THE BENT TWIG
BOOK I IN ARCADIA
I SYLVIA'S HOME II THE MARSHALLS' FRIENDS III BROTHER AND SISTER IV EVERY ONE'S OPINION OF EVERY ONE ELSE V SOMETHING ABOUT HUSBANDS VI THE SIGHTS OF LA CHANCE VII "WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS TO BE SELF-EVIDENT ..." VIII SABOTAGE IX THE END OF CHILDHOOD
BOOK II A FALSE START TO ATHENS
X SYLVIA'S FIRST GLIMPSE OF MODERN CIVILIZATION XI ARNOLD'S FUTURE Is CASUALLY DECIDED XII ONE MAN'S MEAT XIII AN INSTRUMENT IN TUNE XIV HIGHER EDUCATION XV MRS. DRAPER BLOWS THE COALS XVI PLAYING WITH MATCHES XVII MRS. MARSHALL STICKS TO HER PRINCIPLES XVIII SYLVIA SKATES MERRILY ON THIN ICE XIX AS A BIRD OUT OF A SNARE XX "BLOW, WIND; SWELL, BILLOW; AND SWIM, BARK!" XXI SOME YEARS DURING WHICH NOTHING HAPPENS
BOOK III IN CAPUA AT LAST
XXII A GRATEFUL CARTHAGINIAN XXIII MORE TALK BETWEEN YOUNG MODERNS XXIV ANOTHER BRAND OF MODERN TALK XXV NOTHING IN THE LEAST MODERN XXVI MOLLY IN HER ELEMENT XXVII BETWEEN WINDWARD AND HEMLOCK MOUNTAINS XXVIII SYLVIA ASKS HERSELF "WHY NOT?" XXIX A HYPOTHETICAL LIVELIHOOD XXX ARNOLD CONTINUES TO DODGE THE RENAISSANCE XXXI SYLVIA MEETS WITH PITY XXXII MUCH ADO XXXIII "WHOM GOD HATH JOINED..." XXXIV SYLVIA TELLS THE TRUTH XXXV "A MILESTONE PASSED, THE ROAD SEEMS CLEAR" XXXVI THE ROAD IS NOT SO CLEAR XXXVII "... His wife and children perceiving it, began to cry after him to return; but the man put his fingers in his ears and ran on, crying, 'Life! Life Eternal!'" XXXVIII SYLVIA COMES TO THE WICKET GATE XXXIX SYLVIA DRIFTS WITH THE MAJORITY
BOOK IV THE STRAIT PATH
XL A CALL FROM HOME XLI HOME AGAIN XLII "Strange that we creatures of the petty ways, Poor prisoners behind these fleshly bars, Can sometimes think us thoughts with God ablaze, Touching the fringes of the outer stars" XLIII "Call now; is there any that will answer thee?" XLIV "A bruised reed will He not break, and a dimly burning wick will He not quench" XLV "That our soul may swim We sink our heart down, bubbling, under wave" XLVI A LONG TALK WITH ARNOLD XLVII "...AND ALL THE TRUMPETS SOUNDED!"
THE BENT TWIG
Like most happy childhoods, Sylvia's early years lay back of her in a long, cheerful procession of featureless days, the outlines of which were blurred into one shimmering glow by the very radiance of their sunshine. Here and there she remembered patches, sensations, pictures, scents: Mother holding baby sister up for her to kiss, and the fragrance of the baby powder—the pine-trees near the house chanting loudly in an autumn wind—her father's alert face, intent on the toy water-wheel he was setting for her in the little creek in their field—the beautiful sheen of the pink silk dress Aunt Victoria had sent her—the look of her mother's steady, grave eyes when she was so sick—the leathery smell of the books in the University Library one day when she followed her father there—the sound of the rain pattering on the low, slanting roof of her bedroom—these were the occasional clearly outlined, bright-colored illuminations wrought on the burnished gold of her sunny little life. But from her seventh birthday her memories began to have perspective, continuity. She remembered an occasional whole scene, a whole afternoon, just as it happened.
The first of these must have marked the passing of some unrecognized mental milestone, for there was nothing about it to set it apart from any one of a hundred afternoons. It may have been the first time she looked at what was about her, and saw it.
Mother was putting the baby to bed for his nap—not the baby-sister—she was a big girl of five by this time, but another baby, a little year-old brother, with blue eyes and yellow hair, instead of brown eyes and hair like his two sisters'. And when Mother stooped over the little bed, her white fichu fell forward and Sylvia leaned to hold it back from the baby's face, a bit of thoughtfulness which had a rich reward in a smile of thanks from Mother. That was what began the remembered afternoon. Mother's smiles were golden coin, not squandered on every occasion. Then, she and Mother and Judith tiptoed out of the bedroom into Mother's room and there stood Father, with his University clothes on and yet his hair rather rumpled up, as though he had been teaching very hard. He had a pile of papers in his hand and he said, "Barbara, are you awfully busy just now?"
Mother said, Oh no, she wasn't at all. (She never was busy when Father asked her to do something, although Sylvia could not remember ever once having seen her sit and do nothing, no, not even for a minute!) Then Father said, "Well, if you could run over these, I'd have time to have some ball with the seminar after they're dismissed. These are the papers the Freshmen handed in for that Economics quiz." Mother said, "Sure she could," or the equivalent of that, and Father thanked her, turned Judith upside-down and right-side-up again so quick that she didn't know what had happened, and left them all laughing as they usually were when Father ran down from the study for something.
So Sylvia and Judith, quite used to this procedure, sat down on the floor with a book to keep them quiet until Mother should be through. Neither of them could read, although Sylvia was beginning to learn, but they had been told the stories so many times that they knew them from the pictures. The book they looked at that day had the story of the people who had rowed a great boat across the water to get a gold sheepskin, and Sylvia told it to Judith, word for word, as Father always told it. She glanced up at Mother from time to time to make sure she was getting it right; and ever afterwards the mention of the Argonauts brought up before Sylvia's eyes the picture of her mother that day, sitting very straight, her strong brown fingers making an occasional mark on the papers, as she turned them over with a crisp rustle, her quiet face bent, in a calm fixity of attention, over the pages.
Before they knew it, the work was done, Father had come for the papers, and showed Sylvia one more twist in the acrobatic stunt they were learning together. She could already take his hands and run up to his shoulders in one squirrel-like dash; but she was to learn the reverse and come down on the other side, and she still got tangled up with which foot to put first. So they practised whenever they had, as now, a minute or two to spare.
Then Judith was set to play with her blocks like the baby she still was, while Sylvia and Mother had a lesson in reading. Sylvia could remember the very sound of Mother's clear voice as she corrected a mistake. They were reading a story about what happened to a drop of water that fell into the brook in their field; how, watering the thirsty cornfields as it flowed, the brook ran down to the river near La Chance, where it worked ever so many mills and factories and things. Then on through bigger and bigger rivers until it reached the Mississippi, where boats rode on its back; and so on down to the ocean. And there, after resting a while, it was pumped up by the sun and made into a cloud, and the wind blew it back over the land and to their field again, where it fell into the brook and said, "Why, how-de-do, Sylvia—you still here?"
Father had written the story, and Mother had copied it out on the typewriter so it would be easy for Sylvia to read.
After they had finished she remembered looking out of the window and watching the big white clouds drift across the pale bright April sky. They were full of hundreds of drops of water, she thought, that were going to fall into hundreds of other brooks, and then travel and work till they reached the sea, and then rest for a while and begin all over again. Her dark eyes grew very wide as she watched the endless procession of white mountains move across the great arch of the sky. Her imagination was stirred almost painfully, her mind expanding with the effort to take in the new conception of size, of great numbers, of the small place of her own brook, her own field in the hugeness of the world. And yet it was an ordered hugeness full of comforting similarity! Now, no matter where she might go, or what brooks she might see, she would know that they were all of one family, that the same things happened to them all, that every one ended in the ocean. Something she had read on a piece of paper made her see the familiar home field with the yellow water of the little creek, as a part of the whole world. It was very strange. She tried to tell Mother something of what was in her mind, but, though Mother listened in a sympathetic silence, it was evident that she could make nothing out of the incoherent account. Sylvia thought that she would try to tell Father, the next chance she had. Even at seven, although she loved her mother passionately and jealously, she was aware that her father's mind was more like her own. He understood some things that Mother didn't, although Mother was always, always right, and Father wasn't. She fell into silence again, standing by her mother's knee, staring out of the window and watching the clouds move steadily across the sky doing their share of the world's work for all they looked so soft and lazy. Her mother did not break in on this meditative contemplation. She took up her sewing-basket and began busily to sew buttons on a small pair of half-finished night-drawers. The sobered child beside her, gazing up at the blue-and-white infinity of the sky, heard faintly and distantly, for the first time in her life, the whirring reverberations of the great mystic wheel of change and motion and life.
