THE LADY OF THE AROOSTOOK
BY W. D. HOWELLS
THE LADY OF THE AROOSTOOK
In the best room of a farm-house on the skirts of a village in the hills of Northern Massachusetts, there sat one morning in August three people who were not strangers to the house, but who had apparently assembled in the parlor as the place most in accord with an unaccustomed finery in their dress. One was an elderly woman with a plain, honest face, as kindly in expression as she could be perfectly sure she felt, and no more; she rocked herself softly in the haircloth arm-chair, and addressed as father the old man who sat at one end of the table between the windows, and drubbed noiselessly upon it with his stubbed fingers, while his lips, puckered to a whistle, emitted no sound. His face had that distinctly fresh-shaven effect which once a week is the advantage of shaving no oftener: here and there, in the deeper wrinkles, a frosty stubble had escaped the razor. He wore an old-fashioned, low black satin stock, over the top of which the linen of his unstarched collar contrived with difficulty to make itself seen; his high-crowned, lead-colored straw hat lay on the table before him. At the other end of the table sat a young girl, who leaned upon it with one arm, propping her averted face on her hand. The window was open beside her, and she was staring out upon the door-yard, where the hens were burrowing for coolness in the soft earth under the lilac bushes; from time to time she put her handkerchief to her eyes.
"I don't like this part of it, father," said the elderly woman, —"Lyddy's seeming to feel about it the way she does right at the last moment, as you may say." The old man made a noise in his throat as if he might speak; but he only unpuckered his mouth, and stayed his fingers, while the other continued: "I don't want her to go now, no more than ever I did. I ain't one to think that eatin' up everything on your plate keeps it from wastin', and I never was; and I say that even if you couldn't get the money back, it would cost no more to have her stay than to have her go."
"I don't suppose," said the old man, in a high, husky treble, "but what I could get some of it back from the captain; may be all. He didn't seem any ways graspin'. I don't want Lyddy should feel, any more than you do, Maria, that we're glad to have her go. But what I look at is this: as long as she has this idea—Well, it's like this —I d'know as I can express it, either." He relapsed into the comfort people find in giving up a difficult thing.
"Oh, I know!" returned the woman. "I understand it's an opportunity; you might call it a leadin', almost, that it would be flyin' in the face of Providence to refuse. I presume her gifts were given her for improvement, and it would be the same as buryin' them in the ground for her to stay up here. But I do say that I want Lyddy should feel just so about goin', or not go at all. It ain't like goin' among strangers, though, if it is in a strange land. They're her father's own kin, and if they're any ways like him they're warm-hearted enough, if that's all you want. I guess they'll do what's right by Lyddy when she gets there. And I try to look at it this way: that long before that maple by the gate is red she'll be with her father's own sister; and I for one don't mean to let it worry me." She made search for her handkerchief, and wiped away the tears that fell down her cheeks.
"Yes," returned the old man; "and before the leaves are on the ground we shall more'n have got our first letter from her. I declare for't," he added, after a tremulous pause, "I was goin' to say how Lyddy would enjoy readin' it to us! I don't seem to get it rightly into my head that she's goin' away."
"It ain't as if Lyddy was leavin' any life behind her that's over and above pleasant," resumed the woman. "She's a good girl, and I never want to see a more uncomplainin'; but I know it's duller and duller here all the while for her, with us two old folks, and no young company; and I d'know as it's been any better the two winters she's taught in the Mill Village. That's what reconciles me, on Lyddy's account, as much as anything. I ain't one to set much store on worldly ambition, and I never was; and I d'know as I care for Lyddy's advancement, as you may call it. I believe that as far forth as true happiness goes she'd be as well off here as there. But I don't say but what she would be more satisfied in the end, and as long as you can't have happiness, in this world, I say you'd better have satisfaction. Is that Josiah Whitman's hearse goin' past?" she asked, rising from her chair, and craning forward to bring her eyes on a level with the window, while she suspended the agitation of the palm-leaf fan which she had not ceased to ply during her talk; she remained a moment with the quiescent fan pressed against her bosom, and then she stepped out of the door, and down the walk to the gate. "Josiah!" she called, while the old man looked and listened at the window. "Who you be'n buryin'?"
The man halted his hearse, and answered briefly, "Mirandy Holcomb."
"Why, I thought the funeral wa'n't to be till tomorrow! Well, I declare," said the woman, as she reentered the room and sat down again in her rocking-chair, "I didn't ask him whether it was Mr. Goodlow or Mr. Baldwin preached the sermon. I was so put out hearin' it was Mirandy, you might say I forgot to ask him anything. Mirandy was always a well woman till they moved down to the Mill Village and began takin' the hands to board,—so many of 'em. When I think of Lyddy's teachin' there another winter,—well, I could almost rejoice that she was goin' away. She ain't a mite too strong as it is."
Here the woman paused, and the old man struck in with his quaint treble while she fanned herself in silence: "I do suppose the voyage is goin' to be everything for her health. She'll be from a month to six weeks gettin' to Try-East, and that'll be a complete change of air, Mr. Goodlow says. And she won't have a care on her mind the whole way out. It'll be a season of rest and quiet. I did wish, just for the joke of the thing, as you may say, that the ship had be'n goin' straight to Venus, and Lyddy could 'a' walked right in on 'em at breakfast, some morning. I should liked it to be'n a surprise. But there wa'n't any ship at Boston loadin' for Venus, and they didn't much believe I'd find one at New York. So I just took up with the captain of the Aroostook's offer. He says she can telegraph to her folks at Venus as soon as she gets to Try-East, and she's welcome to stay on the ship till they come for her. I didn't think of their havin' our mod'n improvements out there; but he says they have telegraphs and railroads everywheres, the same as we do; and they're real kind and polite when you get used to 'em. The captain, he's as nice a man as I ever see. His wife's be'n two or three voyages with him in the Aroostook, and he'll know just how to have Lyddy's comfort looked after. He showed me the state-room she's goin' to have. Well, it ain't over and above large, but it's pretty as a pink: all clean white paint, with a solid mahogany edge to the berth, and a mahogany-framed lookin'-glass on one side, and little winders at the top, and white lace curtains to the bed. He says he had it fixed up for his wife, and he lets Lyddy have it all for her own. She can set there and do her mendin' when she don't feel like comin' into the cabin. The cabin—well, I wish you could see that cabin, Maria! The first mate is a fine-appearing man, too. Some of the sailors looked pretty rough; but I guess it was as much their clothes as anything; and I d'know as Lyddy'd have a great deal to do with them, any way." The old man's treble ceased, and at the same moment the shrilling of a locust in one of the door-yard maples died away; both voices, arid, nasal, and high, lapsed as one into a common silence.
The woman stirred impatiently in her chair, as if both voices had been repeating something heard many times before. They seemed to renew her discontent. "Yes, I know; I know all that, father. But it ain't the mahogany I think of. It's the child's gettin' there safe and well."
"Well," said the old man, "I asked the captain about the seasickness, and he says she ain't nigh so likely to be sick as she would on the steamer; the motion's more regular, and she won't have the smell of the machinery. That's what he said. And he said the seasickness would do her good, any way. I'm sure I don't want her to be sick any more than you do, Maria." He added this like one who has been unjustly put upon his defense.
They now both remained silent, the woman rocking herself and fanning, and the old man holding his fingers suspended from their drubbing upon the table, and looking miserably from the woman in the rocking-chair to the girl at the window, as if a strict inquiry into the present situation might convict him of it in spite of his innocence. The girl still sat with her face turned from them, and still from time to time she put her handkerchief to her eyes and wiped away the tears. The locust in the maple began again, and shrilled inexorably. Suddenly the girl leaped to her feet.
"There's the stage!" she cried, with a tumult in her voice and manner, and a kind of choking sob. She showed, now that she stood upright, the slim and elegant shape which is the divine right of American girlhood, clothed with the stylishness that instinctive taste may evoke, even in a hill town, from study of paper patterns, Harper's Bazar, and the costume of summer boarders. Her dress was carried with spirit and effect.
"Lydia Blood!" cried the other woman, springing responsively to her feet, also, and starting toward the girl, "don't you go a step without you feel just like it! Take off your things this minute and stay, if you wouldn't jus' as lives go. It's hard enough to have you go, child, without seemin' to force you!"
"Oh, aunt Maria," answered the girl, piteously, "it almost kills me to go; but I'm doing it, not you. I know how you'd like to have me stay. But don't say it again, or I couldn't bear up; and I'm going now, if I have to be carried."
The old man had risen with the others; he was shorter than either, and as he looked at them he seemed half awed, half bewildered, by so much drama. Yet it was comparatively very little. The girl did not offer to cast herself upon her aunt's neck, and her aunt did not offer her an embrace, it was only their hearts that clung together as they simply shook hands and kissed each other. Lydia whirled away for her last look at herself in the glass over the table, and her aunt tremulously began to put to rights some slight disorder in the girl's hat.
"Father," she said sharply, "are Lyddy's things all ready there by the door, so's not to keep Ezra Perkins waitin'? You know he always grumbles so. And then he gets you to the cars so't you have to wait half an hour before they start." She continued to pin and pull at details of Lydia's dress, to which she descended from her hat. "It sets real nice on you, Lyddy. I guess you'll think of the time we had gettin' it made up, when you wear it out there." Miss Maria Latham laughed nervously.
