Caleb Kimball, as seen on his doorstep from Amanda Dalton's sink window, was but a speck, to be sure, but he was her nearest neighbor; if a person whose threshold you never cross, and who never crosses yours, can be called a neighbor. There were seldom or never meetings or greetings between the two, yet each unconsciously was very much alive to the existence of the other. In days or evenings of solitude one can make neighbors of very curious things.
The smoke of Amanda's morning fire cried "Shame" to Caleb's when it issued languidly from his kitchen chimney an hour later. Amanda's smoke was like herself, and betokened the brisk fire she would be likely to build; Caleb's showed wet wood, poor draught, a fallen brick in the chimney.
Later on in the morning Caleb's dog would sometimes saunter down the road and have a brief conversation with Amanda's cat. They were neither friends nor enemies, but merely enlivened a deadly, dull existence with a few casual remarks on current topics.
Once Caleb had possessed a flock of hens, but in the course of a few years they had dwindled to one lonely rooster, who stalked gloomily through the wilderness of misplaced objects in the Kimball yard, and wondered why he had been born.
Amanda pitied him, and flung him a surreptitious handful of corn from her apron pocket when she met him walking dejectedly in the road halfway between the two houses. So encouraged he extended his rambles, and one afternoon Amanda, looking out of her window, saw him stop at her gate and hold a tete-a-tete with one of her Plymouth Rock hens. The interview was brief but effective. In a twinkling he had told her of his miserable life and his abject need of sympathy.
"There are times," he said, "when, I give you my word, I would rather be stewed for dinner than lead my present existence! It is weak for me to trouble you with my difficulties, but you have always understood me from the first."
"Say no more," she replied. "I am a woman and pity is akin to love. The fowls of Amanda Dalton's flock do not need me as you do. Eleven eggs a day are laid here regularly, and I will go where my egg will be a daily source of pleasure and profit."
"The coop is draughty and the corn scarce," confessed the rooster, doing his best to be noble.
"I am of the sex created especially to supply companionship," returned the hen, "therefore I will accompany you, regardless of personal inconvenience."
Amanda saw the departure of the eloping couple and pursued them not.
"Land sakes!" she exclaimed, "if any male thing hereabouts has sprawl enough to go courtin' I'm willin' to encourage 'em. She'll miss her clean house and good food, I guess, but I ain't sure. She's 'women-folks' after all, and I shouldn't wonder a mite but she'd take real comfort in makin' things pleasanter up there for that pindlin', God-forsaken old rooster! She'll have her hands full, but there, I know what 'tis to get along with empty ones!"
There were not many such romances or comedies as these to enliven Amanda's mornings. Then afternoon would slip into twilight, darkness would creep over the landscape, and Amanda's light—clear, steady, bright, serene—would gleam from its place on the sink shelf through the kitchen window, over the meadow, "up to Kimball's." It was such a light as would stream from a well-trimmed lamp with a crystal clean chimney, but it met with small response from its neighbor's light during many months of the year. In late autumn and winter there would be a fugitive candle gleam upstairs in the Kimball house, and on stormy evenings a dull, smoky light in the living-room.
From the illumination in the Dalton sink window, Caleb thought Amanda sat in the kitchen evenings, but she didn't. She said she kept the second light there because she could afford it, and because the cat liked it. The cat enjoyed the black haircloth sofa in the sitting-room, afternoons, but she greatly preferred the kitchen for evening use; it made a change, and the high-backed cushioned rocker was then vacant. Amanda had nobody to consider but the cat, so she naturally deferred to her in every possible way. It was bad for the cat's character, but at least it kept Amanda from committing suicide, so what would you? Here was a woman of insistent, unflagging, unending activity. Amanda Dalton had energy enough to attend to a husband and six children—cook, wash, iron, churn, sew, nurse—and she lived alone with a cat. The village was a mile, and her nearest female neighbor, the Widow Thatcher, a half-mile away. She had buried her only sister in Lewiston years before, and she had not a relation in the world. All her irrepressible zeal went into the conduct of her house and plot of ground. Day after day, week after week, year after year, the established routine was carried through. First the washing of the breakfast dishes and the putting to rights of the kitchen, which was radiantly clean before she began upon it. Next her bedroom; the stirring-up of the cornhusk mattress, the shaking of the bed of live geese feathers, the replacing of cotton sheets, homespun blankets, and blue-and-white counterpane. Next came the sitting-room with its tall, red, flag-bottomed chairs, its two-leaved table, its light stand that held the Bible and work-basket and lamp. The chest of drawers and tall clock were piously dusted, and the frames of the Family Register, "Napoleon Crossing the Alps," and "Maidens Welcoming Washington in the Streets of Alexandria," were carefully wiped off. Once a week the parlor was cleaned, the tarlatan was lifted from the two plaster Samuels on the mantelpiece, their kneeling forms were cleaned with a damp cloth, the tarlatan replaced, and the parlor closed again reverently. There was kindling to chop, wood to bring in, the modest cooking, washing, ironing, and sewing to do, the flower-beds to weed, and the little vegetable garden to keep in order.
But Amanda had a quick foot, a neat hand, a light touch, and a peculiar faculty of "turning off" work so that it simply would not last through the day. Why did she never think of going to the nearest city and linking her powers with those of some one who would put them to larger uses? Simply because no one ever did that sort of thing in Bonny Eagle in those days. Girls crowded out of home by poverty sought employment here and there, but that a woman of forty, with a good home and ten acres of land—to say nothing of coupon bonds that yielded a hundred dollars a year in cash—that such a one should seek a larger field in a strange place, would have been thought flying in the face of Providence, as well as custom.
Outside Bonny Eagle, in the roar and din and clamor of cities, were all sorts of wrongs that needed righting, wounds that cried out to be healed. There were motherless children, there were helpless sufferers moaning for the sight of a green field, but the superfluous females of Amanda Dalton's day had not awakened to any sense of responsibility with regard to their unknown brothers and sisters.
Amanda was a large-hearted woman. She would have shared her soda biscuit, her bean soup, her dandelion greens, her hogshead cheese, her boiled dinner, her custard pie, with any hungry mortal, but no one in Bonny Eagle needed bite nor sup. Therefore she feather-stitched her dish-towels, piled her kindling in a "wheel pattern" in the shed, named her hens and made friends of them, put fourteen tucks in her unbleached cotton petticoats, and fried a pancake every Saturday for her cat.
"It's either that or blow your brains out, if you've got a busy mind!" she said grimly to Susan Benson, her best friend, who was passing a Saturday afternoon with her. It was chilly and they liked the cheerful warmth of the Saturday fire that was baking the beans and steaming the brown bread.
Susan unrolled her patchwork and, giving a flip to the cat with her thimble finger, settled herself comfortably in the kitchen rocker.
The cat leaped down and stalked into the next room with an air of offended majesty, as much as to say: "Of all the manners I ever saw, that woman has the worst! She contrives to pass by three empty chairs and choose the one I chance to be occupying!"
"You wouldn't be so lonesome if you could see a bit of life from your house, Mandy," said Mrs. Benson. "William an' I were sayin' last night you'd ought to move into the village winters, though nothin' could be handsomer than the view from your sink window this minute. Daisies, daisies everywhere! How do you manage to keep 'em out o' your place, Mandy, when they're so thick on Caleb Kimball's?"
"I just root an' root, an' keep on rootin'," Amanda responded cheerfully, "though I don't take a mite o' pride out of it, for the better my place looks the worse his does, by comparison."
"It is a sight!" said Mrs. Benson, standing for a moment by the sink and looking up to Kimball's.
"I went up there one night after dark, when I knew Caleb 'd gone to Hixam, an' I patched up some o' the holes in his stone wall, thinkin' his whiteweed seeds wouldn't blow through quite so thick!"—and Amanda joined Mrs. Benson at the window. "I'd 'a' done a day's work on his side o' the wall as lief as not, only I knew folks would talk if they saw me."
"Land, no, they wouldn't, Mandy. Everybody knows you wouldn't take him if he was the last man on earth; an' as for Caleb, I guess he wouldn't marry any woman above ground, not if she was a seraphim. I used to think he'd spunk up some time or other, when he got over his mother's death; but it's too late now, I'm afraid."
"Caleb set great store by his mother; that's one good thing about him," said Amanda.
"He did for certain," agreed Mrs. Benson. "If that girl he was engaged to hadn't 'a' spoken disrespectful to her in his hearin' there'd 'a' been a wife an' children up there now an' the place would 'a' looked diff'rent."
"Not so very diff'rent! He didn't lose much in Eliza Johnson. I guess he knows that by now!" remarked Amanda serenely; "though I s'pose 't was quarrelin' with her that set him runnin' down hill, all the same."
"I never thought he cared anything about Eliza. She was determined to have him, an' he was too lazy to say no, but you see in the end she only got her labor for her pains. The Kimball boys never had any luck with their love affairs. When Caleb an' his mother was left alone, she was terrible anxious for him to marry. She was allers findin' girls for him, but part of 'em wouldn't look at him, and he wouldn't make up to any of 'em."
"I was livin' in Lewiston those years," said Amanda.
"I remember you was. Well, when old Mrs. Kimball broke her arm, Charles, the youngest son, that was a stage-driver, determined he'd get somebody for Caleb, for his own wife wouldn't lift her finger to help 'bout the house. He saw a girl up to Steep Falls that he kind o' liked the looks of, an' he offered her a ride down to his mother's to spend the day, thinkin' if the family liked her she might do for Caleb. However, her eyes was weak an' she didn't know how to milk, so they thought she'd better go home by train. That would 'a' been fair enough for both parties, but when Charles drove her to the station he charged her fifteen cents an' it made an awful sight o' talk. She had a hot temper, an' she kind o' resented it!"
"I dare say 't wa'n't so," commented Amanda; "but everybody's dead that could deny it, except Caleb, and he wouldn't take the trouble."
