Such a view from Diana's deck as we crept into the wonderful harbor! A background of towering green hills and a dazzling blue of velvet sky and crystal sea, like that of Algiers, greeted our enchanted gaze! Like some of the coast towns of Italy, Charlotte Amalia is gay with color, and its white, red-roofed villas nestle among their luxuriant gardens and tropical foliage, standing out in a perfect riot of orange and yellow, blue and red.
Never, save in Venice, have I seen such a gorgeous array of color in a landscape.
Five hours we had in St. Thomas while the Diana put off hundreds of barrels of cement; but what with the gayly painted boats and their dark-skinned crews, the naked brown boys diving and swimming for pennies and dimes in the harbor, a walk to Bluebeard's Tower and Blackbeard's Castle, we were well amused. Particularly so was Dorothea, who disappeared from my side for a half-hour while I chatted with the captain, rejoining me in the tiny palm-bordered park near the landing.
She was glowing with happiness.
"What do you think, Charlotte?" she exclaimed. "I have a letter from Duke. Not written after we sailed, of course, for it couldn't have reached me. He bearded mother in her fortress the morning we left Washington. She was out, or said she was, but sent a note saying that I had gone on a journey and would be absent for a month. He went directly to the Winthrops for news and they told him I was with you and that if he wrote at once by special delivery he could reach the ship before it left New York dock. He sent the letter to the captain and asked him to give it to me at St. Thomas for a surprise. The captain is such a nice man, though a good deal of a tease! Mr. Winthrop was delighted to hear you were not alone. Poor Miss Winthrop has influenza and they both wish they had taken this trip. It seems they are thinking of it just a little."
"The Winthrops coming on this voyage," I exclaimed. "Impossible! They hadn't an idea of it."
"Mightn't he want to interview the governor and look at the island?"
"He hasn't time. I chose this journey instead of another so that I could interview the governor and look at the islands myself."
"Well, I dare say there's nothing in it. Duke didn't speak of it as anything settled, and he may have misunderstood, his mind being on me. May I read you the letter—I mean parts of it?"
"I shouldn't expect to hear all of it," I replied dryly.
"Yet the bits I leave out are the ones that show him as he is," she said, looking off into the grove of palms. "Duke is so conscientious that until we succeed in melting mother—that would be a good title for a story, 'Melting Mother'!—and until she sanctions an engagement he won't let himself go, even on paper. So I get only a lovely sort of 'seepage' that breaks through in spite of him!"
"Skip the seepage," I said unsympathetically, "and give the news."
She re-read the first paragraphs to herself with a good deal of dimpling and with eyes that suffused with feeling now and then, and turning the page began to read aloud:
Knowing that you were on the high seas far away from me, though safe with your charming Miss Clifford (Duke admires you extravagantly, Charlotte!), I concluded to burn my ships and have a straightforward talk with your mother, although you have repeatedly warned me that this was not the best method of approach and that only patience would win my cause. I sent up my card at the New Willard, and doubtless she would have refused to receive me, but, going from the office to one of the reception rooms to await her, I found her seated there with your Philadelphia aunt and another lady. There had evidently been confidences, so they scented trouble and took to their heels when I had been introduced to them somewhat informally as a friend of Dorothea's, my name not being mentioned.
I asked your mother, when we were left alone, if she had any objection to me other than my uneuphonious and suggestive surname.
She replied guardedly, no, or at least nothing in particular, though she might say without conceit that Dorothea might aspire to anybody, even the highest.
I cordially agreed, saying that if the male sex had any eye for beauty, charm or loveliness of character, Dorothea might marry not only anybody but everybody.
She said she thought persiflage was out of taste when the happiness of a mother's whole life was in question.
I begged pardon, but said it was necessary for me to whistle to keep my courage up, for the happiness of my whole life was in question.
She said that was beside the point and her daughter's happiness must also be considered.
I remarked that her daughter, to my infinite surprise and gratitude, assured me that her happiness lay in the same direction as my own.
She vouchsafed the information that Dorothea was a romantic fool.
I denied it.
She dealt what she considered to be a body-blow by affirming that your property would not be in your hands till you were twenty-one.
I replied that I didn't care if it didn't reach you till you were a hundred and twenty-one.
She said, "Don't be silly," and asked me if I had ever thought of changing my name back to Forrest from Hogg.
I inquired in return if she would mind the loss of six thousand dollars a year, supposing that I should take such a step.
She reflected and said that she should, but she would rather lose it than take the name; and that we could rub along on Dorothea's money, she supposed, if that was my idea of a pleasant life.
I hastened to say that I would relinquish the six thousand without a pang, confident that I could make a living anyway; but that it would be disloyal to my good old uncle, whose bounty had given me a college course, two years at Oxford and three at Harvard Law School. It had also permitted me to give my services to the United States Shipping Board without compensation.
She said she thought it was very selfish in a government to accept a man's whole time and give him no remuneration; that the Secretary of the Treasury had only to say to the banks, "Let there be money," and there was money. There would be plenty for everybody if only the engravers and laborers at the Mint would not strike.
I reminded her that men were remunerated sufficiently in being allowed to serve their country in time of war.
She returned that she thought that point of view foolish and fantastic, but if she found, after a year, that her daughter's peace of mind was threatened, would I then change my name and live on Dorothea's income until I could establish myself in the practice of the law? She said that I must acknowledge that this was a ridiculously generous proposition and one that neither my talents nor my station in life merited.
I replied that the proposition meant to me that I should simply be selling myself and buying her daughter, and that I declined to accept it.
("Oh, Charlotte!" the girl interrupted with a catch in her throat, "don't you think that was splendid and clever, too?")
Your mother said that she wished to take the matter into consideration during your absence [so the letter ran on], and just as we were rising the Philadelphia aunt came in from one door and General X, Senator Y, and Lord Z from another.
They are at the moment three of the most significant figures in the moving picture of Washington society, and all women pursue them. They beamed at me as if they had been commandeered for that special purpose, and Senator Y said jovially: "How are you, Duke? Glad to see you. Are you free to dine with us?"
I hastily turned to your mother, saying: "I was just going to ask you and your sister if you would dine with me."
Lord Z, who was at Balliol with me, you remember, said: "Then perhaps you will allow us to come to your table for coffee, Hogg?" Your mother gazed at him, astounded that his noble tongue could utter the name. Then she actually and gracefully "fell" for the dinner, lured by the bait of the post-prandial coffee with the distinguished trio, and the Philadelphia aunt kept things going serenely. She is a delightful person and will be a perfect companion for your mother when—you know when—when she needs one—and I no longer do!
("There never was a man who said things like Duke!" interpolated Dolly ecstatically.)
All would have gone swimmingly to the end had not a page suddenly entered the room bawling: "Mr. Hogg wanted at the telephone: Mr. Hogg? Telephone message for Mr. HOGG!"
Only capitals can give an idea of the volume of voice. My ear-drum, grown painfully sensitive since I met your mother, echoed and reechoed with the tone as I threaded my way through the crowded room, followed by every eye, while I imagined people saying: "I wonder if he's called to the stockyard?" (It is queer, but I never felt this way in Oxford, for they still remember Hogg, the Scottish poet, and I hung myself to his revered coat-tails.)
The telephone message was from my secretary, and healed my wounded vanity, for it came from the British Embassy conveying the thanks of the Foreign Office for Mr. Hogg's friendly and helpful action in conducting negotiations for the chartering of ex-enemy ships lying in South American ports.
("You see what he is!" exclaimed Dolly, looking up from the letter with eyes full of unshed tears! "Of course he has five or six superiors in office but I suppose really that Duke's extraordinary talent keeps that whole shipping board going! You mark my words, Charlotte, when Duke gives up his position and goes to Plattsburg there'll be an absolute slump in that office! But just hear what follows; it is so discouraging!")
But when, glowing with the delight that always comes to me when I have any little tribute to lay with my love at your charming number-three feet, when I returned to my table your mother had gone to her room and the Philadelphia aunt remained to explain that she had been taken suddenly ill.
"It will all come right, Mr.—my dear boy!" she said. "My sister has one weakness, an abnormal sensitiveness to public opinion. She thinks constantly what people will say of this, that, or the other trifling thing, and in that way perpetually loses sight of the realities of life. There is a great deal of good in her that you have never seen because for the moment she is absolutely obsessed by her objection to your name and her conviction that Dorothea might and should marry a title. My sister married Reginald Valentine more for the effect on her future visiting-card than anything else, but Dorothea's father bequeathed his good looks, his sunny disposition, his charm, and his generous nature to his daughter. You have chosen wisely, my dear Mr.—boy, but not more wisely, to my mind, than Dorothea has!"
So it ended, but I somehow hope that I may have converted your mother from an enemy alien to an armed neutral!
"There is nothing more of—of—general interest," said Dolly tearfully, as she slipped the letter in the envelope. "Aunt Maggie is a trump. Oh, Charlotte! if only you had ever had a love-problem like mine and could advise me! Duke always wondered that you never married."
(Dorothea ought to be cuffed for impertinence, but she is too unconscious and too pretty and lovable for corporal punishment.)
"Perhaps there may still be hope even at thirty!" I said stiffly.
"Oh, I didn't mean that! You might have anybody by lifting your finger! We only wonder you've never lifted it! But you could be happy only with a very learned and prominent man, you are so clever!"
"I'm clever enough to prefer love to learning, if I have to choose, Dolly, my dear."
"I'm so sorry you didn't get a letter, Charlotte," said the girl, snuggling sympathetically to my side on the bench.
This was more than flesh and blood or angel could bear!
I kissed her, and, shaking her off my shoulder vigorously, I said, as I straightened my hat: "As a matter of fact, Miss Valentine, I have had a letter every day since we left New York; a letter delivered before breakfast by the steward. You have had but one, yet you are twenty and I am thirty!"
"Don't add to your impudence by being too astonished, darling," I continued. "Come! let's go and pick bananas and pineapples and tamarinds and shaddocks and star-apples and sapodillas!"
"I won't budge a step till you tell me all about it!"
"Then you'll grow to this green bench and have to be cut away by your faithful Marmaduke!"
"Is it a secret?"
"It doesn't exist at all for you. You are not of age, Dolly."
"I'm old enough to know the things one can learn by heart!" was Dolly's comment.
When the Diana was leaving St. Thomas at sunset and we were well on our way to St. Croix, Dolly made a half confidence.
"You are not my chaperon, Charlotte, because in my hour of need I simply fastened myself to you like a limpet, or an albatross, or a barnacle, or any other form of nautical vampire that you prefer. Still, I might as well confess that I cabled to Duke, or wirelessed, or did something awfully expensive of that sort at St. Thomas while you were having that interminable talk with the captain, who, by the way, is married and devoted to his wife, they say."
"That was foolish and extravagant, my child," I answered. "I don't know what you said, but I have the most absolute confidence in your indiscretion. I hope you remembered that all messages are censored in war-time?"
"I did, indeed," she sighed. "I was never so hampered and handicapped in my life, but I think I have outwitted the censors. I wish I were as sure about—mother!"
* * * * *
S.S. Diana, January 26
St. Croix was delightful, with a motor-ride across the island from Frederikstad to Christianstad, where we lunched.
Dolly's mind is not in a state especially favorable for instruction, but I took a guidebook, and, sitting under a wonderful tamarind tree, read her Alexander Hamilton's well-known letter describing a West Indian hurricane, written from St. Croix in 1772.
We were with a party of Canadian acquaintances made on shipboard and greatly interested in our first visits to sugar plantations. Vast cane-fields of waving green stretched mile after mile on the right and on the left, making it seem incredible that a Food Commissioner need beg the sweet tooth to deny itself in the midst of such riotous plenty.
There was a dazzling glare from the white buildings of the town and the coral roads, but the moment we reached the outlying country all was verdant and restful. The beautiful hard roads ran like white ribbons over velvet hills and through rich valleys; tall windmills, belonging to the earlier days of sugar-making, rose picturesquely from the magnificent palms and other shade-trees; there were brilliant flowers and blossoming vines breaking through hedges here and there, and acres of pineapples and orange groves. Truly, our Canadian companions might wish us luck in our new possessions!
* * * * *
Later in the day
We have left the Virgin Islands now and at dawn we neared St. Kitts, of the Leeward group, anchoring a half-mile away from the landing and putting passengers ashore in the small boats that ranged themselves near the steamer. There was a very bedlam of chatter, argument, and recrimination among the black boatmen, mounting at times to furious invective in a patois we failed wholly to understand, for though the majority of the natives speak English on all the islands, whether Dutch, French, or British, they use a language of their own vintage on these undress occasions. I could see Dolly's bright head and laughing eyes peeping through her porthole, nodding good-morning to me as I viewed the scene from my own little stateroom opposite hers.
The St. Kitts boatmaster was a superb personage in white linen uniform and cap. He stood at the top of the steps lowered from our steamer to the ocean, and from that serene height of power commanded his clamorous and refractory legions.
It was his voice that called me irresistibly from my berth and kept my ears, as well as my eyes, glued to the porthole of my cabin. It was a deep, rich barytone, as full of color as his own native skies and sea. The white cap set off his dark skin, and a pair of eyes that shot lightnings of authority gleamed from under his vizor. He ought to have been singing the "Pagliacci" prologue at the Metropolitan Opera House, but instead he was calling resonantly (his private megaphone seemed to be located in his own throat): "Don't crowd, Edward.... Push in, Victoria.... Get away, George.... Come nearer, come nearer, Mary.... Show your number, Albert, or meet me in court to-morrow at eleven!"
As a matter of fact, these were the names painted on the boats crowding and jamming their way to the most favorable places for securing passengers or freight; but the quality of his voice made it seem as if, in calling Victoria, Edward, George, Mary, and Albert, he were summoning a corporeal bevy of kings and queens to do his instant bidding. The excitement reached its climax when an aged bishop descended the stairway, which was under some circumstances as perilous as a ladder. The bishop's quaint hat and gown and hood of various colors made him seem like a benign figure in comic opera; and perhaps because of his dignity or his multiplicity of luggage, all the boats ardently desired him as a passenger. Two green boxes, carrying much information painted in white on the sides, gave us all details of his rank, ancestry, and place of residence. These were projected down the stairway and then followed an imposing procession of servitors bearing potted plants, packages done up in linen cloth, baskets of eggs, limes, lemons, grapefruit, a canary in a cage, some white mice, and a Persian cat; the last three, it is needless to say, being in separate crates.
Majestic being, that St. Kitts boatmaster; never more impressive than when he successfully landed a bishop of the isles! Dolly and I recalled the "Admirable Crichton" in Barrie's whimsical play, who, as butler in a titled English family, was wrecked with the entire household on a desert island. It needed only the emergencies of twenty-four hours to establish him as the dominant intellectual force and the practical governor of the sadly inefficient earls, countesses, ladies, and honorables; and before long he assumed the authority properly belonging to him. That the earl's daughter finally fell in love with him seemed not so much dramatic license as a tribute to his obvious superiority. In London the lady would have been criticized as marrying beneath her; on the desert island it actually appeared as if she were doing particularly well for herself; indeed, Dolly confessed that though she would prefer marrying Marmaduke Hogg she would rather be wrecked in the company of the St. Kitts boatmaster.
* * * * *
S.S. Diana, Sunday, January 27
After breakfast, on our way to anchor at Antigua for the night, we saw in the distance the towering cone of Nevis, the "Gorgeous Isle" of Alexander Hamilton's birth and the famous scene of Lord Nelson's marriage. It has fallen from its proud estate of former years into poverty and neglect, but it is still marvelously beautiful to the eye. We sat on deck reading, or at least glancing drowsily over the pages of our books to the sapphire sea and the emerald forests of the island shores with a never-ceasing delight. There were three Roman Catholic priests on board, also four Protestant missionaries, one of them with a wife and a family of charming children—Samuel, Naomi, Esther, Daniel. Piously they were named and never once did they bring contempt on the Holy Scriptures! From below in a far end of the boat we could hear echoes of gospel hymns in some little cabin where a Sunday-morning service was being held.
Dorothea gave a deep sigh.
"It is all so peaceful, Charlotte! One day just like another and all beautiful and tranquil. We haven't seen anybody hurry since we left New York. Do you remember Rudyard Kipling saying, when he came back there after a long absence, that he was afraid to step slowly lest the man behind him should walk up his back? Nobody ever seems nervous in these islands. The natives can be ragged and hungry without being much concerned. Work never appears to be a delight to them for its own sake, but only as a means to get food. I feel slip—slip—slipping into a heavenly state of coma. Does anything ever stir the tropics except hurricanes and earthquakes, I wonder? How can women fight for suffrage in this climate? How can a man be awakened to great ambitions?"
"Alexander Hamilton was born on Nevis and passed all his boyhood and youthful days on what is now our own St. Croix," I said.
"Yes, but he wasn't Washington's aide-de-camp nor secretary of the treasury in the tropics!"
"True; nevertheless, when he was Nicholas Cruger's bookkeeper at the age of twelve he wrote to an American friend: 'I contemn the groveling condition of a clerk to which my fortunes condemn me, and I would willingly risk my life, though not my character, to exalt my station.... My youth excludes me from any hope of immediate preferment, but I mean to prepare the way for futurity.' You see the yeast was stirring, even in the tropics, Dolly!"
"Well, I feel no yeast stirring in me," she said languidly. "All the morning I have been trying to recapture a certain 'Ode to a Cow' written by a man of action in a country hotel where mother and I were sojourning last summer. I could have echoed it when I first regarded the inhabitants of these islands, and now anybody might say it of me, for I grow more and more cow-like with every passing day. It runs this way:
"'ODE TO A CUD-CHEWING COW
"'Why, Cow, art thou so satisfied, So well content with all things here below, So meek, so lazy, and so awful slow? Dost thou not know that men's affairs are mixed? That grievously the world needs to be fixed? That nothing we can do has any worth? That life is care and trouble and untowardness? Prit, Cow! This is no time for idleness! The cud thou chewest is not what it seems. Get up and moo! Tear round and quit thy dreams!'"
By this time Dorothea was asleep. Her book slid to the floor, I shaded her face with my green umbrella, pulled down her muslin frock over her pretty ankles, and gave myself up to vagrant thoughts of her probable future.
Sunday on shipboard is a good day for reflections and heart-searchings. My own problem, after all, is not so baffling as Dolly's. She is as loyal as a charming and sensible girl can be to a mother like Mrs. Valentine, whose soul, if the truth were told, is about the size of a mustard-seed. A frivolous, useless, bird-minded woman is Dolly's mother; a woman pecking at life as a canary pecks at its cuttlefish, simply to sharpen its bill. How the girl can respect her I cannot imagine! I suppose flesh calls to flesh and she loves her without too much analysis, but they seem to have come to the parting of the ways. It is Dolly's highest self that is in love with Marmaduke Hogg, and I don't believe she will sacrifice it to a maternal whim and call it filial obedience. Perhaps the absence that makes the heart grow fonder is working like a philter in this journey planned by Mrs. Valentine with a far different purpose.
"Let her go with you, Charlotte," she begged me with tears in her eyes. "I must get her away from this attractive but undesirable young man! That absurd uncle who didn't want his name to die out must have been a lunatic or an imbecile. Why shouldn't such a vulgar name become extinct? And to think that my exquisite Dorothea—whose figure and eyelashes have been remarked by royalty—to think that she should be expected to graft herself on to that family tree of all others! To think that she may take that name herself and, for aught we know, add half a dozen more to the list; all boys, probably, who would marry in course of time and produce others, piling Hoggs on Hoggs, as it were! It is like one of those horrible endless chains that are condemned by the government!"
I gave way to peals of laughter at this impassioned speech, evidently annoying Mrs. Valentine, who expected sympathy. I tried to placate her with reference to the poet of the name which had none but delightful associations in Scotland.
"Then if they choose to defy me and marry each other, let them go and live in Scotland!" she snapped.
"Would you have minded Dolly's marrying Lord Bacon?" I asked.
This gave her food for thought.
"No," she said reflectively, "for, of course, he was a lord, which is something."
"But how about the associations?"
"I can't explain, but somehow they are not as repulsive to me," she insisted. "I always think of bacon cooked, not raw, and—the other is alive!"
As for my own difficulty, it is, after all, a conventional one. I cannot bear the idea of marrying my employer; a man known by sight and reputation to everybody in Washington, while I am a relatively unknown person without fortune, kith, or kin. The thought brings to mind sensational headlines in cheap newspapers regarding the wedding of some aged millionaire with his youthful stenographer, and the consequent alarms of his household; or the alliance of some scion of a wealthy house with a trained nurse of obscure lineage and vaulting ambition. I am all alone in the world, and though my father, who died when he was only five and twenty, left me but the barest support, I have gloried in my independence and rejoiced in my modest successes.
My people on both sides were of good stock. Even the Winthrops could climb my family tree and find no bad fruit on it, but the world will say: "What a splendid match for Charlotte Clifford." ... "I wonder how Ellen Winthrop will take it?" ... "I shouldn't have thought Clive Winthrop would marry his secretary, somehow, though there's nothing against her; but he could look higher!"
The world would be quite right. It is a splendid marriage for Charlotte Clifford, and Clive Winthrop could look higher. He is my superior and that is the reason I love him. That he loves me proves that there is something in me that will rise to his level. All the same, I wrote him when I came away that I could never cross the bridge between us (there is a bridge, although he does not see it) until I was no longer his secretary and until I was sure his sister would welcome me into the household that has been so harmonious and delightful to every human being that has ever crossed its threshold. Nobody could equal Ellen Winthrop as a hostess, with her fine, spirited face, lovely even at seventy; her gift of repartee, her stately manner, her simple, trailing dress, always of black or gray, and always reaching the floor, when most of the feminine world looks, in its best clothes, as if mounted on stilts, with a skimpy, semi-detached tail wriggling its silly length behind! I could never scale the heights on which the splendid Ellen perpetually dwells, but I could sit at the foot of them and admire with all my heart, and perhaps that attitude, if fully understood, might win her affection.
* * * * *
S.S. Diana, January 28, 1918
At Antigua we anchored and took a steam launch to see the town, where we visited a very fine sugar-cane factory, watching the whole process from the cane-field to the market.
We did not land at Guadeloupe, the hour not being favorable and the stay being too brief to compensate for the effort involved. But this morning at eight we approached Dominica, the largest of the Leeward group, the loftiest of the Lesser Antilles, and the loveliest—if one could or ought to make comparison—the loveliest of the West Indian Isles. The guidebook calls it "The Caribbean Wonderland," and Dolly and I were not disposed to quarrel with the phrase, after hanging over the deck-rail for an hour before breakfast and marveling at the beauty of the view. Mountains shimmered in the distance like visions seen in dreams, mountains like towering emeralds springing from a sapphire sea! We passed tiny hamlets, half-hidden in lime orchards, and cocoa-groves with yellow patches of cane gleaming here and there against a background of forest. As we drew nearer we could see white torrents dashing tempestuously down through green valleys, for Dominica has a too plenteous water-supply, since in some districts three hundred inches a year is the average rainfall. It rained seven times in the three hours that we passed on shore, but the showers were gentle ones, and we found generous shelter in the wonderful Botanical Garden, where we spent most of our time.
Nature is sometimes a kindly mother; often she wears a tragic mask, and now and then she indulges in melodrama; but I never conceived the possibility of her having a sense of humor until we witnessed her freakish mood in the Dominica garden. There were the usual varieties of magnificent palms and brilliant flowering shrubs; but the joy of joys was the Sausage-Tree, around which we walked in helpless mirth at the incredible veracity of the imitation. It reached a goodly height, and had a splendid girth and circumference of shade; but no factory in Bologna or Frankfort, or any other possible birthplace of the real article, could rival this amazing, this funny, tree in fertility. Its product was just a trifle large, save for the omnivorous lover of sausage; but in other respects it was a faithful copy of the original—unless, indeed, the first sausage-maker borrowed the idea from the tree, instead of the other way about. These vegetable sausages hung in hundreds of strings and festoons and clusters from the topmost to the lowest branches. Because of the way they hung, the way they were strung, their shape and color, and the very manner in which the skin was neatly drawn over each one and fastened, no one possessing a sense of the ridiculous but would sit down under the tree and laugh at the joke. Oddly enough we could find no pictorial postcard of this phenomenon to bring home for the enlivening of winter evenings, though we bought a capital one of the Cannon-Ball Tree, just as unique in its way but not so absurd.
Dorothea was enchanted with Dominica, and kept exclaiming every few minutes: "Oh, if only Great Britain would sell us this island! I think I'd choose to live in Dominica, because if I had a sausage-tree in my garden I should laugh every day, and the children wouldn't need any playthings."
* * * * *
S.S. Diana, February 1, 1918
We have had a glimpse of France through a day at Martinique. The principal feature of our visit was a wild motor-drive up an eighteen-hundred-foot mountain. It was a steady climb from glory to glory, with tropical forests on every side. Our method of progress was not quite serene, for there was not a sufficient number of cars to satisfy the demand.
After a long wait Dolly and I took a small mongrel sort of motor that had been refused by all the Diana's passengers. The Creole driver, handsome, debonair, persuasive, and fluent, though unintelligible, assured us that he had ascended and descended the mountain hundreds of times, a fact only too obvious to one who examined his means of transportation. None of the tires matched, and two of them looked like wounded soldiers just home from the front, displaying patches of adhesive plaster and bandages of cotton and woolen rags of every color, with an occasional inset of an alien material into the rubber. One could catch a glimpse of a tin tomato-can neatly introduced in the place of some vital bit of machinery; a Waterbury alarm-clock figured in an unexpected position, apparently adding its power to the engine; and there were stout ropes, here and there, which I never observed before in the rigging of any motor.
I hesitated to enter, for the future, though not absolutely certain, looked full of hope and promise; but Dolly was firm and reckless. I am ten years her senior, but still young to be called a "'fraid cat" with impunity; so I finally mounted the vehicle. The driver gave a gay, insouciant tap to a front tire, as much as to say: "Courage, mon enfant! C'est la derniere fois!"—then flung himself into his seat, and, blowing a horn, started his base-hospital up the mountain at a breakneck pace. The motor's own horn was out of commission, but there was a substitute by the driver's side. It was easy for him to blow it because he had no particular use for either of his hands, his steering being left largely to chance. Repeated expostulations in boarding-school French only elicited a reply that sounded like: "Soyez tranquilles, mesdames. You speak American? Bien! Leezy est parfaitement docile!"
This conveyed no idea to me, although his broad grin convinced me that in his own opinion it was a subtle witticism. At length, however, it burst upon Dolly, who went off into irrepressible gales of laughter.
"You have lived so continuously in a rarefied Winthrop atmosphere, Charlotte, that you haven't any modern vocabulary. He is telling you the pet name of his car, to give you confidence. Nobody ever dies in a tin 'Lizzie.' Not only is the machine indestructible, but the people that ride in it. Isn't the driver a witty, reckless darling?"
He was, indeed; and, incredible as it may seem, Lizzie ascended and descended the mountain in safety—though only because a kind Providence watched over us. Then, when we had paid the reckless, danger-proof darling twice the sum he should have demanded, we sat on a bench in the Savanna, where we could be quietly grateful that we were alive and watch the coming and going of the Fort-de-France townspeople, so unmistakably French, with the bright costumes of the women, the pose of their turbans or hats, their sparkle and chatter and vivacious gestures.
Here in the Savanna travelers always gather to look at the marble statue of the Empress Josephine, which is called the greatest work of art in the West Indies. That is not fatuous praise, perhaps, but the figure needed the hand of no master sculptor to hold the eye and captivate the imagination. It is mounted on a huge pedestal and is of heroic size, the white glitter of its marble enhanced by its truly magnificent setting, a circle of towering royal palms. There she stands, the lovely Creole woman of Martinique, forever looking at "Trois Islets," as if she were remembering her birth in an overseer's shack and her girlhood passed in a sugar-mill. Straightway the crowds of native men and women chaffering in the market-place, the mothers holding up their crowing babies to the statue, the nursemaids and groups of playing children, all vanished, and we re-lived in spirit poor Josephine's past, thrilling anew at the remembrance of her romance, her triumph, and her bitter sorrow—the Creole girl who crossed the sea to become Empress of France and share a throne with Napoleon, but who sailed back to her island home a brokenhearted woman.
Good-bye, Martinique, land of Josephine; and land of St. Pierre, the scene of one of the greatest tragedies of modern times, when the fury of Mont Pelee engulfed the growth of centuries and buried forty thousand human creatures in its scalding lava. St. Lucia, of the Windward group, to-morrow, and then Barbados, from whence the Diana goes on to Demerara and returns a week or so later, so that we are able to rejoin her, taking up our former comfortable cabins and our much-liked captain.
* * * * *
S.S. Diana Between Barbados and New York February 11
Here we are again on our homeward trip, making fewer landings and briefer stops, principally to take on passengers and thousands of barrels of limes.
Barbados, with its charming hotel at Hastings, was an unalloyed delight; and Dorothea, who had determined to live in each of the islands as it came along, would finally have transferred her allegiance for good and all had it not seemed more loyal for an American to choose one of our own possessions and "grow up with the country." We found ourselves in the midst of pleasant, even distinguished, society—British officials, ex-governors, and judge-advocates of the various islands, English and Canadian soldiers on sick-leave, and officers commanding the U-boat chasers in near-by waters. Dorothea danced nightly and held court daily on the broad piazzas, reminding me of Rudyard Kipling's fascinating heroine in an Indian army post, who, whenever she appeared, caused the horizon to become black with majors. Her head and heart remained true to the absent Marmaduke—I am not so sure about her dancing feet!
Now that that experience is over, with the many others, we are at sea and quiet again, with one tranquil day just like the other.
"What a honeymoon journey it would make, Charlotte!" said Dolly one moonlight evening on deck. "It is so difficult to grow in knowledge of people in New York or Washington. One doesn't even know one's self."
"All journeys must be good for honeymooners, don't you think?"
"Yes, in a way; but some places are created for lovers and newlyweds, who are, after all, only explorers, Charlotte, forever discovering new lands and annexing new territories."
"Yes; and sometimes falling into the hands of savages and cannibals, I suppose."
"Yes; that must be terrible—the awakening to find that one has been mistaken in a man!" sighed Dolly.
"I dare say we ought to worry lest men be mistaken in us; it might happen, you know."
"Your mind is so logical, Charlotte! However, this voyage wouldn't have to be idealized to meet the needs of honeymooners. In a Vermont village where I sometimes stay I remember a girl who had to be married on Sunday because she could not give up her position as telegraph-operator till Saturday night. That was dull enough in all conscience, but she was married in her high-school graduating dress, and went to her grandmother's house, ten miles away, for her wedding-journey. I think it required considerable inward felicity to exalt that situation!"
I sat upright in my steamer chair. "Dorothea," I said sharply, "you have been manufacturing conversation for the last five minutes—just killing time for fear that I should ask you questions. Is there anything on your mind? You have been absentminded and nervous for days."
"Your imagination is working overtime, Charlotte," she answered. "We are nearing home, that is all; and life presses closer."
I could not gainsay her, for every mile of ocean crossed makes my heart beat faster. I seem to be living just now in a sort of pause between my different lives. There is the heaven of my childhood in the vague background; then the building of my "career," if so modest a thing can be called by so shining a name; then the steady, half-conscious growth of a love that illumines my labors, yet makes them difficult and perplexing; and now there is a sense of suspended activity, of waiting, with a glimmering air-castle rising like an iridescent bubble out of the hazy future. Sometimes there are two welcoming faces at a window and sometimes the indistinct figure of a woman stretching out a forbidding hand, my chief's sister, who may not want a third person in the family!
* * * * *
S.S. Diana, February 13, 1918
Dolly went on the bridge this afternoon and stayed a half-hour with the captain, giving no reason save that she liked to talk with him, which seemed plausible, but did not satisfy me. At bedtime I discovered her unpacking and laying out in her upper berth a dazzling toilet for our landing at St. Thomas to-morrow. She blushed when I looked in upon her.
"Do dress 'up to me,' Charlotte," she coaxed. "I don't want to be conspicuous. Wear your gray georgette and the broad hat with the roses."
"Why this sudden display of vanity and good clothes?"
"Hasn't your letter of introduction to Governor Oliver brought us an invitation to luncheon at Government House?"
"Yes; but I don't suppose it is a banquet."
"Charlotte, I must confide in you."
"I should think it was about time."
"What do you mean?"
"I have known for days that you were concealing something."
"I didn't want to be secretive, but I thought it was only fair to you to keep my own counsel. Now you can report to mother that you knew nothing, and that therefore you couldn't interfere."
"But what have you done? You can't be secretly married—with your chosen man in Washington and you on the vasty deep."
"No; but I'm next door to it."
"What do you mean by 'next door'? Have you a groom and a minister waiting on the New York dock?"
"No; mother will be there, but I fear she won't bring a minister. I'm so glad you imagined something far, far worse than I ever intended. It shows that you are more audacious than I—though nobody would believe it."
"I don't like your tone; but go on."
"I've been communicating rather frequently with Duke."
"So I fancied, from your changing money at every stop and doing continual sums on paper."
"It has made me a pauper—this telegraphing in war-time. The messages go by Jamaica or Porto Rico or Trinidad or Bermuda and lots of other islands, and I think some of the messages must be personally conducted straight to New York by powerful swimmers, judging by the cost."
"Go on. Don't temporize."
"I needn't repeat all of them, and in fact I haven't copies. Duke, after he had my first telegram from St. Thomas, wired back to St. Croix, 'You are willing to take my name. Why, after all, shouldn't I refuse your sacrifice and make one of my own by taking yours?' Wasn't that noble?"
"It would have softened the heart of a suffragette or a feminist. What did you reply?"
"I said: 'Never in the world!'"
"'Never' would have been enough. You wasted three words at a dollar or so apiece."
"I wanted to be strong. I said: 'Never in the world! I am not going to have you criticized and nagged and made unhappy, as if your name were a crime!' Then he wired: 'But it would remove objections, and cost only six thousand a year.' I had to wait two whole days and nights before I could cable: 'Objector will surely meet me in New York. She will probably forgive if we are both firm. My mind is made up. I would rather be a you-know-what than remain a Valentine.'"
"That was strong enough."
"I meant it to be. He has been scurrilously treated, and somebody must stand by him. Now, to-morrow, February 14th, is his birthday. I remember it because we met on St. Valentine's day, and it wasn't many hours afterward that I guessed how he felt about me."
"Dorothea! Do you mean to tell me that a man spoke to you of his feelings within twenty-four hours of the time you met?"
"No, I do not."
"You certainly intimated as much. If it wasn't many hours after you met on the 14th it must have been on the 15th."
"No, you are wrong, Charlotte. It was the evening of the same day. We met in the early morning."
"It sounds like a children's party with an exchange of those snapping-mottoes."
"Duke is nearly twenty-eight, you know, Charlotte; so it is simply nonsense to jeer at him. You ought to be able to imagine what sort of things would be said between two persons mutually attracted to each other—when you remember that he was born on February 14th and my name is Valentine. The coincidence simply put ideas into our heads; but I won't go on if you don't sympathize."
"I don't actually disapprove, not at heart. Now, what has his birthday got to do with to-morrow and St. Thomas?"
"Why, I cabled him as soon as we arrived at Barbados: 'What would you like for a birthday present from the West Indies?' I knew that he would remember we met on St. Valentine's day and an answer could reach me at St. Thomas."
"Couldn't you buy him a souvenir without inquiring at great expense what he'd prefer?"
"Ye-es; but I thought it was a nice, affectionate question."
"Well, he cabled one word, Charlotte."
"I guessed that the moment you quoted your message. When you asked: 'What shall I bring you from the West Indies?' Duke promptly answered, 'Yourself.'"
"Charlotte, you are positively uncanny! How did you manage to hit upon it?"
"It doesn't take as much intellect as you fancy. You are as transparent as a plate of glass. Well, when he said 'Yourself,' how did you answer him?"
"It's the only thing I don't like to tell you, but I must. I reflected a full half-hour at Barbados. It was one of those heavenly moonlight nights not suitable for reflection. Then I wrote a message and sent it to the office by one of the colored waiters so that the hotel people shouldn't read it. It said" (and here she turned her face away from me): "'Deliveries from the West Indies are uncertain and expensive; come and get me.'—Do you think that was forward?"
I laughed irresistibly and a long time. "It certainly was not backward, but it was delicious," I said at length, wiping the tears from my eyes. "However, he seems as impetuous and tempestuous as you, so perhaps it doesn't matter."
"You see, Charlotte, I knew that probably he couldn't meet this boat to save his life, so I was willing to say, 'Come and get me,' just for fun. I hadn't the slightest clue as to when he would receive my message or the sailing dates of steamers from New York, everything is so changed in war-times. I know only that the time is slipping away, and Duke may leave the Shipping Board at any moment for the training-camp. I intend to have one brief, straightforward talk with mother, and declare my purpose. We are going to get your Mr. Winthrop to intercede for us, too. I shall be of age in March, and I don't intend to let a mere name stand between me and happiness."
"I think you are right, and that your mother will finally agree with you; but I still don't see the need of an unusual toilet for to-morrow."
"It's for the Governor," said Dolly, "and one never knows what may happen."
"If a bromidic remark may also be cryptic, Dorothea, you have achieved the combination. Now I must ask you a direct question, for, although I am not your keeper, but your friend, I am not disposed to let you do anything reckless. Why did you put that idea into Duke's head—the idea of meeting you in St. Thomas?"
"I wanted to talk things over before seeing mother. I knew I could trust him. He has some elderly cousins and a sister-in-law; surely, between them, he could find somebody to bring along with him; and I have you, safest and wisest of Charlottes! Duke is one of the legal advisers of the Shipping Board. Why shouldn't he have business in these islands? Besides, it is a practical impossibility that he should be able to reach St. Thomas on a given date."
"Then why did you suggest it?"
"I think, Charlotte, it must have been empty-mindedness."
"I regard it as a pure lack of self-control."
"I've practiced self-control for one whole, endless year."
"You have practiced filial obedience, I grant that. But what good do you expect to achieve if Duke does surmount the insurmountable and meet you to-morrow?"
"What good?" Dolly almost shrieked the question. "What good, do you ask? You callous, cold-hearted Charlotte! Why, four heavenly days spent in his society, to be sure—with you and his chaperon having a lovely time together somewhere not too near."
"And you haven't any sneaking idea of marrying him in St. Thomas? Because I won't allow it."
"No such luck! He wouldn't let me, unless mother's attitude has been miraculously changed."
"Well, I can only say that you have made me very nervous and uncomfortable, Dolly," and I prepared to leave her cabin and cross the narrow space that divided it from mine.
"Darling Charlotte!" Here she drew me back. "If you are nervous and uncomfortable, it seems that you think there's a bare chance that Duke will be in St. Thomas."
"I know nothing about the possibilities," I replied. "He might persuade the Shipping Board that he could be of use in this vicinity, and, of course, he would have advantages not possessed by ordinary tourists."
"If you had had any experience with shipping boards, Charlotte, you would know that they can only be moved by chloroform or dynamite. Besides, Duke would never do anything underhanded; he is too patriotic; though, of course, he is inventive."
"Of course! And inventiveness is only one of his gifts, while his virtues are those of Sir Galahad, King Arthur, Marcus Aurelius, Abraham Lincoln, and a few others."
"Charlotte, I don't want to seem harsh, but I hope some time you will get a faint inkling of what love really is. Your heart reminds me of the Rock of Gibraltar!"
"One doesn't wear the Rock of Gibraltar on one's sleeve, at all events," I remarked.
"Do you mean that if you ever did have a love-affair you wouldn't confide in me, when I adore you so, Charlotte?"
"I mean something of the sort, my child." At which she made a feint of beating me with her little silver hair-brush, but ended in kissing my cheek and whispering: "Good-night! You are a darling, even if you have no sentiment."
* * * * *
Morning came. We anchored outside St. Croix at five o'clock; went through medical inspection at six, and if there was anything the matter with Dolly's heart or mine the physician did not offer any comment. Then about ten we approached St. Thomas for the second time.
If the Virgin Islands looked beautiful when we first saw them, they had grown in beauty during our brief absence, and my birthplace, in the shining distance, was a very dream of loveliness. We saw its outline rising above a rim of azure sea, with the mountains of Porto Rico standing out to the westward. The great palm groves on the shore led the eye upward to the green hills and the clouds topping the higher peaks. Gayly painted boats began to come near the Diana, and naked diving boys, slender shapes of brown mahogany, plunged into the sea to catch our pennies. Then we saw the red roofs of Charlotte Amalia, the little park near the landing, and the pink, toy-like fortress with the Stars and Stripes floating over it.
Dorothea and I stood near the deck-rail, her hand in mine. In her white dress, her broad hat wreathed with corn-flowers, and a scarlet sunshade, she looked a youthful Columbia, so radiant and bewitching that for the first time I secretly hoped Marmaduke Hogg might triumph over the obstacles in the way and come to meet his ladylove, although I saw many embarrassing and awkward situations arising from such a meeting. I could not be jealous of so bright and joyous a creature, and anyway my own happiness was only a few days distant, if I chose to put out my arms and take it.
There seemed to be a crowd on the dock, which was made most unattractive by a colossal mountain of coal that concealed everything behind it. The Diana made a slow approach, but we finally passed the coal-heap and came within thirty feet of the shore. I could feel Dolly's heart beat through her pulse that lay under my hand. Then suddenly her quick eyes searched the outer edge of the crowd and found the shape they were looking for.
"I think I see him! I think I am going to faint, for I didn't really expect him! Yes; I know it is he, though he is wearing summer clothes that I never saw before. Look, Charlotte! Away back near that grove of cocoanut-trees! He's with other people—I knew he would find somebody! Give me the glasses. There's an elderly man in a Panama hat, and two ladies, and—why, Charlotte, take the glasses yourself. It can't be, but it looks like your Winthrop!"
My hand trembled so that I could hardly hold the glass. I could scarcely believe Dolly's eyes or my own; but the Diana crept nearer, and it was true! Inch by inch the picture grew clearer, and then a pathetic surprise met my gaze.
I could see Clive plainly now, and felt that he was searching the line of passengers on the Diana's deck to find me. My heart gave a furious leap to think that a man like my chief would look for only one woman's face in that crowd, and regard it, with all its blemishes, as a precious thing.
Duke had separated himself from the little group and was swinging his hat to Dorothea; but I could not explain why the two men were not standing nearer together and what was the meaning of the wheeled chair, with the nurse's head rising above the back. The identity of the person in the chair was hidden by a tiny black frilled parasol with a handle bent in the middle so that it could be used for a shield. Did I know that little old-fashioned sunshade? I did! It was the property of some one whose belongings had a certain air of difference from those of other people. She lifted it at last, as we came close to the dock, and I met Ellen Winthrop's affectionate, welcoming glance. Her eyes swam in unshed tears, and mine were so wet I could see only dimly that her beautiful hair was a shade whiter, her face paler and thinner, that she had aged mysteriously in a month, and the hand that was holding the parasol trembled like a leaf. She had been very ill; there was no doubt of that. She had been ordered a voyage, and I felt that she had chosen this one because she knew Clive's wish. That meant she was willing to welcome me into the heart of the family; perhaps even that she wished to help me fit myself to take her own unique place in her brother's life. Oh, what joy to feel that I could not only take freely all that my chief wanted to give me, but that I could be of real service to her!
Down the precipitous landing-steps we went, Dolly, as usual, well in the front. Clive and Duke were at the foot awaiting us, and, as we felt a sense of safety in the midst of strangers, Dolly flung herself at once into Duke's arms, while all the male watchers on deck or dock gazed at him with envy. Finding myself unobserved in this spectacular tableau, I could give Clive my own greeting as my heart dictated, while I told him that his sister's presence answered my last doubt.
When Dolly withdrew from the embrace of her adoring swain—rosy, joyous, unabashed—she adjusted her hat from its perilous position on one side of her head, and gazed upon Clive and me with unflattering astonishment mixed with awe.
"You, too, perfidious Charlotte! You needn't deny it; I saw you both—just finishing!"
"Not at all, Miss Valentine," laughed Clive, putting out his hand to shake hers. "We were, in fact, only just beginning."
"And to think I never suspected, when I might have known that you are the only man in the world learned enough and good enough for Charlotte."
"You were too absorbed in your own affairs to think about mine, missy," I said. "Now, will you be modest and grateful for the rest of your life, since you see that my Mr. Winthrop has brought your young man to St. Thomas in a discreet manner that you never could have achieved by yourself? Take me to your sister, Clive; I want her to know without a moment's delay how I appreciate her coming with you."
"She has been terribly ill, Charlotte. For ten days after you left it was almost hopeless, but at length she rallied, and since the doctor insisted on a change of climate her whole heart was bent on coming here. She has long suspected our feeling for each other, and you will be such a joy to her as well as to me, my dear."
"It makes me so happy, so happy!" I faltered, my eyes swimming with tears. "I was so unwilling to take all and give so little—now it will be more!"
"Don't go off by yourselves," said Dolly. "Be dignified and indifferent, like us. Take Mr. Winthrop's arm and I'll take Duke's." (Here she suited the action to the word.) "There's the Governor, expecting us to luncheon and not knowing us by sight. He won't suspect what has happened; but after saluting him and asking him to put some more plates on the table, we'll all walk up to Miss Winthrop's chair, and you and I will say: 'Good-morning, dear lady. Let us introduce to you "our new possessions," our spoils of travel, our souvenirs of a sea-voyage.' Then Duke and Mr. Winthrop will make a profound obeisance, and all will be over."
And so it turned out! Everybody laughed and chatted; Dorothea kissed Ellen Winthrop's hand prettily, coquetted with Clive, and began to lay siege to the nurse's heart, while she riveted the chains by which she held Marmaduke Hogg in bondage. She was in high spirits, but she was distinctly nervous, and whenever she introduced her fiance to one of her fellow voyagers she showed a heightened color as she slid quickly over his surname.
Presently Clive withdrew a little distance to talk with the Governor's secretary, and Dorothea caught the captain on his way from the ship and entangled him in a merry conversation with Miss Winthrop. This gave Marmaduke an opportunity to take me aside. I suspected that he wanted to confide in me that Mrs. Valentine had made one last determined refusal to receive him as a son-in-law, and that after the next few days of sea-voyaging we should meet an irate parent at the landing in New York and that there would be metaphorical "wigs on the green."
I confess in that moment, as I envisaged the recalcitrant Dolly locked in her room and fed upon bread and water, that I wished Mr. Marmaduke Hogg had remained in Washington, which is the scene of so many battles that one more or less would not be obvious on the horizon. On the contrary, his first words were a surprise.
"Miss Clifford," he said, "no one knows what Dolly and I owe to you!"
"But what have I done?" I inquired laughingly.
"Oh, a thousand things! Taken my part gently and kindly with Mrs. Valentine; and above all, allowed Dolly to come on this journey with you, when she was so utterly confused by her mother's objections to our marriage that she did not know which way to turn.—It's rather a big job for a girl to decide whether she'll break her mother's heart, or her lover's!"
"Mrs. Valentine has no heart, save in the physiological sense," I interrupted.
"Well, I have cut the Gordian knot," continued Marmaduke. "I don't want Dolly to know just at first, but I have set plans in motion for changing my name back to Forrest!"
"But you lose six thousand dollars a year!" I exclaimed.
"It doesn't matter. I am offered a New York partnership when the war is over and it won't be very long before I make it up."
"And what about your dear old uncle?"
"That hurts me, I confess. But I think if departed spirits know nothing of our doings, it doesn't matter, and if they know everything, uncle must have kept an eye on Mrs. Valentine and will understand."
"I never thought of leaving the whole matter to 'uncle,'" I observed.
"I'm not shifting the responsibility; I'm simply counting on him. I always counted on him and he always trusted me. If I could get him on a spiritual long-distance telephone, he would see that I cannot part an only daughter from her only mother."
"Yes, I've often thought only children were a mistake; they bulk too heavily in the foreground. Where there are six, each one cannot take up so much room."
"Exactly. You see we've got to go to her mother's to dinner every other Sunday when our cook's out. I've learned that much about matrimony in advance."
"Perhaps you won't be invited!"
"Well, that would be even worse. Besides, she has given up her apartment and leased a charming house."
"Does she think that you and Dolly are to live with her?"
"If she does she is mistaken, but to do her justice I don't believe that's her idea at all. However, she is all settled and awaiting Dorothea. The house is going to be a surprise."
"Dolly will like it; the apartment didn't suit her taste."
"A pompous butler is installed. I discovered all this when I went to call, and conscientiously told her I was going to St. Thomas with the Winthrops. He is elderly, of course, as all the middle-aged and young butlers are in khaki; and wonderful to relate, there is also an aged but well-preserved footman. He dwells on the lower floor, and communicates with the butler on the floor above, where the drawing- and dining-rooms are, by means of a speaking-tube. The moment the footman approached me with his 'What name, sir?' and bawled 'MR. HOGG!' through the tube, the butler repeating it resonantly to the boudoir where Mrs. Valentine was sitting; at that moment I knew why she had taken the house. It was for the speaking-tubes! I have never before seen a small house in Washington with these annunciators. The butler and footman were engaged for the same purpose, that of bawling 'MR. HOGG' whenever I called upon Dolly. After my interview with Mrs. Valentine, which was placid, for she thanked me coldly for telling her of my proposed journey and said she should go herself, but imagined that the steamers were small and uncomfortable, and the food villainous; however, we would talk the whole matter over in New York and come to some decision; she then went to the speaking-tube and called, 'Brown! Ask Jenkins to show Mr. Hogg out, please!'
"I left the lady and went at once to Clive Winthrop for advice and began the process of amputating my surname. Perhaps I shall not call at the X Street house till the wedding is over, and when the footman asks: 'What name, sir?' I shall say: 'My bachelor name, as you may remember, was Hogg, but I am now married and it is Forrest!'"
PHILIPPA'S NERVOUS PROSTRATION
A STUDY IN NOBLENESS
Stanwood Sanitarium, Mapleton, Pennsylvania, June,19—
The door has just closed behind one of the most eminent physicians in the State, and I am no longer Philippa Armstrong, but a case of neurasthenia, an inmate of Room Number 17, which has a yellow placard over its entrance; a placard announcing that no callers are allowed within, save with the special permission of Dr. Levi Stanwood. At present the placard is the only thing I enjoy about the institution; that, at least, promises peace; at all events, such peace as can be found outside of one's own soul.
I am counseled to have complete rest, cheerful surroundings, abstinence from newspapers and letters, sound sleep, careful and nourishing diet, freedom from anxiety, gentle tonics, with electrical and other treatments underlined upon a printed list.
The head physician (who is a genius in the way of diagnosis, seeing through the human system as if it were plate glass) has made a careful study of my symptoms and written my Cousin Sarah that all I need is six or eight weeks of his care to be quite myself again.
How little they understand us women, after all—poor, blind, unsuspicious doctors! My heart-beats, my color, my temperature, my pulse, my blood pressure, even my tongue, all these have told no tales to the scientific eye, and as it was literally impossible for Dr. Stanwood to discern my malady, it was equally beyond him to suggest a remedy. As a matter of fact, all I need to make and keep me well is large and constant doses of Richard Morton, Esq., of Baltimore; but who would confess that to a doctor?
Cousin Sarah does not suspect the state of things, the gentleman himself is, I trust, quite ignorant, and the doctor will waste upon me all the wealth of curative agencies at his command without effecting the least change in my condition.
Richard Morton is an orphan; so am I. He is young, strong, good-looking, clever, and poor. I am the first, second, and fifth; as to one's own beauty and cleverness it is difficult to speak impartially.
I have thought for nearly six months, and indeed I am still inclined to think, that Richard Morton loves me, and I was equally certain, until a few weeks ago, that he was only awaiting a suitable opportunity to declare his love and ask me to marry him. I had made up my mind, whenever he should put the important question, to answer him frankly and joyously in the affirmative; not because he is the handsomest or most brilliant or most desirable person in the world, but because for sheer lovableness and husbandliness he is unsurpassed and unsurpassable.
In March Cousin Sarah made a visit to Germantown and met there a Mrs. Taunton, Richard Morton's widowed aunt. When the intimacy had progressed sufficiently Mrs. Taunton told Cousin Sarah one day that she hoped her nephew would eventually marry a certain Amy Darling, a near neighbor of hers; that Miss Darling's father and Richard's had been friends from boyhood; and that they had always planned a marriage between the two young people, each an only child.
Of course, Mr. Darling, who died only this winter, did not indulge in any such melodramatic or bookish nonsense as setting down commands or desires in his will, nor were any of his bequests dependent upon them. He did talk with his daughter, however, during his last illness, and he did leave Richard Morton a letter expressing his regard and confidence, and saying that as his daughter was entirely without relatives he should have felt much happier had he seen her married before his death. If he had stopped there all would have been well, but he went on. He knew, he said, that Amy was one of the sweetest and most attractive girls in the world, and if a mutual affection should grow out of her acquaintance with Richard he would be glad to know that the fortune he had made by his own energy might be a basis for the future prosperity and business success of his old friend's son.
Cousin Sarah came home from Germantown quite excited by this romance and discussed it with me daily, in exasperating unconsciousness that I could feel the least distaste for the subject.
"It seems almost providential, Philippa," she said, over her knitting.
"Providential for which of them?" I asked, stabbing my sheet of music paper with the pen, while I tried in vain to think how many eighth notes would fill a measure.
"For both; though I was really thinking of Mr. Morton. His business is one that peculiarly requires capital; then again he has many interests in Philadelphia, and there is that beautiful place in Germantown with house, stable, horses, and gardens all ready for him."
"And the girl, too; don't forget her," I responded. "Though some men don't care for these ready-to-wear wives; they prefer to look about and to choose."
"He would have to look a long distance before he found any one to compare with Miss Darling, either in beauty or suitableness," said Cousin Sarah, thereby injecting the first drop of poison in my blood and starting me on the downward path toward nervous prostration.
"Miss Darling is a man's woman," she continued, unconsciously giving me another push; "the type with which neither you nor I have anything in common, but which we know to be irresistible."
Now Cousin Sarah is fifty-five, thin, angular, erect, uncompromising. I love and respect her, but do not care to be lumped with her in affairs of the heart, at least not for thirty years to come; and although I think it is disgusting to be labeled a "man's woman" it is insufferable to be told that one is not!
"I can see Amy Darling in my mind's eye," I ventured; "blonde, dimply, fluffy as to head, willowy as to figure so as to cling the better, blue eyes swimming in unshed tears, and a manner so exquisitely feminine that she makes all the other women in her vicinity appear independent and mannish. But not all men care for pets, Cousin Sarah—some of them prefer companions."
"A pet is a companion," remarked Cousin Sarah casually as she left the room, giving me thereby an entirely new and most unpleasant thought.
I have known Richard Morton for many months, and although I have met him very often at other places, he has been a constant visitor at our house. If he has had any resemblance to a possible suitor why hasn't Cousin Sarah discovered it? Is she deaf and blind, or have my ears and eyes played me false? Am I so undesirable that it would never cross her mind that a man might fall in love with me? Hardly, for she is well aware that several men have expressed their willingness to annex my poverty-stricken charms.
As I look back upon the weeks that followed the interview with Cousin Sarah I see that Richard was never the same after he received Mr. Darling's letter. I felt a nameless difference. It was not only that I saw him less frequently, but that he gave me less of himself when I did see him. I, too, was on guard and never succeeded in being quite natural. I am not so foolish as to give up to another girl a man who loves me, simply because she is rich. The thought that worries me night and day is this: if at the moment he only feels for me friendship, ought I to let it grow into love when there is another woman who could give him with herself everything he needs to assure his career? With Philippa Armstrong for a wife he will have to work unceasingly, and unless fortune is particularly kind he may not achieve a large success for many years. If he marries Amy Darling (soft, silly, spineless little name!) he has house, lands, and money, all the influence of her father's former business associates, and has, besides, carried out his own father's wishes.
This is considerable; quite enough to make a man reflect and vacillate, unless he is so deeply in love already that no temptation is strong enough to assail him.
Richard Morton, I know, likes to dance with me, sing with me, golf with me, talk with me, consult with me about his affairs, write letters to me; and more than that, he doesn't like to have other men usurp these privileges; but I am not prepared to say that he would pine away if circumstances removed me altogether from his path. At any rate, these perplexities have been too much for my peace of mind, and when Richard Morton announced that he had business which would keep him in Philadelphia for a month I began to feel physically ill and unable to bear Cousin Sarah's sympathy, her curiosity, even at last her proximity. When the doctor advised my coming here to this quiet, restful place I eagerly embraced the opportunity simply because I could be alone, and because I need not meet Richard until he had enjoyed a full month of Amy Darling's society, either succumbing to its fascination or resisting it, as the case might be.
Would it be nobler of me to give him up before he is really mine, knowing that in this way I am advancing his worldly interests? This is the question that I hope solitude will help me to answer, but its complications and side-issues are so many that I feel dazed by their number and their difficulty. I went to sleep last night echoing the old negro's prayer: "Thou knowest what's about right, Lord. Now do it!"
* * * * *
8 A.M.—Nurse gives me an alcohol bath.
8.30—She takes my pulse and temperature and enters them in the Bedside Record Book, afterwards reading me my diet-list. It seems I do not belong to the favored class, which, to be cured, is stuffed with pleasant things to eat; my symptoms demand a simple, unexciting bill of fare.
Fruit in season.
(This is its only name, but everybody knows it by sight.)
Poweretta Grits with Cream. Graham Muffins. Wheatoata Process Coffee.
11.15—Drop of blood extracted from ear and subjected to examination.
11.30—Glass of Certified Milk.
12—Visit from physician.
Barley Broth. Lamb Chop—Hominy or Rice. Bread-and-butter Pudding Custard Sauce.
2 to 3—Silent hour.
5—Cup of Predigested Maltese Milk.
5.30—Visit from head nurse.
Cornetta Mush. Poached Egg on Whole-Wheat Toast. Sterilized Stewed Apples—Zephyrettes. Cup of Somnolina. (A beverage from which everything pleasant and harmful has been extracted by a beneficent process.)
7.30—Miss Blossom, the nurse, insists on reading to me. It is not a good performance but it doesn't matter. I know that Dick and Amy Darling are just starting for the theater.
8.30—Tepid sponge bath.
9.30—Glass of peptonized water.
9.45—Temperature and pulse taken.
Never in all my twenty-five years of life have I passed a busier or more exhausting day.
* * * * *
Precisely like Tuesday save for some new experiences in diet. There was a mild process-drink called Cocoatina; Teaette also made its appearance. There were dolls' mattresses of shredded excelsior moistened with milk; nut salad, and Grahamata mush. I could never have supposed so many new cereals could be invented.
There is mush in the evening, mush in the morning, Mush when it's looked for and mush without warning.
It is rather like the immortal "Charge of the Light Brigade":
Oats to the right of them, Corn to the left of them, Wheat to the north of them, Grits to the south of them, Into the Valley of Mush rode the two hundred.
* * * * *
I was allowed to sit on my balcony for an hour this morning. This would have been a pleasant change had I not heartily disliked at first sight my next-door neighbor who was sitting on the adjoining balcony. At noon she sent me a bunch of pansies and her card: Mrs. Grosvenor Chittenden-Ffollette.
Among fifty or sixty attendants there are always a few who gossip in spite of repeated warnings from the authorities. Sometimes it is a young nurse, sometimes a masseuse, a manicure or a shampooer, but there are always those who retail the news, mostly innocent news, of an institution like this. Cold-packing, or rubbing, or spraying, or electrifying, or brushing, or polishing—all these operations open the flood-gates of speech and no damming process is effectual. Miss Phoebe Blossom is the herald who proclaims tidings of various kinds in my room, and there is also a neophyte in the electricity department who is always full of information and quite unable to retain it. It would be almost more than human to ask them to be silent when they are the only links with the world outside. A system reduced to nothingness by a supper of Wheatoata Coffee, Cracker-dust Croquettes, Cosmos with milk, and a choice of Cerealina, Nuttetta, Proteinetta, or Glucosa is in no fit state to resist gossip.
It seems that Mrs. Chittenden-Ffollette is more than a mere woman—she is a remarkable "case," and has proved a worldwide advertisement for this sanitarium. Dr. Stanwood has almost effected a cure; her disease has had to be named and her symptoms have been written up in all the medical journals. I don't know what sort of person she was before she became a case, but she is now a greater tyrant than Caligula or Catherine of Russia. As to her disease, she has those things that she ought not to have, and she has not those things that she ought to have, and there is no health in her; or at least there was not until she came here a year ago. Now she is strong enough to perambulate in the corridor a little while each morning or be wheeled along the board-walk in the afternoon, and when she hears that some of the other patients are suffering, she sneers at their modest, uninteresting ailments and glances in at their doors with half-disguised contempt. You know the expression of the prize dog who is borne from the show hung with medals and ribbons—how he gazes on the little mongrel curs that gather with the crowd in the streets?
Her name, Chittenden-Ffollette, is of as vital importance as her medical-journal malady. When the third floor is in dire confusion; when Mrs. Parks has hysterics and Miss Simmons is crying for her mother, and Mrs. Bell's hot-water bottle has burst in the bed, and Miss Phipps has discovered that the undergraduate has bandaged the wrong ankle, Miss Blossom sometimes becomes flustered and hurried and calls her patient Mrs. Follett, whereupon she says, "Chittenden-Ffollette, if you please!"
If by any chance she sees the Chittenden-Ffollette without the hyphen in the Nurses' Bedside Record Book or scribbled on the morning paper she doesn't need any stimulant the rest of the day. The omission of the hyphen sends up her pulse and temperature to the required point for several hours, though there is always a reaction afterward. I've told Dr. Levi that I should name one of her complaints hyphenitis. The occasional operation performed on the hyphen by Miss Blossom, or the young lady at the stationery counter, might be called hyphenotomy. Everybody detests Mrs. Chittenden-Ffollette, but as the banner patient of the sanitarium she must be treated with respectful consideration. All America's most skillful physicians have struggled with her organism. They have tried to get her symptoms into line, so to speak, so as to deduce some theory from the grand array of phenomena, but the symptoms courteously decline to point in any one direction. When the doctors get seven eighths of them in satisfactory relation there are always two or three that stay out and sulk, refusing to collaborate in any sort of harmony. They act precisely like an obstinate jury, in that they calmly refuse to agree, and then Mrs. Chittenden-Ffollette appeals to a higher court where flaws in the testimony are always found, judgment is reversed, and a new trial ordered. The greatest surgeons in Europe have left the bedsides of crowned heads to ponder over her inscrutable mysteries, and have returned to their sovereigns crushed and humbled. All this attention would have upset a stronger character than hers, and now that she is in a fair way to recover, her pride will have its inevitable fall. Though much more agreeable and docile than when she entered, she is in uniformly low spirits. The truth is, she liked being an unsolved mystery and she is a good deal nettled at being found at last both soluble and curable—obliged to live, like an ex-president, on the glories of the past.
* * * * *
Buckle, in his "History of Civilization," claims that men and women are divided into three classes. The first and lowest talks of persons, the second of things, and the third and highest, of ideas. I should divide the human race into four, instead of three classes, and name as the lowest those persons who discuss their symptoms. The patients here are counseled not to do it, so the vice is reduced to a minimum, being practiced, say, not more than three out of the fourteen waking hours.
Swinging in a hammock in a shady nook this afternoon the conversation that floated to me under my distant tree was somewhat after this fashion.
Mrs. A. "Once I had neurasthenia. For three months I couldn't be moved in bed, and for nine weeks I couldn't turn my head on the pillow."
Mrs. B. } "Mercy!" Mrs. C. } "Oh, Mrs. A.!" Mrs. D. } "Good gracious!"
Mrs. E. "Cerebro-spinal meningitis is worse than neurasthenia. I had it four years ago, and the doctor said he'd never seen a woman live that was as ill as I was. One night my temperature was 167."
Mrs. C. } "Goodness!" Mrs. B. } "That's pretty high!" Mrs. A. } "Are you sure?"
Mrs. E. "Yes, I'm perfectly sure, or at least I think I am; I am seldom wrong on figures."
Mrs. A. "I asked, because I've noticed here that the thermometers register only 110, and I wondered how they measured the temperature when it rose above that point."
Mrs. E. (huffily). "Probably they have extra long thermometers for extreme cases."
Mrs. F. "I am glad that in this sanitarium they take the temperature by tucking the barometer-thing under the arm. My doctor at home always puts it under the tongue, and it is a perfect nuisance. He never gets it well placed but that I think of something I want to say. Then, of course, I have to keep still for three minutes, which seem three hundred, and by that time I have either forgotten it or changed my mind, so there I am!"
Mrs. G. "Just after my youngest child was three years old—"
Mrs. F. (interrupting). "I was going to say, when Mrs. E. spoke about the barometer, that after I was engaged to Mr. F. I had a dreadful attack of brain fever. I was ill in bed three months and they couldn't touch a brush to my hair for nine days."
Mrs. D. } "Horrors!" Mrs. E. } "Dreadful!" Mrs. C. } "Heavens!"
Mrs. G. (bravely). "Just after my youngest child was three—"
Mrs. X. "A man patient was brought on to our floor this morning."
Mrs. S. "Our floor? I wish they would have separate corridors for male patients."
Mrs. X. "This gentleman is an old friend of Dr. Levi's. His wife has been here four weeks, and now he's been taken ill, so they've put him next her on the first floor."
Mrs. S. "I don't care, I hate to have him near us."
Mrs. B. "Why? He's perfectly harmless; he is too ill to move."
Mrs. C. "I'm sure I wish he could! Anything to relieve this hideous dullness. What's the matter with him, I wonder!"
Mrs. D. "I'll ask Miss Oaks when I have my hot fomentations this afternoon; she knows everything and she's as generous as a prince with her knowledge."
Mrs. G. (patiently). "Just after my youngest child was—"
A nurse passes through the grove, bearing a sterilized tray with peptonized preparations on it.
Mrs. Y. (calling her). "Nurse! what's the matter with the new man-patient on our floor?"
Nurse (discreetly). "I don't know, Mrs. Y."
Mrs. X. (as the nurse vanishes). "She does, but she's a stiff thing! Anyway, I heard the attendants whispering about him in the corridor before breakfast. Something—I think it's an organ—is floating about in him."
All. "Floating? What kind of an organ? Horrors!"
Mrs. X. "I couldn't understand exactly. You know people always roar if they have nothing particular to say, but if it is interesting they whisper. I distinctly heard the word 'floating.' I don't know whether it's one of his regular organs, or something he swallowed accidentally."
Mrs. C. (plaintively). "Doctors are never satisfied. If anything floats they want to get it stationary, and if it's stationary they want to cut it loose."
Mrs. G. "Just after my youngest child—"
Mrs. B. "They say Mrs. H. is going to leave to-morrow; she doesn't like the food or the service."
Mrs. E. "Goodness, she has all the service there is on our floor! Nobody else gets a chance! She spends her whole silent hour pushing the electric button."
Mrs. D. "Yes, Miss Oaks declares she 'lays' on it. She says that the head nurse told Mrs. H. she must ring less frequently, or the bell would be removed. Miss Oaks says the patients that pay the smallest rates always ring the bells most. It isn't fair that a thirty-dollar patient should annoy a whole row of eighty-dollar ones and prevent their bells from being answered."
Mrs. X. "There's nothing made out of Mrs. H. at thirty dollars a week. She was as contented as possible last night, but this morning she wanted her bed in the other corner, awnings put on the windows, and the bureau changed for a chiffonier. Come, we must all go in for treatment—it wants five minutes of four."
Mrs. G., in despair, as she sees the occupants of the hammocks dispersing, almost shrieks: "JUST AFTER MY YOUNGEST—"
But the ladies, for some reason or other, do not care to hear anything about Mrs. G.'s youngest, and she is obliged to seek another audience.
* * * * *
The doctor found me "over-treated" this morning and advised a day of quiet, with a couple of hours on the roof-garden or under the trees.
I have heard at various times sighs of weariness or discontent or pain issuing from the room opposite mine, and this afternoon when Miss Blossom had gone into Number 19 to sit with the haughty Mrs. Chittenden-Ffollette I stole across the corridor and glanced in at the half-open door of Number 18.
The quaintest girl raised herself from a mound of sofa-pillows and exclaimed: "Why, you beautiful thing! Are you Number 17? I didn't know you looked like that!"
"It's very kind of you," I answered, blushing at this outspoken greeting; "but I am not beautiful in the least; it is because you do not expect much from a person who has just crept out of bed. I don't look any better when I am dressed for a party."
"You don't need to," she said. "Now get on my bed and cuddle under the afghan and we'll talk till Miss Blossom comes back. Won't she beat you for being out of your room? Why are you here? You haven't the least resemblance to a rest cure! What is the matter with you?"
"Backache, sideache, shoulderache, headache, sensation of handcuffs on wrists, balls and chains on ankles, lack of appetite, and insomnia."
"Is that all? Haven't you any disease?"
"I believe not," I answered humbly, "but the effect is the same as if I had. Why are you here?" I asked in return, as I looked admiringly at her shining brown hair, plump, rosy cheeks, and dancing eyes.
"I came here, so to speak, in response to an ideal; not my ideal—I never have any—but Laura Simonds's. She is my dearest friend and one of the noblest girls you ever knew. She said the separation from the world would do us both good, and so it might if she could have stayed to keep me company. Now she has the world and I have the separation."
"She isn't here, then?"
"No, worse luck! She is always working and planning for the good of others, but she is constantly meeting with ingratitude and misunderstanding. She had just brought me here when she was telegraphed for to turn about and go home. You see she had sent two ailing slum children to be taken care of at her house, and it proved to be scarlet fever, and, of course, her stepmother took it the first thing—she's a hateful person and takes everything she can get—and then the cook followed suit. Now they blame Laura and she has to find trained nurses and settle everything before she comes back to me."
"Then you're not an invalid? I thought you were in pain and couldn't reach the bell. That's the reason I looked in."
"Oh, dear, no, I was only yawning! I came for what Laura calls the healing influence of solitude, but Laura thought as the place was so expensive, and treatment was included, we'd better take Turkish baths, massage, and electricity, they're so good for the complexion. I have a little table to myself in the convalescents' dining-room and haven't made any acquaintances. I can't stand their sweetbread complexions and their double chins. The patients are all so fat they might sing Isaac Watts' hymn in unison: 'Much of my time has run to waist.'"
"It is not an inspiring assemblage," I agreed, "though I haven't seen them all together, as you have."
"And they think of nothing but themselves, which is exactly what I want to think about—myself, I mean. There's one charming girl on this floor. Something's the matter with her solar plexus and they won't allow her to talk, so we have had some nice conversations in the silent hour. They've told me now I mustn't call again; it seems that I was too exciting. Tell me something about yourself, Vashti—I am sure that's your name, or Semiramis or Zenobia or Judith, and if it isn't one or another of those I don't want to hear what it is, for you wouldn't look like it."