The Shoulders of Atlas - A Novel
by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"I don't know anything about it," said Mrs. Ayres, in her weary, gentle fashion. "I have heard, of course, that some women do use such things, but none of my folks ever did, and I never knew anybody else who did."

Then Sylvia opened upon the subject which had brought her there. She had reached it by a process as natural as nature itself.

"I know one thing," said she: "I have no opinion of that woman. I can't have. When I hear a woman saying such things as I have heard of her saying about a girl, when I know it isn't true, I make up my mind those things are true about the woman herself, and she's talking about herself, because she's got to let it out, and she makes believe it's somebody else."

Mrs. Ayres's face took on a strange expression. Her sweet eyes hardened and narrowed. "What do you mean?" she asked, sharply.

"I guess I had better not tell you what I mean. Miss Farrel gives herself clean away just by her looks. No living woman was ever made so there wasn't a flaw in her face but that there was a flaw in her soul. We're none of us perfect. If there ain't a flaw outside, there's a flaw inside; you mark my words."

"What was it she said?" asked Mrs. Ayres.

"I don't mean to make trouble. I never did, and I ain't going to begin now," said Sylvia. Her face took on a sweet, hypocritical expression.

"What did she say?"

Sylvia fidgeted. She was in reality afraid to speak, and yet her very soul itched to do so. She answered, evasively. "When a woman talks about a girl running after a man, I think myself she lives in a glass house and can't afford to throw stones," said she. She nodded her head unpleasantly.

Mrs. Ayres reddened. "I suppose you mean she has been talking about my Lucy," said she. "Well, I can tell you one thing, and I can tell Miss Farrel, too. Lucy has never run after Mr. Allen or any man. When she went on those errands to your house I had to fairly make her go. She said that folks would think she was running after Mr. Allen, even if he wasn't there, and she has never been, to my knowledge, more than three times when he was there, and then I made her. I told her folks wouldn't be so silly as to think such things of a girl like her."

"Folks are silly enough for anything. Of course, I knew better; you know that, Mrs. Ayres."

"I don't know what I know," replied Mrs. Ayres, with that forceful indignation of which a gentle nature is capable when aroused.

Mrs. Whitman looked frightened. She opened her lips to speak, when a boy came running into the yard. "Why, who is that?" she cried, nervously.

"It's Tommy Smith from Gray & Snow's with some groceries I ordered," said Mrs. Ayres, tersely. She left the room to admit the boy at the side door. Then Sylvia Whitman heard voices in excited conversation. At the same time she began to notice that the road was filled with children running and exclaiming. She herself hurried to the kitchen door, and Mrs. Ayres turned an ashy face in her direction. At the same time Lucy Ayres, with her fair hair dishevelled, appeared at the top of the back stairs listening. "Oh, it is awful!" gasped Mrs. Ayres. "It is awful! Miss Eliza Farrel is dead, and—"

Sylvia grasped the other woman nervously by the arm. "And what?" she cried.

Lucy gave an hysterical sob and sank down in a slender huddle on the stairs. The grocer's boy looked at them. He had a happy, important expression. "They say—" he began, but Mrs. Ayres forestalled him.

"They say Lucinda Hart murdered her," she screamed out.

"Good land!" said Sylvia. Lucy sobbed again.

The boy gazed at them with intense relish. He realized the joy of a coup. He had never been very important in his own estimation nor that of others. Now he knew what it was to be important. "Yes," he said, gayly; "they say she give her rat poison. They've sent for the sheriff from Alford."

"She never did it in the world. Why, I went to school with her," gasped Mrs. Ayres.

Sylvia had the same conviction, but she backed it with logic. "What should she do it for?" she demanded. "Miss Farrel was a steady boarder, and Lucinda ain't had many steady boarders lately, and she needed the money. Folks don't commit murder without reason. What reason was there?"

"School ain't going to keep to-day," remarked the boy, with glee.

"Of course it ain't," said Sylvia, angrily. "What reason do they give?"

"I 'ain't heard of none," said the boy. "S'pose that will come out at the trial. Hannah Simmons is going to be arrested, too. They think she knowed something about it."

"Hannah Simmons wouldn't hurt a fly," said Sylvia. "What makes them think she knew anything about it?"

"Johnny Soule, that works at the hotel stable, says she did," said the boy. "They think he knows a good deal."

Sylvia sniffed contemptuously. "That Johnny Soule!" said she. "He's half Canadian. Father was French. I wouldn't take any stock in what he said."

"Lucinda never did it," said Mrs. Ayres. "I went to school with her."

Lucy sobbed again wildly, then she laughed loudly. Her mother turned and looked at her. "Lucy," said she, "you go straight back up-stairs and put this out of your mind, or you'll be down sick. Go straight up-stairs and lie down, and I'll bring you up some of that nerve medicine Dr. Wallace put up for you. Maybe you can get to sleep."

Lucy sobbed and laughed again. "Stop right where you are," said her mother, with a wonderful, firm gentleness—"right where you are. Put this thing right out of your mind. It's nothing you can help."

Lucy sobbed and laughed again, and this time her laugh rang so wildly that the grocer's boy looked at her with rising alarm. He admired Lucy. "I say," he said. "Maybe she ain't dead, after all. I heard all this, but you never can tell anything by what folks say. You had better mind your ma and put it all out of your head." The grocer's boy and Lucy had been in the same class at school. She had never noticed him, but he had loved her as from an immeasurable distance. Both were very young.

Lucy lifted a beautiful, frightened face, and stared at him. "Isn't it so?" she cried.

"I dare say it ain't. You had better mind your ma."

"I dare say it's all a rumor," said Sylvia, soothingly.

Mrs. Ayres echoed her. "All a made-up story, I think," said she. "Go right up-stairs, Lucy, and put it out of your head."

Lucy crept up-stairs with soft sobs, and they heard a door close. Then the boy spoke again. "It's so, fast enough," he said, in a whisper, "but there ain't any need for her to know it yet."

"No, there isn't, poor child," said Sylvia.

"She's dreadful nervous," said Mrs. Ayres, "and she thought a lot of Miss Farrel—more, I guess, than most. The poor woman never was a favorite here. I never knew why, and I guess nobody else ever did. I don't care what she may have intimated—I mean what you were talking about, Sylvia. That's all over. Lucy always seemed to like her, and the poor child is so sensitive and nervous."

"Yes, she is dreadful nervous," said Sylvia.

"And I think she ate too much candy yesterday, too," said Mrs. Ayres. "She made some candy from a recipe she found in the paper. I think her stomach is sort of upset, too. I mean to make her think it's all talk about Miss Farrel until she's more herself."

"I would," said Sylvia. "Poor child."

The grocer's boy made a motion to go. "I wonder if they'll hang her," he said, cheerfully.

"Hang her!" gasped Mrs. Ayres. "She never did it any more than I did. I went to school with Lucinda Hart."

"Why should she kill a steady boarder, when the hotel has run down so and she's been so hard up for money?" demanded Sylvia. "Hang her! You'd better run along, sonny; the other customers will be waiting; and you had better not talk too much till you are sure what you are talking about."

The boy went out and closed the door, and they heard his merry whistle as he raced out of the yard.

Chapter VII

Sylvia Whitman, walking home along the familiar village street, felt like a stranger exploring it for the first time. She had never before seen it under the glare of tragedy which her own consciousness threw before her eyes. No tragedy had ever been known in East Westland since she could remember. It had been a peaceful little community, with every day much like the one before and after, except for the happenings of birth and death, which are the most common happenings of nature.

But now came death by violence, and even the wayside weeds seemed to wave in a lurid light. Now and then Sylvia unconsciously brushed her eyes, as if to sweep away a cobweb which obstructed her vision. When she reached home, that also looked strange to her, and even her husband's face in the window had an expression which she had never seen before. So also had Horace Allen's. Both men were in the south room. There was in their faces no expression which seemed to denote a cessation of conversation. In fact, nothing had passed between the two men except the simple statement to each other of the news which both had heard. Henry had made no comment, neither had Horace. Both had set, with gloomy, shocked faces, entirely still. But Sylvia, when she entered, forced the situation.

"Why should she kill a steady boarder, much as she needed one?" she queried.

And Horace responded at once. "There is no possible motive," he said. "The arrest is a mere farce. It will surely prove so."

Then Henry spoke. "I don't understand, for my part, why she is arrested at all," he said, grimly.

Horace laughed as grimly. "Because there is no one else to arrest, and the situation seems to call for some action," he replied.

"But they must have some reason."

"All the reason was the girl's (Hannah Simmons, I believe her name is) seeming to be keeping something back, and saying that Miss Hart gave Miss Farrel some essence of peppermint last night, and the fact that the stable-boy seems to be in love with Hannah, and jealous and eager to do her mistress some mischief, and has hinted at knowing something, which I don't believe, for my part, he does."