"It's one of the days when he's real drove, ain't it?" asked Susan sarcastically, as she looked across the field to the wood-pile where a gray-shirted figure sat motionless. "If ever a man needed a wife to patch the seat of his pants, it's Caleb Kimball! I guess it's the only part of his clothes he ever wears out. He wa'n't like that before his mother died; the wheels seemed to stop in him then an' there. He was queer an' strange an' shy, but I never used to think he'd develop into a reg'lar hermit. She'd turn in her grave, Mis' Kimball would, to see him look as he does. I don't s'pose he gets any proper nourishment. The smartest man in the world won't take the trouble to make pie for himself, yet he'll eat it 's long 's he can stan' up! Caleb's mother was a great pie-baker. I can see her now, shovelin' 'em in an' out o' the oven Saturdays, with her three great black lanky boys standin' roun' waitin' for 'em to cool off.—'Only one, mother?' Caleb used to say, kind o' wheedlin'ly, while she laughed up at him leanin' against the door-frame.—'What's one blueb'ry pie amongst me?'"
"He must 'a' had some fun in him once," smiled Amanda.
"They say women-folks ain't got no sense o' humor," remarked Mrs. Benson, with a twitch of her thread. "I notice the men that live without 'em don't seem to have any! We may not amount to much, but we're somethin' to laugh at."
"Why don't you bake him a pie now an' then, an' send it up, Susan?" asked Amanda.
"Well, there, I don't feel I hardly know him well enough, though William does. I dare say he wouldn't like it, an' he'd never think to return the plate, so far away.—Besides, there never is an extry pie in a house where there's a man an' three boys; which reminds me I've got to go home an' make one for breakfast, with nothin' to make it out of."
"I could lend you a handful o' dried plums."
"Thank you; I'll take 'em an' much obliged. I declare it seems to me, now the rhubarb's 'bout gone, as if the apples on the trees never would fill out enough to drop off. There does come a time in the early summer, after you're sick of mince, 'n' squash, 'n' punkin, 'n' cranberry, 'n' rhubarb, 'n' custard, 'n' 't ain't time for currant, or green apple, or strawb'ry, or raspb'ry, or blackb'ry—there does come a time when it seems as if Providence might 'a' had a little more ingenuity in plannin' pie-fillin'!—You might bake a pie for Caleb now an' then yourself, Mandy; you're so near."
"Mrs. Thatcher lives half a mile away," replied Amanda; "but I couldn't carry Caleb Kimball a pie without her knowin' it an' makin' remarks. I'd bake one an' willin' if William 'd take it to him; but there, 't would only make him want another. He's made his bed an' he's got to lie on it."
"He lays on his bed sure enough, an' most o' the time probably—but do you believe he ever makes it?"
Amanda shuddered. "I don't know, Susan; it's one o' the things that haunts me; whether he makes it or whether he don't."
"Do you ever see any wash hung out?" Mrs. Benson's needle stopped in midair while she waited for Amanda's answer.
"Ye-es; now an' then."
"Sheets; once a gray blanket; underclothes; but naturally I don't look when they're hung out. He generally puts 'em on the grass, anyway."
"Well, it's a sin for a man to live so in a Christian country, an' the kindest thing to say about him is that he's crazy. Some o' the men folks over to the store declare he is crazy; but William declares he ain't. He says he's asleep. William kind o' likes him. Does he ever pass the time o' day with you?"
"Hardly ever. I meet him once or twice a year, maybe, in the road. He bows when I go past on an errand an' holds on to his dog when he tries to run out an' bite me."
"That's real kind o' gentlemanly," observed Susan.
"I never thought of it that way," said Amanda absently; "but perhaps it is. All I can say is, Caleb Kimball's a regular thorn in my flesh. I can't do anything for him, an' I can't forget him, right under foot as he is—his land joinin' mine. Mornin', noon, an' night for years I've wanted to get into that man's house an' make it decent for him; wanted to milk the cow the right time o' day; feed the horse; weed the garden; scrub the floor; wash the windows; black the stove."
"How you do go on, Mandy!" exclaimed Mrs. Benson. "What diff'rence does it make to you how dirty he is, so long's you're clean?"
"It does make a diff'rence, an' it always will. I hate to see the daisies growin' so thick, knowin' how he needs hay. I want to root 'em out same's I did mine, after I'd been away three years in Lewiston. I hate to take my pot o' beans out o' the oven Saturday nights an' know he ain't had gumption enough to get himself a Christian meal. Livin' alone 's I do, Susan, things 'bulk up' in my mind bigger'n they'd ought to."
"They do so," agreed Susan; "an' you mustn't let 'em. You must come over to our house oftener. You know William loves to have you, an' so do the boys. The Bible may insinuate we are our brother's keeper, but we can't none of us help it if he won't be kept!—There, I must be gettin' home. I've had considerable many reminders the last half-hour that it's about time! It's none o' my business, Mandy, but you do spoil that cat, an' the time's not far off when he won't be a mite o' comfort to you. Of course, I'm too intimate here to take offense, but if the minister should happen to set in this chair when he calls, an' see that cat promenade round an' round the rockers an' then rustle off into the settin'-room as mad as Cuffy, he'd certainly take notice an' think he wa'n't a welcome visitor."
"Like mistress, like cat!" sighed Amanda. "Tristram an' I get awful set in our ways."
"Kind o' queer, Mandy, namin' a cat for your grandfather," Mrs. Benson observed anxiously as she opened the door. "William an' me don't want you to get queer."
"I ain't got anything better 'n a cat to name for grandfather," said poor Amanda, in a tone that set her friend Susan thinking as she walked homeward.
The summer wore along and there came a certain Tuesday different from all the other Tuesdays in that year, or in all the forty years that had gone before—a Tuesday when the Kimball side door was not opened in the morning. No smoke issued from the chimney all day. The rooster and his kidnapped hen flew up from the steps and pecked at the door panels vigorously. Seven o'clock in the evening came, then eight, and no light to be seen anywhere. The dog howled; the horse neighed; the cow lowed ominously in the closed barn. At nine o'clock Amanda took a lantern and sped across the field, found a pail in the shed, slipped into the barn, milked the cow, gave the beasts hay and water, and leaving the pail of milk on the steps, went quietly home again, anxious lest she had done too much, anxious also lest she had not done enough.
Next morning she stationed herself at her kitchen window and took account of her signs. The milk-pail was overturned on the steps, the rooster and hen perching on the rim, but there was no smoke coming from the chimney. She thought quickly as she did everything else. She waited long enough to make a cup of coffee, then she slipped out of her door and up to Kimball's. Her apron was full of kindling, and on her arm she carried a basket with a package of herbs, a tiny bottle of brandy, one of cologne, some arrowroot and matches, a cake of hard soap and a clean towel, bones for the dog and corn for the hen.
Caleb's door was unlocked. The dog came out of the shed evincing no desire to bark or bite. The kitchen was empty, and—she thanked the Lord silently, as she gave a hasty glance about—not as dreadful as she had anticipated. Untidy beyond words, bare, dreary, cheerless, but not repulsively dirty. She stole softly through the lower part of the house, and then with a beating heart went up the uncarpeted stairs. At the head was an open door that showed her all she expected and feared to find. The sun streamed in at the dusty, uncurtained window over the motionless body of Caleb Kimball, who lay in a strange, deep sleep, unconscious, on the bed. His hair was raven black against the pillow and the lashes on his cheeks looked more 'n a yard long, Amanda told Susan Benson. (She afterward confessed that this was a slight exaggeration due to extreme excitement.) She spoke his name three times, but he did not stir. She must get the doctor and send for William Benson, that was clear; but first she must try her hand at improving the immediate situation.
Stealing downstairs she tied on her apron and lighted a fire in the kitchen stove, with the view of making things respectable before gossipy neighbors came in. Her sister used to say that the minute Amanda tied on her apron things began to move and take a turn for the better, and it was so now. She poured a few drops of cologne into a basin of water, and putting the towel over her arm went upstairs to Caleb's bedside.
"I've done him wrong," she thought remorsefully as she noted his decent night-clothing and bedding. "He ain't lost his self-respect in all these years, and every soul in Bonny Eagle thought he was living like an animal!"
She bathed his face and throat and hands, then moistened and smoothed his hair without provoking a movement or a sound. He seemed in a profound stupor, but there was no stertorous breathing. Straightening the bedclothes and giving a hasty wipe to the tops of the pine bureau and table, she opened the window and closed the blinds. At this moment she spied one of the Thatcher boys going along the road, and ran down to the gate to ask him to send William Benson and the doctor as soon as possible.
"Tell them Miss Dalton says please to come quick; Caleb Kimball's very sick," she said.
"Don't you need mother, too?" asked the boy. "She's wanted to git into his house for years, and she'd do most anything for the chance."
"No, thank you," said Amanda pitilessly. "I can do everything for the present, and Mr. Benson will probably want his wife, if anybody."
"All right," said the boy as he started off on a dog-trot. News was rare in Bonny Eagle, and Caleb Kimball was a distinguished and interesting figure in village gossip.
Amanda Dalton had never had to hurry in her life. That was one of her crosses, for there probably never was a woman who could do more in less time. It was an hour and a half before William Benson came, and in those ninety minutes she had swept the kitchen and poured a pail or two of hot soap-suds over the floor, that may have felt a mop, but certainly had not known a scrubbing-brush for years. She tore down the fly-specked, tattered, buff shades, and washed the three windows; blackened the stove; fed the dog and horse; milked the cow; strained the milk and carried it down cellar; making three trips upstairs in the meantime to find no change in the patient. His lids stayed down as though they were weighted with lead, his long arms lay motionless on the counterpane.
Amanda's blood coursed through her veins like lightning. Here was work to her hand; blessed, healing work for days, perhaps weeks to come. In these first moments of emotional excitement I fear she hoped it would be a long case of helpless invalidism, during which it would be her Christian duty to clean the lower part of the house and perhaps make some impression on the shed; but this tempting thought was quickly banished as she reflected that Caleb Kimball was a bachelor, and the Widow Thatcher the person marked out by a just but unsympathetic Providence for sick-nurse and housekeeper.
