The gardener smiled, and said he had seen no such persons. But he said nothing about a very true friend of the Daughter of the House, who lived in a small house in the garden, and who would have been very well pleased to break the head of any stray lover who should wander into his precincts.
"You don't know girls, my dear," said the Mistress of the House, "and you don't know what comes to them naturally, and how much they have to learn. So please let the story go on."
"'Of course,' said the old gentleman, 'I know who they are. Considering how often they have been here of late, I could not well make a mistake about that; and although I am not in favor of anything of the sort, and feel very much inclined to put up a sign, "No lovering on these premises," still, I am a reasonable person' ('You must have changed very much if you are, you dear boy!' thought Miss Amanda), 'and know what is due to young people, and I am obliged to admit that these young men are good enough as young men go. But the making a choice! That is what I object to. I would advise you, my dear, not to think anything more about it until the time shall come when you feel there is no need of making a choice because the thing has settled itself.'
"'But, grandpa,' she said, 'what am I to say if they ask me? I am bound to say something.'
"The old gentleman did not reply, but began switching at some invisible dandelions. 'What you tell me,' he said presently, 'reminds me of my Aunt Amanda. She was a fine woman, and she had two lovers.' ('You little round-faced scamp!' thought Miss Amanda. 'Are you going to tell that child all my love-affairs? And what do you know about them, anyway? I never confided in you. You were nothing but a boy, although you were a very inquisitive one, always wanting to know things, and what you have found out is beyond me to imagine.')
"'Your Aunt Amanda,' said Mildred. 'That's the one in the oval frame in the parlor. She must have been very pretty.'
"'Indeed she was,' said the old gentleman. 'That portrait was painted when she was quite a young girl; but she was pretty until the day of her death. I used to be very fond of her, and thought her the most beautiful being on earth. She always dressed well, and wore curls. Even when she was scolding me I used to sit and look at her, and think that if such a lady, a little bit younger perhaps, but not much, were shut up in a castle with a window to it, I would be delighted to be a knight in armor, and to fight with retainers at the door of that castle until I got her out and rode away with her sitting on the crupper of my saddle, the horse being always, as I well remember, a gray one dappled with dark spots, with powerful haunches and a black tail.' ('You dear boy,' murmured Miss Amanda, 'if I had known that I could not have scolded!') 'Well, as I said before, she had two lovers. One was a handsome young fellow named Garrett Bridges.'
"'It seems to me I have heard that name,' said Mildred.
"'Very likely, very likely,' said her grandfather. 'It has been mentioned a great many times in our family. Garrett had been intended for the army, but he did not get through West Point, and at the time he was making love to my Aunt Amanda his only business was that of expecting an inheritance. But he was so brave and gay and self-confident, and was so handsome and dashing, that everybody said he would be sure to get along, no matter what line of life he undertook.' ('I wonder,' thought Miss Amanda, 'what he did do, after all. I hope I shall hear that.') 'Her other lover,' said the old gentleman, 'was Randolph Castine, a very different sort of young man.' ('You unmitigated little story-teller!' ejaculated Miss Amanda. 'He never made love to me for one minute in his whole life. I wish I could speak to John—oh, I wish I could speak to John!') 'So, then,' continued the old gentleman, 'here were the two young men, both loving my Aunt Amanda; and here was I, intensely jealous of them both.'
"'Oh, grandfather,' laughed Mildred, 'how could you be that?'
"'Easily enough,' said he. 'I was very impressionable and of a very affectionate turn of mind.' ('You had very queer ways of showing it, you young scamp!' said Miss Amanda.) 'And I remember, when I was about ten years old, I once asked my mother if it were wicked to marry aunts; and when she told me it would not do, I said I was very sorry, for I would like to marry Aunt Amanda. I liked her better than anybody else except my mother, and I was sure there was no other person who would take more from me, and slap back less, than Aunt Amanda.' ('I remember that very well,' thought the happy consciousness; 'and when your mother told me about it, how we both laughed!')
"'Well, the better I liked my Aunt Amanda, the less I liked anybody who made love to her; and one night, as I was sitting on the edge of my bed,—it must have been nearly eleven o'clock,—I vowed a vow, which I vowed I would never break, that no presumptuous interloper, especially Garrett Bridges, should ever marry my Aunt Amanda. As to Randolph Castine or any other suitor, I did not think them really worthy of consideration. Garrett Bridges was the dangerous man. He was at our house nearly every day, and, apart from his special obnoxiousness as a suitor to my Aunt Amanda, I hated him on my own account, for he treated me as if I were nothing but a boy.' ('And why shouldn't he?' murmured Miss Amanda. 'You were nearly grown up at that time, but you really behaved more like a boy than a man, and that was one reason I was so fond of you.')
"'I had a good many plans for freeing my Aunt Amanda from the clutches of Mr. Bridges; but the best of them, and the one I finally determined upon, pleased me very much because it was romantic and adventurous. It seemed to me the best way to prevent Mr. Bridges from marrying my Aunt Amanda was to make him marry some one else, and I thought I could do this. There was a girl named Rebecca Hendricks, who lived about a mile from our house, with whom I was very well acquainted. She was a first-class girl in many ways.' ('I would like to know what they were!' exclaimed Miss Amanda. 'I think she was about sixth-class, no matter how you looked at her.') 'For one thing, she was very plucky, and ready for any kind of fun. I knew she liked Mr. Bridges, because I had heard her say so, and her praise of him had frequently annoyed me very much; for I did not want a friend of mine, as she professed to be, to think favorably in any way of such a man as Garrett Bridges. But things were now getting serious, and I did not hesitate to sacrifice my feelings for the sake of my Aunt Amanda. I was always ready to do that.' ('Not always, my boy,' thought Miss Amanda; 'not always, I am afraid.') 'So I resolved to get up a match between Rebecca and Garrett Bridges. As I thought over the matter, it seemed to me that they were exactly suited to each other.' ('That's queer!' thought Miss Amanda. 'I always supposed you thought she was exactly suited to you.') 'Of course I could not say anything to Bridges about the matter, but I went over to Rebecca, and told her the whole plan. She laughed at me, and said it was all pure nonsense, and that if she were going to marry at all she would a great deal rather marry me than Mr. Bridges. But I told her seriously it was of no use to think of me. In the first place, I was four years younger than she was; and then, I had made up my mind never to marry, no, never, as long as my Aunt Amanda lived. I was going to take care of her when she grew elderly, and I wanted nobody to interfere with that purpose.' ('You dear boy!' said Miss Amanda, with a sort of choke in her affectionate consciousness. 'That is so like you—so like you! And yet I thought you were in love with that Rebecca.') 'Of course I did not give up my plan because she talked in that way,' continued the old gentleman. 'I knew her; I had studied her carefully. Like most boys of my age, I was a deep-minded student of human nature, and could see through and through people.'
"'Of course,' laughed Mildred. 'I have known boys just like that.'
"'But I was about right in regard to Rebecca,' said her grandfather. 'I kept on talking to her, and it was not long before she agreed to let me bring Mr. Bridges to see her—they were not acquainted. I had no trouble with him, for he was always glad to know pretty girls, and he had seen Rebecca. There never was a piece of match-making which succeeded better than that, and it delighted me to act as prompter of the play, while those two were the actors, and I was also the author of the piece.'
"'Grandpa,' said Mildred, 'don't you think all that was rather wrong?'
"'I did not think so then,' he answered, 'and I am not sure I think so now; for really they were very well suited to each other, and there did seem to be danger that the man might marry my Aunt Amanda, and that, as it seemed to me then, and seems to me now, would have been a deplorable thing.' ('If you had known a little more, you scheming youngster,' said Miss Amanda, 'you would have understood that there was not the least danger of anything of the kind—that is to say, I am not sure there was any danger.') 'It was not long after these two people became acquainted before I had additional cause for congratulating myself that I had done a wise and prudent thing. Bridges came to see my Aunt Amanda every afternoon, just the same as he had been in the habit of doing, and yet he spent nearly every evening with Rebecca; and that proved to me he was not a fit lover for my Aunt Amanda, no matter how you looked at it.'
"'But the young girl,' said Mildred. 'Didn't you think he was also too fickle for her?'
"'Oh, no,' said the old gentleman; 'I was quite positive that Rebecca could manage him when she got him. She would make him walk straight. I knew her; she was a great girl. Every morning I went to see her to inquire how things were coming on, and she told me one day that Mr. Bridges had proposed to her, and that she had accepted him, and that it was of no use to say anything about it to her father, because he would be sure to be dead set against it. Her mother was not living, and she kept house for her father, who was a doctor, and he had often said he would not let her marry anybody who would not come there and live with him; and, judging from what she had heard him say of Garrett Bridges on one or two occasions, she did not feel encouraged to propose this arrangement for him.
"'So the plan they agreed upon—which, in fact, I suggested, although Rebecca would never have admitted it—was to go off quietly and get married. Then she could write to her father and tell him all about it, and when his anger had cooled down they could make him a visit, and it would depend on him what they should do next. I worked out the whole plan of operation, which Rebecca afterwards laid before Mr. Bridges as the result of her own ingenuity, for which he commended her very much. They both agreed—and you may be sure I did not disagree with them—that the sooner they were married the better. The equinoctial storms were expected before very long, and then a wedding-trip would be unpleasant and sloppy. So they fixed on a certain Wednesday, which suited me very well because my father and mother would then be away from home on a visit, and that would make it easier for me to do my part.' ('You little schemer!' said Miss Amanda. 'Of course you suggested that Wednesday.')
