It was a very hot evening of one of the hottest days of July, and Mrs. Rufus Lynn wore in deference to the climate a gown of white cambric with a little black sprig thereon, but nothing could excel the smoothly boned fit of it. And she did not lean back in her chair, but was as erect as the very old lady on the door-step, who was her grandmother, and who was also stiffly gowned, in a black cashmere as straightly made as if it had been armor. The influence of heredity showed strongly in the two, but in Sarah showed the intervening generation.
Sarah was a great beauty with no honor in her own country. Her long softly curved figure was surmounted by a head wound with braids of the purest flax color, and a face like a cameo. She was very fair, with the fairness of alabaster. Her mother's face had a hard blondness, pink and white, but fixed, and her great-grandmother had the same.
Mrs. Samson often glanced disapprovingly at her great-granddaughter, seated by her side in her utterly lax attitude. "Don't set so hunched up," she whispered to her in a sharp hiss. She did not want Mr. John Mangam, whom she regarded as a suitor of Sarah's, to have his attention called to the girl's defects.
But Sarah had laughed softly, and replied, quite aloud, in a languid, sweet voice, "Oh, it is so hot, grandma!"
"What if it is hot?" said the old woman. "You ain't no hotter settin' up than you be slouchin'." She still spoke in a whisper, and Sarah had only laughed and said nothing more.
As for Mrs. Wilford Biggs and her brother, Mr. John Mangam, they maintained, as always, silence. Neither of the two ever spoke, as a rule, unless spoken to. John was called a very rich man in Adams. He had gone to the far West in his youth and made money in cattle.
"And how in creation he ever made any money in cattle, a man that don't talk no more than he does, beats me," Mrs. Samson often said to her granddaughter, Mrs. Lynn. She was quite out-spoken to her about John Mangam, although never to Sarah. "It does seem as if a man would have to say somethin', to manage critters," said the old woman.
Mr. John Mangam and Mrs. Wilford Biggs grated on her nerves. She privately considered it an outrage for Mrs. Biggs to come over nearly every evening and sit and rock and say nothing, and often fall asleep, and for Mr. Mangam to do the same. It was not so much the silence as the attitude of almost injured expectancy which irritated. Both gave the effect of waiting for other people to talk to them, to tell them interesting bits of news, to ask them questions—to set them going, as it were.
Mrs. Lynn and her grandmother tried to fulfil their duty in this direction, but Sarah did not trouble herself in the least. She continued to sit bent over like a lily limp with the heat, and she stared with her two great blue eyes in her cameo face forth at the wonders of the summer night, and she had apparently very little consciousness of the people around her. Her loose white gown fell loosely around her; her white elbows were quite visible from the position in which she held her arms. Her lovely hair hung in soft loops over her ears. She was the only one who paid the slightest attention to the beauty of the night. She was filling her whole soul with it.
It was a wonderful night, and Adams was a village in which to see a wonderful night. It was flanked by a river, upon the opposite bank of which rose a gentle mountain. Above the mountain the moon was appearing with the beauty of revelation, and the tall trees made superb shadow effects. The night also was not without its voices and its fragrances. Katydids were shrilling from every thicket, and over somewhere near the river a whippoorwill was persistently calling. As for the fragrances, they were those of the dark, damp skirts and wings of the night, the evidences as loud as voices of green shrubs and flowers blooming in low wet places; but dominant above all was the scent of the lilies. One breathed in lilies to that extent that one's thought seemed fairly scented with them. It was easy enough, by looking toward the left, to see where the fragrance came from. There was evident, on the other side of a low hedge, a pale florescence of the flowers. Beyond them rose, pale likewise, the great Ware house, the largest in the village, and the oldest. Hyacinthus Ware was the sole representative of the old family known to be living. Presently the group on the Lynn door-step began to talk about him, leading up to the subject from the fragrance of the lilies.
"Them lilies is so sweet they are sickish," said the old grandmother.
"Yes, they be dreadful sickish," said Mrs. Lynn. Mrs. Wilford Biggs and Mr. Mangam, as usual, said nothing.
"Hyacinthus is home, I see," said Mrs. Lynn.
"Yes, I see him on the street t'other day," said the old woman, in her thick dialect. She sat straighter than ever as she gazed across at the garden of lilies and the great Ware house, and the cold step-stone seemed to pierce her old spinal column like a rod of steel; but she never flinched.
Mrs. Wilford Biggs and Mr. John Mangam said nothing.
"He is the handsomest man I ever saw," said Sarah Lynn, unexpectedly, in an odd, shamed, almost awed voice, as if she were speaking of a divinity.
Then for the first time Mr. John Mangam gave evidence of life. He did not speak, but he made an inarticulate noise between a grunt and a sniff.
"Well, if you call that man good-lookin'," said Mrs. Lynn, "you don't see the way I do, that's all." She looked straight at Mr. John Mangam as she spoke.
"I don't call him good-looking at all," said the old woman; "dreadful white-livered."
Sarah said nothing at all, but the face of the man, Hyacinthus Ware, was before her eyes still, as beautiful and grand as the face of a god.
"Never heerd such a name, either," said the old woman. "His mother was dreadful flowery. She had some outlandish blood. I don't know whether she was Eyetalian or Dutch."
"Her mother was Greek, I always heard," said Mrs. Lynn. "I dun'no' as I ever heard of any other Greek round these parts. I guess they don't emigrate much."
"I guess it was Greek, now you speak of it," said the old woman. "I knew she was outlandish on one side, anyhow. An' as fur callin' him good-lookin'—" She looked aggressively at her great-granddaughter, whose beautiful face was turned toward the moonlit night.
It was a long time that they sat there. It had been a very hot day, and the cool was grateful. Hardly a remark was made, except one from Mrs. Lynn that it was a blessing there were so few mosquitoes and they could sit outdoors such a night.
"I ain't heerd but one all the time I've been settin' here," said the old woman, "and I ketched him."
Sarah, the girl, continued to drink, to eat, to imbibe, to assimilate, toward her spiritual growth, the beauty of the night, the gentle slope of the mountain, the wavering wings of the shadows, the song of the river, the calls of the whippoorwill and the katydids, the perfume of the unseen green things in the wet places, and the overmastering sweetness of the lilies.
At last Mrs. Wilford Biggs arose to go, and also John Mangam. Both said they must be goin', they guessed, and that was the first remark that had been made by either of them. Mrs. Biggs moved with loose flops down the front walk, and John Mangam walked stiffly behind her. She had merely to cross the road; he had half a mile to walk to his bachelor abode.
"I should think he must be lonesome, poor man, with only that no-account housekeeper to home," said the old woman, as she also rose, with pain, of which she resolutely gave no evidence. Her poor old joints seemed to stab her, but she fought off the pain angrily. Instead she pitied with meaning John Mangam.
"It must be pretty hard for him," assented Mrs. Lynn. She also thought it would be a very good thing for her daughter to marry John Mangam.
Sarah said nothing. The old woman, after saying, like the others, that she guessed she must be goin', crept off alone across the field to her little house. She would have resented any offer to accompany her, and Mrs. Lynn arose to enter the house.
"Well, be you goin' to set there all night?" she asked, rather sharply, of Sarah. It had seemed to her that Sarah might have made a little effort to entertain Mr. John Mangam.
"No. I am coming in, mother," Sarah said. Sarah spoke differently from the others. She had had, as they expressed it in Adams, "advantages." She had, in fact, graduated from a girls' school of considerable repute. Her father had insisted upon it. Mrs. Lynn had rather rebelled against the outlay on Sarah's education. She had John Mangam in mind, and she thought that a course at the high school in Adams would fit her admirably for her life. However, she deferred to Rufus Lynn, and Sarah had her education.
The Lynn house was a large story-and-a-half cottage, the prevalent type of house in Adams. Mrs. Lynn slept in the room she had always occupied on the second floor. In hot weather Sarah slept in the bedroom opening out of the best parlor, because the other second-floor room was hot. Mrs. Lynn went up-stairs with her lamp and left Sarah to go to bed in the bedroom out of the parlor. Sarah went in there with her own little lamp, but even that room seemed stuffy. The heat of the day seemed to have become confined in the house. Sarah stood irresolute for a moment. She looked at the high mound of feather bed, at the small window at the foot, whence came scarcely a whiff of the blessed night air. Them she went back out on the door-step and again seated herself. As she sat there the scent of the lilies came more strongly than ever, and now with a curious effect. It was to the girl as if the fragrance were twining and winding about her and impelling her like leashes. All at once an impulse of yielding which was really freedom came to her. Why in the world should she not cross the little north yard, step over the low hedge, and go into that lily-garden? She knew that it would be beautiful there. She looked forth into the crystalline light and the soft plumy shade,—she would go over into the Ware garden. With all this, there was no ulterior motive. She had seen the man who lived in the house, and she admired him as one from afar, but she was a girl innocent not only in fact, but in dreams. Of course she had thought of a possible lover and husband, and that some day he might come, and she resented the supposition that John Mangam might be he, but she held even her imagination in a curious respect. While she dreamed of love, she worshipped at the same time.
When she had stepped lightly over the hedge and was moving among the lilies in the strange garden where she had no right, she was beautiful as any nymph. Now that she was in the midst of the lilies, it was as if their fragrance were a chorus sung with a violence of sweet breath in her very face. She felt exhilarated, even intoxicated, by it. She felt as if she were drawing the lilies so into herself that her own personality waned. She seemed to realize what it would be to bloom with that pale glory and exhale such sweetness for a few days. There were other flowers than lilies in the garden, but the lilies were very plentiful. There were white day-lilies, and tiger-lilies which were not sweet at all, and marvellous pink freckled ones which glistened as with drops of silver and were very fragrant. There were also low-growing spider-lilies, but those were not evident at this time of night, and the lilies-of-the-valley, of course, were all gone. There were, however, many other flowers of the old-fashioned varieties—verbenas sweet-williams, phlox, hollyhocks, mignonette, and the like. There was also a quantity of box. The garden was divided into rooms by the box, and in each room bloomed the flowers.