With a harsh banging and rattling, a yellow Concord coach drew up at the gate where Miss Maria had stopped the hearse. The driver got down, and without a word put Lydia's boxes and bags into the boot, and left two or three light parcels for her to take into the coach with her.
Miss Maria went down to the gate with her father and niece. "Take the back seat, father!" she said, as the old man offered to take the middle place. "Let them that come later have what's left. You'll be home to-night, father; I'll set up for you. Good-by again, Lyddy." She did not kiss the girl again, or touch her hand. Their decent and sparing adieux had been made in the house. As Miss Maria returned to the door, the hens, cowering conscience-stricken under the lilacs, sprang up at sight of her with a screech of guilty alarm, and flew out over the fence.
"Well, I vow," soliloquized Miss Maria, "from where she set Lyddy must have seen them pests under the lilacs the whole time, and never said a word." She pushed the loosened soil into place with the side of her ample slipper, and then went into the house, where she kindled a fire in the kitchen stove, and made herself a cup of Japan tea: a variety of the herb which our country people prefer, apparently because it affords the same stimulus with none of the pleasure given by the Chinese leaf.
Lydia and her grandfather reached Boston at four o'clock, and the old man made a bargain, as he fancied, with an expressman to carry her baggage across the city to the wharf at which the Aroostook lay. The expressman civilly offered to take their small parcels without charge, and deliver them with the trunk and large bag; but as he could not check them all her grandfather judged it safest not to part with them, and he and Lydia crowded into the horse-car with their arms and hands full. The conductor obliged him to give up the largest of these burdens, and hung the old-fashioned oil-cloth sack on the handle of the brake behind, where Mr. Latham with keen anxiety, and Lydia with shame, watched it as it swayed back and forth with the motion of the car and threatened to break loose from its hand-straps and dash its bloated bulk to the ground. The old man called out to the conductor to be sure and stop in Scollay's Square, and the people, who had already stared uncomfortably at Lydia's bundles, all smiled. Her grandfather was going to repeat his direction as the conductor made no sign of having heard it, when his neighbor said kindly, "The car always stops in Scollay's Square."
"Then why couldn't he say so?" retorted the old man, in his high nasal key; and now the people laughed outright. He had the nervous restlessness of age when out of its wonted place: he could not remain quiet in the car, for counting and securing his parcels; when they reached Scollay's Square, and were to change cars, he ran to the car they were to take, though there was abundant time, and sat down breathless from his effort. He was eager then that they should not be carried too far, and was constantly turning to look out of the window to ascertain their whereabouts. His vigilance ended in their getting aboard the East Boston ferry-boat in the car, and hardly getting ashore before the boat started. They now gathered up their burdens once more, and walked toward the wharf they were seeking, past those squalid streets which open upon the docks. At the corners they entangled themselves in knots of truck-teams and hucksters' wagons and horse-cars; once they brought the traffic of the neighborhood to a stand-still by the thoroughness of their inability and confusion. They wandered down the wrong wharf amidst the slime cast up by the fishing craft moored in the dock below, and made their way over heaps of chains and cordage, and through the hand-carts pushed hither and thither with their loads of fish, and so struggled back to the avenue which ran along the top of all the wharves. The water of the docks was of a livid turbidity, which teemed with the gelatinous globes of the sun-fish; and people were rowing about there in pleasure-boats, and sailors on floats were painting the hulls of the black ships. The faces of the men they met were red and sunburned mostly,—not with the sunburn of the fields, but of the sea; these men lurched in their gait with an uncouth heaviness, yet gave them way kindly enough; but certain dull-eyed, frowzy-headed women seemed to push purposely against her grandfather, and one of them swore at Lydia for taking up all the sidewalk with her bundles. There were such dull eyes and slattern heads at the open windows of the shabby houses; and there were gaunt, bold-faced young girls who strolled up and down the pavements, bonnetless and hatless, and chatted into the windows, and joked with other such girls whom they met. Suddenly a wild outcry rose from the swarming children up one of the intersecting streets, where a woman was beating a small boy over the head with a heavy stick: the boy fell howling and writhing to the ground, and the cruel blows still rained upon him, till another woman darted from an open door and caught the child up with one hand, and with the other wrenched the stick away and flung it into the street. No words passed, and there was nothing to show whose child the victim was; the first woman walked off, and while the boy rubbed his head and arms, and screamed with the pain, the other children, whose sports had been scarcely interrupted, were shouting and laughing all about him again.
"Grandfather," said Lydia faintly, "let us go down here, and rest a moment in the shade. I'm almost worn out." She pointed to the open and quiet space at the side of the lofty granite warehouse which they had reached.
"Well, I guess I'll set down a minute, too," said her grandfather. "Lyddy," he added, as they released their aching arms from their bags and bundles, and sank upon the broad threshold of a door which seemed to have been shut ever since the decay of the India trade, "I don't believe but what it would have be'n about as cheap in the end to come down in a hack. But I acted for what I thought was the best. I supposed we'd be'n there before now, and the idea of givin' a dollar for ridin' about ten minutes did seem sinful. I ain't noways afraid the ship will sail without you. Don't you fret any. I don't seem to know rightly just where I am, but after we've rested a spell I'll leave you here, and inquire round. It's a real quiet place, and I guess your things will be safe."
He took off his straw hat and fanned his face with it, while Lydia leaned her head against the door frame and closed her eyes. Presently she heard the trampling of feet going by, but she did not open her eyes till the feet paused in a hesitating way, and a voice asked her grandfather, in the firm, neat tone which she had heard summer boarders from Boston use, "Is the young lady ill?" She now looked up, and blushed like fire to see two handsome young men regarding her with frank compassion.
"No," said her grandfather; "a little beat out, that's all. We've been trying to find Lucas Wharf, and we don't seem somehow just to hit on it."
"This is Lucas Wharf," said the young man. He made an instinctive gesture of salutation toward his hat, with the hand in which he held a cigar; he put the cigar into his mouth as he turned from them, and the smoke drifted fragrantly back to Lydia as he tramped steadily and strongly on down the wharf, shoulder to shoulder with his companion.
"Well, I declare for't, so it is," said her grandfather, getting stiffly to his feet and retiring a few paces to gain a view of the building at the base of which they had been sitting. "Why, I might known it by this buildin'! But where's the Aroostook, if this is Lucas Wharf?" He looked wistfully in the direction the young men had taken, but they were already too far to call after.
"Grandfather," said the girl, "do I look pale?"
"Well, you don't now," answered the old man, simply. "You've got a good color now."
"What right had he," she demanded, "to speak to you about me?"
"I d'know but what you did look rather pale, as you set there with your head leaned back. I d'know as I noticed much."
"He took us for two beggars,—two tramps!" she exclaimed, "sitting here with our bundles scattered round us!"
The old man did not respond to this conjecture; it probably involved matters beyond his emotional reach, though he might have understood them when he was younger. He stood a moment with his mouth puckered to a whistle, but made no sound, and retired a step or two farther from the building and looked up at it again. Then he went toward the dock and looked down into its turbid waters, and returned again with a face of hopeless perplexity. "This is Lucas Wharf, and no mistake," he said. "I know the place first-rate, now. But what I can't make out is, What's got the Aroostook?"
A man turned the corner of the warehouse from the street above, and came briskly down towards them, with his hat off, and rubbing his head and face with a circular application of a red silk handkerchief. He was dressed in a suit of blue flannel, very neat and shapely, and across his ample waistcoat stretched a gold watch chain; in his left hand he carried a white Panama hat. He was short and stout; his round florid face was full of a sort of prompt kindness; his small blue eyes twinkled under shaggy brows whose sandy color had not yet taken the grizzled tone of his close-clipped hair and beard. From his clean wristbands his hands came out, plump and large; stiff, wiry hairs stood up on their backs, and under these various designs in tattooing showed their purple.
Lydia's grandfather stepped out to meet and halt this stranger, as he drew near, glancing quickly from the girl to the old man, and then at their bundles. "Can you tell me where a ship named the Aroostook is, that was layin' at this wharf—Lucas Wharf—a fortnight ago, and better?"
"Well, I guess I can, Mr. Latham," answered the stranger, with a quizzical smile, offering one of his stout hands to Lydia's grandfather. "You don't seem to remember your friends very well, do you?"
The old man gave a kind of crow expressive of an otherwise unutterable relief and comfort. "Well, if it ain't Captain Jenness! I be'n so turned about, I declare for't, I don't believe I'd ever known you if you hadn't spoke up. Lyddy," he cried with a child-like joy, "this is Captain Jenness!"
Captain Jenness having put on his hat changed Mr. Latham's hand into his left, while he stretched his great right hand across it and took Lydia's long, slim fingers in its grasp, and looked keenly into her face. "Glad to see you, glad to see you, Miss Blood. (You see I've got your name down on my papers.) Hope you're well. Ever been a sea-voyage before? Little homesick, eh?" he asked, as she put her handkerchief to her eyes. He kept pressing Lydia's hand in the friendliest way. "Well, that's natural. And you're excited; that's natural, too. But we're not going to have any homesickness on the Aroostook, because we're going to make her home to you." At this speech all the girl's gathering forlornness broke in a sob. "That's right!" said Captain Jenness. "Bless you, I've got a girl just about your age up at Deer Isle, myself!" He dropped her hand, and put his arm across her shoulders. "Good land, I know what girls are, I hope! These your things?" He caught up the greater part of them into his capacious hands, and started off down the wharf, talking back at Lydia and her grandfather, as they followed him with the light parcels he had left them. "I hauled away from the wharf as soon as I'd stowed my cargo, and I'm at anchor out there in the stream now, waiting till I can finish up a few matters of business with the agents and get my passengers on board. When you get used to the strangeness," he said to Lydia, "you won't be a bit lonesome. Bless your heart! My wife's been with me many a voyage, and the last time I was out to Messina I had both my daughters."
