My dress was a sight when I got in, and I didn't have much skin on my elbows, and my hands were stuck up with splinters, as I had to hold on to anything I could clutch, being afraid the window would not hold my feet and the shingles being rotten. But otherwise no damage was done, and I got the note Taylor had tied to the string, which I had pulled up by the time the Ogress had departed. I gave it to Amy and told her to read it quick.
She read it, and after doing it turned so white and looked so queer we were frightened. For a minute she couldn't speak, then she handed me the note, and when I asked if I must read it aloud she nodded her head and sat down, as if to stand up was impossible. I glanced over it first so as to leave out the little love decorations and just read the practical part, and what Taylor told her was that he had just gotten a telegram from his house (it's iron-works I think) saying he must leave on important business for South America on the 6th of September. The house had been talking of sending him for some time, and had been waiting for certain developments which had suddenly developed, and he would have to go. Would she go with him, and if she would not he never expected to come back again, but would stay over there and take charge of the South-American branch of the house he was going to establish. She would have to decide at once, as he couldn't stay a minute later than the 30th. They could be married anywhere she said, only it must be quickly done. He had gotten the telegram an hour before, and in the morning she must get Kitty Canary to fix things so he could see her and talk more fully. Kitty could be depended on and would manage somehow. The rest being private and personal, I skipped it and gave the note back to Amy, who was as white as the dress she had on, and her hands as limp as wet kid gloves.
Excited! To my dying day I will never forget the thrill of it. Being in love myself, as I had once thought, wasn't a circumstance to it, and the other girls were as bad as I. To help a heart-yearning, backboneless young girl escape from the captivity of a cast-iron grandparent was something no red-blooded person could refuse, and every one of us agreed that the only thing for Amy to do was to walk into the den of lions and tell the head lioness the truth; ask her permission to many the man she loved, and, if she would not give it, to take it, anyhow, and tell her farewell and leave at once for South America. That, at least, was what I thought ought to be done, and after a while the others thought so, too. At first there was a lot of argument, but I told them I would never agree to Amy's running away to be married without her first telling her grandmother she was going to do it. That is, if she would not let her be married at home. If the G. M. would not let, then Amy could take the first train out, but she mustn't take it until she had shown her grandmother the respect she did not deserve. I never could bear runaway marriages. There's always something so common about them, and I wasn't going to be party to one if I could help it.
All the time we were talking we left Amy out of it, and never once asked her what she preferred in the matter. The reason we didn't was the poor little thing was so frightened and distressed that she could not open her lips. We would not let her come down-stairs with us, and when we said good night I whispered that I would see Taylor on my way to Rose Hill, and at ten o'clock the next morning we would meet her at the back of Miss Susanna's vegetable garden under the big locust-tree, and that she mustn't worry, we'd fix it, he and I. Also I told her she might bring up some toilet things and little traveling necessities and leave them with me; and though she clung to me like a frightened child and didn't speak, she was down by the barn the next morning at ten, and so was Taylor. I let them get there a little ahead of me.
They are married and gone, and for two days Twickenham Town has talked of nothing else. It made a regular soup of the marriage. The bride and groom were the stock, the grandparent and maiden aunts were the thickening, and I was the seasoning; but all that does not matter now. The ancestralized person has learned that the twentieth century sees some things clearer than the eighteenth did, but she will never admit that she has learned it. Taylor and Amy were not unmindful of what was due her, however. Taylor wrote her a very nice letter, asking her permission to marry her granddaughter and take her to South America, and her answer was low-down. He wrote as a gentleman should, and she answered as a lady shouldn't, for her answer was insulting, and a real lady never humiliates any one. After reading it Taylor told Amy to meet him at seven o'clock on Wednesday morning, and they would be married in the church with no one present but his brother (the only relative Taylor has in town is a bachelor brother), and the sexton, the minister, and me. She met and the marriage took place.
We didn't tell a soul about the marriage. The night before Amy spent with me at Rose Hill, and, thinking it best Taylor should not be there, I told him not to come, and sent the other boys home early. In my room I packed my suitcase and put in it two dresses I had never worn, which I was glad to do, as it would mean that much less to pack when I went home, and also I put in some other things; and though Amy cried a good deal and didn't think she ought to take them, she was very particular about how they went in. She is very neat and careful, and I'm fearfully quick, so it was well she watched me. I told her she was doing me a favor to dispossess me of what I didn't want and what was in my way, and as we were the same height, though Amy is a little thinner, owing to secret love and distress of mind, I knew the things would fit her, and I was more than glad to get rid of them. Also she didn't have any of her own convenient, and she might as well be sensible. She was, and put in her own tooth brush and powder and left the rest to me, and by eleven o'clock everything was ready.
