My heart dropped when I saw what a family party air we had. I felt it to my finger-tips, and I could see that the lad writhed under it. His expression changed from misery to mutiny. I should not have been surprised if he had made one plunge into the roaring current of Broadway and sunk from sight forever. The thing that troubled me most was the poor taste of it: as if the whole family had congregated in the metropolis to capture that unhappy boy. For the first time I began to feel some sympathy for him.
"Mr. Goward," I said, abruptly, in a voice too low even for Aunt Elizabeth to hear, "nobody wishes to make you uncomfortable. We are not here for any such purpose. I have something in my pocket to show you; that is all. It will interest you, I am sure. As soon as we get to the hotel, if you don't mind, I will tell you about it—or, in fact, will give it to you. Count the rest out. They are not in the secret."
"I feel like a convict arrested by plainclothes men," complained Harry, glancing before and behind.
"You won't," I said, "when you have talked to me five minutes."
"Sha'n't I?" he asked, dully. He said nothing more, and we pursued our way to the hotel in silence. Elizabeth Talbert and Dr. Denbigh talked enough to make up for us.
Aunt Elizabeth made herself so charming, so acutely charming, that I heard the boy draw one quick, sharp breath. But his eyes followed her more sullenly than tenderly, and when she clung to the doctor's arm upon a muddy crossing the young man turned to me with a sad, whimsical smile.
"It doesn't seem to make much difference—does it, Mrs. Price? She treats us all alike."
There is the prettiest little writing-room in "The Happy Family," all blue and mahogany and quiet. This place was deserted, and thither I betook myself with Harry Goward, and there he began as soon as we were alone:
"Well, what is it, Mrs. Price?"
"Nothing but this," I said, gently enough. "I have taken it upon myself to solve a mystery that has caused a good deal of confusion in our family."
Without warning I took the muddy letter from my pocket, and slid it under his eyes upon the big blue blotter.
"I don't wish to be intrusive or strenuous," I pleaded, "none of us wishes to be that. Nobody is here to call you to account, Mr. Goward, but you see this letter. It was received at our house in the condition in which you find it. Would you be so kind as to supply the missing address? That is all I want of you."
The boy's complexion ran through the palette, and subsided from a dull Indian-red to a sickly Nile-green. "Hasn't she ever read it?" he demanded.
"Nobody has ever read it," I said. "Naturally—since it is not addressed. This letter went fishing with Billy."
The young man took the letter and examined it in trembling silence.
Perhaps if Fate ever broke him on her wheel it was at that moment. His destiny was still in his own hands, and so was the letter. Unaddressed, it was his personal property. He could retain it if he chose, and the family mystery would darken into deeper gloom than ever. I felt my comfortable, commonplace heart beat rapidly.
Our silence had passed the point of discomfort, and was fast reaching that of anguish, when the boy lifted his head manfully, dipped one of "The Happy Family's" new pens into a stately ink-bottle, and rapidly filled in the missing address upon the unfortunate letter. He handed it to me without a word. My eyes blurred when I read:
"Personal. Miss Peggy Talbert, Eastridge. (Kindness of Miss Alice Talbert.)"
"What shall I do with it?" I asked, controlling my agitation.
"Deliver it to her, if you please, as quickly as possible. I thought of everything else. I never thought of this."
"Never thought of—"
"That she might not have got it."
"Now then, Mr. Goward," I ventured, still speaking very gently, "do you mind telling me what you took that 5.40 train for?"
"Why, because I didn't get an answer from the letter!" exclaimed Harry, raising his voice for the first time. "A man doesn't write a letter such as that more than once in a lifetime. It was a very important letter. I told her everything. I explained everything. I felt I ought to have a hearing. If she wanted to throw me over (I don't deny she had the right to) I would rather she had taken some other way than—than to ignore such a letter. I waited for an answer to that letter until quarter-past five. I just caught the 5.40 train and went to my aunt's house, the one—you know my uncle died the other day—I have been there ever since. By-the-way, Mrs. Price, if anything else comes up, and if you have any messages for me, I shall be greatly obliged if you will take my address."
He handed me his card with an up-town street and number, and I snapped it into the inner pocket of my wallet.
"Do you think," demanded Harry Goward, outright, "that she will ever forgive me, REALLY forgive me?"
"That is for you to find out," I answered, smiling comfortably; for I could not possibly have Harry think that any of us—even an unpopular elder sister—could be there to fling Peggy at the young man's head. "That is between you and Peggy."
"When shall you get home with that letter?" demanded Harry.
"Ask my husband. At a guess, I should say tomorrow."
"Perhaps I had better wait until she has read the letter," mused the boy. "Don't you think so, Mrs. Price?"
"I don't think anything about it. I will not take any responsibility about it. I have got the letter officially addressed, and there my errand ends."
"You see, I want to do the best thing," urged Harry Goward. "And so much has happened since I wrote that letter—and when you come to think that she has never read it—"
"I will mail it to her," I said, suddenly. "I will enclose it with a line and get it off by special delivery this noon."
"It might not reach her," suggested Harry, pessimistically. "Everything seems to go wrong in this affair."
"Would you prefer to send it yourself?" I asked.
Harry Goward shook his head.
"I would rather wait till she has read it. I feel, under the circumstances, that I owe that to her."
Now, at that critical moment, a wide figure darkened the entrance of the writing-room, and, plumping down solidly at another table, spread out a fat, ring-laden hand and began to write a laborious letter. It was the lady with the three chins. But the girl with the poodle did not put in an appearance. I learned afterward that the dog rule of "The Happy Family" admitted of no permits.
Harry Goward and I parted abruptly but pleasantly, and he earnestly requested the privilege of being permitted to call upon me to-morrow morning.
I mailed the letter to Peggy by special delivery, and just now I asked Tom if he didn't think it was wise.
"I can tell you better, my dear, day after tomorrow," he replied. And that was all I could get out of him.
"The Happy Family."—It is day after tomorrow, and Tom and I are going to take the noon train home. Our purpose, or at least my purpose, to this effect has been confirmed, if not created, by the following circumstances:
Yesterday, a few hours after I had parted from Harry Goward in the blue writing-room of "The Happy Family," Tom received from father a telegram which ran like this:
"Off for Washington—that Gooch business. Shall take Peggy. Child needs change. Will stop over from Colonial Express and lunch Happy Family. Explicitly request no outsider present. Can't have appearance of false position. Shall take her directly out of New York, after luncheon. Cyrus Talbert."
Torn between filial duty and sisterly affection, I sat twirling this telegram between my troubled fingers. Tom had dashed it there and blown off somewhere, leaving me, as he usually does, to make my own decisions. Should I tell Harry? Should I not tell Harry? Was it my right? Was it not his due? I vibrated between these inexorable questions, but, like the pendulum I was, I struck no answer anywhere. I had half made up my mind to let matters take their own course. If Goward should happen to call on me when Peggy, flying through New York beneath her father's stalwart wing, alighted for the instant at "The Happy Family"—was I to blame? Could I be held responsible? It struck me that I could not. On the other hand, father could not be more determined than I that Peggy should not be put into the apparent position of pursuing an irresolute, however repentant, lover.... I was still debating the question as conscientiously and philosophically as I knew how, when the bell-boy brought me a note despatched by a district messenger, and therefore constitutionally delayed upon the way.
The letter was from my little sister's fiance, and briefly said:
"My dear Mrs. Price,—I cannot tell you how I thank you for your sisterly sympathy and womanly good sense. You have cleared away a lot of fog out of my mind. I don't feel that I can wait an unnecessary hour before I see Peggy. I should like to be with her as soon as the letter is. If you will allow me to postpone my appointment with yourself, I shall start for Eastridge by the first train I can catch to-day.
"Henry T. Goward."
IX. THE MOTHER, by Edith Wyatt
I am sure that I shall surprise no mother of a large family when I say that this hour is the first one I have spent alone for thirty years. I count it, alone. For while I am driving back in the runabout along the six miles of leafy road between the hospital and Eastridge with mother beside me, she is sound asleep under the protection of her little hinged black sunshade, still held upright. She will sleep until we are at home; and, after our anxious morning at the hospital, I am most grateful to the fortune sending me this lucid interval, not only for thinking over what has occurred in the last three days, but also for trying to focus clearly for myself what has happened in the last week, since Elizabeth went on the 5.40 to New York; since Charles followed Elizabeth; since Maria, under Dr. Denbigh's mysteriously required escort, followed Charles; since Tom followed Maria; and since Cyrus, with my dear girl, followed Tom.
On the warm afternoon before Elizabeth left, as I walked past her open door, with Lena, and carrying an egg-nog to Peggy, I could not avoid hearing down the whole length of the hall a conversation carried on in clear, absorbed tones, between my sister and Alice.
"Did I understand you to say," said Elizabeth, in an assumption of indifference too elaborate, I think, to deceive even her niece, "that this Mr. Wilde you mention is now living in New York?"
"Oh yes. He conducts all the art-classes at the Crafts Settlement. He encouraged Lorraine's sisters in their wonderful work. I would love to go into it myself."
Lorraine's sisters and her circle once entertained me at tea in their establishment when I visited Charles before his marriage, in New York. They are extremely kind young women, ladies in every respect, who have a workshop called "At the Sign of the Three-legged Stool." They seem to be carpenters, as nearly as I can tell. They wear fillets and bright, loose clothes; and they make very rough-hewn burnt-wood footstools and odd settees with pieces of glass set about in them. It is all very puzzling. When Charles showed me a candlestick one of the young ladies had made, and talked to me about the decoration and the line, I could see that it was very gracefully designed and nicely put together. But when he noticed that in the wish to be perfectly open-minded to his point of view I was looking very attentively at a queer, uneven wrought-iron brooch with two little pendant polished granite rocks, he only laughed and put his hand on my shawl a minute and brought me more tea.
So that I could understand something of what Alice was mentioning as she went on: "You know Lorraine says that, though not the most PROMINENT, Lyman Wilde is the most RADICAL and TEMPERAMENTAL leader in the great handicraft development in this country. Even most of the persons in favor of it consider that he goes too far. She says, for instance, he is so opposed to machines of all sorts that he thinks it would be better to abolish printing and return to script. He has started what they call a little movement of the kind now, and is training two young scriveners."
