Certain words of a Psalm, which she had often heard her father quote, came into her mind and repeated themselves over and over. She had smiled with a bitter irony sometimes when she had heard him speak them in a tone of utter thankfulness, while she had been quite unable to imagine how he could use them of himself. But now—now—surely they applied to her!
Along with the sweep of the conductor's baton, with the rise and surge of one of the greatest of the symphonies, ran the triumphant words of the singer of old time: "Thou hast set my feet in a large room."
Surely it was a large room into which, from a cramped and restricted one, she had emerged. She would do small honour to the devout life which had so long been lived beside her if she should fail to give the praise to the Maker of all life, who, according to her father's firm belief, had known from the beginning all for which He had been so wisely fitting her.
It was the tenth day of April. A great ship was making ready to sail; she lay like some inert monster at her pier, while all about her, within and without, was apparent commotion yet really ordered haste, the customary scene of bustling activity.
Few passengers had yet arrived, for the time of sailing was still some hours away. One party of three, however, had just driven down to the very gangway, allowed by some special privilege a closer approach than most at this hour. The reason was apparent when the party alighted, for one of its number was clearly an invalid, a frail-looking man with curly gray hair, who leaned upon the arm of a much younger man with a keen, distinguished face. The third person was a young woman, the sort of young woman who looks as if no buffeting wind could blow her away, because she would be sure to face it with delight, her eager face only glowing the brighter for the conflict.
"This is the advantage of coming early, isn't it?" said Mrs. Jefferson Craig, with a look of congratulation at her husband. "It's not much as it was when we saw Mr. and Mrs. Brandt off last week. You can walk on board as slowly as you please, Father Davy; there's no one to push."
Mr. David Warne was drawing deep breaths of the salty air, with its peculiar mixture of odours. He was also gazing about him with delighted eyes, seeming in no haste to cross the gangway.
"When I was a boy," he said to his daughter, who remained close at his side, "I lived, as you know, in a seaport town. Ever since I came away, it seems to me, I have been longing to smell that salty, marshy, briny smell again. It takes me back—how it takes me back!"
"The voyage is going to do you worlds of good," exulted Georgiana, her eyes bright with hope. "Jefferson was quite right: the winter at home, to help the poor spine; now the sea air, and the complete change, to make you strong. We'll have you marching back and forth with the other learned men, under the lindens at Trinity, while we are in Oxford—hands clasped behind your back, impressive nose in air—the very picture of a gentleman and a scholar."
"As if there were anything of the scholar about me," murmured Mr. Warne, smiling at this picture of his undistinguished self. "Well, my children, I suppose you are ready to go on, and I imagine we are not wanted in the way here. Let us proceed across that little bridge, and then we can look back at all this interesting activity."
Half an hour later, having taken possession of their staterooms, the party returned to the deck, where Georgiana and her husband established Mr. Warne in his chair, well tucked up in rugs—for the April air though balmy was treacherous. They then fell to pacing up and down, according to the irresistible tendency of the human foot the moment that it treads the deck.
"He seems deliciously happy, doesn't he?" said Georgiana's voice in her husband's ear. "If he were twenty-six instead of fifty-six he couldn't enter into it all with more zest. How pleased he was with Mrs. Brandt's flowers, and how dear it was of her to send them to him!"
"However happy he may be," declared Jefferson Craig, "it's not within the bounds of possibility that he is so happy as we!"
"Oh, of course not!" agreed Georgiana to this decidedly boyish speech. She realized suddenly how quickly the sense of relaxation from care was beginning to show in her husband. Her hand within his arm gave it a warm little squeeze. "That couldn't be expected. To be torn apart, at any and all hours, and kept apart day after day, just when we most want to be together—and then to come down to a big ship and know that no telephone bell can ring, nobody can make a single demand upon us that can prevent our being by ourselves—well, words simply can't express how wonderful it seems!"
"It is wonderful, and we'll make the most of it. There's just one thing I want to get out of this vacation in the way of work, and then all the rest of it shall be at your service."
"The book. How did you guess? I haven't spoken of it."
"No, but I've seen you looking wistfully at your notebook time and again, and guessed what you were thinking of. Well, we can make it fly. I'm ready for you."
Georgiana plunged her hand into a small bag she carried on her arm, and brought forth a notebook—of her own. She produced a pencil. "You may as well begin to dictate now," she said demurely. "What's the use of losing time? Just don't go too fast, that's all."
He stared at her. "What do you mean, dear? You don't know shorthand."
"Don't I? Well, perhaps I can write fast enough in long hand. Try me."
"My idea is," he said, "that we might spend a couple of hours every morning, and another couple in the afternoon, if you don't mind, and really get ahead quite a bit while we are at sea—provided you prove a good sailor, which I have an idea you will if—— See here, what are you doing? You're not taking that down in signs!" He looked over her shoulder at the notebook, where a series of dashes, angles, hooks and dots was forming with great rapidity. "You don't mean to say——"
"No, I mean to write, and let you do the saying. Go ahead, sir—only be sure you say something worth while."
"But—you didn't have that accomplishment when we worked together last summer."
"How I did wish I had, though! You kept insisting that I was doing all I could for you by copying endlessly, but I knew perfectly well that if I were a stenographer you could accomplish just three times as much in a given time as you did. You know perfectly well you only took that course to give a poor girl the chance to earn. If it hadn't been for helping me you would have had a secretary at your elbow, after you got to the point of needing him."
"I took that course, as you well know, because I wanted you at my elbow. If you had been able to write only a word a minute, I should have wanted you there just the same."
She gave him a merry, understanding look, then read him the words he had just spoken from her book.
"Where in the world did you learn, and how?" he demanded. "And how have you become so proficient in so short a time?"
"I'm afraid it's rather blundering work yet, but it will grow better all the time. Why, I've been taking lessons all winter, dear sir, at the best shorthand school in the city. I made up my mind that it was the thing I could do that would be of most use to you. It's a shame that a man who is doing the original work that you are shouldn't have time to give other people more benefit of it. It seemed to me you could write an important monograph in an hour, if you just had me at hand to take down the words of wisdom as they fell from your learned lips. Why you haven't used a secretary before for this purpose I don't know, but I certainly am glad you haven't. It insures me the position."
If she had wanted a reward for long and severe labours she had it in his look. "Other men dictate such papers," he said, "but somehow it has never seemed to me I could. I tried it once or twice and didn't get on at all as I did when I had the pen in my fingers. But with you, it may be different."