When the next day the news flew around that the marriage had taken place and I had been the leading spirit in it, I went to bed and stayed there until the town had finished chewing me up, and then I came out again. It was the most sensible thing I ever did and saved a lot of talk and argument.
Another reason I went to bed was because I was so homesick and so lonely, and so something I had no name for, that I knew it was wiser to be by myself. I can't be much in life, but I can keep from being a nuisance, and when you feel you haven't a friend on earth outside of your family, who sometimes are queer also, you're apt to be a trial to those you come in contact with. For two whole days I stayed in my room and thought of nothing but a big, brawny, domineering, dictating girl from the West who was giving Billy no time to write letters; and though I would die before I would let anybody know it, even Jess, I nearly cried my eyes out under the bedclothes the day of the marriage.
Life is a poor thing at times. And it is never so poor as when you think a friend has failed you. There was nothing on earth that could have made me believe Billy would ever fail me when we had known each other since children, and he had saved my life three or four times; but how can I help believing it when he is letting a perfectly ordinary, straight-haired, large-footed girl from the West make him forget that I am living and spending the summer in Twickenham Town? If he had not forgotten, would he not write? He would. I am miserable and I will never be happy until I can say some things to William Spencer Sloane that he ought to hear. But I'm trying to keep my miserableness to myself. People aren't interested in other people's miseries. I wonder if I will ever again get a letter from Billy!
It is a perfectly magnificent thing to be alive! And this world is a perfectly glorious place to be alive in! There isn't a bird in Twickenham Town that isn't singing to-day, or a flower that isn't blooming, and, owing to the rain last night, the dust is laying. As for the sun—there couldn't be a more shining one, and the sky is a blue so gorgeous that it seems heaven turned inside out, and in the air is the snap of coolness that makes one want to walk and walk and walk, and its crispness means fall is coming. I love the fall. I can't think of anything I do not love to-day except Elizabeth Hamilton Carter and Grandmother Brandon, and I don't exactly abhor them. I just don't like them, and prefer to stay out of their way. But everybody else in town is a dear, and I wish I knew I was coming back next summer. That is—
It doesn't matter what is or what isn't. The thing that matters is that this morning I went to the post-office, as usual, but, what was not as usual, I got what I had long been looking for, and which had come not for endless, endless days. When I saw the big batch of letters and things from Billy, and knew that all my fears were at an end, I was so excited I could not speak without signs that shouldn't show, and, lest some one stop me, I put the mail inside my shirt-waist and hopped on Skylark and flew out of town.
I didn't stop until I got to a big chestnut-tree about three miles from Rose Hill, and there I took off Skylark's bridle and let her have all the grass she could eat, and then I sat down and sorted the letters out. There were four from Billy and twelve cards and two packages, and at first I couldn't understand why they had been held up, why I hadn't gotten them before; and then I saw they were postmarked from the same place, and had been mailed within three days of one another. That puzzled me, so I decided to open them and find out what was the matter—whether it was the Western girl or something else.
I ought to have known it was something else! And I have been wondering, ever since I read the letters and found out about the accident to Billy's eyes, when he came near being shot and the powder got in them and nearly put them out, why it is that people are so mistrusting and why we let one thing we can't understand make us forget what we ought to understand very well. Ten thousand kind things, right things, nice things we take for granted, and then at the first thing we think isn't kind or right or nice we forget the others and howl and snort about the one we do not like. At least that is what I did. Not outwardly, of course, but inwardly, for I'm pretty toplofty about being treated right, and I flare out and say things I shouldn't at times, and afterward I am so ashamed of myself that a worm of the dust is a perky animal to me for a few minutes. That condition of mind doesn't last very long, however. I am not by nature a humble-minded person. While it does last it is awful. Perfectly awful.
When I read Billy's letter I laid right down on the grass and put my face deep down in it, and there wasn't anything abominable that anybody could have said about me that I would not have agreed to. All the time I had been furious with him for not writing as usual, he had been shut up in a dark room, not able to see the food he was eating, much less able to write letters, and then when they took the bandages off he wrote so much they had to be put back again, and he was forbidden to write more than a few lines, which accounted for so many cards. He wouldn't let any one else write me, and I don't understand exactly how it happened except he saw a drunken man on the street waving a pistol, and there were some children around, and before the policeman could get to him Billy had caught his hand and the thing had gone off and some of the powder got in his eyes. He made light of it, but I know exactly what he did. I thought it was a Western product that was engrossing him, and it was the children he was trying to save. Oh, Billy, I'm a pig! A perfectly horrid pig!
And then I suddenly thought of the astonishing letter I had written about being in love and maybe engaged, and I prayed hard that he would never get it; but I knew it was too late for prayers. And then I got mad with Pat for writing to Jess about the girl from the West, and with Jess for writing what Pat had written, and not for some time did I come to my senses and realize I was the only person I had any right to get mad with. I got, all right. And then I wondered what to do. Billy said they would sail on the 21st and reach New York on the 29th, so I decided to go back to Rose Hill and begin to pack.