Elizabeth was shaking her head reflectively as I passed the door, and saying: "Ah—no compromise. And always, ALWAYS the love of beauty." And I heard her advising Alice never, never to be one of the foolish women and men who hurt themselves by dreaming of beauty or happiness in their narrow little lives; repeating sagely that this dream was even worse for the women than for the men; and asked whether Alice supposed the Crafts Settlement address wouldn't probably be in the New York telephone-book. Alice seemed to be spending a very gratifying afternoon.
My sister Elizabeth's strongest instinct from her early youth has been the passion inspiring the famous Captain Parklebury Todd, so often quoted by Alice and Billy: "I do not think I ever knew a character so given to creating a sensation. Or p'r'aps I should in justice say, to what, in an Adelphi play, is known as situation." Never has she gratified her taste in this respect more fully than she did—as I believe quite accidentally and on the inspiration of these words with Alice—in taking the evening train to New York with Mr. Goward.
Twenty or thirty people at the station saw them starting away together, each attempting to avoid recognition, each in the pretence of avoiding the other, each with excited manners. So that, as both Peggy and Elizabeth have been born and brought up here; as, during Mr. Goward's conspicuous absence and silence, during Peggy's illness, and all our trying uncertainties and hers, in the last weeks, my sister had widely flung to town talk many tacit insinuations concerning the character of Mr. Goward's interest in herself; as none of the twenty or thirty people were mute beyond their kind; and as Elizabeth's nature has never inspired high neighborly confidence—before night a rumor had spread like the wind that Margaret Talbert's lover had eloped with her aunt.
Billy heard the other children talking of this news and hushing themselves when he came up. Tom learned of the occurrence by a telephone, and, after supper, told Cyrus and myself; Maria was informed of it by telephone through an old friend who thought Maria should know of what every one was saying. Lorraine, walking to the office to meet Charles, was overtaken on the street by Mrs. Temple, greatly concerned for us and for Peggy, and learned the strange story from our sympathetic neighbor, to repeat it to Charles. At ten o'clock there was only one person in the house, perhaps in Eastridge, who was ignorant of our daughter's singular fortune. That person was our dear girl herself.
Since my own intelligence of the report I had not left her alone with anybody else for a moment; and now I was standing in the hall watching her start safely up-stairs, when to our surprise the front-door latch clicked suddenly; she turned on the stairs; the door opened, and we both faced Charles. From the first still glances he and I gave each other he knew she hadn't heard. Then he said quietly that he had wished to see Peggy for a moment before she went to sleep. He bade me a very confiding and responsible good-night, and went out with her to the garden where they used to play constantly together when they were children.
Up-stairs, unable to lie down till she came back, I put on a little cambric sack and sat by the window waiting till I should hear her foot on the stairs again. "Charles is telling her," I said to Cyrus. He was walking up and down the room, dumb with impatience and disgust, too pained for Peggy, too tried by his own helplessness to rest or even to sit still. In a way it has all been harder for him than for any one else. His impulses are stronger and deeper than my dear girl's, and far less cool. She is very especially precious to him; and, whether because she looks so like him, or because he thinks her ways like my own, her youth and her fortune have always been at once a more anxious and a more lovely concern with him than any one else's on earth. She is, somehow, our future to him.
While we waited here in this anxiety up-stairs, down in the garden I could hear not the words, but the tones of our children as they spoke together. Charles's voice sounded first for a long time, with an air of calmness and directness; and Peggy answered him at intervals of listening, answered apparently less with surprise at what he told her than in a quiet acceptance, with a little throb of control, and then in accord with him. Then it was as though they were planning together.
In the still village night their voices sounded very tranquil; after a little while, even buoyant. Peggy laughed once or twice. Little by little a breath of relief blew over both her father's solicitude and mine. It was partly from the coolness and freshness of the out-door air, and the half-unconscious sense it often brings, that beyond whatever care is close beside you at the instant there is—and especially for the young—so much else in all creation. Then, for me, there was a deep comfort in the knowledge that in this time of need my children had each other; that they could speak so together, in an intimate sympathy, and were, not only superficially in name, but really and beautifully, a brother and sister.
At last, as they parted at the gate, Charles said, in a spirited, downright tone: "Stick to that, cling to it, make it your answer to everything. It's all you now know and all you need to know, and you'll be as firm on it as on a rock."
The lamplight from the street filtering through the elm leaves glimmered on Peggy's bright hair as she looked up at him. Her eyelashes were wet, but she was laughing as she said: "But, of course, I HAVE to cling to it. It's the truth. Good-night! Good-night!" And her step on the stairs was light and even skipping.
On the next morning, when I knocked at her door to find whether she would rather breakfast up-stairs, I saw at once she had slept. She stood before the mirror fastening her belt ribbon, and looking so lovely it seemed impossible misfortune should ever touch her.
"Why, mother dear, you aren't dressed for the library-board meeting! Isn't that this morning?"
She looked at me with her little, sweet, quick smile, and we sat down for a moment on her couch together, each with a sense that neither would say one word too sharply pressing.
"Dear mother, why NOT go to the board meeting? You don't need to protect me so. You CAN'T protect me every minute. You see, of course, last night Charles—told me of what everybody thinks." Her voice throbbed again. She stopped for a minute. "But for weeks and weeks I had felt something like this coming toward me. And now that it's come," she went on, bravely, "we can only just do as we always have done—and not make any difference—can we?"
"Except that I feel I must be here, because we can't know from minute to minute what may come up."
"You feel you can't leave me, mother. But you can. I want to see whoever comes, just as usual. I'd have to at some time, you know, at any rate. And I mean to do it now—until I go away out of Eastridge. Charles is going to arrange that so very wonderfully. He has gone to New York now to see about it."
"He has, my dear?" I said, in some surprise.
"Yes. And, mother, about—about what's over," she whispered.
"Oh, just—just it couldn't all have happened in this way if"—she spoke in quite a clear, soft voice, looking straight into my eyes, with one of her quick turns—"he were a real MAN—anybody I could think of as being my husband. It was just that I didn't truly know him. That was all."
We held each other's hands fast for one moment of perfect understanding before we rose.
"Then I'll go, dear, this morning, just as you like," I said. She came into my room and fastened my cuff-pins for me. "Why, mother, I don't believe you and your little duchesse cuffs and your little, fine, gold watch-chain have ever been away from the chair of the library committee at a board meeting for twenty years! Just think what a sensation you were going to make if I hadn't interfered! There, how nice you look!"
The weather was so inclement during my absence that I felt quite secure concerning all intrusion for her. At noon the storm rose high, with a close-timed thunder and lightning; the Episcopal church spire was struck; two trees were blown over in the square; and, instead of ordering Dan and the horses out in this tumult, I dined with a board member living next the library, and drove home at three o'clock when the violence of the gale had abated.
The house was perfectly still when I reached it. The children were at school; Cyrus, at the factory; mother, napping, with her door closed. In her own room up-stairs, in the middle of the house, Peggy sat alone, in a loose wrapper, with her hair flying over her shoulders. An open book lay unnoticed in her lap. Her face was white and tear-stained, and her eyes looked wild and ill.
As her glance fell on me I saw her need of me, and hurried in to close the door. "Oh, mother; mother!" she moaned. "Such a morning! It's all come back—all I fought against—all I was conquering. What does it mean? What does it mean?"
"What has happened? Who has been here?"
"Maria—sneering at Charles's ideas, asking me questions, petting me and pitying me and making a baby of me, until I broke down at last and wanted all the things she wanted to have done, and let her kiss me good-bye for her kindness in doing them—"
In a passion of tears she walked up and down, up and down the room, as her father does, except with that quick, nervous grace she always has, and in a painful, sobbing excitement.
Every sense I had was for an instant's passage fused in one clear, concentrated anger against a sister who could play so ruthlessly upon my poor child's woman pulses and emotions, so disarm her of her self-control and right free spirit.
"Why did she come?" I said, at last, with the best calmness I could muster. Peggy stood still for a moment, startled by a coldness in my voice I couldn't alter.
"She came to find out about things for herself. Then when she did find out about Charles's way of helping us she simply hated it—and she sent me after—after the letter you had. I got it from your desk, and Maria took it to find out its real address."
At that she sank again in a chair, and buried her face in her hands, hardly knowing what she was saying. "Oh, what shall I do? What shall I do?" she repeated, softly and wildly. "Yesterday I could behave so well by what I knew was true about him. Then, when Maria came and spoke as though I was three years old, and hadn't any understanding nor any dignity of my own, and the best thing for any girl, at any rate, were to cling to the man she loved as though she were his mother and he were her dear, erring child" (she began to laugh a little), "the feebler he were the more credit to her for her devotion—then I couldn't go on by what I knew was true about him—only back, back again to all my—old mistake." She was laughing and crying now with little, quick gasps, in a sheer hysteria which no doubt would have given her sister entire satisfaction as a manifesto of her normal womanliness.
I brought her a glass of water, and, trying to conceal my own distress for her as well as I could, sat down, silently, near her. Gradually she grew quieter, until the room was so still that we could hear the raindrops from the eaves plash down outside. Peggy pushed back her cloud of bright hair and fastened it in the nape of her neck. At last she said, with conviction: "Mother, Maria didn't say these things, but I know she thinks them for me, thinks that a woman's love is just all forgiveness and indulgence. By that she could—she did work on my nerves. But"—and her gray eyes glanced so beautifully and so darkly with a girl's fine, straight, native, healthy spirit as she said it—"I COULDN'T marry any man but one that I admired."
"I'm sure you couldn't," I said, firmly. "And, my dear child, I must confess I fail to understand why your sister should wish so patronizingly for you a fortune she would never have accepted for herself. How can she possibly like for you such a mawkish and a morbid thing as the prospect of a marriage with a man in whom neither you nor any other person feels the presence of one single absolute and manly quality?"
"Why, mother, I have never heard you speak so strongly before—"
At that moment Lena came searching through the hall, and knocking at the door of my room, next Peggy's, to announce Lorraine. The kind-hearted girl was with us constantly, and of the greatest unobtrusive solace to Peggy in those three days after our travellers had all gone, one after the other, like the fairy-tale family, at the chance word of Clever Alice.