"It is all nonsense," said Sylvia. "Whatever Hannah Simmons is keeping to herself, it isn't killing another woman, or knowing that Lucinda Hart did it. There was no reason for either of those women to kill Miss Farrel, and folks don't do such awful things without reason, unless they're crazy, and it isn't likely that Lucinda and Hannah have both come down crazy together, and I know it ain't in the Hart family, or the Simmons. What if poor Lucinda did give Miss Farrel some essence of peppermint? I gave some to Henry night before last, when he had gas in his stomach, and it didn't kill him."

"What they claim is that arsenic was in the peppermint," said Horace, in an odd, almost indifferent voice.

"Arsenic in the peppermint!" repeated Sylvia. "You needn't tell me Lucinda Hart put arsenic in the peppermint, though I dare say she had some in the house to kill rats. It's likely that old tavern was overrun with them, and I know she lost her cat a few weeks ago. She told me herself. He was shot when he was out hunting. Lucinda thought somebody mistook him for a skunk. She felt real bad about it. I feel kind of guilty myself. I can't help thinking if I'd just looked round then and hunted up a kitten for poor Lucinda, she never would have had any need to keep rat poison, and nobody would have suspected her of such an awful thing. I suppose Albion Bennet right up and told she'd bought it, first thing. I think he might have kept still, as long as he'd boarded with Lucinda, and as many favors as she'd showed him. He knew as well as anybody that she never gave it to Miss Farrel."

"Now, Sylvia, he had to tell if he was asked," Henry said, soothingly, for Sylvia was beginning to show signs of hysterical excitement. "He couldn't do anything else."

"He could have forgot," Sylvia returned, shrilly. "Men ain't so awful conscientious about forgetting. He could have forgot."

"He had to tell," repeated Henry. "Don't get all wrought up over it, Sylvia."

"I can't help it. I begin to feel guilty myself. I know I might have found a kitten. I had a lot on my mind, with moving and everything, but I might have done it. Albion Bennet never had the spunk to do anything but tell all he knew. I suppose he was afraid of his own precious neck."

"Ain't it most time to see about dinner?" asked Henry.

Then Sylvia went out of the room with a little hysterical twitter like a scared bird, and the two men were left alone. Silence came over them again. Both men looked moodily at nothing. Finally Henry spoke.

"One of the worst features of any terrible thing like this is that burdens innumerable are either heaped upon the shoulders of the innocent, or they assume them. There's my poor wife actually trying to make out that she is in some way to blame."

"Women are a queer lot," said Horace, in a miserable tone.

Then the door opened suddenly, and Sylvia's think, excited face appeared.

"You don't suppose they'll send them to prison?" she said.

"They'll both be acquitted," said Horace. "Don't worry, Mrs. Whitman."

"I've got to worry. How can I help worrying? Even if poor Lucinda is acquitted, lots of folks will always believe it, and her boarders will drop away, and as for Hannah Simmons, I shouldn't be a mite surprised if it broke her match off."

"It's a dreadful thing," said Henry; "but don't you fret too much over it, Sylvia. Maybe she killed herself, and if they think that Lucinda won't have any trouble afterwards."

"I think some have that opinion now," said Horace.

Sylvia sniffed. "A woman don't kill herself as long as she's got spirit enough to fix herself up," she said. "I saw her only yesterday in a brand-new dress, and her hair was crimped tight enough to last a week, and her cheeks—"

"Come, Sylvia," said Henry, admonishingly.

"You needn't be afraid. I ain't going to talk about them that's dead and gone, and especially when they've gone in such a dreadful way; and maybe it wasn't true," said Sylvia. "But it's just as I say: when a woman is fixed up the way Miss Eliza Farrel was yesterday, she ain't within a week of making way with herself. Seems as if I might have had forethought enough to have got that kitten for poor Lucinda."

Sylvia went out again. The men heard the rattle of dishes. Horace rose with a heavy sigh, which was almost a sob, and went out by the hall door, and Henry heard his retreating steps on the stair. He frowned deeply as he sat by the window. He, too, was bearing in some measure the burden of which he had spoken. It seemed to him very strange that under the circumstances Horace had not explained his mysterious meeting with the woman in the grove north of the house the night before. Henry had a certainty as to her identity—a certainty which he could not explain to himself, but which was none the less fixed.

No suspicion of Horace, as far as the murder was concerned—if murder it was—was in his mind, but he did entertain a suspicion of another sort: of some possibly guilty secret which might have led to the tragedy. "I couldn't feel worse if he was my own son," he thought. He wished desperately that he had gone out in the grove and interrupted the interview. "I'm old enough to be his father," he told himself, "and I know what young men are. I'm to blame myself."

When he heard Horace's approaching footsteps on the stair he turned his face stiffly towards the window, and did not look up when the young man entered the room. But Horace sat down opposite and began speaking rapidly in a low voice.

"I don't know but I ought to go to Mr. Meeks with this instead of you," he said; "and I don't know that I ought to go to anybody, but, hang it, I can't keep the little I know to myself any longer—that is, I can't keep the whole of it. Some I never will tell. Mr. Whitman, I don't know the exact minute Miss Hart gave her that confounded peppermint, and Miss Hart seems rather misty about it, and if the girl knows she won't tell; but I suspect I may be the last person who saw that poor woman alive. I found a note waiting for me from her when I arrived yesterday, and—well, she wanted to see me alone about something very particular, and she—" Horace paused and reddened. "Well, you know what women are, and of course there was really no place at the hotel where I could have been sure of a private interview with her. I couldn't go to her room, and one might as well talk in a trolley-car as that hotel parlor; and she didn't want to come here to the house and be closeted with me, and she didn't want to linger after school, for those school-girls are the very devil when it comes to seeing anything; and though I will admit it does sound ridiculous and romantic, I don't see myself what else she could have done. She asked me in her note to step out in the grove about ten o'clock, when the house was quiet. She wrote she had something very important to say to me. So I felt like a fool, but I didn't go to bed, and I stole down the front stairs, and she was out there in the grove waiting for me, and we sat down on the bench there and she told me some things."

Henry nodded gravely. He now looked at Horace, and there was relief in his frowning face.

"I can tell you some of the things that she said to me," continued Horace, "and I am going to. You are connected with it—that is, you are through your wife. Miss Farrel wasn't Miss at all. She was a married woman." Henry nodded again. "She had not lived with her husband long, however, and she had been married some twenty years ago. She was older than she looked. For some reason she did not get on with him, and he left her. I don't myself feel that I know what the reason was, although she pretended to tell me. She seemed to have a feeling, poor soul, that, beautiful as she was, she excited repulsion rather than affection in everybody with whom she came in contact. 'I might as well be a snake as a woman.' Those were just her words, and, God help her, I do believe there was something true about them, although for the life of me I don't know why it was."

Henry looked at Horace with the eyes of a philosopher. "Maybe it was because she wanted to charm," he said.

Horace shot a surprised glance at him. He had not expected anything like that from Henry, even though he had long said to himself that there were depths below the commonplace surface.

"Perhaps you are right," he said, reflectively. "I don't know but you are. She was a great beauty, and possibly the knowledge of it made her demand too much, long for too much, so that people dimly realized it and were repelled instead of being attracted. I think she loved her husband for a long time after he left her. I think she loved many others, men and women. I think she loved women better than a woman usually does, and women could not abide her. That I know; even the school-girls fought shy of her."

"I have seen the Ayres girl with her," said Henry.

Horace changed color. "She is not one of the school-girls," he replied, hastily.

"I think I have heard Sylvia say that Mrs. Ayres had asked her there to tea."

"Yes, I believe she has. I think perhaps the Ayres family have paid some attention to her," Horace said, constrainedly.

"I have seen the Ayres girl with her a good deal, I know," said Henry.

"Very possibly, I dare say. Well, Miss Farrel did not think she or any one else cared about her very much. She told me that none of her pupils did, and I could not gainsay her, and then she told me what I feel that I must tell you." Horace paused. Henry waited.

Then Horace resumed. He spoke briefly and to the purpose.

"Miss Abrahama White, who left her property to your wife, had a sister," he said. "The sister went away and married, and there was a daughter. First the father died, then the mother. The daughter, a mere child at the time, was left entirely destitute. Miss Farrel took charge of her. She did not tell her the truth. She wished to establish if possible some claim upon her affection. She considered that to claim a relationship would be the best way to further her purpose. The girl was told that Miss Farrel was her mother's cousin. She was further told that she had inherited a very considerable property from her mother, whereas she had not inherited one cent. Miss Farrel gave up her entire fortune to the child. She then, with the nervous dread of awakening dislike instead of love which filled her very soul, managed to have the child, in her character of an heiress, established in a family moving in the best circles, but sadly in need of money. Then she left her, and began supporting herself by teaching. The girl is now grown to be a young woman, and Miss Farrel has not dared see her more than twice since she heaped such benefits upon her. It has been her dream that some day she might reveal the truth, and that gratitude might induce love, but she has never dared put it to the test. Lately she has not been very well, and the thought has evidently come to her more than once that she might die and never accomplish her purpose. I almost think the poor woman had a premonition. She gave me last night the girl's address, and she made me promise that in case of her death she should be sent for. 'I can't bear to think that nobody will come,' she said. Of course I laughed at her. I thought her very morbid, but—well, I have telegraphed to the girl to come in time for the funeral. She is in New York. She and the people with whom she lives have just returned from the South."

"She must come here," Henry said.

"I could think of no other place," said Horace. "You think Mrs. Whitman—"

"Of course," Henry said. He started up to speak to Sylvia, but Horace stopped him.

"I forgot," he said, quickly. "Miss Farrel asked me to promise that I should not tell the girl, in case of her death before she had an opportunity of doing so, of what she had done for her. 'Let her come just because she thinks I am her relative,' she said, 'and because she may possibly feel kindly towards me. If I can have no comfort from it while I am alive, there is no need for her to know her obligation.'"

"It sounds like a mighty queer story to tell Sylvia," Henry said. Then he opened the door and called, and Mrs. Whitman immediately responded. Her hands were white with flour. She had been making biscuits. She still looked nervous and excited.

"What is to pay now?" said she.

Henry told her in few words.

"You mean that Abrahama's niece was taken care of by Miss Farrel when her mother died, and Miss Farrel got a place for her to live with some New York folks, and you mean Miss Farrel was related to her mother?" said Sylvia. She looked sharply at Henry.

"Yes," he replied, feebly. Horace stood looking out of the window.

"She wa'n't," said Sylvia.

"Now, Sylvia."

"If that poor woman that's gone wanted the girl to think she was her relation enough to lie about it I sha'n't tell her, you can depend on that; but it's a lie," said Sylvia. "Miss Farrel wa'n't no relation at all to Susy White. She couldn't have been unless she was related to me, too, on my mother's side, and she wa'n't. I know all about my mother's family. But I sha'n't tell her. I'm glad Miss Farrel got a home for her. It was awful that the child was left without a cent. Of course she must come here, and stay, too. She ought to live with her folks. We've got enough to take care of her. If we can't do as much as rich folks, I guess it will be full as well for the girl."

Henry opened his lips to speak, but a glance from Horace checked him. Sylvia went on talking nervously. The odd manner and tone which Henry had noticed lately in everything she said and did seemed intensified. She talked about what room she should make ready for the girl. She made plan after plan. She was very pale, then she flushed. She walked aimlessly about gesturing with her floury hands.

Finally Henry took her firmly by the shoulder. "Come, Sylvia," he said, "she won't be here until night. Now you had better get dinner. It's past twelve." Sylvia gave a quick, frightened glance at him. Then she went silently out of the room.

"Mrs. Whitman does not seem well," Horace said, softly.

"I think her nerves are all out of order with what she has gone through with lately," said Henry. "It has been a great change that has come to us both, Mr. Allen. When a man and woman have lived past their youth, and made up their minds to bread and butter, and nothing else, and be thankful if you get that much, it seems more like a slap than a gift of Providence to have mince-pie thrust into their mouths. It has been too much for Sylvia, and now, of course, this awful thing that has happened has upset her, and—"

He stopped, for Sylvia opened the door suddenly. "If she wa'n't dead and gone, I wouldn't believe one word of such a tomfool story," said she, with vicious energy. Then she shut the door again.

At dinner Sylvia ate nothing, and did not talk. Neither Henry nor Horace said much. In the afternoon Horace went out to make some arrangements which he had taken upon himself with regard to the dead woman, and presently Henry followed him. Sylvia worked with feverish energy all the afternoon setting a room in order for her expected guest. It was a pretty room, with an old-fashioned paper—a sprawling rose pattern on a tarnished satin ground. The room overlooked the grove, and green branches pressed close against two windows. There was a pretty, old-fashioned dressing-table between the front windows, and Sylvia picked a bunch of flowers and put them in a china vase, and set it under the glass, and thought of the girl's face which it would presently reflect.

"I wonder if she looks like her mother," she thought. She stood gazing at the glass, and shivered as though with cold. Then she started at a sound of wheels outside. In front of the house was Leander Willard, who kept the livery-stable of East Westland. He was descending in shambling fashion over the front wheels, steadying at the same time a trunk on the front seat; and Horace Allen sprang out of the back of the carriage and assisted a girl in a flutter of dark-blue skirts and veil. "She's come!" said Sylvia.

Chapter VIII

Sylvia gave a hurried glance at her hair in the glass. It shone like satin with a gray-gold lustre, folded back smoothly from her temples. She eyed with a little surprise the red spots of excitement which still remained on her cheeks. The changelessness of her elderly visage had been evident to her so long that she was startled to see anything else. "I look as if I had been pulled through a knot-hole," she muttered.

She took off her gingham apron, thrust it hastily into a bureau drawer in the next room, and tied on a clean white one with a hemstitched border. Then she went down-stairs, the starched white bow of the apron-strings covering her slim back like a Japanese sash. She heard voices in the south room, and entered with a little cough. Horace and the new-comer were standing there talking. The moment Sylvia entered, Horace stepped forward. "I hardly know how to introduce you," he said; "I hardly know the relationship. But, Mrs. Whitman, here is Miss Fletcher—Miss Rose Fletcher."

"Who accepts your hospitality with the utmost gratitude," said Miss Rose Fletcher, extending a little hand in a wonderful loose gray travelling glove. Mrs. Whitman took the offered hand and let it drop. She was rigid and prim. She smiled, but the smile was merely a widening of her thin, pale, compressed lips. She looked at the girl with gray eyes, which had a curious blank sharpness in them. Rose Fletcher was so very well dressed, so very redolent of good breeding and style, that it was difficult at first to comprehend if that was all. Finally one perceived that she was a very pretty girl, of a sweet, childish type, in spite of her finished manners and her very sophisticated clothes. Sylvia at first saw nothing except the clothes, and realized nothing except the finished manner. She immediately called to the front her own manners, which were as finished as the girl's, albeit of a provincial type. Extreme manners in East Westland required a wholly artificial voice and an expression wholly foreign to the usual one. Horace had never before seen Sylvia when all her manners were in evidence, and he gazed at her now in astonishment and some dismay.

"Her mother was own sister to Miss Abrahama White, and Abrahama White's mother and my mother were own cousins on the mother's side. My mother was a White," she said. The voice came like a slender, reedy whistle from between her moveless, widened lips. She stood as if encased in armor. Her apron-strings stood out fiercely and were quite evident over each hip. She held her head very high, and the cords on her long, thin neck stood out.

Poor Rose Fletcher looked a little scared and a little amused. She cast a glance at Horace, as if for help. He did not know what to say, but tried manfully to say it. "I have never fully known, in such a case," he remarked, "whether the relationship is second cousin or first cousin once removed." It really seemed to him that he had never known. He looked up with relief as Henry entered the room, and Sylvia turned to him, still with her manners fully in evidence.

"Mr. Whitman, this is Miss Abrahama White's niece," said she.

She bowed stiffly herself as Henry bowed. He was accustomed to Sylvia's company manners, but still he was not himself. He had never seen a girl like this, and he was secretly both angry and alarmed to note the difference between her and Sylvia, and all women to which he had been used. However, his expression changed directly before the quick look of pretty, childish appeal which the girl gave him. It was Rose's first advance to all men whom she met, her little feeler put out to determine their dispositions towards her. It was quite involuntary. She was unconscious of it, but it was as if she said in so many words, "Do you mean to be kind to me? Don't you like the look of me? I mean entirely well. There is no harm in me. Please don't dislike me."

Sylvia saw the glance and interpreted it. "She looks like her mother," she announced, harshly. It was part of Sylvia's extreme manners to address a guest in the third person. However, in this case, it was in reality the clothes which had occasioned so much formality. She immediately, after she had spoken and Henry had awkwardly murmured his assent to her opinion, noticed how tired the girl looked. She was a slender little thing, and looked delicate in spite of a babyish roundness of face, which was due to bone-formation rather than flesh.

Sylvia gave an impression of shoving the men aside as she approached the girl. "You look tired to death," said she, and there was a sweet tone in her force voice.

Rose brightened, and smiled at her like a pleased child. "Oh, I am very tired!" she cried. "I must confess to being very tired, indeed. The train was so fast. I came on the limited from New York, you know, and the soft-coal smoke made me ill, and I couldn't eat anything, even if there had been anything to eat which wasn't all full of cinders. I shall be so very glad of a bath and an opportunity to change my gown. I shall have to beg you to allow your maid to assist me a little. My own maid got married last week, unexpectedly, and I have not yet replaced her."

"I don't keep a hired girl," said Sylvia. She looked, as Henry had, both angry and abashed. "I will fasten up your dress in the neck if that is what you want," said she.

"Oh, that is all," Rose assured her, and she looked abashed, too. Even sophistication is capable of being daunted before utterly unknown conditions. She followed Sylvia meekly up-stairs, and Henry and Horace carried the trunk, which had been left on the front walk, up after them.

