HotFreeBooks.com
A Woman Named Smith
by Marie Conway Oemler
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Doctor Geddes's Mandy had brought over the black kittens and their mother. Mary Magdalen made sure of their staying at home by the simple process of buttering their paws. In South Carolina, when you want a cat to stay in your house, you butter its paws and let it lick the butter off leisurely, the while you whisper in its left ear: "Stay in my house for keeps, cat!" The cat will ever thereafter play Ruth to your Naomi.

Our cat was Mrs. Belinda Black, and her children were Potty Black and Sir Thomas More Black, this last being a creature of noble mien and a meditative turn of mind.

"Homage and praise to Bast, the cat-headed, the wise one, the great goddess!" purred Alicia, stroking Mrs. Belinda Black's satiny head. "And may Sekhet the Cat of the Sun aid me, a devotee at her shrine, to butter the paws of some two-legged cats in Hyndsville!"

"You-all's dinnah 's waitin'." Mary Magdalen stubbornly held to the notion that any meal eaten between breakfast and night was dinner; lunch being sandwiches and fried chicken taken out of a basket at church picnics and eaten out of one's hand, or lap, for choice. "What was de text to-day, Miss Sophy? Ah sort o' likes to chaw easy on a mout'ful o' text whilst Ah 'm washin' up mah dishes."

We gave her the text, which happened to be one that fills every negro's heart with undiluted joy: "O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord." And we had the satisfaction of hearing her rolling out, to the clatter of pans and pots:

"Dry bones in de valley, Ma-a-ah, La-a-awd! Whut yuh gwine do wid dem dry bones, Ma-ah-ah La-a-a-w-wd"

while we went up-stairs to change our frocks. We were still sharing one room then, finding it more convenient. And there, in front of our door, in a nest of ferns and mosses, was a great cluster of wild flowers, summer's last and autumn's first children. They had been gathered in no ordered garden, but taken from the skirts of the fields and the bosom of the woods; and Carolina the opulent, the beautiful, the free-handed, does not deck herself niggardly.

Alicia's face that had been so wistful lighted with a sudden joy. She gave a happy cry:

"Ariel!" she cried, "Ariel! Oh, what a heavenly thing, what a human thing to do! And to-day, too, just when we need a little bit of friendliness!" She looked around with a queer, shy smile.

"Ariel!" she called, "Ariel, no matter who comes, or goes, or what happens in Hynds House, we believe in you. Don't leave us, Ariel! Maker of music, bringer of blossoms, stay!"



CHAPTER V

"THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF"

Mr. Nicholas Jelnik, with an uplift of his fine black brows and a satirical smile, once diagnosed the case of Great-Aunt Sophronisba Scarlett as "congenital Hyndsitis"; Doctor Richard Geddes said you'd only to take a glance at her house to see that she was predestined to be damned. I know that she was so hidebound in her prejudices, so virulently conservative, so constitutionally opposed to change, that anything savoring of modernity was anathema to her.

That old woman would as lief have had what remained of her teeth pulled out as have parted with anything once brought into Hynds House. She preserved everything, good, bad, indifferent. You'd find luster cider jugs, maybe a fine toby, old Chinese ginger jars, and the quaintest of Dutch schnapps bottles, cheek by jowl with an iron warming-pan, a bootjack, a rusty leather bellows, and a box packed with empty patent-medicine bottles, under the pantry shelf. A helmet creamer would be full of little rolls of twine, odd buttons, a wad of beeswax, a piece of asafetida, elastic bands, and corks. She had used a Ridgway platter with a view of the Hudson River on it, as a dinner plate for her hound, for we found it wrapped up, with "Nipper's platter" scrawled on the paper.

By and large, it wasn't an easy task to renovate a brick barracks finished in 1735, and occupied for ninety-nine years by a lady of Sophronisba's parts; though I sha'n't tell how we had to tackle it room by room, nor of the sweating hours spent in, so to speak, separating the sheep things from the goat things. I can't help stopping for a minute, though, to gloat over the front drawing-room that presently emerged, with a cleaned carpet that proved to be a marvel of hand-woven French art, rosewood sofas and chairs upholstered in royal blue and rubbed to satiny-browny blackness, two gloriously inlaid tables, and a Venetian mirror between two windows.

We gave the place of honor on the white marble mantel to a porcelain painting Alicia found in a work-box—the picture of a woman in gray brocade sprigged with pink-and-blue posies, a lace fichu about her slim shoulders, and a cap with a rose in it covering her parted brown hair. The little boy leaning against her knees had darker blue eyes, and fairer hair pushed back from a bold and manly forehead. The painting was about the size of a modern cabinet photograph, and, though pleasing and spirited, was evidently the work of a gifted amateur. What gave it potent meaning and appeal was the inscription lettered on the back:

Mrs. Lydia Hariott Hynds & Rich'd. Hynds Ag'd 7 Paint'd for Col'nl. J.H. Hynds by his Affec. Neece Jessamine

You couldn't help loving him, the little "Richard Ag'd 7." There was that in the face which won you instantly; it was so clear-eyed, so gallant, so brave, so honest. So we gave him and his pretty, meek mother the place of honor in the room that had once heard his laughter and seen her tears. And we brought down-stairs the fine painting of Colonel James Hampden, who was the splendid colonial in claret-color that we had so much admired, and hung him and a smaller painting marked, "Jessamine, Aged 22" where they could look down on those two.

These were the only pictures allowed in that room, and they gave to it an atmosphere flavored most sweetly of yesterday. Indeed, I think they must have approved of the room altogether, for we hadn't changed so much as we'd restored it. Even the glass shades that use'd to shield their wax candles were in their old places. There was their old-world atmosphere of stateliness; their Chinese jars, their English vases, their beautiful old Chelsea figures; and the sampler so painstakingly

Work'd by Ann Eliza Hynds Ag'd 9 Yrs. 2 Mos., Nov'r, 1757

that had been carefully framed and mounted as a small fire-screen, perhaps for Ann Eliza's lady mama or proud grandmother. It was such human and intimate things, the mute mementoes of children who had passed, that made us begin to love Hynds House, for all its bigness and uncanniness and dilapidation.

We did discover one human touch laid upon the place by Sophronisba herself. She had gathered together a full set of small, hand-colored photographs of Confederate generals, wrapped them in a hand-made Confederate flag, into which was tucked a receipt signed by Judah Benjamin for Hynds silver melted into a bar and given to the Cause, written, "The glory is departed," across the package, and hidden it. Alicia, who had a hankering after Confederates, herself, put the photographs in a leather-covered album at least as old as themselves, and kept them sacredly. She said these were America's own vanquished and vanished Trojans, and that one got a lump in the throat remembering how

Fallen are those walls that were so good, And corn grows now where Troy town stood.

Schmetz brought us our upholsterer, Riedriech the cabinet-maker, most cunning of craftsmen, who knew all there is to know about old furniture and just what should and shouldn't be done to it. In addition he was a grizzled, bearded, shambling old angel who clung to a reeking pipe and Utopian notions, a pestilent and whole-hearted socialist who would call the President of the United States or the president of the Plumbers' Union "Comrade" equally, and who put propagandist literature in everything but our hair.

"Mr. Riedriech," you would say reproachfully, "yesterday I discovered Karl Marx and Jean Jaures lurking behind my coffee-pot and Fourier under the butter-dish. To-day I find Karl Kautsky in ambush behind the cream-jug and Frederick Engels under the rolls."

Riedriech would regard you paternally, placidly, benevolently, through his large, brass-rimmed spectacles:

"So? Little by little the drop of water the granite wears away. I give you the little leaflet, the little pamphlet, und by and by comes the little hole in your head."

Thank heaven the doctor next door didn't hear that!

Alicia knew how to handle the old visionary with innocent but consummate skill. Looking at the kind old bear with her Irish eyes:

"It must be a wonderful thing to have such mastery of one's tools, to know exactly what to do and how to do it," she would sigh. "'Tisn't everybody can be a master craftsman!"

"I show you in a little while what iss cabinet-making!" he said proudly. "I do more yet by you," he added charitably, "then make over for you chairs and tables and such, already: I make over for you your little mind."

The old socialist did indeed show us what cabinet-making can be. He turned the office behind the library into a workroom, and from it Sophronisba's tattered and torn and forlorn old things emerged, piece by piece, in shining rosewood and walnut and mahogany majesty. If you love old furniture; if it gives you a thrill just to touch a period chair of incomparable grace, or the smooth surface of an old table, or the curve of a carved sofa, you'll understand Alicia's open rapture and my more sedate delight.

The tiled fireplace in the library was really the feature of Hynds House. There wasn't any mantel: the fireplace was sunk into the wall, and above it and the book-cases on each side was a space filled with more relics than all the rest of the house contained—portraits, signed and framed documents, letters, old flags, and a whole arsenal of weapons. Above the fireplace hung the portrait of Freeman Hynds—thin, dark, austere, more like a Cameronian Scotsman than a Carolina gentleman of an easy habit of life.

However, it was not portrait or relics that made the room remarkable, but the tiles, each a portrait of a Revolutionary hero. Laurens, Marion, Lafayette, Pulaski, von Steuben—there they were in buff and blue, martial, in cocked hats, and with such awe-inspiring noses! The center and largest tile was, of course, the Father of his Country, without the hat, but with the nose, and above him the original flag, with the thirteen stars for the thirteen weak-kneed little states that were to grow into the great empire of freedom that the high-nosed, high-hearted soldiers fought for and founded. Alicia and I touched those tiles with reverence. They were the pride of our hearts.