At the end of the wharf, Captain Jenness stopped, and suddenly calling out, "Here!" began, as she thought, to hurl Lydia's things into the water. But when she reached the same point, she found they had all been caught, and deposited in a neat pile in a boat which lay below, where two sailors stood waiting the captain's further orders. He keenly measured the distance to the boat with his eye, and then he bade the men work round outside a schooner which lay near; and jumping on board this vessel, he helped Lydia and her grandfather down, and easily transferred them to the small boat. The men bent to their oars, and pulled swiftly out toward a ship that lay at anchor a little way off. A light breeze crept along the water, which was here blue and clear, and the grateful coolness and pleasant motion brought light into the girl's cheeks and eyes. Without knowing it she smiled. "That's right!" cried Captain Jenness, who had applauded her sob in the same terms. "You'll like it, first-rate. Look at that ship! That's the Aroostook. Is she a beauty, or ain't she?"
The stately vessel stood high from the water, for Captain Jenness's cargo was light, and he was going out chiefly for a return freight. Sharp jibs and staysails cut their white outlines keenly against the afternoon blue of the summer heaven; the topsails and courses dripped, half-furled, from the yards stretching across the yellow masts that sprang so far aloft; the hull glistened black with new paint. When Lydia mounted to the deck she found it as clean scrubbed as her aunt's kitchen floor. Her glance of admiration was not lost upon Captain Jenness. "Yes, Miss Blood," said he, "one difference between an American ship and any other sort is dirt. I wish I could take you aboard an English vessel, so you could appreciate the Aroostook. But I guess you don't need it," he added, with a proud satisfaction in his laugh. "The Aroostook ain't in order yet; wait till we've been a few days at sea." The captain swept the deck with a loving eye. It was spacious and handsome, with a stretch of some forty or fifty feet between the house at the stern and the forecastle, which rose considerably higher; a low bulwark was surmounted by a heavy rail supported upon turned posts painted white. Everything, in spite of the captain's boastful detraction, was in perfect trim, at least to landfolk's eyes. "Now come into the cabin," said the captain. He gave Lydia's traps, as he called them, in charge of a boy, while he led the way below, by a narrow stairway, warning Lydia and her grandfather to look out for their heads as they followed. "There!" he said, when they had safely arrived, inviting their inspection of the place with a general glance of his own.
"What did I tell you, Lyddy?" asked her grandfather, with simple joy in the splendors about them. "Solid mahogany trimmin's everywhere." There was also a great deal of milk-white paint, with some modest touches of gilding here and there. The cabin was pleasantly lit by the long low windows which its roof rose just high enough to lift above the deck, and the fresh air entered with the slanting sun. Made fast to the floor was a heavy table, over which hung from the ceiling a swinging shelf. Around the little saloon ran lockers cushioned with red plush. At either end were four or five narrow doors, which gave into as many tiny state-rooms. The boy came with Lydia's things, and set them inside one of these doors; and when he came out again the captain pushed it open, and called them in. "Here!" said he. "Here's where my girls made themselves at home the last voyage, and I expect you'll find it pretty comfortable. They say you don't feel the motion so much,—I don't know anything about the motion,—and in smooth weather you can have that window open sometimes, and change the air. It's light and it's large. Well, I had it fitted up for my wife; but she's got kind of on now, you know, and she don't feel much like going any more; and so I always give it to my nicest passenger." This was an unmistakable compliment, and Lydia blushed to the captain's entire content. "That's a rug she hooked," he continued, touching with his toe the carpet, rich in its artless domestic dyes as some Persian fabric, that lay before the berth. "These gimcracks belong to my girls; they left 'em." He pointed to various slight structures of card-board worked with crewel, which were tacked to the walls. "Pretty snug, eh?"
"Yes," said Lydia, "it's nicer than I thought it could be, even after what grandfather said."
"Well, that's right!" exclaimed the captain. "I like your way of speaking up. I wish you could know my girls. How old are you now?"
"I'm nineteen," said Lydia.
"Why, you're just between my girls!" cried the captain. "Sally is twenty-one, and Persis is eighteen. Well, now, Miss Blood," he said, as they returned to the cabin, "you can't begin to make yourself at home too soon for me. I used to sail to Cadiz and Malaga a good deal; and when I went to see any of them Spaniards he'd say, 'This house is yours.' Well, that's what I say: This ship is yours as long as you stay in her. And I mean it, and that's more than they did!" Captain Jenness laughed mightily, took some of Lydia's fingers in his left hand and squeezed them, and clapped her grandfather on the shoulder with his right. Then he slipped his hand down the old man's bony arm to the elbow, and held it, while he dropped his head towards Lydia, and said, "We shall be glad to have him stay to supper, and as much longer as he likes, heh?"
"Oh, no!" said Lydia; "grandfather must go back on the six o'clock train. My aunt expects him." Her voice fell, and her face suddenly clouded.
"Good!" cried the captain. Then he pulled out his watch, and held it as far away as the chain would stretch, frowning at it with his head aslant. "Well!" he burst out. "He hasn't got any too much time on his hands." The old man gave a nervous start, and the girl trembled. "Hold on! Yes; there's time. It's only fifteen minutes after five."
"Oh, but we were more than half an hour getting down here," said Lydia, anxiously. "And grandfather doesn't know the way back. He'll be sure to get lost. I wish we'd come in a carriage."
"Couldn't 'a' kept the carriage waitin' on expense, Lyddy," retorted her grandfather, "But I tell you," he added, with something like resolution, "if I could find a carriage anywheres near that wharf, I'd take it, just as sure! I wouldn't miss that train for more'n half a dollar. It would cost more than that at a hotel to-night, let alone how your aunt Maria'd feel."
"Why, look here!" said Captain Jenness, naturally appealing to the girl. "Let me get your grandfather back. I've got to go up town again, any way, for some last things, with an express wagon, and we can ride right to the depot in that. Which depot is it?"
"Fitchburg," said the old man eagerly.
"That's right!" commented the captain. "Get you there in plenty of time, if we don't lose any now. And I'll tell you what, my little girl," he added, turning to Lydia: "if it'll be a comfort to you to ride up with us, and see your grandfather off, why come along! My girls went with me the last time on an express wagon."
"No," answered Lydia. "I want to. But it wouldn't be any comfort. I thought that out before I left home, and I'm going to say good-by to grandfather here."
"First-rate!" said Captain Jenness, bustling towards the gangway so as to leave them alone. A sharp cry from the old man arrested him.
"Lyddy! Where's your trunks?"
"Why!" said the girl, catching her breath in dismay, "where can they be? I forgot all about them."
"I got the checks fast enough," said the old man, "and I shan't give 'em up without I get the trunks. They'd ought to had 'em down here long ago; and now if I've got to pester round after 'em I'm sure to miss the train."
"What shall we do?" asked Lydia.
"Let's see your checks," said the captain, with an evident ease of mind that reassured her. When her grandfather had brought them with difficulty from the pocket visited last in the order of his search, and laid them in the captain's waiting palm, the latter endeavored to get them in focus. "What does it say on 'em?" he asked, handing them to Lydia. "My eyes never did amount to anything on shore." She read aloud the name of the express stamped on them. The captain gathered them back into his hand, and slipped them into his pocket, with a nod and wink full of comfort. "I'll see to it," he said. "At any rate, this ship ain't a-going to sail without them, if she waits a week. Now, then, Mr. Latham!"
The old man, who waited, when not directly addressed or concerned, in a sort of blank patience, suddenly started out of his daze, and following the captain too alertly up the gangway stairs drove his hat against the hatch—with a force that sent him back into Lydia's arms.
"Oh, grandfather, are you hurt?" she piteously asked, trying to pull up the hat that was jammed down over his forehead.
"Not a bit! But I guess my hat's about done for,—without I can get it pressed over; and I d'know as this kind of straw doos press."
"First-rate!" called the captain from above. "Never mind the hat." But the girl continued fondly trying to reshape it, while the old man fidgeted anxiously, and protested that he would be sure to be left. It was like a half-shut accordion when she took it from his head; when she put it back it was like an accordion pulled out.
"All ready!" shouted Captain Jenness from the gap in the bulwark, where he stood waiting to descend into the small boat. The old man ran towards him in his senile haste, and stooped to get over the side into the boat below.
"Why, grandfather!" cried the girl in a breaking voice, full of keen, yet tender reproach.
"I declare for't," he said, scrambling back to the deck. "I 'most forgot. I be'n so put about." He took Lydia's hand loosely into his own, and bent forward to kiss her. She threw her arms round him, and while he remained looking over her shoulder, with a face of grotesque perplexity, and saying, "Don't cry, Lyddy, don't cry!" she pressed her face tighter into his withered neck, and tried to muffle her homesick sobs. The sympathies as well as the sensibilities often seem dulled by age. They have both perhaps been wrought upon too much in the course of the years, and can no longer respond to the appeal or distress which they can only dimly realize; even the heart grows old. "Don't you, don't you, Lyddy!" repeated the old man. "You mustn't. The captain's waitin'; and the cars—well, every minute I lose makes it riskier and riskier; and your aunt Maria, she's always so uneasy, you know!"
The girl was not hurt by his anxiety about himself; she was more anxious about him than about anything else. She quickly lifted her head, and drying her eyes, kissed him, forcing her lips into the smile that is more heart-breaking to see than weeping. She looked over the side, as her grandfather was handed carefully down to a seat by the two sailors in the boat, and the captain noted her resolute counterfeit of cheerfulness. "That's right!" he shouted up to her. "Just like my girls when their mother left 'em. But bless you, they soon got over it, and so'll you. Give way, men," he said, in a lower voice, and the boat shot from the ship's side toward the wharf. He turned and waved his handkerchief to Lydia, and, stimulated apparently by this, her grandfather felt in his pockets for his handkerchief; he ended after a vain search by taking off his hat and waving that.
When he put it on again, it relapsed into that likeness of a half-shut accordion from which Lydia had rescued it; but she only saw the face under it.
As the boat reached the wharf an express wagon drove down, and Lydia saw the sarcastic parley which she could not hear between the captain and the driver about the belated baggage which the latter put off. Then she saw the captain help her grandfather to the seat between himself and the driver, and the wagon rattled swiftly out of sight. One of the sailors lifted Lydia's baggage over the side of the wharf to the other in the boat, and they pulled off to the ship with it.
Lydia went back to the cabin, and presently the boy who had taken charge of her lighter luggage came dragging her trunk and bag down the gangway stairs. Neither was very large, and even a boy of fourteen who was small for his age might easily manage them.
"You can stow away what's in 'em in the drawers," said the boy. "I suppose you didn't notice the drawers," he added, at her look of inquiry. He went into her room, and pushing aside the valance of the lower berth showed four deep drawers below the bed; the charming snugness of the arrangement brought a light of housewifely joy to the girl's face.
"Why, it's as good as a bureau. They will hold everything."
"Yes," exulted the boy; "they're for two persons' things. The captain's daughters, they both had this room. Pretty good sized too; a good deal the captain's build. You won't find a better stateroom than this on a steamer. I've been on 'em." The boy climbed up on the edge of the upper drawer, and pulled open the window at the top of the wall. "Give you a little air, I guess. If you want I should, the captain said I was to bear a hand helping you to stow away what was in your trunks."
"No," said Lydia, quickly. "I'd just as soon do it alone."
"All right," said the boy. "If I was you, I'd do it now. I don't know just when the captain means to sail; but after we get outside, it might be rough, and it's better to have everything pretty snug by that time. I'll haul away the trunks when you've got 'em empty. If I shouldn't happen to be here, you can just call me at the top of the gangway, and I'll come. My name's Thomas," he said. He regarded Lydia inquiringly a moment before he added: "If you'd just as lives, I rather you'd call me Thomas, and not steward. They said you'd call me steward," he explained, in a blushing, deprecating confidence; "and as long as I've not got my growth, it kind of makes them laugh, you know,—especially the second officer."
"I will call you Thomas," said Lydia.
"Thank you." The boy glanced up at the round clock screwed to the cabin wall. "I guess you won't have to call me anything unless you hurry. I shall be down here, laying the table for supper, before you're done. The captain said I was to lay it for you and him, and if he didn't get back in time you was to go to eating, any way. Guess you won't think Captain Jenness is going to starve anybody."
"Have you been many voyages with Captain Jenness before this?" asked Lydia, as she set open her trunk, and began to lay her dresses out on the locker. Homesickness, like all grief, attacks in paroxysms. One gust of passionate regret had swept over the girl; before another came, she could occupy herself almost cheerfully with the details of unpacking.
"Only one before," said the boy. "The last one, when his daughters went out. I guess it was their coaxing got mother to let me go. My father was killed in the war."
"Was he?" asked Lydia, sympathetically.
"Yes. I didn't know much about it at the time; so little. Both your parents living?"
"No," said Lydia. "They're both dead. They died a long while ago. I've always lived with my aunt and grandfather."
"I thought there must be something the matter,—your coming with your grandfather," said the boy. "I don't see why you don't let me carry in some of those dresses for you. I'm used to helping about."
"Well, you may," answered Lydia, "if you want." A native tranquil kindness showed itself in her voice and manner, but something of the habitual authority of a school-mistress mingled with it. "You must be careful not to rumple them if I let you."
"I guess not. I've got older sisters at home. They hated to have me leave. But I looked at it this way: If I was ever going to sea—and I was—I couldn't get such another captain as Captain Jenness, nor such another crew; all the men from down our way; and I don't mind the second mate's jokes much. He doesn't mean anything by them; likes to plague, that's all. He's a first-rate sailor."
Lydia was kneeling before one of the trunks, and the boy was stooping over it, with a hand on either knee. She had drawn out her only black silk dress, and was finding it rather crumpled. "I shouldn't have thought it would have got so much jammed, coming fifty miles," she soliloquized. "But they seemed to take a pleasure in seeing how much they could bang the trunks." She rose to her feet and shook out the dress, and drew the skirt several times over her left arm.
The boy's eyes glistened. "Goodness!" he said. "Just new, ain't it? Going to wear it any on board?"
"Sundays, perhaps," answered Lydia thoughtfully, still smoothing and shaping the dress, which she regarded at arm's-length, from time to time, with her head aslant.
"I suppose it's the latest style?" pursued the boy.
"Yes, it is," said Lydia. "We sent to Boston for the pattern. I hate to pack it into one of those drawers," she mused.
"You needn't," replied Thomas. "There's a whole row of hooks."
"I want to know!" cried Lydia. She followed Thomas into her state- room. "Well, well! They do seem to have thought of everything!"
"I should say so," exulted the boy. "Look here!" He showed her a little niche near the head of the berth strongly framed with glass, in which a lamp was made fast. "Light up, you know, when you want to read, or feel kind of lonesome." Lydia clasped her hands in pleasure and amaze. "Oh, I tell you Captain Jenness meant to have things about right. The other state-rooms don't begin to come up to this." He dashed out in his zeal, and opened their doors, that she might triumph in the superiority of her accommodations without delay. These rooms were cramped together on one side; Lydia's was in a comparatively ample corner by itself.
She went on unpacking her trunk, and the boy again took his place near her, in the same attitude as before. "I tell you," he said, "I shall like to see you with that silk on. Have you got any other nice ones?"
"No; only this I'm wearing," answered Lydia, half amused and half honest in her sympathy with his ardor about her finery. "They said not to bring many clothes; they would be cheaper over there." She had now reached the bottom of her trunk. She knew by the clock that her grandfather could hardly have left the city on his journey home, but the interval of time since she had parted with him seemed vast. It was as if she had started to Boston in a former life; the history of the choosing and cutting and making of these clothes was like a dream of preexistence. She had never had so many things new at once, and it had been a great outlay, but her aunt Maria had made the money go as far as possible, and had spent it with that native taste, that genius for dress, which sometimes strikes the summer boarder in the sempstresses of the New England hills. Miss Latham's gift was quaintly unrelated to herself. In dress, as in person and manner, she was uncompromisingly plain and stiff. All the more lavishly, therefore, had it been devoted to the grace and beauty of her sister's child, who, ever since she came to find a home in her grandfather's house, had been more stylishly dressed than any other girl in the village. The summer boarders, whom the keen eye of Miss Latham studied with unerring sense of the best new effects in costume, wondered at Lydia's elegance, as she sat beside her aunt in the family pew, a triumph of that grim artist's skill. Lydia knew that she was well dressed, but she knew that after all she was only the expression of her aunt's inspirations. Her own gift was of another sort. Her father was a music-teacher, whose failing health had obliged him to give up his profession, and who had taken the traveling agency of a parlor organ manufactory for the sake of the out-door life. His business had brought him to South Bradfield, where he sold an organ to Deacon Latham's church, and fell in love with his younger daughter. He died a few years after his marriage, of an ancestral consumption, his sole heritage from the good New England stock of which he came. His skill as a pianist, which was considerable, had not descended to his daughter, but her mother had bequeathed her a peculiarly rich and flexible voice, with a joy in singing which was as yet a passion little affected by culture. It was this voice which, when Lydia rose to join in the terrible hymning of the congregation at South Bradfield, took the thoughts of people off her style and beauty; and it was this which enchanted her father's sister when, the summer before the date of which we write, that lady had come to America on a brief visit, and heard Lydia sing at her parlor organ in the old homestead.
Mrs. Erwin had lived many years abroad, chiefly in Italy, for the sake of the climate. She was of delicate health, and constantly threatened by the hereditary disease that had left her the last of her generation, and she had the fastidiousness of an invalid. She was full of generous impulses which she mistook for virtues; but the presence of some object at once charming and worthy was necessary to rouse these impulses. She had been prosperously married when very young, and as a pretty American widow she had wedded in second marriage at Naples one of those Englishmen who have money enough to live at ease in Latin countries; he was very fond of her, and petted her. Having no children she might long before have thought definitely of poor Henry's little girl, as she called Lydia, but she had lived very comfortably indefinite in regard to her ever since the father's death. Now and then she had sent the child a handsome present or a sum of money. She had it on her conscience not to let her be wholly a burden to her grandfather; but often her conscience drowsed. When she came to South Bradfield, she won the hearts of the simple family, which had been rather hardened against her, and she professed an enthusiasm for Lydia. She called her pretty names in Italian, which she did not pronounce well; she babbled a great deal about what ought to be done for her, and went away without doing anything; so that when a letter finally came, directing Lydia to be sent out to her in Venice, they were all surprised, in the disappointment to which they had resigned themselves.