Sarah moved along at her will through the garden. Moving from enclosure to enclosure of box, she came, before she knew it, to the house itself. It loomed up before her a pale massiveness, with no lights in any of the windows, but on the back porch sat the owner. He sat in a high-back chair, with his head tilted back, and his eyes were closed and he seemed to be asleep, but Sarah was not quite sure. She stopped short. She became all at once horribly ashamed and shocked at what she was doing. What would he think of a girl roaming around his garden so late at night—a girl to whom he had never spoken? She was standing against a background of blooming hollyhocks. Her slender height shrank delicately away; she was like a nymph poised for flight, but she dared not even fly lest she wake the man on the porch if he were asleep, or arouse his attention were he awake.
She dared do nothing but remain perfectly still—as still as one of the tall hollyhocks behind her which were crowded with white and yellow rosettes of bloom. She had her long dress wound around her, holding it up with one hand, and the other hand and arm hung whitely at her side in the folds. She stood perfectly still and looked at the man in the porch, on whose face the moon was shining. He looked more than ever to her like something wonderful beyond common. The man had really a wonderful beauty. He was not very young, but no years could affect the classic outlines of his face, and his colorless skin was as clear and smooth as a boys. And more than anything to be remarked was the majestic serenity of his expression. He looked like a man who all his life had dominated not only other men, but himself. And there was, besides the appearance of the man, a certain fascination of mystery attached to him. Nobody in Adams knew just how or where he had spent his life. The old Ware house had been occupied for many years only by an old caretaker, who still remained. This caretaker was a man, but with all the housekeeping ability of a woman. He was never seen by Adams people except when he made his marketing expeditions. He was said to keep the house in immaculate order, and he also took care of the garden. He had always been in the Ware household, and there was a tradition that in his youth he had been a very handsome man. "As handsome as any handsome woman you ever saw," the old inhabitants said. He had come not very long before Joseph Ware, the father of Hyacinthus, had died. Joseph's wife had survived him several years. She died quite suddenly of pneumonia when still a comparatively young woman and when Hyacinthus was a boy. Then a maternal uncle had come and taken the boy away with him, to live nobody knew where nor how, until his return a few months since.
There was, of course, much curiosity in Adams concerning him, and the curiosity was not, generally speaking, of a complimentary tendency. Some young and marriageable girls esteemed him very handsome, but the majority of the people said that he was odd and stuck up, as his mother had been before him. He led a quiet life with his books, and he had a room on the ground-floor fitted up as a studio. In there he made things of clay and plaster, as the Adams people said, and curious-looking boxes were sent away by express. It was rumored that a statue by him had been exhibited in New York.
Some faces show more plainly in the moonlight, or one imagines so. Hyacinthus Ware's showed as clearly as if carved in marble. He in reality looked so like a statue that the girl standing in the enclosure of box with the background of hollyhocks had for a moment imagined that he might be one of his own statues. The eyes, either closed in sleep or appearing to be, heightened the effect.
But the girl was not now in a position to do more than tremble at the plight into which she had gotten herself. It seemed to her that no girl, certainly no girl in Adams, had ever done such a thing. Her freedom of mind now failed her. Another heredity asserted itself. She felt very much as her mother or her great-grandmother might have felt in a similar predicament. It was as horrible as dreams she had sometimes had of walking into church in her nightgear. She was sure that she must not move, and the more so because at a very slight motion of hers there had been a motion as if in response from the man on the porch. Then there was another drawback. Some roses grew behind the hollyhocks, and her skirt was caught. She had felt a little pull at her skirt when she essayed a slight tentative motion. Therefore, in order to fly she could not merely slip away; she would have to make extra motions to disentangle her dress. She therefore remained perfectly still in the attitude of shrinking and flight. She thought that her only course until the man should wake and enter the house; then she could slip away. She had not much fear of being discovered unless by motion; she stood in shadow. Besides, the man had no reason whatever to apprehend the presence of a girl in his garden at that hour, and would not be looking for her. She had an intuitive feeling that unless she moved he would not perceive her. Cramps began to assail even her untrammelled limbs. To maintain one pose so long was almost an impossible feat. She kept hoping that he would wake, that he must wake. It did not seem possible that he could sit there much longer and not wake; and yet the night was so hot—hot, probably, even in the great square rooms of the old Ware house. It was quite natural that he should prefer sleeping there in the cool out-of-door if he could, but an unreasoning rage seized upon her that he should. She rebelled against the very freedom in another which she had always coveted for herself.
And still he sat there, as white and beautiful and motionless as a statue, and still she kept her enforced attitude. She suffered tortures, but she said to herself that she would not yield, that she would not move. Rather than have that man discover her at that hour in his garden, she would suffer everything. It did not occur to her that possibly this suffering might have consequences which she did not foresee. All that she considered was a simple question of endurance; but all at once her head swam, and she sank down at the feet of the hollyhocks like a broken flower herself. She had completely lost consciousness.
When she came to herself she was lying on the back porch of the old Ware house and a pile of pillows was under her head, and she had a confused impression of vanishing woman draperies, which later on she thought she must have been mistaken about, as she knew, of course, that there was no woman there. Hyacinthus Ware himself was bending over her and fanning her with a great fan of peacock feathers, and the old caretaker had a little glass of wine on a tray. The first thing Sarah heard was Hyacinthus's voice, evenly modulated, with a curious stillness about it.
"I think if you can drink a little of this wine," he said, "you will feel better."
Sarah looked up at the face looking down at her, and all at once a conviction seized upon her that he had not been asleep at all; that he had pretended to be so, and had been enjoying himself at her expense, simply waiting to see how long she would stand there. He probably thought that she—she, Sarah Lynn—had come into his garden at midnight to see him. A sudden fury seized upon her, but when she tried to raise herself she found that she could not. Then she reached out her hand for the wine, and drank it with a fierce gulp, spilling some of it over her dress. It affected her almost instantly. She raised herself, the wine giving her strength, and she looked with a haughty anger at the man, whose expression seemed something between compassion and mocking.
"You saw me all the time," she said. "You did, I know you did, and you let me think you were asleep to see how long I would stand still there, and you think—you think—I was sitting on my door-step—I live in the next house—and it was very warm in the house, so I came out again and I smelled the lilies over the hedge, and—and—I did not think of you at all." She was quite on her feet then, and she looked at him with her head thrown back with an air of challenge. "I thought I would like to come over here in the garden," she continued, in the same angrily excusing tone, "and I did not dream of seeing any one. It was so late, I thought the house would be closed, and when I saw you I thought you were asleep."
The man began to look genuinely compassionate; the half-smile faded from his lips. "I understand," he said.
"And I thought if I moved you would wake and see me, and you were awake all the time. You knew all the time, and you waited for me to stand there and feel as I did. I never dreamed a man could be so cruel."
"I beg your pardon with all my heart," began Hyacinthus Ware.
But the girl was gone. She staggered a little as she ran, leaping over the box borders. When she was at last in her own home, with the door softly closed and locked behind her, and she was in the parlor bedroom, she could not believe that she was herself. She began to look at things differently. The influence of the intergeneration waned. She thought how her mother would never have done such a thing when she was a girl, how shocked she would be if she knew, and she herself was as shocked as her mother would have been.
It was only a week from the night of the garden episode that Mr. Ware came to make a call, and he came with the minister, who had been an old friend of his father's.
She lay awake a long time that night, thinking with angry humiliation how her mother wanted her to marry John Mangam, and she thought of Mr. Hyacinthus Ware and his polished, gentle manner, which was yet strong. Then all at once a feeling which she had never known before came over her. She saw quite plainly before her, in the moonlit dusk of the room, Hyacinthus Ware's face, and she felt that she could go down on her knees before him and worship him.
"Never was such a man," she said to herself. "Never was a man so beautiful and so good. He is not like other men."
It was not so much love as devotion which possessed her. She looked out of her little window opposite the bed, at the moonlit night, for the storm had cleared the air. She had the window open and a cool wind was blowing through the room. She looked out at the silver-lit immensity of the sky, and a feeling of exaltation came over her. She thought of Hyacinthus as she might have thought of a divinity. Love and marriage were hardly within her imagination in connection with him. But they came later.
Ware quite often called at the Lynn house. He often joined the group on the door-step in the summer nights. He often came when John Mangam occupied his usual chair in his usual place, and his graceful urbanity on such occasions seemed to make more evident the other man's stolid or stupid silence. Hyacinthus and Sarah usually had the most of the conversation to themselves, as even Mrs. Lynn and the old woman, who were not backward in speech, were at a loss to discuss many of the topics introduced. One evening, after they had all gone home, Mrs. Lynn looked fiercely at her daughter as she turned, holding her little lamp, which cast a glorifying reflection upon her face, into the parlor whence led her little bedroom.
"You are a good-for-nothin' girl," she said. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
"What do you mean, mother?" asked Sarah. She stood fair and white, confronting her mother, who was burning and coarse with wrath.
"You talk about things you and him know that the rest of us can't talk about. You take advantage because your father and me sent you to school where you could learn more than we could. It wasn't my fault I didn't go to school, and 'twa'n't his fault, poor man. He had to go to work and get all that money he has." By the last masculine pronoun Mrs. Lynn meant John Mangam.
Sarah had a spirit of her own, and she turned upon her mother, and for the time the two faces looked alike, being swayed with one emotion. "If," she said, "Mr. Ware and I had to regulate our conversation in order to enable Mr. Mangam to talk with us, I am sure I don't know what we could say. Mr. Mangam never talks, anyway."
"It ain't always the folks that talks that knows the most and is the best," said Mrs. Lynn. Then her face upon her daughter's turned malevolent, triumphant, and cruel. "I wa'n't goin' to tell you what I heard when I was in Mis' Ketchum's this afternoon," she said. "I thought at first I wouldn't, but now I'm goin' to."
"What do you mean, mother?" asked Sarah, in an angry voice; but she quailed.
"I thought at first I wouldn't," her mother continued, pitilessly, "but I see to-night how things are goin'."
"What do you mean by that, mother?"