As often happens in the South, there were bedrooms on the lower floor; two of them, in fact, on one side of the hall. The front one had been not only locked but padlocked; the windows had been nailed on the inside, and heavy wooden shutters nailed on the outside. So long had the room been closed that dry-rot had set in. The silk quilt on the four-poster was falling to pieces, the linen was as yellow as beeswax, and the sheets made one think of the Flying Dutchman's sails. This room was of almost monastic severity: an ascetic or a stern soldier might have occupied it. Besides the bed it contained four chairs, a clothes-press, a secretary, and a shaving-stand. On a small table near the bed were a Wedgwood mortar with a heavy pestle, a medicine glass, and a pewter candlestick turned as black as iron. The press in the corner still held a few clothes, threadbare and sleazy, and in the desk were some dry letters and a Business Book—at least, that's how it was marked—with lists of names, each having an occupation or task set down opposite it, I suppose the names of long-dead slaves. On the fly-leaf was written, in a neat and very legible hand, "Freeman Hynds."

"Sophy!" Alicia's voice had an edge of awe. "This must have been his room. I believe he died here, in this very bed. And afterward they shut the room up; and it hasn't been opened until now."

We looked at the old bed, and seemed to see him there, trying to raise himself, crying out so piteously upon dead Richard's name, only to fall back a dead man himself. What had he wanted to tell, as he lay there dying? His painted face in the library was not a bad man's face. It was proud, stern, stubborn, bigoted; a dark, unhappy face, but neither an evil nor a cruel one. What was it that really lay between those two brothers? After more than a hundred years, we were as much in the dark as they in whose day it had happened and whose lives it had wrecked.

We built a fire in the long-disused chimney to take the dampness out of the room, and forced open the windows to let in the good sun and wind. Over in one corner, pushed in between the clothes-press and the side wall, was, of all things, a prie-dieu; and upon it a dusty Bible with his name on the fly-leaf. Nor was it a book kept for idle show; it plainly had been read, perhaps wept over by a tortured heart, for it fell open at that cry of all sad hearts, the Fifty-first Psalm. I was moving this prie-dieu, when my foot slipped on the bare floor and I dropped it with a crash. Fortunately it was not injured. But what had looked like a mere line of carving on the outer edge of the small shelf—rather a thick and heavy shelf now that one examined it carefully—had been struck smartly, releasing a cunning spring. There opened out a thin slit of a drawer, just big enough to hold a flat book bound in leather and stamped with two letters, "F.H." On the fly-leaf appeared, in his own neat, fine script, "The Diary of Freeman Hynds, Esqr."

The thing seemed incredible, impossible. His own daughter had evidently been unaware of the existence of this book, which he had not had time to destroy. And we, as by a miracle, had fallen upon it—and perhaps the truth!

It was written in so fine and small a hand as was only possible to the users of goose-quill pens; and this tiny, faded, brown writing on the yellowed pages covered a period of years. He had not been one to waste words. Once or twice, as we hurriedly turned the pages, appeared the name "Emily." Mostly it seemed a dry, uninteresting thing, a mere memorandum, where a single entry might cover a whole year.

It was impossible for us to stop our work to read it then and there, or to do more than give it a cursory glance. We turned feverishly to those years that covered, as we figured, the period of the Hynds tragedy. And he had written:

This day was Accus'd Rich'd. my Bro. of robbing us of our Jewells. He protests he knows Naught & my Mthr. believes him as doth Emily. Has a true Heart, Emily. Horrid Confusion & my Fthr. Confound'd.

Impatiently I turned over the pages, raging to read the end, my heart pounding and fluttering.

Two nights since dy'd Scipio, son of old Shooba's wife, the which did send for me—

Thus far had I read, Alicia and I sitting head to head on the hall stairs. In came Schmetz the gardener, raving, gesticulating, and after him old Uncle Adam, stepping delicately, and with a placating smile on his wrinkled countenance.

"Those bulbs that I have planted under the windows of you," raved Schmetz, "the demon hens of le docteur Geddes are with their paws upturning! They upturn with rapidity and completeness, led by a shameless hog of a rooster. Is it the orders of you that I devastate those fowls, Mademoiselle?"

Schmetz was furiously angry, and small wonder. Those had been choice bulbs, some of which he had presented me from his own cherished store—freesias, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, and the starred narcissus, "such as Proserpine let fall, from Dis's wagon."

"Oh, our flowers!" wailed Alicia, springing to her feet; "and we counting on those bulbs for Christmas!"

I shut Freeman's diary with a snap. Hens were more immediate.

"Put it in the drawer of the library table," called Alicia, running out with Schmetz at her heels. "We'll read it to-night."

When I had done so, closing the door after me, I too ran outside, where some enormous black-and-white hens, led by the biggest rooster I had ever seen, were completing the utter destruction of our flower bed.

We charged down upon them, and they ran to and fro, after the stupid fashion of fowls. Back and forth Alicia, Schmetz, and I chased those brutes; but Adam stood with folded hands, looking on from a safe and sane distance. He refused to have anything to do with Geddes fowls in ol' Mis' Scarlett's yard. Just then the huge rooster ran into my skirts, all but upsetting me. It was the work of a strenuous moment to seize him by the wings and so hold him.

Left to their own devices, the hens scuttled back to their own domain through a break in the palings on our side of the hedge, while in my hands the rooster squawked and plunged and kicked and struggled; it was like trying to hold a feathered hyena.

I was very angry. I had lost my bulb bed. I couldn't wring the neck of the raider, much as I should have liked to do so, but with an arm made strong by a just and righteous rage I lifted that big brute high above my head and hurled him over into his own yard. He sailed through the air like a black and white plane.

"Damn! Oh, damn!" said somebody on the other side of the hedge. There was a horrible grunt, as of one getting all the wind knocked out of him, a scuffle, and the squawks of the big rooster, to which the hens dutifully added a deafening chorus.

"The brute—has just about—murdered me!" grunted Doctor Richard Geddes.

We stood in stricken silence. Swiftly, noiselessly, Uncle Adam faded from sight, putting a solid section of Hynds House between himself and what he felt was coming battle. Uncle Adam had no wish to have to pray me to death, and he wasn't going to run any risks with Doctor Richard Geddes. Where that irascible gentleman was concerned, Uncle Adam, like Br'er Rabbit, would "trus' no mistakes."

A second later, red-faced, half-breathless, but with the light of battle in his eyes, Doctor Geddes appeared, mounted on a ladder on his side of the hedge.

"Who shot off that rooster?"

"Monsieur le docteur, the hens of you began this affray," explained Schmetz, politely. "They are fowls abandoned in their morals, horrible in their habits, and shameless in their behavior. And the husband of these wretches, Monsieur, is a bandit, a brigand, an assassin, fit only to be guillotined. Observe, Monsieur, it happened thus—"

"Schmetz," snapped the doctor, "shut up!—Now then, I want to know who fired off that rooster."

"I did!" I said valiantly. "Look at my bulbs! Just look at my bulbs!"

"Look at my stomach!" roared the doctor. "Just look at my stomach!"

"Mon Dieu! O mon Dieu!" cried Schmetz, dancing up and down. "Monsieur, again I implore that you will remain calm and listen to the voice of reason! Your hens, creatures malicious and accursed—"

"Why should I look at your horrid stomach?" said I, outraged. "I think you had better get down off that ladder and go away!"

"Why should you? Because, you jade, you've all but driven a twenty-pound rooster clean through it—beak, spurs and tail feathers—that's why!" bawled the doctor. "Gad! I shall be black and blue for a fortnight! I'm colicky now: I need a mustard-plaster!"

"Two mustard-plasters," I insisted severely: "one on your tongue and the other on your temper!"

"Temper?" flared the doctor, and flung up his arms. "Temper? Here's a minx that's all but murdered me, and yet has the stark effrontery to blather about temper! You've a bad one yourself, let me tell you! You've the worst, outside of your late aunt—"

"Grand-aunt-in-law; your own cousin-by-blood, whom you greatly resemble in that same matter of family temper, I am given to understand."

"Gatchell told you that!" cried the doctor, wrathfully. "Fish-blooded old mummy! His place is in a Canopic jar! Gatchell hasn't had a thought since 1845."

"Well, if he satisfied himself so long ago as 1845 that you have a frightful temper and that your hens are unutterable nuisances, I see no reason why he should change his mind," I said, frigidly. "You have; and your hens are; and your rooster is a demon!"

"Straight out of the pit; undoubtedly they were hatched under Satan's wings. Monsieur, believe me, Schmetz, when I tell you so."

"Didn't you ask me," I demanded, "to throw them over into your yard when they invaded my premises? Very well: I threw one over and you caught it. Why, then, should you complain?"

"Oh, yes, I caught it!" A horrible sneer twisted his countenance.

Schmetz fell to praying aloud. But he couldn't remember anything save the grace before meat, so he prayed that, in a sonorous voice. For he is a pious man.

The doctor's nose wrinkled and his lips stretched: "Sophronisba!" he hissed, and, having hurled this hand-grenade, scuttled down the ladder like a boy of ten.