"She shan't come!" thought Amanda passionately. "I'll make the doctor ask me to take charge. William Benson shall stay here nights an' Susan will run in now an' then daytimes, or I'll get little Abby Thatcher to do the rough work an' keep me company; then her mother won't make talk."
"I don't know exactly what's the matter with the man," confessed the doctor, when he came. "There's a mark and a swelling on the back of his head as if he might have fallen somewhere. He hasn't got any pulse and he's all skin and bone. He's starved out, I guess, and his machinery has just stopped. He wants nursing and feeding and all the things a woman can do for him. The Lord never intended men-folks to live alone!"
"If they ain't got wit enough to find that out for themselves it ain't likely any woman'll take the trouble to tell 'em!" exclaimed Amanda with some spirit.
"Don't get stuffy, Amanda! Just be a good Christian and take hold here for a few days till we see whether we've got to have a nurse from Portland. Man's extremity is God's opportunity; maybe Caleb'll come to his senses before he gets over this sickness."
"I wonder if he ever had any senses?" said Amanda.
"Plenty," the doctor answered as he prepared the medicines; "but he hasn't used them for twenty years.—I'll come back in an hour and fetch Bill Benson with me. Then I'll stay till I can bring Caleb back to consciousness. We shall have to get him downstairs as soon as he can be moved; it will be much easier to take care of him there."
* * * * *
The details of Caleb Kimball's illness would be such as fill a nurse's bedside record book. The mainspring of life had been snapped and the machinery refused to move for a long time. When he recovered consciousness his solemn black eyes followed Amanda Dalton's movements as if fascinated, but he spoke no word save a faltering phrase or two at night to William Benson.
Meantime much had been happening below-stairs, where Amanda Dalton reigned supreme, with Susan Benson and Abby Thatcher taking turns in housework or nursing. William Benson was a painter by trade, and Amanda's ingenious idea was to persuade him to paint and paper the Kimball kitchen before Caleb was moved downstairs.
This struck William as a most extraordinary and unnecessary performance.
"Israel in Egypt!" he exclaimed. "What's the matter with you women? I never heard o' such goin's-on in my life! I might lay abed a thousand years an' nobody'd paint my premises. Let Caleb git his strength back an' then use a little elbow grease on his own house—you can't teach an old dog new tricks, Susan!"
"'Pends on how old the dog is, an' what kind o' tricks you want to teach him," Susan replied. "It'd be a queer dog that wouldn't take to a clean kennel, or three good meals a day 'stead o' starvation vittles. Amanda says it may be a kind of a turnin'-point in Caleb's life, an' she thinks we'd ought to encourage him a little."
"Ain't I encouragin' him by sleepin' on his settin'-room lounge every night an' givin' him medicine every two hours by the alarm clock? I've got my own day's work to do; when would I paint his kitchen, I'd like to know?"
"We thought probably you'd like to do it nights," suggested his wife timidly.
"Saul in Tarsus! Don't that beat the devil?" ejaculated William. "Caleb Kimball ain't done a good day's work for years, an' I'm to set up nights paintin' his kitchen!" Nevertheless the magnificent impertinence of the idea so paralyzed his will that he ended by putting on twelve single rolls of fawn-colored paper and painting the woodwork yellow to harmonize, working from eight to twelve several nights and swearing freely at his own foolishness.
By this time Amanda had made the downstairs chamber all tidy and comfortable for the patient. She had contributed a window shade and dimity curtains; Susan a braided rug and a chair cushion. The chamber (the one in which Caleb's mother had died) opened from the kitchen and commanded an enticing view of the fresh yellow walls and shining cook-stove. On the day before Caleb's removal Amanda sat on the foot of the bed and looked through the doorway with silent joy, going to and fro to move a bright tin dipper into plainer view or retire a drying dish-cloth to greater privacy.
Even Abby Thatcher was by this time a trifle exhilarated. She did not understand the situation very well, being of a sternly practical nature herself, but she caught the enthusiasm of the two women and scrubbed the kitchen floor faithfully every morning in order to remove the stains of years of neglect.
"You wouldn't think your old hen 'd be such a fool, Miss Dalton," she said; "but I kind o' surmised the reason she's been missin', an' I found her to-day in a corner o' the haymow sittin' on five eggs. Now, wouldn't you s'pose at her age she'd know better than to try an' raise chickens in October?"
"I'm afraid they'll die if it should be a cold fall, with nobody to look after 'em; but maybe I can take 'em home to my shed an' lend Mr. Kimball another hen." (Amanda's tone was motherly.) "I never like to break up a hen's nest, somehow; it seems as if they must have feelin's like other folks."
"I'd take her off quicker'n scat, an' keep takin' her off, till she got some sense," said Abby, with the Chinese cruelty of sixteen.
"Well, you let her be till Mr. Kimball gets well enough to ask; an' I think, Abby, you might clean up the dooryard just a little mite this mornin'," suggested Amanda. "If you could straighten up the fence an' find a couple of old hinges to hang the gate with, it would kind o' put new heart into Mr. Kimball when he's sittin' up an' lookin' out the window."
"Why didn't he put heart into hisself by hangin' his own gate, before he took sick?" grumbled Abby, reducing Amanda to momentary silence by her pitiless logic.
"Why didn't he, indeed?" echoed her heart gloomily, receiving nothing in the way of answer from her limited experience of men.
Caleb had spoken more frequently the last few days. When by the combined exertions of the Bensons and the doctor he had been brought down into his mother's old room, Amanda closed the kitchen door, thinking one experience at a time was enough for a man in his weak and exhausted condition. William Benson couldn't see any sense in this precaution, but he never did see much sense in what women-folks did. He wanted to show Caleb the new paint and paper immediately, and remark casually that he had done all the work while he was "night-nursin'."
The next morning Amanda had seized a good opportunity to open the door between the two rooms, straightway retiring to the side entry to await developments. In a few moments she heard Caleb moving, and going in found him half sitting up in bed, leaning on his elbow.
"What's the matter with the kitchen?" he asked feebly, staring with wide-open eyes at the unaccustomed prospect.
"Only fresh paint an' paper; that's William's work."
"O God, I ain't worth it! I ain't worth it!" he groaned as he hid his face in the pillow.
"Have you been here all the time?" he asked Amanda when she brought him his gruel later in the day.
"Yes, off an' on, when I could get away from my own work."
"Who found me?"
"I did. I knew by the looks somethin' was wrong up here."
"Somethin' wrong, sure enough, an' always was!" Amanda heard him mutter as he turned his face to the wall.
The next day he opened his eyes suddenly as she was passing through the room.
"Did you make that pie William Benson brought me last month?"
"What made you think I did?"
"Oh, I don't know; it looked, an' it tasted like one o' yours," he said, closing his eyes again. "If you know a woman, you can tell her pie, somehow!"
When had Caleb Kimball ever tasted any of her cooking? A mysterious remark, but everything he said sounded a trifle lightheaded.
His questions came back to her when she was waiting for William Benson at twilight that same day.
Caleb had been sleeping quietly for an hour or more. Amanda was standing at the stove stirring his arrowroot gruel. The kitchen was still.
A smothered "miaow" and the scratching of claws on wood arrested her attention, and she went hurriedly to the door.
"Tristram Dalton; what are you up here for, away from your own home?" she exclaimed.
Tristram vouchsafed no explanation of his appearance, but his demeanor spoke louder than words to Amanda's guilty conscience, as he walked in.
"No shelter for me but the shed these days!" he seemed to say. "Instead of well-served meals, a cup of milk set here or there!"
He made the circuit of the kitchen discontentedly and finding nothing to his taste went into the adjoining room, and after walking over the full length of Caleb's prostrate form curled himself up in a hollow at the foot of the bed.
"I've neglected him!" thought Amanda; "but his turn'll come again soon enough," and she bent her eyes on the gruel.
The blue bowl sat in the pan of hot water on the stove, and she stirred and stirred, slowly, regularly, continuously, in order that the arrowroot should be of a velvety smoothness.
The days were drawing in, and the October sun was setting very yellow, sending a flood of light over her head and shoulders. She wore her afternoon dress of alpaca, with a worked muslin collar and cuffs and a white apron tied round her trim waist. She was one of your wholesome shining women and her bright brown hair glistened like satin.
Caleb's black eyes looked yearningly at her as she stood there all unconscious, doing one of her innumerable neighborly kindnesses for him.
She made a picture of sweet, strong, steady womanliness, although she did not know it. Caleb knew something extraordinary was going on inside of him, but under what impulse he was too puzzled and inexperienced to say.
Amanda turned sharply at the sound of his voice as she was lifting the steaming arrowroot out of the water.
"Whose cat is this?"
"Mine.—Come off that bed, Tristram!"
"Don't disturb him; I like to have him there.—Where's Abby Thatcher?"
"She's gone home on an errand; she'll be back in fifteen minutes now."
"It's only five o'clock. He don't come till six. What can I get for you? Have you had a good sleep?"
She set the gruel on the back of the stove and went in to his bedside.
"I don't sleep much; I just lie an' think ... Amanda, ... now, they're all away, ... if I get over this spell, ... an' take a year to straighten up an' get hold o' things like other folks, ... do you think ... you'd risk ... marryin' me?"
There was a moment's dead silence; then Amanda said, turning pale: "Are you in your right mind, Caleb Kimball?"
"I am, but I don't wonder at your askin'," said the man humbly. "I've kind o' fancied you for years; but you've always been way down there across the fields, out o' reach!"
"I'm too amazed to think it out," faltered Amanda.
"Don't you think it out, for God's sake, or you'll never do it!" He caught at her hand as if it had been a life-line—her kind, smooth hand, the helpful hand with the bit of white cambric bound round a finger burned in his service.
"It was the kitchen that put the courage into me," he went on feverishly. "I laid here an' thought: 'If she can make a house look so different in a week, what could she do with a man?'"
"I ain't afraid but I could," stammered Amanda; "if the man would help—not hinder."