"It will be different," she told him confidently. "You're going to become used to my being so much a part of you that you can think as if you were using my brains—or I were using yours, which would be more to the purpose, I admit. Oh, we're going to accomplish all sorts of things together."
He looked down into her eager face, glowing with colour, the dark eyes apparently seeing visions which gave them keen delight. "You are a partner worth having," he said, much moved. "I knew you would be, and it's seemed to me all winter that no wife could be more of one. But if you're going to add this to your other activities you will make yourself even more indispensable than you already are, which is saying much."
She could hardly wait until she had made a trial of this new form of partnership. The ship had barely turned her face out to sea, parting company with her pilot, before the work began.
Doctor Craig had secured a small suite of staterooms opening upon a central sitting-room, and here he and Georgiana could be sure of much time to themselves. While the pair were engaged Mr. Warne was supremely content to lie in a sheltered corner of the deck, book in hand, reading or watching the ever new glory of sea and sky, or talking with some fellow passenger who possessed intelligence enough to discover what manner of man was here.
When Georgiana, ardent as a child in her joy over what was to be revealed, unpacked a small, portable typewriter and set it upon the table of the sitting-room, Jefferson Craig suddenly caught her in his arms.
"My blessed girl," he cried, "this, too? What haven't you done with your winter, when I thought you were spending your time getting acquainted with New York, as I meant you to do? You and Mrs. Brandt were supposed to be seeing everything worth seeing, on those morning drives. Were you shut up in your room all that time learning machines?"
"No, indeed. Do you imagine I made up all the stories I told you of those expeditions? We did all that, and this, too. I spent only an hour each morning at the school; the rest of the study I put in at all hours. Many of them were when I was waiting for you, Doctor Craig, to take me to a dinner or the opera. My notebook lived with me as if it had been a treasure I couldn't have out of my sight. It was just that. I never was so proud of anything I learned at college as I was when the gruff man who had my special training in charge told me I would make a stenographer. Not all of them did, he said. Some never could get hold of it, or acquire any speed or accuracy. Just give me a year, and I'll put down your thoughts before you think them!"
"I haven't a doubt of it," he agreed, with a laugh of amusement and delight.
Thus the work began, and thus it proceeded, with only one day's interruption when, in mid-ocean, came twenty-four hours of moderately bad weather.
To Georgiana's joy she proved herself the sailor her husband had prophesied, but her father was not so fortunate, and she promptly tucked him in his berth, where she kept him fairly comfortable until the rough seas quieted. When he was recovered he lay for one morning on the couch in the sitting-room, while the two workers resumed their task. Here he seemed to slumber much of the time, but in reality he kept rather a close watch on the absorbed pair, whom he had never before seen thus engaged, much as he had heard of their labours.
Looking up suddenly Georgiana discovered the blue eyes upon her, and when her flying fingers next stopped she put a question: "A penny for your thoughts, Father Davy. Don't we work together rather well, in spite of my being such a novice?"
"You two pull excellently well in double harness, it seems to me," he responded. "I can't see that either is taking all the load while the other soldiers and lets the traces slack."
Doctor Craig looked around at him. "She's always ahead by a pair of ears at least," he declared with a laugh.
"But I hear his steady pound—pound—at my side, and I'm afraid he's going to get a shoulder ahead," his wife explained.
The interest the pair excited on shipboard was greater than Georgiana guessed, though Doctor Craig was quite aware of it. Somehow or other the word had gone around, as words do go in a ship's company, as to the literary labours they were engaged in, and as Jefferson Craig's name was one known to more people than Georgiana had the slightest notion of, there was cause enough for the attention given them. Craig's noteworthy personality—one which marked him anywhere as a man of intellect and action—Georgiana's fresh young beauty, her spontaneous low laughter as she paced the deck at her husband's side, her readiness to make friends with those whose looks and bearing attracted her—these attributes made the Craigs the target for all eyes.
"I never saw people who looked so absolutely content," fretfully murmured one swathed mummy in a deck chair to another, as the pair passed them, on the tenth round of a long tramp, one gray morning when the wind was more than ordinarily chill. The speaker's black eyes, heavily lidded in a pale, discontented face, followed the Craigs out of sight as she spoke.
"Oh, they're on their honeymoon—that accounts for it," replied the other, languidly. Her glance also had followed the walkers.
"No, they're not—I've told you that before. They were married last December—plenty of time for the glamour to wear off. They act as if they never expected it to wear off. Sue Burlison must hate to look at them—she certainly had her mind made up to marry Jefferson Craig, if it could be done."
"So did Ursula Brandywine," contributed the languid one.
"You could say that of a dozen—twenty. I presume there are at least four disappointed mothers on board, besides Jane Burlison. Not that any of them ever had much encouragement from him—I'll say that for him. They'd about given him up as hopeless when he went off and married this country girl. One thing is certain—in spite of her fine clothes she hasn't the air his wife ought to have—she's not his equal."
"What's that you say?" The questioner was a sallow-faced youth upon the black-eyed lady's other side. Sunk deep in a fur-lined coat, his cap pulled low over his eyes—which were precisely like hers, even to the expression of discontent—he had seemed for the last hour to be slumbering. But at the moment he looked quite wide awake, as he turned his head toward his mother and challenged her latest statement. "What's that you say?" he repeated, in her own acrimonious tone.
"Oh, have you come to at last?" she inquired. "It is quite impossible to remember that though you sleep for hours you are liable to wake in time to contradict me on any point whatever. In this case it is of no consequence what I may have said."
"You were handing us the hot dope about Mrs. Craig's not being in the same class with Dr. Jeff. It certainly does take a woman to stick her claws into another woman's fur. There's one thing I can tell you—there isn't a man on board who'd agree with you. If she's a country girl—you can say good-bye for me to the little old town. I'm going to take to rural life till I find another. Talk about peaches and cream!"
"I believe I did not mention her complexion," his mother observed coldly.
"Neither did your little son—though it would bear mentioning. I should say yes! You said she hadn't any air. Jupiter—there she comes now. No air!"
He subsided into his high-turned fur collar but his eyes watched intently as the Craigs, still walking briskly after at least an hour's exercise, came up the deck from the stern. His mother, on the contrary, let her drooping lids fall indifferently. The moment they were out of possible hearing the young man sat up.
"By Jove, if you call that no air, tell the grande dames to get a move on. She walks like a young goddess—that's what."
"Silly boy! Nobody is talking of her face or her gait. If you don't know what I mean, no one can tell you."
"Oh, I know what you mean," her son assured her. "I get you. What I say is—you don't get her! Jefferson Craig's the one who gets her—lucky chap! Maybe he doesn't know it—oh, no! Maybe not!" And turning his back he once more appeared to slumber.
It was fortunate for Georgiana that she never even imagined such comments, though she passed these rows of critical eyes a hundred times a day, sat at table with people who were keenly observant of her every act and word, and spent some reluctant hours in the society of those who strove to cultivate her for their own blase enjoyment. She only knew that among the company she met a number of interesting men and women, with whom she and her husband were thoroughly congenial, and that it did not matter in the least about the rest. If those whom she liked so much, and with whom she could talk with the greatest zest, turned out to be the men and women of scientific or literary achievement, this seemed only natural to the college-bred girl, and she cared not at all that she did not get on so easily with those whose distinction lay in purely social or financial lines.
During the winter just past her experience had been much the same, in a larger way. Her husband's acquaintance was naturally a large one, but the circle of his real friends was bound almost wholly by these same congenialities of mind and tastes. Georgiana had met and been entertained by many people whose names stood high on the list of the distinguished, though their personal fortunes were small, and their social activities were ignored in the society columns of the Sunday press. A college president, several famous surgeons, not a few noted authors of scientific books, as well as certain social workers, and two or three clergymen—these, with their wives and families, were the sort of people who gave to Georgiana Craig a hearty and sincere welcome, recognizing her at once as one who belonged to them. It was small wonder that the young wife, trained in a school of life in which nothing counted except worth and ability, found no lack, nor thought of sighing for the privilege her husband could easily have given her, had he cared for it himself, of mingling with a quite different class, that of the rich and gay who cared for little except that which could give them the most powerfully emotional reactions in the way of diversion, acquisition, or notoriety.
So they continued to work and walk their joyously contented way across the wide Atlantic during the six days between port and port. Georgiana enjoyed every hour, from that early morning one in which she first came on deck, running up with her husband to breathe deeply of the stimulating sea breeze before breakfasting, to the latest one, when, furry coat drawn hurriedly on over her pretty evening frock, her dark hair lightly confined under a gauzy scarf, she with Craig and a merry half-dozen of the evening's group came up again upon a deserted deck, to "blow the society fog out of their lungs," as one young biologist of coming reputation put it, in the silvery April moonlight, with only a few similarly inclined spirits to share with them the big empty spaces.
"I shall really be sorry to land to-morrow," sighed Georgiana, leaning upon the rail on the last night of the voyage, and staring ahead toward the quarter where her husband had just indicated they would be seeing land when they came up in the morning. "It has been so perfect, this being off between the sea and the sky together. When shall I ever forget this first voyage? It's a dream come true."
"You will enjoy the second one just as much, for you're a born sailor, and there'll be a long succession of voyages for you to look back upon by and by. Not just my annual pilgrimages to foreign clinics, but journeys to the ends of the earth if you like. Will that suit you, eager-eyed one?"
"Suit me? Oh, wonderful to think of! Am I eager-eyed really? I try so hard to cultivate that beautiful calm of manner I admire so much in other people. Haven't I acquired a bit of it yet?"
"A beautiful calm of manner—all that could be desired. But your eyes still suggest that you're standing on tiptoe, with your face lighted by the dawn," Craig answered contentedly. "Heaven forbid you ever lose that look! It's what gives the zest to my life."
"CAKES AND ICES"
Jefferson Craig found plenty of the zest which he had told Georgiana—that last evening on shipboard—her eager-eyed look added to his life, when, the next day, in a compartment reserved for the three travelers, he watched her as she fairly hung out of the windows. All through Devonshire and on to the northeast. She was drinking in the fair and ordered beauty of the English countryside in April, exclaiming over apple orchards rosy as sea-shells with bloom, over vine-clad cottages and hedge-bordered lanes, masses of wall flowers at each trim station, and such green fields as she had never seen in her life. Father Davy was not far behind her in his quiet enjoyment of the unaccustomed scenes.
A night at Bath, picturesque and interesting, and then before the eldest of the three travelers could be really weary they were in famous Oxford. Professor Pembroke and his wife, Allison Craig, met them at the station, to convoy them to the comfortable quarters in the dignified stone house near Magdalen College, which Craig had more than once described to Georgiana.
Here the young American had her first taste of a manner of life which enchanted her. From the moment that she set eyes on Jefferson Craig's sister, the original of the photograph she had so often studied with a constriction of the heart, not knowing whose it was, she was drawn to her as she had never been drawn to any other woman.
Sitting with her in the pleasant, chintz-hung living-room, walking with her in the garden which was like no garden she had ever imagined, she was conscious of a stronger sense of wonder than ever that a man whose family was represented by a sister like this could ever have chosen the crude young person she still considered herself. From Mrs. Pembroke, however, she received only heart-warming assurance of her welcome and her fitness.
"My dear," Allison said, as the two stood at an ivy-framed window one morning, looking out at Mr. Warne and his son-in-law as they slowly paced up and down beneath a row of copper beeches between house and garden, "I never saw my brother so happy in his life. Jeff always was hard to please as a boy. I used to think it was merely a critical disposition, but later I discovered that it was his extreme distaste for all artifice, acting, intrigue—all absence of genuineness. Only those boys and men interested him whom he had absolute faith in.
"I don't mean that he himself was a goody-goody—far from it; he was a terrible prank maker, and more than once narrowly missed suffering serious consequences. But when he really grew up and it came to an acquaintance with women, very few have even attracted him. I began to fear that he was becoming hardened and would never find just what his fastidious taste could approve—not to mention what his heart might soften to. But now—well, I think I am almost as happy as he is, that he has found you. He seems like a different being to me, and evidently it is you who have wrought the miracle."
"I surely have made no change in him," Georgiana protested. "He has been just as he is now from the beginning—except, of course, that I know him better. I can't imagine him hardened to anything."
Allison Pembroke looked at her, smiling. She was herself an unusually beautiful woman, more mature than Georgiana, but still with a touch of girlishness in her personality which made her very appealing to her young guest.
"Evidently the softening process began the moment he met you," she said. "He frankly admits that himself. I am going to tell you what he wrote to me last winter, after you had begun your work with him. 'I feel like a footsore traveler,' he said, 'who has been walking for many miles along a hot and crowded highway, with the dust heavy on his shoulders and thick in his throat, who suddenly finds his course turned aside through a deep and quiet wood, with flowers springing on all sides, and a clear stream running beside him, where he may bathe his flushed face and cool his parched throat.' I have never forgotten the words, because they struck me as so unlike him. I knew then that something had happened to him there in the old manse. And when I saw you, dear, I didn't wonder that he chose just those words."
