THE THREE BLACK PENNYS
THE THREE BLACK PENNYS
GROSSET & DUNLAP
By Arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf
COPYRIGHT, 1917, BY
ALFRED A. KNOPF
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Dear John Hemphill
This is a record and act of memory of you at Dower House—of June nights on the porch, with the foliage of the willow tree powdered against the stars; the white-panelled hearth of the yellow room in smouldering winter dusks; dinner with the candles wavering in tepid April airs; and the blue envelopment of late September noons. A quiet reach like the old grey house and green fields, the little valleys filled with trees and placid town beyond the hill, where the calendar of our days and companionship is set.
I THE FURNACE
II THE FORGE
III THE METAL
I THE FURNACE
A twilight like blue dust sifted into the shallow fold of the thickly wooded hills. It was early October, but a crisping frost had already stamped the maple trees with gold, the Spanish oaks were hung with patches of wine red, the sumach was brilliant in the darkening underbrush. A pattern of wild geese, flying low and unconcerned above the hills, wavered against the serene, ashen evening. Howat Penny, standing in the comparative clearing of a road, decided that the shifting, regular flight would not come close enough for a shot. He dropped the butt of his gun to the ground. Then he raised it again, examining the hammer; the flint was loose, unsatisfactory. There was a probability that it would miss firing.
He had no intention of hunting the geese. With the drooping of day his keenness had evaporated; an habitual indifference strengthened, permeating him. He turned his dark, young face toward the transparent, green afterglow; the firm eyebrows drawn up at the temples, sombre eyes set, too, at a slight angle, a straight nose, impatient mouth and projecting chin. Below him, and to the left, a heavy, dark flame and silvery smoke were rolling from the stack of Shadrach Furnace. Figures were moving obscurely over the way that led from the coal house, set on the hill, to the top and opening of the furnace; finishing, Howat Penny knew, the charge of charcoal, limestone and iron ore.
Shadrach Furnace had been freshly set in blast; it was on that account he was there, to represent, in a way, his father, who owned a half interest in the Furnace. However, he had paid little attention to the formality; his indifference was especially centred on the tedious processes of iron making, which had, at the same time, made his family. He had gone far out from the Furnace tract into an utterly uninhabited and virginal region, where he had shot at, and missed, an impressive buck and killed a small bear. Now, that he had returned, his apathy once more flooded him; but he had eaten nothing since morning, and he was hungry.
He could go home, over the nine miles of road that bound the Furnace to Myrtle Forge and the Penny dwelling; there certain of whatever supper he would elect. But, he decided, he preferred something now, less formal. There were visitors at Myrtle Forge, Abner Forsythe, who owned the other half of Shadrach, his son David, newly back from England and the study of metallurgy, and a Mr. Winscombe, come out to the Provinces in connection with the Maryland boundary dispute, accompanied by his wife. All this Howat Penny regarded with profound distaste; necessary social and conversational forms repelled him. And it annoyed his father when he sat, apparently morose, against the wall, or retired solitary to his room.
He would get supper here; they would be glad to have him at the house of Peter Heydrick, the manager of the Furnace. Half turning, he could see the dwelling at his back—a small, grey stone rectangle with a narrow portico on its solid face and a pale glimmer of candles in the lower windows. The ground immediately about it was cleared of brush and little trees, affording Peter Heydrick a necessary, unobstructed view of the Furnace stack while sitting in his house or when aroused at night. The dwelling was inviting, at once slipping into the dusk and emerging by reason of the warm glow within. Mrs. Heydrick, too, was an excellent cook; there would be plenty of venison, roast partridge, okra soup. Afterwards, under a late moon, he could go back to Myrtle Forge; or he might stay at the Heydricks all night, and to-morrow kill such a buck as he had lost.
The twilight darkened beneath the trees, the surrounding hills lost their forms, in the east the distance merged into the oncoming night, but the west was still translucent, green. There was a faint movement in the leaves by the roadside, and a grey fox crossed, flattened on the ground, and disappeared. Howat Penny could see the liquid gleam of its eyes as it watched him. From the hill by the coal house came the heavy beating of wild turkeys' wings.
He could go to Peter Heydrick's, where the venison would be excellent, and Mrs. Heydrick was celebrated for her guinea pickle with cucumbers; but ... the Heydricks had no daughter, and the Gilkans had. Thomas Gilkan was only a founderman; his house had one room below and a partition above; and Mrs. Gilkan's casual fare could not be compared to Mrs. Heydrick's inviting amplitude. Yet there was Fanny Gilkan, erect and flaming haired, who could walk as far as he could himself, and carry her father's clumsy gun all the way.
His thoughts, deflected by Fanny Gilkan, left the immediate present of supper, and rested upon the fact that his—his appreciation of her was becoming known at the Furnace; while Dan Hesa must be circulating it, with biting comments, among the charcoal burners. Dan Hesa, although younger than Howat, was already contracting for charcoal, a forward young German; and, Fanny had said with a giggle, he was paying her serious attention. Howat Penny had lately seen a new moroseness among the charcoal burners that could only have come from the association of the son of Gilbert Penny and the potential owner of Myrtle Forge with the founderman's daughter. Charcoal burners were lawless men, fugitive in character, often escaped from terms of indenture; Dan Hesa was, he knew, well liked by them; and the hazard created by his attraction to Fanny Gilkan drew Howat Penny irresistibly away from the superior merits of the Heydrick table.
That was his character: denial as a child had filled him with slow-accumulating rage; later discipline at school had found him utterly intractable. Something deep and instinctive within him resisted every effort to make him a part of any social organization, however admirable; he never formed any personal bonds with humanity in particular. He had grown into a solitary being within whom were immovably locked all the confidences, the spontaneous expressions of self, that bind men into a solidarity of common failings and hopes. He never offered, nor, apparently, required, any marks of sympathy; as a fact, he rarely expressed anything except an occasional irrepressible scorn lashing out at individuals or acts that conspicuously displeased him. This had occurred more than once at Myrtle Forge, when assemblymen or members of the Provincial Council had been seated at dinner.
It was after such a scene that his mother had witnessed perhaps his only attempt at self-explanation. "I am sorry you were disturbed," he had pronounced, after standing and regarding her for a silent, frowning space; "but for me there is something unendurable in men herding like cattle, protecting their fat with warning boards and fences. I can't manage the fiddling lies that keep up the whole silly pretence of the stuffy show. If it gets much thicker," he had threatened, waving vaguely toward the west, "I'll go out to the Ohio, or the French forts."
That this was not merely a passive but an active state of mind was amply expressed by his resolute movement toward Thomas Gilkan's house. He had, ordinarily, an unusual liking for the charcoal burners, and had spent many nights in their huts, built, like the charring stacks, of mud and branches. But, organized by Dan Hesa into an opposition, a criticism of his choice of way, they offered an epitome of the conditions he derided and assailed.
His feeling for Fanny Gilkan was in the greater part understood, measured; there was a certain amount of inchoate, youthful response to her sheer physical well being, a vague blur of pleasant sensation at her proximity; but beyond that he felt no attraction except a careless admiration for her endurance and dexterity in the woods, a certain relief in the freedom of her companionship. He had never considered her concretely as a possible source of physical pleasure. He was not easily excited sexually, and had had few adventures with women; something of his contempt, his indifference, removed him from that, too. His emotions were deep, vital; and hid beneath a shyness of habit that had grown into a suspicious reserve. All bonds were irksome to him, and instinctively he avoided the greater with the lesser; instinctively he realized that the admission of cloying influences, of the entanglements of sex, would more definitely bind him than any generality of society.
It had, he thought, grown dark with amazing rapidity. He could now see a feeble light at the Gilkans, ahead and on the right. At the same moment a brighter, flickering radiance fell upon the road, the thick foliage of the trees. The blast was gathering at Shadrach Furnace. A clear, almost smokeless flame rose from the stack against the night-blue sky. It illuminated the rectangular, stone structure of the coal-house on the hill, and showed the wet and blackened roof of the casting shed below. The flame dwindled and then mounted, hanging like a fabulous oriflamme on a stillness in which Howat Penny could hear the blast forced through the Furnace by the great leather bellows.
He turned in, over the littered ground before the Gilkan house. Fanny was standing in the doorway, her straight, vigorous body sharp against the glow inside. "Here's Mr. Howat Penny," she called over her shoulder. "Is everything off the table? There's not much," she turned to him, "but the end of the pork barrel." A meagre fire was burning in the large, untidy hearth; battered tin ovens had been drawn aside, and a pair of wood-soled shoes were drying. The rough slab of the table, pushed back against a long seat made of a partly hewed and pegged log, was empty but for some dull scarred pewter and scraps of salt meat. On the narrow stair that led above, a small, touselled form was sleeping—one of the cast boys at the Furnace.
A thin, peering woman in a hickory-dyed wool dress moved forward obsequiously. "Mr. Penny!" she echoed the girl's announcement; "and here I haven't got a thing fit for you. Thomas Gilkan has been too busy to get out, and Fanny she'll fetch nothing unless the mood's on her. If I only had a fish I could turn over." She brushed the end of the table with a frayed sleeve. "You might just take a seat, and I'll look around."
Fanny Gilkan listened to her mother with a comprehending smile. Fanny's face was gaunt, but her grey eyes were wide and compelling, her mouth was firm and bright; and her hair, her father often said, resembled the fire at the top of Shadrach. Howat knew that she was as impersonal, as essentially unstirred, as himself; but he had a clear doubt of Mrs. Gilkan. The latter was too anxious to welcome him to their unpretending home; she obviously moved to throw Fanny and himself together, and to disparage such suits as honest Dan Hesa's. He wondered if the older woman thought he might marry her daughter. And wondering he came to the conclusion that the other thing would please the mother almost as well. She had given him to understand that at Fanny's age she would know how to please any Mr. Howat Penny that chance fortune might bring her.
That some such worldly advice had been poured into Fanny's ears he could not doubt; and he admired the girl's obvious scorn of such wiles and surrenders. She sat frankly beside him now, as he finished a wretched supper, and asked about the country in regions to which she had not penetrated. "It's a three days' trip," he finished a recital of an excursion of his own.
"I'd like to go," she returned; "but I suppose I couldn't find it alone."
He was considering the possibility of such a journey with her—it would be pleasant in the extreme—when her mother interrupted them from the foot of the stair.
"A sensible girl," she declared, "would think about seeing the sights of a city, and of a cherry-derry dress with ribbons, instead of all this about tramping off through the woods with a ragged skirt about your naked knees."
Fanny Gilkan's face darkened, and she glanced swiftly at Howat Penny. He was filling a pipe, unmoved. Such a trip as he had outlined, with Fanny, was fastening upon his thoughts. It would at once express his entire attitude toward the world, opinion, and the resentful charcoal burners.
"You wouldn't really go," he said aloud, half consciously.
The girl frowned in an effort of concentration, gazing into the thin light of the dying fire and two watery tallow dips. Her coarsely spun dress, coloured with sassafras bark and darker than the yellow hickory stain, drew about her fine shoulders and full, plastic breast. "I'd like it," she repeated; "but afterward. There is father—"
She had said father, but Howat Penny determined that she was thinking of Dan Hesa; Dan was as strong as himself, if heavier; a personable young man. He would make a good husband. But that, he added, was in the future; Dan Hesa apparently didn't want to marry Fanny to-morrow, that week. Meanwhile a trip with him to the headwaters of a creek would not injure her in the least. His contempt of a world petty and iron-bound in endless pretence, fanning his smouldering and sullen resentment in general, flamed out in a determination to take her with him if possible. It would conclusively define, state, his attitude toward "men herding like cattle." He did not stop to consider what it might define for Fanny Gilkan. In the stir of his rebellious self there was no pause for vicarious approximations. If he thought of her at all it was in the indirect opinion that she was better without such a noodle as Dan Hesa threatened to become.
"I'd get two horses from the Forge," he continued, apparently to his mildly speculative self; "a few things, not much would be necessary. That gun you carry," he addressed Fanny indirectly, "is too heavy. I'll get you a lighter, bound in brass."
She repeated sombrely, leaning with elbows on the table, her chin in her hands, "And afterwards—"
"I thought you were free of that," he observed; "it sounds like the town women, the barnyard crowd. I thought you were an independent person. Certainly," he went on coldly, "you can't mistake my attitude. I like you, but I am not in the least interested in any way that—that jour mother might appreciate. I am neither a seducer nor the type that marries."
"I understand that, Howat," she assured him; "and I think, I'm not sure but I think, that what you mean wouldn't bother me either. Anyhow it shouldn't spoil the fun of our trip. But no one else in the world would believe that simple truth. If you could stay there, in those splendid woods or a world like them, why, it would be heaven. But you have to come back, you have to live on, perhaps for a great while, in the world of Shadrach and Myrtle Forge. I'm not sure that I'd refuse if you asked me to go, Howat. I just don't know if a woman can stand alone, for that's what it would come to afterward, against a whole lifeful of misjudgment. It might be better in the end, for everybody, if she continued home, made the best of things with the others."
"You may possibly be right," he told her with a sudden resumption of indifference. After all, it was unimportant whether or not Fanny Gilkan went with him to the source of the stream he had discovered. Every one, it became more and more evident, was alike, monotonous. He wondered again, lounging back against the wall, about the French forts, outposts in a vast wilderness. There was an increasing friction between the Province and France, the legacy of King George's War, but Howat Penny's allegiance to place was as conspicuous by its absence as the other communal traits. Beside that, beyond Kaskaskia, at St. Navier and the North, there was little thought of French or English; the sheer problem of existence there drowned other considerations. He would, he thought, go out in the spring ... leave Myrtle Forge with its droning anvil, the endless, unvaried turning of water wheel, and the facile, trivial chatter in and about the house. David Forsythe, back from England in the capacity of master of fluxing metals, might acquire his, Howat's, interest in the Penny iron.
Fanny Gilkan said, "You'll burn a hole in your coat with that pipe." He roused himself, and she moved across the room and pinched the smoking wicks. The embers on the hearth had expired, and the fireplace was a sooty, black cavern. Fanny, at the candles, was the only thing clearly visible; the thin radiance slid over the turn of her cheek; her hovering hand was like a cut-paper silhouette. It was growing late; Thomas Gilkan would soon be back from the Furnace; he must go. Howat had no will to avoid Gilkan, but the thought of the necessary conversational exchange wearied him.
The sound of footsteps approached the house from without; it was, he thought, slightly annoyed, the founderman; but the progress deflected by the door, circled to a window at the side. A voice called low and urgent, "Seemy! Seemy!" It was repeated, and there was an answering mutter from the stair, a thick murmur and a deep sigh.
The cast boy slipped crumpled and silent in bare feet across the floor. "Yes," he called back, rapidly waking.
The voice from without continued, "They're going to start up the Oley."
"What is it?" Fanny demanded.
"The raccoon dogs," the boy paused at the door. "A lot of the furnacemen and woodcutters from round about are hunting."
Fanny Gilkan leaned across the table to Howat, her face glowing with interest. "Come ahead," she urged; "we can do this anyhow. I like to hear the dogs yelping, and follow them through the night. You can bring your gun, I'll leave mine back, and perhaps we'll get something really big."
Howat himself responded thoroughly to such an expedition; to the mystery of the primitive woods, doubly withdrawn in the dark; the calls of the others, near or far, or completely lost in a silence of stars; the still immensity of a land unguessed, mythical—endless trees, endless mountains, endless rivers with their headwaters buried in arctic countries beyond human experience, and emptying into the miraculous blue and gilded seas of the tropics.
Fanny Gilkan would follow the dogs closely, too, with infinite swing and zest. She knew the country better than himself, better almost than any one else at the Furnace. He stirred at her urgency, and she caught his arm, dragging him from behind the table. She tied a linsey-woolsey jacket by its arms about her waist, and put out the candles. Outside the blast was steadily in progress at the stack; the clear glow of the flame shifted over the nearby walls, glinted on the new yellow of more distant foliage, fell in sharp or blurred traceries against the surrounding night.
They could hear the short, impatient yelps of the dogs; but, before they reached them, the hunt was away. A lantern flickered far ahead, a minute blur vanishing through files of trees. Fanny turned to the right, mounting an abrupt slope thickly wooded toward the crown. A late moon, past full, shed an unsteady light through interlaced boughs, matted grape vines, creepers flung from tree to tree; it shone on a hurrying rill, a bright thread drawn through the brush. Fanny Gilkan jumped lightly from bank to bank. She made her way with lithe ease through apparently unbroken tangles. It was Fanny who went ahead, who waited for Howat to follow across a fallen trunk higher than his waist. She even mocked him gaily, declared that, through his slowness, they were hopelessly losing the hunt.
However, the persistent barking of the dogs contrived to draw them on. They easily passed the stragglers, left a group gathered about a lantern and a black bottle. They caught up to the body of men, but preferred to follow a little outside of the breathless comments and main, stumbling progress. They stirred great areas of pigeons and countless indifferent coveys of partridges barely moved to avoid the swiftly falling feet. But no deer crossed near them, and the crashing of a heavy animal through the bushes diminished into such a steep gulley that they relinquished thought of pursuit. The chase continued for an unusual distance; the moon sank into the far, unbroken forest; the stars brightened through the darkest hour of the night.
Fanny Gilkan and Howat proceeded more slowly now, but still they went directly, without hesitation, in the direction they chose. They crossed a log felled over a shallow, hurrying creek; the course grew steeper, more densely wooded. "Ruscomb Manor," Fanny pronounced over her shoulder. "Since a long way back," he agreed. Finally a sharper, stationary clamour announced that the object of the hunt had been achieved, and a raccoon treed. They made their way to the dim illumination cast on moving forms and a ring of dogs throwing themselves upward at the trunk of a tree. There was a concerted cry for "Ebo," and a wizened, grey negro in a threadbare drugget coat with a scarlet handkerchief about his throat came forward and, kicking aside the dogs, commenced the ascent of the smooth trunk that swept up to the obscure foliage above. There was a short delay, then a violent agitation of branches. A clawing shape shot to the ground, struggled to its feet, but the raccoon was instantly smothered in a snarling pyramid of dogs.
Howat Penny was overwhelmingly weary. He had tramped all day, since before morning; while now another dawn was approaching, and the hunters were at least ten miles from the Furnace. He would have liked to stay, sleep, where he was; but the labour of preparing a proper resting place would be as great as returning to Shadrach. Besides, Fanny Gilkan was with him, with her new, cautious regard for the world's opinion. They stood silent for a moment, under a fleet dejection born of the hour and a cold, seeping mist of which he became suddenly conscious. The barrel of his gun was wet, and instinctively he wiped off the lock. Two men passing brushed heavily against him and stopped. "Who is it," one demanded, "John Rajennas? By God, it's a long way back to old Shadrach with splintering shoes." A face drew near Howat, and then retreated. "Oh, Mr. Penny! I didn't know you were up on the hunt." It was, he recognized, one of the coaling men who worked for Dan Hesa. The other discovered Fanny Gilkan. "And Fanny, too," the voice grew inimical. The men drew away, and a sharp whispering fluctuated out of the darkness.
"Come," Howat Penny said sharply; "we must get back or stay out here for the rest of the night. I don't mind admitting I'd like to be where I could sleep." She moved forward, now tacitly taking a place behind him, and he led the return, tramping doggedly in the shortest direction possible.
The hollows and stream beds were filled with the ghostly mist, and bitterly chill; the night paled slightly, diluted with grey; there was a distant clamour of crows. They entered the Furnace tract by a path at the base of the rise from where they had started. On the left, at a crossing of roads, one leading to Myrtle Forge, the other a track for the charcoal sleds, a blacksmith's open shed held a faint smoulder on the hearth. The blast from Shadrach Furnace rose perpendicular in the still air.
Fanny Gilkan slipped away with a murmur. Howat abandoned all thought of returning to Myrtle Forge that night. But it was, he corrected the conclusion, morning. The light was palpable; he could see individual trees, the bulk of the cast-house, built directly against the Furnace; in the illusive radiance the coal house on the hill seemed poised on top of the other structures. A lantern made a reddish blur in the cast-house; it was warm in there when a blast was in progress, and he determined to sleep at once.
Thomas Gilkan, with a fitful light, was testing the sealing clay on the face of the Furnace hearth; two men were rolling out the sand for the cast over the floor of the single, high interior, and another was hammering on a wood form used for stamping the pig moulds. The interior was soothing; the lights, blurred voices, the hammering, seemed to retreat, to mingle with the subdued, smooth clatter of the turning wheel without, the rhythmic collapse of the bellows. Howat Penny was losing consciousness when an apparently endless, stuttering blast arose close by. He cursed splenetically. It was the horn, calling the Furnace hands for the day; and he knew that it would continue for five minutes.
Others had entered; a little group gathered about Thomas Gilkan's waning lantern. Far above them a window glimmered against the sooty wall. Howat saw that Dan Hesa was talking to Gilkan, driving in his words by a fist smiting a broad, hard palm. The group shifted, and the countenance of the man who had recognized Howat Penny in the woods swam into the pale radiance. His lassitude swiftly deserted him, receding before the instant resentment always lying at the back of his sullen intolerance—they were discussing him, mouthing some foul imputation about the past night. Hesa left the cast-house abruptly, followed by the charcoal burner; and Howat rose, the length of his rifle thrust forward under his arm, and walked deliberately forward.
The daylight was increasing rapidly; and, as he approached, Thomas Gilkan extinguished the flame of the lantern. He was a small man, with a face parched by the heat of the furnace, and a narrowed, reddened vision without eyebrows or lashes. He was, Howat had heard, an unexcelled founder, a position of the greatest importance to the quality of metal run. There was a perceptible consciousness of this in the manner in which Gilkan moved forward to meet Gilbert Penny's son.
"I don't want to give offence," the founderman said, "but, Mr. Penny, sir—" he stopped, commenced again without the involuntary mark of respect. "Mr. Penny, stay away from my house. There is more that I could say but I won't. That is all—keep out of my place. No names, please."
Howat Penny's resentment swelled in a fiery anger at the stupidity that had driven Thomas Gilkan into making his request. A sense of humiliation contributed to an actual fury, the bitterer for the reason that he could make no satisfactory reply. Gilkan was a freedman; while he was occupying a dwelling at Shadrach Furnace it was his to conduct as he liked. Howat's face darkened—the meagre fool! He would see that there was another head founder here within a week.
But there were many positions in the Province for a man of Gilkan's ability, there were few workmen of his sensitive skill with the charge and blast. Not only Howat's father, but Abner Forsythe as well, would search to the end all cause for the founderman's leaving. And, in consequence of that, any detestable misunderstanding must increase. He determined, with an effort unaccustomed and arduous, to ignore the other; after all Gilkan was but an insignificant mouthpiece for the familiar ineptitude of the world at large. Thomas Gilkan might continue at the Furnace without interference from him; Fanny marry her stupid labourer. Howat had seen symptoms of that last night. He would no longer complicate her existence with avenues of escape from a monotony which she patently elected.
"Very well, Gilkan," he agreed shortly, choking on his wrath. He turned and tramped shortly from the interior. A sudden, lengthening sunlight bathed the open and a sullen group of charcoal burners about Dan Hesa. Their faces seemed ebonized by the grinding in of particles of blackened wood. Some women, even, in gay, primitive clothes, stood back of the men. As Howat passed, a low, hostile murmur rose. He halted, and met them with a dark, contemptuous countenance, and the murmur died in a shuffling of feet in the dry grass. He turned again, and walked slowly away, when a broken piece of rough casting hurtled by his head. In an overpowering rage he whirled about, throwing his rifle to his shoulder. A man detached from the group was lowering his arm; and, holding the sights hard on the other's metal-buttoned, twill jacket, Howat pulled the trigger. There was only an answering dull, ineffectual click.
The rifle slid to the ground, and Howat stared, fascinated, at the man he had attempted to kill. The charcoal burners were stationary before the momentary abandon of Howat Penny's temper. "Right at me," the man articulated who had been so nearly shot into oblivion. "—saw the hammer fall." A tremendous desire to escape possessed Howat; a violent chill overtook him; his knees threatened the loss of all power to hold him up. He stepped backward, his gun stock trailing over the inequalities of the ground; then he swung about, and, in an unbroken silence, stumbled away.
He was not running from anything the charcoal burner might say, do, but from a terrifying spectacle of himself; from the vision of a body shot through the breast, huddled in the sere underbrush. He was aghast at the unsuspected possibility revealed, as it were, out of a profound dark by the searing flash of his anger, cold at the thought of such absolute self-betrayal. Howat saw in fancy the bald triumph of a society to which his act consummated would have delivered him; a society that, as his peer, would have judged, condemned, him. Hundreds of faces—faces mean, insignificant, or pock-marked—merged into one huge, dominant countenance; hundreds of bodies, unwashed or foul with disease, or meticulously clean, joined in one body, clothed in the black robe of delegated authority, and loomed above him, gigantic and absurd and powerful, and brought him to death. Deeper than his horror, than any fear of physical consequences, lay the instinctive shrinking from the obliteration of his individual being, the loss of personal freedom.
He was possessed by an unaccustomed desire to be at Myrtle Forge; usually it was the contrary case, and he was escaping from the complicated civilisation of his home; but now the well-ordered house, the serenity of his room, appeared astonishingly inviting. Howat progressed rapidly past the smithy, and turned to the right, about the Furnace dam, a placid and irregular reach of water holding the reflection of the trees on a mirror still dulled by a vanishing trace of mist, above which the leaves hung in the motionless air, in the aureate wash of the early sun, as if they had been pressed from gold foil. Beyond the dam the path—he had left the road that connected Forge and Furnace for a more direct way—followed the broad, rippling course of the Canary, the stream that supplied the life of Myrtle Forge. He automatically avoided the breaks in the rough trail; his mind, a dark and confused chamber, still lighted by appalling flashes of memory. A thing as slight, as incalculable, as a loose flint had been all that prevented.... He wondered if Fanny and Thomas Gilkan were right in their shared conviction; Fanny half persuaded, but the elder with a finality stamped with an accent of the heroic. Whether or not they were right didn't concern him, he decided; his only problem was to keep outside all such entanglements. And at present he wanted to sleep.
The path left the creek and joined the road that swept about the face of the dwelling at Myrtle Forge. The lawn, squarely raised from the public way by a low brick terrace, showed the length of house behind the dipping, horizontal branches, the beginning, pale gold, of a widespread beech. It was a long structure of but two stories, built solidly out of a dark, flinty stone with an indefinite pinkish glow against the lush sod and sombre, flat greenery of a young English ivy about a narrow, stiff portico.
Howat crossed the lawn above the house, where a low wing, holding the kitchen and pantries, extended at right angles from the dwelling's length. A shed with a flagging of broad stones lay inside the angle, where a robust girl with an ozenbrigs skirt caught up on bare legs and feet thrust into wooden clogs was scrubbing a steaming line of iron pots. He quickly entered the centre hall from a rear door, and mounted, as he hoped, without interruption to his room. That interior was singularly restful, pleasant, after the confused and dishevelling night.
The sanded floor, patterned with a broom, held no carpet, nor were the walls covered, but white and bare save for a number of small, framed engravings—a view of Boston Harbour, Queene Anne's Tomb, and some black line satirical portrait prints. A stone fireplace, ready for lighting, had iron dogs and fender, and a screen lacquered in flowery wreaths on a slender black stem. At one side stood a hinge-bound chest, its oak panels glassy with age; on the other, an English set of drawers held a mirror stand and scattered trifles—razors and gold sleeve-buttons, a Barcelona handkerchief, candlesticks and flint, a twist of common, pig-tail tobacco; while from a drawer knob hung a banian of bright orange Chinese silk with a dark blue cord.
By the side of his curled black walnut bed, without drapery, and set, like a French couch, low on three pairs of spiral legs, was a deep cushioned chair into which he sank and dragged off his sodden buckskin breeches. The room wavered and blurred in his weary vision—squat, rush-bottomed Dutch chairs seemed to revolve about a table with apparently a hundred legs, a bearskin floated across the floor.... He secured the banian; and, swathing himself in its cool, sibilant folds, he fell, his face hid in an angle of his arm, into an immediate profound slumber.
The shadows of late afternoon were once more gathering when he woke. He lay, with hands clasped behind his head, watching a roseate glow disperse from the room. From without came the faint, clear voice of Marta Appletofft, across the road at the farm, calling the chickens; and he could hear the querulous whistling of the partridges that invariably deserted the fringes of forest to join the domesticated flocks at feed time. A sense of well-being flooded him; the project of St. Xavier, the French forts, drew far away; never before had he found Myrtle Forge so desirable. He was, he thought, growing definitely older. He was twenty-five.
A light knock fell on his door, and he answered comfortably, thinking that it was his mother. But it was Caroline, his oldest sister. "How you have slept," she observed, closing the door at her back; "it was hardly nine when you came in, and here it is five. Mother heard you." Caroline Penny was a warm, unbeautiful girl with a fine, slender body, two years younger than himself. Her colouring was far lighter than Howat's; she had sympathetic hazel eyes, an inviting mouth, an illusive depression in one cheek that alone saved her from positive ugliness, and tobacco brown hair worn low with a long, turned strand. She had on a pewter-coloured, informal wrap over a black silk petticoat, lacking hoops, with a cut border of violet and silver brocade; and above low, green kid stays with coral tulip blossoms worked on the dark velvet of foliage were glimpses of webby linen and frank, young flesh.
She came to the edge of the bed, where she sat with a yellow morocco slipper swinging from a silk clocked, narrow foot. He liked Caroline, Howat lazily thought. Although she did not in the least resemble their mother in appearance—she could not pretend to such distinction of being—Caroline unmistakably possessed something of the other's personality, far more than did Myrtle. She said generally, patently only delaying for the moment communications of much greater interest than himself, "Where were you last night?" He told her, and she plunged at once into a rich store of information.
"Did you know that Mr. and Mrs. Winscombe are staying on? It's so, because of the fever in the city. David and his father stopped all night, too, and only left after breakfast. He's insane about London, but I could see that he's glad to get back to the Province. Mr. Forsythe is very abrupt, but ridiculously proud of him—"
"These Winscombes," Howat interrupted, "what about them? The Forsythes are a common occurrence."
"David's been gone more than three years," she replied. "And you should hear him talk; he's got a coat with wired tails in his box he's dying to wear, but is afraid of his father. Oh, the Winscombes! Well, he's rather sweet, sixty or sixty-five years old; very straight up the back, and wears the loveliest wigs. His servant fixes them on a stand—he turns the curls about little rolls of clay, ties them with paper, and then bakes it in the oven like a pudding. The servant is an Italian with a long duck's bill of a nose and quick little black eyes. He makes our negro women giggle like anything. It's evident he is fearfully impertinent. And, what do you think?—he hooks Mrs. Winscombe into her stays! Mother says that that isn't anything, really; Mrs. Winscombe is a lady of the court, and the most extraordinary happenings go on there. You see, mother knows a lot about her family, and it's very good; she's part Polish and part English, and her name's Ludowika. She's ages younger than her husband.
"Myrtle doesn't like her,—" she stopped midway in her torrent of information. "I came in to talk to you about Myrtle," she went on in a different voice; "that is, partly about Myrtle, but more of myself and of—"
"How long are the others going to stay?" he cut in heedlessly.
"I don't know," she again repressed her own desire; "perhaps they will have to go back to Annapolis—don't ask me why—but they hope to sail from Philadelphia in a week or so. She has marvellous clothes, and I asked her if she would send me some babies from London. You know what they are, Howat—little wooden dolls to show off the fashion; but she made a harrowing joke, right in front of father and Mrs. Forsythe. The things she says are just beyond description; it seems that it's all right to talk anyway now if you call it classic. And she has fans with pictures and rhymes on, honestly—" words apparently failed her.
Howat laughed. "Little Innocence," he said. He fell silent, thinking of their mother. The court, he knew, had been her right, too, by birth; and he wondered if, with the reminder of Mrs. Winscombe and her reflections of St. James, she regretted her marriage and removal to the Province. She was essentially lady, while Gilbert Penny had been the son of a small country squire. He had seen a profile of his father as a young man, at the time he had first met Isabel Kingsfrere Howat. It was a handsome profile, perhaps a shade heavy, but admirably balanced and stamped with decisive power. He had characteristically invested almost his last shilling in a tract of eight hundred acres in Pennsylvania and the passage of himself and his bride to the Province.
It was natural for men so to adventure, but Howat thought of Isabel Penny with, perhaps, the only marked admiration he felt for any being. There had been a period, short but strenuous, of material difficulties, in which the girl—she had been hardly a woman in years—entirely unprepared for such a different activity, had been finely competent and courageous. This had not endured long because Gilbert Penny had been successful almost from the first day of his landing in a new world. Chance letters had enlisted the confidence of David Forsythe, a Quaker merchant of property and increasing importance; the latter became a part owner of an iron furnace situated not far from the Penny holding; he assisted Gilbert in the erection of a forge; and in less than twenty years Gilbert Penny had grown to be a half proprietor in the Furnace, with—
"Howat," Caroline broke in on his thoughts sharply, "I came in, as I said, to talk about something very important to me, and I intend to do it." Even after that decided announcement she hesitated, a deeper colour stained her dear cheeks. "You mustn't laugh at me," she warned him; "or think I'm horrid. I can talk to you like this because you seem a—a little outside of things, as if you were looking on at a rather poorly done play; and you are entirely honest yourself."
He nodded condescendingly, his interest at last retrieved from the contemplation of his mother as a young woman.
"It's about David," Caroline stated almost defiantly. "Howat, I think I'm very fond of David. No, you mustn't interrupt me. When he went away I liked him a lot; but now that he is back, and quite grown up, it's more than liking ... Howat. His father brought him out here right away he returned, and for a special reason. He was very direct about it; he wants David to marry—Myrtle. I heard father—yes, I listened—and him talking it over, and our old darling was pleased to death. It's natural, Mr. Forsythe is one of the most influential men in the city; and father adores Myrtle more than anything else in the world." She paused, and he studied her in a growing wonder; suddenly she seemed older, her mouth was drawn in a hard line: a new Caroline. "You know Myrtle," she added.
He did, and considered the youngest Penny with a new objectivity. Myrtle was an extremely pretty, even a beautiful girl. "You know Myrtle," she repeated; "and why father is so blind is more than I can understand. She doesn't care a ribbon for truth, she never thinks of anything but her own comfort and clothes, and—and she'd make David miserable. Myrtle simply can't fancy anybody but herself. That's very different from me, Howat; or yourself. You would be a burning lover." He laughed incredulously. "And I, well, I know what I feel.
"It's practically made up for David to marry Myrtle, that is, to urge it all that's possible; and she will never care for him, while all he thinks of now is how good looking she is. I want David, terribly," she said, sitting erect with shut hands; "and I will be expected to step aside, to keep out of the way while Myrtle poses at him. Oh, I know all about it. I see her rehearsing before the glass. Or I will be expected to act as a contrast, a plain background, for Myrtle's beauty.
"You see, there is no one I can talk to but yourself. Even mother wouldn't understand, completely; and she couldn't be honest about Myrtle. The best of mothers, after all, are women; and, Howat, there is always a curious formality between women, a little stiffness."
"Well," he demanded, "what do you want me to say, or what did you think I might do?"
"I don't know," she admitted, her eyes bright with unshed tears. "I suppose I just wanted a little support, or even some encouragement. I don't propose to let Myrtle walk off with David and not turn my hand. Of course I am not a beauty, but then I'm not a ninny, either. And I have a prettier figure; that is, it will still be pretty in ten or fifteen years; Myrtle's soft."
"Good heavens," he exclaimed, half serious, "what Indians you all are!"
"I'm quite shameless," she admitted, "and this is really what I thought—you can, perhaps, help me sometimes, I don't know how, but he will be out here a lot, men talk together—"
"And I can tell him that Myrtle is an utterly untrustworthy person who would make him ultimately miserable. I'll remind him that her beauty is no deeper than he sees it. But that Caroline there, admirable girl, seething with affection in a figure warranted against time or accident—" her expression brought his banter to an end. He studied her seriously, revolved what she had said. She was right about Myrtle, who was undoubtedly a vain and silly little fish. His father's immoderate admiration for her had puzzled him as well as the elder sister. He remembered that never had he heard their mother express a direct opinion of Myrtle; but neither had Isabel Penny shown the slightest question of her husband's high regard for their youngest child. She was, he realized with a warming of his admiration, beautifully cultivated in the wisdom of the world.
Caroline was vastly preferable to Myrtle, he felt that instinctively; and he was inclined to give her whatever assistance he could. But this would be negligible, and he said so. "You will have to do the trick by yourself," he advised her. "I wouldn't pretend to tell you how. As you said, you're not a ninny. And Myrtle's none too clever, although she will manage to seem so. It's wonderful how she'll pick up a hint or two and make a show. You see—she will be talking iron to David as if she had been raised in a furnace."
"Men are so senseless!" Caroline exclaimed viciously. She rose. "It's been a help only to talk to you, Howat. I knew you'd understand. Supper will be along soon. Make yourself into a charmer for Mrs. Winscombe. I'm certain she thinks the men out here are frightful hobs." The light had dimmed rapidly in the room, and he moved over to the chest of drawers, where he lit the candles, settling over them their tall, carved glass cylinders.
He dressed slowly, all that Caroline had said, and he thought, tangling and disentangling deliberately in his mind. Mrs. Winscombe ... thinking there were no presentable men in the Provinces. His hand strayed in the direction of a quince-coloured satin coat; but he chose instead a commonplace, dun affair with pewter buttons, and carelessly settled his shoulders in an unremarkable waistcoat. Then, although he could hear a concerted stir of voices below that announced impending supper, he slipped into a chair for half a pipe. He was indifferent, not diffident, and there was no hesitation in the manner in which he finally approached the company seated at supper. His place was, as usual, at his mother's side; but opposite him where Myrtle usually sat was a rigid, high shouldered man in mulberry and silver, jewelled buckles, and a full, powdered wig. He had thin, dark cheeks, a heavy nose above a firm mouth with a satirical droop, and small, unpleasantly penetrating eyes. An expression of general malice was, however, corrected by a high and serene brow.
"Mr. Winscombe," Howat Penny's mother said, "my son." The former bowed with formal civility, but gave a baffling effect of mockery which, Howat discovered, enveloped practically every movement and speech. He was, he said, enchanted to meet Mr. Penny; and that extravagant expression, delivered in a slightly harsh, negligent voice, heightened the impression of a personality strong and cold; a being as obdurate as an iron bar masquerading in coloured satin and formulating pretty phrases like the sheen on the surface of a deep November pool. Gilbert Penny echoed the introduction at the other end of the table.
Howat saw, in the yellow candlelight, a woman not, he decided, any better looking than Caroline, in an extremely low cut gown of scarlet, with a rigid girdle of saffron brocade, a fluted tulle ruff tied with a scarlet string about a long, slim neck, and a cap of sheer cambric with a knot of black ribbons. Her eyes were widely opened and dark, her nose short, and her mouth full and petulant. She, too, was conventionally adequate; but her insincerity was clearer than her husband's, it was pronounced quickly, in an impertinent and musical voice, without the slightest pretence of the injection of any interest. Howat Penny felt, in a manner which he was unable to place, that she vaguely resembled himself; perhaps it lay in her eyebrows slanting slightly toward the temples; but it was vaguer, more elusive, than that.
He considered it idly, through the course of supper. At intervals he heard her voice, a little, high-pitched laugh with a curious, underlying flatness: not of tone, her modulations were delicate and exact; but deeper. Again he was dimly conscious of an aspect of her which eluded every effort to fix and define. He could not even comprehend his dwelling upon the immaterial traits of a strange and indifferent woman; he was at a loss to understand how such inquiries assailed him. He grew, finally, annoyed, and shut his mind to any further consideration of her.
Mrs. Penny was talking with charming earnestness to the man on her other hand. The amber radiance flickered over the beautiful curves of her shoulders and cast a warm shadow at the base of her throat. She smiled at her son; and her face, in spite of its present gaiety, held a definite reminder of her years, almost fifty; but when she turned again her profile, with slightly tilted nose and delightfully fresh lips and chin, was that of a girl no older than Caroline. Howat had often noticed this. It was amazing—with that slight movement she would seem to lose at once all the years that had accumulated since she was newly married. In a second she would appear to leave them all, her mature children, the heavy, palpably aging presence of Gilbert Penny, the house and obligations that had grown about her, and be remotely young, a stranger to the irrefutable proof that her youth had gone. At such moments he was almost reluctant to claim her attention, to bring her again, as it were, into the present, with so much spent, lapsed: at times he almost thought, in that connection, wasted.
She had, in addition to her profile, a spirit of youth that had remained undimmed; as if there were within her a reserve warmth, a priceless gift, which life had never claimed; and it was the contemplation of that which gave Howat the impression that Isabel Penny's life had not fully flowered. He had never known her to express a regret of the way she had taken; he had never even surprised her in a perceptible retrospective dejection; but the conviction remained. Gilbert Penny had been an almost faultless husband, tender and firm and successful; but his wife had come from other blood and necessities than domestic felicities; she had been a part of a super-cultivation, a world of such niceties as the flawless courtesy of Mr. Winscombe discussing with her the unhappy passion of the Princess Caroline for Lord Hervey.
Howat Penny thought sombrely of love, of the emotion that had brought—or betrayed?—Isabel Howat so far away from her birthright. It had gripped his sister no less tyrannically; stripping them, he considered, of their essential liberty. The thing was clear enough in his mind—nothing more than an animal instinct, humiliating to the human individual, to breed. It was the mere repetition of nature through the working of an automatic law. No such obscure fate, he determined, should overtake, obliterate, him. Yet it had involved his mother, a person of the first superiority. A slight chill, as if a breath of imminent winter had touched him, communicated itself to his heart.
A trivial conversation was in progress across the table between Mrs. Winscombe and Myrtle. The latter was an embodiment of the familiar Saxon type of beauty; her hair was fair, infinitely pale gold, her complexion a delicately mingled crimson and white, her eyes as candidly blue as flowers. Her features were finely moulded, and her shoulders, slipping out from azure lutestring, were like smooth handfuls of meringue. Her voice was always formal, and it sounded stilted, forced, in comparison with Mrs. Winscombe's easy periods.
The supper ended, and the company trailed into a drawing room at the opposite end of the house from the kitchen wing. Howat delayed, and Caroline, urged forward by Mr. Winscombe's sardonically ubiquitous bow, half lingered to cast back a glance of private understanding at her brother. When he decided reluctantly to follow he was kept back by the sound of a familiar explanation in his father's decisive, full tones.
"Howat," he pronounced, obviously addressing the elder Winscombe, "is a black Penny. That is what we call them in our family. You see, the Pennys, some hundreds of years back, acquired a strong Welsh strain. I take it you are familiar with the Welsh—a solitary-living, dark lot. Unamenable to influence, reflect their country, I suppose; but lovers of music. I have a touch of that. Now any one would think that such a blood, so long ago, would have spread out, been diluted, in a thick English stock like the Pennys; or at least that we would all have had a little, here and there. But nothing of the sort; it sinks entirely out of sight for two or three and sometimes four generations; and then appears solid, in one individual, as unslacked as the pure, original thing. The last one was burned as a heretic in Mary's day; although I believe he would have equally stayed Catholic if the affair had been the other way around. Opposition's their breath. This boy—"
"You must not figure to yourself, Mr. Winscombe," Mrs. Penny's even voice admirably cut in, "that the black is a word of reproach. I think we are both at times at a loss with Howat, he is so different from us, from the girls; but he is truly remarkable. I have an unusual affection for him; really, his honesty is extraordinary."
He ought, he knew, either follow the others into the drawing room or move farther away. His father's explanation repelled him; but his mother's capital defence—it amounted to that—made it evident to him that he should, by his presence, give her what support he could.
At the fireplace Gilbert Penny was lost in conversational depths with Mr. Winscombe. About the opening, now closed for the introduction of a hearth stove, were tiles picturing in gay glazes the pastoral history of Ruth, and above the mantel a long, clear mirror held a similitude of brilliant colour—the scarlet of Mrs. Winscombe's gown, Myrtle's azure lutestring on a petticoat of ruffled citron spreading over her hoops and little white kid slippers with gilt heels, Caroline's flowered Chinese silk. The room was large and square, with a Turkey floor carpet, and walls hung with paper printed in lavender and black perspectives from copper plates. A great many candles had been lighted, on tables and mantel, and in lacquer stands. One of the latter, at Mrs. Winscombe's side, showed her features clearly.
Howat Penny saw that while she was actually no prettier than Caroline she was infinitely more vivid and compelling. Her face held an extraordinary potency; her bare arms and shoulders were more insistent than his sister's; there was about her a consciousness of the allurement of body, frankness in its employment. She made no effort to mask her feeling, which at present was one of complete indifference to her surroundings; and, not talking, a shadow had settled on her vision. Caroline was seated on a little sofa across from the fireplace, and she moved her voluminous skirt aside, made a place for him.
"Almost nothing of Annapolis," Mrs. Winscombe replied to a query of what she had seen in Maryland. "We were there hardly two weeks, and I hadn't recovered from the trip across the sea. When I think of returning God knows I'd almost stay here. You wouldn't suppose one person could vent so much. I believe Felix went to a Jockey Club, there were balls and farces; but I kept in bed." Mrs. Penny asked, "And London—how are you amused there now?" The other retied the bow of a garter. "Fireworks, Roman candles to Mr. Handel's music, and Italian parties, Villeggiatura. Covent Garden with paper lanterns among the trees, seductions—"
Gilbert Penny smote his hands on the chair arms. "This hectoring of our commerce will have to rest somewhere!" he declared; "taking the duty from pig iron, and then restricting its market to London, is no conspicuous improvement. It is those enactments that provide our currency with Spanish pieces instead of English pounds. The West Indies are too convenient to be overlooked." Mr. Winscombe replied stiffly, "The Government is prepared to meet infractions of its law." Mr. Penny muttered a period about Germany in England, with a more distant echo of Hanoverian whores and deformed firebrands. His guest sat with a harsh, implacable countenance framed in the long shadows of his elaborate wig, his ornate coat tails falling stiffly on either side of his chair.
Howat, bred in the comparative simplicity of the Province, found the foppery of the aging man slightly ridiculous; yet he was aware that Mr. Winscombe's essential character had no expression in his satin and powder; his will was as rugged and virile as that of any adventuring frontiersman clad in untanned hides. He was, Howat decided, at little disadvantage with his young wife. He wondered if any deep bond bound the two. Their personal feelings were carefully concealed, and in this they resembled Isabel Howat, rather than Gilbert, her husband. The latter had a habit of expressing publicly his affectionate domestic relations. And Howat Penny decided that he vastly preferred the others' reserve.
An awkward silence had developed on top of the brief political acerbities. There was no sound but the singing of the wood in the open stove. Myrtle had an absent, speculative gaze; Caroline was biting her lip; Mrs. Winscombe yawned in the face of the assembly. Gilbert Penny suggested cards, but there was no reply. Howat left the room by a door that opened on a rock threshold set in the lawn. The night was immaculate, still and cold, with stars brightening in the advance of winter. He walked about the house. The counting room of the forge was a separate stone structure back of the kitchen; and to the right, and farther away, was a second small building. The ground fell rapidly down to the Forge on the water power below. He could barely discern the towering bulk of the water wheel and roofs of the sheds.
He felt uneasy, obscurely and emotionally disturbed. Already Fanny Gilkan seemed far away, to have dropped out of his life. He would give some gold to the charcoal burner he had attempted to shoot. Mrs. Winscombe annoyed him by her attitude toward Myrtle Forge, her unvarnished air of condescension. How old was she? A few years more than himself, he decided. The Italian hooked her into her stays. A picture of this formed in his thoughts and dissolved, leaving behind a faint stinging of his nerves. He recalled her bare—naked—arms ... the old man, her husband.
She had spoken of Italian parties; he had seen a picture on a fan labelled Villeggiatura—a simpering exquisite in a lascivious embrace with a frail beauty on the bank of a stream, and a garland of stripped loves reeling about a slim, diapered Harlequin. It was a different scene, a different world, from the Province; and its intrusion in the person of Mrs. Winscombe was like an orris-scented air moving across the face of great trees sweeping their virginal foliage into the region of strong and pure winds.
He was dimly conscious of the awakening in him of undivined pressures, the stirring of attenuated yet persisting influences. He was saturated in the space, the sheer, immense simplicity of the wild, hardly touched by the narrow strip of inhabited coast. He had given his existence to the woods, to hunting cunning beasts, the stoical endurance of blinding fatigue; he had scorned the, to him, sophistications of bricks and civilization. But now, in the length of an evening, something invidious and far different had become sentient in his being. Italian parties, and Covent Garden with lanterns among the trees ... Trees clipped and pruned, and gravel walks; seductions.
A falling meteor flashed a brilliant arc across the black horizon, dropping into what illimitable wilderness? Fireworks set to the shrill scraping of violins. One mingled with the other in his blood, fretting him, spoiling the serene and sure vigour of youth, binding his feet to the obscure past. Yet colouring all was the other, the black Welsh blood of the Pennys. Ever since his boyhood he had heard the fact of his peculiar inheritance explained, accepted. In the past he had been what he was without thought, self-appraisal. But now he recognized an essential difference from his family; it came over him in a feeling of loneliness, of removal from the facile business of living in general.
For the first time he wondered about his future. It was unguarded by the placid and safe engagements of the majority of lives. He would, he knew, ultimately possess Myrtle Forge, a part of Shadrach, and a considerable fortune. That was his obvious inheritance. But, suddenly, the material thing, the actual, grew immaterial, and the visionary assumed a dark and enigmatic reality.
Howat abruptly quitted the night of the lawn, his sombre questioning, for the house. The candles had been extinguished in the drawing room. A square, glass lamp hung at the foot of the stairs; and there he encountered a man in a scratch wig, with a long nose flattened at the end. He bowed obsequiously—a posturing figure in shirtsleeves with a green cloth waistcoat and black legs. The Italian servant, Howat concluded. He passed noiselessly, leaving a reek of pomatum and the memory of a servile smile. Howat Penny experienced a strong sense of distaste, almost depression, at the other's silent proximity. It followed him to his room, contaminated his sleep with unintelligible whispering, oily and disturbing gestures, and fled only at the widening glimmer of dawn.
The sun had almost reached the zenith before Mrs. Winscombe appeared from her room. And at the same moment David Forsythe arrived on a spent grey mare. He had come over the forty rough miles which separated Myrtle Forge from the city in less than five hours. He was a year older than Howat, but he appeared actually younger—a candid youth with high colour and light, simply tied hair. He had, he told Howat, important messages from his father to Mr. Winscombe. The latter and Gilbert Penny were conversing amicably in the lower room at the right of the stairway—a chamber with a bed that, nevertheless, was used for informal assemblage. Mr. Winscombe wore an enveloping banian of russet brocade with deep furred cuffs, and a turban of vermilion silk comfortably replacing a wigged formality. Under that brilliant colour his face was as yellow as an orange.
The written messages were delivered, and David returned to the lawn. The day was superb—a crystal cold through which the sun's rays filtered with a faintly perceptible glow. Caroline was standing at Howat's side, and she gave his hand a rapid pressure as David Forsythe approached. "Where's Myrtle?" the latter asked apparently negligently. Howat replied, "Still in the agony of fixing her hair—for dinner; she'll be at it again before supper." David whistled a vague tune. Caroline added, "You've got fearfully dressy yourself, since London." He replied appropriately, and then became more serious. "I wish," he told them, "that we belonged to the church of England; you know the Penns have gone back. It's pretty heavy at home after—after some other things. The Quakers didn't use to be so infernally solemn. You should see the swells about the Court; the greatest fun. And old George with a face like a plum—"
"Don't you find anything here that pleases you?" Caroline demanded with asperity.
"Myrtle's all right," he admitted; "not many of them are as pretty."
"I'll tell her you've come," Caroline promptly volunteered; "she won't keep you waiting. There she is! No, it's Mrs. Winscombe."
She was swathed in a ruffled lilac cloak quilted with a dull gold embroidery; satin slippers were buckled into high pattens of black polished wood; and her head, relatively small with tight-drawn hair, was uncovered. She was not as compelling under the sun as in candle light, he observed. Her face, unpainted, was pale, an expression of petulance discernible. Yet she was more potent than any other woman he had encountered. "Isn't that the garden?" she asked, waving beyond the end of the house. "I like gardens." She moved off in the direction indicated; and—as he felt she expected, demanded—he followed slightly behind.
A short, steep terrace descended to a formally planted plot, now flowerless, enclosed by low privet hedges. There were walks of rolled bark, and, against a lower, denser barrier, a long, white bench. The ground still fell away beyond; and there was a sturdy orchard, cleared of underbrush, with crimson apples among the grey limbs. Beyond, across a low, tangled wild, an amphitheatre of hills rose against the sky, drawn from the extreme right about the facade of the dwelling. They seemed to enclose Myrtle Forge in a natural domain of its own; and, actually, Gilbert Penny owned most of the acreage within that immediate circle.
Mrs. Winscombe sank on the garden bench, where she sat with a hand resting on either side of her. Above them a column of smoke rose from the kitchen against the blue. A second, heavier cloud rolled up from the Forge below. "They have been repairing the forebay," Howat explained; "the Forge has been closed. I'm supposed to be in the counting house."
"You work?" she demanded surprised.
"At the ledger, put things down—what the men are paid, mostly in tobacco and shoes, ozenbrigs and molasses and rum; or garters and handkerchiefs for the women. Then I enter the pig hauled from Shadrach, and the carriage of the blooms."
"I don't understand any of that," she announced.
"It probably wouldn't interest you; the pig's the iron cast at the furnace. It's worked in the forges, and hammered into blooms and anconies, chunks or stout bars of wrought iron. We do better than two tons a week." The sound of a short, jarring blow rose from the Forge, it was repeated, became a continuous part of the serene noon. "That's the hammer now," he explained. "It goes usually all day and most nights. We're used to it, don't hear it; but strangers complain."
"Mr. Forsythe said your father was an Ironmaster, one of the biggest in the Province, and I suppose you'll become that too." She gazed about at the hills, sheeted in scarlet and yellow, at the wide sunny hollow that held Myrtle Forge. "Here," she added in a totally unexpected accent of feeling, "it is very beautiful, very big. I thought all the world was like St. James or Versailles. I've never been to Poland, my mother's family came from there to Paris, but I'm told they have forests and such things, too. This is different from Annapolis, that is only an echo of London, but here—" she gazed far beyond him into the profound noon.
He recovered slowly from the surprise of her unlooked for speech, attitude. Howat studied her frankly, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. Her discontent was paramount. It was deeper than he had supposed; like his there were disturbing qualities in her blood, qualities at a variance with the obvious part of her being. A sense of profound intimacy with her pervaded him.
"This," she continued, "is like a cure at a Bath, a great bath of air and light. I should like to stay, I think.... Are you content?"
"It always seemed crowded to me," he admitted. "Usually I get as far away as possible, into the woods, the real wilderness. But you heard my father last night—I'm a black Penny, a solitary, dark lot. You couldn't judge from what I might feel."
"Your father and you are not sympathetic," she judged acutely. "He is practical, solid; but it isn't easy to say, even with an explanation, what you are. In London—but I'm sick of London. Myrtle Forge. It's appalling at night. I'd like to go into the real wilderness, leave off my hoops and stays, and bathe in a stream; a water nymph and you ... but that's only Watteau again, with a cicisbeo holding my shift and stockings. In London you'd be that, a lady's servant of love; but, in the Province, I wonder?"
He sat half comprehending her words mingling in his brain with the pounding of the trip hammer at the Forge, one familiar and one unfamiliar yet not strange sound. Above them, on the lawn, he could see Myrtle—through the middle of the day the sun had increased its warmth—with skirts like the petals of a fabulous tea rose. The sun glinted on the living gold of her hair and bathed an arm white as snow. David was there no doubt. His thoughts dwelt for a moment on Caroline, then returned to Mrs. Winscombe, to himself. His entire attitude toward her, his observations, had been upset, disarmed, by her unexpected air of soft melancholy. In her lavender wrap she resembled a drooping branch of flowering lilac. She seemed very young; her air of sophistication, her sensuality of being, had vanished. Traces of her illness on shipboard still lingered darkly under her eyes. Asleep, he suddenly thought, her face would be very innocent, purified. This came to him involuntarily; there was none of the stinging of the senses she had evoked in him the night before. His instinct for preservation from any entanglements with life lay dormant before her surrender to influences that left her crumpled, without the slightest interest in any exterior fact.
A sententious black servant in maroon livery and a bright worsted waistcoat announced dinner from the foot of the terrace, and they moved slowly toward the house. There was a concerted interest in the faces they found already about the table. Howat took his seat at his mother's side, Gilbert Penny assisted Mrs. Winscombe. David was placed between Caroline and Myrtle. Mr. Winscombe, again formally wigged and coated, was absorbed in thought. He said to his hostess, "It's the uncertainty that puts me in doubt. Ogle thought the thing thoroughly reviewed, when now Hamilton comes out with his damned Indians and Maryland rum. Forsythe suggests my presence in Council to-morrow, and it's barely possible that there will be a return to Annapolis. While Ludowika—"
"I can't travel another ell over the atrocities they call roads here," Mrs. Winscombe declared. "I expect to die returning to England as it is, and I won't put up with any more preliminary torment. You'll have to leave me."
"At Myrtle Forge," Gilbert Penny added at once; "at Myrtle Forge as long as you like. Unless," he added with a smile, "you prefer the gaiety at Abner Forsythe's." A hot colour suffused David's cheeks.
Mr. Winscombe bowed over the table, "I am inclined to take advantage of that. Ludowika would be the better without even Quaker gaiety for a little." He stopped, turned toward her. "I'd like it immensely," she replied simply. "I am sure it would give me back all that I've lost in passage. Perhaps," she leaned forward, smiling at Howat, "I could see something of what's behind those hills, go into the real Arcadia."
"Out there," said Mr. Penny, "are the Endless Mountains."
The faint, involuntary chill again invaded Howat; suddenly an unfamiliar imagery attached to the commonplace phrase uttered by his father—the Endless Mountains! It brought back his doubt, his questioning, of life. It was the inconceivable term endless, without any finality of ultimate rest, without even the arbitrary peace of death, that appalled him. He thought of life going on and on, with nothing consummated, nothing achieved nor final. He thought of the black Penny who had been burned as a heretic to ashes years before; yet Howat was conscious of the martyr's bitter stubbornness of soul, alive, still alive and unquenched, in himself. He wondered about the heritage to come. There was a further belief that it followed exclusively the male line. The Pennys, like many another comparatively obscure name, went far back into the primeval soil of civilization. If he had no issue the endlessness might be confounded; a fatality in his long, dangerous excursions would have vanquished the ineradicable Welsh blood. He might have no children; yesterday he would have made such a decision; but now he was less sure of himself, of his power to will. He was dimly conscious of vast exterior forces and traitorous factors within. It was as if momentarily he had been lifted to a cloud beyond time, from which he saw the entire, stumbling progress of humanity, its beginning hid in humid mist, moving into a nocturnal shadow like a thunder bank.
He sat with chin on breast and sombre eyes until his mother laid her hand on his shoulder. "Howat," she protested, "you are too glum for the comfort of any one near you. I think you must make a pose of being black. I'd almost called one of the servants to fiddle in your ear."
Howat smiled at her; he returned slowly to the actual, the particular. Mr. Winscombe had pushed back his chair, excusing himself in the pressure of necessary preparations. His wife disappeared with him, leaving behind the echo of a discussion about Cecco, the Italian servant. The women followed, with David at Myrtle's shoulder, leaving Howat and Gilbert Penny.
The latter was still a handsome man, with his own hair silvered on a ruddy countenance, and a careful taste in clothes. His nose was predominant, with a wide-cleft mouth above a square chin. "I had thought," he said deliberately, "that you were employed in the counting house, but Schwar tells me that it has been a week since you were seen there." He raised a broad hand to silence Howat's reply. "While I can afford to keep you merely at hunting, the result to the table is so meagre that I'm not justified. There is no St. James here, in Pennsylvania, no gentlemen supported by the Crown for the purpose of amusement. You will have to sail for England if you expect that sort of thing." He rose, "You owe an intelligent interest in Myrtle Forge, to your sisters and mother, toward all that I have accomplished. It's a rich property, and it's growing bigger. Already young Forsythe has a list of improvements to be instituted at the Furnace—clerks and a manager and new system for carrying on the blast."
"I'm not an iron man," Howat Penny told him, "I'm not a clerk. David can take all that over for you, particularly if he marries one of the girls."
"What are you?" the elder demanded sharply.
"You ought to know. You explained it fully enough to the Winscombes."
"If it wasn't for that you'd have been dumping slag five years ago. What I hoped was that with maturity some sense of obligation would be born into you. What is this pretended affection for your mother worth if you are unwilling to conserve, make safe, her future, in case I die?" All that his father said was logical, just; but it only brought him a renewed sense of his impotence before very old and implacable inner forces.
"I'll try again," he briefly agreed. "But I warn you, it will do little good. There is no pretence in the affection you spoke of, but—but something stronger—" he gave up as hopeless the effort to explain all that had swept through his mind.
Gilbert Penny abruptly left the room.
It transpired that the Italian servant was to be left at Myrtle Forge; he was now assisting the servants in strapping a box behind the chaise that was to carry Mr. Winscombe and David to the city. Howat pictured the long, supple hands of the Italian hooking Mrs. Winscombe into her clothes, and a sudden, hot revulsion clouded his brain. When the carriage had gone, and he stood in the contracted space of the counting room, before a long, narrow forge book open on a high desk, he was still conscious of a strong repulsion. It was idiotic to let such an insignificant fact as the Winscombes' man persistently annoy him. But, in a manner entirely unaccountable, this Cecco had become a symbol of much that was dark, potentially threatening, in his conjectures.
The hammer fell with a full reiteration through the afternoon; the sun, at a small window, shifted a dusty bar across inkpots and quills and desk to a higher corner. He could hear the dull turning of the wheel and the thin, irregular splash of falling water. Other sounds rose at intervals—the tramping of mules dragging pig iron from Shadrach, the rumble of its deposit by the Forge. Emanuel Schwar entered with a piece of paper in his hand. "Eleven hundred weight of number two," he read; "at six pounds, and a load of charcoal. Jonas Hupp charged with three pairs of woollen stockings, and shoes for Minnie, four shillings more."
Howat mechanically entered the enumerated items, his distaste for such a petty occupation mounting until it resembled a concrete power forcing him outside into the mellow end of the day. A figure darkened the doorway; it was Caroline. "I hardly saw him," she declared hotly. "Myrtle hung like a sickly flower in his buttonhole." Her hoops flattened as she made her way through the narrow entrance. "There's one thing about Myrtle," she continued, "she's frightfully proper in her narrow little ideas. Myrtle's a prude. And I promise you I won't be if I get a chance at David." She stood with vivid, parted lips, bright eyes; almost, Howat thought, charming. Such a spirit in Caroline amazed him; he hadn't conceived of its presence. He recognized a phase of his own contempt for customary paths, accepted limitations and proprieties. "Remember David's Quaker training," he told her in his habitual air of jest. "David's been to London," she replied. "I saw him pinch the Appletofft girl at the farm."
Again in his room, he changed into more formal clothes than on the evening previous; he did this without a definite, conscious purpose; it was as if his attitude of mind required a greater suavity of exterior. He wore a London waistcoat, a gift from his mother, of magenta worked with black petals and black stone buttons; his breeches were without a wrinkle, and the tails of his coat, even if they were not wired like those David was said to have brought from England, had a not unsatisfactory swing.
At supper Mrs. Winscombe sat at his left, Caroline and Myrtle had taken their customary places opposite, the elders had not been disturbed. Mrs. Winscombe had resumed the animation vanished at noon. She wore green and white, with plum-coloured ribbons, and a flat shirred cap tied under her chin. The fluted, clear lawn of her elbow sleeves was like a scented mist. He was again conscious of the warm seduction, the rare finish, of her body, like a flushed marble under wide hoops and dyed silk. She was talking to Myrtle about the Court. "I am in waiting with the Princess Amelia Sophia," she explained; "I have her stockings. There is a frightful racket of music and parrots and German, with old Handel bellowing and the King eternally clinking one piece of gold on another."
Gilbert Penny listened with a tightening of his well shaped lips. "It's into that chamber pot we pour our sweat and iron," he asserted. Ludowika Winscombe studied him. "In England," she said, "the American provinces are supposed to lie hardly beyond the Channel, but here England seems to be at the other end of the world." Myrtle added, "I'd like it immensely."
And Howat thought of Ludowika—he thought of her tentatively as Ludowika—in the brilliant setting of tropical silks and birds.
He considered the change that had overtaken his father, English born, in the quarter century he had lived in America; the strong allegiance formed to ideas fundamentally different from those held at St. James; and he wondered if such a transformation would operate in Ludowika if she could remain in the Province. It was a fantastic query, and he impatiently dismissed it, returning to the contemplation of his mother's problematic happiness. He determined to question the latter if a permissible occasion arose; suddenly his interest had sharpened toward her mental situation. He compared the two women, what he could conjecture about Isabel Howat and Ludowika Winscombe; but something within him, automatic and certain, whispered that no comparison was possible. His mother possessed a quality of spirit that he had never found elsewhere; he could see, in spite of their resemblance of blood and position, that the elder could never have been merely provocative. Such distinctions, he divined, were the result of qualities mysterious and deeply concealed. Love, that he had once dismissed as the principle of blind procreation, became more complex, enigmatic. He had no increased desire to experience it, with the inevitable loss of personal liberty; but he began to be conscious of new depths, unexpected complications, in human relationship.
He was not so sure of himself.
They had moved to the less formal of the rooms used as places of gathering. The bed in a corner was hung in blue shalloon over ruffled white muslin, and there was blue at the windows. Against the wall a clavichord, set aside as obsolete, raised its dusky red ebony box on grooved legs. Myrtle was seated at it picking out an air from Belshazzar. She held each note in a silvery vibration that had the fragility of old age. Ludowika was by the fire, quartered across a corner; there was no stove, and the wood burning in the opening sent out frequent, pungent waves of smoke. She coughed and cursed. "Positively," she declared, "I'll turn salt like a smoked herring."
She rose, her gaze resting on Howat. "I must go out," she continued; "breathe." He was strangely reluctant to accompany her, his feet were leaden. Nevertheless, in a few moments he found himself at her side on the lawn. Her sophistication had again disappeared, beneath the stars drawn across the hills, over Myrtle Forge. There was a pause in the hammering below. "Take me down there," she commanded.
He led the way on a beaten path that dropped sharply to a bridge of hewn logs crossing the spent water. The Forge, a long shed following the stream, was open on the opposite side; an enclosure of ruddy, vaporous gloom with pools of molten colour, clangorous sounds. The bubbling, white cores of three raised and hooded hearths were incessantly agitated with long rods by blackened and glistening shapes. At intervals a flushing rod was withdrawn from a fire and plunged in a trough of water; a cloud of ghostly steam arose, a forgeman's visage momentarily illuminated like a copper mask. A grimy lantern was hung above the anvil, its thin light falling on the ponderous head of the trip hammer suspended at right angles from a turning cogged shaft projection through the wall.
The hearths, set in a row beyond the anvil, had at their back an obscure, mechanical stir, accompanied by the audible suction of squat, drum bellows. The labour was halted at a fire; half naked anatomies, herculean shoulders and incredible arms, gathered about its mouth with hooked bars. An incandescent mass was lifted, born, rayed in an intolerable white heat, into the air. A hammer was swung upon it; and, as if the metal were sentient, a violet radiance scintillated where the blow had fallen. The pasty iron was carried to the anvil, the hooks dropped for wide-jawed tongs; the trip hammer moved up and fell. The hardening metal darkened to a carnation from which chips scattered like gorgeous petals. The carnation faded under ringing blows; the petals, heaping in the penumbra under foot, were as vividly blue as gentians. The colour vanished from the solidifying bloom ... It was ashen, black. The hammering continued.
A sense of the vast and antique simplicity of the forging, a feeling of hammering the earth itself into the superior purposes of man, enveloped Howat. He forgot for the moment his companion, lost in a swelling pride of Myrtle Forge, of his father's fibre—the iron of his character like the iron he successfully wrought. He could grasp Gilbert Penny's accomplishment here, take fire at its heroic quality; a thing he found impossible in the counting room above, recording such trivial details as wool stockings for Jonas Rupp. He could be a forgeman, he thought, but never a clerk; and in that limitation he realized that he was inferior to his father. There were aspects of himself beyond such discipline and control.
Ludowika Winscombe grasped his arm. "Come away," she begged; "it's—it's savage, like Vulcan and dreadful, early legends." She hurried him, clinging to his arm, over the ascent to the orderly lawn, the tranquil shine of candle-lit windows. There, with her hood fallen from her head, she sat on a stone step.
"You frighten me, a little," she confessed. "Are you at all like—like that below inside of you? I have a feeling that you might be. If you were one of the men about Vauxhall you'd be kissing me now ... if I liked you. But, although I do like you, I wouldn't kiss you for an emerald buckle." He recognized that she spoke seriously; her voice bore no connective suggestion. Kisses, it appeared, were no more to her than little flowers which she dealt out casually where she pleased. Yet the idea, with its intimate sensual implications, stayed in his thoughts. He considered kissing her, holding her mouth against his; and he was conscious of a sharp return of his stinging sense of her bodily seductiveness.
At the same time an obscure uneasiness, rebellion, possessed him; it was the old, familiar feeling of revolt, of distaste for imprisoning circumstance. It came to him acutely, almost as if a voice had whispered in his ear, warning him, urging him into the wild, to escape threatening catastrophe. He determined to leave Myrtle Forge in the morning, to return to the stream he had followed into the serene heart of the woods. There he would stay until—until Ludowika Winscombe had gone. Howat had no especial sense of danger from her; only for the moment she typified the entire world of trivial artifice. He gazed at her with a conscious detachment possible because of the rarity in his existence of such figures as hers.
She had risen, and her cloak fallen upon the grass. Howat could see her face beneath hair faintly powdered with silver dust and the ruffled patch of white tied pertly under her chin. Her smoothly turning shoulders, filmed in lawn, and low bodice crowned an extravagant circumference of ruffled silk and rosettes. Against the night of the Province, the invisible but felt presence of immutable hills, she was like a puppet, a grotesque figure of comedy. He regarded her sombrely from the step, his chin cupped in a hand.
But, again, she surprised him, speaking entirely out of the character he had assigned her, in a spirit that seemed utterly incongruous, but which was yet warm with conviction. "I want to explain a great deal to you," she said, "that really isn't explainable. It isn't sensible, and yet it is the strongest feeling I remember. It's about here and you and me. You can't picture my life, and so you don't know how strange this is, how different from all I've ever lived.
"I think I told you I was born in Paris—you see some of us came to France when Louis took a Polish princess, and there my mother married an English gentleman. Well, it was always the Court, in France and in England. Always the Court—do you know what that means? It's a place where women are pretty pink and white candies that men are always picking over. It's a great bed with a rose silk counterpane and closed draperies. Champagne and music and scent and masques. Little plays with the intrigue in the audience; favours behind green hedges. I was in it when I was fourteen, and I had a lover the first year. He showed me how to make pleasure. Don't think that I was indifferent to this," she added directly; "that I wanted to escape it. I wasn't; I didn't. Only beneath everything I had a feeling of not being completely satisfied; I wanted—oh, not very strongly—something else, for an hour. At times the air seemed choking; and inside of me, but not in my body, I seemed choking too. I used to think about the Polish forests, and that would help a little."
She resumed the place at his side, with her silk billowing against his knee. "This is it," she declared, her face set against the illimitable, still dark. "I recognized it only a little while ago. I think unconsciously I came to America hoping to find it; there was nothing at Annapolis, but here—" she drew a breath as deep, he noted, as her stays would permit. "It includes you, somehow," she continued; "as if you were the voice. What I said coming away from the Forge, about dreading you, was only momentary. I have another feeling, premonition—" she broke off, her manner changed. "All the Court believes in signs: Protestantism and vampires.
"It seems unreal here; I mean St. James and all that was so tremendously important; incredibly stupid—the Princess Amelia's stockings. But you can't imagine the jealousy. Every bit of it shall go out of my thoughts. You'll help me, a harmless magic. I'll be as simple as that girl across the road, with the red cheeks, in a single slip. You must call me Ludowika; Ludowika and Howat. I'm not so terribly old, only twenty-nine."
"I am going away to-morrow," he informed her; "I won't be back before you leave."
A slight frown gathered about her eyes. Her face was very close to his. "But I don't like that either," she replied. "You were to be a part of it, its voice; excursions in the woods. Is it necessary, your absence?"