attention she received was as silent as it was careful; not till breakfast was over did Mr. Linden give her more than a passing word; but then he inquired how soon she would be ready for philosophy.
Faith's hesitating answer was "Very soon;"—then as Mr. Linden left the room she asked, "What are you going to do to-day, mother?"
"O just the old story," said Mrs. Derrick,—"two or three sick people I must go and see,—and some well people I'd rather see, by half. It's so good to have you home, dear!" And she kissed Faith and held her off and looked at her—several feelings at work in her face. "Pretty child," she said, "I don't think I ever saw you look so pretty."
Faith returned the kiss, and hid her face in her mother's neck; more things than one were in her mind to say, but not one of them could get out. She could only kiss her mother and hold her fast. The words that at last came, were a very commonplace remark about—"going to see to the dinner."
"I guess you will!" said Mrs. Derrick—"with Mr. Linden waiting for you in the other room. I wonder what he'd say to you, or to me either. And besides—people that want to see about dinner must get up earlier in the morning."
The words, some of them, were a little moved; but whatever Mrs. Derrick was thinking of, she did not explain, only bade Faith go off and attend to her lessons and make up for lost time.
Which after some scouting round kitchen and dairy, Faith did. She entered the sitting-room with the little green book in her hand, as near as possible as she would have done three weeks ago. Not quite.
She had a bright smile of welcome, and Mr. Linden placed a chair for her and placed her in it; and then the lessons went on with all their old gentle care and guidance. More, they could hardly have—though Faith sometimes fancied there was more; and if the old sobriety was hard to keep up, still it was done, for her sake. A little play of the lips which she could sometimes see, was kept within very quiet bounds; whatever novelty there might be in look or manner was perhaps unconscious and unavoidable. She might be watched a little more than formerly, but her work none the less; and Mr. Linden's explanations and corrections were given with just their old grave freedom, and no more. And yet how different a thing the lessons were to him!—
As to Faith, her hand trembled very much at first, and even her voice; but for all that, the sunshine within was easy to see, and there came a bright flash of it sometimes. In spite of timidity and shyness, every now and then something made her forget herself, and then the sunlight broke out; to be followed perhaps by a double cloud of gravity. But for the rest, she worked like a docile pupil, as she always had done.
Apparently her teacher's thoughts had not been confined to the work, if they had to her; for when all was done that could be done before dinner, he made one of those sudden speeches with which he sometimes indulged himself.
"Faith—I wish you would ask me to do half a dozen almost impossible things for you."
What a pretty wondering look she gave him. One of the flashes of the sunlight came then. But then came an amused expression.
"What would be the good of that, Mr. Linden?"
"I should have the pleasure of doing them."
"I believe you would," said Faith. "I think the only things quite impossible to you are wrong things."
"The only thing you ever did ask of me was impossible," he said with a smile, upon which there was a shadow too—as if the recollection pained him. "Child, how could you?—It half broke my heart to withstand you so, do you know that? I want the almost impossible things to make me forget it."
Her lip trembled instantly and her command of herself was nearly gone. She had risen for something, and as he spoke she came swiftly behind him, putting herself where he could not see her face, and laid her hand on his shoulder. It lay there as light as thistle-down; but it was Faith's mute way of saying a great many things that her voice could not.
Very quick and tenderly Mr. Linden drew her forward again, and tried the power of his lips to still hers.
"Hush, dear child!" he said—"you must not mind any thing I say,—I am the last person in the world you ought to be afraid of. And you must not claim it as your prerogative to get before me in danger and behind me at all other times—because that is just reversing the proper order of things. Faith, I am going to ask an almost impossible thing of you."
"What is it?" Faith was secretly glad, for afraid of his requests she could not be.
"You will try to do it?"
"It is only to forget that 'Mr. Linden' is any part of my name," he said smiling.
She had been rosy enough before, but now the blood reddened her very brow, till for one instant she put up her hands to hide it.
"What then?"—she said in a breathless sort of way.
"What you like"—he answered brightly. "I have not quite as many names as a Prince Royal, but still enough to choose from. You may separate, combine, or invent, at your pleasure."
There came a summons to dinner then; and part of the hours which should follow thereafter, Mr. Linden was pledged to spend somewhere with somebody—away from home. But he promised to be back to tea, and before that, if he could; and so left Faith to the quiet companionship of her mother and her lessons—if she felt disposed for them. They were both in the sitting-room together, Mrs. Derrick and the books,—both helping the sunlight that came in at the windows. But Faith neglected the books, and came to her mother's side. She sat down and put her arms round her, and nestled her head on her mother's bosom, as she had done in the morning. And then was silent. That might have been just what Mrs. Derrick expected, she was so very ready for it; her work was dropped so instantly, her head rested so fondly on Faith's. But her silence was soon broken.
"How long do you think I can wait, pretty child?" she said in the softest, tenderest tone that even she could use.
"Mother!" said Faith startling. "For what?"
"Suppose you tell me."
"Do you know, mother?" said Faith in a low, changed tone and drawing closer. But Mrs. Derrick only repeated,
"What Mr. Linden has said to me,"—she whispered.
"I knew what he would"—but the words broke off there, and Mrs. Derrick rested her head again in silence as absolute as Faith's.
For awhile; and then Faith lifted up her flushed face and began to kiss her.
"Mother!—why don't you speak to me?"
It was not very easy to speak—Faith could see that; but Mrs. Derrick did command her voice enough to give a sort of answer.
"He had my leave, child,—at least he has talked to me about you in a way that I should have said no to, if I had meant it,—and he knew that. Do you think I should have let him stay here all this time if I had not been willing?"
Faith laid her head down again.
"Mother—dear mother!"—she said,—"I want more than that!"—
She had all she wanted then,—Mrs. Derrick spoke clearly and steadily, though the tears were falling fast.
"I am as glad as you are, darling—or as he is,—I cannot say more than that. So glad that you should be so happy—so glad to have such hands in which to leave you." The last words were scarce above a whisper.
Faith was desperate. She did not cry, but she did everything else. With trembling fingers she stroked her mother's face; with lips that trembled she kissed her; but Faith's voice was steady, whatever lay behind it.
"Mother—mother!—why do you do so? why do you speak so? Does this look like gladness?" And lips and hands kissed away the tears with an eagerness that was to the last degree tender.
"Why yes, child!" her mother said rousing up, and with a little bit of a smile that did not belie her words,—"I tell you I'm as glad as I can be!—Tears don't mean anything, Faith,—I can't help crying sometimes. But I'm just as glad as he is," she repeated, trying her soothing powers in turn,—"and if you'd seen his face as I did when he went away, you'd think that was enough. I don't know whether I could be," she added softly, "if I thought he would take you away from me—but I know he'll never do that, from something he said once. Why pretty child! any one but a baby could see this long ago,—and as for that, Faith, I believe I love him almost as well as you do, this minute."
The last few minutes had tried Faith more than she could bear, with the complete reaction that followed. The tears that very rarely made their way from her eyes in anybody's sight, came now. But they were not permitted to be many; her mother hardly knew they were come before they were gone; and half nestling in her arms, Faith lay with her face hid; silent and quiet. It seemed to Mrs. Derrick as if she was too far off still, for she lifted Faith softly up, and took her on her lap after the old childish fashion, kissing her once and again.
"Now, pretty child," she said, softly stroking the uncovered cheek, "keep your hands down and tell me all about it. I don't mean every word," she added smiling, "but all you like to tell."
But Faith could not do that. She made very lame work of it. She managed only with much difficulty to give her mother a very sketchy and thin outline of what she wanted to know; which perhaps was as much as Mrs. Derrick expected; and was given with a simplicity as bare of additions as her facts were. A very few words told all she had to tell. Yes, her mother was satisfied,—she loved to hear Faith speak those few words, and to watch her the while—herself supplying all deficiencies; and then was content that her child should lie still and go to sleep, if she chose—it was enough to look at her and think: rejoicing with her and for her with a very pure joy, if it was sometimes tearful.
Faith presently changed her position, and gave a very particular attention to the smoothing of the hair over her mother's forehead. Then pulling her cap straight, and giving her a finishing look and kiss, she took a low seat close beside her, laid one of her study books on her mother's lap, resting one arm there fondly, and went hard to work remarking however that Mrs. Derrick might talk as much as she liked and she would talk too. But Mrs. Derrick either did not want to talk, or else she did not want to interrupt; for she watched Faith and smiled upon her, and stroked her hair, and said very little.
Just at the end of the afternoon, when Faith was finishing her work by firelight, Mr. Linden came in. She did not see the look that passed between her mother and him—she only knew that they held each other's hands for a minute silently,—then one of the hands was laid upon her forehead.
"Little student—do you want to try the fresh air?"
She said yes; and without raising her eyes, ran off to get ready. In another minute she was out in the cool freshness of the December twilight.
The walk lasted till all the afterglow had faded and all the stars come out, and till half Pattaquasset had done tea; having its own glow and starlight, and its flow of conversation to which the table talk was nothing.
Of course, Faith's first business on reaching home was to see about the tea. She and Mrs. Derrick were happily engaged together in various preparations, and Mr. Linden alone in the sitting-room, when the unwelcome sound of a knock came at the front door; and the next minute his solitude was broken in upon.
"Good evening!" said the doctor. "Three-quarters of a mile off 'I heard the clarion of the unseen midge!' so I thought it was best to come to close quarters with the enemy.—There is nothing so annoying as a distant humming in your ears. How do you do?" He had come up and laid his hand on Mr. Linden's shoulder before the latter had time to rise.
"What a perverse taste!" Mr. Linden said, laughing and springing up. "All the rest of the world think a near-by humming so much worse."
"Can't distinguish at a distance," said the doctor;—"one doesn't know whether it's a midge or a dragon-fly. How is Mignonette? and Mignonette's mother?"
"They were both well the last time I saw them. In what sort of a calm flutter are you, doctor?"
"Do you think that is my character?" said the doctor, taking his favourite position on the rug.
"You go straight to the fire—like all the rest of the tribe," said Mr. Linden.
"Is it inconsistent with the character of such an extra ordinary midge, to go straight to the mark?"
"Nobody ever saw a midge do that yet, I'll venture to say."
"And you are resolved to act in character," said the doctor gravely. "You have got clean away from the point. I asked you last night to tell me what you thought of me. We are alone now—do it, Linden!"
"Why do you want to know?"
"I don't know. A man likes to talk of himself—cela s'entend—but I care enough about you, to care to know how I stand in your thoughts. If you asked me how I stand in my own, I could not tell you; and I should like to know how the just balances of your mind—I'm not talking ironically, Linden,—weigh and poise me;—what sort of alloy your mental tests make me out. No matter why!—indulge me, and let me have it. I presume it is nothing better than philosophical curiosity. I am—every man is to himself—an enigma—a mystery;—and I should like to have a sudden outside view—from optics that I have some respect for."
"I gave you the outside view last night," Mr. Linden said. But then he came and stood near the doctor and answered him simply; speaking with that grave gentleness of interest which rarely failed to give the speaker a place in people's hearts, even when his words failed of it.
"I think much of you, in the first place,—and in the second place, I wish you would let me think more;—you stand in my thoughts as an object of very warm interest, of very earnest prayer. Measured—not by my standards, but by those which the word of God sets up, you are like your own admirably made and adjusted microscope, with all the higher powers left off. The only enigma, the only mystery is, that you yourself cannot see this."
Dr. Harrison looked at him with a grave, considerative face, drawing a little back; perhaps to do it the better.
"Do you mean to say, that you do such a thing as pray for me?"
A slight, sweet smile came with the answer—"Can you doubt it?"
"Why I might very reasonably doubt it,—though not your word. Why do you,—may I ask?"
"What can I do for a man in deadly peril, whom my arm cannot reach?" The tone was very kindly, very earnest; the eyes with their deep light looked full into the doctor's.
Dr. Harrison was silent, meeting the look and taking the depth and meaning of it, so far as fathomable by him. The two faces and figures, fine as they both were, made a strange contrast. The doctor's face was in one of its serious and good expressions; but the other had come from a region of light which this one had never entered. And even in attitude—the dignified unconsciousness of the one, was very different from the satisfied carelessness of the other.
"May I further ask," he said in a softened tone,—"why you do this for me?"
"Because I care about you."
"It's incredible!" said the doctor, his eye wavering, however. "One man care about another! Why, man, I may be the worst enemy you have in the world, for aught you know."
"That cannot hinder my being your friend."
"Do you know," said the other looking at him half curiously,—"I am ready to do such a foolish thing as to believe you? Well—be as much of a friend to me as you can; and I'll deserve it as well as I can—which maybe won't be very well. Indeed that is most likely!" He had stretched out his hand to Mr. Linden however, and clasped his warmly. He quitted it now to go forward and take that of Faith.
She came in just as usual, and met the doctor with her wonted manner; only the crimson stain on her cheek telling anything against her. She did not give him much chance to observe that; for Cindy followed her with the tea things and Faith busied herself about the table. The doctor went back to his stand and watched her.
"Mignonette has changed colour," he remarked presently. "How is that, Miss Derrick?"
"How is what, sir?"
"How come you to change the proper characteristics of mignonette? Don't you know that never shews high brilliancy?"
"I suppose I am not mignonette to-night," said Faith, returning to the safer observation of the tea-table.
"Are you my flower, then? the Rhodora?" he said with a lowered tone, coming near her.
If Faith heard, she did not seem to hear this question. Her attention was bestowed upon the preparations for tea, till Mrs. Derrick came in to make it; and then Faith found a great deal to do in the care of the other duties of the table. It was a mystery, how she managed it; she who generally had as much leisure at meals as anybody wanted. Dr. Harrison's attention however was no longer exclusively given to her.
"Do you always have these muffins for tea, Mrs. Derrick?" he remarked with his second essay.
"Why no!" said Mrs. Derrick,—"we have all sorts of other things. Don't you like muffins, doctor?"
"Like them!" said the doctor. "I am thinking what a happy man Mr. Linden must be."
"Marvellously true!" said Mr. Linden. "I hope you'll go home and write a new 'Search after happiness,' ending it sentimentally in muffins."
"Not so," said the doctor. "I should only begin it in muffins—as I am doing. But my remark after all had a point;—for I was thinking of the possibility of detaching anybody from such a periodical attraction. Mrs. Derrick, I am the bearer of an humble message to you from my sister and father—who covet the honour and pleasure of your presence to-morrow evening. Sophy makes me useful, when she can. I hope you will give me a gracious answer—for yourself and Miss Faith, and so make me useful again. It is a rare chance! I am not often good for anything."