"I should never have thought," murmured Georgiana, incredulously, "that I could ever have reminded anybody of a quiet wood—I with my hot rebellion at having to spend my days in the country, which I could never quite cover up."
"I know. Just the same, Georgiana, after having known so many artificial women, posing, as women do pose for a man in Jefferson's place, it refreshed his very soul to find a girl like you, who dared to be herself from head to foot, whether she pleased him or not. And oh, I am so thankful you could care for him, since he needed you so much!"
Such talks brought these two very close together.
It was a happy week which Georgiana spent in the fine, classic old town, walking or driving with Allison, exploring quaint, winding streets, ancient halls, and flowery closes; or meeting interesting people of all ranks, from the chancellor of the University himself to the young undergraduates who offered her in their old and dingy but distinguished rooms tea and toasted scones, along with their fresh-cheeked admiration.
Not the least of her pleasure was in watching Father Davy's keen enjoyment of everything that came his way, and in noting how many of these English people seemed to find him one of them in his appreciation of all they had to offer and in his intimate knowledge of their time-honoured history. He apparently grew a little stronger with each succeeding day; certainly he grew younger, for happiness is a tonic which has special power upon those who carry the burden of years; and Father Davy's years, while not so many, had been heavy of weight upon his slender shoulders and had bowed them before their time.
After Oxford came London—a fortnight of it, and a very different experience. Living at a luxurious hotel with Allison Pembroke, who had come up with them, to show her all the ways of which she felt herself ignorant; with Craig coming and going from hospital and lecture room, suggesting each day new wonders; with hours spent daily in the dear delight of exploration in all sorts of out-of-the-way, famous places; Georgiana felt as if it were all too miraculous to be true.
That she, "Georgie Warne," as the village people had called her all her life, should, for instance, be walking with charming Mrs. Pembroke along Piccadilly in the May sunshine—real London sunshine and no watery imitation such as she had heard of—dressed in the most modish of spring costumes, violets in her belt purchased on a street corner from a young girl with the eyes of a Mrs. Patrick Campbell and the accent of Battersea Park—well, it simply did not seem real!
Much less did the hours seem real when she went with her husband to take tea on the Terrace at the Houses of Parliament, or with all three of her party to dine with some friendly Londoner who appeared eager to offer hospitality to the whole party. Best of all, perhaps, were the late evening walks upon which Craig took her alone, to stroll along the Victoria Embankment, a place of which she never tired, to watch the myriad lights upon the black river, and to talk endlessly of all the pair could see before them of purpose and achievement.
"Do you know what you remind me of these days?" Craig asked one night, when the two had returned to the hotel after one of these long, slow walks, during which they had been unusually silent.
He threw himself into a deep armchair as he spoke and sat looking up at his wife, who stood at the open balcony window, gazing down at the street below, with the interest in everything human which seemed never to abate.
She turned, smiling. She was particularly lovely to look at to-night, wearing a little pale-gray, silk-and-chiffon frock (lately purchased at a French shop in London), which, in spite of its Parisian lines and graces, was distinctly reminiscent of a certain other gray-silk frock worn on a never-to-be-forgotten occasion.
"Of a child at her first party?" she asked. "That's what I feel like. Only there's no end to the cakes and ices, the bonbons and surprises. And I never have to worry because before long I must go home!"
"No, not like that; your similes are always too self-deprecatory. You seem to me more and more like a young queen who has just come to the throne, but who is shy about picking up her sceptre. She prefers long-stemmed roses, and every now and then she catches up her train and runs down from her dais and out-of-doors, until some shocked courtier rushes after her and brings her back!"
"Now you are laughing at me!" Georgiana wheeled to confront her husband, who, stretched lazily in his chair, after a long day at the side of a great biologist in his laboratory, was relaxing muscles and nerves at the same time.
He put out one arm toward her, and she came slowly to his side. "Not a bit. It just delights me to see you your natural self in spite of all that London can do to you. Allison tells me that it is the most interesting thing in the world to watch you decide whether you will buy a new hat or a new book. She declares that milliners admire you and seem anxious to please you, but that when you get into a bookshop you have every old bookseller climbing about his ladders to bring down his choicest treasures for you."
Georgiana laughed. "I can't get used to buying hats at all—not to mention silk stockings—and as for buying hats and books and silk stockings on the same day, it's simply past belief that I can do it. Why do you fill my purse so full? I'm afraid I'm losing all the benefit of my long training in frugality."
"I hope so. I can never forget last winter watching you dissemble your good healthy appetite and pretend you didn't want beefsteak, while you fed your father and me on a juicy tenderloin. Brave little housekeeper on nothing a month!"
She looked at him quickly. "I never dreamed you noticed. And besides, I really didn't want——"
"Take care! The table was the only place where I ever caught you playing a part. I forgave you, only—how I did long to divide with you! Now all the rest of my life I can divide, equal shares, with you—my Georgiana!"
The weeks flew by, bringing never-ending interest. After London came Edinburgh, city of stately beauty, where among Scottish friends of the Craigs Georgiana learned whence her husband's family had sprung, and their noble origin and history.
Then the vacation was at an end "for this time," as Craig said, and the little party turned their faces homeward.
A letter from James Stuart, in the same mail with one twice its length from Jeannette Crofton, caused them to hasten their date of sailing by a week in order to be in time for a great event. Stuart wrote characteristically:
You simply have to come home, George, and help me through it. Of course I knew from the first I'd have to face a big city wedding, but the actual fact rather daunts me. Of course it's all right, for we know Jean's mother would never be satisfied to let me have her at all except by way of the white-glove route. The white gloves don't scare me so much as the orchids, and I suppose my new tailor will turn me out a creditable figure. But if I can't have you and Dr. Jeff Craig there I don't believe I can stand the strain.
The worst of it is that after all that show I can only take her back to the old farm. Not that she minds; in fact, she seems to be crazy about that farm. But it certainly does sound to me like a play called "From Orchids to Dandelions."
So, for heaven's sake, come home in time! The date's had to be shoved up on account of some great-aunt who intends to leave Jean her fortune some day if she isn't offended now, and the nice old lady wants to start for the Far East the day after the date she sets for our affair.
"Of course we must go," Craig agreed. "We'll stand by the dear fellow till the last orchid has withered—if they use orchids at June weddings, which I doubt. As for the dandelions, I think there's small fear that Jean won't like them. I fully believe in her sincerity, and I'm prepared to see her astonish her family by her devotion to country life. Stuart's able to keep her in real luxury, from the rural point of view, as I understand it, and she will bring him a lot of fresh enthusiasm that will do him a world of good."
"I'm trying to imagine Jimps's June-tanned face above a white shirt front," mused Georgiana. "He'll be a perfect Indian shade by that time."
"Not more so than any young tennis or golf enthusiast, will he?"
"Oh, much more. Jimps is out in the sun from dawn till sundown; his very eyebrows get a russet shade. But of course that doesn't matter, and his splendid shoulders certainly do fill out a dress coat to great advantage. You don't mind being considered one of his best friends by a young farmer, do you? That's the way he feels about you."
"I consider it a great honour. I never was better pleased than when Stuart first made friends with me, even after I discovered that he was, as I thought, my successful rival. It was impossible to help liking him. In fact, I've often wondered why—he didn't continue to be my rival."
"Oh, no, Jefferson Craig, you couldn't possibly wonder that!" contradicted Georgiana, in such a tone of finality that her husband laughed and told her that flattery could go no farther.
The voyage home was nearly a duplicate of the one outward bound, except that the two workers put in much extra time on the book and pushed it well toward completion.
Father Davy acquired the strength to take short walks on an even deck and boasted hugely of his acquisition, a twinkle in his eye and a tinge of real colour in his cheek.
"Imagine my coming home from abroad with trunks full of clothes and books and pictures," murmured Georgiana, as the three stood together watching the big ship make her port. "I feel like a regular millionairess."
"A regular one would smile at your modest showing," was Craig's comment. "I'm quite certain no man ever found it more difficult to persuade his wife to buy frocks, even when he went with her and expressed his anxiety to see her in particular colours."
"Confess," demanded Georgiana with spirit, "that you would be disappointed if I suddenly became a devotee of clothes and wanted all those gorgeous things we saw, and which that black-eyed Frenchwoman tried so hard to make me take."
"Those wouldn't have suited you, of course. I don't want to make an actress of you, or even a society woman who gets her gowns described in the Sunday papers. But when you refuse simple white frocks with blue ribbons——"
"Costing three figures! And I could copy every one of those myself for a fraction of the money."
"What would you do with the money saved?"
Georgiana and Father Davy exchanged a smiling, tender glance which spoke of past years of longings now satisfied.
Craig laughed heartily. "Incorrigible little book-lover! Well, it's a worthy taste. I happened to overhear a comment on your reading the other day which amused me very much. When you left your steamer chair to walk with me you left also a copy of Traditions of the Covenanters. A little later, coming up behind that young Edmeston, who spends most of his time lounging in the chair next yours, I heard him say to a girl: 'She doesn't look such an awful highbrow, but believe me, the things she reads on shipboard when the rest of us are yawning over summer novels would help weight the anchor if we got on the rocks!' Then with awe he mentioned the name of that book, and the girl said:' How frightful! But I'm crazy about her just the same. I do think she wears the darlingest clothes.' So there you are! The men impressed, the girls envious, and your husband—worshipful. What more could a young wife ask?"
"Absolutely nothing," acknowledged Georgiana with much amusement.
A TANNED HERCULES
In spite of the fact that the holiday was over it was good to get back to the old house on the Square, to hear Mrs. MacFayden's warm "It's a gled day"; to smile at Thomas and Duncan and the maids; to hug dear Mrs. Brandt; and to receive a hearty welcome from the other friends, who were mostly still in town in the middle of June.
Then came eager summonses from Jeannette, who, with Aunt Olivia and Rosalie, was staying at an uptown hotel for the finishing of the trousseau. Georgiana found herself involved in a round of final shopping and hurried luncheons, while Rosalie talked incessantly, Mrs. Crofton argued maternally, and the bride-elect herself turned to Georgiana as the one person—with the exception of her father—who understood her.
"I can't convince mother and Rosy that I'm not really to spend the summer in the country with Jimps, and most of the rest of the year at home doing the usual round," sighed Jeannette, unburdening herself to her cousin during a half-hour's needed relaxation between luncheon and a visit to a famous jeweller's.
"I know; you'll just have to be patient, let them equip you for what they expect of you, and then—live your own life as you and Jimps have planned it. After a while they will see that you really do mean to live in the country, not the city, and that decollete evening gowns don't suit the fireside, nor afternoon calling costumes the five-mile tramp. Meanwhile, don't let the poor boy ever guess at the size or quality of your outfit. I think he'd run away and hang himself!"
"He never shall know. And, Georgiana, I really have managed to have some quite simple little frocks made—by a young woman whom Madame Trennet recommended when I whispered in her ear. And I've bought the jolliest dark green corduroy suit, with a short skirt and pockets, and a little green corduroy soft hat to match, for the tramps. Oh, I'm going to be a real farmer's wife, I promise you!"
"Of course," mused Georgiana gently, lifting quizzical eyebrows, "I've never happened to see any farmer's wife thus equipped, but there's no reason why you shouldn't set the fashion. I suppose you will wear green silk stockings and bronze pumps with this picturesque tramping costume, with a bronze buckle in your hat to complete the ensemble. All you will then need will be a beautiful painted drop of the Forest of Arden——"
"You unkind thing! If you begin to scoff——"
"But I won't. I know there's heaps of sense in your pretty head, and you'll make Jimps the most satisfying sort of a wife even though you don't carry the eggs to market or milk the cows. There's no reason why you should, with your own private income. Jimps is too wise to forbid your spending it to decorate both your lives, for he knows you couldn't stand real wear and tear, while a reasonable amount of country life will make you stronger. Go ahead, dear; hang English chintzes at the farmhouse windows, set up your baby grand piano in that nice, old living-room, and hang jolly hunting prints in the dining-room. Wear the corduroys—only, instead of bronze pumps, I should advise——"
"You needn't. I've got them. The heaviest kind of tanned buckskin boots. And you all may laugh, but you just wait!"
"I'm not laughing; you know I'm not. I wish I could help you by convincing Aunt Olivia that you don't need some of the things she insists on including. But, since I can't, I'll comfort you by assuring you that Jefferson says he's counting on your being one of the sort who will prove the great contention—that beauty and poetry can be brought into the farmhouse."
Thus spoke Georgiana, though in her heart of hearts, as she watched Jeannette in all her costly elegance, at counter after counter, selecting supplies of one sort or another, she couldn't help having her doubts whether a lifelong training in luxury could be turned into a fitness for living, in spite of many mitigations, the truly simple life. These doubts, however, she suppressed, only dropping a word of caution here and there, which Jeannette took kindly, being eager to prove herself practical, and undoubtedly sincere in her longing to bring to James Stuart the helpmate he needed.
So came on the great day; and when it had arrived, and the Craigs were guests of Aunt Olivia, making ready for the ceremony, Georgiana had her chance to return to Stuart the support he had given her in the hour of her own marriage. She had just completed her dressing, and was about to descend with her husband to the waiting bridal party below, when Stuart came to their door.
Craig admitted him, and he entered, the dreaded white gloves in his hands, visible agitation on his brow.
"You young Hercules!" Georgiana cried. "Aren't you splendid!"
"I feel anything but splendid," he returned nervously. "I look like a boiled lobster on a white platter!"
"Nonsense, man," denied Dr. Jefferson Craig, his hand on Stuart's shoulder, "you're the picture of a healthy young bridegroom. I've seen plenty of tallow candles standing up to be married; you're a refreshing contrast."
After a minute of heartening talk, Craig slipped out of the room, leaving the two old friends together.
"Cheer up, Jimps," Georgiana bade Stuart, as she gave a straightening little touch to his white cravat, woman fashion. "This part won't last long. And don't be frightened when you catch sight of Jean in all her glory. She would much rather have been married as I was, you know, and she's really precisely the same girl in spite of her veil. She worships you, and everything's all right. Stop looking as if you wanted to run away!"
"But I do—if I could just take her with me," he answered, in such a melancholy tone that Georgiana laughed in his ruddy face.
"You can't; this is the only way you can get her; so stand up straight and look everybody in the eye. You're perfectly stunning in those clothes, and lots nicer to look at than most men. And Chester will take you serenely through all the forms, so you've nothing to worry about. That's right—give me a ghost of a smile. One would think you were about to be hung!"
"I came to you to be braced up, so it's all right; but call off the dogs of war now. I did pretty well till I saw the total effect, and then I thought maybe Jean would wish she had a man who could turn pale instead of crimson. But I'm going through with it, and I don't intend to look knockkneed, anyhow."
"Good for you. Just remember that Jean would swim through a flood of water to reach you, wedding gown and all, if the aisle should happen to be inundated, so you certainly can stand at the altar while she walks up that aisle."
"I sure can." And James McKenzie Stuart shook his broad shoulders, lifted his head, and held out both hands to Georgiana Craig. "Much obliged for the tonic. And, George—just remember, will you, that I'm precisely the same brother to you I've always been! Nothing can ever change that!"
"Of course you are," she agreed, with a rush of vivid recollections which brought a curious little smile to her lips. "Now go, my dear boy, and heaven bless you!"
Half an hour later, standing beside her husband in the flower-fragrant church, Georgiana watched with a beating heart to see Stuart bear himself like the man she knew him to be, in spite of all the pomp and ceremony to which he was such a stranger. She had been half angry, all the way through the preparations, that Aunt Olivia had insisted on every last detail of formality and ostentation—or so it had seemed to her, as unaccustomed as Stuart himself to the great church wedding with its long processional, its show of bridesmaids and flower girls, its ranks of ushers, its elaborate music, its pair of distinguished clergymen in full canonicals. But now, somehow, as the age-old words sounded upon her ears, it seemed to matter less under what circumstances they were spoken, so that the answers to the solemn questions came from the hearts of those who spoke them. And of this she could have no possible doubt.
By and by, when in her turn, back in the festally decorated house, she came to give the newly married pair her felicitations, she was well pleased to see Stuart quite himself again, smiling at her with the proud look of the bridegroom from whom no human being can wrest the prize he has just secured. And as she noted Jeannette's equally evident happy content with the man she had married, Georgiana took courage for their future. Surely—surely—they could go from these scenes of luxury to the plainer life that awaited them, and miss nothing, so that they took with them, as they were doing, the one thing needful.
"It's all right, I'm sure it's all right, dears," she said to them, and she said it again to her husband when they were rushing back to New York by the first train after the bridal pair had gone.
"Yes, I think it is," he agreed. "It's an interesting experiment, but not more hazardous than many another in the matrimonial line. If it succeeds Jeannette will come out a finer woman than she could ever have been by any other process. It's amusing, though, to see her family. Evidently they regard her as one lost to the world quite as much as if she had gone into a convent to take the vows perpetual."
"All but Uncle Thomas. He knows; he understands, little as he says. He grew up on a farm himself; he told me once that he could never smother the longing to get back to one. Poor Uncle Thomas, chained to a mahogany desk, with a Persian rug under his feet! That one little trip across the water, when the family went last year, was the only vacation he had taken in five years. And he came back on the next ship!"
"Jean and Stuart will have him often with them, see if they don't."
"I hope so. Change is what he needs very badly. Change! Oh, if everybody could have that when they need it! How it does make lives over! I know—how I do know! It's the deadly monotony that kills. Jean will bloom under the old farmhouse roof, away from all the fuss and frivolity she's so tired of."
"You've done some blooming yourself," observed her husband, "though I'll venture to say you work harder than you ever did before, even at the old loom."
She gave him a quick glance. "Oh, it wasn't play I needed—just work—the sort of work I love. I have that now. I love the visits to the hospital, the looking after the patients you bring home, the taking notes of your lectures, the teaching of my evening class of Italians—every bit of it is a delight. And then, when we do run away for a few hours, like this——"
"We enjoy it all the more for the contrast. Yes, I think we do. It's a pretty fine partnership, and it grows more satisfying all the time. Here's hoping the two we've just seen start follow in our contented footsteps. A year from now we'll know!"
Georgiana would not have believed that it would be a full year before she should have a chance to see for herself what sort of life Jeannette and Stuart were making for themselves under the conditions which seemed such doubtful ones. But so it turned out.
It had been before Jeannette's marriage that Georgiana found a change coming in her own life, and the months of the summer and autumn which followed were busy with the happy preparations for the new experience. In January her first son was born, and she learned that even a full and joyous partnership between two human beings is not the most complete thing that can happen to them. When she saw her husband take the round, little pink-blanketed bundle in his arms for the first time, and watched his face as he explored the tiny features for signs of the future, her heart beat high with such rich content as she had not dreamed of.
"Strange, isn't it, dear!" Craig said, when he had laid the pink bundle back in the arms of the nurse, who bore it away to the pretty nursery close at hand. "It's an old miracle always new, and never so wonderful as when it comes to us for the first time—how that little life can be neither you nor I, yet both of us in one. Big possibilities are wrapped up in that bit of flesh and blood; it's going to be a great interest, the watching them begin to show."
"Oh, yes!" she murmured, lying quietly with her hand beneath her cheek, too weary and too happy for speech.