"Just try me, Amanda. I wouldn't need a year—honest, I wouldn't—I could show you in three months!"
Caleb's strength was waning now. His head dropped forward and Amanda caught it on her breast. She put one arm round his shoulders to keep him from falling back, while her other hand supported his head. His cheek was wet and as she felt the tears on her palm, mutely calling to her strength, all the woman in her gathered itself together and rushed to meet the man's need.
"If only ... you could take me ... now ... right off," he faltered; "before anything happens ... to prevent? I'd be good to you ... till the day I die!"
"I ain't afraid to risk it, Caleb," said Amanda. "I'll take you now when you need me the most. We'll just put our two forlorn houses together an' see if we can make 'em into a home!"
Caleb gave one choking sob of content and gratitude. His hand relaxed its clasp of Amanda's; his head dropped and he fainted.
William Benson came in just then.
"What's the matter?" he cried, coming quickly toward the bed. "Has he had a spell? He was so much better last night I expected to see him settin' up!"
"He'll come to in a minute," said Amanda. "Give me the palm-leaf fan. We're goin' to be married in a day or so, an' he got kind of excited talkin' it over."
"Moses in the bulrushes!" ejaculated William Benson, sitting down heavily in the nearest chair.
William Benson was not a sentimental or imaginative person, and he confessed he couldn't make head nor tail out o' the affair; said it was the queerest an' beatin'est weddin' that ever took place in Bonny Eagle; didn't know when they fixed it up, nor how, nor why, if you come to that. Amanda Dalton had never had a beau, but she was the likeliest woman in the village, spite o' that, an' Caleb Kimball was the onlikeliest man. Amanda was the smartest woman, an' Caleb the laziest man. He kind o' thought Amanda 'd married Caleb so 't she could clean house for him; but it seemed an awful high price to pay for a job. He guessed she couldn't bear to have his everlastin' whiteweed seedin' itself into her hayfield, an' the only way she could stop it was to marry him an' weed it out. He thought, too, that Caleb had kind o' got int' the habit o' watchin' Mandy flyin' about down to her place. There's nothin' so fascinatin' as to set still an' see other folks work. The critter was so busy, an' so diff'rent from him, mebbe it kind o' tantalized him.
The Widow Thatcher was convinced that Mandy must have gone for Caleb hammer 'n' tongs when he was too weak to hold out against her. No woman in her sober senses would paper a man's kitchen for him unless she intended to get some use out of it herself. "We don't know what the disciples would 'a' done," she said, "nor the apostles, nor the saints, nor the archangels; we only know what women-folks would 'a' done, and there ain't one above ground that would 'a' cleaned Caleb Kimball's house without she expected to live in it."
Susan Benson had a vague instinct with regard to the real facts of the case, but even she mustered up courage to ask Amanda once how the wonderful matter came about.
Amanda looked at Mrs. Benson with some embarrassment, for she was not good at confidences.
"Susan, you an' I've been brought up together, gone to school together, experienced religion an' joined the church together, an' I stood up with you an' William when you was married, so 't I'd speak out freer to you than I would to most."
"I hope so, I'm sure."
"Though I wouldn't want you to repeat anything, Susan."
"'Tain't likely I would, Mandy."
"Well, I'd no sooner got Caleb into a clean bed an' a clean room an' begun to feed him good food than I begun to like him. There's things in human hearts that I ain't wise enough to explain, Susan, an' I ain't goin' to try. Caleb Kimball seemed to me like a man that was drownin', all because there wa'n't anybody near to put a hand under his chin an' keep his head out o' water. I didn't suspicion he'd let me do it! I thought he'd just lie there an' drown, but it didn't turn out that way."
"Well, it does kind o' seem as if you'd gone through the woods o' life to pick up a crooked stick at last," sighed Susan; "though I will say, now I've been under Caleb Kimball's roof, he's an awful sight nicer man close to than he is fur off. So, take it all in all, life an' men-folks bein' so uncertain, an' old age a-creepin' on first thing you know, perhaps it's for the best; an' I do hope you'll make out to be happy, Mandy."
There was a quiver of real feeling in Susan Benson's voice, though she made no movement to touch her friend's hand.
"I'm goin' to be happy!" said Amanda cheerfully. "I always did like plenty to do, an' now I've got it for the rest o' my life!"
"I only hope you can stan' his ways, Amandy," and Susan's voice was still doubtful. "That's all I'm afraid of; that you're so diff'rent you can't never stan' his ways."
"He won't have so many ways when we've been married a spell," said Amanda.
HULDAH THE PROPHETESS
"And they went unto Huldah the Prophetess and communed with her"
Huldah Rumford leaned from her bedroom window as she finished plaiting her hair.
The crowing of the white Brahma rooster had interrupted her toilet and she craned her neck impatiently until she discovered that he had come from the hen-yard in the rear and established himself on the doorsteps, from which dominating position he was announcing his message.
"That means company coming, and I hope it's true," she said to herself, as she looked absent-mindedly in the old-fashioned looking glass, with its picture of Washington crossing the Delaware.
Her thoughts were evidently wandering, for she took her petticoat from a hook in the closet and pulling it over her head found, when she searched for the buttons in the waistband, that she had it on wrong-side out.
"I don't care!" she exclaimed, giving the unoffending garment an angry twitch, "but it does seem as if I was possessed! I can't keep my mind on my clothes long enough to get them on straight! I turned my petticoat yesterday, in spite of knowing it brings bad luck, but to-day I just won't take the chance."
The pink calico morning dress went on without adventure. Then she carefully emptied the water from the wash-bowl into the jar, wiped it neatly and hung the towel to dry; straightened the photograph of her deceased father in its black-walnut frame; shook the feather bed and tightened a sagging cord under the cornhusk mattress; took the candlestick from the light-stand by her bedside and tripped down the attic stairs two at a time.
Huldah was seventeen, which is a good thing; she was bewitchingly pretty, which is a better thing; and she was in love, which is probably the best thing of all, making due allowance, of course, for the occasions in which it is the worst possible thing that can happen to anybody.
Mrs. Rumford was in the kitchen frying doughnuts for breakfast. She was a comfortable figure as she stood over the brimming "spider" with her three-pronged fork poised in the air. She turned the yellow rings in the hissing fat until they were nut-brown, then dropped them for a moment into a bowl of powdered sugar, from which they issued the most delicious conspirators against the human stomach that can be found in the catalogue of New England cookery.
The table was neatly laid near the screen door that opened from the kitchen into the apple-orchard. A pan of buttermilk biscuits was sitting on the back of the stove, and half a custard pie, left from the previous night's supper, held the position of honor in front of Mrs. Rumford's seat. If the pie had been cereal, the doughnuts omelette, and the saleratus biscuits leavened bread, the plot and the course of this tale might have been different; but that is neither here nor there.
"Did you hear the Brahma rooster crowing on the doorstep, mother?" asked Huldah.
"No; but I ain't surprised, for I can't seem to keep my dish-cloth in my hand this morning; if I've dropped it once I've dropped it a dozen times: there's company coming, sure."
"That rooster was crowin' on the fence last time I seen him, and he's up there ag'in now," said little Jimmy Rumford, with the most offensive skepticism.
"What if he is?" asked his sister sharply. "That means fair weather, and don't interfere with the sign of company coming; it makes it all the more certain."
"I bet he ain't crowin' about Pitt Packard," retorted Jimmy, with a large joy illuminating his sunburnt face. "Pitt ain't comin' home from Moderation this week; he's gone to work on the covered bridge up there."
Huldah's face fell.
"I'd ought to have known better than to turn my white skirt yesterday," she sighed. "I never knew it to fail bringing bad luck. I vow I'll never do it again."
"That's one o' the signs I haven't got so much confidence in," said Mrs. Rumford, skimming the cream from a pan of milk into the churn and putting the skimmed milk on the table. "It don't come true with me more 'n three times out o' five, but there's others that never fails. You jest hold on, Huldy; the dish-cloth and the rooster knows as much 'bout what's goin' to happen as your white petticoat does."
"Jest about as much," interpolated Jimmy, with his utterance somewhat choked by hot doughnut.
Huldah sat down at the table and made a pretense of eating something, but her heart was heavy within her.
"What are you churning for on Friday, mother?" she asked.
"Why, I told you I am looking for strangers. It ain't Pitt Packard only that I expect. Yesterday mornin' I swept a black mark on the floor; in the afternoon I found two o' the settin'-room chairs standin' back to back, and my right hand kep' itchin' all day, so't I knew I was goin' to shake hands with somebody."
"You told me 't was the left hand," said Jimmy.
"I never told you no such thing, Jimmy Rumford. Eat your breakfast, and don't contradict your mother, or I'll send you to bed quick 's you finish eatin'. Don't you tell me what I said nor what I didn't say, for I won't have it. Do you hear me?"
"You did!" responded Jimmy obstinately, preparing to dodge under the table in case of sudden necessity. "You said your left hand itched, and it meant money comin', and you hoped Rube Hobson was goin' to pay you for the turkey he bought a year ago last Thanksgivin'-time, so there!"
"So I did," said the widow reflectively. "Come to think of it, so I did; it must 'a' been a Wednesday my right hand kep' itchin' so."
"And comp'ny didn't come a Wednesday neither," persevered Jimmy.
"Jimmy Rumford, if you don't behave yourself and speak when you're spoken to, and not before, you'll git a trouncin' that you'll remember consid'able of a spell afterwards."
"I'm ready for it!" replied the youngster, darting into the shed and peeping back into the kitchen with a malignant smile. "I dreamt o' Baldwin apples last night.
'Dream fruit out o' season, That's anger without reason.'
I knew when I got up you'd get mad with me the first thing this morning, and I'm all prepared—when you ketch me!"
Both women gave a sigh of relief when the boy's flying figure disappeared around the corner of the barn. He was morally certain to be in mischief wherever he was, but if he was out of sight there was one point gained at least.
