She put the children out into the yard on the planks, and gave them tin pans and clothes-pins to keep house with, and gingerbread for their dinner. She and Pinkie had cups of tea, and Mrs. Scarup had her gruel, and went up to bed again; and that was another new experience, and a third stage in her treatment and recovery.
When it came to the cellar, Luclarion got the chore-man in; and when all was done, she looked round on the renovated home, and said within herself, "If Scarup, now, will only break his neck, or get something to do, and stay away with his pipes and his boots and his contraptions!"
And Scarup did. He found a chance in some freight-house, and wrote that he had made up his mind to stay out there all winter; and Mrs. Scarup made little excursions about the house with her returning strength, and every journey was a pleasure-trip, and the only misery was that at the end of the fortnight Miss Grapp was going away, and then she should be "all back in the swamp again."
"No, you won't," said Luclarion; "Pinkie's waked up, and she's going to take pride, and pick up after the children. She can do that, now; but she couldn't shoulder everything. And you'll have somebody in the kitchen. See if you don't. I've 'most a mind to say I'll stay till you do."
Luclarion's faith was strong; she knew, she said, that "if she was doing at her end, Providence wasn't leaving off at his. Things would come round."
This was how they did come round.
It only wanted a little sorting about. The pieces of the puzzle were all there. Hazel Ripwinkley settled the first little bit in the right place. She asked her mother one night, if she didn't think they might begin their beehive with a fire-fly? Why couldn't they keep little Vash?
"And then," said Diana, in her quiet way, slipping one of the big three-cornered pieces of the puzzle in, "Damaris might go to Mrs. Scarup for her two dollars a week. She is willing to work for that, if she can get Vash taken. And this would be all the same, and better."
Desire was with them when Luclarion came in, and heard it settled.
"How is it that things always fall right together for you, so? How came Damaris to come along?"
"You just take hold of something and try," said Luclarion. "You'll find there's always a working alongside. Put up your sails, and the wind will fill 'em."
Uncle Titus wanted to know "what sort of use a thing like that could be in a house?"
He asked it in his very surliest fashion. If they had had any motives of fear or favor, they would have been disconcerted, and begun to think they had made a mistake.
But Hazel spoke up cheerily,—
"Why, to wait on people, uncle. She's the nicest little fetch-and-carrier you ever saw!"
"Humph! who wants to be waited on, here? You girls, with feet and hands of your own? Your mother doesn't, I know."
"Well, to wait on, then," says Hazel, boldly. "I'm making her a baby-house, and teaching her to read; and Diana is knitting scarlet stockings for her, to wear this winter. We like it."
"O, if you like it! That's always a reason. I only want to have people give the real one."
And Uncle Titus walked off, so that nobody could tell whether he liked it or not.
Nobody told him anything about the Scarups. But do you suppose he didn't know? Uncle Titus Oldways was as sharp as he was blunt.
"I guess I know, mother," said Hazel, a little while after this, one day, "how people write stories."
"Well?" asked her mother, looking up, ready to be amused with Hazel's deep discovery.
"If they can just begin with one thing, you see, that makes the next one. It can't help it, hardly. Just as it does with us. What made me think of it was, that it seemed to me there was another little piece of our beehive story all ready to put on; and if we went and did it,—I wonder if you wouldn't, mother? It fits exactly."
"Let me see."
"That little lame Sulie at Miss Craydocke's Home, that we like so much. Nobody adopts her away, because she is lame; her legs are no use at all, you know, and she just sits all curled up in that great round chair that Mrs. Geoffrey gave her, and sews patchwork, and makes paper dolls. And when she drops her scissors, or her thread, somebody has to come and pick it up. She wants waiting on; she just wants a little lightning-bug, like Vash, to run round for her all the time. And we don't, you see; and we've got Vash! And Vash—likes paper dolls."
Hazel completed the circle of her argument with great triumph.
"An extra piece of bread to finish your too much butter," said Diana.
"Yes. Doesn't it just make out?" said Hazel, abating not a jot of her triumph, and taking things literally, as nobody could do better than she, upon occasion, for all her fancy and intuition.
"I wonder what Uncle Oldways would say to that," said Diana.
"He'd say 'Faugh, faugh!' But he doesn't mean faugh, faugh, half the time. If he does, he doesn't stick to it. Mother," she asked rather suddenly, "do you think Uncle Oldways feels as if we oughtn't to do—other things—with his money?"
"What other things?"
"Why, these others. Vash, and Sulie, perhaps. Wouldn't he like it if we turned his house into a Beehive?"
"It isn't his house," said Mrs. Ripwinkley, "He has given it to me."
"Well,—do you feel 'obligated,' as Luclarion says?'
"In a certain degree,—yes. I feel bound to consider his comfort and wishes, as far as regards his enjoyment with us, and fulfilling what he reasonably looked for when he brought us here."
"Would that interfere?"
"Suppose you ask him, Hazel?"
"Well, I could do that."
"Hazel wouldn't mind doing anything!" said Diana, who, to tell the truth was a little afraid of Uncle Titus, and who dreaded of all things, being snubbed.
"Only," said Hazel, to whom something else had just occurred, "wouldn't he think—wouldn't it be—your business?"
"It is all your plan, Hazel. I think he would see that."
"And you are willing, if he doesn't care?"
"I did not quite say that. It would be a good deal to think of."
"Then I'll wait till you've thought," said clear-headed little Hazel.
"But it fits right on. I can see that. And Miss Craydocke said things would, after we had begun."
Mrs. Ripwinkley took it into her thoughts, and carried it about with her for days, and considered it; asking herself questions.
Was it going aside in search of an undertaking that did not belong to her?
Was it bringing home a care, a responsibility, for which they were not fitted,—which might interfere with the things they were meant, and would be called, to do?
There was room and opportunity, doubtless, for them to do something; Mrs. Ripwinkley had felt this; she had not waited for her child to think of it for her; she had only waited, in her new, strange sphere, for circumstances to guide the way, and for the Giver of all circumstance to guide her thought. She chose, also, in the things that would affect her children's life and settle duties for them, to let them grow also to those duties, and the perception of them, with her. To this she led them, by all her training and influence; and now that in Hazel, her child of quick insight and true instincts, this influence was bearing fruit and quickening to action, she respected her first impulses; she believed in them; they had weight with her, as argument in themselves. These impulses, in young, true souls, freshly responding, are, she knew, as the proof-impressions of God's Spirit.
Yet she would think; that was her duty; she would not do a thing hastily, or unwisely.
Sulie Praile had been a good while, now, at the Home.
A terrible fall, years ago, had caused a long and painful illness, and resulted in her present helplessness. But above those little idle, powerless limbs, that lay curled under the long, soft skirt she wore, like a baby's robe, were a beauty and a brightness, a quickness of all possible motion, a dexterous use of hands, and a face of gentle peace and sometimes glory, that were like a benediction on the place that she was in; like the very Holy Ghost in tender form like a dove, resting upon it, and abiding among them who were there.
In one way, it would hardly be so much a giving as a taking, to receive her in. Yet there was care to assume, the continuance of care to promise or imply; the possibility of conflicting plans in much that might be right and desirable that Mrs. Ripwinkley should do for her own. Exactly what, if anything, it would be right to undertake in this, was matter for careful and anxious reflection.
The resources of the Home were not very large; there were painful cases pressing their claims continually, as fast as a little place was vacated it could be filled; was wanted, ten times over; and Sulie Praile had been there a good while. If somebody would only take her, as people were very ready to take—away to happy, simple, comfortable country homes, for mere childhood's sake—the round, rosy, strong, and physically perfect ones! But Sulie must be lifted and tended; she must keep somebody at home to look after her; no one could be expected to adopt a child like that.
Yet Hazel Ripwinkley thought they could be; thought, in her straightforward, uncounting simplicity, that it was just the natural, obvious, beautiful thing to do, to take her home—into a real home—into pleasant family life; where things would not crowd; where she could be mothered and sistered, as girls ought to be, when there are so many nice places in the world, and not so many people in them as there might be. When there could be so much visiting, and spare rooms kept always in everybody's house, why should not somebody who needed to, just come in and stay? What were the spare places made for?
"We might have Sulie for this winter," said Mrs. Ripwinkley, at last. "They would let her come to us for that time; and it would be a change for her, and leave a place for others. Then if anything made it impossible for us to do more, we should not have raised an expectation to be disappointed. And if we can and ought to do more, it will be shown us by that time more certainly."
She asked Miss Craydocke about it, when she came home from Z—— that fall. She had been away a good deal lately; she had been up to Z—— to two weddings,—Leslie Goldthwaite's and Barbara Holabird's. Now she was back again, and settled down.
Miss Craydocke thought it a good thing wisely limited.