It was on the fifth morning afterward, as I was sitting on the piazza hemming an organdie ruffle for my big little girl—she does shoot up so fast—that I heard on the gravel Charles's footstep.
For some time after his arrival, as he sat, with his hat thrown off, talking lightly of his New York sojourn, I was so completely glad to see him, and to see him looking so well and in such buoyant spirits, that I could think of nothing else until he mentioned taking tea "At the Sign of the Three-legged Stool" with Lorraine's sisters, with Lyman Wilde—and with Aunt Elizabeth.
My work dropped out of my hands.
He laughed. "Yes. Dear mother, since you never have seen him, I don't know that I can hope to convey any right conception of Wilde's truly remarkable character. He is, to begin with, the best of men. Picture, if you can, a nature with a soul completely beautiful and selfless, and a nervous surface quite as pachydermatous and indiscriminating as that of an ox. Wilde accepts everybody's estimate of himself. Not only the quality of his mercy, but also of his admiration, is quite unstrained. So that he sees the friend of his youth not at all as I or any humanized perception at the Crafts Settlement would see her, but quite as she sees herself, as a fascinating, gifted, capricious woman of the world, beating the wings of her thwarted love of beauty against cruel circumstance. I noticed his attitude as soon as I mentioned to him that Lorraine had by chance discovered that he and my aunt were old acquaintances. He said that he would be very much interested in seeing her again. As he happened at the moment to be looking over a packet of postals announcing his series of talks on 'Script,' he asked me her address, called his stenographer, and had it added to his mailing-list. But before the postal reached her she had called him up to tell him she had lately heard of his work and of him for the first time after all these years, through Lorraine, and to ask him to come to see her. His call, I am sure, they spent in a rich mutual misunderstanding as thoroughly satisfactory to both as any one could wish. For, as I say, on my last visit in the Crafts neighborhood she was taking tea with all of them and Dr. Denbigh."
"Dr. Denbigh!" I repeated, in surprise. "Oh, Charles, are any of them not well?"
"No, no. I think he's been in New York"—he gave a groan—"on account of some delicate finesse on Maria's part, some incomprehensible plan of hers for bringing Goward back here. The worst of it is that, like all her plans, I believe it's going to be perfectly successful."
"What do you mean?" I asked, in consternation.
"From every natural portent, I think that horrid infant in arms was, when I left New York, about to cast his handkerchief or rattle toward Peggy again. I'm morally certain that he and all his odious emotional disturbances will be presenting themselves for her consideration in Eastridge before long; and, since they strike me as quite too odious for the nicest girl in the world, I hope, before they reach here, she'll be far away—absolutely out of reach."
"I hope so, too." But as I said it, for the first time there came around me, like a blank, rising mist, the prospect of a journey farther and a longer separation than any I had before imagined between us.
"I knew you'd think so. That was, partly, why I acted as I did, for her, dear mother"—he leaned forward a little toward me and took up one end of the ruffle I was stitching again to cover my excitement—"and for Lorraine and for me, in engaging our passage abroad."
He seemed not to expect me to speak at once, but after a little quiet pause, while we both sat thinking, went on, with great gentleness: "You know it's about our only way of really protecting her from any annoyance here, even that of thoughts of her own she doesn't like. There will be so very wonderfully much for her to see, and I believe she'll enjoy it. One of Lorraine's younger sisters is coming to be with us, perhaps, for a while in Switzerland—and the Elliots—animal sculptors. You remember them, don't you, and Arlington—studying decorative design that winter when you were in New York? They'll be abroad this summer. I believe we'll all have a very charming, care-free time walking and sketching and working—a time really so much more charming for a lovely and sensible young woman than sitting in a talking town subject to the incursions of a lover she doesn't truly like." He stopped a moment before he added, sincerely: "Then—it isn't simply for her that this way would be better, mother, but for me, for every one."
"For you and for every one?" I managed to make myself ask with tranquillity.
"Yes. Why wouldn't this relieve immensely all the sufferers from my commercial career at the factory? Don't you think that's somewhat unjust, not simply to Maria's and Tom's requirements for the family standing and fortunes"—he laughed a moment—"but to father's need there of a right-hand business man?" That was his way of putting it. "For a long time," he pursued, more earnestly than I've ever heard him speak before in his life, "I've been planning, mother, to go away to study and to sketch. I'm doing nothing here. Maybe what I would do away from here might not seem to you so wonderful. But it would have one dignity—whatever else it were or were not, it would be my own."
Perhaps it may seem strange, but in those few words and instants, when my son spoke so simply and sincerely of his own work, I felt, more than in his actual wedding with his wife, the cleaving pang of a marriage for him. At the same time I was stricken beyond all possible speech by my rising consciousness of the injustice of his sense of failure here in his own father's house, in my house. How weakly I had been lost in the thousand little anxieties and preoccupations of my every-day, to let myself be unwittingly engulfed in his older sister's strange, blank prejudice, to lose my own true understanding of the rights and the happiness of one of the children—I can think it, all unspoken and in silence—somehow most my own.
It seemed as though my heartstrings tightened. Everything blurred before me. I never in my life have tried so hard before to hold my soul absolutely still to see quite clearly, as though none of this were happening to myself, what would be best for my boy's future, for Peggy's, for their whole lives. It was in the midst of these close-pressing thoughts that I heard him saying: "So that perhaps this would truly be the right way for every one." Only too inevitably I knew his words were true; and now I could force myself at last to say, quietly: "Why—yes—if that would make you happier, Charles." He rose and came up to my chair then so beautifully, and moved it to a shadier place, as Peggy, catching sight of him from the garden, ran up with a cry of surprise to meet him, to talk about it all.
I scarcely know whether her father's consciousness of the coming separation for me, or my consciousness of the coming separation for him, made things harder or easier for both of us. Cyrus was obliged to make a business trip to Washington on the next day, and it was decided that as Peggy especially wished to be with him now before her long absence, she should accompany him in the morning.
On the midnight before we were all startled from sleep by the clang of the door-bell. Good little Billy, always hoping for excitement, and besides extremely sweet in doing errands, answered it. The rest of us absurdly assembled in kimonos and bathrobes at the head of the stairs, dreading we scarcely knew what, for the members of the family not in the house. Within a few minutes Billy dashed up-stairs again, considerately holding high, so that we all could see it, a special-delivery letter, the very same illegible, bleared envelope which had before annoyed us so extremely. It was addressed in washed-out characters to Miss — Talbert. The word Peggy, very clear and black, had been lately inserted in the same handwriting; and below, the street and number had been recently refreshed, apparently by the hand of Maria.
As this familiar, wearisome object reappeared before us all, Peggy, with a little quiver of mirth, looking out between her long braids, cried: "Call back the boy!" By the time the messenger had returned she had readdressed the envelope, unopened, to Mr. Goward. Billy took it back down-stairs again; and every one trooped off to bed, Alice and mother with positive snorts and flounces of impatience.
Needless to say, Tom and Maria returned in perfect safety on Saturday. Before then, at twelve o'clock on the same morning, when Cyrus and Peggy had gone, I was sitting on the piazza making a little money-bag for her, with mother sitting rocking beside me, and complaining of every one in peace, when Dr. Denbigh drove up to the horse-block, flung his weight out of the buggy, and hurried up the steps. He shook hands with us hastily and abstractedly, and asked if he might speak to me inside the house.
"Mrs. Talbert," he said, closing the door of the library as soon as we were inside it, "I am sure you will try not to feel alarmed at something I must tell you of at once. The early morning train I came on from New York, the one that ought to get in at Eastridge at eleven, was derailed two hours ago on a misplaced switch between here and Whitman. No one was killed, but many of the passengers were injured. Among the injured I took care of was Mr. Goward. His arm has been broken. He's been badly shaken up—and he's now in a state of shock at the Whitman Hospital. The boy has been asking for Peggy, and then for you. I promised him that after my work was done—all the injured were taken there by a special as soon as possible after the wreck—I'd ask you to drive back to see him. Will you come?"
Of course I went, then. And at Harry Goward's request I have gone twice since. He is very ill, too ill to talk, and though Dr. Denbigh says he will outlive a thousand stronger men, he has been rather worse this morning. When I first saw him he asked for Peggy in one gasping word, and when he learned she had gone to Washington turned even whiter than he had been before. He is nervously quite wrecked and wretched; has no confidence in Dr. Denbigh; and either Maria or I will go to the hospital every day till the boy's mother comes from California. It is a very trying situation. For his misfortune has, of course, not changed my knowledge of his nature. I dread telling Cyrus and Peggy, when I meet their returning noon train, after I have left mother at home, of everything that has happened here.
As though these difficulties were not enough, this morning, just before we started to Whitman, we were involved in another perplexity through the unwilling agency of Mr. Temple. He called me up to read me a bewildering telegram he had received an hour before from Elizabeth. It said:
"Please end Eastridge scandal by announcing my engagement in Banner.—Lily."
"Engagement to whom?" Mr. Temple had asked by telephone of Charles, who said none of us could be responsible for any definite information in the matter unless, perhaps, Maria. On consultation, Maria had said to Mr. Temple that in New York Mr. Goward had imparted to her that Elizabeth had told him many weeks ago that she was irrevocably betrothed to Dr. Denbigh. Mr. Temple had finally referred unsuccessfully to me for Elizabeth's address in order to ask her to send a complete announcement in the full form she wished printed.
("Whoa, Douglas. Well—mother, you had a nice little nap, didn't you. No, no; I won't be late. It's not more than five minutes to the station. Thanks, Lena. Yes, Billy dear, you can get in. Why, I don't know why you shouldn't drive.")
The train is just pulling in. Charles is there and Maria, each standing on one side of the car-steps. Now I see them. That looks like Peggy's suit-case the porter's carrying down. Yes, it is. There—there they are, coming down the steps behind him, Cyrus and my dear girl—how well they look! Oh, how I hope everything will come right for them!
X. THE SCHOOL-BOY, By Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews
Automobile. (Painted red, with yellow lines.)
Automatic reel. (The 3-dollar kind.)
New stamp-book. (The puppy chewed my other.)
Golly, I forgot. I suppose I mustn't use this, but it's my birthday next month, and I want 'steen things, and I thought I'd better make a list to pin on the dining-room door, where the family could take their pick what to give me. Lorraine gave me this blank-book, and told me that if I'd write down everything that I knew about Peggy and Harry Goward and all that stuff, she'd have Sally make me three pounds of crumbly cookies with currants on top, in a box, to keep in my room just to eat myself, and she wouldn't tell Alice, so I won't be selfish not to offer her any as she won't know about it and so won't suffer. I'm going to keep them in the extra bureau drawer where Peg puts her best party dress, so I guess they'll be et up before anybody goes there.
Peggy's feeling pretty sick now to dress up for parties, but I know a thing or two that the rest don't know. Wouldn't Alice be hopping! She always thinks she's wise to everything, and to have a thick-headed boy-person know a whacking secret that they'd all be excited about would make her mad enough to burst. She thinks she can read my ingrown soul too—but I rather think I have my own interior thoughts that Miss Alice doesn't tumble to. For instance, Dr. Denbigh.
Golly, I forgot. Lorraine said she'd cut down the cookies if things weren't told orderly the way they happened. So I've got to begin back. First then, I've had the best time since Peggy got engaged that I've ever had in my own home. Not quite as unbossed as when they sent me on the Harris farm last summer, and I slept in the stable if I wanted to, and nobody asked if I'd taken a bath. That was a sensible way to live, but yet it's been unpecked at and pleasant even at home lately. You see, with such a lot of fussing about Peggy and Harry Goward, nobody has noticed what I did, and that, to a person with a taste for animals, is one of the best states of living. I've gone to the table without brushing my hair, and the puppy has slept in my bed, and I've kept a toad behind the wash-basin for two weeks, and though Lena, the maid, knew about it, she shut up and was decent because she didn't want to worry mother. A toad is such an unusual creature to live with. I've got a string to his hind leg, but yet he gets into places where you don't expect him, and it's very interesting. Lena seemed to think it wasn't nice to have him in the towels in the wash-stand drawer, but I didn't care. It doesn't hurt the towels and it's cosey for the toad.
I had a little snake—a stunner—but Lena squealed when she found him in my collars, so I had to take him away. He looked awfully cunning inside the collars, but Lena wouldn't stand for him, so I let well enough alone and tried to be contented with the toad and the puppy and some June-bugs I've got in boxes in the closet, and my lizard—next to mother, he's my best friend—I've had him six months. I'm not sure I wouldn't rather lose mother than him, because you can get a step-mother, but it's awfully difficult to replace a lizard like Diogenes. I wonder if Lorraine will think I've written too much about my animals? They're more fun than Peggy anyway, and as for Harry Goward—golly! The toad or lizard that couldn't be livelier than he is would be a pretty sad animal.
A year ago I was fishing one day away up the river, squatting under a bush on a bank, when Peggy and Dr. Denbigh came and plumped right over my head. They didn't see me—but it wasn't up to me. They were looking the other way, so they didn't notice my fish-line either. They weren't noticing much of life as it appeared to me except their personal selves. I thought if they wouldn't disturb me I wouldn't disturb them. At first I didn't pay attention to what they were saying, because there was a chub and a trout together after my bait, and I naturally was excited to see if the trout would take it. But when I'd lost both of them I had time to listen.
I wouldn't have believed it of Dr. Denbigh, to bother about a girl like Peg, who can't do anything. And he's a whale, just a whale. He's six feet-two, and strong as an ox. He went through West Point before he degraded himself into a doctor, and he held the record there for shot-putting, and was on the foot-ball team, and even now, when he's very old and of course can't last long, he plays the best tennis in Eastridge. He went to the Spanish War—quite awhile ago that was, but yet in modern times—and he was at San Juan. You can see he's a Jim dandy—and him to be wasting time on Peggy—it's sickening! Even for a girl she's poor stuff. I don't mean, of course, that she's not all right in a moral direction, and I wouldn't let anybody else abuse her. Everybody says she's pretty, and I suppose she is, in a red-headed way, and she's awfully kind, you know, but athletically—that's what I'm talking about—she doesn't amount to a row of pins. She can't fish or play tennis or ride or anything.
Yet all the same it's true, I distinctly heard him say he loved her better than anything on earth. I don't think he could have meant better than Rapscallion; he's awfully fond of that horse. Probably he forgot Rapscallion for the moment. Anyhow, Peg was sniffling and saying how she was going back to college—it was the Easter vacation—and how she was only a stupid girl and he would forget her. And he said he'd never forget her one minute all his life—which was silly, for I've often forgotten really important things. Once I forgot to stop at Lorraine's for a tin of hot gingerbread she'd had Sally make for me to entirely eat by myself, and Alice got it and devoured it all up, the pig! Anyway, Dr. Denbigh said that, and then Peggy sniffled some more, and I heard him ask her:
"What is it, dear?"
"Dear," your grandmother. She said, then, why wouldn't he let her be engaged to him like anybody else, and it was hard on a girl to have to beg a man to be engaged, and then he laughed a little and they didn't either of them say anything for a while, but there were soft, rustling sounds—a trout was after my bait, so I didn't listen carefully. When I noticed again, Dr. Denbigh was saying how he was years and years older, and it was his duty to take care of her and not allow her to make a mistake that might ruin her life, and he wouldn't let her hurry into a thing she couldn't get out of, and a lot more. Peg said that forty wasn't old, and he was young enough for her, and she was certain, CERTAIN—I don't know what she was certain of, but she was horribly obstinate about it.
And then Dr. Denbigh said: "If I only dared let you, dear—if I only dared."
And something about if she felt the same in two years, or a year, or something—I can't remember all that truck—and they said the same thing over a lot. I heard him murmur:
"Call me Jack, just once."
And she murmured back, as if it was a stunt, "Jack"—and then rustlings. I'd call him Jack all the afternoon if he liked.
Then, after another of those still games, Peggy said, "Ow!" as if somebody'd pinched her, and that seemed such a queer remark that I stood up to see what they were up to. Getting to my feet I swung the line around and the bait flopped up the bank and hit Peg square in the mouth—I give you my word I didn't mean to, but it was awfully funny! My! didn't she squeal bloody murder? That's what makes a person despise Peggy. She's no sort of sport. Another time I remember I had some worms in an envelope, and I happened to feel them in my pocket, so I pulled out one and slid it down the back of her neck, and you'd have thought I'd done something awful. She yelped and wriggled and cried—she did—she actually cried. And you wouldn't believe what she finished up by doing—she went and took a bath! A whole bath—when she didn't have to! She can't see a joke at all. Now Alice is a horrid meddler—she and Maria. Yet Alice is a sport, and takes her medicine. I've seen that girl with a beetle in her hair, which I put there, keep her teeth shut and not make a sound—only a low gurgle—until she'd got him and slung him out of the window. Then she lammed me, I tell you—I respected her for it too—but she couldn't now, I'm stronger.
Oh, golly! Lorraine will cut down the cookies if I don't tell what happened. I don't exactly know what was next, but Dr. Denbigh somehow had me by the collar and gave me a yank, like a big dog does a little one.
"See here, you young limb," he said, "I'm—I'm going to—" and then he suddenly stopped and looked at Peggy and began to chuckle, and Peggy laughed and turned lobster color, and put her face in her hands and just howled.
Of course I grinned too, and then I glanced up at him lovingly and murmured "Jack," just like Peggy did.
That seemed to sober him, and he considered a minute. "Listen, Billy," he began, slowly; "we're in your power, but I'm going to trust you."
I just hooted, because there wasn't much else he could do. But he didn't smile, only his eyes sort of twinkled.
"Be calm, my son," he said. "You're a gentleman, I believe, and all I need do is to point out that what you've seen and heard is not your secret. I'm sure you realize that it's unnecessary to ask you not to tell. Of course, you'll never tell one word—NOT ONE WORD—" and he glared. "That's understood, isn't it?"
I said, "Yep," sort of scared. He's splendidly big and arrogant, and has that man-eating look, but he's a peach all the same.
"Are we friends—and brothers?" he asked, and slid a look at Peg.
"Yep," I said again, and I meant it.
"Shake," said Dr. Denbigh, and we shook like two men.
That was about all that happened that day except about my fishing. There was a very interesting—but I suppose Lorraine wouldn't care for that. It was a good deal of a strain on my feelings not to tell Alice, but of course I didn't. But once in awhile I would glance up at Dr. Denbigh trustingly and murmur "Jack," and he would be in a fit because I'd always do it when the family just barely couldn't hear. As soon as Peg came home from college we skipped to the mountains, and she went back from there to college again, and I didn't have a fair show to get rises out of them together, and in the urgency of 'steen things like pigeons and the new puppy, I pretty nearly forgot their love's young dream. I didn't have a surmise that I was going to be interwoven among it like I was. I saw Aunt Elizabeth going out with Dr. Denbigh in his machine two or three times, but she's a regular fusser with men, and he's got a kind heart, so I wasn't wise to anything in that. The day Peg came home for Christmas she was singing like the blue canaries down in the parlor, and I happened to pass Aunt Elizabeth's door and she was lacing up her shoes.
"Oh, Billy, ask Peggy if she doesn't want to go for a walk, will you? There's a lamb," she called to me.
So I happened to have intelligence from pristine sources that they went walking. And after that Peg had a grouch on and was off her feed the rest of the vacation—nobody knew why—I didn't myself, even, and it didn't occur to me that Aunt Elizabeth had probably been rubbing it in how well she knew Dr. Denbigh. The last day Peggy was home, at the table, they were chaffing Aunt Elizabeth about him, the way grown-ups do, instead of talking about the facts of life and different kinds of horse-feed, which is important in the winter. And I heard mother say in a "sort-of-vochy" tone to Peggy:
"They really seem to be fond of each other. Perhaps there may be an engagement to write you about, Peggy."
I thought to myself that mother didn't know that Dr. Denbigh was prejudiced to being engaged, but I didn't say anything—it's wise not to say anything to your family beyond the necessary jargon of living. Peggy seemed to think the same, for she didn't answer a syllabus, but after dropping her glass of water into the fried potatoes which Lena was kindly handing to her, she jumped and scooted. A few minutes later I wanted her to sew a sail on a boat, so I tried her door and it was locked, and then I knocked and she took an awfully long time simply to open that door, and when she did her eyes were red and she was shivering as if she was cold.
"Oh, Billy, Billy!" she said, and then, of all things, she grabbed me and kissed me.
I wriggled loose, and I said: "Sew up this sail for me, will you? Hustle!"
But she didn't pay attention. "Oh, Billy, be a little good to me!" she said. "I'm so wretched, and nobody knows but you. Oh, Billy—he likes somebody better than me!"
"Who does?" I asked. "Father?"
She half laughed, a sort of sickly laugh. "No, Billy. Not father—he—Jack—Dr. Denbigh. Oh, you know. Billy! You heard what mother said."
"O—o—oh!" I answered her, in a contemplating slowness. "Oh—that's so! Do you mind if he gets engaged to Aunt Elizabeth?"
"Do—I—MIND?" said Peggy, as if she was astonished. "Mind? Billy, I'll love him till I die. It would break my heart."
"Oh no, it wouldn't," I told her, because I thought I'd sort of comfort her. "That's truck. You can't break muscles just by loving. But I know how you feel, because that's the way I felt when father gave that Irish setter to the Tracys."
She went on chattering her teeth as if she was cold, so I put the table-cover around her. "You dear Billy," she said. But that was stuff.
"I wouldn't bother," I said. "Likely he's forgotten about you. I often forget things myself." That didn't seem to comfort her, for she began to sob out loud. "Oh, now. Peg, don't cry," I observed to her. "He probably likes Aunt Elizabeth better than you, don't you see? I think she's prettier, myself. And, of course, she's a lot cleverer. She tells funny stories and makes people laugh; you never do that—You're a good sort, but quiet and not much fun, don't you see? Maybe he got plain tired of you."
But instead of being cheered up by my explaining things, she put her head on the table and just yowled. Girls are a queer species.
"You're cruel, cruel!" she sobbed out, and you bet that surprised me—me that was comforting her for all I was worth! I patted her on the back of the neck, and thought hard what other soothings I could squeeze out. Then I had an idea. "Tell you what, Peg," I said, "it's too darned bad of Dr. Denbigh, if he just did it for meanness, when you haven't done anything to him. But maybe he got riled because you begged him so to let you be engaged to him. Of course a man doesn't want to be bothered—if he wants to get engaged he wants to, and if he doesn't want to he doesn't, and that's all. I think probably Dr. Denbigh was afraid you'd be at him again when you came home, so he hurried up and snatched Aunt Elizabeth."
Peggy lifted her face and stared at me. She was a sight, with her eyes all bunged up and her cheeks sloppy. "You think he IS engaged to her, do you, Billy?" she asked me.
Her voice sort of shook, and I thought I'd better settle it for her one way or the other, so I nodded and said, "Wouldn't be surprised," and then, if you'll believe it, that girl got angry—at ME. "Billy, you're brutal—you're like any other man-thing—cold-blooded and faithless—and—" And she began choking—choking again, and I was disgusted and cleared out.
I was glad when she went off to college, because, though she's a kind-hearted girl, she was so peevish and untalkative it made me tired. I think people ought to be cheerful around their own homes. But the family didn't seem to see it; there are such a lot of us that you have to blow a trumpet before you get any special notice—except me, when I don't wash my hands. Yet, what's the use of washing your hands when you're certain to get them dirty again in five minutes?
Well, then, awhile ago Peggy wrote she was engaged to Harry Goward, and there was great excitement in the happy home. My people are mobile in their temperatures, anyway—a little thing stirs them up. I thought it was queerish, but I didn't know but Peggy had changed her mind about loving Dr. Denbigh till she died. I should think that was too long myself. I was busy getting my saddle mended and a new bridle, so I didn't have time for gossip.
Harry came to visit the family, and the minute I inspected him over I knew he was a sissy. If you'll believe me, that grown-up man can't chin himself. He sings and paints apple blossoms, but he fell three-cornered over a fence that I vaulted. He may be fascinating, as Lorraine says, but he isn't worth saving, in my judgments. I said so to Dr. Denbigh one day when he picked me up in his machine and brought me home from school, and he was sympathetic and asked intelligent questions—at least, some of them were; some of them were just slow remarks about if Peggy seemed to be very happy, and that sort of stuff that doesn't have any foundations. I told him particularly that I like automobiles, and he thought a minute, and then said:
"If you were going to be playing near the Whitman station to-morrow I'd pick you up and take you on a twenty-mile spin. I'm lunching with some people near Whitman, and going on to Elmville."
"Oh, pickles!" said I. "Will you, really? Of course, I'll be there. I'll drive over with the expressman—he's a friend of mine—right after lunch," I said, "and I'll wait around the station for you."
So I did that, and while I was waiting I saw Aunt Elizabeth coming—I saw her first, so I hid—I was afraid if she saw me she'd find out I was going with Dr. Denbigh and snatch him herself. I heard her sending a crazy telegram to Harry Goward, and then I forgot all about it until I wanted to distract Alice's mind off some cookies that I'd accumulated at Lorraine's house. Alice is a pig. She never lets me stuff in peace. So I told her about the telegram—I knew Alice would be perturbed with that. She just loves to tell things, but she made me tell Peggy, and there was a hullabaloo promptly. Nobody confided a word to me, and I didn't care much, but I saw them all whispering in low tones and being very busy about it, and Peg looking madder than a goat, and I guessed that Alice had made me raise Cain.
Now, I've got to back up and start over. Golly! it's harder than you'd think just to write down things the way they happened, like I promised Lorraine. Let's see—Oh yes, of course—about Dr. Denbigh and the bubble. I was in a fit for fear dear Aunt Elizabeth would linger around till the doctor came, and then somehow I'd be minus one drive in a machine. She didn't; she cleared out with solidity and despatch, and my Aurora, as the school-teacher would say, came in his whirling car, and in I popped, and we had a corking time. He let me drive a little. You see, the machine is a—Oh, well, Lorraine said, specially, I was not to describe automobiles. That seems such a stupid restrictiveness, but it's a case of cookies, so I'll cut that out.
There really wasn't much else to tell, only that Dr. Denbigh started right in and raked out the inmost linings of my soul about Peggy and Harry Goward. It wasn't exactly cross-examination, because he wasn't cross, yet he fired the questions at me like a cannon, and I answered quick, you bet. Dr. Denbigh knows what he wants, and he means to get it. Just by accident toward the last I let out about that day in the winter when they were chaffing Aunt Elizabeth at the table about him, and how he'd taken her out in the machine, and how mother had said there might be an engagement to write Peggy about.
"Oh!" said Dr. Denbigh. "Oh!—oh!"
Funny, the way he went on saying, "Oh! Oh!"
I thought if that interested him he might like to hear about Peg throwing a fit in her room after, so I told him that, and how I tried to comfort her, and how unreasonable she was. And what do you suppose he said? He looked at me a minute with his eyebrows away down, and his mouth jammed together, and then he brought out:
"You little devil!"
That's not the worst he said, either. I guess mother wouldn't let me go out with him if she knew he used profanity—Maria wouldn't, anyway. I have decided I won't tell them. It's the only time I ever caught him. The other thing is this. He said to himself—but out loud—I think he had forgotten me: "So they made her believe I liked her aunt better." And then, in a minute: "She said it would break her heart—bless her!" And two or three other interlocutory remarks like that, meaning nothing in particular. And then all of a sudden he brought his fist down on his knee with a bang and said, "Damn Aunt Elizabeth!"—not loud, but compressed and explodingly, you know. I looked at him, and he said: "Beg pardon. Billy. Your aunt's a very charming woman, but I mean it. I only asked her to go out with me because she talked more about Peggy than anybody else would," he went on.
I thought a minute, and put two and two together pretty quick. "You mind about Peggy's being engaged to Harry Goward, don't you?" I asked him; for I saw right through him then.
He looked queer. "Yes, I mind," he said.
"But you wouldn't be engaged to her yourself," I propounded to him; and he grinned, and said something about more things in heaven and earth, and called me Horatio. I reckon he got struck crazy a minute. And then he made me tell him further what Peggy said and what I said, and he laughed that time about my comforting her, though I don't see why. It doesn't pay to give up important things, to be kind and thoughtful in this world—nobody appreciates it, and you are sure to be sorry you took the time. When I got up-stairs, after comforting Peggy, my toad had jumped in the water-pitcher and got about drowned—he never was the same toad after—and if I hadn't stopped in Peg's room to do good it wouldn't have happened. And Dr. Denbigh laughed at me besides. However, for an old chap of forty, he's a peach. I'm not kicking at Dr. Denbigh.
Then let's see—(It makes me tired to go on writing this stuff—I wish I was through. But the cookies! I see a vision of a mountain range of cookies with currants on them—crumbly cookies. Up and at it again for me!)
The next stunt I had a shy at was a letter that Harry Goward asked Alice to give Peggy, and Alice gave it to me because she was up to something else just that minute. She didn't look at the address, but you bet your sweet life I did, when I heard it was from Harry Goward. I saw it was addressed to Peg. Then I stuffed it in my pocket and plain forgot, because I was in a hurry to go fishing with Sid Tracy. I put a chub on top of it that I wanted to keep for bait, and when I pulled it out—the letter—the chub hadn't helped much. The envelope was a little slimy. I said: "Gee!"
Sid said: "What's that?"
"A letter to my sister from that chump. Harry Goward," said I. "I've got to take it to her. Looks pretty sad now."
Sid didn't like Harry Goward any more than I did, because he'd borrowed Sid's best racket and left it out in the rain, and then just laughed. So he said: "Not sad enough. Give it to me. I'll fix it."
He had some molasses candy that he'd bit, and he rubbed that over it a little, and then suddenly we heard Alice calling, and he crammed the letter in his pocket, candy and all, and there were some other things in there that stuck to it. We were so rattled when Alice appeared and demanded that very letter in her lordly way that I forgot if I had it or Sid, and I went all through my clothes looking for it, and then Sid found it in his, and, oh, my! Miss Alice turned up her nose when she saw it. It did look smudgy.