"Why do you care so dreadfully whether Pitt comes or not?" asked Mrs. Rumford, now that quiet was restored, "If he don't come to-day, then he'll come a Sunday; and if he don't come this Sunday, then he'll come the next one, so what's the odds? You and him didn't have a fallin' out last time he was home, did you?"
"Yes, if you must know it, we did."
"Haven't you got any common sense, Huldy? Sakes alive! I thought when I married Daniel Rumford, if I could stand his temper it was nobody's business but my own. I didn't foresee that he had so much he could keep plenty for his own use, and then have a lot left to hand down to his children, so 't I should have to live in the house with it to the day of my death! Seems to me if I was a girl and lived in a village where men-folks is as scarce as they be here, I'd be turrible careful to keep holt of a beau after I'd got him. What in the name o' goodness did you quarrel about?"
Huldah got up from the table and carried her plate and cup to the sink. She looked out of the window to conceal her embarrassment, and busied herself with preparations for the dish-washing, so that she could talk with greater freedom.
"We've had words before this, plenty of times, but they didn't amount to anything. Pitt's good, and he's handsome, and he's smart; but he's awful dictatorial and fault-finding, and I just ain't goin' to eat too much humble-pie before I'm married, for fear I won't have anything else to eat afterwards, and it ain't very fattening for a steady diet. And if there ever was a hateful old woman in the world it's his stepmother. I've heard of her saying mean things about our family every once in a while, but I wouldn't tell you for fear you'd flare up and say Pitt couldn't come to see me. She's tried to set him against me ever since we began to keep company together. She's never quite managed to do it, but she's succeeded well enough to keep me in continual trouble."
"What's she got to say?" inquired Mrs. Rumford hotly. "She never had a silk dress in the world, till Eben Packard married her, and everybody knows her father was a horse-doctor and mine was a reg'lar one!"
"She didn't say anything about fathers, but she did tell Almira Berry that no member of the church in good standing could believe in signs as you did and have hope of salvation. She said I was a chip off the old block, and had been raised like a heathen. It seems when I was over there on Sunday I refused to stand up and have my height measured against the wall, and I told 'em if you measured heights on Sunday you'd like as not die before the year was out. I didn't know then she had such a prejudice against signs, but since that time I've dragged 'em in every chance I got, just to spite her."
"More fool you!" said her mother, beginning to move the dasher of the churn up and down with a steady motion. "You might have waited until she was your mother-in-law before you began to spite her. The first thing you know you won't get any mother-in-law."
"That's the only thing that would console me for losing Pitt!" exclaimed Huldah. "If I can't marry him I don't have to live with her, that's one comfort! The last thing she did was to tell Aunt Hitty Tarbox she'd as lief have Pitt bring one of the original Salem witches into the house as one of the Daniel Rumford tribe."
"The land sakes!" ejaculated the widow, giving a desperate and impassioned plunge to the churn-dasher. "Now I know why I dreamt of snakes and muddy water the night before she come here to the Ladies' Aid Club. Well, she's seventy, and she can't live forever; she can't take Eben Packard's money into the next world with her, either, and I guess if she could 't would melt as soon as it got there."
Huldah persevered with her confession, dropping an occasional tear in the dishwater.
"Last time Pitt came here he said he should have three or four days' vacation the 12th of August, and he thought we'd better get married then, if 't was agreeable to me. I was kind of shy, and the almanac was hanging alongside of the table, so I took it up and looked to see what day of the week the 12th fell on. 'Oh, Pitt,' I said, 'we can't be married on Friday; it's dreadful unlucky.' He began to scold then, and said I didn't care anything about him if I wouldn't marry him when it was most convenient; and I said I would if 't was any day but Friday; and he said that was all moonshine, and nobody but foolish old women believed in such nonsense; and I said there wasn't a girl in town that would marry him on a Friday; and he said there was; and I asked him to come right out and tell who he meant; and he said he didn't mean anybody in particular; and I said he did; and he said, well, Jennie Perkins would, on Friday or Sunday or wash-day or any other day; and I said if I was a man I vow I wouldn't take a girl that was so anxious as all that; and he said he'd rather take one that was a little too anxious than one that wasn't anxious enough; and so we had it, back and forth, till I got so mad I couldn't see the almanac. Then, just to show him I had more good reasons than one, I said, 'Besides, if we should be married on a Friday we'd have to go away on a Saturday, and ten to one 't would rain on our wedding-trip.'
"'Why would it rain Saturday more than any other day?' said he; and then I mistrusted I was getting into fresh trouble, but I was too mad to back out, and said I, 'They say it rains more Saturdays in the year than any other day'; and he got red in the face and said, 'Where'd you get that silly notion?' Then I said it wasn't any silly notion, it was Gospel truth, and anybody that took notice of anything knew it was so; and he said he never heard of it in his life; and I said there was considerable many things that he'd never heard of that he'd be all the better for knowing; and he said he was like Josh Billings, he'd rather know a few things well than know so many things that wa'n't so."
"You might have told him how we compared notes about rainy days at the Aid Club," said her mother. "You remember Hannah Sophia Palmer hadn't noticed it, but the minute you mentioned it she remembered how, when she was a child, she was always worryin' for fear she couldn't wear her new hat a Sunday, and it must have been because it was threatening weather a Saturday, and she was afraid it would keep up for Sunday. And the widow Buzzell said she always picked up her apples for pie-baking on Friday, it was so apt to be dull or wet on a Saturday."
"I told him all of that," continued Huldah, "and how old Mrs. Bascom said they had a literary society over to Edgewood that used to meet twice a month on Saturday afternoons, and it rained or snowed so often they had to change their meetings to a Wednesday.
"Then the first thing I knew Pitt stood up so straight he looked more than ten feet tall, and says he, 'If you don't marry me a Friday, Huldah Rumford, you don't marry me at all. You're nothing but a mass of superstition, and if you're so scared for fear it will rain on your wedding-bonnet a Saturday, you can stay home under cover the rest of your life, for all I care. I'll wash the top buggy, put the umbrella under the seat, and take Jennie Perkins; she won't be afraid of a wetting so long as she gets it in good company.'
"'You're right,' I said, 'she won't, especially if the company's a man, for she'll be so dumfounded at getting one of 'em to sit beside her she won't notice if it rains pitchforks, and so far as I'm concerned she's welcome to my leavings.' Then he went out and slammed the kitchen door after him, but not so quick that I didn't get a good slam on the sitting-room door first."
"He'll come back," churned Mrs. Rumford philosophically. "Jennie Perkins has got a pug nose, and a good-sized mole on one side of it. A mole on the nose is a sure sign of bad luck in love-affairs, particularly if it's well to one side. He'll come back."
* * * * *
But, as a matter of fact, the days went by, the maple-trees turned red, and Pitt Packard did not come back to the Rumford farm. His comings and his goings were all known to Huldah. She knew that he took Jennie Perkins to the Sunday-School picnic, and escorted her home from evening meetings. She knew that old Mrs. Packard had given her a garnet pin, a glass handkerchief-box, and a wreath of hair flowers made from the intertwined tresses of the Packards and the Doolittles. If these symptoms could by any possibility be misinterpreted, there were various other details of an alarmingly corroborative character, culminating in the marriage of Pitt to Jennie on a certain Friday evening at eight o'clock. He not only married her on a Friday, but he drove her to Portland on a Saturday morning; and the Fates, who are never above taking a little extra trouble when they are dealing out misery, decreed that it should be one of the freshest, brightest, most golden mornings of the early autumn.
Pitt thought Portland preferable to Biddeford or Saco as a place to pass the brief honeymoon, if for no other reason than because the road thither lay past the Rumford house. But the Rumfords' blinds were tightly closed on the eventful Saturday, and an unnecessarily large placard hung ostentatiously on the front gate, announcing to passers-by that the family had gone to Old Orchard Beach, and would be home at sundown. This was a bitter blow to the bridegroom, for he had put down the back of the buggy with the intention of kissing the bride within full view of the Rumford windows. When he found it was of no use, he abandoned the idea, as the operation never afforded him any especial pleasure. He asked Mrs. Pitt if she preferred to go to the beach for her trip, but she decidedly favored the gayeties of a metropolis.
The excitement of passing the Rumford house having faded, Jennie's nose became so oppressive to Pitt that he finally changed places with her, explaining that he generally drove on the left side. He was more tranquil then, for her left profile was more pleasing, though for the life of him he could not help remembering Huldah's sweet outlines, the dimple in her chin, her kissable mouth, her delicate ear. Why, oh, why, had she inherited her father's temper and her mother's gift of prophecy, to say nothing of her grandfather's obstinacy and her grandmother's nimble tongue! All at once it dawned upon him that he might have jilted Huldah without marrying Jennie. It would, it is true, have been only a half revenge; but his appetite for revenge was so dulled by satisfaction he thought he could have been perfectly comfortable with half the quantity, even if Huldah were not quite so uncomfortable as he wished her to be. He dismissed these base and disloyal sentiments, however, as bravely as he could, and kissed Jennie twice, in a little stretch of wood road that fell in opportunely with his mood of silent penitence.
About two o'clock clouds began to gather in the sky, and there was a muttering of thunder. Pitt endured all the signs of a shower with such fortitude as he could command, and did not put up the buggy-top or unstrap the boot until the rain came down in good earnest.
"Who'd have suspicioned this kind of weather?" he growled as he got the last strap into place and shook the water from his new straw hat.
"I was afraid of it, but I didn't like to speak out," said Jennie primly; "they say it gen'ally does rain Saturdays."
* * * * *
Meanwhile Huldah lay in the spare room at the back of the house and sobbed quietly. Mrs. Rumford and the skeptical Jimmy had gone to Old Orchard, and Huldah had slipped out of the front door, tacked the obtrusive placard on the gate-post, and closed all the blinds in honor of the buried hopes that lay like a dead weight at the bottom of her heart.
She was a silly little thing, a vain little thing, and a spitfire to boot, but that did not prevent her suffering an appreciable amount, all that her nature would allow; and if it was not as much as a larger nature would have suffered, neither had she much philosophy or strength to bear it. The burden is fitted to the back as often as the back to the burden.
She frequently declared to herself afterwards that she should have had "a fit of sickness" if it had not been for the thunderstorm that came up on that never-to-be-forgotten Saturday afternoon. She had waked that morning with a dull pain in her heart—a dull pain that had grown keener when she looked from her attic window and saw the sun shining clear in the sky. Not a cloud sullied the surface of that fair blue canopy on this day of the faithless Pitt's wedding-journey. A sweet wind blew the tail feathers of the golden cock on the squire's barn till he stared the west directly in the eye. What a day to drive to Portland! She would have worn tan-colored low shoes and brown openwork stockings (what ugly feet Jennie Perkins had!), a buff challie dress with little brown autumn leaves on it, a belt and sash of brown watered ribbon (Jennie had a waist like a flour-barrel!), and a sailor hat with a bunch of yellow roses on one side—or would two brown quills, standing up coquettishly, have been more attractive? Then she would have taken a brown cloth shoulder-cape, trimmed with rows upon rows of cream-colored lace, and a brown parasol with an acorn of polished wood on the handle. Oh, what was the use of living when she could wear none of this bridal apparel, but must put on her old pink calico and go down to meet Jimmy's brotherly sneers? Was there ever such a cruelly sunshiny morning? A spot of flickering light danced and quivered on her blue wallpaper until she could bear it no longer, and pinned a towel over it. She sat down by the open window and leaned dejectedly on the sill, the prettiest picture of spiteful, unnecessary misery that the eye of mortal man ever rested upon, with her bright hair tumbling over her unbleached nightgown, and her little bare feet curled about the chair-rounds like those of a disconsolate child. Nobody could have approved of, or even sympathized with, so trivial a creature, but plenty of people would have been so sorry for her that they would have taken sensible, conscientious, unattractive Jennie Perkins out of Pitt Packard's buggy and substituted the heedless little Huldah, just for the pleasure of seeing her smile and blush. There was, however, no guardian imp to look after her ruined fortunes, and she went downstairs as usual to help about the breakfast, wondering to herself if there were any tragedies in life too terrible to be coexistent with three meals a day and the dishes washed after each one of them.
An infant hope stirred in her heart when she saw a red sparkle here and there on the sooty bottom of the tea-kettle, and it grew a little when her mother remarked that the dishwater boiled away so fast and the cows lay down so much that she believed it would rain the next day. When, that same afternoon, the welcome shower came with scarce ten minutes' warning, Huldah could hardly believe her eyes and ears. She jumped from her couch of anguish and remorse like an excited kitten, darted out of the house unmindful of the lightning, drove the Jersey calf under cover, chased the chickens into the coop, bolstered up the tomatoes so that the wind and rain would not blow the fruit from the heavily laden plants, opened the blinds and closed the windows.
"It comes from the east," she cried, dancing up and down in a glow of childish glee—"it comes from the east, and it's blowing in on Jennie's side of the buggy!" She did not know that Pitt had changed places with his bride, and that his broad shoulder was shielding her from the "angry airt."
Then she flew into the kitchen and pinned up her blown hair in front of the cracked looking-glass, thinking with sympathetic tenderness how pretty she looked, with her crown of chestnut tendrils tightened by the dampness, her round young cheeks crimsoned by the wind, and her still tearful eyes brightened by unchristian joy. She remembered with naughty satisfaction how rain invariably straightened Jennie Perkins's frizzes, and was glad, glad that it did. Her angry passions were so beautifying that the radiant vision in the glass almost dazzled her. It made her very sorry for Pitt too. She hated to think that his ill-temper and stubborn pride and obstinacy had lost him such a lovely creature as herself, and had forced him to waste his charms on so unappreciative and plain a person as Jennie Perkins. She remembered that Pitt had asked her to marry him coming home from the fair in a rainstorm. If he meant anything he said on that occasion, he must be suffering pangs of regret to-day. Oh, how good, how sweet, how kind of it to rain and support her in what she had prophesied of Saturday weather!
All at once a healing thought popped into her head. "I shall not live many years," she reflected—"not after losing Pitt, and having his mother crow over me, and that hateful Jennie Perkins, having the family hair wreath hanging over her sofa, and my wedding ring on her hand; but so long as I live I will keep account of rainy Saturdays, and find a way to send the record to Pitt every New Year's Day just to prove that I was right. Then I shall die young, and perhaps he will plant something on my grave, and water it with his tears; and perhaps he will put up a marble gravestone over me, unbeknownst to Jennie, and have an appropriate verse of Scripture carved on it, something like:
she openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness
I can see it as plain as if it was written. I hope they will make it come out even on the edges, and that he will think to have a white marble dove perched on the top, unless it costs too much."
* * * * *
The years went on. Huldah surprised everybody by going away from home to get an education. She would have preferred marriage at that stage of her development, but to her mind there was no one worth marrying in Pleasant River save Pitt Packard, and, failing him, study would fill up the time as well as anything else.
The education forced a good many helpful ideas into pretty Huldah's somewhat empty pate, though it by no means cured her of all her superstitions. She continued to keep a record of Saturday weather, and it proved as interesting and harmless a hobby as the collecting of china or postage-stamps.
In course of time Pitt Packard moved to Goshen, Indiana, where he made a comfortable fortune by the invention of an estimable pump, after which he was known by his full name of W. Pitt Fessenden Packard. In course of time the impish and incredulous Jimmy Rumford became James, and espoused the daughter of a wealthy Boston merchant. His social advancement was no surprise to Huldah and her mother, for, from the moment he had left home, they had never dreamed of him save in conjunction with horned cattle, which is well known to signify unexampled prosperity.
In course of time, too, old Mrs. Rumford was gathered to her fathers after a long illness, in which Huldah nursed her dutifully and well. Her death was not entirely unexpected, for Hannah Sophia Palmer observed spots like iron rust on her fingers, a dog howled every night under Almira Berry's window, and Huldah broke the kitchen looking-glass. No invalid could hope for recovery under these sinister circumstances, and Mrs. Rumford would have been the last woman in the world to fly in the face of such unmistakable signs of death. It is even rumored that when she heard the crash of glass in the kitchen she murmured piously, "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace," and expired within the hour.
* * * * *
Nineteen summers and winters had passed since Pitt Packard drove "her that was Jennie Perkins" to Portland on her wedding-trip. He had been a good and loyal husband; she had been a good and faithful wife; and never once in the nineteen years had they so much as touched the hem of the garment of happiness.
Huldah the Prophetess lived on in the old house alone. Time would have gone slowly and drearily enough had it not been for her ruling passion. If the first part of the week were fair, she was hopeful that there was greater chance of rain or snow by Saturday; if it were rainy, she hoped there would be a long storm. She kept an elaborate table showing the weather on every day of the year. Fair Saturdays were printed in red ink, foul Saturdays in jet-black. The last days of December were generally spent in preparing a succinct statement from these daily entries. Then in the month of January a neat document, presenting facts and figures, but no word of personal comment or communication, was addressed at first to Mr. W. P. Packard, and of late years to W. Pitt Fessenden Packard, and sent to Goshen, Indiana.
Mr. Packard was a good and loyal husband, as I have said, but there was certainly no disloyalty in the annual perusal of statistical weather tables. That these tables, though made out by one of the weaker sex, were accurate and authentic, he had reason to believe, because he kept a rigid account of the weather himself, and compared Huldah's yearly record with his own. The weather in Pleasant River did not, it is true, agree absolutely with the weather in Goshen, but the similarity between Maine and Indiana Saturdays was remarkable. The first five years of Pitt's married life Huldah had the advantage, and the perusal of her tables afforded Pitt little satisfaction, since it proved that her superstitions had some apparent basis of reason. The next five years his turn came, and the fair Saturdays predominated. He was not any happier, however, on the whole, because, although he had the pleasure of being right himself, he lost the pleasure of believing Huldah right. So time went on until Mrs. Pitt died, and was buried under the handsomest granite monument that could be purchased by the sale of pumps. Not only were the funeral arrangements carried out with the liveliest consideration for the departed, but Mr. Packard abstained from all gay society and conducted himself with the greatest propriety. Nevertheless, when his partner and only confidential friend extolled Jennie's virtues as wife, housekeeper, companion, and church member, he remarked absently: "She was all that, Jim, but somehow I never liked her."
For two years after his bereavement Huldah omitted sending her weather statistics to Mr. Packard, thinking, with some truth, that it might seem too marked an attention from an attractive Maine spinster to a "likely" Indiana widower.
* * * * *
Matters were in this state when Mr. Packard alighted at the Edgewood station one bright day in August. He declined the offer of a drive, and soon found himself on the well-remembered road to Pleasant River. He had not trodden that dusty thoroughfare for many a year, and every tree and shrub and rock had a message for him, though he was a plain, matter-of-fact maker of pumps. There was no old home to revisit, for his stepmother had died long ago, and Jennie had conscientiously removed the family wreath from the glass case and woven some of the departed lady's hair into the funereal garland. He walked with the brisk step of a man who knew what he wanted, but there was a kind of breathless suspense in his manner which showed that he was uncertain of getting it. He passed the Whippoorwill Mill, the bubbling spring, the old moss-covered watering-trough, and then cut across the widow Buzzell's field straight to the Rumford farm. He kept rehearsing the subject-matter of a certain speech he intended to make. He knew it by heart, having repeated it once a day for several months, but nobody realized better than he that he would forget every word of it the moment he saw Huldah—at least, if the Huldah of to-day were anything like the Huldah of the olden time.
The house came in sight. It used to be painted white; it was drab now, and there was a bay-window in the sitting-room. There was a new pump in the old place, and, happy omen, he discovered it was one of his own manufacture. He made his way by sheer force of habit past the kitchen windows to the side door. That was where they had quarreled mostly. He had a kind of sentiment about that side door. He paused a moment to hide his traveling-bag under the grapevine that shaded the porch, and as he raised his hand to grasp the knocker the blood rushed to his face and his heart leaped into his throat. Huldah stood near the window winding the old clock. In her right hand was a "Farmer's Almanac." How well he knew the yellow cover! and how like to the Huldah of seventeen was the Huldah of thirty-six! It was incredible that the pangs of disappointed love could make so little inroad on a woman's charms. Rosy cheeks, plump figure, clear eyes, with a little more snap in them than was necessary for connubial comfort, but not a whit too much for beauty; brown hair curling round her ears and temples—what an ornament to a certain house he knew in Goshen, Indiana!
She closed the wooden door of the clock, and, turning, took a generous bite from the side of a mellow August sweeting that lay on the table. At this rather inauspicious moment her eye caught Pitt's. The sight of her old lover drove all prudence and reserve from her mind, and she came to the door with such an intoxicating smile and such welcoming hands that he would have kissed her then and there, even if he had not come to Pleasant River for that especial purpose. Of course he forgot the speech, but his gestures were convincing, and he mumbled a sufficient number of extracts from it to convince Huldah that he was in a proper frame of mind—this phrase meaning to a woman the one in which she can do anything she likes with a man.
They were too old, doubtless, to cry and laugh in each other's arms, and ask forgiveness for past follies, and regret the wasted years, and be thankful for present hope and life and love; but that is what they did, old as they were.
"I wouldn't have any business to ask you to marry such a dictatorial fool as I used to be, Huldah," said Pitt; "but I've got over considerable of my foolishness, and do say you will. Say, too, you won't make me wait any longer, but marry me Sunday or Monday. This is Thursday, and I must be back in Goshen next week at this time. Will you, Huldah?"
Huldah blushed, but shook her head. She looked lovely when she blushed, and she hadn't lost the trick of it even at thirty-six.
"I know it's soon; but never mind getting ready. If you won't say Monday, make it Tuesday—do."
She shook her head again.
"Wednesday, then. Do say Wednesday, Huldy dear."
The same smile of gentle negation.
He dropped her hand disconsolately.
"Then I'll have to come back at Christmas-time, I s'pose. It's just my busy season now, or I would stay right here on this doorstep till you was ready, for it seems to me as if I'd been waiting for you ever since I was born, and couldn't get you too soon."
"Do you really want me to marry you so much, Pitt?"
"Never wanted anything so bad in my life."
"Didn't you wonder I wasn't more surprised to see you to-day?"
"Nothing surprises me in women-folks."
"Well, it was because I've dreamed of a funeral three nights running. Do you know what that's a sign of?"
Pitt never winked an eyelash; he had learned his lesson. With a sigh of relief that his respected stepmother was out of hearing, he responded easily, "I s'pose it's a sign somebody's dead or going to die."
"No, it isn't: dreams go by contraries. It's a sign there's going to be a wedding."
"I'm glad to know that much, but I wish while you was about it you'd have dreamt a little more, and found out when the wedding was going to be."
"I did; and if you weren't the stupidest man alive you could guess."
"I know I'm slow-witted," said Pitt meekly, for he was in a mood to endure anything, "but I've asked you to have me on every day there is except the one I'm afraid to name."
"You know I've had plenty of offers."
"Unless all the men-folks are blind, you must have had a thousand, Huldah."
Huldah was distinctly pleased. As a matter of fact she had had only five; but five offers in the State of Maine implies a superhuman power of attraction not to be measured by the casual reader.
"Are you sorry you called me a mass of superstition?"
"I wish I'd been horsewhipped where I stood."
"Very well, then. The first time you wouldn't marry me at all unless you could have me Friday, and of course I wouldn't take you Friday under those circumstances. Now you say you're glad and willing to marry me any day in the week, and so I'll choose Friday of my own accord. I'll marry you to-morrow, Pitt: and"—here she darted a roguishly sibylline glance at the clouds—"I have a water-proof; have you an umbrella for Saturday?"
Pitt took her at her word, you may be sure, and married her the next day, but I wish you could have seen it rain on Saturday! There never was such a storm in Pleasant River. The road to the Edgewood station was a raging flood; but though the bride and groom were drenched to the skin they didn't take cold—they were too happy. Love within is a beautiful counter-irritant.
Huldah didn't mind waiting a little matter of nineteen years, so long as her maiden flag sank in a sea of triumph at the end; and it is but simple justice to an erring but attractive woman to remark that she never said "I told you so!" to her husband.
TWO ON A TOUR
LOG-BOOK OF CHARLOTTE AMALIA CLIFFORD
S.S. Diana, January 21, 1918 On the way to the Virgin Islands
I engrossed the above heading in my journal shortly after we left the dock in New York, but from what has occurred in the past few days I think my occasional entries in the log-book are likely to be records of Dorothea Valentine's love-affairs as they occur to her day by day, and as unluckily they are poured into my ear for lack of a better or more convenient vessel.
We are dear friends, Dolly and I. Her name is Dorothea, but apparently she will have to grow up to it, for at present everybody calls her Dolly, Dora, Dot, or Dodo, according to his or her sex, color, or previous condition of servitude. Dolly is twenty and I am thirty; indeed, her mother is only forty, so that I am rather her contemporary than Dolly's, but friendship is more a matter of sympathy than relative age, and Mrs. Valentine and I are by no means twin souls. As a matter of fact, that lady would never have noticed me, the private secretary of Clive Winthrop, a government official in Washington, had it not been that, through him and his sister, I had access to a more interesting group in society than had Mrs. Valentine, a widow of large means but a stranger in the Capital. Clive Winthrop is a person of distinction and influence, and Miss Ellen Winthrop, an old friend of my mother's, is one of the most charming hostesses in Washington, while I am in reality nothing but a paid scribe; the glad, willing, ardent, but silent assistant of a man who is serving the Administration with all his heart; but neither he nor his sister will have it so considered. I almost think that Miss Ellen Winthrop, still vivacious and vigorous at seventy, is ready to give up to me her place as head of the household if I consent to say the word; but I am not sure enough yet to say it; and because of that uncertainty I cannot trust myself in the daily company of the two persons most deeply concerned in my decision.
A sea voyage is the best thing in the world to blow away doubts or difficulties; it also clears the air so that one can see one's course, whether it be toward the north of duty or the south of desire.
My work for a long time has been to report interviews, take stenographic records, and write hundreds of letters for Mr. Winthrop during the somewhat protracted discussion that preceded the acquisition of the Virgin Islands by the United States. It is odd that these tasks should have fallen to me, who added below Clive Winthrop's signature to many communications the typed initials C. A. C., for I have a special interest in these new possessions of ours, a very close and sentimental one, since I was born on St. Thomas, one of the Virgin Islands, and christened Charlotte Amalia after the little red-roofed town on the shore of the perfect harbor. My birth in St. Thomas was entirely unpremeditated, and I was taken away as soon as my mother was able to travel; nevertheless, I have always longed during the twelve years of my loneliness, without father or mother, to see the place where they were so happy in each other and so blissful in the prospect of my appearance.
I, then, have a right to this particular holiday and this opportunity to decide my future. Miss Dorothea Valentine, on the contrary, is a wholly unexpected, I will not say an unwelcome, companion, although when I wish to be thinking of my own problems she generally desires to discuss hers, which are trivial, though interesting and unique.
Everything about the girl piques interest; her beauty, her charm, her childlike gayety and inconsequence, which are but the upper current of a deeper sea of sincerity and common sense. Somebody says: "Ladies vary in looks; they're like military flags for a funeral or a celebration—one day furled, next day streaming. Men are ships; figureheads, about the same in a storm or a calm, and not too handsome, thanks to the ocean." The last phrases are peculiarly true of Clive Winthrop, who is sometimes called the ugliest man in Washington, yet who commands attention in any room that he enters because of his fine physique, his noble head, and his distinction of bearing and speech. Rugged he is, "thanks to the ocean," but he looks as if he could swim against the strongest current. On the other hand, it cannot be said that Dolly Valentine varies. She is lovely at breakfast, lovelier at luncheon, and loveliest at dinner when the dazzling whiteness of her neck and shoulders is revealed. Only a tolerably generous woman would suffer herself to be in the almost daily companionship of such a charmer, and that I am in that dangerous juxtaposition is her fault, not mine.
"You must take me with you on your sea voyage, Charlotte," she said. "I must get away from Washington and from mother. No, don't raise your eye-brows and begin to scold before you know what I mean! I am not going to criticize my maternal parent, but I am so under her thumb at the moment that I am a flabby mass of indecision. I have no more mind than a jellyfish, yet I have to decide a matter of vital importance within a month. How can I make up a non-existent mind? Answer me that. Your life is so fixed and serene and settled; so full of absorbing work; you are so flattered and appreciated that you are like a big ship anchored in a safe harbor, and you can't think what it's like to be a silly little yacht bobbing about on the open sea!" (Such is the uncomprehending viewpoint of twenty toward thirty; the calm assumption that ladies of that mature age can have no love-affairs of their own to perplex them!)
"There is no need of your being a silly little yacht, Dolly!" I answered. "If you want to make a real voyage you have the power to choose your craft."
"Mother always chooses for me," she said with a pout. "She doesn't gag me and put me in irons and lead me up the gangplank by brute force, but she dominates me. I start out each morning like a nice, fat, pink balloon and by evening, though I haven't felt any violent pin-pricks, I am nothing but a little shrunken heap of shriveled rubber. You know it, Charlotte! You have seen me bouncing at breakfast and seen me flat at dinner!"
It was impossible not to laugh at her. "Don't be ridiculous!" I expostulated. "There is nothing between you and happiness but a little cloud so diaphanous that a breath of common sense would blow it away. Now read your magazine and let me write in my log-book. It is intended to be an informal report to my chief, of the islands we are to visit. We shall be at St. Thomas to-morrow morning and in the four days we have been journeying from New York the only topic of conversation in which you have shown the slightest enthusiasm is whether you should or should not marry Marmaduke Hogg!"
"Don't call him all of it, Charlotte," and she shuddered. "Mother is always doing it and I can't bear it!" whereupon she flounced about on her deck-chair and hid her face in her steamer-rug.
* * * * *
It was a foolish little love-story, that of Dorothea Valentine. Her mother was a mass of polite and unnecessary conventions; a pretty sort of person with a clear profile like that of a cold, old little bird. Her small, sharp nose resembled a beak; her eyes were like two black beads; and her conversation was a lengthy series of twitterings. Charlotte Clifford used to tell Miss Winthrop that if Mrs. Valentine had been a canary, people would have forever been putting a towel over her cage to secure silence. She was always idle, save for a bewildering succession of reconstruction periods, apparently forestalling ruins that no one else could have prophesied. She dieted and reduced her hips; had violet rays applied to her scalp; had her wrinkles ironed out by some mysterious process. If you caught her before ten in the morning you would find her with crescent-shaped bits of court-plaster beside her eyes, in front of her ears, and between her brows. She was beautifully clothed, shod, gloved, massaged, manicured, and marcelled. She lived on the best sides of the streets and at the proper hotels. She answered notes, returned calls, and gave wedding presents punctiliously. She never used the telephone for invitations, nor had anything but contempt for abbreviations, carefully writing out Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, when she addressed her sisters in those cities. A mass of the most glaring virtues was Mrs. Reginald Valentine, impeccable and unassailable, with views on all subjects as rigid as the laws of the Medes and Persians. She had ordered her husband's life during their ten years of marriage, he being a gentle and artistic soul, and she had more or less directed his exercise, amusements, diet, as well as his political and religious opinions. She nursed him faithfully in his last illness, but when he timidly begged to be cremated instead of buried, she reminded him that it was a radical, ultra-modern idea; that the Valentine lot and monument were very beautiful; that there never had been any cremations in the family connection; and that she hoped he would not break a long-established custom and leave behind him a positively irreligious request. Various stories of Mr. Valentine's docility had crept into circulation, and it is said that on this occasion he turned his head meekly to the wall and sighed: "Very well, Emma! Do just as you think best; it's your funeral!"
Just how Dorothea blossomed on this stalk it is difficult to say. A bright-eyed, sunshiny, willful baby, she had grown into an unaffected, attractive, breezy young woman, outwardly obedient, inwardly mutinous. She was generally calm in her mother's presence, never criticizing her openly, and her merry heart kept her from being really unhappy in a relationship that many girls would have found intolerable. Beaux she had a-plenty and lovers not a few. As cream or honey to flies, so was Dorothea Valentine to mankind in general; but she took them on gayly and cast them off lightly, little harm being done on either side by the brief experience.
Of course the suits of some of the suitors had been hard-pressed by Mrs. Valentine. "You will go through the woods to find a crooked stick at last, Dorothea," she would say. "You don't know a desirable parti when you see one. You must have an extraordinary opinion of your own charms to think that you have only to pick and choose. Those charms will fade, rather prematurely, I fear, and when your looked-for ideal comes along it may be that he will not regard you as flawless."
"I don't expect him to, mother! I only expect him to find my own flaws interesting."
"There is no certainty of that, my dear,"—and Mrs. Valentine's tone was touched with cynicism. "I had an intimate friend once, Clara Wyman, a very nice girl she was, who had been in love with my cousin Roger Benson for years. He seemed much attached to her and when time went by and nothing happened, I spoke to him plainly one night and asked him if he didn't intend to propose to her, and if not, what were his reasons. What do you suppose they were?"
Mrs. Valentine's tone implied that a shock was coming.
Dolly sat erect on her mother's Italian day-bed as one prepared.
"I'm sure I have no idea—how could I have?" she asked.
"Roger said that he didn't like her wiping her nose through her veil!!"
Dolly flung herself at length on the couch and buried her face in the cushions, her whole body shaking convulsively with silent mirth.
"You may laugh, Dorothea, but this incident, which I have told many times, shows how fantastic, erratic, despotic, and hypercritical men generally are. You will come to your senses some time and realize that no one is likely to bear with your perversities more patiently than Arthur Wilde or Lee Wadsworth, who have both wasted a winter dangling about you."
Dolly raised her head, patted her hair, and wiped her streaming eyes.
"I realize the dangerous obstacles between me and the altar as I never did before,"—and the girl's voice was full of laughter. "But I should have to lock Arthur Wilde in the basement whenever professors came to dinner. I couldn't marry Arthur's vocabulary, mother,—I couldn't!"
"He is a wonderful son, and a millionaire; he has three houses, four motors, and a steam yacht!"
"Sure, but that don't 'enthuse me,' 'tremenjous' as it sounds! (I am imitating Mr. Wilde's style of conversation.) And as for Lee Wadsworth he is bow-legged!"
"Lee's reputation is straight at any rate, and his income all that could be desired," responded Mrs. Valentine loftily. "I wish I could convince you, Dorothea, that there are no perfect husbands. You are looking for the impossible! Indeed, I have always found men singularly imperfect, even as friends and companions, and in a more intimate relation they leave still more to be desired. You dismissed Sir Thomas Scott because he was too dictatorial, although you knew he intended to have the family diamonds reset for you."
"He'd have had them reset in Sheffield or Birmingham, but, anyhow, one doesn't marry diamonds, mother."
"One might at least make the effort, Dorothea! I notice that most of the people who disdain diamonds generally possess three garnets, two amethysts, and one Mexican opal."
Dolly laughed. "You know I did emulate the celebrated Mrs. Dombey, mother."
"I know you made a very brief and feeble effort to be sensible, and you might have conquered yourself had it not been for the sudden appearance of this young Hogg on your horizon."
"You shall not call him a young Hogg!" cried Dolly passionately. "It isn't fair; I won't endure it!"
"I thought that was his name," remarked Mrs. Valentine, placidly shifting a wrinkle-plaster from one place to another. "You wouldn't object if I had alluded to young Benham or young Wadsworth. You show by your very excitement how disagreeable his name is to your ears. It isn't a question of argument; Marmaduke Hogg is an outrageous, offensive name; if he had been Charles or James it would have been more decent. The 'Marmaduke' simply calls attention to the 'Hogg.' If any one had asked to introduce a person named Hogg to me I should have declined."
"I've told you a dozen times, mother, that the Wilmots' house-party was at breakfast when I arrived from the night train. There was a perfect Babel and everybody was calling him 'Duke.' He looked like one, and nobody said—the other. I didn't even hear his last name till evening, and then it was too late."
"'Too late!' Really, Dorothea, if you have no sense of propriety you may leave the room!"—and Mrs. Valentine applied the smelling-bottle to her birdlike nose as a sign that her nerves were racked to the limit and she might at any moment succumb.
"All I know is," continued Dorothea obstinately, "that he was the best-looking, the most interesting, the cleverest, the most companionable man in the house-party, or for that matter in the universe. You don't ask the last name of Orlando, or Benedick, or Marcus Aurelius, or Albert of Belgium."
"It wouldn't be necessary." (Here Mrs. Valentine was quite imperturbable.) "The Valentines have never been required to associate with theatrical people or foreigners. In some ways I dislike the name of Marmaduke as much as Hogg. It is so bombastic that it seems somehow like an assumed name, or as if the creature had been born on the stage. When coupled with Hogg it loses what little distinction it might have had by itself. One almost wishes it had been Marmalade. Marmalade Hogg suggests a quite nauseating combination of food, but there is a certain appropriateness about it."
Dorothea's face was flaming. "You will never allow Duke to explain himself, mother, nor hear me through when I attempt to make things clear to you. You never acknowledge that you know, but you do know, that Duke's people were English a long way back, and 'Marmaduke' is an old family name. The Winthrops will tell you that Duke's father and mother were named Forrest and that they changed it to Hogg to pacify an old bachelor uncle who wanted to leave Duke six thousand dollars a year. He had no voice in the matter; he was only twelve years old."
"It was a very short-sighted business proposition, and your Duke must have been very young for his age,"—and Mrs. Valentine took another deep sniff of lavender. "Sixty thousand a year wouldn't induce me to be named Hogg, and I shall never consent to have one in my family!"
Dorothea burst into tears, a most uncommon occurrence.
"You have dwelt so long on this purely immaterial objection," she sobbed, "that you have finally inoculated me with something of your own feeling and made me miserable and ashamed. I dare say, too, I have hurt Duke's pride by trying to give him a reason for your indifferent attitude, yet never having courage for the real, piffling explanation. I am mortified at my despicable weakness and I will overcome it by realizing how unworthy I am to bear Duke's honorable, unstained name, even if it is Hogg. You might as well give up, mother! If the dearest, best, most delightful man in the world loves me, I shall marry him, name and all."
"I do not regard it as settled," replied Mrs. Valentine calmly. "The young man may not think you so desirable when he learns that my refusal to accept him as a son-in-law means that he must take you without any income. Your dear father must have foreseen some such tragedy when he left all his money in my care!"
"Duke will take me without a penny!" cried Dorothea hotly. "I would stake my life on that!"
"Don't be melodramatic, Dorothea. We shall see in time. It is just possible that the young man may not be greedy, and so belie his name." This was Mrs. Valentine's last shaft as Dorothea walked out of the room with her chin in the air.
* * * * *
S.S. Diana, January 26, 1918
St. Thomas, and Charlotte Amalia, the little town for which I was named, looked so lovely when we landed early this morning that I felt a positive thrill of pride.
This halfway house of the sea, this gateway of the Caribbean, as it has been picturesquely called, seemed, as Dolly and I climbed the hills and the stone stairways, to materialize into a birthplace instead of a vague dream. A year ago, with the Dannebrog, the scarlet, white-crossed banner of Denmark, floating over the red Danish fortress on the water-front, I might have felt an alien, but the Stars and Stripes made me feel at home and I could only remember that my father and mother met and loved each other in this little Paradise, and that when I was born there they were the two happiest people under the sun. If they could have seen their daughter saluting the American flag so near the very spot in which she first saw the light, they would have been comforted, I am sure, instead of repining that they had both been taken away when she most needed their love and protection.