"Sulie needs to be with older girls; there is no one in the Home to be companion to her; the children are almost all little. A winter here would be a blessing to her!"
"But the change again, if she should have to make it?" suggested Mrs. Ripwinkley.
"Good things don't turn to bad ones because you can't have them any more. A thing you're not fit for, and never ought to have had, may; but a real good stays by; it overflows all the rest. Sulie Praile's life could never be so poor again, after a winter here with you, as it might be if she had never had it. If you'd like her, let her come, and don't be a bit afraid. We're only working by inches, any of us; like the camel's-hair embroiderers in China. But it gets put together; and it is beautiful, and large, and whole, somewhere."
"Miss Craydocke always knows," said Hazel.
Nobody said anything again, about Uncle Titus. A winter's plan need not be referred to him. But Hazel, in her own mind, had resolved to find out what was Uncle Titus's, generally and theoretically; how free they were to be, beyond winter plans and visits of weeks; how much scope they might have with this money and this house, that seemed so ample to their simple wants, and what they might do with it and turn it into, if it came into their heads or hearts or consciences.
So one day she went in and sat down by him in the study, after she had accomplished some household errand with Rachel Froke.
Other people approached him with more or less of strategy, afraid of the tiger in him; Desire Ledwith faced him courageously; only Hazel came and nestled up beside him, in his very cage, as if he were no wild beast, after all.
Yet he pretended to growl, even at her, sometimes; it was so funny to see her look up and chirp on after it, like some little bird to whom the language of beasts was no language at all, and passed by on the air as a very big sound, but one that in no wise concerned it.
"We've got Sulie Praile to spend the winter, Uncle Titus," she said.
"Who's Sulie Praile?"
"The lame girl, from the Home. We wanted somebody for Vash to wait on, you know. She sits in a round chair, that twists, like yours; and she's—just like a lily in a vase!" Hazel finished her sentence with a simile quite unexpected to herself.
There was something in Sulie's fair, pale, delicate face, and her upper figure, rising with its own peculiar lithe, easily swayed grace from among the gathered folds of the dress of her favorite dark green color, that reminded—if one thought of it, and Hazel turned the feeling of it into a thought at just this moment—of a beautiful white flower, tenderly and commodiously planted.
"Well, I suppose it's worth while to have a lame girl to sit up in a round chair, and look like a lily in a vase, is it?"
"Uncle Titus, I want to know what you think about some things."
"That is just what I want to know myself, sometimes. To find out what one thinks about things, is pretty much the whole finding, isn't it?"
"Don't be very metaphysical, please, Uncle Titus. Don't turn your eyes round into the back of your head. That isn't what I mean."
"What do you mean?"
"Just plain looking."
"Don't you think, when there are places, all nice and ready,—and people that would like the places and haven't got 'em,—that the people ought to be put into the places?"
"'The shirtless backs put into the shirts?'"
"Why, yes, of course. What are shirts made for?"
"For some people to have thirty-six, and some not to have any," said Mr. Oldways.
"No," said Hazel. "Nobody wants thirty-six, all at once. But what I mean is, rooms, and corners, and pleasant windows, and seats at the table; places where people come in visiting, and that are kept saved up. I can't bear an empty box; that is, only for just one pleasant minute, while I'm thinking what I can put into it."
"Where's your empty box, now?"
"Our house was rather empty-boxy. Uncle Titus, do you mind how we fill it up,—because you gave it to us, you know?"
"No. So long as you don't crowd yourselves out."
"Or you, Uncle Titus. We don't want to crowd you out. Does it crowd you any to have Sulie and Vash there, and to have us 'took up' with them, as Luclarion says?"
How straight Witch Hazel went to her point!
"Your catechism crowds me just a little, child," said Uncle Titus. "I want to see you go your own way. That is what I gave you the house for. Your mother knows that. Did she send you here to ask me?"
"No. I wanted to know. It was I that wanted to begin a kind of a Beehive—like Miss Craydocke's. Would you care if it was turned quite into a Beehive, finally?"
Hazel evidently meant to settle the furthest peradventure, now she had begun.
"Ask your mother to show you the deed. 'To Frances Ripwinkley, her heirs and assigns,'—that's you and Diana,—'for their use and behoof, forever.' I've no more to do with it."
"'Use, and behoof,'" said Hazel, slowly. And then she turned the leaves of the great Worcester that lay upon the study table, and found "Behoof."
"'Profit,—gain,—benefit;' then that's what you meant; that we should make as much more of it as we could. That's what I think, Uncle Titus. I'm glad you put 'behoof in."
"They always put it in, child!"
"Do they? Well, then, they don't always work it out!" and Hazel laughed.
At that, Mr. Oldways pulled off his spectacles, looked sharp at Hazel with two sharp, brown eyes,—set near together, Hazel noticed for the first time, like Desire's,—let the keenness turn gradually into a twinkle, suffered the muscles that had held his lips so grim to relax, and laughed too; his peculiar, up-and-down shake of a laugh, in which head and shoulders made the motions, as if he were a bottle, and there were a joke inside of him which was to be well mixed up to be thoroughly enjoyed.
"Go home to your mother, jade-hopper!" he said, when he had done; "and tell her I'm coming round to-night, to tea, amongst your bumble-bees and your lilies!"
WITH ALL ONE'S MIGHT.
Let the grapes be ever so sweet, and hang in plenty ever so low, there is always a fair bunch out of reach.
Mrs. Ledwith longed, now, to go to Europe.
At any rate, she was eager to have her daughters go. But, after just one year, to take what her Uncle Oldways had given her, in return for her settling herself near him, and unsettle herself, and go off to the other side of the world! Besides, what he had given her would not do it. That was the rub, after all. What was two thousand a year, now-a-days? Nothing is anything, now-a-days. And it takes everything to do almost nothing.
The Ledwiths were just as much pinched now as they were before they ever heard from Uncle Oldways. People with unlimited powers of expansion always are pinched; it is good for them; one of the saving laws of nature that keeps things decently together.
Yet, in the pink room of a morning, and in the mellow-tinted drawing-room of an evening, it was getting to be the subject oftenest discussed. It was that to which they directed the combined magnetism of the family will; everything was brought to bear upon it; Bridget's going away on Monday morning, leaving the clothes in the tubs, the strike-price of coal, and the overcharge of the grocer; Florence's music, Helena's hopeless distress over French and German; even Desire's listlessness and fidgets; most of all Mrs. Megilp's plans, which were ripening towards this long coveted end. She and Glossy really thought they should go this winter.
"It is a matter of economy now; everybody's going. The Fargo's and the Fayerwerses, and the Hitherinyons have broken all up, and are going out to stay indefinitely. The Fayerwerses have been saving up these four years to get away, there are so many of them, you know; the passage money counts, and the first travelling; but after you are over, and have found a place to settle down in,"—then followed all the usual assertions as to cheap delights and inestimable advantages, and emancipation from all American household ills and miseries.
Uncle Oldways came up once in a while to the house in Shubarton Place, and made an evening call. He seemed to take apricot-color for granted, when he got there, as much as he did the plain, old, unrelieved brown at Mrs. Ripwinkley's; he sat quite unconcernedly in the grand easy chair that Laura wheeled out for him; indeed, it seemed as if he really, after a manner, indorsed everything by his acceptance without demur of what he found. But then one must sit down on something; and if one is offered a cup of coffee, or anything on a plate, one cannot easily protest against sea-green china. We do, and we have, and we wear, and we say, a great many things, and feel ourselves countenanced and confirmed, somehow,—perhaps excused,—because nobody appears surprised or says anything. But what should they say; and would it be at all proper that they should be surprised? If we only thought of it, and once tried it, we might perhaps find it quite as easy and encouraging, on the same principle, not to have apricot rep and sea-green china.
One night Mr. Oldways was with them when the talk turned eastwardly over the water. There were new names in the paper, of people who had gone out in the Aleppo, and a list of Americans registered at Bowles Brothers,' among whom were old acquaintance.
"I declare, how they all keep turning up there" said Mrs. Ledwith.
"The war doesn't seem to make much difference," said her husband.
"To think how lucky the Vonderbargens were, to be in Paris just at the edge of the siege!" said Glossy Megilp. "They came back from Como just in time; and poor Mr. Washburne had to fairly hustle them off at last. They were buying silks, and ribbons, and gloves, up to the last minute, for absolutely nothing. Mrs. Vonderbargen said it seemed a sin to come away and leave anything. I'm sure I don't know how they got them all home; but they did."
Glossy had been staying lately with the Vonderbargens in New York. She stayed everywhere, and picked up everything.
"You have been abroad, Mrs. Scherman?" said Mrs. Ledwith, inquiringly, to Asenath, who happened to be calling, also, with her husband, and was looking at some photographs with Desire.