Alicia sank upon the ground and rocked to and fro. For a minute I wanted to catch her by the shoulders and shake her soundly; but catching her eye instead, I also fell into helpless laughter. Leaning on his spade, Schmetz stared at us, shaking his grizzled head.

"Name of a cat!" murmured the puzzled Alsatian, and fell to salvaging such bulbs as weren't utterly ruined. We were all busy at this, when a head again appeared over the hedge—a big, leonine head with a tossing mane and a tameless beard. An enormous pair of shoulders followed, a tree-trunk of a leg was swung over, and Doctor Richard Geddes dropped into our garden like a great cat. He strolled over, hands in pockets, and looking down at grubbing us, asked politely: "Making a garden?"

"Oh, no," Alicia told him sweetly, "we're laying out a chicken-run."

"Er—what I came over to say, is that I've got some fine bulbs, myself, this year, particularly fine bulbs—eh, Schmetz?—and more than I need for myself. Will you share them with me, Miss Smith? Please! I—well, I'd be really grateful if you would," said this overgrown boy.

"We'll be enchanted," Alicia said instantly. "When can we have them, please?"

"Now!" cried the doctor, with brightening eyes. "By jingo, I'll get 'em this minute, and plant 'em for you, too!"

And he did. He was on his knees, trowel in hand, shouting to Riedriech, who had come outside for a few minutes' happy arguing with his good friend the doctor, that the socialist argument boiled down amounts to about this—that one should do without boiled eggs for breakfast now, in order that the proletariat may have baked hen for dinner in the millennium; which is lunacy; anybody with a modicum of brains—

"Brains!" snorted Riedriech. "What is it you know about brains? No doctor knows what is on the inside of brains! You make tinkerings mit the inside plumbings, Gott bewahre! and cut up womens and cats and such-like poor little dumb beasts and says you, 'Now I know all about the brains of man.' It is right there where you are wrong, Comrade Geddes!"

"Habet!" said Comrade Geddes.

"Look you," said the old visionary, with sudden passion, "look you on the little bulb here, so dirty and ugly you hide him in the ground quick. So! But by and by comes up green shoots, and blossoms. So it is with the great thoughts of men, the deep race-thoughts, Comrade Geddes—seeds, bulbs, germs, all of them, in the ugly husks of the common people. Out of our muck and grime they come, the little green shoots which the fool will say is poison, maybe, but which the wise know and labor and make room for. I, Riedriech, and workers like me, we go into our graves nothing but husks. But it is out of the buried hearts of us comes green things growing; and then—die Blumen! die Blumen!" said the cabinet-maker, with a still, far-away look.

"And," he finished, with a sad smile, "it is our flowers that you put in vases of gold on your altars. And you say, 'Listen: Jesus the carpenter talks plain words to his fishermen friends.' And, 'Hush! Burns the plowman makes songs in the field!'"

The doctor looked up, and his eyes were very tender; his smile made me wonder. With a swift, friendly hand he patted the rougher hand of the other. And it was at this opportune moment that Mary Magdalen led around a corner of Hynds House no less personages than Mrs. Haile and Miss Martha Hopkins. Their eyes fell upon Doctor Richard Geddes. They looked at each other. They looked at Alicia and me. And I knew their thoughts: "Sirens, both of you!" said Miss Hopkins's eyes.

"How do you do, Doctor Geddes!" said both ladies, as demurely as cats. I should have felt like a boy caught stealing jam. He went right on planting bulbs.

"Hello, Martha. What's on the carpet now?" he greeted that lady, airily. "Writing another paper on 'The Ironic Note in Chivalry'? How about 'The Effect of the Pre-Raphaelites upon the Feeble-minded'? Or is it the 'Relation of the Child to Its Mother,' this time?"

"You will have your little joke, Doctor," smiled Miss Hopkins, a dish-faced blonde with a cultured expression.

"Joke?" The doctor stared up at her. "Joke? Gad, I'd like to believe it!" He turned to Alicia and me, politely: "Miss Hopkins," he informed us, "moves among us clothed in white samite. She is our center of culture; Hyndsville revolves around her."

He went on putting a bulb in the place prepared for it. His eyebrows twitched slightly, but his mouth was smileless; Miss Hopkins was smiling, and not at all displeased. Mrs. Haile was bland and blank, as befits a minister's wife. Alicia's eyes were downcast, but a wicked dimple came and went in her cheek. She looked ravishingly pretty, the bright hair breaking into curls about her temples, her young face colored like a rose. I do not blame Doctor Richard Geddes for stopping in his work to stare at her with unabashed pleasure, but I do not think it was diplomatic.

Mrs. Haile apologized for calling when we were so very busy. They had just stopped in passing, because they were reorganizing their missionary society and wanted to see if they couldn't interest us in the good work. Their day-school in Mozambique needed another teacher, and their hospital in Bechuanaland had to have more beds.

Doctor Geddes got to his feet, slapped our garden soil from his knees, and shook his tawny mane. His eyes were no longer sweet.

"Miss Smith and Miss Gaines, thank you for the opportunity of playing in the sand in pleasant company. Mrs. Haile, Miss Hopkins, I go to attend some home-grown niggers who of course don't need a hospital, nor even a decent school, in our Christian midst. Ladies, good afternoon!" He made a fleering motion of the hand and was gone. Mrs. Haile and Miss Hopkins smiled indulgently. Evidently, Doctor Geddes was one brother they were willing to forgive though he offended them until seventy times seven.

Alicia and Miss Martha Hopkins walked down the garden path together and Mrs. Haile fell into step with me. In a low voice she thanked me, hurriedly, for having dropped that dreadful suit. And were we—she hesitated—were we going to be regular communicants?

I didn't want to go to St. Polycarp's any more, and it was on the tip of my tongue to give a politely evasive reply, when our eyes met and held each other. I saw the naked truth in hers—the pitiful truth of the slim, poor, aristocratic little parish; the old church overtaken and surpassed by its more modern and middle-class rivals; and the minister's family struggling along on a salary that would have made a hod-carrier strike. She was neatly dressed; she looked like a gentle-woman, but one in straightened circumstances. I made a rapid mental calculation.

"Why, yes, I think I can say we shall. Now, Mrs. Haile, I am a business woman, and if I speak bluntly you must pardon it. Miss Gaines and I can give two hundred dollars a year between us—fifty for the church; one hundred and fifty to be added to the minister's present salary."

I knew what that meant to her, and she must have known I knew, but she didn't show it by so much as the quiver of an eyelash. Only a faint, faint color showed in her sallow cheek, and she bowed, half-formally, half-friendly.

"Thank you, Miss Smith," said she, gallantly. And she added, with a glimmer of humor in her worried eyes: "As you say you're a business woman, may I say I hope you will get your money's worth?"

At that I laughed, and she with me.

We walked down our garden path, chatting innocuously and amiably, until of a sudden they caught sight of the little Love, the gay, charming, naked little Love, holding his torch above his curl-crowned head. You miss him, when you come up the broad drive from the front gate, for Nicholas Jelnik put him in the secretest, greenest, sweetest spot in all our garden, and you must go down a winding path to find him.

"So it wasn't an idle tale: they did find it, really!" breathed Miss Hopkins, staring with all her eyes. And I knew with great certainty why she had come to Hynds House that afternoon.

"Forgotten all these many years, and now here, like the dead come to life!" murmured Mrs. Haile, abstractedly. "How strange!"

"It was said he bought it for his mother, because it looked so like himself as a child," said Miss Hopkins. Then she remembered her duty, held up two fingers before her eyes, and squinted through them critically:

"Charming, but don't you think the pose strained? It's an example of eighteenth-century work, placid enough, but it lacks that plastic, fluidic serenity, that divine new touch of truth, that is revivifying art since the great Rodin lighted the torch anew."

Heaven knows what else she said. It sounded like a paper on art to me, and I have a terror of papers on art. They are, Alicia informs me, purple piffle. Yet Alicia drank in every word Miss Hopkins uttered, though the dimple came and went in her cheek.

"You seem interested in art, Miss Gaines." Having torn the poor little peasant Love to tatters, Miss Hopkins descended to us groundlings.

"I don't always seem to know what art is," admitted Alicia, dovelike.

The lady who "moved among us clothed in white samite" smiled encouragingly.

"That is because you are really little more than a child," she said kindly. "When you begin to grow, you will improve your mind."

Alicia puckered her brows. "Ah, but I'm Irish!" she said, seriously, "and the Irish hate to have to improve their minds. I imagine it takes an able-bodied mind to stand intensive cultivation," she added, guilelessly.

Miss Hopkins smiled: it was a masterpiece, that smile!

"But why, may I ask, did you choose such a situation for the statue?" she inquired critically. "Now, I should never dream of tucking it in such an out-of-the-way place!"

The pucker came back to Alicia's brow.

"Shouldn't you?" she wondered. "I shall make a point of mentioning that to Mr. Nicholas Jelnik, if you don't mind. You see, he chose that spot, and we rather like it, ourselves."

Miss Hopkins stopped dead short, and Mrs. Haile started in spite of herself. Evidently, the situation was beyond them. Didn't we know? How much had Judge Gatchell seen fit to tell us? Alicia had dropped a bomb-shell that before night would detonate in every house in Hyndsville. They haven't very much to talk about in small towns, except one another, and when a plump mouse of gossip frisks about whisking his tail, why, it is cat nature to pounce upon it.

"Mr. Jelnik!" said Miss Hopkins, with an accent. "Oh, I see. Well—he is a neighbor, of course. Certainly if Mr. Jelnik selected that particular spot for the statue—he of all people has the best right to do so—and to have his wishes considered."

"Of course. He has lived abroad, and seen everything of art there is to see," Alicia agreed, placidly. Which wasn't at all what Miss Hopkins meant.

We could see those two women turning the thing over and over in their minds—Nicholas Jelnik, last heir and descendant of Richard Hynds, tactily (perhaps even gladly; for had they not just witnessed the behavior of Doctor Richard Geddes?) accepting the interlopers in the house of his fathers! Nicholas Jelnik selecting the site for the statue Richard had brought home in pride, and Freeman had buried in sorrow! Miss Hopkins's stare dismissed me, shifted to Alicia, and discovered the cause of this shameless surrender of family pride. Her lips tightened. With politely cold hopes that we should like Hyndsville, and warmer hopes that we would join the missionary society, they left us.

"Wedge Number One: The poor dear heathen, Sophy!" smiled Alicia. "The P.D.H. can be a very present help in times of social trouble, can't he? I shall attend that missionary meeting, and take stock. Incidentally (For goodness' sake, don't look so scandalized, Sophy Smith! this is a fight for our lives, so to speak!) incidentally, I shan't do the P.D.H. any harm. He won't be a bit worse than he was before, which is promising." She put two fingers before her laughing eyes, squinted through them, and drawled:

"You lack subtlety, Miss Smith. Cultivate your imagination, my dear!" in Miss Hopkins's best voice.

Riedriech stuck his grizzled head out at a window, cautiously:

"Fraeulein, she hass gone?" And seeing that the coast was clear, he added, vehemently: "Cultivate the mindt! Cultivate the imatchination! Ach, lieber Gott! Dornroeschen, cultivate you the heart. It iss not what the woman thinks, but what she loves, what she feels, which makes of the world a home-place for men und kinder." The good old Jew nodded his head vigorously at the girl, smiled, and went back to his work. And Schmetz came and finished the bulb bed by covering it carefully with two thicknesses of chicken-wire.

That night, just before we went up-stairs, I went into the library after Freeman Hynds's diary, which we were simply burning to read. I opened the table drawer in which I had placed it. The drawer was quite empty. The little flat book was gone.



CHAPTER VI

GLAMOURY

Alicia insisted that we were living in a fairy-story, and had better enjoy every shining minute while it lasted. But, as I pointed out, the cost of restoring Hynds House was appallingly real, so real that it left a big, big hole in the bank-account. It is true that we who never really had had a home since we were little children, and then the most modest sort, had gotten such a home as comes to but few. But—one doesn't get something for nothing!

We had done our part for Hynds House; now Hynds House had to do its part for us. It had to earn its keep, and ours. We had known that from the beginning, and Alicia mapped out the entire plan of how it was to be done; a plan which I at first looked upon as the fairy-storiest part of the whole thing!

To-night we sat facing each other across the library table, with a great pile of receipted bills between us, the total of which made me feel pale. Alicia, however, was cheerfully figuring away on her own hook; and presently she shoved a list of addresses across to me.

The first two were the head of our old firm, and the one celebrity I had ever seen or spoken to, a novelist and lecturer with record-breaking best sellers to his account. He once had some business dealings with our firm, and I attended to the details, thereby winning his cantankerous approval. He had very bad manners, of which he was totally unashamed, and very good morals, of which he was somewhat doubtful, as they didn't smack of genius; a notion that he was a superior sort of Sherlock Holmes, having the truffle-hound's flair for discovering and following up clews and unraveling mysteries, most of which didn't exist outside of his own eager mind; and such a genuine passion for old and beautiful things as Balzac had. It was upon this last foundation that Alicia was building.

"He has written that the average wealthy modern home is a combination of Pullman Palace Car and Gehenna. And that the so-called crime wave which sweeps recurrently over American cities, is very likely nothing more than the inevitable reaction of our damnable house decorations upon our immature intellects." Alicia repeated it dreamily. "I have chosen for him the upper southwestern room with the sunset effect and the pineapple four-poster. It has a claw-footed desk of block mahogany, three hand-carved walnut chairs, two Rembrandt prints, and a French prie-dieu with a purple velvet cover embroidered with green and gold swastikas. He has a purple soul with gold tassels on it, himself, Sophy, and he should be willing to pay a thumping price for it. That room is worth at least two lectures and one best seller, not to mention what he'll get out of the rest of the house."

"First catch your hare," I reminded her skeptically.

"First set your trap, and you can reckon on hare nature to do the rest. A few good photographs of this house, along with the information that it runs back to the beginning of things American and has never been exploited, will fetch him at a hand-gallop. Add a hint that we have our own brand of family spook, and you couldn't keep him away if you tried. The only trouble is that he may walk off with your brass tongs up his trouser-leg, or a print or two tucked under his shirt."

We had decided that we would have a series of photographs of the house, with all particularly good points stressed; such as, say, the library fireplace, the fan-light window at the end of the upper hall, the pillared front porch, and a corner of the drawing-room.

Also—and this was the great thing, calling for a heavy outlay—we would advertise in some two or three of the ultra periodicals, the advertisement to carry a stunning little cut of our front porch. We decided to run the risk of expending more money than we could really afford, because the people that advertisement was meant to attract would in the long run pay for it.

"Our prices will be predacious, piratical, prohibitive, and profitable. We shall stop just this side of highway robbery. Therefore our demands will be cheerfully, nay, willingly met; and everybody, including you and me, Sophy, will be satisfied and happy!"

"Boarders!" said I, limply, "boarders—in Hynds House!"

"Perish the thought! We have possibly the most interesting and beautiful old house in America. It's one of the few really historic houses left in the whole South. It has seen the Indians, it has seen the British, it has seen Sherman's men, and escaped them all. Well, then, we propose to allow certain of the elect, who can afford it, to come and live in Hynds House for a while. They will be willing to pay a round sum for the privilege. That's all."

"Oh, is it, indeed! And will they?"

"Won't they, though!" Alicia spoke confidently. "Now draft me a letter to the Head, setting forth the many reasons why himself, his wife, their car, and her Chow, can't afford to miss Hynds House on their trip South this season. You might explain that Mary Magdalen is our cook, and the Queen of Sheba our hand-maid. Also, please help me decide in which of these magazines we had better advertise first."

"But the cost!" I wailed. "We have spent so sinfully much already! And the place is eating its head off, with nothing coming in. Since I took down those bill-boards, actually the price of that Lafayette Street lot has gone down. Nobody seems anxious to buy it any more."

"Change your mind about selling it; hint that you're considering an ice-cream parlor and a movie theater," said the girl who'd been the worst file-clerk. "In the meantime, Sophy, you have sense enough to understand that we've spent so much money we've got to spend more to get some of it back.—I vote we start in this one, Sophy," and she laid her finger upon the most expensive and ultra of all the magazines!

"But that is for millionaires!" said I, aghast.

"So is Hynds House," insisted Alicia, coolly. "How much did you say was in the bank?"

I was afraid to hear my own voice mention that insignificant sum; for, when one considered Hynds House, the little we had was beggarly; so I wrote it down, and pushed the paper across to her. Instead of looking scared, Alicia Gaines looked delighted!

"All that?" And round chin on pink palm, she fell to studying me with as much curiosity as if she had just met me and were puzzled to get at the real Me. Then she nodded, and snatching a sheet of paper, began to figure again, pausing every now and then to regard me with slitted eyes. At the end of ten strenuous minutes she pushed the paper over to me, and watched me grow all but apoplectic as I studied it. It was an entertaining list, beginning with a hat and ending with silk stockings. With all sorts of wonderful things in between—for me, you understand. Things like "One brown frock, with something cloudy-yellow about it." ("Sophy, blondes can stand yellow wonderfully well; I suggest a bronze, instead of a duller brown.")

"Why, I have plenty of clothes!" I protested.

"Business-woman-of-a-certain-age, general-utility, will-stand-wear-and-tear clothes. Not a stitch of Hyndshousey clothes among them. No happy, glad-I'm-alive-and-a woman clothes. Here's where you cease to look merely useful, respectable, and responsible, and begin to look the Lady of the Castle. There's quite as much philosophy and good morals in looking like a butterfly as there is in resembling a caterpillar."

"Why should I have more clothes?" I demanded.

"Because." And she added, with a fleeting smile, "And then catch your hare."

"Alicia!" said I, scandalized. "Alicia Gaines, do you realize I am thirty-six years old?"

"You wouldn't be if you just had sense enough to forget to remember it." This resentfully.

"No? Would you mind telling me how I might become such an accomplished forgetter?"

"Why, there's nothing easier! When you really wish to forget to remember something, Sophy, all you have to do is to remember to forget it!" And then, with real earnestness: "Sophy, it's the better part of wisdom to look like the job you want to hold down. Your job is holding down Hynds House. And we are up against things, Sophy, you and I. We have got to win out because it means—all this." Her eyes swept over the beautiful old room with an immense pride and affection.

"We have just got to keep Hynds House, if only to teach these Hyndsville women a lesson." She spoke after a pause. "Sophy, they flatten their ears and arch their backs at sight of us; and whenever there's a good chance for a wipe of a paw, why, we catch it across the nose. Now I," she admitted frankly, "am naturally full of cat feelings myself. I will not do what you want to do—walk off looking aggrieved, after the fashion of Old Dog Tray. I will repay in kind, retaliate in true lady-cat manner. And these,"—she began to smile—"these shall be our weapons of offense and defense. It will be a gorgeous struggle; however, my forebears came from Kilkenny!"

I laughed, but indeed I did not feel any too optimistic. Holding down Hynds House was no easy task, and the town was not disposed to make it easier for us. While we had been busy renovating, while our hands were so full of work that every minute was occupied, we hadn't felt our isolation. It was only when we had time to pause and look around us, that the stubborn, quiet hostility of the town's attitude to the new owner of Hynds House was borne in upon us.

Not that anything overt was done by any one. Nor was there the slightest breach of politeness: they were as punctiliously polite when chance brought us into contact with them, as well-bred folk are to strangers whose further acquaintance they have no desire to cultivate. The vestrymen of St. Polycarp's had expressed their appreciation of Miss Smith's action in promptly dropping the suit against them; she was welcome to come and worship God in their church, and to do her duty by the heathen. Such ladies as happened to belong to the missionary society spoke to us pleasantly in the church vestibule. The minister and his wife were as sincerely, duteously courteous. But that was all. Not a house in Hyndsville opened its doors to us. They simply would not accept the interloper that the malignity of the Scarlett Witch had put in possession of that which should have gone back to Richard's last heir, or failing him, to Richard Geddes.

The fact that these two descendants of the Hyndses did not seem to see and do their duty as members of that illustrious family, but shamelessly made friends with the aliens, did not raise us in the town's estimation. Quite the contrary. Nor were they even faintly angry with Mr. Jelnik and Doctor Geddes, who were, so to say, unsuspicious Israelites coaxed into the Canaanitish camp.

I admit that I considered Doctor Richard Geddes undiplomatic in his behavior. It never once occurred to that lordly gentleman, who had had his own way ever since he was born, that he should stop now to consider the feelings or the prejudices of Hyndsville. It wasn't that he meant to champion us. It never occurred to him that we needed championing. He simply liked us because he liked us. We pleased him. That sufficed, so far as he was concerned.

I had begun really to like the doctor, myself. But I wished to heaven he weren't, at that critical time, so tactless. For instance, I have been peremptorily taken by an elbow and led willy-nilly to his waiting car, on Lafayette Street, which is our principal thoroughfare, under the calm, appraising, watching eyes of all feminine Hyndsville. Not one of whom would fail to remark, casually:

"Oh, did you see that Miss Smith with Doctor Geddes this morning? Men are so unsuspicious, aren't they!"

I couldn't explain the situation to him, of course, any more than I could explain to Mr. Nicholas Jelnik that his presence in Hynds House, while pleasing to us, was disquieting and displeasing to others.

It was to be expected that this handsome young man, who kept his affairs so strictly to himself that nobody knew anything about them, should arouse the avid curiosity and hold the breathless interest of a little town where everybody had always known everybody else's business.

Why had he come to Hyndsville? To find the Hynds jewels, after a century? Didn't he know that the Scarlett Witch had the eye of an eagle for the glitter of gold and would long since have discovered whatever of value had been in Hynds House? Why didn't he consult older members of the community, who could furnish him with immensely interesting side-lights on the Hyndses?

Mr. Jelnik never explained. He didn't ask anybody anything. He didn't even employ Hyndsville negroes, who could be expected to gossip: his household consisted of a stately bronze-colored man-servant who was reputed to be a pagan, and the huge wolf-hound, Boris, his constant companion.

When Doctor Geddes was delicately sounded, the big man explained that he himself had but recently made the acquaintance of his young kinsman; Jelnik was a first-rate chap, declared the doctor; immensely clever, as befitted his father's son; altogether likeable, but a bit of a lunatic, like all the Hyndses.

It was natural, too, that the young ladies in a small town where young men are at a premium should have noticed this one particularly and expected a like interest on his part. The inexplicable Jelnik failed to exhibit it. There was but one house that he visited, and that was Hynds House.

Whatever his reasons for this may have been, and the town named several, the fact remains that Hynds House would never have been so beautiful, the restoration wouldn't have been so nearly perfect, had it not been for the critical taste of Mr. Jelnik. He had the European knowledge of beautiful things, and, toward the finer graces of life, the attitude of Paris, of Rome, of Vienna, rather than of New York, of Chicago, or of, say, Atlanta.

There was a glamour about the man. Whatever he did or said had an indefinable, delightful significance; what he left undone was full of meaning. His mere presence ornamented and colored common moments so that they glowed, and remained in the memory with a rainbow light upon them. He was never hurried or flurried, any more than sun and sky and trees and tides are; and he was just as vital, and quite as baffling.

We accepted him at first as part of the fairy-story into which Destiny had pitchforked us. He belonged to Hynds House, so to speak, and there one might meet him upon common ground. But sometimes when I happened to glance up I would find him watching us with those reflective eyes that were so full of light and at the same time so inscrutable. And then he would smile, his Dionysiac smile that made him all at once so far off and so foreign that I knew, with a sinking heart, that he didn't belong at all; that this beautiful and brilliant bird of passage was lightening for but a very brief space my sober skies.

Alicia said he made her think of peacocks and ivory. He delighted and dazzled her, though he did not disquiet her as he did me, perhaps because she, too, was young and beautiful, and I—wasn't.

It will be seen, then, that our position, take it by and large, wasn't one that called for flags and buntings. Life didn't look a bit rose-colored to me as I sat there that night, drafting a letter to the Head. Of a sudden arose clamor in the hall, and howls, hideously loud at that hour and in that quiet house. There came the noise of running feet, and there burst into the lighted library, with gray faces and rolling eyes, our two lately acquired colored maids, Fernolia the thin one, and Queen of Sheba, fat and brown.

"Good heavens! What's the matter?" I asked, fearfully. It had been a terrible task to break in those two handmaids, to train them not to take part in the conversation at table, not to take off cap, and hair, not to do the thousand and one undisciplined and disorderly things they did do.

"Ghostes! Sperets! Ha'nts!" chattered the colored women. "Ol' Mis' Scarlett's walkin' in de ca'iage house!"

"Nonsense!" At the same time I felt myself turning pale, and goose-flesh coming out on my spine.

"No, ma'am, Miss Sophy, 't ain't nonsense. It's ha'nts!" protested Fernolia. She was the brighter of the two, but given to embroidering her facts.

"Yessum, I done saw 'er," corroborated Queenasheeba. (That's how one pronounced her name.)

The two occupied a very pleasant room above the carriage house, a room that had overcome their unwillingness to stay overnight at Hynds House. Queenasheeba was just dozing, when she was awakened by Fernolia, who had been sitting by the window. Both of them, peering through the scrim curtains, saw a tall white figure disappear into the spring-house. A few minutes later, to their horror, they heard Something moving downstairs in the carriage house—Something like the clank of a chain—footsteps—and then silence. Almost paralyzed with terror, the two women clung together. Anything might be expected of ol' Mis' Scarlett! However, nothing further happened. With shaking hands Queenasheeba relighted the lamp. Then, snatching up such clothes as they could grab, the two fled to us.

Mary Magdalen and Beautiful Dog always departed after dinner. Except for the Black family and the two canaries, Alicia and I had big, lonesome Hynds House to ourselves. Mr. Jelnik's gray cottage, set amid Lombardy poplars and thick shrubberies, was some distance away, and we didn't know whether Doctor Geddes was at home or not. It is true we had firearms, a pair of pistols having been literally forced upon us by the doctor, who fretted and fumed about our staying there alone. Both of us were more afraid of those pistols than of any possible ghostly intruder.

Nevertheless, I went up-stairs and fetched them. Alicia took one as she might have taken a rattlesnake, and I held the other. Armed thus, carrying torch-light and lantern, and with the two gray-faced, half-clad negro women following us, one carrying our brass poker and the other the tongs, we marched upon the carriage house.

The big barnlike place, lately cleaned and whitewashed, looked painfully empty. In one of the stalls the hay purchased for our recently acquired Jersey cow gave off a pleasant odor. Over in one corner, in a neat, clean, orderly array, were Schmetz's tools. A little farther on was our chicken feed, in covered barrels.

We went from empty stall to empty stall, to reassure the women; there wasn't so much as a cobweb in any of them. All the down-stairs windows were heavily barred with iron and further protected, like the doors, with heavy oaken shutters studded with iron nail-heads. The two small rooms in the rear had once been used as a jail for recalcitrant slaves; they held now nothing deadlier than Schmetz's flower pots and seedlings. Every shutter was closed, and the iron bars looked reassuringly strong; also, the walls are three feet thick.

"You were dreaming, you silly women! I told you you were dreaming!" said I, and had turned to go, reassured and relieved, when Alicia's nose wrinkled. I could hardly keep from sniffing, myself.

In the carriage-house was a faint, indeterminable scent, the ghost of the ghost of fragrance, so elusive that one sensed rather than smelled it, so pervasive and haunting that one could not miss it. And it certainly had nothing to do with the wholesome odor of hay and cow feed, or the smell of whitewash and oiled tools.

"Yes, you were dreaming." Alicia began to edge the colored women toward the doors. "But as you've had a scare," she added pleasantly, "I'll give you a new lace collar, Queenasheeba, and you a red ribbon, Fernolia, to wear to church next Sunday, just to prove to you that being awake is heaps better than having nightmares."

We padlocked the big doors after us, and went through the rooms up-stairs. They, too, had been freshly cleaned and calcimined. And they, too, were quite empty.

Despite which, Fernolia and Queenasheeba were firmly, tearfully, shiveringly certain they had seen nothing less than ol' Mis' Scarlett's ha'nt. They had the worst possible opinion of ol' Miss Scarlett: she had been bad enough living—but as a spook! We had to let them lug their bedding over and sleep in the room next to ours; we had to give them sweet lavender to quiet their nerves. I am sure they would have bolted incontinently if they hadn't been too scared to venture outside.

"If I could catch that ghost I'd shake it!" declared Alicia. And we went back to our figuring, with a sort of desperate courage. "Now will you get those clothes, Sophy Smith?" she resumed, through her teeth, and the pink came back to her cheek, and her eyes deepened. "And do you agree to stick it out, you and I shoulder to shoulder, town or no town, ha'nts or no ha'nts; and win out?"

"Yes!" said I.



CHAPTER VII

A BRIGHT PARTICULAR STAR

Wire from The Author, New York City, to Miss S. Smith, Hyndsville, South Carolina:

Photos received. Furniture noted. It's pretty, but is it art?

Wire from Miss Smith to The Author:

What is Art?

Wire from The Author:

Sometimes an invention of the devil. Is your stuff Madison Avenue or Grand Rapids? Reply.

Wire from Miss Smith:

Madison Avenue and Grand Rapids hadn't been invented when Hynds House was furnished.

Wire from The Author:

Maybe not, but mightn't be same furniture. Have been stung before. Can't be genuine. Too much of it.

Wire from Miss Smith:

Please yourself.

Wire from The Author:

Coming to investigate. Won't sleep in anything but pineapple bed; won't sit in anything but carved chair; can't pray without prie-dieu. If spurious will publicly gibbet you and probably burn your house down. Hold southwest room my arrival.

Alicia laughed, and cuddled those yellow slips.

"I knew this was an enchanted place!" she cried. "Oh, Sophy, it's working! He's coming, he's coming, and he's the biggest ever, and he's going to stay! Sophy, think of the advertising!"

"He will probably be detestable. Geniuses are generally horrid to live with. And there will be something the matter with his digestion; there is always something the matter with their digestion."

"From swallowing all the flattery shoveled upon them, poor dears," Alicia explained charitably. "Don't worry about his digestion: leave it to Mary Magdalen's waffles. Hooray! Hynds House stock is booming!"

It was.

From the head of our firm:

My dear Miss Smith:

I have your interesting letter and the delightful photographs, which have so completely charmed Mrs. Westmacote and me that we have decided it wouldn't be good business to miss Hynds House on our trip South this year.

Mrs. Westmacote asks if you could also accommodate a cousin of hers, Miss Emmeline Phelps-Parsons, a lady deeply interested in the colonial homes of America.

You must allow me heartily to congratulate you upon your great good fortune in falling heir to such a wonderful old place; and to wish you many happy and prosperous years in it.

I shall telegraph you when to expect us. With all good wishes,

Yours faithfully, GEORGE PEABODY WESTMACOTE.

Letter from Miss Emmeline Phelps-Parsons, of Boston:

Dear Miss Smith:

My cousin Mrs. Westmacote, whom I have been visiting, showed me your letter and the enchanting photographs of your house which you were kind enough to send Mr. Westmacote. Hynds House is just the one place I have long been looking for!—an unspoiled colonial house, with historic associations!

It is perfect! I must see with my own eyes those Chelsea figures on your drawing-room mantel, the luster and Washington jugs in the dining-room, and the cabinets in the hall.

Sincerely yours, EMMELINE PHELPS-PARSONS.

P.S. I hope it is really true that there is an Influence in Hynds House? I do so greatly long to come in contact with the Occult and the Unknown!

"Somewhere on the firing-line of fifty," mused Alicia. "A lady with a soul. Don't you hear dear old Boston calling you, Sophy? Here's one to put Miss Martha Hopkins's light under a bushel basket!"

We had several other inquirers; and chose from them Mr. Chetwynd Harrison-Gore and his daughter, English folk "doing" America and delighted to include a Carolina colonial house in their trip; a suffrage leader, whose throat needed a rest; and Morenas, the illustrator. It seemed that Hynds House offered to each one something that had been craved for.

The Author pounced upon us two or three days before we expected him, to take stock after his own fashion. I have heard The Author commended for "the humor of his rare smile and the keen, kind intellectuality of his remarkable eyes." Well, the smile was rare enough; and of course there isn't any doubt about the man's intellectuality. For the rest, he proved to be a tall, lanky, stooping person, with a thin tanned face, outstanding ears, a high nose, and long, blue-gray eyes half-hidden under drooping lids and behind glasses. His hair was just hair. And he had the sort of mustache that bristled like a cat's when he twisted his lip.

So far as monetary success, and efficacious press-agents, and the adulation, admiration, emulation, and envy of his contemporaries went, he had nothing to complain of. He was lionized, quoted, courted, flattered, reviewed, viewed through rose-colored spectacles; and disillusioned, discontented, cynical, selfish, and, of course, most horribly bored. He was gun-shy of women; he suspected them of wanting to marry him. He was wary of men; he suspected them of wanting to exploit him. He loathed children, who were generally obstreperous and unnecessary editions of parents he didn't admire. He didn't even trust the beautiful works of men's hands. They, even they, were too often faked! If you had dug up the indubitable mummy of the first Pharaoh from under the oldest of the pyramids, The Author would have turned him over on his back and hunted for the trade-mark of The Modern Mummy-makers: London, Paris, and New York; Catalogue on Request.

He stalked through Hynds House with slitted eyes and bristling mustache—business of silent sleuth on the trail of the furniture-fakir! He'd pause at each door and with an eagle glance take a comprehensive survey; then, defensively, offensively, he examined things in detail. From our rambling attics to our vast and cavernous cellars did he go; and not a word crossed his lips until he had completed this conandoyley examination. Then:

"Telegraph form if you have one, please," he requested briefly. "I wish to wire for my car. Put Johnson in the room next mine. Johnson's my secretary." He looked at Alicia, reflectively. "Amiable ass, Johnson," he volunteered. Then he went over to the tiled fireplace—we were in the library—and bent worshipfully before it.

"The finest bit of tile-work on this continent," he said, in a hushed voice. "Absolutely perfect. And it belongs to a woman named Smith!"

"We know just how you feel about it," Alicia told him sympathetically, while The Author turned red to his ears. "I have often felt like that myself, when something I particularly wanted was bought by somebody I was sure couldn't properly appreciate it. I dare say I was mistaken," admitted Alicia, "just as mistaken as you are now in thinking that Sophy and I aren't worthy of those tiles. We are—all the more so because we never before had anything like them."

The spoiled darling of success looked at us intently; and a most curious change came over his clever, bad-tempered face. His eyes are as bright as ice, and have somewhat the same cold light in them. Now a thaw set in and melted them, and a mottled red spread over his sallow cheeks.

"Miss Gaines," he said, abruptly, "your doll-baby face does your intelligence an injustice—Miss Smith, I apologize." And before the astonished and indignant Alicia could summon a withering retort, he added heartily: "This whole place is quite the real thing, you know—almost too good to be true and too true to be good. Would you mind telling me how you happened to think of letting me in on it, eh?"

"Because we knew it was the real thing," Alicia replied, truthfully.

"Do you know,"—The Author was plainly pleased—"that that is one of the very nicest things that's ever been said to me? Because I really do know above a bit about genuine stuff."

"It must be a great relief to you to hear something pleasant about yourself that is also something true," I said with sympathy. The Author grinned like a hyena, and Alicia giggled. "Because you must be bored to extinction, having to listen to all sorts of people ascribe to you all sorts of virtues that no one man could possibly possess and remain human." I was remembering some of the fulsome flubdub I'd read about him.

"Hark to her!" grinned The Author. "What! you don't believe all the nice things you've read about me?"

"I do not."

"You don't in the least look or write like a dehumanized saint, you know," supplemented Alicia, laughing.

"What do I look like, then?" He sat on the edge of a table and cuddled a bony knee. Behind his glasses his eyes began to twinkle.

"You look more like yourself than you do like your photographs," decided Alicia.

The Author threw up his hands.

"And now, tell me this, please: How, when, where, and from whom, did you acquire the supreme art of aiding and abetting an old house to grow young again without losing its character?"

"We were born," Alicia explained, "with the inherent desire to do just what we have been able to do here. This house gave us our big chance. But it wouldn't have been so—so in keeping with itself," she was feeling for the right words, "if it hadn't been for Mr. Nicholas Jelnik."

The Author pricked up his intellectual ears. His eyes narrowed.

"Jelnik? I knew a Jelnik, an Austrian alienist; met him at dinner at the American Ambassador's in Vienna; quiet, unassuming, pleasant man, and one of the greatest doctors in Europe."

"Mr. Jelnik is Doctor Jelnik's son."

"What!" shrieked The Author. And with unfeigned amazement: "In the name of high heaven, what is Jelnik's son doing here?"

"Mr. Jelnik's mother was a Miss Hynds. She met and married your doctor abroad."

That sixth sense possessed by him to an unusual degree, warned him that he was on the trail of Copy.

"May I ask questions?" he demanded.

"Of course."

"You inherited this property from an old aunt, I believe?"

"She wasn't my aunt, really. She married my mother's uncle, Johnny Scarlett."

"I see. And Jelnik's mother was a Miss Hynds. How long has he been here?"

"For some time before we came."

"Near neighbor of yours?"

"Yes," Alicia put in; "and Doctor Richard Geddes is our neighbor on the other side. His grandmother was a Miss Hynds."

"Pardon a writer-man's curiosity," begged The Author, smiling. "But this house is unusual, very unusual. While I am here I shall look up its history. It should make good copy."

Having a pretty shrewd idea of The Author's powers of finding out what he wanted to find out, we thought it better that he should hear that history, as we knew it. If the mystery had ever been solved, the tragedy of Hynds House would have had but passing interest for The Author. But the undiscovered piqued and puzzled him and aroused his combative egotism.

From the pictured face of Freeman—dark, stern, uncommunicative—he trotted back to the drawing room to look again at the boyish face of little Richard leaning against his pretty mother's knees; at the haughty, handsome face of James Hampden; and at beautiful dark Jessamine, who had a long black curl straying across the shoulder of a blue frock, and a curled red lip, and a breast of snow.

"Freeman was not a crook; his face is hard, stern, bigoted, secretive, but honest. Yet if he didn't do it himself what was he trying to tell when death cut off his wind? If he did it, where did he hide the plunder? Here in this house? His family must have known every nook and cranny as well as he did himself, and he could be sure they'd pull it to pieces in the search that would ensue.

"If Richard were the thief, to whom did he give the loot? If the gems had been put upon the market, some trace of them must have been discovered. Remains: Who got them? Where did they go?"

"That's what the unhappy people in this house asked a century ago, and there was no answer," I remarked, soberly.

"And that poor woman Jessamine went mad trying to solve it!" he said, looking at her with commiseration. And after a pause: "And so the lady who left her husband's grandniece the house of her forebears was Freeman's daughter: and the Austrian doctor's son is Richard's great-great-grandson! I meet Jelnik pere in Vienna, and come to Hyndsville, South Carolina, to meet Jelnik fils. H'm! Decidedly, the situation has nice possibilities!"

Whereupon he took note-book and fountain-pen from his coat pocket and in the most composed manner began to jot down the outstanding features of Hynds House history.

"It will give me something to puzzle over while I'm here," he remarked, complacently. It did!

The Author approved of Hynds House. It had all the charm of a new and quaint field of exploration and research, and there was nothing in it to offend his hypercritical judgment. I have a shrewd suspicion that Mary Magdalen's cooking played no mean part in his satisfaction. His prowess as a trencherman aroused the admiration and respect of Fernolia, who waited on table. Fernolia had learned to admire herself in her smart apron and cap, and to serve creditably enough. Only twice did she fall from grace; once was the morning The Author broke his own record for waffles. Fernolia, excited and astonished, placed the last platter before him, raised the cover with a flourish, and remarked with deep meaning:

"Dem's all!"

The second time was when we had what Mary Magdalen calls "mulatto rice," which is a dish built upon a firm foundation of small strips of bacon, onion, stewed tomatoes, and rice, and a later and last addition of deliciously browned country sausages. Fernolia, beaming upon The Author hospitably, broke her parole:

"You ain't called to skimp yo'self none on dat rice," she told him confidentially. "De cook done put yo' name in de pot big. She say she glad we-all got man in de house to 'preciate vittles. Yes-suh, Ma'y Magdalen aim to make you bust yo' buttonholes whilst you hab de chanst."

I am told that The Author always makes a great hit when he tells that on himself, and is considered tremendously clever because he can imitate Fernolia's soft South Carolina drawl.

Mr. Nicholas Jelnik, whom he managed to meet within the week, aroused The Author's professional interest. For once his tried and tested powers of turning other people's minds inside out failed utterly. His innocent-sounding queries, his adroit leads, were smilingly turned aside. The defense, so far as Mr. Jelnik was concerned, was ridiculously simple: he didn't want to talk about himself and he didn't do it.

He was perfectly willing to talk, when the humor seized him, and he did talk, brilliantly, wittily, freely, and impersonally. The egoistic "I" was conspicuous by its absence. And while he talked you could see the agile antennae of The Author's winged mind feeling after the soul-string that might lead him through the mazes of this unusual character. That he could be deftly diverted filled The Author with chagrin mingled with wonder.

He manoeuvered for an invitation to the gray cottage and secured it with suspicious ease; called, and had a glass of most excellent wine in his host's simplest of bachelor living-rooms; made the closer acquaintance of Boris—he didn't care for dogs—and of self-contained, dark-faced Daoud, Mr. Jelnik's East Indian man-servant; and came home dissatisfied and determined. He scented "copy," and a born writer after copy is, next to an Apache after a scalp or a Dyak after his enemy's head, the most ruthless of created beings. He will pick his mother's naked soul to pieces, bore into his wife's living brain, dissect his daughter's quivering heart, tear across his sister's mind, rip up his father's life and his best friend's character, lay bare the tomb itself, and make for himself an ink of tears and blood that he may write what he finds. Of such is the kingdom of Genius.

And in the meantime the wondrous news that The Author himself was staying at Hynds House, percolated through Hyndsville and soaked to the bone. The Author was too big a figure to be ignored, even by South Carolina people. Something had to be done. But how shall one become acquainted with a notoriously unfriendly and gun-shy celebrity, a personage of such note that every utterance means newspaper space; and at the same time manage utterly to ignore and cast into outer darkness the people with whom the great one is staying?

The town felt itself put upon its mettle. The first move was made by Miss Martha Hopkins. It was understood that if anybody could clear the way, carry a difficult position with skill and aplomb, that somebody was Miss Martha Hopkins.

She didn't bear down directly upon The Author: that would have been crude. She opened her campaign by a flank movement upon Alicia and me, in her capacity of secretary and treasurer of the missionary society.

Miss Hopkins sailed into Hynds House on a perfect afternoon, to discuss with us a proposed rummage-sale which was to benefit the heathen. She wasn't really worrying about the heathen: he had all the rest of his benighted life to get himself saved in, hadn't he? All the while she sat there and talked about him, she was really loaded to the muzzle with pertinent remarks to affluent authors.

She had come with the hope of chancing upon the great man himself; and, failing that, she meant to pump Alicia and me of enough material to, say, enable her to use a part of her stock of pet adjectives in the paper she would prepare for the next meeting of the literary society. She had a pretty stock of adjectives—plump, purple words like lyric, and liquid, and plastic, and subtile, and poignancy, with every now and then a chiaoscuro thrown in for good measure; and a whole melting-pot full of "rare emotional experiences," "art that was almost intuitive in its passion, so subtly did it"—oh, do all sorts of things!—and "handling the plastic outlines of the theme with rare emotional skill and mastery of technique," "purest lyricism lifted to heights of poignancy,"—all that sort of stuff, you know. Next time a writer, or, better still, a fiddler or a pianist comes to your town, look in your home paper the morning after, and you'll see it.

As it happened, The Author was not at home. His secretary had arrived a day or two before, and after unloading a systemful of copy upon that faithful beast of burden, The Author had given himself a half-holiday with old Riedriech, who knew quite enough about old furniture to win his interest and affection.

Miss Hopkins, then, had Alicia and me to herself. Sedately we discussed rummage-sales, and the effect of cotton shirts upon the adolescent cannibal; and all the while Miss Hopkins was stealthily watching doors and windows and hoping that high heaven would send The Author to her hands. We hadn't so much as mentioned his name. It pleased us to sit there and watch her trying to make us do so.

The iron knocker on the front door sounded. And ushered in by Queenasheeba, there stood Nicholas Jelnik with great gray Boris beside him, and beauty and glamour and romance upon him like a light. Miss Hopkins had seen him on the streets, but hadn't met him personally. I don't think she relished the fact that she had to come to Hynds House to do so. Nor could she save herself from the crudity of staring with all her eyes at this handsome offshoot of the Hyndses, with what in a less polite person might well have been called avid curiosity.

"Miss Leetchy," (he had gaily borrowed Fernolia's pronunciation of Alicia's name), "I have brought you the butter-scotch your soul hankers after. I fear you can never hope to grow up, Miss Leetchy, while you cherish a jejune passion for butter-scotch."

"Oh, I don't know. It might have been fudge!" Alicia replied airily. "But thank you, Mr. Jelnik: it was very nice of you to remember."

"Yes. I have such an excellent memory," said he, blandly. "Miss Smith, this preserved ginger is laid at your shrine. If you offer me a piece or two, I shall accept with thanks: I like preserved ginger, myself.—Boris, you'll prefer butter-scotch. You may ask Miss Gaines to give you a piece."

Miss Hopkins, it appeared, despised butter-scotch, and abhorred preserved ginger.

"I saw The Author hiking across lots a while since. Nice, open-hearted, neighborly man, The Author.—Oh, by the way, Miss Smith: is it, or is it not written in the Book of Darwin that the gadfly is one of the distinct evolutionary links in the descent of man?"

"Good heavens, certainly not!" cried Miss Hopkins. And she looked strangely upon Mr. Nicholas Jelnik.

"No? Thank you. I was in doubt," murmured Mr. Jelnik. The golden flecks danced in and out of his eyes. "But we were speaking of The Author: may I ask how The Author appeals to you as a human being, Miss Hopkins?"

"I do not know him as a human being," Miss Hopkins admitted.

Mr. Jelnik looked surprised. His eyebrows went up.

"Oh, come, now!" he demurred. "He isn't so bad as all that!"

"Oh, dear me, no!" Alicia protested, in a shocked voice. "He may have abrupt manners and say unexpected things, but he is perfectly respectable, Miss Hopkins! There's never been a breath against his character. I thought you knew," purred the hussy, demurely. "Why, he's dined at the White House, and lunched and motored and yachted with royalties, and lectured before the D.A.R.'s themselves! And he belongs to at least a dozen societies. There are,"—Alicia was enjoying her naughty self immensely—"good authors and bad authors. Sometimes the bad authors are good, and sometimes the good authors are bad. But our author is more than either: he's It!"

"You entirely and strangely misunderstand me." Miss Hopkins spoke with the deadly gentleness of suppressed fury. "I had no slightest intention of reflecting upon the character of so eminent a writer, with whose career, Miss Gaines, I am thoroughly familiar. I was merely trying to explain that I had never met him."

"Oh, I see. Of course! I should have remembered that!"

Miss Hopkins's entire contempt for Alicia's mentality overcame any suspicion she might have entertained. Also, she had come determined to discover what she could about The Author, and she was not one lightly to be put aside. She said, smiling tolerantly:

"Of course you should! But mayn't I congratulate you upon knowing him? Having him here in Hynds House almost justifies turning the old place into a boarding-house, doesn't it?"

"The Author," Mr. Jelnik remarked gently, "has a very sensitive soul. I shudder to think what the effect upon him would be were he to hear himself referred to as a boarder. My dear Miss Hopkins, never, never let him hear you designate him 'boarder'!"

"Who's talking about boarders?" asked a hearty voice, and Doctor Richard Geddes came in like a gale of mountain air.

"Miss Hopkins. She thinks The Author's presence almost justifies the turning of Hynds House into a boarding-house," answered Mr. Jelnik. He added, thoughtfully, "Curious notion; isn't it?"

"Martha has plenty more," said the doctor, bluntly. "Boarding-house? Well, supposing? What was it before? A hyena-cage, Martha, a hyena-cage, into which you'd be the last to venture your nose, my dear woman! I say, put on your bonnets, all of you, and let's have a spin in the fresh air. The roads are gorgeous. You can come too, Jelnik: there's room for five."

Mr. Jelnik was desolated: he had a pressing engagement. Miss Hopkins rose precipitately. She also had an engagement; besides, she liked to walk. People needed to walk more than they did. The reason why one saw so many bad figures nowadays, was that people lolled around in automobiles instead of walking.

"Well, walking is certainly good for you, Martha. It helps you to reduce," the doctor agreed. Miss Hopkins said dryly that the little walking she intended to do just then wouldn't affect her weight any. And that Doctor Geddes should himself take to walking: men always got fat as they neared fifty.

"Fat! Fifty!" roared the doctor, with enraged astonishment. "Why, I'm not by some years as old as you are, Martha! You were several classes ahead of me in school, don't you remember? I am exactly thirty-nine years old, and as you know everything else, you ought to know that!"

Miss Hopkins studied him with a balefully level eye.

"You really can't blame anybody for forgetting it, Richard," she said, ambiguously.

"You are to recollect, Geddes, that a woman is always as young as she looks," (Mr. Jelnik bowed, smilingly, to Miss Hopkins), "and a man is older than he feels," he added, for the doctor's benefit.

"All right. Let's say I feel as good as Martha looks," the doctor's momentary ill humor vanished. Miss Hopkins smiled. She had stuck her claws into him and drawn blood; but her fur was still ruffled.

Mr. Jelnik made his adieus, Boris offering each of us a polite paw.

"And now," the doctor ordered briskly, "to your spinning, jades, to your spinning! Into my car, the three of you! No, Martha, I will not take a refusal; you shall not walk: you've got to come along, if I have to tuck you under my arm. I don't care if you never reduce. What do you want to reduce for, anyhow? You're all right just as you are! There! are you satisfied?"

We stood by passively while the masterful doctor heckled and hustled the unhappy Center of Culture into his car. With heaven knows what feelings, she found herself seated beside me, Sophy Smith, while Alicia, beside the doctor, tossed gay remarks over her shoulder. Miss Hopkins realized that all Hyndsville would witness what she herself knew to be high-handed capture by force, but which must hideously resemble capitulation; and she also realized that explanations never explain.

I respected her misery enough to keep silent, and she made no attempt to converse. Her hat slid forward at a rakish angle over one ear, and her hair blew about her face in stringy wisps, as the doctor broke the speed laws on the long, level stretches of quiet roads. When we came to a rough spot she bounced up and down (one might hear her breath exhaled in a—well, yes, in a grunt) but she made no complaint, uttered no protest. She was a shackled and voiceless victim, until we finally drew up at her own gate, after an hour's jaunt, and allowed her to escape.

"Why, Martha, our little spin has given you a fine color!" remarked the doctor, genuinely pleased. Two conspicuously red spots shone in Miss Hopkins's cheeks, and her eyes were extremely bright. "We'll have to take you out with us again," he added, genially.

"Shall you, Richard?" muttered Miss Hopkins, and scuttled up her front path,

Like one who in a lonesome wood Doth walk in fear and dread, Because he knows a frightful fiend Doth close behind him tread!

By and large, I should say that the honors were with Alicia.

The Author's secretary was pacing up and down the garden when we reached home, with Potty Black careering after him and every now and then dashing into the shrubbery to put to flight Beautiful Dog, who was also enamored of the young man with the nice smile and the good brown eyes. He had a great affection for animals, as they seemed to understand.

Beautiful Dog laid aside, for his sake, his fear of white people, and slunk after him fawningly, wagging what did duty as a tail, and showing every tooth in an ear-to-ear grin. At sight of us, Beautiful Dog gave a dismal yelp and disappeared.

"Let's sit in the library," coaxed the secretary. "I want you please to allow me to hold in my hands your copy of 'Purchas his Pilgrimes.' The Author dreams about that book out loud. Oh, yes, another thing I want to ask you: what sort of perfume do you use, and where do you get it?"

My scalp prickled.

"I noticed it in the upper hall last night," went on the secretary, innocently. "It was pervasive, but at the same time so delicate, so elusive, that I couldn't determine what it was. I am very sensitive to perfumes."

"So are we," Alicia told him. "And if what you think you smelled is what we think we smell, it isn't a—a regular perfume. It's a—a—a something that belongs to Hynds House."

The library was flooded with the ruddy light of sunset. Every bit of color in the big room stood out against a golden background, and a great golden spear fell across the dark, brooding face of Freeman Hynds above the old tiled fireplace. In that rosy glow he seemed to look down at us with living eyes.

"Is that so?" The secretary stopped; and his head went up and his nose wrinkled. For the "something that belonged to Hynds House" walked upon the air with invisible feet.



CHAPTER VIII

PEACOCKS AND IVORY

"Sophy, do you remember the night we talked it over, and decided to come here, and you were afraid of the new soil's effect upon yourself?"

"Of course. Why?"

"Oh, because."

"Because why?"

"Just because.—I wish to gracious you had a little saving vanity, Sophy Smith!"

"And what, then, is this?" I asked ironically, and rustled my skirts. For the Westmacotes were to arrive that night, in time for dinner, and I, standing before the mirror in my room, was what Alicia called "really dressed" for the first time in my life.

"From your point of view, this is a business necessity. From mine, it is applied morality. Why, Sophy, you're stunning! Here, sit down: I have to loosen up that hair a bit."

"Now!" said she, when she had critically surveyed her finished work and found it good, "Now, Sophy Smith, you are no longer efficient and utilitarian; you are effective and decorative, thank heaven!"

Really, clothes do make a tremendous difference, after all. Why, I—Well, I no longer looked root-bound.

"I said you'd put out new leaves and begin to bloom!" Alicia exulted. We bowed to the Sophy in the glass, a small and slender person with quantities of fair hair, a round white chin, and steady blue eyes. For the rest, she had a short nose and the rather wide mouth of a boy. She wasn't what you'd call a beautiful person, but she wasn't displeasing to the eye.

"Vale, plain Sophy Smith!" cried Alicia, "Ave, dear Lady of Hynds House! We who about to live salute you!"

The Westmacotes were delighted with Alicia. The Head had noticed her just about as much as a Head notices a pale file-clerk in a white shirt-waist and a black skirt. This radiant rose-maiden—"little Dawn-rose," old Riedriech called her—was new to him; and so, I fancy, was a Miss Smith in such a frock as I was wearing. He, as well as his wife and Miss Phelps-Parsons, accepted us at our face-value, with the background of Hynds House outlining us.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse