The image of Lois busied him constantly. It was such a lovely image. But he had seen hundreds of handsomer women, he told himself. Had he? Yes, he thought so. Yet not one, not one of them all, had made as much impression upon him. It was inconvenient; and why was it inconvenient? Something about her bewitched him. Yes, he had seen handsomer women; but more or less they were all of a certain pattern; not alike in feature, or name, or place, or style, yet nevertheless all belonging to the general sisterhood of what is called the world. And this girl was different. How different? She was uneducated, but that could not give a charm; though Philip thereby reflected that there was a certain charm in variety, and this made variety. She was unaccustomed to the great world and its ways; there could be no charm in that, for he liked the utmost elegance of the best breeding. Here he fetched himself up again. Lois was not in the least ill-bred. Nothing of the kind. She was utterly and truly refined, in every look and word and movement showing that she was so. Yet she had no "manner," as Mrs. Caruthers would have expressed it. No, she had not. She had no trained and inevitable way of speaking and looking; her way was her own, and sprang naturally from the truth of her thought or feeling at the moment. Therefore it could never be counted upon, and gave one the constant pleasure of surprises. Yes, Philip concluded that this was one point of interest about her. She had not learned how to hide herself, and the manner of her revelations was a continual refreshing variety, inasmuch as what she had to reveal was only fair and delicate and true. But what made the girl so provokingly happy? so secure in her contentment? Mr. Dillwyn thought himself a happy man; content with himself and with life; yet life had reached something too like a dead level, and himself, he was conscious, led a purposeless sort of existence. What purpose indeed was there to live for? But this little girl—Philip recalled the bright, soft, clear expression of eye with which she had looked at him; the very sweet curves of happy consciousness about her lips; the confident bearing with which she had spoken, as one who had found a treasure which, as she said, satisfied her. But it cannot! said Philip to himself. It is that she is pure and sweet, and takes happiness like a baby, sucking in what seems to her the pure milk of existence. It is true, the remembered expression of Lois's features did not quite agree with this explanation; pure and sweet, no doubt, but also grave and high, and sometimes evidencing a keen intellectual perception and wisdom. Not just like a baby; and he found he could not dismiss the matter so. What made her, then, so happy? Philip could not remember ever seeing a grown person who seemed so happy; whose happiness seemed to rest on such a steady foundation. Can she be in love? thought Dillwyn; and the idea gave him a most unreasonable thrill of displeasure. For a moment only; then his reason told him that the look in Lois's face was not like that. It was not the brilliance of ecstasy; it was the sunshine of deep and fixed content. Why in the world should Mr. Dillwyn wish that Lois were not so content? so beyond what he or anybody could give her? And having got to this point, Mr. Dillwyn pulled himself up again. What business was it of his, the particular spring of happiness she had found to drink of? and if it quenched her thirst, as she said it did, why should he be anything but glad of it? Why, even if Lois were happy in some new-found human treasure, should it move him, Philip Dillwyn, with discomfort? Was it possible that he too could be following in those steps of Tom Caruthers, from which Tom's mother was at such pains to divert her son? Philip began to see where he stood. Could it be?—and what if?
He studied the question now with a clear view of its bearings. He had got out of a fog. Lois was all he had thought of her. Would she do for a wife for him? Uneducated—inexperienced—not in accord with the habits of the world—accustomed to very different habits and society—with no family to give weight to her name and honour to his choice,—all that Philip pondered; and, on the other side, the loveliness, the freshness, the intellect, the character, and the refinement, which were undoubted. He pondered and pondered. A girl who was nobody, and whom society would look upon as an intruder; a girl who had had no advantages of education—how she could express herself so well and so intelligently Philip could not conceive, but the fact was there; Lois had had no education beyond the most simple training of a school in the country;—would it do? He turned it all over and over, and shook his head. It would be too daring an experiment; it would not be wise; it would not do; he must give it up, all thought of such a thing; and well that he had come to handle the question so early, as else he might—he—might have got so entangled that he could not save himself. Poor Tom! But Philip had no mother to interpose to save him; and his sister was not at hand. He went thinking about all this the whole way back to his hotel; thinking, and shaking his head at it. No, this kind of thing was for a boy to do, not for a man who knew the world. And yet, the image of Lois worried him.
I believe, he said to himself, I had better not see the little witch again.
Meanwhile he was not going to have much opportunity. Mrs. Wishart came home a little while after Philip had gone. Lois was stitching by the last fading light.
"Do stop, my dear! you will put your eyes out. Stop, and let us have tea. Has anybody been here?"
"Mr. Dillwyn came. He went away hardly a quarter of an hour ago."
"Mr. Dillwyn! Sorry I missed him. But he will come again. I met Tom Caruthers; he is mourning about this going with his mother to Florida."
"What are they going for?" asked Lois.
"To escape the March winds, he says."
"Who? Mr. Caruthers? He does not look delicate."
Mrs. Wishart laughed. "Not very! And his mother don't either, does she? But, my dear, people are weak in different spots; it isn't always in their lungs."
"Are there no March winds in Florida?"
"Not where they are going. It is all sunshine and oranges—and orange blossoms. But Tom is not delighted with the prospect. What do you think of that young man?"
"He is a very handsome man."
"Is he not? But I did not mean that. Of course you have eyes. I want to know whether you have judgment."
"I have not seen much of Mr. Caruthers to judge by."
"No. Take what you have seen and make the most of it."
"I don't think I have judgment," said Lois. "About people, I mean, and men especially. I am not accustomed to New York people, besides."
"Are they different from Shampuashuh people?"
"Miss Caruthers asked me the same thing," said Lois, smiling. "I suppose at bottom all people are alike; indeed, I know they are. But in the country I think they show out more."
"Less disguise about them?"
"I think so."
"My dear, are we such a set of masqueraders in your eyes?"
"No," said Lois; "I did not mean that."
"What do you think of Philip Dillwyn? Comare him with young Caruthers."
"I cannot," said Lois. "Mr. Dillwyn strikes me as a man who knows everything there is in all the world."
"And Tom, you think, does not?"
"Not so much," said, Lois hesitating; "at least he does not impress me so."
"You are more impressed with Mr. Dillwyn?"
"In what way?" said Lois simply. "I am impressed with the sense of my own ignorance. I should be oppressed by it, if it was my fault."
"Now you speak like a sensible girl, as you are. Lois, men do not care about women knowing much."
"Sensible men must."
"They are precisely the ones who do not. It is odd enough, but it is a fact. But go on; which of these two do you like best?"
"I have seen most of Mr. Caruthers, you know. But, Mrs. Wishart, sensible men must like sense in other people."
"Yes, my dear; they do; unless when they want to marry the people; and then their choice very often lights upon a fool. I have seen it over and over and over again; the clever one of a family is passed by, and a silly sister is the one chosen."
"A pink and white skin, or a pair of black eyebrows, or perhaps some soft blue eyes."
"But people cannot live upon a pair of black eyebrows," said Lois.
"They find that out afterwards."
"Mr. Dillwyn talks as if he liked sense," said Lois. "I mean, he talks about sensible things."
"Do you mean that Tom don't, my dear?"
A slight colour rose on the cheek Mrs. Wishart was looking at; and Lois said somewhat hastily that she was not comparing.
"I shall try to find out what Tom talks to you about, when he comes back from Florida. I shall scold him if he indulges in nonsense."
"It will be neither sense nor nonsense. I shall be gone long before then."
"Home—to Shampuashuh. I have been wanting to speak to you about it, Mrs. Wishart. I must go in a very few days."
"Nonsense! I shall not let you. I cannot get along without you. They don't want you at home, Lois."
"The garden does. And the dairy work will be more now in a week or two; there will be more milk to take care of, and Madge will want help."
"Dairy work! Lois, you must not do dairy work. You will spoil your hands."
Lois laughed. "Somebody's hands must do it. But Madge takes care of the dairy. My hands see to the garden."
"Is it necessary?"
"Why, yes, certainly, if we would have butter or vegetables; and you would not counsel us to do without them. The two make half the living of the family."
"And you really cannot afford a servant?"
"No, nor want one," said Lois. "There are three of us, and so we get along nicely."
"Apropos;—My dear, I am sorry that it is so, but must is must. What I wanted to say to you is, that it is not necessary to tell all this to other people."
Lois looked up, surprised. "I have told no one but you, Mrs. Wishart. O yes! I did speak to Mr. Dillwyn about it, I believe."
"Yes. Well, there is no occasion, my dear. It is just as well not."
"Is it better not? What is the harm? Everybody at Shampuashuh knows it."
"Nobody knows it here; and there is no reason why they should. I meant to tell you this before."
"I think I have told nobody but Mr. Dillwyn."
"He is safe. I only speak for the future, my dear."
"I don't understand yet," said Lois, half laughing. "Mrs. Wishart, we are not ashamed of it."
"Certainly not, my dear; you have no occasion."
"Then why should we be ashamed of it?" Lois persisted.
"My dear, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Do not think I mean that. Only, people here would not understand it."
"How could they misunderstand it?"
"You do not know the world, Lois. People have peculiar ways of looking at things; and they put their own interpretation on things; and of course they often make great blunders. And so it is just as well to keep your own private affairs to yourself, and not give them the opportunity of blundering."
Lois was silent a little while.