"No, ma'am," answered Mrs. Scherman, very promptly, not having spoken at all before in the discussion. "I do not think I wish to go. The syphon has been working too long."
Mrs. Ledwith spoke with a capital S in her mind; but was not quite sure whether what Mrs. Scherman meant might be a line of Atlantic steamers or the sea-serpent.
"Yes, ma'am. The emptying back and forth. There isn't much that is foreign over there, now, nor very much that is native here. The hemispheres have got miserably mixed up. I think when I go 'strange countries for to see,' it will have to be Patagonia or Independent Tartary."
Uncle Oldways turned round with his great chair, so as to face Asenath, and laughed one of his thorough fun digesting laughs, his keen eyes half shut with the enjoyment, and sparkling out through their cracks at her.
But Asenath had resumed her photographs with the sweetest and quietest unconsciousness.
Mrs. Ledwith let her alone after that; and the talk rambled on to the schools in Munich, and the Miracle Plays at Oberammergau.
"To think of that invasion!" said Asenath, in a low tone to Desire, "and corrupting that into a show, with a run of regular performances! I do believe they have pulled down the last unprofaned thing now, and trampled over it."
"If we go," said Mrs. Megilp, "we shall join the Fayerwerses, and settle down with them quietly in some nice place; and then make excursions. We shall not try to do all Europe in three months; we shall choose, and take time. It is the only way really to enjoy or acquire; and the quiet times are so invaluable for the lessons and languages."
Mrs. Megilp made up her little varnishes with the genuine gums of truth and wisdom; she put a beautiful shine even on to her limited opportunities and her enforced frugalities.
"Mrs. Ledwith, you ought to let Agatha and Florence go too. I would take every care of them; and the expense would be so divided—carriages, and couriers, and everything—that it would be hardly anything."
"It is a great opportunity," Mrs. Ledwith said, and sighed. "But it is different with us from what it is with you. We must still be a family here, with nearly the same expenses. To be sure Desire has done with school, and she doesn't care for gay society, and Helena is a mere child yet; if it ever could"—
And so it went on between the ladies, while Mr. Oldways and Mr. Ledwith and Frank Scherman got into war talk, and Bismarck policy, and French poss—no, im-possibilities.
"I don't think Uncle Oldways minded much," said Mrs. Ledwith to Agatha, and Mrs. Megilp, up-stairs, after everybody had gone who was to go.
"He never minds anything," said Agatha.
"I don't know," said Mrs. Megilp, slowly. "He seemed mightily pleased with what Asenath Scherman said."
"O, she's pretty, and funny; it makes no difference what she says; people are always pleased."
"We might dismiss one girl this winter," said Mrs. Ledwith, "and board in some cheap country place next summer. I dare say we could save it in the year's round; the difference, I mean. When you weren't actually travelling, it wouldn't cost more than to have you here,—dress and all.
"They wouldn't need to have a new thing," said Glossy.
"Those people out at Z—— want to buy the house. I've a great mind to coax Grant to sell, and take a slice right out, and send them," said Mrs. Ledwith, eagerly. She was always eager to accomplish the next new thing for her children; and, to say the truth, did not much consider herself. And so far as they had ever been able, the Ledwiths had always been rather easily given to "taking the slice right out."
The Megilps had had a little legacy of two or three thousand dollars, and were quite in earnest in their plans, this time, which had been talk with them for many years.
"Those poor Fayerwerses!" said Asenath to her husband, walking home. "Going out now, after the cheap European living of a dozen years ago! The ghost always goes over on the last load. I wonder at Mrs. Megilp. She generally knows better."
"She'll do," said Frank Scherman. "If the Fayerwerses stick anywhere, as they probably will, she'll hitch on to the Fargo's, and turn up at Jerusalem. And then there are to be the Ledwiths, and their 'little slice.'"
"O, dear! what a mess people do make of living!" said Asenath.
Uncle Titus trudged along down Dorset Street with his stick under his arm.
"Try 'em! Find 'em out!" he repeated to himself. "That's what Marmaduke said. Try 'em with this,—try 'em with that; a good deal, or a little; having and losing, and wanting. That's what the Lord does with us all; and I begin to see He has a job of it!"
The house was sold, and Agatha and Florence went.
It made home dull for poor Desire, little as she found of real companionship with her elder sisters. But then she was always looking for it, and that was something. Husbands and wives, parents and children, live on upon that, through years of repeated disappointments, and never give up the expectation of that which is somewhere, and which these relations represent to them, through all their frustrated lives.
That is just why. It is somewhere.
It turned out a hard winter, in many ways, for Desire Ledwith. She hated gay company, and the quiet little circle that she had become fond of at her Aunt Ripwinkley's was broken somewhat to them all, and more to Desire than, among what had grown to be her chronic discontents, she realized or understood, by the going away for a time of Kenneth Kincaid.
What was curious in the happening, too, he had gone up to "And" to build a church. That had come about through the Marchbankses' knowledge of him, and this, you remember, through their being with the Geoffreys when the Kincaids were first introduced in Summit Street.
The Marchbankses and the Geoffreys were cousins. A good many Boston families are.
Mr. Roger Marchbanks owned a good deal of property in And. The neighborhood wanted a church; and he interested himself actively and liberally in behalf of it, and gave the land,—three lots right out of the middle of Marchbanks Street, that ran down to the river.
Dorris kept her little room, and was neighborly as heretofore; but she was busy with her music, and had little time but her evenings; and now there was nobody to walk home with Desire to Shubarton Place, if she stayed in Aspen Street to tea. She came sometimes, and stayed all night; but that was dreary for Helena, who never remembered to shut the piano or cover up the canary, or give the plants in the bay window their evening sprinkle, after the furnace heat had been drying them all day.
Kenneth Kincaid came down for his Sundays with Dorris, and his work at the Mission; a few times he called in at Uncle Oldways' after tea, when the family was all together; but they saw him very seldom; he gave those Sunday evenings mostly to needed rest, and to quiet talk with Dorris.
Desire might have gone to the Mission this winter, easily enough, after all. Agatha and Florence and Glossy Megilp were not by to make wondering eyes, or smile significant smiles; but there was something in herself that prevented; she knew that it would be more than half to get, and she still thought she had so little to give! Besides, Kenneth Kincaid had never asked her again, and she could not go to him and say she would come.
Desire Ledwith began to have serious question of what life was ever going to be for her. She imagined, as in our early years and our first gray days we are all apt to imagine, that she had found out a good deal that it was not going to be.
She was not going to be beautiful, or accomplished, or even, she was afraid, agreeable; she found that such hard work with most people. She was not ever—and that conclusion rested closely upon these foregoing—to be married, and have a nice husband and a pretty house, and go down stairs and make snow-puddings and ginger-snaps of a morning, and have girls staying with her, and pleasant people in to tea; like Asenath Scherman. She couldn't write a book,—that, perhaps, was one of her premature decisions, since nobody knows till they try, and the books are lying all round, in leaves, waiting only to be picked up and put together,—or paint a picture; she couldn't bear parties, and clothes were a fuss, and she didn't care to go to Europe.
She thought she should rather like to be an old maid, if she could begin right off, and have a little cottage out of town somewhere, or some cosy rooms in the city. At least, she supposed that was what she had got to be, and if that were settled, she did not see why it might not be begun young, as well as married life. She could not endure waiting, when a thing was to be done.
"Aunt Frances," she said one day, "I wish I had a place of my own. What is the reason I can't? A girl can go in for Art, and set up a studio; or she can go to Rome, and sculp, and study; she can learn elocution, and read, whether people want to be read to or not; and all that is Progress and Woman's Rights; why can't she set up a home?"
"Because, I suppose, a house is not a home; and the beginning of a home is just what she waits for. Meanwhile, if she has a father and a mother, she would not put a slight on their home, or fail of her share of the duty in it."
"But nobody would think I failed in my duty if I were going to be married. I'm sure mamma would think I was doing it beautifully. And I never shall be married. Why can't I live something out for myself, and have a place of my own? I have got money enough to pay my rent, and I could do sewing in a genteel way, or keep a school for little children. I'd rather—take in back stairs to wash," she exclaimed vehemently, "than wait round for things, and be nothing! And I should like to begin young, while there might be some sort of fun in it. You'd like to come and take tea with me, wouldn't you, Aunt Frank?"
"If it were all right that you should have separate teas of your own."
"And if I had waffles. Well, I should. I think, just now, there's nothing I should like so much as a little kitchen of my own, and a pie-board, and a biscuit-cutter, and a beautiful baking oven, and a Japan tea-pot."
"The pretty part. But brooms, and pails, and wash-tubs, and the back stairs?"