Leander Willard was a man of exceeding dignity. He was never willing to carry a trunk even into a house. "If the folks that the trunk belongs to can't heft it in after I've brought it up from the depot, let it set out," he said. "I drive a carriage to accommodate, but I ain't no porter."

Therefore, Henry and Horace carried up the trunk and unstrapped it. Rose looked around her with delight. "Oh, what a lovely room!" she cried.

"It gets the morning sun," said Sylvia. "The paper is a little mite faded, but otherwise it's just as good as it ever was."

"It is perfectly charming," said Rose. She tugged at the jewelled pins in her hat. Sylvia stood watching her. When she had succeeded in removing the hat, she thrust her slender fingers through her fluff of blond hair and looked in the glass. Her face appeared over the bunch of flowers, as Sylvia had thought of its doing. Rose began to laugh. "Good gracious!" she said. "For all I took such pains to wash my face in the lavatory, there is a great black streak on my left cheek. Sometimes I think the Pullmans are dirtier than the common coaches—that more soft-coal smoke comes in those large windows; don't you think so?"

Sylvia colored, but her honesty was fearless. "I don't know what a Pullman is," she said.

Rose stared for a second. "Oh, a parlor-car," she said. "A great many people always say parlor-car." Rose was almost apologetic.

"Did you come in a parlor-car?" asked Sylvia. Rose wondered why her voice was so amazed, even aggressive.

"Why, of course; I always do," said Rose.

"I've seen them go through here," said Sylvia.

"Do you mind telling me where my bath-room is?" asked Rose, looking vaguely at the doors. She opened one. "Oh, this is a closet!" she cried. "What a lovely large one!"

"There ain't such a thing as a bath-room in this house," replied Sylvia. "Abrahama White, your aunt, had means, but she always thought she had better ways for her money than putting in bath-rooms to freeze up in winter and run up plumbers' bills. There ain't any bath-room, but there's plenty of good, soft rain-water from the cistern in your pitcher on the wash-stand there, and there's a new cake of soap and plenty of clean towels."

Rose reddened. Again sophistication felt abashed before dauntless ignorance. She ran to the wash-stand. "Oh, I beg your pardon!" she cried. "Of course this will do beautifully. What a charming old wash-stand!—and the water is delightfully soft." Rose began splashing water over her face. She had taken off her blue travelling-gown and flung it in a heap over a chair. Sylvia straightened it out carefully, noting with a little awe the rustle of its silk linings; then she hung it in the closet. "I'll hang it here, where it won't get all of a muss," said she. Already she began to feel a pleasure which she had never known—the pleasure of chiding a young creature from the heights of her own experience. She began harshly, but before she had finished her voice had a tender cadence.

"Oh, thank you," said the girl, still bending over the wash-basin. "I know I am careless with my things. You see, I have always been so dependent upon my maid to straighten out everything for me. You will do me good. You will teach me to be careful."

She turned around, wiping her face, and smiling at Sylvia, who felt her very soul melt within her, although she still remained rigidly prim, with her stiff apron-strings standing out at right angles. She looked at the girl's slender arms and thin neck, which was pretty though thin. "You don't weigh much, do you?" she said.

"A little over a hundred, I think."

"You must eat lots of fresh vegetables and eggs, and drink milk, and get more flesh on your bones," said Sylvia, and her voice was full of delight, although now—as always, lately—a vague uneasiness lurked in her eyes. Rose, regarding her, thought, with a simple shrewdness which was inborn, that her new cousin must have something on her mind. She wondered if it was her aunt's death. "I suppose you thought a good deal of my aunt who died," she ventured, timidly.

Sylvia regarded her with quick suspicion. She paled a little. "I thought enough of her," she replied. "She had always lived here. We were distant-related, and we never had any words, but I didn't see much of her. She kept herself to herself, especially of late years. Of course, I thought enough of her, and it makes me feel real bad sometimes—although I own I can't help being glad to have so many nice things—to think she had to go away and leave them."

"I know you must feel so," said Rose. "I suppose you feel sometimes as if they weren't yours at all."

Sylvia turned so pale that Rose started. "Why, what is the matter? Are you ill?" she cried, running to her. "Let me get some water for you. You are so white."

Sylvia pushed her away. "There's nothing the matter with me," she said. "Folks can't always be the same color unless they're painted." She gave her head a shake as if to set herself right, and turned resolutely towards Rose's trunk. "Can you unpack, yourself, or do you want me to help you?" she asked.

Rose eyed the trunk helplessly, then she looked doubtfully at Sylvia. A woman who was a relative of hers, and who lived in a really grand old house, and was presumably well-to-do, and had no maids at command, but volunteered to do the service herself, was an anomaly to her.

"I'm afraid it will be too much trouble," she said, hesitatingly. "Marie always unpacked my trunk, but you have no—"

"I guess if I had a girl I wouldn't set her to unpacking your trunk," said Sylvia, vigorously. "Where is your key?"

"In my bag," replied Rose, and she searched for the key in her dark-blue, gold-trimmed bag. "Mrs. Wilton's maid, Anne, packed my trunk for me," she said. "Anne packs very nicely. Mr. Wilton and her sister, Miss Pamela Mack, did not know whether I ought to put on mourning or not for Cousin Eliza, but they said it would be only proper for me to wear black to the funeral. So I have a ready-made black gown and hat in the trunk. I hardly knew how much to bring. I did not know—" She stopped. She had intended to say—"how long I should stay," but she was afraid.

Sylvia finished for her. "You can stay just as long as you are a mind to," said she. "You can live here all the rest of your life, as far as that is concerned. You are welcome. It would suit me, and it would suit Mr. Whitman."

Rose looked at Sylvia in amazement as she knelt stiffly on the floor unlocking her trunk. "Thank you, you are very kind," she said, feebly. She had a slight sensation of fear at such a wealth of hospitality offered her from a stranger, although she was a distant relative.

"You know this was your own aunt's house and your own aunt's things," said Sylvia, beginning to remove articles from the trunk, "and I want you to feel at home here—just as if you had a right here." The words were cordial, but there was a curious effect as if she were repeating a well-rehearsed lesson.

"Thank you," Rose said again, more feebly than before. She watched Sylvia lifting out gingerly a fluffy white gown, which trailed over her lean arm to the floor. "That is a tea-gown; I think I will put it on now," said Rose. "It will be so comfortable, and you are not formal here, are you?"


"You are not formal here in East Westland, are you?"

"No," replied Sylvia, "we ain't formal. So you want to put on—this?"

"Yes, I think I will."

Sylvia laid the tea-gown on the bed, and turned to the trunk again.

"You know, of course, that Aunt Abrahama and mamma were estranged for years before mamma died," said Rose. She sat before the white dressing-table watching Sylvia, and the lovely turn of her neck and her blond head were reflected in the glass above the vase of flowers.

"Yes, I knew something about it."

"I never did know much, except that Aunt Abrahama did not approve of mamma's marriage, and we never saw her nor heard of her. Wasn't it strange," she went on, confidentially, "how soon after poor mamma's death all my money came to me?"

Sylvia turned on her. "Have you got money?" said she. "I thought you were poor."

"Yes, I think I have a great deal of money. I don't know how much. My lawyers take care of it, and there is a trustee, who is very kind. He is a lawyer, too. He was a friend of poor Cousin Eliza's. His name is McAllister. He lives in Chicago, but he comes to New York quite often. He is quite an old gentleman, but very nice indeed. Oh yes, I have plenty of money. I always have had ever since mamma died—at least, since a short time after. But we were very poor, I think, after papa died. I think we must have been. I was only a little girl when mamma died, but I seem to remember living in a very little, shabby place in New York—very little and shabby—and I seem to remember a great deal of noise. Sometimes I wonder if we could have lived beside the elevated road. It does not seem possible that we could have been as poor as that, but sometimes I do wonder. And I seem to remember a close smell about our rooms, and that they were very hot, and I remember when poor mamma died, although I was so young. I remember a great many people, who seemed very kind, came in, and after that I was in a place with a good many other little girls. I suppose it was a school. And then—" Rose stopped and turned white, and a look of horror came over her face.

"What then?" asked Sylvia. "Don't you feel well, child?"

"Yes, I feel well—as well as I ever feel when I almost remember something terrible and never quite do. Oh, I hope I never shall quite remember. I think I should die if I did."

Sylvia stared at her. Rose's face was fairly convulsed. Sylvia rose and hesitated a moment, then she stepped close to the girl and pulled the fair head to her lean shoulder. "Don't; you mustn't take on so," she said. "Don't try to remember anything if it makes you feel like that. You'll be down sick."

"I am trying not to remember, and always the awful dread lest I shall comes over me," sobbed the girl. "Mr. McAllister says not to try to remember, too, but I am so horribly afraid that I shall try in spite of me. Mrs. Wilton and Miss Pamela don't know anything about it. I never said anything about it to them. I did once to Mr. McAllister, and I did to Cousin Eliza, and she said not to try, and now I am telling you, I suppose because you are related to me. It came over me all of a sudden."