"'This place was quite in the country then, and eight miles from a station, and there was only one train to town, at seven o'clock in the morning. If they could get to the village where the station was at quarter-past six, they would have time to get married before the train came. Old Mr. Lawrence, the Methodist minister, was always up at six o'clock, and he could easily marry them in twenty minutes, and that would give them lots of time to catch the train. I would furnish the conveyance to take them to the village, and would also attend to Rebecca's baggage. Mr. Bridges could have his trunk taken to the station without exciting suspicion. At five o'clock in the morning, I told Rebecca, I would have a horse and buggy tied to a tree by the roadside at a little distance from the doctor's house where the lovers were to meet.
"'The night before, Rebecca was to put all the clothes she wanted to take with her in a pillow-case, which she was to carry to a woodshed near the house. Soon after they started in the buggy I would arrive with a spring-wagon and an empty trunk. I would then get the pillow-case, put it into the trunk, and drive to the station by another road.
"'Mr. Bridges approved of this plan, and thought she was very clever to devise it. So everything was settled, and I went to the stable the day before, and told Peter I wanted him to get up very early the next morning, and put old Ripstaver in the buggy, and drive him over to Dr. Hendricks's. I told him he must be there before five o'clock, and that he was to tie the horse to a maple-tree this side of the front yard. I said one of the doctor's family had to get to the village very early because there were some things to be done before the train came, and it had been agreed we should lend our buggy. Peter was not quite pleased with the arrangement, and asked why we did not send the old mare—we only kept two horses; but I said she was too slow, and it had been specially arranged that the buggy, with Ripstaver, should be sent. Peter was a great friend of mine, so he agreed to do what I asked, and said he did not mind walking back.' ('I never would have believed,' said Miss Amanda, 'that the boy had such a mind. If I had only known what he was planning to do! If I had only known! But even if I had, it is so hard to tell what is right.')
"'My Aunt Amanda was not in the habit of meddling with anything about the barn or stable; but that afternoon—and I never knew why—she went to the barn, and found Peter dusting off the buggy. He told me she asked if anybody was going to use the buggy that evening, and he replied he was getting it ready to take over to the Hendrickses' in the morning, as some one there wanted to go to the village before the train started for the city. Then she asked what horse he was going to put to it, and he told her old Ripstaver. Then she said she did not think that was a good plan, because Ripstaver was hard to drive, and it would be a great deal better to send the old mare. Peter agreed to this, and so it happened that when I went to the barn the next morning, as soon as I had seen Peter drive away in the buggy, I found the only horse in the stable was old Ripstaver. I was mad enough, I can tell you; for if Rebecca made any noise and woke her father he could overtake that old mare long before she could get to the village. I never did understand how my Aunt Amanda happened to meddle that afternoon.'
"('Of course you couldn't,' said Miss Amanda. 'You were a fine little manager; but when I looked out of my window that afternoon and saw a boy carrying a trunk to the barn I was very likely to suspect something; and when I went down to the barn myself and found Peter getting the buggy ready to go away early the next morning, I suspected a great deal more. I did not know what to do, for I did not want to make a scandal by letting Peter know anything was out of the way, and all I could think of was to have a slow horse put in the buggy instead of a fast one. I thought that might help, anyway.')
"'Well,' continued the old gentleman, 'there was nothing for me to do but to take Ripstaver and the spring-wagon and go after Rebecca's baggage. When I reached the doctor's house, and found the buggy had gone, I got the pillow-case, put it into the trunk, and started off on a back road which joined the turnpike a couple of miles farther on. Near the junction of the two roads was a high hill from which I hoped I might be able to see the buggy, and, if so, I would follow it at a safe distance. As soon as I got to the top of this hill I did see the buggy; but I saw more than that—I saw another buggy not far behind it. There was a roan horse in this one which I knew to belong to the doctor. Bridges was whipping our old mare like everything, and she was doing her best, and galloping; but the doctor's roan was a good one, and he was gaining on them very fast. It was a beautiful race, and I felt like clapping and cheering the doctor, for, although he was spoiling my game, it was a splendid thing to see him driving his roan so fast and so steadily, never letting him break out of a regular trot, and I hated Bridges so much I was glad to see anybody getting the better of him.
"'It was not long before the doctor's buggy caught up with the other one, and then they both stopped; everybody got out, and there must have been a grand talk, but of course I could not hear any of it. The doctor shook his fist, and I could see they were having a lively time. After a bit they stopped talking, the doctor took Rebecca into his buggy and drove back, and Garrett Bridges got into our buggy and went slowly toward the station—to see about his trunk, I suppose. I did not lose any time after that, but drove to the doctor's as fast as old Ripstaver could travel, and I had Rebecca's pillow-case in the woodshed before the doctor arrived. Now I never was able to imagine how the doctor found out that Rebecca had gone. She did not know herself. She said she got out of the house without making any more noise than a cat; and as for her father waking up at the sound of wheels in the public road, that was ridiculous; if he had heard them he would not have paid any attention to them. That was one of the queer things neither of us ever found out.'
"Miss Amanda was amused. ('Of course you didn't; it was not intended that you should. How could you know that, being greatly troubled, I woke up very early that morning, and when I found you were not in your room I put on my overshoes and walked across the fields to Dr. Hendricks's. I did not get there as soon as I hoped I would; but when I rang the door-bell, and the doctor himself came to the door, and I told him I did not want to see him but Rebecca, and he went to look for her and found her gone, and I confided to him as a great secret what I was sure had happened, it did not take him long to get his horse and buggy and go after her. And how glad I was she had our old mare, and not Ripstaver! But I thought all the time it was you she had run away with, and I never knew until now that it wasn't. The doctor told me afterwards that he and his daughter had agreed not to say anything about it, and he advised me to do the same; but the sly old fellow never told me it was Mr. Bridges and not you. But if I had only known who really was running away with her, I would not have walked across those wet pasture-fields that chilly morning—that is, I do not think I would have done it.')
"'But one thing I did know,' said the old gentleman, 'which I often regretted; and that was that if my Aunt Amanda had not meddled with the horses and so spoiled my plan, Rebecca Hendricks would have married Mr. Bridges, and several evil consequences would have been avoided.' ('I wonder what they were?' thought Miss Amanda.) 'Well, things went on pretty much as they had been going on, and that Garrett Bridges came every day, just as bold as brass, to see my Aunt Amanda, who, of course, knew nothing of his trying to run away with Rebecca. Sometimes I thought of telling her, but that would have made a dreadful mess, and I was bound in honor not to say a word about Rebecca.
"'Mr. Randolph Castine sometimes came to our house, but not often, and I began to wish he would court my Aunt Amanda and marry her. If she had to marry, he would be a thousand times better than Garrett Bridges, and I thought I could go to his house—which was a beautiful one, with hunting and fishing—to see her, and perhaps make long stays in the summer-time, which would have been utterly impossible in the case of Garrett Bridges.' ('You would have been welcome enough in any home of mine,' said Miss Amanda. 'But you are utterly mistaken about Mr. Castine. Alas! he was no lover at all.') 'But although Mr. Castine was a splendid man in every way, he was not a bold lover like Garrett Bridges, and after a while he seemed to get tired and went off to travel. Not very long after that Bridges went off, too. I think perhaps he had received part of the inheritance he was expecting; but I am not sure about that. Anyway, he went. And then my Aunt Amanda had no lover but me.
"'Very soon her health began to fail, and this went on for some time, and nothing did her any good. At last she took to her bed. It seemed to me the weaker and thinner she got the more beautiful she became, and I did everything I could for her, which, of course, was not any good. I remember very well that at this time she never lectured me about anything; but she sometimes mentioned Rebecca Hendricks, always to the effect that she was a very strange girl, and that she could not help thinking her husband, if she ever got one, would be a man who ought to be pitied. I think she was afraid I might marry her; but she need not have worried herself about that—I never had the slightest idea of any such nonsense.' ('But I had every reason to suppose you had such an idea,' said Miss Amanda, 'considering I thought you had tried to run away with her.')
"'Well,' said the old gentleman, 'there is not much more of the story. My Aunt Amanda died, and our family was in great grief for a long time; but none of them grieved as much as I did.' (If Miss Amanda could have embraced her dear nephew John, she would have done so that minute.) 'Then, greatly to our surprise, Randolph Castine suddenly came home. He had heard of my Aunt Amanda's dangerous condition, and he had hurried back to see her and to tell her something before she died. He told my mother, to whom he confided everything, that he had been passionately in love with my Aunt Amanda for a long time, but that he had been so sure she was going to marry Mr. Bridges that he had never given her any reason to suppose he cared for her, which I said then, and I say now, was a very poor way of managing love business. If he had spoken, everything would have been all right, and my Aunt Amanda might have been living now; there are plenty of people who live to be ninety. I am positively sure, now, that she was just as much in love with him as he was with her.'
"Miss Amanda now suffered a great and sudden pain: she seemed to exist only in her memory of her great love for Randolph Castine, and in this present knowledge that he had loved her. Oh, why had she been told that in life she had been dreaming, and that only now she had come to know what had been real! Nothing that was said, nothing that was visible, impressed her consciousness just then; but presently some words of her nephew John forced themselves upon her attention.
"'So she never knew, and he never knew, and two lives were ruined; and she died,' the old gentleman continued, 'my mother thought, as much from disappointed love as from anything else.'
"'And what became of Mr. Castine?' asked Mildred, who had been listening with tears in her eyes.
"'He went away again,' said her grandfather, 'and stayed away a long time; and at last he married a very pleasant lady because he thought it was his duty, having such a fine estate, which ought to be lived on and enjoyed.'
"'Did he have any children?' asked Mildred.
"'Yes; one daughter, who married a Mr. Berkeley of Queen Mary County. It was considered a good match.'
"'Berkeley!' exclaimed the young girl, moving so suddenly toward her grandfather that all the sweet peas in her lap fell suddenly to the ground. 'Berkeley! Why, Arthur Berkeley comes from Queen Mary County! Do you mean he is the grandson of Mr. Castine?'
"'Exactly; that is who he is,' said the old gentleman.
"Mildred sat for a few minutes without saying a word, looking at the ground. 'Grandpa,' she said presently, 'do you know I believe all the time my mind was made up, and I did not know it. And after what you have told me of Arthur Berkeley, grandpa, and your Aunt Amanda, I really think I know myself a great deal better than I did before; and if Arthur should ask me—that is, if he ever does—'
"'And he surely will,' said her grandfather, 'for he came to me this morning, like the honorable fellow he is, and obtained permission to do so.'
"'Grandpa!' exclaimed Mildred; and as she looked up at him there was no beauty in any sweet-pea blossom, or in any other flower on earth, which could equal the brightness and the beauty of her face.
"The pain faded out of the consciousness of Miss Amanda. 'And this is the way it ends!' she murmured. 'This is the way it ends. John's granddaughter and his grandson.' And now it was not pain, but a quiet happiness, which pervaded her consciousness.
"The grandfather and granddaughter rose from the rustic bench and walked slowly toward the house. Miss Amanda looked after them, and blessed them; then she gazed upon the sweet peas on the ground; then she looked once more upon the old dial, still bravely marking each sunny hour; and then, slowly and gradually, Miss Amanda lost consciousness, without saying to herself, 'Seven o'clock' or 'Fifty years' or any other period of time.
"That is the end," said the young lady.
"And quite time!" exclaimed the Master of the House. "Madam," he said, turning to his wife, "did you know of all this knowledge of which your daughter seems possessed—of boy's nature, and woman's love, and the human heart, and all the rest of it? I can't fathom her with my longest line!"
"You may as well give up all idea of that sort of sounding," said the Mistress of the House. "There is no line long enough to fathom the human heart."
"I am thinking," said John Gayther, as he rattled the seeds in the pan, "whether it was worth while for Amanda to become conscious for so short a time, and just to hear a tale like that."
"Was it worth while to learn that the man she had wanted to love her had really loved her?" asked the Daughter of the House, eagerly.
"It doesn't seem the sort of love to wait fifty years to hear about," said John. "I don't like the way they have in novels of making folks keep back things that men and women couldn't help telling."
"Then you don't like my story, John," said the Daughter of the House, in a disappointed tone.
"Indeed, but I do, miss," he replied quickly. "As a story it is just perfect; but as real doings it doesn't pan out square. But then, it is meant for a story, and it couldn't be better or more unlike other stories told here. Nobody could have thought that out that hadn't a deep mind."
The young lady looked critically at John, but she saw he really meant what he said, and she was satisfied.
THIS STORY IS TOLD BY
THE OLD PROFESSOR
AND IS CALLED
The Professor was very old, but he was well preserved—always spoken of as "hale and hearty." He still held his position in his college, and still took a good part in teaching mathematics, but he had an assistant who did the heavy work. He had been principal of the school where the Mistress of the House received her education, and she was much attached to him, and he always spent some part of his summer vacation at her house. The Master of the House, of course, was not there every summer, and so this season the Old Professor had a special treat, for there were many things he liked to talk about in which he knew the two ladies could take no interest.
It rained for two days after his arrival at the house, but the third morning was bright and clear, and the Master of the House conducted his visitor to the favorite resort of the family—a spot the Old Professor knew well and loved. They conversed for a while on some deep subjects, and then they were joined by the two ladies and the Next Neighbor, and the serious discourse changed into light talk; and John Gayther coming up to pay his respects to the Old Professor, the Next Neighbor was seized with an inspiration.
"John," she said, "you must tell us a story. Sit right down and begin 'Once upon a time—' know I haven't heard a story for a long time."
"Madam," said John, respectfully, "I always do what the ladies tell me to do; and I am more sorry than I can say, but I have to know beforehand when I am to tell a story, and indeed I haven't one ready."
"Oh, you are clever and can make up as you go along, as the children say."
"John never tells an impromptu story," said the Mistress of the House. "But, my dear Professor," and she turned to the old gentleman, "we are all friends here, and I should so like you to tell us how you got your wife. You once told it to me, and I should like to know what this company will think of the way you won her."
The Old Professor smiled. "I know what you think about it, and I know what I think about it; and, as you say, we are all old friends, and I am rather curious to know what this company will think about it. I will tell my little story." When they were all ready, he began in a clear voice:
"If my Mary were living this story would never have been told; but she has been a blessed spirit now these many years, and has doubtless long known it, and has judged my conduct righteously. Such is my belief." Here he made a reverent pause, and then began again:
"In my early youth I left, for some two or three years, the beaten track—so to speak—of mathematics; or, more properly, mechanics. For I interested myself in inventing, with more or less success, certain scientific machines.
"One of the most successful of these various contrivances, and the one, indeed, in which I was most deeply interested, was a small machine very much resembling in appearance the tube, with a mouth-piece at one end and an ear-piece at the other, frequently used by deaf persons, but very different in its construction and action. In the ordinary instrument the words spoken into the mouth-piece are carried through the tube to the ear, and are then heard exactly as they are spoken. When I used my instrument the person spoke into the mouth-piece exactly as if it were an ordinary tube, but the result was very different, for the great feature of my invention was that, no matter what language was spoken by the person at the mouth-piece, be it Greek, Choctaw, or Chinese, the words came to the ear in perfect English.
"This translation was accomplished by means of certain delicate machinery contained in the end of the mouth-piece, which was longer and larger than that of the ordinary ear-tube, but the outward appearance of which did not indicate that it held anything extraordinary. It would take too long to explain this mechanism to you, and you would not be interested; nor is it necessary to my story.
"When, after countless experiments and disappointments, and days and nights of hard study and hard work, I finished my little machine, which I called a translatophone, I was naturally anxious to see how it would work with some other person than myself at the mouth-piece. In the course of its construction I had frequently tried the machine by putting the ear-piece into my ear and speaking into the mouth-piece such scraps of foreign languages as I was able to command. These experiments were generally satisfactory, but I could not be satisfied that the machine was a success until some one else should speak into it in some foreign tongue of which I knew positively nothing, so that it would be impossible for me to translate it unconsciously.
"This was not an easy thing, and I had determined I would not explain my invention to the public until I had assured myself that it worked perfectly, and until I had had my property in the invention secured to me by patent right. To go to a foreigner and ask him to speak into my instrument, using a language he could readily assure himself I did not speak or understand, would be the same thing as an avowal of what the translatophone was intended to do. I thought of several plans, but none suited me. I did not want to pretend to be deaf, and, even if I did so, I could not explain why I wished to be spoken to in a language I did not use myself.
"In the midst of my cogitations and uncertainties, I received a note from Mary Armat which, for a time, drove from my mind all thought of translatophone and everything concerning it.
"Miss Mary Armat and I had been friends since the days in which we went to school together. I had always liked her above the other girls of my acquaintance, and about three years previous to the time of this story I had almost made up my mind that I was in love with her, and that I would tell her so. This, however, I had not done. At that time I had become intensely interested in some of my inventions, and, although my feelings toward Mary Armat had not in the least changed, I did not visit her as often as had been my custom, and when I did see her I am afraid I told her more about mechanical combinations than she cared to hear. But so engrossed was I that I stupidly failed to notice this, and I did not perceive that I had been neglecting the most favorable opportunities of declaring the state of my affections until she informed me, not in a private interview, but in the midst of her family circle, that she had made up her mind to become a missionary and go to India to work among the heathen. I was greatly shocked, but I could say nothing then, and afterwards had no opportunity to say anything.
"I did not write to Mary, because she was a most independent and high-spirited girl, and I knew it must be spoken words and not written ones which would satisfy her that I had had good reasons for postponing a declaration of love to her until she had left the country.