"You mean," she said then,—"you think, that some of these people I have been seeing here, would think less of me, if they knew how we do at home?"
"They might, my dear. People are just stupid enough for that."
"Then it seems to me I ought to let them know," Lois said, half laughing again. "I do not like to be taken for what I am not; and I do not want to have anybody's good opinion on false grounds." Her colour rose a bit at the same time.
"My dear, it is nobody's business. And anybody that once knew you would judge you for yourself, and not upon any adventitious circumstances. They cannot, in my opinion, think of you too highly."
"I think it is better they should know at once that I am a poor girl," said Lois. However, she reflected privately that it did not matter, as she was going away so soon. And she remembered also that Mr. Dillwyn had not seemed to think any the less of her for what she had told him. Did Tom Caruthers know?
"But, Lois, my dear, about your going— There is no garden work to be done yet. It is March."
"It will soon be April. And the ground must be got ready, and potatoes must go in, and peas."
"Surely somebody else can stick in potatoes and peas."
"They would not know where to put them."
"Does it matter where?"
"To be sure it does!" said Lois, amused. "They must not go where they were last year."
"I don't know! It seems that every plant wants a particular sort of food, and gets it, if it can; and so, the place where it grows is more or less impoverished, and would have less to give it another year. But a different sort of plant requiring a different sort of food, would be all right in that place."
"Food?" said Mrs. Wishart. "Do you mean manure? you can have that put in."
"No, I do not mean that. I mean something the plant gets from the soil itself."
"I do not understand! Well, my dear, write them word where the peas must go."
Lois laughed again.
"I hardly know myself, till I have studied the map," she said. "I mean, the map of the garden. It is a more difficult matter than you can guess, to arrange all the new order every spring; all has to be changed; and upon where the peas go depends, perhaps, where the cabbages go, and the corn, and the tomatoes, and everything else. It is a matter for study."
"Can't somebody else do it for you?" Mrs. Wishart asked compassionately.
"There is no one else. We have just our three selves; and all that is done we do; and the garden is under my management."
"Well, my dear, you are wonderful women; that is all I have to say. But, Lois, you must pay me a visit by and by in the summer time; I must have that; I shall go to the Isles of Shoals for a while, and I am going to have you there."
"If I can be spared from home, dear Mrs. Wishart, it would be delightful!"
It was a few days later, but March yet, and a keen wind blowing from the sea. A raw day out of doors; so much the more comfortable seemed the good fire, and swept-up hearth, and gentle warmth filling the farmhouse kitchen. The farmhouse was not very large, neither by consequence was the kitchen; however, it was more than ordinarily pleasant to look at, because it was not a servants' room; and so was furnished not only for the work, but also for the habitation of the family, who made it in winter almost exclusively their abiding-place. The floor was covered with a thick, gay rag carpet; a settee sofa looked inviting with its bright chintz hangings; rocking chairs, well cushioned, were in number and variety; and a basket of work here, and a pretty lamp there, spoke of ease and quiet occupation. One person only sat there, in the best easy-chair, at the hearth corner; beside her a little table with a large book upon it and a roll of knitting. She was not reading nor working just now; waiting, perhaps, or thinking, with hands folded in her lap. By the look of the hands they had done many a job of hard work in their day; by the look of the face and air of the person, one could see that the hard work was over. The hands were bony, thin, enlarged at the joints, so as age and long rough usage make them, but quiet hands now; and the face was steady and calm, with no haste or restlessness upon it any more, if ever there had been, but a very sweet and gracious repose. It was a hard-featured countenance; it had never been handsome; only the beauty of sense and character it had, and the dignity of a well-lived life. Something more too; some thing of a more noble calm than even the fairest retrospect can give; a more restful repose than comes of mere cessation from labour; a deeper content than has its ground in the actual present. She was a most reverent person, to look at. Just now she was waiting for something, and listening; for her ear caught the sound of a door, and then the tread of swift feet coming down the stair, and then Lois entered upon the scene; evidently fresh from her journey. She had been to her room to lay by her wrappings and change her dress; she was in a dark stuff gown now, with an enveloping white apron. She came up and kissed once more the face which had watched her entrance.
"You've been gone a good while, Lois!"
"Yes, grandma. Too long, did you think?"
"I don' know, child. That depends on what you stayed for."
"Does it? Grandma, I don't know what I stayed for. I suppose because it was pleasant."
"Pleasanter than here?"
"Grandma, I haven't been home long enough to know. It all looks and feels so strange to me as you cannot think!"
"What looks strange?"
"Everything! The house, and the place, and the furniture—I have been living in such a different world till my eyes have grown unaccustomed. You can't think how odd it is."
"What sort of a world have you been living in, Lois? Your letters didn't tell." The old lady spoke with a certain serious doubtfulness, looking at the girl by her side.
"Didn't they?" Lois returned. "I suppose I did not give you the impression because I had it not myself. I had got accustomed to that, you see; and I did not realize how strange it was. I just took it as if I had always lived in it."
"O grandma, I can never tell you so that you can understand! It was like living in the Arabian Nights."
"I don't believe in no Arabian Nights."
"And yet they were there, you see. Houses so beautiful, and filled with such beautiful things; and you know, grandmother, I like things to be pretty;—and then, the ease, I suppose. Mrs. Wishart's servants go about almost like fairies; they are hardly seen or heard, but the work is done. And you never have to think about it; you go out, and come home to find dinner ready, and capital dinners too; and you sit reading or talking, and do not know how time goes till it is tea-time, and then there comes the tea; and so it is in-doors and out of doors. All that is quite pleasant."
"And you are sorry to be home again?"
"No, indeed, I am glad. I enjoyed all I have been telling you about, but I think I enjoyed it quite long enough. It is time for me to be here. Is the frost well out of the ground yet?"
"Mr. Bince has been ploughin'."
"Has he? I'm glad. Then I'll put in some peas to-morrow. O yes! I am glad to be home, grandma." Her hand nestled in one of those worn, bony ones affectionately.
"Could you live just right there, Lois?"
"I tried, grandma."
"Did all that help you?"
"I don't know that it hindered. It might not be good for always; but I was there only for a little while, and I just took the pleasure of it."
"Seems to me, you was there a pretty long spell to be called 'a little while.' Ain't it a dangerous kind o' pleasure, Lois? Didn't you never get tempted?"
"Tempted to what, grandma?"
"I don' know! To want to live easy."
"Would that be wrong?" said Lois, putting her soft cheek alongside the withered one, so that her wavy hair brushed it caressingly. Perhaps it was unconscious bribery. But Mrs. Armadale was never bribed.
"It wouldn't be right, Lois, if it made you want to get out o' your duties."
"I think it didn't, grandma. I'm all ready for them. And your dinner is the first thing. Madge and Charity—you say they are gone to New Haven?"
"Charity's tooth tormented her so, and Madge wanted to get a bonnet; and they thought they'd make one job of it. They didn't know you was comin' to-day, and they thought they'd just hit it to go before you come. They won't be back early, nother."
"What have they left for your dinner?" said Lois, going to rummage. "Grandma, here's nothing at all!"
"An egg'll do, dear. They didn't calkilate for you."
"An egg will do for me," said Lois, laughing; "but there's only a crust of bread."
"Madge calkilated to make tea biscuits after she come home."
"Then I'll do that now."
Lois stripped up the sleeves from her shapely arms, and presently was very busy at the great kitchen table, with the board before her covered with white cakes, and the cutter and rolling pin still at work producing more. Then the fire was made up, and the tin baker set in front of the blaze, charged with a panful for baking. Lois stripped down her sleeves and set the table, cut ham and fried it, fried eggs, and soon sat opposite Mrs. Armadale pouring her out a cup of tea.
"This is cosy!" she exclaimed. "It is nice to have you all alone for the first, grandma. What's the news?"
"Ain't no news, child. Mrs. Saddler's been to New London for a week."
"And I have come home. Is that all?"
"I don't make no count o' news, child. 'One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth for ever.'"
"But one likes to hear of the things that change, grandma."
"Do 'ee? I like to hear of the things that remain."
"But grandma! the earth itself changes; at least it is as different in different places as anything can be."
"Some's cold, and some's hot," observed the old lady.
"It is much more than that. The trees are different, and the fruits are different; and the animals; and the country is different, and the buildings, and the people's dresses."
"The men and women is the same," said the old lady contentedly.
"But no, not even that, grandma. They are as different as they can be, and still be men and women."
"'As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.' Be the New York folks so queer, then, Lois?"
"O no, not the New York people; though they are different too; quite different from Shampuashuh—"
Lois did not want to say. Her grandmother, she thought, could not understand her; and if she could understand, she thought she would be perhaps hurt. She turned the conversation. Then came the clearing away the remains of dinner; washing the dishes; baking the rest of the tea-cakes; cleansing and putting away the baker; preparing flour for next day's bread-making; making her own bed and putting her room in order; doing work in the dairy which Madge was not at home to take care of; brushing up the kitchen, putting on the kettle, setting the table for tea. Altogether Lois had a busy two or three hours, before she could put on her afternoon dress and come and sit down by her grandmother.
"It is a change!" she said, smiling. "Such a different life from what I have been living. You can't think, grandma, what a contrast between this afternoon and last Friday."
"What was then?"