"I specified back stairs in the first place, of my own accord. I wouldn't shirk. Sometimes I think that real good old-fashioned hard work is what I do want. I should like to find the right, honest thing, and do it, Aunt Frank."
She said it earnestly, and there were tears in her eyes.
"I believe you would," said Mrs. Ripwinkley. "But perhaps the right, honest thing, just now, is to wait patiently, with all your might."
"Now, that's good," said Desire, "and cute of you, too, that last piece of a sentence. If you had stopped at 'patiently,' as people generally do! That's what exasperates; when you want to do something with all your might. It almost seems as if I could, when you put it so."
"It is a 'stump,' Luclarion would say."
"Luclarion is a saint and a philosopher. I feel better," said Desire.
She stayed feeling better all that afternoon; she helped Sulie Praile cut out little panels from her thick sheet of gray painting-board, and contrived her a small easel with her round lightstand and a book-rest; for Sulie was advancing in the fine arts, from painting dollies' paper faces in cheap water colors, to copying bits of flowers and fern and moss, with oils, on gray board; and she was doing it very well, and with exquisite delight.
To wait, meant something to wait for; something coming by and by; that was what comforted Desire to-day, as she walked home alone in the sharp, short, winter twilight; that, and the being patient with all one's might. To be patient, is to be also strong; this she saw, newly; and Desire coveted, most of all, to be strong.
Something to wait for. "He does not cheat," said Desire, low down in her heart, to herself. For the child had faith, though she could not talk about it.
Something; but very likely not the thing you have seen, or dreamed of; something quite different, it may be, when it comes; and it may come by the way of losing, first, all that you have been able yet, with a vague, whispering hope, to imagine.
The things we do not know! The things that are happening,—the things that are coming; rising up in the eastward of our lives below the horizon that we can yet see; it may be a star, it may be a cloud!
Desire Ledwith could not see that out at Westover, this cheery winter night, it was one of dear Miss Pennington's "Next Thursdays;" she could not see that the young architect, living away over there in the hundred-year-old house on the side of East Hill, a boarder with old Miss Arabel Waite, had been found, and appreciated, and drawn into their circle by the Haddens and the Penningtons and the Holabirds and the Inglesides; and that Rosamond was showing him the pleasant things in their Westover life,—her "swan's nest among the reeds," that she had told him of,—that early autumn evening, when they had walked up Hanley Street together.
Spring came on early, with heavy rains and freshets in many parts of the country.
It was a busy time at Z——.
Two things had happened there that were to give Kenneth Kincaid more work, and would keep him where he was all summer.
Just before he went to Z——, there had been a great fire at West Hill. All Mr. Roger Marchbanks's beautiful place was desolate. House, conservatories, stables, lovely little vine-covered rustic buildings, exquisitely tended shrubbery,—all swept over in one night by the red flames, and left lying in blackness and ashes.
For the winter, Mr. Marchbanks had taken his family to Boston; now he was planning eagerly to rebuild. Kenneth had made sketches; Mr. Marchbanks liked his ideas; they had talked together from time to time. Now, the work was actually in hand, and Kenneth was busy with drawings and specifications.
Down at the river, during the spring floods, a piece of the bridge had been carried away, and the dam was broken through. There were new mill buildings, too, going up, and a block of factory houses. All this business, through Mr. Marchbanks directly or indirectly, fell also into Kenneth's hands.
He wrote blithe letters to Dorris; and Dorris, running in and out from her little spring cleanings that Hazel was helping her with, told all the letters over to the Ripwinkleys.
"He says I must come up there in my summer vacation and board with his dear old Miss Waite. Think of Kentie's being able to give me such a treat as that! A lane, with ferns and birches, and the woods,—pine woods!—and a hill where raspberries grow, and the river!"
Mrs. Ledwith was thinking of her summer plans at this time, also. She remembered the large four-windowed room looking out over the meadow, that Mrs. Megilp and Glossy had at Mrs. Prendible's, for twelve dollars a week, in And. She could do no better than that, at country boarding, anywhere; and Mr. Ledwith could sleep at the house in Shubarton Place, getting his meals down town during the week, and come up and spend his Sundays with them. A bedroom, in addition, for six dollars more, would be all they would want.
The Ripwinkleys were going up to Homesworth by and by for a little while, and would take Sulie Praile with them. Sulie was ecstatically happy. She had never been out of the city in all her life. She felt, she said, "as if she was going to heaven without dying." Vash was to be left at Mrs. Scarup's with her sister.
Miss Craydocke would be away at the mountains; all the little life that had gathered together in the Aspen Street neighborhood, seemed about to be broken up.
Uncle Titus Oldways never went out of town, unless on business. Rachel Froke stayed, and kept his house; she sat in the gray room, and thought over the summers she had had.
"Thee never loses anything out of thy life that has been in," she said. "Summer times are like grains of musk; they keep their smell always, and flavor the shut-up places they are put away in."
For you and me, reader, we are to go to Z—— again. I hope you like it.
But before that, I must tell you what Luclarion Grapp has done.
Partly from the principle of her life, and partly from the spirit of things which she would have caught at any rate, from the Ripwinkley home and the Craydocke "Beehive,"—for there is nothing truer than that the kingdom of heaven is like leaven,—I suppose she had been secretly thinking for a good while, that she was having too easy a time here, in her first floor kitchen and her garden bedroom; that this was not the life meant for her to live right on, without scruple or question; and so began in her own mind to expect some sort of "stump;" and even to look about for it.
"It isn't as it was when Mrs. Ripwinkley was a widow, and poor,—that is, comparative; and it took all her and my contrivance to look after the place and keep things going, and paying, up in Homesworth; there was something to buckle to, then; but now, everything is eased and flatted out, as it were; it makes me res'less, like a child put to bed in the daytime."
Luclarion went down to the North End with Miss Craydocke, on errands of mercy; she went in to the new Mission, and saw the heavenly beauty of its intent, and kindled up in her soul at it; and she came home, time after time, and had thoughts of her own about these things, and the work in the world there was to do.
She had cleaned up and set things going at Mrs. Scarup's; she learned something in doing that, beyond what she knew when she set about it; her thoughts began to shape themselves to a theory; and the theory took to itself a text and a confirmation and a command.
"Go down and be a neighbor to them that have fallen among thieves."
Luclarion came to a resolution in this time of May, when everybody was making plans and the spring-cleaning was all done.
She came to Mrs. Ripwinkley one morning, when she was folding away winter clothes, and pinning them up in newspapers, with camphor-gum; and she said to her, without a bit of preface,—Luclarion hated prefaces,—
"Mrs. Ripwinkley, I'm going to swarm!"
Mrs. Ripwinkley looked up in utter surprise; what else could she do?
"Of course 'm, when you set up a Beehive, you must have expected it; it's the natural way of things; they ain't good for much unless they do. I've thought it all over; I'll stay and see you all off, first, if you want me to, and then—I'll swarm."
"Well," said Mrs. Ripwinkley, assenting in full faith, beforehand; for Mrs. Ripwinkley, if I need now to tell you of it, was not an ordinary woman, and did not take things in an ordinary selfish way, but grasped right hold of the inward right and truth of them, and believed in it; sometimes before she could quite see it; and she never had any doubt of Luclarion Grapp. "Well! And now tell me all about it."
"You see," said Luclarion, sitting down in a chair by the window, as Mrs. Ripwinkley suspended her occupation and took one by the bedside, "there's places in this town that folks leave and give up. As the Lord might have left and give up the world, because there was dirt and wickedness in it; only He didn't. There's places where it ain't genteel, nor yet respectable, to live; and so those places grow more disrespectable and miserable every day. They're left to themselves. What I think is, they hadn't ought to be. There's one clean spot down there now, in the very middle of the worst dirt. And it ain't bad to live in. That's started. Now, what I think is, that somebody ought to start another, even if its only a little one. Somebody ought to just go there and live, and show 'em how, just as I took and showed Mrs. Scarup, and she's been living ever since, instead of scratching along. If some of them folks had a clean, decent neighbor to go to see,—to drink tea with, say,—and was to catch an idea of her fixings and doings, why, I believe there'd be more of 'em,—cleaned up, you know. They'd get some kind of an ambition and a hope. Tain't enough for ladies—though I bless 'em in my soul for what I've seen 'em do—to come down there of a Fridays, and teach and talk awhile, and then go home to Summit Street and Republic Avenue, and take up their life again where they left it off, that is just as different as heaven is from 'tother place; somebody's got to come right down out of heaven, and bring the life in, and live it amongst them miserable folks, as the Lord Jesus Christ came and did! And it's borne in upon me, strong and clear, that that's what's got to be before all's righted. And so—for a little piece of it, and a little individual stump—I'm going to swarm, and settle, and see what'll come."
