AND OTHER STORIES
AUTHOR OF "THE FOOTPRINT, AND OTHER STORIES," ETC.
TO ELSIE, PATSIE, AND KATE
_I had thought to sit in the ruler's chair, But three pretty girls are sitting there— Elsie, Patsie, and Kate. I had thought to lord it with eyes of gray, I had thought to be master, and have_ my _way; But six blue eyes vote_: nay, nay, nay! _Elsie, Patsie, and Kate.
Of Petticoats three I am sore afraid, (Though Kate's is more like a candle-shade), Elsie, Patsie, and Kate. And I must confess (with shame) to you That time there was when Petticoats two Were enough to govern me through and through, Elsie, Patsie, and Kate.
Oh Patsie, third of a bullying crew, And Elsie, and Kate, be it known to you— To Elsie, Patsie, and Kate, That Elsie alone was strong enough To smother a motion, or call a bluff, Or any small pitiful atom thereof— Elsie, Patsie, and Kate.
So, though I've renounced that ruler's part To which I was born (as is writ in my heart), Elsie, Patsie, and Kate, Though I do what I'm told (yes, you_ know _I do) And am made to write stories (and sell them, too). Still—I wish to God I had more like you, Elsie, Patsie, and Kate_.
BAR HARBOR, August, 1910.
Certain persons have told me (for nothing) that "White Muscats of Alexandria" resembles a tale in the Arabian Nights. And so it does. Most damningly. And this is printed in the hope of saving other persons postage.
The Spread Eagle Targets The Boot The Despoiler One More Martyr "Ma'am?" Mr. Holiday White Muscats of Alexandria Without a Lawyer The "Monitor" and the "Merrimac" The McTavish The Parrot On the Spot; or, The Idler's House-Party
THE SPREAD EAGLE
In his extreme youth the adulation of all with whom he came in contact was not a cross to Fitzhugh Williams. It was the fear of expatriation that darkened his soul. From the age of five to the age of fourteen he was dragged about Europe by the hair of his head. I use his own subsequent expression. His father wanted him to be a good American; his mother wanted him to be a polite American, And to be polite, in her mind, was to be at home in French and German, to speak English (or American) with the accent of no particular locality, to know famous pictures when you saw them, and, if little, to be bosom friends with little dukes and duchesses and counts of the Empire, to play in the gravel gardens of St. Germain, to know French history, and to have for exercise the mild English variations of American games—cricket instead of base-ball; instead of football, Rugby, or, in winter, lugeing above Montreux. To luge upon a sled you sit like a timid, sheltered girl, and hold the ropes in your hand as if you were playing horse, and descend inclines; whereas, as Fitzhugh Williams well knew, in America rich boys and poor take their hills head first, lying upon the democratic turn.
It wasn't always Switzerland in winter. Now and again it was Nice or Cannes. And there you were taught by a canny Scot to hit a golf ball cunningly from a pinch of sand. But you blushed with shame the while, for in America at that time golf had not yet become a manly game, the maker young of men as good as dead, the talk of cabinets But there was lawn tennis also, which you might play without losing caste "at home," Fitzhugh Williams never used that term but with the one meaning. He would say, for instance, to the little Duchess of Popinjay—or one just as good—having kissed her to make up for having pushed her into her ancestral pond, "Now I am going to the house," meaning Perth House, that Mrs. Williams had taken for the season. But if he had said, "Now I am going home," the little Duchess would have known that he was going to sail away in a great ship to a strange, topsy-turvy land known in her set as "the States," a kind of deep well from which people hoist gold in buckets, surrounded by Indians. Home did not mean even his father's house. Let Fitzhugh Williams but catch sight of the long, white shore of Long Island, or the Brooklyn Bridge, or the amazing Liberty, and the word fluttered up from his heart even if he spoke it not. Ay, let him but see the Fire Island light-ship alone upon the deep, and up leaped the word, or the sensation, which was the same thing.
One Fourth of July they were in Paris (you go to Paris for tea-gowns to wear grouse-shooting in Scotland), and when his valet, scraping and bowing, informed Fitzhugh Williams, aged nine, that it was time to get up, and tub, and go forth in a white sailor suit, and be of the world worldly, Fitzhugh declined. A greater personage was summoned—Aloys, "the maid of madame," a ravishing creature—to whom you and I, good Americans though we are, could have refused nothing. But Fitzhugh would not come out of his feather-bed. And when madame herself came, looking like a princess even at that early hour, he only pulled the bedclothes a little higher with an air of finality.
"Are you sick, Fitzhugh?"
"Why won't you get up?"
His mother at least was entitled to an explanation.
"I won't get up," said he, "because I'm an American."
"But, my dear, it's the glorious Fourth. All good Americans are up."
"All good Americans," said Fitzhugh, "are at home letting off fire-crackers."
"Still," said his mother, "I think I'd get up if I were you. It's lovely out. Not hot."
"I won't get up," said Fitzhugh, "because it's the Fourth, because I'm an American, and because I have nothing but English clothes to put on."
His mother, who was the best sort in the world, though obstinate about bringing-up, and much the prettiest woman, sat down on the bed and laughed till the tears came to her eyes. Fitzhugh laughed, too. His mind being made up, it was pleasanter to laugh than to sulk.
"But," said his mother, "what's the difference? Your pajamas are English, too."
Fitzhugh's beautiful brown eyes sparkled with mischief.
"What!" exclaimed his mother. "You wretched boy, do you mean to tell me that you haven't your pajamas on?"
Fitzhugh giggled, having worsted his mother in argument, and pushed down the bedclothes a few inches, disclosing the neck and shoulders of that satiny American suit in which he had been born.
Mrs. Williams surrendered at once.
"My dear," she exclaimed, "if you feel so strongly about it I will send your man out at once to buy you some French things. They were our allies, you know."
"Thank you, mamma," said Fitz, "and if you'll give me the pad and pencil on the table I'll write to granny."
Thus compromise was met with compromise, as is right. Fitz wrote a very short letter to granny, and drew a very long picture of crossing the Delaware, with Nathan Hale being hanged from a gallows on the bank; and Mrs. Williams sent Benton for clothes, and wrote out a cable to her husband, a daily cable being the one thing that he who loved others to have a good time was wont to exact "Dear Jim," ran the cable, at I forget what the rates were then per word, "I wish you were here. It's bright and beautiful; not too hot. Fitz would not get up and put on English clothes, being too patriotic. You will run over soon if you can, won't you, if only for a minute," etc., etc.
I know one thing of which the reader has not as yet got an inkling, The Williamses were rich. They were rich, passing knowledge, passing belief. Sums of which you and I dream in moments of supreme excitement would not have paid one of Mrs. Williams's cable bills; would not have supported Granny Williams's hot-houses and Angora cat farm through a late spring frost. James Williams and his father before him were as magnets where money was concerned. And it is a fact of family history that once James, returning from a walk in the mud, found a dime sticking to the heel of his right boot.
Fitzhugh was the heir of all this, and that was why it was necessary for him to be superior in other ways as well. But Europeanize him as she would, he remained the son of his fathers. French history was drummed in through his ears by learned tutors, and could be made for the next few days to come out of his mouth. But he absorbed American history through the back of his head, even when there was none about to be absorbed, and that came out often, I am afraid, when people didn't especially want it to. Neither could any amount of aristocratic training and association turn the blood in his veins blue. If one had taken the trouble to look at a specimen of it under a microscope I believe one would have discovered a resemblance between the corpuscles thereof and the eagles that are the tails of coins; and the color of it was red—bright red. And this was proven, that time when little Lord Percy Pumps ran at Fitz, head down like a Barbadoes nigger, and butted him in the nose. The Honorable Fifi Grey, about whom the quarrel arose, was witness to the color of that which flowed from the aforementioned nose; and witness also to the fact that during the ensuing cataclysm no blood whatever, neither blue nor red, came from Lord Percy Pumps—nothing but howls. But, alas! we may not now call upon the Honorable Fifi Grey for testimony. She is no longer the Honorable Fifi. Quite the reverse. I had her pointed out to me last summer (she is Lady Khorset now), and my informant wriggled with pleasure and said, "Now, there is somebody."
"You mean that slim hedge-fence in lavender?" I asked.
"By jove, yes!" said he. "That's Lady Khorset, the wickedest woman in London, with the possible exception of Lady Virginia Pure—the Bicyclyste, you know."
I did know. Had I not that very morning seen in a Piccadilly window a photograph of almost all of her?
Fortunately for Fitzhugh Williams's health and sanity, little children are pretty much the same all the world over, dwelling in the noble democracy of mumps, measles, and whooping-cough. Little newsboys, tiny grandees, infinitesimal sons of coachmen, picayune archdukes, honorableines, marquisettes, they are all pretty much alike under their skins. And so are their sisters. Naturally your free-born American child despises a nation that does not fight with its fists. But he changes his mind when some lusty French child of his own size has given him a good beating in fair fight. And the English games have their beauties (I dare say), and we do know that they can fight—or can make the Irish and the Scots fight for them, which is just as good. And it isn't race and blue blood that keeps little Lady Clara Vere de Vere's stockings from coming down. It's garters. And they don't always do it. Point the finger of scorn at little Archibald Jamison Purdue Fitzwilliams Updyke Wrennfeather, who will be Duke of Chepstow one day; for only last night his lordship's noble mother rubbed his hollow chest with goose grease and tied a red flannel round his neck, and this morning his gerfalcon nose is running, as the British would have run at Waterloo had not "would-to-God-Bluecher-would-come" come up.
Peace, little bootblack; others bite their nails. See yonder night garment laid out for the heir of a kingdom. It is of Canton flannel, a plain, homely thing, in one piece, buttoning ignominiously down the back, and having no apertures for the august hands and feet to come through. In vain the little king-to-be may mumble the Canton flannel with his mouth. He cannot bite his royal nails; and, hush! in the next crib a princess asleep. Why that cruel, tight cap down over her ears? It's because she will double them forward and lie on them, so that if something isn't done about it they will stick straight out.
So Fitzhugh Williams was brought up among and by children, fashionable children, if you like. Snobs, many of them, but children all the same. Some good, some bad, some rough, some gentle, some loving and faithful with whom he is friends to this day, some loving and not faithful. The dangers that he ran were not from the foreign children with whom he played, fought, loved, and dreamed dreams; but from foreign customs, foreign ways of doing things, foreign comfort, foreign take-the-world-easiness, and all. For they do live well abroad; they do have amusing things to do. They eat well, drink well, smoke well, are better waited on than we are and have more time. So Fitzhugh was in danger of these things which have hurt the Americanism of more than one American to the death, but he ran the dangerous gauntlet and came out at the other end unscathed—into the open.
He could rattle off French and German like a native; he could imitate an Englishman's intonation to perfection; and yet he came to manhood with his own honest Ohio accent untouched. And where had he learned it? Not in Ohio, surely. He had been about as much in Ohio as I have in the moon. It was in his red blood, I suppose, to speak as the men of his family spoke—less so, for his vocabulary was bigger, but plainly, straightly, honestly, and with some regard for the way in which words are spelled. So speak the men who are the backbone of liberty, each with the honest accent that he is born to. Don't you suppose that Washington himself held forth in the molten, golden tones of Virginia? Do you think Adams said bought and caught? He said bot and cot. Did Lincoln use the broad A at Gettysburg? I think that in the words he there spoke the A's were narrow as heaven's gate. I think some of them struck against the base of his nose before they came out to strengthen the hearts of men, to rejoice God, and to thunder forever down the ages.
It is, of course, more elegant to speak as we New Yorkers do. Everybody knows that. And I should advise all men to cultivate the accent and intonation—all men who are at leisure to perfect themselves. But honesty compels me to state that there has never been a truly great American who spoke any speech but his own—except that superlatively great Philadelphian, Benjamin Franklin—of Boston. He didn't talk Philadelphianese. And you may cotton to that!
We must go back to the Fourth of July. When Benton returned with the French clothes Fitzhugh Williams rose from his downy couch and bathed in cold water. He was even an eager bather in France, rejoicing in the feeling of superiority and stoicism which accompanied the pang and pain of it. But in England, where everybody bathed—or at any rate had water in their rooms and splashed and said ah! ah! and oh! oh!—he regarded the morning bath as commonplace, and had often to be bribed into it.
He now had Benton in to rub his back dry, and to hand him his clothes in sequence; it being his mother's notion that to be truly polite a man must be helpless in these matters and dependent. And when he had on his undershirt and his outer shirt and his stockings, he sat down to his breakfast of chocolate and rolls and Rillet de Tours, which the butler had just brought; and afterward brushed his teeth, finished dressing, and ordered Benton to call a fiacre. But finding his mother's victoria at the door he dismissed the hack, and talked stable matters with Cunningham, the coachman, and Fontenoy, the tiger, until his mother came—one of these lovely, trailing visions that are rare even in Paris, though common enough, I dare say, in paradise.
They drove first of all to Gaston Rennette's gallery, where Fitz celebrated the glorious Fourth with a real duelling pistol and real bullets, aiming at a life-size sheet-iron man, who, like a correct, courteous, and courageous opponent, never moved. And all the way to the gallery and all the way back there was here and there an American flag, as is customary in Paris on the Fourth. And to these Fitz, standing up in the victoria, dipped and waved his hat. While he was shooting, his mother took a "little turn" and then came back to fetch him; a stout man in a blue blouse accompanying him to the curb, tossing his hands heavenward, rolling up his eyes, and explaining to madame what a "genius at the shoot was the little mister," and had averaged upon the "mister of iron" one "fatal blow" in every five. Madame "invited" the stout man to a five-franc piece for himself and she smiled, and he smiled, and bowed off backward directly into a passing pedestrian, who cried out upon the "sacred name of a rooster." And everybody laughed, including Cunningham, whose face from much shaving looked as if a laugh must crack it; and so the glorious Fourth was begun.
But the next event upon the programme was less provocative of pure joy in the heart of Fitz.
"You don't remember the Burtons, do you, Fitz?" asked his mother.
"No," said he.
"Well," she said, "Mrs. Burton was a school-mate of mine, Elizabeth Proctor, and I've just learned that she is at the d'Orient with her daughter. The father died, you know—"
"I know now" interrupted Fitz with a grin.
He liked to correct his mother's English habit of "you-knowing" people who didn't know.
"And I really think I must call and try to do something for them."
"The d'Orient," said Fitz, "is where they have the elevator that you work yourself. Billy Molineux and I got caught in it between the third and fourth floors."
"Well," said his mother, "would you mind very much if we drove to the d'Orient now and called on the Burtons?"
Fitz said that he would mind very much, but as he made no more reasonable objection Mrs. Williams gave the order to Cunningham, and not long after they stopped before the d'Orient in the Rue Daunou, and Fontenoy flashed in with Mrs. and Master Williams's cards, and came out after an interval and stationed himself stiffly near the step of the victoria. This meant that Mrs. Burton was at home, as we say, or, "at herself," as the French have it. If he had leaped nimbly to his seat beside Cunningham on the box it would have meant that Mrs. Burton was not "at herself."
So once more Mrs. Williams became a lovely, trailing figure out of the seventh heaven, and Fitz, stoical but bored, followed her into the court-yard of the hotel. Here were little iron tables and chairs, four symmetrical flower-beds containing white gravel, four palm-trees in tubs, their leaves much speckled with coal smuts; a French family at breakfast (the stout father had unbuttoned his white waistcoat); and in a corner by herself an American child sitting upon one of the puff-seated iron chairs, one leg under her, one leg, long, thin, and black, swinging free, and across her lap a copy of a fashion paper.
On perceiving Mrs. Williams the child at once came forward, and dropped the most charming little courtesy imaginable.
"How do you do?" she said. "Poor, dear mamma isn't a bit well. But I said that she would see you, Mrs. Williams. She said yesterday that she wanted so much to see you."
In the event Mrs. Williams went up three flights in the elevator that you worked yourself; only on this occasion the proprietor, hastily slipping into his frock-coat and high hat (you could see him at it through the office window), worked it for her. And Fitz remained with the gloomy prospect of being entertained by little Miss Burton.
She was younger than Fitz by two years and older by ten—a serene, knowing, beautiful child. When Fitz proposed that they sit in the victoria, as softer than the iron chairs, she called him a funny boy, but she assented. And as they went she tossed aside her fashion paper, remarking, "You wouldn't care for that."
When they had settled down into the soft, leather cushions of the victoria she sighed luxuriously and said:
"This is nice! I wish—" and broke off short.
"What?" asked Fitz.
"Oh," she said, "that the horses would start, and take us all over Paris and back, and everybody would see us go by, and envy us. But mamma and I," she said, "are devoted to fiacres—not smart, are they?"
"I don't mind," said Fitz, "if they go where I tell 'em to, and don't set up a row over the pourboire."
"Still," said she, "it must be nice to have carriages and things. We used to have. Only I can hardly remember. Mamma says I have a dreadfully short memory."
"How long have you been abroad?" Fitz asked.
"Dear me," she said, "ever so long. I don't remember."
"Won't it be fun," said Fitz, "to go home?"
"America?" She hesitated. "Mamma says it's all so crude and rude. I forget."
"Don't you remember America!" exclaimed Fitz, much horrified.
"Not clearly," she admitted.
"I guess you never saw Cleveland, Ohio, then," said Fitz, "'n' Euclid Avenue, 'n' Wade Park, 'n' the cannons in the square, 'n' the breakwater, 'n' never eat Silverthorn's potatoes at Rocky River, 'n' never went to a picnic at Tinker's Creek, 'n' never saw Little Mountain 'n' the viaduct."
"You are quite right," said little Miss Burton, "I never did."
"When I grow up," said Fitz in a glow of enthusiasm, "I'm going to live in America 'n' have a tower on my house with a flagpole, 'n' a cannon to let off every sunset and sunrise."
"I shouldn't like that," said she, "if I were sleeping in the house at the time."
"I shouldn't be sleeping," said Fitz; "I'd be up early every morning to let the cannon off."
"I remember Newport a little," she said. "I'd live there if I were you. Newport is very smart for America, mamma says. We're going to Newport when I grow up. I'm sure it will be nicer if you are there."
Fitz thought this very likely, but was too modest to say so.
"If I ever go to Newport," he said, "it will be as captain of a cup defender."
"I heard your mother call you Fitz," said little Miss Burton. "Is that your name, or do you have them?"
"F-i-t-z-h-u-g-h," said Fitz, "is my name."
"Any middle name?"
"That's smarter," said she. "I haven't either."
"What is your name?" asked Fitz, trying to feign interest.
"Evelyn," said she, "but my intimate friends call me Eve."
"Huh!" said Fitz grossly, "Eve ate the apple first."
"Yes," sighed Eve, "and gave Adam the core. Nowadays, I heard mamma say to Count Grassi, it's the other way 'round."
"My father says," said Fitz, "that Eve ought to of been spanked."
Certain memories reddened Eve; but the natural curiosity to compare experiences got the better of her maiden reticence upon so delicate a subject. She lowered her voice.
"Do you yell?" she asked. "I do. It frightens them if you yell."
"I was never spanked" said Fitz. "When I'm naughty mamma writes to papa, and he writes to me, and says he's sorry to hear that I haven't yet learned to be a gentleman, and a man of the world, and an American. That's worse than being spanked."
"Oh, dear!" said Eve, "I don't mind what people say; that's just water on a duck's back; but what they do is with slippers—"
"And," cried Fitz, elated with his own humor, "it isn't on the duck's—back."
