He had not been contemptible in the offering of his love; his best had come out at that moment; if it does not come out then, somehow,—through face and tone, in some plain earnestness or simple nobleness, if not in fashion of the spoken word as very well it may not,—it must be small best that the man has in him.
Rosamond's simple saying of the truth, as it looked to her in that moment of sure insight, was the best help she could have given him. Truth is always the best help. He did not exactly understand the wherefore, as she understood it; but the truth touched him nevertheless, in the way that he could perceive. They did not "belong" to each other.
And riding down in the late train that evening, Archie Mucklegrand said to himself, drawing a long breath,—"It would have been an awful tough little joke, after all, telling it to the old lady!"
"Are you too tired to walk home?" Kenneth Kincaid asked of Rosamond, helping her put the baskets in the carriage.
Dakie Thayne had asked Ruth the same question five minutes before, and they two had gone on already. Are girls ever too tired to walk home after a picnic, when the best of the picnic is going to walk home with them? Of course Rosamond was not too tired; and Mrs. Holabird had the carryall quite to herself and her baskets.
They took the River Road, that was shady all the way, and sweet now with the dropping scents of evening; it was a little longer, too, I think, though that is one of the local questions that have never yet been fully decided.
"How far does Miss Waite's ground run along the river?" asked Kenneth, taking Rosamond's shawl over his arm.
"Not far; it only just touches; it runs back and broadens toward the Old Turnpike. The best of it is in those woods and pastures."
"So I thought. And the pastures are pretty much run out."
"I suppose so. They are full of that lovely gray crackling moss."
"Lovely for picnics. Don't you think Miss Waite would like to sell?"
"Yes, indeed, if she could. That is her dream; what she has been laying up for her old age: to turn the acres into dollars, and build or buy a little cottage, and settle down safe. It is all she has in the world, except her dressmaking."
"Mr. Geoffrey and Mr. Marchbanks want to buy. They will offer her sixteen thousand dollars. That is the secret,—part of it."
"O, Mr. Kincaid! How glad,—how sorry, I can't help being, too! Miss Waite to be so comfortable! And never to have her dear old woods to picnic in any more! I suppose they want to make streets and build it all up."
"Not all. I'll tell you. It is a beautiful plan. Mr. Geoffrey wants to build a street of twenty houses,—ten on a side,—with just a little garden plot for each, and leave the woods behind for a piece of nature for the general good,—a real Union Park; a place for children to play in, and grown folks to rest and walk and take tea in, if they choose; but for nobody to change or meddle with any further. And these twenty houses to be let to respectable persons of small means, at rents that will give him seven per cent, for his whole outlay. Don't you see? Young people, and people like Miss Waite herself, who don't want much house-room, but who want it nice and comfortable, and will keep it so, and who do want a little of God's world-room to grow in, that they can't get in the crowded town streets, where the land is selling by the foot to be all built over with human packing-cases, and where they have to pay as much for being shut up and smothered, as they will out here to live and breathe. That Mr. Geoffrey is a glorious man, Rosamond! He is doing just this same thing in the edges of three or four other towns, buying up the land just before it gets too dear, to save for people who could not save it for themselves. He is providing for a class that nobody seems to have thought of,—the nice, narrow-pursed people, and the young beginners, who get married and take the world in the old-fashioned way."
He had no idea he had called her "Rosamond," till he saw the color shining up so in her face verifying the name. Then it flashed out upon him as he sent his thought back through the last few sentences that he had spoken.
"I beg your pardon," he said, suddenly. "But I was so full of this beautiful doing,—and I always think of you so! Is there a sin in that?"
Rosamond colored deeper yet, and Kenneth grew more bold. He had spoken it without plan; it had come of itself.
"I can't help it now. I shall say it again, unless you tell me not! Rosamond! I shall have these houses to build. I am getting ever so much to do. Could you begin the world with me, Rosamond?"
Rosamond did not say a word for a full minute. She only walked slowly by his side, her beautiful head inclined gently, shyly; her sweet face all one bloom, as faces never bloom but once.
Then she turned toward him and put out her hand.
"I will begin the world with you," she said.
And their world—that was begun for them before they were born—lifted up its veil and showed itself to them, bright in the eternal morning.
* * * * *
Desire Ledwith walked home all alone. She left Dorris at Miss Waite's, and Helena had teased to stay with her. Mrs. Ledwith had gone home among the first, taking a seat offered her in Mrs. Tom Friske's carriage to East Square; she had a headache, and was tired.
Desire felt the old, miserable questions coming up, tempting her.
Why was she left out,—forgotten? Why was there nothing, very much, in any of this, for her?
Yet underneath the doubting and accusing, something lived—stayed by—to rebuke it; rose up above it finally, and put it down, though with a thrust that hurt the heart in which the doubt was trampled.
Wait. Wait—with all your might!
Desire could do nothing very meekly; but she could even wait with all her might. She put her foot down with a will, at every step.
"I was put here to be Desire Ledwith," she said, relentlessly, to herself; "not Rosamond Holabird, nor even Dolly. Well, I suppose I can stay put, and be! If things would only let me be!"
But they will not. Things never do, Desire.
They are coming, now, upon you. Hard things,—and all at once.
ALL AT ONCE.
There was a Monday morning train going down from Z——.
Mr. Ledwith and Kenneth Kincaid were in it, reading the morning papers, seated side by side.
It was nearly a week since the picnic, but the engagement of Rosamond and Kenneth had not transpired. Mr. Holabird had been away in New York. Of course nothing was said beyond Mrs. Holabird and Ruth and Dolly Kincaid, until his return. But Kenneth carried a happy face about with him, in the streets and in the cars and about his work; and his speech was quick and bright with the men he met and had need to speak to. It almost told itself; people might have guessed it, if they had happened, at least to see the two faces in the same day, and if they were alive to sympathetic impressions of other people's pain or joy. There are not many who stop to piece expressions, from pure sympathy, however; they are, for the most part, too busy putting this and that together for themselves.
Desire would have guessed it in a minute; but she saw little of either in this week. Mrs. Ledwith was not well, and there was a dress to be made for Helena.
Kenneth Kincaid's elder men friends said of him, when they saw him in these days, "That's a fine fellow; he is doing very well." They could read that; he carried it in his eye and in his tone and in his step, and it was true.
It was a hot morning; it would be a stifling day in the city. They sat quiet while they could, in the cars, taking the fresh air of the fields and the sea reaches, reading the French news, and saying little.
They came almost in to the city terminus, when the train stopped. Not at a station. There were people to alight at the last but one; these grew impatient after a few minutes, and got out and walked.
The train still waited.
Mr. Ledwith finished a column he was reading, and then looked up, as the conductor came along the passage.
"What is the delay?" he asked of him.
"Freight. Got such a lot of it. Takes a good while to handle."
Freight outward bound. A train making up.
Mr. Ledwith turned to his newspaper again.
Ten minutes went by. Kenneth Kincaid got up and went out, like many others. They might be kept there half an hour.
Mr. Ledwith had read all his paper, and began to grow impatient. He put his head out at the window, and looked and listened. Half the passengers were outside. Brake-men were walking up and down.
"Has he got a flag out there?" says the conductor to one of these.
"Don't know. Can't see. Yes, he has; I heard him whistle brakes."
Just then, their own bell sounded, and men jumped on board. Kenneth Kincaid came back to his seat.
Behind, there was a long New York train coming in.
Mr. Ledwith put his head out again, and looked back. All right; there had been a flag; the train had slackened just beyond a curve.
But why will people do such things? What is the use of asking? Mr. Ledwith still looked out; he could not have told you why.
A quicker motion; a darkening of the window; a freight car standing upon a siding, close to the switch, as they passed by; a sudden, dull blow, half unheard in the rumble of the train. Women, sitting behind, sprang up,—screamed; one dropped, fainting: they had seen a ghastly sight; warm drops of blood flew in upon them; the car was in commotion.
Kenneth Kincaid, with an exclamation of horror, clutched hold of a lifeless body that fell—was thrust—backward beside him; the poor head fractured, shattered, against the fatal window frame.
* * * * *
The eleven o'clock train came out.
People came up the street,—a group of gentlemen, three or four,—toward Mr. Prendible's house.
Desire sat in a back window behind the blinds, busy. Mrs. Ledwith was lying on the bed.
Steps came in at the house door.
There was an exclamation; a hush. Mr. Prendible's voice, Kenneth Kincaid's, Mr. Dimsey's, the minister's.
"O! How? "—Mrs. Prendible's voice, now.
"Where are they?"
Mrs. Ledwith heard.
"What is the matter?"—springing up, with a sudden instinct of precognition.
Desire had not seen or heard till now. She dropped her work.
"What is it, mother?"
Mrs. Ledwith was up, upon the floor; in the doorway out in the passage; trembling; seized all over with a horrible dread and vague knowledge.
"Tell me what it is!" she cried, to those down below.
They were all there upon the staircase; Mrs. Prendible furthest up.
"O, Mrs. Ledwith!" she cried. "Don't be frightened! Don't take on! Take it easy,—do!"
Desire rushed down among them; past Mrs. Prendible, past the minister, straight to Kenneth Kincaid.
Kenneth took her right in his arms, and carried her into a little room below.
"There could have been no pain," he said, tenderly. "It was the accident of a moment. Be strong,—be patient, dear!"
There had been tender words natural to his lips lately. It was not strange that in his great pity he used them now.
"My father!" gasped Desire.
"Yes; your father. It was our Father's will."
"Help me to go to my mother!"
She took his hand, half blind, almost reeling.
And then they all, somehow, found themselves up-stairs.
There were moans of pain; there were words of prayer. We have no right there. It is all told.
* * * * *
"Be strong,—be patient, dear!"