Mrs. Ripwinkley was looking very intently at Luclarion. Her breath went and came hurriedly, and her face turned pale with the grand surprise of such a thought, such a plan and purpose, so simply and suddenly declared. Her eyes were large and moist with feeling.
"Do you know, Luclarion," she exclaimed at last, "do you realize what this is that you are thinking of; what a step it would be to take,—what a work it would be to even hope to begin to do? Do you know how strange it is,—how almost impracticable,—that it is not even safe?"
"'Twasn't safe for Him—when He came into the world," Luclarion answered.
"Not to say I think there's any comparison," she began again, presently, "or that I believe there's anything to be really scared of,—except dirt; and you can clean a place round you, as them Mission people have done. Why, there ain't a house in Boston nicer, or sweeter, or airier even, than that one down in Arctic Street, with beautiful parlors and bedrooms, and great clean galleries leading round, and skylighted,—sky lighted! for you see the blue heaven is above all, and you can let the skylight in, without any corruption coming in with it; and if twenty people can do that much, or a hundred,—one can do something. 'Taint much, either, to undertake; only to be willing to go there, and make a clean place for yourself, and a home; and live there, instead of somewheres else that's ready made; and let it spread. And you know I've always looked forrud to some kind of a house-keep of my own, finally."
"But, Luclarion, I don't understand! All alone? And you couldn't use a whole house, you know. Your neighbors would be inmates. Why, it seems to me perfectly crazy!"
"Now, ma'am, did you ever know me to go off on a tangent, without some sort of a string to hold on to? I ain't goin' to swarm all alone! I never heard of such a thing. Though if I couldn't swarm, and the thing was to be done, I say I'd try it. But Savira Golding is going to be married to Sam Gallilee, next month; and he's a stevedore, and his work is down round the wharves; he's class-leader in our church, and a first-rate, right-minded man, or else Savira wouldn't have him; for if Savira ain't a clear Christian, and a doing woman, there ain't one this side of Paradise. Now, you see, Sam Gallilee makes money; he runs a gang of three hundred men. He can afford a good house, and a whole one, if he wants; but he's going in for a big one, and neighbors. They mean to live nice,—he and Savira; and she has pretty, tasty ways; there'll be white curtains, and plants blooming in her windows, you may make sure; she's always had 'em in that little up-stairs dress-making room of hers; and boxes of mignonette and petunias on the ledges; and birds singing in a great summer cage swung out against the wall. She's one of the kind that reaches out, and can't be kept in; and she knows her gifts, and is willing to go and let her light shine where it will help others, and so glorify; and Sam, he's willing too, and sees the beauty of it. And so,—well, that's the swarm."
"And the 'little round Godamighty in the middle of it,'" said Mrs. Ripwinkley, her face all bright and her eyes full of tears.
Then Mrs. Ripwinkley told her Miss Craydocke's story.
"Well," said Luclarion, "there's something dear and right-to-the-spot about it; but it does sound singular; and it certainly ain't a thing to say careless."
* * * * *
Desire Ledwith grew bright and excited as the summer came on, and the time drew near for going to Z——. She could not help being glad; she did not stop to ask why; summer-time was reason enough, and after the weariness of the winter, the thought of Z—— and the woods and the river, and sweet evenings and mornings, and gardens and orchards, and road-side grass, was lovely to her.
"It is so pleasant up there!" she would keep saying to Dorris; and somehow she said it to Dorris oftener than to anybody else.
There was something fitful and impetuous in her little outbursts of satisfaction; they noticed it in her; the elder ones among them noticed it with a touch of anxiety for her.
Miss Craydocke, especially, read the signs, matching them with something that she remembered far back in the life that had closed so peacefully, with white hairs and years of a serene content and patience, over all unrest and disappointment, for herself. She was sorry for this young girl, for whom she thought she saw an unfulfilled dream of living that should go by her like some bright cloud, just near enough to turn into a baptism of tears.
She asked Desire, one day, if she would not like to go with her, this summer, to the mountains.
Desire put by the suggestion hastily.
"O, no, thank you, Miss Craydocke, I must stay with mamma and Helena. And besides," she added, with the strict, full truth she always demanded of herself, "I want to go to Z——."
"Yes," said Miss Craydocke.
There was something tender, like a shade of pity, in her tone.
"But you would enjoy the mountains. They are full of strength and rest. One hardly understands the good the hills do one. David did, looking out into them from Jerusalem. 'I will look to the hills, from whence cometh my strength.'"
"Some time," said Desire. "Some time I shall need the hills, and—be ready for them. But this summer—I want a good, gay, young time. I don't know why, except that I shall be just eighteen this year, and it seems as if, after that, I was going to be old. And I want to be with people I know. I can be gay in the country; there is something to be gay about. But I can't dress and dance in the city. That is all gas-light and get-up."
"I suppose," said Miss Craydocke, slowly, "that our faces are all set in the way we are to go. Even if it is—" She stopped. She was thinking of one whose face had been set to go to Jerusalem. Her own words had led her to something she had not foreseen when she began.
Nothing of such suggestion came to Desire. She was in one of her rare moods of good cheer.
"I suppose so," she said, heedlessly. And then, taking up a thought of her own suddenly,—"Miss Craydocke! Don't you think people almost always live out their names? There's Sin Scherman; there'll always be a little bit of mischief and original naughtiness in her,—with the harm taken out of it; and there's Rosamond Holabird,—they couldn't have called her anything better, if they'd waited for her to grow up; and Barb was sharp; and our little Hazel is witchy and sweet and wild-woodsy; and Luclarion,—isn't that shiny and trumpety, and doesn't she do it? And then—there's me. I shall always be stiff and hard and unsatisfied, except in little bits of summer times that won't come often. They might as well have christened me Anxiety. I wonder why they didn't."
"That would have been very different. There is a nobleness in Desire. You will overlive the restless part," said Miss Craydocke.
"Was there ever anything restless in your life, Miss Craydocke? And how long did it take to overlive it? It doesn't seem as if you had ever stubbed your foot against anything; and I'm always stubbing."
"My dear, I have stubbed along through fifty-six years; and the years had all three hundred and sixty-five days in them. There were chances,—don't you think so?"
"It looks easy to be old after it is done," said Desire. "Easy and comfortable. But to be eighteen, and to think of having to go on to be fifty-six; I beg your pardon,—but I wish it was over!"
And she drew a deep breath, heavy with the days that were to be.
"You are not to take it all at once, you know," said Miss Craydocke.
"But I do, every now and then. I can't help it. I am sure it is the name. If they had called me 'Hapsie,' like you, I should have gone along jolly, as you do, and not minded. You see you have to hear it all the time; and it tunes you up to its own key. You can't feel like a Dolly, or a Daisy, when everybody says—De-sire!"
"I don't know how I came to be called 'Hapsie,'" said Miss Craydocke. "Somebody who liked me took it up, and it seemed to get fitted on. But that wasn't when I was young."
"What was it, then?" asked Desire, with a movement of interest.
"Keren-happuch," said Miss Craydocke, meekly. "My father named me, and he always called me so,—the whole of it. He was a severe, Old-Testament man, and his name was Job."
Desire was more than half right, after all. There was a good deal of Miss Craydocke's story hinted in those few words and those two ancient names.
"But I turned into 'Miss Craydocke' pretty soon, and settled down. I suppose it was very natural that I should," said the sweet old maid, serenely.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS.
The evening train came in through the little bend in the edge of the woods, and across the bridge over the pretty rapids, and slid to its stopping-place under the high arches of the other bridge that connected the main street of Z—— with its continuation through "And."
There were lights twinkling in the shops, where they were making change, and weighing out tea and sugar, and measuring calico, although outside it was not yet quite dark.
The train was half an hour late; there had been a stoppage at some draw or crossing near the city.
Mr. Prendible was there, to see if his lodgers were come, and to get his evening paper; the platform was full of people. Old Z—— acquaintances, many of them, whom Desire and her mother were pleased, and Helena excited to see.
"There's Kenneth Kincaid!" she exclaimed, quite loudly, pulling Desire's sleeve.
"Hush!" said Desire, twitching away. "How can you, Helena?"
"He's coming,—he heard me!" cried Helena, utterly impenitent.
"I should think he might!" And Desire walked off a little, to look among the trunks that were being tumbled from the baggage car.
She had seen him all the time; he had been speaking to Ruth Holabird, and helping her up the steps with her parcels. Mr. Holabird was there with the little Westover carryall that they kept now; and Kenneth put her in, and then turned round in time to hear Helena's exclamation and to come down again.
"Can I help you? I'm very glad you are come," he said, cordially.
Well; he might have said it to anybody. Again, well; it was enough to say to anybody. Why should Desire feel cross?
He took Helena's bag; she had a budget beside; Mr. Prendible relieved Mrs. Ledwith; Desire held on valiantly to her own things. Kenneth walked over the bridge with them, and down the street to Mr. Prendible's door; there he bade them good-by and left them.
It was nice to be in Z——; it was very sweet here under the blossoming elms and locusts; it was nice to see Kenneth Kincaid again, and to think that Dorris was coming by and by, and that the lanes were green and full of ferns and vines, and that there was to be a whole long summer; but there were so many people down there on the platform,—there was such a muss always; Ruth Holabird was a dear little thing, but there were always so many Ruths about! and there was only one cross, stiff, odd, uncomfortable Desire!
But the very next night Kenneth came down and stayed an hour; there was a new moon glistening through the delicate elm-tips, and they sat out on the piazza and breathed in such an air as they had not had in their nostrils for months and months.
The faint, tender light from the golden west in which the new moon lay, showed the roof and tower of the little church, Kenneth's first beautiful work; and Kenneth told them how pleasant it was up at Miss Arabel's, and of the tame squirrels that he fed at his window, and of the shady pasture-path that led away over the brook from the very door, and up among pines and into little still nooks where dry mossy turf and warm gray rocks were sheltered in by scraggy cedars and lisping birches, so that they were like field-parlors opening in and out from each other with all sorts of little winding and climbing passages, between clumps of bayberry bushes and tall ferns; and that the girls from Z—— and Westover made morning picnics there, since Lucilla Waters had grown intimate with Delia Waite and found it out; and that Delia Waite and even Miss Arabel carried their dressmaking down there sometimes in a big white basket, and stayed all day under the trees. They had never used to do this; they had stayed in the old back sitting room with all the litter round, and never thought of it till those girls had come and showed them how.
"I think there is the best and sweetest neighborliness and most beautiful living here in Z——, that I ever knew in any place," said Kenneth Kincaid; "except that little piece of the same thing in Aspen Street."
Kenneth had found out how Rosamond Holabird recognized Aspen Street as a piece of her world.
Desire hated, as he spoke, her spitefulness last night; what she had said to herself of "so many Ruths;" why could not she not be pleased to come into this beautiful living and make a little part of it?
She was pleased; she would be; she found it very easy when Kenneth said to her in that frank intimate way,—"I wish you and your mother would come over and see what Dorris will want, and help me a little about that room of hers. I told Miss Waite not to bother; just to let the old things stand,—I knew Dorris would like them,—and anything else I would get for her myself. I mean Dolly shall take a long vacation this year; from June right through to September; and its 'no end of jolly,' as those English fellows say, that you have come too!"
Kenneth Kincaid was fresher and pleasanter and younger himself, than Desire had ever seen him before; he seemed to have forgotten that hard way of looking at the world; he had found something so undeniably good in it. I am afraid Desire had rather liked him for his carping, which was what he least of all deserved to be liked for. It showed how high and pure his demands were; but his praise and admissions were better; it is always better to discern good than to fret at the evil.
"I shall see you every day," he said, when he shook hands at parting; "and Helena, if you want a squirrel to keep in your pocket next winter, I'll begin training one for you at once."
He had taken them right to himself, as if they belonged to him; he spoke as if he were very glad that he should see them every day.
Desire whistled over her unpacking; she could not sing, but she could whistle like a blackbird. When her father came up on Saturday night, he said that her eyes were brighter and her cheeks were rounder, for the country air; she would take to growing pretty instead of strong-minded, if she didn't look out.
Kenneth came round on Monday, after tea, to ask them to go over to Miss Waite's and make acquaintance.
"For you see," he said, "you will have to be very intimate there, and it is time to begin. It will take one call to be introduced, and another, at least, to get up-stairs and see that beautiful breezy old room that can't be lived in in winter, but is to be a delicious sort of camping-out for Dolly, all summer. It is all windows and squirrel-holes and doors that won't shut. Everything comes in but the rain; but the roof is tight on that corner. Even the woodbine has got tossed in through a broken upper pane, and I wouldn't have it mended on any account. There are swallows' nests in the chimneys, and wrens under the gable, and humming-birds in the honeysuckle. When Dolly gets there, it will be perfect. It just wants her to take it all right into her heart and make one piece of it. They don't know,—the birds and the squirrels,—it takes the human. There has to be an Adam in every garden of Eden."
Kenneth really chattered, from pure content and delight.
It did not take two visits to get up-stairs. Miss Arabel met them heartily. She had been a shy, timid old lady, from long neglect and humble living; but lately she had "come out in society," Delia said. Society had come after her, and convinced her that she could make good times for it.
She brought out currant wine and gave them, the first thing; and when Kenneth told her that they were his and Dorris's friends, and were coming next week to see about getting ready for her, she took them right round through all four of the ground rooms, to the queer corner staircase, and up into the "long west chamber," to show them what a rackety old place it was, and to see whether they supposed it could be made fit.
"Why it's like the Romance of the Forest!" said Helena, delighted. "I wish we had come here. Don't you have ghosts, or robbers, or something, up and down those stairs, Miss Waite?" For she had spied a door that led directly out of the room, from beside the chimney, up into the rambling old garret, smelling of pine boards and penny-royal.
"No; nothing but squirrels and bees, and sometimes a bat," answered Miss Arabel.
"Well, it doesn't want fixing. If you fix it, you will spoil it. I shall come here and sleep with Dorris,—see if I don't."
The floor was bare, painted a dark, marbled gray. In the middle was a great braided rug, of blue and scarlet and black. The walls were pale gray, with a queer, stencilled scroll-and-dash border of vermilion and black paint.
There was an old, high bedstead, with carved frame and posts, bare of drapery; an antiquated chest of drawers; and a half-circular table with tall, plain, narrow legs, between two of the windows. There was a corner cupboard, and a cupboard over the chimney. The doors of these, and the high wainscot around the room, were stained in old-fashioned "imitation mahogany," very streaky and red. The wainscot was so heavily finished that the edge running around the room might answer for a shelf.
"Just curtains, and toilet covers, and a little low rocking chair," said Mrs. Ledwith. "That is all you want."
"But the windows are so high," suggested Desire. "A low chair would bury her up, away from all the pleasantness. I'll tell you what I would have, Mr. Kincaid. A kind of dais, right across that corner, to take in two windows; with a carpet on it, and a chair, and a little table."
"Just the thing!" said Kenneth. "That is what I wanted you for, Miss Desire," he said in a pleased, gentle way, lowering his tone to her especial hearing, as he stood beside her in the window.
And Desire was very happy to have thought of it.
Helena was spurred by emulation to suggest something.
"I'd have a—hammock—somewhere," she said.
"Good," said Kenneth. "That shall be out under the great butternut."
The great butternut walled in one of the windows with a wilderness of green, and the squirrels ran chattering up and down the brown branches, and peeping in all day. In the autumn, when the nuts were ripe, they would be scrambling over the roof, and in under the eaves, to hide their stores in the garret, Miss Arabel told them.
"Why doesn't everbody have an old house, and let the squirrels in?" cried Helena, in a rapture.
In ten days more,—the first week of June,—Dorris came.
Well,—"That let in all the rest," Helena said, and Desire, may be, thought. "We shan't have it to ourselves any more."
The girls could all come down and call on Dorris Kincaid, and they did.
But Desire and Helena had the first of it; nobody else went right up into her room; nobody else helped her unpack and settle. And she was so delighted with all that they had done for her.
The dais was large enough for two or three to sit upon at once, and it was covered with green carpet of a small, mossy pattern, and the window was open into the butternut on one side, and into the honeysuckle on the other, and it was really a bower.
"I shall live ten hours in one," said Dorris.
"And you'll let me come and sleep with you some night, and hear the bats," said Helena.
The Ledwiths made a good link; they had known the Kincaids so well; if it had been only Dorris, alone, with her brother there, the Westover girls might have been shy of coming often. Since Kenneth had been at Miss Waite's, they had already grown a little less free of the beautiful woods that they had just found out and begun fairly to enjoy last autumn.
But the Ledwiths made a strong party; and they lived close by; there were plans continually.
Since Leslie Goldthwaite and Barbara Holabird were married and gone, and the Roger Marchbankses were burned out, and had been living in the city and travelling, the Hobarts and the Haddens and Ruth and Rosamond and Pen Pennington had kept less to their immediate Westover neighborhood than ever; and had come down to Lucilla's, and to Maddy Freeman's, and the Inglesides, as often as they had induced them to go up to the Hill.
Maud Marchbanks and the Hendees were civil and neighborly enough at home, but they did not care to "ramify." So it came to pass that they were left a good deal to themselves. Olivia and Adelaide, when they came up to Westover, to their uncle's, wondered "that papa cared to build again; there really wasn't anything to come for; West Hill was entirely changed."
So it was; and a very good thing.
I came across the other day, reading over Mr. Kingsley's "Two Years Ago," a true word as to social needs in England, that reminded me of this that the Holabirds and the Penningtons and the Inglesides have been doing, half unconsciously, led on from "next" to next, in Z——.
Mr. Kingsley, after describing a Miss Heale, and others of her class,—the middle class, with no high social opportunities, and with time upon their hands, wasted often in false dreams of life and unsatisfied expectations, "bewildering heart and brain with novels," for want of a nobler companionship, says this: "Till in country villages, the ladies who interest themselves about the poor will recollect that the farmers' and tradesmens' daughters are just as much in want of their influence as the charity children and will yield a far richer return for their labor, so long will England be full of Miss Heales."
If a kindly influence and fellowship are the duty of the aristocratic girls of England toward their "next," below, how far more false are American girls to the spirit of their country, and the blessed opportunities of republican sympathies and equalities, when they try to draw invisible lines between themselves and those whose outer station differs by but so little, and whose hearts and minds, under the like culture with their own, crave, just as they do, the best that human intercourse can give. Social science has something to do, before—or at least simultaneously with—reaching down to the depths where all the wrongs and blunders and mismanagements of life have precipitated their foul residuum. A master of one of our public schools, speaking of the undue culture of the brain and imagination, in proportion to the opportunities offered socially for living out ideas thus crudely gathered, said that his brightest girls were the ones who in after years, impatient of the little life gave them to satisfy the capacities and demands aroused and developed during the brief period of school life, and fed afterwards by their own ill-judged and ill-regulated reading, were found fallen into lives of vice. Have our women, old or young, who make and circumscribe the opportunities of social intercourse and enjoyment, nothing to search out here, and help, as well, or as soon as, to get their names put on committee lists, and manage these public schools themselves, which educate and stimulate up to the point of possible fierce temptation, and then have nothing more that they can do?
It was a good thing for Desire Ledwith to grow intimate, as she did, with Rosamond Holabird. There were identical points of character between the two. They were both so real.
"You don't want to play anything," Barbara Holabird had said to Rosamond once, in some little discussion of social appearances and pretensions. "And that's the beauty of you!"
It was the beauty of Desire Ledwith also; only, with Rosamond, her ambitions had clothed themselves with a grace and delicateness that would have their own perfect and thorough as far as it went; and with Desire, the same demands of true living had chafed into an impatience with shams and a blunt disregard of and resistance to all conventionalisms.
"You are a good deal alike, you two," Kenneth Kincaid said to them one day, in a talk they all three happened to have together.
And he had told Rosamond afterward that there was "something grand in Desire Ledwith; only grand things almost always have to grow with struggles."
Rosamond had told this again to Desire.
It was not much wonder that she began to be happier; to have a hidden comfort of feeling that perhaps the "waiting with all her might" was nearly over, and the "by and by" was blossoming for her, though the green leaves of her own shy sternness with herself folded close down about the sweetening place, and she never parted them aside to see where the fragrance came from.
* * * * *
They were going to have a grand, large, beautiful supper party in the woods.
Mrs. Holabird and Mrs. Hobart were the matrons, and gave out the invitations.
"I don't think I could possibly spend a Tuesday afternoon with a little 't,'" said Mrs. Lewis Marchbanks laughing, and tossing down poor, dear, good Mrs. Hobart's note upon her table. "It is rather more than is to be expected!"
"Doctor and Mrs. Hautayne are here, and Dakie Thayne is home from West Point. It will be rather a nice party."
"The Holabirds seem to have got everything into their own hands," said Mrs. Marchbanks, haughtily. "It is always a pity when people take the lead who are not exactly qualified. Mrs. Holabird will not discriminate!'
"I think the Holabirds are splendid," spoke up Lily, "and I don't think there's any fun in sticking up by ourselves! I can't bear to be judicious!"
Poor little Lily Marchbanks had been told a tiresome many times that she must be "judicious" in her intimacies.
"You can be pleasant to everybody," said mother and elder sister, with a salvo of Christian benignity.
But it is so hard for little children to be pleasant with fence and limitation.
"Where must I stop?" Lily had asked in her simplicity. "When they give me a piece of their luncheon, or when they walk home from school, or when they say they will come in a little while?"
But there came a message back from Boston by the eleven o'clock train on the morning of the Tuesday with a little "t," from Mr. Marchbanks himself, to say that his brother and Mr. Geoffrey would come up with him to dinner, and to desire that carriages might be ready afterward for the drive over to Waite's grove.
Mrs. Marchbanks marveled, but gave her orders. Arthur came out early, and brought with him his friend Archie Mucklegrand, and these two were bound also for the merry-making.
Now Archie Mucklegrand was the identical youth of the lavender pantaloons and the waxed moustache, whom Desire, as "Miss Ledwith," had received in state a year and a half ago.
So it was an imposing cavalcade, after all, from West Hill, that honored the very indiscriminate pleasure party, and came riding and driving in at about six o'clock. There were the barouche and the coupe; for the ladies and elder gentlemen, and the two young men accompanied them on horseback.
Archie Mucklegrand had been at West Hill often before. He and Arthur had just graduated at Harvard, and the Holabirds had had cards to their grand spread on Class Day. Archie Mucklegrand had found out what a pretty girl—and a good deal more than merely pretty—Rosamond Holabird was; and although he might any day go over to his big, wild Highland estate, and take upon himself the glory of "Sir Archibald" there among the hills and moors,—and though any one of a good many pretty girls in Spreadsplendid Park and Republic Avenue might be induced, perhaps, if he tried, to go with him,—all this did not hinder him from perceiving that up here in Z—— was just the most bewitching companionship he had ever fallen in with, or might ever be able to choose for himself for any going or abiding; that Rosamond Holabird was just the brightest, and sweetest, and most to his mind of any girl that he had ever seen, and most like "the woman" that a man might dream of. I do not know that he quite said it all to himself in precisely that way; I am pretty sure that he did not, as yet; but whatever is off-hand and young-mannish and modern enough to express to one's self without "sposhiness" an admiration and a preference like that, he undoubtedly did say. At any rate after his Christmas at Z—— with Arthur, and some charade parties they had then at Westover, and after Class Day, when everybody had been furious to get an introduction, and all the Spreadsplendid girls and their mothers had been wondering who that Miss Holabird was and where she came from, and Madam Mucklegrand herself—not having the slightest recollection of her as the Miss Holabird of that early-morning business call, whose name she had just glanced at and dropped into an Indian china scrap-jar before she went down-stairs—had asked him the same questions, and pronounced that she was "an exceedingly graceful little person, certainly,"—after all this, Archie had made up his—mind, shall I say? at least his inclination, and his moustache—to pursue the acquaintance, and be as irresistible as he could.
But Rosamond had learned—things do so play into our lives in a benign order—just before that Christmas time and those charades, in one of which Archie Mucklegrand had sung to her, so expressively, the "Birks of Aberfeldy,"—that Spreadsplendid Park was not, at least his corner of it,—a "piece of her world;" and she did not believe that Aberfeldy would be, either, though Archie's voice was beautiful, and—
"Bonnie lassie, will ye go?"
sounded very enticing—in a charade.
So she was quite calm when the Marchbanks party came upon the ground, and Archie Mucklegrand, with white trousers and a lavender tie, and the trim, waxed moustache, looking very handsome in spite of his dapperness, found her out in the first two minutes, and attached himself to her forthwith in a most undetachable and determined manner, which was his way of being irresistible.
They were in the midst of their tea and coffee when the West Hill party came. Miss Arabel was busy at the coffee-table between the two oaks, pouring out with all her might, and creaming the fragrant cups with a rich lavishness that seemed to speak of milky mothers without number or limit of supply; and Rosamond, as the most natural and hospitable thing to do, conducted the young gentleman as soon as she could to that lady, and commended him to her good offices.
These were not to be resisted; and as soon as he was occupied, Rosamond turned to attend to others coming up; and the groups shifting, she found herself presently a little way off, and meanwhile Mrs. Marchbanks and her son had reached the table and joined Archie.
"I say, Arthur! O, Mrs. Marchbanks! You never got such coffee as this, I do believe! The open air has done something to it, or else the cream comes from some supernal cows! Miss Holabird!"
Rosamond turned round.
"I don't see,—Mrs. Marchbanks ought to have some of this coffee, but where is your good woman gone?" For Miss Arabel had stepped round behind the oak-tree for a moment, to see about some replenishing.
In her prim, plain dress, utterly innocent of style or bias, and her zealous ministry, good Miss Arabel might easily be taken for some comfortable, superior old servant; but partly from a sudden sense of fun,—Mrs. Marchbanks standing there in all her elegant dignity,—and partly from a jealous chivalry of friendship, Rosamond would not let it pass so.