"Are you yourself to-day," asked Miss Eve, her eyes filling, "or are you just unusually horrid?"
"Here—I say—don't blub," said Fitz, in real alarm. And, knowing the power of money to soothe, he pulled a twenty-franc gold piece from his pocket and himself opened and closed one of her tiny hands upon it.
The child's easy tears dried at once.
"Really—truly?—ought I?" she exclaimed.
"You bet!" said Fitz, all his beautiful foreign culture to the fore. "You just keep that and surprise yourself with a present next time you want one."
"Maybe mamma won't like me to," she doubted. And then, with devilish wisdom, "I think mamma will scold me first—and let me forget to give it back afterward. Thank you, Fitz. I could kiss you!"
"Fire away," said Fitz sullenly. He was used to little girls, and liked to kiss them, but he did not like them to kiss him. She didn't, however.
She caught his hand with the one of hers that was not clutching the gold piece, and squeezed it quickly and let it go. Something in this must have touched and made appeal to the manly heart. For Fitz said, averting his beautiful eyes:
"You're a funny little pill, aren't you?"
The tiger sprang to the victoria step from loafing in front of a jeweller's window, and stiffened into a statue of himself. Madame was coming.
"Take Evelyn to the lift, Fitz," said she. But first she kissed Evelyn, and said that she was going to send for her soon, for a spree with Fitz.
They passed through the court-yard, Fitz carrying his hat like a gentleman and a man of the world, and into the dark passage that led to the famous elevator.
"Your mother's smart," said Eve.
"Can't you think of anything but how smart people are?"
"When I'm grown up," she said, "and am smart myself I'll think of other things, I dare say."
"Can you work the lift yourself? Hadn't I better take you up?"
"Oh, no," she said, and held out her hand.
They shook, she firmly, he with the flabby, diffident clasp of childhood and old age.
"You're a funny kid," said Fitz.
"You're rather a dear," said Eve.
She entered the elevator, closed the door, and disappeared upward, at the pace of a very footsore and weary snail.
Mrs. Burton was much cheered by Mrs. Williams's visit, as who that struggles is not by the notice of the rich and the mighty?
"My dear," she said, when Eve entered, "she is so charming, so natural; she has promised to give a tea for me, and to present me to some of her friends. I hope you like the boy—Fitz—Fritz—whatever his name is. It would be so nice if you were to be friends."
"He is nice," said Eve, "ever so nice—but so dull."
"What did you talk about?" asked Mrs. Burton,
"Really," said Eve, aged seven, "I forget."
Mrs. Burton had made a failure of her own life.
She had married a man who subsequently had been so foolish as to lose his money—or most of it.
Eve, who had ever a short memory, does not remember the catastrophe. She was three at the time of it. She was in the nursery when the blow fell, and presently her mother came in looking very distracted and wild, and caught the little girl's face between her hands, and looked into it, and turned it this way and that, and passed the little girl's beautiful brown hair through her fingers, and then began to speak violently.
"You sha'n't be shabby," she said. "I will make a great beauty of you. You've got the beauty. You shall ride in your carriage, even if I work my hands to the bone. They've bowled me over. But I'm not dead yet. Elizabeth Burton shall have her day. You wait. I'll make the world dance for you." Then she went into violent hysterics.
There was a little money left. Mrs. Burton took Evelyn to Europe, and began to teach her the long litany of success:
Money is God; We praise thee, etc.,
a very long, somewhat truthful, and truly degraded litany. She taught her that it isn't handsome is as handsome does, but the boots and shoes, after all. She taught her that a girl must dress beautifully to be beautiful, that she must learn all the world's ways and secrets, and at the same time appear in speech and manner like a child of Nature, like a newly opened rose. And she taught her to love her country like this:
"America, my dear, is the one place where a girl can marry enough money to live somewhere else. Or, if her husband is tied to his affairs, it is the one place where she can get the most for his money—not as we get the most for ours, for we couldn't live two minutes on our income in America—but where the most people will bow the lowest to her because she is rich; where she will be the most courted and the most envied."
The two mammas worked along similar lines, but for different reasons. Mrs. Burton strove to make Eve ornamental so that she might acquire millions; Mrs. Williams strove to Anglicize and Europeanize her son so that he might ornament those which were already his. Those little spread eagles, the corpuscles in his blood, folded their wings a trifle as he grew older, and weren't always so ready to scream and boast; but they remained eagles, and no amount of Eton and Oxford could turn them into little unicorns or lions. You may wonder why Fitz's father, a strong, sane man, permitted such attempts at denationalization upon his son and heir. Fitz so wondered—once. So wrote. And was answered thus:
... If you're any good it will all come out in the wash. If you aren't any good it doesn't matter whether your mother makes an Englishman out of you or a Mandarin. When you come of age you'll be your own man; that's been the bargain between your mother and me. That will be the time for you to decide whether to be governed or to help govern. I am not afraid for you. I never have been.
So Mrs. Williams was not successful on the whole in her attempts to make a cosmopolitan of Fitz. And that was just enough, because the attempts were those of an amateur. She had lived a furiously active life of pleasure; she had made an unassailable place for herself in the best European society, as at home. She had not even become estranged from her husband. They were always crossing the ocean to see each other, "if only for a minute or two," as she used to say, and when Fitz was at school she spent much of her time in America; and Fitz's short vacations were wild sprees with his father and mother, come over for the purpose. Mr. Williams would take an immense country house for a few weeks, with shooting and riding and all sorts of games thrown in, and have Fitz's friends by the dozen. But, like as not, Mr. Williams would leave in the middle of it, as fast as trains and steamers could carry him, home to his affairs. And even the little English boys missed him sorely, since he was much kinder to them, as a rule, than their own fathers were, and had always too many sovereigns in his pocket for his own comfort.
But Mrs. Burton's attempts to make a charming cosmopolitan of Eve met with the greater success that they deserved. They were the efforts of a professional, one who had staked life or death, so to speak, on the result. Where Mrs. Williams amused herself and achieved small victories, Mrs. Burton fought and achieved great conquests. She saved money out of her thin income, money for the great days to come when Eve was to be presented to society at Newport; and she slaved and toiled grimly and with far-seeing genius. Eve's speaking voice was, perhaps, Mrs. Burton's and her own greatest triumph. It was Ellen Terry's youngest, freshest voice over again, but with the naivest little ghost of a French accent; and she didn't seem so much to project a phrase at you by the locutory muscles as to smile it to you.
Mrs. Burton had, of course, her moments of despair about Eve. But these were mostly confined to that despairing period when most girls are nothing but arms and wrists and gawkiness and shyness; when their clear, bright complexions turn muddy, and they want to enter convents. Eve at this period in her life was unusually trying and nondescript. She announced that if she ever married it would be for love alone, but that she did not intend to marry. She would train to be a cholera nurse or a bubonic plague nurse—anything, in short, that was most calculated to drive poor Mrs. Burton frantic. And she grew the longest, thinnest pair of legs and arms in Europe; and her hair seemed to lose its wonderful lustre; and her skin, upon which Mrs. Burton had banked so much, became colorless and opaque and a little blotched around the chin. And she was so nervous and overgrown that she would throw you a whole fit of hysterics during piano lessons; and she prayed so long night and morning that her bony knees developed callouses; and when she didn't have a cold in her head she was getting over one or catching another.
During this period in Eve's life the children met for the second time. It was in Vienna. This time Mrs. Burton, as having been longer in residence, called upon Mrs. Williams, taking Eve with her, after hesitation. Poor Eve! The graceful, gracious courtesy of her babyhood was now a performance of which a stork must have felt ashamed; she pitched into a table (while trying to make herself small) and sent a pitcher of lemonade crashing to the ground. And then burst into tears that threatened to become laughter mixed with howls.
At this moment Fitz, having been sent for to "do the polite," entered. He shook hands at once with Mrs. Burton, whom he had never seen before, and turned to see how Eve, whom he vaguely remembered, was coming on. And there she was—nothing left of his vague memory but the immense eyes. Even these were not clear and bright, but red in the whites and disordered with tears. For the rest (Fitz made the mental comparison himself) she reminded him of a silly baby camel that he had seen in the zoo, that had six inches of body, six feet of legs, and the most bashful expression imaginable.
Mrs. Burton, you may be sure, did not lose the start that Fitz gave before he went forward and shook hands with Eve. But she misinterpreted it. She said to herself (all the while saying other things aloud to Mrs. Williams): "If he had only seen her a year ago, even a boy of his age would have been struck by her, and would have remembered her. But now! Now, he'll never forget her. And I don't blame him. She's so ugly that he was frightened."
But that was not why Fitz had started. The poor, gawky, long-legged, tearful, frightened, overgrown, wretched girl had not struck him as ugly; she had struck him as the most pathetic and to-be-pitied object that he had ever seen. I do not account for this. I state it. Had she been pretty and self-possessed he would have left the room presently on some excuse, but now he stayed—not attracted, but troubled and sorry and eager to put her at her ease. So he would have turned aside to help a gutter cat that had been run over and hurt, though he would have passed the proudest, fluffiest Angora in Christendom with no more than a glance. He began to talk to her in his plainest, straightest, honestest Ohioan. It always came out strongest when he was most moved. His mother's sharp ears heard the A's, how they narrowed in his mouth, and smote every now and then with a homely tang against the base of his nose. "Just like his father," she thought, "when some one's in trouble." And she had a sudden twinge of nostalgia.
Fitz lured Eve to a far corner and showed her a set of wonderful carved chess-men that he had bought that morning; and photographs of his friends at Eton, and of the school, and of some of the masters. He talked very earnestly and elaborately about these dull matters, and passed by the opportunities which her first embarrassed replies offered for the repartee of youth. And he who was most impatient of restraint and simple occupations talked and behaved like a dull, simple, kindly old gentleman. His method may not have left Eve with a dazzling impression of him; she could not know that he was not himself, but all at once a deliberate artist seeking to soothe and to make easy.