"I see that you are fool enough to get to likin' a man that has got the gift of the gab, and that you think is good-lookin', and that wears clothes made in the city, better than a good honest feller that we have all known about ever since he was born, and that ain't got no outlandish blood in him, neither."
"You needn't say mother that way. I ain't a fool, if I haven't been to school like some folks, and I see the way you two looked at each other to-night right before that poor man that has been comin' here steady and means honorable."
"Nobody asked or wanted him to come," said Sarah.
"Maybe you'll change your mind when you hear what I've got to tell you. And I'm goin' to tell you. Hyacinthus Ware has got a woman livin' over there in that house." Sarah turned ghastly pale, but she spoke firmly. "You mean he is married?" she said.
"I dun'no' whether he is married or not, but there is a woman livin' there."
"I don't believe a word of it."
"It don't make no odds whether you believe it or not, she's there."
"I don't believe it."
"She's been seed."
"Who has seen her."
"Abby Jane Ketchum herself, when she went round to the back door day before yesterday afternoon to ask if Mr. Ware would buy some of her soap. You know she's sellin' soap to get a prize."
"Where was the woman?"
"She was sittin' on the back porch with Mr. Ware, and she up and run when she see Abby Jane, and Mr. Ware turned as white as a sheet, and he bought all the soap Abby Jane had left to git out of it, so she's got enough to get a sideboard for a prize. And Abby Jane she kept her eyes open and she see a blind close in the southwest chamber, and that's where the woman sleeps."
"What kind of a looking woman was she?" asked Sarah, in a strange voice.
"As handsome as a picture, Abby Jane said, and she had on an awful stylish dress. Now if you want to have men like that comin' here to see you, and want to make more of them than you do of a man that you know is all right and is good and honest, you can."
There was something about the girl's face, as she turned away without a word, that smote her mother's heart. "I felt as if I had to tell you, Sarah," she said, in a voice which was suddenly changed to pity and apology.
"You did perfectly right to tell me, mother," said Sarah. When at last she got in her little bedroom she scarcely knew her own face in the glass. Hyacinthus Ware had kissed that face the night before, and ever since the memory of it had seemed like a lamp in her heart. She had met him when she was coming home from the post-office after dark, and he had kissed her at the gate and told her he loved her, and she expected, of course, to marry him. Even now she could not bring herself to entirely doubt him. "Suppose there is a woman there," she said to herself, "what does it prove?" But she felt in her inmost heart that it did prove a good deal.
She remembered just bow Hyacinthus looked when he spoke to her; there had been something almost childlike in his face. She could not believe, and yet in the face of all this evidence! If there was a woman living in the house with him, why had he kept it secret? Suddenly it occurred to her that she could go over in the garden and see for herself. It was a bright moonlight night and not yet late. If the woman was there, if she inhabited the southwest chamber, there might be some sign of her. Sarah placed her lamp on her bureau, gathered her skirts around her, and ran swiftly out into the night. She hurried stealthily through the garden. The lilies were gone, but there was still a strong breath of sweetness, a bouquet, as it were, of mignonette and verbena and sweet thyme and other fragrant blossoms, and the hollyhocks still bloomed. She went very carefully when she reached the last enclosure of box; she peeped through the tall file of hollyhocks, and there was Hyacinthus on the porch and there was a woman beside him. In fact, the woman was sitting in the old chair and Hyacinthus was at her feet, on the step, with his head in her lap. The moon shone on them; they looked as if they were carved with marble.
Sarah never knew how she got home, but she was back there in her little room and nobody knew that she had been in the Ware garden except herself. The next morning she had a talk with her mother. "Mother," said she, "if Mr. John Mangam wants to marry me why doesn't he say so?" She was fairly brutal in her manner of putting the question. She did not change color in the least. She was very pale that morning, and she stood more like her mother and her great-grandmother than herself.
Mrs. Lynn looked at her, and she was almost shocked. "Why, Sarah Lynn!" she gasped.
"I mean just what I say," said Sarah, firmly. "I want to know. John Mangam has been coming here steadily for nearly two years, and he never even says a word, much less asks me to marry him. Does he expect me to do it?"
"I suppose he thinks you might at least meet him half-way," said her mother, confusedly.
That afternoon she went over to Mrs. Wilford Biggs's, and the next night, it being John Mangam's night to call, Mrs. Biggs waylaid him as he was just about to cross the street to the Lynn house.
After a short conversation Mrs. Biggs and her brother crossed the street together, and it was not long before Mrs. Lynn asked Mrs. Biggs and the old grandmother, who had also come over, to go in the house and see her new black silk dress. Then it was that John Mangam mumbled something inarticulate, which Sarah translated into an offer of marriage. "Very well, I will marry you if you want me to, Mr. Mangam," she said. "I don't love you at all, but if you don't mind about that—"
John Mangam said nothing at all.
"If you don't mind that, I will marry you," said Sarah, and nobody would have known her voice. It was a voice to be ashamed of, full of despair and shame and pride, so wronged and mangled that her very spirit seemed violated. John Mangam said nothing then. She and the man sat there quite still, when Hyacinthus came stepping over the hedge.
Sarah found a voice when she saw him. She turned to him. "Good evening, Mr. Ware," she said, clearly. "I would like to announce my engagement to Mr. Mangam."
Hyacinthus stood staring at her. Sarah repeated her announcement. Then Hyacinthus Ware disregarded John Mangam as much as if he had been a post of the white fence that enclosed the Lynn yard. "What does it mean?" he cried.
"You have no right to ask," said she, also disregarding John Mangam, who sat perfectly still in his chair.
"No right to ask after—Sarah, what do you mean? Why have I no right to ask, after what we told each other?—and I intended to see your mother to-night. I only waited because—"
"Because you had a guest in the house," said Sarah, in a cold, low voice. Then John Mangam looked up with some show of animation. He had heard the gossip.
Hyacinthus looked at her a moment, speechless, then he left her without another word and went home across the hedge.
It was soon told in Adams that Sarah Lynn and John Mangam were to be married. Everybody agreed that it was a good match and that Sarah was a lucky girl. She went on with her wedding preparations. John Mangam came as usual and sat silently. Sometimes when Sarah looked at him and reflected that she would have to pass her life with this automaton a sort of madness seized her.
Hyacinthus she almost never saw. Once in a great while she met him on the street, and he bowed, raising his hat silently. He never made the slightest attempt at explanation.
One night, after supper, Sarah and her mother sat on the front door-step, and by and by the old grandmother came across the fields, and Mrs. Wilford Biggs across the street, and Mr. John Mangam from his own house farther down. He looked preoccupied and worried that night, and while he was as silent as ever, yet his silence had the effect of speech.
They sat in their customary places: Mrs. Lynn and Mrs. Biggs in the chairs on the broad step-stone, Sarah and the old woman on the step, and Mr. John Mangam in his chair on the gravel path,—when a strange lady came stepping across the hedge from the Ware garden. She was not so very young, although she was undeniably very handsome, and her clothes were of a fashion never seen in Adams. She went straight up to the group on the door-step, and although she had too much poise of manner to appear agitated, it was evident that she was very eager and very much in earnest. Mrs. Lynn half arose, with an idea of giving her a chair, but there was no time, the lady began talking so at once.
"You are Miss Sarah Lynn, are you not?" she asked of Sarah, and she did not wait for a reply, "and you are going to be married to him?" and there was an unmistakable emphasis of scorn.
"I have just returned," said the lady; "I have not been in the house half an hour, and my father told me. You do not know, but the gentleman who has lived so long in the Ware house, the caretaker, is my father, and—and my mother was Hyacinthus's mother; her second marriage was secret, and he would never tell. My father and my mother were cousins. Hyacinthus never told." She turned to Sarah. "He would not even tell you, when he knew that you must have seen or heard something that made you believe otherwise, because—because of our mother. No, he would not even tell you."
She spoke again with a great impetuosity which made her seem very young, although she was not so very young. "I have been kept away all my life," she said, "all my life from here, that the memory of our mother should not suffer, and now I come to tell, myself, and you will marry my brother, whom you must love better than that gentleman. You must. Will you not? Tell me that you will," said she, "for Hyacinthus is breaking his heart, and he loves you."
Before anything further could be said John Mangam rose, and walked rapidly down the gravel walk out of the yard and down the street.
Sarah felt dizzy. She bent lower as she sat and held her head in her two hands, and the strange lady came on the other side of her, and she was enveloped in a fragrance of some foreign perfume.
"My brother has been almost mad," she whispered in her ear, "and I have just found out what the trouble was. He would not tell on account of our mother, but poor mother is dead and gone."
Then the old woman on the other side raised her voice unexpectedly, and she spoke to her granddaughter, Mrs. Lynn. "You are a fool," said she, "if you wouldn't rather hev Serrah merry a man like Hyacinthus Ware, with all his money and livin' in the biggest house in Adams, than a man like John Mangam, who sets an' sets an' sets the hull evenin' and never opens his mouth to say boo to a goose, and beside bein' threatened with a suit for breach."
"I don't care who she marries, as long as she is happy," said Sarah's mother.
"Well, I'm goin'," said the old woman. "I left my winders open, and I think there's a shower comin' up."
She rose, and Mrs. Wilford Biggs at the same time. Sarah's mother went into the house.
"Won't you?" whispered the strange lady, and it was as if a rose whispered in Sarah's ear.
"I didn't know that he—I thought—" stammered Sarah.
Sarah did not exactly know when the lady left and when Hyacinthus came, but after a while they were sitting side by side on the door-step, and the moon was rising over the mountain, and the wonderful shadows were gathering about them like a company of wedding-guests.
JANE'S GRAY EYES
BY SEWELL FORD
When The Insurgent took its place among the "best six sellers," Decatur Brown formed several good resolutions. He would not have himself photographed in a literary pose, holding a book on his knee, or propping his forehead up with one hand and gazing dreamily into space; he would not accept the praise of newspaper reviewers as laurel dropped from Olympus; and he would not tell "how he wrote it."
Firmly he held to this commendable programme, despite frequent urgings to depart from it. Yet observe what pitfalls beset the path of the popular fictionist. There came a breezy, shrewd-eyed young woman of beguiling tongue who announced herself as a "lady journalist."