Rose sobbed again. Sylvia smoothed her hair, then she shook her by the slender, soft shoulders, and again that overpowering delight seized her. "Come, now," she said, "don't you cry another minute. You get up and lay your underclothes away in the bureau drawers. It's almost time to get supper, and I can't spend much more time here."

Rose obeyed. She packed away piles of laced and embroidered things in the bureau drawers, and under Sylvia's directions hung up her gowns in the closet. As she did this she volunteered further information.

"I do remember one thing," she said, with a shudder, "and I always know if I could remember back of that the dreadful thing would come to me." She paused for a moment, then she said, in a shocked voice: "Mrs. Whitman."

"What is it?"

"I really do remember that I was in a hospital once when I was little. I remember the nurses and the little white beds. That was not dreadful at all. Everybody petted me, but that was when the trying not to remember began."

"Don't you think of it another minute," Sylvia said, sternly.

"I won't; I won't, really. I—"

"For goodness' sake, child, don't hang that heavy coat over that lace waist—you'll ruin it!" cried Sylvia.

Rose removed the coat hurriedly, and resumed, as Sylvia took it out of her hand: "It was right after that Cousin Eliza Farrel came, and then all that money was left to me by a cousin of father's, who died. Then I went to live with Mrs. Wilton and Miss Pamela, and I went to school, and I went abroad, and I always had plenty, and never any trouble, except once in a while being afraid I should remember something dreadful. Poor Cousin Eliza Farrel taught school all the time. I never saw her but twice after the first time. When I grew older I tried to have her come and live with me. Mrs. Wilton and Miss Pamela have always been very nice to me, but I have never loved them. I could never seem to get at enough of them to love."

"You had better put on that now," said Sylvia, indicating the fluffy mass on the bed. "I'll help you."

"I don't like to trouble you," Rose said, almost pitifully, but she stood still while Sylvia, again with that odd sensation of delight, slipped over the young head a lace-trimmed petticoat, and fastened it, and then the tea-gown. The older woman dressed the girl with exactly the same sensations that she might have experienced in dressing her own baby for the first time. When the toilet was completed she viewed the result, however, with something that savored of disapproval.

Rose, after looking in the glass at her young beauty in its setting of lace and silk, looked into Sylvia's face for the admiration which she felt sure of seeing there, and shrank. "What is the matter? Don't I look nice?" she faltered.

Sylvia looked critically at the sleeves of the tea-gown, which were mere puffs of snowy lace, streaming with narrow ribbons, reaching to the elbow. "Do they wear sleeves like that now in New York?" asked she.

"Why, yes!" replied Rose. "This tea-gown came home only last week from Madame Felix."

"They wear sleeves puffed at the bottom instead of the top, and a good deal longer, in East Westland," said Sylvia.

"Why, this was made from a Paris model," said Rose, meekly. Again sophistication was abashed before the confidence of conservatism.

"I don't know anything about Paris models," said Sylvia. "Mrs. Greenaway gets all her patterns right from Boston."

"I hardly think madame would have made the sleeves this way unless it was the latest," said Rose.

"I don't know anything about the latest," said Sylvia. "We folks here in East Westland try to get the best." Sylvia felt as if she were chiding her own daughter. She spoke sternly, but her eyes beamed with pleasure. The young girl's discomfiture seemed to sweeten her very soul.

"For mercy's sake, hold up your dress going down-stairs," she admonished. "I swept the stairs this morning, but the dust gathers before you can say boo, and that dress won't do up."

Rose gathered up the tail of her gown obediently, and she also experienced a certain odd pleasure. New England blood was in her veins. It was something new and precious to be admonished as a New England girl might be admonished by a fond mother.

When she went into the south room, still clinging timidly to her lace train, Horace rose. Henry sat still. He looked at her with pleased interest, but it did not occur to him to rise. Horace always rose when Sylvia entered a room, and Henry always rather resented it. "Putting on society airs," he thought to himself, with a sneer.

However, he smiled involuntarily; the girl was so very pretty and so very unlike anything which he had ever seen. "Dressed up as if she were going to a ball, in a dress made like a night-gown," he thought, but he smiled. As for Horace, he felt dazzled. He had scarcely realized how pretty Rose was under the dark-blue mist of her veil. He placed a chair for her, and began talking about the journey and the weather while Sylvia got supper. Henry was reading the local paper. Rose's eyes kept wandering to that. Suddenly she sprang to her feet, was across the room in a white swirl, and snatched the paper from Henry's hands.

"What is this, oh, what is this?" she cried out.

She had read before Horace could stop her. She turned upon him, then upon Henry. Her face was very pale and working with emotion.

"Oh," she cried, "you only telegraphed me that poor Cousin Eliza was dead! You did not either of you tell me she was murdered. I loved her, although I had not seen her for years, because I have so few to whom my love seemed to belong. I was sorry because she was dead, but murdered!"

Rose threw herself on a chair, and sobbed and sobbed.

"I loved her; I did love her," she kept repeating, like a distressed child. "I did love her, poor Cousin Eliza, and she was murdered. I did love her."

Chapter IX

Horace was right in his assumption that the case against Lucinda Hart and Hannah Simmons would never be pressed. Although it was proved beyond a doubt that Eliza Farrel had swallowed arsenic in a sufficiently large quantity to cause death, the utter absence of motive was in the favor of the accused, and then the suspicion that the poison might have been self-administered, if not with suicidal intent, with another, steadily gained ground. Many thought Miss Farrel's wonderful complexion might easily have been induced by the use of arsenic.

At all events, the evidence against Lucinda and Hannah, when sifted, was so exceedingly flimsy, and the lack of motive grew so evident, that there was no further question of bringing them to trial. Still the suspicion, once raised, grew like a weed, as suspicion does grow in the ready soil of the human heart. For a month after the tragedy it seemed as if Sylvia Whitman's prophecy concerning the falling off of the hotel guests was destined to fail. The old hostelry was crowded. Newspaper men and women from all parts of the country flocked there, and also many not connected with the press, who were morbidly curious and revelled in the sickly excitement of thinking they might be living in the house of a poisoner. Lucinda Hart sent in her resignation from the church choir. Her experience, the first time she had sung after Eliza Farrel's death, did not exactly daunt her; she was not easily daunted. But she had raised her husky contralto, and lifted her elderly head in its flowered bonnet before that watchful audience of old friends and neighbors, and had gone home and written her stiffly worded note of resignation.

She attended church the following Sunday. She said to herself that her absence might lead people to think there was some ground for the awful charge which had been brought against her. She bought a smart new bonnet and sat among the audience, and heard Lucy Ayres, who had a beautiful contralto, sing in her place. Lucy sang well, and looked very pretty in her lace blouse and white hat, but she was so pale that people commented on it. Sylvia, who showed a fairly antagonistic partisanship for Lucinda, spoke to her as she came out of church, and walked with her until their roads divided. Sylvia left Henry to follow with Rose Fletcher, who was still staying in East Westland, and pressed close to Lucinda.

"How are you?" she said.

"Well enough; why shouldn't I be?" retorted Lucinda.

It was impossible to tell from her manner whether she was grateful for, or resented, friendly advances. She held her head very high. There was a stiff, jetted ornament on her new bonnet, and it stood up like a crest. She shot a suspicious glance at Sylvia. Lucinda in those days entertained that suspicion of suspicion which poisons the very soul.

"I don't know why you shouldn't be," replied Sylvia. She herself cast an angry glance at the people around them, and that angry glance was like honey to Lucinda. "You were a fool to give up your place in the choir," said Sylvia, still with that angry, wandering gaze. "I'd sung. I'd shown 'em; and I'd sung out of tune if I'd wanted to."

"You don't know what it was like last Sunday," said Lucinda then. She did not speak complainingly or piteously. There was proud strength in her voice, but it was emphatic.

"I guess I do know," said Sylvia. "I saw everybody craning their necks, and all them strangers. You've got a lot of strangers at the hotel, haven't you, Lucinda?"

"Yes," said Lucinda, and there was an echo in her monosyllable like an expletive.

Sylvia nodded sympathizingly. "Some of them write for the papers, I suppose?" said she.

"Some of them. I know it's my bread-and-butter to have them, but I never saw such a parcel of folks. Talk about eyes in the backs of heads, they're all eyes and all ears. Sometimes I think they ain't nothing except eyes and ears and tongue. But there's a lot besides who like to think maybe they're eating poison. I know I'm watched every time I stir up a mite of cake, but I stir away."

"You must have your hands full."

"Yes; I had to get Abby Smith to come in and help."

"She ain't good for much."

"No, she ain't. She's thinkin' all the time of how she looks, instead of what she's doing. She waits on table, though, and helps wash dishes. She generally forgets to pass the vegetables till the meat is all et up, and they're lucky if they get any butter; but I can't help it. They only pay five dollars a week, and get a lot of enjoyment out of watching me and Hannah, and they can't expect everything."

The two women walked along the country road. There were many other people besides the church-going throng in their Sunday best, but they seemed isolated, although closely watched. Presently, however, a young man, well dressed in light gray, with a white waistcoat, approached them.

"Why, good-day, Miss Hart!" he said, raising his hat.

Lucinda nodded stiffly and walked on. She did not speak to him, but to Sylvia. "He is staying at the hotel. He writes for a New York paper," she informed Sylvia, distinctly.

The young man laughed. "And Miss Hart is going to write for it, too," he said, pleasantly and insinuatingly. "She is going to write an article upon how it feels to be suspected of a crime when one is innocent, and it will be the leading feature in next Sunday's paper. She is to have her picture appear with it, too, and photographs of her famous hotel and the room in which the murder was said to have been committed, aren't you, Miss Hart?"

"Yes," replied Lucinda, with stolidity.

Sylvia stared with amazement. "Why, Lucinda!" she gasped.

"When I find out folks won't take no, I give 'em yes," said Lucinda, grimly.

"I knew I could finally persuade Miss Hart," said the young man, affably. He was really very much of a gentleman. He touched his hat, striking into a pleasant by-path across a field to a wood beyond.

"He's crazy over the country," remarked Lucinda; and then she was accosted again, by another gentleman. This time he was older and stouter, and somewhat tired in his aspect, but every whit as genially persuasive.

"He writes for a New York paper," said Lucinda to Sylvia, in exactly the same tone which she had used previously. "He wants me to write a piece for his paper on my first twenty-four hours under suspicion of crime."

"And you are going to write it, aren't you, Miss Hart?" asked the gentleman.

"Yes," replied Lucinda, with alacrity.

This time the gentleman looked a trifle suspicious. He pressed his inquiry. "Can you let us have the copy by Wednesday?" he asked.

"Yes," said Lucinda. Her "yes" had the effect of a snap.

The gentleman talked a little more at length with regard to his article, and Lucinda never failed with her ready "yes."

They were almost at the turn of the road, where Sylvia would leave Lucinda, when a woman appeared. She was young, but she looked old, and her expression was one of spiritual hunger.

"This lady writes for a Boston paper," said Lucinda. "She came yesterday. She wants me to write a piece for her paper upon women's unfairness to women."

"Based upon the late unfortunate occurrence at Miss Hart's hotel," said the woman.

"Yes," said Lucinda, "of course; everything is based on that. She wants me to write a piece upon how ready women are to accuse other women of doing things they didn't do."

"And you are going to write it?" said the woman, eagerly.

"Yes," said Lucinda.

"Oh, thank you! you are a perfect dear," said the woman. "I am so much pleased, and so will Mr. Evans be when he hears the news. Now I must ask you to excuse me if I hurry past, for I ought to wire him at once. I can get back to Boston to-night."

The woman had left them, with a swish of a frilled silk petticoat under a tailored skirt, when Sylvia looked at Lucinda. "You ain't goin' to?" said she.


"But you said so."

"You'd say anything to get rid of them. I've said no till I found out they wouldn't take it, so then I began to say yes. I guess I've said yes, in all, to about seventeen."

"And you don't mean to write a thing?"

"I guess I ain't going to begin writing for the papers at my time of life."

"But what will they do?"

"They won't get the pieces."

"Can't they sue you, or anything?"

"Let them sue if they want to. After what I've been through lately I guess I sha'n't mind that."

"And you are telling every one of them you'll write a piece?"

"Of course I am. It's the only thing they'll let me tell them. I want to get rid of them somehow."

Sylvia looked at Lucinda anxiously. "Is it true that Albion Bennet has left?" she said.

"Yes; he was afraid of getting poisoned. Mrs. Jim Jones has taken him. I reckon I sha'n't have many steady boarders after this has quieted down."

"But how are you going to get along, Lucinda?"

"I shall get along. Everybody gets along. What's heaped on you you have to get along with. I own the hotel, and I shall keep more hens and raise more garden truck, and let Hannah go if I can't pay her. I shall have some business, enough to keep me alive, I guess."

"Is it true that Amos Quimby has jilted Hannah on account of—?"

"Guess so. He hasn't been near her since."

"Ain't it a shame?"

"Hannah's got to live with what's heaped on her shoulders, too," said Lucinda. "Folks had ought to be thankful when the loads come from other people's hands, instead of their own, and make the best of it. Hannah has got a good appetite. It ain't going to kill her. She can go away from East Westland by-and-by if she wants to, and get another beau. Folks didn't suspect her much, anyway. I've got the brunt of it."

"Lucinda," said Sylvia, earnestly. "Folks can't really believe you'd go and do such a thing."

"It's like flies after molasses," said Lucinda. "I never felt I was so sweet before in my life."

"What can they think you'd go and poison a good, steady boarder like that for?"

"She paid a dollar a day," said Lucinda.

"I know she did."

"And I liked her," said Lucinda. "I know lots of folks didn't, but I did. I know what folks said, and I'll own I found things in her room, but I don't care what folks do to their outsides as long as their insides are right. Miss Farrel was a real good woman, and she had a kind of hard time, too."

"Why, I thought she had a real good place in the high-school; and teachers earn their money dreadful easy."

"It wasn't that."

"What was it?"

Lucinda hesitated. "Well," she said, finally, "it can't do her any harm, now she's dead and gone, and I don't know as it was anything against her, anyway. She just set her eyes by your boarder."

"Not Mr. Allen? You don't mean Mr. Allen, Lucinda?"

"What other boarder have you had? I've known about it for a long time. Hannah and me both have known, but we never opened our lips, and I don't want it to go any further now."

"How did you find out?"

"By keeping my eyes and ears open. How does anybody find out anything?"

"I don't believe Mr. Allen ever once thought of her," said Sylvia, and there was resentment in her voice.

"Of course he didn't. Maybe he'll take a shine to that girl you've got with you now."

"Neither one of them has even thought of such a thing," declared Sylvia, and her voice was almost violent.

"Well, I don't know," Lucinda said, indifferently. "I have had too much to look out for of my own affairs since the girl came to know anything about that. I only thought of their being in the same house. I always had sort of an idea myself that maybe Lucy Ayres would be the one."

"I hadn't," said Sylvia. "Not but she—well, she looked real sick to-day. She didn't look fit to stand up there and sing. I should think her mother would be worried about her. And she don't sing half as well as you do."

"Yes, she does," replied Lucinda. "She sings enough sight better than I do."

"Well, I don't know much about music," admitted Sylvia. "I can't tell if anybody gets off the key."

"I can," said Lucinda, firmly. "She sings enough sight better than I can, but I sang plenty well enough for them, and if I hadn't been so mad at the way I've been treated I'd kept on. Now they can get on without me. Lucy Ayres does look miserable. There's consumption in her family, too. Well, it's good for her lungs to sing, if she don't overdo it. Good-bye, Sylvia."

"Good-bye," said Sylvia. She hesitated a moment, then she said: "Don't you mind, Lucinda. Henry and I think just the same of you as we've always thought, and there's a good many besides us. You haven't any call to feel bad."

"I don't feel bad," said Lucinda. "I've got spunk enough and grit enough to bear any load that I 'ain't heaped on my own shoulders, and the Lord knows I 'ain't heaped this. Don't you worry about me, Sylvia. Good-bye."

Lucinda went her way. She held her nice black skirt high, but her plodding feet raised quite a cloud of dust. Her shoulders were thrown back, her head was very erect, the jetted ornament on her bonnet shone like a warrior's crest. She stepped evenly out of sight, as evenly as if she had been a soldier walking in line and saying to himself, "Left, right; left, right."

Chapter X

When Sylvia reached home she found Rose Fletcher and Horace Allen sitting on the bench under the oak-trees of the grove north of the house. She marched out there and stood before them, holding her fringed parasol in such a way that it made a concave frame for her stern, elderly face and thin shoulders. "Rose," said she, "you had better go into the house and lay down till dinner-time. You have been walking in the sun, and it is warm, and you look tired."

She spoke at once affectionately and severely. It seemed almost inconceivable that this elderly country woman could speak in such wise to the city-bred girl in her fashionable attire, with her air of self-possession.

But the girl looked up at her as if she loved her, and answered, in just the way in which Sylvia liked her to answer, with a sort of pretty, childish petulance, defiant, yet yielding. "I am not in the least tired," said she, "and it did not hurt me to walk in the sun, and I like to sit here under the trees."

Rose was charming that morning. Her thick, fair hair was rolled back from her temples, which had at once something noble and childlike about them. Her face was as clear as a cameo. She was dressed in mourning for her aunt, but her black robe was thin and the fine curves of her shoulders and arms were revealed, and the black lace of her wide hat threw her fairness into relief like a setting of onyx.

