Many thanks. Am looking out.
MOLLY WINSTON TO MERCEDES LANE
My first thought as I waked yesterday morning was Aunt Mary. I thought of her in my bath—a cold porcelain bath, rapidly filling up with hot water, and giving me rather the feeling of eating an ice with hot chocolate sauce. I thought of Aunt M. with breakfast and choked her down with my coffee. When we had left our happy home—the Boston hotel—the "chug chug" of our motor sang the song which the West Point cadets have made up for "church call."
"You've got to go, whether you want to or not! You've got to go, so you'd better turn out! Oh, h—ades!"
But after a while the road was so pretty that I succeeded in forgetting her now and then, as you might forget you were on the way to the dentist's when you passed splendid jewellery and hat shops.
We were also on the way to Marblehead and Salem; Aunt Mary wasn't till afterward.
Marblehead, with all its romance of ancient days, is only about sixteen miles from Boston as the automobile flies, but you pass a good many sweet things first. We went through Somerville, got lost there, and were guided in every direction but the right one by a plague of boys not much bigger than the "dimes" they didn't earn. Jack simply won't look at maps when in the car, or inquire; expects to find his way by instinct, and somehow generally does. (Are all men like that?) Crossed the Mystic River, and got on to the velvet surface of the Revere Beach Parkway. But Chelsea came before the Beach: charming old Chelsea, which probably, in its heart, thinks Boston its suburb, and prides itself on almost a century and a half of aristocratic peace since the old fighting days when Israel Putnam won his commission as Major-General there.
There couldn't be a greater contrast than between Chelsea and Revere Beach. It's a good thing that miles of parklike road—fought over once by Independents and British—lie between, or they could never stand each other, those two! Jack and I ought to have come to Revere Beach when we were little boy and girl, for, oh, the joy of it for children! What price the Dragon Gorge, the mountain railway more like the Alps than the Alps are like themselves, the theatres, the shops of every kind, the cottages which are nests for birds rather than commonplace, human habitations?
Opposite, Nahant sat looking delightful and alluring, but we went on to Lynn—Lynn, unattractive at first, and pretty when we got better acquainted, like some of the nicest women I know. It's a great place now for shoes, and was once a great place for pilgrims. What a pity the former are too late for the latter! The Pilgrims must have needed the shoes badly. They could have walked along the Old Pilgrim Road to Swampscott if their feet were equal to it. And perhaps they forgot their feet, as I forgot Aunt Mary, for it is—and must then have been—a lovely road.
Hawthorne used to walk to Swampscott, too, as well as to Marblehead, but he came the other way, from Salem. Do you remember Swampscott was where he found pink and white Susan, who gave him the sugar heart? That was pink, too, with a touch of white perhaps. She sounds so delightful as the "Mermaid!" I'm glad Hawthorne kept the heart for years, and then instead of throwing it away ate it—gave it honourable burial, so to speak—which shows that you can have your heart and eat it, too! (I must, by the by, make a parable of this for Pat, who is eating hers, though she certainly has not got it. She has given it to some one else, though I fancy she thinks she has merely mislaid it.) In apropos of hearts, they make dories in Swampscott; and it's not swampy one bit!
Of course I quoted Whittier's "Skipper Ireson's Ride" to Jack, coming toward Marblehead. It was "up to me" to show my British husband that I, too, had learned things at people's knees.
"Old Flood Ireson for his hard heart, Tarred and feathered, and carried in a cart By the women of Marblehead."
I wasn't certain I got it just right, but did my best to put a confident ring into my voice, which is half the battle when you're not sure of yourself. What a blow, therefore, to be told that in truth and in deed the women of Marblehead had nothing to do with the job! Jack says the men did it. And worse still, Captain Ireson was supposed to have been a victim rather than a villain, because his sailors mutinied and refused to let him go to the rescue of the sinking ship. I hate having my childish beliefs disturbed! It tears me all up by the roots, and gives me a pain in my spirit's toes. But never mind, there's plenty more romance, which no one can take away from New England, though the very man who wrote about Ireson complained that it had gone:
"Gone like the Indian wizard's yell And fire dance round the magic rock. Forgotten like the Druid's spell At moonrise by his holy oak."
No, no, Whittier, surely you wouldn't say so now if you could see steamboats and trains pouring forth multitudes, and thousands and tens of thousands of motor cars stuffed full of people from all over the world drawn to New England because of its never, never lost halo of romance!
Did I tell you just now that we were coming toward Marblehead? Well, one can do that, and not get to Marblehead. You can keep on seeing Marblehead and expecting to arrive, while in reality you are going all around "Robin Hood's barn." By the way, I never saw a barn exciting enough to belong to Robin Hood till I came with Jack on this tour through New England. Here, barns are as grand as churches, and very much like them, steeples and all.
A lot of things happened to us on the way to will o' the wisp Marblehead—old Marblehead, I mean, for new Marblehead is just a very gay and jolly summer resort, such as I fancy little Susan would, in her pink sugar heart, have loved. We kept on seeing the old town to our left, across a harbour as full of white yachts and sailboats as a New England pond is of water lilies. Jack was loving everything, and utterly oblivious that beyond Salem lay Aunt Mary-ville. His face was perfectly ecstatic as we crossed a river—Whittier's beloved Merrimac—on an ancient covered wooden bridge. He said the sound of the tires on the slightly loose boards was better music than the followers of Richard Strauss could make from the "noises of life." I do love those covered bridges, don't you? They're so richly brown, some of them, that while one slowly travels along under the roof, it's like looking at the sun through a piece of cider-brown glass. Or if they're not brown, they're a soft, velvet gray—gray as shadows at full moon, gray as the light in dreams.
I hardly know how, eventually, we did get into old Marblehead, for Jack and I were both so infatuated with the way we lost sight now and then of the goal. Imagine a road lined on either side with apple trees. If you haven't seen these, you have never seen such orchards in your life, my Mercedes! If there was anything as good in Eden, no wonder Eve ate that apple. I shouldn't wonder if she fixed her eye on it when it was still a bud.
And then, behind the orchards, there were hills, playgrounds for baby cedars. Everything contrived to look at least two hundred years old (except the blossoms and the motor cars), and even the pigeons had such an air of colonial serenity that they simply refused to stir for a new-fangled thing like an automobile. They sat still, pretending not to see us, and never changed their expressions!
At last we did get into old Marblehead, and I'm so happy to tell you it was exactly like finding our way round the corner in a picture. You know that thrilling corner in pictures, leading somewhere you are dying to see and never can? Well, now I have seen it. It's Marblehead. Round the corner of the front of the picture where the new, smart things are, we cleverly slipped in. And there was the background running up the canvas, all over funny labyrinths of streets generally leading nowhere, or, if anywhere, back to the same garden we'd just passed, a darling garden boiling over with grass pinks, cabbage roses, sweet williams, and bleeding hearts. Each house was just a little quainter than the other, and Jack and I thought we were going to like Marblehead better than any that ever lived, until—we came to Salem, after Manchester and Magnolia. Then—we weren't precisely being untrue to Marblehead. No, never that! But Salem—perhaps it's fair after all to keep a larger place in memory-land for the Witch City.
It would have been almost a world tragedy if, when the great fire swept over the town, it hadn't stopped short of the old part, which is American history incarnate. That "old part" consists of "old, older, oldest." The oldest houses of all, built about 1635, are very, very simple, as if the Puritans had prayed over them to be delivered from temptation and craving for beauty. Then, next are the ones not quite so old, when people began to be rich and see that Beauty wasn't after all the unpardonable sin. These houses of the eighteenth century look as if architects might have been commissioned to come from the Old World to build them, bringing traditions of gracious decoration for outside and in. Next, there are the far grander and more stately mansions which grew up after the Revolution, when the good folk of New England knew that their land and their fortunes would be theirs forever, undisputed. Salem had grown into an important place then. Merchants and shipowners had plenty of money to spend. They spent it well, too, for they made their dwellings very beautiful, so beautiful that the witch hunters and Quaker persecutors of the past would have been shocked to the bottom of those hollow places they called their hearts.
What a good thing it is that there wasn't much brick to be had when the first old colonial houses were a-building! To be sure, some of the very best in Salem and Boston and other towns are of brick; but brick had to come in ships from old England, so only those persons with the most money and possibly the most cultivated taste could use it. Consequently the characteristic houses of New England and its borders—the white and yellow houses we think of when we say "New England"—were made of wood; and they are unique in the world.
They say that the oldest buildings of Salem—the Gothic, steep-roofed ones—were meant as copies of gabled cottages on the old home side of the water. But if they were, they were as far off the originals as a child's drawing on a slate is far from a steel engraving; and Jack and I are glad, because these dear things are so ingenuously and deliciously American that they could exist nowhere except on this side.