"Now for goodness' sake don't shy," she pleaded. "I'm not going to ask about your literary methods, or do a kodak write-up of the way you brush your hair, or any of that rot. I merely want you to say something about Sunday Weeks. That's legitimate, isn't it? Sunday's a public character now, you know. Every one talks about her. So why shouldn't you, who know her best?"
It was the voice of the siren. Decatur Brown should have recognized it as such. But the breezy young person was so plausible, she bubbled with such enthusiasm for his heroine, that in the end he yielded. He talked of Sunday Weeks. And such talk!
Obviously the "lady journalist" had come all primed with the rather shop-worn theory that the Sunday Weeks who figured as the heroine of The Insurgent must be a real personage, a young woman in whom Decatur Brown took more than a literary interest. Possibly the cards were ready to be sent out.
Had she put these queries point-blank, he would have denied them definitely and emphatically, and there would have been an end. But she was far too clever for that. She plied him with sly hints and deft insinuation. Then, when he began to scent her purpose, she took another tack. "Did he really admire women of the Sunday Weeks type? Did he honestly think that the unconventional, wilful, whimsical Sunday, while perfectly charming in the unmarried state, could be tamed to matrimony? Was he willing to have his ideal of womanhood judged by this disturbingly fascinating creature of the 'sober gray eyes and piquant chin'?"
Naturally he felt called upon to endorse his heroine, to defend her. Loyalty to his art demanded that much. Then, too, there recurred to him thoughts of Jane Temple. He could truthfully say that Sunday was a wholly imaginative character, that she had no "original." And yet subconsciously he knew that all the time he was creating her there had been before him a vision of Jane. Not a very distinct vision, to be sure. It had been some years since he had seen her. But that bit about the sober gray eyes and the piquant chin Jane was responsible for. He could never forget those eyes of Jane's. He was not so certain about the chin. It might have been piquant; and then again, it might not. At any rate, it had been adorable, for it was Jane's.
So, while some of his enthusiasm in the defence of Sunday Weeks was due to artistic fervor, more of it was prompted by thoughts of Jane Temple. He did not pretend, he declared, to speak for other men; but as for himself, he liked Sunday—he liked her very much.
The shrewd eyes of the "lady journalist" glistened. She knew her cue when she heard it. Throwing her first theory to the four winds, she eagerly gripped this new and tangible fact.
"Then she really is your ideal?"
He had not thought much about it, but he presumed that in a sense she was.
"But suppose now, Mr. Brown, just suppose you should some day run across a young woman exactly like the Sunday Weeks you have described: would you marry her?"
Decatur Brown laughed—a light, irresponsible, bachelor laugh. "I should probably ask her if I might first."
"But you would ask her?"
"And would you like to find such a girl?"
Decatur gazed sentimentally over the smart little polo-hat of the "lady journalist" and out of the window at a sky—a sky as gray as Jane's eyes had been that last night when they had parted, she to travel abroad with her aunt, he to become a cub reporter on a city daily.
"Yes, I would like very much to find her," he replied.
Do you think, after this, that the interviewer waited for more? Not she. Leaving him mixed up with his daydream, she took herself off before he could retract, or modify, or in any way spoil the story.
Still, considering what she might have printed, she was really quite decent about it. Leaving out the startling head-lines, hers was a nice, readable, chatty article. It contained no bald announcement that the author of The Insurgent was hunting, with matrimonial intent, for a gray-eyed prototype of Sunday Weeks. Yet that was the impression conveyed. Where was there a girl with sober gray eyes and a piquant chin who could answer to certain other specifications, duly set forth in one of the most popular novels of the day? Whoever she might be, wherever she was, she might know what to expect should she be discovered.
Having survived the first shock to his reticence, Decatur Brown was inclined to dismiss the matter with a laugh. He had been cleverly exploited, but he could not see that any great harm had been done. He supposed that he must become used to such things. Anyway, he was altogether too busy to give much thought to the incident, for he was in the middle of another novel that must be ready for the public before The Insurgent was forgotten.
He was yet to learn the real meaning of publicity. First there appeared an old friend, one who should have understood him too well to put faith in such an absurdity.
"Say, Deck, you've simply got to dine with us Thursday night. My wife insists. She wants you to meet a cousin of hers—Denver girl, mighty bright, and"—this impressively—"she has gray eyes, you know."
Decatur grinned appreciatively, but he begged off. He was really very sorry to miss a gray-eyed girl, of course, but there was his work.
One by one his other friends had their little shy at him. Mayhew sent by messenger a huge placard reading, "Wanted, A Wife." Trevors called him up by telephone to advise him to see Jupiter Belles at once.
"Get a seat in A," he chuckled, "and take a good look at the third from the left, first row. She has gray eyes."
By the time he received Tiddler's atrocious sketch, representing the author of The Insurgent as a Diogenes looking for gray-eyed girls, he had ceased to smile over the thing. The joke was becoming a trifle stale.
Then the letters began to come in, post-marked from all over the country. They were all from young persons who had read The Insurgent, and evidently the interview; for, no matter what else was said, each missive contained the information that the writer of it possessed gray eyes. All save one. That was accompanied by a photograph on which an arrow had been drawn pointing towards the eyes. Under the arrow was naively inscribed, "Gray."
Decatur was not flattered. His dignity suffered. He felt cheapened, humiliated. The fact that the waning boom of his novel had received new impetus did not console him. His mildly serious expression gave place to a worried, injured look.
And then Mrs. Wheeler Upton swooped down on him with a demand for his appearance at one of her Saturday nights. For Decatur there was no choice. He was her debtor for so many helpful favors in the past that he could not refuse so simple a request. Yet he groaned in spirit as he viewed the prospect. Once it would have been different. Was it not in her pleasant drawing-rooms that he had been boosted from obscurity to shine among the other literary stars? Mrs. Upton knew them all. She made it her business to do so, bless the kindly heart of her, and to see that they knew each other. No wonder her library table groaned under the weight of autographed volumes.
But to face that crowd at Mrs. Wheeler Upton's meant to run a rapid-fire gauntlet of jokes about gray-eyed girls. However, go he must, and go he did.
He was not a little relieved to find so few there, and that most of them were young women. A girl often hesitates at voicing a witticism, because she is afraid, after all, that it may not be really funny. A man never doubts the excellence of his own humor. So, when a quarter of an hour had passed without hint of that threadbare topic, he gradually threw off his restraint and began to enjoy himself. He was talking Meredith to a tall girl in soft-blue China silk, when suddenly he became aware that they had been left entirely to themselves. Every one else seemed to have drifted into an adjoining room. Through the doorway he could see them about Mrs. Upton, who was evidently holding their attention.
"Why, what's up, I wonder? Why do they leave us out, I'd like to know?" and he glanced inquiringly at the girl in soft blue. She flushed consciously and dropped her lashes. When she looked at him again, and rather appealingly, he saw that she had gray eyes.
It was Decatur's turn to flush. Could Mrs. Upton have done this deliberately? He was loath to think so. The situation was awkward, and awkwardly he got himself out of it.
"I say, let's see what they're up to in there," he suggested, and marched her into the other room, wondering if he showed his embarrassment as much as she did. As he sidled away from her he determined to pick out a girl whose eyes were not gray, and to stick to her for the remainder of the evening. Accordingly he began his inspection. A moment later and the whole truth blazed enlighteningly upon him. They were all gray-eyed girls, every last one of them.
If he had been waiting for a climax, he was entirely satisfied. Of course it was rather silly of him to take it all so seriously, but, sitting safely in his rooms long after his panicky retreat from Mrs. Upton's collection, he could not make light of the situation. It was serious. He was losing sleep, appetite, and self-respect over it.
Not that he was vain enough to imagine that every gray-eyed girl in the country, or any one of them, wished to marry him. No; he was fairly modest, as men go. He suspected that the chief emotions he inspired were curiosity and mischievousness. It was the thought of what those uncounted thousands of gray-eyed girls must conceive as his attitude towards them that hurt. Why, it was almost as though he had put a matrimonial advertisement in the newspapers. When he pictured himself looked upon as assuming to be a connoisseur of a certain type of femininity he felt as keenly disgraced as if he had set himself up for an Apollo.
In next morning's mail he noted an increased number of letters from unknown gray-eyed correspondents. That settled it. Hurriedly packing a capacious kit-bag, with the uncompleted manuscript on top, he took the first train for Ocean Park. Where else could he find a more habitable solitude than Ocean Park in early June? Once previously he had gone there before the season opened, and he knew. Later on the popular big seashore resort would seethe with vacationists. They would crowd the hotels, over-flow the board walk, cover the sands, and polka-dot the ocean. But in June the sands would be deserted, the board walk untrod, the hotels empty.
And so it was. The landlord of The Empress welcomed him effusively, not as Decatur Brown, author of The Insurgent and seeker of an ideal girl with gray eyes, but as plain, every-day Mr. Brown, whom Providence had sent as a June guest. Decatur was thankful for it. The barren verandas were grateful in his sight. When he had been installed in a corner suite, spread out his writing things on a flat-topped table that faced the sea, filled his ink-well, and lighted his pipe, he seemed to have escaped from a threatening presence.
He could breathe freely here, thank goodness, and work. He was just settling down to it when through the open transom behind him came the sound of rustling skirts and a voice which demanded:
"But how do you suppose he found that we were here? You're certain that it was Decatur Brown, are you?"
"Oh yes, quite certain. He has changed very little. Besides, there was the name on the register."
Decatur thrilled at the music of that answering voice. There was a little quaver in it, a faint but fascinating breaking on the low notes, such as he had never heard in any voice save Jane Temple's.
"Then Mabel must not come down to dinner to-night. She must—" The rest was lost around the corner of a corridor.
What Mabel must do remained a mystery. Must she go without her dinner altogether? He hoped not, for evidently his arrival had something to do with it. Why? Decatur gave it up. Who was Mabel, anyway? The owner of the other voice he could guess at. That must be Mrs. Philo Allen, Jane's aunt Judith, the one who had carried her off to Europe and forbidden them to write to each other. But Mabel? Oh yes! He had almost forgotten that elaborately gowned miss who at sixteen had assumed such young-ladyfied airs. Mabel was Jane's young cousin, of course, the one to whom he used to take expensive bonbons, his intent being to propitiate Aunt Judith.
So they were guests at The Empress, too—Jane and her aunt and the pampered Mabel? Chiefly, however, there was Jane. The others did not matter much. Ah, here was a gray-eyed girl that he did not dread to meet. And she had not forgotten him!
An hour later he was waiting for her in the lower hallway. Luckily she came down alone, so they had the hall seat to themselves for those first few minutes. She was the same charming Jane that he had known of old. There was an added dignity in the way she carried her shapely little head, a deeper sweetness in the curve of her thin lips. Perhaps her manner was a little subdued, too; but, after all those years with Mrs. Philo Allen, why not?
"How nice of you," she was saying, "to hunt us up and surprise us in this fashion. Auntie has been expecting you at home for weeks, you know, but when Mabel's rose-cold developed she decided that we must go to the seashore, even though we did die of lonesomeness. And here we find you—or you find us. The sea air will make Mabel presentable in a day or so, we hope."
"I'm sure I hope so, too," he assented, without enthusiasm. Really, he did not see the necessity of dragging in Mabel. Nor did he understand why Mrs. Allen had expected him, or why Jane should assume that he had hunted them up. Now that she had assumed it, though, he could hardly explain that it was an accident. He asked how long they had remained abroad.
"Oh, ages! There was an age in France, while Mabel was perfecting her accent; then there was another age in Italy, where Mabel took voice-culture and the old masters; and yet another age in Germany, while Mabel struggled with the theory of music. Our year in Devon was not quite an age; we went there for the good of Mabel's complexion."
"Indeed! Has she kept those peaches-and-cream checks?"
"Ah, you must wait and see," and Jane nodded mysteriously.
"But I—" protested Decatur.
"Oh, it will be only for a day or so. Rose-colds are so hard on the eyes, you know. In the mean time perhaps you will tell us how you happened to develop into a famous author. We are immensely proud of you, of course. Aunt Judith goes hardly anywhere without a copy of The Insurgent in her hand. If the persons she meets have not read it, she scolds them good. And you must hear Mabel render that chapter in which Sunday runs away from the man she loves with the man she doesn't."
There they were, back to Mabel again.
"But what about yourself, Jane?" suggested Decatur.
"About me! Why, I only—Oh, here is Aunt Judith."
Yes, there was no mistaking her, nor overlooking her. She was just as colossally commanding as ever, just as imperious. At sight of her, Decatur understood Jane's position clearly. She was still the dependent niece, the obscure satellite of a star of the first magnitude. Very distinctly had Mrs. Philo Allen once explained to him this dependence of Jane's, incidentally touching on his own unlikely prospects. That had been just before she had swept Jane off to Europe with her.
All this Aunt Judith now seemed to have forgotten. In her own imperial way she greeted him graciously, inspecting him with critical but favorable eyes.
"Really, you do look quite distinguished," was her verdict, as she took his arm in her progress towards her dinner. "I am sure Mabel will say so, too."
Whereupon they reverted once more to Mabel. The maid was bathing Mabel's eyes with witch-hazel and trying to persuade her to eat a little hot soup. Such details about Mabel seemed to be regarded as of first importance. By some mysterious reasoning, too, Mrs. Allen appeared to connect them with Decatur Brown and his presence at Ocean Park.
"To-morrow night, if all goes well, you shall see her," she whispered, exultantly, in his ear, as they left the dining-hall.
Decatur was puzzled. What if he could see Mabel the next night? Or what if he could not? He should survive, even if the event were indefinitely postponed. What he desired just then was that Jane should accompany him on an early-evening tramp down the board walk.
"Wouldn't it be better to wait until to-morrow evening?" asked Jane. "Perhaps Mabel can go then."
"The deuce take Mabel!" He half smothered the exclamation, and Jane appeared not to hear, yielding at last to his insistence that they start at once. But it was not the kind of a talk he had hoped to have with Jane Temple. The intimate and personal ground of conversation towards which he sought to draw her she avoided as carefully as if it had been stuck with the "No Trespassing" notices. When they returned to the hotel, Decatur felt scarcely better acquainted with her than before he had found her again.
Next evening, according to schedule, Mabel appeared. She was an exquisite young woman, there was no doubt about that. She carried herself with an almost royal air which impressed even the head waiter. Her perfect figure, perfectly encased, was graceful in every long curve. Her Devon-repaired complexion was of dazzling purity, all snowy white and sea-shell pink. One could hardly imagine how even so aristocratic a malady as a rose-cold could have dared to redden slightly the tip of that classic nose.
Turning to Decatur with languid interest she murmured:
"Ah, you see I have not forgotten you, although I often do forget faces. You may sit here, if you please, and talk to me."
It was quite like being received by a sovereign, Decatur imagined. He did his best to talk, and talk entertainingly, for no other reason than that it was expected of him. At last he said something which struck the right chord. The perfect Mabel smiled approvingly at him, and he noticed for the first time that her eyes were gray. Suspiciously he glanced across the table at Jane. Was that a mocking smile on her thinly curved lips, or was it meant for kindly encouragement?
Little by little during the succeeding two days he pieced out the situation. It was not a plot exactly, unless you could dignify Mrs. Philo Allen's confident plans by such a name. But, starting with what basis Heaven only knew, she had reached the conclusion that when the author of The Insurgent had described Sunday Weeks he could have had in mind but one person, the one gray-eyed girl worthy of such distinction, the girl to whom he had shown such devotion but a few years before—her daughter Mabel. Then she had begun expecting him to appear. And when he had seemingly followed them to the seaside—well, what would any one naturally think? Flutteringly she had doubtless put the question to Jane, who had probably replied as she was expected to reply.
The peerless Mabel, of course, was the only one not in the secret. Anyway, she would have taken no interest in it. Her amazing egoism would have prevented that. Nothing interested Mabel acutely unless it pertained to some attribute of her own loveliness.
As for Jane Temple's view of this business, that remained an enigma. Had she grown so accustomed to her aunt Judith's estimate of Mabel that she could accept it? That was hardly possible, for Jane had a keen sense of humor. Then why should she help to throw Mabel at his head, or him at Mabel's?
Meanwhile he walked at Mabel's side, carrying her wraps, while her mother and Jane trailed judiciously in the rear. He drove out with Mabel, Mabel's mother sitting opposite and smiling at him with an air of complacent proprietorship. He stood by the piano and turned the music while Mabel executed sonatas and other things for which he had not the least appreciation. He listened to solos from Lucia, which Mabel sang at Jane's suggestion. Also, Jane brought forth Mabel's sketch-books and then ostentatiously left them alone with each other.
There was much meekness in Decatur. When handled just right he was wonderfully complaisant. But after a whole week of Mabel he decided that the limit had been reached. Seizing an occasion when Mabel was in the hands of the hairdresser and manicurist, he led her mother to a secluded veranda corner and boldly plunged into an explanation.
"I have no doubt you thought it a little strange, Mrs. Allen," he began, "my appearing to follow you down here, but really—"
"There, there, Decatur, it isn't at all necessary. It was all perfectly natural and entirely proper. In fact, I quite understood."
"But I'm afraid that you—"
"Oh, but I do comprehend. We old folks are not blind. When it was a matter of those foreign gentlemen, German barons, Italian counts, Austrian princes, and so on, I was extremely particular, perhaps overparticular. Their titles are so often shoddy. But I know all about you. You come from almost as good New England stock as we do. You are talented, almost famous. Besides, your attachment is of no sudden growth. It has stood the test of years. Yes, my dear Decatur, I heartily approve of you. However"—here she rested a plump forefinger simperingly on the first of her two chins, "your fate rests with Mabel, you know."
Once or twice he had gaspingly tried to stop her, but smilingly she had waved him aside. When she ended he was speechless. Could he tell her, after all that, what a precious bore her exquisite Mabel was to him? It had been difficult enough when the situation was only a tacit one, but now that it had been definitely expressed—well, it was proving to be a good deal like those net snares which hunters of circus animals use, the more he struggled to free himself the more he became entangled.
Abruptly, silently, he took his leave of Mrs. Allen. He feared that if he said more she might construe it as a request, that she should immediately lay his proposal before Mabel. With a despairing, haunted look he sought the board walk.
Carpenters were hammering and sawing, painters were busy in the booths, a few old ladies sat about in the sun, here and there a happy youngster dug in the sand with a tin shovel. Decatur envied them all. They were sane, rational persons, who were not likely to be interviewed and trapped into saying fool things. Their acts were not liable to be misconstrued.
Seeing a pier jutting out, he heedlessly followed it to the very end. And there, on one of the seats built for summer guests, he found Jane.
"Where is Mabel?" she asked, anxiously.
"She is having her hair done and her nails polished, I believe," said Decatur, gloomily, dropping down beside Jane. "She is being prepared, as nearly as I can gather, to receive a proposal of marriage."
"Ah! Then you—" She turned to him inquiringly.
"It appears so now," he admitted. "I have been talking to her mother."
"Oh, I see." She said it quietly, gently, in a tone of submission.
"But you don't see," he protested. "No one sees; that is, no one sees things as they really are. Do you think, Jane, that you could listen to me for a few moments without jumping at conclusions, without assuming that you know exactly what I am going to say before I have said it?"
She said that she would try.
"Then I would like to make a confession to you."
"Wouldn't it be better to—to make it first to Mabel?"
"No, it would not," he declared, doggedly. "It concerns that interview in which I was quoted as saying things about gray-eyed girls."
"Yes, I read it. We all read it."
"I guessed that much. Well, I said those things, just as I was quoted as saying them, but I did not mean all that I was credited with meaning. I want you to believe, Jane, that when I admitted my preference for gray eyes and—and all that, I was thinking of one gray-eyed girl in particular. Can you believe that?"
"Oh, I did from the very first; that is, I did as soon as Aunt Judith—"
"Never mind about Aunt Judith," interrupted Decatur, firmly. "We will get to her in time. We are talking now about that interview. You must admit, Jane, that there are many gray-eyed girls in the country; I don't know just how many, thank Heaven, but there are a lot of them. And most of them seem not only to have read that interview, but to have made a personal application of my remarks. Have you any idea what that means to me?"
"Then you think that they are all in—"
"No, no! I don't imagine there's a single one that cares a bone button for me. But each and every one of them thinks that I am in love with her, or willing to be. If she doesn't think so, her friends do. They expect me to propose on sight, simply because of what I have said about gray eyes. You doubt that? Let me tell you what occurred just before I left town: A person whom I had counted as a friend got together a whole houseful of gray-eyed girls, and then sent for me to come and make my choice. That is what drove me from the city. That is why I came to Ocean Park in June."
"But the one particular gray-eyed girl that you mentioned? How was it that you happened to—"
"It was sheer good fortune, Jane, that I found you here."
Decatur had slipped a tentative arm along the seat-back. He was leaning towards Jane, regarding her with melancholy tenderness.
"That you found me?" she said, wonderingly. "Oh, you mean that it was fortunate you found us here?"
"No, I don't. I mean you—y-o-u, second person singular. Haven't you guessed by this time who was the particular gray-eyed girl I had in mind?"
"Of course I have; it was Mabel, wasn't it?"
"Mabel! Oh, hang Mabel! Jane, it was you."
"Me! Why, Decatur Brown!" Either surprise or indignation rang in her tone. He concluded that it must be the latter.
"Oh, well," he said, dejectedly, "I had no right to suppose that you'd like it. It's the truth, though, and after so much misunderstanding I am glad you know it. I want you to know that it was you who inspired Sunday Weeks, if any one did. I have never mentioned this before, have not admitted it, even to myself, until now. But I realize that it is true. We have been a long time apart, but the memory of you has never faded for a day, for an hour. So, when I tried to describe the most charming girl of whom I could think, I was describing you. As I wrote, there was constantly before me the vision of your dear gray eyes, and—"
"Decatur! Look at me. Look me straight in the eyes and tell me if they are gray."
He looked. As a matter of fact, he had been looking into her eyes for several moments. Now there was something so compelling about her tone that he bent all his faculties to the task. This time he looked not with that blindness peculiar to those who love, but, for the moment, discerningly, seeingly. And they were not gray eyes at all. They were a clear, brilliant hazel.
"Why—why!" he gasped out, chokingly. "I—I have always thought of them as gray eyes."
"If that isn't just like a man!" she exclaimed, shrugging away from him. Her quarter profile revealed those thinly curved lips pursed into a most delicious pout. "You acknowledge, don't you, that they're not gray?" she flung at him over her shoulder—an adorable shoulder, Decatur thought.
"Oh, I admit it," he groaned.
"Then—then why don't you go away?" It was just that trembling little quaver on the low notes which spurred him on to cast the die.
"Jane," he whispered, "I don't want to go away, and I don't want you to send me. It isn't gray eyes that I care for, or ever have cared for. It's been just you, your own dear, charming self."
"No, it hasn't been. I haven't even a piquant chin."
"That doesn't matter. What is a piquant chin, anyway?"
"You ought to know; you wrote it."
"So I did, but I didn't know what it meant. I just knew that it ought to mean something charming, which you are."
"I'm not. And I am not accomplished. I don't sing, I don't play, I don't draw."
"Thanks be for that! I don't, either. But I think you are the dearest girl in the world."
At that she turned to him and smiled a little as only Jane could smile.
"You told me that once before, a long time ago, you know."
"And you have not forgotten?"
"No. I—you see—I didn't want to forget."
Had it been August, or even July, doubtless a great number of vacationists would have been somewhat shocked at what Decatur did then. But it was early June, you remember, and on the far end of the Ocean Park fishing-pier were only these two, with just the dancing blue ocean in front.
"But," she said at length, after many other and more important things had been said between them, "what will Aunt Judith say?"
"I suppose she'll think me a lucky dog—and slightly color-blind," chuckled Decatur, joyously. "But come," he went on, helping her to rise and retaining both her hands, swaying them back and forth clasped in his, as children do in the game of London Bridge,—"come," he repeated, impulsively, "while my courage is high let us go and break the news to your aunt Judith."
There was, however, no need. Looming ponderously in the middle distance of the pier's vista, a lorgnette held to her eyes, and a frozen look of horror on her ample features, was Aunt Judith herself.
A STIFF CONDITION
BY HERMAN WHITAKER
An Ontario sun shed a pleasant warmth into the clearing where Elder Hector McCakeron sat smoking. His gratified consciousness was pleasantly titillated by sights and sounds of worldly comfort. From the sty behind the house came fat gruntings; in the barn-yard hens were shrilly announcing that eggs would be served with the bacon; moreover, Janet was vigorously agitating a hoe among the potatoes to his left, while his wife performed similarly in the cabbage-garden. And what better could a man wish than to see his women profitably employed?
It was a pause in Janet's labors that gave the elder first warning of an intruder on his peace. A man was coming across the clearing—a short fellow, thick-set and bow-legged in figure, slow and heavy of face. The elder observed him with stony eyes.
"It's the Englisher," he muttered. "What'll he be wanting wi' me?"
His accent was hostile as his glance. Since, thirty years before, a wave of red-haired Scots inundated western Ontario, no man of Saxon birth had settled in Zorra, the elder's township. That in peculiar had been held sealed as a heritage to the Scot, and when Joshua Timmins bought out Sandy Cruikshanks the township boiled and burned throughout its length and breadth.
Not that it had expected to suffer the contamination. It was simply astounded at the man's impudence. "We'll soon drum him oot!" Elder McCakeron snorted, when he heard of the invasion; to which, on learning that Timmins was also guilty of Methodism, he added, "Wait till the meenister lays claws on the beast."
It was confidently expected that he would be made into a notable example, a warning to all intruders from beyond the pale; and the first Sunday after his arrival a full congregation turned out to see the minister do the trick. Interest was heightened by the presence of the victim, who, lacking a chapel of his own faith, attended kirk. His entrance caused a sensation. Forgetting its Sabbath manners, the congregation turned bodily and stared till recalled to its duty by the minister's cough. Then it shifted its gaze to him. What thunders were brewing behind that confident front? What lightnings lurked in the depths of those steel-gray eyes? Breathlessly Zorra had waited for the anathema which should wither the hardy intruder and drive him as chaff from a burning wind.
But it waited in vain. By the most liberal interpretation no phrase of his could be construed as a reflection on the stranger. Worse! After kirk-letting the minister hailed Timmins in the door, shook hands in the scandalized face of the congregation, and hoped that he might see him regularly at service.
Scandalous? It was irreligious! But if disappointed in its minister, Zorra had no intention of neglecting its own duty in the premises: the Englisher was not to be let off while memories of Bruce and Bannockburn lived in Scottish hearts. Which way he turned that day and in the months that followed he met dour faces. Excepting Cap'en Donald McKay, a retired mariner, whose native granite had been somewhat disintegrated by exposure to other climates, no man gave him a word;—this, of course, without counting Neil McNab, who called on Timmins three times a week to offer half-price for the farm.
With one exception, too, the women looked askance upon him, wondering, doubtless, how he dared to oppose their men-folks' wishes. Calling the cows of evenings, Janet McCakeron sometimes came on Timmins, whose farm cornered on her father's, and thus a nodding acquaintance arose between them. That she should have so demeaned herself is a matter of reproach with many, but the fair-minded who have sufficiently weighed the merits of her case are slower with their blames. For though Zorra can boast maidens who have hung in the wind till fifty and still, as the vernacular has it, "married on a man," a girl was counted well on the way to the shelf at forty-five. Janet, be it remembered, lacked but two years of the fatal age. Already chits of thirty-five or seven were generously alluding to her as the prop of her father's age; so small wonder if she simpered instead of passing with a nifty air when Timmins spoke one evening.
His remark was simple in tenor—in effect that her bell-cow was "a wee cat-ham'ed"; but Janet scented its underlying tenderness as a hungry traveller noses a dinner on a wind, and after that drove her cows round by the corner which was conveniently veiled by heavy maple-bush. Indeed, it was to the friendly shadows which shrouded it, day or dark, that Cap'en McKay—a man wise in affairs of the heart by reason of much sailing in and out of foreign ports—afterward attributed the record which Timmins set Zorra in courting.
"He couldna see her bones, nor her his bow-legs," the mariner phrased it. But be this as it may, whether or no each made love to a voice, Cupid ran a swift course with them, steeplechasing over obstacles that would have taken years for a Zorra lad to plod around. In less than six months they passed from a bare goodnight to the exchange of soul thoughts on butter-making, the raising of calves, fattening of swine, and methods of feeding swedes that they might not taint cow's milk, and so had progressed by such tender paths through gentle dusks to the point where Timmins was ready to declare himself in the light of this present morning.
Assured by one glance that Timmins's courage still hung at the point to which she had screwed it the preceding evening, Janet drooped again to her work.
To his remark that the potatoes were looking fine, however, the elder made no response—unless a gout of tobacco smoke could be so counted. With eyes screwed up and mouth drawn down, he gazed off into space—a Highland sphinx, a Gaelic Rhadamanthus.
His manner, however, made no impression on Timmins's stolidity. The latter's eye followed the elder's in its peregrinations till it came to rest, when, without further preliminaries, he began to unfold his suit, which in matter and essence was such as are usually put forward by those whom love has blinded.
It was really an able plea, lacking perhaps those subtilities of detail with which a Zorra man would have trimmed it, but good enough for a man who labored under the disadvantages which accrue to birth south of the Tweed and Tyne. But it did not stir the elder's sphinxlike calm. "Ha' ye done?" he inquired, without removing his gaze from the clouds; and when Timmins assented, he delivered judgment in a cloud of tobacco smoke. "Weel—ye canna ha' her." After which he resumed his pipe and smoked placidly, wearing the air of one who has settled a difficult question forever.
But if stolid, Timmins had his fair share of a certain slow pugnacity.
"Why?" he demanded.
The elder smoked on.
"Weel,"—the elder spoke slowly to the clouds,—"I'm no obliged to quote chapter an' verse, but for the sake of argyment—forbye should Janet marry on an Englisher when there's good Scotchmen running loose?"
This was a "poser." Born to a full realization of the vast gulf which providence has fixed between the Highlands and the rest of the world, Janet recognized it as such. Pausing, she leaned on her hoe, anxiously waiting, while Timmins chewed a straw and the cud of reflection.
"Yes," he slowly answered, "they've been runnin' from 'er this twenty year." Nodding confirmation to the brilliant rejoinder, Janet fell again to work.
But the elder was in no wise discomposed. Withdrawing one eye from the clouds, he turned it approvingly upon her hoe practice. "She's young yet," he said, "an' a lass o' her pairts wull no go til the shelf."
"Call three-an'-forty young?"
"Christy McDonald," the elder sententiously replied, "marrit on Neil McNab at fifty. Janet's labor's no going to waste. An' if you were the on'y man i' Zorra, it wad behoove me to conseeder the lassie's prospects i' the next world. Ye're a Methodist."
"Meanin'," said Timmins, when his mind had grappled with the charge, "as there's no Methodists there?"
Questions of delicacy and certain theological difficulties involved called for reflection, and the elder smoked a full minute on the question before be replied: "No, I wadna go so far as that. It stan's to reason as there's some of 'em there; on'y—I'm no so sure o' their whereaboots."
Timmins thoughtfully scratched his head ere he came back to the charge. "Meanin' as there's none in 'eaven?"
Again the elder blew a reflective cloud over the merits of the question. "Weel," he said, delivering himself with slow caution, "if so—it's no on record."
Again Janet looked up, with defeat perching amid her freckles. "He's got ye this time," her face said, and the elder's expression of placid satisfaction affirmed the same opinion. But Timmins rose to a sudden inspiration.
"In 'eaven," he answered, "there's neither marriage nor givin' in marriage."
"Pish, mon!" the elder snorted. "It's no a question o' marrying; it's a question o' getting theer, an' Janet's no going to do it wi' a Methodist hanging til her skirts."
Silence fell in the clearing—silence that was broken only by the crash and tinkle of Janet's hoe as she buried Timmins under the clod. A Scotch daughter, she would bide by her father's word. Unaware of his funeral, Timmins himself stood scratching his poll.
"So you'll not give her to me?" he futilely repeated.
For the first time the elder looked toward him. "Mon, canna ye see the impossibility o' it? No, ye canna ha' her till—till"—he cast about for the limit of inconceivability—"till ye're an elder i' the Presbyterian Kirk." He almost cracked a laugh at Timmins's sudden brightening. He had evolved the condition to drive home and clinch the ridiculous impossibility of the other's suit, and here he was, the doddered fule, taking hope! It was difficult to comprehend the workings of such a mind, and though the elder smoked upon it for half an hour after Timmins left the clearing, he failed of realization.
"Yon's a gay fule," he said to Janet, when she answered his call to hitch the log farther into the cabin. "He was wanting to marry on you."
"Ay?" she indifferently returned,—adding, without change of feature, "There's no lack o' fules round here."
Meanwhile Timmins was making his way through the woods to his own place. As he walked along, the brightness gradually faded from his face, and by the time he reached the trysting-corner his mood was more in harmony with his case. His face would have graced a funeral.
Now Cap'en McKay's farm lay cheek by jowl with the elder's, and as the mariner happened to be fixing his fence at the corner, he noted Timmins's signals of distress. "Man!" he greeted, "ye're looking hipped." Then, alluding to a heifer of Timmins's which had bloated on marsh-grass the day before, he added, "The beastie didna die?" Assured that it was only a wife that Timmins lacked, he sighed relief. "Ah, weel, that's no so bad; they come cheaper. But tell us o't"
"Hecks, lad!" he commented, on Timmins's dole, "I'd advise ye to drive your pigs til anither market."
"Were?" Timmins asked—"w'ere'll I find one?"
"That's so." The mariner thoughtfully shaved his jaw with a red forefinger, while his comprehensive glance took in the other's bow-legs. "There isna anither lass i' Zorra that wad touch ye with a ten-foot pole."
Reddening, Timmins breathed hard, but the mariner met his stare with the serene gaze of one who deals in undiluted truth; so Timmins gulped and went on: "Say! I 'ear that you're mighty clever in these 'ere affairs. Can't you 'elp a feller out?"
The cap'en modestly bowed to reputation, admitting that he had assisted "a sight of couples over the broomstick," adding, however, that the knack had its drawbacks. There were many door-stones in Zorra that he dared not cross. And he wagged his head over Timmins's case, wisely, as a lawyer ponders over the acceptance of a hopeless brief. Finally he suggested that if Timmins was "no stuck on his Methodisticals," he might join the kirk.
"You think that would 'elp?"
The cap'en thought that, but he was not prepared to endorse Timmins's following generalization that it didn't much matter what name a man worshipped under. It penetrated down through the aforesaid rubble of disintegration and touched native granite. Stiffly enough he returned that Presbyterianism was good enough for him, but it rested on Timmins to follow the dictates of his own conscience.
Now when bathed in love's elixir conscience becomes very pliable indeed, and as the promptings of Timmins's inner self were all toward Janet, his outer man was not long in making up his mind. But though, following the cap'en's advice, he joined himself to the elect of Zorra, his change of faith brought him only a change of name.
Elder McCakeron officiated at the "christening" which took place in the crowded market the day after Timmins's name had been spread on the kirk register. "An' how is the apoos-tate the morning?" the elder inquired, meeting Timmins. And the name stuck, and he was no more known as the "Englisher."
"Any letters for the Apoos-tate?" The postmaster would mouth the question, repeating it after Timmins when he called for his mail. Small boys yelled the obnoxious title as he passed the log school on the corner; wee girls gazed after him, fascinated, as upon one destined for a headlong plunge into the lake of fire and brimstone. Summing the situation at the close of his second month's fellowship in the kirk, Timmins confessed to himself that it had brought him only a full realization of the "stiffness" of Elder McCakeron's "condition." He was no nearer to Janet, and never would have been but for the sudden decease of Elder Tammas Duncan.
In view of what followed, many hold that Elder Tammas made a vital mistake in dying, while a few, less charitable, maintain that his decease was positively sinful.
But if Elder Tammas be not held altogether blameless in the premises, what must be said of Saunders McClellan, who loaded himself with corn-juice and thereby sold himself to the fates? Saunders was a bachelor of fifty and a misogynist by repute. Twenty years back he had paid a compliment to Jean Ross, who afterward married on Rab Murray. It was not a flowery effort; simply to the effect that he, Saunders, would rather sit by her, Jean, than sup oatmeal brose. But though he did not soar into the realms of metaphor, the compliment seems to have been a strain on Saunders's intellect, to have sapped his being of tenderness; for after paying it he reached for his hat and fled, and never again placed himself in such jeopardy.
"Man!" he would exclaim, when, at threshing or logging bees, hairbreadth escapes from matrimony cropped up in the conversation,—"man! but I was near done for yon time!" And yet, all told, Saunders's dry bachelorhood seems to have been caused by an interruption in the flow rather than a drying up of his wells of feeling, as was proven by his conduct coming home from market the evening he overloaded with "corn-juice."
For as he drove by Elder McCakeron's milk-yard, which lay within easy hailing distance of the gravel road, Saunders bellowed to Janet: "Hoots, there! Come awa, my bonnie bride! Come awa to the meenister!" In front of her mother and Sib Sanderson, the cattle-buyer—who was pricing a fat cow,—Saunders thus committed himself, then drove on, chuckling over his own daring.
"Ye're a deevil! man, ye're a deevil!" he told himself, giving his hat a rakish cock. "Ye're a deevil wi' the weemen, a sair deceever."
He did feel that way—just then. But when, next morning, memory disentangled itself from a splitting headache, Saunders's red hair bristled at the thought of his indiscretion. It was terrible! He, Saunders, the despair of the girls for thirty years, had fallen into a pit of his own digging! He could but hope it a nightmare; but as doubt was more horrible than certainty, he dressed and walked down the line to McCakeron's.
Once again he found Janet at the milking; or rather, she had just turned the cows into the pasture, and as she waited for him by the bars, Saunders thought he had never seen her at worse advantage. The sharp morning air had blued her nose, and he was dimly conscious that the color did not suit her freckles.
"Why, no!" she said, answering his question as to whether or no he had not acted a bit foolish the night before. "You just speired me to marry on you. Said I'd been in your eye this thirty years."
In a sense this was true. He had cleared from her path like a bolting rabbit, but gallantry forbade that manifest explanation. "'Twas the whuskey talking," he pleaded. "Ye'll no hold me til a drunken promise?"
But he saw, even before she spoke, that she would.
"'Deed but I will!" she exclaimed, tossing her head. "An' them says ye were drunken will ha' to deal wi' me. Ye were sober as a sermon."
Though disheartened, Saunders tried another tack. "Janet," he said, solemnly, "I dinna think as a well-brought lass like you wad care to marry on a man like me. I'm terrible i' the drink. I might beat ye."
Janet complacently surveyed an arm that was thick as a club from heavy choring. "I'll tak chances o' that."
Saunders's heart sank into his boots; but, wiping the sweat from his brow, he made one last desperate effort: "But ye're promised to the—the—Apoos-tate."
"I am no. Father broke that off."
Saunders shot his last bolt. "I believe I'm fickle, Janet. There'll be a sair heart for the lass that marries me. I wouldna wonder if I jilted ye."
"Then," she calmly replied, "I'll haul ye into the justice coort for breach o' promise."
With this terrible ultimatum dinging in his ears Saunders fled. Zorra juries were notoriously tender with the woman in the case, and he saw himself stripped of his worldly goods or tied to the apron of the homeliest girl in Zorra. One single ray illumined the dark prospect. That evening be called on Timmins, whom he much astonished by the extent and quality of his advice and encouragement. He even went so far as to invite the Englisher to his own cabin, thereby greatly scandalizing his housekeeper—a maiden sister of fifty-two, who had forestalled fate by declaring for the shelf at forty-nine.
"What'll he be doing here?" the maiden demanded, indicating Timmins with accusatory finger on the occasion of his first visit. But his meekness and the propitiatory manner in which he sat on the very edge of his chair, hat gripped between his knees, mollified her so much that she presently produced a bowl of red-cheeked apples for his refreshment.
But her thawing did not save Saunders after the guest was gone. "There's always a fule in every family," she cried, when he had explained his predicament, "an' you drained the pitcher."
"But you'll talk Janet to him," Saunders urged, "an' him to her? She's that hard put to it for a man that wi' a bit steering she'll consent to an eelopement."
But, bridling, Jeannie tossed a high head. "'Deed, then, an' I'll no do ither folk's love-making."
"Then," Saunders groaned, "I'll ha' the pair of ye in this hoose."
This uncomfortable truth gave Jeannie pause. The position of maiden sister carried with it more chores than easements, and Jeannie was not minded to relinquish her present powers. For a while she seriously studied the stove, then her face cleared; she started as one who suddenly sees her clear path, and giving Saunders a queer look, she said: "Ah, weel, you're my brother, after all. I'll do my best wi' both. Tell the Englisher as I'll be pleased to see him any time in the evening."
Matters were at this stage when Elder McCakeron's cows committed their dire trespass on Neil McNab's turnips.
Who would imagine that such unlike events as Saunders McClellan's lapse from sobriety, the death of Elder Duncan, and the trespass of McCakeron's cows could have any bearing upon one another? Yet from their concurrence was born the most astounding hap in the Zorra chronicles. Even if Elder McCakeron had paid Neil's bill of damage instead of remarking that he "didna see as the turnips had hurt his cows," the thing would have addled in the egg; and his recalcitrancy, so necessary to the hatching, has caused many a wise pow to shake over the inscrutability of Providence. But the elder did not pay, and in revenge Neil placed Peter Dunlop, the elder's ancient enemy, in nomination for Tammas Duncan's eldership.
It was Saunders McClellan who carried the news to the McCakeron homestead. According to her promise, Jeannie had visited early and late with Janet; and dropping in one evening to check up her report of progress, Saunders found the elder perched on a stump.
Saunders discharged him of his news, which dissipated the elder's calm as thunder shatters silence.
"What?" he roared. "Yon scunner? Imph! I'd as lief ... as lief ... elect"—the devil quivered back of his teeth, but as that savored of irreverence, he substituted "the Apoostate!"
Right here a devil entered in unto Saunders McClellan—the mocking devil whose mission it was to abase Zorra to the dust. But it did not make its presence known until, next day, Saunders carried the news of Elder McCakeron's retaliation to Cap'en McKay's pig-killing.
"He's going," Saunders informed the cap'en and Neil McNab between pigs,—"he's going to run Sandy 'Twenty-One' against your candidate."
Now between Neil and Sandy lay a feud which had its beginnings what time the latter doctored a spavined mare and sold her for a price to the former's cousin Rab.
"Yon scunner?" Neil exclaimed, using the very form of the elder's words, "yon scunner? I'd as lief ... as lief ... elect ..."
"... the Apoos-tate," said the Devil, though Neil thought that Saunders was talking.
"Ay, the Apoos-tate," he agreed.
"It wad be a fine joke," the Devil went on by the mouth of Saunders, "to run the Apoos-tate agin' his candidate. McCakeron canna thole the man."
"But what if he was elected?" the mariner objected.
The Devil was charged with glib argument. "We couldna very weel. It's to be a three-cornered fight, an' Robert Duncan, brother to Tammas, has it sure."
"'Twad be a good one on McCakeron," Neil mused. "To talk up Dunlop, who doesna care a cent for the eldership, an' then spring the Apoos-tate on him."
"'Twould be bitter on 'Twenty-One,'" the cap'en added. He had been diddled by Sandy on a deal of seed-wheat.
"It wad hit the pair of 'em," McNab chuckled, and with that word the Devil conquered.
So far, as aforesaid, Saunders had been unconscious of the Devil, but going home the latter revealed himself in a heart-to-heart talk. "Ye're no pretty to look at," Saunders said. "I'm minded to throw ye oot!"
The Devil chuckled. "Janet's so bonny. Fancy her on the pillow beside, ye—scraggy—bones—freckles. Hoots, man! a nightmare!"
Shuddering, Saunders reconsidered proceedings of ejectment. "But the thing is no posseeble?"
"You know your men," the Devil answered. "Close in the mouth as they are in the fist. McCakeron will never get wind o' the business till they spring it on him in meeting."
"That is so," Saunders acknowledged. "'Tis surely so-a."
"Then why," the Devil urged,—"then why not rig the same game on him?"
"Bosh! He wouldna think o't."
"Loving Dunlop as himself?" The Devil was apt at paraphrasing Scripture. "Imph!"
"It would let me out?" Saunders mused.
"Ye can but fail," argued the Devil. "Try it."
"This very night!" It is a wonder that the sparks did not fly, the Devil struck so hard on the hot iron. "To-night! Ye ken the election comes off next week."
"To-night," Saunders agreed.
Throughout that week the din of contending factions resounded beneath brazen harvest skies; for if there was a wink behind the clamor of any faction, it made no difference in the volume of its noise. Wherever two men foregathered, there the spirit of strife was in their midst; the burr of hot Scot's speech travelled like the murmur of robbed bees along the Side Lines, up the Concession roads, and even raised an echo in the hallowed seclusion of the minister's study. And harking back to certain eldership elections in which the breaking of heads had taken the place of "anointing with oil," Elder McIntosh quietly evolved a plan whereby the turmoil should be left outside the kirk on election night.
But while it lasted no voice rang louder than that of Saunders McClellan's devil. Not a bit particular in choice of candidates, he roared against Dunlop, Duncan, or "Twenty-One" according to the company which Saunders kept. "Ye havna the ghaist of a show!" he assured Cap'en McKay, chief of the Dunlopers. "McCakeron drew three mair to him last night." While to the elder he exclaimed the same day: "Yon crazy sailorman's got all the Duncanites o' the run. He has ye spanked, Elder. Scunner the deil!" So the Devil blew, hot and cold, with Saunders's mouth, until the very night before the election.
The morning of the election the sun heaved up on a brassy sky. It was intensely hot through the day, but towards evening gray clouds scudded out of the east, veiling the sun with their twisting masses; at twilight heavy rain-blots were splashing the dust. At eight o'clock, meeting-time, rain flew in glistening sheets against the kirk windows and forced its way under the floor. There was but a scant attendance—twoscore men, perhaps, and half a dozen women, who sat, in decent Scotch fashion, apart from the men—that is, apart from all but Joshua Timmins. Not having been raised in the decencies as observed in Zorra, he had drifted over to the woman's side and sat with Janet McCakeron and Jean McClellan, one on either side.
But if few in number, the gathering was decidedly formidable in appearance. As the rain had weeded out the feeble, infirm, and pacifically inclined, it was distinctly belligerent in character. Grim, dour, silent, it waited for the beginning of hostilities.
Nor did the service of praise which preceded the election induce a milder spirit. When the precentor led off, "Howl, ye Sinners, Howl! Let the Heathen Rage and Cry!" each man's look told that he knew well whom the psalmist was hitting at; and when the minister invoked the "blind, stubborn, and stony-hearted" to "depart from the midst," one-half of his hearers looked their astonishment that the other half did not immediately step out in the rain. A heavy inspiration, a hard sigh, told that all were bracing for battle when the minister stepped down from the pulpit, and noting it, he congratulated himself on his precautions against disturbance.
"For greater convenience in voting," he said, reaching paper slips and a box of pencils from behind the communion rail, "we will depart from the oral method and elect by written ballot"
He had expected a protest against such a radical departure from ancestral precedent, but in some mysterious way the innovation seemed to jibe with the people's inclination.
"Saunders McClellan," the minister went on, "will distribute and collect balloting-papers on the other aisle."
"Give it to him, Cap'en!" Saunders whispered, as he handed him a slip. "He's glowering at ye."
The elder was indeed surveying the mariner, McNab, and Dunlop with a glance of comprehensive hostility over the top of his ballot. "See what I'm aboot!" his look said, as he folded the paper and tossed it into Saunders's hat.
"The auld deevil!" McNab whispered, as the minister unfolded the first ballot. "He'll soon slacken his gills."
"That'll be one of oor ballots," the cap'en hoarsely confided.
The minister was vigorously rubbing his glasses for a second perusal of the ballot, but when the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth were added to the first, his face became a study in astonishment. And presently his surprise was reflected by the congregation. For whereas three candidates were in nomination, the ballots were forming but two piles.
Whispers ran through the kirk; the cap'en nudged McNab.
"McCakeron must ha' swung all the Duncanites?"
"Ah," Neil muttered. "An' that wad account for the stiff look o' the reptile. See the glare o't."
They would have stiffened in astonishment could they have translated the "glare." "Got the Duncanites, did ye?" the elder was thinking. "Bide a wee, bide a wee! He laughs best that laughs last."
Saunders McClellan and his Devil alone sensed the inwardness of those two piles, and they held modest communion over it in the back of the kirk. "You may be ugly, but ye've served me well," Saunders began.
The Devil answered with extreme politeness: "You are welcome to all ye get through me. If no honored, ye are at least aboot to become famous in your ain country."
"Infamous, I doobt, ye mean," Saunders corrected. Then, glancing uneasily toward the door, he added, "I think as we'd better be leaving."
"Pish!" the Devil snorted. "They are undone by their ain malignancy. See it oot."
"That's so," Saunders agreed. "That is surely so-a. Hist! The meenister's risen. Man, but he's tickled to death over the result. His face is fair shining."
The minister did indeed look pleased. Stepping down to the floor that he might be closer to these his people, he beamed benevolently upon them while he made a little speech. "People of Scottish birth," he said, closing, "are often accused of being hard and uncharitable to the stranger in their gates, but this can never be said of you who have extended the highest honor in your gift to a stranger; who have elected Brother Joshua Timmins elder in your kirk by a two-thirds majority."