Father could not come to me, so I would go to Father and be home by the time Billy got there. It was only the 3d of September, but I decided I would leave as soon as I could do so without remarks being made about my going sooner than I expected, and to prevent remarks I would have to invent a good reason for getting away. Father's loneliness would make a perfect reason for Twickenham Town, and a most dutiful one, and no one would be apt to ask me why I hadn't thought of his loneliness before; but it wouldn't do for the family. They wanted me to stay out of the city as long as possible, and while I was wondering what I could do to get back, Mrs. Pettigrew passed with five of the children in the buggy and asked if I knew there was a telegram for me at the station. I told her I did not, and my heart got right where hearts always get when telegrams are mentioned, and in the twinkling of an eye Skylark's bridle was on and I on Skylark, and we raced like mad to town.
On the way I was thinking all the awful things that telegrams start one to thinking, and I remembered it was just eleven days since I had sent the letter to Billy, who had, of course, gotten it by this time, and, not realizing how fast I was going, I was at the station before it seemed possible to get there, and so out of breath I could not speak. I slipped off the horse and held out my hand to Mr. Pepper for the telegram, and when he handed me the yellow envelope I slid down on a bench and held it as if it were a death-warrant, and not for some time could I open it. I was positive it was about Mother, who wasn't very well when she last wrote, and everything I had ever done that I ought not to have done, and everything I had left undone which I should have done, walked right up in front of me and clutched me by the throat, and I had to shut my eyes to keep my head steady. I had inside the same sinky feeling I felt the first time I went to Europe, on the first day out.
Mr. Pepper was looking at me, and so were several other people who happened to be standing around, so I tried to get a grip on, and after awhile I opened the envelope; but at first I couldn't see the words on it. Finally I took them in after three times reading them over, and at last I understood.
Cut it out. You are engaged to me. Sailing to-morrow. See you September fifteenth.—BILLY.
There never was a sinner saved by grace who so wanted to make a noise as I wanted to make one when I got into my head what had happened. The relief from fear and the joyfulness of knowing I had been pulled out of another ditch made me dizzy for a moment, and down went my elbows into my lap and down my face into my hands, and not until Mr. Pepper said something to me did I lift my head and get up. Then I threw my riding-crop in the air, tossed up the Pepper baby, danced around with him, and, suddenly seeing all present were watching me, and knowing they felt they had a right to hear what was in the telegram without waiting for Mr. Pepper to tell them, I said an old friend of mine, who was anxious to know Twickenham Town, was coming to see it when he got back from Europe. After which I gave Mr. Pepper a little wink which he understood, and I am sure no one was told the wording of the message I had received. Mr. Pepper has a good deal of sense.
Happy? I was the happiest girl in all the world that day. I nearly sang my throat off when I got to my room, but I did not mention the telegram to anybody save Miss Susanna, and I didn't go into details with her about it. I just said a friend was coming to see me when he got back from Europe, and I said it in such a way she didn't think I was interested very much. She is so astonished by Elizabeth's behavior, and so surprised at her marriage, which is to be in November, that I don't think she paid any attention to what I said and got the impression it was a friend of Father's who was coming to Twickenham Town. I let her keep it. I did not give it to her knowingly, but there was no need to take it away.
And last night, not being able to sleep, I knew I had not been in love with Whythe at all. I don't know a thing in the world about being in love. I had tried to think I knew something, but I was mistaken. I must say I enjoyed hearing Whythe's crescendo, obligato, diminuendo way of making it, but I realize now I am not the sort of person to really fall in love with strange men. Certainly I could never do it with a wabbly, changery, one-or-the-othery kind of man that Whythe is, and while it was pretty scrumptious thinking a twenty-five-year-older was in love with me, I soon found out it was a summer case and not at all serious. And I am thankful I never thought I was enough in love to become engaged. There might have been things to remember that one likes to forget when the real one comes along, and I have nothing of that sort to be sorry for. I'm right particular at times.
If I am ever really and truly engaged I wonder if I will be as particular as a sixteen-year-old person, a girl person, ought to be? I guess it will depend on whom I am engaged to, but, of course, not being in love, I couldn't be engaged, and there is no use in thinking what I might do under circumstances that might warrant the doing of it, and when I see Billy I will just shake hands; that is—
Every time I think of his coming I feel like opening my arms so wide I could take the whole world in, but I don't open them. I just go look at the calendar to see if another day hasn't gone by yet. When this morning I saw it was the 14th and realized there wasn't but one more day to wait, I went to the window and did open my arms, and I sent a message into the air. And then, because I felt so sorry for Miss Araminta Armstrong, who has nothing to wait for but older age, and for Miss Bettie Simcoe, who has long since stopped hoping, I went down-stairs and asked them if they wouldn't like to motor to Glade Springs, and they said they would, and we went. Also Mr. Willie Prince. I didn't want to ask him, but I couldn't leave him out, and of course he wanted to go. The going made the day pass a little quicker, but it has been a long day! Awful long!