I was only too glad to stay in Salem as long as possible, because it put off Aunt Mary and Wenham, where Jack and I had promised to stay all night, letting the others go on to wait for us at Newburyport. Jack had a map (he doesn't mind having maps of towns, or looking at road maps when in towns), and we took a regular Hawthorne itinerary. We began at the house in Union Street where he was born—a rather pathetic, forlorn house, like the birthplaces of most geniuses; then the next, where the family lived till they moved to Raymond, in sight of the White Mountains; and so on, following to the custom-house where the bored genius weighed and gauged, and not missing a single landmark. All are picturesque to the imagination, but the landmark most picturesque to the eye is of course "The House of Seven Gables," and that, some of those dreadful people who dispute everything nice say, isn't what it pretends to be.
As if such an adorable and perfectly sincere and high-souled looking house would pretend anything! Should I hear such heresy uttered I would stop my ears, but coming on it in print was simple, because all I had to do was to snap the book shut with a bang. It is the dearest, kindest little gray house, which all new houses, no matter how big and distinguished, would be proud to have for their grandmother!
Hawthorne's cousin, Miss Ingersoll, whom he called the "Duchess," lived in the old Turner Street house, and it had had seven gables before his day. It's perfectly legitimate to put them back, and even a duty, which has been exquisitely carried out. I should like to kiss the hand of the lady who honoured Hawthorne's beautiful memory by making the house as dear as that memory itself. I suppose it was she who had the brilliant idea of using for a front door an old nailed oak one found in the attic (there must be a lovely attic!), putting the quaint oven of ancient times into the kitchen, and retrieving from oblivion the "Duchess's" toasting fork with which she used to make toast for Hawthorne. There's a creepy story about the way he thought of the murder, from seeing, through a tiny window of greenish glass, a cousin of his fast asleep and looking as if dead. But there's a story just as fascinating about every house in Salem, connected with Hawthorne. Romantic and interesting things followed him about in his life, like tame dogs, though he didn't always realize at the moment that they were romantic or interesting. Sometimes he thought only that they were tame.
All over the place you feel the thrill of witches and the torturing of Quakers. That's partly thanks to Longfellow, and Whittier, of course, but mostly from the influence which such tremendous happenings leave, I think. It's as if some picture of the past were in the atmosphere, and now and then, out of a corner of your eye, you caught a glimpse, as you do of the "ghost" of a rainbow when the rainbow seems to have gone.
The "Witch House," where Judge Corwin lived at the time of the persecution, is almost hidden away now, as if it were trying to escape from something, and at last brought to bay like a very small, fierce animal. Even now I can hardly bear to think of those days, and all those poor people suffering through a few naughty, hysterical children. I'm sure the Indian woman Tituba could haunt me in Salem even if I lived in a perfectly new, perfectly good modern hotel! I should have tried the experiment, I think, if it hadn't been for Aunt Mary being so nearby, at Wenham.
Well, quite late in the afternoon (I forgot to tell you we lunched, but you may take that for granted, with so many men in the party) we said good-bye to Salem. We said other things, too, all in praise of it; and Jack felt particularly reverential because Salem sent the first ships from America to Indian and Russian ports. Wasn't it sporting when you think of what ships were then? But these seafaring men of the New England coast were like the men of Devon, the "bravest of the brave."
Aunt Mary had plumped heavily down on my heart again, before we got to Beverly, and this time I couldn't put her out of my mind though the grandeur of the north coast was in my eyes. Oliver Wendell Holmes lived in Beverly and loved it, but then he had no Aunt Mary in the neighbourhood.
Did you ever read what Thackeray said about Wenham Lake Ice? It seems every London house of any pretension had it on its dinner table, but I don't think it travels so far in these days of artificial ice. The lake's still there, anyhow, in a hollow to the left of the road as you go, gleaming blue and mysterious as watching eyes between the dark trunks of a pine forest. Then, after that lake, there was no more excuse for lingering, unless at the monument. We came into Wenham. Jack was trying to look brave.
"In a few minutes now," said he, with galvanized cheerfulness, "we shall be having tea with your Aunt Mary."
At that instant (we had purposely dropped back to bring up the rear of the procession after Salem, letting even the lumbering Hippopotamus bumble on ahead) we beheld all our family of cars drawn up under some skyscraping elms, in front of the most delectable tea-house you ever met in your life. The Hippo was in front of a very fine old white church, with "I am one of the pillars of New England" written in every line of it; but it was certainly the tea-house which had arrested its career.
There was a large green and white striped umbrella or two protecting some little tables, and grouped round those little tables were our friends.
"I'm hanged if we'll be having tea with my Aunt Mary!" said I, with that firm-jawed look Jack has got to know and fear as characteristic of the American wife at bay.
So we had tea there, under elms so generously deep and thick that large populations of robins live in them without ever having seen each other's faces. They were, to the tree world, what Blenheim is in castle world. People can come and live there for years, they say, without the duke ever knowing they've arrived. Well, so could whole families of birds live in these elms without the leading robin hearing an alien chirp.
We drowned our sorrows in tea and cream, and buried our sinister premonitions in scones. Also cakes. A wonderful woman had made them—a lady-woman. She will be the heroine of my great American novel, if I ever write one. I hope to goodness she won't be gone from Wenham before it's finished and I can send her a presentation copy! Everything was green and white in the tea-house, except the dear little things to be sold there: weather-cocks, and door-stops, and old china. We bought specimens of these as sops to Cerberus—I mean, as presents for Aunt Mary—and when there was no longer a pretext for lingering we crept reluctantly away with the spoils.
It was absolutely no comfort to me, as we crawled through the pretty square, and approached "Miss Keddison's mansion" (only too easy to find) that Wenham would be a lovely place to spend not only one but many nights in. There, on a colonial porch, behind colonial pillars, in a colonial rocking-chair, sat Aunt Mary on the watch. She looked not only colonial but Doric!
We had got ahead of the others by this time, and my aunt, rising from her chair, with a gesture stopped the whole procession. I don't know whether she meant to do this or not, but no one would have dared pass, any more than if she had been a railway barrier with "Stop! Look! Listen!" painted on her high white forehead.
We slowed down: the Grayles-Grice, the Wilmot, the Hippo, and our Hiawatha, as we have lately named our car.
Aunt Mary descended the steps and came to the gate. Jack jumped out, forgetting he was lame, and nearly fell. I screamed. Every one scrambled or leaped or slid to the rescue; and that was the way in which Providence arranged for Peter Storm and Pat Moore and Larry, to say nothing of those who mattered less, to become Aunt Mary's guests. Providence is not too important a word, as you will see when I tell you as much as I'm allowed to tell, about—what came of the visit.
Aunt Mary has many virtues. They stick out all over her like pins, but there are some which aren't uncomfortably sharp. Her hospitality, for instance. This house of hers at Wenham isn't one of the prettiest in the place, but it is white and dignified, and the over-arching trees give it charm. Aunt Mary is proud of it, and I think she was really pleased to welcome the crowd. Besides, when she was in New York on business, cutting coupons or something, Jack and I talked to her about Larry and Pat. She was very interested, and said she had been taken to Kidd's Pines to a garden party, some fifteen years ago, by Cousin John Randolph Payton, who left me Awepesha, you know. She thought that she still had some snapshots of the garden which she had taken herself that afternoon. In those days, it seemed, she had threatened to develop a craze for photography, but had found that it "interfered too seriously with her more intellectual pursuits." However, she used to paste her trophies in scrapbooks, and she said that when she got home from New York she would look up the volume of that date. It ought to be in the attic, though she had not seen it for a number of years.
Jack and I thought she would forget about this, and we had indeed forgotten it ourselves when we arrived at Wenham. Aunt Mary, however, had not. She greeted Larry warmly (for her) and assured him that, if her niece had kept her informed of the route, she would have written or telegraphed asking the whole party to tea. Not knowing our whereabouts, she could not do this, but was delighted to find the cars stopping at her door, and hoped that their occupants would all take tea with her.
Every one was simply stuffed with scones and chocolate cake, but such was the look in Aunt Mary's eye that none dared confess the tea-house debauch. Her invitation was accepted, and, eighteen strong, we filed into her parlour. Luckily it's as big as a good-sized country schoolroom, and there's a mid-Victorian "suite" consisting of two sofas, a settee, a couple of easy chairs and eight uneasy ones. Aunt Mary is of those worthy women who upholster themselves and dress their furniture, so everything in her home is rather fussy, lots of antimacassars and tidies and scarfs and that sort of thing. Besides, she thinks flowers are for gardens, not for houses, with the exception of some wax ones made by herself when a girl and preserved under glass. Still, there's such a pet of an old Chinese wall paper, and everything is so exquisitely neat that the effect isn't so bad as you might suppose.
Aunt Mary has a flair for liking the wrong people, and wronging the right ones, so of course she took quite a fancy to Ed Caspian, and was somewhat stiff with Peter, whom Mrs. Shuster introduced as "my secretary, Mr. Storm." However, she was as nice as she could be to Larry, and asked if I had mentioned her visit to Kidd's Pines. When she heard that I had not, she was surprised and grieved at my carelessness.
"My niece was always inclined to be forgetful," said she. "I can't think where she inherited it from. The first thing I did on my return from New York was to look in the attic for my old photograph scrapbooks. I have a place for everything, and everything in its place, in this house; but I travel a great deal, and occasionally my servants, with the best intentions, upset my arrangements. I found several of the little volumes exactly where I expected to lay my hand on them, but I am very sorry to say the one I wanted was missing. If I had been sure that I should have the pleasure of seeing you and your daughter, Mr Moore, I would have looked even more thoroughly, for I'm sure the photographs exist. It was fifteen years ago this summer that I attended the garden party at Kidd's Pines, with my cousin, Mr. Payton. I met you and Mrs. Moore for a moment, I remember quite well. You both looked almost too young to be married, I thought, but your little girl was about four years old. She was not at the party officially" (Aunt Mary smiled at her own coy wit), "but I met her with a boy much older, who was playing with her. I took a snapshot of them both together, standing by a swing which was in a retired part of the grounds."
By this time Larry was bored to extinction, but still charming, as he always is with women, young or old, pretty or plain. He pretended so pleasantly to be disappointed at the loss of the book (he loathes looking at photographs) that Aunt Mary was fired to a renewed effort.
"Why, now I come to think of it," said she, "there's another place in the attic where the book quite well might be. If you will excuse me, I'll go up and try to find it."
Larry hastened to protest that he wouldn't trouble her for the world, but Aunt Mary was firm in her desire to please, though sorry to desert her guests. As the argument went on, Peter Storm abruptly got up and handed me a plate of cake. "Heavens, no more!" I murmured in an anguished whisper. "I feel as if I should never be able to look cake in the face again."
"Don't then, but look me in the face," he mumbled. I did so, surprised. "Please ask to go and search for that book, and take me with you," I saw, rather than heard, the words formed by his lips.
Mine not to question why! Mine but to do or die! Instantly I offered, in a honeyed tone, to save Aunt Mary for her guests, by myself searching the attic. (Dear Dad and I stayed with her over one melancholy Christmas when I was a kid. We arrived by train, of course, and saw nothing of the country. As for Wenham itself, it was feet deep in snow, so I saw nothing of that either, but I did see the attic. It was my refuge and my joy. I worship garrets.) Of this episode I reminded my aunt, and assured her that, though my last visit had been so long ago, I remembered the topography of the attic. If she would tell me the place to look, I would guarantee to find the volume if it existed.
Aunt Mary proceeded at once to mention the date of that Christmas visit, and my age at the time, so now everybody who can be bothered reckoning up knows just how long I have been twenty-six. Having made this revelation to those whom it concerned and did not concern, she decided to accept my offer. I jumped up to go, and at the door, as if on a sudden thought, exclaimed, "Oh, Mr. Storm, do come along and protect me from garret ghosts."
He came, and we talked of indifferent things on the way up: of the house, and the steepness of the attic stairs. At the top of the steps, however, he changed his tone. Aunt Mary had mentioned a certain oak secretary-bookcase with glass doors, standing close to the head of the stairs, and as I steered for it, along a narrow lane between ancient trunks and packing cases, Peter said: "Mrs. Winston, I've made up my mind to tell you something, and this is a good place to do it. When I've told you, you'll understand why I didn't want Miss Keddison to find that book of photographs, and why I don't even want it to exist in this house."
Then he went on, and told me the most extraordinary and astonishing story. I'd give anything to pass it on to you; and having got so far, you'll curse me for not going farther! But I had to promise I wouldn't write or breathe the secret to any one except Jack. So, alas, you must wait till the embargo is taken off.
Peter wouldn't let me look for the little red volume described by Aunt Mary, because I was to say to her that I couldn't find it. He it was who opened the drawer of the secretary where she had thought the book might be, and I heard a rustling of papers for a minute or two. Then the drawer was shut. I asked no questions, but when we went down to report the failure of my quest I fancied that the left side of Peter's chest was slightly—very slightly—more prominent than the right, as if he had something thicker than a handkerchief in his breast pocket.
I am writing this in my bedroom, by lamplight (no gas, no electricity for Aunt Mary), and instead of hating our visit and nearly perishing, as we expected to do, Jack and I are enchanted that we came. It evidently was to be, as servants say when they break one of your best cups. Now we may be able to help (?) along.
MOLLY OF THE GUILTY SECRET.
MOLLY WINSTON TO MERCEDES LANE
I am positively afraid to write you, lest you and Monty think me a Beast for harrowing up your feelings about Peter Storm and the book of photographs, and Aunt Mary's garret, the way I did, and then letting you down with a dull thud.
Jack says it was cruelty to animals (he doesn't state what kind) to have told you anything, as I couldn't tell you all. But I just got going, and couldn't bear to stop till I had to!
We've travelled such a long way now, since Wenham, that I can't describe all the places to you as I generally do in my letters, and, besides, it might make you even more cross with me than you are already, to read on and on, hoping for some startling development about the Stormy Petrel, and find nothing but scenery. However, I've kept a diary to enclose in this, which you can read or not, as you like. If you do, you won't be buoyed up with false expectations.
About Peter: as the war correspondents say, "We may look for great events in the course of the next few weeks."
About Pat: she is still engaged to Ed Caspian, but I am looking for great events in that direction also. The only trouble is, one can't tell with her which way the wind will blow. If Caspian gets into deep water, she may feel—oh, well, we must pray that things will shape themselves just right all round.
About Larry: I don't think I'd much care if it weren't for Pat. For a perfectly fascinating human creature he is the most selfish pig I ever met, and for a selfish pig he is the most charming being! He has certainly tried Lily's patience to the breaking point, but it hasn't broken, and seems warranted not to break. Sometimes I've thought that he wanted to force the woman to throw him over, then I've changed my mind and decided that he doesn't flirt for a motive. He simply can't help it. And if the fleshpots of Egypt can only be his, mixed with a diet of orange blossoms, I verily believe he'll take them together.
Ever your affectionate and apologetic,
MOLLY OF THE GUILTY SECRET.
MOLLY'S DIARY FOR MERCEDES
From Wenham to Bretton Woods
Jack said at Ipswich that one ought to have a guide-catcher on one's automobile, like a cowcatcher on an engine. The air was dark with would-be guides, though it's a beautiful town to get lost in. We came to it from Wenham (where I ought to have mentioned the polo, Jack wouldn't have forgotten) along a dream of a road lined with lovely white birches and lovely white houses. The houses keep on being lovely at Ipswich, and the wonderful elms are many-branched, like immense Jewish candlesticks of green-gold. You would never think the devil would come to such a place! But it seems he did. There was a church he had heard of where the folk were particularly religious, and he wanted to have a look. One was enough, however. He jumped right over the church to avoid it and get back home as quickly as he could, and to this day you can see his footprint on a black rock in the park.
That's one story. Another is that instead of going home, he bounded to Rowley, where there is another charming church, looking the very haunt of peace, good will to men. I can quite believe that even the devil might come a long way to gaze at some of these old New England churches. You can't think what a feeling of pure delight they give to the mind, in spite of, or because of, their simplicity. The green banks where they are built might be vast altars with elms for the altar candlesticks, and the smooth sward for the altar cloth. The devil may have heard all this, and wanted to see for himself if it were true. I don't know how he escaped from Rowley, as he left no footprint, though the easiest way would have been along the good Bay Road! Maybe he had a secret passage down under the sea, which isn't very far off. Spinning on between meadows, you can see it away to the right, misty blue as the wild forget-me-nots which mingle with a thousand other wild flowers.
Newburyport is like a perfume bottle for its sweetness, or, rather, two perfume bottles: one filled with salt fragrance from the sea, the other with the scent of apple blossoms from countless orchards. That sounds as if it were only a small village, but it isn't: it's a town, and one of the most historic. Almost everything exciting that can happen in New England has happened at Newburyport—from earthquakes which uprooted corn and set all the bells to ringing, to visits of the French aristocracy, dashing exploits of privateers, the entertaining of General Washington, and the quickest proposal of marriage on record. Almost the nicest thing about Newburyport, however, and one of the nicest things I ever heard, is the story of Timothy Dexter, who grew very rich, nominated himself for the peerage, and assumed the title of "Lord." He was considered a half-witted sort of fellow, who inherited a little money and didn't know what business to engage in. "Charter a ship," said a practical joker whom he consulted. "Buy a cargo of warming-pans and send them to Cuba." Timothy Dexter did as he was told; but fortune is always supposed to favour simpletons, you know! It happened in Cuba that there were not nearly enough buckets to bail up the syrup from the vats in the sugar-cane mills, and those at hand were too small. Dexter's warming-pans were just the thing! The whole cargo was bought up, fetching huge prices, and "Lord" Timothy's fortune was made. After that he bought himself a big house and planted his garden full of dreadful wooden statues, the worst of all representing himself.
We lost our fine roads as we left Massachusetts for New Hampshire, but the country was beautiful: stone-wall country again, with straight, dark pines; and the road grew better as we neared the dear old sea-going town of Portsmouth, full of beautiful and romantic houses. In one of the best of them Governor Wentworth invited his friends to a party and flabbergasted them all by turning the "party" into a wedding. He married his housemaid—but she was a beauty! But of all the pleasant things of Portsmouth the Thomas Bailey Aldrich house is the best. This lovely old house is kept exactly as he left it. His spirit seems to pervade the place as a fragrance lingers after the flowers have gone.
You may call Portsmouth "Strawberry Bank" if you like. And once, at the mouth of Great Bay, there was a terrible bar of rocks beautifully named "Pull-and-be-Damned-Point." People used to love saying it when they felt cross, for even the ministers couldn't scold them for mentioning it; but an interfering government took it away for the prosaic motive of making a fine harbour.
Across the Piscataqua River we were plumped into Maine, at Kittery, where there's a big navy yard now, and where once they made splendid ships.
By a road that ran through woods and past ideal, storybook farmhouses we came to York, where Captain John Smith came by sea. There we had to stop and look at "Ye Olde Gaol," because it's the very oldest building of the American Commonwealth. The prisoners used to be "sold" for several years, to work out their punishment, just as if they were regular slaves; and now in the gaol they have all sorts of relics of past, queer customs. There's a fort still standing, too, with an overhanging upper story to shoot Indians from, like the houses I wrote you about when we first came into New England. There was a frightful massacre of the settlers once upon a time, and a frightful revenge. Also there was a witch, who lies buried under a great stone, so huge that she can't possibly squeeze through at night to ride on her deserted broomstick. There are legends, too, and the nicest we heard was the ghost-tale of Pirate Trickey, who was hanged on the seashore. That atonement wasn't enough for his crimes, though! He still haunts the beach, ever binding sand with a rope, and groaning above the sound of the waves as the sand slips away. And I mustn't forget "Handkerchief Moody," who gave Hawthorne his idea for the "Minister's Black Veil"; but he was real and neither ghost nor legend.
There's a modern York, too, and so much of it that you might almost miss the old if you didn't know. Lots of interesting people have stayed there: Mr. Howells, and Mark Twain, and your beloved Thomas Nelson Page among the rest, but beyond their zone is the zone of the tiny toy cottages, the crowded boarding-houses, the snub-nosed Lord motor cars rolling along the beach close to the rolling waves, and beginning to sink in the sand if they stop. Beyond again, woods which might be primeval, broken with farms as hidden away in their midst as those of the early settlers; here and there a pile of fragrant cut timber; now and then a few hayricks, in fields surrounded by vast tracts of pineland. Jack and I began to think we were on the most beautiful road yet.
We lunched at Ogonquit, beloved of artists, and then fell so in love with it ourselves that we stayed all the rest of the day and all night, too. It's a fishing village, but you don't stop in the village. You stop under the wing of a large gray, mother-bird-looking hotel close to the shore, and away from everything else. On one side there is a cove with shiny brown rocks so thinly trimmed with grass that they look like a suit of giant armour showing through a ragged green cloak. On the other side is sea, blue by day as if it flowed over bluebell fields—strangely blue as it sweeps up to embrace the rose and golden sands, the apricot pink sands. Toward evening these sands were covered with gulls, lying thick as white petals shaken down from invisible orchards. And the mourning cry of the sea-birds was as constant and never ending as the sea-murmur. We forgot we heard it! But suddenly, as night fell, we remembered, because the crying ceased as if it obeyed a signal for silence. No sooner had it stopped than the moon blossomed out from the sea-mist like a huge rose unfolding behind a scarf of blue gauze. We were glad we had stayed!
Next morning we atoned for lost time by getting up early and starting on again: a pretty road through the village of Wells, with the sea in the distance. All the farmhouses seemed to take summer boarders or give meals, and sell vegetables or something. They showed nice enticing samples at their gates: strawberries, green peas, honeycomb, or gilded eggs. It did look so idyllic!
We couldn't mistake Kennebunk when we came to it, because it advertises itself on a sign-post: "This is Kennebunk, the Town You Read About." I hadn't read about it, but I felt I ought, for if ever there was a typical New England town, Kennebunk is It! We slipped in along a grass-grown, shady way, with old houses looking at us virtuously with sparkling eyes, as virtuously as if they hadn't been built with good gold paid for rum. I think that was what the ships used to bring back from their long voyages; but maybe the most virtuous-looking houses were built with molasses. The ships brought that, too.
There are two rivers—the Monsam (at the Monsam House Lafayette stayed) and the Kennebunk, and there's a roaring mill, but greatest of all attractions at Kennebunk is that of going on to Kennebunkport. Mrs. Deland has a house there, and Booth Tarkington, too, and it's a dear delightful place, with arbourlike streets running inland, and deep lawns with elms shaped like big shower bouquets for brides.
It wasn't long after Kennebunkport that we beheld for the first time sawmills, and logs that had come down from the White Mountains. That was a thrill! For we were on our way to the White Mountains. We saw no sign of them yet, but there was no cause for impatience. The landscape was as lovely as if planned by the master of all landscape gardeners. There were quaint features, too, as well as beautiful ones: everywhere funny little tin boxes standing up on sticks by the roadside, labelled "U.S. Mail," with no guardians but squirrels and birds, and apparently no one to read or send letters.
Biddeford was attractive, and so was Portland, but Portland was the means of delaying our car. Jack would go wandering to the eastern side of the nice city, to find a monument he had read about, overlooking Casco Bay. Underneath are buried, in one grave, the commanders of the Enterprise and the Boxer, British and American ships. The American won, but both commanders were killed, and the Britisher had been so brave that they thought their own captain would like to lie by his side. It wasn't a grand monument to see, but I love the idea. And another thing I love about Portland is the thought that Longfellow was born there in sight of the ocean.
By and by, a good long time after we had got out of Portland by Forest Avenue, our road began to run uphill. In a park leading to Raymond, where Hawthorne "savagized" as a boy, our hearts beat at sight of a sign saying "White Mts." Just that! Abrupt but alluring. White birches were like rays of moonlight striping the dark woods, and there was the incense smell of balsam firs. We sniffed the perfume joyously and reminded each other—Jack and I—that Maine is America's Scotland: like Scotland for beauty of lake and forest and mountain; like Scotland, too, "hard for the poor, and a playground for the rich."
Along a rough but never bad country road we flashed past lake after lake—Sebago the biggest—and ahead of us loomed far-off blue heights like huge incoming waves sweeping toward an unseen shore. No longer did we need a sign-post to point us to the mountains; but there were some things by the way that surprised us. Suddenly we found ourselves coming on the "Bay of Naples," a big sapphire sheet of water ringed in with some perfectly private little green mountains of its own. It was as if we had dreamed it, when we plunged into forests again, deep, mysterious forests of hemlock. Cowbells tinkled faintly, as in Switzerland, though we saw no cows, and there was no other sound save the sealike murmur of the trees—that sound which is the voice of Silence. Lakes and ponds lay at the feet of dark slopes, as if women in black had dropped their mirrors and forgotten to pick them up.
We were back in New Hampshire again for the night, for we stopped in North Conway, at a hotel in a great garden. If it had liked, it could have called the whole valley its garden, for it is a vast flowery lawn with mountains for a wall. Such a strange wall, with a high-up stone shelf on which you might think the brave Pequawket Indians had left the images of their gods, beyond the reach of white men. They had a fine village of wigwams where our hotel stands now, facing the mountains it's named for, and the trees and the Saco River haven't forgotten their old masters' songs of war and of hunting.
This part of the world must be the intimate, hidden home of balsam firs. The air is spiced with their fragrance, and not only the gay little shops at North Conway, but each farmhouse and cottage we passed next day, going on to Crawford Notch, sold pillows of balsam fir.
By this time we began to pity and patronize ourselves, because we had thought that nothing could be as beautiful as our ways of yesterday. The ways of to-day were the most beautiful of all. We were going to Bretton Woods, and on the way we learned a great secret—this: that when the Fairies made their flit—the well-known Dymchurch Flit—they decided to emigrate to the White Mountains. Somebody had told them—probably it was the Moon—that the scenery there was marvellously suited to their tastes, and would give them a chance to try experiments in landscape gardening according to Fairy ideas. It seemed likely that they might remain undiscovered in the new fastness for many centuries, and that when the time came for their presence to be suspected, the world would have assumed a new policy toward the Fay race. No cruel calumnies would be written or spoken about them, such as saying that they cast spells on children or animals, and it would be between Man and Fairy a case of "live and let live."
Some dull, unobservant people might think that our road was walled on one side by gray-blue rocks, but in reality they are dark, uncut sapphires, a facade decoration for the Fairy King's palace. Those same dullards might talk of scattered boulders. They are trophies, teeth of giants slain by Fairy warriors. Fairies melt cairngorms and topazes which they find deep in the heart of the mountains, and pouring them into the sources of rivers and brooks give the colour of liquid gold to the water which might otherwise be a mere whitish-gray or brown. Fairies crust the stones with silver filagree-work dotted with diamonds. Fairies have planted blue asters and goldenrod and sumach in borders, studying every gradation of colour, and while the flowers lie under the spell of the sun they become magic jewels, because the seeds were brought from Fairyland. Fairies, who no longer bewitch children, have turned their attention instead to enchanting the young, slender birches of the mountain waysides. The enchantment consists in causing rays of moonlight always to glimmer mysteriously on the white trunks, in full daylight. They seem illuminated, even to eyes that haven't found out the secret. The carpets of moss are the Fairies' roof-gardens, where they dance and pretend to be ferns if you look at them. The round stones in the water-beds are the giants' pearls which were lost in the great battle. The music of the forest is an orchestra consisting of Fairy voices and stringed instruments, harps, violins, and 'cellos. And now and then I caught a high soprano note beyond the powers of a Tetrazzini.
It was a Fairy who told me that Mount Washington is bare because he gave his green velvet mantle to a smaller mountain, though he, at his cold height, needed it much more than his smaller brethren of the Presidential Range. And from a Fairy, too (after we had passed the wide wonder of Crawford's Notch), I heard the story of Nance's Brook. It is the gayest of all the gay brooks of the mountains, so evidently it has forgotten Nance and ceased to mourn her. But she—a beautiful girl of the neighbourhood—drowned herself there when her lover went off with a town beauty. The brook used to be the Fairies' favourite bathing-place, and they could enter from a secret corridor in their sapphire-fronted palace. Of course they could no longer use it after the drowning; but they cased the body of Nance in crystal, like a fly in amber; and there, under the running water, her face can sometimes be seen on midsummer nights.
Thus, Mercedes, ends your Molly's diary, for we have come to Bretton Woods!
EDWARD CASPIAN TO DANIEL WINTERTON THE MANAGER OF A DETECTIVE AGENCY IN NEW YORK
I have received your letter and telegram, and am glad to find that you have a better opinion of my deductions than was held by your confrere, Mr. Moyle. The longer I dwell on the idea the more does it appear that circumstantial evidence all points one way. Why should this unimportant and poor young man have an influence so extraordinary over Marcel Moncourt? More than one millionaire would have given a fortune to Moncourt for less work than he is doing at Kidd's Pines practically for nothing. It is known that he spoiled his son and brought him up with the airs of a prince who might succeed to a throne. It is known also that the son went abroad directly after old Stanislaws' sudden death. The story is a family scandal; but I have woven together a few of the threads and can put them into your hands, which may help you to speed along your inquiries.
At that time I was not on intimate terms with my relatives. My sphere, in fact, did not touch theirs. I never saw Moncourt's son, but I have heard him described as dark, tall, and somewhat distinguished looking. This might also be a flattered description of the man in question.
I think I had better mention, in the same connection, an event which has just occurred. I cannot say I am able to find that it has any concern with the affair on which you are engaged, but you may see deeper than I do. At all events, I will bring it to your attention for what it may be worth.
You have no doubt heard of the very fine mansion on Long Island, tentatively called "the Stanislaws House?" I hoped that when I became heir to the property it would be mine, with the rest. Unfortunately this was not the case. It had been left to a friend of the late heir, as was indubitably proved by Mr. James Strickland, who legally represented the Stanislaws family, father and son. Now, through Strickland, the place has been offered to me, if I wish to buy it. I should be inclined to do so if I did not suspect something underhand in the business, though what, I cannot define.
The somewhat extended motor trip which has taken me away from Kidd's Pines is now nearly over; but you might wire anything important to Great Barrington, Mass., where I shall be stopping for a night after leaving here.
PATRICIA MOORE TO ADRIENNE DE MONCOURT
I must write to tell you I am happy again, though I ought not to be, and have no right. Oh, it is like a miracle coming to pass, to be suddenly happy when you have thought all was at an end.
Suppose that it has poured down rain on your poor head for many days, and you are wet and cold, oh, but cold through and through to your heart, and you have forgotten the feel of sunshine. Then, of a sudden, a stream of light breaks out and dazzles in your eyes. You are warm, you sing for joy. In the back of your mind a voice may say, "The clouds will shut up again, this is not to last." For the moment you are happy and do not care for what will come. You just hold out your arms to the warm ray of light.
It was like that with me to-day, and in all senses of speaking, for I was in a great rain, alone and very sad and soaked—but I will tell you. There is none else I may tell, not even Molly; for if I said this to her, she would again offer and insist to lend us money that the ring of Mr. Caspian could be got from the Mont de Piete and given back to him. She would think that was the only thing needed to end the engagement which makes me miserable; and so it would have been at first, or almost the only thing. Now there is more, for Mrs. Shuster begged dear Larry to borrow some money from her the other night, when he had played poker in the hotel at Boston with some men he met. Larry has such luck at the games of chance, nearly always, he did not stop to think, "What will happen if I lose?" He played with all the eager fire that it is his nature to put into everything he does, and these men were high punters, as reckless as Larry and much more rich. So it was five thousand dollars my poor boy had to borrow, and we cannot take the money which our wonderful Monsieur Moncourt makes for us from Kidd's Pines, because of the bankruption, if that is the word, and so much always owing to creditors. It is as if we held out a sieve for our great Marcel to pour gold dust into, and it nearly all goes before we can touch it.
Naturally I cannot fail Larry when it is in my power to save him, no matter what the consequences to me. But listen, ma cherie!
It is yesterday we came to Bretton Woods, after a drive of the highest beauty, with famous points of view. I had to see them with Mr. Caspian at my side—all but the view of Crawford Notch, as it is named, which is of a surprising splendidness, and where we stopped to get down from our automobiles and walk about. When that happens—the getting down, I mean—I often find myself with the Winstons, and Mr. Caspian does not care much to come where they are. Then, when I am with them, often Mr. Storm is there, too. So the Crawford Notch was the best as it was the most beautiful of my moments in the White Mountains till this afternoon. And now I have come to what I wish to tell.
When we waked in the morning of to-day it was to see rain coming down in the cataracts. This spoiled our plan of taking some walks and seeing the golf course, which Captain Winston loves to do. But also, the rain made it not good to travel. Shut up, one misses the beauty of the ways. Somehow it arranged itself through the influence of Molly and Jack that we stay long enough to have a fine day. Not to be with Mr. Caspian too much, I stayed a good deal in my room. I tried to read a novel I bought in the hotel—a hotel splendid enough for a big city, though it stands among wild mountains, so far away from the world it is—Molly says—as if Diogenes had had his tub enlarged and fitted up by Ritz. But this novel had a sad ending, I found when I looked ahead, so I could not bear to go on. By that time it was afternoon. I went downstairs. Most of our people were playing bridge, among them Larry and Mrs. Shuster, and Mr. Caspian. Molly and Jack were not there. Neither was Mr. Storm. When he saw me Mr. Caspian got up, and told his table they must make a dummy. I wished then I had stayed in my room, but it was too late. The best I could do was to walk out on the veranda—an immense veranda where the most fierce rain could not follow you to the chairs against the wall.
Molly and Jack love fresh air, so I thought perhaps to find them sitting out there. But they were not to be seen; and when Mr. Caspian came on and on after me, though he hates what they love, I took a most desperate resolution. I went straight ahead as if I had come downstairs to do it, and walked right off the veranda into the pouring rain. I had no umbrella, and my head was bare and I had on a dress of white shantung silk. I knew he wouldn't follow me into the rain, and he didn't. He stood at the top of the steps and called after me that I was a crazy girl. "Come back!" he said, as if he had the right to order me about. "You will get soaked to your skin and catch your death of cold!"
I looked back just long enough to answer that I loved to be soaked to my skin, and I was not afraid of catching the cold. All I wanted was that he did not catch me. But I did not say this part aloud. He called out something more, but I had got too far away to hear, for I was walking fast, and the rain made a loud, sweet sound, pattering on leaves. When I had looked back, I had seen something more than the figure of Mr. Caspian standing on the steps in his nice white flannel clothes: I had seen Molly and Jack and Mr. Storm. They were not on the side of the veranda I had come out on, but just round the corner, talking together in great earnest. I did not think they saw me; but you shall know by and by!
I must have seemed like a mad one walking along with my head up in all that rain, as if I were out for my pleasure. But I did not care. I felt not to care for anything. It did not seem to matter what happened to me; I wished that I could take cold and die. I found a path under trees, winding up a beautiful high hill. On one side was rock, and I wished a large piece would fall on my head so I should never have to go back to the hotel. But that was selfish to Larry, for I could not bring him any money if I were dead!
I walked on and on, and the rain made my hair go in little corkscrew curls over my eyes, and my thin dress stuck to my neck and arms like a skin, and I must have looked an object to scare the crows. I was cold, too, for there was a chill in the rain as if it had once been ice on some mountain-top, but I would not turn back. I was determined to wait a long time and be sure Mr. Caspian had gone in to his bridge. Then, I thought, I would find some side way into the hotel where I should not be seen.
As I walked up the path, I heard suddenly steps coming behind. I was afraid that after all Mr. Caspian had decided himself to follow. I thought he had perhaps put on a coat for the rain, and brought an umbrella to take me back, with my hand on his arm. Quick, I hurried to climb up to a terrace-place there was above that place in the path, with a lovely tree on it, almost like a tent. I think it is named the weeping ash. I sat very still underneath, and I hoped the man might not look up; but I did not remember about my footprints in the wet earth stopping just there. I did not think of the footprints at all.
From where I sat, crouched down under the low tent of the little tree, I could see the head of a person coming. It was not the head of Mr. Caspian! It was a much higher head, and it wore the hat of Peter Storm. When I knew it was he, I wanted, oh, so much, to call out his name and tell him I was there. But I said to myself, "No, that would not be nice, my girl. He will guess you hid from Mr. Caspian, but that you did not wish to hide from him!" So I did not move. But he stopped and called my name. Then it was no harm to answer. Even the Sisters would say it would be rude if I did not! I looked out from under the tree, and explained that I had come there to wait till the rain was not so much. On his part he explained that he had seen my footmarks come to an end on the path.
"I have brought you Mrs. Winston's umbrella," he said. "We saw you go away without one, so she sent me with hers. May I come up and help you down? The grass is slippery."
I did not need the help, but I said, "Yes, come." And as he came, the rain, which had not been so bad for some minutes, began to pour down in a torrent. Instead of falling in drops, it was like thick crystal rods.
"We had better wait," he said. "The umbrella won't be much good in this deluge." It would have been cruel not to ask him into my shelter, so I did; and it was too low for him to stand up. He had to sit down by my side. The rain came in a little, though the tree made a thick roof, and he put up the umbrella over my head. I told him he must come under it, too. We were close to each other, more close than we had been on the front seat of the car in the days when he drove with me by his side—closer than I had ever been with him except when we danced.
I looked up at him, and he looked down at me. "Poor little girl!" he said. "You are drenched!"
They were such simple words. Any one might have said them. But it was as if his eyes spoke quite different things. A light shone out of them into mine. And though I did not mean to do it, my eyes answered. I knew the most wonderful thing! I knew that he loved me, not like a friend, but with a great, immense, fiery love. And I think he must have known that I loved him, for I couldn't help my eyes telling.
Oh, Adrienne, now the secret is out to you. I have loved him a long time, loved him dreadfully. I have felt as if he were me—as if I wasn't there till he had come. Do you understand? If you do not, you have not yet loved your cousin Marcel de Moncourt!
It seemed to me that never in my life before had I felt; and suddenly I was crying, as his eyes held mine to his. The next instant I was in his arms. It was not till then I thought of my promise to another man. And to tell the truth, as I wish to do to you, it was two or three minutes or maybe more that I did not think.
Then I took my arms down from his neck (yes, I had put them there, as if I were in a dream, when his arms went round my waist and he kissed my cheek, all wet with cold rain and hot tears). It was only my cheek, because I turned my lips away, not out of goodness or because of being loyal to somebody else, I am afraid, but just because it seemed so great and wonderful to be in his arms I could bear no more.
"I forgot!" I said. "I forgot that I have given my word."
"I forgot, too," he said. "But now it is irrevocable. Your word can't stand. You love me, and nothing shall make me let you go. Don't you know that?"
I told him that if he loved me, I did not want to go. I was in the midst of saying that—though I did not want to—I must; but he interrupted to tell how he loved me. And, Adrienne, if I had never been happy for one single hour in my life till then, and could never be happy after, still I should have been glad I was born—yes, glad even if I lived to be an old, old woman with nothing of joy to remember but that. If this is wicked, it cannot be helped.
I had to listen while he explained that he knew I couldn't care for Ed Caspian, and it was only to help Larry I had said yes. He went on, that he understood there must be money, for Larry's sake, and if he could get money, quite a good deal, would I marry him? Even if I wouldn't (he flashed out in a sudden, almost fierce way) he would never let Ed Caspian have me, because he was not worthy and it would be sacrilege. I said, if I were alone in the world I would marry for love if there was not a cent. But I must think for Larry, as Larry was like a boy, and by comparison I felt an old woman. That made Peter laugh, for the first time, but he did not laugh long. He begged me to trust him: that he knew how to get all Larry would need, and we would both look after him together as if we were old people and Larry our child. He said there were reasons why he could not have this money at once; at least, he could have it, but there were things to be done first. All he asked for himself, till the hour came, was my trust. But he wanted me to break off my engagement at once. After what had happened between us, he could not any longer bear it to go on.
If it had been that I could give Mr. Caspian back his ring, I would have agreed to do as Peter asked. Yet how could I say, "I will not marry you. But your ring you cannot have till I am married to another man and his money gets it from the Uncle?" Even less could I tell Peter about the Uncle, because he would blame poor Larry. It was dreadful to refuse Peter what he asked, but I had to refuse. I was afraid he would be angry and despise me because I could not even explain why I would not break. But there he was wonderful. When he had thought for a moment, and looked at me as if he would read my soul, he said: "You must have some reason which seems to you very strong. I asked you to trust me, and now I'm going to trust you, though it hurts a good deal. It will be all the more of an incentive to me to make the way clear as soon as possible; and meanwhile I'm not going to spoil the best hour I have ever known."
I was a little afraid, when he said this, that he might think we could lose ourselves in love again; and he must have guessed what troubled me, for he spoke at once: "Don't worry. I know now you love me. That's all I want. Till you give me the right to something more, I'll stand where I stood half an hour ago, down on the ladder of friendship. But give me the rest of the hour here—if you trust me as I trust you."
I was only too glad to consent. But the moment I agreed, he remembered that I was drenched, and said he would take me home. I had to give him my hot hand before he would believe I was warm as if sitting by a stove.
Oh, the glorious half-hour that followed! I cannot express to you, Adrienne, the joy of it. We spoke no more of love. We did not touch each other. But we knew. And the rain, which had come down for a few minutes in that great flood, stopped, to let the sun shine out. I never saw the world so marvellous as then. The lovely things sparkling bright all around where we looked put ideas of beauty in our heads, so we spoke about them, not about ourselves. Just to be there together, that was all. You cannot think what a pleasure only to talk of trees! And it seemed they were listening. They laughed and clapped their little hands.
It is Molly who says always that trees are alive, like us. These woods of the White Mountains she calls the woods of Fairies. Now we saw well it was the truth. They looked quite different woods from others. Even the sunshine was a different colour, and shades of colour. You see, the woods are not old, but young: baby birches, and baby maples, and their big brothers not yet turning darker green. In the sun all was gold of many tints. Peter and I could see a flickering light, like a net of pale, pale gold, trail across the amber-coloured leaves of spring. Peter said, "The spirit of the woods has bare shoulders, sunburned brown, and her gold hair blows over them." I said, "The trunks of the littlest birches are sticks of her broken ivory fan she has planted in the ground, and the tall ones are masts of buried ships, bleached white in the moonlight." We were a chorus to praise the Nature; but if our tree had been a cell of prison, we should have said, "the bars are beautiful."
It was such a dear, kind tree, my Adrienne! Peter made us both pretend that we could remember when we had been trees, live creatures, living in lovely houses—the houses which were ourselves. We had our concert rooms where the birds sang to us. We had our menageries of trained squirrels. We lived very long, and always we were young and of great beauty. We slept in the time of winter to dream of the summer days, and then we remembered the history of birds and men we had seen making—all the things that, now we are people, we have to read in books. No words of the love did we speak after those first minutes of surprise, but we could have sat forever, not tiring of our talk.
At last I had to say, "Now we must go!" And Peter did not keep me. We shook hands like the friends. And then the divine hour was over, except in memory. There it will always live for me. I can always call it back, with every word and look, even if things do not come right for us, as Peter thinks they will.
I wish, oh, how I wish, I could be as sure as he seems to be! But I cannot help telling myself that perhaps, as he is used to being poor, he does not realize how much money Larry needs.
It has done me good to write to you of this, my Adrienne, for love is coming to you, too, even if it has not yet come as it has to me.
MOLLY WINSTON TO MERCEDES LANE
Awepesha, Long Island.
I haven't written to you since Bretton Woods, because the little details of our travels might have seemed an aggravation while I kept the Secret up my sleeve, and had no particular personal news with which to embroider the story of the days. Now, it's different. I can't tell you the Secret yet, it's true; but there's some rather big news—news which brought us all back to Long Island in a hurry after Great Barrington. I'm debating with myself whether to blurt it out now, or to lead up to it gradually. I'll ask Jack's advice!
* * * * *
I have asked, and Jack says, "I think Monty and Mercedes would rather finish our travels with us, and see the things that happened as we saw them, instead of being made to play Providence and reach the end before it arrives."
So I'll take his word for it, and begin where I left off at Bretton Woods, only hurrying on, perhaps, a little faster than I should if there were no bombshell to explode later.