"I was sitting in Mrs. Wishart's drawing-room, doing nothing but play work, and a gentleman talking to me."
"Why was he talking to you? Warn't Mrs. Wishart there?"
"No; she was out."
"What did he talk to you for?"
"I was the only one there was," said Lois. But looking back, she could not avoid the thought that Mr. Dillwyn's long stay and conversation had not been solely a taking up with what he could get.
"He could have gone away," said Mrs. Armadale, echoing her thought.
"I do not think he wanted to go away. I think he liked to talk to me." It was very odd too, she thought.
"And did you like to talk to him?"
"Yes. You know I hare not much to talk about; but somehow he seemed to find out what there was."
"Had he much to talk about?"
"I think there is no end to that," said Lois. "He has been all over the world and seen everything; and he is a man of sense, to care for the things that are worth while; and he is educated; and it is very entertaining to hear him talk."
"Who is he? A young man?"
"Yes, he is young. O, he is an old friend of Mrs. Wishart."
"Did you like him best of all the people you saw?"
"O no, not by any means. I hardly know him, in fact; not so well as others."
"Who are the others?"
"What others, grandmother?"
"The other people that you like better."
Lois named several ladies, among them Mrs. Wishart, her hostess.
"There's no men's names among them," remarked Mrs. Armadale. "Didn't you see none, savin' that one?"
"Plenty!" said Lois, smiling.
"An' nary one that you liked?"
"Why, yes, grandmother; several; but of course—"
"What of course?"
"I was going to say, of course I did not have much to do with them; but there was one I had a good deal to do with."
"Who was he?"
"He was a young Mr. Caruthers. O, I did not have much to do with him; only he was there pretty often, and talked to me. He was pleasant."
"Was he a real godly man?"
"No, grandmother. He is not a Christian at all, I think."
"And yet he pleased you, Lois?"
"I did not say so, grandmother."
"I heerd it in the tone of your voice."
"Did you? Yes, he was pleasant. I liked him pretty well. People that you would call godly people never came there at all. I suppose there must be some in New York; but I did not see any."
There was silence a while.
"Eliza Wishart must keep poor company, if there ain't one godly one among 'em," Mrs. Armadale began again. But Lois was silent.
"What do they talk about?"
"Everything in the world, except that. People and things, and what this one says and what that one did, and this party and that party. I can't tell you, grandma. There seemed no end of talk; and yet it did not amount to much when all was done. I am not speaking of a few, gentlemen like Mr. Dillwyn, and a few more."
"But he ain't a Christian?"
"Nor t'other one? the one you liked."
"I'm glad you've come away, Lois."
"Yes, grandma, and so am I; but why?"
"You know why. A Christian woman maunt have nothin' to do with men that ain't Christian."
"Nothing to do! Why, we must, grandma. We cannot help seeing people and talking to them."
"The snares is laid that way," said Mrs. Armadale.
"What are we to do, then, grandmother?"
"Lois Lothrop," said the old lady, suddenly sitting upright, "what's the Lord's will?"
"About drawin' in a yoke with one that don't go your way?"
"He says, don't do it."
"Then mind you don't."
"But, grandma, there is no talk of any such thing in this case," said Lois, half laughing, yet a little annoyed. "Nobody was thinking of such a thing."
"You don' know what they was thinkin' of."
"I know what they could not have thought of. I am different from them; I am not of their world; and I am not educated, and I am poor. There is no danger, grandmother."
"Lois, child, you never know where danger is comin'. It's safe to have your armour on, and keep out o' temptation. Tell me you'll never let yourself like a man that ain't Christian!"
"But I might not be able to help liking him."
"Then promise me you'll never marry no sich a one."
"Grandma, I'm not thinking of marrying."
"Lois, what is the Lord's will about it?"
"I know, grandma," Lois answered rather soberly.
"And you know why. 'Thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods.' I've seen it, Lois, over and over agin. I've been a woman—or a man—witched away and dragged down, till if they hadn't lost all the godliness they ever had, it warn't because they didn't seem so. And the children grew up to be scapegraces.'"
"Don't it sometimes work the other way?"
"Not often, if a Christian man or woman has married wrong with their eyes open. Cos it proves, Lois, that proves, that the ungodly one of the two has the most power; and what he has he's like to keep. Lois, I mayn't be here allays to look after you; promise me that you'll do the Lord's will."
"I hope I will, grandma," Lois answered soberly.
"Read them words in Corinthians again."
Lois got the Bible and obeyed, "'Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?'"
"Lois, ain't them words plain?"
"Very plain, grandma."
"Will ye mind 'em?"
"Yes, grandma; by his grace."
"Ay, ye may want it," said the old lady; "but it's safe to trust the Lord. An' I'd rather have you suffer heartbreak follerin' the Lord, than goin' t'other way. Now you may read to me, Lois. We'll have it before they come home."
"Who has read to you while I have been gone?"
"O, one and another. Madge mostly; but Madge don't care, and so she don' know how to read."
Mrs. Armadale's sight was not good; and it was the custom for one of the girls, Lois generally, to read her a verse or two morning and evening. Generally it was a small portion, talked over if they had time, and if not, then thought over by the old lady all the remainder of the day or evening, as the case might be. For she was like the man of whom it is written—"His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night."
"What shall I read, grandma?"
"You can't go wrong."
The epistle to the Corinthians lay open before Lois, and she read the words following those which had just been called for.
"'And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.'"
If anybody had been there to see, the two women made the loveliest picture at this moment. The one of them old, weather-worn, plain-featured, sitting with the quiet calm of the end of a work day and listening; the other young, blooming, fresh, lovely, with a wealth of youthful charms about her, bending a little over the big book on her lap; on both faces a reverent sweet gravity which was most gracious. Lois read and stopped, without looking up.
"I think small of all the world, alongside o' that promise, Lois."
"And so do I, grandmother."
"But, you see, the Lord's sons and daughters has got to be separate from other folks."
"In some ways."
"Of course they've got to live among folks, but they've got to be separate for all; and keep their garments."
"I do not believe it is easy in a place like New York," said Lois. "Seems to me I was getting all mixed up."
"'Tain't easy nowheres, child. Only, where the way is very smooth, folks slides quicker."
"How can one be 'separate' always, grandma, in the midst of other people?"
"Take care that you keep nearest to God. Walk with him; and you'll be pretty sure to be separate from the most o' folks."
There was no more said. Lois presently closed the book and laid it away, and the two sat in silence awhile. I will not affirm that Lois did not feel something of a stricture round her, since she had given that promise so clearly. Truly the promise altered nothing, it only made things somewhat more tangible; and there floated now and then past Lois's mental vision an image of a handsome head, crowned with graceful locks of luxuriant light brown hair, and a face of winning pleasantness, and eyes that looked eagerly into her eyes. It came up now before her, this vision, with a certain sense of something lost. Not that she had ever reckoned that image as a thing won; as belonging, or ever possibly to belong, to herself; for Lois never had such a thought for a moment. All the same came now the vision before her with the commentary,—'You never can have it. That acquain'tance, and that friendship, and that intercourse, is a thing of the past; and whatever for another it might have led to, it could lead to nothing for you.' It was not a defined thought; rather a floating semi-consciousness; and Lois presently rose up and went from thought to action.
The spring day was fading into the dusk of evening, when feet and voices heard outside announced that the travellers were returning. And in they came, bringing a breeze of business and a number of tied-up parcels with them into the quiet house.
"The table ready! how good! and the fire. O, it's Lois! Lois is here!"—and then there were warm embraces, and then the old grandmother was kissed. There were two girls, one tall, the other very tall.
"I'm tired to death!" said the former of these. "Charity would do no end of work; you know she is a steam-engine, and she had the steam up to-day, I can tell you. There's no saying how good supper will be; for our lunch wasn't much, and not good at that; and there's something good here, I can tell by my nose. Did you take care of the milk, Lois? you couldn't know where to set it."
"There is no bread, Lois. I suppose you found out?" the other sister said.
"O, she's made biscuits!" said Madge. "Aren't you a brick, though, Lois! I was expecting we'd have everything to do; and it's all done. Ain't that what you call comfortable? Is the tea made? I'll be ready in a minute."
But that was easier said than done.
"Lois! what sort of hats are they wearing in New York?"
"Lois, are mantillas fashionable? The woman in New Haven, the milliner, said everybody was going to wear them. She wanted to make me get one."
"We can make a mantilla as well as she can," Lois answered.
"If we had the pattern! But is everybody wearing them in New York?"
"I think it must be early for mantillas."
"O, lined and wadded, of course. But is every body wearing them?"
"I do not know. I do not recollect."
"Not recollect!" cried the tall sister. "What are your eyes good for? What do people wear?"
"I wore my coat and cape. I do not know very well about other people. People wear different things."
"O, but that they do not, Lois!" the other sister exclaimed. "There is always one thing that is the fashion; and that is the thing one wants to know about. Last year it was visites. Now what is it this year? And what are the hats like?"
"They are smaller."
"There! And that woman in New Haven said they were going to be large still. Who is one to trust!"
"You may trust me," said Lois. "I am sure of so much. Moreover, there is my new straw bonnet which Mrs. Wishart gave me; you can see by that."
This was very satisfactory; and talk ran on in the same line for some time.
"And Lois, have you seen a great many people? At Mrs. Wishart's, I mean."
"Yes, plenty; at her house and at other houses."
"Was it great fun?" Madge asked.
"Sometimes. But indeed, yes; it was great fun generally, to see the different ways of people, and the beautiful houses, and furniture, and pictures, and everything."
"Everything! Was everything beautiful?"
"No, not beautiful; but everything in most of the houses where I went was handsome; often it was magnificent."
"I suppose it seemed so to you," said Charity.
"Tell us, Lois!" urged the other sister.
"What do you think of solid silver dishes to hold the vegetables on the table, and solid silver pudding dishes, and gold teaspoons, in the most delicate little painted cups?"
"I should say it was ridiculous," said the elder sister. "What's the use o' havin' your vegetables in silver dishes?"
"What's the use of having them in dishes at all?" laughed Lois. "They might be served in big cabbage leaves; or in baskets."
"That's nonsense," said Charity. "Of course they must be in dishes of some sort; but vegetables don't taste any better out o' silver."
"The dinner does not taste any better," said Lois, "but it looks a deal better, I can tell you. You have just no idea, girls, how beautiful a dinner table can be. The glass is beautiful; delicate, thin, clear glass, cut with elegant flowers and vines running over it. And the table linen is a pleasure to see, just the damask; it is so white, and so fine, and so smooth, and woven in such lovely designs. Mrs. Wishart is very fond of her table linen, and has it in beautiful patterns. Then silver is always handsome. Then sometimes there is a most superb centre-piece to the table; a magnificent tall thing of silver—I don't know what to call it; not a vase, and not a dish; but high, and with different bowls or shells filled with flowers and fruit. Why the mere ice-creams sometimes were in all sorts of pretty flower and fruit forms."
"Ice-cream!" cried Madge.
"And I say, what's the use of all that?" said Charity, who had not been baptized in character.
"The use is, its looking so very pretty," Lois answered.
"And so, I suppose you would like to have your vegetables in silver dishes? I should like to know why things are any better for looking pretty, when all's done?"
"They are not better, I suppose," said Madge.
"I don't know why, but I think they must be," said Lois, innocent of the personal application which the other two were making. For Madge was a very handsome girl, while Charity was hard-favoured, like her grandmother. "It does one good to see pretty things."
"That's no better than pride," said Charity. "Things that ain't pretty are just as useful, and more useful. That's all pride, silver dishes, and flowers, and stuff. It just makes people stuck-up. Don't they think themselves, all those grand folks, don't they think themselves a hitch or two higher than Shampuashuh folks?"
"Perhaps," said Lois; "but I do not know, so I cannot say."
"O Lois," cried Madge, "are the people very nice?"
"Some of them."
"You haven't lost your heart, have you?"
"Only part of it."
"Part of it! O, to whom, Lois? Who is it?"
"Mrs. Wishart's black horses."
"Pshaw!" exclaimed Charity. "Haven't Shampuashuh folks got horses? Don't tell me!"
"But, Lois!" pursued Madge, "who was the nicest person you saw?"
"Madge, I don't know. A good many seemed to be nice."
"Well, who was the handsomest? and who was the cleverest? and who was the kindest to you? I don't mean Mrs. Wishart. Now answer."
"The handsomest, and the cleverest, and the kindest to me?" Lois repeated slowly. "Well, let me see. The handsomest was a Mr. Caruthers."
"What is he, then?"
"He is a gentleman, very much thought of; rich, and knows everybody; that's about all I can tell."
"Was he the cleverest, too, that you saw?"
"No, I think not."
"Who was that?"
"Another gentleman; a Mr. Dillwyn."
"Dillun!" Madge repeated.
"That is the pronunciation of the name. It is spelt D, i, l, l, w, y, n,—Dilwin; but it is called Dillun."
"And who was kindest to you? Go on, Lois."
"O, everybody was kind to me," Lois said evasively. "Kind enough. I did not need kindness."
"Whom did you like best, then?"
"Of those two? They are both men of the world, and nothing to me; but of the two, I think I like the first best."
"Caruthers. I shall remember," said Madge.
"That is foolish talk, children," remarked Mrs. Armadale.
"Yes, but grandma, you know children are bound to be foolish sometimes," returned Madge.
"And then the rod of correction must drive it far from them," said the old lady. "That's the common way; but it ain't the easiest way. Lois said true; these people are nothing and can be nothing to her. I wouldn't make believe anything about it, if I was you."
The conversation changed to other things. And soon took a fresh spring at the entrance of another of the family, an aunt of the girls; who lived in the neighbourhood, and came in to hear the news from New Haven as well as from New York. And then it knew no stop. While the table was clearing, and while Charity and Madge were doing up the dishes, and when they all sat down round the fire afterwards, there went on a ceaseless, restless, unending flow of questions, answers, and comments; going over, I am bound to say, all the ground already travelled during supper. Mrs. Armadale sometimes sighed to herself; but this, if the others heard it, could not check them.
Mrs. Marx was a lively, clever, kind, good-natured woman; with plenty of administrative ability, like so many New England women, full of resources; quick with her head and her hands, and not slow with her tongue; an uneducated woman, and yet one who had made such good use of life-schooling, that for all practical purposes she had twice the wit of many who have gone through all the drill of the best institutions. A keen eye, a prompt judgment, and a fearless speech, all belonged to Mrs. Marx; universally esteemed and looked up to and welcomed by all her associates. She was not handsome; she was even strikingly deficient in the lines of beauty; and refinement was not one of her characteristics, other than the refinement which comes of kindness and unselfishness. Mrs. Marx would be delicately careful of another's feelings, when there was real need; she could show an exceeding great tenderness and tact then; while in ordinary life her voice was rather loud, her movements were free and angular, and her expressions very unconstrained. Nobody ever saw Mrs. Marx anything but neat, whatever she possibly might be doing; in other respects her costume was often extremely unconventional; but she could dress herself nicely and look quite as becomes a lady. Independent was Mrs. Marx, above all and in everything.
"I guess she's come back all safe!" was her comment, made to Mrs. Armadale, at the conclusion of the long talk. Mrs. Armadale made no answer.
"It's sort o' risky, to let a young thing like that go off by herself among all those highflyers. It's like sendin' a pigeon to sail about with the hawks."
"Why, aunt Anne," said Lois at this, "whom can you possibly mean by the hawks?"
"The sort o' birds that eat up pigeons."
"I saw nobody that wanted to eat me up, I assure you."
"There's the difference between you and a real pigeon. The pigeon knows the hawk when she sees it; you don't."
"Do you think the hawks all live in cities?"
"No, I don't," said Mrs. Marx. "They go swoopin' about in the country now and then. I shouldn't a bit wonder to see one come sailin' over our heads one of these fine days. But now, you see, grandma has got you under her wing again." Mrs. Marx was Mrs. Armadale's half-daughter only, and sometimes in company of others called her as her grandchildren did. "How does home look to you, Lois, now you're back in it?"
"Very much as it used to look," Lois answered, smiling.
"The taste ain't somehow taken out o' things? Ha' you got your old appetite for common doin's?"
"I shall try to-morrow. I am going out into the garden to get some peas in."
"Mine is in."
"Not long, aunt Anne? the frost hasn't been long out of the ground."
"Put 'em in to-day, Lois. And your garden has the sun on it; so I shouldn't wonder if you beat me after all. Well, I must go along and look arter my old man. He just let me run away now 'cause I told him I was kind o' crazy about the fashions; and he said 'twas a feminine weakness and he pitied me. So I come. Mrs. Dashiell has been a week to New London; but la! New London bonnets is no account."
"You don't get much light from Lois," remarked Charity.
"No. Did ye learn anything, Lois, while you was away?"
"I think so, aunt Anne."
"What, then? Let's hear. Learnin' ain't good for much, without you give it out."
Lois, however, seemed not inclined to be generous with her stores of new knowledge.
"I guess she's learned Shampuashuh ain't much of a place," the elder sister remarked further.
"She's been spellin' her lesson backwards, then. Shampuashuh's a first-rate place."
"But we've no grand people here. We don't eat off silver dishes, nor drink out o' gold spoons; and our horses can go without little lookin'-glasses over their heads," Charity proceeded.
"Do you think there's any use in all that, Lois?" said her aunt.
"I don't know, aunt Anne," Lois answered with a little hesitation.
"Then I'm sorry for ye, girl, if you are left to think such nonsense. Ain't our victuals as good here, as what comes out o' those silver dishes?"
"Are New York folks better cooks than we be?"
"They have servants that know how to do things."
"Servants! Don't tell me o' no servants' doin's! What can they make that I can't make better?"
"Can you make a souffle, aunt Anne?"
"Or biscuit glace?"
"Biskwee glassy?" repeated the indignant Shampuashuh lady. "What do you mean, Lois? Speak English, if I am to understand you."
"These things have no English names."
"Are they any the better for that?"
"No; and nothing could make them better. They are as good as it is possible for anything to be; and there are a hundred other things equally good, that we know nothing about here."
"I'd have watched and found out how they were done," said the elder woman, eyeing Lois with a mingled expression of incredulity and curiosity and desire, which it was comical to see. Only nobody there perceived the comicality. They sympathized too deeply in the feeling.
"I would have watched," said Lois; "but I could not go down into the kitchen for it."
"Nobody goes into the kitchen, except to give orders."