"Good woman? Hush! she is one of our hostesses, the owner of the ground, and a dear friend of mine. Here she is. Miss Waite, let me introduce Mr. Archibald Mucklegrand. Mrs. Marchbanks will like some coffee, please."
Which Mrs. Marchbanks took with a certain look of amazement, that showed itself subtilely in a slight straightening of the lips and an expansion of the nostrils. She did not sniff; she was a great deal too much a lady; she was Mrs. Marchbanks, but if she had been Mrs. Higgin, and had felt just so, she would have sniffed.
Somebody came up close to Rosamond on the other side.
"That was good," said Kenneth Kincaid. "Thank you for that, Miss Rosamond."
"Will you have some more?" asked Rosamond, cunningly, pretending to misunderstand, and reaching her hand to take his empty cup.
"One mustn't ask for all one would like," said Kenneth, relinquishing the cup, and looking straight in her eyes.
Rosamond's eyes fell; she had no rejoinder ready; it was very well that she had the cup to take care of, and could turn away, for she felt a very foolish color coming up in her face.
She made herself very busy among the guests. Archie Mucklegrand stayed by, and spoke to her every time he found a chance. At last, when people had nearly done eating and drinking, he asked her if she would not show him the path down to the river.
"It must be beautiful down there under the slope," he said.
She called Dorris and Desire, then, and Oswald Megilp, who was with them. He was spending a little time here at the Prendibles, with his boat on the river, as he had used to do. When he could take an absolute vacation, he was going away with a pedestrian party, among the mountains. There was not much in poor Oswald Megilp, but Desire and Rosamond were kind to him now that his mother was away.
As they all walked down the bank among the close evergreens, they met Mr. Geoffrey and Mr. Marchbanks, with Kenneth Kincaid, coming up. Kenneth came last, and the two parties passed each other single file, in the narrow pathway.
Kenneth paused as he came close to Rosamond, holding back a bough for her.
"I have something very nice to tell you," he whispered, "by and by. But it is a secret, as yet. Please don't stay down there very long."
Nobody heard the whisper but Rosamond; if they could have done so, he would not have whispered. Archie Mucklegrand was walking rather sulkily along before; he had not cared for a party to be made up when he asked Rosamond to go down to the river with him. Desire and Dorris had found some strange blossom among the underbrush, and were stopping for it; and Oswald Megilp was behind them. For a few seconds, Kenneth had Rosamond quite to himself.
The slight delay had increased the separation between her and Archie Mucklegrand, for he had kept steadily on in his little huff.
"I do not think we shall be long," said Rosamond, glancing after him, and looking up, with her eyes bright. She was half merry with mischief, and half glad with a quieter, deeper pleasure, at Kenneth's words.
He would tell her something in confidence; something that he was glad of; he wanted her to know it while it was yet a secret; she had not the least guess what it could be; but it was very "nice" already. Rosamond always did rather like to be told things first; to have her friends confide in and consult with her, and rely upon her sympathy; she did not stop to separate the old feeling which she was quite aware of in herself, from something new that made it especially beautiful that Kenneth Kincaid should so confide and rely.
Rosamond was likely to have more told her to-night than she quite dreamed of.
They heard Mrs. Ledwith's voice far back among the trees.
"I want you, dear!"
"Something about shawls and baskets, I suppose," said Desire, turning round, perhaps a little the more readily that Kenneth was beside her now, going back also.
Dorris and Oswald Megilp, finding there was a move to return, and being behind Desire in the pathway, turned also, as people will who have no especial motive for going one way rather than another; and so it happened that after all Rosamond and Archie Mucklegrand walked on down the bank to the river together, by themselves.
Archie's good humor returned quickly.
"I am glad they are gone; it was such a fuss having so many," he said.
"We shall have to go back directly; they are beginning to break up," said Rosamond.
And then, coming out to the opening by the water, she began to talk rather fast about the prettiness of the view, and to point out the bridge, and the mills, and the shadow of East Hill upon the water, and the curve of the opposite shore, and the dip of the shrubs and their arched reflections. She seemed quite determined to have all the talk to herself.
Archie Mucklegrand played with his stick, and twisted the end of his moustache. Men never ought to allow themselves to learn that trick. It always comes back upon them when it makes them look most foolish.
Archie said nothing, because there was so much he wanted to say, and he did not know how to begin.
He knew his mother and sister would not like it,—as long as they could help it, certainly,—therefore he had suddenly made up his mind that there should be no such interval. He could do as he pleased; was he not Sir Archibald? And there was his Boston grandfather's property, too, of which a large share had been left outright to him; and he had been twenty-one these six months. There was nothing to hinder; and he meant to tell Rosamond Holabird that he liked her better than any other girl in the world. Somebody else would be telling her so, if he didn't; he could see how they all came round her; perhaps it might be that tall, quiet, cheeky looking fellow,—that Kincaid. He would be before him, at any rate.
So he stood and twisted his moustache, and said nothing,—nothing, I mean, except mere little words of assent and echo to Rosamond's chatter about the pretty view.
At last,—"You are fond of scenery, Miss Holabird?"
"O yes, I suppose I am; but we don't call this scenery. It is just pleasantness,—beauty. I don't think I quite like the word 'scenery.' It seems artificial,—got up for outside effect. And the most beautiful things do not speak from the outside, do they? I never travelled, Mr. Mucklegrand. I have just lived here, until I have lived into things, or they into me. I rather think it is travelling, skimming about the world in a hurry, that makes people talk about 'scenery.' Isn't it?"
"I dare say. I don't care for skimming, myself. But I like to go to nice places, and stay long enough to get into them, as you say. I mean to go to Scotland next year. I've a place there among the hills and lochs, Miss Rosamond."
"Yes. I have heard so. I should think you would wish to go and see it."
"I'll tell you what I wish, Miss Holabird!" he said suddenly, letting go his moustache, and turning round with sufficient manfulness, and facing her. "I suppose there is a more gradual and elegant way of saying it; but I believe straightforward is as good as any. I wish you cared for me as I care for you, and then you would go with me."
Rosamond was utterly confounded. She had not imagined that it could be hurled at her, this fashion; she thought she could parry and put aside, if she saw anything coming. She was bewildered and breathless with the shock of it; she could only blindly, and in very foolish words, hurl it back.
"O, dear, no!" she exclaimed, her face crimson. "I mean—I don't—I couldn't! I beg your pardon, Mr. Mucklegrand; you are very good; I am very sorry; but I wish you hadn't said so. We had better go back."
"No," said Archie Mucklegrand, "not yet. I've said it now. I said it like a moon calf, but I mean it like a man. Won't you—can't you—be my wife, Rosamond? I must know that."
"No, Mr. Mucklegrand," answered Rosamond, quite steadily now and gently. "I could not be. We were never meant for each other. You will think so yourself next year,—by the time you go to Scotland."
"I shall never think so."
Of course he said that; young men always do; they mean it at the moment, and nothing can persuade them otherwise.
"I told you I had lived right here, and grown into these things, and they into me," said Rosamond, with a sweet slow earnestness, as if she thought out while she explained it; and so she did; for the thought and meaning of her life dawned upon her with a new perception, as she stood at this point and crisis of it in the responsibility of her young womanhood. "And these, and all the things that have influenced me, have given my life its direction; and I can see clearly that it was never meant to be your way. I do not know what it will be; but I know yours is different. It would be wrenching mine to turn it so."
"But I would turn mine for you," said Archie.
"You couldn't. Lives grow together. They join beforehand, if they join at all. You like me, perhaps,—just what you see of me; but you do not know me, nor I you. If it—this—were meant, we should."
"Know. Be sure."
"I am sure of what I told you."
"And I thank you very much; but I do not—I never could—belong to you."
What made Rosamond so wise about knowing and belonging?
She could not tell, herself; she had never thought it out before; but she seemed to see it very clearly now. She did not belong to Archie Mucklegrand, nor he to her; he was mistaken; their lives had no join; to make them join would be a force, a wrenching.
Archie Mucklegrand did not care to have it put on such deep ground. He liked Rosamond; he wanted her to like him; then they should be married, of coarse, and go to Scotland, and have a good time; but this quiet philosophy cooled him somewhat. As they walked up the bank together, he wondered at himself a little that he did not feel worse about it. If she had been coquettish, or perverse, she might have been all the more bewitching to him. If he had thought she liked somebody else better, he might have been furiously jealous; but "her way of liking a fellow would be a slow kind of a way, after all." That was the gist of his thought about it; and I believe that to many very young men, at the age of waxed moustaches and German dancing, that "slow kind of a way" in a girl is the best possible insurance against any lasting damage that their own enthusiasm might suffer.