We didn't hurry our journey, however. No presentiment warned us of what was to come. We stayed two days at Bretton Woods, and adored the place. Fancy drinking water from a spring at Mount Echo! The name turned water into champagne. And fancy having nice college boys disguised as waiters, to serve us, and earn enough for next winter's course! It rained one day, but the downpour was a blessing in disguise for it drew Peter and Pat nearer together and wove a spun-glass barrier between the girl and Caspian. She ran out in a torrent to get rid of the inevitable Ed, who discreetly retired in fear of a drenching; then, when his back was safely turned, I sent Peter Storm after her with an umbrella. Jack and I were still on the veranda when the two came back an hour and a half later. The rain had stopped. Danae's shower of gold had been scattered over the woods in a sunburst. But even the joyousness of nature was hardly enough to account for the look on their faces. I hoped to hear that night or next day that the unnatural engagement with Ed Caspian was "off." There I was disappointed. Not a word was said either by the girl or the man; yet something happened during that walk in the rain, I was still sure. Both were different afterward, in a way too subtle to define. But nothing is too subtle to feel!
The night after starting on again we stopped at Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire, and the day's run getting there was just as astonishing as the run which brought us to Bretton Woods. We saw the glories of Franconia Notch. We saw the Great Stone Profile, which influenced Hawthorne's life. I heard people speaking of it as the profile of an "old man," but to Jack's eyes and mine it was young with eternal youth, the youth of the gods. It gave us the same mysterious thrill that the Sphinx gives; and its gaze, reading what sky and mountains, cathedral forests and rushing rivers have to tell, holds the same Secret that's in the stone eyes looking over the desert.
There are some charming Indian legends in these mountains where the Profile reigns as king. One is the story of an immense carbuncle, the biggest jewel in the world, which hangs suspended from a rock over a hidden pool that reflects its fire. It's guarded by an evil spirit, but when the day comes for it to be found, the god of the Profile will put the knowledge of its whereabouts into the mind of a man. At the same time strength will come to that man to overcome the wicked guardian, and win the jewel. How I wish the Profile had taken a fancy to Jack! I'm sure there couldn't be a better modern St. George. Alas, however, no flash of divination came to him, and the only supernatural adventure we had in these faun and fairy haunted woods was to catch a glimpse of the White Doe of the mountains which appears to travellers now and then, bringing them good luck. Of course some people would say it was just an ordinary, cafe-au-lait-coloured deer, with the sun shining on it to make it look white; because there are still deer in the mountains: but you and Monty wouldn't be so banal!
We saw lakes and forests, dark, impenetrable pines, and baby woods of white and gold and palest green; rivers and brooks that are cousins to the brooks and rivers of Scotland; rocks like enchanted elephants lying down fast asleep in surging foam, and green pools clear as glass to their pearl-stored depths. The Flume, in its different way, was as memorable as the Great Stone Face. So flashing white was the swift water it seemed to send out troops of flying spirits which vanished as we looked, or else crossed on a bridge of rainbow to the blue mountains that walled the distance.
Sunapee has a river and a lake, and our hotel was great fun, with a dining-room which pretends to be a glorified log cabin. Next day we had lost the superlative beauty of the mountains. It was just very pretty country, where the mountains sent the baby foothills to play and sun themselves. By and by, however, the Green Mountains began to float before us, not in the least green, but darkly blue against the pale-blue sky, like background mountains in Stained-Glass-Window Land; and Vermont opened adorably. The door of the State was set in a wall of beautiful forests, wild forests which might have been discovered by us for the first time if a great suspension bridge hadn't given away the story of civilization. The mountains pretended to be wild also, though they were low and softly wooded. But along our roadside lay piles of good-smelling, newly sawn wood, which we feared that men, not brownies, had placed there; and now and then we passed, in the midst of apparent wildness, a mild-looking elderly farmhouse.
Towns had a way of appearing where we least expected to see them; Chester, for instance, which had nothing to lead up to it. (But there was a delicious luncheon in it!) And the instant we had passed out from its street of stately trees we were deep in the country again. I don't know why Vermont should have the greenest grass and trees in the world, and more varieties of wild flowers growing in thick borders by brooks and roadsides. Yet really it does seem to be so! I shall always think of Vermont as the State of wild lawns and gardens.
Did you ever see what they call the "jewel flower?" I saw it for the first time in Vermont: a delicate little yellow bell of a thing; but its stem is a magician. Dip it in water, and in a few minutes it will have collected enough solid-looking pearls for a necklace. It was Peter who knew this, and told Pat, whereupon she had the Grayles-Grice stopped for an experiment, and the whole procession halted. The brook proved the truth of Peter's statement. It's extraordinary the country as well as town lore Peter has! At least I wondered at it, until I heard something of what his adventurous life has been.
If we discovered one new flower that day, we discovered dozens; new to Jack and me, I mean: tall, rose-red ones like geraniums, of which the country people couldn't tell the names; purple ones like plumes; white ones like blond bluebells; and others that looked like nothing but themselves. All the old friends were there, too: wild roses, honeysuckle, convolvulus, growing in the midst of feathery ferns and young-gold bracken. Never did any earthly gardener plant with such an eye to colour as the planting of what Vermont farmers call their "wild lots." There were apple trees, very big and of strange, dancing shapes, almost like the olives of Italy; and after we had left the garden country for a country of hills with steep gradients, we came to "maple-sugar country." (I shall send you a box of that maple sugar, which we bought at a pretty little place named Peru. But I'm afraid it's last year's.)
Despite their steepness the roads were well made, humping themselves up very high, and then sinking comfortably down into what they call "water breaks" or "thank you, ma'ams!" I'd often heard that last expression; but being English, Jack had to have it explained to him that the horse was supposed to rest there a minute and give thanks for the respite from pulling.
It will make you feel as if I'd rubbed a file across your front teeth, my dear, when I tell you that we shot out of maple-sugar country into marble country. But isn't that better than mixing them up together? The marble's very pretty, and you don't have to eat it. You walk on it, when you come to Manchester-in-the-Mountains. Before you get there, though, you see many other mountains, which don't belong to Manchester. They are bold and big enough to be named Ben Something or Other if they were in Scotland; but this is such a country of mountains you know—White, Blue, and Green—that they don't get grand titles conferred on them unless they're beyond the average.
Manchester-in-the-Mountains is called the "City of Marble Pavements," which makes you feel, before you see it, as if you were coming to Rome after it was improved by Augustus Caesar. But it is really a perfectly beautiful village, whose highroad is the main street, and at the same time a cathedral-aisle of elms. They paved it with marble only because there's so much marble about they don't know what to do with it all—unless they give it away with a pound of tea. We stayed all night in the nicest country hotel Jack and I ever saw in our lives. It's named after a neighbouring mountain; and I think it must have been made by throwing several colonial houses together and building bits in between. The rooms give circumstantial evidence for this theory, too, for there are labyrinths of drawing-rooms and parlours and boudoirs and libraries, with a step or two up, or a step or two down, to get in. It's chintzy and cozy and old-fashioned looking, yet really it's up to or ahead of date. As for the people who stay there, GOLF is written all over them, for the great attraction of the place is one of the best golf courses in the United States.
We both felt that we were being cruelly torn away when we had to "move on" again next morning, but we are always pretty soon resigned to being in a car again, you know! I feel so deliciously irresponsible the minute I start off, like a parcel being sent to some nice destination by post. I can't understand any one not feeling that a motor is as companionable as a horse, can you? It has so many interesting moods, and one's relation with the dear thing—if it belongs to one—gets to be so perfect!
Besides the joy of the car, we found the Green Mountains particularly lovable, not large, but of endearing shapes. We should have liked to have them for pets. Yet the pet aspect is only one of many. They have grand aspects, too. They've inspired poets, and given courage to soldiers. Yesterday we had thought Vermont all made of gardens. To-day it was made of mountains, mountains everywhere the eyes turned. And wherever there was a place to nestle an exquisite farmhouse did nestle. I used to think that England had the monopoly of beautiful farmhouses, but these Vermont ones, though as different as a birch from an oak, are just as perfect. Even Jack, whose every drop of blood is English and Scottish, admitted this.
They're white and of simple lines, with a rich green background of woods. In front there are lawns with lots of flowers growing as they please, and ferns left to do as they like if they don't interfere with other people; on both sides generous meadows stretching far away. Jack said: "What a warm glow the thought of such a home must bring to the heart of a boy when he's out for the battle of life! And what a place to come back to at Christmas!"
"Or Thanksgiving," said I. But "Thanksgiving" suggests no picture to Jack as it does to you and me. Our cranberry sauce in England is always a failure, not thick or sweet enough; and the poor fellow has never tasted pumpkin pie! If one of them came into his life, he would probably address it as it is spelt; and what self-respecting pumpkin pie would be luscious unless it were pronounced "punkin?"
"Anyhow, I give Vermont a star," he murmured, with the look of pinning a V. C. onto a mountain's breast. And he did that just in time, for the mountains were receding into the background, taking hands in a ring round wide woodlands.