"Nobody goes into the kitchen!" cried Mrs. Marx, sinking down again into a chair. She had risen to go.
"I mean, except the servants."
"It's the shiftlessest thing I ever heard o' New York. And do you think that's a nice way o' livin', Lois?"
"I am afraid I do, aunt Anne. It is pleasant to have plenty of time for other things."
"What other things?"
"Reading! La, child! I can read more books in a year than is good for me, and do all my own work, too. I like play, as well as other folks; but I like to know my work's done first. Then I can play."
"Well, there the servants do the work."
"And you like that? That ain't a nat'ral way o' livin', Lois; and I believe it leaves folks too much time to get into mischief. When folks hasn't business enough of their own to attend to, they're free to put their fingers in other folks' business. And they get sot up, besides. My word for it, it ain't healthy for mind nor body. And you needn't think I'm doin' what I complain of, for your business is my business. Good-bye, girls. I'll buy a cook-book the next time I go to New London, and learn how to make suflles. Lois shan't hold that whip over me."
Lois went at her gardening the next morning, as good as her word. It was the last of March, and an anticipation of April, according to the fashion the months have of sending promissory notes in advance of them; and this year the spring was early. The sun was up, but not much more, when Lois, with her spade and rake and garden line, opened the little door in the garden fence and shut it after her. Then she was alone with the spring. The garden was quite a roomy place, and pretty, a little later in the season; for some old and large apple and cherry trees shadowed parts of it, and broke up the stiff, bare regularity of an ordinary square bit of ground laid out in lesser squares. Such regularity was impossible here. In one place, two or three great apple trees in a group formed a canopy over a wide circuit of turf. The hoe and the spade must stand back respectfully; there was nothing to be done. One corner was quite given up to the occupancy of an old cherry tree, and its spread of grassy ground beneath and about it was again considerable. Still other trees stood here and there; and the stems of none of them were approached by cultivation. In the spaces between, Lois stretched her line and drew her furrows, and her rows of peas and patches of corn had even so room enough.
Grass was hardly green yet, and tree branches were bare, and the upturned earth was implanted. There was nothing here yet but the Spring with Lois. It is wonderful what a way Spring has of revealing herself, even while she is hid behind the brown and grey wrappings she has borrowed from Winter. Her face is hardly seen; her form is not discernible; but there is a breath and a smile and a kiss, that are like nothing her brothers and sisters have to give. Of them all, Spring's smile brings most of hope and expectation with it. And there is a perfume Spring wears, which is the rarest, and most untraceable, and most unmistakeable, of all. The breath and the perfume, and the smile and the kiss, greeted Lois as she went into the old garden. She knew them well of old time, and welcomed them now. She even stood still a bit to take in the rare beauty and joy of them. And yet, the apple trees were bare, and the cherry trees; the turf was dead and withered; the brown ploughed-up soil had no relief of green growths. Only Spring was there with Lois, and yet that seemed enough; Spring and associations. How many hours of pleasant labour in that enclosed bit of ground there had been; how many lapfuls and basketfuls of fruits the rich reward of the labour; how Lois had enjoyed both! And now, here was spring again, and the implanted garden. Lois wanted no more.
She took her stand under one of the bare old apple trees, and surveyed her ground, like a young general. She had it all mapped out, and knew just where things were last year. The patch of potatoes was in that corner, and a fine yield they had been. Corn had been here; yes, and here she would run her lines of early peas. Lois went to work. It was not very easy work, as you would know if you had ever tried to reduce ground that has been merely ploughed and harrowed, to the smooth evenness necessary for making shallow drills. Lois plied spade and rake with an earnest good-will, and thorough knowledge of her business. Do not imagine an untidy long skirt sweeping the soft soil and transferring large portions of it to the gardener's ankles; Lois was dressed for her work in a short stuff frock and leggins; and looked as nice when she came out as when she went in, albeit not in any costume ever seen in Fifth Avenue or Central Park. But what do I say? If she looked "nice" when she went out to her garden, she looked superb when she came in, or when she had been an hour or so delving. Her hat fallen back a little; her rich masses of hair just a little loosened, enough to show their luxuriance; the colour flushed into her cheeks with the exercise, and her eyes all alive with spirit and zeal—ah, the fair ones in Fifth or any other avenue would give a great deal to look so; but that sort of thing goes with the short frock and leggins, and will not be conjured up by a mantua-maker. Lois had after a while a strip of her garden ground nicely levelled and raked smooth; and then her line was stretched over it, and her drills drawn, and the peas were planted and were covered; and a little stick at each end marked how far the planted rows extended.
Lois gathered up her tools then, to go in, but instead of going in she sat down on one of the wooden seats that were fixed under the great apple trees. She was tired and satisfied; and in that mood of mind and body one is easily tempted to musing. Aimlessly, carelessly, thoughts roved and carried her she knew not whither. She began to draw contrasts. Her home life, the sweets of which she was just tasting, set off her life at Mrs. Wishart's with its strange difference of flavour; hardly the brown earth of her garden was more different from the brilliant—coloured Smyrna carpets upon which her feet had moved in some people's houses. Life there and life here,—how diverse from one another! Could both be life? Suddenly it occurred to Lois that her garden fence shut in a very small world, and a world in which there was no room for many things that had seemed to her delightful and desirable in these weeks that were just passed. Life must be narrow within these borders. She had had several times in New York a sort of perception of this, and here it grew defined. Knowledge, education, the intercourse of polished society, the smooth ease and refinement of well-ordered households, and the habits of affluence, and the gratification of cultivated tastes; more yet, the having cultivated tastes; the gratification of them seemed to Lois a less matter. A large horizon, a wide experience of men and things; was it not better, did it not make life richer, did it not elevate the human creature to something of more power and worth, than a very narrow and confined sphere, with its consequent narrow and confined way of looking at things? Lois was just tired enough to let all these thoughts pass over her, like gentle waves of an incoming tide, and they were emphazised here and there by a vision of a brown curly head, and a kindly, handsome, human face looking into hers. It was a vision that came and went, floated in and disappeared among the waves of thought that rose and fell. Was it not better to sit and talk even with Mr. Dillwyn, than to dig and plant peas? Was not the Lois who did that, a quite superior creature to the Lois who did this? Any common, coarse man could plant peas, and do it as well as she; was this to be her work, this and the like, for the rest of her life? Just the labour for material existence, instead of the refining and forming and up-building of the nobler, inner nature, the elevation of existence itself? My little garden ground! thought Lois; is this indeed all? And what would Mr. Caruthers think, if he could see me now? Think he had been cheated, and that I am not what he thought I was. It is no matter what he thinks; I shall never see him again; it will not be best that I should ever pay Mrs. Wishart a visit again, even if she should ask me; not in New York. I suppose the Isles of Shoals would be safe enough. There would be nobody there. Well—I like gardening. And it is great fun to gather the peas when they are large enough; and it is fun to pick strawberries; and it is fun to do everything, generally. I like it all. But if I could, if I had a chance, which I cannot have, I would like, and enjoy, the other sort of thing too. I could be a good deal more than I am, if I had the opportunity.
Lois was getting rested by this time, and she gathered up her tools again, with the thought that breakfast would taste good. I suppose a whiff of the fumes of coffee preparing in the house was borne out to her upon the air, and suggested the idea. And as she went in she cheerfully reflected that their plain house was full of comfort, if not of beauty; and that she and her sisters were doing what was given them to do, and therefore what they were meant to do; and then came the thought, so sweet to the servant who loves his Master, that it is all for the Master; and that if he is pleased, all is gained, the utmost, that life can do or desire. And Lois went in, trilling low a sweet Methodist hymn, to an air both plaintive and joyous, which somehow—as many of the old Methodist tunes do—expressed the plaintiveness and the joyousness together with a kind of triumphant effect.
"O tell me no more of this world's vain store! The time for such trifles with me now is o'er."
Lois had a voice exceedingly sweet and rich; an uncommon contralto; and when she sang one of these hymns, it came with its fall power. Mrs. Armadale heard her, and murmured a "Praise the Lord!" And Charity, getting the breakfast, heard her; and made a different comment.
"Were you meaning, now, what you were singing when you came in?" she asked at breakfast.
"What I was singing?" Lois repeated in astonishment.
"Yes, what you were singing. You sang it loud enough and plain enough; ha' you forgotten? Did you mean it?"
"One should always mean what one sings," said Lois gravely.
"So I think; and I want to know, did you mean that? 'The time for such trifles'—is it over with you, sure enough?"
"You know best. What did you mean? It begins about 'this world's vain store;' ha' you done with the world?"
"Then I wouldn't say so."
"But I didn't say so," Lois returned, laughing now. "The hymn means, that 'this world's vain store' is not my treasure; and it isn't. 'The time for such trifles with me now is o'er.' I have found something better. As Paul says, 'When I became a man, I put away childish things.' So, since I have learned to know something else, the world's store has lost its great value for me."
"Thank the Lord!" said Mrs. Armadale.
"You needn't say that, neither, grandma," Charity retorted. "I don't believe it one bit, all such talk. It ain't nature, nor reasonable. Folks say that just when somethin's gone the wrong way, and they want to comfort themselves with makin' believe they don't care about it. Wait till the chance comes, and see if they don't care! That's what I say."
"I wish you wouldn't say it, then, Charity," remarked the old grandmother.
"Everybody has a right to his views," returned Miss Charity. "That's what I always say."
"You must leave her her views, grandma," said Lois pleasantly. "She will have to change them, some day."
"What will make me change them?"
"Coming to know the truth."
"You think nobody but you knows the truth. Now, Lois, I'll ask you. Ain't you sorry to be back and out of 'this world's vain store'—out of all the magnificence, and back in your garden work again?"
"You enjoy digging in the dirt and wearin' that outlandish rig you put on for the garden?"
"I enjoy digging in the dirt very much. The dress I admire no more than you do."
"And you've got everythin' you want in the world?"
"Charity, Charity, that ain't fair," Madge put in. "Nobody has that; you haven't, and I haven't; why should Lois?"
"'Cos she says she's found 'a city where true joys abound;' now let's hear if she has."
"Quite true," said Lois, smiling.
"And you've got all you want?"
"No, I would like a good many things I haven't got, if it's the Lord's pleasure to give them."
"Suppose it ain't?"
"Then I do not want them," said Lois, looking up with so clear and bright a face that her carping sister was for the moment silenced. And I suppose Charity watched; but she never could find reason to think that Lois had not spoken the truth. Lois was the life of the house. Madge was a handsome and quiet girl; could follow but rarely led in the conversation. Charity talked, but was hardly enlivening to the spirits of the company. Mrs. Armadale was in ordinary a silent woman; could talk indeed, and well, and much; however, these occasions were mostly when she had one auditor, and was in thorough sympathy with that one. Amidst these different elements of the household life Lois played the part of the flux in a furnace; she was the happy accommodating medium through which all the others came into best play and found their full relations to one another. Lois's brightness and spirit were never dulled; her sympathies were never wearied; her intelligence was never at fault. And her work was never neglected. Nobody had ever to remind Lois that it was time for her to attend to this or that thing which it was her charge to do. Instead of which, she was very often ready to help somebody else not quite so "forehanded." The garden took on fast its dressed and ordered look; the strawberries were uncovered; and the raspberries tied up, and the currant bushes trimmed; and pea-sticks and bean-poles bristled here and there promisingly. And then the green growths for which Lois had worked began to reward her labour. Radishes were on the tea-table, and lettuce made the dinner "another thing;" and rows of springing beets and carrots looked like plenty in the future. Potatoes were up, and rare-ripes were planted, and cabbages; and corn began to appear. One thing after another, till Lois got the garden all planted; and then she was just as busy keeping it clean. For weeds, we all know, do thrive as unaccountably in the natural as in the spiritual world. It cost Lois hard work to keep them under; but she did it. Nothing would have tempted her to bear the reproach of them among her vegetables and fruits. And so the latter had a good chance, and throve. There was not much time or much space for flowers; yet Lois had a few. Red poppies found growing room between the currant bushes; here and there at a corner a dahlia got leave to stand and rear its stately head. Rose-bushes were set wherever a rose-bush could be; and there were some balsams, and pinks, and balm, and larkspur, and marigolds. Not many; however, they served to refresh Lois's soul when she went to pick vegetables for dinner, and they furnished nosegays for the table in the hall, or in the sitting-room, when the hot weather drove the family out of the kitchen.
Before that came June and strawberries. Lois picked the fruit always. She had been a good while one very warm afternoon bending down among the strawberry beds, and had brought in a great bowl full of fruit. She and Madge came together to their room to wash hands and get in order for tea.
"I have worked over all that butter," said Madge, "and skimmed a lot of milk. I must churn again to-morrow. There is no end to work!"
"No end to it," Lois assented. "Did you see my strawberries?"
"They are splendid. Those Black Princes are doing finely too. If we have rain they will be superb."
"How many did you get to-day?"
"Two quarts, and more."
"And cherries to preserve to-morrow. Lois, I get tired once in a while!"
"O, so do I; but I always get rested again."
"I don't mean that. I mean it is all work, work; day in and day out, and from one year's end to another. There is no let up to it. I get tired of that."
"What would you have?"
"I'd like a little play."
"Yes, but in a certain sense I think it is all play."
"In a nonsensical sense," said Madge. "How can work be play?"
"That's according to how you look at it," Lois returned cheerfully. "If you take it as I think you can take it, it is much better than play."
"I wish you'd make me understand you," said Madge discontentedly. "If there is any meaning to your words, that is."
"I like work anyhow better than play," she said. "But then, if you look at it in a certain way, it becomes much better than play. Don't you know, Madge, I take it all, everything, as given me by the Lord to do;—to do for him;—and I do it so; and that makes every bit of it all pleasant."
"But you can't!" said Madge pettishly. She was not a pettish person, only just now something in her sister's words had the effect of irritation.
"Do everything for the Lord. Making butter, for instance; or cherry sweetmeats. Ridiculous! And nonsense."
"I don't mean it for nonsense. It is the way I do my garden work and my sewing."
"What do you mean, Lois? The garden work is for our eating, and the sewing is for your own back, or grandma's. I understand religion, but I don't understand cant."
"Madge, it's not cant; it's the plain truth."
"Only that it is impossible."
"No. You do not understand religion, or you would know how it is. All these things are things given us to do; we must make the clothes and preserve the cherries, and I must weed strawberries, and then pick strawberries, and all the rest. God has given me these things to do, and I do them for him."
"You do them for yourself, or for grandma, and for the rest of us."
"Yes, but first for Him. Yes, Madge, I do. I do every bit of all these things in the way that I think will please and honour him best—as far as I know how."
"Making your dresses!"
"Certainly. Making my dresses so that I may look, as near as I can, as a servant of Christ in my place ought to look. And taking things in that way, Madge, you can't think how pleasant they are; nor how all sorts of little worries fall off. I wish you knew, Madge! If I am hot and tired in a strawberry bed, and the thought comes, whose servant I am, and that he has made the sun shine and put me to work in it,—then it's all right in a minute, and I don't mind any longer."
Madge looked at her, with eyes that were half scornful, half admiring.
"There is just one thing that does tempt me," Lois went on, her eye going forth to the world outside the window, or to a world more distant and in tangible, that she looked at without seeing,—"I do sometimes wish I had time to read and learn."
"Learn!" Madge echoed. "What?"
"Loads of things. I never thought about it much, till I went to New York last winter; then, seeing people and talking to people that were different, made me feel how ignorant I was, and what a pleasant thing it would be to have knowledge—education—yes, and accomplishments. I have the temptation to wish for that sometimes; but I know it is a temptation; for if I was intended to have all those things, the way would have been opened, and it is not, and never was. Just a breath of longing comes over me now and then for that; not for play, but to make more of myself; and then I remember that I am exactly where the Lord wants me to be, and as he chooses for me, and then I am quite content again."
"You never said so before," the other sister answered, now sympathizingly.
"No," said Lois, smiling; "why should I? Only just now I thought I would confess."
"Lois, I have wished for that very thing!"
"Well, maybe it is good to have the wish. If ever a chance comes, we shall know we are meant to use it; and we won't be slow!"
All things in the world, so far as the dwellers in Shampuashuh knew, went their usual course in peace for the next few months. Lois gathered her strawberries, and Madge made her currant jelly. Peas ripened, and green corn was on the board, and potatoes blossomed, and young beets were pulled, and peaches began to come. It was a calm, gentle life the little family lived; every day exceedingly like the day before, and yet every day with something new in it. Small pieces of novelty, no doubt; a dish of tomatoes, or the first yellow raspberries, or a new pattern for a dress, or a new receipt for cake. Or they walked down to the shore and dug clams, some fine afternoon; or Mrs. Dashiell lent them a new book; or Mr. Dashiell preached an extraordinary sermon. It was a very slight ebb and flow of the tide of time; however, it served to keep everything from stagnation. Then suddenly, at the end of July, came Mrs. Wishart's summons to Lois to join her on her way to the Isles of Shoals. "I shall go in about a week," the letter ran; "and I want you to meet me at the Shampuashuh station; for I shall go that way to Boston. I cannot stop, but I will have your place taken and all ready for you. You must come, Lois, for I cannot do without you; and when other people need you, you know, you never hesitate. Do not hesitate now."
There was a good deal of hesitation, however, on one part and another, before the question was settled.
"Lois has just got home," said Charity. "I don't see what she should be going again for. I should like to know if Mrs. Wishart thinks she ain't wanted at home!"
"People don't think about it," said Madge; "only what they want themselves. But it is a fine chance for Lois."
"Why don't she ask you?" said Charity.
"She thought Madge would enjoy a visit to her in New York more," said Lois. "So she said to me."
"And so I would," cried Madge. "I don't care for a parcel of little islands out at sea. But that would just suit Lois. What sort of a place is the Isles of Shoals anyhow?"
"Just that," said Lois; "so far as I know. A parcel of little islands, out in the sea."
"Where at?" said Charity.
"I don't know exactly."
"Get the map and look."
"They are too small to be down on the map."
"What is Eliza Wishart wantin' to go there for?" asked Mrs. Armadale.
"O, she goes somewhere every year, grandma; to one place and another; and I suppose she likes novelty."
"That's a poor way to live," said the old lady. "But I suppose, bein' such a place, it'll be sort o' lonesome, and she wants you for company. May be she goes for her health."
"I think quite a good many people go there, grandma."
"There can't, if they're little islands out at sea. Most folks wouldn't like that. Do you want to go, Lois?"
"I would like it, very much. I just want to see what they are like, grandmother. I never did see the sea yet."
"You saw it yesterday, when we went for clams," said Charity scornfully.
"That? O no. That's not the sea, Charity."
"Well, it's mighty near it."
It seemed to be agreed at last that Lois should accept her cousin's invitation; and she made her preparations. She made them with great delight. Pleasant as the home-life was, it was quite favourable to the growth of an appetite for change and variety; and the appetite in Lois was healthy and strong. The sea and the islands, and, on the other hand, an intermission of gardening and fruit-picking; Shampuashuh people lost sight of for a time, and new, new, strange forms of humanity and ways of human life; the prospect was happy. And a happy girl was Lois, when one evening in the early part of August she joined Mrs. Wishart in the night train to Boston. That lady met her at the door of the drawing-room car, and led her to the little compartment where they were screened off from the rest of the world.
"I am so glad to have you!" was her salutation. "Dear me, how well you look, child! What have you been doing to yourself?"
"Getting brown in the sun, picking berries."
"You are not brown a bit. You are as fair as—whatever shall I compare you to? Roses are common."
"Nothing better than roses, though," said Lois.
"Well, a rose you must be; but of the freshest and sweetest. We don't have such roses in New York. Fact, we do not. I never see anything so fresh there. I wonder why?"
"People don't live out-of-doors picking berries," suggested Lois.
"What has berry-picking to do with it? My dear, it is a pity we shall have none of your old admirers at the Isles of Shoals; but I cannot promise you one. You see, it is off the track. The Caruthers are going to Saratoga; they stayed in town after the mother and son got back from Florida. The Bentons are gone to Europe. Mr. Dillwyn, by the way, was he one of your admirers, Lois?"
"Certainly not," said Lois, laughing. "But I have a pleasant remembrance of him, he gave us such a good lunch one day. I am very glad I am not going to see anybody I ever saw before. Where are the Isles of Shoals? and what are they, that you should go to see them?"
"I'm not going to see them—there's nothing to see, unless you like sea and rocks. I am going for the air, and because I must go somewhere, and I am tired of everywhere else. O, they're out in the Atlantic—sea all round them—queer, barren places. I am so glad I've got you, Lois! I don't know a soul that's to be there—can't guess what we shall find; but I've got you, and I can get along."
"Do people go there just for health?"
"O, a few, perhaps; but the thing is what I am after—novelty; they are hardly the fashion yet."
"That is the very oddest reason for doing or not doing things!" said Lois. "Because it's the fashion! As if that made it pleasant, or useful."
"It does!" said Mrs. Wishart. "Of course it does. Pleasant, yes, and useful too. My dear, you don't want to be out of the fashion?"
"Why not, if the fashion does not agree with me?"
"O my dear, you will learn. Not to agree with the fashion, is to be out with the world."
"With one part of it," said Lois merrily.
"Just the part that is of importance. Never mind, you will learn. Lois, I am so sleepy, I can not keep up any longer. I must curl down and take a nap. I just kept myself awake till we reached Shampuashuh. You had better do as I do. My dear, I am very sorry, but I can't help it."
So Mrs. Wishart settled herself upon a heap of bags and wraps, took off her bonnet, and went to sleep. Lois did not feel in the least like following her example. She was wide-awake with excitement and expectation, and needed no help of entertainment from anybody. With her thoroughly sound mind and body and healthy appetites, every detail and every foot of the journey was a pleasure to her; even the corner of a drawing-room car on a night train. It was such change and variety! and Lois had spent all her life nearly in one narrow sphere and the self-same daily course of life and experience. New York had been one great break in this uniformity, and now came another. Islands in the sea! Lois tried to fancy what they would be like. So much resorted to already, they must be very charming; and green meadows, shadowing trees, soft shores and cosy nooks rose up before her imagination. Mr. Caruthers and his family were at Saratoga, that was well; but there would be other people, different from the Shampuashuh type; and Lois delighted in seeing new varieties of humankind as well as new portions of the earth where they live. She sat wide-awake opposite to her sleeping hostess, and made an entertainment for herself out of the place and the night journey. It was a starlit, sultry night; the world outside the hurrying train covered with a wonderful misty veil, under which it lay half revealed by the heavenly illumination; soft, mysterious, vast; a breath now and then whispering of nature's luxuriant abundance and sweetness that lay all around, out there under the stars, for miles and hundreds of miles. Lois looked and peered out sometimes, so happy that it was not Shampuashuh, and that she was away, and that she would see the sun shine on new landscapes when the morning came round; and sometimes she looked within the car, and marvelled at the different signs and tokens of human life and character that met her there. And every yard of the way was a delight to her.
Meanwhile, how weirdly and strangely do the threads of human life cross and twine and untwine in this world!
That same evening, in New York, in the Caruthers mansion in Twenty-Third Street, the drawing-room windows were open to let in the refreshing breeze from the sea. The light lace curtains swayed to and fro as the wind came and went, but were not drawn; for Mrs. Caruthers liked, she said, to have so much of a screen between her and the passers-by. For that matter, the windows were high enough above the street to prevent all danger of any one's looking in. The lights were burning low in the rooms, on account of the heat; and within, in attitudes of exhaustion and helplessness sat mother and daughter in their several easy-chairs. Tom was on his back on the floor, which, being nicely matted, was not the worst place. A welcome break to the monotony of the evening was the entrance of Philip Dillwyn. Tom got up from the floor to welcome him, and went back then to his former position.
"How come you to be here at this time of year?" Dillwyn asked. "It was mere accident my finding you. Should never have thought of looking for you. But by chance passing, I saw that windows were open and lights visible, so I concluded that something else might be visible if I came in."
"We are only just passing through," Julia explained. "Going to Saratoga to-morrow. We have only just come from Newport."
"What drove you away from Newport? This is the time to be by the sea."
"O, who cares for the sea! or anything else? it's the people; and the people at Newport didn't suit mother. The Benthams were there, and that set; and mother don't like the Benthams; and Miss Zagumski, the daughter of the Russian minister, was there, and all the world was crazy about her. Nothing was to be seen or heard but Miss Zagumski, and her dancing, and her playing, and her singing. Mother got tired of it."
"And yet Newport is a large place," remarked Philip.
"Too large," Mrs. Caruthers answered.
"What do you expect to find at Saratoga?"
"Heat," said Mrs. Caruthers; "and another crowd."
"I think you will not be disappointed, if this weather holds."
"It is a great deal more comfortable here!" sighed the elder lady. "Saratoga's a dreadfully hot place! Home is a great deal more comfortable."
"Then why not stay at home? Comfort is what you are after."
"O, but one can't! Everybody goes somewhere; and one must do as everybody does."
"Philip, what makes you ask such a question?"
"I assure you, a very honest ignorance of the answer to it."
"Why, one must do as everybody does?"
The lady's tone and accent had implied that the answer was self-evident; yet it was not given.
"Really,"—Philip went on. "What should hinder you from staying in this pleasant house part of the summer, or all of the summer, if you find yourselves more comfortable here?"
"Being comfortable isn't the only thing," said Julia.
"No. What other consideration governs the decision? that is what I am asking."
"Why, Philip, there is nobody in town."
"That is better than company you do not like."
"I wish it was the fashion to stay in town," said Mrs. Caruthers. "There is everything here, in one's own house, to make the heat endurable, and just what we miss when we go to a hotel. Large rooms, and cool nights, and clean servants, and gas, and baths—hotel rooms are so stuffy."
"After all, one does not live in one's rooms," said Julia.
"But," said Philip, returning to the charge, "why should not you, Mrs. Caruthers, do what you like? Why should you be displeased in Saratoga, or anywhere, merely because other people are pleased there? Why not do as you like?"
"You know one can't do as one likes in this world," Julia returned.
"Why not, if one can,—as you can?" said Philip, laughing.
"But that's ridiculous," said Julia, raising herself up with a little show of energy. "You know perfectly well, Mr. Dillwyn, that people belonging to the world must do as the rest of the world do. Nobody is in town. If we stayed here, people would get up some unspeakable story to account for our doing it; that would be the next thing."
"Dillwyn, where are you going?" said Tom suddenly from the floor, where he had been more uneasy than his situation accounted for.
"I don't know—perhaps I'll take your train and go to Saratoga too. Not for fear, though."
"That's capital!" said Tom, half raising himself up and leaning on his elbow. "I'll turn the care of my family over to you, and I'll seek the wilderness."
"What wilderness?" asked his sister sharply.
"Some wilderness—some place where I shall not see crinoline, nor be expected to do the polite thing. I'll go for the sea, I guess."
"What have you in your head, Tom?"
"You've just come from the sea."
"I've just come from the sea where it was fashionable. Now I'll find some place where it is unfashionable. I don't favour Saratoga any more than you do. It's a jolly stupid; that's what it is."
"But where do you want to go, Tom? you have some place in your head."
"I'd as lief go off for the Isles of Shoals as anywhere," said Tom, lying down again. "They haven't got fashionable yet. I've a notion to see 'em first."
"I doubt about that," remarked Philip gravely. "I am not sure but the Isles of Shoals are about the most distinguished place you could go to."
"Isles of Shoals. Where are they? and what are they?" Julia asked.
"A few little piles of rock out in the Atlantic, on which it spends its wrath all the year round; but of course the ocean is not always raging; and when it is not raging, it smiles; and they say the smile is nowhere more bewitching than at the Isles of Shoals," Philip answered.
"But will nobody be there?"
"Nobody you would care about," returned Tom.
"Then what'll you do?"
"Tom! you're not a fisher. You needn't pretend it."
"Sun myself on the rocks."
"You are brown enough already."
"They say, everything gets bleached there."
"Then I should like to go. But I couldn't stand the sea and solitude, and I don't believe you can stand it. Tom, this is ridiculous. You're not serious?"
"Not often," said Tom; "but this time I am. I am going to the Isles of Shoals. If Philip will take you to Saratoga, I'll start to-morrow; otherwise I will wait till I get you rooms and see you settled."
"Is there a hotel there?"
"Something that does duty for one, as I understand."
"Tom, this is too ridiculous, and vexatious," remonstrated his sister. "We want you at Saratoga."
"Well, it is flattering; but you wanted me at St. Augustine a little while ago, and you had me. You can't always have a fellow. I'm going to see the Isles of Shoals before they're the rage. I want to get cooled off, for once, after Florida and Newport, besides."
"Isn't that the place where Mrs. Wishart is gone," said Philip now.
"I don't know—yes, I believe so."
"Mrs. Wishart!" exclaimed Julia in a different tone. "She gone to the Isles of Shoals?"
"'Mrs. Wishart!" Mrs. Caruthers echoed. "Has she got that girl with her?"
Silence. Then Philip remarked with a laugh, that Tom's plan of "cooling off" seemed problematical.
"Tom," said his sister solemnly, "is Miss Lothrop going to be there?"
"Don't know, upon my word," said Tom. "I haven't heard."
"She is, and that's what you're going for. O Tom, Tom!" cried his sister despairingly. "Mr. Dillwyn, what shall we do with him?"
"Can't easily manage a fellow of his size, Miss Julia. Let him take his chance."
"Take his chance! Such a chance!"
"Yes, Philip," said Tom's mother; "you ought to stand by us."
"With all my heart, dear Mrs. Caruthers; but I am afraid I should be a weak support. Really, don't you think Tom might do worse?"
"Worse?" said the elder lady; "what could be worse than for him to bring such a wife into the house?"
Tom gave an inarticulate kind of snort just here, which was not lacking in expression. Philip went on calmly.
"Such a wife—" he repeated. "Mrs. Caruthers, here is room for discussion. Suppose we settle, for example, what Tom, or anybody situated like Tom, ought to look for and insist upon finding, in a wife. I wish you and Miss Julia would make out the list of qualifications."
"Stuff!" muttered Tom. "It would be hard lines, if a fellow must have a wife of his family's choosing!"
"His family can talk about it," said Philip, "and certainly will. Hold your tongue, Tom. I want to hear your mother."
"Why, Mr. Dillwyn," said the lady, "you know as well as I do; and you think just as I do about it, and about this Miss Lothrop."
"Perhaps; but let us reason the matter out. Maybe it will do Tom good. What ought he to have in a wife, Mrs. Caruthers? and we'll try to show him he is looking in the wrong quarter."
"I'm not looking anywhere!" growled Tom; but no one believed him.
"Well, Philip," Mrs. Caruthers began, "he ought to marry a girl of good family."
"Certainly. By 'good family' you mean—?"
"Everybody knows what I mean."
"Possibly Tom does not."
"I mean, a girl that one knows about, and that everybody knows about; that has good blood in her veins."
"The blood of respectable and respected ancestors," Philip said.
"Yes! that is what I mean. I mean, that have been respectable and respected for a long time back—for years and years."
"You believe in inheritance."
"I don't know about that," said Mrs. Caruthers. "I believe in family."
"Well, I believe in inheritance. But what proof is there that the young lady of whom we were speaking has no family?"
Julia raised herself up from her reclining position, and Mrs. Caruthers sat suddenly forward in her chair.
"Why, she is nobody!" cried the first. "Nobody knows her, nor anything about her."
"Here—" said Philip.
"Here! Of course. Where else?"
"Yes, just listen to that!" Tom broke in. "I xxow should anybody know her here, where she has never lived! But that's the way—"
"I suppose a Sandwich Islander's family is known in the Sandwich Islands," said Mrs. Caruthers. "But what good is that to us?"
"Then you mean, the family must be a New York family?"
"N—o," said Mrs. Caruthers hesitatingly; "I don't mean that exactly. There are good Southern families—"
"And good Eastern families!" put in Tom.
"But nobody knows anything about this girl's family," said the ladies both in a breath.
"Mrs. Wishart does," said Philip. "She has even told me. The family dates back to the beginning of the colony, and boasts of extreme respectability. I forget how many judges and ministers it can count up; and at least one governor of the colony; and there is no spot or stain upon it anywhere."
There was silence.
"Go on, Mrs. Caruthers. What else should Tom look for in a wife?"
"It is not merely what a family has been, but what its associations have been," said Mrs. Caruthers.
"These have evidently been respectable."
"But it is not that only, Philip. We want the associations of good society; and we want position. I want Tom to marry a woman of good position."
"Hm!" said Philip. "This lady has not been accustomed to anything that you would call 'society,' and 'position'—But your son has position enough, Mrs. Caruthers. He can stand without much help."
"Now, Philip, don't you go to encourage Tom in this mad fancy. It's just a fancy. The girl has nothing; and Tom's wife ought to be— I shall break my heart if Tom's wife is not of good family and position, and good manners, and good education. That's the least I can ask for."
"She has as good manners as anybody you know!" said Tom flaring up. "As good as Julia's, and better."
"I should say, she has no manner whatever," remarked Miss Julia quietly.
"What is 'manner'?" said Tom indignantly. "I hate it. Manner! They all have 'manner'—except the girls who make believe they have none; and their 'manner' is to want manner. Stuff!"
"But the girl knows nothing," persisted Mrs. Caruthers.
"She knows absolutely nothing,"—Julia confirmed this statement.
"She speaks correct English," said Dillwyn. "That at least."
"English!—but not a word of French or of any other language. And she has no particular use for the one language she does know; she cannot talk about anything. How do you know she speaks good grammar, Mr. Dillwyn? did you ever talk with her?"
"Yes—" said Philip, making slow admission. "And I think you are mistaken in your other statement; she can talk on some subjects. Probably you did not hit the right ones."
"Well, she does not know anything," said Miss Julia.
"That is bad. Perhaps it might be mended."
"How? Nonsense! I beg your pardon, Mr. Dillwyn; but you cannot make an accomplished woman out of a country girl, if you don't begin before she is twenty. And imagine Tom with such a wife! and me with such a sister!"
"I cannot imagine it. Don't you see, Tom, you must give it up?" Dillwyn said lightly.
"I'll go to the Isles of Shoals and think about that," said Tom. Wherewith he got up and went off.
"Mamma," said Julia then, "he's going to that place to meet that girl. Either she is to be there with Mrs. Wishart, or he is reckoning to see her by the way; and the Isles of Shoals are just a blind. And the only thing left for you and me is to go too, and be of the party!"
"Tom don't want us along," said Tom's mother.
"Of course he don't want us along; and I am sure we don't want it either; but it is the only thing left for us to do. Don't you see? She'll be there, or he can stop at her place by the way, going and coming; maybe Mrs. Wishart is asking her on purpose—I shouldn't be at all surprised—and they'll make up the match between them. It would be a thing for the girl, to marry Tom Caruthers!"
Mrs. Caruthers groaned, I suppose at the double prospect before her and before Tom. Philip was silent. Miss Julia went on discussing and arranging; till her brother returned.
"Tom," said she cheerfully, "we've been talking over matters, and I'll tell you what we'll do—if you won't go with us, we will go with you!"
"Why, to the Isles of Shoals, of course."
"You and mother!" said Tom.
"Yes. There is no fun in going about alone. We will go along with you."
"What on earth will you do at a place like that?"
"Keep you from being lonely."
"Stuff, Julia! You will wish yourself back before you've been there an hour; and I tell you, I want to go fishing. What would become of mother, landed on a bare rock like that, with nobody to speak to, and nothing but crabs to eat?"
"Crabs!" Julia echoed. Philip burst into a laugh.
"Crabs and mussels," said Tom. "I don't believe you'll get anything else."
"But is Mrs. Wishart gone there?"
"Philip says so."
"Mrs. Wishart isn't a fool."
And Tom was unable to overthrow this argument.
It was a very bright, warm August day when Mrs. Wishart and her young companion steamed over from Portsmouth to the Isles of Shoals. It was Lois's first sight of the sea, for the journey from New York had been made by land; and the ocean, however still, was nothing but a most wonderful novelty to her. She wanted nothing, she could well-nigh attend to nothing, but the movements and developments of this vast and mysterious Presence of nature. Mrs. Wishart was amused and yet half provoked. There was no talk in Lois; nothing to be got out of her; hardly any attention to be had from her. She sat by the vessel's side and gazed, with a brow of grave awe and eyes of submissive admiration; rapt, absorbed, silent, and evidently glad. Mrs. Wishart was provoked at her, and envied her.