For the last week I have been going around to almost every house in town to say good-by. I don't know the exact day I will leave, as that will depend on when Mother says I must be home; but I didn't want to go away and not say good-by to everybody and tell them what a good time I have had, and I started telling very soon after I got Billy's message saying he was coming. I have thanked everybody for their niceness and kindness to me, and told every one I hope to come back next summer, and sometimes we have had little weeps, for they put their arms around me and held me so tight I could hardly breathe. And I know now there is nothing as good as friendliness, and loving-kindness is more to be desired than all things else on earth, and I am going to try to make it grow wherever I live. I will have a garden of it—have it in my heart.
I am afraid I will always have some practical things in my heart, too, for of late I've been thinking about all that money Billy had to spend in cabling me from Europe. When Billy wants to do a thing he never lets obstacles stand in his way, and he would have sent that cable if he'd had to borrow the money from the Bank of England at an awful rate of interest. What he did do I guess was to get it from his mother. She would take her head off and her heart out and hand both over if he wanted them, and it isn't her fault that William, as she calls him, isn't a ruined person.
I know she hated him to leave ahead of time, which he had to do to get here on the 15th, the rest not sailing, Jess says, until the 20th; but that's William again. He doesn't waste time when he has anything to attend to, and I know exactly what he said to his mother. He will make every arrangement and fix everything for them and then tell them good-by. He isn't much with words, Billy isn't. He acts. There's no fumble in him, and even his mother, who thinks his mold was broken when he was born and that the Lord never made but one like him, has to admit he is a high-handed person when occasion requires. I don't agree with his mother in a good many things concerning William, but in some I do. I wish he wasn't an only son. An only son for a husband is hard on a wife.
The thing I have been thinking about most since I got his cable, however, is a certain thing that was in it. I've worn the paper out reading it, and at first there was no argument in my mind, but it is coming, argument is. And though I know it is a bad habit, especially in girls and women and disliked by the other sex, how can you help it when things are said that are not so? Billy said, "You are engaged to me." How does he know? I never told him so. He hasn't exactly asked me—that is, in a way that I would answer him—and he always got so choky when on such subjects that I changed them quick, and yet he announces that I am his, and with never so much as by your leave!
I am afraid, I'm terribly afraid, I am going to agree with him. It's a relief to have some things settled for you, and as he imagines I will always be falling overboard, he doubtless thinks he had better keep a life-preserver on me in case he isn't near enough to jump in after me. He knows if I ever agree to put one on I will keep it on. I have a good deal of Father in me, and when I give my word I stick to it.
If any one had told me when I came to Twickenham Town that the chief thing I would find out before I went away was that I wouldn't really mind owning a life-preserver, my head would have gone up and I would have been as chesty as a hen who tries to crow; and now I'm nothing but a humble-minded person waiting for a high-handed one to come and take me back home. And I am perfectly willing to go. Another thing I have found out this summer is that it doesn't much matter where you are or what you are doing; whether there is purple and fine linen or just ancestors, or both together, or neither; if the one you want most isn't with you, you will be pretty lonely after a while.
I have had a grand time in Twickenham Town, but I don't want to come here again by myself. If Mrs. William Spencer Sloane wants to take her son away with her next summer, she won't be able to do it. Her son will be twenty-one next summer, and though I hope he will always be respectful and obedient, as far as possible, to his mother's wishes, still, she will have to remember there are other wishes in this world besides hers. I trust she will be nice about the discovery. Mrs. Sloane is a very handsome woman, but spoiled. And very fond of having her own way.
We are not apt to have much money, Billy and I. We have often said we thought young people ought to do their own scrambling, and I think that's what we'll have to do, as our fathers think much the same way. I'm not fond of herbs, but I can stand a dinner of them if Billy can, and besides, it will be nice for us to work up together and not have too quick a shove. And another thing we agree about. We know the thing that counts most, and we are going to keep a good deal of it on hand. Father says neither poverty nor riches can kill love if it is the right sort. I know Billy's is the right sort, but I am crazy to hear him put it into words.
He will have traveled thousands of miles to say something he could have written, to tell me I am engaged to him and I might as well understand it; but there won't be an extra sentence in the way he says it. He will be here to-morrow, and I bet the best thing I've got that all he will say is: "Kitty Canary, we are going to decide right now on the day and the month and the year. I will wait until you get through college, as you say I've got to, but I won't wait a day longer. Let's get a calendar and work it out."
And I, being a weak-minded person at times, will say, "All right, Billy," and then—