By way of the pretty toy town Arlington we came to Bennington, which is the heart of history for Vermont. The man for whom it was named was granted the first township in the wild lands known as "the Wilderness" then. But it must have been a beautiful wilderness, for the British soldiers of those pre-Revolutionary days used to fall in love with it as they marched through, and promise themselves that they would come back and build homes. They did come back and build the homes, and the "promised land" was so attractive that New York wanted to take it away by writ of ejectment. The Vermonters decided to fight for their rights under Ethan Allen, and thus "The Green Mountain Boys" came into existence as a famous band. The bronze catamount which still grins defiance toward New York from the top of its tall pedestal makes that day seem yesterday!
There's a great monument also, to the battle which made Bennington's glory, but the most humanly interesting thing in town—for us—was the old Robinson house. Such a darling house, with a heavenly door and scalloped white picket fence. You would love it! And it's turned itself into a kind of glorified curiosity shop, as so many of the charming old houses of New England have done. You feel you must go in to see what these lovely houses are like inside; and the first thing you know, you are buying Queen Anne mirrors, japanned trays, braided mats, and even serpentine fronted bureaux, which you don't know what to do with but die rather than do without!
Everything else that we saw was a "star" place after that, for we were coming back into Massachusetts, and to the Berkshire Hills which Thoreau loved, and Hawthorne, and Longfellow, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Williamstown is as celebrated in its smaller way as Harvard or Yale, for a university's fame needn't consist in size, I suppose! I hardly ever saw a place where every building was so perfectly suited to every other building, without one jarring note; and though it's more important than a village now, the lovely description Hawthorne wrote suits the town as well as ever. He said: "I had a view of Williamstown from Greylock summit: a white village and a steeple in a gradual hollow, with huge mountain swells heaving up, like immense subsiding waves far and near around it."
Do you remember "Ethan Brand" and "The Unpardonable Sin?" I hadn't realized till Jack reminded me, as we looked up to "Old Greylock," that the lime kiln was there. I'm going to read Hawthorne all over again now—when I have time!
"Greylock" was the translated name of a brave Indian chief who used to fight with the French against the English. I wonder what he would say nowadays when they are Allies? If he were as intelligent as his mountain is beautiful, he'd be glad.
The Berkshire Hills are the small brothers of the Green Mountains, for they are all of the same family, but they have their own characteristics. It seems as if the men who engineered the wonderful roads must have loved the hills and planned each mile of the way so as to show off some favourite feature. For instance, you could never for a minute miss Greylock's long, dove-coloured streak which justifies his name!
If Williamstown is the gate of the Berkshires, Pittsfield is their heart; and so it's right that the place should be the literary landmark it is. Longfellow came on his honeymoon to the "hill city," and wrote the "Old Clock on the Stairs" in the very house where the clock was—and is now. South Mountain is close by, where "Elsie Venner" scenes were laid; and "Elsie's" author lived for years at a place between Pittsfield and Lenox. It's still there, and is called "Holmesdale."
We spoke of staying at Pittsfield all night, just because it's lovely; but we arrived so early that Caspian and Mrs. Shuster wanted to go on to Great Barrington, where we had planned to stop. They said they expected letters. "Shall we thwart them?" Jack asked me mischievously. I murmured that it was a "toss up," so we did go on—which was a good thing, as it turned out.
Pittsfield ought to have been stopped in, for it is a dream of beauty, and so is Lenox. Stockbridge seemed just as charming—almost more to me, for Hawthorne lived there, in a "little red house with green shutters," on the shore of Stockbridge Bowl. We had followed him about from place to place, but there we had to leave him at last, writing "The House of the Seven Gables."
Then, always running along the most perfect road, we came to Great Barrington, Bryant's home. We couldn't escape the romancers and the poets if we'd wished, for it was their country. It was late by this time, and we were hungry and dusty. I didn't expect letters, and felt inclined to wish we had lingered farther back. Here there would be a rush to bathe and dress before a decent dinner hour: and it looked such a smart hotel!
"I believe, now I come to think of it, that I asked to have letters forwarded to me from Kidd's Pines," remarked Larry, as we all walked into the big hall. "They'll be the first I've had—if there are any. I put them off till the last minute! I didn't want the beastly things to look forward to on getting home."
I hardly listened. The hotel seemed full, and I was wondering if Jack could get me a room with a bath. Pat and I and the Goodrich goddesses grouped together, waiting to hear our luck as to quarters, when Larry came to us, looking rather dazed. He had some letters in his hand, and an open telegram.
"This has been waiting for me all day," he said in a queer voice, and held out the telegram to Pat. I felt a little frightened. But nobody we loved could be dead!
"Oh, Molly!" the girl cried. "Kidd's Pines has had a fire. It is partly burnt down. All the people have had to go away. That means my life is over!"
The last words broke from her in such a tone of despair that I was startled. It was grievous that damage should have come to the dear old house. But why should she say her "life was over?" I asked myself the question; but suddenly the answer seemed to come, like a whisper in my ear:
"She thinks it means ruin. If she hoped to break off with Caspian in spite of everything, and marry Peter, she feels that hope is over."
There was no chance of a private word with Pat then or afterward. The news ran like wildfire. All the men came and crowded round us, consoling or giving advice. Jack was the most sensible.
"Let's see when the next train starts," he said. "You and I, Molly, will go with Moore and Pat; and they must stop with us at Awepesha. The others, of course, can do as they like."
It ended in the whole party taking the train, for every one was anxious for one reason or other. The bride and bridegroom and the Goodriches had left things they valued at Kidd's Pines. Caspian and Mrs. Shuster felt that where the Moores went, there they ought to go also. As for the Boys, they would have followed Pat to the death.
Well, we got off, at the cost of dinner. But most of us had forgotten that we were hungry. The cars were simply abandoned for the time being, in garage. They were to be "sent for," like boys and girls at a children's dance.
You can imagine that, by the time we had got to New York, and from New York to Long Island, it was a witching hour of the night! Nobody cared, however. All our thoughts were centred at Kidd's Pines. I kept Pat close to me in the train, and once in a while Peter hovered near, as if he longed for a chance to say something. But Pat could not or would not talk, either to him or me. She had a headache, and sat with her eyes shut, looking pitifully pale. Larry, on the contrary, was all excitement, and never stopped jabbering with one person or another till the end of the journey. I could have boxed his ears.
Well, when at last we arrived, the damage wasn't as bad as we expected, for the fire had started by day. Wasn't it sickening, a woman (one of Kidd's Pines' "paying guests") had upset a lot of alcohol from a spirit lamp. That was the way it began. And she didn't give the alarm at first: she was afraid of the consequences to herself, and she and her maid tried to put the fire out. Of course the room got thoroughly alight before anything was properly done. One wing of the house is half in ruins. Nothing else is hurt much, except by water. But, as the telegram said, every one cleared out, as rats leaving a sinking ship. And would you believe it, there is no insurance! How like Larry!
I've been trying to forget my worries for a while, writing this long letter to you, and leaving the worst for the last. But really, I don't know what is to be done about Larry and Pat. If it weren't for what Peter Storm told me at Wenham in Aunt Mary's garret, I—oh, I mustn't tread on that ground, though! I forgot that the time limit isn't up.
Pat and Larry wouldn't come to stay with us after all. Their rooms were not hurt, and they wanted to stop at home. Caspian and Mrs. S. are there, too. I wish they weren't. But I hear that C—— is soon starting for New York on business. I hope to goodness it's true! Peter also had to go there this morning, by the earliest train—a milk train or an egg train or something, and there won't be any news worth having until to-morrow, I suppose. This is only the morning after our night rush from Great Barrington. I hardly slept, and neither did Jack, but we are both keyed up with excitement, guessing why Peter Storm is in New York. I don't know just when he can get back, or whether he'll come here, or go straight to Kidd's Pines—or to his lodgings. But Jack and I shall motor over early in the old car this afternoon to see how dear Patsey gets on. I'll post this, and write you again the minute I have something to tell.
Ever Your MOLLY.
EDWARD CASPIAN TO DANIEL WINTERTON
Great Barrington, Mass.
I thank you for your telegram and letter which I have just found, and am answering in haste, as I am starting almost at once for Long Island by train. News has come by wire that there has been a fire at Kidd's Pines, causing considerable destruction, and the trip ends suddenly a couple of days sooner than it should have done. I am much interested in your news and the information you have picked up. No doubt I shall want the person you mention who knows Moncourt Junior to come to Kidd's Pines within the next few days, as soon as things are more settled there. I will then manage to have "Storm" on the spot, as you suggest, and we shall see the effect of the surprise. If an arrest can follow, so much the better. Men of his stamp are enemies of society. You have my full permission to communicate with the regular police, who will be glad of this chance put into their way, whether they choose to give us credit or not. Suspicion was hushed up by the family and the doctors, but it was certainly suggested that young Moncourt caused the death of my distant cousin Stanislaws, and robbed him of valuables which he was known to keep in his bedroom. There was no account of these things when I inherited; but as I could get nobody to come forward and swear to their existence, much less give a description, I let the matter drop.