Then, all at once, there was a scraping of chairs overhead in Father's study, a clattering on the stairs, and the sound of a great many voices. The Saturday seminar was over. The door below opened, and the students came out, Father at the head, very tall, very straight, his ruddy hair shining in the late afternoon sun, his shirt-sleeves rolled up over his arms, and a baseball in his hand. "Come on, folks," Sylvia heard him call, as he had so many times before. "Let's have a couple of innings before you go!" Sylvia must have seen the picture a hundred times before, but that was the first time it impressed itself on her, the close-cut grass of their yard as lustrous as enamel, the big pine-trees standing high, the scattered players, laughing and running about, the young men casting off their coats and hats, the detached fielders running long-legged to their places. At the first sound of the voices, Judith, always alert, never wasting time in reveries, had scampered down the stairs and out in the midst of the stir-about. Judith was sure to be in the middle of whatever was going on. She had attached herself to young Professor Saunders, a special favorite of the children, and now was dragging him from the field to play horse with her. Father looked up to the window where Sylvia and Mother sat, and called: "Come on, Barbara! Come on and amuse Judith. She won't let Saunders pitch."
Mother nodded, ran downstairs, coaxed Judith over beyond first base to play catch with a soft rubber ball; and Sylvia, carried away by the cheerful excitement, hopped about everywhere at once, screaming encouragement to the base runners, picking up foul balls, and sending them with proud importance back to the pitcher.
So they all played and shouted and ran and laughed, while the long, pale-golden spring afternoon stood still, until Mother held up her finger and stopped the game. "The baby's awake!" she said, and Father went bounding off. When he came back with the downy pink morsel, everybody gathered around to see it and exclaim over the tiny fat hands and hungry little rosebud mouth. "He's starved!" said Mother. "He wants his supper, poor little Buddy! He doesn't want a lot of people staring at him, do you, Buddy-baby?" She snatched him out of Father's arms and went off with him, holding him high over her shoulders so that the sunshine shone on his yellow hair, and made a circle of gold around his flushed, sleepy face. Then everybody picked up books and wraps and note-books and said, "Good-by, 'Perfessor!'" and went off.
Father and Sylvia and Judith went out in the garden to the hotbed to pick the lettuce for supper and then back in the kitchen to get things ready. When Mother was through giving Buddy his supper and came hurrying in to help, Sylvia was proud that they had nearly everything done—all but the omelet. Father had made cocoa and creamed potatoes—nobody in the world could make creamed potatoes as good as his—and Sylvia and Judith had between them, somewhat wranglingly, made the toast and set the table. Sylvia was sure that Judith was really too little to be allowed to help, but Father insisted that she should try, for he said, with a turn in his voice that made Sylvia aware he was laughing at her, "You only learned through trying, all those many years ago when you were Judith's age!"
Mother put on one of her big gingham aprons and made the omelet, and they sat down to the table out on the veranda as they always did in warm weather. In La Chance it begins to be warm enough for outdoor life in April. Although it was still bright daylight for ever so long after the sun had set, the moon came and looked at them palely over the tops of the trees.
After supper they jumped up to "race through the dishes," as the family catchword ran. They tried to beat their record every evening and it was always a lively occasion, with Mother washing like lightning, and Father hurrying to keep up, Sylvia running back and forth to put things away, and Judith bothering 'round, handing out dry dish-towels, and putting away the silver. She was allowed to handle that because she couldn't break it. Mother and Judith worked in a swift silence, but a great deal of talking and laughing went on between Sylvia and her father, while Buddy, from his high-chair where he was watching the others, occasionally broke out in a loud, high crow of delight. They did it all, even to washing and hanging out the dish-towels, in eleven and a half minutes that evening, Sylvia remembered.
Then she and Judith went to sit on the porch on the little bench Mother had made them. They tried to see who could catch the first glimpse of the evening star every evening. Mother was putting Buddy to bed and Father was starting the breakfast cereal cooking on the stove. After a while he went into the living-room and began to play something on the piano, something full of deep, swaying chords that lifted Sylvia's heart up and down as though she were floating on the water. The air was full of the moist fragrance of spring. When the music held its breath for a moment you could hear the bedtime note of sleepy birds in the oaks. Judith, who did not care much for music, began to get sleepy and leaned all her soft, warm weight against her big sister. Sylvia for the first time in her life was consciously aware of being very happy. When, some time later, the evening star shone out through the trees, she drew a long breath. "See, Judith," she cried softly and began to recite,
"Star-light, star-bright, First star I've seen tonight—"
She stopped short—it was Aunt Victoria who had taught her that poem, the last time she had come to see them, a year ago, the time when she had brought Sylvia the pink silk dress, the only dress-up dress with lace and ribbons on it Sylvia had had up to that time. As suddenly as the evening star had shone out, another radiant vision flashed across Sylvia's mind, Aunt Victoria, magnificent in her lacy dress, her golden hair shining under the taut silk of her parasol, her white, soft fingers gleaming with rings, her air of being a condescending goddess, visiting mortals ...
After a time Mother stepped out on the porch and said, "Oh, quick, children, wish on the shooting star."
Judith had dropped asleep like a little kitten tired of play, and Sylvia looked at her mother blankly. "I didn't see any shooting star," she said.
Mother was surprised. "Why, your face was pointed right up at the spot."
"I didn't see it," repeated Sylvia.
Mother fixed her keen dark eyes on Sylvia. "What's the matter?" she asked in her voice that always required an answer. Sylvia wriggled uncomfortably. Hers was a nature which suffers under the categorical question; but her mother's was one which presses them home.
"What's the matter with you?" she said again.
Sylvia turned a clouded face to her mother. "I was wondering why it's not nice to be idyllic."
"What?" asked her mother, quite at a loss. Sylvia was having one of her unaccountable notions.
Sylvia went to lean on her mother's knee, looking with troubled eyes up into the kind, attentive, uncomprehending face. "Why, the last time Aunt Victoria was here—that long time ago—when they were all out playing ball—she looked round and round at everything—at your dress and mine and the furniture—you know—the—the uncomfortable way she does sometimes—and she said, 'Well, Sylvia—nobody can say that your parents aren't leading you a very idyllic life.'"
Mother laughed out. Her rare laugh was too sudden and loud to be very musical, but it was immensely infectious, like a man's hearty mirth. "I didn't hear her say it—but I can imagine that she did. Well, what of it? What if she did?"
For once Sylvia did not respond to another's mood. She continued anxiously, "Well, it means something perfectly horrid, doesn't it?"
Mother was still laughing. "No, no, child, what in the world makes you think that?"
"Oh, if you'd heard Aunt Victoria say it!" cried Sylvia with conviction. Father came out on the veranda, saying to Mother, "Isn't that crescendo superb?" To Sylvia he said, as though sure of her comprehension, "Didn't you like the ending, dear—where it sounded like the Argonauts all striking the oars into the water at once and shouting?"
Sylvia had been taught above everything to tell the truth. Moreover (perhaps a stronger reason for frankness), Mother was there, who would know whether she told the truth or not. "I didn't hear the end."
Father looked quickly from Sylvia's face to her mother's. "What's the matter?" he asked.
"Sylvia was so concerned because her Aunt Victoria had called our life idyllic that she couldn't think of anything else," explained Mother briefly, still smiling. Father did not smile. He sat down by Sylvia and had her repeat to him what she had said to her mother. When she had finished he looked grave and said: "You mustn't mind what your Aunt Victoria says, dear. Her ideas are very different from ours."
Sylvia's mother cried out, "Why, a child of Sylvia's age couldn't have taken in the significance of—"
"I'm afraid," said Father, "that Sylvia's very quick to take in such a significance."
Sylvia remained silent, uncomfortable at being discussed, vaguely ashamed of herself, but comforted that Father had not laughed, had understood. As happened so frequently, it was Father who understood and Mother who did the right thing. She suddenly made an enigmatic, emphatic exclamation, "Goodness gracious!" and reaching out her long arms, pulled Sylvia up on her lap, holding her close. The last thought of that remembered time for Sylvia was that Mother's arms were very strong, and her breast very soft. The little girl laid her head down on it with a contented sigh, watching the slow, silent procession of the stars.
THE MARSHALLS' FRIENDS
Any one of the more sophisticated members of the faculty of the State University at La Chance would have stated without hesitation that the Marshalls had not the slightest part in the social activities of the University; but no one could have called their life either isolated or solitary. Sylvia, in her memories of childhood, always heard the low, brown house ringing with music or echoing to the laughter and talk of many voices. To begin with, a good many of Professor Marshall's students came and went familiarly through the plainly furnished rooms, although there was, of course, in each year's class, a little circle of young people with a taste for social distinctions who held aloof from the very unselect and heterogeneous gatherings at the Marshall house.