It came back, in the midst of the darkness, the misery; it helped her through those days; it made her strong for her mother. It comforted her, she hardly knew how much; but O, how cruel it seemed afterward!
They went directly down to Boston. Mr. Ledwith was buried from their own house. It was all over; and now, what should they do? Uncle Titus came to see them. Mrs. Ripwinkley came right back from Homesworth. Dorris Kincaid left her summer-time all behind, and came to stay with them a week in Shubarton Place. Mrs. Ledwith craved companionship; her elder daughters were away; there were these five weeks to go by until she could hear from them. She would not read their letters that came now, full of chat and travel.
Poor Laura! her family scattered; her dependence gone; her life all broken down in a moment!
Dorris Kincaid did not speak of Kenneth and Rosamond. How could she bring news of others' gladness into that dim and sorrowful house?
Luclarion Grapp shut up her rooms, left her plants and her birds with Mrs. Gallilee, and came up to Shubarton Place in the beginning. There were no servants there; everything was adrift; the terrible blows of life take people between the harness, most unprovided, unawares.
It was only for a little while, until they could hear from the girls, and make plans. Grant Ledwith's income died with him; there was ten thousand dollars, life insurance; that would give them a little more than a sixth part of what his salary had been; and there were the two thousand a year of Uncle Titus; and the house, on which there was a twelve thousand dollar mortgage.
Mrs. Ledwith had spent her life in cutting and turning and planning; after the first shock was over, even her grief was counterpoised and abated, by the absorption of her thoughts into the old channels. What they should do, how they should live, what they could have; how it should be contrived and arranged. Her mind busied itself with all this, and her trouble was veiled,—softened. She had a dozen different visions and schemes, projected into their details of residence, establishment, dress, ordering,—before the letters came, bringing back the first terribleness in the first reception of and response to it, of her elder children.
It was so awful to have them away,—on the other side of the world! If they were only once all together again! Families ought not to separate. But then, it had been for their good; how could she have imagined? She supposed she should have done the same again, under the same circumstances.
And then came Mrs. Megilp's letter, delayed a mail, as she would have delayed entering the room, if they had been rejoined in their grief, until the family had first been gathered together with their tears and their embraces.
Then she wrote,—as she would have come in; and her letter, as her visit would have been, was after a few words of tender condolence,—and they were very sweet and tender, for Mrs. Megilp knew how to lay phrases like illuminating gold-leaf upon her meaning,—eminently practical and friendly, full of judicious, not to say mitigating, suggestions.
It was well, she thought, that Agatha and Florence were with her. They had been spared so much; and perhaps if all this had happened first, they might never have come. As to their return, she thought it would be a pity; "it could not make it really any better for you," she said; "and while your plans are unsettled, the fewer you are, the more easily you will manage. It seems hard to shadow their young lives more than is inevitable; and new scenes and interests are the very best things for them; their year of mourning would be fairly blotted out at home, you know. For yourself, poor friend, of course you cannot care; and Desire and Helena are not much come forward, but it would be a dead blank and stop to them, so much lost, right out; and I feel as if it were a kind Providence for the dear girls that they should be just where they are. We are living quietly, inexpensively; it will cost no more to come home at one time than at another;" etc.
There are persons to whom the pastime of life is the whole business of it; sickness and death and misfortune,—to say nothing of cares and duties—are the interruptions, to be got rid of as they may.
The next week came more letters; they had got a new idea out there. Why should not Mrs. Ledwith and the others come and join them? They were in Munich, now; the schools were splendid; would be just the thing for Helena; and "it was time for mamma to have a rest."
This thought, among the dozen others, had had its turn in Mrs. Ledwith's head. To break away, and leave everything, that is the impulse of natures like hers when things go hard and they cannot shape them. Only to get off; if she could do that!
Meanwhile, it was far different with Desire.
She was suffering with a deeper pain; not with a sharper loss, for she had seen so little of her father; but she looked in and back, and thought of what she ought to miss, and what had never been.
She ought to have known her father better; his life ought to have been more to her; was it her fault, or, harder yet, had it been his? This is the sorest thrust of grief; when it is only shock, and pity, and horror, and after these go by, not grief enough!
The child wrestled with herself, as she always did, questioning, arraigning. If she could make it all right, in the past, and now; if she could feel that all she had to do was to be tenderly sorry, and to love on through the darkness, she would not mind the dark; it would be only a phase of the life,—the love. But to have lived her life so far, to have had the relations of it, and yet not to have lived it, not to have been real child, real sister, not to be real stricken daughter now, tasting the suffering just as God made it to be tasted,—was she going through all things, even this, in a vain shadow? Would not life touch her?
She went away back, strangely, and asked whether she had had any business to be born? Whether it were a piece of God's truth at all, that she and all of them should be, and call themselves a household,—a home? The depth, the beauty of it were so unfulfilled! What was wrong, and how far back? Living in the midst of superficialities; in the noontide of a day of shams; putting her hands forth and grasping, almost everywhere, nothing but thin, hard surface,—she wondered how much of the world was real; how many came into the world where, and as, God meant them to come. What it was to "climb up some other way into the sheepfold," and to be a thief and a robber, even of life!
These were strange thoughts. Desire Ledwith was a strange girl.
But into the midst there crept one comfort; there was one glimpse out of the darkness into the daylight.
Kenneth Kincaid came in often to see them,—to inquire; just now he had frequent business in the city; he brought ferns and flowers, that Dorris gathered and filled into baskets, fresh and damp with moss.
Dorris was a dear friend; she dwelt in the life and the brightness; she reached forth and gathered, and turned and ministered again. The ferns and flowers were messages; leaves out of God's living Word, that she read, found precious, and sent on; apparitions, they seemed standing forth to sense, and making sweet, true signs from the inner realm of everlasting love and glory.
And Kenneth,—Desire had never lost out of her heart those words,—"Be strong,—be patient, dear!"
He did not speak to her of himself; he could not demand congratulation from her grief; he let it be until she should somehow learn, and of her own accord, speak to him.
So everybody let her alone, poor child, to her hurt.
The news of the engagement was no Boston news; it was something that had occurred, quietly enough, among a few people away up in Z——. Of the persons who came in,—the few remaining in town,—nobody happened to know or care. The Ripwinkleys did, of course; but Mrs. Ripwinkley remembered last winter, and things she had read in Desire's unconscious, undisguising face, and aware of nothing that could be deepening the mischief now, thinking only of the sufficient burden the poor child had to bear, thought kindly, "better not."
Meanwhile Mrs. Ledwith was dwelling more and more upon the European plan. She made up her mind, at last, to ask Uncle Titus. When all was well, she would not seem to break a compact by going away altogether, so soon, to leave him; but now,—he would see the difference; perhaps advise it. She would like to know what he would advise. After all that had happened,—everything so changed,—half her family abroad,—what could she do? Would it not be more prudent to join them, than to set up a home again without them, and keep them out there? And all Helena's education to provide for, and everything so cheap and easy there, and so dear and difficult here?
"Now, tell me, truly, uncle, should you object? Should you take it at all hard? I never meant to have left you, after all you have done; but you see I have to break up, now poor Grant is gone; we cannot live as we did before, even with what you do; and—for a little while—it is cheaper there; and by and by we can come back and make some other plan. Besides, I feel sometimes as if I must go off; as if there weren't anything left here for me."
Poor woman! poor girl, still,—whose life had never truly taken root!
"I suppose," said Uncle Titus, soberly, "that God shines all round. He's on this side as much as He is on that."
Mrs. Ledwith looked up out of her handkerchief, with which at that moment she had covered her eyes.
"I never knew Uncle Titus was pious!" she said to herself. And her astonishment dried her tears.
He said nothing more that was pious, however; he simply assured her, then and in conversations afterward, that he should take nothing "hard;" he never expected to bind her, or put her on parole; he chose to come to know his relatives, and he had done so; he had also done what seemed to him right, in return for their meeting him half way; they were welcome to it all, to take it and use it as they best could, and as circumstances and their own judgment dictated. If they went abroad, he should advise them to do it before the winter.
These words implied consent, approval. Mrs. Ledwith went up-stairs after them with a heart so much lightened that she was very nearly cheerful. There would be a good deal to do now, and something to look forward to; the old pulses of activity were quickened. She could live with those faculties that had been always vital in her, as people breathe with one live lung; but trouble and change had wrought in her no deeper or further capacity; had wakened nothing that had never been awake before.
The house and furniture were to be sold; they would sail in September.
When Desire perceived that it was settled, she gave way; she had said little before; her mother had had many plans, and they amused her; she would not worry her with opposition; and besides, she was herself in a secret dream of a hope half understood.
It happened that she told it to Kenneth Kincaid herself; she saw almost every one who came, instead of her mother; Mrs. Ledwith lived in her own room chiefly. This was the way in which it had come about, that nobody noticed or guessed how it was with Desire, and what aspect Kenneth's friendship and kindness, in the simple history of those few weeks, might dangerously grow to bear with her.
Except one person. Luclarion Grapp, at last, made up her mind.
Kenneth heard what Desire told him, as he heard all she ever had to tell, with a gentle interest; comforted her when she said she could not bear to go, with the suggestion that it might not be for very long; and when she looked up in his face with a kind of strange, pained wonder, and repeated,—
"But I cannot bear,—I tell you, I cannot bear to go!" he answered,—
"One can bear all that is right; and out of it the good will come that we do not know. All times go by. I am sorry—very sorry—that you must go; but there will be the coming back. We must all wait for that."
She did not know what she looked for; she did not know what she expected him to mean; she expected nothing; the thought of his preventing it in any way never entered into her head; she knew, if she had thought, how he himself was waiting, working. She only wanted him to care. Was this caring? Much? She could not tell.
"We never can come back," she said, impetuously. "There will be all the time—everything—between."