"So she went to Burma. I frequently heard of her, but we did not correspond. She had gone into her new work with great zeal. She had learned the Burmese tongue, and had even translated a little English book into that language. For some time she had seemed well satisfied; but I heard through her family that she was getting tired of her Eastern life. The rainy seasons were disagreeable to her, the dry seasons did not agree with her; her school duties were becoming very monotonous; and she had found out that in her heart she did not care for the heathen, especially for heathen children. Therefore she had resigned her position and was on her way home. The note I received from her informed me that she had arrived in New York the day before, and that she would be very glad if I would come to see her."
"She did a sensible thing, anyway," commented the Master of the House.
The Daughter of the House opened her mouth to say: "I do not like her. She had no enthusiasm, or real goodness, to give up her work so soon and for such reasons." But she suddenly reflected that Mary had been the speaker's wife, and she shut her mouth with a little vicious snap.
"I went to the Armat house that evening, and I found there a very lively girl awaiting me. Her parents and her two sisters had gone out, and we had the parlor to ourselves. Life in Burma may not have suited Mary Armat, but it certainly had improved her, for she was much more charming than when I had last seen her. Moreover, she was so very friendly, and without doubt so glad to see me, she was so bright and full of high spirits, that it might have been supposed she had arranged matters so that we could have the evening to ourselves, and was eminently pleased with her success.
"I admired her more and more every time I looked at her, and I determined that, as soon as the proper time should come, I would make earnest love to her, and tell her what, perhaps, I should have told her long ago. But just now I had other matters on my mind.
"Above all things I wanted Mary to talk into my translatophone, and to speak in Burmese. I knew nothing whatever of that language, and if she should speak it, and the words should come to my ears in pure English, then no further experiment would be necessary, no doubts could possibly exist. But until I had made this test I did not want her to know what the instrument was intended to do; it was barely possible she might play a trick on me and speak in English. But if the thing succeeded I would tell her everything. We two should be the sole owners of the secret of my great invention—an invention which would not only benefit the English-speaking world, but which might be adapted to the language of any nation, and which would make us rich beyond all ordinary probabilities.
"As soon as I had the opportunity I began to speak of the work I had been engaged upon during Mary's absence; and when I approached the subject I thought I saw on her face an expression which seemed to say, 'Oh, dear! are you going to begin on that tiresome business again?' But I was not to be turned from my purpose. Such an opportunity as this was too valuable, too important, to be slighted or set aside for anything else. In a few minutes I might discover whether this invention of mine was a success or a failure. I took my translatophone from my pocket, and laid it on the table beside us.
"'What's that?' she exclaimed. 'You don't mean to tell me you have become hard of hearing?'
"'Oh, no,' said I; 'my hearing is just as good as it ever was.'
"'But that is a thing deaf people use,' she said.
"'Well, yes,' I answered; 'it could be used by deaf people, I suppose, although I have never tried it in that way. It is my latest and, I think, my most important invention. It would take too long to explain its mechanism just now—'
"'Indeed it would,' she interrupted quickly.
"'But what I want to do,' I continued, 'is to make a little trial of it with you.'
"'If you mean you want me to speak into that thing,' she said, 'I do not want to do it. I should hate to think you are deaf and needed anything of the sort. Please put it away; I do not even like the looks of it.'
"But I persisted; I told her that I greatly desired that she should speak a few sentences in Burmese into my instrument. I had a certain reason for this which I would explain afterwards.
"'But you do not understand Burmese,' she said in surprise.
"'Not a word of it,' I answered. 'I do not know how it sounds when it is spoken, nor how it looks when it is written. But there are certain tones and chords, and all that sort of thing, in the foreign languages which are very interesting, no matter whether you understand the language or not.'
"'Oh, it is a sort of musical thing, then,' she said.
"'I will not say it is exactly that,' I replied. 'But if you will simply speak to me in Burmese for a minute or two, that is all I ask of you, and afterwards we can talk about its construction and object.'
"'Oh, I do not want to talk any more about it,' said she; 'but if it will satisfy you, I will say a few words to you in Burmese. Do you speak into this hole?' she said as she took up the instrument.
"I arranged the ear-piece very carefully, and covered my other ear with my hand. Immediately she began to speak to me, and every word came to me in clear and beautiful English! But I knew, as well as I knew that I lived, that the words she spoke were Burmese, or belonged to some other language which she knew I did not understand. The proof of this was in the words themselves.
"'I think you are perfectly horrid,' she said, 'and I am glad to have an opportunity to tell you so, even though you do not understand me. I cannot imagine how anybody can be so stupid as to want to talk about horrible ear-trumpets the first time he meets a girl whom he has not seen for years, and who used to like him so much, and who likes him still in spite of his cruel stupidity. I wonder why you thought I wanted to see you the minute I got home? I am awfully disappointed in you, for I did think you would talk to me in a very different way the first time you saw me. And now I am going to tell you something—and I would rather cut my tongue out than say it in English, but it gives me a wicked delight to say it in Burmese: I love you, John Howard. I have loved you for a long time; and that is the reason I went to Burma; and now that I have come back I am obliged to say that I love you still. If you could invent some sort of a tube that would make you see better with your eyes and understand better with your mind, it would be a great deal more suitable than this horrid, snake-like thing for your ear. I do not suppose you will ever hear me speak this way in English, but I tell you again, John Howard, that I love you, and it makes me sick to think what a goose you are.'
"'Now, then,' she said, putting down the tube, 'was there anything peculiar in the tones and chords of that bit of foreign language?'
"Fortunately the only light in the room was behind me, and therefore I had reason to hope that she did not observe the expression of my countenance. Moreover, as soon as she had finished speaking she had turned her face away from me, and was now leaning back in her chair, her mouth tightly shut and her wide-open eyes directed on the opposite wall. She looked like a woman who had taken a peculiar revenge, and who, in the taking of it, had aroused her soul in its utmost recesses.
"For some moments I did not answer her question. In fact, I could not speak at all. My thoughts were in a mad whirl. Not only had I discovered that my invention, the hope of my life, was an absolute success, but I was most powerfully impressed by the conviction that now I could never tell Mary what my invention was intended to do, for then she would know what it had done.
"'Yes,' I answered, speaking slowly; 'there was a sort of accord, a kind of—'
"I was interrupted in what would have been a very labored sentence by the ringing of the door-bell. Mary instantly rose. It was plain she was laboring under suppressed excitement, for there was no other reason why she should have jumped up in that way. She looked as if she were anxious to see some one, no matter who it was. I, too, felt relieved by the interruption. In my state of wildly conflicting emotions any third person would be a relief.
"The door opened, and Miss Sarah Castle walked in. 'Oh, Mary,' she exclaimed, 'I am so glad to find you at home! As it isn't late and the moon is so bright, I thought I would run over to see you for a few minutes. Oh, Mr. Howard!'
"Sarah Castle was a young woman for whom I had no fancy. Active in mind and body, and apparently constructed of thoroughly well-seasoned material, she was quick to notice, eager to know, and ready at all times to display an interest in the affairs of her friends, with which, in most cases, said friends would willingly have dispensed. As she took a seat she exclaimed:
"'You don't mean to say, Mary, that you went deaf in Burma?'
"Unfortunately I had forgotten to put my translatophone into my pocket, and it was lying in full view on the table. Mary gave a scornful glance toward the innocent tube.
"'Oh, that?' she said. 'That is not mine. It belongs to Mr. Howard.'
"The words 'Mr. Howard' grated upon my nerves. Up to this moment, except through the translatophone, she had not addressed me by my name in any form; and every tentative lover knows that when his lady addresses him as though he had no name it means that she does not wish to use his formal title and that the time has not arrived for her to call him by his Christian name.
"'You deaf?' cried Sarah, turning to me. 'I have never heard anything of that. When did it come on? It must have been very recent.'
"'Oh, he isn't deaf,' said Mary, impatiently. 'It is only one of his inventions. But tell me something of your brothers. I have not heard a word about them yet.'
"But the knowledge-loving Sarah was not to be bluffed off in this way.
"'Oh, they are all right,' said she. 'They are both in college now. But Mr. Howard deaf! I am truly amazed. Do you have to talk to him through this, Mary?'
"Mary Armat was not an ill-natured girl, but, as I said before, she was a high-spirited one, and was at the time in a state of justifiable irritation.
"'Oh, bother that thing!' she answered. 'I told you it is only one of his inventions, and I wish he would put it in his pocket.'
"'Not just yet,' said Sarah. 'I am really anxious to know about it. Why do you use it, Mr. Howard, if you are not deaf?'
"My face must have displayed my extreme embarrassment at this unanswerable question, for Mary came to my relief.
"'Oh, it is a kind of musical instrument,' she said. 'But don't let us talk any more about it. This is the second time I have seen you, but we have not really had a good chance to say anything to each other.'
"I took advantage of this very strong hint, and rose.
"'Musical!' exclaimed the irrepressible Sarah. 'Oh, Mr. Howard, please play on it just the least little bit!'
"Mary allowed herself an expression of extreme disgust. 'Please not while I am present,' she said; 'I could not abide it.'
"I now advanced to take my leave.
"'Do not go just now,' said Sarah; 'I merely ran over for a minute to ask Mary about the Wilmer reception; but as you are going, Mr. Howard, you might as well see me home. It is later now.'
"I retired to a book-table at the other end of the parlor, and it was a good deal later when the two young ladies had finished talking about the Wilmer reception.
"'I do not understand it at all,' said Miss Castle, when we were on the sidewalk. 'You are not deaf, Mr. Howard, and yet you use an ear-trumpet. What does it mean?'
"Of course I did not know what to say, but I had to say something, and, moreover, that something must not be wholly inconsistent with my explanation to Mary.
"'Oh, it is a thing,' I answered, 'that is intended to be used in connection with foreign languages.' Then I made a bold stroke: 'It shows the difference in their resonant rhythms.'
"'Well, I am sure I do not understand that,' said Miss Castle. 'But what is the good of it? Does it make them any pleasanter to listen to?'
"I admitted that it did.
"'Whether you understand them or not?' she asked.
"If this young woman had at this moment fallen down a coal-hole I cannot truthfully say that I should have regretted it.
"'I cannot explain that, Miss Castle,' I said, 'for it would take a long time, and here we are at your door.'
"'Come in and let me try it,' said Sarah.
"'Thank you very much,' I replied, 'but I really cannot. I have an engagement at my club. In fact, I was just going to take leave of Miss Armat when you came in.'
"She looked at me scrutinizingly. 'You used to call her Mary Armat when you spoke of her,' said she, 'but I suppose her having been a missionary makes a difference in that way. I do not believe much in club engagements, but of course we have to recognize them. And if you cannot come in now I wish you would call on me soon. If your invention has anything to do with foreign languages I truly want to try it. I am studying German now, and if it will put any resonant rhythm into that language it will be very interesting.'
"I made a hasty and indefinite promise, and gladly saw the front door shut behind Miss Sarah Castle.
"That night I did not sleep; in fact, I did not go to bed. The words Mary Armat had spoken to me in Burmese should have completely engrossed my every thought, but they did not. For one moment my mind was filled with rapture by the knowledge that I was loved by this lovely girl; and in the next I was overwhelmed by anxiety as to what should be done to make it impossible for her to know that I knew she had spoken those words. But whether my thoughts made me happy or distressed me, there seemed to be but one way out of my troubles; I must be content with Mary's love, that is, if I should be so fortunate as to secure it. There might be doubts about this; women are fickle creatures, and Mary had been very much provoked with me when I parted from her."
"I see what is coming," here interrupted the Next Neighbor, "and I don't approve of it at all!"
"It would be hard," continued the Old Professor, after pausing for further remarks, "to turn my back upon the golden future which my invention would give to Mary and me; but I must win her, golden future or not. I sat before my study fire, and planned out my future actions. As soon as I could see Mary alone I would tell her my love, and I would explain to her why I had not spoken when I first saw her. But in order to do this I should have to be very careful. I would say nothing but the truth, but I would be very guarded in telling that truth. She must not imagine that anything she had said had made me speak. She must not imagine that I thought she expected me to speak.
"I would begin by asking her pardon for worrying her with my invention when I knew she disliked problematic mechanics. Then I would tell her, in as few words as possible, that I had expected this little instrument to give me fame and fortune, and therefore I wanted her to know all about it; and then, before she could ask me why I wanted her to know this, I would tell her it was because I wished to lay that fame and fortune at her feet. After that, in the best way my ardent feelings should dictate, I would offer myself to her without fortune, without fame, just the plain John Howard who loved her with all his heart. If she accepted me, I would tell her that the invention had not worked as I had intended it should, and therefore I should put it behind me forever."
"Oh, dear!" cried the Next Neighbor. "I knew it was coming!"
"Maybe it didn't," said the Master of the House.
"Having come to a decision," the Old Professor went on, with more animation, "upon this most important matter, my mind grew easier and I became happier. What was anything a black tube could do for me—what, indeed, was anything in the world—compared to the love of that dear girl? And so I sat and gazed into the fire, and dreamed waking dreams of blessedness.
"After a time, however, it came to me that I must make up my mind what I was going to do about the translatophone. I might as well take it apart and throw it into the fire at once, and then there would be an end to that danger to the future of which I had been dreaming. Yes; there would be an end to that. But there would also be an end to the great boon I was about to bestow upon the world, a boon the value of which I had not half understood. It truly was a wonderful thing—a most wonderful thing. An American or an Englishman, or any one speaking English, could take with him a translatophone and travel around the world, understanding the language of every nation, of every people—the polished tongues of civilization, the speech of the scholars of the Orient, and even the jabber of the wild savages of Africa. To be sure, he could not expect to answer those who spoke to him, but what of that? He would not wish to speak; he would merely desire to hear. All he would have to do would be to pretend that he was deaf and dumb, and my simple translatophone might put him into communication with the minds of every grade and variety of humanity.
"Then a new thought flashed into my mind. Why only humanity? If I should attach a wide mouth-piece to my instrument, why should I not gather in the songs and cries of the birds? Why should I not hear in plain English what they say to each other? Why should not all creation speak to me so that I could understand? Why should I not know what the dog says when he barks—what words the hen addresses to her chicks when she clucks to them to follow? Why should I not know the secrets of what is now to us a tongue-tied world of nature?
"Then I had another idea, that made me jump from my chair and walk the floor. I might know what the monkeys say when they chatter to each other! What discovery in all natural history could be so great as this? The thought that these little creatures, so nearly allied to man, might disclose to me their dispositions, their hopes, their ambitions, their hates, their reflections upon mankind, had such a sudden and powerful influence on me that I felt like seizing my translatophone and rushing off to the Zooelogical Gardens. It was now daybreak. I might obtain admission!
"But I speedily dismissed this idea. If I should ever hear in English what the monkeys might say to me, I must give up Mary. I should be the slave of my discovery. It would be impossible then to destroy the translatophone. I sat down again before the fire. 'Shall I put an end to it now?' I said to myself. Nothing would be easier than to take its delicate movements and smash them on the hearth. Now a prudent thought came to me: suppose Mary should not accept me? Then, with this great invention lost,—for I never should have the heart to make another,—I should have nothing left in the world. No; I would be cautious, lest in every way my future life should be overcast with disappointment. The sun had risen, and I felt I must go out; I must have air. Before I opened the front door, however, I said to myself, 'Remember it is all settled. It is Mary you must have—that is, if you can get her.'
"Of all things in this world, the mind of man is the most independent, the most headstrong. It will work at your bidding as long as it pleases, and then it will strike out at its own pace and go where it chooses. During a walk of a couple of miles I thought nearly all the time of what the monkeys might say to me if I should attach a wide mouth-piece to my translatophone and place it against the bars of their cage. Over and over again I stopped these thoughts and said to myself: 'But all this is nothing to me. I must consider Mary and nothing else.' Then in a very few minutes I was wondering if the monkeys would ask me questions—if they have as strong a desire to know about us as we have to know about them. From such questions how much I might learn in regard to the mental distance between us and them! But again I put all this away from me and began to plan anew what I should say to Mary. And then again it was not very long before I found myself thinking how intensely interesting it would be to know what the tree-toads say, and what the frogs talk about when they sit calling to each other all night. It might be a little difficult to get near enough to tree-toads and frogs, but I believed I could manage it.
"However, when I returned home I was thinking of Mary.
"It was early in the afternoon, and I was trying to decide what would be the best time to visit the Armat house. The monkeys had not ceased to worry me dreadfully, and I had begun to think that when bees buzz around their hives they must certainly say something interesting to each other. Then a note was brought to me from Mary. I tore it open and read:
"'I want you to come to see me this afternoon. If you possibly can, come about four o'clock, and bring that speaking-tube with you. Miss Castle has been here nearly all the morning, and some things she has said to me have worried me very much. Please come, and do not forget the ear-trumpet.'
"This she signed merely with her initials.
"Mary's note drove to the winds monkeys, bees, and the rest of the world. What had that wretched mischief-maker, that Castle girl, been saying to her? I did not believe that the mind of Mary Armat was capable of originating an unfounded suspicion of me; but the mind of Sarah Castle was capable of originating anything. She had doubtless suspected that there must be some extraordinary reason for my desire to have people talk to me through a tube in a language I did not understand. She had been too impatient to wait until she could try her German upon me, and she had gone to Mary and had filled her mind with horrible conjectures. One thing was certain: no matter what else happened, I must not take that translatophone to Mary. After what Sarah had said to her there could be no doubt that she would make me speak to her in a foreign language through the tube. It would be easy enough: she could give me a French book and tell me to read a few pages. No matter how badly I should pronounce the words, they would reach her ears in pure English!
"I took my translatophone from the cabinet in which I kept it. The easiest way to destroy it was to throw it at once into the fire; but that would fill the house with the smell of burning rubber. No; it was only necessary to destroy the internal movements. I unscrewed the long mouth-piece, and gently withdrew from it the little membrane-covered cylinder, not six inches in length, which formed the soul of my invention. I took it in my hand and gazed upon it. Through its thin, flexible, and almost transparent outer envelope I could see, as I held it to the light, its framework, fine as the thread-like bones of a fish, its elastic chords, its quivering diaphragms, and all the delicate organs of its inner life. It seemed as if I could feel the palpitations of its heart as I breathed upon it. For how many days and months had I been working on this subtle invention—working, and thinking, and dreaming! Here it lay, perfect, finished, ready to tell me more than any man ever has known—a thing almost of life, and ready to be brought to life by the voice of man or beast or bird, or perhaps of any living thing. Could I have the heart to destroy it? Could I have the heart to turn my back upon the gate of the world of wonders which was just opening to me?
"'Yes,' said I to myself; 'I have the heart to do anything that will prevent my losing the love of Mary Armat.'
"Then an evil thought came to me, and tempted me: 'If you choose you can hear the monkeys talk and have Mary too. Everything you want is in your own hands. Don't put that little machine back into the tube. Lock it up safely out of sight, and then go to Mary with your instrument, and you can talk into it and she can listen, and she may talk and you may listen. Yes, you may have your Mary—and she need never know that you understand what the monkeys may say to you, or what she has said to you.'
"I am proud that I entertained this evil thought for but a very short time. I turned upon it and stormed at it. 'No!' I exclaimed. 'I shall never win Mary by cheating her! Whether I get her or not, I will be worthy of her.'
"Then there came another thought, apparently innocent and certainly persuasive. 'Do not destroy the translatophone. Then, if things do not turn out well between you and Mary, you will still have the monkeys.'
"'No,' I said to myself; 'I must have Mary. I will have nothing to fall back upon. I will allow nothing to exist that might draw me back.'
"There was another thing I might do: I might take my translatophone to her, and explain everything. But would there be any possibility, even if she did not fly from me in shame and never see me again, that I could make her believe in a love which had been so spurred on, even aroused, as she might well imagine mine had been? No; that would never do. Apart from anything else, it would be impossible for me to be so cruel as to let Mary know I had understood the Burmese words she had spoken to me.
"I looked at the clock; it was half-past three. Whatever was to be done must be done now. I cast one more look of longing affection upon the quivering, throbbing little creature, which to me was as much alive as if it had been a tired bird panting in my hand; and then I gently laid it on the hearth. I lifted my left foot and let it hang for an instant over the hopes, the fears, the anxieties, the happy day-dreams those early years of my life had given me, and then, with relentless cruelty, not only to that quivering object but to myself, I brought down my foot with all my strength!
"There was a slight struggle for an instant, during which there came to me quick, muffled sounds, which to my agitated brain sounded like the moans of despair from that vast world of animal intelligence which does not speak to man. From my own heart there came a groan. All was over! From the mysterious inner courts of the animal kingdom no revelations would ever come to me! The thick curtain between the intelligence of man and the intelligence of beast and bird which I had raised for a brief moment had now been dropped forever! I should never make another translatophone.
"I cast no glance upon the hearth, but put on my hat and coat and went to Mary. As I walked there rose behind me a cloud of misty disappointment, while before me there was nothing but dark uncertainty. What would Mary have to say to me? And how should I explain what would seem to her to be a cowardly evasion of her plainly expressed request?
"When I entered the Armat parlor I found Mary alone. This encouraged me a little. I had feared that the yearningly inquisitive Sarah might also be there. In that case how might I hope to preserve one atom of my secret?
"Mary came forward with a smile, and held out her hand; I was so astonished I could not speak.
"'Now don't be cross,' said she. 'As I told you in my note, Sarah Castle was here this morning, and she greatly troubled my mind about you. She told me I was actually snappish with you when she was here last night. She had never heard me speak to any one in such an ill-natured way. She knew very well that I do not care for inventions and machines, but she did not consider this any reason for my treating you in such a manner. She said I ought to have known that your whole soul is wrapped up in the queer things you invent, and that I should have made some allowance for you, even if I did not care about such things myself. Now when she told me this I knew that every word was true, and I was utterly ashamed of myself; and as soon as she left I sent you that note because I wanted you to let me beg your pardon—which you may consider has been done. And now please let me see your speaking-tube. I want you to explain it to me; I want to know how it is made, and what is its object. For I know very well that even if your inventions are not successful they always have very good objects. Please forgive me, and let us sit on the sofa and have a nice talk together such as we should have had last night.'
"My soul shouted with joy within me, and I said to myself: 'We shall have the nice talk we should have had last night, but it shall be the talk you wanted then, and not the one you ask for now.'
"'Now, then,' said she, when we had seated ourselves, 'let us go to work to make experiments with your tube. I am so glad you do not feel about it as I thought you would.'
"'I did not bring it,' I said.
"'Oh, what a pity!' interrupted Mary.
"'No,' said I; 'it is not a pity. It did not work as I expected it would, and there is no use in talking any more about it. I placed great hopes in it, and I had a particular reason for wanting to tell you all about it.' Then I began and bravely told her all about it, that is, all that justice and kindness would permit me to tell. In the conversation which ensued, which was a very happy exchange of sentiment, it was wonderful how that translatophone was put into the background.
"A great deal of what Mary said in answer to my passionate avowals she had already said to me in Burmese. But the fact that those straightforward, honest words, fresh from a true woman's heart, and spoken only for the satisfaction of her own frank and impetuous nature, had come to me before in plain English she did not imagine, nor did I ever allow her to imagine. This secret of her soul I always regarded as something that came to me in involuntary confidence, and I always respected that confidence."
"Were you never sorry?" asked the Daughter of the House, when the Old Professor ceased.
"No," he said thoughtfully; "I have never been sorry for what I did. I had a very happy life with my Mary—a life far happier than any wonder-exciting invention could have given me."
"Was it fair to the world to destroy an instrument that might have been of great advantage to science?" ventured John Gayther, hesitatingly.
"It is not easy," said the Old Professor, "to decide between what we owe to the world and science, and what we owe to ourselves. You see, I decided in favor of myself. Possibly another man would have decided in favor of the invention."
"Not if he were desperately in love," said the Master of the House.
"All those fine-spun feelings were unnecessary," said the Next Neighbor. "If you had not confused your mind with them you would have seen clearly enough that the first idea which came into your head was the proper one to act upon. It would have been no terrible deception if you had taken the instrument to Mary without the little machine and talked English with her. Later you could have told her you had the invention and you could use it. By that time she would have forgotten that she ever had made that Burmese speech, and would have been glad of the fame and fortune the machine would surely have brought."
The Old Professor looked pained. "I do not deny that some such after-thoughts troubled my mind occasionally for some years. But who can say anything of the 'might have been'? The instrument might have failed, after all; or the information gained have proved not worth the hearing; or—"
Here there was an unlooked-for interruption. The red thrush suddenly burst into song from the midst of the lilac-bushes, and the whole company listened spellbound with delight while the little creature filled the air with melody and sweetness.
When the song ceased, the Professor remarked: "My translatophone would have been worse than useless here. If I could have heard those words I should have lost that delicious melody. Doubtless the words were commonplace enough, but the melody was divine. And it was easy to interpret the spirit of it. It was a song of joy for all that is pleasant, and bright, and happy in this world."
THIS STORY IS TOLD BY
THE NEXT NEIGHBOR
AND IS CALLED
The red thrush seemed now to be part of the pleasantness of the garden. Whether he was drawn to the lilac-bushes by the sweet memory of his former home, or whether he was keeping a tryst with his mate of the nesting season and was calling her to come to him, or whether his coming was pure caprice, of course John Gayther could not know. But every day he came; and when the sky was clear he sang his merry song; and even when the clouds were overshadowing he could not help uttering little trills of melody. After a time he would fly away; but he left a note of gladness in John's heart that stayed there all day.
The bird did not seem in the least disturbed by the talk on the terrace. If the sound of the voices reached him at all it must have been as a low murmur, and perhaps he liked it. The family now timed their visits to the summer-house, when they were able to go there, by the red thrush; and he seldom disappointed them. It so happened, however, one morning when they were all there, that the lilacs gave forth no sound. They waited for the accustomed music, and a hush fell upon them. They were silent for some time, and then the Old Professor spoke:
"I see John Gayther below the terrace. Can't we have a story, if we cannot have a song?"
John was called up at once, and the Next Neighbor accosted him gayly: "If you had known that I am going to tell a story you would have walked faster."
John answered her with a pleasant smile. He liked the Next Neighbor. He liked the kind of mind she had, for it was thoroughly imbued with an anxious desire to do her duty in this world in the manner in which that duty showed itself to her. He liked her because she was fond of the Daughter of the House. He liked her because she considered her husband to be the handsomest, best, and cleverest man in the world. Perhaps John would have liked this trait best of all if he had not clearly seen that she held in reserve an opinion that this husband would move on a still higher plane if he would place more value on her opinions and statements.
"This is the first time you have favored us," he said courteously.
"Well," she said, "I knew the time would come when I would be called upon, and I could tell many a story about things that have happened to me. I am not exactly the heroine of this tale, but I am intimately concerned in its happenings, and shall tell it in my own way.
"Before I was married I used to feel that all we have to do in this world is to grow up like grass or clover-blossoms, and to perform our parts by being just as green or as sweet-smelling as our natures allow. But I do not think that way now. Along comes a cow, and our careers are ended. Of course we cannot get out of the way of our fate any more than grass can get out of the way of a cow; but it often happens that we can accommodate ourselves to our misfortunes. We can be content to being nibbled close; we can spring up again from the roots; or we can patiently wait until we blossom again the next summer.