Eve did not enjoy that call; she enjoyed nothing in those days but prayer and despair; but she got to the end of it without any more tears and crashes. And she said to her mother afterward that young Williams seemed a nice boy—but so dull. Well, they were quits. She had seemed dull enough to Fitz. A sick cat may touch your heart, but does not furnish you with lively companionship. Fitz was heartily glad when the Burtons had gone. He had worked very hard to make things possible for that absurd baby camel.
"You may call her an absurd baby camel," said his mother, "but it's my opinion that she is going to be a very great beauty."
"She!" exclaimed Fitz, thinking that the ugliness of Eve might have unhinged his mother's beauty-loving mind.
"Oh," said his mother, "she's at an age now—poor child! But don't you remember how the bones of her face—"
"I am trying to forget," said Fitz with a tremendous shudder for the occasion.
Fitz did not take a degree at Oxford. He left in the middle of his last term, leaving many friends behind. He stood well, and had been in no especial difficulty of mischief, and why he left was a mystery. The truth of the matter is that he had been planning for ten years to leave Oxford in the very middle of his last term. For upon that date fell his twenty-first birthday, when he was to be his own man. He spent a few hours in his mother's house in London. And, of course, she tried to make him go back and finish, and was very much upset, for her. But Fitz was obdurate.
"If it were Yale, or Princeton, or Harvard, or Berkeley, or Squedunk," he said, "I would stick it out. But a degree from Oxford isn't worth six weeks of home."
"But aren't you going to wait till I can go with you?"
"If you'll go with me to-night you shall have my state-room, and I'll sleep on the coal. But if you can't go till to-morrow, mother mine, I will not wait. I have cabled my father," said he, "to meet me at quarantine."
"Your poor, busy father," she said, "will hardly feel like running on from Cleveland to meet a boy who is coming home without a degree."
"My father," said Fitz, "will be at quarantine. He will come out in a tug. And he will arrange to take me off and put me ashore before the others. If the ship is anywhere near on schedule my father and I will be in time to see a ball game at the Polo Grounds."
Something in the young man's honest face and voice aroused an answering enthusiasm in his mother's heart.
"Oh, Fitz," she said, "if I could possibly manage it I would go with you. Tell your father that I am sailing next week. I won't cable. Perhaps he'll be surprised and pleased."
"I know he will," said Fitz, and he folded his mother in his arms and rumpled her hair on one side and then on the other.
* * * * *
Those who beheld, and who, because of the wealth of the principal personages, took notice of the meeting between Fitz and his father, say that Fitz touched his father's cheek with his lips as naturally and unaffectedly as if he had been three years old, that a handshake between the two men accompanied this salute, and that Williams senior was heard to remark that it had looked like rain early in the morning, but that now it didn't, and that he had a couple of seats for the ball game. What he really said was inside, neither audible nor visible upon his smooth-shaven, care-wrinkled face. It was an outcry of the heart, so joyous as to resemble grief.
There was a young and pretty widow on that ship who had made much of Fitz on the way out and had pretended that she understood him. She thought that she had made an impression, and that, whatever happened, he would not forget her. But when he rushed up, his face all joyous, to say good-by, her heart sank. And she told her friends afterward that there was a certain irresistible, orphan-like appeal about that young Williams, and that she had felt like a mother toward him. But this was not till very much later. At first she used to shut herself up in her room and cry her eyes out.
They lunched at an uptown hotel and afterward, smoking big cigars, they drove to a hatter's and bought straw hats, being very critical of each other's fit and choice.
Then they hurried up to the Polo Grounds, and when it began to get exciting in the fifth inning, Fitz felt his father pressing something into his hand. Without taking his eyes from Wagsniff, who was at the bat, Fitz put that something into his mouth and began to chew. The two brothers—for that is the high relationship achieved sometimes in America, and in America alone, between father and son—thrust their new straw hats upon the backs of their round heads, humped themselves forward, and rested with their elbows on their knees and watched—no, that is your foreigner's attitude toward a contest—they played the game.
I cannot leave them thus without telling the reader that they survived the almost fatal ninth, when, with the score 3-2 against, two out and a man on first, Wagsniff came once more to the bat and, swinging cunningly at the very first ball pitched to him by the famous Mr. Blatherton, lifted it over the centrefielder's head and trotted around the bases and, grinning like a Hallowe'en pumpkin, came romping home.
At dinner that night Williams senior said suddenly:
"Fitz, what you do want to do?"
A stranger would have thought that Fitz was being asked to choose between a theatre and a roof-garden, but Fitz knew that an entirely different question was involved in those casually spoken words. He was being asked off-hand to state off-hand what he was going to do with his young life. But he had his answer waiting.
"I want to see the world," he said.
Williams senior, as a rule, thought things out in his own mind and did not press for explanations. But on the present occasion he asked:
Fitz smiled very youthfully and winningly.
"I've seen some of it," he said, "right side up. Now I want to have a look upside-down. If I go into something of yours—as myself—I don't get a show. I'm marked. The other clerks would swipe to me, and the heads would credit me with brains before I showed whether I had any or not. I want you to get me a job in Wall Street—under any other name than my own—except Percy"—they both laughed—"your first name and mamma's maiden name would do—James Holden. And nobody here knows me by sight, I've been abroad so much; and it seems to me I'd get an honest point of view and find out if I was any good or not, and if I could get myself liked for myself or not."
"Well," said his father; "well, that's an idea, anyhow."
"I've had valets and carriages and luxuries all my life," said Fitz. "I think I like them. But I don't know—do I? I've never tried the other thing. I'm sure I don't want to be an underpaid clerk always. But I am sure I want to try it on for a while."
"I was planning," said his father, "to take a car and run about the country with you and show you all the different enterprises that I'm interested in. I thought you'd make a choice, find something you liked, and go into it for a starter. If you're any good you can go pretty far with me pulling for you. You don't like that idea?"
"Not for now," said Fitz. "I like mine better."
"Do you want to live on what you earn?"
"If I can stand it."
"You'll be started with ten dollars a week, say. Can you do it?"
"What did grandpa start on?" asked Fitz.
"His board, two suits of clothes, and twenty-four dollars a year," said William senior with a proud ring in his voice.
"I began at the bottom, too. That was the old-fashioned idea. Father was rich then. But he wanted me to show that I was some good."
"Did grandpa pull for you, or did you have to find yourself?"
"Well," said the father diffidently, "I had a natural taste for business. But," and he smiled at his son, "I shouldn't live on what you earn, if I were you. You needn't spend much, but have a good time out of hours. You'll find yourself working side by side with other sons of rich men. And you can bet your bottom dollar they don't live on what they can earn. Unless you make a display of downright wealth you'll be judged on your merits. That's what you're driving at, isn't it?"
So they compromised on that point; and the next morning they went downtown and called upon Mr. Merriman, the great banker. He and Williams had been in many deals together, and on one historic occasion had supported prices and loaned so much ready money on easy terms as to avert a panic.
"John," said Williams senior, "my son Fitz."
"Well, sir," said Merriman, only his eyes smiling, "you don't look like a foreigner."
"I'm not," said Fitz stoutly.
"In that case," said Merriman, "what can I do for you?"
"I want to be called James Holden," said Fitz, "and to have a job in your office."
Merriman listened to the reasons with interest and amusement. Then he turned to Williams senior. "May I drive him?" he asked grimly.
"If you can," said Fitz's father. And he laughed.
Finally, it was arranged that, in his own way, Fitz was to see the world.
Fitz's experiment in finding himself and getting himself liked for himself alone was a great failure. He had not been in Mr. Merriman's employ two hours before he found that he disliked long sums in addition, and had made friends with Wilson Carrol, who worked next to him. Indeed, Fitz made friends with everybody in the office inside of two weeks, and was responsible for a great deal of whispering and hanging out of back windows for a puff of smoke. Nobody but Mr. Merriman knew who he was, where he came from, or what his prospects were. Everybody liked him—for himself. Rich or poor, it must have been the same. His idea that character, if he had it, would tell in the long run proved erroneous. It told right away.
Wilson Carrol and half a dozen other clerks in the office were the sons of rich men, put to work because of the old-fashioned idea that everybody ought to work, and at the same time pampered, according to the modern idea, with comfortable allowances over and beyond their pay. With one or other of these young men for companion, and presently for friend, Fitz began to lead the agreeable summer life of New York's well-to-do youth. He allowed himself enough money to keep his end up, but did not allow himself any especial extravagances or luxuries. He played his part well, appearing less well off than Carrol, and more so than young Prout, with whom he got into much mischief in the office. Whatever these young gentlemen had to spend they were always hard up. Fitz did likewise. If you dined gloriously at Sherry's and had a box at the play you made up for it the next night by a chop at Smith's and a cooling ride in a ferry-boat, say to Staten Island and back. Saturday you got off early and went to Long Island or Westchester for tennis and a swim, and lived till Monday in a luxurious house belonging to a fellow-clerk's father, or were put up at the nearest country club.
Downtown that summer there was nothing exciting going on. The market stood still upon very small transactions, and there was no real work for any one but the book-keepers. The more Fitz saw of the science of addition the less he thought of it, but he did what he had to do (no more) and drew his pay every Saturday with pride. Once, there being a convenient legal holiday to fatten the week-end, he went to Newport with Carrol and got himself so much liked by all the Carrol family that he received and accepted an invitation to spend his long holiday with them. He and Carrol had arranged with the powers to take their two weeks off at the same time—from the fifteenth to the end of August. And during business hours they kept their heads pretty close together and did much plotting and planning in whispers.
But Mrs. Carrol herself was to have a finger in that vacation. The presence in her house of two presentable young men was an excellent excuse for paying off dinner debts and giving a lawn party and a ball. Even at Newport there are never enough men to go round, and with two whole ones for a basis much may be done. The very night of their arrival they "ran into" a dinner-party, as Carrol expressed it. It was a large dinner; and the young men, having got to skylarking over their dressing (contrary to Mrs. Carrol's explicit orders) descended to a drawing-room already full of people. Carrol knew them all, even the famous new beauty; but Fitz—or James Holden, rather—had, except for the Carrols, but a nodding acquaintance with one or two of the men. He felt shy, and blushed very becomingly while trying to explain to Mrs. Carrol how he and Wilson happened to be so unfortunate as to be late.
"Well," she said, "I'm not going to punish you this time. You are to take Miss Burton in."
"Which is Miss Burton?" asked Fitz, on whose memory at the moment the name made no impression.
"Do you see seven or eight men in the corner," she said, "who look as if they were surrounding a punch-bowl?"
"Miss Burton is the punch-bowl?" he asked.
"All those men want to take her in," said Mrs. Carrol, "and you're going to make them all very jealous."
Dinner was announced, and Mrs. Carrol, with Fitz in tow, swept down upon the group of men. It parted reluctantly and disclosed, lolling happily in a deep chair, the most beautiful girl in the world. She came to her feet in the quickest, prettiest way imaginable, and spoke to Mrs. Carrol in the young Ellen Terry voice, with its little ghost of a French accent. Fitz did not hear what she said or what Mrs. Carrol answered. He only knew that his heart was thumping against his ribs, and that a moment later he was being introduced as Mr. Holden, and that Eve did not know him from Adam.
Presently she laid the tips of her fingers on his arm, and they were going in to dinner.
"I think Mrs. Carrol's a dear," said Fitz, "to give me you to take in and to sit next to. I always wanted people to like me, but now all the men hate me. I can feel it in the small of my back, and I like it. Do you know how you feel in spring—the day the first crocuses come out? That's the way it makes me feel."
She turned her great, smiling eyes upon him and laughed. The laugh died away. His young, merry face had a grim, resolved look. So his father looked at critical times.
"I thought you were joking—rather feebly," she said.
"I don't know," said he, "that I shall ever joke again."
"You make your mind up very quickly," she said.
"The men of my family all do," he said. "But it isn't my mind that's made up."
Something of the girl's stately and exquisite poise forsook her. Her eyes wore a hunted look for a moment. She even felt obliged to laugh to cover her confusion.
"It's my heart," said Fitz. "I saw you—and that is all there is to it."
"Aren't you in something of a hurry?" she asked, her eyes twinkling. She had felt for a moment like a soldier surprised without weapons. But now, once more, she felt herself armed cap a pie.
"I've got to be," said Fitz. "I'm a bank clerk on a two weeks' vacation, of which the first day is gone."
She was sorry that he was a bank clerk; it had a poor and meagre sound. It was not for him that she had been trained. She had been made to slave for herself, and was to make a "continental" marriage with the highest bidder. Eve's heart had been pretty well schooled out of her, and yet, before dinner came to an end, she found herself wishing that among the high bidders might be one very young, like the man at her side, with eyes as honest, and who, to express admiration, beat about no bushes.
Later, when they said good-by, Fitz said:
"It would be good for me to see you to-morrow."
And she said:
"Would it be good for me?" and laughed.
"Yes," he said firmly, "it would."
"Why?" she asked.
"To-morrow at four," said Fitz, "I shall come for you and take you around the Cliff Walk and tell you."
She made no promise. But the next day, when Fitz called at the cottage which Mrs. Burton, by scraping and saving these many years, had managed to take for the season, Eve was at home—and she was alone.
Newport, as a whole, was busy preparing for the national lawn-tennis championship. There was a prince to be pampered and entertained, and every night, from the door of some great house or other, a strip of red carpet protruded, covered by an awning, and the coming and going of smart carriages on Bellevue Avenue seemed double that of the week before. But the affair between James Holden—who was nobody knew who, and came from nobody knew exactly where—and Newport's reigning beauty held the real centre of the stage.
Beautiful though Eve was, natural and unaffected though she seemed, people had but to glance at Mrs. Burton's old, hard, humorless, at once anxious and triumphant face to know that the girl, willing or not, was a victim prepared for sacrifice. Confessedly poor, obviously extravagant and luxury-loving, even the rich men who wanted to marry her knew that Eve must consider purses more than hearts. And they held themselves cynically off and allowed what was known as "Holden's pipe-dream" to run its course. It amused those who wanted Eve, those who thought they did, and all those who loved a spectacle. "He will go back to his desk presently," said the cynics, "and that will be the end of that." The hero of the pipe-dream thought this at times himself. Well, if it turned out that way Eve was not worth having. He believed that she had a heart, that if her heart were touched she would fling her interests to the winds and obey its dictates.
What Eve thought during the first few days of Holden's pipe-dream is not clearly known. She must have been greatly taken with him, or she would not have allowed him to interfere with her plans for personal advancement and aggrandizement, to make a monopoly of her society, and to run his head so violently into a stone wall. After the first few days, when she realized that she liked to be with him better than with any one she had ever known, she probably thought—or to that effect—"I'll just pretend a little—and have it to remember." But she found herself lying awake at night, wishing that he was rich; and later, not even wishing, just lying awake and suffering. She had made up her mind some time since to accept Darius O'Connell before the end of the season. He had a prodigious fortune, good habits, and a kind Irish way with him. And she still told herself that it must be O'Connell, and she lay awake and thought about Fitz and suffered.
Mrs. Burton alone hadn't a kind thought or word for him. Her face hardened at the mere mention of his name, and sometimes, when she saw a certain expression that came oftener and oftener into Eve's face, that callous which served her for a heart turned harder than Nature had made it, and she saw all her schemes and all her long labors demolished like a house of cards. Even if Eve flung Fitz aside like an old glove, as inevitably she must, still Mrs. Burton's schemes would wear a tinge of failure. The girl had shown that the heart was not entirely educated out of her, and was frightening her mother. Even if things went no further, here was partial failure. She had intended to make an inevitably rising force of Eve, and here at the very outset were lassitude and a glance aside at false gods.
Fitz was stubbornly resolved to win Eve on his merits or not to win her at all. He had but to tell her his real name, or his father's, to turn the balance of the hesitation and doubt; but that, he told himself, would never, never do. She must turn aside from her training, love him for himself, and believe, if only for a few hours, that she had thrown herself away upon poverty and mediocrity, and be happy in it; or else she must pass him by, and sweep on up the broad, cold stairway of her own and her mother's ambitions.
But Fitz wanted her so much that he felt he must die if he lost her. And sometimes he was tempted to tell her of his millions and take her for better or worse. But he would never know then if she cared for him or not; he would never know then if she had a real heart and was worth the having. So he resisted, and his young face had, at times, a grim, careworn look; and between hope and fear his spirits fell away and he felt tired and old. People thought of him as an absurd boy in the most desperate throes of puppy love, and certain ones felt grateful to Eve Burton for showing them so pretty a bit of sport. Even those very agreeable people, the Carrols, were disgusted with Fitz, as are all good people when a guest of the house makes a solemn goose of himself. But Fitz was not in the least ridiculous to himself, which was important; and he was not ridiculous to Eve, which was more important still.
Then, one morning, the whole affair began to look serious even to a scoffing and cynical world. Darius O'Connell was missed at the Casino and in the Reading-room; the evening papers announced that he had sailed for Europe. And Miss Burton, far from appearing anxious or unhappy about this, had never looked so beautiful or so serene. Some said that O'Connell had made up his mind that the game was not worth the candle; others, that he had proposed and had been "sent packing." Among these latter was Mrs. Burton herself, and it will never be known what words of abuse she poured upon Eve. If Mrs. Burton deserved punishment she was receiving all that she deserved. Sick-headaches, despair, a vain, empty life with its last hopes melting away. Eve—her Eve—her beautiful daughter had a heart! That was the sum of Mrs. Burton's punishment. For a while she resisted her fate and fought against it, and then collapsed, bitter, broken, and old.
But what looked even more serious than O'Connell's removing himself was the fact that during the match which was to decide the lawn-tennis championship Eve and her bank clerk did not appear in the Casino grounds. Here were met all the happy people, in society and all the unhappy people—even Mrs. Burton's ashen face was noted among those present—but the reigning belle and her young man were not in the seats that they had occupied during the preceding days of the tournament; and people pointed out those empty seats to each other, and smiled and lifted their eyebrows; and young Tombs, who had been making furious love to one of the Blackwell twins—for the third tournament in five years—sighed and whispered to her: "Dolly, did you ever in your life see two empty seats sitting so close to each other?"
Meanwhile, Fitz and the beauty were strolling along the Cliff Walk in the bright sunshine, with the cool Atlantic breeze in their faces, between lawns and gardens on the one side and dancing blue waves upon the other. Fitz looked pale and careworn. But Eve looked ecstatic. This was because poor Fitz, on the one hand, was still in the misery of doubt and uncertainty, and because Eve, on the other, had suddenly made up her mind and knew almost exactly what was going to happen.
The Cliff Walk belongs to the public, and here and there meanders irritatingly over some very exclusive millionaire's front lawn. A few such, unable to endure the sight of strangers, have caused this walk, where it crosses their properties, to be sunk so that from the windows of their houses neither the walk itself nor persons walking upon it can be seen.
Fitz and the beauty were approaching one of these "ha-ha's" into which the path dipped steeply and from which it rose steeply upon the farther side. On the left was a blank wall of granite blocks, on the right only a few thousand miles of blind ocean. It may have been a distant view of this particular "ha-ha" that had made up Eve's mind for her, for she had a strong dramatic sense. Or it may have been that her heart alone had made up her mind, and that the secluded depths of the "ha-ha" had nothing to do with the matter.
"Jim," she said as they began to descend into the place, "life's only a moment out of eternity, isn't it?"
"Only a moment, Eve," he said, "a little longer for some than for others."
"If it's only a moment," she said as they reached the bottom of the decline, and could only be seen by the blind granite wall and the blind ocean, "I think it ought to be complete."
"Why, Eve!" he said, his voice breaking and choking. "Honestly?... My Eve!... Mine!... Look at me.... Is it true?... Are you sure?... Why, she's sure!... My darling's sure ... all sure."
* * * * *
Later he said: "And you don't care about money, and you've got the biggest, sweetest heart in all the world. And it's mine, and mine's yours."
"I can't seem to see anything in any direction," she said, "beyond you."
* * * * *
Later they had to separate, only to meet again at a dinner. Before they went in they had a word together in a corner.
"I told you," said Fitz, "that my father would understand, and you said he wouldn't. But he did; his answer came while I was dressing. I telegraphed: 'I have seen the world,' and the answer was: 'Put a fence around it.'"
She smiled with delight.
"Eve," he said, "everybody knows that you've taken me. It's in our faces, I suppose. And they are saying that you are a goose to throw yourself away on a bank clerk."
"Do you think I care?" she said.
"I know you don't," he said, "but I can't help thanking you for holding your head so high and looking so happy and so proud."
"Wouldn't you be proud," she said, "to have been brought up to think that you had no heart, and then to find that, in spite of everything, you had one that could jump and thump, and love and long, and make poverty look like paradise?"
"I know what you mean, a little," he said. "Your mother tried to make you into an Article; my mother tried to make an Englishman of me. And instead, you turned into an angel, and I was never anything but a spread eagle."
"Do you know," she said, "I can't help feeling a little sorry for poor mamma."
"Then," said he, "put your left hand behind your back." She felt him slide a heavy ring upon her engagement finger. "Show her that, and tell her that it isn't glass."
Eve couldn't keep from just one covert glance at her ring. The sight of it almost took her breath away.
Dinner was announced.
"I am frightened," she said; "have I given myself to a djinn?"
"My Eve doesn't know whom she's given herself to," he whispered.
"I don't believe I do," she said.
"You don't," said he.
An immense pride in his father's wealth and his own suddenly surged in Fitz. He could give her all those things that she had renounced for his sake, and more, too. But he did not tell her at that time.
The great ruby on the slim hand flashed its message about the festive board. Some of the best-bred ladies in the land threatened to become pop-eyed from looking at it.
Mrs. Blackwell, mother of the twins, whispered to Montgomery Stairs:
"That Holden boy seems to have more to him than I had fancied."
But young Tombs whispered to Dolly Blackwell, to whom he had just become engaged for the third (and last) time in five years: "She isn't thinking about the ring.... Look at her.... She's listening to music."
* * * * *
Montgomery Stairs (who is not altogether reliable) claims to have seen Mrs. Burton within five minutes of her learning who her son-in-law-to-be really was. For, of course, this came out presently and made a profound sensation. He claims to have seen—from a convenient eyrie—Mrs. Burton rush out into the little garden behind her cottage; he claims that all of a sudden she leaped into the air and turned a double somersault, and that immediately after she ran up and down the paths on her hands; that then she stood upon her head for nearly five minutes; and that finally she flung herself down and rolled over and over in a bed of heliotrope.
But then, as is well known, Montgomery Stairs, in the good American phrase, was one of those who "also ran."
Darius O'Connell sent a cable to Eve from Paris (from Maxim's, I am afraid, late at night). He said: "Heartiest congratulations and best wishes. You can fool some of the best people some of the time, but, thank God, you can't fool all of the best people all of the time." Eve and Fitz never knew just what he meant.
They spent part of their honeymoon in Cleveland, and every afternoon Eve sat between Fitz and his father, leaning forward, her elbows on her knees, and was taught painstakingly, as the crowning gift of those two simple hearts, to play the game.
There must be one word more. There are people to this day who say that Eve knew from the beginning who "James Holden" was, and that she played her cards accordingly. In view of this I fling all caution to the wind, and in spite of the cold fear that is upon me of being sued for libel, I tell these ladies—people, I mean—that they lie in their teeth.
"On the contrary," said Gardiner, "lightning very often strikes twice in the same place, and often three times. The so-called all-wise Providence is still in the experimental stage. My grandmother, for instance, presented my grandfather with fifteen children: seven live sons and eight dead daughters. That's when the lightning had fun with itself. And when the epidemic of ophthalmia broke out in the Straits Settlements, what class of people do you suppose developed the highest percentage of total loss of sight in one or both eyes?—why the inmates of the big asylum for the deaf and dumb in Singapore: twenty per cent of those poor stricken souls went stone blind. Then what do you think the lightning did? Set the blooming asylum on fire and burned it to the ground. And then, I dare say, the elements retired to some region of waste, off in space somewhere, and sat down and thundered with laughter. But it wasn't through with the deaf and dumb, and blind, and roofless even then. It was decided by government, which is the next most irresponsible instrument to lightning, to transfer the late inmates of the asylum to a remantled barrack in the salubrious Ceylon hills; and they were put aboard a ram-shackle, single-screw steamer named the Nerissa. She was wrecked—"
"Coast of Java—in '80, wasn't it?" said Pedder, who has read nothing but dictionaries and books of black-and-white facts and statistics in the course of a long life otherwise entirely devoted to misdirected efforts to defeat Colonel Bogey at golf.
"It was," said Gardiner, "and the lightning was very busy striking. It drowned off every member of the crew who had any sense of decency; and of the deaf and dumb passengers selected to be washed ashore a pair who were also blind. Those saved came to land at a jungly stretch of coast, dented by a slow-running creek. The crew called the place Quickstep Inlet because of the panicky and inhuman haste in which they left it."
"Why inhuman?" asked Ludlow.
"Because," said Gardiner, "they only gave about one look at their two comrades in misfortune who were deaf, and dumb, and blind, and decided that it was impracticable to attempt to take them along. I suppose they were right. I suppose it would have been the devil's own job. The really nasty part was that the crew made a secret of it, and when some of them, having passed through the Scylla and Charybdis of fright and fever, and foul water, and wild beasts, reached a settlement they didn't say a word about the two unfortunates who had been deliberately abandoned."
"How was it found out then?" Pedder asked.
"Years and years afterward by the ravings in liquor of one of the crew, and by certain things that I'd like to tell you if you'd be interested."
"Go on," said Ludlow.
"The important thing," said Gardiner, "is that the pair were deserted—not why they were deserted, or how it was found out that they had been. And one thing—speaking of lightning and Providence—is very important. If the pair hadn't been blind, if the asylum hadn't been burned, if the Nerissa hadn't been wrecked, and if the crew hadn't deserted them—they would never in this world have had an opportunity to lift to their lips the cup of human happiness and drink it off.
"The man did not know that he had been deserted. He vaguely understood that there had been a shipwreck and that he had been washed ashore—alone, he thought. When he got hungry he began to crawl round and round with his hands in front of his face feeling for something to eat, trying and approving of one handful of leaves and spitting out another. But thirst began to torment him, and then, all of a sudden, he went souse into the creek that there emptied into the sea. That way of life went on for several days. And all the while, the woman, just as she had come ashore, was keeping life going similarly—crawling about, always near the creek, crossing the beach at low tide to the mud flats and rooting among the mollusks, and stuffing herself with any kind of sea-growth that tasted good enough. The two were probably often within a few feet of each other; and they might have lived out their lives that way without either of them ever having the least idea that he or she was not the only human being in that part of the world. But something—pure accident or some subtle instinct—brought them together. The man was out crawling with one hand before his face—so was the woman. Their hands met, and clinched. They remained thus, and trembling, for a long time. From that time until the day of their death, years and years later, they never for so much as one moment lost contact with each other.
"Daily they crawled or walked with infinite slowness, hand in hand, or the arm of one about the waist of the other—neither knowing the look, the age, the religion or even the color of the other. But I know, from the only person fitted to judge, that they loved each other tremendously and spotlessly—these two poor souls alone in that continuous, soundless, sightless, expressionless night. I know because their baby, when he grew up, and got away from that place, and learned white man's talk—told me.
"He left Quickstep Inlet when he was about fifteen years old, naked as the day he was born; ignorant of everything—who he was or what he was, or that the world contained anything similar to him. It was some restless spirit of exploration that smoulders I suppose, in every human heart, that compelled him to leave the few hundred acres of shore and wood that were familiar to him. He carried with him upon his bold journey a roll of bark, resembling birch-bark, upon which he had scratched with a sharp shell the most meaningless-looking lines, curves, spirals and gyrations that you can imagine. He will have that roll in his possession now, I expect, for even when I knew him—when he was twenty years old, and could talk English pretty nimbly, he could hardly bear to be separated from it—or, if he let you take one of the sheets in your hands, he would watch you as a dog watches the person that is about to give him his dinner. But he ran very little risk of having it stolen. Nobody wanted it.
"He must have been a gentle savage, with all sorts of decent inherited instincts, for when I knew him he had already taken kindly to civilization. At first, of course, they had a bad time with him; they couldn't talk to him, and when, quite naturally and nonchalantly he would start in to do the most outrageous things, they had to teach him better, literally by force. If Pedder weren't such an old stickler for propriety, I could go more into detail. You needn't look offended, Ped, you know you are very easily shocked, and that you make it unpleasant for everybody. He was taken on by the English consul at Teerak, who was a good fellow, and clothed, and taught to speak English, and, as a beginning, to work in the garden. Indoor work seemed to have almost the effect of nauseating him; and houses and closed doors threw him at first into frenzies of fear, and always made him miserable. It was apparent in his face, but more in his way of putting up his fists when in doubt, that he wasn't Dutch nor German nor French. He was probably English, they thought, but he might have been American, and so they had an orthodox christening and named him Jonathan Bull. Of course, after he got the trick of speech, they found out, by putting two and two together, just about who and what he was; and that he was of English parentage. But, of course, they had to let the name stand.
"The first thing, he told me, that ever came to him in the way of a thought was that he was different from his parents—that they couldn't see, nor hear, nor make a noise as he could. He could remember sitting comfortably in the mud at low tide and being convulsed with laughter at his mother's efforts to find a fat mussel that was within a few inches of her hand. He said that within a small radius his parents had made paths, by constant peregrinations in search of food, that had become so familiar to them that they could move hither and thither, hand in hand, with considerable precision and alacrity. It was one of his earliest mischievous instincts to place obstacles in those paths, and take a humorous view of the consequent tumbles.
"The only intercourse that he could have with his parents was, of course, by sense of touch. And he told me that, whenever they could catch him, they would kiss him and fondle him. But he didn't like to be caressed, especially in the daytime. It was different at night when one became nervous and afraid; then he used to let himself be caught; and he said that he used to hold hands with his mother until he went to sleep and that when he awoke it was to find that the clasp still held. It was a long time before he realized that what to him were whimsical pranks, were in the nature of tragedies to his parents. If he put a stumbling-block in one of their paths, it upset the whole fabric of their daily life, made them feel, I suppose, that they were losing such faculties as they possessed: memory and the sense of touch—and they would be obliged either to walk with infinite slowness, or actually to crawl. And it was long before he realized that things which were perfectly simple and easy for him, were frightfully difficult for them; and he said that his first recollection of a tender and gentle feeling was once when—heaven only knows how—his parents found a nest with eggs in it—and brought these eggs to him. He realized then something of what a prize these eggs must have seemed to them—for he had often scrambled into trees and glutted himself with eggs, whereas, so far as he could recollect, his parents had never had any at all. He began from that time on to collect choice tidbits for them; and wondered why he had not done so before. And they rewarded him with caresses and kisses; I suppose his real reward was his own virtue. Anyway, though very gradually at first, instinct taught him to be a good son to them.
"The lessons that he learned of life were, first of all, from his parents, who were always near at hand for study; second, from birds and animals, there being a pool not far up the creek where even tigers sometimes came to drink; from occasional monkeys; but mostly, of course, by intuition and introspection.
"He noticed that birds and animals all had the use of sight and hearing, and were able to make sounds; and his own forest-trained senses soon perceived different meanings, and even shades of meaning in certain of these sounds. The larger animals were not, of course, constantly under observation, and from tigers, for instance, he learned only the main principles of tiger-talk—a kind of singsong snuffling purr that means 'get out of the way'; the cringing whine that means the tiger is very sorry for himself; and two or three of the full-throated roars: the one expressing rage, the one expressing fear, and the one expressing pained astonishment. But into the vocabularies of birds he penetrated very deeply.
"One day, when I had got to know Jonathan rather well, he surprised me by saying, 'the minute I got the idea, I talked all day long, but it was years before I thought of writing down what I said, instead of plain trying to remember. At first, when I'd say something that I wanted to remember, I'd have to coax my head into remembering the place where I had said it, near which tree, or which stone on the beach, what had happened to make me think of saying it, and then, more often than not, I could repeat it word for word,' Then he showed me the sheets of bark with the scratches and scrawls and gyrations on them. 'It isn't spelled writing,' he explained, 'or what they call picture writing. I don't believe it has enough general principles for me to be able to explain it as a system, though it has a sort of system to it. If it's like anything, I think it must be like the way they write down music. It would be, wouldn't it? Because beasts don't talk with words, they talk with sounds, and I copycatted my language from beasts and birds,'
"I asked him what the writing on the bark was all about. He said, and he blushed, as every young author, and most old ones, should, that the writing was just more or less nothing—all about different kinds of things. So I pointed specifically to the top of one sheet, and said, 'begin there and tell me what that's about.' 'If I began there,' he said, 'I'd have to go backward; that's the finish of—oh!' he literally threw himself on my mercy with the most ingenuous blushing face. 'Oh,' he said, 'I suppose you'd call them poems.' I, of course, had my doubts of that; but I kept countenance, and said, 'well, what's that one about?' He looked puzzled for a moment, and then he smiled. 'Why,' he said, 'I suppose it's about me, about the way I felt one day, I suppose; but if I tried to say it into English it would just sound damn foolish; but, perhaps, you'd sooner hear it in my own language. It's better, because, after all, you can't turn sounds into words, can you?' 'Go ahead,' I said.
"His hands, holding the sheet of bark shook a little with embarrassment, and he was very red in the face; and before he could begin—I suppose you would call it reading—he had to wet his lips two or three times. I expected, of course, to hear the usual grunts and minor guttural sounds of the usual very primitive dialect. But Jonathan's own particular patent language was not that sort of thing at all. He began with the faintest, and most distinct rustling of leaves—I can't imagine how he made the sound at all. It seemed to come from somewhere between the back of his throat and his lips, and to have nothing to do with his tongue or vocal cords. It lasted for, perhaps, half a minute; dying out, fainter and fainter and finer and finer into complete silence. Then, from the distant point where the rustling had last been heard, there came the softest little throaty whistle, three times repeated; then, for two good minutes without seeming to draw breath, the young man burst into peal after peal of the sweetest, clearest, highest, swiftest whistling that you can possibly imagine. I don't know how he did it—he didn't even purse or move his lips—they were barely parted, in a kind of plaintive, sad little smile—and the notes came out; that was all. Of course I can't tell you what the thing meant word for word or sound for sound; but, in general, it said youth, youth and spring: and I tell you it had those compositions of Mendelssohn, and Grieg, and Sinding lashed to the mast. Well, the leaves rustled again, a little lower in the scale, I think, but wouldn't swear to it, and the first little soft throaty whistle was twice repeated—and there was a little, tiny whisper of a human moan. And that was the end of that poem.
"I made him read to me from his bark sheets until he was tired out. And the next day I was at him again early, and the next. Suppose you were living in a jumping-off place, bored to death, and blowing yourself every fifth or sixth day to a brand new crop of prickly heat; and wanted to go away, and couldn't because you had to sit around until a fat Dutchman made up his mind about a concession; and suppose the only book in the place was on the uses of and manufacture and by-products of the royal palm, written in a beastly language called Tamil, which you only knew enough of to ask for tea and toast at four o'clock in the morning, and were usually understood to mean soda biscuits and a dish of buffalo milk. And suppose that then you came across the complete works of Shakespeare—and that you had never read them—or the Odyssey and that you had never read that—or, better, suppose that there was a Steinway piano in your sitting-room, and that one day the boy who worked the punka for you dropped the rope and sat down at the piano and played Beethoven from beginning to end—as Rubenstein would have played him—and suppose you had never heard a note of Beethoven before. It was like that—listening to the works of Jonathan Bull."
Gardiner paused, as if considering very carefully what he should say.
"No!" he said presently, "I'm not overdoing it. My judgment of Jonathan Bull is no longer a sudden enthusiasm, as the natural effort of a man to make his own discoveries seem more important to his friends than they deserve. He is one of the giants. Think of it: he had made, on an impulse of out and out creation, the most expressive of all languages, so far as mere sound goes; and as if that were not enough, he had gone ahead and composed in that language incomparable lyrics. The meanings were in the sounds. You couldn't mistake them. Have you ever heard a tiger roar—full steam ahead? There was one piece that began suddenly with a kind of terrible, obsessing, strong purring that shook the walls of the room and that went into a series of the most terrible tiger roars and ended with the nightmare screams of a child. I have never been so frightened in my life. And there was a snake song, a soft, wavy, piano, pianissimo effect, all malignant stealth and horror, and running through it were the guileless and insistently hungry twitterings of baby birds in the nest. But there were comical pieces, too, in which ludicrous adventures befell unsophisticated monkeys; and there was a whole series of spring-fever songs—some of them just rotten and nervous, and some of them sad and yearning—and some of them—I don't know just how to put it—well, some of them you might say were not exactly fit to print. One thing he read me—it was very short—consisted of hoarse, inarticulate, broken groans—I couldn't make out what it meant at all. And I was very curious to know, because it seemed to move Jonathan himself much more than anything else of his.
"'You know,' he explained to me, 'my father and mother couldn't make any sound at all—oh, yes—they could clap their hands together and make a sound that way—but I mean with their voices—they hadn't any voices—sometimes their lips smacked and made a noise over eating, or kissing; but they couldn't make sounds in their throats. Well, when my mother died—just think, she couldn't make my father understand that she was sick; and I couldn't. I tried every way. He didn't know that she was leaving him—I'm glad you can't see that poor blind face of her's, turned to father's blind face and trying to tell him good-by—I see it, almost all the time,' he said. 'You know they were always touching—I can't remember a single second in all those years when they weren't at least holding hands. She went in the night. My father was asleep with one arm over and about her. As she got colder and colder it waked him. And he understood. Then he began to make those dumb, helpless groans, like that piece I just read you—the nearest he got to speaking. He sat on the ground and held her in his arms all the rest of the night, and all the next day, and the next night—I couldn't make him let go, and every little while he went into those dreadful, dumb groanings. You don't get brought up in the jungle without knowing death when you see it, and what dead things do. The second night, about midnight, the news of my mother's death began to get about; and horrible, hunchbacked beasts that I had never seen or dreamed of before began to slink about among the trees, and peer out, and snuffle, and complain—and suddenly laugh just like men. And I was so frightened of them, and of the night anyway, that every now and then I'd go into a regular screaming fit, and that would drive them away and keep them quiet for a time, but pretty soon I'd hear their cautious steps, way off, drawing closer and closer, and then the things would begin to snuffle, and complain, and laugh again—they had disgusting, black dogfaces, and one came very close, and I could see the water running out of its mouth. But when dawn began to break they drew farther and farther away, until you could only hear them—now and then.
"'My father looked very white and ill, as was natural enough; but his face now had a peaceful, contented expression. I didn't understand at first that he, in his turn, was dying. But it wasn't of a broken heart, as you might suppose, or anything like that; he had gnawed his left wrist until he got the arteries open; and he was bleeding to death.
"'Once a big dead fish was washed up on the beach—it was when I was quite a little boy—but I remembered how, after a day or two, even my parents had no trouble in finding it, and I remembered how my father had scooped a hole in the sand and buried it. So I scooped a great deep hole in the sand, very deep until water began to trickle into it. And I had sense enough, when it came to filling up the hole, to put in lots of big stones, the biggest I could roll in. And I'm strong. I stayed on—for about six months, getting lonelier and lonelier—and then spring came. I think that was really what started me. I still go almost crazy every spring—anyway I got to this place, and found people.'"
* * * * *
"What's he doing now?" asked Pedder.
"He's trying," said Gardiner, "to do it in English. Of course it seems impossible that he should succeed. But then it was absolutely impossible for Shakespeare to do what he did with the English language, wasn't it? And yet he did it."
"But—" said Pedder.
"Ped," said Gardiner, "we don't control the lightnings; and you never can tell where they are going to strike next—or when."
Ludlow flushed a little, and did not look at his friends.
"Wouldn't it be wonderful," he said, "to be loved and to be in love the way his father and mother were. Maybe they were the ones that really heard and saw, and—sang. We admire the lily, but we owe her to the loves of the blind rain for the deaf and the dumb earth...."
Nobody spoke for some moments. It had been the only allusion that Ludlow had made in years and years to that which had left him a lonely and a cynical man.
"I wonder," Pedder mused, "how it ever occurred to a blind, deaf mute that severing his wrist with his teeth would induce death?"
Gardiner shrugged his shoulders.
"It is always interesting," he said, "to know just which part of a story—if any—is thought worthy of consideration by a given individual."
Mary Rex was more particularly my nurse, for my sister Ellen, a thoughtful, dependable child of eight, was her own mistress in most matters.
This was in the days when we got our servants from neighborhood families; before the Swedish and Irish invasion had made servants of us in turn. Mary was the youngest of an ancestored county family. Her great-grandfather had fought in the Revolution, as you might know by the great flint-lock musket over the Rexes' fireplace. A brother of his had formed part of a British square at Waterloo; and if Mary's own father had not lost his right hand at Gettysburg he would never have let his children go out to service. Poor soul, he bore the whole of his afflictions, those to his body and those to his pride, with a dignity not often seen in these degenerate days. He was by trade a blacksmith, and it was for that reason, I suppose, that Providence, who loves a little joke, elected for amputation his right hand rather than one or both of his feet. Since, even in these degenerate days, many a footless blacksmith makes an honest living.
Mary was a smart, comely, upstanding young woman. Even my father, a dismal sceptic anent human frailty, said that he would freely trust her around the farthest corner in Christendom. And I gathered from the talk of my elders and betters that Mary was very pretty. People said it was a real joy to see a creature so young, so smiling, so pink and white, so graciously happy—in those degenerate days. I myself can see now that she must have been very pretty indeed. Her eyes, for instance, so blue in the blue, so white in the white, can't have changed at all—unless, perhaps, the shadows deep within the blue are deeper than they were when she was a girl. But even to-day you would have to travel far to see another middle-aged woman so smooth of forehead, so cleanly-cut of feature, so generally comely.
But if there was one thing in the world that I had formed no conclusions upon at the age of six it was female loveliness. To cuddle against a gentle mother when bogies were about had nothing whatsoever to do with that gentle mother's personal appearance. To strike valiantly at Mary's face when the hot water and the scrubbing-brush were going had nothing to do with the prettiness thereof. Nor did I consider my sister the less presentable by a black eye given and taken in the game of Little John and Robin Hood upon a log in the Baychester woods. And indeed I have been told, and believe it to be a fact, that the beauty before whom swelled my very earliest tides of affection was a pug-nosed, snaggle-toothed, freckled-faced tomboy, who if she had been but a jot uglier might have been exhibited to advantage in a dime museum. Peace, old agitations, peace!
Everybody knew the Rexes, as in any part of the world, for many years stable, everybody knows everybody else. In Westchester, before great strips of woodland and water became Pelham Bay Park, before the Swedes came, and the Irish, and the Italians, and the Germans—in other words, before land boomed—there had always been an amiable and uninjunctionable stability. Families had lived, for well or ill, in the same houses for years and years. So long had the portraits hung in the rich men's houses that if you moved them it was to disclose a brightly-fresh rectangle upon the wall behind. The box in the poor man's yard had been tended by the poor man's great-grand female relatives. Ours was a vicinage of memory and proper pride. We would no more have thought of inquiring into the morals of this public house or that than of expunging the sun from the heavens. They had always been there.
There was a man who left his wife and little children to fight against King George. He could think of but one thing to protect them against vagrant soldiers of either side, and that was to carve upon certain boards (which he nailed to the trees here and there along the boundaries of his farm):
BEWARR OF THE BOOLE DOGGES
When I was a child one of these signs still remained—at the left, just beyond Pelham Bridge. And people used to laugh and point at the great trees and say that because of the sign the British had never dared to trespass and cut down the timber. Now the man had never owned a Boole Dogge, nor had any of his descendants. I doubt if there was ever one on the premises, unless latterly, perhaps, there has been a French bulldog or so let out of a passing automobile to enjoy a few moments of unconventional liberty. But the bluff had always held good. As my mother used to say: "I know—but then there may be a bulldog now." And that farm was always out of bounds. I relate this for two reasons—to show how stable and conservative a neighborhood was ours, and because on that very farm, and chosen for the very reason which I have related, stood the hollow oak which is to play its majestic part in this modest narrative.
The apple orchards of the Boole Dogge Farm ran southerly to a hickory wood, the hickory wood to an oak wood, the oak wood to thick scrub of all sorts, the scrub to the sedge, and the sedge to the salt mud at low tide, and at high to the bassy waters themselves of inmost Pelham Bay. On the right was the long, black trestle of the Harlem River Branch Railroad, on the left the long-curved ironwork of Pelham Bridge. And the farm, promontoried with its woods and thick cover between these boundaries and more woods to the north, was an overgrown, run-down, desolate, lonely, deserted old place. Had it not been for the old sign that said "Bewarr," it must have been a great playground for children—for their picnics, and their hide-and-seeks, and their games at Indians. But the ferocious animals imagined by the old Revolutionary were as efficacious against trespassers as a cordon of police. And I remember to this day, I can feel still, the very-thrill of that wild surmise with which I followed Mary and my sister over the stone wall and into those forbidden and forbidding acres for the first time. But that comes later.
It was my sister who told me that Mary was engaged to be married. But I had noticed for some days how the neighbors went out of their way to accost her upon our walks; to banter her kindly, to shake hands with her, to wag their heads and look chin-chucks even if they gave none. Her face wore a beautiful mantling red for hours at a time. And instead of being made more sedate by her responsible and settling prospects she shed the half of her years, which were not many, and became the most delightful romp, a furious runner of races, swiftest of pursuers at tag, most subtle and sudden of hiders and poppers out, and full to the arch, scarlet brim of loud, clear laughter.
It was late spring now, lilacs in all the dooryards, all the houses being cleaned inside out, and they were to be married in the fall. They had picked the little house on the outskirts of Skinnertown not far from the Tory oak, in which they were to live. And often we made it the end of an excursion, and played at games devised by Mary to improve the appearance of the little yard. We gathered up in emulation old, broken china and bottles, and made them into a heap at the back; we cleared the yard of brush and dead wood, and pulled up weeds by the hundred-weight, and set out a wild rose or two and more valuable, if less lovely, plants that people gave Mary out of real gardens.
Will Braddish, a painter by trade, met us one day with brushes and a great bucket of white paint, and, while he and Mary sat upon the doorstep talking in low tones or directing in high, Ellen and I made shift to paint the little picket-fence until it was white as new snow. At odd times Braddish himself painted the little house (it was all of old-fashioned, long shingles) inside and out, and a friend of his got up on the roof with mortar and a trowel, and pointed-up the brick chimney; and my father and Mr. Sturtevant contributed a load of beautiful, sleek, rich pasture sod and the labor to lay it; so that by midsummer the little domain was the spickest, spannest little dream of a home in the whole county. The young couple bought furniture, and received gifts of furniture, prints, an A1 range, a tiny, shiny, desirable thing; and the whole world and all things in it smiled them in the face. Braddish, as you will have guessed, was a prosperous young man. He was popular, too, and of good habits. People said only against him that he was impulsive and had sudden fits of the devil's own temper, but that he recovered from these in a twinkling and before anything came of them. And even the merest child could see that he thought the world of Mary. I have seen him show her little attentions such as my sister retailed me of personages in fairy stories and chivalric histories. Once when there was a puddle to cross he made a causeway of his coat, like another Raleigh, and Mary crossed upon it, like one in a trance of tender happiness, oblivious of the fact that she might easily have gone around and saved the coat. His skin and his eyes were almost as clear as Mary's own, and he had a bold, dashing, independent way with him.
But it wasn't often that Braddish could get free of his manifold occupations: his painting contracts and his political engagements. He was by way of growing very influential in local politics, and people predicted an unstintedly successful life for him. He was considered unusually clever and able. His manners were superior to his station, and he had done a deal of heterogeneous reading. But, of course, whenever it was possible he was with Mary and helped her out with looking after Ellen and me. My mother, who was very timid about tramps, looked upon these occasions as in the nature of real blessings. There was nowhere in the countryside that we children might not safely venture with Will Braddish strolling behind. He loved children—he really did, a rare, rare thing—and he was big, and courageous, and strong, and quick. He was very tactful, too, on these excursions and talked a good part of the time for the three of us, instead of for Mary alone. Nice, honest talk it was, too, with just enough robbers, and highwaymen, and lions, and Indians to give it spice. But all the adventures through which he passed us were open and honest. How the noble heroes did get on in life, and how the wicked villains did catch it!