THE OTHER GIRLS
MRS. A. D. T. WHITNEY
BOSTON AND NEW YORK HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY The Riverside Press, Cambridge 1893
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1873, by JAMES R. OSGOOD AND COMPANY, in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
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By Mrs. A. D. T. Whitney.
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"Wait until you are helped, my dear! Don't touch the pie until it is cut!"
The old Mother, Life, keeps saying that to us all.
As individuals, it is well for us to remember it; that we may not have things until we are helped; at any rate, until the full and proper time comes, for courageously and with right assurance helping ourselves.
Yet it is good for people, as people, to get a morsel—a flavor—in advance. It is well that they should be impatient for the King's supper, to which we shall all sit down, if we will, one day.
So I have not waited for everything to happen and become a usage, that I have told you of in this little story. I confess that there are good things in it which have not yet, literally, come to pass. I have picked something out of the pie beforehand.
I meant, therefore, to have laid all dates aside; especially as I found myself a little cramped by them, in re-introducing among these "Other Girls" the girls whom we have before, and rather lately, known. Lest, possibly, in anything which they have here grown to, or experienced, or accomplished, the sharply exact reader should seem to detect the requirement of a longer interval than the almanacs could actually give, I meant to have asked that it should be remembered, that we story-tellers write chiefly in the Potential Mood, and that tenses do not very essentially signify. It will all have had opportunity to be true in eighteen-seventy-five, if it have not had in eighteen-seventy-three. Well enough, indeed, if the prophecies be justified as speedily as the prochronisms will.
The Great Fire, you see, came in and dated it. I could not help that; neither could I leave the great fact out.
Not any more could I possibly tell what sort of April days we should have, when I found myself fixed to the very coming April and Easter, for the closing chapters of my tale. If persistent snow-storms fling a falsehood in my face, it will be what I have not heretofore believed possible,—a white one; and we can all think of balmy Aprils that have been, and that are yet to be.
With these appeals for trifling allowance,—leaving the larger need to the obvious accounting for in a largeness of subject which no slight fiction can adequately handle,—I give you leave to turn the page.
A. D. T. W. BOSTON, March, 1873.
CHAPTER I. SPILLED OUT II. UP-STAIRS III. TWO TRIPS IN THE TRAIN IV. NINETY-NINE FAHRENHEIT V. SPILLED OUT AGAIN VI. A LONG CHAPTER OF A WHOLE YEAR VII. BEL AND BARTHOLOMEW VIII. TO HELP: SOMEWHERE IX. INHERITANCE X. FILLMER AND BYLLES XI. CHRISTOFERO XII. LETTERS AND LINKS XIII. RACHEL FROKE'S TROUBLE XIV. MAVIS PLACE CHAPEL XV. BONNY BOWLS XVI. RECOMPENSE XVII. ERRANDS OF HOPE XVIII. BRICKFIELD FARMS XIX. BLOSSOMING FERNS XX. "WANTED" XXI. VOICES AND VISIONS XXII. BOX FIFTY-TWO XXIII. EVENING AND MORNING: THE SECOND DAY XXIV. TEMPTATION XXV. BEL BREE'S CRUSADE: THE PREACHING XXVI. TROUBLE AT THE SCHERMANS' XXVII. BEL BREE'S CRUSADE: THE TAKING OF JERUSALEM XXVIII. "LIVING IN" XXIX. WINTERGREEN XXX. NEIGHBOR STREET AND GRAVES ALLEY XXXI. CHOSEN: AND CALLED XXXII. EASTER LILIES XXXIII. KITCHEN CRAMBO XXXIV. WHAT NOBODY COULD HELP XXXV. HILL-HOPE
THE OTHER GIRLS
Sylvie Argenter was driving about in her mother's little basket-phaeton.
There was a story about this little basket-phaeton, a story, and a bit of domestic diplomacy.
The story would branch away, back and forward; which I cannot, right here in this first page, let it do. It would tell—taking the little carriage for a text and key—ever so much about aims and ways and principles, and the drift of a household life, which was one of the busy little currents in the world that help to make up its great universal character and atmosphere, at this present age of things, as the drifts and sweeps of ocean make up the climates and atmospheres that wrap and influence the planet.
But the diplomacy had been this:—
"There is one thing, Argie, I should really like Sylvie to have. It is getting to be almost a necessity, living out of town as we do."
Mr. Argenter's other names were "Increase Muchmore;" but his wife passed over all that, and called him in the grace of conjugal intimacy, "Argie."
Increase Muchmore Argenter.
A curious combination; but you need not say it could not have happened. I have read half a dozen as funny combinations in a single advertising page of a newspaper, or in a single transit of the city in a horse-car.
It did not happen altogether without a purpose, either. Mr. Argenter's father had been fond of money; had made and saved a considerable sum himself; and always meant that his son should make and save a good deal more. So he signified this in his cradle and gave him what he called a lucky name, to begin with. The wife of the elder Mr. Argenter had been a Muchmore; her only brother had been named Increase, either out of oddity, such as influenced a certain Mr. Crabtree whom I have heard of, to call his son Agreen, or because the old Puritan name had been in the family, or with a like original inspiration of luck and thrift to that which influenced the later christening, if you can call it such; and now, therefore, resulted Increase Muchmore Argenter. The father hung, as it were, a charm around his son's neck, as Catholics do, giving saints' names to their children. But young Increase found it, in his earlier years, rather of the nature of a millstone. It was a good while, for instance, before Miss Maria Thorndike could make up her mind to take upon herself such a title. She did not much mind it now. "I.M. Argenter" was such a good signature at the bottom of a check; and the surname was quite musical and elegant. "Mrs. Argenter" was all she had put upon her cards. There was no other Mrs. Argenter to be confounded with. The name stood by itself in the Directory. All the rest of the Argenters were away down in Maine in Poggowantimoc.
"Living out of town as we do." Mrs. Argenter always put that in. It was the nut that fastened all her screws of argument.
"Away out here as we are, we must keep an expert cook, you know; we can't send out for bread and cake, and salads and soups, on an emergency, as we did in town." "We must have a seamstress in the house the year round; it is such a bother driving about a ten-mile circuit after one in a hurry;" and now,—"Sylvie ought to have a little vehicle of her own, she is so far away from all her friends; no running in and out and making little daily plans, as girls do in a neighborhood. All the girls of her class have their own pony-chaises now; it is a part of the plan of living."
"It isn't any part of my plan," said Mr. Argenter, who had his little spasms of returning to old-fashioned ideas he was brought up in, but had long ago practically deserted; and these spasms mostly took him, it must be said, in response to new propositions of Mrs. Argenter's. His own plans evolved gradually; he came to them by imperceptible steps of mental process, or outward constraint; Mrs. Argenter's "jumped" at him, took him at unawares, and by sudden impinging upon solid shield of permanent judgment struck out sparks of opposition. She could not very well help that. He never had time to share her little experiences, and interests, and perplexities, and so sympathize with her as she went along, and up to the agreeing and consenting point.
"I won't set her up with any such absurdities," said Mr. Argenter. "It's confounded ruinous shoddy nonsense. Makes little fools of them all. Sylvie's got airs enough now. It won't do for her to think she can have everything the Highfords do."
"It isn't that," said Mrs. Argenter, sweetly. Her position, and the soft "g" in her name, giving her a sense of something elegant and gentle-bred to be always sustained and acted up to, had really helped and strengthened Mrs. Argenter in very much of her established amiability. We don't know, always, where our ties and braces really are. We are graciously allowed many a little temporary stay whose hold cannot be quite directly raced to the everlasting foundations.
"It isn't that; I don't care for the Highfords, particularly. Though I do like to have Sylvie enjoy things as she sees them enjoyed all around her, in her own circle. But it's the convenience; and then, it's a real means of showing kindness. She can so often ask other girls, you know, to drive with her; girls who haven't pony-chaises."
"Showing kindness, yes; you've just hit it there. But it isn't always fun to the frogs, Mrs. A.!"
Now if Mrs. Argenter disliked one thing more than another, that her husband ever did, it was his calling her "Mrs. A.;" and I am very much afraid, I was going to say, that he knew it; but of course he did when she had mildly told him so, over and over,—I am afraid he recollected it, at this very moment, and others similar.
"I don't know what you mean, Mr. Argenter," she said, with some quiet coldness.
"I mean, I know how she takes other girls to ride; she sets them down at the small gray house,—the house without any piazza or bay window, Michael!" and Mr. Argenter laughed. That was the order he had heard Sylvie give one day when he had come up with his own carriage at the post-office in the village, whither he had walked over for exercise and the evening papers. Sylvie had Aggie Townsend with her, and she put her head out at the window on one side just as her father passed on the other, and directed Michael, with a very elegant nonchalance, to "set this little girl down" as aforesaid. Mr. Argenter had been half amused and half angry. The anger passed off, but he had kept up the joke.
"O, do let that old story alone," exclaimed Mrs. Argenter. "Sylvie will soon outgrow all that. If you want to make her a real lady, there is nothing like letting her get thoroughly used to having things."
"I don't intend her to get used to having a pony-chaise," Mr. Argenter said very quietly and shortly. "If she wants to 'show a kindness,' and take 'other' girls to ride, there's the slide-top buggy and old Scrub. She may have that as often as she pleases."
And Mrs. Argenter knew that this ended—or had better end—the conversation.
For that time. Sylvie Argenter did get used to having a pony-chaise, after all. Her mother waited six months, until the pleasant summer weather, when her friends began to come out from the city to spend days with her, or to take early teas, and Michael had to be sent continually to meet and leave them at the trains. Then she began again, and asked for a pony-chaise for herself. To "save the cost of it in Michael's time, and the wear and tear of the heavy carriages. Those little sunset drives would be such a pleasure to her, just when Michael had to be milking and putting up for the night." Mr. Argenter had forgotten all about the other talk, Sylvie's name now being not once mentioned; and the end of it was that a pretty little low phaeton was added to the Argenter equipages, and that Sylvie's mother was always lending it to her.