He almost spoke to her of it, then; he almost told her that the everything might be more, not less; that friendships gathered, multiplied; that there would be one home, he hoped, in which, by and by, she would often be; in which she would always be a dear and welcome comer.
But she was so sad, so tried; his lips were held; in his pure, honest kindness, he never dreamt of any harm that his silence might do; it only seemed so selfish to tell her how bright it was with him.
So he said, smiling,—
"And who knows what the 'everything' may be?" And he took both her hands in his as he said good-by,—for his little stops were of minutes on his way, always,—and held them fast, and looked warmly, hopefully into her face.
It was all for her,—to give her hope and courage; but the light of it was partly kindled by his own hope and gladness that lay behind; and how could she know that, or read it right? It was at once too much, and not enough, for her.
Five minutes after, Luclarion Grapp went by the parlor door with a pile of freshly ironed linen in her arms, on her way up-stairs.
Desire lay upon the sofa, her face down upon the pillow; her arms were thrown up, and her hands clasped upon the sofa-arm; her frame shook with sobs.
Luclarion paused for the time of half a step; then she went on. She said to herself in a whisper, as she went,—
"It is a stump; a proper hard one! But there's nobody else; and I have got to tell her!"
* * * * *
That evening, under some pretense of clean towels, Luclarion came up into Desire's room.
She was sitting alone, by the window, in the dark.
Luclarion fussed round a little; wiped the marble slab and the basin; set things straight; came over and asked Desire if she should not put up the window-bars, and light the gas.
"No," said Desire. "I like this best."
So did Luclarion. She had only said it to make time.
"Desire," she said,—she never put the "Miss" on, she had been too familiar all her life with those she was familiar with at all,—"the fact is I've got something to say, and I came up to say it."
She drew near—came close,—and laid her great, honest, faithful hand on the back of Desire Ledwith's chair, put the other behind her own waist, and leaned over her.
"You see, I'm a woman, Desire, and I know. You needn't mind me, I'm an old maid; that's the way I do know. Married folks, even mothers, half the time forget. But old maids never forget. I've had my stumps, and I can see that you've got yourn. But you'd ought to understand; and there's nobody, from one mistake and another, that's going to tell you. It's awful hard; it will be a trouble to you at first,"—and Luclarion's strong voice trembled tenderly with the sympathy that her old maid heart had in it, after, and because of, all those years,—"but Kenneth Kincaid"—
"What!" cried Desire, starting to her feet, with a sudden indignation.
"Is going to be married to Rosamond Holabird," said Luclarion, very gently. "There! you ought to know, and I have told you."
"What makes you suppose that that would be a trouble to me?" blazed Desire. "How do you dare"—
"I didn't dare; but I had to!" sobbed Luclarion, putting her arms right round her.
And then Desire—as she would have done at any rate, for that blaze was the mere flash of her own shame and pain—broke down with a moan.
"All at once! All at once!" she said piteously, and hid her face in Luclarion's bosom.
And Luclarion folded her close; hugged her, the good woman, in her love that was sisterly and motherly and all, because it was the love of an old maid, who had endured, for a young maid upon whom the endurance was just laid,—and said, with the pity of heaven in the words,—
"Yes. All at once. But the dear Lord stands by. Take hold of His hand,—and bear with all your might!"
"Do you think, Luclarion," said Desire, feebly, as Luclarion came to take away her bowl of chicken broth,—"that it is my duty to go with mamma?"
"I don't know," said Luclarion, standing with the little waiter in her right hand, her elbow poised upon her hip,—"I've thought of that, and I don't know. There's most generally a stump, you see, one way or another, and that settles it, but here there's one both ways. I've kinder lost my road: come to two blazes, and can't tell which. Only, it ain't my road, after all. It lays between the Lord and you, and I suppose He means it shall. Don't you worry; there'll be some sort of a sign, inside or out. That's His business, you've just got to keep still, and get well."
Desire had asked her mother, before this, if she would care very much,—no, she did not mean that,—if she would be disappointed, or disapprove, that she should stay behind.
"Stay behind? Not go to Europe? Why, where could you stay? What would you do?"
"There would be things to do, and places to stay," Desire had answered, constrainedly. "I could do like Dorris."
"No. I don't know music. But I might teach something I do know. Or I could—rip," she said, with an odd smile, remembering something she had said one day so long ago; the day the news came up to Z—— from Uncle Oldways. "And I might make out to put together for other people, and for a real business. I never cared to do it just for myself."
"It is perfectly absurd," said Mrs Ledwith. "You couldn't be left to take care of yourself. And if you could, how it would look! No; of course you must go with us."
"But do you care?"
"Why, if there were any proper way, and if you really hate so to go,—but there isn't," said Mrs. Ledwith, not very grammatically or connectedly.
"She doesn't care," said Desire to herself, after her mother had left her, turning her face to the pillow, upon which two tears ran slowly down. "And that is my fault, too, I suppose. I have never been anything!"
Lying there, she made up her mind to one thing. She would get Uncle Titus to come, and she would talk to him.
"He won't encourage me in any notions," she said to herself. "And I mean now, if I can find it out, to do the thing God means; and then I suppose,—I believe,—the snarl will begin to unwind."
Meanwhile, Luclarion, when she had set a nice little bowl of tea-muffins to rise, and had brought up a fresh pitcher of ice-water into Desire's room, put on her bonnet and went over to Aspen Street for an hour.
Down in the kitchen, at Mrs. Ripwinkley's, they were having a nice time.
Their girl had gone. Since Luclarion left, they had fallen into that Gulf-stream which nowadays runs through everybody's kitchen. Girls came, and saw, and conquered in their fashion; they muddled up, and went away.
The nice times were in the intervals when they had gone away.
Mrs. Ripwinkley did not complain; it was only her end of the "stump;" why should she expect to have a Luclarion Grapp to serve her all her life?
This last girl had gone as soon as she found out that Sulie Praile was "no relation, and didn't anyways belong there, but had been took in." She "didn't go for to come to work in an Insecution. She had always been used to first-class private families."
Girls will not stand any added numbers, voluntarily assumed, or even involuntarily befalling; they will assist in taking up no new responsibilities; to allow things to remain as they are, and cannot help being, is the depth of their condescension,—the extent of what they will put up with. There must be a family of some sort, of course, or there would not be a "place;" that is what the family is made for; but it must be established, no more to fluctuate; that is, you may go away, some of you, if you like, or you may die; but nobody must come home that has been away, and nobody must be born. As to anybody being "took in!" Why, the girl defined it; it was not being a family, but an Insecution.
So the three—Diana, and Hazel, and Sulie—were down in the kitchen; Mrs. Ripwinkley was busy in the dining-room close by; there was a berry-cake to be mixed up for an early tea. Diana was picking over the berries, Hazel was chopping the butter into the flour, and Sulie on a low cushioned seat in a corner—there was one kept ready for her in every room in the house, and Hazel and Diana carried her about in an "arm-chair," made of their own clasped hands and wrists, wherever they all wanted to go,—Sulie was beating eggs.
Sulie did that so patiently; you see she had no temptation to jump up and run off to anything else. The eggs turned, under her fingers, into thick, creamy, golden froth, fine to the last possible divisibility of the little air-bubbles.
They could not do without Sulie now. They had had her for "all winter;" but in that winter she had grown into their home.
"Why," said Hazel to her mother, when they had the few words about it that ended in there being no more words at all,—"that's the way children are born into houses, isn't it? They just come; and they're new and strange at first, and seem so queer. And then after a while you can't think how the places were, and they not in them. Sulie belongs, mother!"
So Sulie beat eggs, and darned stockings, and painted her lovely little flower-panels and racks and easels, and did everything that could be done, sitting still in her round chair, or in the cushioned corners made for her; and was always in the kitchen, above all, when any pretty little cookery was going forward.
Vash ran in and out from the garden, and brought balsamine blossoms, from which she pulled the little fairy slippers, and tried to match them in pairs; and she picked off the "used-up and puckered-up" morning glories, which she blew into at the tube-end, and "snapped" on the back of her little brown hand.
Wasn't that being good for anything, while berry-cake was making? The girls thought it was; as much as the balsamine blossoms were good for anything, or the brown butterflies with golden spots on their wings, that came and lived among them. The brown butterflies were a "piece of the garden;" little brown Vash was a piece of the house. Besides, she would eat some of the berry-cake when it was made; wasn't that worth while? She would have a "little teenty one" baked all for herself in a tin pepper-pot cover. Isn't that the special pleasantness of making cakes where little children are?
Vash was always ready for an "Aaron," too; they could not do without her, any more than without Sulie. Pretty soon, when Diana should have left school, and Vash should be a little bigger, they meant to "cooeperate," as the Holabirds had done at Westover.
Of course, they knew a great deal about the Holabirds by this time. Hazel had stayed a week with Dorris at Miss Waite's; and one of Witch Hazel's weeks among "real folks" was like the days or hours in fairy land, that were years on the other side. She found out so much and grew so close to people.
Hazel and Ruth Holabird were warm friends. And Hazel was to be Ruth's bridesmaid, by and by!
For Ruth Holabird was going to be married to Dakie Thayne.
"That seemed so funny," Hazel said. "Ruth didn't look any older than she did; and Mr. Dakie Thayne was such a nice boy!"
He was no less a man, either; he had graduated among the first three at West Point; he was looking earnestly for the next thing that he should do in life with his powers and responsibilities; he did not count his marrying a separate thing; that had grown up alongside and with the rest; of course he could do nothing without Ruth; that was just what he had told her; and she,—well Ruth was always a sensible little thing, and it was just as plain to her as it was to him. Of course she must help him think and plan; and when the plans were made, it would take two to carry them out; why, yes, they must be married. What other way would there be?