"It was about a year after I was married that I began to think about such things. We were spending a fortnight at the country house of one of my old friends, Mrs. Cheston; and although Bernard, my husband, was away most of the time, fishing with Mr. Cheston, we were enjoying ourselves very much. There was a village not far away where there were some very nice people, so that we had a good deal of pleasant social life, and it was not long before I became quite well acquainted with some of the village families.
"One day Mrs. Cheston gave me a luncheon, to which she invited a good many of the village ladies; and, after they were all gone, we two sat on the piazza and talked about them. Two or three of our guests I had not met before, and in the course of our talk Emily mentioned the name of Margaret Temple.
"'Temple?' said I. 'Which one was that? I do not recall her.'
"'You were talking to her some time,' she replied. 'I think she was telling you about the mountains.'
"'Oh, yes,' said I; 'she was pointing out those passes through which people go into the next county. She sat at the other end of the table, didn't she? She was dressed in black.'
"'Oh, no,' said Emily, 'she was not dressed in black. She never wears black. I think she wore a brown dress with some sort of light trimming.'
"'Oh, well,' said I, 'I did not notice her dress, and when I do not notice people's clothes I nearly always think they dress in black. Is she nice?'
"'She is very nice indeed,' said Emily; 'everybody thinks that.'
"'I wish I had seen more of her,' said I.
"Emily did not answer this remark, but a smile came on her face which presently grew into a little laugh. I looked at her in surprise.
"'What is there funny about Miss Temple?' I asked.
"'Really there is nothing funny about her,' she replied, 'but I often laugh to myself when I think of her.'
"I suddenly became very much interested in Miss Temple. 'Tell me why you do that,' I said. 'I always like to know why people laugh at other people.'
"Emily now became very sober. 'You must not think,' she said, 'that there is anything ridiculous about Margaret Temple. There is not a finer woman to be found anywhere, and I do not believe there is anybody who laughs at her except myself. You know I am very apt to see the funny side of things.'
"'And so am I!' I exclaimed. 'Do tell me about Miss Temple. It is so seldom there is anything amusing about a really nice person.'
"Emily was silent for a moment, and then she said: 'Well, I do not know that there is any real harm in telling you what makes me laugh. A good many people know all about it; but I would not, for the world, have Margaret Temple find out that I told you.'
"I assured her with great earnestness that if she would tell me, I would never breathe it to any living soul.
"'Very well,' said Emily; 'I will trust you. As I said, it really isn't funny, but it is just this. It is a positive fact that five married ladies (I am certain of this number, and it may be more) have gone to Margaret Temple, during the past few years, and each one has asked her to become her husband's second wife in case she should die.'
"I did not laugh; I exclaimed in amazement: 'Why did they all ask her? I did not notice anything particularly attractive about her.'
"'I think that is the point,' said Emily. 'I do not think a woman is likely to want her husband to take an attractive woman for his second wife. If she had the chance to choose her successor, she would like her husband to have a really nice person, good in every way, but not one with whom he would be likely to fall violently in love. Don't you see the point of that?'
"I replied that it was easy enough to see the point, but that there was another one. 'You must remember,' said I, 'that husbands are generally very particular; if one has had a young and handsome wife he would not be likely to be satisfied with anything less.'
"Emily shook her head. 'I am older than you, Rosa, and have had more opportunities of noticing widowers. There are a great many things for them to think about when they marry a second time: their children, their positions, and all that. I believe that if a man and his wife discussed it, which they would not be likely to do, they would be very apt to be of the same mind in regard to the sort of person who ought to come in as number two. For my part, I do not wonder at all that so many women have cast their eyes on Margaret Temple as a person they would like to have take their places when they are gone. For one thing, you know they would not be jealous of her; this is very important. Then, they would be as certain as anything can be certain in this world that their children, if they had any, as well as their husbands, would be in most excellent hands. Often, when I have been thinking about her, I have called Margaret Temple the Vice-consort; but I have never told any one this. Please remember.'
"So far I had not seen a thing to laugh at, but I was deeply interested. 'How came all this to be known?' I asked. 'Has Miss Temple gone about telling people?'
"'Oh, no, indeed; she is not that sort of person. A good many of the village ladies know it, and I think they always have heard it from those prudent ladies who were providing for their husbands' futures. People talk about it, of course, but they are very careful that nothing they say shall reach Margaret Temple's ears.'
"'Tell me about some of the people,' I said, 'who want to secure Miss Temple as a successor. Do they all feel as though they are likely to die?'
"'Not all of them,' answered Emily. 'There is Mrs. Hendrickson, who was obliged to go to Arizona on account of her father's property. He was very rich, and died not long ago. Her husband has to stay at home to attend to his business, and she could not take her little baby; and although she is just as healthy as anybody, she knew all the dangers of railroad travelling, and all sorts of things in that far-away place; and, before she packed her trunk, she went to Margaret Temple and asked her to promise that if she died out there, she, Margaret, would marry Mr. Hendrickson. This I know for certain, for Mrs. Hendrickson told me herself.'
"'Did Miss Temple promise?'
"'That I did not hear,' replied Emily. 'Mrs. Hendrickson was in a great hurry, and perhaps she did not intend to tell me, anyway. But I do not believe Margaret absolutely refused; at least, it would not have been prudent for her to do so. The Hendricksons are rich, and he is a fine man. There would be nothing in the way of such a match.'
"'Except the return of the wife,' I remarked.
"Emily smiled. 'And then there was poor Mrs. Windham,' she continued. 'Everybody knew she asked Margaret. She left a son about eight years old who is very delicate. The poor woman has not been dead long enough for anything to come of that, but I do not believe anything ever will. There are people who say that Mr. Windham drinks; but I have seen no signs of it. Then there is another one—and no matter what you may hear people say about these things, you must never mention that I told you this. Mrs. Barnes, the rector's wife, has spoken to Margaret on the subject. She looks very well, so far as I can judge; but there is consumption in her family. She is almost bigoted in regard to the duties of a rector's wife. She tries just as hard as she can to fill the position properly herself, and she knows Mr. Barnes would never be satisfied with any one who did not agree with him as she does about the responsibilities of a rector's wife.'
"'Does Margaret Temple agree with him?' I asked.
"'I do not know, for I never talked with her on the subject,' replied Emily, 'but she is very apt to think what is right. Besides, it is believed that Mrs. Barnes has not only spoken to Margaret, but to the rector himself; and if he had not thought the plan a good one, Mrs. Barnes would have dropped it; and, from things I have heard her say, I know she has not dropped it.'
"Emily looked as though she were about to rise, and I quickly exclaimed: 'But that is only three. Who are the others?'
"'One of them,' said she, 'is Mrs. Clinton. There is nothing the matter with her physically, but she is very rich, and is prudent and careful about everything that belongs to her, while her husband is not a business man at all and never has anything to do with money matters of importance. There are three children, and she has reason to feel anxious about them should they and their property be left in the charge of Mr. Clinton, or to the tender mercies of some woman who would marry him for the sake of his wealth. You can see for yourself that it is no wonder she casts her eyes upon Margaret. I believe Mrs. Clinton could die happy if she could see her husband and Margaret Temple promise themselves to each other at her bedside.'
"'That seems to me to be horrid,' said I; 'but of course it would be extremely sensible. And the other one?'
"'Oh, that matter does not amount to much,' said Emily. 'Old Mrs. Gloucester lives at the other end of the village, and she does not visit much, so you have not seen her. Her husband is old enough, dear knows, but not quite so old as she is. She is very much afraid that she will die and leave him with nobody to take care of him, for they have no children. They are very well off, and I dare say she thinks it would be a good thing for Margaret as well as for the old gentleman.'
"'That is shameful,' said I; 'it would be the same thing as engaging a trained nurse.'
"Emily laughed. 'I never heard how Margaret received this remarkable proposition,' she said, 'but I hope she was angry.'
"'But, at any rate, it could never come to anything,' said I.
"'Of course not,' answered Mrs. Cheston.
"It is not surprising that after this conversation I took a great interest in Margaret Temple; and when she called the next morning I had a long and undisturbed talk with her, Mrs. Cheston being out. I am very fond of analyzing human character, and I often do it while I am riding in the street-cars; and it was not long before I had made up my mind as to what sort of woman Margaret Temple was. I set her down as what may be called a balanced person. In fact, I thought at the time she was a little too well balanced; if some of her characteristics had been a little more pronounced I think she would have been more interesting. But I liked her very much, and I remember I was almost as well pleased when she was talking to me as when she was listening, and I am sure there are very few persons, men or women, of whom I can say this."
Here a smile came upon the faces of the company, but they were too polite to make any comment on what had called forth the smile. The Master of the House asked permission to light a cigar, and the Old Professor, who never smoked, remarked: "There is deep philosophy in all this."
"I don't know about the philosophy," said the Next Neighbor, "but it is absolute truth. Well, after a time I began to wish that Miss Temple lived near our home, because she would be such an admirable person for a friend and neighbor. Then, suddenly, without any warning, there flashed through me the strangest feeling I ever had in my life. I must have turned pale, for Miss Temple asked me if I did not feel ill. I soon recovered from the effects of this strange feeling, and went on talking; but I was very glad when Mrs. Cheston came home, and took the conversation out of my hands.