So Sylvie was driving about in it this afternoon. She had been over to West Dorbury to see the Highfords, and was coming round by Ingraham's Corner, to stop there and buy one of his fresh big loaves of real brown bread for her father's tea. It was a little unspoken, politic understanding between Sylvie and her mother, that some small, acceptable errand like this was to be accomplished whenever the former had the basket-phaeton of an afternoon. By quiet, unspoken demonstration, Mr. Argenter was made to feel in his own little comforts what a handy thing it was to have a daughter flitting about so easily with a pony-carriage.
But there was something else to be accomplished this time that Sylvie had not thought of, and that when it happened, she felt with some dismay might not be quite offset and compensated for by the Ingraham brown bread.
Rod Sherrett was out too, from Roxeter, Young-Americafying with his tandem; trying, to-day, one of his father's horses with his own Red Squirrel, to make out the team; for which, if he should come to any grief, Rodgers, the coachman, would have to bear responsibility for being persuaded to let Duke out in such manner.
Just as Sylvie Argenter drew up her pony at the baker's door, Rod Sherrett came spinning round the corner in grand style. But Duke was not used to tandem harness, and Red Squirrel, put ahead, took flying side-leaps now and then on his own account; and Duke, between his comrade's escapades and his driver's checks and admonitions, was to that degree perplexed in his mind and excited off his well-bred balance, that he was by this time becoming scarcely more reliable in the shafts. Rod found he had his hands full. He found this out, however, only just in time to realize it, as they were suddenly relieved and emptied of their charge; for, before his call and the touch of his long whip could bring back Red Squirrel into line at this turn, he had sprung so far to the left as to bring Duke and the "trap" down upon the little phaeton. There was a lock and a crash; a wheel was off the phaeton, the tandem was overturned, Sylvie Argenter, in the act of alighting, was thrown forward over the threshold of the open shop-door, Rod Sherrett was lying in the road, a man had seized the pony, and Duke and Red Squirrel were shattering away through the scared Corner Village, with the wreck at their heels.
Sylvie's arm was bruised, and her dress torn; that was all. She felt a little jarred and dizzy at first, when Mr. Ingraham lifted her up, and Rodney Sherrett, picking himself out of the dust with a shake and a stamp, found his own bones unbroken, and hurried over to ask anxiously—for he was a kind-hearted fellow—how much harm he had done, and to express his vehement regret at the "horrid spill."
Rod Sherrett and Sylvie Argenter had danced together at the Roxeter Assemblies, and the little Dorbury "Germans;" they had boated, and picknicked, and skated in company, but to be tumbled together into a baker's shop, torn and frightened, and dusty,—each feeling, also, in a great scrape,—this was an odd and startling partnership. Sylvie was pale; Rod was sorry; both were very much demolished as to dress: Sylvie's hat had got a queer crush, and a tip that was never intended over her eyes; Rodney's was lying in the street, and his hair was rumpled and curiously powdered. When they had stood and looked at each other an instant after the first inquiry and reply, they both laughed. Then Rodney shrugged his shoulders, and walked over and picked up his hat.
"It might have been worse," he said, coming back, as Mr. Ingraham and the man who had held Sylvie's pony took the latter out of the shafts and led him to a post to fasten him, and then proceeded together, as well as they could, to lift the disabled phaeton and roll it over to the blacksmith's shop to be set right.
"You'll be all straight directly," he said, "and I'm only thankful you're not much hurt. But I am in a mess. Whew! What the old gentleman will say if Duke don't come out of it comfortable, is something I'd rather not look ahead to. I must go on and see. I'll be back again, and if there's anything—anything more," he added with a droll twinkle, "that I can do for you, I shall be happy, and will try to do it a little better."
The feminine Ingrahams were all around Sylvie by this time: Mrs. Ingraham, and Ray, and Dot. They bemoaned and exclaimed, and were "thankful she'd come off as she had;" and "she'd better step right in and come up-stairs." The village boys were crowding round,—all those who had not been in time to run after the "smash,"—and Sylvie gladly withdrew to the offered shelter. Rod Sherrett gave his hair a toss or two with his hands, struck the dust off his wide-awake, put it on, and walked off down the hill, through the staring and admiring crowd.
The two Ingraham girls had been sitting in their own room over the shop when the accident occurred, and it was there they now took Sylvie Argenter, to have her dress tacked together again, and to wash her face and hands and settle her hair and hat. Mrs. Ingraham came bustling after with "arnicky" for the bruised arm. They were all very delighted and important, having the great Mr. Argenter's daughter quite to themselves in the intimacy of "up-stairs," to wait upon and take care of. Mrs. Ingraham fussed and "my-deared" a good deal; her daughters took it with more outward calmness. Although baker's daughters, they belonged to the present youthful generation, born to best education at the public schools, sewing-machines, and universal double-skirted full-fashions; and had read novels of society out of the Roxeter town library.
There was a good deal of time after the bathing and mending and re-arranging were all done. The axle of the phaeton had been split, and must be temporarily patched up and banded. There was nothing for Sylvie to do but to sit quietly there in the old-fashioned, dimity-covered easy-chair which they gave her by the front window, and wait. Meanwhile, she observed and wondered much.
She had never got out of the Argenter and Highford atmosphere before. She didn't know—as we don't about the moon—whether there might be atmosphere for the lesser and subsidiary world. But here she found herself in the bedroom of two girls who lived over a bake-shop, and, really, it seemed they actually did live, much after the fashion of other people. There were towels on the stand, a worked pincushion on the toilet, white shades and red tassels to the windows, this comfortable easy-chair beside one and a low splint rocker in the other,—with queer, antique-looking soft footstools of dark cloth, tamboured in bright colors before each,—white quilted covers on table and bureau, and positively, a striped, knitted foot-spread in scarlet and white yarn, folded across the lower end of the bed.
She had never thought of there being anything at Ingraham's Corner but a shop on a dusty street, with, she supposed,—only she never really supposed about it,—some sort of places, behind and above it, under the same roof, for the people to get away into when they weren't selling bread, to cook, and eat, and sleep, she had never exactly imagined how, but of course not as they did in real houses that were not shops. And when Mrs. Ingraham, who had bustled off down-stairs, came shuffling up again as well as she could with both hands full and her petticoats in her way, and appeared bearing a cup of hot tea and a plate of spiced gingerbread,—the latter not out of the shop, but home-made, and out of her own best parlor cupboard,—she perceived almost with bewilderment, that cup and plate were of spotless china, and the spoon was of real, worn, bright silver. She might absolutely put these things to her own lips without distaste or harm.
"It'll do you good after your start," said kindly Mrs. Ingraham.
The difference came in with the phraseology. A silver spoon is a silver spoon, but speech cannot be rubbed up for occasion. Sylvie thought she must mean before her start, about which she was growing anxious.
"O, I'm sorry you should have taken so much trouble," she exclaimed. "I wonder if the phaeton will be ready soon?"
"Mr. Ingraham he's got back," replied the lady. "He says Rylocks'll be through with it in about half an hour. Don't you be a mite concerned. Jest set here and drink your tea, and rest. Dot, I guess you'd as good's come down-stairs. I shall be wantin' you with them fly nets. Your father's fetched home the frames."
Ray Ingraham sat in the side window, and crocheted thread edging,—of which she had already yards rolled up and pinned together in a white ball upon her lap,—while Sylvie sipped her tea.
The side window looked out into a shady little garden-spot, in the front corner of which grew a grand old elm, which reached around with beneficent, beautiful branches, and screened also a part of the street aspect. Seen from within, and from under these great, green, swaying limbs,—the same here in the village as out in free field or forest,—the street itself seemed less dusty, less common, less impossible to pause upon for anything but to buy bread, or mend a wheel, or get a horse shod.
"How different it is, in behind!" said Sylvie, speaking out involuntarily.
Ray shot a quick look at her from her bright dark eyes.
"I suppose it is,—almost everywheres," she answered. "I've got turned round so, sometimes, with people and places, until they never seemed the same again."
If Ray had not said "everywheres," Sylvie would not have been reminded; but that word sent her, in recollection, out to the house-front and the shop-sign again. Ray knew better; she was a good scholar, but she heard her mother and others like her talk vernacular every day. It was a wonder she shaded off from it as delicately as she did.
Ray Ingraham, or Rachel,—for that was her name, and her sister's was Dorothy, though these had been shortened into two as charming, pet little appellatives as could have been devised by the most elegant intention,—was a pretty girl, with her long-lashed, quick-glancing dark eyes, her hair, that crimped naturally and fell off in a deep, soft shadow from her temples, her little mouth, neatly dimpled in, and the gypsy glow of her clear, bright skin. Dot was different: she was dark too, not so dark; her eyes were full, brilliant gray, with thick, short lashes; she was round and comfortable: nose, cheeks, chin, neck, waist, hands; her mouth was large, with white teeth that showed easily and broadly, instead of, like Ray's, with just a quiver and a glimmer. She was like her mother. She looked the smart, buxom, common-sense village girl to perfection. Ray had the hint of something higher and more delicate about her, though she had the trigness, and readiness, and every-day-ness too.
Sylvie sat silent after this, and looked at her, wondering, more than she had wondered about the furniture. Thinking, "how many girls there were in the world! All sorts—everywhere! What did they all do, and find to care for?" These were not the "other" girls of whom her mother had blandly said that she could show kindnesses by taking them to drive. Those were such as Aggie Townsend, the navy captain's widow's daughter,—nice, but poor; girls whom everybody noticed, of course, but who hadn't it in their power to notice anybody. That made such a difference! These were otherer yet! And for all that they were girls,—girls! Ever so much of young life, and glow, and companionship, ever so much of dream, and hope, and possible story, is in just that little plural of five letters. A company of girls! Heaven only knows what there is not represented, and suggested, and foreshadowed there!