That wasn't what she said, but that was the quietly natural and happy way in which it grew to be a recognized thing in her mind, that pleasant summer after he came straight home to them with his honors and his lieutenant's commission in the Engineers; and his hearty, affectionate taking-for-granted; and it was no surprise or question with her, only a sure and very beautiful "rightness," when it came openly about.
Dakie Thayne was a man; the beginning of a very noble one; but it is the noblest men that always keep a something of the boy. If you had not seen anything more of Dakie Thayne until he should be forty years old, you would then see something in him which would be precisely the same that it was at Outledge, seven years ago, with Leslie Goldthwaite, and among the Holabirds at Westover, in his first furlough from West Point.
Luclarion came into the Ripwinkley kitchen just as the cakes—the little pepper-pot one and all—were going triumphantly into the oven, and Hazel was baring her little round arms to wash the dishes, while Diana tended the pans.
Mrs. Ripwinkley heard her old friend's voice, and came out.
"That girl ought to be here with you; or somewheres else than where she is, or is likely to be took," said Luclarion, as she looked round and sat down, and untied her bonnet-strings.
Miss Grapp hated bonnet-strings; she never endured them a minute longer than she could help.
"Desire?" asked Mrs. Ripwinkley, easily comprehending.
"Yes; Desire. I tell you she has a hard row to hoe, and she wants comforting. She wants to know if it is her duty to go to Yourup with her mother. Now it may be her duty to be willing to go; but it ain't anybody's else duty to let her. That's what came to me as I was coming along. I couldn't tell her so, you see, because it would interfere with her part; and that's all in the tune as much as any; only we've got to chime in with our parts at the right stroke, the Lord being Leader. Ain't that about it, Mrs. Ripwinkley?"
"If we are sure of the score, and can catch the sign," said Mrs. Ripwinkley, thoughtfully.
"Well, I've sung mine; it's only one note; I may have to keep hammering on it; that's according to how many repeats there are to be. Mr. Oldways, he ought to know, for one. Amongst us, we have got to lay our heads together, and work it out. She's a kind of an odd chicken in that brood; and my belief is she's like the ugly duck Hazel used to read about. But she ought to have a chance; if she's a swan, she oughtn't to be trapesed off among the weeds and on the dry ground. 'Tisn't even ducks she's hatched with; they don't take to the same element."
"I'll speak to Uncle Titus, and I will think," said Mrs. Ripwinkley.
But before she did that, that same afternoon by the six o'clock penny post, a little note went to Mr. Oldways:—
"DEAR UNCLE TITUS,—
"I want to talk with you a little. If I were well, I should come to see you in your study. Will you come up here, and see me in my room?
"Yours sincerely, DESIRE LEDWITH."
Uncle Titus liked that. It counted upon something in him which few had the faith to count upon; which, truly he gave few people reason to expect to find.
He put his hat directly on, took up his thick brown stick, and trudged off, up Borden Street to Shubarton Place.
When Luclarion let him in, he told her with some careful emphasis, that he had come to see Desire.
"Ask her if I shall come up," he said. "I'll wait down here."
Helena was practicing in the drawing-room. Mrs. Ledwith lay, half asleep, upon a sofa. The doors into the hall were shut,—Luclarion had looked to that, lest the playing should disturb Desire.
Luclarion was only gone three minutes. Then she came back, and led Mr. Oldways up three flights of stairs.
"It's a long climb, clear from the door," she said.
"I can climb," said Mr. Oldways, curtly.
"I didn't expect it was going to stump you," said Luclarion, just as short in her turn. "But I thought I'd be polite enough to mention it."
There came a queer little chuckling wheeze from somewhere, like a whispered imitation of the first few short pants of a steam-engine: that was Uncle Titus, laughing to himself.
Luclarion looked down behind her, out of the corner of her eyes, as she turned the landing. Uncle Titus's head was dropped between his shoulders, and his shoulders were shaking up and down. But he kept his big stick clutched by the middle, in one hand, and the other just touched the rail as he went up. Uncle Titus was not out of breath. Not he. He could laugh and climb.
Desire was sitting up for a little while, before going to bed again for the night. There was a low gas-light burning by the dressing-table, ready to turn up when the twilight should be gone; and a street lamp, just lighted, shone across into the room. Luclarion had been sitting with her, and her gray knitting-work lay upon the chair that she offered when she had picked it up, to Mr. Oldways. Then she went away and left them to their talk.
"Mrs. Ripwinkley has been spry about it," she said to herself, going softly down the stairs. "But she always was spry."
"You're getting well, I hope," said Uncle Titus, seating himself, after he had given Desire his hand.
"I suppose so," said Desire, quietly. "That was why I wanted to see you. I want to know what I ought to do when I am well."
"How can I tell?" asked Uncle Titus, bluntly.
"Better than anybody I can ask. The rest are all too sympathizing. I am afraid they would tell me as I wish they should."
"And I don't sympathize? Well, I don't think I do much. I haven't been used to it."
"You have been used to think what was right; and I believe you would tell me truly. I want to know whether I ought to go to Europe with my mother."
"Why not? Doesn't she want you to go?"—and Uncle Titus was sharp this time.
"I suppose so; that is, I suppose she expects I will. But I don't know that I should be much except a hindrance to her. And I think I could stay and do something here, in some way. Uncle Titus, I hate the thought of going to Europe! Now, don't you suppose I ought to go?"
"Why do you hate the thought of going to Europe?" asked Uncle Titus, regarding her with keenness.
"Because I have never done anything real in all my life!" broke forth Desire. "And this seems only plastering and patching what can't be patched. I want to take hold of something. I don't want to float round any more. What is there left of all we have ever tried to do, all these years? Of all my poor father's work, what is there to show for it now? It has all melted away as fast as it came, like snow on pavements; and now his life has melted away; and I feel as if we had never been anything real to each other! Uncle Titus, I can't tell you how I feel!"
Uncle Titus sat very still. His hat was in one hand, and both together held his cane, planted on the floor between his feet. Over hat and cane leaned his gray head, thoughtfully. If Desire could have seen his eyes, she would have found in them an expression that she had never supposed could be there at all.
She had not so much spoken to Uncle Titus, in these last words of hers, as she had irresistibly spoken out that which was in her. She wanted Uncle Titus's good common sense and sense of right to help her decide; but the inward ache and doubt and want, out of which grew her indecisions,—these showed themselves forth at that moment simply because they must, with no expectation of a response from him. It might have been a stone wall that she cried against; she would have cried all the same.
Then it was over, and she was half ashamed, thinking it was of no use, and he would not understand; perhaps that he would only set the whole down to nerves and fidgets and contrariness, and give her no common sense that she wanted, after all.
But Uncle Titus spoke, slowly; much as if he, too, were speaking out involuntarily, without thought of his auditor. People do so speak, when the deep things are stirred; they speak into the deep that answereth unto itself,—the deep that reacheth through all souls, and all living, whether souls feel into it and know of it or not.
"The real things are inside," he said. "The real world is the inside world. God is not up, nor down, but in the midst."
Then he looked up at Desire.
"What is real of your life is living inside you now. That is something. Look at it and see what it is."
"Discontent. Misery. Failure."
"Sense of failure. Well. Those are good things. The beginning of better. Those are live things, at any rate."
Desire had never thought of that.
Now she sat still awhile.
Then she said,—"But we can't be much, without doing it. I suppose we are put into a world of outsides for something."
"Yes. To find out what it means. That's the inside of it. And to help make the outside agree with the in, so that it will be easier for other people to find out. That is the 'kingdom come and will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.' Heaven is the inside,—the truth of things."
"Why, I never knew"—began Desire, astonished. She had almost finished aloud, as her mother had done in her own mind. She never knew that Uncle Oldways was "pious."
"Never knew that was what it meant? What else can it mean? What do you suppose the resurrection was, or is?"
Desire answered with a yet larger look of wonder, only in the dim light it could not be wholly seen.
"The raising up of the dead; Christ coming up out of the tomb."
"The coming out of the tomb was a small part of it; just what could not help being, if the rest was. Jesus Christ rose out of dead things, I take it, into these very real ones that we are talking of, and so lived in them. The resurrection is a man's soul coming alive to the soul of creation—God's soul. That is eternal life, and what Jesus of Nazareth was born to show. Our coming to that is our being 'raised with Him;' and it begins, or ought to, a long way this side the tomb. If people would only read the New Testament, expecting to get as much common sense and earnest there as they do among the new lights and little 'progressive-thinkers' that are trying to find it all out over again, they might spare these gentlemen and themselves a great deal of their trouble."
The exclamation rose half-way to her lips again,—"I never knew you thought like this. I never heard you talk of these things before!"
But she held it back, because she would not stop him by reminding him that he was talking. It was just the truth that was saying itself. She must let it say on, while it would.
She stopped there, at the first syllable. She would not even call him "Uncle Titus" again, for fear of recalling him to himself, and hushing him up.
"There is something—isn't there—about those who attain to that resurrection; those who are worthy? I suppose there must be some who are just born to this world, then, and never—'born again?'"
"It looks like it, sometimes; who can tell?"
"Uncle Oldways,"—it came out this time in her earnestness, and her strong personal appeal,—"do you think there are some people—whole families of people—who have no business in the reality of things to be at all? Who are all a mistake in the world, and have nothing to do with its meaning? I have got to feeling sometimes lately, as if—I—had never had any business to be."
She spoke slowly—awe-fully. It was a strange speech for a girl in her nineteenth year. But she was a girl in this nineteenth century, also; and she had caught some of the thoughts and questions of it, and mixed them up with her own doubts and unsatisfactions which they could not answer.
"The world is full of mistakes; mistakes centuries long; but it is full of salvation and setting to rights, also. 'The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman hid in three measures of meal till the whole was leavened.' You have been allowed to be, Desire Ledwith. And so was the man that was born blind. And I think there is a colon put into the sentence about him, where a comma was meant to be."
Desire did not ask him, then, what he meant; but she turned to the story after he had gone, and found this:—
"Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God should be manifest in him."
You can see, if you look also, where she took the colon out, and put the comma in.
Were all the mistakes—the sins, even—for the very sake of the pure blessedness and the more perfect knowledge of the setting right?
Desire began to think that Uncle Oldways' theology might help her.
What she said to him now was,—
"I want to do something. I should like to go and live with Luclarion, I think, down there in Neighbor Street. I should like to take hold of some other lives,—little children's, perhaps,"—and here Desire's voice softened,—"that don't seem to have any business to be, either, and see if I could help or straighten anything. Then I feel is if I should know."
"Then—according to the Scripture—you would know. But—that's undertaking a good deal. Luclarion Grapp has got there; but she has been fifty-odd years upon the road. And she has been doing real things all the time. That's what has brought her there. You can't boss the world's hard jobs till you've been a journeyman at the easy ones."
"And I've missed my apprenticeship!" said Desire, with changed voice and face, falling back into her disheartenment again.
"No!" Uncle Oldways almost shouted. "Not if you come to the Master who takes in the eleventh hour workers. And it isn't the eleventh hour with you,—child!"
He dwelt on that word "child," reminding her of her short mistaking and of the long retrieval. Her nineteen years and the forever and ever contrasted themselves before her suddenly, in the light of hope.
She turned sharply, though, to look at her duty. Her journeyman's duty of easy things.
"Must I go to Europe with my mother?" she asked again, the conversation coming round to just that with which it had begun.
"I'll talk with your mother," said Uncle Oldways, getting up and looking into his hat, as a man always does when he thinks of putting it on presently. "Good-night. I suppose you are tired enough now. I'll come again and see you."
Desire stood up and gave him her hand.
"I thank you, Uncle Titus, with all my heart."
He did not answer her a word; but he knew she meant it.
He did not stop that night to see his niece. He went home, to think it over. But as he walked down Borden Street, swinging his big stick, he said to himself,—
"Next of kin! Old Marmaduke Wharne was right. But it takes more than the Family Bible to tell you which it is!"
Two days after, he had a talk with Mrs. Ledwith which relieved both their minds.
From the brown-and-apricot drawing-room,—from among the things that stood for nothing now, and had never stood for home,—he went straight up, without asking, and knocked at Desire's third-story door.
"Come in!" she said, without a note of expectation in her voice.
She had had a dull morning. Helena had brought her a novel from Loring's that she could not read. Novels, any more than life, cannot be read with very much patience, unless they touch something besides surface. Why do critics—some of them—make such short, smart work,—such cheerful, confident despatch, nowadays, of a story with religion in it, as if it were an abnormity,—a thing with sentence of death in itself, like a calf born with two heads,—that needs not their trouble, save to name it as it is? Why, that is, if religion stand for the relation of things to spirit, which I suppose it should? Somebody said that somebody had written a book made up of "spiritual struggles and strawberry short-cake." That was bright and funny; and it seemed to settle the matter; but, taking strawberry short-cake representatively, what else is human experience on earth made up of? And are novels to be pictures of human experience, or not?
This has nothing to do with present matters, however, except that Desire found nothing real in her novel, and so had flung it aside, and was sitting rather listlessly with her crochet which she never cared much for, when Uncle Oldways entered.
Her face brightened instantly as he came in. He sat down just where he had sat the other night. Mr. Oldways had a fashion of finding the same seat a second time when he had come in once; he was a man who took up most things where he left them off, and this was an unconscious sign of it.
"Your mother has decided to sell the house on the 23d, it seems," he said.
"Yes; I have been out twice. I shall be able to go away by then; I suppose that is all she has waited for."
"Do you think you could be contented to come and live with me?"
"Come and live?"
"Yes. And let your mother and Helena go to Europe."
"O, Uncle Oldways! I think I could rest there! But I don't want only to rest, you know. I must do something. For myself, to begin with. I have made up my mind not to depend upon my mother. Why should I, any more than a boy? And I am sure I cannot depend on anybody else."
These were Desire Ledwith's thanks; and Mr. Oldways liked them. She did not say it to please him; she thought it seemed almost ungrateful and unwilling; but she was so intent on taking up life for herself.
"You must have a place to do in,—or from," said Mr. Oldways. "And it is better you should be under some protection. You must consent to that for your mother's sake. How much money have you got?"
"Two hundred and fifty dollars a year. Of my own."
This was coming to business and calculation and common sense. Desire was encouraged. Uncle Oldways did not think her quite absurd.
"That will clothe you,—without much fuss and feathers?"
"I have done with fuss and feathers,"—Desire said with a grave smile, glancing at her plain white wrapper and the black shawl that was folded around her.
"Then come where is room for you and a welcome, and do as much more as you please, and can, for yourself, or for anybody else. I won't give you a cent; you shall have something to do for me, if you choose. I am an old man now, and want help. Perhaps what I want as much as anything is what I've been all my life till lately, pretty obstinate in doing without."
Uncle Oldways spoke short, and drew his breath in and puffed it out between his sentences, in his bluff way; but his eyes were kind, as he sat looking at the young girl over his hat and cane.
She thought of the still, gray parlor; of Rachel Froke and her face of peace; and the Quaker meeting and the crumbs last year; of Uncle Oldways' study, and his shelves rich with books; of the new understanding that had begun between herself and him, and the faith she had found out, down beneath his hard reserves; of the beautiful neighborhood, Miss Craydocke's Beehive, Aunt Franks' cheery home and the ways of it, and Hazel's runnings in and out. It seemed as if the real things had opened for her, and a place been made among them in which she should have "business to be," and from which her life might make a new setting forth.
"And mamma knows?" she said, inquiringly, after that long pause.
"Yes. I told you I would talk with her. That is what we came to. It is only for you to say, now."
"I will come. I shall be glad to come!" And her face was full of light as she looked up and said it.
* * * * *
Desire never thought for a moment of what her mother could not help thinking of; of what Mrs. Megilp thought and said, instantly, when she learned it three weeks later.
It is wonderful how abiding influence is,—even influence to which we are secretly superior,—if ever we have been subjected to, or allowed ourselves to be swayed by it. The veriest tyranny of discipline grows into one's conscience, until years after, when life has got beyond the tyranny, conscience,—or something superinduced upon it,—keeps up the echo of the old mandates, and one can take no comfort in doing what one knows all the time one has a perfect right, besides sound reason, to do. It was a great while before our grandmothers' daughters could peaceably stitch and overcast a seam, instead of over-sewing and felling it. I know women who feel to this moment as if to sit down and read a book of a week-day, in the daytime, were playing truant to the needle, though all the sewing-machines on the one hand, and all the demand and supply of mental culture on the other, of this present changed and bettered time, protest together against the absurdity.
Mrs. Ledwith had heard the Megilp precepts and the Megilp forth-putting of things, until involuntarily everything showed itself to her in a Megilp light. The Megilp "sense of duty," therefore, came up as she unhesitatingly assented to Uncle Oldways' proposal and request. He wanted Desire; of course she could not say a word; she owed him something, which she was glad she could so make up; and secretly there whispered in her mind the suggestion which Mrs. Megilp, on the other side of the water, spoke right out.
"If he wants her, he must mean something by her. He is an old man; he might not live to give her back into her mother's keeping; what would she do there, in that old house of his, if he should die, unless—he does mean something? He has taken a fancy to her; she is odd, as he is; and he isn't so queer after all, but that his crotchets have a good, straightforward sense of justice in them. Uncle Titus knows what he is about; and what's more, just what he ought to be about. It is a good thing to have Desire provided for; she is uncomfortable and full of notions, and she isn't likely ever to be married."
So Desire was given up, easily, she could not help feeling; but she knew she had been a puzzle and a vexation to her mother, and that Mrs. Ledwith had never had the least idea what to do with her; least of all had she now, what she should do with her abroad.
"It was so much better for her that Uncle Titus had taken her home." With these last words Mrs. Ledwith reassured herself and cheered her child.
Perhaps it would have been the same—it came into Desire's head, that would conceive strange things—if the angels had taken her.
Mrs. Ledwith went to New York; she stayed a few days with Mrs. Macmichael, who wanted her to buy lace for her in Brussels and Bohemian glass in Prague; then a few days more with her cousin, Geraldine Raxley; and then the City of Antwerp sailed.
NEIGHBORS AND NEXT OF KIN.
"I'll tell you what to do with them, Luclarion," said Hazel briskly. "Teach them to play."
"Music! Pianners!" exclaimed Luclarion, dismayed.
"No. Games. Teach them to have good times. That was the first thing ever we learnt, wasn't it, Dine? And we never could have got along without it."
"It takes you!" said Luclarion, looking at Hazel with delighted admiration.
"Does it? Well I don't know but it does. May I go, mother? Luclarion, haven't you got a great big empty room up at the top of the house?"
"That's just what it's for, then. Couldn't Mr. Gallilee put up a swing? And a 'flying circle' in the middle? You see they can't go out on the roofs; so they must have something else that will seem kind of flighty. And I'll tell you how they'll learn their letters. Sulie and I will paint 'em; great big ones, all colors; and hang 'em up with ribbons, and every child that learns one, so as to know it everywhere, shall take it down and carry it home. Then we will have marbles for numbers; and they shall play addition games, and multiplication games, and get the sums for prizes; the ones that get to the head, you know. Why, you don't understand objects, Luclarion!"
Luclarion had been telling them of the wild little folk of Neighbor Street, and worse, of Arctic Street. She wanted to do something with them. She had tried to get them in with gingerbread and popcorn; they came in fast enough for those; but they would not stay. They were digging in the gutters and calling names; learning the foul language of the places into which they were born; chasing and hiding in alley-ways; filching, if they could, from shops; going off begging with lies on their lips. It was terrible to see the springs from which the life of the city depths was fed.
"If you could stop it there!" Luclarion said, and said with reason.
"Will you let me go?" asked Hazel of her mother, in good earnest.
"'Twon't hurt her," put in Luclarion. "Nothing's catching that you haven't got the seeds of in your own constitution. And so the catching will be the other way."
The seeds of good,—to catch good; that was what Luclarion Grapp believed in, in those dirty little souls,—no, those clean little souls, overlaid with all outward mire and filth of body, clothing, speech, and atmosphere, for a mile about; through which they could no more grope and penetrate, to reach their own that was hidden from them in the clearer life beyond, than we can grope and reach to other stars.
"I will get Desire," quoth Hazel, inspired as she always was, both ways.
Running in at the house in Greenley Street the next Thursday, she ran against Uncle Titus coming out.
"What now?" he demanded.
"Desire," said Hazel. "I've come for her. We're wanted at Luclarion's. We've got work to do."
"Humph! Work? What kind?"
"Play," said Hazel, laughing. She delighted to bother and mystify Uncle Titus, and imagined that she did.
"I thought so. Tea parties?"
"Something like," said Hazel. "There are children down there that don't know how to grow up. They haven't any comfortable sort of fashion of growing up. Somebody has got to teach them. They don't know how to play 'Grand Mufti,' and they never heard of 'King George and his troops.' Luclarion tried to make them sit still and learn letters; but of course they wouldn't a minute longer than the gingerbread lasted, and they are eating her out of house and home. It will take young folks, and week-days, you see; so Desire and I are going." And Hazel ran up the great, flat-stepped staircase.
"Lives that have no business to be," said Uncle Titus to himself, going down the brick walk. "The Lord has His own ways of bringing lives together. And His own business gets worked out among them, beyond their guessing. When a man grows old, he can stand still now and then, and see a little."
It was a short cross street that Luclarion lived in, between two great thoroughfares crowded with life and business, bustle, drudgery, idleness, and vice. You will not find the name I give it,—although you may find one that will remind you of it,—in any directory or on any city map. But you can find the places without the names; and if you go down there with the like errands in your heart, you will find the work, as she found it, to do.
She heard the noise of street brawls at night, voices of men and women quarreling in alley-ways, and up in wretched garrets; flinging up at each other, in horrible words, all the evil they knew of in each other's lives,—"away back," Luclarion said, "to when they were little children."
"And what is it," she would say to Mrs. Ripwinkley telling her about it, "that flings it up, and can call it a shame, after all the shames of years and years? Except just that that the little children were, underneath, when the Lord let them—He knows why—be born so? I tell you, ma'am, it's a mystery; and the nigher you come to it, the more it is; it's a piece of hell and a piece of heaven; it's the wrastle of the angel and the dragon; and it's going on at one end, while they're building up their palaces and living soft and sweet and clean at the other, with everything hushed up that can't at least seem right and nice and proper. I know there's good folks there, in the palaces; beautiful folks; there, and all the way down between; with God's love in them, and His hate, that is holy, against sin; and His pity, that is prayers in them, for all people and places that are dark; but if they would come down there, and take hold! I think it's them that would, that might have part in the first resurrection, and live and reign the thousand years."
Luclarion never counted herself among them,—those who were to have thrones and judgments; she forgot, even, that she had gone down and taken hold; her words came burning-true, out of her soul; and in the heat of truth they were eloquent.
But I meant to tell you of her living.
In the daytime it was quiet; the gross evils crept away and hid from the sunshine; there was labor to take up the hours, for those who did labor; and you might not know or guess, to go down those avenues, that anything worse gathered there than the dust of the world's traffic that the lumbering drays ground up continually with their wheels, and the wind,—that came into the city from far away country places of green sweetness, and over hills and ponds and streams and woods,—flung into the little children's faces.
Luclarion had taken a house,—one of two, that fronted upon a little planked court; aside, somewhat, from Neighbor Street, as that was a slight remove from the absolute terrible contact of Arctic Street. But it was in the heart of that miserable quarter; she could reach out her hands and touch and gather in, if it would let her, the wretchedness. She had chosen a place where it was possible for her to make a nook of refuge, not for herself only, or so much, as for those to whom she would fain be neighbor, and help to a better living.
It had been once a dwelling of some well-to-do family of the days gone by; of some merchant, whose ventures went out and came in at those wharves below, whence the air swept up pure, then, with its salt smell, into the streets. The rooms were fairly large; Luclarion spent money out of her own little property, that had been growing by care and saving till she could spare from it, in doing her share toward having it all made as sweet and clean as mortar and whitewash and new pine-boards and paint and paper could make it. All that was left of the old, they scoured with carbolic soap; and she had the windows opened, and in the chimneys that had been swept of their soot she had clear fires made and kept burning for days.
Then she put her new, plain furnishings into her own two down-stairs rooms; and the Gallilees brought in theirs above; and beside them, she found two decent families,—a German paper-hanger's, and that of a carpenter at one of the theatres, whose wife worked at dressmaking,—to take the rest. Away up, at the very top, she had the wide, large room that Hazel spoke of, and a smaller one to which she climbed to sleep, for the sake of air as near heaven as it could be got.
One of her lower-rooms was her living and housekeeping room; the other she turned into a little shop, in which she sold tapes and needles and cheap calicoes and a few ribbons; and kept a counter on the opposite side for bread and yeast, gingerbread, candy, and the like. She did this partly because she must do something to help out the money for her living and her plans, and partly to draw the women and children in. How else could she establish any relations between herself and them, or get any permanent hold or access? She had "turned it all over in her mind," she said; "and a tidy little shop with fair, easy prices, was the very thing, and a part of just what she came down there to do."
She made real, honest, hop-raised bread, of sweet flour that she gave ten dollars a barrel for; it took a little more than a pint, perhaps, to make a tea loaf; that cost her three cents; she sold her loaf for four, and it was better than they could get anywhere else for five. Then, three evenings in a week, she had hot muffins, or crumpets, home-made; (it was the subtle home touch and flavor that she counted on, to carry more than a good taste into their mouths, even a dim notion of home sweetness and comfort into their hearts;) these first,—a quart of flour at five cents, two eggs at a cent apiece, and a bit of butter, say three cents more, with three cents worth of milk, made an outlay of fifteen cents for a dozen and a half; so she sold them for ten cents a dozen, and the like had never been tasted or dreamed of in all that region round about; no, nor I dare almost to say, in half the region round about Republic Avenue either, where they cannot get Luclarion Grapps to cook.
The crumpets were cheaper; they were only bread-sponge, baked on a griddle; they were large, and light and tender; a quart of flour would make ten; she gave the ten for seven cents.
And do you see, putting two cents on every quart of her flour, for her labor, she earned, not made,—that word is for speculators and brokers,—with a barrel of one hundred and ninety six pounds or quarts, three dollars and ninety-two cents? The beauty of it was, you perceive, that she did a small business; there was an eager market for all she could produce, and there was no waste to allow a margin for.
I am not a bit of a political economist myself; but I have a shrewd suspicion that Luclarion Grapp was, besides having hit upon the initial, individual idea of a capital social and philanthropic enterprise.
This was all she tried to do at first; she began with bread; the Lord from heaven began with that; she fed as much of the multitude as she could reach; they gathered about her for the loaves; and they got, consciously or unconsciously, more than they came or asked for.
They saw her clean-swept floor; her netted windows that kept the flies out, the clean, coarse white cotton shades,—tacked up, and rolled and tied with cord, country-fashion, for Luclarion would not set any fashions that her poor neighbors might not follow if they would;—and her shelves kept always dusted down; they could see her way of doing that, as they happened in at different times, when she whisked about, lightly and nicely, behind and between her jars and boxes and parcels with the little feather duster that she kept hanging over her table where she made her change and sat at her sewing.
They grew ashamed by degrees,—those coarse women,—to come in in their frowsy rags, to buy her delicate muffins or her white loaves; they would fling on the cleanest shawl they had or could borrow, to "cut round to Old Maid Grapp's," after a cent's worth of yeast,—for her yeast, also, was like none other that could be got, and would almost make her own beautiful bread of itself.
Back of the shop was her house-room; the cheapest and cleanest of carpet,—a square, bound round with bright-striped carpet-binding,—laid in the middle of a clean dark yellow floor; a plain pine table, scoured white, standing in the middle of that; on it, at tea-time, common blue and white crockery cups and plates, and a little black teapot; a napkin, coarse, but fresh from the fold, laid down to save, and at the same time to set off, with a touch of delicate neatness, the white table; a wooden settee, with a home-made calico-covered cushion and pillows, set at right angles with the large, black, speckless stove; a wooden rocking-chair, made comfortable in like manner, on the other side; the sink in the corner, clean, freshly rinsed, with the bright tin basin hung above it on a nail.
There was nothing in the whole place that must not be, in some shape, in almost the poorest; but all so beautifully ordered, so stainlessly kept. Through that open door, those women read a daily sermon.
And Luclarion herself,—in a dark cotton print gown, a plain strip of white about the throat,—even that was cotton, not linen, and two of them could be run together in ten minutes for a cent,—and a black alpacca apron, never soiled or crumpled, but washed and ironed when it needed, like anything else,—her hair smoothly gathered back under a small white half-handkerchief cap, plain-hemmed,—was the sermon alive; with the soul of it, the inner sweetness and purity, looking out at them from clear pleasant eyes, and lips cheery with a smile that lay behind them.
She had come down there just to do as God told her to be a neighbor, and to let her light shine. He would see about the glorifying.
She did not try to make money out of her candy, or her ginger-nuts; she kept those to entice the little children in; to tempt them to come again when they had once done an errand, shyly, or saucily, or hang-doggedly,—it made little difference which to her,—in her shop.