"For two or three days after this my mind was very much troubled, and Bernard thought that the air of that part of the country did not agree with me, and that we ought to go to the sea-shore. But this I positively refused to consider. There could be no sea-shore for me until a good many things had been settled. It was at this time that I first began to think that we cannot grow up fresh and green and blossom undisturbed, and that we must consider untimely cows coming along.
"To make the state of my mind clearly understood, I must say that there is an hereditary disease in my family. I had never thought anything about it, for there had been no reason why I should; but now I did think about it, and there did seem to be reason. My grandfather had had this disease, and had died of it. To be sure, he was very old; but that did not matter: he died of it, all the same. It never troubled my father, but this made no difference, so far as I was concerned, for I have always heard that hereditary diseases are apt to skip a generation, and if this one had skipped, there was nobody for it to skip to but me; for I have no brothers or sisters.
"The more I thought on this subject, the more troubled my mind became, and at last I believed it to be my duty to speak to Bernard, although I did not tell him all my thoughts; for I had had a good many that were not necessarily connected with hereditary diseases. I was positively amazed at the way my husband received what I told him. I had expected that perhaps he might pooh-pooh the whole thing, but he did nothing of the kind. He became very serious, and talked to me in the most earnest way.
"'Now, Rosa,' said he, 'I am glad you told me about this, and I want to impress it upon your mind that you must be very careful. In the first place, you must totally give up hot spirits and water. You must not drink more than two glasses of wine, or three at the utmost, at any of your meals. When you get up in the morning you must totally abstain from drinking those mixtures that are taken by some people to give appetite for breakfast. At night you must try to do without any sort of punch or toddy to make you sleep. If you will take this advice, and restrict yourself to water and milk, and not over-rich food, I think you may reasonably expect to live longer than your grandfather did, although I cannot imagine why any one should want to live that long.'
"Of course I was angry at all this, for I saw then that he was making fun of me; and I said no more to him, for he was not in the right frame of mind to listen to me. But I did not stop thinking.
"I now became very intimate with Miss Temple. I began to like her very much, and I think she liked me. I continued to study her, and I became convinced that she was a woman to whom a very fastidious man might be attracted—I do not mean that he would fall in love with her, but that he would be perfectly satisfied with her. In fact, I summed up her character by assuring myself that in every way she was perfectly satisfactory. I have known other women who were more charming, but they all had faults; and I do not see how any one could have found fault with Miss Temple.
"One day we had taken a long walk, and were on our way home when I began to talk to her about my own affairs. I thought I knew her so well in a general way that the time had come for me to find out some things more definitely. I began in an offhand but cautious manner to talk about Bernard. I alluded to his love of outdoor sports, and mentioned that I thought it my duty frequently to speak to him in regard to the terrible consequences which might follow a false step when he was out fishing, and that I thought it necessary to repeat this advice very often, for it was my opinion he paid very little attention to it. I also made several other allusions to his indisposition to take care of himself, and remarked how very necessary it was for me to look after his health. I mentioned his great carelessness in regard to flannel, and told her that it was often quite late in the autumn before he would make any change in his clothing.
"Then I spoke of his domestic habits; and, as I saw Miss Temple seemed much interested, I talked a good deal about them. He was the most loving husband in the world, I said, and was always anxious to know what he could do for me more than he was already doing; but when we were in the city he did like to go out in the evenings, and I thought he went to his club too often. Of course, I said, I did not say anything to him about it, for I would not want him to think that I desired him to deny himself the company of other gentlemen; but the habit of club attendance was one that might grow on a man, especially a young one, and there were a good many other things that might result from it, such as excessive smoking. So I had thought it well to offer him additional inducements for spending his evenings at home, and I had begun a regular system of reading aloud. It had proved very beneficial to both of us, for I chose good, standard books; and although he sometimes went to sleep, that was to be expected, for Bernard was a hard-working man. As for myself, I liked this reading aloud very much, although at first it was rather tiresome, as I had never been used to it. Then I asked her if she liked reading aloud—it is such a good way of giving pleasure to others at the same time that you are pleasing yourself. She smiled, and said she was very fond of reading aloud.
"Then I changed the subject to churches and preachers, for I did not want her to think I was saying too much about my husband, and asked her who was the best preacher in the village. When she said it was Mr. Barnes, I asked her if she went to his church. She answered that she did, and then I told her that I was also an Episcopalian, but that Bernard's parents were Methodists. I did not think, however, that this would make much difference, for when he began to go regularly to church, I was sure he would rather go with me than to travel off somewhere by himself.
"I did not suppose that Miss Temple would care so much about what I was saying, but she did seem to care, and listened attentively to every word.
"'You must not think I am talking too much about my family affairs,' I remarked, 'but doesn't it strike you that a really good wife ought to try just as hard as she can to be on good terms with her husband's family, no matter how queer they may be? I mean the women in it; for they are more likely to be queer than the men. For if she does not do this,' I continued, 'the worst of the trouble, if there is any, will come on him. He will have to take sides either with his wife or his sisters,—and mother too, if he happens to have one,—and that would be sure to make him unhappy if he is a good-hearted man, such as Bernard is.'
"At this Miss Temple burst out laughing, and it was the first time I had ever heard her laugh so heartily. As soon as she could speak she exclaimed: 'Are you going to ask me to marry your husband if you should happen to die?'
"I must have turned as red as the most scarlet poppy, for I felt my face burn. I hesitated a little, but I was obliged to tell the truth, and so I stammered out that I had been thinking of something of the kind.
"'Oh, please don't look so troubled,' said she. 'Several persons have spoken to me on the same subject; but I never should have dreamed that such an idea would come into your head. I think it is the funniest thing in the world!' And then she laughed again.
"I was greatly embarrassed, and all I could say was that I hoped I had not offended her.
"'Oh, not in the least,' she said. 'I am getting used to this sort of thing, and I can bear it.'
"This remark helped me very much, for I resented it. 'I do not see what there is to bear,' I said. 'Such a man as Bernard—and then I have special reasons—'
"'Oh, yes,' she interrupted quickly; 'each one has a special reason. But there is one general reason that is common to all. Now tell me, my dear,'—and as she spoke she took both my hands and looked steadily into my face,—'were you not about to ask me to marry your husband, in case of your death, because you could think of it without being jealous of me, and because you are afraid he might marry some one of whom you would probably be jealous if you knew of it?'
"She looked at me in such a kind, strong way that I was obliged to confess that this was my reason for speaking to her about Bernard. 'I cannot exactly explain,' I added, and my face burned again, 'why I should think about you in this way; but I hope you will not imagine—'
"'Oh, I shall not imagine anything that will be disagreeable to you,' she said; and she looked just as good-humored as possible."
"Does that lady live in any place where my wife can get at her?" asked the Master of the House, as the Next Neighbor paused to take breath.
"I have not yet developed a disease," said the Mistress of the House.
"Well, when you do, please find that woman. She is a very good sort."
"I shall have an opinion on that subject, papa," said the Daughter of the House.
"You little minx!" he replied. "I shall see that you are provided for before that."
"It is not well to joke about so serious a matter," said the Next Neighbor, "as you will see when I finish my story.
"For a little while Miss Temple walked on in silence, and I tried hard to think of what would be proper for me to say next, when suddenly she stopped.
"'We are not far from the house now,' she said, 'and before we get there I want to set your mind at rest by telling you that if you should die before your husband, and if nothing should happen at any time or in any way to interfere with such a plan, I will marry your Bernard and take good care of him. I have never made such a positive promise to any one, but I do not mind making it to you. I am sure I need not ask you to say nothing about this compact to your husband.'
"I was stunned, but I managed to stammer: 'Oh, no, indeed!'
"Fortunately for me, Miss Temple did not stay to supper. I do not think I could have borne to see her and Bernard together. It was bad enough as it was. I felt greatly humiliated; I could not understand how I could have done such a thing. It was worse than selling a birthright—it was giving away the dearest thing on earth. I trembled from head to foot when Bernard came home from fishing. I do not believe I ever before greeted him so affectionately. My emotion troubled him, and he asked me if I were ill, and if I had been lonely and bored while he was away. He was just as good as good could be, and began to talk again about going to the sea-shore. I did not object this time, for I could not know what would be best to do.
"In the evening, after every one else had gone indoors, I begged him to sit longer on the piazza, and to smoke another cigar. He was quite surprised, because, as he said, I had never asked him to do such a thing before, but had rather discouraged his smoking. But I declared I wanted to sit with him in the moonlight all by ourselves. And so we did until his cigar was finished.
"For the first hour of that night I did not sleep a wink, my mind was so troubled. I felt as though I were not really Bernard's wife, but some sort of a guardian angel who was watching over him to see that somebody else made him happy. After I had thus been in the depths of grief for a long while, I became angry.
"'She shall never have him!' I said to myself. 'I will make it the object of my life to live longer than he does. My grandfather lived to be much older than ordinary men, and why should not I have as long a life? Perhaps it was the things he ate and drank, and his jovial disposition, that gave him such longevity. If I were sure of this I would be willing to take hot drinks at night, and wine at dinner. No; Bernard must not be left behind.' It was while making up my mind very firmly about this that I fell asleep.