WE GIRLS: A HOME STORY
MRS. A.D.T. WHITNEY
AUTHOR OF "FAITH GARTNEY'S GIRLHOOD," "THE GAYWORTHYS," "A SUMMER IN LESLIE GOLDTHWAITE'S LIFE," ETC.
BOSTON 1870, 1890
CHAPTER I. THE STORY BEGINS CHAPTER II. AMPHIBIOUS CHAPTER III. BETWIXT AND BETWEEN CHAPTER IV. NEXT THINGS CHAPTER V. THE "BACK YETT AJEE." CHAPTER VI. CO-OPERATING CHAPTER VII. SPRINKLES AND GUSTS CHAPTER VIII. HALLOWEEN CHAPTER IX. WINTER NIGHTS AND WINTER DAYS. CHAPTER X. RUTH'S RESPONSIBILITY. CHAPTER XI. BARBARA'S BUZZ. CHAPTER XII. EMERGENCIES.
WE GIRLS: A HOME STORY.
THE STORY BEGINS.
It begins right in the middle; but a story must begin somewhere.
The town is down below the hill.
It lies in the hollow, and stretches on till it runs against another hill, over opposite; up which it goes a little way before it can stop itself, just as it does on this side.
It is no matter for the name of the town. It is a good, large country town,—in fact, it has some time since come under city regulations,—thinking sufficiently well of itself, and, for that which it lacks, only twenty miles from the metropolis.
Up our hill straggle the more ambitious houses, that have shaken off the dust from their feet, or their foundations, and surrounded themselves with green grass, and are shaded with trees, and are called "places." There are the Marchbanks places, and the "Haddens," and the old Pennington place. At these houses they dine at five o'clock, when the great city bankers and merchants come home in the afternoon train; down in the town, where people keep shops, or doctors' or lawyers' offices, or manage the Bank, and where the manufactories are, they eat at one, and have long afternoons; and the schools keep twice a day.
We lived in the town—that is, Mr. and Mrs. Holabird did, and their children, for such length of the time as their ages allowed—for nineteen years; and then we moved to Westover, and this story began.
They called it "Westover," more or less, years and years before; when there were no houses up the hill at all; only farm lands and pastures, and a turnpike road running straight up one side and down the other, in the sun. When anybody had need to climb over the crown, to get to the fields on this side, they called it "going west over"; and so came the name.
We always thought it was a pretty, sunsetty name; but it isn't considered quite so fine to have a house here as to have it below the brow. When you get up sufficiently high, in any sense, you begin to go down again. Or is it that people can't be distinctively genteel, if they get so far away from the common as no longer to well overlook it?
Grandfather Holabird—old Mr. Rufus,—I don't say whether he was my grandfather or not, for it doesn't matter which Holabird tells this story, or whether it is a Holabird at all—bought land here ever so many years ago, and built a large, plain, roomy house; and here the boys grew up,—Roderick and Rufus and Stephen and John.
Roderick went into the manufactory with his father,—who had himself come up from being a workman to being owner,—and learned the business, and made money, and married a Miss Bragdowne from C——, and lived on at home. Rufus married and went away, and died when he was yet a young man. His wife went home to her family, and there were no little children. John lives in New York, and has two sons and three daughters.
There are of us—Stephen Holabird's family—just six. Stephen and his wife, Rosamond and Barbara and little Stephen and Ruth. Ruth is Mrs. Holabird's niece, and Mr. Holabird's second cousin; for two cousins married two sisters. She came here when she had neither father nor mother left. They thought it queer up at the other house; because "Stephen had never managed to have any too much for his own"; but of course, being the wife's niece, they never thought of interfering, on the mere claim of the common cousinship.
Ruth Holabird is a quiet little body, but she has her own particular ways too.
There is one thing different in our house from most others. We are all known by our straight names. I say known; because we do have little pet ways of calling, among ourselves,—sometimes one way and sometimes another; but we don't let these get out of doors much. Mr. Holabird doesn't like it. So though up stairs, over our sewing, or our bed-making, or our dressing, we shorten or sweeten, or make a little fun,—though Rose of the world gets translated, if she looks or behaves rather specially nice, or stays at the glass trying to do the first,—or Barbara gets only "Barb" when she is sharper than common, or Stephen is "Steve" when he's a dear, and "Stiff" when he's obstinate,—we always introduce "my daughter Rosamond," or "my sister Barbara," or,—but Ruth of course never gets nicknamed, because nothing could be easier or pleasanter than just "Ruth,"—and Stephen is plain strong Stephen, because he is a boy and is expected to be a man some time. Nobody writes to us, or speaks of us, except as we were christened. This is only rather a pity for Rosamond. Rose Holabird is such a pretty name. "But it will keep," her mother tells her. "She wouldn't want to be everybody's Rose."
Our moving to Westover was a great time.
That was because we had to move the house; which is what everybody does not do who moves into a house by any means.
We were very much astonished when Grandfather Holabird came in and told us, one morning, of his having bought it,—the empty Beaman house, that nobody had lived in for five years. The Haddens had bought the land for somebody in their family who wanted to come out and build, and so the old house was to be sold and moved away; and nobody but old Mr. Holabird owned land near enough to put it upon. For it was large and solid-built, and could not be taken far.
We were a great deal more astonished when he came in again, another day, and proposed that we should go and live in it.
We were all a good deal afraid of Grandfather Holabird. He had very strict ideas of what people ought to do about money. Or rather of what they ought to do without it, when they didn't happen to have any.
Mrs. Stephen pulled down the green blinds when she saw him coming that day,—him and his cane. Barbara said she didn't exactly know which it was she dreaded; she thought she could bear the cane without him, or even him without the cane; but both together were "scare-mendous; they did put down so."
Mrs. Holabird pulled down the blinds, because he would be sure to notice the new carpet the first thing; it was a cheap ingrain, and the old one had been all holes, so that Barbara had proposed putting up a board at the door,—"Private way; dangerous passing." And we had all made over our three winters' old cloaks this year, for the sake of it: and we hadn't got the carpet then till the winter was half over. But we couldn't tell all this to Grandfather Holabird. There was never time for the whole of it. And he knew that Mr. Stephen was troubled just now for his rent and taxes. For Stephen Holabird was the one in this family who couldn't make, or couldn't manage, money. There is always one. I don't know but it is usually the best one of all, in other ways.
Stephen Holabird is a good man, kind and true; loving to live a gentle, thoughtful life, in his home and among his books; not made for the din and scramble of business.
He never looks to his father; his father does not believe in allowing his sons to look to him; so in the terrible time of '57, when the loss and the worry came, he had to struggle as long as he could, and then go down with the rest, paying sixty cents on the dollar of all his debts, and beginning again, to try and earn the forty, and to feed and clothe his family meanwhile.
Grandfather Holabird sent us down all our milk, and once a week, when he bought his Sunday dinner, he would order a turkey for us. In the summer, we had all the vegetables we wanted from his garden, and at Thanksgiving a barrel of cranberries from his meadow. But these obliged us to buy an extra half-barrel of sugar. For all these things we made separate small change of thanks, each time, and were all the more afraid of his noticing our new gowns or carpets.
"When you haven't any money, don't buy anything," was his stern precept.
"When you're in the Black Hole, don't breathe," Barbara would say, after he was gone.
But then we thought a good deal of Grandfather Holabird, for all. That day, when he came in and astonished us so, we were all as busy and as cosey as we could be.
Mrs. Holabird was making a rug of the piece of the new carpet that had been cut out for the hearth, bordering it with a strip of shag. Rosamond was inventing a feather for her hat out of the best of an old black-cock plume, and some bits of beautiful downy white ones with smooth tips, that she brought forth out of a box.
"What are they, Rose? And where did you get them?" Ruth asked, wondering.
"They were dropped,—and I picked them up," Rosamond answered, mysteriously. "The owner never missed them."
"Why, Rosamond!" cried Stephen, looking up from his Latin grammar.
"Did!" persisted Rosamond. "And would again. I'm sure I wanted 'em most. Hens lay themselves out on their underclothing, don't they?" she went on, quietly, putting the white against the black, and admiring the effect. "They don't dress much outside."
"O, hens! What did you make us think it was people for?"
"Don't you ever let anybody know it was hens! Never cackle about contrivances. Things mustn't be contrived; they must happen. Woman and her accidents,—mine are usually catastrophes."
Rosamond was so busy fastening in the plume, and giving it the right set-up, that she talked a little delirium of nonsense.
Barbara flung down a magazine,—some old number.
"Just as they were putting the very tassel on to the cap of the climax, the page is torn out! What do you want, little cat?" she went on to her pussy, that had tumbled out of her lap as she got up, and was stretching and mewing. "Want to go out doors and play, little cat? Well, you can. There's plenty of room out of doors for two little cats!" And going to the door with her, she met grandfather and the cane coming in.
There was time enough for Mrs. Holabird to pull down the blinds, and for Ruth to take a long, thinking look out from under hers, through the sash of window left unshaded; for old Mr. Holabird and his cane were slow; the more awful for that.
Ruth thought to herself, "Yes; there is plenty of room out of doors; and yet people crowd so! I wonder why we can't live bigger!"
Mrs. Holabird's thinking was something like it.
"Five hundred dollars to worry about, for what is set down upon a few square yards of 'out of doors.' And inside of that, a great contriving and going without, to put something warm underfoot over the sixteen square feet that we live on most!"
She had almost a mind to pull up the blinds again; it was such a very little matter, the bit of new carpet, after all.
"How do I know what they were thinking?" Never mind. People do know, or else how do they ever tell stories? We know lots of things that we don't tell all the time. We don't stop to think whether we know them or not; but they are underneath the things we feel, and the things we do.
Grandfather came in, and said over the same old stereotypes. He had a way of saying them, so that we knew just what was coming, sentence after sentence. It was a kind of family psalter. What it all meant was, "I've looked in to see you, and how you are getting along. I do think of you once in a while." And our worn-out responses were, "It's very good of you, and we're much obliged to you, as far as it goes."
It was only just as he got up to leave that he said the real thing. When there was one, he always kept it to the last.
"Your lease is up here in May, isn't it, Mrs. Stephen?"
"I'm going to move over that Beaman house next month, as soon as the around settles. I thought it might suit you, perhaps, to come and live in it. It would be handier about a good many things than it is now. Stephen might do something to his piece, in a way of small farming. I'd let him have the rent for three years. You can talk it over."
He turned round and walked right out. Nobody thanked him or said a word. We were too much surprised.
Mother spoke first; after we had hushed up Stephen, who shouted.
I shall call her "mother," now; for it always seems as if that were a woman's real name among her children. Mr. Holabird was apt to call her so himself. She did not altogether like it, always, from him. She asked him once if "Emily" were dead and buried. She had tried to keep her name herself, she said; that was the reason she had not given it to either of her daughters. It was a good thing to leave to a grandchild; but she could not do without it as long as she lived.
"We could keep a cow!" said mother.
"We could have a pony!" cried Stephen, utterly disregarded.
"What does he want to move it quite over for?" asked Rosamond. "His land begins this side."
"Rosamond wants so to get among the Hill people! Pray, why can't we have a colony of our own?" said Barbara, sharply and proudly.
"I should think it would be less trouble," said Rosamond, quietly, in continuation of her own remark; holding up, as she spoke, her finished hat upon her hand. Rosamond aimed at being truly elegant. She would never discuss, directly, any questions of our position, or our limitations.
"Does that look—"
"Holabirdy?" put in Barbara. "No. Not a bit. Things that you do never do."
Rosamond felt herself flush up. Alice Marchbanks had said once, of something that we wore, which was praised as pretty, that it "might be, but it was Holabirdy." Rosamond found it hard to forget that.
"I beg your pardon, Rose. It's just as pretty as it can be; and I don't mean to tease you," said Barbara, quickly. "But I do mean to be proud of being Holabirdy, just as long as there's a piece of the name left."
"I wish we hadn't bought the new carpet now," said mother. "And what shall we do about all those other great rooms? It will take ready money to move. I'm afraid we shall have to cut it off somewhere else for a while. What if it should be the music, Ruth?"
That did go to Ruth's heart. She tried so hard to be willing that she did not speak at first.
"'Open and shet is a sign of more wet!'" cried Barbara. "I don't believe there ever was a family that had so much opening and shetting! We just get a little squeak out of a crack, and it goes together again and snips our noses!"
"What is a 'squeak' out of a crack?" said Rosamond, laughing. "A mouse pinched in it, I should think."
"Exactly," replied Barbara. "The most expressive words are fricassees,—heads and tails dished up together. Can't you see the philology of it? 'Squint' and 'peek.' Worcester can't put down everything. He leaves something to human ingenuity. The language isn't all made,—or used,—yet!"
Barbara had a way of putting heads and tails together, in defiance—in aid, as she maintained—of the dictionaries.
"O, I can practise," Ruth said, cheerily. "It will be so bright out there, and the mornings will be so early!"
"That's just what they won't be, particularly," said Barbara, "seeing we're going 'west over.'"
"Well, then, the afternoons will be long. It is all the same," said Ruth. That was the best she could do.
"Mother," said Rosamond, "I've been thinking. Get grandfather to have some of the floors stained. I think rugs, and English druggets, put down with brass-headed nails, in the middle, are delightful. Especially for a country house."
"It seems, then, we are going?"
Nobody had even raised a question of that.
Nobody raised a question when Mr. Holabird came in. He himself raised none. He sat and listened to all the propositions and corollaries, quite as one does go through the form of demonstration of a geometrical fact patent at first glance.
"We can have a cow," mother repeated.
"Or a dog, at any rate," put in Stephen, who found it hard to get a hearing.
"You can have a garden, father," said Barbara. "It's to be near to the parcel of ground that Rufus gave to his son Stephen."
"I don't like to have you quote Scripture so," said father, gravely.
"I don't," said Barbara. "It quoted itself. And it isn't there either. I don't know of a Rufus in all sacred history. And there aren't many in profane."
"Somebody was the 'father of Alexander and Rufus'; and there's a Rufus 'saluted' at the end of an epistle."
"Ruth is sure to catch one, if one's out in Scripture. But that isn't history; that's mere mention."
"We can ask the girls to come 'over' now, instead of 'down,'" suggested Rosamond, complacently.
"And we can tell the girl to come 'over,' instead of 'up,' when she's to fetch us home from a tea-drinking That will be one of the 'handy' things."
"Girl! we shall have a man, if we have a garden." This was between the two.
"Mayhap," said Barbara. "And perlikely a wheel-barrow."
"We shall all have to remember that it will only be living there instead of here," said father, cautiously, putting up an umbrella under the rain of suggestion.
The umbrella settled the question of the weather, however. There was no doubt about it after that. Mother calculated measurements, and it was found out, between her and the girls, that the six muslin curtains in our double town parlor would be lovely for the six windows in the square Beaman best room. Also that the parlor carpet would make over, and leave pieces for rugs for some of our delightful stained floors. The little tables, and the two or three brackets, and the few pictures, and other art-ornaments, that only "strinkled," Barbara said, in two rooms, would be charmingly "crowsy" in one. And up stairs there would be such nice space for cushioning and flouncing, and making upholstery out of nothing, that you couldn't do here, because in these spyglass houses the sleeping-rooms were all bedstead, and fireplace, and closet doors.
They were left to their uninterrupted feminine speculations, for Mr. Holabird had put on his hat and coat again, and gone off west over to see his father; and Stephen had "piled" out into the kitchen, to communicate his delight to Winifred, with whom he was on terms of a kind of odd-glove intimacy, neither of them having in the house any precisely matched companionship.
This ought to have been foreseen, and an embargo put on; for it led to trouble. By the time the green holland shades were apportioned to their new places, and an approximate estimate reached of the whole number of windows to be provided, Winny had made up her gregarious mind that she could not give up her town connection, and go out to live in "such a fersaakunness"; and as any remainder of time is to Irish valuation like the broken change of a dollar, when the whole can no longer be counted on, she gave us warning next morning at breakfast that she "must just be lukkin out fer a plaashe."
"But," said mother, in her most conciliatory way, "it must be two or three months, Winny, before we move, if we do go; and I should be glad to have you stay and help us through."
"Ah, sure, I'd do annything to hilp yiz through; an' I'm sure, I taks an intheresht in yiz ahl, down to the little cat hersel'; an' indeed I niver tuk an intheresht in anny little cat but that little cat; but I couldn't go live where it wud be so loahnsome, an' I can't be out oo a plaashe, ye see."
It was no use talking; it was only transposing sentences; she "tuk a graat intheresht in us, an' sure she'd do annything to hilp us, but she must just be lukkin out fer hersel'." And that very day she had the kitchen scrubbed up at a most unwonted hour, and her best bonnet on,—a rim of flowers and lace, with a wide expanse—of ungarnished head between it and the chignon it was supposed to accommodate,—and took her "afternoon out" to search for some new situation, where people were subject neither to sickness nor removals nor company nor children nor much of anything; and where, under these circumstances, and especially if there were "set tubs, and hot and cold water," she would probably remain just about as long as her "intheresht" would not allow of her continuing with us.
A kitchen exodus is like other small natural commotions,—sure to happen when anything greater does. When the sun crosses the line we have a gale down below.
"Now what shall we do?" asked Mrs. Holabird, forlornly, coming back into the sitting-room out of that vacancy in the farther apartments which spreads itself in such a still desertedness of feeling all through the house.
"Just what we've done before, motherums!" said Barbara, more bravely than she felt. "The next one is somewhere. Like Tupper's 'wife of thy youth,' she must be 'now living upon the earth.' In fact, I don't doubt there's a long line of them yet, threaded in and out among the rest of humanity, all with faces set by fate toward our back door. There's always a coming woman, in that direction at least."
"I would as lief come across the staying one," said Mrs. Holabird, with meekness.
It cooled down our enthusiasm. Stephen, especially, was very much quenched.
The next one was not only somewhere, but everywhere, it seemed, and nowhere. "Everything by turns and nothing long," Barbara wrote up over the kitchen chimney with the baker's chalk. We had five girls between that time and our moving to Westover, and we had to move without a girl at last; only getting a woman in to do days' work. But I have not come to the family-moving yet.
The house-moving was the pretty part. Every pleasant afternoon, while the building was upon the rollers, we walked over, and went up into all the rooms, and looked out of every window, noting what new pictures they gave as the position changed from day to day; how now this tree and now that shaded them: how we gradually came to see by the end of the Haddens' barn, and at last across it,—for the slope, though gradual, was long,—and how the sunset came in more and more, as we squared toward the west; and there was always a thrill of excitement when we felt under us, as we did again and again, the onward momentary surge of the timbers, as the workmen brought all rightly to bear, and the great team of oxen started up. Stephen called these earthquakes.
We found places, day by day, where it would be nice to stop. It was such a funny thing to travel along in a house that might stop anywhere, and thenceforward belong. Only, in fact, it couldn't; because, like some other things that seem a matter of choice, it was all pre-ordained; and there was a solid stone foundation waiting over on the west side, where grandfather meant it to be.
We got little new peeps at the southerly hills, in the fresh breaks between trees and buildings that we went by. As we reached the broad, open crown, we saw away down beyond where it was still and woodsy; and the nice farm-fields of Grandfather Holabird's place looked sunny and pleasant and real countrified.
It was not a steep eminence on either side; if it had been the great house could not have been carried over as it was. It was a grand generous swell of land, lifting up with a slow serenity into pure airs and splendid vision. We did not know, exactly, where the highest point had been; but as we came on toward the little walled-in excavation which seemed such a small mark to aim at, and one which we might so easily fail to hit after all, we saw how behind us rose the green bosom of the field against the sky, and how, day by day, we got less of the great town within our view as we settled down upon our side of the ridge.
The air was different here, it was full of hill and pasture.
There were not many trees immediately about the spot where we were to be; but a great group of ashes and walnuts stood a little way down against the roadside, and all around in the far margins of the fields were beautiful elms, and round maples that would be globes of fire in autumn days, and above was the high blue glory of the unobstructed sky.
The ground fell off suddenly into a great hill-dimple, just where the walls were laid; that was why Grandfather Holabird had chosen the spot. There could be a cellar-kitchen; and it had been needful for the moving, that all the rambling, outrunning L, which had held the kitchens and woodsheds before, should be cut off and disposed of as mere lumber. It was only the main building—L-shaped still, of three very large rooms below and five by more subdivision above—which had majestically taken up its line of march, like the star of empire, westward. All else that was needful must be rebuilt.
Mother did not like a cellar-kitchen. It would be inconvenient with one servant. But Grandfather Holabird had planned the house before he offered it to us to live in. What we were going to save in rent we must take out cheerfully in extra steps.
It was in the bright, lengthening days of April, when the bluebirds came fluttering out of fairy-land, that the old house finally stopped, and stood staring around it with its many eyes,—wide open to the daylight, all its green winkers having been taken off,—to see where it was and was likely to be for the rest of its days. It had a very knowing look, we thought, like a house that had seen the world.
The sun walked round it graciously, if not inquisitively. He flashed in at the wide parlor windows and the rooms overhead, as soon as he got his brow above the hill-top. Then he seemed to sidle round southward, not slanting wholly out his morning cheeriness until the noonday glory slanted in. At the same time he began with the sitting-room opposite, through the one window behind; and then through the long, glowing afternoon, the whole bright west let him in along the full length of the house, till he just turned the last corner, and peeped in, on the longest summer days, at the very front. This was what he had got so far as to do by the time we moved in,—as if he stretched his very neck to find out the last there was to learn about it, and whether nowhere in it were really yet any human life. He quieted down in his mind, I suppose, when from morning to night he found somebody to beam at, and a busy doing in every room. He took it serenely then, as one of the established things upon the earth, and put us in the regular list of homes upon his round, that he was to leave so many cubic feet of light at daily.
I think he might like to look in at that best parlor. With the six snowy-curtained windows, it was like a great white blossom; and the deep-green carpet and the walls with vine-leaves running all over them, in the graceful-patterned paper that Rosamond chose, were like the moss and foliage among which it sprung. Here and there the light glinted upon gilded frame or rich bronze or pure Parian, and threw out the lovely high tints, and deepened the shadowy effects, of our few fine pictures. We had little of art, but that little was choice. It was Mr. Holabird's weakness, when money was easy with him, to bring home straws like these to the home nest. So we had, also, a good many nice books; for, one at a time, when there was no hurrying bill to be paid, they had not seemed much to buy; and in our brown room, where we sat every day, and where our ivies had kindly wonted themselves already to the broad, bright windows, there were stands and cases well filled, and a great round family table in the middle, whose worn cloth hid its shabbiness under the comfort of delicious volumes ready to the hand, among which, central of all, stood the Shekinah of the home-spirit,—a tall, large-globed lamp that drew us cosily into its round of radiance every night.
Not these June nights though. I will tell you presently what the June nights were at Westover.
We worked hard in those days, but we were right blithe about it. We had at last got an Irish girl from "far down,"—that is their word for the north country at home, and the north country is where the best material comes from,—who was willing to air her ignorance in our kitchen, and try our Christian patience, during a long pupilage, for the modest sum of three dollars a week; than which "she could not come indeed for less," said the friend who brought her. "All the girls was gettin' that." She had never seen dipped toast, and she "couldn't do starched clothes very skilful"; but these things had nothing to do with established rates of wages.
But who cared, when it was June, and the smell of green grass and the singing of birds were in the air, and everything indoors was clean, and fresh with the wonderful freshness of things set every one in a new place? We worked hard and we made it look lovely, if the things were old; and every now and then we stopped in the midst of a busy rush, at door or window, to see joyfully and exclaim with ecstasy how grandly and exquisitely Nature was furbishing up her beautiful old things also,—a million for one sweet touches outside, for ours in.
"Westover is no longer an adverbial phrase, even qualifying the verb 'to go,'" said Barbara, exultingly, looking abroad upon the family settlement, to which our new barn, rising up, added another building. "It is an undoubted substantive proper, and takes a preposition before it, except when it is in the nominative case."
Because of the cellar-kitchen, there was a high piazza built up to the sitting-room windows on the west, which gradually came to the ground-level along the front. Under this was the woodshed. The piazza was open, unroofed: only at the front door was a wide covered portico, from which steps went down to the gravelled entrance. A light low railing ran around the whole.
Here we had those blessed country hours of day-done, when it was right and lawful to be openly idle in this world, and to look over through the beautiful evening glooms to neighbor worlds, that showed always a round of busy light, and yet seemed somehow to keep holiday-time with us, and to be only out at play in the spacious ether.
We used to think of the sunset all the day through, wondering what new glory it would spread for us, and gathering eagerly to see, as for the witnessing of a pageant.
The moon was young, for our first delight; and the evening planet hung close by; they dropped down through the gold together, till they touched the very rim of the farthest possible horizon; when they slid silently beneath, we caught our suspended breath.
"But the curtain isn't down," said Barbara, after a hush.
No. The great scene was all open, still. Wide from north to south stretched the deep, sweet heaven, full of the tenderest tints and softliest creeping shadows; the tree-fringes stood up against it; the gentle winds swept through, as if creatures winged, invisible, went by; touched, one by one, with glory, the stars burned on the blue; we watched as if any new, unheard-of wonder might appear; we looked out into great depths that narrow daylight shut us in from. Daylight was the curtain.
"We've got the best balcony seats, haven't we, father?" Barbara said again, coming to where Mr. Holabird sat, and leaning against the railing.
"The front row, and season tickets!"
"Every one, all summer. Only think!" said Ruth.
"Pho! You'll get used to it," answered Stephen, as if he knew human nature, and had got used himself to most things.
"What day of the month is it?" asked Mrs. Holabird, looking up from her letter.
"How do you always know the day of the month?" said Rosamond. "You are as pat as the almanac. I have to stop and think whether anything particular has happened, to remember any day by, since the first, and then count up. So, as things don't happen much out here, I'm never sure of anything except that it can't be more than the thirty-first; and as to whether it can be that, I have to say over the old rhyme in my head."
"I know how she tells," spoke up Stephen. "It's that thing up in her room,—that pious thing that whops over. It has the figures down at the bottom; and she whops it every morning."
"What do you try to tease her for?" said Mrs. Holabird.
"It doesn't tease her. She thinks it's funny. She laughed, and you only puckered."
Ruth laughed again. "It wasn't only that," she said.
"Well, what then?"
"To think you knew."
"Knew! Why shouldn't I know? It's big enough."
"Yes,—but about the whopping. And the figures are the smallest part of the difference. You're a pretty noticing boy, Steve."
Steve colored a little, and his eye twinkled. He saw that Ruth had caught him out.
"I guess you set it for a goody-trap," he said. "Folks can't help reading sign-boards when they go by. And besides, it's like the man that went to Van Amburgh's. I shall catch you forgetting, some fine day, and then I'll whop the whole over for you."
Ruth had been mending stockings, and was just folding up the last pair. She did not say any more, for she did not want to tease Stephen in her turn; but there was a little quiet smile just under her lips that she kept from pulling too hard at the corners, as she got up and went away with them to her room.
She stopped when she got to the open door of it, with her basket in her hand, and looked in from the threshold at the hanging scroll of Scripture texts printed in large clear letters,—a sheet for each day of the month,—and made to fold over and drop behind the black-walnut rod to which they were bound. It had been given her by her teacher at the Bible Class,—Mrs. Ingleside; and Ruth loved Mrs. Ingleside very much.
Then she went to her bureau, and put her stockings in their drawer, and set the little basket, with its cotton-ball and darner, and maplewood egg, and small sharp scissors, on the top; and then she went and sat down by the window, in her white considering-chair.
For she had something to think about this morning.
Ruth's room had three doors. It was the middle room up stairs, in the beginning of the L. Mrs. Holabird's opened into it from the front, and just opposite her door another led into the large, light corner room at the end, which Rosamond and Barbara occupied. Stephen's was on the other side of the three-feet passage which led straight through from the front staircase to the back of the house. The front staircase was a broad, low-stepped, old-fashioned one, with a landing half-way up; and it was from this landing that a branch half-flight came into the L, between these two smaller bedrooms. Now I have begun, I may as well tell you all about it; for, if you are like me, you will be glad to be taken fairly into a house you are to pay a visit in, and find out all the pleasantnesses of it, and whom they especially belong to.
Ruth's room was longest across the house, and Stephen's with it; behind his was only the space taken by some closets and the square of staircase beyond. This staircase had landings also, and was lighted by a window high up in the wall. Behind Ruth's, as I have said, was the whole depth of a large apartment. But as the passage divided the L unequally, it gave the rooms similar space and shape, only at right angles to each other.
The sun came into Stephen's room in the morning, and into Ruth's in the afternoon; in the middle of the day the passage was one long shine, from its south window at the end, right through,—except in such days as these, that were too deep in the summer to bear it, and then the green blinds were shut all around, and the warm wind drew through pleasantly in a soft shade.
When we brought our furniture from the house in the town, the large front rooms and the open halls used it up so, that it seemed as if there were hardly anything left but bedsteads and washstands and bureaus,—the very things that make up-stairs look so very bedroomy. And we wanted pretty places to sit in, as girls always do. Rosamond and Barbara made a box-sofa, fitted luxuriously with old pew-cushions sewed together, and a crib mattress cut in two and fashioned into seat and pillows; and a packing-case dressing-table, flounced with a skirt of white cross-barred muslin that Ruth had outgrown. In exchange for this Ruth bargained for the dimity curtains that had furnished their two windows before, and would not do for the three they had now.
Then she shut herself up one day in her room, and made them all go round by the hall and passage, back and forth; and worked away mysteriously till the middle of the afternoon, when she unfastened all the doors again and set them wide, as they have for the most part remained ever since, in the daytimes; thus rendering Ruth's doings and ways particularly patent to the household, and most conveniently open to the privilege and second sight of story-telling.
The white dimity curtains—one pair of them—were up at the wide west window; the other pair was cut up and made over into three or four things,—drapery for a little old pine table that had come to light among attic lumber, upon which she had tacked it in neat plaitings around the sides, and overlapped it at the top with a plain hemmed cover of the same; a great discarded toilet-cushion freshly encased with more of it, and edged with magic ruffling; the stained top and tied-up leg of a little disabled teapoy, kindly disguised in uniform,—varied only with a narrow stripe of chintz trimming in crimson arabesque,—made pretty with piles of books, and the Scripture scroll hung above it with its crimson cord and tassels; and in the window what she called afterward her "considering-chair," and in which she sat this morning; another antique, clothed purely from head to foot and made comfortable beneath with stout bagging nailed across, over the deficient cane-work.
Tin tacks and some considerable machining—for mother had lent her the help of her little "common sense" awhile—had done it all; and Ruth's room, with its oblong of carpet,—which Mrs. Holabird and she had made out before, from the brightest breadths of her old dove-colored one and a bordering of crimson Venetian, of which there had not been enough to put upon the staircase,—looked, as Barbara said, "just as if it had been done on purpose."
"It says it all, anyhow, doesn't it?" said Ruth.
Ruth was delightedly satisfied with it,—with its situation above all; she liked to nestle in, in the midst of people; and she never minded their coming through, any more than they minded her slipping her three little brass bolts when she had a desire to.
She sat down in her considering-chair to-day, to think about Adelaide Marchbanks's invitation.
The two Marchbanks houses were very gay this summer. The married daughter of one family—Mrs. Reyburne—was at home from New York, and had brought a very fascinating young Mrs. Van Alstyne with her. Roger Marchbanks, at the other house, had a couple of college friends visiting him; and both places were merry with young girls,—several sisters in each family,—always. The Haddens were there a good deal, and there were people from the city frequently, for a few days at a time. Mrs. Linceford was staying at the Haddens, and Leslie Goldthwaite, a great pet of hers,—Mr. Aaron Goldthwaite's daughter, in the town,—was often up among them all.
The Holabirds were asked in to tea-drinkings, and to croquet, now and then, especially at the Haddens', whom they knew best; but they were not on "in and out" terms, from morning to night, as these others were among themselves; for one thing, the little daily duties of their life would not allow it. The "jolly times" on the Hill were a kind of Elf-land to them, sometimes patent and free, sometimes shrouded in the impalpable and impassable mist that shuts in the fairy region when it wills to be by itself for a time.
There was one little simple sesame which had a power this way for them, perhaps without their thinking of it; certainly it was not spoken of directly when the invitations were given and accepted. Ruth's fingers had a little easy, gladsome knack at music; and I suppose sometimes it was only Ruth herself who realized how thoroughly the fingers earned the privilege of the rest of her bodily presence. She did not mind; she was as happy playing as Rosamond and Barbara dancing; it was all fair enough; everybody must be wanted for something; and Ruth knew that her music was her best thing. She wished and meant it to be; Ruth had plans in her head which her fingers were to carry out.
But sometimes there was a slight flavor in attention, that was not quite palatable, even to Ruth's pride. These three girls had each her own sort of dignity. Rosamond's measured itself a good deal by the accepted dignity of others; Barbara's insisted on its own standard; why shouldn't they—the Holabirds—settle anything? Ruth hated to have theirs hurt; and she did not like subserviency, or courting favor. So this morning she was partly disturbed and partly puzzled by what had happened.
Adelaide Marchbanks had overtaken her on the hill, on her way "down street" to do some errand, and had walked on with her very affably. At parting she had said to her, in an off-hand, by-the-way fashion,—
"Ruth, why won't you come over to-night, and take tea? I should like you to hear Mrs. Van Alstyne sing, and she would like your playing. There won't be any company; but we're having pretty good times now among ourselves."
Ruth knew what the "no company" meant; just that there was no regular inviting, and so no slight in asking her alone, out of her family; but she knew the Marchbanks parlors were always full of an evening, and that the usual set would be pretty sure to get together, and that the end of it all would be an impromptu German, for which she should play, and that the Marchbanks's man would be sent home with her at eleven o'clock.
She only thanked Adelaide, and said she "didn't know,—perhaps; but she hardly thought she could to-night; they had better not expect her," and got away without promising. She was thinking it over now.
She did not want to be stiff and disobliging; and she would like to hear Mrs. Van Alstyne sing. If it were only for herself, she would very likely think it a reasonable "quid pro quo," and modestly acknowledge that she had no claim to absolutely gratuitous compliment. She would remember higher reason, also, than the quid pro quo; she would try to be glad in this little special "gift of ministering"; but it puzzled her about the others. How would they feel about it? Would they like it, her being asked so? Would they think she ought to go? And what if she were to get into this way of being asked alone?—she the very youngest; not "in society" yet even as much as Rose and Barbara; though Barbara said they "never 'came' out,—they just leaked out."
That was it; that would not do; she must not leak out, away from them, with her little waltz ripples; if there were any small help or power of hers that could be counted in to make them all more valued, she would not take it from the family fund and let it be counted alone to her sole credit. It must go with theirs. It was little enough that she could repay into the household that had given itself to her like a born home.
She thought she would not even ask Mrs. Holabird anything about it, as at first she meant to do.
But Mrs. Holabird had a way of coming right into things. "We girls" means Mrs. Holabird as much as anybody. It was always "we girls" in her heart, since girls' mothers never can quite lose the girl out of themselves; it only multiplies, and the "everlasting nominative" turns into a plural.
Ruth still sat in her white chair, with her cheek on her hand and her elbow on the window-ledge, looking out across the pleasant swell of grass to where they were cutting the first hay in old Mr. Holabird's five-acre field, the click of the mowing-machine sounding like some new, gigantic kind of grasshopper, chirping its tremendous laziness upon the lazy air, when mother came in from the front hall, through her own room and saw her there.
Mrs. Holabird never came through the rooms without a fresh thrill of pleasantness. Her home had expressed itself here, as it had never done anywhere else. There was something in the fair, open, sunshiny roominess and cosey connection of these apartments, hers and her daughters', in harmony with the largeness and cheeriness and clearness in which her love and her wish for them held them always.
It was more glad than grand; and she aimed at no grandness; but the generous space was almost splendid in its effect, as you looked through, especially to her who had lived and contrived in a "spy-glass house" so long.
The doors right through from front to back, and the wide windows at either end and all the way, gave such sweep and light; also the long mirrors, that had been from time unrememberable over the mantels in the town parlors, in the old, useless, horizontal style, and were here put, quite elegantly tall,—the one in Mrs. Holabird's room above her daintily appointed dressing-table (which was only two great square trunks full of blankets, that could not be stowed away anywhere else, dressed up in delicate-patterned chintz and set with her boxes and cushions and toilet-bottles), and the other, in "the girls' room," opposite; these made magnificent reflections and repetitions; and at night, when they all lit their bed-candles, and vibrated back and forth with their last words before they shut their doors and subsided, gave a truly festival and illuminated air to the whole mansion; so that Mrs. Roderick would often ask, when she came in of a morning in their busiest time, "Did you have company last night? I saw you were all lit up."
"We had one candle apiece," Barbara would answer, very concisely.
"I do wish all our windows didn't look Mrs. Roderick's way," Rosamond said once, after she had gone.
"And that she didn't have to come through our clothes-yard of a Monday morning, to see just how many white skirts we have in the wash," added Barbara.
But this is off the track.
"What is it, Ruth?" asked Mrs. Holabird, as she came in upon the little figure in the white chair, midway in the long light through the open rooms. "You didn't really mind Stephen, did you?"
"O no, indeed, aunt! I was only thinking out things. I believe I've done, pretty nearly. I guess I sha'n't go. I wanted to make sure I wasn't provoked."
"You're talking from where you left off, aren't you, Ruthie?"
"Yes, I guess so," said Ruth, laughing. "It seems like talking right on,—doesn't it?—when you speak suddenly out of a 'think.' I wonder what alone really means. It doesn't ever quite seem alone. Something thinks alongside always, or else you couldn't keep it up."
"Are you making an essay on metaphysics? You're a queer little Ruth."
"Am I?" Ruth laughed again. "I can't help it. It does answer back."
"And what was the answer about this time?"
That was how Ruth came to let it out.
"About going over to the Marchbanks's to-night. Don't say anything, though. I thought they needn't have asked me just to play. And they might have asked somebody with me. Of course it would have been as you said, if I'd wanted to; but I've made up my mind I—needn't. I mean, I knew right off that I didn't."
Ruth did talk a funny idiom of her own when she came out of one of her thinks. But Mrs. Holabird understood. Mothers get to understand the older idiom, just as they do baby-talk,—by the same heart-key. She knew that the "needn't" and the "didn't" referred to the "wanting to."
"You see, I don't think it would be a good plan to let them begin with me so."
"You're a very sagacious little Ruth," said Mrs. Holabird, affectionately. "And a very generous one."
"No, indeed!" Ruth exclaimed at that. "I believe I think it's rather nice to settle that I can be contrary. I don't like to be pat-a-caked."
She was glad, afterward, that Mrs. Holabird understood.
The next morning Elinor Hadden and Leslie Goldthwaite walked over, to ask the girls to go down into the wood-hollow to get azaleas.
Rosamond and Ruth went. Barbara was busy: she was more apt to be the busy one of a morning than Rosamond; not because Rosamond was not willing, but that when she was at leisure she looked as though she always had been and always expected to be; she would have on a cambric morning-dress, and a jimpsey bit of an apron, and a pair of little fancy slippers,—(there was a secret about Rosamond's slippers; she had half a dozen different ways of getting them up, with braiding, and beading, and scraps of cloth and velvet; and these tops would go on to any stray soles she could get hold of, that were more sole than body, in a way she only knew of;) and she would have the sitting-room at the last point of morning freshness,—chairs and tables and books in the most charming relative positions, and every little leaf and flower in vase or basket just set as if it had so peeped up itself among the others, and all new-born to-day. So it was her gift to be ready and to receive. Barbara, if she really might have been dressed, would be as likely as not to be comfortable in a sack and skirt and her "points,"—as she called her black prunella shoes, that were weak at the heels and going at the sides, and kept their original character only by these embellishments upon the instep,—and to have dumped herself down on the broad lower stair in the hall, just behind the green blinds of the front entrance, with a chapter to finish in some irresistible book, or a pair of stockings to mend.
Rosamond was only thankful when she was behind the scenes and would stay there, not bouncing into the door-way from the dining-room, with unexpected little bobs, a cake-bowl in one hand and an egg-beater in the other, to get what she called "grabs of conversation."
Of course she did not do this when the Marchbankses were there, or if Miss Pennington called; but she could not resist the Haddens and Leslie Goldthwaite; besides, "they did have to make their own cake, and why should they be ashamed of it?"
Rosamond would reply that "they did have to make their own beds, but they could not bring them down stairs for parlor work."
"That was true, and reason why: they just couldn't; if they could, she would make up hers all over the house, just where there was the most fun. She hated pretences, and being fine."
Rosamond met the girls on the piazza to-day, when she saw them coming; for Barbara was particularly awful at this moment, with a skimmer and a very red face, doing raspberries; and she made them sit down there in the shaker chairs, while she ran to get her hat and boots, and to call Ruth; and the first thing Barbara saw of them was from the kitchen window, "slanting off" down over the croquet-ground toward the big trees.
Somebody overtook and joined them there,—somebody in a dark gray suit and bright buttons.
"Why, that," cried Barbara, all to herself and her uplifted skimmer, looking after them,—"that must be the brother from West Point the Inglesides expected,—that young Dakie Thayne!"
It was Dakie Thayne; who, after they had all been introduced and were walking on comfortably together, asked Ruth Holabird if it had not been she who had been expected and wanted so badly last night at Mrs. Marchbanks's?
Ruth dropped a little back as she walked with him, at the moment, behind the others, along the path between the chestnut-trees.
"I don't think they quite expected me. I told Adelaide I did not think I could come. I am the youngest, you see," she said with a smile, "and I don't go out very much, except with my—cousins."
"Your cousins? I fancied you were all sisters."
"It is all the same," said Ruth. "And that is why I always catch my breath a little before I say 'cousins.'"
"Couldn't they come? What a pity!" pursued this young man, who seemed bent upon driving his questions home.
"O, it wasn't an invitation, you know. It wasn't company."
The inflection was almost imperceptible, and quite unintentional; Dakie Thayne was very polite; but his eyebrows went up a little—just a line or two—as he said it, the light beginning to come in upon him.
Dakie had been about in the world somewhat; his two years at West Point were not all his experience; and he knew what queer little wheels were turned sometimes.
He had just come to Z—— (I must have a letter for my nameless town, and I have gone through the whole alphabet for it, and picked up a crooked stick at last), and the new group of people he had got among interested him. He liked problems and experiments. They were what he excelled in at the Military School. This was his first furlough; and it was since his entrance at the Academy that his brother, Dr. Ingleside, had come to Z——, to take the vacant practice of an old physician, disabled from continuing it.
Dakie and Leslie Goldthwaite and Mrs. Ingleside were old friends; almost as old as Mrs. Ingleside and the doctor.
Ruth Holabird had a very young girl's romance of admiration for one older, in her feeling toward Leslie. She had never known any one just like her; and, in truth, Leslie was different, in some things, from the little world of girls about her. In the "each and all" of their pretty groupings and pleasant relations she was like a bit of fresh, springing, delicate vine in a bouquet of bright, similarly beautiful flowers; taking little free curves and reaches of her own, just as she had grown; not tied, nor placed, nor constrained; never the central or most brilliant thing; but somehow a kind of life and grace that helped and touched and perfected all.
There was something very real and individual about her; she was no "girl of the period," made up by the fashion of the day. She would have grown just as a rose or a violet would, the same in the first quarter of the century or the third. They called her "grandmotherly" sometimes, when a certain quaint primitiveness that was in her showed itself. And yet she was the youngest girl in all that set, as to simpleness and freshness and unpretendingness, though she was in her twentieth year now, which sounds—didn't somebody say so over my shoulder?—so very old! Adelaide Marchbanks used to say of her that she had "stayed fifteen."
She looked real. Her bright hair was gathered up loosely, with some graceful turn that showed its fine shining strands had all been freshly dressed and handled, under a wide-meshed net that lay lightly around her head; it was not packed and stuffed and matted and put on like a pad or bolster, from the bump of benevolence, all over that and everything else gentle and beautiful, down to the bend of her neck; and her dress suggested always some one simple idea which you could trace through it, in its harmony, at a glance; not complex and bewildering and fatiguing with its many parts and folds and festoonings and the garnishings of every one of these. She looked more as young women used to look before it took a lady with her dressmaker seven toilsome days to achieve a "short street suit," and the public promenades became the problems that they now are to the inquiring minds that are forced to wonder who stops at home and does up all the sewing, and where the hair all comes from.
Some of the girls said, sometimes, that "Leslie Goldthwaite liked to be odd; she took pains to be." This was not true; she began with the prevailing fashion—the fundamental idea of it—always, when she had a new thing; but she modified and curtailed,—something was sure to stop her somewhere; and the trouble with the new fashions is that they never stop. To use a phrase she had picked up a few years ago, "something always got crowded out." She had other work to do, and she must choose the finishing that would take the shortest time; or satin folds would cost six dollars more, and she wanted the money to use differently; the dress was never the first and the must be; so it came by natural development to express herself, not the rampant mode; and her little ways of "dodging the dressmaker," as she called it, were sure to be graceful, as well as adroit and decided.
It was a good thing for a girl like Ruth, just growing up to questions that had first come to this other girl of nineteen four years ago, that this other had so met them one by one, and decided them half unconsciously as she went along, that now, for the great puzzle of the "outside," which is setting more and more between us and our real living, there was this one more visible, unobtrusive answer put ready, and with such a charm of attractiveness, into the world.
Ruth walked behind her this morning, with Dakie Thayne, thinking how "achy" Elinor Hadden's puffs and French-blue bands, and bits of embroidery looked, for the stitches somebody had put into them, and the weary starching and ironing and perking out that must be done for them, beside the simple hem and the one narrow basque ruffling of Leslie's cambric morning-dress, which had its color and its set-off in itself, in the bright little carnations with brown stems that figured it. It was "trimmed in the piece"; and that was precisely what Leslie had said when she chose it. She "dodged" a great deal in the mere buying.
Leslie and Ruth got together in the wood-hollow, where the little vines and ferns began. Leslie was quick to spy the bits of creeping Mitchella, and the wee feathery fronds that hid away their miniature grace under the feet of their taller sisters. They were so pretty to put in shells, and little straight tube-vases. Dakie Thayne helped Rose and Elinor to get the branches of white honeysuckle that grew higher up.
Rose walked with the young cadet, the arms of both filled with the fragrant-flowering stems, as they came up homeward again. She was full of bright, pleasant chat. It just suited her to spend a morning so, as if there were no rooms to dust and no tables to set, in all the great sunshiny world; but as if dews freshened everything, and furnishings "came," and she herself were clothed of the dawn and the breeze, like a flower. She never cared so much for afternoons, she said; of course one had got through with the prose by that time; but "to go off like a bird or a bee right after breakfast,—that was living; that was the Irishman's blessing,—'the top o' the morn-in' till yez!'"
"Won't you come in and have some lunch?" she asked, with the most magnificent intrepidity, when she hadn't the least idea what there would be to give them all if they did, as they came round under the piazza basement, and up to the front portico.
They thanked her, no; they must get home with their flowers; and Mrs. Ingleside expected Dakie to an early dinner.
Upon which she bade them good by, standing among her great azalea branches, and looking "awfully pretty," as Dakie Thayne said afterward, precisely as if she had nothing else to think of.
The instant they had fairly moved away, she turned and ran in, in a hurry to look after the salt-cellars, and to see that Katty hadn't got the table-cloth diagonal to the square of the room instead of parallel, or committed any of the other general-housework horrors which she detailed herself on daily duty to prevent.
Barbara stood behind the blind.
"The audacity of that!" she cried, as Rosamond came in. "I shook right out of my points when I heard you! Old Mrs. Lovett has been here, and has eaten up exactly the last slice of cake but one. So that's Dakie Thayne?"
"Yes. He's a nice little fellow. Aren't these lovely flowers?"
"O my gracious! that great six-foot cadet!"
"It doesn't matter about the feet. He's barely eighteen. But he's nice,—ever so nice."
"It's a case of Outledge, Leslie," Dakie Thayne said, going down the hill. "They treat those girls—amphibiously!"
"Well," returned Leslie, laughing, "I'm amphibious. I live in the town, and I can come out—and not die—on the Hill. I like it. I always thought that kind of animal had the nicest time."
They met Alice Marchbanks with her cousin Maud, coming up.
"We've been to see the Holabirds," said Dakie Thayne, right off.
"I wonder why that little Ruth didn't come last night? We really wanted her," said Alice to Leslie Goldthwaite.
"For batrachian reasons, I believe," put in Dakie, full of fun. "She isn't quite amphibious yet. She don't come out from under water. That is, she's young, and doesn't go alone. She told me so."
You needn't keep asking how we know! Things that belong get together. People who tell a story see round corners.
The next morning Maud Marchbanks came over, and asked us all to play croquet and drink tea with them that evening, with the Goldthwaites and the Haddens.
"We're growing very gay and multitudinous," she said, graciously.
"The midshipman's got home,—Harry Goldthwaite, you know."
Ruth was glad, then, that mother knew; she had the girls' pride in her own keeping; there was no responsibility of telling or withholding. But she was glad also that she had not gone last night.
When we went up stairs at bedtime, Rosamond asked Barbara the old, inevitable question,—
"What have you got to wear, Barb, to-morrow night,—that's ready?"
And Barbara gave, in substance, the usual unperturbed answer, "Not a dud!"
But Mrs. Holabird kept a garnet and white striped silk skirt on purpose to lend to Barbara. If she had given it, there would have been the end. And among us there would generally be a muslin waist, and perhaps an overskirt. Barbara said our "overskirts" were skirts that were over with, before the new fashion came.
Barbara went to bed like a chicken, sure that in the big world to-morrow there would be something that she could pick up.
It was a miserable plan, perhaps; but it was one of our ways at Westover.
BETWIXT AND BETWEEN.
Three things came of the Marchbanks's party for us Holabirds.
Mrs. Van Alstyne took a great fancy to Rosamond.
Harry Goldthwaite put a new idea into Barbara's head.
And Ruth's little undeveloped plans, which the facile fingers were to carry out, received a fresh and sudden impetus.
You have thus the three heads of the present chapter.
How could any one help taking a fancy to Rosamond Holabird? In the first place, as Mrs. Van Alstyne said, there was the name,—"a making for anybody"; for names do go a great way, notwithstanding Shakespeare.
It made you think of everything springing and singing and blooming and sweet. Its expression was "blossomy, nightingale-y"; atilt with glee and grace. And that was the way she looked and seemed. If you spoke to her suddenly, the head turned as a bird's does, with a small, shy, all-alive movement; and the bright eye glanced up at you, ready to catch electric meanings from your own. When she talked to you in return, she talked all over; with quiet, refined radiations of life and pleasure in each involuntary turn and gesture; the blossom of her face lifted and swayed like that of a flower delicately poised upon its stalk. She was like a flower chatting with a breeze.
She forgot altogether, as a present fact, that she looked pretty; but she had known it once, when she dressed herself, and been glad of it; and something lasted from the gladness just enough to keep out of her head any painful, conscious question of how she was seeming. That, and her innate sense of things proper and refined, made her manners what Mrs. Van Alstyne pronounced them,—"exquisite."
That was all Mrs. Van Alstyne waited to find out. She did not go deep; hence she took quick fancies or dislikes, and a great many of them.
She got Rosamond over into a corner with herself, and they had everybody round them. All the people in the room were saying how lovely Miss Holabird looked to-night. For a little while that seemed a great and beautiful thing. I don't know whether it was or not. It was pleasant to have them find it out; but she would have been just as lovely if they had not. Is a party so very particular a thing to be lovely in? I wonder what makes the difference. She might have stood on that same square of the Turkey carpet the next day and been just as pretty. But, somehow, it seemed grand in the eyes of us girls, and it meant a great deal that it would not mean the next day, to have her stand right there, and look just so, to-night.
In the midst of it all, though, Ruth saw something that seemed to her grander,—another girl, in another corner, looking on,—a girl with a very homely face; somebody's cousin, brought with them there. She looked pleased and self-forgetful, differently from Rose in her prettiness; she looked as if she had put herself away, comfortably satisfied; this one looked as if there were no self put away anywhere. Ruth turned round to Leslie Goldthwaite, who stood by.
"I do think," she said,—"don't you?—it's just the bravest and strongest thing in the world to be awfully homely, and to know it, and to go right on and have a good time just the same;—every day, you see, right through everything! I think such people must be splendid inside!"
"The most splendid person I almost ever knew was like that," said Leslie. "And she was fifty years old too."
"Well," said Ruth, drawing a girl's long breath at the fifty years, "it was pretty much over then, wasn't it? But I think I should like—just once—to look beautiful at a party!"
The best of it for Barbara had been on the lawn, before tea.
Barbara was a magnificent croquet-player. She and Harry Goldthwaite were on one side, and they led off their whole party, going nonchalantly through wicket after wicket, as if they could not help it; and after they had well distanced the rest, just toling each other along over the ground, till they were rovers together, and came down into the general field again with havoc to the enemy, and the whole game in their hands on their own part.
"It was a handsome thing to see, for once," Dakie Thayne said; "but they might make much of it, for it wouldn't do to let them play on the same side again."
It was while they were off, apart down the slope, just croqueted away for the time, to come up again with tremendous charge presently, that Harry asked her if she knew the game of "ship-coil."
Barbara shook her head. What was it?
"It is a pretty thing. The officers of a Russian frigate showed it to us. They play it with rings made of spliced rope; we had them plain enough, but you might make them as gay as you liked. There are ten rings, and each player throws them all at each turn. The object is to string them up over a stake, from which you stand at a certain distance. Whatever number you make counts up for your side, and you play as many rounds as you may agree upon."
Barbara thought a minute, and then looked up quickly.
"Have you told anybody else of that?"
"Not here. I haven't thought of it for a good while."
"Would you just please, then," said Barbara in a hurry, as somebody came down toward them in pursuit of a ball, "to hush up, and let me have it all to myself for a while? And then," she added, as the stray ball was driven up the lawn again, and the player went away after it, "come some day and help us get it up at Westover? it's such a thing, you see, to get anything that's new."
"I see. To be sure. You shall have the State Right,—isn't that what they make over for patent concerns? And we'll have something famous out of it. They're getting tired of croquet, or thinking they ought to be, which is the same thing." It was Barbara's turn now; she hit Harry Goldthwaite's ball with one of her precise little taps, and, putting the two beside each other with her mallet, sent them up rollicking into the thick of the fight, where the final hand-to-hand struggle was taking place between the last two wickets and the stake. Everybody was there in a bunch when she came; in a minute everybody of the opposing party was everywhere else, and she and Harry had it between them again. She played out two balls, and then, accidentally, her own. After one "distant, random gun," from the discomfited foe, Harry rolled quietly up against the wand, and the game was over.
It was then and there that a frank, hearty liking and alliance was re-established between Harry Goldthwaite and Barbara, upon an old remembered basis of ten years ago, when he had gone away to school and given her half his marbles for a parting keepsake,—"as he might have done," we told her, "to any other boy."
"Ruth hasn't had a good time," said mother, softly, standing in her door, looking through at the girls laying away ribbons and pulling down hair, and chattering as only girls in their teens do chatter at bedtime.
Ruth was in her white window-chair, one foot up on a cricket; and, as if she could not get into that place without her considering-fit coming over her, she sat with her one unlaced boot in her hand, and her eyes away out over the moonlighted fields.
"She played all the evening, nearly. She always does," said Barbara.
"Why, I had a splendid time!" cried Ruth, coming down upon them out of her cloud with flat contradiction. "And I'm sure I didn't play all the evening. Mrs. Van Alstyne sang Tennyson's 'Brook,' aunt; and the music splashes so in it! It did really seem as if she were spattering it all over the room, and it wasn't a bit of matter!"
"The time was so good, then, that it has made you sober," said Mrs. Holabird, coming and putting her hand on the back of the white chair. "I've known good times do that."
"It has given me ever so much thinking to do; besides that brook in my head, 'going on forever—ever! go-ing-on-forever!'" And Ruth broke into the joyous refrain of the song as she ended.
"I shall come to you for a great long talk to-morrow morning, mother!" Ruth said again, turning her head and touching her lips to the mother-hand on her chair. She did not always say "mother," you see; it was only when she wanted a very dear word.
"We'll wind the rings with all the pretty-colored stuffs we can find in the bottomless piece-bag," Barbara was saying, at the same moment, in the room beyond. "And you can bring out your old ribbon-box for the bowing-up, Rosamond. It's a charity to clear out your glory-holes once in a while. It's going to be just—splend-umphant!"
"If you don't go and talk about it," said Rosamond. "We must keep the new of it to ourselves."
"As if I needed!" cried Barbara, indignantly. "When I hushed up Harry Goldthwaite, and went round all the rest of the evening without doing anything but just give you that awful little pinch!"
"That was bad enough," said Rosamond, quietly; she never got cross or inelegantly excited about anything. "But I do think the girls will like it. And we might have tea out on the broad piazza."
"That is bare floor too," said Barbara, mischievously.
Now, our dining-room had not yet even the English drugget. The dark new boards would do for summer weather, mother said. "If it had been real oak, polished!" Rosamond thought. "But hard-pine was kitcheny."
Ruth went to bed with the rest of her thinking and the brook-music flittering in her brain.
Mrs. Lewis Marchbanks had talked behind her with Jeannie Hadden about her playing. It was not the compliment that excited her so, although they said her touch and expression were wonderful, and that her fingers were like little flying magnets, that couldn't miss the right points. Jeannie Hadden said she liked to see Ruth Holabird play, as well as she did to hear her.
But it was Mrs. Marchbanks's saying that she would give almost anything to have Lily taught such a style; she hardly knew what she should do with her; there was no good teacher in the town who gave lessons at the houses, and Lily was not strong enough to go regularly to Mr. Viertelnote. Besides, she had picked up a story of his being cross, and rapping somebody's fingers, and Lily was very shy and sensitive. She never did herself any justice if she began to be afraid.
Jeannie Hadden said it was just her mother's trouble about Reba, except that Reba was strong enough; only that Mrs. Hadden preferred a teacher to come to the house.
"A good young-lady teacher, to give beginners a desirable style from the very first, is exceedingly needed since Miss Robbyns went away," said Mrs. Marchbanks, to whom just then her sister came and said something, and drew her off.
Ruth's fingers flew over the keys; and it must have been magnetism that guided them, for in her brain quite other quick notes were struck, and ringing out a busy chime of their own.
"If I only could!" she was saying to herself. "If they really would have me, and they would let me at home. Then I could go to Mr. Viertelnote. I think I could do it! I'm almost sure! I could show anybody what I know,—and if they like that!"
It went over and over now, as she lay wakeful in bed, mixed up with the "forever—ever," and the dropping tinkle of that lovely trembling ripple of accompaniment, until the late moon got round to the south and slanted in between the white dimity curtains, and set a glimmering little ghost in the arm-chair.
Ruth came down late to breakfast.
Barbara was pushing back her chair.
"Mother,—or anybody! Do you want any errand down in town? I'm going out for a stramble. A party always has to be walked off next morning."
"And talked off, doesn't it? I'm afraid my errand would need to be with Mrs. Goldthwaite or Mrs. Hadden, wouldn't it?"
"Well, I dare say I shall go in and see Leslie. Rosamond, why can't you come too? It's a sort of nuisance that boy having come home!"
"That 'great six-foot lieutenant'!" parodied Rose.
"I don't care! You said feet didn't signify. And he used to be a boy, when we played with him so."
"I suppose they all used to be," said Rose, demurely.
"Well, I won't go! Because the truth is I did want to see him, about those—patent rights. I dare say they'll come up."
"I've no doubt," said Rosamond.
"I wish you would both go away somewhere," said Ruth, as Mrs. Holabird gave her her coffee. "Because I and mother have got a secret, and I know she wants her last little hot corner of toast."
"I think you are likely to get the last little cold corner," said Mrs. Holabird, as Ruth sat, forgetting her plate, after the other girls had gone away.
"I'm thinking, mother, of a real warm little corner! Something that would just fit in and make everything so nice. It was put into my head last night, and I think it was sent on purpose; it came right up behind me so. Mrs. Lewis Marchbanks and Jeannie Hadden praised my playing; more than I could tell you, really; and Mrs. Marchbanks wants a—" Ruth stopped, and laughed at the word that was coming—"lady-teacher for Lily, and so does Mrs. Hadden for Reba. There, mother. It's in your head now! Please turn it over with a nice little think, and tell me you would just as lief, and that you believe perhaps I could!"
By this time Ruth was round behind Mrs. Holabird's chair, with her two hands laid against her cheeks. Mrs. Holabird leaned her face down upon one of the hands, holding it so, caressingly.
"I am sure you could, Ruthie. But I am sure I wouldn't just as lief! I would liefer you should have all you need without."
"I know that, mother. But it wouldn't be half so good for me!"
"That's something horrid, I know!" exclaimed Barbara, coming in upon the last word. "It always is, when people talk about its being good for them. It's sure to be salts or senna, and most likely both."
"O dear me!" said Ruth, suddenly seized with a new perception of difficulty. Until now, she had only been considering whether she could, and if Mrs. Holabird would approve. "Don't you—or Rose—call it names, Barbara, please, will you?"
"Which of us are you most afraid of? For Rosamond's salts and senna are different from mine, pretty often. I guess it's hers this time, by your putting her in that anxious parenthesis."
"I'm afraid of your fun, Barbara, and I'm afraid of Rosamond's—"
"Earnest? Well, that is much the more frightful. It is so awfully quiet and pretty-behaved and positive. But if you're going to retain me on your side, you'll have to lay the case before me, you know, and give me a fee. You needn't stand there, bribing the judge beforehand."
Ruth turned right round and kissed Barbara.
"I want you to go with me and see if Mrs. Hadden and Mrs. Lewis Marchbanks would let me teach the children."
"Teach the children! What?"
"O, music, of course. That's all I know, pretty much. And—make Rose understand."
"Ruth, you're a duck! I like you for it! But I'm not sure I like it."
"Will you do just those two things?"
"It's a beautiful programme. But suppose we leave out the first part? I think you could do that alone. It would spoil it if I went. It's such a nice little spontaneous idea of your own, you see. But if we made it a regular family delegation—besides, it will take as much as all me to manage the second. Rosamond is very elegant to-day. Last night's twilight isn't over. And it's funny we've plans too; we're going to give lessons,—differently; we're going to lead off, for once,—we Holabirds; and I don't know exactly how the music will chime in. It may make things—Holabirdy."
Rosamond had true perceptions, and she was conscientious. What she said, therefore, when she was told, was,—
"O dear! I suppose it is right! But—just now! Right things do come in so terribly askew, like good old Mr. Isosceles, sidling up the broad aisle of a Sunday! Couldn't you wait awhile, Ruth?"
"And then somebody else would get the chance."
"There's nobody else to be had."
"Nobody knows till somebody starts up. They don't know there's me to be had yet."
"O Ruth! Don't offer to teach grammar, anyhow!"
"I don't know. I might. I shouldn't teach it 'anyhow.'"
Ruth went off, laughing, happy. She knew she had gamed the home-half of her point.
Her heart beat a good deal, though, when she went into Mrs. Marchbanks's library alone, and sat waiting for the lady to come down.
She would rather have gone to Mrs. Hadden first, who was very kind and old-fashioned, and not so overpoweringly grand. But she had her justification for her attempt from Mrs. Marchbanks's own lips, and she must take up her opportunity as it came to her, following her clew right end first. She meant simply to tell Mrs. Marchbanks how she had happened to think of it.
"Good morning," said the great lady, graciously, wondering not a little what had brought the child, in this unceremonious early fashion, to ask for her.
"I came," said Ruth, after she had answered the good morning, "because I heard what you were so kind as to say last night about liking my playing; and that you had nobody just now to teach Lily. I thought, perhaps, you might be willing to try me; for I should like to do it, and I think I could show her all I know; and then I could take lessons myself of Mr. Viertelnote. I've been thinking about it all night."
Ruth Holabird had a direct little fashion of going straight through whatever crust of outside appearance to that which must respond to what she had at the moment in herself. She had real self-possession; because she did not let herself be magnetized into a false consciousness of somebody else's self, and think and speak according to their notions of things, or her reflected notion of what they would think of her. She was different from Rosamond in this; Rosamond could not help feeling her double,—Mrs. Grundy's "idea" of her. That was what Rosamond said herself about it, when Ruth told it all at home.
The response is almost always there to those who go for it; if it is not, there is no use any way.
Mrs. Marchbanks smiled.
"Does Mrs. Holabird know?"
"O yes; she always knows."
There was a little distance and a touch of business in Mrs. Marchbanks's manner after this. The child's own impulse had been very frank and amusing; an authorized seeking of employment was somewhat different. Still, she was kind enough; the impression had been made; perhaps Rosamond, with her "just now" feeling, would have been sensitive to what did not touch Ruth, at the moment, at all.
"But you see, my dear, that your having a pupil could not be quite equal to Mr. Viertelnote's doing the same thing. I mean the one would not quite provide for the other."
"O no, indeed! I'm in hopes to have two. I mean to go and see Mrs. Hadden about Reba; and then I might begin first, you know. If I could teach two quarters, I could take one."
"You have thought it all over. You are quite a little business woman. Now let us see. I do like your playing, Ruth. I think you have really a charming style. But whether you could impart it,—that is a different capacity."
"I am pretty good at showing how," said Ruth. "I think I could make her understand all I do."
"Well; I should be willing to pay twenty dollars a quarter to any lady who would bring Lily forward to where you are; if you can do it, I will pay it to you. If Mrs. Hadden will do the same, you will have two thirds of Viertelnote's price."
"O, that is so nice!" said Ruth, gratefully. "Then in half a quarter I could begin. And perhaps in that time I might get another."
"I shall be exceedingly interested in your getting on," said Mrs. Marchbanks, as Ruth arose to go. She said it very much as she might have said it to anybody who was going to try to earn money, and whom she meant to patronize. But Ruth took it singly; she was not two persons,—one who asked for work and pay, and another who expected to be treated as if she were privileged above either. She was quite intent upon her purpose.
If Mrs. Marchbanks had been patron kind, Mrs. Hadden was motherly so.
"You're a dear little thing! When will you begin?" said she.
Ruth's morning was a grand success. She came home with a rapid step, springing to a soundless rhythm.
She found Rosamond and Barbara and Harry Goldthwaite on the piazza, winding the rope rings with blue and scarlet and white and purple, and tying them with knots of ribbon.
Harry had been prompt enough. He had got the rope, and spliced it up himself, that morning, and had brought the ten rings over, hanging upon his arms like bangles.
They were still busy when dinner was ready; and Harry stayed at the first asking.
It was a scrub-day in the kitchen; and Katty came in to take the plates with her sleeves rolled up, a smooch of stove-polish across her arm, and a very indiscriminate-colored apron. She put one plate upon another in a hurry, over knives and forks and remnants, clattered a good deal, and dropped the salt-spoons.
Rosamond colored and frowned; but talked with a most resolutely beautiful repose.
Afterward, when it was all over, and Harry had gone, promising to come next day and bring a stake, painted vermilion and white, with a little gilt ball on the top of it, she sat by the ivied window in the brown room with tears in her eyes.
"It is dreadful to live so!" she said, with real feeling. "To have just one wretched girl to do everything!"
"Especially," said Barbara, without much mercy, "when she always will do it at dinner-time."
"It's the betwixt and between that I can't bear," said Rose. "To have to do with people like the Penningtons and the Marchbankses, and to see their ways; to sit at tables where there is noiseless and perfect serving, and to know that they think it is the 'mainspring of life' (that's just what Mrs. Van Alstyne said about it the other day); and then to have to hitch on so ourselves, knowing just as well what ought to be as she does,—it's too bad. It's double dealing. I'd rather not know, or pretend any better. I do wish we belonged somewhere!"
Ruth felt sorry. She always did when Rosamond was hurt with these things. She knew it came from a very pure, nice sense of what was beautiful, and a thoroughness of desire for it. She knew she wanted it every day, and that nobody hated shams, or company contrivances, more heartily. She took great trouble for it; so that when they were quite alone, and Rosamond could manage, things often went better than when guests came and divided her attention.
Ruth went over to where she sat.
"Rose, perhaps we do belong just here. Somebody has got to be in the shading-off, you know. That helps both ways."
"It's a miserable indefiniteness, though."
"No, it isn't," said Barbara, quickly. "It's a good plan, and I like it. Ruth just hits it. I see now what they mean by 'drawing lines.' You can't draw them anywhere but in the middle of the stripes. And people that are right in the middle have to 'toe the mark.' It's the edge, after all. You can reach a great deal farther by being betwixt and between. And one girl needn't always be black-leaded, nor drop all the spoons."
Rosamond's ship-coil party was a great success. It resolved itself into Rosamond's party, although Barbara had had the first thought of it; for Rosamond quietly took the management of all that was to be delicately and gracefully arranged, and to have the true tone of high propriety.
Barbara made the little white rolls; Rosamond and Ruth beat up the cake; mother attended to the boiling of the tongues, and, when it was time, to the making of the delicious coffee; all together we gave all sorts of pleasant touches to the brown room, and set the round table (the old cover could be "shied" out of sight now, as Stephen said, and replaced with the white glistening damask for the tea) in the corner between the southwest windows that opened upon the broad piazza.
The table was bright with pretty silver—not too much—and best glass and delicate porcelain with a tiny thread of gold; and the rolls and the thin strips of tongue cut lengthwise, so rich and tender that a fork could manage them, and the large raspberries, black and red and white, were upon plates and dishes of real Indian, white and golden brown.
The wide sashes were thrown up, and there were light chairs outside; Mrs. Holabird would give the guests tea and coffee, and Ruth and Barbara would sit in the window-seats and do the waiting, back and forth, and Dakie Thayne and Harry Goldthwaite would help.
Katty held her office as a sinecure that day; looked on admiringly, forgot half her regular work, felt as if she had somehow done wonders without realizing the process, and pronounced that it was "no throuble at ahl to have company."
But before the tea was the new game.
It was a bold stroke for us Holabirds. Originating was usually done higher up; as the Papal Council gives forth new spiritual inventions for the joyful acceptance of believers, who may by no means invent in their turn and offer to the Council. One could hardly tell how it would fall out,—whether the Haddens and the Marchbankses would take to it, or whether it would drop right there.
"They may 'take it off your hands, my dear,'" suggested the remorseless Barbara. Somebody had offered to do that once for Mrs. Holabird, when her husband had had an interest in a ship in the Baltic trade, and some furs had come home, richer than we had quite expected.
Rose was loftily silent; she would not have said that to her very self; but she had her little quiet instincts of holding on,—through Harry Goldthwaite, chiefly; it was his novelty.
Does this seem very bare worldly scheming among young girls who should simply have been having a good time? We should not tell you if we did not know; it begins right there among them, in just such things as these; and our day and our life are full of it.
The Marchbanks set had a way of taking things off people's hands, as soon as they were proved worth while. People like the Holabirds could not be taking this pains every day; making their cakes and their coffee, and setting their tea-table in their parlor; putting aside all that was shabby or inadequate, for a few special hours, and turning all the family resources upon a point, to serve an occasion. But if anything new or bright were so produced that could be transplanted, it was so easy to receive it among the established and every-day elegances of a freer living, give it a wider introduction, and so adopt and repeat and centralize it that the originators should fairly forget they had ever begun it. And why would not this be honor enough? Invention must always pass over to the capital that can handle it.
The new game charmed them all. The girls had the best of it, for the young men always gathered up the rings and brought them to each in turn. It was very pretty to receive both hands full of the gayly wreathed and knotted hoops, to hold them slidden along one arm like garlands, to pass them lightly from hand to hand again, and to toss them one by one through the air with a motion of more or less inevitable grace; and the excitement of hope or of success grew with each succeeding trial.
They could not help liking it, even the most fastidious; they might venture upon liking it, for it was a game with an origin and references. It was an officers' game, on board great naval ships; it had proper and sufficient antecedents. It would do.
By the time they stopped playing in the twilight, and went up the wide end steps upon the deep, open platform, where coffee and biscuits began to be fragrant, Rosamond knew that her party was as nice as if it had been anybody's else whoever; that they were all having as genuinely good a time as if they had not come "westover" to get it.
And everybody does like a delicious tea, such as is far more sure and very different from hands like Mrs. Holabird's and her daughters, than from those of a city confectioner and the most professed of private cooks.
It all went off and ended in a glory,—the glory of the sun pouring great backward floods of light and color all up to the summer zenith, and of the softly falling and changing shade, and the slow forth-coming of the stars: and Ruth gave them music, and by and by they had a little German, out there on the long, wide esplanade. It was the one magnificence of their house,—this high, spacious terrace; Rosamond was thankful every day that Grandfather Holabird had to build the wood-house under it.
After this, Westover began to grow to be more of a centre than our home, cheery and full of girl-life as it was, had ever been able to become before.