These young aristocrats were, for the most part, students from the town itself, from La Chance's "best families," who through parental tyranny or temporary financial depression were not allowed to go East to a well-known college with a sizable matriculation fee, but were forced to endure four years of the promiscuous, swarming, gratuitous education of the State University. All these august victims of family despotism associated as little as possible with the common rabble of their fellow-students, and accepted invitations only from such faculty families as were recognized by the inner circle of the town society.
The Marshalls were not among this select circle. Indeed, no faculty family was farther from it. Every detail of the Marshalls' life was in contradiction not only to the standards and ideals of the exclusive "town set," but to those of their own colleagues. They did not live in the right part of town. They did not live in the right sort of a house. They did not live in the right sort of a way. And consequently, although no family had more visitors, they were not the right sort of visitors.
This was, of course, not apparent to the children for a good many years. Home was home, as it is to children. It did not seem strange to them that instead of living in a small rented house on a closely built-up street near the campus in the section of the city occupied by the other faculty families, they lived in a rambling, large-roomed old farmhouse with five acres of land around it, on the edge of the West Side. They did not know how heartily this land-owning stability was condemned as folly by the rent-paying professors, perching on the bough with calculated impermanence so that they might be free to accept at any moment the always anticipated call to a larger salary. They did not know, not even Sylvia, for many years, that the West Side was the quite unfashionable part of town. It did not seem strange to them to see their father sweeping his third-floor study with his own hands, and they were quite used to a family routine which included housework for every one of them. Indeed, a certain amount of this was part of the family fun. "Come on, folks!" Professor Marshall would call, rising up from the breakfast table, "Tuesday—day to clean the living-room—all hands turn to!" In a gay helter-skelter all hands turned to. The lighter furniture was put out on the porch. Professor Marshall, joking and laughing, donned a loose linen overall suit to protect his "University clothes," and cleaned the bare floor with a big oiled mop; Mrs. Marshall, silent and swift, looked after mirrors, windows, the tops of bookcases, things hard for children to reach; Sylvia flourished a duster; and Judith and Lawrence out on the porch, each armed with a whisk-broom, brushed and whacked at the chairs and sofas. There were no rugs to shake, and it took but an instant to set things back in their places in the clean-smelling, dustless room.
This daily drill, coming as it did early in the morning, usually escaped the observation of any but passing farmers, who saw nothing amiss in it; but facetiously exaggerated reports of its humors reached the campus, and a certain set considered it very clever to lay bets as to whether the Professor of Political Economy would pull out of his pocket a handkerchief, or a duster, or a child's shirt, for it was notorious that the children never had nursemaids and that their father took as much care of them as their mother.
The question of clothes, usually such a sorely insoluble problem for academic people of small means, was solved by the Marshalls in an eccentric, easy-going manner which was considered by the other faculty families as nothing less than treasonable to their caste. Professor Marshall, it is true, having to make a public appearance on the campus every day, was generally, like every other professor, undistinguishable from a commercial traveler. But Mrs. Marshall, who often let a good many days pass without a trip to town, had adopted early in her married life a sort of home uniform, which year after year she wore in one form or another. It varied according to the season, and according to the occasion on which she wore it, but it had certain unchanging characteristics. It was always very plain as to line, and simple as to cut, having a skirt neither full nor scant, a waist crossed in front with a white fichu, and sleeves reaching just below the elbow with white turn-back cuffs. As Mrs. Marshall, though not at all pretty, was a tall, upright, powerfully built woman, with a dark, shapely head gallantly poised on her shoulders, this garb, whether short-skirted, of blue serge in the morning, or trailing, of ruby-colored cashmere in the evening, was very becoming to her. But there is no denying that it was always startlingly and outrageously unfashionable. At a time when every woman and female child in the United States had more cloth in her sleeves than in all the rest of her dress, the rounded muscles of Mrs. Marshall's arm, showing through the fabric of her sleeves, smote shockingly upon the eye of the ordinary observer, trained to the American habit of sheep-like uniformity of appearance. And at the time when the front of every woman's waist fell far below her belt in a copiously blousing sag, Mrs. Marshall's trim tautness had in it something horrifying. It must be said for her that she did not go out of her way to inflict these concussions upon the brains of spectators, since she always had in her closet one evening dress and one street dress, sufficiently approximating the prevailing style to pass unnoticed. These costumes lasted long, and they took in the long run but little from the Marshall exchequer: for she wore them seldom, only assuming what her husband called, with a laugh, her "disguise" when going into town.
For a long time, until Sylvia's individuality began to assert itself, the question of dress for the children was solved, with similar ease, by the typical Marshall expedient, most heartily resented by their faculty acquaintances, the mean-spirited expedient of getting along comfortably on inadequate means by not attempting to associate with people to whose society their brains and cultivation gave them the right—that is to say, those families of La Chance whose incomes were from three to five times that of college professors. The Marshall children played, for the most part, with the children of their neighbors, farmers, or small merchants, and continued this humble connection after they went into the public schools, where their parents sent them, instead of to "the" exclusive private school of town. Consequently the plainest, simplest clothes made them indistinguishable from their fellows. Sylvia and Judith also enjoyed the unfair advantage of being quite unusually pretty little girls (Judith being nothing less than a beauty), so that even on the few occasions when they were invited to a children's party in the faculty circle their burnished, abundant hair, bright eyes, and fresh, alert faces made up for the plainness of their white dresses and thick shoes.
It was, moreover, not only in externals like clothes that the childhood of Sylvia and Judith and Lawrence differed from that of the other faculty children. Their lives were untouched by the ominous black cloud familiar to academic households, the fear for the future, the fear which comes of living from hand to mouth, the dread of "being obliged to hand in one's resignation," a truly academic periphasis which is as dismally familiar to most faculty children as its blunt Anglo-Saxon equivalent of "losing your job" is to children of plainer workpeople. Once, it is true, this possibility had loomed up large before the Marshalls, when a high-protection legislature objected loudly to the professor's unreverent attitude towards the tariff. But although the Marshall children knew all about this crisis, as they knew all about everything that happened to the family, they had had no experience of the anxious talks and heartsick consultations which would have gone on in any other faculty household. Their father had been angry, and their mother resolute—but there was nothing new in that. There had been, on Professor Marshall's part, belligerent, vociferous talk about "freedom of speech," and on Mrs. Marshall's a quiet estimate that, with her early training on a Vermont farm, and with the high state of cultivation under which she had brought their five acres, they could successfully go into the truck-farming business like their neighbors. Besides this, they had the resource, extraordinary among University families, of an account in the savings-bank on which to fall back. They had always been able to pay their debts and have a small surplus by the expedient of refusing to acknowledge a tenth part of the social obligations under which the rest of the faculty groaned and sweated with martyr's pride. Perfidiously refusing to do their share in the heart-breaking struggle to "keep up the dignity" of the academic profession, they were not overwhelmed by the super-human difficulties of that undertaking.
So it happened that the Marshall children heard no forebodings about the future, but only heated statements of what seemed to their father the right of a teacher to say what he believed. Professor Marshall had gone of his own initiative to face the legislative committee which was "investigating" him, had quite lost his temper (never very securely held in leash), had told them his highly spiced opinion of their strictures on his teaching and of the worth of any teacher they could find who would submit to them. Then he had gone home and put on his overalls. This last was rather a rhetorical flourish; for his cosmopolitan, urban youth had left him ineradicably ignorant of the processes of agriculture. But like all Professor Marshall's flourishes it was a perfectly sincere one. He was quite cheerfully prepared to submit himself to his wife's instruction in the new way of life.
All these picturesque facts, as was inevitable in America, had instantly reached the newspapers, which, lacking more exciting news for the moment, took that matter up with headlined characterizations of Professor Marshall as a "martyr of the cause of academic freedom," and other rather cheap phrases about "persecution" and "America, the land of free speech." The legislative committee, alarmed, retreated from its position. Professor Marshall had not "been obliged to hand in his resignation," but quite the contrary, had become the hero of the hour and was warmly complimented by his colleagues, who hoped to profit by an action which none of them would have dared to imitate. It had been an exciting drama to the Marshall children as long as it lasted. They had looked with pride at an abominable reproduction of their father's photograph in the evening paper of La Chance, and they had added an acquaintance with the manners of newspaper reporters to their already very heterogeneous experience with callers of every variety; but of real anxiety the episode had brought them nothing.
