It was time now to go down. The guests had all arrived, the clergyman was waiting, and Captain Markham had grown very red in the face with his impatience, which his wife tried in vain to quiet. If at this last moment there arose in Ethelyn's bosom any wild impulse to break away from the dreadful scene, and rush out into the darkness which lay so softly upon the hills, she put it aside, with the thought, "too late now—forever too late"; and taking the arm which Richard offered her, she went mechanically down the staircase into the large parlor where the wedding guests were assembled. Surely, surely, she did not know what she was doing, or realize the solemn words: "I charge and require you both, as ye shall answer at the great day, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment why ye may not be lawfully joined together in matrimony, ye do now confess it, for be ye well assured," and so forth. She did not even hear them; for the numb, dead feeling which crept over her, chilling her blood, and making her hand, which Richard took in his while he fitted the wedding ring, so cold and clammy to the touch, that Richard felt tempted to hold and chafe it in his own warm, broad palms; but that was not in accordance with the ceremony, and so he let it fall, wondering that Ethelyn could be so cold when the sweat was standing in great drops upon his own face, and moistening his wavy hair, which clustered in short, thick curls around his brow, making him look so handsome, as more than one maiden thought, envying Ethelyn her good fortune, and marveling at the pallor of her lips and the rigidity of her form.
The ceremony was ended, and Ethelyn Grant was Mrs. Richard Markham; but the new name brought no blushes to her cheek, nor yet the kiss her husband gave her, nor the congratulations of the guests, nor Aunt Barbara's tears, which dropped upon the forehead of her darling as the good woman bent over her and thought how she had lost her; but when Frank Van Buren stooped down to touch her lips the sluggish blood quickened and a thrill went through and through her veins, sending the bright color to her cheeks, which burned as with a hectic flush. Frank saw the power he held, but to his credit he did not then exult; he only felt that it was finished, that Ethie was gone past his recall; and for the first time in his life he experienced a genuine pang of desolation, such as he had never felt before, and he fought hard to master his emotions while he watched the bride receiving the bridal guests. Another than Frank was watching her, too—Mrs. Dr. Van Buren—who at one time feared lest Ethelyn should faint, and who, as soon as an opportunity offered, whispered to her niece, "Do, Ethie, put some animation in your manner or people will think you an unwilling bride."
For a moment a gleam of anger flashed from the eyes which looked unflinchingly into Mrs. Van Buren's, and the pale lips quivered with passion. But Ethelyn had too much pride to admit of her letting the people know what she was suffering, and so with great effort she rallied her fainting spirits, and twice ere the evening was at a close her merry laugh was heard even above Susie Granger's, as a knot of her gay companions gathered round her with their merry jokes and gay repartees.
Susie Granger was in her happiest mood, and her lively spirits seemed to pervade the whole party. Now that he knew her better, Richard was more at ease with her, and returned her playful sallies until even Ethelyn wondered to see him so funny. He never once forgot her, however, as was evinced by the loving glances he bent upon her, and by his hovering constantly at her side, as if afraid to lose her.
Once, when they were standing together and Frank was near to them, Richard laid his hand upon Ethelyn's shoulder which the cut of the wedding dress left bare. It was a very beautiful neck—white, and plump, and soft—and Richard's hand pressed somewhat heavily; but with a shiver Ethelyn drew herself away, and Frank, who was watching her, fancied he saw the flesh creep backward from the touch. Perhaps it was a feeling of pity, and perhaps it was a mean desire to test his own influence over her, which prompted him carelessly to take her hand to inspect the wedding-ring. It was only her hand, but as Frank held it in his own, he felt it growing warm and flushed, while the color deepened on Ethelyn's cheeks, and then died suddenly away at Frank's characteristic remark, spoken for her ear alone, "You feel like thunder, Ethie, and so do I."
The speech did Ethelyn good. No matter how she felt, it was not Frank's place to speak to her thus. She was now a wife, and she meant to be true to her marriage vow, both in look and deed; so, with an impatient gesture, she flung aside Frank's hand, repelling him fiercely with the reply, "You are mistaken, sir—at least, so far as I am concerned."
After that she stayed more with Richard, and once, of her own accord, she put her arm in his and stood half leaning against him with both hands clasped together, while he held the bouquet which Mrs. Senator Woodhull had sent by express from New York. It is true that Richard smelled and breathed upon the flowers oftener than was desirable; and once Ethelyn saw him extracting leaves from the very choicest blossoms; but on the whole he did very well, considering that it was the first time he had ever held a lady's bouquet in such an expensive holder.
As Ethelyn had predicted, the evening was hot and sultry; but the bugs and beetles and millers she had dreaded did not come in to annoy her, and when, as the clock struck twelve, the company dispersed, they were sincere in their assertions of having passed a delightful evening, and many were the good wishes expressed for Mrs. Judge Markham's happiness as the guests took their way to their respective homes.
An hour later and the lights had disappeared from Miss Barbara Bigelow's windows, and the summer stars looked down upon the quiet house where that strange bridal had been.
From Mrs. Senator Woodhull's elegant house—where Mrs. Judge Markham had been petted, and flattered, and caressed, and Mr. Judge Markham had been adroitly tutored and trained without the least effect—the newly wedded pair went on to Quebec and Montreal, and thence to the White Mountains, where Ethelyn's handsome traveling dress was ruined and Richard's linen coat, so obnoxious to his bride, was torn past repair and laid away in one of Ethelyn's trunks, with the remark that "Mother could mend it for Andy, who always took his brother's cast-off clothes." The hair trunk had been left in Chicopee, and so Ethelyn had not that to vex her.
Noticed everywhere, and admired by all whom she met, the first part of her wedding trip was not as irksome as she had feared it might be. Pleased, as a boy, with his young bride, Richard was all attention, and Ethelyn had only to express a wish to have it gratified, so that casual lookers-on would have pronounced her supremely happy. And Ethelyn's heart did not ache one-half so hard as on that terrible day of her bridal. In the railway car, on the crowded steamboat, or at the large hotels, where all were entire strangers, she forgot to watch and criticise her husband, and if any dereliction from etiquette did occur, he yielded so readily to her suggestion that to him seemed an easy task. The habits of years, however, are not so easily broken, and by the time Saratoga was reached, Richard's patience began to give way beneath Ethelyn's multifarious exactions and the ennui consequent upon his traveling about so long. Still he did pretty well for him, growing very red in the face with his efforts to draw on gloves a size too small, and feeling excessively hot and uncomfortable in his coat, which he wore even in the retirement of his own room, where he desired so much to indulge in the cool luxury of shirt-sleeves—a suggestion which Ethelyn heard with horror, openly exclaiming against the glaring vulgarity, and asking, a little contemptuously, if that were the way he had been accustomed to do at home.
"Why, yes," he answered. "Out West upon the prairies we go in for comfort, and don't mind so small a matter as shirt-sleeves on a sweltering August day."
"Please do not use such expressions as sweltering and go in—they do not sound well," Ethelyn rejoined. "And now I think of it, I wish you would talk more to the ladies in the parlor. You hardly spoke to Mrs. Cameron last evening, and she directed most of her conversation to you, too. I was afraid she would either think that you were rude, or else that you did not know what to say."
"She hit it right, if she came to the latter conclusion," Richard said, good-humoredly, "for the fact is, Ethie, I don't know what to say to such women as she. I am not a ladies' man, and it's no use trying to make me over. You can't teach old dogs new tricks."
Ethie fairly groaned as she clasped her bracelets upon her arms and shook down the folds of her blue silk; then after a moment she continued: "You can talk to me, and why not to others?"
"You are my wife, Ethie, and I love you, which makes a heap of difference," Richard said, and winding his arms around Ethie's waist he drew her face toward his own and kissed it affectionately.
They had been three days at Saratoga when this little scene occurred and their room was one of those miserable little apartments in the Ainsworth block which look out upon nothing but a patch of weeds and the rear of a church. Ethelyn did not like it at all, and liked it the less because she felt that to some extent her husband was to blame. He ought to have written and engaged rooms beforehand—Aunt Van Buren always did, and Mrs. Col. Tophevie, and everybody who understood the ins and outs of fashionable life. But Richard did not understand them. He believed in taking what was offered to him without making a fuss, he said. He had never been to Saratoga before, and he secretly hoped he should never come again, for he did not enjoy those close, hot rooms and worm-eaten furniture any better than Ethelyn did, but he accepted it with a better grace, saying, when he first entered it, that "he could put up with 'most anything, though to be sure it was hotter than an oven."
His mode of expressing himself had never suited Ethelyn. Particular, and even elegant in her choice of language, it grated upon her sensitive ear, and forgetting that she had all her life heard similar expressions in Chicopee, she charged it to the West, and Iowa was blamed for the faults of her son more than she deserved. At Saratoga, where they met many of her acquaintances, all of whom were anxious to see the fastidious Ethelyn's husband, it seemed to her that he was more remiss than ever in those little things which make up the finished gentleman, while his peculiar expressions sometimes made every nerve quiver with pain. The consequence of this was that Ethelyn became a very little cross, as Richard thought, though she had never so openly attacked him as on that day, the third after their arrival, when to her horror he took off his coat, preparatory to a little comfort, while she was dressing for dinner. At Ethelyn's request, however, he put it on again, saying as he did so, that he was "sweating like a butcher," which remark called out his wife's contemptuous inquiries concerning his habits at home. Richard was still too much in love with his young wife to feel very greatly irritated. In word and deed she had done her duty toward him thus far, and he had nothing to complain of. It is true she was very quiet and passive, and undemonstrative, never giving him back any caress as he had seen wives do. But then he was not very demonstrative himself, and so he excused it the more readily in her, and loved her all the same. It amused him that a girl of twenty should presume to criticise him, a man of thirty-two, a Judge, and a member of Congress, to whom the Olney people paid such deference, and he bore with her at first just as a mother would bear with the little child which assumed a superiority over her.
This afternoon, however, when she said so much to him, he was conscious of a very little irritation, for he was naturally high-spirited. But he put the feeling down, and gayly kissed his six-weeks bride, who, touched with his forbearance, kissed him back again, and suffered him to hold her cool face a moment between his hot, moist hands, while he bent over her.
She did respect him in spite of his vulgarism; nor was she unconscious of the position which, as his wife, she held. It was very pleasant to hear people say of her when she passed by:
"That is Mrs. Judge Markham, of Iowa—her husband is a member of Congress."
Very pleasant, too, to meet with his friends, other M. C.'s, who paid her deference on his account. Had they stayed away from Saratoga all might have been well; but alas, they were there, and so was all of Ethelyn's world—the Tophevies, the Hales, the Hungerfords and Van Burens, with Nettie Hudson, opening her great blue eyes at Richard's mistakes and asking Frank in Ethelyn's hearing, "if that Judge Markham's manners were not a little outre."
They certainly were outre, there was no denying it, and Ethelyn's blood tingled to her finger tips as she wondered if it would always be so. It is a pitiable thing for a wife to blush for her husband, to watch constantly lest he depart from those little points of etiquette which women catch intuitively, but which some of our most learned men fail to learn in a lifetime. And here they greatly err, for no man, however well versed he may be in science and literature, is well educated, or well balanced, or excusable, if he neglects the little things which good breeding and common politeness require of him, and Richard was somewhat to be blamed. It did not follow because his faults had never been pointed out to him that they did not exist, or that others did not observe them besides his wife. Ethelyn, to be sure, was more deeply interested than anyone else, and felt his mistakes more keenly, while at the same time she was over-fastidious, and had not the happiest faculty for correcting him. She did not love him well enough to be very careful of wounding him, but the patience and good humor with which he received her reprimand that hot August afternoon, when the thermometer was one hundred in the shade, and any man would have been excusable for retorting upon his wife who lectured him, awoke a throb of something nearer akin to love than anything she had felt since the night when she stood upon the sandy beach and heard the story of Daisy.
Richard was going to do better. He would wear his coat all the time, both day and night, if Ethelyn said so, He would not lean his elbow on the table while waiting for dessert, as he had more than once been guilty of doing; he would not help himself to a dish before passing it to the ladies near him; he would talk to Mrs. Cameron in the evening, and would try not to be so absorbed in his own thoughts as to pay no attention when Mrs. Tophevie was addressing herself directly to him; he would laugh in the right place, and, when spoken to, would answer in something besides monosyllables; he would try to keep his hands out of his pockets and his handkerchief out of his hand, or at least he would not "snap it," as Ethie said he had done on the first evening of his arrival at Saratoga. In short, he promised a complete reformation, even saying that if Ethelyn would select some person who was an fait in those matters in which he was so remiss, he would watch and copy that man to the letter. Would she name someone? And Ethelyn named her cousin Frank, while Richard felt a flush of something like resentment that he should be required to imitate a person whom in his secret heart he despised as dandyish, and weak, and silly, and "namby-pamby," as he would probably have expressed it if he had not forsworn slang phrases of every kind. But Richard had pledged his word, and meant to keep it; and so it was to all appearances a very happy and loving couple which, when the dinner gong sounded, walked into the dining room with Mrs. Dr. Van Buren's set, Ethelyn's handsome blue silk sweeping far behind her, and her white bare arm just touching the coat-sleeve of her husband, who was not insensible to the impression made by the beautiful woman at his side.
There were no lectures that night, for Richard had done his best, talking at least twenty times with both Mrs. Cameron and Mrs. Colonel Tophevie, whom he found more agreeable than he had supposed. Then he had held Ethelyn's white cloak upon his arm, and stood patiently against the wall, while up at the United States she danced set after set—first, the Lancers, with young Lieutenant Gray, then a polka with John Tophevie, and lastly, a waltz with Frank Van Buren, who whirled his fair partner about the room with a velocity which made Richard dizzy and awoke sundry thoughts not wholly complimentary to that doubtful dance, the waltz. Richard did not dance himself, at least not latterly. In his younger days, when he and Abigail Jones attended the quilting-frolics together and the "paring bees," he had with other young men, tried his feet at Scotch reels, French fours, "The Cheat," and the "Twin Sisters," with occasionally a cotillion, but he was not accomplished in the art. Even the Olney girls called him awkward, preferring almost anyone else for a partner, and so he abandoned the floor and cultivated his head rather than his heels. He liked to see dancing, and at first it was rather pleasant watching Ethelyn's lithe figure gliding gracefully through the intricate movements of the Lancers; but when it came to the waltz, he was not so sure about it, and he wondered if it were necessary for Frank Van Buren to clasp her as tightly about the waist as he did, or for her to lean so languidly upon his shoulder.
Richard was not naturally jealous—certainly not of Frank Van Buren; but he would rather his wife should not waltz with him or any other man, and so he said to her, asking this concession on her part in return for all he had promised to attempt; and to Ethelyn's credit we record that she yielded to her husband's wishes, and, greatly to Frank's surprise, declined the waltz which he had proposed the following evening. But she made amends in other dances, keeping poor Richard waiting for her night after night, until he actually fell asleep and dreamed of the log cabin on the prairie, where he had once danced a quadrille with Abigail Jones to the tune of Money-musk, as played by the Plympton brothers—the one on a cracked violin, and the other on an accordion.
A tap of Mrs. Tophevie's fan brought him back to consciousness, and he was almost guilty of a sigh as the log cabin faded from his vision, with the Plymptons and Abigail Jones, leaving instead that heated ballroom, with its trained orchestra, its bevy of fair young girls, its score of white-kidded dandies with wasp-like waists and perfumed locks, and Ethie smiling in their midst.
Saratoga did not agree with Richard. He grew sick first of the water; then of the fare; then of the daily routine of fashionable follies; then of the people; and then, oh! so sick of the petty lectures which Ethelyn gradually resumed as he failed in his attempts to imitate Frank Van Buren and appear perfectly at ease in everybody's presence. Saratoga was a "confounded bore," he said, and though he called himself a brute, and a savage, and a heathen, he was only very glad when toward the last of August Ethelyn became so seriously indisposed as to make a longer stay in Saratoga impossible. Newport, of course, was given up, and Ethelyn's desire was to go back to Chicopee and lie down again in the dear old room which had been hers from childhood. Aunt Barbara's toast, Aunt Barbara's tea, and Aunt Barbara's nursing, would soon bring her all right again, she said; but in this she was mistaken, for although the toast, and the tea, and the nursing each came in its turn, the September flowers had faded, and the trees on the Chicopee hills were beginning to flaunt their bright October robes ere she recovered from the low, nervous fever, induced by the mental and bodily excitement through which she had passed during the last three or four months.
Although he knew it was necessary that he should be at home if he would transact any business before the opening of his next session in Washington, Richard put aside all thoughts of self, and nursed his wife with a devotedness which awakened her liveliest gratitude.
Richard was not awkward in the sick-room. It seemed to be his special providence, and as he had once nursed and cared for Daisy and the baby brother who died, so he now cared for Ethelyn, until she began to miss him when he left her side, and to listen for his returning step when he went out for an hour or so to smoke and talk politics with his uncle, Captain Markham. With Mrs. Dr. Van Buren and Frank and the fashionable world all away, Richard's faults were not so perceptible, and Ethelyn even began to look forward with considerable interest to the time when she should be able to start for her Western home, about which she had built many delusive castles. Her piano had already been sent on in advance, she saying to Susie Granger, who came in while it was being boxed, that as they were not to keep house till spring she should not take furniture now. Possibly they could find what they needed in Chicago; if not, they could order from Boston.
Richard, who overheard this remark, wondered what it meant, for he had not the most remote idea of separating himself from his mother. She was very essential to his happiness; and he was hardly willing to confess to himself how much during the last summer he had missed her. She had a way of petting him and deferring to his judgment and making him feel that Richard Markham was a very nice kind of man, far different from Ethelyn's criticisms, which had sometimes led him seriously to inquire whether he were a fool or not. No, he could not live apart from his mother—he was firm upon that point; but there was time enough to say so when the subject should be broached to him. So he went on nailing down the cover to the pine box, and thinking as he nailed what a nice kitchen cupboard the box would make when once it was safely landed at his home in the prairie, and wondering, too, how his mother—who was not very fond of music—would bear the sound of the piano and if Ethie would be willing for Melinda Jones to practice upon it. He knew Melinda had taken lessons at Camden, where she had been to school, and he had heard her express a wish that someone nearer than the village had an instrument, as she should soon forget all she had learned. Somehow Melinda was a good deal in Richard's mind, and when a button was missing from his shirts, or his toes came through his socks—as was often the case at Saratoga—he found himself thinking of the way Melinda had of helping "fix his things" when he was going from home, and of hearing his mother say what a handy girl she was, and what a thrifty, careful wife she would make. He meant nothing derogatory to Ethelyn in these reminiscences; he would not have exchanged her for a thousand Melindas, even if he had to pin his shirt bosoms together and go barefoot all his life. But Melinda kept recurring to his mind much as if she had been his sister, and he thought it would be but a simple act of gratitude for all she had done for him to give her the use of the piano for at least one hour each day.
In blissful ignorance of all that was meditated against her, Ethelyn saw her piano taken away from the sitting room, where it would never stand again, and saw the tears which rolled down Aunt Barbara's faded cheeks as she, too, watched its going, and tried to fill up the vacancy it left by moving a chair and a table and a footstool into the gap. Those were hard days for Aunt Barbara, harder than for Ethelyn, who liked the excitement of traveling, and was almost glad when the crisp October morning came on which she was to say good-by to the home which was hers no longer. Her two huge trunks stood in the hall, together with the square hair trunk which held Richard's wardrobe, and the three tin cans of peaches Mrs. Captain Markham was sending to her sister-in-law, with the injunction to be sure and get that particular patent for cans if she wished her fruit to keep. In addition to these, an immense box had been forwarded by express, containing, besides Ethelyn's wearing apparel, many little ornaments and pictures and brackets, which, during the winter, might perhaps adorn the walls of the parlor where Daisy's picture hung, and where, Richard had said, was also an oil-painting of Niagara, omitting to add that it was the handiwork of Melinda Jones, that young lady having dabbled in paints as well as music during her two terms schooling at Camden. Tucked away in various parts of the box were also sundry presents, which, at Mrs. Dr. Van Buren's suggestion, Ethelyn had bought for her husband's family. For James, who, she had heard Richard say, was an inveterate smoker, there was a handsome velvet smoking-cap which, having been bought at Saratoga, had cost an enormous sum; for John, an expensive pair of elaborately wrought slippers had been selected; but when it came to Anderson, as Ethelyn persisted in calling the brother whom Richard always spoke of as Andy, she felt a little perplexed as to what would be appropriate. Richard had talked very little of him—so little, in fact, that she knew nothing whatever of his tastes, except from the scrap of conversation she once accidentally overheard when the old captain was talking to Richard of his brothers.
"Does Andy like busts as well as ever?" the captain had asked, but Richard's reply was lost as Ethelyn walked on.
Still, she had heard enough to give her some inkling with regard to the mysterious Andy. Probably he was more refined than either James or John—at all events, he was evidently fond of statuary, and his tastes should be gratified. Accordingly, Boston was ransacked by Mrs. Dr. Van Buren for an exquisite head of Schiller, done in marble, and costing thirty dollars. Richard did not see it. The presents were a secret from him, all except the handsome point-lace coiffure which Aunt Barbara sent to Mrs. Markham, together with a letter which she had sat up till midnight to write, and in which she had touchingly commended her darling to the new mother's care and consideration.
"You will find my Ethie in some respects a spoiled child—[she wrote] but it is more my fault than hers. I have loved her so much, and petted her so much, that I have doubt if she knows what a harsh word or cross look means. She has been carefully and delicately brought up, but has repaid me well for all my pains by her tender love. Please, dear Mrs. Markham, be very, very kind to her, and you will greatly oblige, your most obedient servant,
"P.S. I dare say your ways out West are not exactly like our ways at the East, and Ethie may not fall in with them at once, perhaps never with some of them, but I am sure she will do what is right, as she is a sensible girl. Again, yours with regret, B.B."
The writing of this letter was not perhaps the wisest thing Aunt Barbara could have done, but she was incited to it by what her sister Sophia told her of the rumors concerning Mrs. Markham, and her own fears lest Ethelyn should not be as comfortable with the new mother-in-law as was wholly desirable. To Richard himself she had said that she presumed that his mother's ways were not like Ethie's—old people were different from young ones—the world had improved since their day, and instead of trying to bring young folks altogether to their modes of thinking, it was well for both to yield something. That was the third time Richard had heard his mother's ways alluded to; first by Mrs. Jones, who called them queer; second, by Mrs. Dr. Van Buren, who, for Ethie's sake had also dropped a word of caution, hinting that his mother's ways might possibly be a little peculiar; and lastly by good Aunt Barbara, who signalized them as different from Ethelyn's.
What did it mean, and why had he never discovered anything amiss in his mother? He trusted that Mrs. Jones, and Mrs. Van Buren, and Aunt Barbara were mistaken. On the whole, he knew they were; and even if they were not his mother could not do wrong to Ethie, while Ethie would, of course, be willing to conform to any request made by a person so much older than herself as his mother was. So Richard dismissed that subject from his mind, and Ethelyn—having never heard it agitated, except that time when, with Mrs. Jones on his mind, Richard had thought proper to suggest the propriety of her humoring his mother—felt no fears of Mrs. Markham, senior, whom she still associated in her mind with heavy black silk, gold-bowed spectacles, handsome lace and fleecy crochet-work.
The October morning was clear and crisp and frosty, and the sun had not yet shown itself above the eastern hills, when Captain Markham's carryall drove to Aunt Barbara's gate, followed by the long democratic-wagon which was to take the baggage. Ethelyn's spoiled traveling dress had been replaced by a handsome poplin, which was made in the extreme of fashion, and fitted her admirably, as did every portion of her dress, from her jaunty hat and dotted lace veil to the Alexandre kids and fancy little gaiters which encased her feet and hands. She was prettier even than on her bridal day, Richard thought, as he kissed away the tears which dropped so fast even after the last good-by had been said to poor Aunt Barbara, who watched the flutter of Ethie's veil and ribbons as far as they could be seen, and then in the secrecy of her own room knelt and prayed that God would bless and keep her darling, and make her happy in the new home to which she was going.
It was very quiet and lonely in the Bigelow house that day, Aunt Barbara walking softly and speaking slowly, as if the form of someone dead had been borne from her side, while on the bed, which the housemaid Betty had made so plump and round there was a cavity made by Aunt Barbara's head, which hid itself there many times as the good woman went repeatedly to God with the pain gnawing so at her heart. But in the evening, when a cheerful wood fire was kindled on the hearth of her pleasant sitting room, while Mrs. Captain Markham came in with her knitting work, to sit until the Captain called for her on his return from the meeting where he was to oppose with all his might the building of a new schoolhouse, to pay for which he would be heavily taxed, she felt better, and could talk composedly of the travelers, who by that time were nearing Rochester, where they would spend the night.
Although very anxious to reach home, Richard had promised that Ethelyn should only travel through the day, as she was not as strong as before her illness. And to this promise he adhered, so that it was near the middle of the afternoon of the fifth day that the last change was made, and they took the train that would in two hours' time deposit them at Olney. At Camden, the county seat, they waited for a few moments. There was always a crowd of people here going out to different parts of the country, and as one after another came into the car Richard seemed to know them all, while the cordial and rather noisy greeting which they gave "the Judge" struck Ethelyn a little oddly—it was so different from the quiet, undemonstrative manner to which she had been accustomed. With at least a dozen men in shaggy overcoats and slouched hats she shook hands with a tolerably good grace, but when there appeared a tall, lank, bearded young giant of a fellow, with a dare-devil expression in his black eyes and a stain of tobacco about his mouth, she drew back, and to his hearty "How are ye, Miss Markham? Considerable tuckered out, I reckon?" she merely responded with a cool bow and a haughty stare, intended to put down the young man, whom Richard introduced as "Tim Jones," and who, taking a seat directly in front of her, poured forth a volley of conversation, calling Richard sometimes "Dick," sometimes "Markham," but oftener "Squire," as he had learned to do when Richard was justice of the peace in Olney. Melinda, too, or "Melind," was mentioned as having been over to the "Squire's house helping the old lady to fix up a little," and then Ethelyn knew that the "savage" was no other than brother to Abigail Jones, deceased. The discovery was not a pleasant one, and did not tend to smooth her ruffled spirits or lessen the feeling of contempt for Western people in general, and Richard's friends in particular, which had been growing in her heart ever since the Eastern world was left behind and she had been fairly launched upon the great prairies of the Mississippi Valley. Richard was a prince compared with the specimens she had seen, though she did wonder that he should be so familiar with them, calling them by their first names, and even bandying jokes with the terrible Tim Jones spitting his tobacco juice all over the car floor and laughing so loudly at all the "Squire" said. It was almost too dreadful to endure, and Ethelyn's head was beginning to ache frightfully when the long train came to a pause, and the conductor, who also knew Judge Markham, and called him "Dick," screamed through the open door "O-l-ney!"
Ethelyn was at home at last.
MRS. MARKHAM'S WAYS
They were very peculiar, and no one knew this better than Mrs. Jones and her daughter Melinda, sister and mother to the deceased Abigail and the redoubtable Tim. Naturally bright and quick-witted, Melinda caught readily at any new improvement, and the consequence was that the Jones house bore unmistakable signs of having in it a grown-up daughter whose new ideas of things kept the old ideas from rusting. After Melinda came home from boarding-school the Joneses did not set the table in the kitchen close to the hissing cook stove, but in the pleasant dining room, where there gradually came to be crocheted tidies on the backs of the rocking-chairs, and crayon sketches on the wall, and a pot of geraniums in the window, with a canary bird singing in his cage near by. At first, Mrs. Markham, who felt a greater interest in the Joneses than in any other family—Mrs. Jones being the only woman in the circle of her acquaintance to whom she would lend her copper boiler—looked a little askance at these "new-fangled notions," wondering how "Miss Jones expected to keep the flies out of her house if she had all the doors a-flyin' three times a day," and fearing lest Melinda was getting "stuck-up notions in her head, which would make her fit for nothing."
But when she found there were no more flies buzzing in Farmer Jones' kitchen than in her own, and that Melinda worked as much as ever, and was just as willing to lend a helping hand when there was need of haste at the Markham house, her anxiety subsided, and the Joneses were welcome to eat wherever they chose, or even to have to wait upon the table, when there was company, the little black boy Pete, whom Tim had bought at a slave auction in New Orleans, whither he had gone on a flatboat expedition two or three years before. But she never thought of introducing any of Melinda's notions into her own household. She "could not fuss" to keep so many rooms clean. If in winter time she kept a fire in the front room, where in one corner her own bed was curtained off, and if in summer she always sat there when her work was done, it was all that could be required of her, and was just as they used to do at her father's, in Vermont, thirty years ago. Her kitchen was larger than Mrs. Jones', which was rather uncomfortable on a hot day when there was washing to be done; the odor of the soap-suds was a little sickening then, she admitted, but in her kitchen it was different; she had had an eye to comfort when they were building, and had seen that the kitchen was the largest, airiest, lightest room in the house, with four windows, two outside doors, and a fireplace, where, although they had a stove, she dearly loved to cook just as her mother had done in Vermont, and where hung an old-fashioned crane, with iron hooks suspended from it. Here she washed, and ironed, and ate, and performed her ablutions in the bright tin basin which stood in the sink near to the pail, with the gourd swinging in the top, and wiped her face on the rolling towel and combed her hair before the clock, which served the double purpose of looking-glass and timepiece. When company came—and Mrs. Markham was not inhospitable—the east room, where the bed stood, was opened; and if the company, as was sometimes the case, chanced to be Richard's friends, she used the west room across the hall, where the chocolate-colored paper and Daisy's picture hung, and where, upon the high mantel, there was a plaster image of little Samuel, and two plaster vases filled with colored fruit. The carpet was a very pretty Brussels, but it did not quite cover the floor on either side. It was a small pattern, and on this account had been offered a shilling cheaper a yard, and so the economical Mrs. Markham had bought it, intending to eke out the deficiency with drugget of a corresponding shade; but the merchant did not bring the drugget, and the carpet was put down, and time went on, and the strips of painted board were still uncovered, save by the straight row of haircloth chairs, which stood upon one side, and the old-fashioned sofa, which had cost fifty dollars, and ought to last at least as many years. There was a Boston rocker, and a center table, with the family Bible on it, and a volume of Scott's Commentaries, and frosted candlesticks on the mantel and two sperm candles in them, with colored paper, pink and green, all fancifully notched and put around them, and a bureau in the corner, which held the boys' Sunday shirts and Mrs. Markham's black silk dress, with Daisy's clothes in the bottom drawer, and the silver plate taken from her coffin. There was a gilt-framed looking-glass on the wall, and blue paper curtains at the windows, which were further ornamented with muslin drapery. This was the great room—the parlor—where Daisy had died, and which, on that account, was a kind of sacred place to those who held the memory of that sweet, little prairie blossom as the dearest memory of their lives. Had she lived, with her naturally refined tastes, and her nicety of perceptions, there was no guessing what that farmhouse might have been, for a young girl makes a deal of difference in any family. But she died, and so the house, which when she died, was not quite finished, remained much as it was—a large, square building, minus blinds, with a wide hall in the center opening in front upon a broad piazza, and opening back upon a stoop, the side entrance to the kitchen. There was a picket fence in front; but the yard was bare of ornament, if we except the lilac bushes under the parlor windows, the red peony in the corner, and the clumps of violets and daisies, which grew in what was intended for borders to the walk, from the front gate to the door. Sometimes the summer showed here a growth of marigolds, with sweet peas and china asters, for Andy was fond of flowers, and when he had leisure he did a little floral gardening; but this year, owing to Richard's absence, there had been more to do on the farm, consequently the ornamental had been neglected, and the late autumn flowers which, in honor of Ethelyn's arrival, were standing in vases on the center table and the mantel, were contributed by Melinda Jones, who had been very busy in other portions of the house working for the bride.
She could do this now without a single pang of jealousy, for she was a sensible girl, and after a night and a day of heaviness, and a vague sense of disappointment, she had sung as merrily as ever, and no one was more interested in the arrival of Richard's bride than she, from the time when Richard started eastward for her. Between herself and her mother there had been a long, confidential conversation, touching Mrs. Markham's ways and the best means of circumventing them, so that the new wife might not be utterly crushed with homesickness and surprise when she first arrived. No one could manage Mrs. Markham as well as Melinda, and it was owing to her influence wholly that the large, pleasant chamber, which had been Richard's ever since he became a growing man, was renovated and improved until it presented a very inviting appearance. The rag carpet which for years had done duty, and bore many traces of Richard's muddy boots, had been exchanged for a new ingrain—not very pretty in design, or very stylish either, but possessing the merit of being fresh and clean. To get the carpet Melinda had labored assiduously, and had enlisted all three of the brothers, James, and John, and Andy in the cause before the economical mother consented to the purchase. The rag carpet, if cleaned and mended, was as good as ever, she insisted; and even if it were not, she could put on one that had not seen so much actual service. It was Andy who finally decided her to indulge in the extravagance urged by Melinda Jones. There were reasons why Andy was very near to his mother's heart, and when he offered to sell his brown pony, which he loved as he did his eyes, his mother yielded the point, and taking with her both Mrs. Jones and Melinda, went to Camden, and sat two mortal hours upon rolls of carpeting while she decided which to take.
Mrs. Markham was not stingy with regard to her table; that was always loaded with the choicest of everything, while many a poor family blessed her as an angel. But the articles she ate were mostly the products of their large, well-cultivated farm; they did not cost money directly out of her hand, and it was the money she disliked parting with, so she talked and dickered, and beat the Camden merchant down five cents on a yard, and made him cut it a little short, to save a waste, and made him throw in the thread and binding and swear when she was gone, wondering who "the stingy old woman was." And yet the very day after her return from Camden "the stingy old woman" had sent to her minister a loaf of bread and a pail of butter, and to a poor sick woman, who lived in a leaky cabin off in the prairie, a nice, warm blanket for her bed, with a basket of delicacies to tempt her capricious appetite.
In due time the carpet had been made, Melinda Jones sewing up three of the seams, while Andy, who knew how to use the needle almost as well as a girl, claimed the privilege of sewing at least half a seam on the new sister's carpet. Adjoining Richard's chamber was a little room where Mrs. Markham's flour and meal and corn were kept, but which, with a little fitting up, would answer nicely for a bedroom, and after an amount of engineering, which would have done credit to the general of an army, Melinda succeeded in coaxing Mrs. Markham to move her barrels and bags, and give up the room for Ethelyn's bed, which looked very nice and inviting, notwithstanding that the pillows were small, and the bedstead a high poster, which had been in use for twenty years. Mrs. Markham knew all about the boxes, as she called them. There was one in Mrs. Jones' front chamber, but she had never bought one, for what then would she do with her old ones—"with them laced cords," so greatly preferable to the hard slats, which nearly broke her back the night she slept on some at a friend's house in Olney.
Richard was fond of books, and had collected from time to time a well-selected library, which was the only ornament in his room when Melinda first took it in hand; but when she had finished her work—when the carpet was down, and the neat, white shades were up at the windows; when the books which used to be on the floor and table, and chairs, and mantel, and window sills, and anywhere, were neatly arranged in the very respectable shelves which Andy made and James had painted; when the little sewing chair designed for Ethelyn was put before one window, and Richard's arm-chair before the other, and the drab lounge was drawn a little into the room, and the bureau stood corner-ways, with a bottle of cologne upon it, which John had bought, and a pot of pomade Andy had made, and two little pink and white mats Melinda had crocheted, the room was very presentable. Great, womanish Andy was sure Ethelyn would be pleased, and rubbed his hands jubilantly over the result of his labors, while Melinda was certainly pardonable for feeling that in return for what she had done for Richard's wife she might venture to suggest that the huge box, marked piano, which for ten days had been standing on the front piazza, be opened and the piano set up, so that she could try its tone. This box had cost Andy a world of trouble, keeping him awake nights, and taking him from his bed more than once, as he fancied he heard a mysterious sound, and feared someone might be stealing the ponderous thing, which it took four men to lift. With the utmost alacrity he helped in the unpacking, nearly bursting a blood-vessel as he tugged at the heaviest end, and then running to the village with all his speed, to borrow Mrs. Crandall's piano key, which, fortunately, fitted Ethelyn's, so that Melinda Jones was soon seated in state, and running her fingers over the superb five-hundred dollar instrument, Ethelyn's gift from Aunt Barbara on her nineteenth birthday.
Melinda's fingers were strained and cut with carpet thread, and pricked with carpet tacks, and red with washing dishes, but they moved nimbly over the keys, striking out with a will the few tunes she had learned during her two quarters' instruction. She had acquired a great deal of knowledge in a short time, for she was passionately fond of music, and every spare moment had been devoted to it, so that she had mastered the scales with innumerable exercises, besides learning several pieces, of which Money-musk was one. This she now played with a sprightliness and energy which brought Andy to his feet, while the cowhides moved to the stirring music in a fashion which would have utterly confounded poor Ethelyn could she have seen them. But Ethelyn was miles and miles away. She was not coming for a week or more, and in that time Andy tried his hand at Yankee Doodle, playing with one finger, and succeeding far beyond his most sanguine expectations. Andy was delighted with the piano, and so was Eunice, the hired girl, who left her ironing and her dishes, standing with wiping towel or flatiron in hand, humming an accompaniment to Andy's playing, and sometimes helping to find the proper key to touch next.
Eunice was not an Irish girl, nor a German, nor a Scotch, but a full-blooded American, and "just as good as her employers," with whom she always ate and sat. It was not Mrs. Markham's custom to keep a girl the year round, but when she did it was Eunice Plympton, the daughter of the drunken fiddler who earned his livelihood by playing for the dances the young people of Olney sometimes got up. He was anticipating quite a windfall from the infair it was confidently expected would be given by Mrs. Markham in honor of her son's marriage; and Eunice herself had washed and starched and ironed the white waist she intended to wear on the same occasion. Of course she knew she would have to wait and tend and do the running, she said to Melinda, to whom she confided her thoughts, but after the supper was over she surely might have one little dance, if with nobody but Andy.
This was Eunice, and she had been with Mrs. Markham during the past summer; but her time was drawing to a close. All the heavy work was over, the harvests were gathered in, the soap was made, the cleaning done, the house made ready for Richard's wife, and it was the understanding that when that lady came and was somewhat domesticated, Miss Eunice was to leave. There was not much to do in the winter, Mrs. Markham said, and with Richard's wife's help she should get along. Alas! how little Ethelyn was prepared for the home which awaited her, and for the really good woman, who, on the afternoon of her son's arrival, saw into the oven the young turkey which Andy had been feeding for so very long with a view to this very day, and then helped Eunice set the table for the expected guests.
It did occur to Mrs. Markham that there might be a great propriety in Eunice's waiting for once, inasmuch as there were plates to change, and custard pie and minced, and pudding, to be brought upon the table, for they were having a great dinner, but the good woman did not dare hint at such a thing, so the seven plates were put upon the table, and the china cups brought from the little cupboard at the side of the chimney, and the silver teapot, which was a family heirloom, and had been given Mrs. Markham by her mother, was brought also and rubbed up with what Eunice called a "shammy," and the pickles, and preserves, and honey, and cheese and jellies, and the white raised biscuits and fresh brown bread, and shredded cabbage and cranberry sauce, with golden butter, and pitchers of cream, were all arranged according to Eunice's ideas. The turkey was browning nicely, the vegetables were cooking upon the stove, the odor of silver-skinned onions pervading the entire house. Eunice was grinding the coffee, and the clock said it wanted but half an hour of car-time, when Mrs. Markham finally left the kitchen and proceeded to make her toilet.
Eunice's had been made some time ago, and the large-sized hoop she wore had already upset a pail and dragged a griddle from the stove hearth, greatly to the discomfiture of Mrs. Markham, who did not fancy hoops, though she wore a small one this afternoon under her clean and stiffly-starched dress of purple calico. St. Paul would have made her an exception in his restrictions with regard to women's apparel, for neither gold nor silver ornaments, nor braided hair, found any tolerance in her. She followed St. Paul strictly, except at such times as the good people in the Methodist church at the east end of the village held a protracted meeting, when she deviated so far from his injunction as to speak her mind and tell her experience.
She was a good and conscientious woman, practicing what she preached, and believing more in the inner than the outer adorning; but she looked very neat this afternoon in her purple calico, with a motherly white apron tied around her waist, and her soft, silvery hair combed smoothly back from her forehead and twisted in a knot behind, about the size of a half dollar. This knot however, was hidden by the headdress which Melinda had made from bits of black lace and purple ribbon, and which, though not at all like Aunt Barbara's Boston caps, was still very respectable, and even tasteful-looking. Almost too tasteful, Mrs. Markham thought, as she glanced at the tiny artificial flower tucked in among the bows of ribbon. But Mrs. Markham did not remove the flower, for it was a daisy, and it made her think of the Daisy who died fourteen years ago, and who, had she lived till now, would have been twenty-eight.
"A married woman, most likely, and I might have been grandmother," Mrs. Markham sighed, and then, as she heard in fancy the patter of little feet at her side, and saw before her little faces with a look like Daisy in them, her thoughts went softly out to Richard's bride, through whom this coveted blessing might come to her quiet household, and her heart throbbed with a quick sudden yearning for the young daughter-in-law, now just alighting at the Olney station, for the Eastern train had come, and James was there with the democrat-wagon to meet it.
Olney was a thriving, busy little town, numbering five hundred inhabitants or thereabouts. It had its groceries, its dry goods stores, and its two houses for public worship—the Methodist and Presbyterian—while every other Sunday a little band of Episcopalians met for their own service in what was called the Village Hall, where, during week days, a small, select school was frequently taught by some Yankee schoolmistress. It had its post office, too; and there was also talk of a bank after the railroad came that way, and roused the people to a state of still greater activity. On the whole, it was a pretty town, though different from Chicopee, where the houses slept so aristocratically under the shadow of the old elms, which had been growing there since the day when our national independence was declared.
At home Ethelyn's pride had all been centered in Boston, and she had sometimes thought a little contemptuously of Chicopee and its surroundings; but the farther she traveled west the higher Chicopee rose in her estimation, until she found herself comparing every prairie village with that rural town among the hills, which seemed to give it dignity, and made it so greatly superior to the dead levels of which she was getting so weary. She had admired the rolling prairies at first, but, tired and jaded with her long journey, nothing looked well to her now—nothing was like Chicopee—certainly not Olney, where the dwellings looked so new and the streets were minus sidewalks.
Ethelyn had a good view of it as the train approached it and even caught a passing glimpse of the white house in the distance which Richard pointed out as home, his face lighting up with all the pleasure of a schoolboy as he saw the old familiar waymarks and felt that he was home at last.
Dropping her veil over her face Ethelyn arose to follow her husband, who in his eagerness to grasp the hand of the tall, burly young man he had seen from the window, forgot to carry her shawl and her satchel, which last being upon the car-rack, she tugged at it with all her strength, and was about crying with vexation at Richard's thoughtlessness, when Tim Jones, who while rolling his quid of tobacco in his great mouth, had watched her furtively, wondering how she and Melind would get along, gallantly came to her aid, and taking the satchel down kept it upon his arm.
"Take care of that air step. Better let me help you out. Dick is so tickled to see Jim that he even forgets his wife, I swan!" Tim said, offering to assist her from the train; but with a feeling of disgust too deep to be expressed, Ethelyn declined the offer and turned away from him to meet the curious gaze of the young man whom Richard presented as brother James.
He was younger than his brother by half a dozen years, but he looked quite as old, if not older. His face and hands were sunburnt and brown, his clothes were coarse, his pants were tucked into his tall, muddy boots, and he held in his hands the whip with which he had driven the shining bays, pricking up their ears behind the depot and eyeing askance the train just beginning to move away. The Markhams were all good-looking, and James was not an exception. The Olney girls called him very handsome, when on Sunday he came to church in his best clothes and led the Methodist choir; but Ethelyn only thought him rough, and coarse, and vulgar, and when he bent down to kiss her she drew back haughtily.
"Ethelyn!" Richard said, in the low, peculiar tone, which she had almost unconsciously learned to fear, just as she did the dark expression which his hazel eyes assumed as he said the single word "Ethelyn!"
She was afraid of Richard when he looked and spoke that way, and putting up her lip, she permitted the kiss which the warm-hearted James gave to her. He was naturally more demonstrative than his brother, and more susceptible, too; a pretty face would always set his heart to beating and call out all the gallantry of his nature. Wholly unsophisticated, he never dreamed of the gulf there was between him and the new sister, whom he thought so beautiful—loving her at once, because she was so pretty, and because she was the wife of Dick, their household idol. He was more of a ladies' man than Richard, and when on their way to the democratic-wagon they came to a patch of mud, through which Ethelyn's skirts were trailing, he playfully lifted her in his strong arms, and set her down upon the wagon-box, saying, as he adjusted her skirts: "We can't have that pretty dress spoiled, the very first day, with Iowa mud."
All this time Tim Jones had been dutifully holding the satchel, which he now deposited at Ethelyn's feet, and then, at James' invitation, he sprang into the hinder part of the wagon-box, and sitting down, let his long limbs dangle over the backboard, while James sat partly in Richard's lap and partly in Ethelyn's. It had been decided that the democrat must come down again for the baggage; and so, three on a seat, with Tim Jones holding on behind, Ethelyn was driven through the town, while face after face looked at her from the windows of the different dwellings, and comment after comment was made upon her pretty little round hat, with its jaunty feather, which style had not then penetrated so far west as Olney. Rumors there were of the Eastern ladies wearing hats which made them look at least ten years younger than their actual age; but Ethelyn was the first to carry the fashion to Olney, and she was pronounced very stylish, and very girlish, too, by those who watched her curiously from behind their curtains and blinds.
It was the close of a chill October day, and a bank of angry clouds hung darkly in the western sky, while the autumn wind blew across the prairie; but colder, blacker, chillier far than prairie winds, or threatening clouds, or autumnal day was the shadow resting on Ethelyn's heart, and making her almost cry out with loneliness and homesickness, as they drew near the house where the blue paper curtains were hanging before the windows and Eunice Plympton's face was pressed against the pane. The daisies and violets and summer grass were withered and dead, and the naked branches of the lilac bush brushed against the house with a mournful, rasping sound, which reminded her of the tall sign-post in Chicopee, which used to creak so in the winter wind, and keep her Aunt Barbara awake. To the right of the house, and a little in the rear, were several large, square corn-cribs, and behind these an inclosure in which numerous cattle, and horses, and pigs were industriously feeding, while the cobs, stripped, and soiled, and muddy, were scattered everywhere. Ethelyn took it all in at a glance, exclaiming, in a smothered voice, as the wagon turned into the lane which led to the side door, "Not here, Richard; surely, not here!"
But Richard, if he heard her, did not heed her. He could not comprehend her utter desolation and crushing disappointment. Her imaginings of his home had never been anything like this reality, and for a moment she felt as if in a kind of horrible nightmare, from which she struggled to awake.
"Oh! if it were only a dream," she thought; but it was no dream, though as Richard himself lifted her carefully from the wagon, and deposited her upon the side stoop, there came a mist before her eyes, and for an instant sense and feeling forsook her; but only for an instant, for the hall door was thrown open, and Richard's mother came out to greet her son and welcome her new daughter.
But alas for Ethelyn's visions of heavy silk and costly lace! How they vanished before this woman in purple calico, with ruffles of the same standing up about the throat, and the cotton lace coiffure upon her head! She was very glad to see her boy and wound both her arms around his neck, but she was afraid of Ethelyn. She, too, had had her ideal, but it was not like this proud-looking beauty, dressed so stylishly, and, as it seemed to her so extravagantly, with her long, full skirt of handsome poplin trailing so far behind her, and her basque fitting her graceful figure so admirably. Neither did the hat, rolled so jauntily on the sides, and giving her a coquettish appearance, escape her notice, nor the fact that the dotted veil was not removed from the white face, even after Richard had put the little, plump hand in hers, and said:
"This, mother, is Ethie, my wife. I hope you will love each other for my sake."
In her joy at seeing her pet boy again, Mrs. Markham would have done a great deal for his sake, but she could not "kiss a veil," as she afterwards said to Melinda Jones, when she reached the point where she talked straight out about her daughter-in-law. No, she could not kiss a veil, and so she only held and pressed Ethelyn's hand, and leading her into the house, told her she was very welcome, and bade her come to the fire and take off her things, and asked if she was not tired, and cold and hungry.
And Ethelyn tried to answer, but the great lumps were swelling in her throat, and so keen a pain was tugging at her heart that when at last, astonished at her silence, Richard said, "What is the matter, Ethie—why don't you answer mother?" she burst out in a pitiful cry:
"Oh, Richard, I can't, I can't; please take me back to Aunt Barbara."
This was the crisis, the concentration of all she had been suffering for the last hour, and it touched Mrs. Markham's heart, for she remembered just how wretched she had been when she first landed at the rude log cabin which was so long her Western home, and turning to Richard, she said, in an aside:
"She is homesick, poor child, as it's natural she should be at first. She'll be better by and by, so don't think strange of it. She seems very young."
In referring to her youth, Mrs. Markham meant nothing derogatory to her daughter-in-law, though Ethelyn did strike her as very young, in her pretty hat with her heavy hair low in her neck. She was finding an excuse for her crying, and did not mean that Ethelyn should hear. But she did hear, and the hot tears were dashed aside at once. She was too proud to be petted or patronized by Mrs. Markham, or apologized for by her, so she dried her eyes, and lifting her head, said proudly:
"I am tired to-night, and my head is aching so hard that I lost my self-control. I beg you will excuse me. Richard knows me too well to need an excuse."
A born duchess could not have assumed a loftier air, and in some perplexity Mrs. Markham glanced from her to Richard, as if asking what to do next. Fortunately for all parties, Andy just then came in with his brother John, who approached his new sister with some little hesitation. He had heard Tim Jones' verdict, "Stuck up as the old Nick," while even cautious James had admitted his fears that Dick had made a mistake, and taken a wife who would never fit their ways. And this was why John had been so late with his welcome. He had crept up the back stairs, and donned his best necktie, and changed his heavy boots for a pair of shoes, which left exposed to view a portion of his blue yarn socks. He had before changed his coat and vest, and tied on a handkerchief, but it was not his best; not the satin cravat, with the pretty bow Melinda Jones had made, and in which was stuck a rather fanciful pin he wore on great occasions. He was all right now, and he shook hands with his new sister, and asked if she were pretty well, and told her she was welcome, and then stepped back for Andy, who had been making his toilet when the bride arrived, and so was late with his congratulations.
Andy was a character in his way. A fall from his horse upon the ground had injured his head when he was a boy, and since that time he had been what his mother called a little queer, while the neighbors spoke of him as simple Andy, or Mrs. Markham's half-wit, who did the work of a girl and knit all his own socks. He was next to Richard in point of age, but he looked younger than either of his brothers, for his face was round and fair, and smooth as any girl's. It is true that every Sunday of his life he made a great parade with lather and shaving-cup, standing before the glass in his shirt-sleeves, just as the other boys did, and flourishing his razor around his white throat and beardless face, to the amusement of anyone who chanced to see him for the first time.
In his younger days, when the tavern at the Cross Roads was just opened, Andy had been a sore trial to both mother and brothers, and many a night, when the rain and sleet were driving across the prairies, Richard had left the warm fireside and gone out in the storm after the erring Andy, who had more than once been found by the roadside, with his hat jammed into every conceivable shape, his face scratched, and a tell-tale smell about his breath which contradicted his assertion "that somebody had knocked him down."
Andy had been intemperate, and greatly given to what the old Captain in Chicopee had designated as "busts"; but since the time when the church missionary, young Mr. Townsend, had come to Olney, and held his first service in the log schoolhouse, Andy had ceased to frequent the Cross Roads tavern, and Richard went no more in the autumnal storms to look for his wayward brother. There was something in the beautiful simplicity of the church service which went straight to Andy's heart, and more than all, there was something in Mr. Townsend's voice, and manner, and face, which touched a responsive chord in the breast of the boyish Andy, and when at last the bishop came to that section of Iowa, his hands were first laid in blessing on the bowed head of Andy, who knelt to receive the rite of confirmation in the presence of a large concourse of people, to most of whom the service and ceremony were entirely new.
While rejoicing and thanking God for the change, which she felt was wholly sincere, Mrs. Markham had deeply deplored the pertinacity with which Andy had clung to his resolve to join "Mr. Townsend's church or none." She did not doubt Mr. Townsend's piety or Andy's either, but she doubted the Episcopalians generally because they did not require more than God himself requires, and it hurt her sore that Andy should go with them rather than to her church across the brook, where Father Aberdeen preached every Sunday against the pride, and pomp, and worldliness generally of his Episcopal brethren. Andy believed in Mr. Townsend, and in time he came to believe heart and soul in the church doctrines as taught by him, and the beautiful consistency of his daily life was to his mother like a constant and powerful argument in favor of the church to which he belonged, while to his brothers it was a powerful argument in favor of the religion he professed.
That Andy Markham was a Christian no one doubted. It showed itself in every act of his life; it shone in his beaming, good-natured face, and made itself heard in the touching pathos of his voice, when he repeated aloud in his room the prayers of his church, saying to his mother, when she objected that his prayers were made up beforehand: "And for the land's sake, ain't the sams and hims, which are nothing but prayers set to music, made up beforehand? A pretty muss you'd have of it if everybody should strike out for himself, a singin' his own words just as they popped into his head."
Mrs. Markham was not convinced, but she let Andy alone after that, simply remarking that "the prayer-book would not always answer the purpose; there would come a time when just what he wanted was not there."
Andy was willing to wait till that time came, trusting to Mr. Townsend to find for him some way of escape; and so the matter dropped, and he was free to read his prayers as much as he pleased. He had heard from Richard that his new sister was of his way of thinking—that though not a member of the church except by baptism, she was an Episcopalian, and would be married by that form.
It was strange how Andy's great, warm heart went out toward Ethelyn after that. He was sure to like her; and on the evening of the bridal, when the clock struck nine, he had taken his tallow candle to his room, and opening his prayer-book at the marriage ceremony, had read it carefully through, even to the saying: "I, Richard, take thee, Ethelyn," etc., kneeling at the proper time, and after he was through even venturing to improvise a prayer of his own, in which he asked, not that Ethelyn might be happy with his brother—there was no doubt on that point, for Richard was perfect in his estimation—but that "old Dick" might be happy with her—that he, Andy, might do his whole duty by her, and that, if it was right to ask it, she might bring him something from that famous Boston, which seemed to him like a kind of paradise, and also that she need not at once discover that he did not know as much as "old Dick."
This was Andy's prayer, which he had confessed to Mr. Townsend; and now, all shaven and shorn, with his best Sunday coat and a large bandanna in his hand, he came in to greet his sister. It needed but a glance for Ethelyn to know the truth, for Andy's face told what he was; but there was something so kind in his expression and so winning in his voice, as he called her "Sister Ethie," that she unbent to him as she had unbent to no one else; and when he stooped to kiss her, she did not draw back as she had from James and John, but promptly put up her lips, and only winced a very little at the second loud, hearty smack which Andy gave her, his great mouth leaving a wet spot on her cheek, which she wiped away with her handkerchief.
Richard had dreaded the meeting between his polished wife and his simple brother more than anything else, and several times he had tried to prepare Ethelyn for it, but he could not bring himself to say, "Andy is foolish"; for when he tried to do it Andy's pleading face came up before him just as it looked on the morning of his departure from home in June, when Andy had said to him: "Don't tell her what a shaller critter I am. Let her find it out by her learning."
So Richard had said nothing particular of Andy, and now he watched him anxiously, to see the impression he was making, and, as he saw Ethelyn's manner, marveling greatly at this new phase in her disposition. She did not feel half so desolate after seeing Andy, and she let him hold her hand, which he stroked softly, admiring its whiteness, and evidently comparing it with his own. All the Markhams had large hands and feet, just as they were all good-looking. Even Andy had his points of beauty, for his soft brown hair was handsomer, if possible, than Richard's, and more luxuriant, while many a city dandy might have coveted his white, even teeth, and his dark eyes were very placid and gentle in their expression.
"Little sister" he called Ethelyn, who though not very short in stature, seemed to him so much younger than he had expected Dick's wife to be that he applied the term "little" as he would to anything which he wished to pet.
Ethelyn's hat was laid aside by this time, and the basquine, too, which Andy thought the prettiest coat he had ever seen, and which Eunice, who was bidden to carry Ethelyn's things away, tried on before the glass in Ethelyn's chamber, as she did also the hat, deciding that Melinda Jones could make her something like them out of a gray skirt she had at home and one of Tim's palm-leaf hats.
DINNER, AND AFTER IT
Eunice had not fully seen the stranger, and so, when dinner was announced and Richard led her out, with Andy hovering at her side, she stood ready to be introduced, with the little speech she had been rehearsing about "I hope to see you well," etc., trembling on the tip of her tongue. But her plans were seriously disarranged. Six months before Richard would have presented her himself, as a matter of course; but he had learned some things since then, and he tried not to see his mother's meaning as she glanced from him to Eunice and then to Ethelyn, whose proud, dignified bearing awed and abashed even her. Eunice, however, had been made quite too much of to be wholly ignored now, and Mrs. Markham felt compelled to say, "Ethelyn, this—ah, this is—Eunice—Eunice Plympton."
That Eunice Plympton was the hired girl Ethelyn did not for a moment dream; but that she was coarse and vulgar, like the rest of Richard's family, she at once decided, and if she bowed at all it was not perceptible to Eunice, who mentally resolved "to go home in the morning if such a proud minx was to live there."
Mrs. Markham saw the gathering storm, and Richard knew by the drop of her chin that Ethelyn had not made a good impression. How could she with that proud cold look, which never for an instant left her face, but rather deepened in its expression as the dinner proceeded, and one after the other Mrs. Markham and Eunice left the table in quest of something that was missing, while Andy himself, being nearest the kitchen, went to bring a pitcher of hot water for Ethelyn's coffee, lifting the kettle with the skirt of his coat, and snapping his fingers, which were slightly burned with the scalding steam. From the position she occupied at the table Ethelyn saw the whole performance, and had it been in any other house she would have smiled at Andy's grotesque appearance as he converted his coat skirts into a holder; but now it only sent a colder chill to her heart as she reflected that these were Richard's people and this was Richard's home. Sadly and vividly there arose before her visions of dear Aunt Barbara's household, where Betty served so quietly and where, except that they were upon a smaller scale, everything was as well and properly managed as in Mrs. Dr. Van Buren's family. It was several hours since she had tasted food, but she could scarcely swallow a morsel for the terrible homesick feeling swelling in her throat. She knew the viands before her were as nicely cooked as even Aunt Barbara or Betty could have cooked them—so much she conceded to Mrs. Markham and Eunice; but had her life depended upon it she could not have eaten them and the plate which James had filled so plentifully scarcely diminished at all. She did pick a little with her fork at the white, tender turkey, and tried to drink her coffee, but the pain in her head and the pain at her heart were both too great to allow of her doing more, and Mrs. Markham and Eunice both felt a growing contempt for a dainty thing who could not eat the dinner they had been at so much pains to prepare.
Ethelyn knew their opinion of her as well as if it had been expressed in words; but they were so very far beneath her that whatsoever they might think was not of the slightest consequence. They were a vulgar, ignorant set, the whole of them, she mentally decided, as she watched their manners at table, noticing how James and John poured their coffee into their saucers, blowing it until it was cool, while Richard, feeling more freedom now that he was again under his mother's wing, used his knife altogether, even to eating jelly with it. Ethelyn was disgusted, and once, as Richard's well-filled knife was moving toward his mouth, she gently touched his foot with her own; but if he understood her he did not heed her, and went quietly on with his dinner. Indeed, it might be truly said of him that "Richard was himself again," for his whole manner was that of a petted child, which, having returned to the mother who spoiled it, had cast off the restraint under which for a time it had been laboring. Richard was hungry, and would have enjoyed his dinner hugely but for the cold, silent woman beside him, who, he knew, was watching and criticising all he did; but somehow at home he did not care so much for her criticisms as when alone with her at fashionable hotels or with fashionable people. Here he was supreme, and none had ever disputed his will. Perhaps if Ethelyn had known all that was in his heart she might have changed her tactics and tried to have been more conciliatory on that first evening of her arrival at his home. But Ethelyn did not know—she only felt that she was homesick and wretched—and pleading a headache, from which she was really suffering, she asked to go to her room as soon as dinner was over.
It was very pleasant up there, for a cheerful wood fire was blazing on the hearth, and a rocking-chair drawn up before it, with a footstool which Andy had made and Melinda covered, while the bed in the little room adjoining looked so fresh, and clean, and inviting, that with a great sigh of relief, as the door closed between her and the "dreadful people below," Ethelyn threw herself upon it, and burying her face in the soft pillows, tried to smother the sobs which, nevertheless, smote heavily upon Richard's ear when he came in, and drove from him all thoughts of the little lecture he had been intending to give Ethelyn touching her deportment toward his folks. It would only be a fair return, he reflected, for all the Caudles he had listened to so patiently, and duly strengthened for his task by his mother's remark to James, accidentally overheard, "Altogether too fine a lady for us. I wonder what Richard was thinking of," he mounted the stairs resolved at least to talk with Ethie and ask her to do better.
Richard could be very stern when he tried, and the hazel of his eye was darker than usual, and the wrinkle between his eyebrows was deeper as he thus meditated harm against his offending wife. But the sight of the crushed form lying so helplessly upon the bed and crying in such a grieved, heart-sick way, drove all thoughts of discipline from his mind. He could not add one iota to her misery. She might be cold, and proud, and even rude to his family, as she unquestionably had been, but she was still Ethie, his young wife, whom he loved so dearly; and bending over her, he smoothed the silken bands of her beautiful hair and said to her softly, "What is it, darling? Anything worse than homesickness? Has anyone injured you?"
No one had injured her. On the contrary, all had met, or tried to meet her with kindness, which she had thrust back upon them. Ethelyn knew this as well as anyone, and Mrs. Markham, washing her dishes below stairs, and occasionally wiping her eyes with the corner of the check apron as she thought how all her trouble had been thrown away upon a proud, ungrateful girl, could not think less of Ethie than Ethie thought of herself, upstairs sobbing among the pillows. The family were ignorant and ill bred, as she counted ignorance and ill breeding; but they did mean to be kind to her, and she hated herself for her ingratitude in not at least seeming pleased with their endeavors to please her. Added to this was a vague remembrance of a certain look seen in Richard's eye—a look which made her uneasy as she thought, "What if he should hate me, too?"
Richard was all Ethelyn had to cling to now. She respected, if she did not love him, and when she heard his step upon the stairs, her heart, for an instant, throbbed with dread lest he was coming to chide her as she deserved. When, then, he bent so kindly over her, and spoke to her so tenderly, all her better nature went out toward him in a sudden gush of something akin to love, and lifting her head, she laid it upon his bosom, and drawing his arm around her neck, held it there with a sense of protection, while she said: "No one has injured me; but, oh, I am so homesick, and they are all so different, and my head aches so hard."
He knew she was homesick and it was natural that she should be; and he knew, too, that, as she said, they were "so different," and though on this point he could not fully appreciate her feelings he was sorry for her, and he soothed her aching head, and kissed her forehead, and told her she was tired; she would feel better by and by, and get accustomed to their ways, and when, as he said this, he felt the shiver with which she repelled the assertion, he repressed his inclination to tell her that she could at least conceal her aversion to whatever was disagreeable, and kissing her again, bade her lie down and try to sleep, as that would help her sooner than anything else, unless it were a cup of sage tea, such as his mother used to make for him when his head was aching. Should he send Eunice up with a cup?
"No; oh, no," and Ethelyn's voice expressed the disgust she felt for the young lady with red streamers in her hair, who had stared so at her and called her husband Richard.
Ethelyn had not yet defined Eunice's position in the family—whether it was that of cousin, or niece, or companion—and now that Richard had suggested her, she said to him:
"Who is this Eunice that seems so familiar?"
Richard hesitated a little and then replied:
"She is the girl who works for mother when we need help."
"Not a hired girl—surely not a hired girl!" and Ethelyn opened her brown eyes wide with surprise and indignation, wondering aloud what Aunt Sophia or Aunt Barbara would say if they knew she had eaten with and been introduced to a hired girl.
Richard did not say, "Aunt Sophia or Aunt Barbara be hanged, or be—anything," but he thought it, just as he thought Ethelyn's ideas particular and over-nice. Eunice Plympton was a respectable, trusty girl, and he believed in doing well for those who did well for him; but that was no time to argue the point, and so he sat still and listened to Ethelyn's complaint that Eunice had called him Richard, and would undoubtedly on the morrow address her as Ethelyn. Richard thought not, but changed his mind when, fifteen minutes later, he descended to the kitchen and heard Eunice asking Andy if he did not think "Ethelyn looked like the Methodist minister's new wife."
This was an offense which even Richard could not suffer to pass unrebuked, and sending Andy out on some pretext or other, he said that to Eunice Plympton which made her more careful as to what she called his wife, but he did it so kindly that she could not be offended with him, though she was strengthened in her opinion that "Miss Ethelyn was a stuck-up, an upstart, and a hateful. Supposin' she had been waited on all her life, and brought up delicately, as Richard said, that was no reason why she need feel so big, and above speaking to a poor girl when she was introduced." She guessed that "Eunice Plympton was fully as respectable and quite as much thought on by the neighbors, if she didn't wear a frock coat and a man's hat with a green feather stuck in it."
This was the substance of Eunice's soliloquy, as she cleaned the potatoes for the morrow's breakfast, and laid the kindlings by the stove, ready for the morning fire. Still Eunice was not a bad-hearted girl, and when Andy, who heard her mutterings, put in a plea for Ethelyn, who he said "had never been so far away from home before, and whose head was aching enough to split," she began to relent, and proposed, of her own accord, to take up to the great lady a foot-bath together with hot water for her head.
It was so long since Richard had been at home, and there was so much to hear of what had happened during his absence that instead of going back to Ethelyn he yielded to his mother's wish that he should stay with her, and sitting down in his arm-chair by the blazing fire, he found it so pleasant to be flattered and caressed and deferred to again, that he was in some danger of forgetting the young wife who was thus left to the tender mercies of Andy and Eunice Plympton. Andy had caught eagerly at Eunice's suggestion of the foot-bath, and offered to carry it up himself, while Eunice followed with her towels and basin of hot water. It never occurred to either of them to knock for admittance, and Ethelyn was obliged to endure their presence, which she did at first with a shadow on her brow; but when Andy asked so pleadingly that she try the hot water, and Eunice joined her entreaties with his, Ethelyn consented, and lay very quiet while Eunice Plympton bathed the aching head and smoothed the long, bright hair, which both she and Andy admired so much, for Andy, when he found that Ethelyn declined the foot-bath, concluded to remain a while, and sitting down before the fire, he scrutinized the form and features of his new sister, and made remarks upon the luxuriant tresses which Eunice combed so carefully.
It was something to have the homage of even such subjects as these, and Ethelyn's heart grew softer as the pain gradually subsided beneath Eunice's mesmeric touch, so that she answered graciously the questions propounded by her as to whether that sack, or great-coat, or whatever it was called, which she wore around her, was the very last style, how much it took to cut it, and if Miss Markham had the pattern. On being told that "Miss Markham" had not the pattern, Eunice presumed Melinda Jones could cut one, and then, while the cooled water was heating on the coals which Andy raked out upon the hearth, Eunice asked if she might just try on the "vasquine" and let Miss Markham see how she looked in it.
For a moment Ethelyn hesitated, but Eunice had been so kind, and proffered her request so timidly, that she could not well refuse, and gave a faint assent. But she was spared the trial of seeing her basquine strained over Eunice's buxom figure by the entrance of Richard, who came to say that Melinda Jones was in the parlor below. In spite of all Tim had said about madam's airs, and his advice that "Melinda should keep away," that young lady had ventured upon a call, thinking her intimacy with the family would excuse any unseemly haste, and thinking, too, it may be, that possibly Mrs. Richard Markham would be glad to know there was someone in Olney more like the people to whom she had been accustomed than Mrs. Markham, senior, and her handmaid, Eunice Plympton. Melinda's toilet had been made with direct reference to what Mrs. Ethelyn would think of it, and she was looking very well indeed in her gray dress and sack, with plain straw hat and green ribbons, which harmonized well with her high-colored cheeks. But Melinda's pains had been for naught, just as Richard feared, when she asked if "Mrs. Markham" was too tired to see her.
Richard was glad to see Melinda, and Melinda was glad to see Richard—so glad that she gave him a hearty kiss, prefacing the act with the remark, "I can kiss you, now you are a married man."
Richard liked the kiss, and liked Melinda's frank, open manner, which had in it nothing Van Burenish, as he secretly termed the studied elegance of Mrs. Richard Markham's style. Melinda was natural, and he promptly kissed her back, feeling that in doing so he was guilty of nothing wrong, for he would have done the same had Ethelyn been present. She had a terrible headache, he said, in answer to Melinda's inquiry, and perhaps she did not feel able to come down. He would see.
The hot water and Eunice's bathing had done Ethelyn good, and, with the exception that she was very pale, she looked bright and handsome, as she lay upon the pillows, with her loose hair forming a dark, glossy frame about her face.
"You are better, Ethie," Richard said, bending over her, and playfully lifting her heavy hair. "Eunice has done you good. She's not so bad, after all."
"Eunice is well enough in her place," was Ethelyn's reply; and then there was a pause, while Richard wondered how he should introduce Melinda Jones.
Perhaps it was vain in him, but he really fancied that the name of Jones was distasteful to Ethelyn, just as the Van Buren name would have been more distasteful to him than it already was had he known of Frank's love affair. And to a certain extent he was right. Ethelyn did dislike to hear of the Joneses, whom she heartily despised, and her brow grew cloudy at once when Richard said, bunglingly, and as if it were not at all what he had come up to say: "Oh, don't you remember hearing me speak of Melinda Jones, whom I hoped you would like? She is very kind to mother—we all think a great deal of her; and though she knows it is rather soon to call, she has come in for a few minutes, and would like to see you. I should be so glad if you would go down, for it will gratify her, I know, and I really think we owe her something—she has always been so kind."
But Ethelyn was too tired, and her head ached too hard to see visitors, she said; and besides that, "Miss Jones ought to have known that it was not proper to call so soon. None but a very intimate friend could presume upon such a thing."
"And Melinda is an intimate friend," Richard answered, a little warmly, as he left his wife, and went back to Melinda with the message, that "some time she should be happy to make Miss Jones' acquaintance, but to-night she really must be excused, as she was too tired to come down."
All this time Andy had been standing with his back to the fire, his coat-skirts taken up in his arms, his light, soft hat on his head, and his ears taking in all that was transpiring. Andy regarded his stylish sister-in-law as a very choice gem, which was not to be handled too roughly, but he was not afraid of her; he was seldom afraid of anybody, and when Richard was gone, he walked boldly up to Ethelyn and said:
"I don't want to be meddlesome, but 'pears to me if you'd spoke out your feelings to Dick, you'd said, 'Tell Melinda Jones I don't want to see her, neither to-night nor any time.' Mebby I'm mistaken, but honest, do you want to see Melinda?"
There was something so straightforward in his manner that, without being the least offended, Ethelyn replied:
"No, I do not. I am sure I should not like her if she at all resembles her brother^ that terrible Timothy."
Andy did not know that there was anything so very terrible about Tim. He liked him, because he gave him such nice chews of tobacco, and was always so ready to lend a helping hand in hog-killing time, or when a horse was sick; neither had he ever heard him called Timothy before, and the name sounded oddly, but he classed it with the fine ways of his new sister, who called him Anderson, though he so much wished she wouldn't. It sounded as if she did not like him; but he said nothing on that subject now—he merely adhered to the Jones question, and without defending Tim, replied:
"Gals are never much like their brothers, I reckon. They are softer, and finer, and neater; leastways our Daisy was as different from us as different could be, and Melinda is different from Tim. She's been to Camden high-school, and has got a book that she talks French out of; and didn't you ever see that piece she wrote about Mr. Baldwin's boy, who fell from the top of the church when it was building, and was crushed to death? It was printed, all in rhyme, in the Camden Sentinel, and Jim has a copy of it in his wallet, 'long with a lock of Melinda's hair. I tell you she's a team."
Andy was warming up with his subject, and finding Ethelyn a good listener, he continued:
"I want you to like her, and I b'lieve you orter, for if it hadn't been for her this room wouldn't of been fixed up as 'tis. Melinda coaxed mother to buy the carpet, and the curtings, and to put your bed in there. Why, that was the meal room, where you be, and we used to keep beans there, too; but Melinda stuck to it till mother moved the chest and the bags, and then we got some paint, and me and the boys and Melinda painted, and worked, hopin' all the time that you'd be pleased, as I guess you be. We wanted to have you like us."
And simple-hearted Andy drew near to Ethelyn, who was softened more by what he said than she could have been by her husband's most urgent appeal. The thought of the people to whom she had been so cold, and even rude, working and planning for her comfort, touched a very tender chord, and had Richard then proffered his request for her to go down, it is very possible she might have done so; but it was too late now, and after Andy left her she lay pondering what he had said and listening to the sound of voices which came up to her from the parlor directly beneath her room where James, and John, and Andy, and the mother, with Melinda, and Eunice, were talking to Richard, who was conscious of a greater feeling of content, sitting there in their midst again, than he had known in many a day. Melinda had been more than disappointed at Mrs. Richard's non-appearance, for aside from a curiosity to see the great lady, there was a desire to be able to report that she seen her to other females equally curious, whom she would next day meet at church. It would have added somewhat to her self-complacency as well as importance in their eyes, could she have quoted Mrs. Richard's sayings, and, described Mrs. Richard's dress, the very first day after her arrival. It would look as if the intimacy, which many predicted would end with Mrs. Ethelyn's coming, was only cemented the stronger; but no such honor was in store for her. Ethelyn declined coming down, and with a good-humored smile Melinda said she was quite excusable; and then, untying her bonnet, she laid it aside, just as she did the indescribable air of stiffness she had worn while expecting Mrs. Richard.
How merrily they all laughed and chatted together! and how handsome James' eyes grew as they rested admiringly upon the sprightly girl, who perfectly conscious of his gaze, never looked at him, but confined her attention wholly to Richard, until Andy asked "if they could not have a bit of a tune."
Then, for the first time, Richard discovered that Ethelyn's piano had been unpacked, and was now standing between the south windows, directly under Daisy's picture. It was open, too, and the sheet of music upon the rack told that it had been used. Richard did not care for himself, but he was afraid of what Ethelyn might say, and wondered greatly why she had not spoken of the liberty they had taken.
Ethelyn had not observed the piano; or if she did she had paid no attention to it. Accustomed as she had always been to seeing one in the room, she would have missed its absence more than she noticed its presence. But when, as she lay half dozing and thinking of Aunt Barbara, the old familiar air of "Money-musk," played with a most energetic hand, came to her ear, she started, for she knew the tone of her own instrument—knew, too, that Melinda Jones' hands were sweeping the keys—and all that Melinda Jones had done for her comfort was forgotten in the deep resentment which heated her blood and flushed her cheek as she listened to "Old Zip Coon," which followed "Money-musk," a shuffling sound of feet telling that somebody's boots were keeping time after a very unorthodox fashion. Next came a song—"Old Folks at Home"—and in spite of her resentment Ethelyn found herself listening intently as James' rich, deep bass, and John's clear tenor, and Andy's alto joined in the chorus with Melinda's full soprano. The Markham boys were noted for their fine voices; and even Richard had once assisted at a public concert; but to-night he did not sing—his thoughts were too intent upon the wife upstairs and what she might be thinking of the performance, and he was glad when the piano was closed and Melinda Jones had gone.
It was later than he supposed, and the clock pointed to almost eleven when he at last said good-night to his mother and went, with a half-guilty feeling, to his room. But there were no chidings in store for him; for, wearied with her journey and soothed by the music, Ethelyn had forgotten all her cares and lay quietly sleeping, with one hand beneath her cheek and the other resting outside the white counterpane. Ethie was very pretty in her sleep, and the proud, restless look about her mouth was gone, leaving an expression more like a child's than like a girl of twenty. And Richard, looking at her, felt supremely happy that she was his, forgetting all of the past which had been unpleasant, and thinking only that he was blessed above his fellow mortals that he could call the beautiful girl before him his Ethelyn—his wife.
FIRST DAYS IN OLNEY
There were a great many vacant seats in the Methodist church the morning following Ethelyn's arrival, while Mr. Townsend was surprised at the size of his congregation. It was generally known that Mrs. Judge Markham was an Episcopalian, and as she would of course patronize the Village Hall, the young people of Olney were there en masse, eager to see the new bride. But their curiosity was not gratified. Ethelyn was too tired to go out, Andy said, when questioned on the subject, while Eunice Plympton, who was also of Andy's faith, and an attendant of the Village Hall, added the very valuable piece of information that "Miss Markham's breakfast had been taken to her, and that when she [Eunice] came away she was still in bed, or at all events had not yet made her appearance below." This, together with Eunice's assertion that she was handsome, and Tim Jones' testimony that she was "mighty stuck-up, but awful neat," was all the disappointed Olneyites knew of Mrs. Richard Markham, who, as Eunice reported, had breakfasted in bed, and was still lying there when the one bell in Olney rang out its summons for church. She did not pretend to be sick—only tired and languid, and indisposed for any exertion; and then it was much nicer taking her breakfast from the little tray covered with the snowy towel which Richard brought her, than it was to go down stairs and encounter "all those dreadful people," as she mentally styled Richard's family; so she begged for indulgence this once, and Richard could not refuse her request, and so excused her to his mother, who said nothing, but whose face wore an expression which Richard did not like.