"You had better go into the house," said Sylvia, her eyes stern, her mouth smiling. A maternal instinct which dominated her had awakened suddenly in the older woman's heart. She adored the girl to such an extent that the adoration fairly pained her. Rose herself might easily have found this exacting affection, this constant watchfulness, irritating, but she found it sweet. She could scarcely remember her mother, but the memory had always been as one of lost love. Now she seemed to have found it again. She fairly coquetted with this older woman who loved her, and whom she loved, with that charming coquettishness sometimes seen in a daughter towards her mother. She presumed upon this affection which she felt to be so staple. She affronted Sylvia with a delicious sense of her own power over her and an underlying affection, which had in it the protective instinct of youth which dovetailed with the protective instinct of age.

It had been planned that she was to return to New York immediately after Miss Farrel's funeral. In fact, her ticket had been bought and her trunk packed, when a telegram arrived rather late at night. Rose had gone to bed when Sylvia brought it up to her room. "Don't be scared," she said, holding the yellow envelope behind her. Rose stared at her, round-eyed, from her white nest. She turned pale.

"What is it?" she said, tremulously.

"There's no need for you to go and think anything has happened until you read it," Sylvia said. "You must be calm."

"Oh, what is it?"

"A telegram," replied Sylvia, solemnly. "You must be calm."

Rose laughed. "Oh, Mrs. Wilton and Miss Pamela are forever sending telegrams," she said. "Very likely it is only to say somebody will meet me at the Grand Central."

Sylvia looked at the girl in amazement, as she coolly opened and read the telegram. Rose's face changed expression. She regarded the yellow paper thoughtfully a moment before she spoke.

"If anything has happened, you must be calm," said Sylvia, looking at her anxiously. "Of course you have lived with those people so many years you have learned to think a good deal of them; that is only natural; but, after all, they ain't your own."

Rose laughed again, but in rather a perplexed fashion. "Nothing has happened," she said—"at least, nothing that you are thinking of—but—"

"But what?"

"Why, Mrs. Wilton and Miss Pamela are going to sail for Genoa to-morrow, and that puts an end to my going to New York to them."

A great brightness overspread Sylvia's face. "Well, you ain't left stranded," she said. "You've got your home here."

Rose looked gratefully at her. "You do make me feel as if I had, and I don't know what I should do if you did not, but"—she frowned perplexedly—"all the same, one would not have thought they would have gone off in this way without giving me a moment's notice," she said, in rather an injured fashion, "after I have lived with them so long. I never thought they really cared much about me. Mrs. Wilton and Miss Pamela look too hard at their own tracks to get much interest in anybody or anything outside; but starting off in this way! They might have thought that I would like to go—at least they might have told me."

Suddenly her frown of perplexity cleared away. "I know what has happened," she said, with a nod to Sylvia. "I know exactly what has happened."


"Mrs. Wilton's and Miss Pamela's aunt Susan has died, and they've got the money. They have been waiting for it ever since I have been with them. Their aunt was over ninety, and it did begin to seem as if she would never die."

"Was she very rich?"

"Oh, very; millions; and she never gave a cent to Mrs. Wilton and Miss Pamela. She has died, and they have just made up their minds to go away. They have always said they should live abroad as soon as they were able." Rose looked a little troubled for a moment, then she laughed. "They kept me as long as they needed me," said she, with a pleasant cynicism, "and I don't know but I had lived with them long enough to suit myself. Mrs. Wilton and Miss Pamela were always nice to me, but sometimes—well, sometimes I felt so outside them that I was awfully lonesome. And Mrs. Wilton always did just what you knew she would, and so did Miss Pamela, and it was a little like living with machines that were wound up to do the right thing by you, but didn't do it of their own accord. Now they have run down, just like machines. I know as well as I want to that Aunt Susan has died and left them her money. I shall get a letter to-morrow telling me about it. I think myself that Mrs. Wilton and Miss Pamela will get married now. They never gave up, you know. Mrs. Wilton's husband died ages ago, and she was as much of an old maid as Miss Pamela, and neither of them would give up. They will be countesses or duchesses or something within a year."

Rose laughed, and Sylvia beamed upon her. "If you feel that you can stay here," she said, timidly.

"If I feel that I can," said Rose. She stretched out her slender arms, from which the lace-trimmed sleeves of her night-gown fell away to the shoulder, and Sylvia let them close around her thin neck and felt the young cheek upon her own with a rapture like a lover's.

"Those folks she lived with in New York are going to Europe to-morrow," she told Henry, when she was down-stairs again, "and they have treated that poor child mean. They have never told her a word about it until now. She says she thinks their rich aunt has died and left them her money, and they have just cleared out and left her."

"Well, she can stay with us as long as she is contented," said Henry.

"I rather guess she can," said Sylvia.

Henry regarded her with the wondering expression which was often on his face nowadays. He had glimpses of the maternal depths of his wife's heart, which, while not understanding, he acquiesced in; but there was something else which baffled him.

But now for Sylvia came a time of contentment, apparently beyond anything which had ever come into her life. She fairly revelled in her possession of Rose, and the girl in her turn seemed to reciprocate. Although the life in East Westland was utterly at variance with the life she had known, she settled down in it, of course with sundry hitches of adjustment. For instance, she could not rid herself at first of the conviction that she must have, as she had always had, a maid.

"I don't know how to go to work," she said to Sylvia one day. "Of course I must have a maid, but I wonder if I had better advertise or write some of my friends. Betty Morrison may know of some one, or Sally Maclean. Betty and Sally always seem to be able to find ways out of difficulties. Perhaps I had better write them. Maybe it would be safer than to advertise."

Sylvia and Rose were sitting together in the south room that afternoon. Sylvia looked pathetically and wistfully at the girl. "What do you want a maid for?" she asked, timidly.

Rose stared. "What for? Why, what I always want a maid for: to attend to my wardrobe and assist me in dressing, to brush my hair, and—everything," ended Rose, comprehensively.

Sylvia continued to regard her with that wistful, pathetic look.

"I can sew braid on your dresses, and darn your stockings, and button up your dresses, and brush your hair, too, just as well as anybody," she said.

Rose ran over to her and went down on her knees beside her. "You dear," she said, "as if you didn't have enough to do now!"

"This is a very convenient house to do work in," said Sylvia, "and now I have my washing and ironing done, I've got time on my hands. I like to sew braid on and darn stockings, and always did, and it's nothing at all to fasten up your waists in the back; you know that."

"You dear," said Rose again. She nestled her fair head against Sylvia's slim knees. Sylvia thrilled. She touched the soft puff of blond hair timidly with her bony fingers. "But I have always had a maid," Rose persisted, in a somewhat puzzled way. Rose could hardly conceive of continued existence without a maid. She had managed very well for a few days, but to contemplate life without one altogether seemed like contemplating the possibility of living without a comb and hair-brush. Sylvia's face took on a crafty expression.

"Well," said she, "if you must have a maid, write your friends, and I will have another leaf put in the dining-table."

Rose raised her head and stared at her. "Another leaf in the dining-table?" said she, vaguely.

"Yes. I don't think there's room for more than four without another leaf."

"But—my maid would not eat at the table with us."

"Would she be willing to eat in the kitchen—cold victuals—after we had finished?"

Rose looked exceedingly puzzled. "No, she would not; at least, no maid I ever had would have," she admitted.

"Where is she going to eat, then? Would she wait till after we were through and eat in the dining-room?"

"I don't believe she would like that, either."

"Where is she going to eat?" demanded Sylvia, inexorably.

Rose gazed at her.

"She could have a little table in here, or in the parlor," said Sylvia.

Rose laughed. "Oh, that would never do!" said she. "Of course there was a servants' dining-room at Mrs. Wilton's, and there always is in a hotel, you know. I never thought of that."

"She has got to eat somewhere. Where is she going to eat?" asked Sylvia, pressing the question.

Rose got up and kissed her. "Oh, well, I won't bother about it for a while, anyway," said she. "Now I think of it, Betty is sure to be off to Newport by now, and Sally must be about to sail for Paris to buy her trousseau. She is going to marry Dicky van Snyde in the autumn (whatever she sees in him)! So I doubt if either of them could do anything about a maid for me. I won't bother at all now, but I am not going to let you wait upon me. I am going to help you."

Sylvia took one of Rose's little hands and looked at it. "I guess you can't do much with hands like yours," said she, admiringly, and with an odd tone of resentment, as if she were indignant at the mere suggestion of life's demanding service from this dainty little creature, for whom she was ready to immolate herself.

However, Rose had in her a vein of persistency. She insisted upon wiping the dishes and dusting. She did it all very badly, but Sylvia found the oddest amusement in chiding her for her mistakes and in setting them right herself. She would not have been nearly as well pleased had Rose been handy about the house. One evening Henry caught Sylvia wiping over all the dishes which Rose had wiped, and which were still damp, the while she was fairly doubled up with suppressed mirth.

"What in creation ails you, Sylvia?" asked Henry.

She extended towards him a plate on which the water stood in drops. "Just see this plate that dear child thinks she has wiped," she chuckled.

"You women do beat the Dutch," said Henry.

However, Rose did prove herself an adept in one respect. She had never sewed much, but she had an inventive genius in dress, and, when she once took up her needle, used it deftly.