As to that same extraordinary assortment of visitors at the Marshall house, one of the University co-eds had said facetiously that you met there every sort of person in the world, from spiritualists to atheists—everybody except swells. The atheist of her dictum was the distinguished and misanthropic old Professor Kennedy, head of the Department of Mathematics, whose ample means and high social connections with the leading family of La Chance made his misanthropy a source of much chagrin to the faculty ladies, and who professed for the Marshalls, for Mrs. Marshall in particular, a wrong-headed admiration which was inexplicable to the wives of the other professors. The faculty circle saw little to admire in the Marshalls. The spiritualist of the co-ed's remark was, of course, poor foolish Cousin Parnelia, the children's pet detestation, whose rusty clothes and incoherent speech they were prevented from ridiculing only by stern pressure from their mother. She always wore a black straw hat, summer and winter, always carried a faded green shopping bag, with a supply of yellow writing paper, and always had tucked under one arm the curious, heart-shaped bit of wood, with the pencil attached, which spiritualists call "planchette." The Marshall children thought this the most laughable name imaginable, and were not always successful in restraining the cruel giggles of childhood when she spoke of planchette's writing such beautiful messages from her long-since-dead husband and children. Although he had a dramatic sympathy for her sorrow, Professor Marshall's greater vivacity of temperament made it harder for him than for his wife to keep a straight face when Cousin Parnelia proposed to be the medium whereby he might converse with Milton or Homer. Indeed, his fatigued tolerance for her had been a positive distaste ever since the day when he found her showing Sylvia, aged ten, how to write with planchette. With an outbreak of temper, for which he had afterwards apologized to his wife, he had forbidden her ever to mention her damn unseemly nonsense to his children again. He himself was a stout unbeliever in individual immortality, teaching his children that the craving for it was one of the egotistic impulses of the unregenerate human heart.
Between the two extremes represented by shabby, crack-brained Cousin Parnelia and elegant, sardonic old Professor Kennedy, there were many other habitual visitors at the house—raw, earnest, graceless students of both sexes, touchingly grateful for the home atmosphere they were allowed to enter; a bushy-haired Single-tax fanatic named Hecht, who worked in the iron-foundries by day, and wrote political pamphlets by night; Miss Lindstroem, the elderly Swedish woman laboring among the poor negroes of Flytown; a constant sprinkling from the Scandinavian-Americans whose well-kept truck-farms filled the region near the Marshall home; one-armed Mr. Howell, the editor of a luridly radical Socialist weekly paper, whom Judith called in private the "old puss-cat" on account of his soft, rather weak voice and mild, ingratiating ways. Yes, the co-ed had been right, one met at the Marshalls' every variety of person except the exclusive.
These habitues of the house came and went with the greatest familiarity. As they all knew there was no servant to answer the doorbell, they seldom bothered to ring, but opened the door, stepped into the hall, hung up their wraps on the long line of hooks, and went into the big, low-ceilinged living-room. If nobody was there, they usually took a book from one of the shelves lining the room and sat down before the fire to wait. Sometimes they stayed to the next meal and helped wash up the dishes afterwards. Sometimes they had a satisfactory visit with each other, two or three callers happening to meet together before the fire, and went away without having seen any of the Marshalls. Informality could go no further.
The only occurrence in the Marshall life remotely approaching the regularity and formality of a real social event was the weekly meeting of the string quartet which Professor Marshall had founded soon after his arrival in La Chance.
It was on Sunday evening that the quartet met regularly for their seance. Old Reinhardt, the violin teacher, was first violin and leader; Mr. Bauermeister (in everyday life a well-to-do wholesale plumber) was second violin; Professor Marshall played the viola, and old Professor Kennedy bent his fine, melancholy face over the 'cello. Any one who chose might go to the Marshall house on Sunday evenings, on condition that he should not talk during the music, and did not expect any attention.
The music began at seven promptly and ended at ten. A little before that time, Mrs. Marshall, followed by any one who felt like helping, went out into the kitchen and made hot coffee and sandwiches, and when the last chord had stopped vibrating, the company adjourned into the dining-room and partook of this simple fare. During the evening no talk was allowed except the occasional wranglings of the musicians over tempo and shading, but afterwards, every one's tongue, chastened by the long silence, was loosened into loud and cheerful loquacity. Professor Marshall, sitting at the head of the table, talked faster and louder than any one else, throwing the ball to his especial favorite, brilliant young Professor Saunders, who tossed it back with a sureness and felicity of phrase which he had learned nowhere but in this give-and-take. Mrs. Marshall poured the coffee, saw that every one was served with sandwiches, and occasionally when the talk, running over every known topic, grew too noisy, or the discussion too hot, cast in one of the pregnant and occasionally caustic remarks of which she held the secret. They were never brilliant, Mrs. Marshall's remarks—but they were apt to have a dry humor, and almost always when she had said her brief say? there loomed out of the rainbow mist of her husband's flashing, controversial talk the outlines of the true proportions of the case.
After the homely feast was eaten, each guest rose and carried his own cup and saucer and plate into the kitchen in a gay procession, and since it was well known that, for the most part, the Marshalls "did their own work," several of the younger ones helped wash the dishes, while the musicians put away the music-racks and music, and the rest put on their wraps. Then Professor Marshall stood at the door holding up a lamp while the company trooped down the long front walk to the gate in the hedge, and turned along the country road to the cross-roads where the big Interurban cars whizzed by.
All this happened with that unbroken continuity which was the characteristic of the Marshall life, most marking them as different from the other faculty families. Week after week, and month after month, this program was followed with little variation, except for the music which was played, and the slight picturesque uncertainty as to whether old Reinhardt would or would not arrive mildly under the influence of long Sunday imbibings. Not that this factor interfered at all with the music. One of Sylvia's most vivid childhood recollections was the dramatic contrast between old Reinhardt with, and without, his violin. Partly from age, and partly from a too convivial life, the old, heavily veined hands trembled so that he could scarcely unbutton his overcoat, or handle his cup of hot coffee. His head shook too, and his kind, rheumy eyes, in their endeavor to focus themselves, seemed to flicker back and forth in their sockets. The child used to watch him, fascinated, as he fumbled endlessly at the fastenings of his violin-case, and put back the top with uncertain fingers. She was waiting for the thrilling moment when he should tuck the instrument away under his pendulous double chin and draw his bow across the strings in the long sonorous singing chord, which ran up and down Sylvia's back like forked lightning.
This was while all the others were tuning and scraping and tugging at their pegs, a pleasant bustle of discord which became so much a part of Sylvia's brain that she could never in after years hear the strumming and sawing of an orchestra preparing to play, without seeing the big living-room of her father's house, with its low whitewashed ceiling, its bare, dully shining floor, its walls lined with books, its shabby, comfortable furniture, the whole quickened by the Promethean glow from the blaze in the grate and glorified by the chastened passion of the singing strings.
The two Anglo-Saxon, professors were but able amateurs of their instruments. Bauermeister, huge, red, and impassive, was by virtue of his blood, a lifelong training, and a musical ancestry, considerably more than an amateur; and old Reinhardt was the master of them all. His was a history which would have been tragic if it had happened to any but Reinhardt, who cared for nothing but an easy life, beer, and the divine tones which he alone could draw from his violin. He had offered, fifty years ago in Vienna, the most brilliant promise of a most brilliant career, a promise which had come to naught because of his monstrous lack of ambition, and his endless yielding to circumstance, which had finally, by a series of inconceivable migrations, landed him in the German colony of La Chance, impecunious and obscure and invincibly convinced that he had everything worth having in life. "Of vat use?" he would say, even now, when asked to play in public—"de moosic ist all—and dat is eben so goodt here mit friends." Or, "Dere goes a thousand peoples to a goncert—maybe fife from dat thousand lofes de moosic—let dose fife gome to me—and I play dem all day for noding!" or again, more iconoclastically still,—when told of golden harvests to be reaped, "And for vat den? I can't play on more dan von fioleen at a time—is it? I got a good one now. And if I drink more beer dan now, I might make myself seeck!" This with a prodigiously sly wink of one heavy eyelid.
He gave enough music lessons to pay his small expenses, although after one or two stormy passages in which he treated with outrageous and unjustifiable violence the dawdling pupils coming from well-to-do families, he made it a rule to take no pupils whose parents employed a servant, and confined himself to children of the poorer classes, among whom he kept up a small orchestra which played together twice a week and never gave any concerts. And almost since the arrival of the Marshalls in La Chance and his unceremonious entrance into the house as, walking across the fields on a Sunday afternoon, he had heard Professor Marshall playing the Doric Toccata on the newly installed piano, he had spent his every Sunday evening in their big living-room.
He had seen the children appear and grow older, and adored them with Teutonic sentimentality, especially Sylvia, whom he called his "Moonbeam brincess," his "little ellfen fairy," and whom, when she was still tiny, he used to take up on his greasy old knees and, resting his violin on her head, play his wildest fantasies, that she might feel how it "talked to her bones."
In early childhood Sylvia was so used to him that, like the others of her circle, she accepted, indeed hardly noticed, his somewhat startling eccentricities, his dirty linen, his face and hands to match, his shapeless garments hanging loosely over the flabby corpulence of his uncomely old body, his beery breath. To her, old Reinhardt was but the queer external symbol of a never-failing enchantment. Through the pleasant harmonious give-and-take of the other instruments, the voice of his violin vibrated with the throbbing passion of a living thing. His dirty old hand might shake and quaver, but once the neck of the fiddle rested between thumb and forefinger, the seraph who made his odd abiding-place in old Reinhardt's soul sang out in swelling tones and spoke of heavenly things, and of the Paradise where we might live, if we were but willing.
Even when they were quite little children, Sylvia and Judith, and later, Lawrence, were allowed to sit up on Sunday evenings to listen to the music. Judith nearly always slept, steadily; and not infrequently after a long day of outdoor fun, stupefied with fresh air and exercise, Lawrence, and Sylvia too, could not keep their eyes open, and dozed and woke and dozed again, coiled like so many little kittens among the cushions of the big divan. In all the intensely enjoyed personal pleasures of her later youth, and these were many for Sylvia, she was never to know a more utter sweetness than thus to fall asleep, the music a far-off murmur in her ears, and to wake again to the restrained, clarified ecstasy of the four concerted voices.
And yet it was in connection with this very quartet that she had her first shocked vision of how her home-life appeared to other people. She once chanced, when she was about eight years old, to go with her father on a Saturday to his office at the University, where he had forgotten some papers necessary for his seminar. There, sitting on the front steps of the Main Building, waiting for her father, she had encountered the wife of the professor of European History with her beautiful young-lady sister from New York and her two daughters, exquisite little girls in white serge, whose tailored, immaculate perfection made Sylvia's heart heavy with a sense of the plebeian inelegance of her own Saturday-morning play-clothes. Mrs. Hubert, obeying an impulse of curiosity, stopped to speak to the little Marshall girl, about whose queer upbringing there were so many stories current, and was struck with the decorative possibilities of the pretty child, apparent to her practised eye. As she made the kindly intended, vague remarks customarily served out to unknown children, she was thinking: "How can any woman with a vestige of a woman's instinct dress that lovely child in ready-made, commonplace, dark-colored clothes? She would repay any amount of care and "thought." So you take music-lessons too, besides your school?" she asked mechanically. She explained to her sister, a stranger in La Chance: "Music is one of the things I starve for, out here! We never hear it unless we go clear to Chicago—and such prices! Here, there is simply no musical feeling!" She glanced again at Sylvia, who was now answering her questions, fluttered with pleasure at having the beautiful lady speak to her. The beautiful lady had but an inattentive ear for Sylvia's statement that, yes, lately Father had begun to give her lessons on the piano. With the smoothly working imagination coming from a lifetime of devotion to the subject, Mrs. Hubert was stripping off Sylvia's trite little blue coat and uninteresting dark hat, and was arraying her in scarlet serge with a green velvet collar—"with those eyes and that coloring she could carry off striking 'color combinations—and a big white felt hat with a soft pompon of silk on one side—no, a long, stiff, scarlet quill would suit her style better. Then, with white stockings and shoes and gloves—or perhaps pearl-gray would be better. Yes, with low-cut suede shoes, fastening with two big smoked-pearl buttons." She looked down with pitying eyes at Sylvia's sturdy, heavy-soled shoes which could not conceal the slender, shapely feet within them—"but, what on earth was the child saying?—"
"—every Sunday evening—it's beautiful, and now I'm getting so big I can help some. I can turn over the pages for them in hard places, and when old Mr. Reinhardt has had too much to drink and his hands tremble, he lets me unfasten his violin-case and tighten up his bow and—"
Mrs. Hubert cried out, "Your parents don't let you have anything to do with that old, drunken Reinhardt!"
Sylvia was smitten into silence by the other's horrified tone and hung her head miserably, only murmuring, after a pause, in damning extenuation, "He's never so very drunk!"
"Well, upon my word!" exclaimed Mrs. Hubert, in a widely spaced, emphatic phrase of condemnation. To her sister she added, "It's really not exaggeration then, what one hears about their home life." One of her daughters, a child about Sylvia's age, turned a candid, blank little face up to hers, "Mother, what is a drunken reinhardt?" she asked in a thin little pipe.
Mrs. Hubert frowned, shook her head, and said in a tone of dark mystery: "Never mind, darling, don't think about it. It's something that nice little girls shouldn't know anything about. Come, Margery; come, Eleanor." She took their hands and began to draw them away without another look at Sylvia, who remained behind, drooping, ostracised, pierced momentarily with her first blighting misgiving about the order of things she had always known.
BROTHER AND SISTER
A fuller initiation into the kaleidoscopic divergencies of adult standards was given Sylvia during the visits of her Aunt Victoria. These visits were angelic in their extreme rarity, and for Sylvia were always a mixture of the beatific and the distressing. Only to look at Aunt Victoria was a bright revelation of elegance and grace. And yet the talk around table and hearth on the two or three occasions when the beautiful young widow honored their roof with a sojourn was hard on Sylvia's sensitive nerves.
It was not merely that a good deal of what was said was unintelligible. The Marshall children were quite accustomed to incessant conversations between their elders of which they could gather but the vaguest glimmering. They played about, busy in their own absorbing occupations, lending an absent but not wholly unattentive ear to the gabble of their elders, full of odd and ridiculous-sounding words like Single-tax, and contrapuntal development, and root-propagation, and Benthamism, and Byzantine, and nitrogenous fertilizers, and Alexandrine, and chiaroscuro, and surviving archaisms, and diminishing utility—for to keep up such a flood-tide of talk as streamed through the Marshall house required contributions from many diverging rivers. Sylvia was entirely used to this phenomenon and, although it occasionally annoyed her that good attention was wasted on projects so much less vital than those of the children, she bore it no grudge. But on the rare occasions when Aunt Victoria was with them, there was a different and ominous note to the talk which made Sylvia acutely uneasy, although she was quite unable to follow what was said. This uncomfortable note did not at all come from mere difference of opinion, for that too was a familiar element in Sylvia's world. Indeed, it seemed to her that everybody who came to the Marshall house disagreed with everybody else about everything. The young men, students or younger professors, engaged in perpetual discussions, carried on in acrimonious tones which nevertheless seemed not in the least to impair the good feeling between them. When there was nobody else there for Father to disagree with, he disagreed with Mother, occasionally, to his great delight, rousing her from her customary self-contained economy of words to a heat as voluble as his own. Often as the two moved briskly about, preparing a meal together, they shouted out from the dining-room to the kitchen a discussion on some unintelligible topic such as the "anachronism of the competitive system," so loudly voiced and so energetically pursued that when they came to sit down to table, they would be quite red-cheeked and stirred-up, and ate their dinners with as vigorous an appetite as though they had been pursuing each other on foot instead of verbally.
The older habitues of the house were no more peaceable and were equally given to what seemed to childish listeners endless disputes about matters of no importance. Professor La Rue's white mustache and pointed beard quivered with the intensity of his scorn for the modern school of poetry, and Madame La Rue, who might be supposed to be insulated by the vast bulk of her rosy flesh from the currents of passionate conviction flashing through the Marshall house, had fixed ideas on the Franco-Prussian War, on the relative values of American and French bed-making, and the correct method of bringing up girls (she was childless), which needed only to be remotely stirred to burst into showers of fiery sparks. And old Professor Kennedy was nothing less than abusive when started on an altercation about one of the topics vital to him, such as the ignoble idiocy of the leisure-class ideal, or the generally contemptible nature of modern society. No, it was not mere difference of opinion which so charged the air during Aunt Victoria's rare visits with menacing electricity.
As a matter of fact, if she did differ in opinion from her brother and his wife, the children would never have been able to guess it from the invariably restrained tones of her fluent and agreeable speech, so different from the outspoken virulence with which people in that house were accustomed to defend their ideas. But, indefinable though it was to Sylvia's undeveloped powers of analysis, she felt that the advent of her father's beautiful and gracious sister was like a drop of transparent but bitter medicine in a glass of clear water. There was no outward sign of change, but everything was tinctured by it. Especially was her father changed from his usual brilliantly effervescent self. In answer to the most harmless remark of Aunt Victoria, he might reply with a sudden grim sneering note in his voice which made Sylvia look up at him half-afraid. If Aunt Victoria noticed this sardonic accent, she never paid it the tribute of a break in the smooth surface of her own consistent good-will, rebuking her brother's prickly hostility only by the most indulgent tolerance of his queer ways, a tolerance which never had on Professor Marshall's sensibilities the soothing effect which might have seemed its natural result.
The visit which Aunt Victoria paid them when Sylvia was ten years old was more peaceable than the one before it. Perhaps the interval of five years between the two had mellowed the relationship; or more probably the friction was diminished because Aunt Victoria arranged matters so that she was less constantly in the house than usual. On that occasion, in addition to the maid who always accompanied her, she brought her little stepson and his tutor, and with characteristic thoughtfulness refused to impose this considerable train of attendants on a household so primitively organized as that of the Marshalls. They all spent the fortnight of their stay at the main hotel of the town, a large new edifice, the conspicuous costliness of which was one of the most recent sources of civic pride in La Chance. Here in a suite of four much-decorated rooms, which seemed unutterably elegant to Sylvia, the travelers slept, and ate most of their meals, making their trips out to the Marshall house in a small, neat, open carriage, which, although engaged at a livery-stable by Mrs. Marshall-Smith for the period of her stay, was not to be distinguished from a privately owned equipage.
It can be imagined what an event in the pre-eminently stationary life of the Marshall children was this fortnight. To Judith and Lawrence, eight and four respectively, Aunt Victoria's charms and amenities were non-existent. She was for Judith as negligible as all other grown-ups, save the few who had good sense enough to play games and go in swimming. Judith's interest centered in the new boy, whom the Marshalls now saw for the first time, and who was in every way a specimen novel in their limited experience of children. During their first encounter, the well-groomed, white-linen-clad boy with his preternaturally clean face, his light-brown hair brushed till it shone like lacquer, his polished nails and his adult appendage of a tutor, aroused a contempt in Judith's mind which was only equaled by her astonishment. On that occasion he sat upright in a chair between his stepmother and his tutor, looking intently out of very bright blue eyes at the two gipsy-brown little girls in their single-garment linen play-clothes, swinging their tanned bare legs and feet from the railing of the porch. They returned this inspection in silence—on Sylvia's part with the keen and welcoming interest she always felt in new people who were well-dressed and physically attractive, but as for Judith with a frankly hostile curiosity, as at some strange and quite unattractive new animal.
The next morning, a still, oppressive day of brazen heat, it was suggested that the children take their guest off to visit some of their own favorite haunts to "get acquainted." This process began somewhat violently by the instant halt of Arnold as soon as they were out of sight of the house. "I'm going to take off these damn socks and shoes," he announced, sitting down in the edge of a flower-bed.
"Oh, don't! You'll get your clean suit all dirty!" cried Sylvia, springing forward to lift him out of the well-tilled black loam. Arnold thrust her hand away and made a visible effort to increase his specific gravity. "I hope to the Lord I do get it dirty!" he said bitterly.
"Isn't it your best?" asked Sylvia, aghast. "Have you another?" "I haven't anything but!" said the boy savagely. "There's a whole trunk full of them!" He was fumbling with a rough clumsiness at the lacing of his shoes, but made no progress in loosening them, and now began kicking at the grass. "I don't know how to get them off!" he cried, his voice breaking nervously. Judith was down on her knees, inspecting with a competent curiosity the fastenings, which were of a new variety.
"It's easy!" she said. "You just lift this little catch up and turn it back, and that lets you get at the knot." As she spoke, she acted, her rough brown little fingers tugging at the silken laces. "How'd you ever get it fastened," she inquired, "if you don't know how to unfasten it?"
"Oh, Pauline puts my shoes on for me," explained Arnold. "She dresses and undresses me."
Judith stopped and looked up at him. "Who's Pauline?" she asked, disapproving astonishment in her accent.
Judith pursued him further with her little black look of scorn. "Who's Madrina?"
"Why—you know—your Aunt Victoria—my stepmother—she married my father when I was a little baby—she doesn't want me to call her 'mother' so I call her Madrina.' That's Italian for—"
Judith had no interest in this phenomenon and no opinion about it. She recalled the conversation to the point at issue with her usual ruthless directness. "And you wouldn't know how to undress yourself if somebody didn't help you!" She went on loosening the laces in a contemptuous silence, during which the boy glowered resentfully at the back of her shining black hair. Sylvia essayed a soothing remark about what pretty shoes he had, but with small success. Already the excursion was beginning to take on the color of its ending,—an encounter between the personalities of Judith and Arnold, with Sylvia and Lawrence left out. When the shoes finally came off, they revealed white silk half-hose, which, discarded in their turn, showed a pair of startlingly pale feet, on which the new boy now essayed wincingly to walk. "Ouch! Ouch! OUCH!" he cried, holding up first one and then the other from contact with the hot sharp-edged pebbles of the path, "How do you do it?"
"Oh, it always hurts when you begin in the spring," said Judith carelessly. "You have to get used to it. How old are you?"
"Ten, last May."
"Buddy here began going barefoot last summer and he's only four," she stated briefly, proceeding towards the barn and chicken-house.
After that remark the new boy walked forward with no more articulate complaints, though his face was drawn and he bit his lips. He was shown the chicken-yard—full of gawky, half-grown chickens shedding their down and growing their feathers—and forgot his feet in the fascination of scattering grain to them and watching their fluttering scrambles. He was shown the rabbit-house and allowed to take one of the limp, unresponsive little bunches of fur in his arms, and feed a lettuce-leaf into its twitching pink mouth. He was shown the house-in-the-maple-tree, a rough floor fixed between two large branches, with a canvas roof over it, ensconced in which retreat his eyes shone with happy excitement. He was evidently about to make some comment on it, but glanced at Judith's dark handsome little face, unsmiling and suspicious, and remained silent. He tried the same policy when being shown the children's own garden, but Judith tracked him out of this attempt at self-protection with some direct and searching questions, discovering in him such ignorance of the broadest division-lines of the vegetable kingdom that she gave herself up to open scorn, vainly frowned down by the more naturally civilized Sylvia, who was by no means enjoying herself. The new boy was not in the least what he had looked. She longed to return to the contemplation of Aunt Victoria's perfections. Lawrence was, as usual, deep in an unreal world of his own, where he carried forth some enterprise which had nothing to do with any one about him. He was frowning and waving his arms, and making stabbing gestures with his fingers, and paid no attention to the conversation between Judith and the new boy.
"What can you do? What do you know?" asked the former at last.
"I can ride horseback," said Arnold defiantly.
Judith put him to the test at once, leading the way to the stall which was the abode of the little pinto broncho, left them, she explained, as a trust by one of Father's students from the Far West, who was now graduated and a civil engineer in Chicago, where it cost too much to keep a horse. Arnold emerged from this encounter with the pony with but little more credit than he had earned in the garden, showing an ineptness about equine ways which led Judith through an unsparing cross-examination to the information that the boy's experience of handling a horse consisted in being ready in a riding-costume at a certain hour every afternoon, and mounting a well-broken little pony, all saddled and bridled, which was "brought round" to the porte-cochere.
"What's a porte-cochere?" she asked, with her inimitable air of despising it, whatever it might turn out to be.
Arnold stared with an attempt to copy her own frank scorn for another's ignorance. "Huh! Don't you even know that much? It's the big porch without any floor to it, where carriages drive up so you can get in and out without getting wet if it rains. Every house that's good for anything has one."
So far from being impressed or put down, Judith took her stand as usual on the offensive. "'Fore I'd be afraid of a little rain!" she said severely, an answer which caused Arnold to seem disconcerted, and again to look at her hard with the startled expression of arrested attention which from the first her remarks and strictures seemed to cause in him.
They took the pinto out. Judith rode him bareback at a gallop down to the swimming pool and dived from his back into the yellow water shimmering hotly in the sun. This feat stung Arnold into a final fury. Without an instant's pause he sprang in after her. As he came to the top, swimming strongly with a lusty, regular stroke, and rapidly overhauled the puffing Judith, his face shone brilliantly with relief. He was another child. The petulant boy of a few moments before had vanished. "Beat you to the springboard!" he sputtered joyously, swimming low and spitting water as he slid easily through it at twice Judith's speed. She set her teeth and drove her tough little body with a fierce concentration of all her forces, but Arnold was sitting on the springboard, dangling his red and swollen feet when she arrived.
She clambered out and sat down beside him, silent for an instant. Then she said with a detached air, "You can swim better than any boy I ever saw."
Arnold's open, blond face flushed scarlet at this statement. He looked at the dripping little brown rat beside him, and returned impulsively, "I'd rather play with you than any girl I ever saw."
They were immediately reduced to an awkward silence by these two unpremeditated superlatives. Judith found nothing to say beyond a "huh" in an uncertain accent, and they turned with relief to alarums and excursions from the forgotten and abandoned Sylvia and Lawrence. Sylvia was forcibly restraining her little brother from following Judith into the water. "You mustn't, Buddy! You know we aren't allowed to go in till an hour after eating and you only had your breakfast a little while ago!" She led him away bellowing.
Arnold, surprised, asked Judith, "'Cept for that, are you allowed to go in whenever you want?"
"Sure! We're not to stay in more than ten minutes at a time, and then get out and run around for half an hour in the sun. There's a clock under a little roof-thing, nailed up to a tree over there, so's we can tell."
"And don't you get what-for, if you go in with all your clothes on this way?"
"I haven't any clothes on but my rompers," said Judith. "They're just the same as a bathing suit." She snatched back her prerogative of asking questions. "Where did you learn to swim so?"
"At the seashore! I get taken there a month every summer. It's the most fun of any of the places I get taken. I've had lessons there from the professor of swimming ever since I was six. Madrina doesn't know what to do with me but have me take lessons. I like the swimming ones the best. I hate dancing—and going to museums."
"What else can you do?" asked Judith with a noticeable abatement of her previous disesteem.
Arnold hesitated, his own self-confidence as evidently dashed. "Well—I can fence a little—and talk French; we are in Paris winters, you know. We don't stay in Lydford for the winter. Nobody does."
"Everybody goes away?" queried Judith. "What a funny town!"
"Oh, except the people who live there—the Vermonters."
Judith was more and more at a loss. "Don't you live there?"
"No, we don't live anywhere. We just stay places for a while. Nobody that we know lives anywhere." He interrupted a further question from the astonished Judith to ask, "How'd you happen to have such a dandy swimming-pool out of such a little brook?"
Judith, switched off upon a topic of recent and absorbing interest, was diverted from investigation into the odd ways of people who lived nowhere. "Isn't it great!" she said ardently. "It's new this summer—that's why I don't swim so very well yet. Why, it was this way. The creek ran through a corner of our land, and a lot of Father's students that are engineers or something, wanted to do something for Father when they graduated—lots of students do, you know—and everybody said the creek didn't have water enough and they bet each other it did, and after Commencement we had a kind of camp for a week—tents and things all round here—and Mother cooked for them—camp fires—oh, lots of fun!—and they let us children tag around as much as we pleased—and they and Father dug, and fixed concrete—say, did you ever get let to stir up concrete? It's great!"
Seeing in the boy's face a blankness as great as her own during his chance revelations of life on another planet, she exclaimed, "Here, come on, down to the other end, and I'll show you how they made the dam and all—they began over there with—" The two pattered along the edge hand-in-hand, talking incessantly on a common topic at last, interrupting each other, squatting down, peering into the water, pointing, discussing, arguing, squeezing the deliciously soft mud up and down between their toes, their heads close together—they might for the moment have been brother and sister who had grown up together.
They were interrupted by voices, and turning flushed and candid faces of animation towards the path, beheld Aunt Victoria, wonderful and queen-like in a white dress, a parasol, like a great rose, over her stately blond head, attended by Sylvia adoring; Mrs. Marshall quiet and observant; Mr. Rollins, the tutor, thin, agitated, and unhappily responsible; and Professor Marshall smiling delightedly at the children.
"Why, Arnold Smith!" cried his tutor, too much overcome by the situation to express himself more forcibly than by a repetition of the boy's name. "Why, Arnold! Come here!"
The cloud descended upon the boy's face. "I will not!" he said insolently.
"But we were just looking for you to start back to the hotel," argued Mr. Rollins.
"I don't care if you were!" said the boy in a sullen accent.
Sylvia and Judith looked on in amazement at this scene of insubordination, as new to them as all the rest of the boy's actions. He was standing still now, submitting in a gloomy silence to the various comments on his appearance, which was incredibly different from that with which he had started on his travels. The starch remaining in a few places in his suit, now partly dried in the hot sun, caused the linen to stand out grotesquely in peaks and mud-streaked humps, his hair, still wet, hung in wisps about his very dirty face, his bare, red feet and legs protruded from shapeless knickerbockers. His stepmother looked at him with her usual good-natured amused gaze. "It is customary, before going in swimming, isn't it, Arnold, to take your watch out of your pocket and put your cuff-links in a safe-place?" she suggested casually.
"Good Heavens! His watch!" cried Mr. Rollins, clutching at his own sandy hair.
Professor Marshall clapped the boy encouragingly on the shoulder. "Well, sir, you look more like a human being," he said heartily, addressing himself, with defiance in his tone, to his sister.
She replied with a smile, "That rather depends, doesn't it, Elliott, upon one's idea of what constitutes a human being?"
Something in her sweet voice roused Judith to an ugly wrath. She came forward and took her place protectingly beside her new playmate, scowling at her aunt. "We were having a lovely time!" she said challengingly.
Mrs. Marshall-Smith looked down at the grotesque little figure and touched the brown cheek indulgently with her forefinger. "That too rather depends upon one's definition of a lovely time," she replied, turning away, leaving with the indifference of long practice the unfortunate Mr. Rollins to the task of converting Arnold into a product possible to transport through the streets of a civilized town.
Before they went away that day, Arnold managed to seek Judith out alone, and with shamefaced clumsiness to slip his knife, quite new and three-bladed, into her hand. She looked at it uncomprehendingly. "For you—to keep," he said, flushing again, and looking hard into her dark eyes, which in return lightened suddenly from their usual rather somber seriousness into a smile, a real smile. Judith's smiles were far from frequent, but the recipient of one did not forget it.
EVERY ONE'S OPINION OF EVERY ONE ELSE
In this way, almost from the first, several distinct lines of cleavage were established in the family party during the next fortnight. Arnold imperiously demanded a complete vacation from "lessons," and when, it was indolently granted, he spent it incessantly with Judith, the two being always out of doors and usually joyously concocting what in any but the easy-going, rustic plainness of the Marshall mode of life would have been called mischief. Mrs. Marshall, aided by the others in turn, toiled vigorously between the long rows of vegetables and a little open shack near by, where, on a superannuated but still serviceable cook-stove, she "put up," for winter use, an endless supply of the golden abundance which, Ceres-like, she poured out every year from the Horn of Plenty of her garden. Sylvia, in a state of hypnotized enchantment, dogged her Aunt Victoria's graceful footsteps and still more graceful, leisurely halts; Lawrence bustled about on his own mysterious business in a solitary and apparently exciting world of his own which was anywhere but in La Chance; and Professor Marshall, in the intervals of committee work at the University, now about to open, alternated between helping his wife, playing a great deal of very noisy and very brilliant music on the piano, and conversing in an unpleasant voice with his sister.
Mr. Rollins, for whom, naturally, Arnold's revolt meant unwonted freedom, was for the most part invisible, "seeing the sights of La Chance, I suppose," conjectured Aunt Victoria indifferently, in her deliciously modulated voice, when asked what had become of the sandy-haired tutor. And because, in the intense retirement and rustication of this period, Mrs. Marshall-Smith needed little attention paid to her toilets, Pauline also was apparently enjoying an unusual vacation. A short time after making the conjecture about her stepson's tutor, Aunt Victoria had added the suggestion, level-browed, and serene as always, "Perhaps he and Pauline are seeing the sights together."
Sylvia, curled on a little stool at her aunt's feet, turned an artless, inquiring face up to her. "What are the 'sights' of La Chance, Auntie?" she asked.
Her father, who was sitting at the piano, his long fingers raised as though about to play, whirled about and cut in quickly with an unintelligible answer, "Your Aunt Victoria refers to non-existent phenomena, my dear, in order to bring home to us the uncouth provinciality in which we live."
Aunt Victoria, leaning back, exquisitely passive, in one of the big, shabby arm-chairs, raised a protesting hand. "My dear Elliott, you don't do your chosen abiding-place justice. There is the new Court-House. Nobody can deny that that is a sight. I spent a long time the other day contemplating it. That and the Masonic Building are a pair of sights. I conceive Rollins, who professes to be interested in architecture, as constantly vibrating between the two."
To which handsome tribute to La Chance's high-lights, Professor Marshall returned with bitterness, "Good Lord, Vic, why do you come, then?"
She answered pleasantly, "I might ask in my turn why you stay." She went on, "I might also remind you that you and your children are the only human ties I have." She slipped a soft arm about Sylvia as she spoke, and turned the vivid, flower-like little face to be kissed. When Aunt Victoria kissed her, Sylvia always felt that she had, like Diana in the story-book, stooped radiant from a shining cloud.
There was a pause in the conversation. Professor Marshall faced the piano again and precipitated himself headlong into the diabolic accelerandos of "The Hall of the Mountain-King." His sister listened with extreme and admiring appreciation of his talent. "Upon my word, Elliott," she said heartily, "under the circumstances it's incredible, but it's true—your touch positively improves."
He stopped short, and addressed the air above the piano with passionate conviction. "I stay because, thanks to my wife, I've savored here fourteen years of more complete reconciliation with life—I've been vouchsafed more usefulness—I've discovered more substantial reasons for existing than I ever dreamed possible in the old life—than any one in that world can conceive!"