Sylvie Argenter, with all her nonsense, had a way of putting herself, imaginatively, into other people's places. She used to tell her mother, when she was a little child and said her hymns,—which Mrs. Argenter, not having any very fresh, instant spiritual life, I am afraid, out of which to feed her child, chose for her in dim remembrance of what had been thought good for herself when she was little,—that she "didn't know exactly as she did 'thank the goodness and the grace that on her birth had smiled.'" She "should like pretty well to have been a little—Lapland girl with a sledge; or—a Chinese; or—a kitchen girl; a little while, I mean!"
She had a way of intimacy with the servants which Mrs. Argenter found it hard to check. She liked to get into Jane's room when she was "doing herself up" of an afternoon, and look over her cheap little treasures in her band-box and chest-drawer. She made especial love to a carnelian heart, and a twisted gold ring with two clasped hands on it.
"I think it's real nice to have only two or three things, and to 'clean yourself up,' and to have a 'Sunday out!'" she said.
Mrs. Argenter was anxiously alarmed at the child's low tastes. Yet these were very practicably compatible with the alternations of importance in being driven about in her father's barouche, taking Aggie Townsend up on the road, and "setting her down at the small gray house."
Sylvie thought, this afternoon, looking at Ray Ingraham, in her striped lilac and white calico, with its plaited waist and cross-banded, machine-stitched double skirt, sitting by her shady window, beyond which, behind the garden angle, rose up the red brick wall of the bakehouse, whence came a warm, sweet smell of many new-drawn loaves,—looking around within, at the snug tidiness of the simple room, and even out at the street close by, with its stir and curious interest, yet seen from just as real a shelter as she had in her own chamber at home,—that it might really be nice to be a baker's daughter and live in the village,—"when it wasn't your own fault, and you couldn't help it."
Ray nodded to some one out of her window.
Sylvie saw a bright color come up in her cheeks, and a sparkle into her eyes as she did so, while a little smile, that she seemed to think was all to herself, crept about her mouth and lingered at the dimpled corners. There was an expression as if she hid herself quite away in some consciousness of her own, from any recollection of the strange girl sitting by.
The strange girl glanced from her window, and saw a young carpenter with his box of tools go past under the elm, with some sort of light subsiding also in like manner from his face. He was in his shirt sleeves,—but the sleeves were white,—and his straw hat was pushed back from his forehead, about which brown curls lay damp with heat. Sylvie did not believe he had even touched his hat, when he had looked up through the friendly elm boughs and bowed to the village girl in her shady corner. His hands were full, of course. Such people's hands were almost always full. That was the reason they did not learn such things. But how cute it had been of Ray Ingraham not to sit in the front window! He was certain to come by, too, she supposed. To be sure; that was the street. Ray Ingraham would not have cared to live up a long avenue, to wait for people to come on purpose, in carriages.
She got as far as this in her thinkings, at the same moment that she came to the bottom of her cup of tea. And then she caught a glimpse of Rylocks, rolling the phaeton across from the smithy.
"What a funny time I have had! And how kind you have all been!" she said, getting up. "I am ever so much obliged, Miss Ingraham. I wonder"—and then, suddenly, she thought it might not be quite civil to wonder.
Ray Ingraham laughed.
"So do I!" she said quickly, with a bright look. She knew well enough what Sylvie stopped at.
Each of these two girls wondered if there would ever be any more "getting in behind" for them, as regarded each other, in their two different lives.
As Sylvie Argenter came out at the shop-door, Rodney Sherrett appeared at the same point, safely mounted on the runaway Duke. The team had been stopped below at the river; he had found a stable and a saddle, had left Red Squirrel and the broken vehicle to be sent for, and was going home, much relieved and assured by being able to present himself upon his father's favorite roadster, whole in bones and with ungrazed skin.
The street boys stood round again, as he dismounted to make fresh certainty of Sylvie's welfare, handed her into her phaeton, and then, springing to the saddle, rode away beside her, down the East Dorbury road.
Mrs. Argenter was sitting with her worsted work in the high, many-columned terrace piazza which gave grandeur to the great show-house that Mr. Argenter had built some five years since, when Sylvie, with Rod Sherrett beside her, came driving up the long avenue, or, as Mrs. Argenter liked to call it, out of the English novels, the approach. She laid back her canvas and wools into the graceful Fayal basket-stand, and came down the first flight of stone steps to meet them.
"How late you are, Sylvie! I had begun to be quite worried," she said, when Sylvie dropped the reins around the dasher and stood up in the low carriage, nodding at her mother. She felt quite brave and confident about the accident, now that Rodney Sherrett had come all the way with her to the very door, to account for it and to help her out with the story.
Rodney lifted his hat to the lady.
"We've had a great spill, Mrs. Argenter. All my fault, and Red Squirrel's. Miss Argenter has brought home more than I have from the melee. I started with a tandem, and here I am with only Gray Duke and a borrowed saddle. It was out at Ingraham's Corner,—a quick turn, you know,—and Miss Argenter had just stopped when Squirrel sprang round upon her. My trap is pretty much into kindlings, but there are no bones broken. You must let me send Rodgers round on his way to town to-morrow, to take the phaeton to the builder's. It wants a new axle. I'm awful sorry; but after all"—with a bright smile,—"I can't think it altogether an ill wind,—for me, at any rate. I couldn't help enjoying the ride home."
"I don't believe you could help enjoying the whole of it, except the very minute of the tip-out itself, before you knew," said Sylvie, laughing.
"Well, it was a lark; but the worst is coming. I've got to go home all alone. I wish you'd come and tell the tale for me, Miss Sylvie. I shouldn't be half so afraid!"
TWO TRIPS IN THE TRAIN.
The seven o'clock morning train was starting from Dorbury Upper Village.
Early business men, mechanics, clerks, shop-girls, sewing-girls, office-boys,—these made up the list of passengers. Except, perhaps, some travellers now and then, bound for a first express from Boston, or an excursion party to take a harbor steamer for a day's trip to Nantasket or Nahant.
Did you ever contrast one of these trains—when perhaps you were such traveller or excursionist—with the after, leisurely, comfortable one at ten or eleven; when gentlemen who only need to be in the city through banking hours, and ladies bent on calls or elegant shopping, come chatting and rustling to their seats, and hold a little drawing-room exchange in the twenty-five minutes' trip?
If you have,—and if you have a little sympathetic imagination that fills out hints,—you have had a glimpse of some of these "other girls" and the thing that daily living is to them, with which my story means to concern itself.
Have you noticed the hats, with the rose or the feather behind or at top, scrupulously according to the same dictate of style that rules alike for seven and ten o'clock, but which has often to be worn through wet and dry till the rose has been washed by too many a shower, and the feather blown by too many a dusty wind, to stand for anything but a sign that she knows what should be where, if she only had it to put there? Have you seen the cheap alpacas, in two shades, sure to fade in different ways and out of kindred with each other, painfully looped in creasing folds, very much sat upon, but which would not by any means resign themselves to simple smoothed straightness, while silks were hitched and crisp Hernanis puffed?
Yet the alpacas, and all their innumerable cousinhood, have also their first mornings of fresh gloss, when the newness of the counter is still upon them; there is a youth for all things; a first time, a charm that seems as if it might last, though we know it neither will nor was meant to; if it would, or were, the counters might be taken down. And people who wear gowns that are creased and faded, have each, one at a time, their days of glory, when they begin again. The farther apart they come, perhaps the more of the spring-time there is in them.
Marion Kent bloomed out this clear, sweet, clean summer morning in a span new tea-colored zephyrine polonaise with three little frills edged with tiny brown braid, which set it off trimly with the due contrasting depth of color, and cost nearly nothing except the stitches and the kerosene she burned late in the hot July nights in her only time for finishing it. She had covered her little old curled leaf of a hat with a tea-colored corner that had been left, and puffed it up high and light to the point of the new style, with brown veil tissue that also floated off in an abundant cloudy grace behind; and she had such an air of breezy and ecstatic elegance as she came beaming and hastening into the early car, that nobody really looked down to see that the underskirt was the identical black brilliantine that had done service all the spring in the dismal mornings of waterproofs and india-rubbers and general damp woolen smells and blue nips and shivers.
Marion Kent always made you think of things that never at all belonged to her. She gave you an impression of something that she seemed to stand for, which she could not wholly be. Her zephyrine, with its silky shine, hinted at the real lustres of far more costly fabrics; her hat, perked up with puffs of grenadine (how all these things do rhyme and repeat their little Frenchy tags of endings!) put you in mind of lace and feathers, and a general float and flutter of gay millinery; her step and expression, as she came airily into this second-rate old car, put on for the "journeymen" train, brought up a notion, almost, of some ball-room advent, flushed and conscious and glad with the turning of all admiring eyes upon it; her face, even, without being absolutely beautiful, sparkled out at you a certain will and force and intent of beauty that shot an idea or suggestion of brilliant prettiness instantly through your unresisting imagination, compelling you to fill out whatever was wanting; and what more, can you explain, do feature and bearing that come nearest to perfect fulfillment effect?
The middle-aged cabinet-maker looked over his newspaper at her as she came in; he had little daughters of his own growing up to girlhood, and there might have been some thought in his head not purely admiring; but still he looked up. The knot of office-boys, crowding and skylarking across a couple of seats, stopped their shuffle and noise for a second, and one said, "My! ain't she stunning?" A young fellow, rather spruce in his own way also, with precise necktie, deep paper cuffs and dollar-store studs and initial sleeve-buttons, touched his hat with an air of taking credit to himself, as she glanced at him; and another, in a sober old gray suit, with only a black ribbon knotted under his linen collar, turned slightly the other way as she approached, and with something like a frown between his brows, looked out of the window at a wood-pile.
Marion's cheeks were a tint brighter, and her white teeth seemed to flash out a yet more determined smile, as, passing him by, she seated herself with friendly bustle among some girls a little behind him.
"In again, Marion?" said one. "I thought you'd left."
"Only in for a transient," said Marion, with a certain clear tone that reminded one of the stage-trainer's direction to "speak to the galleries." "Nellie Burton is sick, and Lufton sent for me. I'll do for a month or so, and like it pretty well; then I shall have a tiff, I suppose, and fling it up again; I can't stand being ordered round longer than that."
"Or longer than the new lasts," said the other slyly, touching the drapery sleeve of the zephyrine. "It is awful pretty, Marry!"
"Yes, and while the new lasts Lufton'll be awful polite," returned Marion. "He likes to see his girls look stylish, I can tell you. When things begin to shab out, then the snubbing begins. And how they're going to help shabbing out I should like to know, dragging round amongst the goods and polishing against the counters? and who's going to afford ready-made, or pay for sewing, out of six dollars a week and cars and dinners, let alone regular board, that some of 'em have to take off? Why there isn't enough left for shoes! No wonder Lufton's always changing. Well—there's one good of it! You can always get a temporary there. Save up a month and then put into port and refit. That's the way I do."
"But what does it come to, after all's said and done? and what if you hadn't the port?" asked Hannah Upshaw, the girl with the shawl on, who never wore suits.
Marion Kent shrugged her shoulders.
"I don't know, yet. I take things as they come to me. I don't pretend to calculate for anybody else. I know one thing, though, there is other things to be done,—and it isn't sewing-machines either, if you can once get started. And when I can see my way clear, I mean to start. See if I don't!"
The train stopped at the Pomantic station. The young man in the gray clothes rose up, took something from under the car-seat and went out. What he had with him was a carpenter's box. It was the same youth who had greeted Ray Ingraham from beneath the elm branches. As the train got slowly under way again, Marion looked straight out at her window into Frank Sunderline's face, and bowed,—very modestly and sweetly bowed. He was waiting for that instant on the platform, until the track should be clear and he could cross.
What he caught in Marion's look, as she turned it full upon him, nobody could see; but there was a quieter earnest in it, certainly, when she turned back; and the young man had responded to her salutation with a relaxing glance of friendly pleasantness that seemed more native to his face than the frown of a few minutes before.
Marion Kent had several selves; several relations, at any rate, into which she could put herself with others. I think she showed young Sunderline, for that instant, out of gentler, questioning, almost beseeching eyes, a something she could not show to the whole car-full with whom at the moment of her entrance she had been in rapport, through frills and puffs and flutters, into which she had allowed her consciousness to pass. Behind the little window he could only see a face; a face quieted down from its gay flippancy; a face that showed itself purposely and simply to him; eyes that said, "What was that you thought of me just now? Don't think it!"
They were old neighbors and child-friends. They had grown up together; had they been growing away from each other in some things since they had been older? Often it appeared so; but it was Marion chiefly who seemed to change; then, all at once, in some unspoken and intangible way, for a moment like this, she seemed to come suddenly back again, or he seemed to catch a glimpse of that in her, hidden, not altered, which might come back one of these days. Was it a glimpse, perhaps, like the sight the Lord has of each one of us, always?
Meanwhile, what of Ray Ingraham?
Ray Ingraham was sweet, and proper, and still; just what Frank Sunderline thought was prettiest and nicest for a woman to be. He was always reminded by her ways of what it would be so pretty and nice for Marion Kent to be. But Marion would sparkle; and it is so hard to be still and sparkle too. He liked the brightness and the airiness; a little of it, near to; he did not like a whole car-full, or room-full, or street full,—he did not like to see a woman sparkle all round.
Mr. Ingraham had come into Dorbury Upper Village some half dozen years since; had leased the bakery, house, and shop; and two years afterward, Rachel had come home to stay. She had been left in Boston with her grandmother when the family had moved out of the city, that she might keep on a while with the school that she was used to and stood so well in; with her Chapel classes, also, where she heard literature and history lectures, each once a week. Ray could not bear to leave them, nor to give up her Sunday lessons in the dear old Mission Rooms. Dot was three years younger; she could begin again anywhere, and their mother could not spare both. Besides, "what Ray got she could always be giving to Dot afterwards." That is not so easy, and by no means always follows. Dot turned out the mother's girl,—the girl of the village, as was said; practical, comfortable, pleasant, capable, sensible. Ray was something of all these, with a touch of more; alive in a higher nature, awakened to receive through upper channels, sensitive to some things that neither pleased nor troubled Mrs. Ingraham and Dot.
It took a good while to come to know a girl like Ray Ingraham; most of her young acquaintance felt the step up that they must take to stand fairly beside her, or come intimately near. Frank Sunderline felt it too, in certain ways, and did not suppose that she could see in him more than he saw in himself: a plain fellow, good at his trade, or going to be; bright enough to know brightness in other people when he came across it, and with enough of what, independent of circumstances, goes to the essential making of a gentleman, to perceive and be attracted by the delicate gentleness that makes a lady.
That was just what Ray Ingraham did see; only he hardly set it down in his self-estimate at its full value.
Do you perceive, story-reader, story-raveller, that Frank Sunderline was not quite in love with either of these girls? Do you see that it is not a matter of course that he should be?
I can tell you, you girls who make a romance out of the first word, and who can tell from the first chapter how it will all end, that you will make great mistakes if you go to interpreting life so,—your own, or anybody's else.
I can tell you that men—those who are good for very much—come often more slowly to their life-conclusions than you think; that woman-nature is a good deal to a man, and is meant to be, in gradual bearing and influence, in the shaping of his perception, the working of comparison, the coming to an understanding of his own want, and the forming of his ideal,—yes, even in the mere general pleasantness and gentle use of intercourse—before the individual woman reveals herself, slowly or suddenly, as the one only central need, and motive, and reward, and satisfying, that the world holds and has kept for him. For him to gain or to lose: either way, to have mightily to do with that soul-forging and shaping that the Lord, in his handling of every man, is about.
That night they all came out together in the last train. Ray Ingraham had gone in after dinner to make some purchases for her mother, and had been to see some Chapel friends. Marion, as she came in through the gate at the station, saw her far before, walking up the long platform to the cars. She watched her enter the second in the line, and hastened on, making up her mind instantly, like a field general, to her own best manoeuvre. It was not exactly what every girl would have done; and therein showed her generalship. She would get into the same carriage, and take a seat with her. She knew very well that Frank Sunderline would jump on at Pomantic, his day's work just done. If he came and spoke to Ray he should speak also to her. She did not risk trying which he would come and speak to. It should be, that joining them, and finding it pleasant, he should not quite know which, after all, had most made it so. Different as they were, she and Ray Ingraham toned and flavored each other, and Marion knew it. They were like rose-color and gray; or like spice and salt: you did not stop to think which ruled the taste, or which your eye separately rested on. Something charming, delicious, resulted of their being together; they set each other off, and helped each other out. Then it was something that Frank Sunderline should see that Ray would let her be her friend; that she was not altogether too loud and pronounced for her. Ray did not turn aside and look at wood-piles, and get rid of her.
Furthermore, the way home from the Dorbury depot, for Frank and Marion both, lay past the bakery, on down the under-hill road.
Marion did not think out a syllable of all this; she grasped the situation, and she acted in an instant. I told you she acted like a general in the field: perhaps neither she nor the general would be as skillful, always, with the maps and compasses, and time to plan beforehand. I do not think Marion was ever very wise in her fore-thoughts.
Beyond Pomantic, the next one or two stations took off a good many passengers, so that they had their part of the car almost to themselves. Frank Sunderline had come in and taken a place upon the other side; now he moved over into the seat behind them, accosting them pleasantly, but not interrupting the conversation which had been busily going on between them all the way. Ray was really interested in some things Marion had brought up to notice; her face was intent and thoughtful; perhaps she was not quite so pretty when she was set thinking; her dimples were hidden; but Marion was beaming, exhilarated partly by her own talk, somewhat by an honest, if half mischievous earnestness in her subject, and very much also by the consciousness of the young mechanic opposite, within observing and listening distance. Marion could not help talking over her shoulders, more or less, always.
"Men take the world in the rough, and do the work; women help, and come in for the finishing off," said Rachel, just as Frank Sunderline changed his place and joined them. "We could not handle those, for instance," she said, with a shy, quiet sign toward the carpenter's tools, and lowering her already gentle voice.
"Men break in the fields, and plough, and sow, and mow; and women ride home on the loads,—is that it?" said Marion, laughing, and snatching her simile from a hay-field with toppling wagons, that the train was at that moment skimming by. "Well, may be! All is, I shall look out for my ride. After things are broken in, I don't see why we shouldn't get the good of it."
"Value is what things stand for, or might procure, isn't it?" said Ray, turning to Sunderline, and taking him frankly and friendlily into the conversation.
"No fair!" cried Marion. "He doesn't understand the drift of it. Do you, see, Mr. Sunderline, why a man should be paid any more than a woman, for standing behind a counter and measuring off the same goods, or at a desk and keeping the same accounts? I don't! That's what I'm complaining of."
"That's the complaint of the day, I know," said Sunderline. "And no doubt there's a good deal of special unfairness that needs righting, and will get it. But things don't come to be as they are quite without a reason, either. There's a principle in it, you've got to look back to that."
"Well?" said Marion, gleefully interrogatory, and settling herself with an air of attention, and of demurely giving up the floor. She was satisfied to listen, if only Frank Sunderline would talk.
"I believe I see what you meant," he said to Ray. "About the values that things stand for. A man represents a certain amount of power in the world."
"O, does he?" put in Marion, with an indescribable inflection. "I'm glad to know."
"He could be doing some things that a woman could not do at all—was never meant to do. He stands for so much force. You may apply things as you please, but if you don't use them according to their relative capacity, the unused value has to be paid for—somewhere."
"That's a nice principle!" said Marion. "I like that I should like to be paid for what I might be good for!"
Frank Sunderline laughed.
"It's a good principle; because by it things settle themselves, in the long run. You may take mahogany or pine to make a table, and one will answer the common convenience of a table as well as the other; but you will learn not to take mahogany when the pine will serve the purpose. You will keep it for what the pine wouldn't be fit for; which wouldn't come to pass if the pine weren't cheapest. Women wouldn't get those places to tend counters and keep books, if the world hadn't found out that it was poor economy, as a general rule, to take men for it."
"But what do you say about mental power? About pay for teaching, for instance?" asked Ray.
"Why, you're coming round to my side!" exclaimed Marion. "I should really like to know where you are?"
"I am wherever I can get nearest to the truth of things," said Ray, smiling.
"That," said Sunderline, "is one of the specialties that is getting righted. Women are being paid more, in proportion, for intellectual service, and the nearer you come to the pure mental power, the nearer you come to equality in recompense. A woman who writes a clever book, or paints a good picture, or sculptures a good statue, can get as much for her work as a man. But where time is paid for,—where it is personal service,—the old principle at the root of things comes in. Men open up the wildernesses, men sail the seas, work the mines, forge the iron, build the cities, defend the nations while they grow, do the physical work of the world, make way for all the finishings of education and opportunity that come afterward, and that put women where they are to-day. And men must be counted for such things. It is man's work that has made these women's platforms. They have the capital of strength, and capital draws interest. The right of the strongest isn't necessarily oppression by the strongest. That's the way I look at it. And I think that what women lose in claim they gain in privilege."
"Only when women come to knock about the world without any claims, they don't seem to get much privilege," said Marion.
"I don't know. It seems rude to say so, perhaps, but they find a world ready made to knock round in, don't they? And it is because there's so much done that they couldn't have done themselves, that they find the chances waiting for them that they do. And the chances are multiplying with civilization, all the time. You see the question really goes back to first conditions, and lies upon the fact that first conditions may come back any day,—do come back, here and there, continually. Put man and woman together on the primitive earth, and it is the man that has got to subdue it; the woman is what Scripture calls her,—the helpmeet. And my notion is that if everything was right, a woman never should have to 'knock round alone.' It isn't the real order of Providence. I think Providence has been very much interfered with."
"There are widows," said Rachel, gently.
"Yes; and the 'fatherless and the widows' are everybody's charge to care for. I said—if things were right. I wish the energy was spent in bringing round the right that is used up in fitting things to the wrong."
"They say there are too many women in the world altogether!" said Marion, squarely.
"I guess not—for all the little children," said Frank Sunderline; and his tone sounded suddenly sweet and tender.
He was helping them out of the car, now, at the village station, and they went up the long steps to the street. All three walked on without more remark, for a little way. Then Marion broke out in her odd fashion,—
"Ray Ingraham! you've got a home and everything sure and comfortable. Just tell me what you'd do, if you were a widow and fatherless or anything, and nobody took you in charge."
"The thing I knew best, I suppose," said Rachel, quietly. "I think very likely I could be—a baker. But I'm certain of this much," she added lightly. "I never would make a brick loaf; that always seemed to me a man's perversion of the idea of bread."
A small boy was coming down the street toward them as she spoke, from the bake-shop door; a brick loaf sticking out at the two ends of an insufficient wrap of yellow brown paper under his arm.
As Ray glanced on beyond him, she caught sight of that which put the brick loaf, and their talk, instantly out of her mind. The doctor's chaise,—the horse fastened by the well-known strap and weight,—was standing before the house. She quickened her steps, without speaking.
"I say," called out the urchin at the same moment, looking up at her as he passed by with a queer expression of mixed curiosity and knowing eagerness,—"Yer know yer father's sick? Fit—or sunthin'!"
But Ray made no sign—to anybody. She had already hurried in toward the side door, through the yard, under the elm.
A neighborly looking woman—such a woman as always "steps in" on an emergency—met her at the entrance. "He's dreadful sick, I'm afraid, dear," she said, reaching out and putting her hand on Ray's shoulder. "The doctor's up-stairs; ben there an hour. And I believe my soul every identical child in the village's ben sent in for a brick loaf."
Marion and Sunderline kept on down the Underhill road. The conversation was broken off. It was a startling occurrence that had interrupted it; but it does not need startling occurrences to turn aside the chance of talk just when one would have said something that one was most anxious to say. A very little straw will do it. It is like a game at croquet. The ball you want to hit lies close; but it is not quite your turn; a play intervenes; and before you can be allowed your strike the whole attitude and aspect are changed. Nothing lies where it did a minute before. You yourself are driven off, and forced into different combinations.
Marion wanted to try Sunderline with certain new notions—certain half-purposes of her own, in the latter part of this walk they would have together. Everything had led nicely up to it; when here, just at the moment of her opportunity, it became impossible to go on from where they were. An event had thrust itself in. It was not seemly to disregard it. They could not help thinking of the Ingrahams. And yet, "if it would have done," Marion Kent could have put off her sympathies, made her own little point, and then gone back to the sympathies again, just as really and truly, ten minutes afterward. They would have kept. Why are things jostled up so?
"I am sorry for Ray," she said, presently.
Frank Sunderline, with a grave look, nodded his head thoughtfully, twice.
"If anything happens to Mr. Ingraham, won't it be strange that I should have asked her what I did, just that minute?"
"What? O, yes!"
It had fairly been jostled out of the young man's mind. They walked on silently again. But Marion could not give it up.
"I don't doubt she would be a baker; carry on the whole concern,—if there was money. She keeps all her father's accounts, now."
"She wouldn't have had the chance if there had been a boy. That's what I say isn't fair."
"I think you are mistaken. You can't change the way of the world. There isn't anything to hinder a woman's doing work like that,—even going on with it, as you say,—when it is set for her by special circumstances. It's natural, and a duty; and the world will treat her well and think the more of her. Things are so that it is getting easier every day for it to be done. The facilities of the times can't help serving women as much as men. But people won't generally bring up their daughters to the work or the prospects that they do their sons, simply because they can't depend upon them in the same way afterwards. If a girl marries,—and she ought to if she can right,"—
"And what if she has to, if she can, wrong?"
"Then she interferes with Providence again. She hasn't patience. She takes what wasn't meant for her, and she misses what was; whether it's work, or—somebody to work for her."
They were coming near Mrs. Kent's little white gate.
"I've a great mind to tell you," said Marion, "I don't have anybody to help me judge."
Sunderline was a little disconcerted. It is a difficult position for a young man to find himself in: that of suddenly elected confidant and judge concerning a young woman's personal affairs; unless, indeed, he be quite ready to seek and assume the permanent privilege. It is a hazardous appeal for a young woman to make. It may win or lose, strengthen or disturb, much.
"Your mother"—began Sunderline.
"O, mother doesn't see; she doesn't understand. How can she, living as she does? I could make her advise me to suit myself. She never goes about. The world has run ahead of her. She says I must conclude as I think best."
Sunderline was silent.
"I've a chance," said Marion, "if I will take it. A chance to do something that I like, something that I think I could do. I can't stand the shops; there's a plenty of girls that are crazy for the places; let them have 'em. And I can't stay at home and iron lace curtains for other folks, or go round to rip up and make over other folks' old dirty carpets. I don't mean mother shall do it much longer. This is what I can do: I can get on to the lecture list, for reading and reciting. The Leverings,—you remember Virginia Levering, who gave a reading here last winter; her father was with her,—Hamilton Levering, the elocutionist? Well, I know them very well; I've got acquainted with them since; they say they'll help me, and put me forward. Mr. Levering will give me lessons and get me some evenings. He thinks I would do well. And next year they mean to go out West, and want me to go with them. Would you?"
Marion looked eagerly and anxiously in Sunderline's face as she asked the question. He could not help seeing that she cared what he might think. And on his part, he could not help caring a good deal what she might do. He did not like to see this girl, whom he had known and been friends with from childhood, spoilt. There was good, honest stuff in her, in spite of her second-rate vanities and half-bred ambitions. If she would only grow out of these, what a womanly woman she might be! That fair, grand-featured face of hers, what might it not come to hold and be beautiful with, if it could once let go its little airs and consciousnesses that cramped it? It had a finer look in it now than she thought of, as she waited with real ingenuous solicitude, his answer.
He gave it gravely and conscientiously.
"I don't think I have any business to advise. But I don't exactly believe in that sort of thing. It isn't a genuine trade."
"Why not? People like it. Virginia Levering makes fifty dollars a night, even when they have to hire a hall."
"And how often do the nights come? And how long is it likely to last?"
"Long enough to make money, I guess," said Marion, laughing. She was a little reassured at Sunderline's toleration of the idea, even so far as to make calm and definite objection. "And it's pleasant at the time. I like going about. I like to please people. I like to be somebody. It may be silly, but that's the truth."
"And what would you be afterward, when you had had your day? For none of these days last long, especially with women."
"O!" exclaimed Marion, with remonstrative astonishment. "Mrs. Kemble! Charlotte Cushman!"
"It won't do to quote them, I'm afraid. I suppose you'd hardly expect to come up into that row?" said Sunderline, smiling.
"They began, some time," returned Marion.
"Yes; but for one thing, it wasn't a time when everybody else was beginning. Shall I tell you plainly how it seems to me?"
"I wish you would."
They had walked slowly for the last three or four minutes, till they had come to the beginning of the paling in which, a little further on, was the white gate. They paused here; Frank Sunderline rested his box of tools on the low wall that ran up and joined the fence, and Marion turned and stood with her face toward him in the western light, and her little pink-lined linen sunshade up between her and the low sun,—between her and the roadway also, down which might come any curious passers-by.
"It seems to me," said Frank Sunderline, "that women are getting on to the platforms nowadays, not so much for any real errand they have there, as just for the sake of saying, I'm here! I think it is very much the 'to be seen of men' motive,—the poorest part of women's characters,—that plays itself out in this way, as it always has done in dancing and dressing and acting, and what not. It isn't that a woman might not be on a platform, if she were called there, as well as anywhere else. There never was a woman came out before the world in any grand, true way, that she wasn't all the more honored and attended to because she was a woman. There are some things too good to be made common; things that ought to be saved up for a special time, so that they may be special. If it falls to a woman to be a Queen, and to open and dismiss her Parliament, nobody in all the kingdom but thinks the words come nobler and sweeter for a woman's saying them. But that's because she is put there, not because she climbs up some other way. If a woman honestly has something that she must say—some great word from the Lord, or for her country, or for suffering people,—then let her say it; and every real woman's husband, and every real mother's son, will hear her with his very heart. Or if even she has some sure wonderful gift,—if she can sing, or read, or recite; if she can stir people up to good and beautiful things as one in a thousand, that's her errand; let her do it, and let the thousand come to hear. But she ought to be certain sure, or else she's leaving her real errand behind. Don't let everybody, just because the door is open, rush in without any sort of a pass or countersign. That's what it's coming to. A sham trade, like hundreds of other sham trades; and the shammer and the shamefuller, because women demean themselves to it. I can't bear to see women changing so, away from themselves. We shan't get them back again, this generation. The homes are going. Young men of these days have got to lose their wives—that they ought to have—and their homes that they looked forward to, such as their mothers made. It's hard upon them; it takes away their hopes and their motives; it's as bad for them as for the women. It's the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place. There's no end to the mischief; but it works first and worst with exactly girls of your class—our class, Marion. Girls that are all upset out of their natural places, and not really fit for the new things they undertake to do. As I said,—how long will it last? How long will the Mr. Hamilton Leverings put you forward and find chances for you? Just as long as you are young and pretty and new. And then, what have you got left? What are you going to turn round to?"
Sunderline stopped. The color flushed up in his face. He had spoken faster and freer and longer than he had thought of; the feeling that he had in him about this thing, and the interest he had in Marion Kent, all rushed to words together, so that he almost forgot that Marion Kent in bodily presence stood listening before him, he was dealing so much more with his abstract thought of her, and his notion of real womanhood.
But Marion Kent did stand there. She flushed up too, when he said, "We are going to lose our wives by it." What did he mean? Would he lose anything, if she took to this that she thought of, and went abroad into the world, and before it? Why didn't he say so, then? Why didn't he give her the choice?
But what difference need it make, in any such way? Why shouldn't a girl be doing her part beforehand, as a man does? He was getting ahead in his trade, and saving money. By and by, he would think he had got enough, and then he would ask somebody to be his wife. What should the wife have been doing in the mean time—before she was sure that she should ever be a wife? Why shouldn't she look out for herself?
She said so.
"I don't see exactly, Mr. Sunderline."
She called him "Mr. Sunderline," though she remembered very well that in the earnestness of his talk he had called her "Marion." They had grown to that time of life when a young man and a girl who have known each other always, are apt to drop the familiar Christian name, and not take up anything else if they can help it. The time when they carefully secure attention before they speak, and then use nothing but pronouns in addressing each other. A girl, however, says "Mr." a little more easily than a man says "Miss." The girl has always been "Miss" to the world in general; the boy grows up to his manly title, and it is not a special personal matter to give it to him. There is something, even, in the use of it, which delicately marks an attitude—not of distance, but of a certain maidenly and bewitching consciousness—in a girl friend grown into a woman, and recognizing the man.
"I don't see, exactly, Mr. Sunderline," said Marion. "Why shouldn't a girl do the best she can? Will she be any the worse for it afterwards? Why should the wives be all spoilt, any more than the husbands?"
"Real work wouldn't spoil; only the sham and the show. Don't do it, Marion. I wouldn't want my sister to, if I had one—there!"
He had not meant so directly to answer her question. He came to this end involuntarily.
Marion felt herself tingle from head to foot with the suddenness of the negative that she had asked for and brought down upon herself. Now, if she acted, she must act in defiance of it. She felt angrily ashamed, too, of the position in which his words put her; that of a girl seeking notoriety, for mere show's sake; desiring to do a sham work; to make a pretension without a claim. How did he know what her claim might be? She had a mind to find out, and let him see. Sister! what did he say that for? He needn't have talked about sisters, or wives either, after that fashion. Spoilt! Well, what should she save herself for? It was pretty clear it wouldn't be much to him.
The color died down, and she grew quiet, or thought she did. She meant to be very quiet; very indifferent and calm. She lifted up her eyes, and there was a sort of still flash in them. Now that her cheek was cool, they burned,—burned their own color, blue-gray that deepened almost into black.
"I've a good will, however," she said slowly, "to find out what I can do. Perhaps neither you nor I know that, yet. Then I can make up my mind. I rather believe in taking what comes. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Very likely nobody will ever care particularly whether I'm spoilt or not. And if I'm spoilt for one thing, I may be made for another. There have got to be all sorts of people in the world, you know."
She was very handsome, with her white chin up, haughtily; her nose making its straight, high line, as she turned her face half away; her eyes so dark with will, and the curve of hurt pride in her lips that yet might turn easily to a quiver. She spoke low and smooth; her words dropped cool and clear, without a tone of temper in them; if there was passionate force, it was from a fire far down.
If she could do so upon a stage; if she could look like that saying other people's words—words out of a book: if she could feel into the passions of a world, and interpret them; then, indeed! But Marion Kent had never entered into heights and depths of thought and of experience; she knew only Marion Kent's little passions as they came to her, and spoke themselves in homely, unchoice words. Mrs. Kemble or Charlotte Cushman might have made a study from that face that would have served for a Queen Katharine; but Queen Katharine's grand utterances would never have thrilled Marion Kent to wear the look as she wore it now, piqued by the plain-speaking—and the not speaking—of the young village carpenter.
"I hope you don't feel hurt with me; I've only been honest, and I meant to be kind," said Frank Sunderline.
"No, indeed; I dare say you did," returned Marion. "After all, everybody has got to judge for themselves. I was silly to think anybody could help me."
"Perhaps you could help yourself better," said the young man, loth to leave her in this mood, "if you thought how you would judge for somebody you cared for. If your own little sister"—
Now the quiver came. Now all the hurt, and pique, and shame, and jealous disappointment rushed together to mingle and disguise themselves with a swell and pang that always rose in her at the name of her little dead sister,—dead six years ago, when she was nine and Marion twelve.
The tears sprang to the darkened eyes, and quenched down their burning; the color swept into her face, like the color after a blow; the lips gave way; and with words that came like a cry she exclaimed passionately,—
"Don't speak of little Sue! I can't bear it! I never could! I don't know what I say now. Good-night, good-by."
And she left him there with his box upon the wall; turned and hurried along the path, and in through the little white gate.
Rodney Sherrett got up from the breakfast table, where he had eaten half an hour later than the rest of the family, threw aside the newspaper that had served to accompany his meal as it had previously done his father's, and walked out through the conservatory upon the slope of lawn scattered over with bright little flower-beds, among which his sister, with a large shade hat on, and a pair of garden scissors and a basket in her hands, was moving about, cutting carnations and tea-roses and bouvardia and geranium leaves and bits of vines, for her baskets and shells and vases.
"I say, Amy, why haven't you been over to the Argenters' this long while? Why don't you get Sylvie here?"
"Why, I did go, Rod! Just when you asked me to. And she has been here; she called three weeks ago."
"O, poh! After the spill! Of course you did. Just called; and she called. Why need that be the end of it? Why don't you make much of her? I can tell you she's a girl you might make much of. She behaved like a lady, that day; and a woman,—that's more. She was neither scared nor mad; didn't scream, nor pout; nor even stand round to keep up the excitement. She was just cool and quiet, and took herself off properly. I don't know another girl that would have done so. She saved me out of the scrape as far as she was concerned; she might have made it ten times the muss it was. I'd rather run down a whole flock of sheep than graze the varnish off a woman's wheel, as a general principle. There's real backbone to Sylvie Argenter, besides her prettiness. My father would like her, I know. Why don't you bring her here; get intimate with her? I can't do it,—too fierce, you know."
Amy Sherrett laughed.
"What a nice little cat's-paw a sister makes! Doesn't she, Rod?"
"I wonder if cats don't like chestnuts too, sometimes," said Rod; and then he whistled.
"What a worry you are, Rod!" said Amy, with a little frown that some pretty girls have a way of making; half real and half got up for the occasion; a very becoming little pucker of a frown that seems to put a lovely sort of perplexed trouble into the beautiful eyes, only to show how much too sweet and tender they really are ever to be permitted a perplexity, and what a touching and appealing thing it would be if a trouble should get into them in any earnest. "In term time I'm always wishing it well over, for fear of what dreadful thing you may do next; and when it is vacation, it gets to be so much worse, here and there and everywhere, that I'm longing for you to be safe back in Cambridge."
"Coming home Saturday nights? Well, you do get about the best of me so. And we fellows get just the right little sprinkle of family influence, too. It loses its affect when you have it all the time. That's what I tell Truesdaile, when he goes on about home, and what a thing it is to have a sister,—he doesn't exactly say my sister; I suppose he believes in the tenth commandment. By the way, he's knocking round at the seashore some where using up the time. I've half a mind to hunt him up and get him back here for the last week or so. I think he'd like it."
"Nonsense, Rod! You can't. When Aunt Euphrasia's away."
"She would come back, if you asked her; wouldn't she? I think it would be a charity. Put it to her as an opportunity. She'd drop anything she might be about for an opportunity. I wonder if she ever goes back upon her tracks and finishes up? She's something like a mowing machine: a grand good thing, but needs a scythe to follow round and pick out the stumps and corners."
Amy shook her head.
"I don't believe I'll ask her, Rod. She's perfectly happy up there in New Ipswich, painting wild flowers and pressing ferns, and swinging those five children in her hammock, and carrying them all to drive in her pony-wagon, and getting up hampers of fish and baskets of fruit, and beef sirloins by express, and feeding them all up, and paying poor dear cousin Nan ten dollars a week for letting her do it. I guess it's my opportunity to get along here without her, and let her stay."
"Incorruptible! Well—you're a good girl, Amy. I must come down to plain soft-sawder. Put some of those things together prettily, as you know how, and drive over and take them to Sylvie Argenter this afternoon, will you?"
"Fish and fruit and sirloins!"
"Amy, you're an aggravator!"
"No. I'm only grammatical. I'm sure those were the antecedents."
"If you don't, I will."
"If you will, I will too, Rod! Drive me over, that's a good boy, and I'll go."
Amy seized with delicate craft her opportunity for getting her brother off from one of his solitary, roaming expeditions with Red Squirrel that ended too often in not being solitary, but in bringing him into company with people who knew about horses, or had them to show, and were planning for races, and who were likely to lead Rodney, in spite of his innate gentlemanhood, into more of mere jockeyism than either she or her father liked.
"But the flowers, I fancy, Rod, would be coals to Newcastle. They have a greenhouse."
"And have never had a decent man to manage it. It came to nothing this year. She told me so. You see it just is a literal new castle. Mr. Argenter is too busy in town to look after it; and they've been cheated and disappointed right and left. They're not to blame for being new," he continued, seeing the least possible little lifted look about Amy's delicate lips and eyebrows. "I hate that kind of shoddiness."
"'Don't fire—I'll come down,'" said Amy, laughing. "And I don't think I ever get very far up, beyond what's safe and reasonable for a"—
"Nice, well-bred little coon," said Rodney, patting her on the shoulder, in an exuberance of gracious approval and beamingly serene content. "I'll take you in my gig with Red Squirrel," he added, by way of reward of merit.
Now Amy in her secret heart was mortally afraid of Red Squirrel, but she would have been upset ten times over—by Rodney—sooner than say so.
When Sylvie Argenter, that afternoon, from her window with its cool, deep awning, saw Rodney Sherrett and his sister coming up the drive, there flashed across her, by a curious association, the thought of the young carpenter who had gone up the village street and bowed to Ray Ingraham, the baker's daughter.
After all, the gentleman's "place," apart and retired, and the long "approach," were not so very much worse, when the "people in the carriages,"—the right people,—really came: and "on purpose" was not such a bad qualification of the coming, either.
And when Mrs. Argenter, hearing the bell, and the movement of an arrival, and not being herself summoned in consequence, rung in her own room for the maid, and received for answer to her inquiry,—"Miss Sherrett and young Mr. Sherrett, ma'am, to see Miss Sylvie,"—she turned back to her volume of "London Society," much and mixedly reconciled in her thoughts to two things that occurred to her at once,—one of them adding itself to the other as manifestly in the same remarkable order of providence; "that tip-out" from the basket-phaeton, and the new white frill-trimmed polonaise that Miss Sylvie would put on, so needlessly, this afternoon, in spite of her remonstrance that the laundress had just left without warning, and there was no knowing when they should ever find another.
"There is certainly a fate in these matters," she said to herself, complacently. "One thing always follows another."
Mrs. Argenter was apt to make to herself a "House that Jack built" out of her providences. She had always a little string of them to rehearse in every history; from the malt that lay in the house, and the rat that ate the malt, up to the priest all shaven and shorn, that married the man that kissed the maid—and so on, all the way back again. She counted them up as they went along. "There was the overturn," she would say, by and by "and there was Rodney Sherrett's call because of that, and then his sister's because no doubt he asked her, and then their both coming together; and there was your pretty white polonaise, you know, the day they did come; and there was"—Mrs. Argenter has not counted up to that yet. Perhaps it may be a long while before she will so readily count it in.
It had turned out a hot day; one of those days in the nineties, when if you once hear from the thermometer, or in any way have the fact forcibly brought home to you, you relinquish all idea of exertion yourself, and look upon the world outside as one great pause, out of which no movement can possibly come, unless there first come the beneficence of an east wind, which the dwellers on Massachusetts Bay have always for a reserve of hope. Yet it may quite well occur to here and there an individual with a resolute purpose in the day, to actually live through it and pursue the intended plan, without realizing the extra degrees of Fahrenheit at all, and to learn with surprise at set of sun when the deeds are done, of the excelsior performances of the mercury. With what secret amazement and dismay is one's valor recognized, however, when it has led one to render one's self at four in the afternoon on such a day, near one's friend who has been vividly conscious of the torrid atmosphere! Did you ever make or receive such an afternoon call?
Mrs. Argenter, comfortable in her thin wrapper, reading her thin romance, did not trouble herself to be astonished. "They were young people; young people could do anything," she dimly thought; and putting the white polonaise into the structure of the House that Jack built, she interrupted herself no farther than presently to ring her bell again, and tell the maid on no account to admit any one to see herself, and to be sure that there were plenty of raspberries brought in for tea.
Meanwhile, away in the cities, the thermometer had climbed and climbed. Pavements were blistering hot; watering carts went lumbering round only to send up a reek of noisome mist and to leave the streets whitening again a few yards behind them. Blinds were closed up and down the avenues, where people had either long left their houses vacant or were sheltering themselves in depths of gloom in the tomb-like coolness of their double walls. Builders' trowels and hammers had a sound that made you think of sparks struck out, as if the world were a great forge and all its matter at a white heat. Down in the poor, crowded places, where the gutters fumed with filth, and doors stood open upon horrible passages and staircases, little children, barefooted, with one miserable garment on, sat on grimy stone steps, or played wretchedly about the sidewalks, impeding the passers of a better class who hastened with bated breath, amidst the fever-breeding nuisances, along to railway stations whence they would escape to country and sea-side homes.
On the wharves was the smell of tarred seams and cordage,—sweltering in the sun; in the counting-rooms the clerks could barely keep the drops of moisture from their faces from falling down to blot their toilsome lines of figures on the faultless pages of the ledgers; on the Common, common men surreptitiously stretched themselves in shady corners on the grass, regardless of the police, until they should be found and ordered off; little babies in second-rate boarding-houses, where their fathers and mothers had to stay for cheapness the summer through wailed the helpless, pitiful cry of a slowly murdered infancy; and out on the blazing thoroughfares where business had to be busy, strong men were dropping down, and reporters were hovering about upon the skirts of little crowds, gathering their items; making their hay while this terrible sun was shining.
What did Mrs. Argenter care?
The sun would be going down now, in a little while; then the cool piazzas, and the raspberries and cream, and the iced milk,—yellow Alderney milk,—would be delightful. Once or twice she did think of "Argie" in New York,—gone thither on some perplexing, hurried errand, which he had only half told her, and the half telling of which she had only half heard,—and remembered that the heat must be "awful" there. But to-night he would be on board the splendid Sound steamer, coming home; and to-morrow, if this lasted, she would surely speak to him about getting off for a while to Rye, or Mount Desert.
She came by and by to the end of her volume, and found that the serial she was following ran on into the next.
"Provoking," she said, tossing it down to the end of the sofa, "and neither Sylvie nor I can get into town in this heat, and Argie thinks it such a bother to be asked to go to Loring's."
Just then Sylvie's step came lightly up the stairs. She looked into the large cool dressing-room where her mother lay.
"I'm only up for my 'Confession Album'," she said. "But O Mater Amata! if you'd just come down and help me through! I know they'd stay to tea and go home in the cool, if I only knew how to ask them; but if I said a word I should be sure to drive them away. You can do it; and they would if you came. Please do!"
"You silly child! Won't you ever be able to do anything yourself? When you were a little girl, you wouldn't carry a message, because you could get into a house, but didn't know how to get out! And now you are grown up, you can get people into the house to see you, but you don't know how to ask them to stay to tea! What shall I ever do with you?"
"I don't know. I'm awfully afraid of—nice girls!"
"Sylvie, I'm ashamed of you! As if you had any other kind of acquaintance, or weren't as nice as any of them! I wouldn't suggest it, even to myself, if I were you."
"And I don't," said Sylvie boldly—"when I'm by myself. But there's a kind of a little misgiving somehow, when they come, or when I go, as if—well, as if there might be something to it that I didn't know of, or behind it that I hadn't got; or else, that there were things that they had nothing to do with that I know too much of. A kind of a—Poggowantimoc feeling, mother! Amy Sherrett is so fearfully refined,—all the way through! It doesn't seem as if she ever had any common things to say or do. Don't you think it takes common things to get people really near to each other? It doesn't seem to me I could ever be intimate—or very easy—with Amy Sherrett."
"You seemed to get on well enough with her brother, the other day."
"Boys aren't half so bad. There isn't any such wax-work about boys. Besides,"—and Sylvie laughed a low, gay little laugh,—we got spilt out together, you know."
"Well, don't stand talking. You mustn't keep them waiting. It isn't time to speak about tea, yet. Look over the album, and get at some music. Keep them without saying anything about it. When people think every minute they are just going, is just when they are having the very pleasantest time."
"I know it. But you'll come, won't you, and make it all right? Put on something loose and cool; that lovely black lace jacket with the violet lining, and your gray silk skirt. It won't take you a minute. Your hair's perfectly sweet now." And Sylvie hurried away.
Mrs. Argenter came down, twenty minutes afterwards, into the great summer drawing-room, where the finest Indian matting, and dark, rich Persian rugs, and inner window blinds folded behind lace curtains that fell like the foam of waterfalls from ceiling to floor, made a pleasantness out of the very heat against which such furnishings might be provided.
In her silken skirt of silver gray, and the llama sack, violet lined, to need no tight corsage beneath, her fair wrists and arms showing white and cool in the wide drapery sleeves, she looked a very lovely lady. Sylvie was proud of her handsome, elegant mother. She grew a great deal braver always when Mrs. Argenter came in. She borrowed a second consciousness from her in which she took courage, assured that all was right. Chairs and rugs gave her no such confidence, though she knew that the Sherretts themselves had no more faultless surroundings. Anybody could have rugs and chairs. It was the presence among them that was wanted; and poor Sylvie seemed to herself to melt quite away, as it were, before such a girl as Amy Sherrett, and not to be able to be a presence at all.
It was all right now, as Sylvie had said. They could not leave immediately upon Mrs. Argenter joining them and her joining them was of itself a welcome and an invitation. So Sylvie called upon her mother to admire the lovely basket, wherein on damp, tender, bright green moss, clustered the most exquisite blossoms, and the most delicate trails of stem and leafage wandered and started up lightly, and at last fell like a veil over rim and handle, and dropped below the edge of the tiny round table with Siena marble top, on which Sylvie had placed it between the curtains of the recess that led through to their conservatory, which had been "a failure this year."
"I would not tell you of it, Amata. I wanted you just to see it," she said. And Mrs. Argenter admired and thanked, and then lamented their own ill-success in greenhouse and garden culture.
"I am not strong enough to look after it much myself, and Mr. Argenter never has time," she said; "and our first man was a tipsifier, and the last was a rogue. He sold off quantities of the best young plants, we found, just before they came to show for anything."
"Our man has been with us for eight years," said Rodney Sherrett. "I dare say he could recommend some one to you, if you liked; and he wouldn't send anybody that wasn't right. Shall I ask him?"
Mrs. Argenter would be delighted if he would; and then Mr. Sherrett must come into the conservatory, where a few ragged palm ferns, their great leaves browning and crumbling at the edges,—some daphnes struggling into green tips, having lost their last growth of leaf and dropped all their flower buds, and several calmly enduring orange and lemon trees, gave all the suggestion of foliage that the place afforded, and served, much like the painter's inscription at the bottom of his canvas merely to signify by the scant glimpse through the drawing-room draperies,—"This is a conservatory."
Mrs. Argenter asked Rodney something about the best arrangement for the open beds, and wanted to know what would be surest to do well for the rockery, and whether it was in a good part of the house,—sufficiently shaded? Meanwhile, Amy and Sylvie were turning over music, and when they all gathered together again the call had extended to a two hours' visit.
"It is really unpardonable," Amy Sherrett was saying, and picking up the pretty little hat which she had thrown down upon a chair,—"it had been so warm to wear anything a minute that one need not." And then Mrs. Argenter said so easily and of course, that they "certainly would not think of going now, when it would soon be really pleasant for a twilight drive; tea would be ready early, for she and Sylvie were alone, and all they had cared for to-day had been a cold lunch at one. They would have it on the north veranda;" and she touched a bell to give the order.
Perhaps Amy Sherrett would hardly have consented, but that Rodney gave her a look, comical in its appeal, over Sylvie's shoulder, as she stood showing him a great scarlet Euphorbia in a portfolio of water-colors, and said with a beseeching significance,—
"Consider Red Squirrel, Amy. He really did have a pretty hard pull; and what with the heat and the flies, I dare say he would take it with more equanimity after sundown,—since Mrs. Argenter is so very kind."
And so they stayed; and Mrs. Argenter laid another little brick in her "House that Jack built."
* * * * *
At this same time,—how should she know it?—something very different was going on in one of the rooms of a great hotel in New York. Somebody else who had meant before now to have left for home, had been delayed till after sundown. Somebody else would go over the road by dark instead of by daylight. By dark,—though there should be broad, beating sunshine over the world again when the journey should be made.
While Mrs. Argenter's maid was bringing out the tray with delicate black-etched china cups, and costly fruit plates illuminated with color, and dainty biscuits, and large, rare, red berries, and cream that would hardly pour for richness in a gleaming crystal flagon,—and ranging them all on the rustic veranda table,—something very different,—very grim,—at which the occupants of rooms near by shuddered as it passed their open doors,—was borne down the long, wide corridor to Number Five, in the Metropolitan; and at the same moment, again, a gentleman, very grave, was standing at the counter of the Merchants' Union Telegraph Company's Office, writing with rapid hand, a brief dispatch, addressed to "Mrs. I.M. Argenter, Dorbury, Mass.," and signed "Philip Burkmayer, M.D."
Nobody knew of any one else to send to; at that hour, especially, when the office in State Street would be closed. Closed, with that name outside the door that stood for nobody now.
The news must go bare and unbroken to her.
Something occurred to Doctor Burkmayer, however, as he was just handing the slip to the attendant.
"Stop; give me that again, a minute," he said; and tearing it in two, he wrote another, and then another.
"Send this on at once, and the second in an hour," he said; as if they might have been prescriptions to be administered. "They may both be delivered together after all," he continued to himself, as he turned away. "But it is all I can do. When a weight is let drop, it has got to fall. You can't ease it up much with a string measured out for all the way down!"
The young woman operator at the little telegraph station at Dorbury Upper Village heard the call-click as she unlocked the room and came in after her half-hour supper time. She set the wires and responded, and laid the paper slip under the wonderful pins.
"Tick-tick-tick; tick-tick; tick-tick-tick-tick," and so on. The girl's face looked startled, as she spelled the signs along. She answered back when it was ended; then wrote out the message rapidly upon a blank, folded, directed it, and went to the open street door.
"Sim! Here—quick!" she called to a youth opposite, in a stable-yard.
"This has got to go down to the Argenter Place. And mind how you give it. It's bad news."
"How can I mind?" said Sim, gruffly. "I spose I must give it to who comes."
"You might see somebody on the way, and speak a word; a neighbor, or the minister, or somebody. 'Tain't fit for it to go right to her, I know. Telegraphs might as well be something else when they can, besides lightning!"
"Donno's I can go travellin' round after 'em, if that's what you mean," said Sim, putting the envelope in his rough breast pocket, and turning off.
Sylvie was standing on the stone steps, bidding the Sherretts good-by; Amy was just seated in the gig, and Rodney about to spring in beside her, when Sim Atwill drove up the avenue in the rusty covered wagon that did telegraph errands. Red Squirrel did not quite like the sudden coming face to face, as Sim reined up in a hurry just below the door, and Rodney had to pause and hold him in.
"A tellagrim for Mrs. Argenter," said Sim, seizing his opportunity, and speaking to whom it might concern. "Eighty cents to pay, and I 'blieve it's bad news."
"O, Mr. Sherrett, stop, please!" cried Sylvie, turning white in the dim light. "What shall I do? Won't you wait a minute, Miss Sherrett, until I see? Won't you come in again? Mother will be frightened to death, and I'm all alone."
"Jump out, Amy; I'll take Squirrel round," was Rodney's answer. "Go right up; I'll come."
And as Sylvie took the thin envelope that held so much, and the two girls silently passed up into the piazza again, he paid Sim the eighty cents which nobody thought of at that moment or ever again, and sent him off.
Sylvie and Amy stopped under the softly bright hall lantern. Mrs. Argenter was up-stairs in her dressing room, quite at the end of the long upper hall, changing her lace sack for a cashmere, before coming out into the evening air again.
"I think I shall open it myself," whispered Sylvie, tremulously; "it would seem worse to mother, whatever it is, coming this way. She has such a horror of a telegram." She looked at it on both sides, drew a little shivering breath, and paused again.
"Is it wicked, do you think, to wish it may be—only grandma, perhaps? Do you suppose it could possibly be—my father?"
And by this time there was a hysterical sound in poor little Sylvie's voice.
"Wait a minute," said Amy, kindly. "Here's Rod."
"OFFICE OF WESTERN UNION TELEGRAPH CO., NEW YORK, July 24th, 187-.
"To MRS. I. M. ARGENTER, Dorbury, Mass.
"Mr. Argenter has had a sunstroke. Insensible. Very serious. Will telegraph again.
"PHILIP BURKMAYER, M.D."
Sylvie's eyes, so roundly innocent, so star-like in their usual bright uplifting, were raised now with a wide terror in them, first to Rodney, then to Amy; and "O—O!" broke in short, subdued gasps from her lips.
Then they heard Mrs. Argenter's step up-stairs.
"What is the matter, Sylvie? What are you doing? Who is with you down there?" she said, over the baluster, from the hall above.
"O, mother!" cried Sylvie, "they aren't gone! Something has come! Go up and tell her, Amy, please!" And forgetting all about Amy as "Miss Sherrett," and all her fear of "nice girls," she dropped down on the lower step of the staircase after Amy had passed her upon her errand, put her face between her hands and caught her breath with frightened sobs.
Rodney, leaning against the newel post, looked down at her, and said, after the manner of men,—"Don't cry. It mayn't be very bad, after all. You'll hear again in an hour or two. Can't I do something? I'll go to the telegraph office. I'll get somebody for your mother. Whom shall I go for?"
"O, you are very kind. I don't know. Wait a minute. They didn't say any place! We ought to go right to New York, and we don't know where! O, dear!" She had lifted her head a little, just to say these broken sentences, and then it went down again.
Rodney did not answer instantly. It occurred to him all at once what this "not saying any place" might mean.
Just as he began,—"You couldn't go until to-morrow,"—came Mrs. Argenter's sharp cry from her room above. Amy had walked right on into the open, lighted apartment, Mrs. Argenter following, not daring to ask what she came and did this strange thing for, till Amy made her sit down in her own easy chair, and taking her hands, said gently,—
"It is a telegram from New York. Mr. Argenter—is very ill." Then Mrs. Argenter cried out, "That's not all! I know how people bring news! Tell me the whole." And Sylvie sprang to her feet, hearing the quick, excited words, and leaving Rodney Sherrett standing there, rushed up into the dressing-room.
This was the way the same sort of news came to Sylvie Argenter as had come to the baker's daughter. Did it really make any difference—the different surrounding of the two? The great house—the lights—the servants—the friends; and the open bake-shop door, the village street, the blunt, common-spoken neighbor-woman, and the boy with the brick loaf?
These two were to be fatherless: their mothers were both to be widows: that was all.
Did it happen strangely with the two—in this same story? Who know, always, when they are in the same story? These things are happening every day, and one great story holds us all. If one could see wide enough, one could tell the whole.
These things happen: and then the question comes,—alike in high and low places,—alike with money and without it,—what the women and the girls are to do?
Rodney Sherrett took his sister home; drove three miles round and brought Mrs. Argenter's sister to her from River Point, and then turned toward Dorbury Upper Village and the telegraph office. But he met Sim Atwill on the way, received the telegram from him, and hurried back.
It was the dispatch of the hour later, and this was it:—
"Mr. Argenter died at five o'clock. His remains will be sent home to-morrow, carefully attended.
SPILLED OUT AGAIN.