Sid hurriedly scrubbed it with his handkerchief, but even that didn't really make it clean, and by that time you couldn't read the address. Alice didn't ask me if I'd read it, or I'd have told her.
There was a fuss afterward in the family, but I kept clear of it. I wouldn't have time to get through what I have to do if I attended to their fusses, so all I knew was that it had something to do with that letter. All the family were taking trains, like a procession, for two or three days. I don't know why, so Lorraine can't expect me to write that down.
There's only one other event of great signification that I know about, and nobody knows that except me and Dr. Denbigh and Peggy. It was this way. The doctor saw me on the street one afternoon—I can't remember what day it was—and stopped his machine and motioned to me to get in. You bet I got. He shook hands with me just the way he would with father, and not as if I were a contemptible puppy.
"Billy, my son, I want you to do something for me," he said.
"All right," said I.
"I've got to see Peggy," he went on. "I've got to!" And he looked as fierce as a circus tiger. "I can't sit still and not lift a finger and let this wretched business go on. I won't lose her for any silly scruples."
I didn't know what he was driving at, but I said, "I wouldn't, either," in a sympathetic manner.
"I've got to see her!" he fired at me again.
"Yep," I said. "She's up at the house now. Come on." But that didn't suit him. He explained that she wouldn't look at him when the others were around, and that she slid off and wormed out of his way, so he couldn't get at her, anyhow. Just like a girl, wasn't it—not to face the music? Well, anyway, he'd cooked up a plan that he wanted me to do, and I promised I would. He wanted me to get Peggy to go up the river to their former spooning-resort (only he put it differently), and he would be there waiting and make Peggy talk to him, which he seemed to desire more than honey in the honeycomb.
Lovers are a strange animal. I may be foolish, but I prefer toads. With them you can tie a string around the hind leg, and you have got them. But with lovers it's all this way one day and upside down the next, and wondering what's hurt the feelings of her, and if he's got tired of you, and polyandering around to get interviews up rivers when you could easier sit on the piazza and talk—and all such. It seems to me that things would go a lot simpler if everybody would cut out most of the feelings department, and just eat their meals and look after their animals and play all they get time for, and then go to sleep quietly. Fussing is such a depravity. But they wouldn't do what I said, not if I told them, so I lie low and think.
Next morning I harnessed the pony in the cart and said, "Peg—take a drive with me—come on," and Peg looked grattyfied, and mother said I was a dear, thoughtful child, and grandma said it would do the girl good, and I was a noble lad. So I got encombiums all round for once. Only Aunt Elizabeth—she looked thoughtful.
I rattled Hotspur—that's the pony—out to the happy hunting-ground by the river, till I saw Dr. Denbigh's gray cap behind a bush, and I rightly argued that his manly form was hitched onto it, for he arose up in his might as I stopped the cart. Peggy gasped and said, "Oh—oh! We must go home. Oh, Billy, drive on!" Which Billy didn't do, not so you'd notice it. Then the doctor said, in his I-am-the-Ten-Commandments manner, "Get out, Peggy," and held his hand.
And Peggy said, "I won't—I can't," and immediately did, the goose.
Then he looked at me in a funny, fierce way he has, with his eyebrows away down, only you know he's pleasant because his eyes jiggle.
"Billy, my son," he said, "will you kindly deprive us of the light of your presence for one hour by the clock? Here's my timepiece—one hour. Go!" And he gave Hotspur a slap so he leaped.
Dr. Denbigh is the most different person from Harry Goward I know.
Well, I drove round by the Red Bridge, and was gone an hour and twelve minutes, and I thought they'd be missing me and in a fit to get home, so I just raced Hotspur the last mile.
"I'm awfully sorry I'm so late," said I. "I got looking at some pigs, so I forgot. I'm sorry," said I.
Peg looked up at me as if she couldn't remember who I was, and inquired, wonderingly: "Is it an hour yet?"
And Dr. Denbigh said, "Great Scott! boy, you needn't have hurried!"
That's lovers all over.
And they hadn't finished yet, if you'll believe me. Dr. Denbigh went on talking as they stood up, just as if I wasn't living. "You won't promise me?" he asked her.
And she said: "Oh, Jack, how can I? I don't know what to do—but I'm engaged to him—that's a solemn thing."
"Solemn nonsense," said the doctor. "You don't love him—you never did—you never could. Be a woman, dearest, and end this wretched mess."
"I never would have thought I loved him if I hadn't believed I'd lost you," Peggy ruminated to herself. "But I must think—" As if she hadn't thunk for an hour!
"How long must you think?" the doctor fired at her.
"Don't be cross at me," said she, like a baby, and that big capable man picked up her hand and kissed it—shame on him!
"No, no, dear," he said, as meek as pie. "I'll wait—only you MUST decide the right way, and remember that I'm waiting, and that it's hard."
Then he put her into the cart clingingly—I'd have chucked her—and I leaned over toward him the last thing and threw my head lovingly on one side and rolled my eyes up and murmured at him, "Good-bye, Jack," and started Hotspur before he could hit me.
Now, thank the stars, there's just one or two little items more that I've got to write. One is what I heard mother tell father when they were on the front piazza alone, and I was teaching the puppy to beg, right in sight of them on the grass. They think I'm an earless freak, maybe. She told him that dear Peggy was growing into such a strong, splendid woman; that she'd been talking to her, and she thought the child would be able to give up her weak, vacillating lover with hardly a pang, because she realized that he was unworthy of her; that Peg had said she couldn't marry a man she didn't admire—and wasn't that noble of her? Noble, your grandmother—to give up a perfect lady like Harry Goward, when she's got a real man up her sleeve! I'd have made them sit up and take notice if I hadn't promised not to tell. Which reminds me that I ought to explain how I got Dr. Denbigh to let me write this for Lorraine. I put it to him strongly, you see, about the cookies, and at first he said.
"Not on your life! Not in a thousand years!" And then—
But what's the use of writing that? Lorraine is on to all that. But, my pickles! won't there be a circus when Alice finds out that I've known things she didn't! Won't Alice be hopping—gee!
XI. PEGGY, by Alice Brown
"Remember," said Charles Edward—he had run in for a minute on his way home from the office where he has been clearing out his desk, "for good and all," he tells us—"remember, next week will see us out of this land of the free and home of the talkative." He meant our sailing. I shall be glad to be with him and Lorraine. "And whatever you do. Peg, don't talk, except to mother. Talk to her all you want to. Mother has the making of a woman in her. If mother'd been a celibate, she'd have been, also, a peach."
"But I don't want to talk," said I. "I don't want to talk to anybody."
"Good for you," said Charles Edward. "Now I'll run along."
I sat there on the piazza watching him, thinking he'd been awfully good to me, and feeling less bruised, somehow, than I do when the rest of the family advise me—except mother! And I saw him stop, turn round as if he were coming back, and then settle himself and plant his feet wide apart, as he does when the family question him about business. Then I saw somebody in light blue through the trees, and I knew it was Aunt Elizabeth. Alice was down in the hammock reading and eating cookies, and she saw her, too. Alice threw the book away and got her long legs out of the hammock and ran. I thought she was coming into the house to hide from Aunt Elizabeth. That's what we all do the first minute, and then we recover ourselves and go down and meet her. But Alice dropped on her knees by my chair and threw her arms round me.
"Forgive, Peggy," she moaned. "Oh, forgive!"
I saw she had on my fraternity pin, and I thought she meant that. So I said, "You can wear it today"; but she only hugged me the tighter and ran on in a rigmarole I didn't understand.
"She's coming, and she'll get it out of Lorraine, and they'll all be down on us."
Charles Edward and Aunt Elizabeth stood talking together, and just then I saw her put her hand on his shoulder.
"She's trying to come round him," said Alice.
I began to see she was really in earnest now. "He's squirming. Oh, Peggy, maybe she's found it out some way, and she's telling him, and they'll tell you, and you'll think I am false as hell!"
I knew she didn't mean anything by that word, because whenever she says such things they're always quotations. She began to cry real tears.
"It was Billy put it into my head," said she, "and Lorraine put it into his. Lorraine wanted him to write out exactly what he knew, and he didn't know anything except about the telegram and how the letter got wuzzled, and I told him I'd help him write it as it ought to be 'if life were a banquet and beauty were wine'; but I told him we must make him say in it how he'd got to conceal it from me, or they'd think we got it up together. So I wrote it," said Alice, "and Billy copied it."
Perhaps I wasn't nice to the child, for I couldn't listen to her. I was watching Charles Edward and Aunt Elizabeth, and saying to myself that mother'd want me to sit still and meet Aunt Elizabeth when she came—"like a good girl," as she used to say to me when I was little and begged to get out of hard things. Alice went on talking and gasping.
"Peg," she said, "he's perfectly splendid—Dr. Denbigh is."
"Yes, dear," said I, "he's very nice."
"I've adored him for years," said Alice. "I could trust him with my whole future. I could trust him with yours."
Then I laughed. I couldn't help it. And Alice was hurt, for some reason, and got up and held her head high and went into the house. And Aunt Elizabeth came up the drive, and that is how she found me laughing. She had on a lovely light-blue linen. Nobody wears such delicate shades as Aunt Elizabeth. I remember, one day, when she came in an embroidered pongee over Nile-green, father groaned, and grandmother said: "What is it, Cyrus? Have you got a pain?" "Yes," said father, "the pain I always have when I see sheep dressed lamb fashion." Grandmother laughed, but mother said: "Sh!" Mother's dear.
This time Aunt Elizabeth had on a great picture-hat with light-blue ostrich plumes; it was almost the shape of her lavender one that Charles Edward said made her look like a coster's bride. When she bent over me and put both arms around me the plumes tickled my ear. I think that was why I was so cross. I wriggled away from her and said: "Don't!"
Aunt Elizabeth spoke quite solemnly. "Dear child!" she said, "you are broken, indeed."
And I began to feel again just as I had been feeling, as if I were in a show for everybody to look at, and I found I was shaking all over, and was angry with myself because of it. She had drawn up a chair, and she held both my hands.
"Peggy," said she, "haven't you been to the hospital to see that poor dear boy?"
I didn't have to answer, for there was a whirl on the gravel, and Billy, on his bicycle, came riding up with the mail. He threw himself off his wheel and plunged up the steps as he always does, pretended to tickle his nose with Aunt Elizabeth's feathers as he passed behind her, and whispered to me: "Shoot the hat!" But he had heard Aunt Elizabeth asking if I were not going to see that poor dear boy, and he said, as if he couldn't help it:
"Huh! I guess if she did she wouldn't get in. His mother's walking up and down front of the hospital when she ain't with him, and she's got a hook nose and white hair done up over a roll and an eye-glass on a stick, and I guess there won't be no nimps and shepherdesses get by HER."
Aunt Elizabeth stood and thought for a minute, and her eyes looked as they do when she stares through you and doesn't see you at all. Alice asked Charles Edward once if he thought she was sorrowing o'er the past when she had that look, and he said: "Bless you, chile, no more than a gentle industrious spider. She's spinning a web." But in a minute mother had stepped out on the piazza, and I felt as if she had come to my rescue. It was the way she used to come when I broke my doll or tore my skirt. But we didn't look at each other, mother and I. We didn't mean Aunt Elizabeth should see there was anything to rescue me from. Aunt Elizabeth turned to mother, and seemed to pounce upon her.
"Ada," said she, "has my engagement been announced?"
"Not to my knowledge," said mother. She spoke with a great deal of dignity. "I understood that the name of the gentleman had been withheld."
"Withheld!" repeated Aunt Elizabeth. "What do you mean by 'withheld'? Billy, whom are those letters for?"
In spite of ourselves mother and I started. Letters have begun to seem rather tragic to us.
"One's the gas-bill," said Billy, "and one's for you." Aunt Elizabeth took the large, square envelope and tore it open. Then she looked at mother and smiled a little and tossed her head.
"This is from Lyman Wilde," said she.
I thought I had never seen Aunt Elizabeth look so young. It must have meant something more to mother than it did to me, for she stared at her a minute very seriously.
"I am truly glad for you, Elizabeth," she said. Then she turned to me. "Daughter," said she, "I shall need you about the salad."
She smiled at me and went in. I knew what that meant. She was giving me a chance to follow her, if I needed to escape. But there was hardly time. I was at the door when Aunt Elizabeth rustled after so quickly that it sounded like a flight. There on the piazza she put her arms about me.
"Child!" she whispered. "Child! Verlassen! Verlassen!"
I drew away a little and looked at her. Then I thought: "Why, she is old!" But I hadn't understood. I knew the word was German, and I hadn't taken that in the elective course.
"What is it. Aunt Elizabeth?" I asked. I had a feeling I mustn't leave her. She smiled a little—a queer, sad smile.
"Peggy," said she, "I want you to read this letter." She gave it to me. It was written on very thick gray paper with rough edges, and there was a margin of two inches at the left. The handwriting was beautiful, only not very clear, and when I had puzzled over it for a minute she snatched it back again.
"I'll read it to you," said she.
Well, I thought it was a most beautiful letter. The gentleman said she had always been the ideal of his life. He owed everything—and by everything he meant chiefly his worship of beauty—to her. He asked her to accept his undying devotion, and to believe that, however far distance and time should part them, he was hers and hers only. He said he looked back with ineffable contempt upon the days when he had hoped to build a nest and see her beside him there. Now he had reached the true empyrean, and he could only ask to know that she, too, was winging her bright way into regions where he, in another life, might follow and sing beside her in liquid, throbbing notes to pierce the stars. He ended by saying that he was not very fit—the opera season had been a monumental experience this year—and he was taking refuge with an English brotherhood to lead, for a time, a cloistered life instinct with beauty and its worship, but that there as everywhere he was hers eternally. How glad I was of the verbal memory I have been so often praised for! I knew almost every word of that lovely letter by heart after the one reading. I shall never forget it.
"Well?" said Aunt Elizabeth. She was looking at me, and again I saw how long it must have been since she was young. "Well, what do you think of it?"
I told the truth. "Oh," said I, "I think it's a beautiful letter!"
"You do!" said Aunt Elizabeth. "Does it strike you as being a love-letter!"
I couldn't answer fast enough. "Why, Aunt Elizabeth," I said, "he tells you so. He says he loves you eternally. It's beautiful!"
"You fool!" said Aunt Elizabeth. "You pink-cheeked little fool! You haven't opened the door yet—not any door, not one of them—oh, you happy, happy fool!" She called through the window (mother was arranging flowers there for tea): "Ada, you must telephone the Banner. My engagement is not to be announced." Then she turned to me. "Peggy'" said she, in a low voice, as if mother was not to hear, "to-morrow you must drive with me to Whitman."
Something choked me in my throat: either fear of her or dread of what she meant to make me do. But I looked into her face and answered with all the strength I had: "Aunt Elizabeth, I sha'n't go near the hospital."
"Don't you think it's decent for you to call on Mrs. Goward?" she asked.
She gave me a little shake. It made me angry. "It may be decent," I said, "but I sha'n't do it."
"Very well," said Aunt Elizabeth. Her voice was sweet again. "Then I must do it for you. Nobody asks you to see Harry himself. I'll run in and have a word with him—but, Peggy, you simply must pay your respects to Mrs. Goward."
"No! no! no!" I heard myself answering, as if I were in some strange dream. Then I said: "Why, it would be dreadful! Mother wouldn't let me!"
Aunt Elizabeth came closer and put her hands on my shoulders. She has a little fragrance about her, not like flowers, but old laces, perhaps, that have been a long time in a drawer with orris and face-powder and things. "Peggy," said she, "never tell your mother I asked you."
I felt myself stiffen. She was whispering, and I saw she meant it.
"Oh, Peggy! don't tell your mother. She is not—not simpatica. I might lose my home here, my only home. Peggy, promise me."
"Daughter!" mother was calling from the dining-room.
I slipped away from Aunt Elizabeth's hands. "I promise," said I. "You sha'n't lose your home."
"Daughter!" mother called again, and I went in.
That night at supper nobody talked except father and mother, and they did every minute, as if they wanted to keep the rest of us from speaking a word. It was all about the Works. Father was describing some new designs he had accepted, and telling how Charles Edward said they would do very well for the trimmings of a hearse, and mother coughed and said Charles Edward's ideas were always good, and father said not where the market was concerned. Aunt Elizabeth had put on a white dress, and I thought she looked sweet, because she was sad and had made her face quite pale; but I was chiefly busy in thinking how to escape before anybody could talk to me. It doesn't seem safe nowadays to speak a word, because we don't know where it will lead us. Alice, too, looked pale, poor child! and kept glancing at me in a way that made me so sorry. I wanted to tell her I didn't care about her pranks and Billy's, whatever they were. And whatever she had written, it was sure to be clever. The teacher says Alice has a positive genius for writing, and before many years she'll be in all the magazines. When supper was over I ran up-stairs to my room. I sat down by the window in the dark and wondered when the moon would rise. I felt excited—as if something were going to happen. And in spite of all the dreadful things that had happened to us, and might keep on happening, I felt as if I could die with joy. There were steps on the porch below my window. I heard father's voice.
"That's ridiculous, Elizabeth," he said—"ridiculous! If it's a good thing for other girls to go to college, it's been a good thing for her."
"Ah," said Aunt Elizabeth, "but is it a good thing?"
Then I knew they were talking about me, and I put my fingers in my ears and said the Latin prepositions. I have been talked about enough. They may talk, but I won't hear. By-and-by I took my fingers out and listened. They had gone in, and everything was still. Then I began to think it over. Was it a bad thing for me to go to college? I'm different from what I was three years ago, but I should have been different if I'd stayed at home. For one thing, I'm not so shy. I remember the first day I came out of a class-room and Stillman Dane walked up to me and said; "So you're Charlie Ned's sister!" I couldn't look at him. I stood staring down at my note-book, and now I should say, quite calmly: "Oh, you must be Mr. Dane? I believe you teach psychology." But I stood and stared. I believe I looked at my hands for a while and wished I hadn't got ink on my forefinger—and he had to say: "I'm the psychology man. Charlie Ned and I were college friends. He wrote me about you." But though I didn't look at him that first time, I thought he had the kindest voice that ever was—except mother's—and perhaps that was why I selected psychology for my specialty. I was afraid I might be stupid, and I knew he was kind. And then came that happy time when I was getting acquainted with everybody, and Mr. Dane was always doing things for me. "I'm awfully fond of Charlie Ned, you know," he told me. "You must let me take his place." Then Mr. Goward told me all those things at the dance, how he had found life a bitter waste, how he had been betrayed over and over by the vain and worldly, and how his heart was dead and nobody could bring it to life but me. He said I was his fate and his guiding-star, and since love was a mutual flame that meant he was my fate, too. But it seemed as if that were the beginning of all my bad luck, for about that time Stillman Dane was different, and one day he stopped me in the yard when I was going to chapel.
"Miss Peggy," said he, "don't let's quarrel."
He held out his hand, and I gave him mine quickly.
"No," said I, "I'm not quarrelling."
"I want to ask you something," said he. "You must answer, truly. If I have a friend and she's doing something foolish, should I tell her? Should I write to her brother and tell him?"
"Why," said I, "do you mean me?" Then I understood. "You think I'm not doing very well in my psychology," I said. "You think I've made a wrong choice." I looked at him then. I never saw him look just so. He had my hand, and now I took it away. But he wouldn't talk about the psychology.
"Peggy," said he, "do your people know Goward?"
"They will in vacation," I said. "He's going home with me. We're engaged, you know."
"Oh!" said he. "Oh! Then it is true. Let him meet Charles Edward at once, will you? Tell Charles Edward I particularly want him to know Goward." His voice sounded sharp and quick, and he turned away and left me. But I didn't give his message to Charles Edward, and somehow, I don't know why, I didn't talk about him after I came home. "Dane never wrote me whether he looked you up," said Charles Edward one day. "Not very civil of him." But even then I couldn't tell him. Mr. Dane is one of the people I never can talk about as if they were like everybody else. Perhaps that is because he is so kind in a sort of intimate, beautiful way. And when I went back after vacation he had resigned, and they said he had inherited some money and gone away, and after he went I never understood the psychology at all. Mr. Goward used to laugh at me for taking it, only he said I could get honors in anything, my verbal memory is so good. But I told him, and it is true, that the last part of the book is very dull. While I was going over all this, still with that strange excited feeling of happiness, I heard Aunt Elizabeth's voice from below. She was calling, softly: "Peggy! Peggy! Are you up there?"
I got on my feet just as quietly as I could, and slipped through mother's room and down the back stairs. Mother was in the vegetable garden watering the transplanted lettuce. I ran out to her. "Mother," I said, "may I go over to Lorraine's and spend the night?"
"Yes, lamb," said mother. That's a good deal for mother to say.
"I'll run over now," I told her. "I won't stop to take anything. Lorraine will give me a nightie."
I went through the vegetable garden to the back gate and out into the street. There I drew a long breath. I don't know what I thought Aunt Elizabeth could do to me, but I felt safe. Then—I could laugh at it all, because it seems as if I must have been sort of crazy that night—I began to run as if I couldn't get there fast enough. But when I got to the steps I heard Lorraine laughing, and I stopped to listen to see whether any one was there.
"I tell Peter," said she, "that it's his opportunity. Don't you remember the Great Magician's story of the man who was always afraid he should miss his opportunity? And the opportunity came, and, sure enough, the man didn't know it, and it slipped by. Well, that mustn't be Peter."
"It musn't be any of us," said a voice. "Things are mighty critical, though. It's as if everybody, the world and the flesh and the Whole Family, had been blundering round and setting their feet down as near as they could to a flower. But the flower isn't trampled yet. We'll build a fence round it." My heart beat so fast that I had to put my hand over it. I wondered if I were going to have heart-failure, and I knew grandmother would say, "Digitalis!" When I thought of that I laughed, and Lorraine called out, "Who's there?" She came to the long window. "Why, Peggy, child," said she, "come in." She had me by the hand and led me forward. They got up as I stepped in, Charles Edward and Stillman Dane. Then I knew why I was glad. If Stillman Dane had been here all these dreadful things would not have happened, because he is a psychologist, and he would have understood everybody at once and influenced them before they had time to do wrong.
"Jove!" said Charles Edward. "Don't you look handsome, Peg!"
"Goose!" said Lorraine, as if she wanted him to be still. "A good neat girl is always handsome. There's an epigram for you. And Peggy's hair is loose in three places. Let me fix it for you, child."
So we all laughed, and Lorraine pinned me up in a queer, tender way, as if she were mother dress-me for something important, and we sat down, and began to talk about college. I am afraid Stillman Dane and I did most of the talking, for Lorraine and Charles Edward looked at each other and smiled a little, in a fashion they have, as if they understood each other, and Lorraine got up to show him the bag she had bought that day for the steamer; and while she was holding it out to him and asking him if it cost too much, she stopped short and called out, sharply, "Who's there?" I laughed. "Lorraine has the sharpest ears," I said. "Ears!" said Lorraine. "It isn't ears. I smell orris. She's coming. Mr. Dane, will you take Peggy out of that window into the garden? Don't yip, either of you, while you're within gunshot, and don't appear till I tell you."
"Lorraine!" came a voice, softly, from the front walk. It was Aunt Elizabeth. She has a way of calling to announce herself in a sweet, cooing tone. I said to Charles Edward once it was like a dove, and he said: "No, my child, not doves, but woodcock." Alice giggled and called out, quite loudly, '"Springes to catch woodcock!'" And he shook his head at her and said, "You all-knowing imp! isn't even Shakespeare hidden from you?" But now the voice didn't sound sweet to me at all, because I wanted to get away. We rose at the same minute, Mr. Dane and I, and Lorraine seemed to waft us from the house on a kind little wind. At the foot of the steps we stopped for fear the gravel should crunch, and while we waited for Aunt Elizabeth to go in the other way I looked at Mr. Dane to see if he wanted to laugh as much as I. He did. His eyes were full of fun and pleasure, and he gave me a little nod, as if we were two children going to play a game we knew all about. Then I heard Aunt Elizabeth's voice inside. It was low and broken—what Charles Edward called once her "come-and-comfort-me" voice.
"Dears," said she, "you are going abroad?"
"Yes," Charles Edward answered. "Yes, it looks that way now."
"Yes," said Lorraine, rather sharply, I thought, as if she meant to show him he ought to be more decisive, "we are."
"Dears," Aunt Elizabeth went on, "will you take me with you?"
Mr. Dane started as if he meant to go back into the house. I must have started, too, and my heart beat hard. There was a silence of a minute, two minutes, three perhaps. Then I heard Charles Edward speak, in a voice I didn't know he had.
"No, Aunt Elizabeth, no. Not so you'd notice it."
Mr. Dane gave a nod as if he were relieved, and we both began tiptoeing down the path in the dark. But it wasn't dark any more. The moon was coming through the locust-trees, and I smelled the lindens by the wall. "Oh," I said, "it's summer, isn't it? I don't believe I've thought of summer once this year."
"Yes," said he, "and there never was a summer such as this is going to be."
I knew he was very athletic, but I don't believe I'd thought how much he cared for out-of-doors. "Come down here," I said. "This is Lorraine's jungle. There's a seat in it, and we can smell the ferns."
Charles Edward had been watering the garden, and everything was sweet. Thousands of odors came out such as I never smelled before. And all the time the moon was rising. After we had sat there awhile, talking a little about college, about my trip abroad, I suddenly found I could not go on. There were tears in my eyes. I felt as if so good a friend ought to know how I had behaved—for I must have been very weak and silly to make such a mistake. He ought to hear the worst about me. "Oh," I said, "do you know what happened to me?"
He made a little movement toward me with both hands. Then he took them back and sat quite still and said, in that kind voice: "I know you are going abroad, and when you come back you will laugh at the dolls you played with when you were a child." But I cried, softly, though, because it was just as if I were alone, thinking things out and being sorry, sorry for myself—and ashamed. Until now I'd never known how ashamed I was. "Don't cry, child," he was saying. "For God's sake, don't cry!" I think it came over me then, as it hadn't before, that all that part of my life was spoiled. I'd been engaged and thought I liked somebody, and now it was all over and done. "I don't know what I'm crying for," I said, at last, when I could stop. "I suppose it's because I'm different now, different from the other girls, different from myself. I can't ever be happy any more."
He spoke, very quickly. "Is it because you liked Goward so much?"
"Like him!" I said. "Like Harry Goward? Why, I—" There I stopped, because I couldn't think of any word small enough, and I think he understood, for he laughed out quickly.
"Now," said he, "I'm a psychologist. You remember that, don't you? It used to impress you a good deal."
"Oh," said I, "it does impress me. Nobody has ever seemed so wise as you. Nobody!"
"Then it's understood that I'm a sage from the Orient. I know the workings of the human mind. And I tell you a profound truth: that the only way to stop thinking of a thing is to stop thinking of it. Now, you're not to think of Goward and all this puppet-show again. Not a minute. Not an instant. Do you hear?" He sounded quite stern, and I answered as if I had been in class.
"You are to think of Italy, and how blue the sea is—and Germany, and how good the beer is—and Charlie Ned and Lorraine, and what trumps they are. Do you hear?"
"Yes, sir," said I, and because I knew we were going to part and there would be nobody else to advise me in the same way, I went on in a great hurry for fear there should not be time. "I can't live at home even after we come back. I could never be pointed at, like Aunt Elizabeth, and have people whisper and say I've had a disappointment. I must make my own life. I must have a profession. Do you think I could teach? Do you think I could learn to teach—psychology?"
He didn't answer for a long time, and I didn't dare look at him, though the moon was so bright now that I could see how white his hand was, lying on his knee, and the chasing of the ring on his little finger. It had been his mother's engagement ring, he told me once. But he spoke, and very gently and seriously. "I am sure you could teach some things. Whether psychology—but we can talk of that later. There'll be lots of time. It proves I am going over on the same steamer with Charlie Ned and Lorraine and you."
"You are!" I cried. "Why, I never heard of anything so—" I couldn't find the word for it, but everything stopped being puzzling and unhappy and looked clear and plain.
"Yes," said he. "It's very convenient, isn't it? We can talk over your future, and you could even take a lesson or two in psychology. But I fancy we shall have a good deal to do looking for porpoises and asking what the run is. People are terribly busy at sea."
Then it occurred to me that he had never been here before, and why was he here now? "How did you happen to come?" I asked. I suppose I really felt as if God sent him.
"Why," said he, "why—" Then he laughed. "Well," said he, "to tell the truth, I was going abroad if—if certain things happened, and I needed to make sure. I didn't want to write, so I ran down to see Charlie Ned."
"But could he tell you?" said I. "And had they happened?"
He laughed, as if at something I needn't share. "No," he said, "the things weren't going to happen. But I decided to go abroad."
I was "curiouser and curiouser," as Lorraine says.
"But," I insisted, "what had Charles Edward to do with it?"
There were a great many pauses that night as if, I think, he didn't know what was wise to say. I should imagine it would always be so with psychologists. They understand so well what effect every word will have.
"Well, to tell the truth," he answered, at last, in a kind, darling way, "I wanted to make sure all was well with my favorite pupil before I left the country. I couldn't quite go without it."
"Mr. Dane," I said, "you don't mean me?"
"Yes," he answered, "I mean you."
I could have danced and sung with happiness. "Oh," said I, "then I must have been a better scholar than I thought. I feel as if I could teach psychology—this minute."
"You could," said he, "this minute." And we both laughed and didn't know, after all, what we were laughing at—at least I didn't. But suddenly I was cold with fear.
"Why," I said, "if you've only really decided to go to-night, how do you know you can get a passage on our ship?"
"Because, sweet Lady Reason," said he, "I used Charlie Ned's telephone and found out." (That was a pretty name—sweet Lady Reason.)
We didn't talk any more then for a long time, because suddenly the moon seemed so bright and the garden so sweet. But all at once I heard a step on the gravel walk, and I knew who it was. "That's Charles Edward," I said. "He's been home with Aunt Elizabeth. We must go in."