Aunt Victoria looked down at her beautiful hands clasped in her lap. "Yes, quite so," she breathed. "Any one who knows you well must agree that whatever you are, or do, or find, nowadays, is certainly 'thanks to your wife.'"
Her brother flashed a furious look at her, and was about to speak, but catching sight of Sylvia's troubled little face turned to him anxiously, gave only an impatient shake to his ruddy head—now graying slightly. A little later he said: "Oh, we don't speak the same language any more, Victoria. I couldn't make you understand—you don't know—how should you? You can't conceive how, when one is really living, nothing of all that matters. What does architecture matter, for instance?"
"Some of it matters very little indeed," concurred his sister blandly.
This stirred him to an ungracious laugh. "As for keeping up only human ties, isn't a fortnight once every five years rather slim rations?"
"Ah, there are difficulties—the Masonic Building—" murmured Aunt Victoria, apparently at random. But then, it seemed to Sylvia that they were always speaking at random. For all she could see, neither of them ever answered what the other had said.
The best times were when she and Aunt Victoria were all alone together—or with only the silent, swift-fingered, Pauline in attendance during the wonderful processes of dressing or undressing her mistress. These occasions seemed to please Aunt Victoria best also. She showed herself then so winning and gracious and altogether magical to the little girl that Sylvia forgot the uncomfortableness which always happened when her aunt and her father were together. As they came to be on more intimate terms, Sylvia was told a great many details about Aunt Victoria's present and past life, in the form of stories, especially about that early part of it which had been spent with her brother. Mrs. Marshall-Smith took pains to talk to Sylvia about her father as he had been when he was a brilliant dashing youth in Paris at school, or as the acknowledged social leader of his class in the famous Eastern college. "You see, Sylvia," she explained, "having no father or mother or any near relatives, we saw more of each other than a good many brothers and sisters do. We had nobody else—except old Cousin Ellen, who kept house for us in the summers in Lydford and traveled around with us," Lydford was another topic on which, although it was already very familiar to her from her mother's reminiscences of her childhood in Vermont, Aunt Victoria shed much light for Sylvia. Aunt Victoria's Lydford was so different from Mother's, it seemed scarcely possible they could be the same place. Mother's talk was all about the mountains, the sunny upland pastures, rocky and steep, such a contrast to the rich, level stretches of country about La Chance; about the excursions through these slopes of the mountains every afternoon, accompanied by a marvelously intelligent collie dog, who helped find the cows; about the orchard full of old trees more climbable than any others which have grown since the world began; about the attic full of drying popcorn and old hair-trunks and dusty files of the New York Tribune; about the pantry with its cookie-jar, and the "back room" with its churn and cheese-press.
Nothing of all this existed in the Lydford of which Aunt Victoria spoke, although some of her recollections were also of childhood hours. Once Sylvia asked her, "But if you were a little girl there, and Mother was too,—then you and Father and she must have played together sometimes?"
Aunt Victoria had replied with decision, "No, I never saw your mother, and neither did your father—until a few months before they were married."
"Well, wasn't that queer?" exclaimed Sylvia—"she always lived in Lydford except when she went away to college."
Aunt Victoria seemed to hesitate for words, something unusual with her, and finally brought out, "Your mother lived on a farm, and we lived in our summer house in the village." She added after a moment's deliberation: "Her uncle, who kept the farm, furnished us with our butter. Sometimes your mother used to deliver it at the kitchen door." She looked hard at Sylvia as she spoke.
"Well, I should have thought you'd have seen her there!" said Sylvia in surprise. Nothing came to the Marshalls' kitchen door which was not in the children's field of consciousness.
"It was, in fact, there that your father met her," stated Aunt Victoria briefly.
"Oh yes, I remember," said Sylvia, quoting fluently from an often heard tale. "I've heard them tell about it lots of times. She was earning money to pay for her last year in college, and dropped a history book out of her basket as she started to get back in the wagon, and Father picked it up and said, 'Why, good Lord! who in Lydford reads Gibbon?' And Mother said it was hers, and they talked a while, and then he got in and rode off with her."
"Yes," said Aunt Victoria, "that was how it happened.... Pauline, get out the massage cream and do my face, will you?"
She did not talk any more for a time, but when she began, it was again of Lydford that she spoke, running along in a murmured stream of reminiscences breathed faintly between motionless lips that Pauline's reverent ministrations might not be disturbed. Through the veil of these half-understood recollections, Sylvia saw highly inaccurate pictures of great magnificent rooms filled with heavy old mahogany furniture, of riotously colored rose-gardens, terraced and box-edged, inhabited by beautiful ladies always, like Aunt Victoria, "dressed-up," who took tea under brightly striped, pagoda-shaped tents, waited upon by slant-eyed Japanese (it seemed Aunt Victoria had nothing but Japanese servants). The whole picture shimmered in the confused imagination of the listening little girl, till it blended indistinguishably with the enchantment of her fairy-stories. It all seemed a background natural enough for Aunt Victoria, but Sylvia could not fit her father into it.
"Ah, he's changed greatly—he's transformed—he is not the same creature," Aunt Victoria told her gravely, speaking according to her seductive habit with Sylvia, as though to an equal. "The year when we lost our money and he married, altered all the world for us." She linked the two events together, and was rewarded by seeing the reference slide over Sylvia's head.
"Did you lose your money, too?" asked Sylvia, astounded. It had never occurred to her that Aunt Victoria might have been affected by that event in her father's life, with which she was quite familiar through his careless references to what he seemed to regard as an interesting but negligible incident.
"All but the slightest portion of it, my dear—when I was twenty years old. Your father was twenty-five."
Sylvia looked about her at the cut-glass and silver utensils on the lace-covered dressing-table, at Aunt Victoria's pale lilac crepe-de-chine negligee, at the neat, pretty young maid deft-handedly rubbing the perfumed cream into the other woman's well-preserved face, impassive as an idol's. "Why—why, I thought—" she began and stopped, a native delicacy making her hesitate as Judith never did.
Aunt Victoria understood. "Mr. Smith had money," she explained briefly. "I married when I was twenty-one."
"Oh," said Sylvia. It seemed an easy way out of difficulties. She had never before chanced to hear Aunt Victoria mention her long-dead husband.
SOMETHING ABOUT HUSBANDS
She did not by any means always sit in the hotel and watch Pauline care for different portions of Aunt Victoria's body. Mrs. Marshall-Smith took, on principle, a drive every day, and Sylvia was her favorite companion. At first they went generally over the asphalt and in front of the costly and incredibly differing "mansions" of the "residential portion" of town, but later their drives took them principally along the winding roads and under the thrifty young trees of the State University campus. They often made an excuse of fetching Professor Marshall home from a committee meeting, and as the faculty committees at that time of year were, for the most part, feverishly occupied with the classification of the annual flood-tide of Freshmen, he was nearly always late, and they were obliged to wait long half-hours in front of the Main Building.
Sylvia's cup of satisfaction ran over as, dressed in her simple best, which her mother without comment allowed her to put on every day now, she sat in the well-appointed carriage beside her beautiful aunt, at whom every one looked so hard and so admiringly. The University work had not begun, but unresigned and harassed professors and assistants, recalled from their vacations for various executive tasks, were present in sufficient numbers to animate the front steps of the Main Building with constantly gathering and dissolving little groups. These called out greetings to each other, and exchanged dolorous mutual condolences on their hard fate; all showing, with a helpless masculine naivete, their consciousness of the lovely, observant figure in the carriage below them. Of a different sort were the professors' wives, who occasionally drifted past on the path. Aunt Victoria might have been a blue-uniformed messenger-boy for all that was betrayed by their skilfully casual glance at her and then away, and the subsequent directness of their forward gaze across the campus. Mrs. Marshall-Smith had for both these manifestations of consciousness of her presence the same imperturbable smile of amusement. "They are delightful, these colleagues of your father's!" she told Sylvia. Sylvia had hoped fervently that the stylish Mrs. Hubert might see her in this brief apotheosis, and one day her prayer was answered. Straight down the steps of the Main Building they came, Mrs. Hubert glistening in shiny blue silk, extremely unaware of Aunt Victoria, the two little girls looking to Sylvia like fairy princesses, with pink-and-white, lace-trimmed dresses, and big pink hats with rose wreaths. Even the silk laces in their low, white kid shoes were of pink to match the ribbons, which gleamed at waist and throat and elbow. Sylvia watched them in an utter admiration, and was beyond measure shocked when Aunt Victoria said, after they had stepped daintily past, "Heavens! What a horridly over-dressed family! Those poor children look too absurd, tricked out like that. The one nearest me had a sweet, appealing little face, too."