The Rejuvenation of Aunt Mary By Anne Warner
Author of "A Woman's Will," "Susan Clegg and Her Friend Mrs. Lathrop," "Susan Clegg and a Man in the House," etc. NEW EDITION With Additional Pictures from the Play
Boston Little, Brown, and Company 1910
Copyright, 1904, By Ainslee Magazine Company.
Copyright, 1905, By Little, Brown, and Company.
Copyright, 1907, By Little, Brown, and Company,
All rights reserved
Printers S.J. Parkhill & Co., Boston, U.S.A.
Aunt Mary en Fete. May Robson as "Aunt Mary."
Books by Anne Warner A Woman's Will 1904 Susan Clegg and Her 1904 Friend Mrs. Lathrop The Rejuvenation of Aunt 1905 Mary Susan Clegg and Her 1906 Neighbor's Affairs Susan Clegg and a Man in 1907 the House An Original Gentleman 1908 In a Mysterious Way 1909 Your Child and Mine 1909
Illustrations Chapter One - Introducing Aunt Mary Chapter Two - Jack Chapter Three - Introducing Jack Chapter Four - Married Chapter Five - The Day After Falling in Love Chapter Six - The Other Man Chapter Seven - Developments Chapter Eight - The Resolution He Took Chapter Nine - The Downfall of Hope Chapter Ten - The Woes of the Disinherited. Chapter Eleven - The Dove of Peace Chapter Twelve - A Trap For Aunt Mary Chapter Thirteen - Aunt Mary Entrapped Chapter Fourteen - Aunt Mary En Fete Chapter Fifteen - Aunt Mary Enthralled Chapter Sixteen - A Reposeful Interval Chapter Seventeen - Aunt Mary's Night About Town Chapter Eighteen - A Departure And A Return Chapter Nineteen - Aunt Mary's Return Chapter Twenty - Jack's Joy Chapter Twenty-One - The Peace and Quiet of the Country Chapter Twenty-Two - "Granite" Chapter Twenty-Three - "Granite" - Continued. Chapter Twenty-Four - Two Are Company Chapter Twenty-Five - Grand Finale
"Aunt Mary en fete" (May Robson as "Aunt Mary") Frontispiece "'Do not let us play any longer,' she said. 'Let us be in earnest'" "'She's goin' to the city all alone!' Lucinda's voice suddenly proclaimed behind him" Aunt Mary and Her Escorts "The carriage stopped three hundred feet below the level of a roof-garden" "And now the fun's all over and the work begins" "'Yesterday I played poker until I didn't know a blue chip from a white one'" "Aunt Mary had also had her eyes open"
THE REJUVENATION OF AUNT MARY
CHAPTER ONE - INTRODUCING AUNT MARY
The first time that Jack was threatened with expulsion from college his Aunt Mary was much surprised and decidedly vexed—mainly at the college. His family were less surprised, viewing the young man through a clearer atmosphere than his Aunt Mary ever had, and knowing that he had barely escaped similar experiences earlier in his career by invariably leaving school the day before the board of inquiry convened.
Jack's preparatory days having been more or less tempestous, his family (Aunt Mary excepted) had expected some sort of after-clap when he entered college. Nevertheless, they had fervently hoped that it would not be quite as bad as this.
Jack's sister Arethusa was visiting her aunt when the news came. Not because she wanted to, for the old lady was dreadfully deaf and fearfully arbitrary, but because Lucinda had said that she must go to her cousin's wedding, and the family always had to bow to Lucinda's mandates. Lucinda was Aunt Mary's maid, but she had become so indispensable as a sitter at the off-end of the latter's ear-trumpet that none of the grand-nephews or grand-nieces ever thought for an instant of crossing one of her wishes. So it was to Arethusa that the explanations due Aunt Mary's interest in her scapegrace fell, and she bowed her back to the burden with the resignation which the circumstances demanded.
"Whatever is the difference between bein' expelled and bein' suspended?" Aunt Mary demanded, in her tone of imperious impatience. "Well, why don't you answer? I was brought up to speak when you're spoken to, an' I'm a great believer in livin' up to your bringin' up—if you had a good one. What's the difference, an' which costs most? That's what I want to know. I do wish you'd answer me, Arethusa; there's two things I've asked you now, an' you suckin' your finger an' puttin' on your thimble as if you were sittin' alone in China."
"I don't know which costs most," Arethusa shrieked.
"You needn't scream so," said Aunt Mary. "I ain't so hard to hear as you think. I ain't but seventy, and I'll beg you to remember that, Arethusa. Besides, I don't want to hear you talk. I just want to hear about Jack. I'm askin' about his bein' expelled and suspended, an' what's the difference, an' in particular if there's anything to pay for broken glass. It's always broken glass! That boy's bills for broken glass have been somethin' just awful these last two years. Well, why don't you answer?"
"I don't know what to answer," Arethusa screamed.
"What do you suppose he's done, anyhow?"
Aunt Mary frowned.
"I ain't mad," she said sharply. "What made you think I was mad? I ain't mad at all! I'm just askin' what's the difference between bein' expelled an' bein' suspended, an' it seems to me this is the third time I've asked it. Seems to me it is."
Arethusa laid down her work, drew a mighty breath, very nearly got into the ear-trumpet, and explained that being suspended was infinitely less heinous than being expelled, and decidedly less final.
Aunt Mary looked relieved.
"Oh, then he's gettin' better, is he?" she said. "Well, I'm sure that's some comfort."
And then there was a long pause, during which she appeared to be engaged in deep reflection, and her niece continued her embroidery in peace. The pause endured until a sudden sneeze on the part of the old lady set the wheels of conversation turning again.
"Arethusa," she said, "I wish you'd go an' get the ink an' write to Mr. Stebbins. I want him to begin to look up another college with good references right away. I don't want to waste any of the boy's life, an' if bein' suspended means waitin' while the college takes its time to consider whether it wants him back again or not I ain't goin' to wait. I'm a great believer in a college education, but I don't know that it cuts much figure whether it's the same college right through or not. Anyway, you write Mr. Stebbins."
Arethusa obeyed, and the authorities having seen fit to be uncommonly discreet as to the cause of the young man's withdrawal, no great difficulty was experienced in finding another campus whereon Aunt Mary's pride and joy might freely disport himself. Mr. Stebbins threw himself into the affair with all the tact and ardor of an experienced legal mind and soon after Lucinda's return to her home allowed Arethusa to follow suit, the hopeful younger brother of the latter became a candidate for his second outfit of new sweaters and hat bands that year.
Aunt Mary wrote him a letter upon the occasion of his new start in life, Mr. Stebbins delivered him a lecture, and things went smoothly in consequence for three whole weeks. I say three whole weeks because three whole weeks was a long time for the course of Jack's life to flow smoothly. At the end of a fortnight affairs were always due to run more rapidly and three weeks produced, as a general thing, some species of climax.
The climax in this case came to time as usual his evil genius inciting the young man to attempt, one very dark night, the shooting of a cat which he thought he saw upon the back fence. Whether he really had seen a cat or not mattered very little in the later development of the matter. He was certainly successful as far as the going off of the gun was concerned, but the damage that resulted, resulted not to any cat, but to the arm of a next-door's cook, who was peacefully engaged in taking in her week's wash on the other side of the fence. The cook ceased abruptly to take in the wash, the affair was at once what is technically termed looked into, and three days later Jack became the defendant in a suit for damages.
Naturally Mr. Stebbins was at once notified and he had no choice except to write Aunt Mary.
Aunt Mary was somewhat less patient over the third escapade than she had been with the first two.
The letter found her alone with Lucinda and she read it to herself three times and then read it aloud to her companion. Lucinda, whose thorough knowledge of the imperious will and impervious eardrums of her mistress rendered her, as a rule, extremely monosyllabic, not to say silent, vouchsafed no comment upon the contents of the epistle, and after a few minutes Aunt Mary herself took the field:
"Now, what do you suppose possessed that boy to shoot at a cook?" she asked, regarding the letter with a portentous frown. "Cooks are so awful hard to get nowadays. I don't see why he didn't shoot a tramp if he had to shoot somethin'."
"He wa'n't tryin' to shoot a cook, 'pears like," then cried Lucinda—Lucinda's voice, be it said, en passant, was of that sibilant and penetrating timbre which is best illustrated in the accents of a steamfitter's file—"'pears like he was tryin' for a cat."
"Not a bat," said her mistress correctively; "it was a cat. You look at this letter an' you'll see. And, anyway, how could a man shootin' at a cat hit a cook?—not 'nless she was up a tree birds'-nestin' after owls' eggs. You don't seem to pay much attention to what I read to you, Lucinda; only I should think your commonsense would help you out some when it comes to a boy you've known from the time he could walk, an' a strange cook. But, anyhow, that's neither here nor there. The question that bothers me is, what's to pay with this damage suit? I think myself five hundred dollars is too much for any cook's arm. A cook ain't in no such vital need of two arms. If she has to shut the door of the oven while she's stirrin' somethin' on the top of the stove, she can easy kick it to with her foot. It won't be for long, anyway, and I'm a great believer in making the best of things when you've got to."
Lucinda screwed up her face and made no comment. Lucinda's face in repose was a cross between a monkey's and a peanut; screwed up, it was particularly awful, and always exasperated her mistress.
"Well, why don't you say somethin', Lucinda? I ain't askin' your advice, but, all the same, you can say anything if you've got a mind to."
"I ain't got a mind to say anythin'," the faithful maid rejoined.
"I guess you hit the nail on the head that time," said Aunt Mary, without any unnecessary malevolence concealed behind her sarcasm; then she re-read the note and frowned afresh.
"Five hundred dollars is too much," she said again. "I'm going to write to Mr. Stebbins an' tell him so to-night. He can compromise on two hundred and fifty, just as well as not. Get me some paper and my desk, Lucinda. Now get a spryness about you."
Lucinda laid aside her work and forthwith got a spryness about her, bringing her mistress' writing-desk with commendable alacrity. Aunt Mary took the writing-desk and wrote fiercely for some time, to the end that she finally wrote most of the fierceness out of herself.
"After all, boys will be boys," she said, as she sealed her letter, "and if this is the end I shan't feel it's money wasted. I'm a great believer in bein' patient. Most always, that is. Here, Lucinda you take this to Joshua and tell him to take it right to mail. Be prompt, now. I'm a great believer in doin' things prompt."
Lucinda took the letter and was prompt. "She wants this letter took right to the mail," she said to Joshua, Aunt Mary's longest-tried servitor.
"Then it'll be took right to mail," said Joshua.
"She's pretty mad," said Lucinda.
"Then she'll soon get over it," replied the other, taking up his hat and preparing to depart for the barn forthwith.
Lucinda returned to Aunt Mary with a species of dried-up sigh. One is not the less a slave because one has been enslaved for twenty years, and Lucinda at moments did sort of peek out through her bars—possibly envying Joshua the daily drives to mail when he had full control of something that was alive.
Lucinda had been, comparatively speaking, young when she had come to wait upon the pleasure of the Watkins millions, and her waiting had been so pertinent and so patient that it had endured over a quarter of a century. Aunt Mary had been under fifty in the hour of Lucinda's dawn; she was over seventy now. Jack hadn't been born then; he was in college now; and Jack's older brothers and sisters and his dead-and-gone father and mother had been living somewhere out West then, quite hopeful as to their own lives and quite hopeless as to the stern old great-aunt who never had paid any attention to her niece since she had chosen to elope with the doctor's reprobate son. Now the father and mother were dead and buried, the brothers and sisters reinstated in their rights and had all grown up and become great credits to the old lady, whose heart had suddenly melted at the arrival of five orphans all at once. And there was only Jack to continue to worry about.
Jack was not anything particularly remarkable; he was just one of those lovable good-for-nothings that seem born to get better people into trouble all their lives long. He had been spoiled originally by being ten years younger than the next youngest in the family; and then, when the children had been shipped on to Aunt Mary's tender mercies, Jack had won her heart immediately because she accidentally discovered that he had never been baptized, and so felt fully justified in re-naming him after her own father and having the name branded into him for keeps by her own religious apparatus. It followed naturally that John Watkins, Jr., Denham, for so her father's daughter had insisted that her youngest nephew should be called, was the favorite nephew of his aunt.
And it was lucky for him that he was the favorite, for Aunt Mary, who was highly spiced at fifty, became peppery at sixty, and almost biting at seventy. And yet for Jack she would sign checks almost without a murmur. Mr. Stebbins was much more censorious and impatient with the young man than she ever was; and to all the rest of the world Mr. Stebbins was an urbane and agreeable gentleman, whereas to all the rest of the world Aunt Mary was a problem or a terror. But Mr. Stebbins needed to be a man of tact and management, for he was the real manager of that fortune of which "Mary, only surviving child of John Watkins, merchant and ship owner," was the legal possessor; and so tactful was Mr. Stebbins that he and his powerful client had never yet clashed, and they had been in close business relations for almost as many years as Lucinda had been established on the hearthstone of the Watkins home. Perhaps one reason why Mr. Stebbins endured so well was that he had a real talent for compromising, and that he had skillfully transformed Aunt Mary's inherited taste for driving a bargain into an acquired pleasure in what is really a polite form of the same action.
So, when it came to the matter of Jack's difficulties, Mr. Stebbins could always find a half-way measure that saved the situation; and when he received the letter as to the cook and her claim he hied himself to the city at once, and wrote back that the claim could be settled for three hundred dollars.
"And enough, I must say," Aunt Mary remarked to Lucinda upon receipt of the statement; "three hundred dollars for one cat—for, after all, Jack blames the whole on the cat, an' he didn't hit it, even then."
Lucinda did not answer.
"But if the boy settles down now I shan't mind payin' the three—Where are you goin'?"
For Lucinda was walking out of the room.
"I'm goin' to the door," said she raspingly. "The bell's ringin'."
After a minute or two she came back.
"Telegram!" she announced, handing the yellow envelope over.
Aunt Mary put on her glasses, opened it, and read:
Cook has blood poison. Sues for a thousand. Probable amputation.
Aunt Mary dropped the paper with a gasp.
Lucinda looked at her with interest.
"It's that same arm again," said Aunt Mary, "just as I thought it was settled for!" Her eyes seemed to fairly crackle with indignation. "Why don't she put it in a sling an' have a little patience?"
Lucinda took the telegram and read it.
"'Pears like she can't," she commented, in a tone like a buzz saw; "'pears like it's goin' to be took off."
Aunt Mary reached forth her hand for the telegram and after a second reading shook her head in a way that, if her companion had been a globe-trotter, would have brought matadores and Seville to the front in her mind in that instant.
"I declare," she said, "seems like I had enough on my mind without a cook, too. What's to be done now? I only know one thing! I ain't goin' to pay no thousand dollars this week for no arm that wasn't worth but three hundred last week. Stands to reason that there ain't no reason in that. I guess you'd better bring me my desk, Lucinda; I'm goin' to write to Mr. Stebbins, an' I'm goin' to write to Jack, and I'm goin' to tell 'em both just what I think. I'm goin' to write Jack that he'd better be lookin' out, and I'm goin' to write to Mr. Stebbins that next time he settles things I want him to take a receipt for that arm in full."
The letters were duly written and Mr. Stebbins, upon the receipt of his, redoubled his efforts, and did succeed in permanently settling with the cook, the arm being eventually saved. Aunt Mary regarded the sum as much higher than necessary, but still pleasantly less than that demanded of her, and so life in general moved quietly on until Easter.
But Easter is always a period of more or less commotion in the time of youth and leads to various hilarious outbreaks. Jack's Easter took him to town for a "little time," and the "little time" ended in the station-house at three o'clock on Sunday morning.
Accusation: Producing concussion of the brain on a cab driver.
CHAPTER TWO - JACK
The news was conveyed to Aunt Mary through private advices from Mr. Stebbins (who had been hastily summoned to the city for purposes of bail); she was very angry indeed, this time—primarily at the indignity done her flesh and blood by arresting it. Then, as she re-read the lawyer's letter, other reflections crowded to the fore in her mind.
"Funny! Whatever could have made the boy get up and go downtown at three in the morning, anyway?" she said. "Seems kind of queer, don't you think, Arethusa? Do you suppose he was ill and huntin' for a drug store?"
Arethusa had been sent for the second day previous because Lucinda's youngest sister's youngest child had come down with scarlet fever, and the family wanted Lucinda to enliven the quarantine. Arethusa had sent invitations out for a dinner party, but she had recalled them and hastened to obey the summons. It was an evil hour for her, for she loved her brother and was mightily distressed at the bad news.
"I don't believe he can have been ill," she said, at the top of her voice; "if he'd been ill he wouldn't have had the strength to hit the cab driver so hard."
"I don't blame him for hittin' the cab driver," said Aunt Mary warmly. "As near as I can recollect, I've often wanted to do that myself. But I can't make out where he got the man to hit, or why he was there to hit him. I can't make rhyme or reason out of it. I wish we knew more. Well, I presume we will, later."
Her surmise was correct. They knew much more later. They knew more from Mr. Stebbins, and they knew profusely more from the evening papers.
"I think our boy'd better have come home for his Easter," Aunt Mary remarked, with a species of angry undertow threading the current of her speech. "There's no sayin' what this will cost before we're done with it."
Arethusa choked; it was all so very terrible to her.
"What is it that the cabman wants, anyhow?" her aunt demanded presently.
"He doesn't want anything," yelled the unhappy sister. "He's going to die."
"Well, who is going to sue me, then?"
"It's his wife; she wants five thousand dollars damages."
Aunt Mary's lips tightened.
"Five thousand dollars!" she said, with a bitter patience. "I can see that this is goin' to be an awful business. Five thousand dollars! Dear, dear! I must say that that wife sets a pretty high price on her husband—at least, a'cordin' to my order of thinkin', she does. From what I've seen of cabmen, I'd undertake to get her another just as good for a tenth of the money, any day."
Arethusa was silent, staring thoughtfully at the newspaper cuts of a great Tammany leader and a noted pugilist, which had been labeled as the principals in the family tragedy.
Aunt Mary turned over another of the many papers received, and scanned its sensational columns afresh.
"Arethusa," she exclaimed suddenly, "do you know, I bet anythin' I know what this editor means to insinuate? It just strikes me that he's tryin' to give the impression that our boy's been drinkin'."
"Perhaps so," Arethusa screamed.
"Well, I don't believe it," said Aunt Mary firmly, "and I ain't goin' to believe it. And I ain't goin' to pay no five thousand dollars for no cabman's brains, neither. You write to Mr. Stebbins to compromise on two or maybe three."
She stopped and bit her lips and shook her head. "I don't see why Jack grows up so hard," she murmured, half in anger and half in sorrow. "Edward and Henry never had such times. Oh, well," she sighed, "boys will be boys, I suppose; an' if this all results in the boy's settlin' down it'll be money well spent in the end, after all. Maybe—probably—most likely."
The days that followed were anxious days, but at last the cabman rallied and concluded not to die, and Jack went off yachting with a light heart and a choice collection of good advice from Mr. Stebbins and Aunt Mary.
Nothing happened to mar his holiday. He ran a borrowed steam launch on to some rocks with rather heavy consequences to his aunt's exchequer, and returned from the West Indies so late that she never had a visit from him at all that summer; but, barring these slightly unwelcome incidents, he did remarkably well, and when he returned to college in the fall he was regarded as having become, at last, a stable proposition.
"I wonder whether our boy's comin' home for Christmas?" Aunt Mary asked her niece, Mary, as that happy period of family reunions drew near. Mary had come up to stay with her aunt while Lucinda went away to bury a second cousin. Mary was very different from Arethusa, having a voice that, when raised, was something between an icicle and a steam whistle, and a temperament so much on the order of her aunt's that neither could abide the other an hour longer than was absolutely necessary. But Arethusa had a sprained ankle, so there was no help for existing circumstances.
"No, he isn't," said Mary, who had no patience at all with her brother, and showed it. "He's going West with the glee club."
"With the she club!" cried poor Aunt Mary, in affright.
"I don't like the idea," said the old lady, shaking her head. "Somethin' will be sure to happen. I can feel it runnin' up and down my bones this minute."
"Oh, if he can get into trouble, of course, Jack will," said Mary cheerfully.
Aunt Mary didn't hear her, because she didn't raise her voice particularly. Besides, the old lady was absorbed for the nonce in the most dismal sort of prognostications.
And they all came true, too. Something unfortunate beyond all expectations came to pass during the glee club's visit to Chicago, and the result was that, before the new year was well out of its incubator Jack had papers in a breach-of-promise suit served on him. He wrote Mr. Stebbins that it was all a joke, and had merely been a portion of that foam which a train of youthful spirits are apt to leave in their wake; but the girl stood solid for her rights, and, as she had never heard from her fiance since the night of the dance, her family—who were rural, but sharp—thought it would take at least fifteen thousand dollars to patch the crack in her heart. If the news could have been kept from Aunt Mary until after Mr. Stebbins had looked into the matter, everything might have resulted differently. But the Chicago lawyer who had the case took good care that the wealthy aunt knew all as quickly as possible, and it seemed as if this was the final straw under which the camel must succumb.
And Aunt Mary did appear to waver.
"Fifteen thousand dollars!" she cried, aghast. "Heaven help us! What next?"
It was Lucinda who was seated calmly opposite at this crisis.
"Do you suppose he really did it?" the aunt continued, after a minute of appalled consideration.
"It's about the only thing he ain't never done," the tried and true servant answered, her tone more gratingly penetrative than ever.
Aunt Mary eyed her sharply, not to say furiously.
"I wish you'd give a plain answer when I ask you a plain question, Lucinda," she said coldly. "If you'd ever got a breach-of-promise suit in the early mail you'd know how I feel. Perhaps—probably."
"I ain't a doubt but what he done it," Lucinda screamed out; "an' if I was her an' he wouldn't marry me after sayin' he would I'd sue him for a hundred thousand, an' think I let him off cheap then."
Aunt Mary deigned to smile faintly over the subtlety of this speech; but the next minute she was frowning blacker than ever.
"A girl from Kalamazoo, too, just up in Chicago for a week—just up in Chicago long enough to come down on me for fifteen thousand dollars."
"Maybe she'll take five thousand instead," Lucinda remarked.
"Maybe!" ejaculated her mistress, in fine scorn. "Maybe! Well, if you don't talk as if money was sweet peas an' would dry up if it wasn't picked!"
Lucinda screwed up her face.
Aunt Mary gave her one awful look.
"You get me some paper an' my desk, Lucinda," she said. "I think it's about time I was takin' a hand in it myself. I've been pretty patient, an' I don't see as it's helped matters any. Now I'm goin' to write that boy a letter that'll settle him an' his cats, an' his cooks, an' his cabmen, an' his Kalamazoo, just once for all. I guess I can do what I set out to do. Pretty generally—most always."
Lucinda brought the desk, and Aunt Mary frowned fearfully and began to write the letter.
It developed very strongly. As her pen sized up the situation in black and white, the old lady seemed to realize the iniquities of the case more and more plainly; and as the letter grew her wrath grew also. The whole came, in the end, to a threat—made in good earnest—to take a very serious step indeed if any more "foolishness" developed.
Aunt Mary prided herself on her granite-like will. She had full faith in her ability to slay her nearest and dearest if it seemed right and best to do so.
She sealed her letter tight, stuck the stamp on square and hard, and bid Lucinda convey it to Joshua and tell him never to quit it until he saw it safe on to the evening train.
"She's awful mad at him for sure, this time," said Lucinda after she had delivered her message, and while Joshua was considering the front and back of the letter with a deliberateness born of long servitude.
"I sh'd think she would be," he said.
As nearly all of Jack's private difficulties were printed in every newspaper in America, Joshua naturally was on the inside of all their history.
"She scrinched up her face just awful over that letter," Lucinda continued. "I'm sure I wish he'd 'a' been by to 'a' taken warnin'."
"He ain't got nothin' to really fret over," said Joshua serenely; "he knows it, 'n' I know it, 'n' you know it, too."
"You don't know nothin' of the sort," said Lucinda. "She's madder'n usual this time. She's good an' mad. You mark my words, if he goes off on a 'nother spree this spring he'll get cut out o' her will."
"You mark my words!" rasped Lucinda, shaking her finger in witchlike warning.
Joshua laughed again.
"Them laughs best what laughs last," said Aunt Mary's handmaiden. She turned away, and then returned to give Joshua a look that proved that the peppery mistress had inculcated some cayenne into the souls of those about her. "You mark my words—them laughs best what laughs last, an' there'll be little grinnin' for him if he ain't a chalk-walker for one while now."
But, as a matter of fact, Jack's situation was suddenly become extremely precarious.
"There ain't no sense in it," said Aunt Mary to herself, with an emphasis that screwed her face up until she looked quite like Lucinda; "that life those young men lead on their little vacations is to blame for everything. Cities are wells of iniquity; they're full of all kinds of doin's that respectable people wouldn't be seen at, and I'm proud to say that I haven't been in one myself for twenty-five years. I'm a great believer in keepin' out of trouble, an' if Jack'd just stuck to college an' let towns go, he'd never have met the cabman and the Kalamazoo girl, an' I'd have overlooked the cook an' the cat. As it is, my patience is done. If he goes into one more scrape he'll be done too. I mean what I say. So my young man had better take warnin'. Probably—most likely—pretty certainly."
CHAPTER THREE - INTRODUCING JACK
It has been previously stated that Aunt Mary's nephew, Jack, was a scapegrace, and as delightful as scapegraces generally are. It goes without saying that he was good-looking; and of course he must have been jolly and pleasant or he wouldn't have been so popular. As a matter of fact, Jack was very good-looking, unusually jolly, and uncommonly popular. He was one of the best liked men in each of the colleges which he had attended. There was something so winning about his smile and his eternal good humor that no one ever tried to dislike him; and if anyone ever had tried he or she would not have succeeded for very long. It is probably very unfortunate that the world is so full of this type of young man, but that which should cause us all to have infinite patience with them is the reflection of how much more unfortunate it would be if they were suddenly eliminated from the general scheme of things.
Like all college boys, Jack had a chum. The chum was Robert Burnett, another charming young fellow of one-and-twenty, whose education had been so cosmopolitan in design and so patriotic in practice that he always said "Sacre bleu" and "Donnerwetter" when he thought of it, and "Great Scott" when he didn't. He and Jack were as congenial a pair as ever existed, and they had just about as much in common as the aunt of the one and the father of the other had had to pay for.
In the February of the year of which I write, Washington, celebrating his birthday as usual, gave all American students their usual chance to celebrate with him. Celebrations were temptations incarnate to Jack, and he was feeling frowningly what a clog Aunt Mary's latest epistle was upon his joys, when his friend came to the rescue with an invitation to spend the double holiday (it doubled that year—Sunday, you know) at the brand-new ancestral castle which Burnett pere had just finished building for his descendants. It may be imagined that Jack accepted the invitation with alacrity, and that his never-very-downcast heart bounded gleefully higher than usual over the prospect of two days of pleasure in the country.
It is not necessary to state where the castle of the Burnetts was erected, but it was in a beautiful region, and the monthly magazines had written it up and called it an architectural triumph. The owner fully agreed with the monthly magazines, and his pride found vent in a house-warming which filled every guest chamber in the place.
The festivities were in full swing before the youngest son and his friend arrived; and when the dog-cart, which brought them from the station, drew up under the mighty porte-cochere with its four stone lions, rampant in four different directions, Jack felt one of those delicious thrills which run through one under particularly hopeful and buoyant circumstances.
"It's like walking in a novel," his friend said; as they entered under some heavy draperies which the footman pushed aside and found a tiny spiral staircase, which wound its way aloft in a style that Jack liked immensely and the latter agreed with all his heart.
The staircase led them to the third floor and when they emerged therefrom they found themselves in a big semi-circular billiard room, with a fireplace at each end large enough to put one of the tables in, and cues and counters and stools and divans and smoking utensils sufficient for a regiment.
"I tell you, this is the way to do things," exclaimed Burnett; "isn't it jolly? Time of your life, old man, time of your life!—And, oh, by the way," he said, suddenly interrupting himself, "I wonder if my sister's got here yet!"
"Which sister?" Jack inquired; for his friend was one of a very large family, and he had met several of them on their various visits to town.
"Betty—the one who beats all the others hollow,"—but just there the conversation was broken off by the servants coming up with the luggage and setting two doors open that showed them two big rooms, both exquisitely furnished, and both with windows that looked out, first on to a stone balustrade, and secondly on to a superb view over the river and the mountains beyond.
The men unstrapped the things and went away, leaving such a plenitude of comfort behind them as led Jack to fling himself into the most luxurious chair in the room and stretch his arms and legs far and wide in utter contentment.
Burnett was fishing for his key ring.
"It's a great old place, isn't it?" he remarked parenthetically. "Great Scott! but I'll bet we have fun these two days! And if my sister Betty is here—" He paused expressively.
"Doesn't she live at home?" Jack asked.
"She's just come home; she's been in England for three years. Oh, but I tell you she's a corker!"
"I should think—"
The sentence was never completed because a voice without the not-altogether-closed door cried:
"No, don't think, please; let me come in instead." And in the same instant Burnett made one leap and flung the door open, crying as he did so:
Then Jack, bunching somewhat his starfish attitude, looked across the room and realized instantly that it was all up with him forever after.
Because she who stood there in the door was quite the sweetest, the loveliest, the most interesting looking girl whom he had ever laid eyes on; and when she was seized in her brother's arms, and kissed by her brother's lips, and dragged by her brother's hands well into the room, she proved to be a thousand times more irresistible than at first.
"I say, Betty, you're absolutely prettier than ever," her brother exclaimed, holding her a little off from him and surveying her critically; and then he seemed to remember his friend's existence, and, turning toward him, announced proudly:
"My sister Bertha."
Jack was standing up now and thinking how lovely her eyes were just at that instant when they were meeting his for the first time, thinking much else too. Thinking that Monday was only two days away (hang it!); thinking that such a smile was never known before; thinking that he had years ahead at college; thinking that the curl on her forehead was simply distracting (whereas all other like curls were horrid); thinking that he might cut college and—
"My chum, Jack Denham," Burnett continued, proving in the same instant how rapidly the mind may work since his friend had compassed his encyclopedia of sentiment and probability between the two halves of a formal introduction.
"Oh, I'm very glad to meet you, Mr. Denham," she said, putting out her hand—and he took and held it just long enough to realize that he really was holding it, before she took it away to keep for her own again. "I've often heard of you, and often wished I might know you."
"I'm awfully glad to hear you say that," he said, "and if I should have the royal luck to be next to you at dinner, it doesn't seem to me that I shall have the strength to keep from telling you why."
She clapped her hands at this, just as a very little girl might have done.
"If that is so, I hope that they will put you next to me at dinner," she said gayly; "but if they don't, you'll tell me some other time, won't you? I'm always so interested in what people have to tell me about myself."
Burnett began to laugh.
"Jack," he said, "I see that we'd better have a clear and above-board understanding right in the beginning and so I'll just tell you that this sister of mine, who appears so guileless, is the very worst flirt ever. She looks honest, but she can't tell the truth to save her neck. She means well, but she drives folks to suicide just for fun. She'd do anything for anybody in general, but when it's a case of you individually she won't do a thing to you, and you must heed my words and be forewarned and forearmed from now on. Mustn't he, Betty?"
At this the sister laughed, nodding quite as gayly as if it were a laughing matter, instead of the opening move in a possibly serious—tremendously serious—game of life.
"It's awful to have to subscribe to," she said, with dancing eyes; "but I'm afraid it's true. I'm really quite a reprobate, and I admit it frankly. And everyone is so good to me that I never get a chance to reform. And so—and so—"
"But then, I suppose I ought to warn her about you, too," said Burnett, turning suddenly toward his friend. "It isn't fair to show her up and not show you up, you know. And really, Betty, he's almost as bad as you are yourself. I may tell you in confidence—in strict confidence (for it's only been in a few newspapers)—that he hasn't got his breach-of-promise suit all compromised yet. Ask him to deny it, if he can!"
The sister looked suddenly startled and curious and Jack felt himself to be blushing desperately.
"I don't look as if he was lying, do I?" he asked smiling; "be honest now, for you can see that Burnett and I both are."
"No, you don't," she said. "You look as if it was a very true bill."
"It is," he said; "and it's going to be an awfully big one, too, I'm afraid."
"I wouldn't have thought you were such a bad man," said the sister ever so sweetly; "but I like bad men. They interest me. They—"
"There!—I see your finish," said Burnett. "That's one of her favorite opening plays. It's all up with you, Jack, and your aunt will have to to go down for another damage suit when you begin to perceive that you have had enough of our family. But you'll have to get out now, Betty, and let him get dressed for dinner. You needn't cry about it either for he's even more attractive in his glad rags than he is in his railway dust—my word of honor on it."
"I look nice myself when I'm dinner-dressed," said the sister, "so I sympathize with him and I'll go with pleasure. Good-bye."
She sort of backed toward the door and Jack sprang to open it for her.
"You can kiss her hand, if you like," Burnett said kindly. "They do in Germany, you know. I don't mind and mamma needn't know."
"May I?" Jack asked her; and then he caught her eye over her brother's bent head and added, so quickly that there was hardly any break at all between the words: "Some other time?"
"Some other time," she said, with a world of meaning in the promise; and then she flashed one wonderful look straight into his eyes and was gone.
"Isn't she great?" Burnett asked, unlocking his suit-case in the most provokingly every-day style, as if this day was an every-day sort of day and not the beginning and end of all things. "Oh, I tell you, I'm almost dotty over that sister myself."
"Do you suppose that I could manage to have her for dinner?" Jack asked, feeling desperately how dull any other place at the table would be now.
"I don't know. When I go down to my mother I'll try to manage it; shall I?"
"I wish you would."
"I reckon I can; but, great loads of fire, fellow! don't think you can play tag with her, and feel funny at the finish. She'll do you up completely, and never turn a hair herself. She's always at it. She don't mean to be cruel, but she's naturally a carnivorous animal. It's her little way."
Jack did not look as dismal as he should have done; he smiled, and looked out of the window instead.
"She'll have to marry someone some day, you know," he said thoughtfully.
"Have to marry someone some day!" Burnett cried. "Why, she is married. Didn't you know that?" and he unbuckled the shirt portfolio as he spoke just as if calamities and tragedies and shooting stars might not follow on the heels of such a simple statement as that last.
It was an awful moment, but poor Jack did manage to continue looking out of the window. If any greater demand had been made upon him he might have sunk beneath the double weight.
"No," he said at last, his voice painfully steady; "I didn't know it."
Burnett laughed heartlessly, hauling forth his apparel with a refined cruelty which took careful heed of possible interfolded shoes or cravats.
"She married an Englishman when she was nineteen years old," he said. "That was when they sent me to Eton that little while,—until I drove the horse through the drug shop. The time I told you about, don't you know?"
"Yes, I remember," said Jack. He observed with sickening distinctness that the night had begun to fall, the river's silver ribbon had become a black snake, and that the mountain range beyond loomed chill and dark and cheerless. "I guess I ought to be getting into my things," he said, moving toward his own door.
"There's a bath in here," his friend called after him. "We're to divide it."
"Sure," was the reply. It sounded a trifle thick.
"I don't think that she ought to," said the brother to himself, as he began to draw out his stick-pin before the mirror, "I don't care if she is my favorite sister—I don't think that she ought to."
Then he went on to make ready for the securing of his half of the bath, and forthwith forgot his sister and his friend.
CHAPTER FOUR - MARRIED
It was almost like a scene at a ball, the great white-and-gold music room before dinner that night. The Burnett family proper numbered fifteen among themselves, and there were nearly thirty guests added. It was entirely too large a house party to have handled successfully for very long, but it would be most awfully jolly for three or four days; and now, when the whole crowd were gathered waiting for dinner, the picture was one of such bubbling joy that Jack's very heavy heart seemed to himself to be terribly out of place there and he wondered whether he should be able to put up even a fairly presentable front during the endless hours that must ensue before the time for breaking up arrived.
Burnett took him all around and introduced him to people in general, and people in general seemed to him to merely bring the fact of her pre-eminence more vividly than ever before his mind. He found himself looking everywhere but at them too, and listening with an acutely sensitive ear for sounds quite other than those of their various lips. But eternal disappointment rewarded his eyes and ears. She was nowhere.
So he talked blindly about nothing to all the nobodies and laughed stupidly over all their stupidities until—suddenly and without any warning—a fearful jump in his throat sent the mercury in his constitution shooting up to 160, and he saw, heard, felt, gasped, and knew, that that radiant angel in silver tissue who had just entered the farther end of the room was indubitably Herself.
He quite forgot who, what and where he was. There was a somebody talking to him—a very awful and bony young lady, but she faded so completely out of the general scheme of his immediate present that all the use he made of her was to stare over her head at the distant apparition that was become, now and forever, his All in All. The distant apparition had not lied when she had told him up in her brother's room that she too, looked "nice" when dressed for dinner. Only the word "nice" was as watered milk to the champagne of her appearance. She was gowned superbly and her throat and arms were half bared by the folds of silvered lace; her hair fitted into the back of her neck in the smoothest mass of puffs and coils, and the curl on her forehead was more distracting than ever.
She seemed to be speaking to everyone, and everyone seemed to be crowding around her. He couldn't go up like everyone else, because the awful and bony young lady was talking hard at him and heightened her charms with a smile that took up two-fifths of her face, and wrinkled all the rest.
Her name was Lome—Maude Lome. He knew that she must be a relative without being told, because otherwise she wouldn't have been invited at all. Anyone could divine that.
"Oh, isn't dear Betty just lovely?" this fearful freak said. "I think she's just too lovely for anything! She's my cousin, you know; we're often mistaken for one another."
"I can well believe it," said Jack, heavily, not ceasing to stare beyond as he said it.
"Oh, you're flattering me! Because she's ever so much prettier than I am, and I know it."
He didn't reply. It had suddenly come over him to wonder whether there ever had been an authentic case of heartbreak. Because he had the most terrible ache right in his left side!
"But, then," Miss Lome continued, "I'm younger than she is. Her being married makes her seem young, but she's really twenty-four. I'm only twenty."
He shut his eyes, and then opened them. He wished he hadn't come here, and then grew shivery to think that he might have happened not to; and all the while that awful twisting and wrenching at his heart was getting worse and worse.
(Married! Married! Married!)
Burnett came up just then with a man wearing a monocle and presented him to Denham, and forthwith handed the bony cousin to his safe-keeping.
"She's a great pill, isn't she?" he began, as the couple moved away; and then he stopped short. "What's the matter?" he asked. "Sick?"
"I hope not," said Jack, trying to smile.
"You look hipped," his friend said anxiously. "Better go get a bracer; you'll have time if you hurry. You can't be sick before dinner, because I've been moving all the cards around so as to get Betty next to you, and I could never get them back as they were before if you gave out at the last minute."
"I don't believe I'm ill," said Jack, trying to realize whether the news that she was to be his (for dinner) made him feel any better or only just about the same. "I don't know what ails me. Do I look seedy?"
"You look sort of knocked out, that's all," said Burnett. "Perhaps, though, it was just the having to talk to my cousin Maude so long. Isn't she the limit, though? But I'll tell you the one big thing about that girl: She's just the biggest kind of a catch. She was my uncle's eldest child; she's worth twelve times what any of us ever will be."
"I'm sure she'll need it," said Jack heartily.
"You're right there," laughed his friend; "but you've got to hurry and get your brandy now if you want it, because they'll be going out in a minute."
"Oh, I'm all right," said the poor chap, straightening his shoulders back a little. "I can make out well enough, I'm sure. I think I'd better go over by your sister and let her know that I'm ready when the hour of need shall strike."
Burnet nodded and then he went on and his friend walked down the room, no one but himself knowing that he was making his way into the lion's (or, rather, lioness's) den.
And then he paused there beside her. Oh! she Was seven million times lovelier close to than far away. All the rot about Venus and statues and paintings and Helen of Troy was nowhere beside Her and he felt his strength come surging mightily upward and then—oh Heavens!
She looked up—looked so sweetly up—right into his eyes and smiled.
"I expect you are to take me into dinner," she said; and at her words the man who had been talking to her murmured something meaningless and got out of their way.
"I believe so," he said.
She rose and he noticed that the top of her head was just level with his coat lapel. He wondered, with a miserable pang, where she came to on her husband's coat and with the wonder his surging strength surged suddenly out to sea again and left him feeling like Samson when he awoke to the realization of his haircut.
"Dinner's very late," she said, quite as if life presented no problem whatever; "you see, it's the first big company in the house. We were only seventeen last night, and to-night we're forty-five. It makes a difference."
"I can imagine so," he said. He was suddenly acutely aware of feeling very awkward, and of finding her different—quite different from what she had seemed up in her brother's room.
"What is it?" she asked after a minute, looking up at him; and then she showed that she was conscious of the change, for she added: "Something has happened; Bob has been saying mean things about me to you?"
"Yes, he did tell me something," he admitted; and just then the butler announced dinner.
"What did he tell you?" she asked, as they moved away. "How could he say anything worse than what he said before me?"
"He told me something that was worse—much worse."
She looked troubled and as if she did not understand.
"But he said that I was a flirt, and that I couldn't speak the truth, and that I drove people—"
"Yes, I remember all that; but this was infinitely worse."
She stopped in an angle where the big room dwindled into a narrow gallery, and stared astonished.
"I can't at all understand," she said.
"No, you can't," he said, "and I can't tell you—I mustn't tell you—how terrible it is to me to look at you and think of what he told me."
After a second she went on again and presently they entered the dining-room. The confusion of rustling skirts and sliding chairs quite covered their speech for a moment and made them seem almost alone. Her hand had been resting on his arm and now she drew it out, looking up at him again as she did so. Her eyes had a premonitory mist over them.
"For Heaven's sake," she said very earnestly, "tell me what he said?"
He was silent.
"Tell me," she pleaded.
He was still silent.
"Tell me," she said imperiously.
He continued silent. They sat down.
"Mr. Denham," she said, as she took up her napkin, and her voice grew very low, and yet he heard, "I don't think that we can pretend to be joking any longer. You are my brother's friend, and I am a married woman. Please treat me as you should."
"That's just it," said Jack; "that's all there is to it. It wouldn't have amounted to anything except for that—or perhaps, if it hadn't been for that, it might have amounted to a great deal."
"If it hadn't been for what?"
"For your being married."
She quite started in her seat.
"What do you mean?"
"You see I never knew it before."
"You never knew what before?"
"That you were married."
"Until after you went out of the room to-night."
The men were putting the clams around. She seemed to reflect. And then she peppered and salted them before she spoke.
"Bob is very wrong to talk so," she said at last, picking up her fork, "when you're his friend, too."
He poked his clams—he hated clams.
"I suppose men think it's amusing to do such things," she continued, "but I think it's as ill-bred as practical joking."
"But you are married," he said, trying fiercely to pepper some taste into the tasteless things before him.
"Yes, I'm married," she admitted tranquilly, "but, then, my husband went to Africa so soon afterwards that he hardly seemed to count at all. And then he was killed there; so, after that, he seemed to count less than ever."
The air danced exclamation points and the man on the other side spoke to her then so that her turning to answer him gave Jack time to rally his wits.
Then she turned back and said:
"I think Bob mystified you unnecessarily. Of course I don't flatter myself that you've suffered."
"Oh, but I have," he hastened to assure her.
(A widow! A widow!)
"But it always makes a difference whether a woman is married or not."
"I should say it did," he interrupted again. "It makes all the difference in the world."
At that she laughed outright, and someone suddenly abstracted the distasteful clams and substituted for them a golden and glorious soup, and music sounded forth from some invisible quartet, and—and—
(A widow! A widow! A widow!)
CHAPTER FIVE - THE DAY AFTER FALLING IN LOVE
The next day was a very memorable day for Jack. The day after a falling in love is always a red-letter day; but the day after the falling in love—ah!
One looks back—far back—to the day before, and those hours of the day before, when her sun had not yet dawned, and struggles to recollect what ends life could have represented then. And one looks forward to the next day, the next week, the next year—but, particularly to the next morning with sensations as indescribable as they are delightful.
Whichever way you tip it, the kaleidoscope of the future arranges itself in equally attractive shapes of rainbow hue, and the prospect over land or sea—even if it is raining—looks brilliant green, and brighter red, and brightest yellow.
Upon that glorious "next day" of Jack's the weather was quite a thing apart for February—partaking of the warmth of May, and owing that fact to a sun which early June need not have scorned to own. Under the circumstances the house party overflowed the house and ravaged the surrounding country, and Jack and Mrs. Rosscott began it all by having the highest cart and the fastest cob in the stables and making for the forest just as the clock was tolling ten.
"Do you want a groom?" asked Burnett, who was occasionally very cruel.
"Well, I'm not going to wait for him to get ready now," replied his sister, who had sharp wits and did not disdain to give even her own family the benefit of them.
Then she gathered up the reins and whip in a most scientific manner, and they were off. Jack folded his arms. He was simply flooded, drenched, and saturated with joy. The evening before had been Elysium when she had only been his now and again for a minute's conversation, but now she was to be his and his alone until—until they came back—and his mind seemed able to grasp no dearer outlines of the form which Bliss Incarnate may be supposed to take. He didn't care where they went or what they saw or what they talked of, just if only he and she might be going, seeing, and talking for the benefit of one another and of one another alone.
They bowled away upon a firm, hard road that skirted the park, and then plunged deeply into the forest. Mrs. Rosscott handled the reins and the whip with the hands of an expert.
"I like to drive," said she.
"You appear to," he answered.
"I like to do everything," she said. "I'm very athletic and energetic."
"I'm glad of that," he told her warmly. "I like athletic girls."
He really thought that he was speaking the truth, although upon that first day if she had declared herself lazy and languid he would have found her equally to his taste—because it was the first day.
"That's kind of you, after my speech," she said smiling, "but let's wait a bit before we begin to talk about me. Let us talk about you first—you're the company, you know."
"But there's nothing to tell about me," said Jack, "except that I'm always in difficulties—financial—or otherwise,—oftenest 'otherwise,' I must confess."
"But you have a rich aunt, haven't you?" said Mrs. Rosscott. "I thought that I had heard about your aunt."
"Oh, yes, I have a rich aunt," Jack said, laughing, "and I can assure you that if I am not much credit to my aunt, my aunt is the greatest possible credit to me."
"Yes, I've heard that, too," said Mrs. Rosscott, joining in the laugh, "you see I'm well posted."
"If you're so well posted as to me," Jack said, "do be kind and post me a little as to yourself. You don't need information and I do."
She turned and looked at him.
"What shall I tell you first?" she inquired.
"Tell me what you like and what you don't like—and that will give me courage to do the same later," he added boldly.
She laughed outright at that and then sobered quickly.
"I told you that I liked to drive and to do everything," she said lightly; "what else do you want to know about?"
"What you dislike."
"But I don't know of anything that I dislike;" she said thoughtfully—"perhaps I don't like England; I am not sure, though. I had a pretty good time there after all—only you know, being in mourning was so stupid. And then, too, I didn't fit into their ideas. I really didn't seem to get the true inwardness of what was expected of me. Oh, I never dared let them know at home what a failure I was as an Englishwoman. I mortified my husband's sisters all the time. Just think—after a whole year I often forgot to say 'Fancy now!' and used to say 'Good gracious!' instead."
"My husband's sisters were very unhappy about it. They did want to love me, because I had so much money; but it was tough work for them. Did you ever know any middle-aged English young ladies?" she asked him suddenly.
"No, I never did," he said.
"Really, they seem to be a thing apart that can't grow anywhere but in England. Every married man has not less than two, nor more than three, and they always are a little gray and embroider very nicely. Someone told me that as long as there's any hope they wear stout boots and walk about and hunt, but as soon as it's hopeless they take to embroidering."
"It must be rather a blue day for them when they decide definitely to make the change," said Jack.
"I never thought of that," said Mrs. Rosscott soberly. "Of course it must! I was always very good to them. I gave them ever so many things that I could have used longer myself, and they used to set pieces of muslin in behind the open-work places and wear them."
"It's quite as bad as being a Girton girl," she said. "Do you know what a Girton girl is?"
"No, I don't."
"It's a girl from Girton College. It's the most awful freak you ever saw. They're really quite beyond everything. They're so homely, and their hands and feet are so enormous, and their pins never pin, and their belts never belt. And no one has ever married one of them yet!"
She paused dramatically.
"I won't either, then," he declared.
She laughed at that, and touched up the cob a trifle.
"Did you live long in England?" he asked.
"Forever!" she answered with emphasis; "at least it seemed like forever. Mamma left me there when I was nineteen (she married me off before she left me, of course) and I stayed there until last winter—until I was out of my mourning, you know—and then I was on the Continent for a while, and then I returned to papa."
"How do we strike you after your long absence?"
"Oh, you suit me admirably," she said, turning and smiling squarely into his face; "only the terrible 'and' of the majority does get on my nerves somewhat."
"Haven't you noticed? Why when an American runs out of talking material he just rests on one poor little 'and' until a fresh run of thought overwhelms him; you listen to the next person you're talking with, and you'll hear what I mean."
"I will," he said at last.
The road went sweeping in and out among a thicket of bare tree trunks and brown copses, and the sunlight fell out of the blue sky above straight down upon their heads.
"If it don't annoy you, my referring to England so often," said she presently, "I will state that this reminds me of Kaysmere, the country place of my father-in-law."
"Is your father-in-law living yet?"
"Dear me, yes—and still has hold of the title that I supposed I was getting when I was married to his eldest son. My father-in-law is a particularly healthy old gentleman of eighty. He was forty years old when he married. He didn't expect to marry, you know—he couldn't see his way to ever affording it. But he jumped into the title suddenly and then, of course, he married right away. He had to. You'd know what a hurry he must have been in to look at my mamma-in-law's portrait."
"Was she so very beautiful?"
"No; she was so very homely. Maude's very like her."
She laughed, too.
"Aren't we happy together?" she asked.
"My sky knows but one cloud," he rejoined, "and that is that Monday comes after Sunday."
"But we shall meet again," said Mrs. Rosscott. "Because," she added mischievously, "I don't suppose that it's on account of my cousin Maude that you rebel at the approach of Monday."
"No," said Jack. "It may not be polite to say so to you, but I wasn't in the least thinking of your cousin."
"Poor girl!" said Mrs. Rosscott thoughtfully; "and she was so sweet to you, too. Mustn't it be terrible to have a face like that?"
"It must indeed," said Jack; "I can think of but one thing worse."
"To marry a face like that."
She laughed again.
"You're cruel," she declared; "after all her face isn't her fortune, so what does it matter?"
"It doesn't matter at all to me," said Jack. "I know of very few things that can matter less to me than Miss Lorne's face."
"Now, you're cruel again; and she was so nice to you too. Absolutely, I don't believe that the edges of her smile came together once while she was talking to you last night."
"Did you spy on us to that extent?" said Jack. "I wouldn't have believed it of you."
"Oh, I'm very awful," she said airily. "You'll be more surprised the farther you penetrate into the wilderness of my ways."
"And when will I have a chance to plunge into the jungle, do you think?"
"Any Saturday or Sunday that you happen to be in town."
"Are you going to live in town?"
"For a while. I've taken a house until the beginning of July. I expect some friends over, and I want to entertain them."
Jack felt the sky above become refulgent. He was in the habit of spending every Saturday night in the city—he and Burnett together.
"May I come as often as I like?" he asked.
"Certainly," said she; "because you know if you should come too often I can tell the man at the door to say I'm 'not at home' to you."
"But if he ever says: 'She's not at home to you,' I shall walk right in and fall upon the man that you are being at home to just then."
"But he is a very large man," said Mrs. Rosscott seriously; "he's larger than you are, I think."
Jack felt the blue heavens breaking up into thunderbolts for his head at this speech.
"But I'm 'way over six feet," he said, his heart going heavily faster, even while he told himself that he might have known it, anyhow.
"He's all of six feet two," she said meditatively. "I do believe he's even taller. I remember liking him at the first glance, just because he struck me as so royal looking."
He was miserably conscious of acute distress.
"Do—do you mind my smoking?" he stammered.
(Might have known that, of course, there was bound to be someone like that.)
"Not at all," she rejoined amiably. "I like the odor of cigarettes. Shall I stop a little, while you set yourself afire?"
"It isn't necessary," he said. "I can set myself afire under any circumstances."
He lit a cigarette.
"Is he English?" he couldn't help asking then.
"Yes," she said; "I like the English."
"You appear to like everything to-day." He did not intend to seem bitter, but he did it unintentionally.
(Confounded luck some fellows have.)
"I do. I'm very well content to-day."
He was silent, thinking.
"Well," she queried, after a while.
He pulled himself together with an effort.
"I think perhaps it's just as well," he said.
"What is just as well?"
"That I know."
"About him. I shan't ever take the chances of calling on you now."
"He wouldn't put you out unless I told him to," she said. "You needn't be too afraid of him, you know."
His face grew a trifle flushed.
"I'm not afraid," he said, as coldly as it was in him to speak; "but I'll leave him the field."
She turned and looked at him.
"The field?" she asked, with puzzled eyebrows.
Then she frowned for an instant, and then a species of thought-ray suddenly flew across her face and she burst out laughing.
"Why, I do believe," she cried merrily, "I do believe you're jealous of the man at the door."
"Weren't you speaking of a man in the drawing-room?" he asked, all her phrases recurring to his mind together.
"No," she said laughing; "I was speaking of my footman. Oh, you are so funny."
The way the sun shone suddenly again! His horizon glowed so madly that he quite lost his head and leaning quickly downward seized her hand in its little tan driving glove of stitched dogskin, and kissed it—reins and all.
"I'm not funny," he said, "it was the most natural thing in the world."
She was laughing, but she curbed it.
"You'd better not be foolish," she said warningly. "It don't mix well with college."
"I'm thinking of cutting college," he declared boldly.
"Don't let us decide on anything definite until we've known one another twenty-four hours," she said, looking at him with a gravity that was almost maternal; and then she turned the horse's head toward home.
CHAPTER SIX - THE OTHER MAN
That evening Burnett felt it necessary to give his friend a word of warning.
"Holloway's going to take Betty in to-night," he said, as they descended the tower stairs together.
"Who's Holloway?" Jack asked.
"You can't expect to have her all the time, you know," Burnett continued: "She's really one of the biggest guns here, even if she is one of the family."
"Last night the mater had her all mapped out for General Jiggs, and I had an awful time getting her off his hook and on to yours, and then you drove her all this morning and walked her all the afternoon, and the old lady says she's got to play in Holloway's yard to-night—jus' lil' bit, you know."
"Who's Holloway?" Jack demanded.
"You know Horace Holloway; we were up at his place once for the night. Don't you remember?"
"I remember his place well enough; but he hadn't got in when we came, and hadn't got up when we left, so his features aren't as distinctly imprinted on my memory as they might be."
"That's so," said Burnett, pushing aside the curtains that concealed the foot of the wee stair; "I'd forgotten. Well, you'll meet him to-night, anyhow; he came on the five-five. Holly's a nice fellow, only he's so darned over-full of good advice that he keeps you feeling withersome."
"Did he ever give you any advice?" he asked.
"I don't recollect your taking it."
"I never take anything," said Burnett; "I consider it more blessed to give than to receive—as regards good advice anyhow."
"Who will I have for dinner?" Jack asked presently, glancing around to see if there were any silver tissues or distracting curls in sight.
"Well," his friend replied, rather hesitatingly, "you must expect to balance up for last night, I reckon."
"Your cousin, I suppose!"
"She wanted you," he said. "She's taken a fancy to you; and she can afford to marry for love," he added.
"I'm thankful that I can, too," the other answered fervently.
His friend laughed at the fervor.
"You make me think of her teacher," he said. "She sings, and when she was sixteen she meant to outrank Patti; she was lots homelier then."
"Oh, I say!" Jack cried. "I can believe 'most anything, but—"
Burnett laughed and then sobered.
"She was," he said solemnly; "she really and truly was. And her mother said to her teacher,—there in Dresden: 'She will be the greatest soprano, won't she?' And he said: 'Madame, she has only that one chance—to be the greatest.'"
"But why 'Lorne'?" he asked suddenly. "Why not 'Burnett,' since she's your uncle's child?"
"Oh, that's straight enough; there's a hyphen there. My uncle died and my aunt married a title. My aunt's Lady Chiheleywicks, but the family name is Lorne. And you pronounce my aunt's name Chix."
"I'm glad I know," said Jack.
"Oh, we're great on titles," said Burnett, modestly. "If the Boers hadn't killed Col. Rosscott, Betty would have been a Lady, too, some day. But as it is—" he added thoughtfully, "she's nothing but a widow."
"'Nothing but'!" Jack cried indignantly.
"Oh, well," said Burnett, "of course it's great, her being a widow—but then she'd have been great the other way too."
"But if he was English and a colonel," Jack said suddenly, "he must have been all of—"
"Fifty!" interposed Burnett; "oh, he was! Maybe more, but he dyed his hair. It was a splendid match for her. It isn't every girl who can get a—"
Their conversation was suddenly cut short by voices, accompanied by a sort of sweet and silky storm of little rustles and the sound of feet—little feet—coming down the great hall. Aunt Mary's nephew felt himself suddenly wondering if any other fellow present had such a tempest within his bosom as he himself was conscious of attempting to regulate unperceived.
And then, after all, she wasn't among the influx! Miss Maude, was, though, and he had to go up to her and talk to her; and terribly dull hard labor it was.
While he was rolling the Sisyphus stone of conversation uphill for the sixth or seventh time, Jack noticed a gentleman pass by and throw a more than ordinarily interesting glance their way. He was a very well-built, fairly good-sized man of thirty-five or forty years, with a handsome, uninteresting face and heavy, sleepy dark eyes.
"Who is that?" he asked of his companion, his curiosity supplementing his wish that she would begin to bear her share of the burden of her entertainment.
"Don't you know?" she said in surprise. "That's Mr. Holloway. He's just come. Oh, he's so horrid! I think he's just too awfully horrid for any use."
"Because he does such mean things. I just know Bob must have told you how he treated me. Bob's always telling it. Surely he's told you. It's his favorite story."
"No, never," said Jack (his eyes riveted on the staircase); "he never told me. But do tell me. I'll enjoy hearing your side of it."
"But I haven't any side. It's just Horace Holloway's meanness. There's nothing funny."
"But tell me anyway."
"Do you really want to hear?"
"Indeed, I do."
"Well, it's just that we were up in the mountains, and I was rowing myself, and the boat didn't go well, and Mr. Holloway came down off the hotel piazza and called to me that she needed ballast, and—and I said: 'Is that the trouble?' And he said: 'Yes, row ashore, and I'll ballast you.' And so, of course I rowed ashore to get him, and (of course, I supposed he meant himself), and when I was up by the dock he picked up a great stone and dropped it in, and shoved me off, and called after me: 'She'll go better now,' and—everyone laughed!"
Miss Lome stopped, breathless.
"I never would have believed it of him," Jack exclaimed, turning to see where Holloway kept his sense of humor; but just as his eye fell upon the latter, the latter's eyes altered and suddenly became so bright and intent that his observer involuntarily turned his own gaze quickly in the same direction.
It was Mrs. Rosscott who was approaching, all in cerise with lines of Chantilly lace sweeping about her. It seemed a cruelty to every woman present that she should be so beautiful. Jack wanted to fly and fall at her feet, but he couldn't, of course—he was tied to her hyphenated cousin.
But Holloway went forward and greeted her with all possible empressement, and the man who was so much his junior felt an awful weight of youth upon him as he saw her led out of his sight.
"I think dear Betty will marry Mr. Holloway," her cousin chirped blandly, thus settling her fate forever. "He came over in her party, you know, and—she's always been fond of him."
Jack suddenly recollected how Mrs. Rosscott had commented on the terrible tendency to land upon "and," and wondered why he had never noticed before how disagreeable said tendency was.
(Going to marry Holloway!)
"But, then, dear Cousin Betty's such a coquette that no one can ever tell whom she does like. She's very insincere."
Jack twisted uneasily. If there was any comfort to be derived from Miss Lorne's last speech, it was certainly of a most chilly sort.
(Probably going to marry Holloway!)
"Now, I think it's too bad, when there are so many simple, sweet girls in the world, that men seem to adore those that flirt like dear Cousin Betty. I don't approve of flirting anyway. I wouldn't flirt for anything. I don't want to break men's hearts."
"That's awfully good of you," Jack said, looking eagerly to where Holloway and Mrs. Rosscott stood together.
"Oh, no it isn't," said Miss Lorne, "I don't take any credit for it—I was born so. Dear Betty was a regular flirt when she was ever so small, but I never was. I'm sincere and I can't take any credit for it. I was born so."
Holloway was talking and Mrs. Rosscott's eyes were uplifted to his. Jack was sure there was adoration in them. He knew Holloway was in love with her. How could he be a man and help it. Oh, it was damnable—unbearable.
He stood up suddenly. He couldn't help it. He was crazed, maddened, choked, stifled. The fates must intervene and rescue his reason or else—
There was a blessed sound—the announcing of dinner.
* * * * *
Later there was music in the great white salon where the organ was. Maude Lome sang, and the man with the monocle accompanied her on the organ. Mrs. Rosscott sat on a divan between Holloway and General Jiggs. Jack was left out in the cold.
(Surely in love with Holloway!)
It was only twenty-six hours since he had first met her, and he hated to consider his life as unalterably blasted, or to even give up the fight. Nevertheless, whenever he looked across the room he saw fresh signs of the most awful kind. Even the way that she didn't trouble to trouble over the one man, but devoted herself to General Jiggs, was in itself a very bad portent. Well, such was life and one must bear it somehow and be a man. Probably he would suffer less after the first five or ten years—he hoped so at any rate. But, great heavens, what a fearful prospect until those first five or ten years were gone by!
Finally he went up to his own room and put on another collar and sat down at the open window and thought about it for a good while all quiet and alone by himself. After that he went back downstairs.
She was gone, and Holloway, too. He felt freshly unhappy. When you come to consider, it was so damned unjust for one man to be thirty-five while another—just as decent a fellow in every way—was in college. He—
A hand touched his arm.
He turned from where he was standing in the window recess, and looked into her eyes.
"I'm very wicked, am I not?" she asked, looking up at him so straight and honest.
"I can't admit that," he replied.
"But I am. I know it myself. What Bob told you was all true. I'm a heartless wretch."
She spoke so earnestly that his heart sank lower and lower.
"I wanted to speak to you about to-morrow morning," she said, after a little pause. "You know we were going to drive at ten together, and—and I wondered if—you see, Mr. Holloway's an old friend, and he's had so much to tell me to-night, and he isn't half through—"
She was drawing him with a chain, a hair chain, which she had woven out of her eyelashes in the twinkling of an eye (either eye).
He felt himself helpless—and choked.
"Of course I don't mind. You go with him. It's quite one to me."
She gave a tiny little start.
"Oh, I didn't mean that at all," she cried. "I meant—I meant—you see it's all been a little tiring—and to-morrow's Sunday anyway and I—I Wanted to—to ask you if we couldn't go out at eleven instead of ten?"
She looked so sweetly questioning, and his relief was so great, and his joy—
(Probably don't care a rap for Holloway!)
—so intense, that he could hardly refrain from seizing her in his arms.
But he only seized her little hand instead and pressed it fervently to his lips. When he raised his eyes she was smiling, and her smile filled him with happiness.
"You're such a boy!" she said softly, and turned and left him there in the window recess alone again,—but this time he didn't care.
CHAPTER SEVEN - DEVELOPMENTS
It was during that drive the next morning that Jack buoyed up by memories of Saturday and hopes of coming Saturdays, poured out the history of his life at Mrs. Rosscott's knees. He told her the whole story of Aunt Mary, and his side of the cat, the cabman, and Kalamazoo. It interested her, for she had arrived too recently to have had the full details in the newspapers beforehand, but when he spoke of Aunt Mary's last letter she grew large-eyed and shook her head gravely.
"You will have to be very good now," she said seriously.
"Why?" he asked. "Just to keep from being disinherited? That wouldn't be so awful."
"Wouldn't it be awful to you?" she asked, turning her bright eyes upon him. "What could be worse?"
"Things," he said very vaguely.
Then she touched up the cob a little; and, after a minute or two, as she said nothing, he continued:
"I almost fancy quitting college and going to work. I was thinking about it last night."
She touched up the cob a little more, and remained silent.
Finally he said:
"What would you think of my doing that?"
"I don't know," she said slowly. "You see, I'm a great philosopher. I never fret or worry, because I regard it as useless; similarly, I never rebel at the way fate shapes my life—I regard that as something past helping. I believe in predestination; do you?"
She turned and looked at him so seriously—so unlike her riante self—that he felt startled, and did not know what to say for a minute.
"I don't know," he said slowly; "I don't know that I dare to. It rather startles me to think that maybe all of our future is laid out now."
"It doesn't startle me," she said. "It seems to me the natural plan of the universe. I believe that everything that crosses our path—down to the tiniest gnat—comes there in the fulfillment of a purpose."
"I'm sure that all the mosquitoes that ever crossed my path came there in the fulfillment of a purpose," Jack interrupted. "I never doubted that."
She smiled a little.
"It's the same with people," she went on.
"Do not let us play any longer,' she said. 'Let us be in earnest.'"
"Only less painful," he interrupted again.
"Sometimes not," she said, with a look that silenced him. "Sometimes much more so—my Cousin Maude, for example."
"Hip, hip, hurrah for the mosquito!" he murmured. They laughed softly together. Then she grew earnest, and looked so grave that he became serious too.
"There is always a purpose," she said, with a touch of some feeling which he had never guessed at. "If you and I have met, it is because we are to have some influence over one another. I can't just see how; I can't form any idea—"
"I can," he said eagerly.
She looked up so suddenly and steadily that he was silent.
"Do not let us play any longer," she said. "Let us be in earnest."
"But I am in earnest," he asseverated.
"You don't know what I mean," she went on very gently. "You're in college. Let's fight it out on those lines if it takes all summer."
He looked up into her face and loved her better than ever for the frank kindliness that shone in her eyes.
"All right, if you say so," he vowed.
"I do say so," she said. "I like to see men stick it through in college if they begin. I like to see people finish up every one of life's jobs that they set out on."
"But I'm coming to see you in town, you know," he went on with great apparent irrelevance.
She laughed merrily.
"Yes, surely. You must promise me that.—No," she stopped and looked thoughtful, "I'll tell you what I want you to promise me. Promise me that you'll come once a week or else write me why you can't come. Will you?"
"You can't suppose that you'll ever see my handwriting under such circumstances—can you?" Jack asked.
She laughed again.
"Is it a promise?"
"Yes, it's a promise."
Oh, joy unmeasured in the time of spring! No other February like that had ever been for them—nor ever would be. The drive came to an end, the day came to an end, but the good-nights, which were good-bys, too, were not so fraught with hopelessness as he had dreaded, for the promise asked and given paved a broad road illuminated by the most hopeful kind of stars,—a broad road leading straight from college to town,—and his fancy showed him a figure treading it often. A figure that was his own.
CHAPTER EIGHT - THE RESOLUTION HE TOOK
That first meeting was in February, you know, and by the last of April it had been followed by so many others that Burnett remarked one day to his chum:
"Say, aren't you going a little faster than auntie'll stand for?"
Jack turned in surprise.
"I never went so straight in my life before," he exclaimed, not in indignation but in astonishment.
"I didn't mean that," said Burnett. "Perhaps instead of 'auntie' I should have said 'Betty.'"
Jack hoisted the colors of Harvard, and was silent.
"I warned you at first that that was Tangle town," his friend went on. "Don't suppose I'm saying anything against her—or against you; but she's just as much to ten other men as she is to you, and they all are old enough to carry lots of weight."
"And I suppose I'm not," Jack answered, going over by the fireplace. "I know that as well as anyone, of course."
"Natuerlich," said Burnett, with conclusiveness that was not meant to be cruel, yet cut like a two edged knife.
There was silence in the room. Jack stood by the chimney-piece, his hands upraised to rest upon its lofty shelf, his head dropped forward, and his eyes fixed on the empty blackness below.
"I wonder," he said at last, "I wonder what will become of me if—if—"
Burnett didn't speak.
"I wonder if she thinks of me as a boy," the young man continued. "I wonder if she's so good to me because I'm her youngest brother's friend."
Burnett did not comment on this speech.
"I don't know what to do," the other said. "When I first met her I wanted to cut college and get out in the world and go to work like a man. I told her so. But she wanted me to stay in college, and as it was the first thing she'd ever wanted of me, I did it. I'd do anything she asked me. I've quit drinking. I'm going at everything as hard as it's in me to go; but—I don't know—I feel—I feel as if it isn't me—it's just because she wants me to, and, do you know, old man, it frightens me to think how—if she—if she went out of my—my life—"
He stopped and his broken phrases were not continued to any ending.
Another long silence ensued.
It was finally terminated by the brother's saying:
"You must confess, old man, that you aren't fixed so as to be able to say one really serious word to any woman—unless it is, 'Wait.'"
"I know that," Jack answered; "but I suppose—"
"She'd be taking so many chances," the friend interrupted. "A man in college is never the real thing. You'd better give it up."
Then the other whirled about and faced him.
"Give it up, did you say?" he asked almost angrily.
"Yes, that's what."
For a minute they looked at one another. Then:
"I shall never give it up," the lover said very slowly and steadily—"never, until she gives me up."
Burnett sucked in his breath with a sudden compression of his lips.
"All right," he said, not unkindly; "but I don't believe you'll ever get her, and that's flat. There are too many being entered for that race, and long before you and I get out of here she'll be Mrs. Somebody Else."
Jack stared at him as if he hardly heard, and then suddenly he stepped nearer and spoke.
"Did she ask you to have this talk with me?"
"No," said the brother in surprise, "she never says anything about you to me."
A look of relief fled across his friend's face, and then a look of resolution succeeded it.
"I'm not going to be discouraged," he said; "not for a while, at any rate."
"You'd better be."
Jack laughed. The laugh sounded a trifle hollow, but still it was a laugh, and that in itself was a triumph of which none but himself might ever measure the extent.
Because in that moment he decided to lay the whole case before her the next time that he went to town, and the coming to a resolution was a relief from the uncertainty that clouded his days and nights—even if a further black curtain of darkest doubt hung before the possibilities of what her answer might be.
CHAPTER NINE - THE DOWNFALL OF HOPE
It was on a Saturday about the middle of May that Jack came to town, his mind well braced with love and arguments, and his main thoughts being that when he returned something would be settled.
It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny, and at five in the afternoon both of the drawing-room windows of Mrs. Rosscott's house were wide open, and the lace curtains were taking the breeze like little sails.
Just as Jack mounted the steps, the door opened, and a plainly dressed, unattractive-looking man was let out. The servant who did the letting out saw Jack and let him in without closing the door between the egress of the one and the ingress of the other. So he entered without ringing, and, as he was very well known and intensely popular with all of Mrs. Rosscott's servants, the man invited him to walk up unannounced, since he himself was just "bringing in the tea."
Jack went upstairs, and because the carpet was of thickly piled velvet and his boots were the boots of a well-shod gentleman, he made no noise whatever in the so doing.
There were double parlors above stairs in the domicile which Burnett's sister had taken until July, and they were furnished in the most correct and trying mode of Louis XIV. The chairs were gilt and very uncomfortable. The ornaments were all straight up and down and made in such shapes that there was no place to flick off cigarette ashes anywhere. Nothing could be pulled up to anything else and there was not a single good place to rest one's elbows anywhere. The only saving grace in the situation was that after five minutes or so Mrs. Rosscott invariably suggested removal to the library which lay beyond—a very different species of apartment where no mode at all prevailed except the terrible demode thing known as comfort. To prevent her visitors, when seated (for the five minutes aforementioned) amid the correct carving of French art, from looking longingly through at the easy-chairs of American manufacture, Mrs. Rosscott had ordered that the blue velvet portieres which hung between should never be pushed aside, and it was owing to this order that Jack, entering the drawing-room, heard voices, but could not see into the library beyond. Also it was owing to this order that those in the library could not see or hear Jack.
The result was that the young man, finding the drawing-room unoccupied, was just crossing toward the blue velvet curtains, intending to wait in the library until the returning servant should advise him of the whereabouts of his mistress, when he was stopped by suddenly hearing a voice—her voice—crying (and laughing at the same time)—
"Kisses barred! Kisses barred!"
It may be understood that had Mrs. Rosscott known that anyone was within hearing she certainly would never have made any such speech, and it may be further understood that, had whoever was with her, also mistrusted the close propinquity of another man, he would never have replied (as he did reply):
"Certainly," the same being spoken in a most calm and careless tone.
Jack, the eavesdropper, stood transfixed at the voices and speeches, and forgot every other consideration in the overwhelming sickness of soul which overcame him that instant. All his other soul-sicknesses were trifles compared to this one, and the world—his world—their world—seemed to revolve and whirl and turn upside down, as he steadied himself against a spindle-legged cabinet and felt its spindle-legs trembling in sympathy with his own.
"Darling," said Holloway, a second or two later (and this time his voice was not calm and careless, but deep and impassioned), "the letter was very sweet, and if you knew how I longed to take the tired little girl to my bosom and comfort her troubles, and replace them by joys!"
"Will that day ever come, do you think?" Mrs. Rosscott answered, in low tones, which nevertheless were most painfully clear and distinct in the next room.
"It must," Holloway replied, "just as surely as that I hold this dear little hand—"
But Jack never knew more. He had heard enough—more than enough. Four thousand times too much. He turned and went out of the rooms, back down the stairs and out of the door, closed it noiselessly behind him, and found himself in a world which, although bright and sunny to all the rest of mankind, had turned dark, lonely, and cheerless to him.
At first he hardly knew what to do with himself, he was so altogether used up by the discovery just made. He drifted up and down some unknown streets for an hour or two—or stood still on corners—he never was very sure which. And then at last he went downtown and took a drink in a half-dazed way; and because it was quite two months since his last indulgence, its suggestion was potent.
The pity—or rather, the apparent pity—of what followed!
Burnett was Sundaying at the ancestral castle; and Burnett wasn't the warning sort, anyhow. He was always tow and pitch for any species of flame. So his absence counted for nothing in the crisis.
And what ensued was a crisis—a crisis with a vengeance.
That tear upon which Aunt Mary's nephew went was something lurid and awful. It lasted until Monday, and then its owner returned to college, as ill of body and as embittered of spirit as it was in him to be. The lightsome devil who had ruled him up to his meeting with Mrs. Rosscott resumed its sway with terrible force. The authorities showed a tendency to patience because young Denham had appeared to reform lately and had been working hard; but young Denham felt no thankful sentiments for their leniency, and proved his position shortly.
There was a man named Tweedwell whom circumstances threw directly in the path of destruction. Tweedwell was an inoffensive mortal who was studying for the ministry. He was progressive in his ideas, and believed that a clergyman, to hold a great influence, should know his world. He thought that knowledge of the world was to be gained by skirting the outside edge of every species of worldliness. The result of this course of action was not what it should have been, for Tweedwell was an easy mark for all who wanted fun, and the consciousness of his innocence so little accelerated the pace at which he got out of the way that he was always being called to account for what he hadn't done.
The Saturday night after his Saturday in town, Jack concocted a piece of deviltry which was as dangerous as it was foolish. The result was that an explosion took place, and the author of the gun-powder plot had all the skin on both hands blistered. Burnett, in escaping, fell and broke his collarbone and two ribs. The house in which the affair took place caught fire, and was badly damaged. And Tweedwell was arrested on the strongest kind of circumstantial evidence, and had to answer for the whole. Naturally, in the investigation that followed, the two who were guilty had to confess or see the candidate for the ministry disgraced forever.
The result of their confession was that Burnett's father, a jovial, peppery old gentleman—we all know the kind—lost his patience and wrote his son that he'd better not come home again that year. But Aunt Mary lost her temper much more completely and the result, as affecting Jack, was awful.
She might not have acted as she did had the disastrous news arrived either a week later or a week earlier; but it came just in the middle of a discouraging ten days' downpour, which had caused a dam to break and a chain of valuable cranberry bogs to be drowned out for that year. The cranberry bogs were especially dear to their owner's heart.
"Why can't they drain 'em?" she had asked Lucinda, who was particularly nutcracker-like in appearance since her quarantine episode.
"'Pears like they're lower'n everywhere else," Lucinda answered, her words sounding as if she had sharpened them on a grindstone.
Aunt Mary bit her lip and frowned at the rain. She felt mad all the way through, and longed to take it out on someone.
Ten minutes after Joshua arrived with the mail and the mail bore one ominous letter. Joshua felt something was wrong before the fact was assured.
"She wants the mail," Lucinda said, coming to the door with her hand out as usual.
"She'll get the mail," said Joshua, and as he spoke he gave the seeker after tidings a blood-curdling wink.
"There isn't a telegram in one o' the letters, is there?" Lucinda asked, much appalled by the wink.
"No, there isn't no telegram in none o' the letters," said Joshua.
"Joshua Whittlesey, I do believe you was born to drive saints mad. What is the matter?"
"Nothin' ain't the matter as I know of."
"Then what in Kingdom Come did you wink for?"
"I winked," said Joshua meaningly, "cause I expect it'll be a good while before we'll feel like winkin' again."
Lucinda gave him a look in which curiosity and aggravation fought catch-as-catch-can. Then she turned and went in with the letters.
Aunt Mary was sitting stonily staring at the rain.
"I thought you'd gone to take a drive with Joshua," she said coldly. "Well, 's long 's you're back I'll be glad to have my mail. Most folks like to get their mail as soon as it comes an' I—Mercy on us!"
It was the letter from the authorities enclosed in one from Mr. Stebbins.
Lucinda stood bolt upright before her mistress.
"What's happened?" she yelled breathlessly, after a few seconds of the direst kind of silence had loaded the atmosphere while the letter was being carefully read.
"Happened!—" said Aunt Mary, transfixing the terrible typewritten communication with a yet more terrible look of determination. "Happened!—Well, jus' what I expected 's happened an' jus' what nobody expects 'll happen now. Lucinda, you run like you was paid for it and tell Joshua not to unharness. Don't stop to open your mouth. You'll need your breath before you get to the barn. Scurry!"
Lucinda scurried. She splashed and spattered down through the lane that led to Joshua's kingdom with a vigor that was commendable in one of her age.
"She says 'don't unharness,'" she panted, bouncing in through the doorway just as Joshua was slowly and carefully folding the lap-robe in the crease to which it had become habituated.
Joshua continued to fold.
"Then I won't unharness," he said calmly. He hung the robe over the line that was stretched to hang robes over and Lucinda gasped for wind with which to inflate further conversation.
"She says what nobody expects is goin' to happen," she panted as soon as she could.
"What nobody expects is always happenin' where he's concerned," said Joshua.
"I s'pose he's in some new row," said Lucinda.
"I'm sure he is," said Joshua, "an' if you don't go back to her pretty quick you won't be no better off."
Lucinda turned away and returned to the house. She found Aunt Mary still staring at the letters with the same concentrated fury as before.
"Well, is Joshua a'comin' to the door?" she asked when she saw her maid before her.
"You didn't say for him to come to the door," Lucinda howled, "you said for him to stay harnessed."
Aunt Mary appeared on the verge of ignition.
"Lucinda," she said, "every week I live under the same roof with you your brains strike me 's some shrunk from the week before. What in Heaven's name should I want Joshua to stay harnessed in the barn for? I want him to go for Mr. Stebbins an' I want him to understand 't if Mr. Stebbins can't come he's got to come just the same's if he could anyhow. I may seem quiet to you, Lucinda, but if I do, it only shows all over again how little you know. This is a awful day an' if you knew how awful you'd be half way back to the barn right now. I ain't triflin'—I'm meanin' every word. Every syllable. Every letter."