When Sylvia confided to her her aspiration concerning the pink silk which she had found among Abrahama's possessions, Rose did not laugh at all, but she looked at her thoughtfully.

"Don't you think it would be suitable if I had it made with some black lace?" asked Sylvia, wistfully. "Henry thinks it is too young for me, but—"

"Not black," Rose said, decisively. The two were up in the attic beside the old chest of finery. Rose took out an old barege of an ashes-of-roses color. She laid a fold of the barege over the pink silk, then she looked radiantly at Sylvia.

"It will make a perfectly lovely gown for you if you use the pink for a petticoat," said she, "and have the gown made of this delicious old stuff."

"The pink for a petticoat?" gasped Sylvia.

"It is the only way," said Rose; "and you must have gray gloves, and a bonnet of gray with just one pale-pink rose in it. Don't you understand? Then you will harmonize with your dress. Your hair is gray, and there is pink in your cheeks. You will be lovely in it. There must be a very high collar and some soft creamy lace, because there is still some yellow left in your hair."

Rose nodded delightedly at Sylvia, and the dressmaker came and made the gown according to Rose's directions. Sylvia wore it for the first time when she walked from church with Lucinda Hart and found Rose and Horace sitting in the grove. After Rose had replied to Sylvia's advice that she should go into the house, she looked at her with the pride of proprietorship. "Doesn't she look simply lovely?" she asked Horace.

"She certainly does," replied the young man. He really gazed admiringly at the older woman, who made, under the glimmering shadows of the oaks, a charming nocturne of elderly womanhood. The faint pink on her cheeks seemed enhanced by the pink seen dimly through the ashen shimmer of her gown; the creamy lace harmonized with her yellow-gray hair. She was in her own way as charming as Rose in hers.

Sylvia actually blushed, and hung her head with a graceful sidewise motion. "I'm too old to be made a fool of," said she, "and I've got a good looking-glass." But she smiled the smile of a pretty woman conscious of her own prettiness. Then all three laughed, although Horace but a moment before had looked very grave, and now he was quite white. Sylvia noticed it. "Why, what ails you, Mr. Allen?" she said. "Don't you feel well?"

"Perfectly well."

"You look pale."

"It is the shadow of the oaks."

Sylvia noticed a dainty little white box in Rose's lap. "What is that?" she asked.

"It is a box of candy that dear, sweet Lucy Ayres who sang to-day made her own self and gave to me," replied Rose. "She came up to me on the way home from church and slipped it into my hand, and I hardly know her at all. I do think it is too dear of her for anything. She is such a lovely girl, and her voice is beautiful." Rose looked defiantly at Horace. "Mr. Allen has been trying to make me promise not to eat this nice candy," she said.

"I don't think candy is good for anybody, and girls eat altogether too much of it," said Horace, with a strange fervor which the occasion hardly seemed to warrant.

"Wouldn't I know he was a school-teacher when I heard him speak like that, even if nobody had ever told me?" said Rose. "Of course I am going to eat this candy that dear Lucy made her own self and gave me. I should be very ungrateful not to, and I love candy, too."

"I will send for some to Boston to-morrow," cried Horace, eagerly.

Rose regarded him with amazement. "Why, Mr. Allen, you just said you did not approve of candy at all, and here you are proposing to send for some for me," she said, "when I have this nice home-made candy, a great deal purer, because one knows exactly what is in it, and you say I must not eat this."

Rose took up a sugared almond daintily and put it to her lips, but Horace was too quick for her. Before she knew what he was about he had dashed it from her hand, and in the tumult the whole box of candy was scattered. Horace trampled on it, it was impossible to say whether purposely or accidentally, in the struggle.

Both Rose and Sylvia regarded him with amazement, mixed with indignation.

"Why, Mr. Allen!" said Rose. Then she added, haughtily: "Mr. Allen, you take altogether too much upon yourself. You have spoiled my candy, and you forget that you have not the least right to dictate to me what I shall or shall not eat."

Sylvia also turned upon Horace. "Home-made candy wouldn't hurt her," she said. "Why, Mr. Allen, what do you mean?"

"Nothing. I am very sorry," said Horace. Then he walked away without another word, and entered the house. The girl and the woman stood looking at each other.

"What did he do such a thing for?" asked Rose.

"Goodness knows," said Sylvia.

Rose was quite pale. She began to look alarmed. "You don't suppose he's taken suddenly insane or anything?" said she.

"My land! no," said Sylvia. "Men do act queer sometimes."

"I should think so, if this is a sample of it," said Rose, eying the trampled candy. "Why, he ground his heel into it! What right had he to tell me I should or should not eat it?" she said, indignantly, again.

"None at all. Men are queer. Even Mr. Whitman is queer sometimes."

"If he is as queer as that, I don't see how you have lived with him so long. Did he ever make you drop a nice box of candy somebody had given you, and trample on it, and then walk off?"

"No, I don't know as he ever did; but men do queer things."

"I don't like Mr. Allen at all," said Rose, walking beside Sylvia towards the house. "Not at all. I don't like him as well as Mr. James Duncan."

Sylvia looked at her with quick alarm. "The man who wrote you last week?"

"Yes, and wanted to know if there was a hotel here so he could come."

"I thought—" began Sylvia.

"Yes, I had begun the letter, telling him the hotel wasn't any good, because I knew he would know what that meant—that there was no use in his asking me to marry him again, because I never would; but now I think I shall tell him the hotel is not so bad, after all," said Rose.

"But you don't mean—"

"I don't know what I do mean," said Rose, nervously. "Yes, I do know what I mean. I always know what I mean, but I don't know what men mean making me drop candy I have had given me, and trampling on it, and men don't know that I know what I mean." Rose was almost crying.

"Go up-stairs and lay down a little while before dinner," said Sylvia, anxiously.

"No," replied Rose; "I am going to help you. Don't, please, think I am crying because I feel badly. It is because I am angry. I am going to set the table."

But Rose did not set the table. She forgot all about it when she had entered the south room and found Henry Whitman sitting there with the Sunday paper. She sat down opposite and looked at him with her clear, blue, childlike eyes. She had come to call him Uncle Henry.

"Uncle Henry?" said she, interrogatively, and waited.

Henry looked across at her and smiled with the somewhat abashed tenderness which he always felt for this girl, whose environment had been so very different from his and his wife's. "Well?" he said.

"Uncle Henry, do you think a man can tell another man's reasons for doing a queer thing better than a woman can?"


"I almost know a woman could tell why a woman did a queer thing, better than a man could," said Rose, reflectively. She hesitated a little.

Henry waited, his worn, pleasant face staring at her over a vividly colored page of the paper.

"Suppose," said Rose, "another woman had given Aunt Sylvia a box of candy which she had made herself, real nice candy, and suppose the woman who had given it to her was lovely, and you had knocked a piece of candy from Aunt Sylvia's mouth just as she was going to taste it, and had startled her so you made her drop the whole box, and then set your heel hard on the pieces; what would you have done it for?"

The girl's face wore an expression of the keenest inquiry. Henry looked at her, wrinkling his forehead. "If another woman had given Sylvia a box of candy she had made, and I knocked a piece from her hand just as she was going to taste it, and made her drop the whole box, and had trampled all the rest of the candy underfoot, what should I have done it for?" he repeated.


Henry looked at her. He heard a door shut up-stairs. "I shouldn't have done it," he said.

"But suppose you had done it?"

"I shouldn't have."

Rose shrugged her shoulders. "You are horrid, Uncle Henry," she said.

"But I shouldn't have done it," repeated Henry. He heard Horace's step on the stair. Rose got up and ran out of the room by another door from that which Horace entered. Horace sat down in the chair which Rose had just vacated. He looked pale and worried. The eyes of the two men met. Henry's eyes asked a question. Horace answered it.

"I am in such a devil of a mess as never man was yet, I believe," he said.

Henry nodded gravely.

"The worst of it is I can't tell a living mortal," Horace said, in a whisper. "I am afraid even to think it."

At dinner Rose sat with her face averted from Horace. She never spoke once to him. As they rose from the table she made an announcement. "I am going to run over and see Lucy Ayres," she said. "I am going to tell her an accident happened to my candy, and maybe she will give me some more."

Henry saw Horace's face change. "Candy is not good for girls; it spoils their complexion. I have just been reading about it in the Sunday paper," said Henry. Sylvia unexpectedly proved his ally. Rose had not eaten much dinner, although it had been an especially nice one, and she felt anxious about her.

"I don't think you ought to eat candy when you have so little appetite for good, wholesome meat and vegetables," she said.

"I want to see Lucy, too," said Rose. "I am going over there. It is a lovely afternoon. I have nothing I want to read and nothing to do. I am going over there."

Henry's eyes questioned Horace's, which said, plainly, to the other man, "For God's sake, don't let her go; don't let her go!"

Rose had run up-stairs for her parasol. Horace turned away. He understood that Henry would help him. "Don't let her go over there this afternoon," said Henry to Sylvia, who looked at him in the blankest amazement.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse