Always strong and healthy herself, Mrs. Markham had but little charity for nervous, delicate people, and she devoutly hoped that Richard's wife would not prove to be one of that sort. When the dishes were washed, and the floor swept, and the broom hung up in its place, and the sleeves of the brown, dotted calico rolled down, she went herself to see Ethelyn, her quick eye noticing the elaborate night-gown, with its dainty tucks and expensive embroidery, and her thoughts at once leaping forward to ironing day, with the wonder who was to do up such finery. "Of course, though, she'll see to such things herself," was her mental conclusion, and then she proceeded to question Ethelyn as to what was the matter, and where she felt the worst. A person who did not come down to breakfast must either be sick or very babyish and notional, and as Ethelyn did not pretend to much indisposition, the good woman naturally concluded that she was "hypoey," and pitied her boy accordingly.
Ethelyn readily guessed the opinion her mother-in-law was forming of her, and could hardly steady her voice sufficiently to answer her questions or repress her tears, which gushed forth the moment Mrs. Markham had left the room, and she was alone with Richard. Poor Richard! it was a novel position in which he found himself—that of mediator between his mother and his wife; but he succeeded very well, soothing and caressing the latter, until when, at three o'clock in the afternoon, the bountiful dinner was ready, he had the pleasure of taking her downstairs, looking very beautiful in her handsome black silk, and the pink coral ornaments Aunt Barbara had given her. There was nothing gaudy about her dress; it was in perfect taste, and very plain too, as she thought, even if it was trimmed with lace and bugles. But she could not help feeling it was out of keeping when James, and John, and Eunice stared so at her, and Mrs. Markham asked her if she hadn't better tie on an apron for fear she might get grease or something on her. With ready alacrity Eunice, who fancied her young mistress looked like a queen, forgetting in her admiration that she had ever thought her proud, ran for her own clean, white apron, which she offered to the lady.
But Ethelyn declined it, saying, "My napkin is all that I shall require."
Mrs. Markham, and Eunice, and Andy glanced at each other. Napkins were a luxury in which Mrs. Markham had never indulged. She knew they were common in almost every family of her acquaintance; but she did not see of what use they were, except to make more washing, and as her standard of things was the standard of thirty years back she was not easily convinced; and even Melinda Jones had failed on the napkin question. Ethelyn had been too much excited to observe their absence the previous night, and she now spoke in all sincerity, never dreaming that there was not such an article in the house. But there was a small square towel of the finest linen, and sacred to the memory of Daisy, who had hemmed it herself and worked her name in the corner. It was lying in the drawer, now, with her white cambric dress, and, at a whispered word from her mistress, Eunice brought it out and laid it in Ethelyn's lap, while Richard's face grew crimson as he began to think that possibly his mother might be a very little behind the times in her household arrangements.
Ethelyn's appetite had improved since the previous night, and she did ample justice to the well-cooked dinner; but her spirits were ruffled again when, on returning to her room an hour or so after dinner, she found it in the same disorderly condition in which she had left it. Ethelyn had never taken charge of her own room, for at Aunt Barbara's Betty had esteemed it a privilege to wait upon her young mistress, while Aunt Van Buren would have been horror-stricken at the idea of any one of her guests making their own bed. Mrs. Markham, on the contrary, could hardly conceive of a lady too fine to do that service herself, and Eunice was not the least to blame for omitting to do what she had never been told was her duty to do. A few words from Richard, however, and the promise of an extra quarter per week made that matter all right, and neither Betty nor Mrs. Dr. Van Buren's trained chambermaid, Mag, had ever entered into the clearing-up process with greater zeal than did Eunice when once she knew that Richard expected it of her. She was naturally kind-hearted, and though Ethelyn's lofty ways annoyed her somewhat, her admiration for the beautiful woman and her elegant wardrobe was unbounded, and she felt a pride in waiting upon her which she would once have thought impossible to feel in anything pertaining to her duties as a servant.
The following morning brought with it the opening of the box where the family presents were; but Ethelyn did not feel as much interest in them now as when they were purchased. She knew how out of place they were, and fully appreciated the puzzled expression on James' face when he saw the blue velvet smoking cap. It did not harmonize with the common clay pipe he always smoked on Sunday, and much less with the coarse cob thing she saw him take from the kitchen mantel that morning just after he left the breakfast table and had donned the blue frock he wore upon the farm. He did not know what the fanciful-tasseled thing was for; but he reflected that Melinda, who had been to boarding school, could enlighten him, and he thanked his pretty sister with a good deal of gentlemanly grace. He was naturally more observing than Richard, and with the same advantages would have polished sooner. Though a little afraid of Ethelyn, there was something in her refined, cultivated manners very pleasing to him, and his soft eyes looked down upon her kindly as he took the cap and carried it to his room, laying it carefully away in the drawer where his Sunday shirts, and collars, and "dancing pumps," and fishing tackle, and paper of chewing tobacco were.
Meanwhile, John, who was even more shy of Ethelyn than James, had been made the recipient of the elegantly embroidered slippers, which presented so marked a contrast to his heavy cowhides, and were three sizes too small for his mammoth feet. Ethelyn saw the discrepancy at once, and the effort it was for John to keep from laughing outright, as he took the dainty things into which he could but little more than thrust his toes.
"You did not know what a Goliath I was, nor what stogies I wore; but I thank you all the same," John said, and with burning blushes Ethelyn turned next to her beautiful Schiller—the exquisite little bust—which Andy, in his simplicity mistook for a big doll, feeling a little affronted that Ethelyn should suppose him childish enough to care for such toys.
But when Richard, who stood looking on, explained to his weak brother what it was, saying that people of cultivation prized such things as these, and that some time he would read to him of the great German poet, Andy felt better, and accepted his big doll with a very good grace.
The coiffure came next, Mrs. Markham saying she was much obliged, and Eunice asking if it was a half-handkerchief, to be worn about the neck.
Taken individually and collectively, the presents were a failure—all but the pretty collar and ribbon-bow, which, as an afterthought, Ethelyn gave to Eunice, whose delight knew no bounds. This was something she could appreciate, while Ethelyn's gifts to the others had been far beyond them, and but for the good feeling they manifested might as well have been withheld. Ethelyn felt this heavily, and it did not tend to lessen the bitter disappointment which had been gnawing in her heart ever since she had reached her Western home. Everything was different from what she had pictured it in her mind—everything but Daisy's face, which, from its black-walnut frame above her piano, seemed to look so lovingly down upon her. It was a sweet, refined face, and the soft eyes of blue were more beautiful than anything Ethelyn had ever seen. She did not wonder that every member of that family looked upon their lost Daisy as the household angel, lowering their voices when they spoke of her, and even retarding their footsteps when they passed near her picture. She did wonder, however, that they were not more like what Daisy would have been, judging from the expression of her face and all Richard had said of her.
Between Mrs. Markham and Ethelyn there was from the first a mutual feeling of antagonism, and it was in no degree lessened by Aunt Barbara's letter, which Mrs. Markham read three times on Sunday, and then on Monday very foolishly talked it up with Eunice, whom she treated with a degree of familiarity wholly unaccountable to Ethelyn.
"What did that Miss Bigelow take her for that she must ask her to be kind to Ethelyn? Of course she should do her duty, and she guessed her ways were not so very different from other people's, either," and the good woman gave an extra twist to the tablecloth she was wringing, and shaking it out rather fiercely, tossed it into the huge clothes-basket standing near.
The wash was unusually large that day and as the unpacking of the box had taken up some time, the clock was striking two just as the last clothespin was fastened in its place, and the last brown towel hung upon the currant bushes. It was Mrs. Markham's weakness that her wash should be fluttering in the wind before that of Mrs. Jones, which could be plainly seen from her kitchen window. But to-day Mrs. Jones was ahead, and Melinda's pink sun-bonnet was visible in the little back-yard as early as eleven, at which time the Markham garments had just commenced to boil. The bride had brought with her a great deal of extra work, and what with waiting breakfast for her until the coffee was cold and the baked potatoes "all soggy," and then cleaning up the litter of "that box," Mrs. Markham was dreadfully behind with her Monday's work. And it did not tend to improve her temper to know that the cause of all her discomposure was "playing lady" in a handsome cashmere morning gown, with heavy tassels knotted at her side, while she was bending over the washtub in a faded calico pinned about her waist, and disclosing the quilt patched with many colors, and the black yarn stockings footed with coarse white. Not that Mrs. Markham cared especially for the difference between her dress and Ethelyn's—neither did she expect Ethelyn to "help" that day—but she might at least have offered to wipe the dinner dishes, she thought. It would have shown her good will at all events. But instead of that she had returned to her room the moment dinner was over, and Eunice, who went to hunt for a missing sock of Richard's, reported that she was lying on the lounge with a story book in her hand.
"Shiffless," was the word Mrs. Markham wanted to use, but she repressed it, for she would not talk openly against Richard's wife so soon after her arrival, though she did make some invidious remarks concerning the handsome underclothes, wondering "what folks were thinking of to put so much work where it was never seen. Puffs, and embroidery, and lace, and, I vum, if the ruffles ain't tucked too," she continued, in a despairing voice, hoping Ethelyn knew "how to iron such filagree herself, for the mercy knew she didn't."
Now these same puffs, and embroidery, and ruffles, and tucks had excited Eunice's liveliest admiration, and her fingers fairly itched to see how they would look hanging on the clothes bars after passing through her hands. That Ethelyn could touch them she never once dreamed. Her instincts were truer than Mrs. Markham's and it struck her as perfectly proper that one like Ethelyn should sit still while others served, and to her mistress' remarks as to the ironing, she hastened to reply: "I'd a heap sight rather do them up than to iron the boys' coarse shirts and pantaloons. Don't you mind the summer I was at Camden working for Miss Avery, who lived next door to Miss Judge Miller, from New York? She had just such things as these, and I used to go in sometimes and watch Katy iron 'em, so I b'lieve I can do it myself. Anyways, I want to try."
Fears that Eunice might rebel had been uppermost in Mrs. Markham's mind when she saw the pile of elegant clothes, for she had a suspicion that Mrs. Ethelyn would keep as much aloof from the ironing-board as she did from the dish-washing; but if Eunice was willing and even glad of the opportunity, why, that made a difference, and the good woman began to feel so much better that by the time the last article was on the line, the kitchen floor cleared up, and the basin of water heating on the stove for her own ablutions, she was quite amiably disposed toward her grand daughter-in-law, who had not made her appearance since dinner. Ethelyn liked staying in her chamber better than anywhere else, and it was especially pleasant there to-day, for Eunice had taken great pains to make it so, sweeping, and dusting and putting to rights, and patting the pillows and cushions just as she remembered seeing Melinda do, and then, after the collar and ribbon had been given to her, going down on her hands and knees before the fire to wash the hearth with milk, which gave to the red bricks a polished, shining appearance, and added much to the cheerfulness of the room. Ethelyn had commended her pleasantly, and, in the seventh heaven of delight, Eunice had returned to her washing, taking greater pains than ever with the dainty puffs and frills, and putting in a stitch where one was needed.
It was very evident that Eunice admired Ethelyn, and Ethelyn in return began to appreciate Eunice; and when, after dinner, she went to her room, and, wearied with her unpacking, lay down upon the lounge, she felt happier than she had since her first sight of Olney. It was pleasant up there, and the room looked very pretty with the brackets and ornaments, and pictures she had hung there instead of in the parlor, and she decided within herself that though disappointed in every respect, she could be quite comfortable for the few weeks which must intervene before she went to Washington. She should spend most of the time in the retirement of her room, mingling as little as possible with the family, and keeping at a respectful distance from her mother-in-law, whom she liked less than any of Richard's relations.
"I trust the Olney people will not think it their duty to call," she thought. "I suppose I shall have to endure the Joneses for Abigail's sake. Melinda certainly has some taste; possibly I may like her," and while cogitating upon Melinda Jones and the expected gayeties in Washington, she fell asleep; nor did Richard's step arouse her, when, about three o'clock, he came in from the village in quest of some law documents he wished to see.
Frank Van Buren would probably have kissed her as she lay there sleeping so quietly; but Richard was in a great hurry. He had plunged at once into business. Once there were forty men waiting to see and consult "the Squire," whose reputation for honesty and ability was very great, and whose simple assertion carried more weight than the roundest oath of some lawyers, sworn upon the biggest Bible in Olney. Waylaid at every corner, and plied with numberless questions, he had hardly found an opportunity to come home to dinner, and now he had no time to waste in love-making. He saw Ethelyn, however, and felt that his room had never been as pleasant as it was with her there in it, albeit her coming was the cause of his books and papers being disturbed and tossed about and moved where he had much trouble to find them. He felt glad, too, that she was out of his mother's way, and feeling that all was well, he found his papers and hurried off to the village again, while Ethelyn slept on till Eunice Plympton came up to say that "Miss Jones and Melinda were both in the parlor and wanted her to come down."
CALLS AND VISITING
Mrs. Jones had risen earlier than usual that Monday morning, and felt not a little elated when she saw her long line of snowy linen swinging in the wind before that of her neighbor, whom she excused on the score of Richard's wife. But when twelve o'clock, and even one o'clock struck, and still the back yard gave no sign, she began to wonder "if any of 'em could be sick"; and never was flag of truce watched for more anxiously than she watched for something which should tell that it was all well at Sister Markham's.
The sign appeared at last, and with her fears quieted, Mrs. Jones pursued the even tenor of her way until everything was done and her little kitchen was as shining as soap and sand and scrubbing brush could make it. Perhaps it was washing the patchwork quilt which Abigail had pieced that brought the deceased so strongly to Mrs. Jones' mind, and made her so curious to see Abigail's successor. Whatever it was, Mrs. Jones was very anxious for a sight of Ethelyn; and when her work was done she donned her alpaca dress, and tying on her black silk apron, announced her intention of "running into Mrs. Markham's just a minute. Would Melinda like to go along?"
Melinda had been once to no purpose, and she had inwardly resolved to wait a while before calling again; but she felt that she would rather be with her mother at her first interview with Ethelyn, for she knew she could cover up some defects by her glibber and more correct manner of conversing. So she signified her assent, but did not wear her best bonnet as she had on Saturday night. This was only a run in, she said, never dreaming that, "for fear of what might happen if she was urged to stay to tea," her mother had deposited in her capacious pocket the shirt-sleeve of unbleached cotton she was making for Tim.
And so about four o'clock the twain started for the house of Mrs. Markham, who saw them coming and welcomed them warmly. She was always glad to see Mrs. Jones, and she was doubly glad to-day, for it seemed to her that some trouble had come upon her which made neighborly sympathy and neighborly intercourse more desirable than ever. Added to this, there was in her heart an unconfessed pride in Ethelyn and a desire to show her off. "Miss Jones was not going to stir home a step till after supper," she said, as that lady demurred at laying off her bonnet. "She had got to stay and see Richard; besides that, they were going to have waffles and honey, with warm gingerbread."
Nobody who had once tested them, could withstand Mrs. Markham's waffles and gingerbread. Mrs. Jones certainly could not; and when Eunice went up for Ethelyn, that worthy woman was rocking back and forth in a low rocking-chair, her brass thimble on her finger and Tim's shirt-sleeve in progress of making; while Melinda, in her pretty brown merino and white collar, with her black hair shining like satin, sat in another rocking-chair, working at the bit of tatting she chanced to have in her pocket. Ethelyn did not care to go down; it was like stepping into another sphere leaving her own society for that of the Joneses; but there was no alternative, and with a yawn she started up and began smoothing her hair.
"This wrapper is well enough," she said, more to herself, than Eunice, who was still standing by the door looking at her.
Eunice did not think the wrapper well enough. It was pretty, she knew, but not as pretty as the dresses she had seen hanging in Ethelyn's closet when she arranged the room that morning; so she said, hesitatingly: "I wish you wouldn't wear that down. You were so handsome yesterday in the black gown, with them red earrings and pin, and your hair brushed up, so."
Ethelyn liked to look well, even here in Olney, and so the wrapper was laid aside, the beautiful brown hair was wound in heavy coils about the back of the head, and brushed back from her white forehead after a fashion which made her look still younger and more girlish than she was. A pretty plaid silk, with trimmings of blue, was chosen for to-day, Eunice going nearly wild over the short jaunty basque, laced at the sides and the back. Eunice had offered to stay and assist at her young mistress' toilet, and as Ethelyn was not unaccustomed to the office of waiting-maid, she accepted Eunice's offer, finding, to her surprise, that the coarse red fingers, which that day had washed and starched her linen, were not unhandy even among the paraphernalia of a Boston lady's toilet.
"You do look beautiful," Eunice said, standing back to admire Ethelyn, when at last she was dressed. "I have thought Melinda Jones handsome, but she can't hold a candle to you, nor nobody else I ever seen, except Miss Judge Miller, in Camden. She do act some like you, with her gown dragglin' behind her half a yard."
Thus flattered and complimented, Ethelyn shook out her skirts, which "draggled half a yard behind," and went downstairs to where Mrs. Jones sat working on Timothy's shirt, and Melinda was crocheting, while Mrs. Markham, senior, clean and neat, and stiff in her starched, purple calico, sat putting a patch on a fearfully large hole in the knee of Andy's pants. As Ethelyn swept into the room there fell a hush upon the inmates, and Mrs. Jones was almost guilty of an exclamation of surprise. She had expected something fine, she said—something different from the Olney quality—but she was not prepared for anything as grand and queenly as Ethelyn, when she sailed into the room, with her embroidered handkerchief held so gracefully in her hands, and in response to Mrs. Markham's introduction, bowed so very low, and slowly, too, her lips scarcely moving at all, and her eyes bent on the ground. Mrs. Jones actually ran the needle she was sewing with under her thumb in her sudden start, while Melinda's crocheting dropped into her lap. She, too, was surprised, though not as much as her mother. She, like Eunice, had seen Mrs. Judge Miller, from New York, whose bridal trousseau was imported from Paris, and whose wardrobe was the wonder of Camden. And Ethelyn was very much like her, only younger and prettier.
"Very pretty," Melinda thought, while Mrs. Jones fell to comparing her, mentally, with the deceased Abigail; wondering how Richard, if he had ever loved the one, could have fancied the other, they were so unlike.
Of course, the mother's heart gave to Abigail the preference for all that was good and womanly, and worthy of Richard Markham; but Ethelyn bore off the palm for style, and beauty, too.
"Handsome as a doll, but awfully proud," Mrs. Jones decided, during the interval in which she squeezed her wounded thumb, and got the needle again in motion upon Timothy's shirt-sleeve.
Ethelyn was not greatly disappointed in Mrs. Jones and her daughter; the mother especially was much like what she had imagined her to be, while Melinda was rather prettier—rather more like the Chicopee girls than she expected. There was a look on her face like Susie Granger, and the kindly expression of her black eyes made Ethelyn excuse her for wearing a magenta bow, while her cheeks were something the same hue. They were very stiff at first, Mrs. Jones saying nothing at all, and Melinda only venturing upon common-place inquiries—as to how Ethelyn bore her journey, if she was ever in that part of the country before, and how she thought she should like the West. This last question Ethelyn could not answer directly.
"It was very different from New England," she said, "but she was prepared for that, and hoped she should not get very homesick during the few weeks which would elapse before she went to Washington."
At this point Mrs. Markham stopped her patching and looked inquiringly at Ethelyn. It was the first she had heard about Ethelyn's going to Washington; indeed, she had understood that Richard's wife was to keep her company during the winter, a prospect which since Ethelyn's arrival had not looked so pleasing to her as it did before. How in the world they should get on together without Richard, she did not know, and if she consulted merely her own comfort she would have bidden Ethelyn go. But there were other things to be considered—there was the great expense it would be for Richard to have his wife with him. Heretofore he had saved a good share of his salary, but with Ethelyn it would be money out of his pocket all the time; besides that, there were reasons why it was not proper for Ethelyn to go; her best place was at home.
Thus reasoned Mrs. Markham, and when next her needle resumed its work on Andy's patch, Ethelyn's fate with regard to Washington was decided, for as thought the mother on that point, so eventually would think the son, who deferred so much to her judgment. He came in after a little, looking so well and handsome that Ethelyn felt proud of him, and had he then laid his hand upon her shoulder, or put his arm around her waist, as he sometimes did when they were alone, she would not have shaken it off, as was her usual custom. Indeed, such is the perversity of human nature, and so many contradictions are there in it, that Ethelyn rather wished he would pay her some little attention. She could not forget Abigail, with Abigail's mother and sister sitting there before her, and she wanted them to see how fond her husband was of her, hoping thus to prove how impossible it was that Abigail could ever have been to him what she was. But Richard was shy in the presence of others, and would sooner have put his arm around Melinda than around his wife, for fear he should be thought silly. He was very proud of her, though, and felt a thrill of satisfaction in seeing how superior, both in look and manner, she was to Melinda Jones, whose buxom, healthy face grew almost coarse and homely from comparison with Ethelyn's.
As Ethelyn's toilet had occupied some time, it was five when she made her appearance in the parlor, consequently she had not long to wait ere the announcement of supper broke up the tediousness she endured from that first call, or visit. The waffles and the gingerbread were all they had promised to be, and the supper passed off quietly, with the exception of a mishap of poor, awkward Andy, who tipped his plate of hot cakes and honey into his lap, and then in his sudden spring backward, threw a part of the plate's contents upon Ethelyn's shining silk. This was the direst calamity of all, and sent poor Andy from the table so heart-broken and disconsolate that he did not return again, and Eunice found him sitting on the wood-house steps, wiping away with his coat-sleeve the great tears which rolled down his womanish face.
"Ethelyn never would like him again," he said, calling himself "a great blundering fool, who never ought to eat at the same table with civilized folks."
But when Ethelyn, who heard from Eunice of Andy's distress, went out to see him, assuring him that but little damage had been done, that soft water and magnesia would make the dress all right again, he brightened up, and was ready to hold Mr. Harrington's horse when, after dark, that gentleman drove over from Olney with his wife and sister to call on Mrs. Richard. It would almost seem that Ethelyn held a reception that evening, for more than the Harringtons knocked at the front door, and were admitted by the smiling Eunice. It was rather early to call, the Olneyites knew, but there on the prairie they were not hampered with many of Mrs. Grundy's rules, and so curious to see the "Boston lady," several of the young people had agreed together between the Sunday services to call at Mrs. Markham's the following night. They were well-meaning, kind-hearted people, and would any one of them gone far out of their way to serve either Richard or his young wife; but they were not Eastern bred, and feeling somewhat awed by Ethelyn's cold, frigid manner, they appeared shy and awkward—all except Will Parsons, the young M.D. of Olney, who joked, and talked and laughed so loudly, that even Richard wondered he had never before observed how noisy Dr. Parsons was, while Andy, who was learning to read Ethelyn's face, tried once or twice, by pulling the doctor's coat-skirts and giving him a warning glance, to quiet him down a little. But the doctor took no hints, and kept on with his fun, finding a splendid coadjutor in the "terrible Tim Jones," who himself came over to call on Dick and his woman.
Tim was rigged out in his best, with a bright red cravat tied around his neck, and instead of his muddy boots with his pants tucked in the tops, he wore coarse shoes tied with strings and flirted his yellow silk handkerchief for the entire evening. It was dreadful to Ethelyn, for she could see nothing agreeable in Richard's friends; indeed, their presence was scarcely bearable, and the proud look on her face was so apparent that the guests felt more or less ill at ease, while Richard was nearer being angry with Ethelyn than he had ever been. Will Parsons and Tim Jones seemed exceptions to the rest of the company, especially the latter, who, if he noticed Ethelyn's evident contempt, was determined to ignore it, and make himself excessively familiar.
As yet, the open piano had been untouched, no one having the courage to ask Ethelyn to play; but Tim was fond of music, and unhesitatingly seating himself upon the stool, thrust one hand in his pocket, and with the other struck the keys at random, trying to make out a few bars of "Hail, Columbia!" Then turning to Ethelyn he said, with a good-humored nod, "Come, old lady, give us something good."
Ethelyn's eyes flashed fire, while others of the guests looked their astonishment at Tim, who knew he had done something, but could not for the life of him tell what.
"Old lady" was a favorite title with him. He called his mother so, and Melinda, and Eunice Plympton, and Maria Moorehouse, whose eyes he thought so bright, and whom he always saw home from meeting on Sunday nights; and so it never occurred to him that this was his offense. But Melinda knew, and her red cheeks burned scarlet as she tried to cover her brother's blunder by modestly urging Ethelyn to favor them with some music.
Of all the Western people whom she had seen, Ethelyn liked Melinda the best. She had thought her rather familiar, and after the Olneyites came in and put her more at her ease, she fancied her a little flippant and forward; but, in all she did or said, there was so much genuine sincerity and frankness, that Ethelyn could not dislike her as she had thought she should dislike a sister of Abigail Jones and the terrible Tim. She had not touched her piano since her arrival, for fear of the homesickness which its familiar tones might awaken, and when she saw Tim's big red hands fingering the keys, in her resentment at the desecration she said to herself that she never would touch it again; but when in a low aside Melinda added to her entreaties: "Please, Mrs. Markham, don't mind Tim—he means well enough, and would not be rude for the world, if he knew it," she began to give way, and it scarcely needed Richard's imperative, "Ethelyn," to bring her to her feet. No one offered to conduct her to the piano—not even Richard, who sat just where he was; while Tim, in his haste to vacate the music stool, precipitated it to the floor, and got his leather shoes entangled in Ethelyn's skirts.
Tim, and Will Parsons, and Andy all hastened to pick up the stool, knocking their heads together, and raising a laugh in which Ethelyn could not join. Thoroughly disgusted and sick at heart, she felt much as the Jewish maidens must have felt when required to give a song. Her harp was indeed upon the willows hung, and her heart was turning sadly toward her far-off Jerusalem as she sat down and tried to think what she should play to suit her audience. Suddenly it occurred to her to suit herself rather than her hearers, and her snowy fingers—from which flashed Daisy's diamond and a superb emerald—swept the keys with a masterly grace and skill. Ethelyn was perfectly at home at the piano, and dashing off into a brilliant and difficult overture, she held her hearers for a few minutes astonished both at her execution and the sounds she made. To the most of them, however, the sounds were meaningless; their tastes had not yet been cultivated up to Ethelyn's style. They wanted something familiar—something they had heard before; and when the fine performance was ended terrible Tim electrified her with the characteristic exclamation: "That was mighty fine, no doubt, for them that understand such; but, now, for land's sake, give us a tune."
Ethelyn was horror-stricken. She had cast her pearls before swine; and with a haughty stare at the offending Timothy, she left the stool, and walking back to her former seat, said:
"I leave the tunes to your sister, who, I believe, plays sometimes."
Somewhat crestfallen, but by no means browbeaten, Tim insisted that Melinda should give them a jig; and, so, crimsoning with shame and confusion, Melinda took the vacant stool and played her brother a tune—a rollicking, galloping tune, which everybody knew, and which set the feet to keeping time, and finally brought Tim and Andy to the floor for a dance. But Melinda declined playing for a cotillion which her brother proposed, and so the dancing arrangement came to naught, greatly to the delight of Ethelyn, who could only keep back her tears by looking up at the sweet face of Daisy smiling down upon her from the wall. That was the only redeeming point in that whole assembly, she thought. She would not even except Richard then, so intense was her disappointment and so bitter her regret for the mistake she made when she promised to go where her heart could never be.
It was nine o'clock when the company dispersed. Each of the ladies cordially invited Ethelyn to call as soon as convenient, and Mrs. Harrington, a lady of some cultivation, whose husband was the village merchant, saying encouragingly to her, as she held her hand a moment, "Our Western manners seem strange to you, I dare say; but we are a well-meaning people, and you will get accustomed to us by and by."
She never should—no, never, thought Ethelyn, as she went up to her room, tired and homesick, and disheartened with this, her first introduction to the Olney people. It was a very cross wife that slept at Richard's side that night, and the opinion expressed of the Olneyites was anything but complimentary to the taste of one who had known them all his life and liked them so well. But Richard was getting accustomed to such things. Lectures did not move him now as they had at first, and overcome with fatigue from his day's work and the evening's excitement, he fell asleep, while Ethelyn was enlarging upon the merits of the terrible Tim, who had addressed her as "old lady" and asked her to "play a tune."
In the course of two weeks all the people in Olney called upon Ethelyn, who would gladly have refused herself to them all. But after the morning when Andy stood outside the door of her room, wringing his hands in great distress at the tone of Richard's voice, and Ethelyn stayed in bed all day with the headache, and was nursed by Eunice and Melinda, Ethelyn did better, and was at least polite to those who called. She had said she would not see them, and Richard had said she should; and as he usually made people do as he liked, Ethelyn was forced to submit, but cried herself sick. It was very desolate and lonely upstairs that day, for Richard was busy in town, and the wind swept against the windows with a mournful, moaning sound, which made Ethelyn think of dear old Chicopee, and the lofty elms through whose swaying branches the same October wind was probably sighing on this autumnal day. But, oh! how vast the difference, she thought; for what would have been music if heard at home among the New England hills, was agony here upon the Western prairie.
Ethelyn was very wretched and hailed with delight the presence of Melinda Jones, who came in the afternoon, bringing a basket of delicious apples and a lemon tart she had made herself. Melinda was very sorry for Ethelyn, and her face said as much as she stood by her side and laid her hand softly upon the throbbing temples, pitying her so much, for she guessed just how homesick she was there with Mrs. Markham, whose ways had never seemed so peculiar, even to her, as since Ethelyn's arrival. "And still," she thought, "I do not see how she can be so very unhappy, in any circumstances, with a husband like Richard." But here Melinda made a mistake; for though Ethelyn respected her husband, and had learned to miss him when he was gone, and the day whose close was not to bring him back would have been very long, she did not love him as a husband should be loved; and so there was nothing to fall back upon when other props gave way.
Wholly unsuspicious, Melinda sat down beside her, offering to brush her hair, and while she brushed and combed, and braided, and admired the glossy brown locks, she talked on the subject she thought most acceptable to the young wife's ear—of Richard, and the great popularity he had achieved, not only in his own county, but in neighboring ones, where he stood head and shoulders above his fellows. There was talk once of making him governor, she said, but some thought him too young. Lately, however, she had heard that the subject was again agitated, adding that her father and Tim both thought it more than probable that the next election would take him to the gubernatorial mansion.
"Tim would work like a hero for Richard," she said. "He almost idolizes him, and when he was up for Judge Tim's exertions alone procured for him a hundred extra votes. Tim is a rough, half-savage fellow, but he has the kindest of hearts, and is very popular with a certain class of men who could not be reached by one more polished and cultivated."
So much Melinda said, by way of excusing Tim's vulgarities; and then, with the utmost tact, she led the conversation back to Richard and the governorship, hinting that Ethelyn could do much toward securing that office for her husband. A little attention, which cost nothing, would go a great ways, she said; and it was sometimes worth one's while to make an effort, even if they did not feel like it. More than one rumor had reached Melinda's ear touching the pride of Dick Markham's wife—a pride which the Olney people felt keenly, and it the more keenly knowing that they had helped to give her husband a name; they had made him Judge, and sent him to Congress, and would like to make him governor, knowing well that that no office, however high, would change him from the plain, unpretending man, who, even in the Senate Chamber, would shake drunken Ike Plympton's hand, and slap Tim Jones on the back if need be. They liked their Dick, who had been a boy among them, and they thought it only fair that his wife should unbend a little, and not freeze them so with her lofty ways.
"She'll kick the whole thing over if she goes on so," Tim had said to his father, in Melinda's hearing, and so, like a true friend to Richard, Melinda determined to try and prevent the proud little feet from doing so much mischief.
Nor was she unsuccessful. Ethelyn saw the drift of the conversation, and though for an instant her cheek crimsoned with resentment that she should be talked at by Melinda Jones, she was the better for the talking, and the Olney people, when next they come in contact with her, changed their minds with regard to her being so very proud. She was homesick at first, and that was the cause of her coldness, they said, excusing her in their kind hearts, and admiring her as something far superior to themselves. Even Tim Jones got now and then a pleasant word, for Ethelyn had not forgotten the hundred extra votes. She would have repelled the insinuation that she was courting favor or that hopes of the future governorship for Richard had anything to do with her changed demeanor. She despised such things in others; but Ethelyn was human, and it is just possible that had there been nothing in expectancy she would not have submitted with so good a grace to the familiarities with which she so constantly came in contact. At home she was cold and proud as ever, for between her mother-in-law and herself there was no affinity, and they kept as far apart as possible, Ethelyn staying mostly in her room, and Mrs. Markham, senior, staying in the kitchen, where Eunice Plympton still remained.
Mrs. Markham had fully expected that Eunice would go home within a few days after Ethelyn's arrival; but when the days passed on, Ethelyn showed no inclination for a nearer acquaintance with the kitchen—"never even offering to wipe the teacups on washing days," as Mrs. Markham complained to James, and John, and Andy—the good woman began to manifest some anxiety on the subject, and finally went to Richard to know if "he expected to keep a hired girl all winter or was Ethelyn going to do some light chores."
Richard really did not know; but after a visit to his room, where Ethie sat reading in her handsome crimson wrapper, with the velvet trimmings, he decided that she could "not do chores," and Eunice must remain. It was on this occasion that Washington was broached, Mrs. Markham repeating what she heard Ethelyn saying to Melinda, and asking Richard if he contemplated such a piece of extravagance as taking his wife to Washington would be. In Richard's estimation there were other and weightier reasons why Ethelyn should remain quietly at home that winter. He did not especially mind the expense she might be to him, and he owned to a weak desire to see her queen it over all the reigning belles, as he was certain she would. Unbiased by his mother, and urged by Ethelyn, he would probably have yielded in her favor; but the mother was first in the field, and so she won the day, and Ethie's disappointment was a settled thing. But Ethie did not know it, as Richard wisely refrained from being the first to speak of the matter. That she was going to Washington Ethelyn had no doubt, and this made her intercourse with the Olneyites far more endurable. Some of them she found pleasant, cultivated people—especially Mr. Townsend, the clergyman, who, after the Sunday on which she appeared at the Village Hall in her blue silk and elegant basquine, came to see her, and seemed so much like an old friend when she found that he had met at Clifton, in New York, some of her acquaintances. It was easy to be polite to him, and to the people from Camden, who hearing much of Judge Markham's pretty bride, came to call upon her—Judge Miller and his wife, with Marcia Fenton and Miss Ella Backus, both belles and blondes, and both some-bodies, according to Ethelyn's definition of that word. She liked these people, and Richard found no trouble in getting her to return their calls. She would gladly have stayed in Camden altogether, and once laughingly pointed out to Richard a large, vacant lot, adjoining Mr. Fenton's, where she would like to have her new house built.
There was a decided improvement in Ethelyn; nor did her old perversity of temper manifest itself very strongly until one morning, three weeks after her arrival in Olney, when Richard suggested to her the propriety of his mother's giving them a party, or infair, as he called it. The people expected it, he said; they would be disappointed without it, and, indeed, he felt it was something he owed them for all their kindness to him. Then Ethelyn rebelled—stoutly, stubbornly rebelled—but Richard carried the point, and two days after the farmhouse was in a state of dire confusion, wholly unlike the quiet which reigned there usually. Melinda Jones was there all the time, while Mrs. Jones was back and forth, and a few of the Olney ladies dropped in with suggestions and offers of assistance. It was to be a grand affair—so far, at least, as numbers were concerned—for everybody was invited, from Mr. Townsend and the other clergy, down to Cecy Doane, who did dressmaking and tailoring from house to house. The Markhams were very democratic in their feelings, and it showed itself in the guests bidden to the party. They were invited from Camden as well—Mr. and Mrs. Miller, with Marcia Fenton and Ella Backus; and after the two young ladies had come over to ascertain how large an affair it was to be, so as to know what to wear, Ethelyn began to take some little interest in it herself and to give the benefit of her own experience in such matters. But having a party in Mrs. Dr. Van Buren's handsome house, where the servants were all so well trained, and everything necessary was so easy of access, or even having a party at Aunt Barbara's, was a very different thing from having one here under the supervision of Mrs. Markham, whose ideas were so many years back, and who objected to nearly everything which Ethelyn suggested. But by dint of perseverance on Melinda's part her scruples were finally overcome; so that when the night of the party arrived the house presented a very respectable appearance, with its lamps of kerosene, and the sperm candles flaming on the mantels in the parlor, and the tallow candles smoking in the kitchen.
Mrs. Markham's bed had been removed from the sitting room, and the carpet taken from the floor, for they were going to dance, and Eunice's mother had been working hard all day to keep her liege lord away from the Cross Roads tavern so that he might be presentable at night, and capable of performing his part, together with his eldest son, who played the flute. She was out in the kitchen now, very large and important with the office of head waiter, her hoops in everybody's way, and her face radiant with satisfaction, as she talked to Mrs. Markham about what we better do. The table was laid in the kitchen and loaded with all the substantials, besides many delicacies which Melinda and Ethelyn had concocted; for the latter had even put her hands to the work, and manufactured two large dishes of Charlotte Russe, with pretty molds of blanc-mange, which Eunice persisted in calling "corn-starch puddin', with the yallers of eggs left out," There were trifles, and tarts, and jellies, and sweetmeats, with raised biscuits by the hundred, and loaves on loaves of frosted cake; while out in the woodshed, wedged in a tub of ice, was a huge tin pail, over which James, and John, and Andy, and even Richard had sat, by turns, stirring the freezing mass. Mrs. Jones' little colored boy, who knew better how to wait on company than any person there, came over in his clean jacket, and out on the doorstep was eating chestnuts and whistling Dixie, as he looked down the road to see if anybody was coming. Melinda Jones had gone home to dress, feeling more like going to bed than making merry at a party, as she looped up her black braids of hair and donned her white muslin dress with the scarlet ribbons. Melinda was very tired, for a good share of the work had fallen upon her—or rather she had assumed it—and her cheeks and hands were redder than usual when, about seven o'clock, Tim drove her over to Mrs. Markham's, and then went to the village after the dozen or more of girls whom he had promised "to see to the doin's."
But Melinda looked very pretty—at least James Markham thought so—when she stood up on tiptoe to tie his cravat in a better-looking bow than he had done. Since the night when Richard first told her of Ethelyn, it had more than once occurred to Melinda that possibly she might yet bear the name of Markham, for her woman nature was quick to see that James, at least, paid her the homage which Richard had withheld. But Melinda's mind was not yet made up, and as she was too honest to encourage hopes which might never be fulfilled, she would not even look up into the handsome eyes resting so admiringly upon her as she tied the bow of the cravat and felt James' breath upon her burning cheeks. She did, however, promise to dance the first set with him, and then she ran upstairs to see if Ethelyn needed her. But Eunice had been before her, and Ethelyn's toilet was made.
Had this party been at Mrs. Dr. Van Buren's, in Boston, Ethelyn would have worn her beautiful white satin with the fleecy lace; but here it would be out of place, she thought, and so she left it pinned up in towels at the bottom of her trunk, and chose a delicate lavender, trimmed with white applique. Lavender was not the most becoming color Ethelyn could wear, but she looked very handsome in it, with the soft pearls upon her neck and arms. Richard thought her dress too low, while modest Andy averted his eyes, lest he should do wrong in looking upon the beautiful round neck and shoulders which so greatly shocked his mother. "It was ridiculous and disgraceful for respectable wimmen folks to dress like that," she said to Melinda Jones, who spoke up for Ethelyn, saying the dress was like that of all fashionable ladies, and in fact was not as low as Mrs. Judge Miller wore to a reception when Melinda was at school in Camden.
Mrs. Markham "did not care for Miss Miller, nor forty more like her. Ethelyn looked ridickerlous, showing her shoulderblades, with that sharp point running down her back, and her skirts moppin' the floor for half a yard behind."
Any superfluity of length in Ethelyn's skirts was more than counterbalanced by Mrs. Markham's, who this night wore the heavy black silk which her sister-in-law had matched in Boston ten years before. Of course it was too narrow and too short, and too flat in front, Andy said, admiring Ethelyn far more than he did his mother, even though the latter wore the coiffure which Aunt Barbara had sent her, and a big collar made from the thread lace which Mrs. Captain Markham, of Chicopee, had also matched in Boston. Ethelyn was perfect, Andy thought, and he hovered constantly near her, noticing how she carried her hands, and her handkerchief, and her fan, and thinking Richard must be perfectly happy in the possession of such a gem.
But Richard was not happy—at least not that night—for, with Mrs. Miller, and Marcia Fenton, and Ella Backus before her mind, Ethelyn had lectured him again on etiquette, and Richard did not bear lecturing here as well as at Saratoga. There it was comparatively easy to make him believe he did not know anything which he ought to know; but at home, where the old meed of praise and deference was awarded to him, where his word was law and gospel, and he was Judge Markham, the potentate of the town, Ethelyn's criticisms were not palatable, and he hinted that he was old enough to take care of himself without quite so much dictation. Then, when he saw a tear on Ethelyn's eyelashes, he would have put his arm around her and kissed it away, if she had not kept him back, telling him he would muss her dress. Still he was not insensible to her pretty looks, and felt very proud of her, as she stood at his side and shook the hands of the arriving guests.
By eight o'clock the Olneyites had assembled in full force; but it was not until the train came in and brought the elite from Camden that the party was fairly commenced. There was a hush when the three ladies with veils on their heads went up the stairs, and a greater hush when they came down again—Mrs. Judge Miller, splendid in green moire-antique, with diamonds in her ears, while Marcia Fenton and Ella Backus figured in white tarletan, one with trimmings of blue, the other with trimmings of pink, and both with waists so much lower than Ethelyn's that Mrs. Markham thought the latter very decent by comparison.
It took the ladies a few minutes to inspect the cut of Mrs. Miller's dress, and the style of hair worn by Marcia and Ella, whose heads had been under a hairdresser's hands, and were curiosities to some of the Olneyites. But all stiffness vanished with the sound of Jerry Plympton's fiddle, and the girls on the west side of the room began to look at the boys on the opposite side, who were straightening their collars and glancing at their "pumps."
Ethelyn did not intend to dance, but when Judge Miller politely offered to lead her to the floor, saying, as he guessed her thoughts, "Remember the old adage, 'among the Romans, and so forth,'" she involuntarily assented, and even found herself leading the first cotillion to the sound of Jerry Plympton's fiddle. Mrs. Miller was dancing, too, as were both Marcia and Ella, and that in a measure reconciled her to what she was doing. They knew something of the lancers there on the prairie, and terrible Tim Jones offered to call off "if Miss Markham would dance with him and kind of keep him goin' straight."
Tim had laid a wager with a companion as rough as himself, that he would dance with the proud beauty, and this was the way he took to win the bet. The ruse succeeded, too, Richard's eyes and low-toned "Ethelyn!" availing more than aught else to drive Ethelyn to the floor with the dreadful Tim, who interlarded his directions with little asides of his own, such as "Go it, Jim," "Cut her down there, Tom," "Hurry up your cakes."
Ethelyn could have screamed out with disgust, and the moment the set was over she said to Richard, "I shall not dance again to-night."
And she kept her word, until toward the close of the party when poor Andy, who had been so unfortunate as to find everybody engaged or too tired, came up to her as she was playing an accompaniment to Jerry's "Money-musk," and with a most doleful expression, said to her, timidly:
"Please, sister Ethie, dance just once with me; none of the girls wants to, and I hain't been in a figger to-night."
Ethelyn could not resist Andy, whose face was perfectly radiant as he led her to the floor, and bumped his head against hers in bowing to her. Eunice was in the same set—her partner the terrible Tim—who cracked jokes and threw his feet about in the most astounding fashion. And Ethelyn bore it all, feeling that by being there with such people she had fallen from the pedestal on which Ethelyn Grant once stood. Her lavender dress was stepped upon, and her point applique caught and torn by the big pin Andy had upon his coat cuff. Taken as a whole, that party was the most dreadful of anything Ethelyn had endured and she could have cried for joy when the last guest had said good-night, and she was at liberty to lay her aching head upon her pillow.
Four days after there was a large and fashionable party at Mrs. Judge Miller's, in Camden, and Ethelyn went over in the cars, taking Eunice with her as dressing-maid, and stopping at the Stafford House. That night she wore her bridal robes, receiving so much attention that her head was nearly turned with flattery. She could dance with the young men of Camden, and flirt with them, too—especially with Harry Clifford, who, she found, had been in college with Frank Van Buren. Harry Clifford was a fast young man, but pleasant to talk with for a while and Ethelyn found him very agreeable, saving that his mention of Frank made her heart throb unpleasantly; for she fancied he might know something of that page of her past life which she had concealed from Richard. Nor were her fears without foundation, for once when they were standing together near her husband, Harry said:
"It seems so strange that you are the Ethie about whom Frank used to talk so much, and a lock of whose hair he kept so sacred. I remember I tried to buy a part of it from him, but could not succeed until once, when his funds from home failed to come, and he was so hard up, as we used to say, that he actually sold, or rather pawned, half of the shining tress for the sum of five dollars. As the pawn was never redeemed, I have the hair now, but never expected to meet with its fair owner, who needs not to be told that the tress is tenfold more valuable since I have met her, and know her to be the wife of our esteemed Member," and young Clifford bowed toward Richard, whose face wore a perplexed, dissatisfied expression.
He did not fancy Harry Clifford much, and he certainly did not care to hear that he had in his possession a lock of Ethelyn's hair, while the allusions to Frank Van Buren were anything but agreeable to him. Neither did he like Ethelyn's painful blushes, and her evident desire for Harry to stop. It looked as if the hair business meant more than he would like to suppose. Naturally bright and quick, young Clifford detected Richard's thoughts, and directly began to wonder if there were not something somewhere which Judge Markham did not understand.
"I mean to find out," he thought, and watching an opportunity, when Ethelyn was comparatively alone, he crossed to her side and said in a low tone, "Excuse me, Mrs. Markham. If in my illusions to Frank Van Buren I touched a subject which has never been discussed between yourself and your husband, I meant no harm, I assure you."
Instead of rebuking the impertinent young man, Ethelyn turned very red, and stammered out something about its being of no consequence; and so Harry Clifford held the secret which she had kept so carefully from Richard, and that party in Camden was made the stepping-stone to much of the wretchedness that afterward came to our heroine.
GOING TO WASHINGTON
Richard's trunk was ready for Washington. His twelve shirts, which Eunice had ironed so nicely, were packed away with his collars and new yarn socks, and his wedding suit, which he was carrying as a mere matter of form, for he knew he should not need it during his three months' absence. He should not go into society, he thought, or even attend levees, with his heart as sore and heavy as it was on this, his last day at home. Ethelyn was not going with him. She knew it now, and never did the face of a six-months wife look harder or stonier than hers as she stayed all day in her room, paying no heed whatever to Richard, and leaving entirely to Eunice and her mother-in-law those little things which most wives would have been delighted to do for their husbands' comfort. Ethelyn was very unhappy, very angry, and very bitterly disappointed. The fact that she was not going to Washington had fallen upon her like a thunderbolt, paralyzing her, as it were, so that after the first great shock was over she seemed like some benumbed creature bereft of care, or feeling, or interest in anything.
She had remained in Camden the most of the day following Mrs. Judge Miller's party, and had done a little shopping with Marcia Fenton and Ella Backus, to whom she spoke of her winter in Washington as a matter of course, saying what she had to say in Richard's presence, and never dreaming that he was only waiting for a fitting opportunity to demolish her castles entirely. Perhaps if Ethelyn had talked Washington openly to her husband when she was first married, and before his mother had gained his ear, her chances for a winter at the capital would have been far greater than they were now. But she had only taken it for granted that she was going, and supposed that Richard understood it just as she did. She had asked him several times where he intended to board and why he did not secure rooms at Willard's, but Richard's non-committal replies had given her no cue to her impending fate. On the night of her return from Camden, as she stood by her dressing bureau, folding away her point-lace handkerchief, she had casually remarked, "I shall not use that again till I use it in Washington. Will it be very gay there this winter?"
Richard was leaning his elbow upon the mantel, looking thoughtfully into the fire, and for a moment he did not answer. He hated to demolish Ethie's castles, but it could not be helped. Once it had seemed very possible that she would go with him to Washington, but that was before his mother had talked to him upon the subject. Since then the fiat had gone forth, and thinking this the time to declare it, Richard said at last, "Put down your finery, Ethelyn, and come stand by me while I say something to you."
His voice and manner startled Ethelyn, but did not prepare her for what followed after she had "dropped her finery" and was standing by her husband.
"Ethelyn," he began, and his eyes did not move from the blazing fire, "it is time we came to an understanding about Washington. I have talked with mother, whose age certainly entitles her opinion to some consideration, and she thinks that for you to go to Washington this winter would not only be improper, but also endanger your life; consequently, I hope you will readily see the propriety of remaining quietly at home where mother can care for you, and see that you are not at all imprudent. It would break my heart if anything happened to my darling wife, or—" he finished the sentence in a whisper, for he was not yet accustomed to speaking of the great hope he had in expectancy.
He was looking at Ethelyn now, and the expression of her face startled and terrified him, it was so strange and terrible.
"Not go to Washington!" and her livid lips quivered with passion, while her eyes burned like coals of fire. "I stay here all this long, dreary winter with your mother! Never, Richard, never! I'll die before I'll do that. It is all—" she did not finish the sentence, for she would not say, "It is all I married you for"; she was too much afraid of Richard for that, and so she hesitated, but looked at him intently to see if he was in earnest.
She knew he was at last—knew that neither tears, nor reproaches, nor bitter scorn could avail to carry her point, for she tried them all, even to violent hysterics, which brought Mrs. Markham, senior, into the field and made the matter ten times worse. Had she stayed away Richard might have yielded, for he was frightened at the storm he had invoked; but Richard was passive in his mother's hands, and listened complacently while in stronger, plainer language than he had used she repeated in substance all he had said about the impropriety of Ethelyn's mingling with the gay throng at Washington. Immodesty, Mrs. Markham called it, with sundry reflections upon the time when she was young, and what young married women did then. And while she talked poor Ethelyn lay upon the lounge writhing with pain and passion, wishing that she could die, and feeling in her heart that she hated the entire Markham race, from Richard down to the innocent Andy, who heard of the quarrel going on between his mother and Ethelyn, and crept cautiously to the door of their room, wishing so much that he could mediate between them.
But this was a matter beyond Andy's ken. He could not even find a petition in his prayer-book suited to that occasion. Mr. Townsend had assured him that it would meet every emergency; but for once Mr. Townsend was at fault, for with the sound of Ethelyn's angry voice ringing in his ears, Andy lighted his tallow candle and creeping up to his chamber knelt down by his wooden chair and sought among the general prayers for one suited "to a man and his wife quarreling." There was a prayer for the President, a prayer for the clergy, a prayer for Congress, a prayer for rain, a prayer for the sick, a prayer for people going to sea and people going to be hanged, but there was nothing for the point at issue, unless he took the prayer to be used in time of war and tumults, and that he thought would never answer, inasmuch as he did not really know who was the enemy from which he would be delivered. It was hard to decide against Ethelyn and still harder to decide against "Dick," and so with his brains all in a muddle Andy concluded to take the prayer "for all sorts and conditions of men," speaking very low and earnestly when he asked that all "who were distressed in mind, body, or estate, might be comforted and relieved according to their several necessities." This surely covered the ground to a very considerable extent; or if it did not, the fervent "Good Lord, deliver us," with which Andy finished his devotions, did, and the simple-hearted, trusting man arose from his knees comforted and relieved, even if Richard and Ethelyn were not.
With them the trouble continued, for Ethelyn kept her bed next day, refusing to see anyone and only answering Richard in monosyllables when he addressed himself directly to her. Once he bent over her and said, "Ethelyn, tell me truly—is it your desire to be with me, your dread of separation from me, which makes you so averse to be left behind?"
There was that in his voice which said that if this were the case he might be induced to reconsider. But though sorely tempted to do it, Ethelyn would not tell a falsehood for the sake of Washington; so she made no reply, and Richard drew from her silence any inference he pleased. He was very wretched those last days, for he could not forget the look of Ethelyn's eye or the sound of her voice when, as she finally gave up the contest, she said to him with quivering nostrils and steady tones, "You may leave me here, Richard, but remember this: not one word or line will I write to you while you are gone. I mean what I say. I shall abide by my decision."
It would be dreadful not to hear a word from Ethie during all the dreary winter, and Richard hoped she would recall her words; but Ethelyn was too sorely wounded to do that. She must reach Richard somehow, and this was the way to do it. She did not come downstairs again after it was settled. She was sick, she said, and kept her room, seeing no one but Richard and Eunice, who three times a day brought up her nicely cooked meals and looked curiously at her as she deposited her tray upon the stand and quietly left the room. Mrs. Markham did not go up at all, for Ethelyn charged her disappointment directly to her mother-in-law, and had asked that she be kept away; and so, 'mid passion and tears and bitterness, the week went by and brought the day when Richard was to leave.
THE FIRST DAY OF RICHARD'S ABSENCE
The gray light of a November morning was breaking over the prairies when Richard stooped down to kiss his wife, who did not think it worth her while to rise so early even to see him off. She felt that she had been unjustly dealt with, and up to the very last maintained the same cold, icy manner so painful to Richard, who would fain have won from her one smile to cheer him in his absence. But the smile was not given, though the lips which Richard touched did move a little, and he tried to believe it was a kiss they meant to give. Only the day before Ethie had heard from Aunt Van Buren that Frank was to be married at Christmas, when they would all go on to Washington, where they confidently expected to meet Ethelyn. With a kind of grim satisfaction Ethelyn showed this to her husband, hoping to awaken in him some remorse for his cruelty to her, if, indeed, he was capable of remorse, which she doubted. She did not know him, for if possible he suffered more than she did, though in a different way. It hurt him to leave her there alone feeling as she did. He hated to go without her, carrying only in his mind the memory of the white, rigid face which had not smiled on him for so long. He wanted her to seem interested in something, for her cold apathy of manner puzzled and alarmed him; so remembering her aunt's letter on the morning of his departure, he spoke of it to her and said, "What shall I tell Mrs. Van Buren for you? I shall probably see more or less of them."
"Tell nothing; prisoners send no messages," was Ethelyn's reply; and in the dim gray of the morning the two faces looked a moment at each other with such thoughts and passions written upon them as were pitiable to behold.
But when Richard was fairly gone, when the tones of his voice bidding his family good-by had ceased, and Ethelyn sat leaning on her elbow and listening to the sound of the wheels which carried him away, such a feeling of utter desolation and loneliness swept over her that, burying her face in the pillows, she wept bitterer tears of remorse and regret than she had ever wept before.
That day was a long and dreary one to all the members of the prairie farmhouse. It was lonely there the first day of Richard's absence, but now it was drearier than ever; and with a harsh, forbidding look upon her face, Mrs. Markham went about her work, leaving Ethelyn entirely alone. She did not believe her daughter-in-law was any sicker than herself. "It was only airs," she thought, when at noon Ethelyn declined the boiled beef and cabbage, saying just the odor of it made her sick. "Nothing but airs and ugliness," she persisted in saying to herself, as she prepared a slice of nice cream toast with a soft-boiled egg and cup of fragrant black tea. Ethie did not refuse this, and was even gracious enough to thank her mother-in-law for her extra trouble, but she did it in such a queenly as well as injured kind of way, that Mrs. Markham felt more aggrieved than ever, and, for a good woman, who sometimes spoke in meeting, slammed the door considerably hard as she left the room and went back to her kitchen, where the table had been laid ever since Ethelyn took to eating upstairs. So long as she ate with the family Mrs. Markham felt rather obliged to take her meals in the front room, but it made a deal more work, and she was glad to return to her olden ways once more. Eunice was gone off on an errand, and so she felt at liberty to speak her mind freely to her boys as they gathered around the table.
"It is sheer ugliness," she said, "which keeps her cooped up there to be waited on. She is no more sick than the dog; but law, I couldn't make Richard b'lieve it."
"Mother, you surely did not go to Richard with complaints of his wife," and James looked reproachfully across the table at his mother, who replied: "I told him what I thought, for I wa'n't going to have him miserable all the time thinking how sick she was, but I might as well have talked to the wind, for any good it did. He even seemed putcherky, too."
"I should be more than putcherky if you were to talk to me against my wife if I had one," James retorted, thinking of Melinda and the way she sang that solo in the choir the day before.
It was a little strange that James and John and Andy all took Ethelyn's part against their mother, and even against Richard, who they thought might have taken her with him.
"It would not have hurt her any more than fretting herself to death at home. No, nor half so much; and she must feel like a cat in a strange garret there alone with them."
It was John who said this—quiet John, who talked so little, and annoyed Ethelyn so much by coming to the table in his blue frock, with his pants tucked in his boots and his curly hair standing every way. Though very much afraid of his grand sister-in-law, he admired her beyond everything, and kept the slippers she brought him safely put away with a lock of Daisy's hair and a letter written him by the young girl whose grave was close beside Daisy's in the Olney cemetery. John had had his romance and buried it with his heroine, since which time he had said but little to womankind, though never was there a truer heart than that which beat beneath the homespun frock Ethelyn so despised. Richard had bidden him to be kind to Ethie, and John had said he would; and after that promise was given had the farmhouse been on fire the sturdy fellow would have periled life and limb to save her for Dick. To James, too, Richard had spoken a word for Ethie, and to Andy also; so that there were left to her four champions in his absence—for Eunice had had her charge, with promises of a new dress if faithful to her trust; and thus there was no one against poor Ethelyn saving the mother-in-law, who made that first dinner after Richard's absence so uncomfortable that John left the table without touching the boiled Indian pudding, of which he was so fond, while James rather curtly asked what there was to be gained by spitting out so about Ethelyn, and Andy listened in silence, thinking how, by and by, when all the chores were done, he would take a basket of kindlings up for Ethie's fire, and if she asked him to sit down, he would do so and try and come to the root of the matter, and see if he could not do something to make things a little better.
ANDY TRIES TO FIND THE ROOT OF THE MATTER
Ethelyn was very sick with a nervous headache, and so Andy did not go in with his kindlings that night, but put the basket near the door, where Eunice would find it in the morning. It was a part of Richard's bargain with Eunice that Ethie should always have a bright, warm fire to dress by, and the first thing Ethelyn heard as she unclosed her eyes was the sound of Eunice blowing the coals and kindlings into a blaze as she knelt upon the hearth, with her cheeks and eyes extended to their utmost capacity. It was a very dreary awakening, and Ethelyn sighed as she looked from her window out upon the far-stretching prairie, where the first snows of the season were falling. There were but few objects to break up the monotonous level, and the mottled November sky frowned gloomily and coldly down upon her. Down in the back-yard James and John were feeding the cattle; the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the cows came to her ear as she turned with a shiver from the window. How could she stay there all that long, dreary winter—there where there was not an individual who had a thought or taste in common with her own? She could not stay, she decided, and then as the question arose, "Where will you go?" the utter hopelessness and helplessness of her position rushed over her with so much force that she sank down upon the lounge which Eunice had drawn to the fire, and when the latter came up with breakfast she found her young mistress crying in a heart-broken, despairing kind of way, which touched her heart at once.
Eunice knew but little of the trouble with regard to Washington. Mrs. Markham had been discreet enough to keep that from her; and so she naturally ascribed Ethie's tears to grief at parting with her husband, and tried in her homely way to comfort her. Three months were not very long; and they would pass 'most before you thought, she said, adding that she heard Jim say the night before that as soon as he got his gray colts broken he was going to take his sister all over the country and cheer her up a little.
Ethie's heart was too full to permit her to reply, and Eunice soon left her alone, reporting downstairs how white and sick she was looking. To Mrs. Markham's credit we record that with a view to please her daughter-in-law, a fire was that afternoon made in the parlor, and Ethelyn solicited to come down, Mrs. Markham, who carried the invitation, urging that a change would do her good, as it was not always good to stay in one place. But Ethelyn preferred the solitude of her own chamber, and though she thanked her mother-in-law for her thoughtfulness, she declined going down, and Mrs. Markham had made her fire for nothing. Not even Melinda came to enjoy it, for she was in Camden, visiting a schoolmate; and so the day passed drearily enough with all, and the autumnal night shut down again darker, gloomier than ever, as it seemed to Ethelyn. She had seen no one but Mrs. Markham and Eunice since Richard went away, and she was wondering what had become of Andy, when she heard his shuffling tread upon the stairs, and a moment after, his round shining face appeared, asking if he might come in. Andy wore his best clothes on this occasion, for an idea had somehow been lodged in his brain that Ethelyn liked a person well dressed, and he was much pleased with himself in his short coat and shorter pants, and the buff and white cotton cravat tied in a hard knot around his sharp, standing collar, which almost cut the bottom of his ears.
"I wished to see you," he said, taking a chair directly in front of Ethelyn and tipping back against the wall. "I wanted to come before, but was afraid you didn't care to have me. I've got something for you now, though—somethin' good for sore eyes. Guess what 'tis?"
And Andy began fumbling in his pocket for the something which was to cheer Ethelyn, as he hoped.
"Look a-here. A letter from old Dick, writ the very first day. That's what I call real courtin' like," and Andy gave to Ethelyn the letter which John had brought from the office and which the detention of a train at Stafford for four hours had afforded Richard an opportunity to write.
It was only a few lines, meant for her alone, but Ethelyn's cheek didn't redden as she read them, or her eyes brighten one whit. Richard was well, she said, explaining to Andy the reason for his writing, and then she put the letter away, while Andy sat looking at her, wondering what he should say next. He had come up to comfort her, but found it hard to begin. Ethie was looking very pale, and there were dark rings around her eyes, showing that she suffered, even if Mrs. Markham did assert there was nothing ailed her but spleen.
At last Andy blurted out: "I am sorry for you, Ethelyn, for I know it must be bad to have your man go off and leave you all alone, when you wanted to go with him. Jim and John and me talked it up to-day when we was out to work, and we think you orto have gone with Dick. It must be lonesome staying here, and you only six months married. I wish, and the boys wishes, we could do something to chirk you up."
With the exception of what Eunice had said, these were the first words of sympathy Ethelyn had heard, and her tears flowed at once, while her slight form shook with such a tempest of sobs that Andy was alarmed, and getting down on his knees beside her, begged of her to tell him what was the matter. Had he hurt her feelings? he was such a blunderin' critter, he never knew the right thing to say, and if she liked he'd go straight off downstairs.
"No, Anderson," Ethelyn said, "you have not hurt my feelings, and I do not wish you to go, but, oh, I am so wretched and so disappointed, too!"
"About goin' to Washington, you mean?" Andy asked, resuming his chair, and his attitude of earnest inquiry, while Ethelyn, forgetting all her reserve, replied: "Yes, I mean that and everything else. It has been nothing but disappointment ever since I left Chicopee, and I sometimes wish I had died before I promised to go away from dear Aunt Barbara's, where I was so happy."
"What made you promise, then? I suppose, though, it was because you loved Dick so much," simple-minded Andy said, trying to remember if there was not a passage somewhere which read, "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother and cleave unto his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh."
Ethelyn would not wound Andy by telling him how little love had had to do with her unhappy marriage, and she remained silent for a moment, while Andy continued, "Be you disappointed here—with us, I mean, and the fixins?"
"Yes, Anderson, terribly disappointed. Nothing is as I supposed. Richard never told me what I was to expect," Ethelyn replied, without stopping to consider what she was saying.
For a moment Andy looked intently at her, as if trying to make out her meaning. Then, as it in part dawned upon him, he said sorrowfully: "Sister Ethie, if it's me you mean, I was more to blame than Dick, for I asked him not to tell you I was—a—a—wall, I once heard Miss Captain Simmons say I was Widder Markham's fool," and Andy's chin quivered as he went on: "I ain't a fool exactly, for I don't drool or slobber like Tom Brown the idiot, but I have a soft spot in my head, and I didn't want you to know it, for fear you wouldn't like me. Daisy did, though, and Daisy knew what I was and called me 'dear Andy,' and kissed me when she died."
Andy was crying softly now, and Ethelyn was crying with him. The hard feeling at her heart was giving way, and she could have put her arms around this childish man, who after a moment continued: "Dick said he wouldn't tell you, so you must forgive him for that. You've found me out, I s'pose. You know I ain't like Jim, nor John, and I can't hold a candle to old Dick, but sometimes I've hope you liked me a little, even if you do keep calling me Anderson. I wish you wouldn't; seems as if folks think more of me when they say 'Andy' to me."
"Oh, Andy, dear Andy," Ethelyn exclaimed: "I do like you so much—like you best of all. I did not mean you when I said I was disappointed."
"Who, then?" Andy asked, in his straightforward way. "Is it mother? She is odd, I guess, though I never thought on't till you came here. Yes, mother is some queer, but she is good; and onct when I had the typhoid and lay like a log, I heard her pray for 'her poor dear boy Andy'; that's what she called me, as lovin' like as if I wasn't a fool, or somethin' nigh it."
Ethelyn did not wish to leave upon his mind the impression that his mother had everything to do with her wretchedness, and so cautiously as she could she tried to explain to him the difference between the habits and customs of Chicopee and Olney. Warming up with her theme as she progressed, she said more than she intended, and succeeded in driving into Andy's brain a vague idea that his family were not up to her standard, but were in fact a long way behind the times. Andy was in a dilemma; he wanted to help Ethelyn and did not know how. Suddenly, however, his face brightened, and he asked, "Do you belong to the church?"
"Yes," was Ethelyn's reply.
"You do!" Andy repeated in some surprise, and Ethelyn replied, "Not the way you mean, perhaps; but when I was a baby I was baptized in the church and thus became a member."
"So you never had the Bishop's hands upon your head, and done what the Saviour told us to do to remember him by?"
Ethelyn shook her head, and Andy went on: "Oh, what a pity, when he is such a good Saviour, and would know just how to help you, now you are so sorry-like and homesick, and disappointed. If you had him you could tell him all about it and he would comfort you. He helped me, you don't know how much, and I was dreadful bad once. I used to get drunk, Ethie—drunker'n a fool, and come hiccuppin' home with my clothes all tore and my hat smashed into nothin'."
Andy's face was scarlet as he confessed to his past misdeeds, but without the least hesitation he went on: "Mr. Townsend found me one day in the ditch, and helped me up and got me into his room and prayed over me and talked to me, and never let me off from that time till the Saviour took me up, and now it's better than three years since I tasted a drop. I don't taste it even at the sacrament, for fear what the taste might do, and I used to hold my nose to keep shut of the smell. Mr. Townsend knows I don't touch it, and God knows, too, and thinks I'm right, I'm sure, and gives me to drink of his precious blood just the same, for I feel light as air when I come from the altar. If religion could make me, a fool and a drunkard, happy, it would do sights for you who know so much. Try it, Ethie, won't you?"
Andy was getting in earnest now, and Ethelyn could not meet the glance of his honest, pleading eyes.
"I can't be good, Andy," she replied; "I shouldn't know how to begin or what to do."
"Seems to me I could tell you a few things," Andy said. "God didn't want you to go to Washington for some wise purpose or other, and so he put it into Dick's heart to leave you at home. Now, instead of crying about that I'd make the best of it and be as happy as I could be here. I know we ain't starched up folks like them in Boston, but we like you, all of us—leastwise Jim and John and me do—and I don't mean to come to the table in my shirt-sleeves any more, if that will suit you, and I won't blow my tea in my sasser, nor sop my bread in the platter; though if you are all done and there's a lot of nice gravy left, you won't mind it, will you, Ethelyn?—for I do love gravy."
Ethelyn had been more particular than she meant to be with her reasons for her disappointment, and in enumerating the bad habits to which she said Western people were addicted, she had included the points upon which Andy had seized so readily. He had never been told before that his manners were entirely what they ought not to be; he could hardly see it so now, but if it would please Ethie he would try to refrain, he said, asking that when she saw him doing anything very outlandish, she would remind him of it and tell him what was right.