Mrs. Erwin wrote an epistolary style exasperatingly vacuous and diffuse, and, like many women of that sort, she used pencil instead of ink, always apologizing for it as due now to her weak eyes, and now to her weak wrist, and again to her not being able to find the ink. Her hand was full of foolish curves and dashes, and there were no spaces between the words at times. Under these conditions it was no light labor to get at her meaning; but the sum of her letter was that she wished Lydia to come out to her at once, and she suggested that, as they could have few opportunities or none to send her with people going to Europe, they had better let her come the whole way by sea. Mrs. Erwin remembered—in the space of a page and a half—that nothing had ever done her so much good as a long sea voyage, and it would be excellent for Lydia, who, though she looked so strong, probably needed all the bracing up she could get. She had made inquiries,—or, what was the same thing, Mr. Erwin had, for her,—and she found that vessels from American ports seldom came to Venice; but they often came to Trieste, which was only a few hours away; and if Mr. Latham would get Lydia a ship for Trieste at Boston, she could come very safely and comfortably in a few weeks. She gave the name of a Boston house engaged in the Mediterranean trade to which Mr. Latham could apply for passage; if they were not sending any ship themselves, they could probably recommend one to him.
This was what happened when Deacon Latham called at their office a few days after Mrs. Erwin's letter came. They directed him to the firm dispatching the Aroostook, and Captain Jenness was at their place when the deacon appeared there. The captain took cordial possession of the old man at once, and carried him down to the wharf to look at the ship and her accommodations. The matter was quickly settled between them. At that time Captain Jenness did not know but he might have other passengers out; at any rate he would look after the little girl (as Deacon Latham always said in speaking of Lydia) the same as if she were his own child.
Lydia knelt before her trunk, thinking of the remote events, the extinct associations of a few minutes and hours and days ago; she held some cuffs and collars in her hand, and something that her aunt Maria had said recurred to her. She looked up into the intensely interested face of the boy, and then laughed, bowing her forehead on the back of the hand that held these bits of linen.
The boy blushed. "What are you laughing at?" he asked, half piteously, half indignantly, like a boy used to being badgered.
"Oh, nothing," said Lydia. "My aunt told me if any of these things should happen to want doing up, I had better get the stewardess to help me." She looked at the boy in a dreadfully teasing way, softly biting her lip.
"Oh, if you're going to begin that way!" he cried in affliction.
"I'm not," she answered, promptly. "I like boys. I've taught school two winters, and I like boys first-rate."
Thomas was impersonally interested again. "Time! You taught school?"
"You look pretty young for a school-teacher!"
"Now you're making fun of me," said Lydia, astutely.
The boy thought he must have been, and was consoled. "Well, you began it," he said.
"I oughtn't to have done so," she replied with humility; "and I won't any more. There!" she said, "I'm not going to open my bag now. You can take away the trunk when you want, Thomas."
"Yes, ma'am," said the boy. The idea of a school-mistress was perhaps beginning to awe him a little. "Put your bag in your state-room first." He did this, and when he came back from carrying away her trunk he began to set the table. It was a pretty table, when set, and made the little cabin much cosier. When the boy brought the dishes from the cook's galley, it was a barbarously abundant table. There was cold boiled ham, ham and eggs, fried fish, baked potatoes, buttered toast, tea, cake, pickles, and watermelon; nothing was wanting. "I tell you," said Thomas, noticing Lydia's admiration, "the captain lives well lay-days."
"Lay-days?" echoed Lydia.
"The days we're in port," the boy explained.
"Well, I should think as much!" She ate with the hunger that tranquillity bestows upon youth after the swift succession of strange events, and the conflict of many emotions. The captain had not returned in time, and she ate alone.
After a while she ventured to the top of the gangway stairs, and stood there, looking at the novel sights of the harbor, in the red sunset light, which rose slowly from the hulls and lower spars of the shipping, and kindled the tips of the high-shooting masts with a quickly fading splendor. A delicate flush responded in the east, and rose to meet the denser crimson of the west; a few clouds, incomparably light and diaphanous, bathed themselves in the glow. It was a summer sunset, portending for the land a morrow of great heat. But cool airs crept along the water, and the ferry-boats, thrust shuttlewise back and forth between either shore, made a refreshing sound as they crushed a broad course to foam with their paddles. People were pulling about in small boats; from some the gay cries and laughter of young girls struck sharply along the tide. The noise of the quiescent city came off in a sort of dull moan. The lamps began to twinkle in the windows and the streets on shore; the lanterns of the ships at anchor in the stream showed redder and redder as the twilight fell. The homesickness began to mount from Lydia's heart in a choking lump to her throat; for one must be very happy to endure the sights and sounds of the summer evening anywhere. She had to shield her eyes from the brilliancy of the kerosene when she went below into the cabin.
Lydia did not know when the captain came on board. Once, talking in the cabin made itself felt through her dreams, but the dense sleep of weary youth closed over her again, and she did not fairly wake till morning. Then she thought she heard the crowing of a cock and the cackle of hens, and fancied herself in her room at home; the illusion passed with a pang. The ship was moving, with a tug at her side, the violent respirations of which were mingled with the sound of the swift rush of the vessels through the water, the noise of feet on the deck, and of orders hoarsely shouted.
The girl came out into the cabin, where Thomas was already busy with the breakfast table, and climbed to the deck. It was four o'clock of the summer's morning; the sun had not yet reddened the east, but the stars were extinct, or glimmered faint points immeasurably withdrawn in the vast gray of the sky. At that hour there is a hovering dimness over all, but the light on things near at hand is wonderfully keen and clear, and the air has an intense yet delicate freshness that seems to breathe from the remotest spaces of the universe,—a waft from distances beyond the sun. On the land the leaves and grass are soaked with dew; the densely interwoven songs of the birds are like a fabric that you might see and touch. But here, save for the immediate noises on the ship, which had already left her anchorage far behind, the shouting of the tug's escape-pipes, and the huge, swirling gushes from her powerful wheel, a sort of spectacular silence prevailed, and the sounds were like a part of this silence. Here and there a small fishing schooner came lagging slowly in, as if belated, with scarce wind enough to fill her sails; now and then they met a steamboat, towering white and high, a many-latticed bulk, with no one to be seen on board but the pilot at his wheel, and a few sleepy passengers on the forward promenade. The city, so beautiful and stately from the bay, was dropping, and sinking away behind. They passed green islands, some of which were fortified: the black guns looked out over the neatly shaven glacis; the sentinel paced the rampart.
"Well, well!" shouted Captain Jenness, catching sight of Lydia where she lingered at the cabin door. "You are an early bird. Glad to see you up! Hope you rested well! Saw your grandfather off all right, and kept him from taking the wrong train with my own hand. He's terribly excitable. Well, I suppose I shall be just so, at his age. Here!" The captain caught up a stool and set it near the bulwark for her. "There! You make yourself comfortable wherever you like. You're at home, you know." He was off again in a moment. Lydia cast her eye over at the tug. On the deck, near the pilot-house, stood the young man who had stopped the afternoon before, while she sat at the warehouse door, and asked her grandfather if she were not ill. At his feet was a substantial valise, and over his arm hung a shawl. He was smoking, and seated near him, on another valise, was his companion of the day before, also smoking. In the instant that Lydia caught sight of them, she perceived that they both recognized her and exchanged, as it were, a start of surprise. But they remained as before, except that he who was seated drew out a fresh cigarette, and without looking up reached to the other for a light. They were both men of good height, and they looked fresh and strong, with something very alert in their slight movements,—sudden turns of the head and brisk nods, which were not nervously quick. Lydia wondered at their presence there in an ignorance which could not even conjecture. She knew too little to know that they could not have any destination on the tug, and that they would not be making a pleasure-excursion at that hour in the morning. Their having their valises with them deepened the mystery, which was not solved till the tug's engines fell silent, and at an unnoticed order a space in the bulwark not far from Lydia was opened and steps were let down the side of the ship. Then the young men, who had remained, to all appearance, perfectly unconcerned, caught up their valises and climbed to the deck of the Aroostook. They did not give her more than a glance out of the corners of their eyes, but the surprise of their coming on board was so great a shock that she did not observe that the tug, casting loose from the ship, was describing a curt and foamy semicircle for her return to the city, and that the Aroostook, with a cloud of snowy canvas filling overhead, was moving over the level sea with the light ease of a bird that half swims, half flies, along the water. A sudden dismay, which was somehow not fear so much as an overpowering sense of isolation, fell upon the girl. She caught at Thomas, going forward with some dishes in his hand, with a pathetic appeal.
"Where are you going, Thomas?"
"I'm going to the cook's galley to help dish up the breakfast."
"What's the cook's galley?"
"Don't you know? The kitchen."
"Let me go with you. I should like to see the kitchen." She trembled with eagerness. Arrived at the door of the narrow passage that ran across the deck aft of the forecastle, she looked in and saw, amid a haze of frying and broiling, the short, stocky figure of a negro, bow-legged, and unnaturally erect from the waist up. At sight of Lydia, he made a respectful duck forward with his uncouth body. "Why, are you the cook?" she almost screamed in response to this obeisance.
"Yes, miss," said the man, humbly, with a turn of the pleading black eyes of the negro.
Lydia grew more peremptory: "Why—why—I thought the cook was a woman!"
"Very sorry, miss," began the negro, with a deprecatory smile, in a slow, mild voice.
Thomas burst into a boy's yelling laugh: "Well, if that ain't the best joke on Gabriel! He'll never hear the last of it when I tell it to the second officer!"
"Thomas!" cried Lydia, terribly, "you shall not!" She stamped her foot. "Do you hear me?"
The boy checked his laugh abruptly. "Yes, ma'am," he said submissively.
"Well, then!" returned Lydia. She stalked proudly back to the cabin gangway, and descending shut herself into her state-room.
A few hours later Deacon Latham came into the house with a milk-pan full of pease. He set this down on one end of the kitchen table, with his straw hat beside it, and then took a chair at the other end and fell into the attitude of the day before, when he sat in the parlor with Lydia and Miss Maria waiting for the stage; his mouth was puckered to a whistle, and his fingers were held above the board in act to drub it. Miss Maria turned the pease out on the table, and took the pan into her lap. She shelled at the pease in silence, till the sound of their pelting, as they were dropped on the tin, was lost in their multitude; then she said, with a sharp, querulous, pathetic impatience, "Well, father, I suppose you're thinkin' about Lyddy."
"Yes, Maria, I be," returned her father, with uncommon plumpness, as if here now were something he had made up his mind to stand to. "I been thinkin' that Lyddy's a woman grown, as you may say."
"Yes," admitted Miss Maria, "she's a woman, as far forth as that goes. What put it into your head?"
"Well, I d'know as I know. But it's just like this: I got to thinkin' whether she mightn't get to feelin' rather lonely on the voyage, without any other woman to talk to."
"I guess," said Miss Maria, tranquilly, "she's goin' to feel lonely enough at times, any way, poor thing! But I told her if she wanted advice or help about anything just to go to the stewardess. That Mrs. Bland that spent the summer at the Parkers' last year was always tellin' how they went to the stewardess for most everything, and she give her five dollars in gold when they got into Boston. I shouldn't want Lyddy should give so much as that, but I should want she should give something, as long's it's the custom."
"They don't have 'em on sailin' vessels, Captain Jenness said; they only have 'em on steamers," said Deacon Latham.
"Have what?" asked Miss Maria, sharply.
"Stewardesses. They've got a cabin-boy."
Miss Maria desisted a moment from her work; then she answered, with a gruff shortness peculiar to her, "Well, then, she can go to the cook, I suppose. It wouldn't matter which she went to, I presume."
Deacon Latham looked up with the air of confessing to sin before the whole congregation. "The cook's a man,—a black man," he said.
Miss Maria dropped a handful of pods into the pan, and sent a handful of peas rattling across the table on to the floor. "Well, who in Time"—the expression was strong, but she used it without hesitation, and was never known to repent it "will she go to, then?"
"I declare for't," said her father, "I don't know. I d'know as I ever thought it out fairly before; but just now when I was pickin' the pease for you, my mind got to dwellin' on Lyddy, and then it come to me all at once: there she was, the only one among a whole shipful, and I—I didn't know but what she might think it rather of a strange position for her."
"Oh!" exclaimed Miss Maria, petulantly. "I guess Lyddy'd know how to conduct herself wherever she was; she's a born lady, if ever there was one. But what I think is—" Miss Maria paused, and did not say what she thought; but it was evidently not the social aspect of the matter which was uppermost in her mind. In fact, she had never been at all afraid of men, whom she regarded as a more inefficient and feebler-minded kind of women.
"The only thing't makes me feel easier is what the captain said about the young men," said Deacon Latham.
"What young men?" asked Miss Maria.
"Why, I told you about 'em!" retorted the old man, with some exasperation.
"You told me about two young men that stopped on the wharf and pitied Lyddy's worn-out looks."
"Didn't I tell you the rest? I declare for't, I don't believe I did; I be'n so put about. Well, as we was drivin' up to the depot, we met the same two young men, and the captain asked 'em, 'Are you goin' or not a-goin'?'—just that way; and they said, 'We're goin'.' And he said, 'When you comin' aboard?' and he told 'em he was goin' to haul out this mornin' at three o'clock. And they asked what tug, and he told 'em, and they fixed it up between 'em all then that they was to come aboard from the tug, when she'd got the ship outside; and that's what I suppose they did. The captain he said to me he hadn't mentioned it before, because he wa'n't sure't they'd go till that minute. He give 'em a first-rate of a character."
Miss Maria said nothing for a long while. The subject seemed one with which she did not feel herself able to grapple. She looked all about the kitchen for inspiration, and even cast a searching glance into the wood-shed. Suddenly she jumped from her chair, and ran to the open window: "Mr. Goodlow! Mr. Goodlow! I wish you'd come in here a minute."
She hurried to meet the minister at the front door, her father lagging after her with the infantile walk of an old man.
Mr. Goodlow took off his straw hat as he mounted the stone step to the threshold, and said good-morning; they did not shake hands. He wore a black alpaca coat, and waistcoat of farmer's satin; his hat was dark straw, like Deacon Latham's, but it was low-crowned, and a line of ornamental openwork ran round it near the top.
"Come into the settin'-room," said Miss Maria. "It's cooler, in there." She lost no time in laying the case before the minister. She ended by saying, "Father, he don't feel just right about it, and I d'know as I'm quite clear in my own mind."
The minister considered a while in silence before he said, "I think Lydia's influence upon those around her will be beneficial, whatever her situation in life may be."
"There, father!" cried Miss Maria, in reproachful relief.
"You're right, Maria, you're right!" assented the old man, and they both waited for the minister to continue.
"I rejoiced with you," he said, "when this opportunity for Lydia's improvement offered, and I am not disposed to feel anxious as to the ways and means. Lydia is no fool. I have observed in her a dignity, a sort of authority, very remarkable in one of her years."
"I guess the boys at the school down to the Mill Village found out she had authority enough," said Miss Maria, promptly materializing the idea.
"Precisely," said Mr. Goodlow.
"That's what I told father, in the first place," said Miss Maria. "I guess Lyddy'd know how to conduct herself wherever she was,—just the words I used."
"I don't deny it, Maria, I don't deny it," shrilly piped the old man. "I ain't afraid of any harm comin' to Lyddy any more'n what you be. But what I said was, Wouldn't she feel kind of strange, sort of lost, as you may say, among so many, and she the only one?"
"She will know how to adapt herself to circumstances," said Mr. Goodlow. "I was conversing last summer with that Mrs. Bland who boarded at Mr. Parker's, and she told me that girls in Europe are brought up with no habits of self-reliance whatever, and that young ladies are never seen on the streets alone in France and Italy."
"Don't you think," asked Miss Maria, hesitating to accept this ridiculous statement, "that Mrs. Bland exaggerated some?"
"She talked a great deal," admitted Mr. Goodlow. "I should be sorry if Lydia ever lost anything of that native confidence of hers in her own judgment, and her ability to take care of herself under any circumstances, and I do not think she will. She never seemed conceited to me, but she was the most self-reliant girl I ever saw."
"You've hit it there, Mr. Goodlow. Such a spirit as she always had!" sighed Miss Maria. "It was just so from the first. It used to go to my heart to see that little thing lookin' after herself, every way, and not askin' anybody's help, but just as quiet and proud about it! She's her mother, all over. And yest'day, when she set here waitin' for the stage, and it did seem as if I should have to give up, hearin' her sob, sob, sob,—why, Mr. Goodlow, she hadn't any more idea of backin' out than—than—" Miss Maria relinquished the search for a comparison, and went into another room for a handkerchief. "I don't believe she cared over and above about goin', from the start," said Miss Maria, returning, "but when once she'd made up her mind to it, there she was. I d'know as she took much of a fancy to her aunt, but you couldn't told from anything that Lyddy said. Now, if I have anything on my mind, I have to blat it right out, as you may say; I can't seem to bear it a minute; but Lyddy's different. Well," concluded Miss Maria, "I guess there ain't goin' to any harm come to her. But it did give me a kind of start, first off, when father up and got to feelin' sort of bad about it. I d'know as I should thought much about it, if he hadn't seemed to. I d'know as I should ever thought about anything except her not havin' any one to advise with about her clothes. It's the only thing she ain't handy with: she won't know what to wear. I'm afraid she'll spoil her silk. I d'know but what father's been hasty in not lookin' into things carefuller first. He most always does repent afterwards."
"Couldn't repent beforehand!" retorted Deacon Latham. "And I tell you, Maria, I never saw a much finer man than Captain Jenness; and the cabin's everything I said it was, and more. Lyddy reg'larly went off over it; 'n' I guess, as Mr. Goodlow says, she'll influence 'em for good. Don't you fret about her clothes any. You fitted her out in apple-pie order, and she'll soon be there. 'T ain't but a little ways to Try-East, any way, to what it is some of them India voyages, Captain Jenness said. He had his own daughters out the last voyage; 'n' I guess he can tell Lyddy when it's weather to wear her silk. I d'know as I'd better said anything about what I was thinkin'. I don't want to be noways rash, and yet I thought I couldn't be too partic'lar."
For a silent moment Miss Maria looked sourly uncertain as to the usefulness of scruples that came so long after the fact. Then she said abruptly to Mr. Goodlow, "Was it you or Mr. Baldwin, preached Mirandy Holcomb's fune'l sermon?"
One of the advantages of the negative part assigned to women in life is that they are seldom forced to commit themselves. They can, if they choose, remain perfectly passive while a great many things take place in regard to them; they need not account for what they do not do. From time to time a man must show his hand, but save for one supreme exigency a woman need never show hers. She moves in mystery as long as she likes; and mere reticence in her, if she is young and fair, interprets itself as good sense and good taste.
Lydia was, by convention as well as by instinct, mistress of the situation when she came out to breakfast, and confronted the young men again with collected nerves, and a reserve which was perhaps a little too proud. The captain was there to introduce them, and presented first Mr. Dunham, the gentleman who had spoken to her grandfather on the wharf, and then Mr. Staniford, his friend and senior by some four or five years. They were both of the fair New England complexion; but Dunham's eyes were blue, and Staniford's dark gray. Their mustaches were blonde, but Dunham's curled jauntily outward at the corners, and his light hair waved over either temple from the parting in the middle. Staniford's mustache was cut short; his hair was clipped tight to his shapely head, and not parted at all; he had a slightly aquiline nose, with sensitive nostrils, showing the cartilage; his face was darkly freckled. They were both handsome fellows, and fittingly dressed in rough blue, which they wore like men with the habit of good clothes; they made Lydia such bows as she had never seen before. Then the Captain introduced Mr. Watterson, the first officer, to all, and sat down, saying to Thomas, with a sort of guilty and embarrassed growl, "Ain't he out yet? Well, we won't wait," and with but little change of tone asked a blessing; for Captain Jenness in his way was a religious man.
There was a sixth plate laid, but the captain made no further mention of the person who was not out yet till shortly after the coffee was poured, when the absentee appeared, hastily closing his state-room door behind him, and then waiting on foot, with a half-impudent, half-intimidated air, while Captain Jenness, with a sort of elaborate repressiveness, presented him as Mr. Hicks. He was a short and slight young man, with a small sandy mustache curling tightly in over his lip, floating reddish-blue eyes, and a deep dimple in his weak, slightly retreating chin. He had an air at once amiable and baddish, with an expression, curiously blended, of monkey-like humor and spaniel-like apprehensiveness. He did not look well, and till he had swallowed two cups of coffee his hand shook. The captain watched him furtively from under his bushy eyebrows, and was evidently troubled and preoccupied, addressing a word now and then to Mr. Watterson, who, by virtue of what was apparently the ship's discipline, spoke only when he was spoken to, and then answered with prompt acquiescence. Dunham and Staniford exchanged not so much a glance as a consciousness in regard to him, which seemed to recognize and class him. They talked to each other, and sometimes to the captain. Once they spoke to Lydia. Mr. Dunham, for example, said, "Miss—ah—Blood, don't you think we are uncommonly fortunate in having such lovely weather for a start-off?"
"I don't know," said Lydia.
Mr. Dunham arrested himself in the use of his fork. "I beg your pardon?" he smiled.
It seemed to be a question, and after a moment's doubt Lydia answered, "I didn't know it was strange to have fine weather at the start."
"Oh, but I can assure you it is," said Dunham, with a certain lady-like sweetness of manner which he had. "According to precedent, we ought to be all deathly seasick."
"Not at this time of year," said Captain Jenness.
"Not at this time of year," repeated Mr. Watterson, as if the remark were an order to the crew.
Dunham referred the matter with a look to his friend, who refused to take part in it, and then he let it drop. But presently Staniford himself attempted the civility of some conversation with Lydia. He asked her gravely, and somewhat severely, if she had suffered much from the heat of the day before.
"Yes," said Lydia, "it was very hot."
"I'm told it was the hottest day of the summer, so far," continued Staniford, with the same severity.
"I want to know!" cried Lydia.
The young man did not say anything more.
As Dunham lit his cigar at Staniford's on deck, the former said significantly, "What a very American thing!"
"What a bore!" answered the other.
Dunham had never been abroad, as one might imagine from his calling Lydia's presence a very American thing, but he had always consorted with people who had lived in Europe; he read the Revue des Deux Mondes habitually, and the London weekly newspapers, and this gave him the foreign stand-point from which he was fond of viewing his native world. "It's incredible," he added. "Who in the world can she be?"
"Oh, I don't know," returned Staniford, with a cold disgust. "I should object to the society of such a young person for a month or six weeks under the most favorable circumstances, and with frequent respites; but to be imprisoned on the same ship with her, and to have her on one's mind and in one's way the whole time, is more than I bargained for. Captain Jenness should have told us; though I suppose he thought that if she could stand it, we might. There's that point of view. But it takes all ease and comfort out of the prospect. Here comes that blackguard." Staniford turned his back towards Mr. Hicks, who was approaching, but Dunham could not quite do this, though he waited for the other to speak first.
"Will you—would you oblige me with a light?" Mr. Hicks asked, taking a cigar from his case.
"Certainly," said Dunham, with the comradery of the smoker.
Mr. Hicks seemed to gather courage from his cigar. "You didn't expect to find a lady passenger on board, did you?" His poor disagreeable little face was lit up with unpleasant enjoyment of the anomaly. Dunham hesitated for an answer.
"One never can know what one's fellow passengers are going to be," said Staniford, turning about, and looking not at Mr. Hicks's face, but his feet, with an effect of being, upon the whole, disappointed not to find them cloven. He added, to put the man down rather than from an exact belief in his own suggestion, "She's probably some relation of the captain's."
"Why, that's the joke of it," said Hicks, fluttered with his superior knowledge. "I've been pumping the cabin-boy, and he says the captain never saw her till yesterday. She's an up-country school-marm, and she came down here with her grandfather yesterday. She's going out to meet friends of hers in Venice." The little man pulled at his cigar, and coughed and chuckled, and waited confidently for the impression.
"Dunham," said Staniford, "did I hand you that sketch-block of mine to put in your bag, when we were packing last night?"
"Yes, I've got it."
"I'm glad of that. Did you see Murray yesterday?"
"No; he was at Cambridge."
"I thought he was to have met you at Parker's." The conversation no longer included Mr. Hicks or the subject he had introduced; after a moment's hesitation, he walked away to another part of the ship. As soon as he was beyond ear-shot, Staniford again spoke: "Dunham, this girl is plainly one of those cases of supernatural innocence, on the part of herself and her friends, which, as you suggested, wouldn't occur among any other people in the world but ours."
"You're a good fellow, Staniford!" cried Dunham.
"Not at all. I call myself simply a human being, with the elemental instincts of a gentleman, as far as concerns this matter. The girl has been placed in a position which could be made very painful to her. It seems to me it's our part to prevent it from being so. I doubt if she finds it at all anomalous, and if we choose she need never do so till after we've parted with her. I fancy we can preserve her unconsciousness intact."
"Staniford, this is like you," said his friend, with glistening eyes. "I had some wild notion of the kind myself, but I'm so glad you spoke of it first."
"Well, never mind," responded Staniford. "We must make her feel that there is nothing irregular or uncommon in her being here as she is. I don't know how the matter's to be managed, exactly; it must be a negative benevolence for the most part; but it can be done. The first thing is to cow that nuisance yonder. Pumping the cabin-boy! The little sot! Look here, Dunham; it's such a satisfaction to me to think of putting that fellow under foot that I'll leave you all the credit of saving the young lady's feelings. I should like to begin stamping on him at once."
"I think you have made a beginning already. I confess I wish you hadn't such heavy nails in your boots!"
"Oh, they'll do him good, confound him!" said Staniford.
"I should have liked it better if her name hadn't been Blood," remarked Dunham, presently.
"It doesn't matter what a girl's surname is. Besides, Blood is very frequent in some parts of the State."
"She's very pretty, isn't she?" Dunham suggested.
"Oh, pretty enough, yes," replied Staniford. "Nothing is so common as the pretty girl of our nation. Her beauty is part of the general tiresomeness of the whole situation."
"Don't you think," ventured his friend, further, "that she has rather a lady-like air?"
"She wanted to know," said Staniford, with a laugh.
Dunham was silent a while before he asked, "What do you suppose her first name is?"
"Well, then,—Lurella. You have no idea of the grotesqueness of these people's minds. I used to see a great deal of their intimate life when I went on my tramps, and chanced it among them, for bed and board, wherever I happened to be. We cultivated Yankees and the raw material seem hardly of the same race. Where the Puritanism has gone out of the people in spots, there's the rankest growth of all sorts of crazy heresies, and the old scriptural nomenclature has given place to something compounded of the fancifulness of story-paper romance and the gibberish of spiritualism. They make up their names, sometimes, and call a child by what sounds pretty to them. I wonder how the captain picked up that scoundrel."
The turn of Staniford's thought to Hicks was suggested by the appearance of Captain Jenness, who now issued from the cabin gangway, and came toward them with the shadow of unwonted trouble in his face. The captain, too, was smoking.
"Well, gentlemen," he began, with the obvious indirectness of a man not used to diplomacy, "how do you like your accommodations?"
Staniford silently acquiesced in Dunham's reply that they found them excellent. "But you don't mean to say," Dunham added, "that you're going to give us beefsteak and all the vegetables of the season the whole way over?"
"No," said the captain; "we shall put you on sea-fare soon enough. But you'll like it. You don't want the same things at sea that you do on shore; your appetite chops round into a different quarter altogether, and you want salt beef; but you'll get it good. Your room's pretty snug," he suggested.
"Oh, it's big enough," said Staniford, to whom he had turned as perhaps more in authority than Dunham. "While we're well we only sleep in it, and if we're seasick it doesn't matter where we are."
The captain knocked the ash from his cigar with the tip of his fat little finger, and looked down. "I was in hopes I could have let you had a room apiece, but I had another passenger jumped on me at the last minute. I suppose you see what's the matter with Mr. Hicks?" He looked up from one to another, and they replied with a glance of perfect intelligence. "I don't generally talk my passengers over with one another, but I thought I'd better speak to you about him. I found him yesterday evening at my agents', with his father. He's just been on a spree, a regular two weeks' tear, and the old gentleman didn't know what to do with him, on shore, any longer. He thought he'd send him to sea a voyage, and see what would come of it, and he plead hard with me to take him. I didn't want to take him, but he worked away at me till I couldn't say no. I argued in my own mind that he couldn't get anything to drink on my ship, and that he'd behave himself well enough as long as he was sober." The captain added ruefully, "He looks worse this morning than he did last night. He looks bad. I told the old gentleman that if he got into any trouble at Try-East, or any of the ports where we touched, he shouldn't set foot on my ship again. But I guess he'll keep pretty straight. He hasn't got any money, for one thing."
Staniford laughed. "He stops drinking for obvious reasons, if for no others, like Artemus Ward's destitute inebriate. Did you think only of us in deciding whether you should take him?"
The captain looked up quickly at the young men, as if touched in a sore place. "Well, there again I didn't seem to get my bearings just right. I suppose you mean the young lady?" Staniford motionlessly and silently assented. "Well, she's more of a young lady than I thought she was, when her grandfather first come down here and talked of sending her over with me. He was always speaking about his little girl, you know, and I got the idea that she was about thirteen, or eleven, may be. I thought the child might be some bother on the voyage, but thinks I, I'm used to children, and I guess I can manage. Bless your soul! when I first see her on the wharf yesterday, it most knocked me down! I never believed she was half so tall, nor half so good-looking." Staniford smiled at this expression of the captain's despair, but the captain did not smile. "Why, she was as pretty as a bird. Well, there I was. It was no time then to back out. The old man wouldn't understood. Besides, there was the young lady herself, and she seemed so forlorn and helpless that I kind of pitied her. I thought, What if it was one of my own girls? And I made up my mind that she shouldn't know from anything I said or did that she wasn't just as much at home and just as much in place on my ship as she would be in my house. I suppose what made me feel easier about it, and took the queerness off some, was my having my own girls along last voyage. To be sure, it ain't quite the same thing," said the captain, interrogatively.
"Not quite," assented Staniford.
"If there was two of them," said the captain, "I don't suppose I should feel so bad about it. But thinks I, A lady's a lady the world over, and a gentleman's a gentleman." The captain looked significantly at the young men. "As for that other fellow," added Captain Jenness, "if I can't take care of him, I think I'd better stop going to sea altogether, and go into the coasting trade."
He resumed his cigar with defiance, and was about turning away when Staniford spoke. "Captain Jenness, my friend and I had been talking this little matter over just before you came up. Will you let me say that I'm rather proud of having reasoned in much the same direction as yourself?"
This was spoken with that air which gave Staniford a peculiar distinction, and made him the despair and adoration of his friend: it endowed the subject with seriousness, and conveyed a sentiment of grave and noble sincerity. The captain held out a hand to each of the young men, crossing his wrists in what seemed a favorite fashion with him. "Good!" he cried, heartily. "I thought I knew you."
Staniford and Dunham drew stools to the rail, and sat down with their cigars after the captain left them. The second mate passed by, and cast a friendly glance at them; he had whimsical brown eyes that twinkled under his cap-peak, while a lurking smile played under his heavy mustache; but he did not speak. Staniford said, there was a pleasant fellow, and he should like to sketch him. He was only an amateur artist, and he had been only an amateur in life otherwise, so far; but he did not pretend to have been anything else.
"Then you're not sorry you came, Staniford?" asked Dunham, putting his hand on his friend's knee. "He characteristically assumed the responsibility, although the voyage by sailing-vessel rather than steamer was their common whim, and it had been Staniford's preference that decided them for Trieste rather than any nearer port.
"No, I'm not sorry,—if you call it come, already. I think a bit of Europe will be a very good thing for the present, or as long as I'm in this irresolute mood. If I understand it, Europe is the place for American irresolution. When I've made up my mind, I'll come home again. I still think Colorado is the thing, though I haven't abandoned California altogether; it's a question of cattle-range and sheep-ranch."
"You'll decide against both," said Dunham.
"How would you like West Virginia? They cattle-range in West Virginia, too. They may sheep-ranch, too, for all I know,—no, that's in Old Virginia. The trouble is that the Virginias, otherwise irreproachable, are not paying fields for such enterprises. They say that one is a sure thing in California, and the other is a sure thing in Colorado. They give you the figures." Staniford lit another cigar.
"But why shouldn't you stay where you are, Staniford? You've money enough left, after all."
"Yes, money enough for one. But there's something ignoble in living on a small stated income, unless you have some object in view besides living, and I haven't, you know. It's a duty I owe to the general frame of things to make more money."
"If you turned your mind to any one thing, I'm sure you'd succeed where you are," Dunham urged.
"That's just the trouble," retorted his friend. "I can't turn my mind to any one thing,—I'm too universally gifted. I paint a little, I model a little, I play a very little indeed; I can write a book notice. The ladies praise my art, and the editors keep my literature a long time before they print it. This doesn't seem the highest aim of being. I have the noble earth-hunger; I must get upon the land. That's why I've got upon the water." Staniford laughed again, and pulled comfortably at his cigar. "Now, you," he added, after a pause, in which Dunham did not reply, "you have not had losses; you still have everything comfortable about you. Du hast Alles was Menschen begehr, even to the schonsten Augen of the divine Miss Hibbard."
"Yes, Staniford, that's it. I hate your going out there all alone. Now, if you were taking some nice girl with you!" Dunham said, with a lover's fond desire that his friend should be in love, too.
"To those wilds? To a redwood shanty in California, or a turf hovel in Colorado? What nice girl would go? 'I will take some savage woman, she shall rear my dusky race.'"
"I don't like to have you take any risks of degenerating," began Dunham.
"With what you know to be my natural tendencies? Your prophetic eye prefigures my pantaloons in the tops of my boots. Well, there is time yet to turn back from the brutality of a patriarchal life. You must allow that I've taken the longest way round in going West. In Italy there are many chances; and besides, you know, I like to talk."
It seemed to be an old subject between them, and they discussed it languidly, like some abstract topic rather than a reality.
"If you only had some tie to bind you to the East, I should feel pretty safe about you," said Dunham, presently.
"I have you," answered his friend, demurely.
"Oh, I'm nothing," said Dunham, with sincerity.
"Well, I may form some tie in Italy. Art may fall in love with me, there. How would you like to have me settle in Florence, and set up a studio instead of a ranch,—choose between sculpture and painting, instead of cattle and sheep? After all, it does grind me to have lost that money! If I had only been swindled out of it, I shouldn't have cared; but when you go and make a bad thing of it yourself, with your eyes open, there's a reluctance to place the responsibility where it belongs that doesn't occur in the other case. Dunham, do you think it altogether ridiculous that I should feel there was something sacred in the money? When I remember how hard my poor old father worked to get it together, it seems wicked that I should have stupidly wasted it on the venture I did. I want to get it back; I want to make money. And so I'm going out to Italy with you, to waste more. I don't respect myself as I should if I were on a Pullman palace car, speeding westward. I'll own I like this better."
"Oh, it's all right, Staniford," said his friend. "The voyage will do you good, and you'll have time to think everything over, and start fairer when you get back."
"That girl," observed Staniford, with characteristic abruptness, "is a type that is commoner than we imagine in New England. We fair people fancy we are the only genuine Yankees. I guess that's a mistake. There must have been a good many dark Puritans. In fact, we always think of Puritans as dark, don't we?"
"I believe we do," assented Dunham. "Perhaps on account of their black clothes."
"Perhaps," said Staniford. "At any rate, I'm so tired of the blonde type in fiction that I rather like the other thing in life. Every novelist runs a blonde heroine; I wonder why. This girl has the clear Southern pallor; she's of the olive hue; and her eyes are black as sloes,—not that I know what sloes are. Did she remind you of anything in particular?"
"Yes; a little of Faed's Evangeline, as she sat in the door-way of the warehouse yesterday."
"Exactly. I wish the picture were more of a picture; but I don't know that it matters. She's more of a picture."
"'Pretty as a bird,' the captain said."
"Bird isn't bad. But the bird is in her manner. There's something tranquilly alert in her manner that's like a bird; like a bird that lingers on its perch, looking at you over its shoulder, if you come up behind. That trick of the heavily lifted, half lifted eyelids,—I wonder if it's a trick. The long lashes can't be; she can't make them curl up at the edges. Blood,—Lurella Blood. And she wants to know." Staniford's voice fell thoughtful.
"She's more slender than Faed's Evangeline. Faed painted rather too fat a sufferer on that tombstone. Lurella Blood has a very pretty figure. Lurella. Why Lurella?"
"Oh, come, Staniford!" cried Dunham. "It isn't fair to call the girl by that jingle without some ground for it."
"I'm sure her name's Lurella, for she wanted to know. Besides, there's as much sense in it as there is in any name. It sounds very well. Lurella. It is mere prejudice that condemns the novel collocation of syllables."