"I'll tell you what it's like," Hazel said, when she came in and up-stairs the first Saturday afternoon with Desire, and showed and explained to her proudly all Luclarion's ways and blessed inventions. "It's like your mother and mine throwing crumbs to make the pigeons come, when they were little girls, and lived in Boston,—I mean here!"
Hazel waked up at the end of her sentence, suddenly, as we all do sometimes, out of talking or thinking, to the consciousness that it was here that she had mentally got round to.
Desire had never heard of the crumbs or the pigeons. Mrs. Ledwith had always been in such a hurry, living on, that she never stopped to tell her children the sweet old tales of how she had lived. Her child-life had not ripened in her as it had done in Frank.
Desire and Hazel went up-stairs and looked at the empty room. It was light and pleasant; dormer windows opened out on a great area of roofs, above which was blue sky; upon which, poor clothes fluttered in the wind, or cats walked and stretched themselves safely and lazily in the sun.
"I always do like roofs!" said Hazel. "The nicest thing in 'Mutual Friend' is Jenny Wren up on the Jew's roof, being dead. It seems like getting up over the world, and leaving it all covered up and put away."
"Except the old clothes," said Desire.
"They're washed" answered Hazel, promptly; and never stopped to think of the meaning.
Then she jumped down from the window, along under which a great beam made a bench to stand on, and looked about the chamber.
"A swing to begin with," she said. "Why what is that? Luclarion's got one!"
Knotted up under two great staples that held it, was the long loop of clean new rope; the notched board rested against the chimney below.
"It's all ready! Let's go down and catch one! Luclarion, we've come to tea," she announced, as they reached the sitting-room. "There's the shop bell!"
In the shop was a woman with touzled hair and a gown with placket split from gathers to hem, showing the ribs of a dirty skeleton skirt. A child with one garment on,—some sort of woolen thing that had never been a clean color, and was all gutter-color now,—the woman holding the child by the hand here, in a safe place, in a way these mothers have who turn their children out in the street dirt and scramble without any hand to hold. No wonder, though, perhaps; in the strangeness and unfitness of the safe, pure place, doubtless they feel an uneasy instinct that the poor little vagabonds have got astray, and need some holding.
"Give us a four-cent loaf!" said the woman, roughly, her eyes lowering under crossly furrowed brows, as she flung two coins upon the little counter.
Luclarion took down one, looked at it, saw that it had a pale side, and exchanged it for another.
"Here is a nice crusty one," she said pleasantly, turning to wrap it in a sheet of paper.
"None o' yer gammon! Give it here; there's your money; come along, Crazybug!" And she grabbed the loaf without a wrapper, and twitched the child.
Hazel sat still. She knew there was no use. But Desire with her point-black determination, went right at the boy, took hold of his hand, dirt and all; it was disagreeable, therefore she thought she must do it.
"Don't you want to come and swing?" she said.
"—— yer swing! and yer imperdence! Clear out! He's got swings enough to home! Go to ——, and be ——, you —— —— ——!"
Out of the mother's mouth poured a volley of horrible words, like a hailstorm of hell.
Desire fell back, as from a blinding shock of she knew not what.
Luclarion came round the counter, quite calmly.
"Ma'am," she said, "those words won't hurt her. She don't know the language. But you've got God's daily bread in your hand; how can you talk devil's Dutch over it?"
The woman glared at her. But she saw nothing but strong, calm, earnest asking in the face; the asking of God's own pity.
She rebelled against that, sullenly; but she spoke no more foul words. I think she could as soon have spoken them in the face of Christ; for it was the Christ in Luclarion Grapp that looked out at her.
"You needn't preach. You can order me out of your shop, if you like. I don't care."
"I don't order you out. I'd rather you would come again. I don't think you will bring that street-muck with you, though."
There was both confidence and command in the word like the "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." It detached the street-muck from the woman. It was not she; it was defilement she had picked up, when perhaps she could not help it. She could scrape her shoes at the door, and come in clean.
"You know a darned lot about it, I suppose!" were the last words of defiance; softened down, however, you perceive, to that which can be printed.
Desire was pale, with a dry sob in her throat, when the woman had gone and Luclarion turned round.
"The angels in heaven know; why shouldn't you?" said Luclarion. "That's what we've got to help."
A child came in afterwards, alone; with an actual clean spot in the middle of her face, where a ginger-nut or an acid drop might go in. This was a regular customer of a week past. The week had made that clean spot; with a few pleasant and encouraging hints from Luclarion, administered along with the gingerbread.
Now it was Hazel's turn.
The round mouth and eyes, with expectation in them, were like a spot of green to Hazel, feeling with her witch-wand for a human spring. But she spoke to Desire, looking cunningly at the child.
"Let us go back and swing," she said.
The girl's head pricked itself up quickly.
"We've got a swing up-stairs," said Hazel, passing close by, and just pausing. "A new one. I guess it goes pretty high; and it looks out of top windows. Wouldn't you like to come and see?"
The child lived down in a cellar.
"Take up some ginger-nuts, and eat them there," said Luclarion to Hazel.
If it had not been for that, the girl would have hung back, afraid of losing her shop treat.
Hazel knew better than to hold out her hand, at this first essay; she would do that fast enough when the time came. She only walked on, through the sitting-room, to the stairs.
The girl peeped, and followed.
Clean stairs. She had never trodden such before. Everything was strange and clean here, as she had never seen anything before in all her life, except the sky and the white clouds overhead. Heaven be thanked that they are held over us, spotless, always!
Hazel heard the little feet, shuffling, in horrible, distorted shoes, after her, over the steps; pausing, coming slowly but still starting again, and coming on.
Up on the high landing, under the skylight, she opened the door wide into the dormer-windowed room, and went in; she and Desire, neither of them looking round.
Hazel got into the swing. Desire pushed; after three vibrations they saw the ragged figure standing in the doorway, watching, turning its head from side to side as the swing passed.
"Almost!" cried Hazel, with her feet up at the window. "There!" She thrust them out at that next swing; they looked as if they touched the blue.
"I can see over all the chimneys, and away off, down the water! Now let the old cat die."
Out again, with a spring, as the swinging slackened, she still took no notice of the child, who would have run, like a wild kitten, if she had gone after her. She called Desire, and plunged into a closet under the eaves.
"I wonder what's here!" she exclaimed.
The girl in the doorway saw the dark, into which the low door opened; she was used to rats in the dark.
"I don't believe it," says Hazel; "Luclarion has a cut, a great big buff one with green eyes. She came in over the roofs, and she runs up here nights. I shouldn't wonder if there might be kittens, though,—one of these days, at any rate. Why! what a place to play 'Dare' in! It goes way round, I don't know where! Look here, Desire!"
She sat on the threshold, that went up a step, over the beam, and so leaned in. She had one eye toward the girl all the time, out of the shadow. She beckoned and nodded, and Desire came.
At the same moment, the coast being clear, the girl gave a sudden scud across, and into the swing. She began to scuff with her slipshod, twisted shoes, pushing herself.
Hazel gave another nod behind her to Desire. Desire stood up, and as the swing came back, pushed gently, touching the board only.
The girl laughed out with the sudden thrill of the motion. Desire pushed again.
Higher and higher, till the feet reached up to the window.
"There!" she cried; and kicked an old shoe off, out over the roof. "I've lost my shoe!"
"Never mind; it'll be down in the yard," said Hazel.
Thereupon the child, at the height of her sweep again, kicked out the other one.
Desire and Hazel, together, pushed her for a quarter of an hour.
"Now let's have ginger-cakes," said Hazel, taking them out of her pocket, and leaving the "cat" to die.
Little Barefoot came down at that, with a run; hanging to the rope at one side, and dragging, till she tumbled in a sprawl upon the floor.
"You ought to have waited," said Desire.
"Poh! I don't never wait!" cried the ragamuffin rubbing her elbows. "I don't care."
"But it isn't nice to tumble round," suggested Hazel.
"I ain't nice," answered the child, and settled the subject.
"Well, these ginger-nuts are," said Hazel. "Here!"
"Have you had a good time?" she asked when the last one was eaten, and she led the way to go down-stairs.
"Good time! That ain't nothin'! I've had a reg'lar bust! I'm comin' agin'; it's bully. Now I must get my loaf and my shoes, and go along back and take a lickin'."
That was the way Hazel caught her first child.
She made her tell her name,—Ann Fazackerley,—and promise to come on Saturday afternoon, and bring two more girls with her.
"We'll have a party," said Hazel, "and play Puss in the Corner. But you must get leave," she added. "Ask your mother. I don't want you to be punished when you go home."
"Lor! you're green! I ain't got no mother. An' I always hooks jack. I'm licked reg'lar when I gets back, anyway. There's half a dozen of 'em. When 'tain't one, it's another. That's Jane Goffey's bread; she's been a swearin' after it this hour, you bet. But I'll come,—see if I don't!"
Hazel drew a hard breath as she let the girl go. Back to her crowded cellar, her Jane Goffeys, the swearings, and the lickings. What was one hour at a time, once or twice a week, to do against all this?
But she remembered the clean little round in her face, out of which eyes and mouth looked merrily, while she talked rough slang; the same fun and daring,—nothing worse,—were in this child's face, that might be in another's saying prettier words. How could she help her words, hearing nothing but devil's Dutch around her all the time? Children do not make the language they are born into. And the face that could be simply merry, telling such a tale as that,—what sort of bright little immortality must it be the outlook of?
Hazel meant to try her hour.
* * * * *
This is one of my last chapters. I can only tell you now they began,—these real folks,—the work their real living led them up to. Perhaps some other time we may follow it on. If I were to tell you now a finished story of it, I should tell a story ahead of the world.
I can show you what six weeks brought it to. I can show you them fairly launched in what may grow to a beautiful private charity,—an "Insecution,"—a broad social scheme,—a millennium; at any rate, a life work, change and branch as it may, for these girls who have found out, in their girlhood, that there is genuine living, not mere "playing pretend," to be done in the world. But you cannot, in little books of three hundred pages, see things through. I never expected or promised to do that. The threescore years and ten themselves, do not do it.
It turned into regular Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. Three girls at first, then six, then less again,—sometimes only one or two; until they gradually came up to and settled at, an average of nine or ten.
The first Saturday they took them as they were. The next time they gave them a stick of candy each, the first thing, then Hazel's fingers were sticky, and she proposed the wash-basin all round, before they went up-stairs. The bright tin bowl was ready in the sink, and a clean round towel hung beside; and with some red and white soap-balls, they managed to fascinate their dirty little visitors into three clean pairs of hands, and three clean faces as well.
The candy and the washing grew to be a custom; and in three weeks' time, watching for a hot day and having it luckily on a Saturday, they ventured upon instituting a whole bath, in big round tubs, in the back shed-room, where a faucet came in over a wash bench, and a great boiler was set close by.
They began with a foot-paddle, playing pond, and sailing chips at the same time; then Luclarion told them they might have tubs full, and get in all over and duck, if they liked; and children who may hate to be washed, nevertheless are always ready for a duck and a paddle. So Luclarion superintended the bath-room; Diana helped her; and Desire and Hazel tended the shop. Luclarion invented a shower-bath with a dipper and a colander; then the wet, tangled hair had to be combed,—a climax which she had secretly aimed at with a great longing, from the beginning; and doing this, she contrived with carbolic soap and a separate suds, and a bit of sponge, to give the neglected little heads a most salutary dressing.
Saturday grew into bath-day; soap-suds suggested bubbles; and the ducking and the bubbling were a frolic altogether.
Then Hazel wished they could be put into clean clothes each time; wouldn't it do, somehow?
But that would cost. Luclarion had come to the limit of her purse; Hazel had no purse, and Desire's was small.
"But you see they've got to have it," said Hazel; and so she went to her mother, and from her straight to Uncle Oldways.
They counted up,—she and Desire, and Diana; two little common suits, of stockings, underclothes, and calico gowns, apiece; somebody to do a washing once a week, ready for the change; and then—"those horrid shoes!"
"I don't see how you can do it," said Mrs. Ripwinkley. "The things will be taken away from them, and sold. You would have to keep doing, over and over, to no purpose, I am afraid."
"I'll see to that," said Luclarion, facing her "stump." "We'll do for them we can do for; if it ain't ones, it will be tothers. Those that don't keep their things, can't have 'em; and if they're taken away, I won't sell bread to the women they belong to, till they're brought back. Besides, the washing kind of sorts 'em out, beforehand. 'Taint the worst ones that are willing to come, or to send, for that. You always have to work in at an edge, in anything, and make your way as you go along. It'll regulate. I'm living there right amongst 'em; I've got a clew, and a hold; I can follow things up; I shall have a 'circle;' there's circles everywhere. And in all the wheels there's a moving spirit; you ain't got to depend just on yourself. Things work; the Lord sees to it; it's His business as much as yours."
Hazel told Uncle Titus that there were shoes and stockings and gowns wanted down in Neighbor Street; things for ten children; they must have subscriptions. And so she had come to him.
The Ripwinkleys had never given Uncle Titus a Christmas or a birthday present, for fear they should seem to establish a mutual precedent. They had never talked of their plans which involved calculation, before him; they were terribly afraid of just one thing with him, and only that one,—of anything most distantly like what Desire Ledwith called "a Megilp bespeak." But now Hazel went up to him as bold as a lion. She took it for granted he was like other people,—"real folks;" that he would do—what must be done.
"How much will it cost?"
"For clothes and shoes for each child, about eight dollars for three months, we guess," said Hazel. "Mother's going to pay for the washing!"
"Guess? Haven't you calculated?"
"Yes, sir. 'Guess' and 'calculate' mean the same thing in Yankee," said Hazel, laughing.
Uncle Titus laughed in and out, in his queer way, with his shoulders going up and down.
Then he turned round, on his swivel chair, to his desk, and wrote a check for one hundred dollars.
"There. See how far you can make that go."
"That's good," said Hazel, heartily, looking at it; "that's splendid!" and never gave him a word of personal thanks. It was a thing for mutual congratulations, rather, it would seem; the "good" was just what they all wanted, and there it was. Why should anybody in particular be thanked, as if anybody in particular had asked for anything? She did not say this, or think it; she simply did not think about it at all.
And Uncle Oldways—again—liked it.
There! I shall not try, now, to tell you any more; their experiences, their difficulties, their encouragements, would make large material for a much larger book. I want you to know of the idea, and the attempt. If they fail, partly,—if drunken fathers steal the shoes, and the innocent have to forfeit for the guilty,—if the bad words still come to the lips often, though Hazel tells them they are not "nice,"—and beginning at the outside, they are in a fair way of learning the niceness of being nice,—if some children come once or twice, and get dressed up, and then go off and live in the gutters again until the clothes are gone,—are these real failures? There is a bright, pure place down there in Neighbor Street, and twice a week some little children have there a bright, pure time. Will this be lost in the world? In the great Ledger of God will it always stand unbalanced on the debit side?
If you are afraid it will fail,—will be swallowed up in the great sink of vice and misery, like a single sweet, fresh drop, sweet only while it is falling,—go and do likewise; rain down more; make the work larger, stronger; pour the sweetness in faster, till the wide, grand time of full refreshing shall have come from the presence of the Lord!
Ada Geoffrey went down and helped. Miss Craydocke is going to knit scarlet stockings all winter for them; Mr. Geoffrey has put a regular bath-room in for Luclarion, with half partitions, and three separate tubs; Mrs. Geoffrey has furnished a dormitory, where little homeless ones can be kept to sleep. Luclarion has her hands full, and has taken in a girl to help her, whose board and wages Rachel Froke and Asenath Scherman pay. A thing like that spreads every way; you have only to be among, and one of—Real Folks.
* * * * *
Desire, besides her work in Neighbor Street, has gone into the Normal School. She wants to make herself fit for any teaching; she wants also to know and to become a companion of earnest, working girls.
She told Uncle Titus this, after she had been with him a month, and had thought it over; and Uncle Titus agreed, quite as if it were no real concern of his, but a very proper and unobjectionable plan for her, if she liked it.
One day, though, when Marmaduke Wharne—who had come this fall again to stay his three days, and talk over their business,—sat with him in his study, just where they had sat two years and a little more ago, and Hazel and Desire ran up and down stairs together, in and out upon their busy Wednesday errands,—Marmaduke said to Titus,—
"Afterwards is a long time, friend; but I mistrust you have found the comfort, as well as the providence, of 'next of kin?'"
"Afterwards is a long time," said Titus Oldways, gravely; "but the Lord's line of succession stretches all the way through."
And that same night he had his other old friend, Miss Craydocke, in; and he brought two papers that he had ready, quietly out to be signed, each with four names: "Titus Oldways," by itself, on the one side; on the other,—
"RACHEL FROKE, MARMADUKE WHARNE, KEREN-HAPPUCH CRAYDOCKE."
And one of those two papers—which are no further part of the present story, seeing that good old Uncle Titus is at this moment alive and well, as he has a perfect right, and is heartily welcome to be, whether the story ever comes to a regular winding up or not—was laid safely away in a japanned box in a deep drawer of his study table; and Marmaduke Wharne put the other in his pocket.
He and Titus knew. I myself guess, and perhaps you do; but neither you nor I, nor Rachel, nor Keren-happuch, know for certain; and it is no sort of matter whether we do or not.
The "next of kin" is a better and a deeper thing than any claim of law or register of bequest can show. Titus Oldways had found that out; and he had settled in his mind, to his restful and satisfied belief, that God, to the last moment of His time, and the last particle of His created substance, can surely care for and order and direct His own.
Is that end and moral enough for a two years' watchful trial and a two years' simple tale?
They laid out the Waite Place in this manner:—
Right into the pretty wooded pasture, starting from a point a little way down the road from the old house, they projected a roadway which swept round, horseshoe fashion, till it met itself again within a space of some twenty yards or so; and this sweep made a frontage—upon its inclosed bit of natural, moss-turfed green, sprinkled with birch and pine and oak trees, and with gray out-croppings of rock here and there—for the twenty houses, behind which opened the rest of the unspoiled, irregular, open slope and swell and dingle of the hill-foot tract that dipped down at one reach, we know, to the river.
The trees, and shrubs, and vines, and ferns, and stones, were left in their wild prettiness; only some roughness of nature's wear and tear of dead branches and broken brushwood, and the like, were taken away, and the little footpaths cleared for pleasant walking.
There were all the little shady, sweet-smelling nooks, just as they had been; all the little field-parlors, opening with their winding turns between bush and rock, one into another. The twenty households might find twenty separate places, if they all wanted to take a private out-door tea at once.
The cellars were dug; the frames were up; workmen were busy with brick and mortar, hammer and plane; two or three buildings were nearly finished, and two—the two standing at the head of the Horseshoe, looking out at the back into the deepest and pleasantest wood-aisle, where the leaves were reddening and mellowing in the early October frost, and the ferns were turning into tender transparent shades of palest straw-color—were completed, and had dwellers in them; the cheeriest, and happiest, and coziest of neighbors; and who do you think these were?
Miss Waite and Delia, of course, in one house; and with them, dividing the easy rent and the space that was ample for four women, were Lucilla Waters and her mother. In the other, were Kenneth and Rosamond Kincaid and Dorris.
Kenneth and Rosamond had been married just three weeks. Rosamond had told him she would begin the world with him, and they had begun. Begun in the simple, true old-fashioned way, in which, if people only would believe it, it is even yet not impossible for young men and women to inaugurate their homes.