"I wonder if I dare to tell you how soon it was after I knew you that I began to think of you as playing this part in my life," he said very softly.
"Did you? I'm so glad." It was hardly more than a whisper.
"Are you glad? I often think a girl little dreams of how often that vision comes to a man long before she has thought of it at all. I was only a very young man when I began to think of it. Even when there was no woman in my mind I used to plan what I would do for my own son when I should have him. And when I saw you I thought—with the greatest reverence, darling: 'If she might be my son's mother!'"
He did not need the look her eyes gave him to tell him how this touched her. When he went quietly away to leave her for the long sleep she needed it was with the consciousness that the bond between them was more absolute than it had ever been.
It was in the following June, on the anniversary of the marriage of the James McKenzie Stuarts, that the Jefferson Craigs had their first opportunity to see with their own eyes how that marriage was prospering. Letters from Jeannette had come to Georgiana from time to time, with an occasional postscript from Stuart, and these letters always breathed of happiness.
"But one can't be perfectly sure from letters," Georgiana argued. "After all the opposition and skepticism they would never own to anybody that life didn't flow like a rose-bordered stream. But one glimpse of their faces will tell the story. If Jeannette has a certain look I've often seen on the faces of girls who have been married about a year I shall guess what causes it. As for Jimps—he will be as easily read as an open book. Jeff, you won't let anything prevent our being there for the fete they ask us for?"
"Nothing that I can foresee and provide for," Craig promised. "I'm quite as eager as you to discover how the transplanting of the hothouse plant into the hardy outdoor soil of the country has worked out. There are two results about equally probable in such cases—hardly equally probable, either. The natural result, I should fear, would be the dwindling and stunting of the growth, unless protected by expedients not common to the country, and fertilized until it should be really not growing in country soil at all."
"But the possible result?" urged Georgiana.
"The one we're hoping for in this case—though I'm not sure how close an analogy I can draw, being no gardener—is the gradual process of adaptation to environment, so that the plant takes on a hardier quality, at an unavoidable sacrifice in size of bloom but with a corresponding gain in sturdiness and ability to bear the chilling winds and the beating sunlight of outdoors. Great size in a flower never appealed to me anyhow. I like a blossom that stands straight and firm upon its stem, that gives forth a clean, spicy fragrance and doesn't wilt when it has been an hour in my buttonhole."
"That's the sort Jimps wants, I'm sure. He used to be always tucking one of his scarlet geranium blossoms into his coat when he came over to see me. We all think of Jeannette as the frailest sort of an orchid, beautiful to look at but ready to wither at a touch. This letter of invitation doesn't sound like that at all. You really think the long drive won't hurt little son?"
"Not a bit, if you keep from getting tired or overheated yourself. We can manage that very nicely, with Duncan to drive, Lydia to look after the boy, and a long stop on the one night we must spend on the way. The change will do you good, faithful young mother."
This proved quite true, and the two days' journey in the great car was indeed an easy one for all concerned. Little Jefferson Junior, six months' old, slept away many hours of the trip, and spent the rest happily in his nurse's or his mother's lap, watching with big, dark eyes the spots of colour or life on the summer landscape as it slipped smoothly past. Georgiana had wanted to bring Father Davy, but though he had grown considerably stronger during the past year, it had not seemed worth while to put his endurance to so severe a test. He had not been left forlorn, however, for the Peter Brandts had taken him to their home, a welcome and a delighted guest. No doubt but there was a place for David Warne in the great city, as there had been in the country village.
On the afternoon of the second day, as they neared the old home village, to which Georgiana had returned only once since her marriage, she found herself noting with quickening pulse every familiar landmark.
"It seems so strange to think of my going away from such scenes for good and all, and Jean's coming to them," she said to herself more than once. "How little either of us would have believed it, just two short years ago!"
When they passed the old manse she gazed at it with affectionate eyes. "Oh, how shabby and poor it looks!" she said under her breath to Craig. "Did it look like that when you first saw it?"
He nodded, smiling. "Just like that. But the moment the door opened the first time I knew its shabbiness was just a blind to mislead the traveler, who might otherwise stop and try to steal the treasure that it held."
Her eyes were searching next for the chimney tops that should mark the other home for which they were bound. How often had she looked at those chimney tops, because they told her where was her best friend during those solitary days that were already so far past. A moment more and Georgiana's first exclamation of surprise broke from her lips. There were to be many before the day was done.
"Look! All those ugly little buildings at the back are gone, and the house stands all by itself at the top of the slope. Isn't that an improvement? It's freshly painted, too; how that clear white brings out the beauty of the old house! It used to be such a dingy slate! I always knew it was a pleasant place, but I didn't fully appreciate it. The lawn is as trim as can be, and there's a border of shrubs and flowers all along the drive. How little real change to make so much! That's Jean, I know. Oh, and there's Jean herself, running down the steps! She sees us!"
"Is that really Jeannette Crofton?" Craig doubted. "Yes—for a fact! Well, well!"
They might easily doubt the evidence of their eyes, for the slim figure they had known so well had rounded until it showed softly blooming curves, and colouring which put to blush the cosmetics which the society girl had not altogether eschewed, though it had been long before the less sophisticated cousin had found this out. No need for rouge or powder now, for nature had laid on the lovely face her own unrivalled tints of rose overlying the soft browns of summer tan.
"Oh, you darlings, to come and bring the baby! Do let me look at him—the blessed thing! Isn't he a beauty?—but, of course, how could he help it? Jimps! O Jimps! Here they are!"
Thus cried Jeannette out of sheer exuberance, though the fact of the arrival was obvious enough, and James Stuart was already dashing across the lawn from the opposite direction.
As she looked at her cousin, Georgiana's first impression was the one she had hardly dared hope for, that of Jeannette's entire content and well-being. Not only was the physical improvement noteworthy but a certain worn and worldly look had vanished—one which had not affected her beauty and had been discernible only to the closely observing eye, but which had been there none the less and was gone now.
This change grew more and more apparent as Georgiana continued to regard her young hostess. From the moment the party first entered the wide-thrown front door, it was easy to discover that both Stuart and his wife were eager as two children for the approval of their guests. Such approval was not long in appearing.
"How pleasant—how charming!" cried Georgiana, as her quick eye took in attractive effect after effect. "Oh, you clever things, to do it like this! How absolutely in keeping it all is, and how quiet, yet how beautiful!"
"She's done it," vowed James Stuart proudly. "I was a duffer at it till she showed me what she was after. I wanted to buy brocaded silk furniture, like that in her home—while my money held out. But she would have nothing but this sort of thing. Homelike, isn't it?"
It was the word which described it, if one qualified the term by making it apply only to homes built on foundations of good taste and suitability to environment. As she looked about her Georgiana saw everywhere evidences of the use of abundant means, and she realized that Jeannette had been clever indeed to supply so much without impressing Stuart with the undoubted fact that she had contributed more than he to the final result.
The whole effect of the house's interior was one of well-chosen but unostentatious comfort, and the materials and furnishings used were all so nicely adapted to their setting that only to more discerning eyes than those of the Stuarts' neighbours would they have expressed unusual resources of supply.
"It's an achievement!" Craig declared.
His enlightened gaze traveled from one point to another of the long, low-ceilinged living-room, sunny with new windows, and with walls and hangings of soft browns and golden yellows. He noted that Jeannette had had the good sense to make use of the old furniture the house possessed wherever it was fit for preservation, and that she had dignified the walls by retaining certain dim old portraits, done in fading oils, of Stuart's ancestors. Everywhere could be seen similar interesting blending of the new and the old, though it was often difficult to tell which was which.
The elder Stuarts were living in a wing of the house, that being the portion where they had spent their lives, making little use of the upright and the corresponding wing, which were now turned over to the son and his wife. Since the elder people wisely preferred this semi-independence, the younger were able to be much by themselves, Stuart explained, though always near and ready to lend a hand at any hour. Since the stalwart son could not be entirely spared by the somewhat feeble old couple, the arrangement seemed an admirable one, and thus far it had worked very well.
"Jean's such a dear with them," Stuart said covertly to Georgiana, leading her aside for a moment to look at a curious old buffet which had been long in the family. "They adore her, and she really seems very fond of them. Of course they have old Eliza to look after them, as they have had for so long; but we ask them in to dinner every few days, and often have them sitting by the fire with us here on cool evenings. The funny part, though, is when Mother Crofton comes. She can't get over it, or get used to it; she sits and looks at Jean as if she were an actress in a play, and by and by would take off her make-up and be herself again."
"I wonder how far that is from the real truth," thought Georgiana to herself, as she watched the young mistress of the place with fascinated eyes.
Certainly if Jeannette were acting it was very skilfully done. As she led her guests about the house, and then established them on the lawn, beneath the great elms which furnished a grateful shade at this afternoon hour over nearly the whole expanse, she seemed the embodiment of health and happiness.
By and by, when the Crofton car arrived, bearing Uncle Thomas and Aunt Olivia, with Rosalie and Chester following a few moments later in Chester's roadster, Jeannette grew fairly radiant.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
It was not until late that evening that Georgiana had a chance really to learn the whole state of the case.
During the intervening hours had occurred the event for which they had all been invited—the entertaining of at least two hundred people from the surrounding country and the village. For this event, which Stuart naively called a "party," Jeannette a "lawn fete," and the guests themselves, for the most part, a "picnic," porches, lawn and trees had been hung with gay lanterns, bonfires had been built, the small village band engaged, a light but delectable supper provided, and as much jollity planned as could be crowded into the hours between five o'clock and eleven.
From the standpoint of those entertaining, at least, the affair had been a success, for Stuart, long accustomed to the ways of his fellow countrymen, considered himself fully able to tell from their manner, if not from their expressions of pleasure, whether they had really found enjoyment in the efforts of their hosts.
"They had a mighty good time, no doubt about it!" he declared, when the last reluctant guest had departed in the last small car which had waited at the edge of the roadway. (Not the least of young Chester Crofton's enjoyment had been occasioned by the sight of the long row of vehicles, from two-seated wagons to smart and even expensive motors, which had lined the road for many rods.) "And a lot of them are well worth knowing," Stuart added.
His eye chanced to fall on his father-in-law, Mr. Thomas Crofton, as he made this assertion. The party were sitting in a group upon the lantern-lighted porch and its steps, and the senior Crofton's face was plainly visible.
That gentleman nodded. "You're quite right, Jim," he said. "I don't know when I've had a more interesting conversation with any man than I did with one of your neighbours, nor found a more intelligent set of opinions on every subject we touched on. He wasn't the only one, either. As a rule I found the people who came here to-night possessed of rather more than the average amount of brains. I should like to try living among them—for a change, at least."
"I struck a tongue-tied dolt or two," remarked his son Chester, "but dolts aren't uncommon anywhere, even when not tongue-tied. And I did run up against some chaps I liked jolly well. One of them invited me up for a week-end; I nearly fell over when he did it. I didn't know country people ever talked about week-ends. I thought they called it 'staying over Sunday.'"
"You mean Wells Lawson," Stuart informed him. "If you could see the list of newspapers and magazines, not to mention books, that the Lawsons take, you'd open your eyes. He and his family have traveled a lot more than I have, and their home is one of the finest model farms in the county. There's no hayseed in their hair."
"I didn't discover much hayseed in anybody's hair," observed Dr. Jefferson Craig. "I think it's gone out of fashion."
"There were some of the prettiest girls here to-night I ever saw," was Rosalie's contribution to the list of comments. A figure of exquisite modishness, she perched upon the porch rail near Chester. "I did want to tell them not to let any one young man stick by them every minute the way they did, but I could hardly blame the young men for wanting to stick, the girls were so sweet, and some of them were quite stunning."
"You certainly gave them an example of how to make eyes at fifteen or twenty fellows, one after another," laughed her brother, at her side. "You'd have had them all coming, Rosy, if they hadn't been tied up to their respective girls. A lesson or two from you, and those girls would begin to play 'round in proper shape."
"Rosy's going to stay and take a few lessons herself," insinuated Jeannette, who sat with her shapely young arm resting upon her father's knee, as she occupied the step below him. "I'll promise to put some flesh on her little bones if she's here a month. She's too thin, after only her second season."
"Oh, I'll stay," promised Rosalie promptly. "I simply love it here; I'm crazy to stay!"
"It's all very well now," came Aunt Olivia's low murmur in Georgiana's ear—there had been many of such murmurs in the same ear during the afternoon and evening, though why, Georgiana herself could not guess, since the elder woman knew the younger to be unreservedly committed to upholding Jeannette's whole course—"very well now, in June, with flowers blooming and friends about, but how the poor child is going to face a second winter I can't imagine."
"She faced the first one very happily," Georgiana reminded her.
"The first one was a novelty and of course she was determined not to acknowledge how lonely she must often have been. I do not say that James Stuart is not a very attractive and trustworthy young man; I am fond of him myself—very. But I shall always feel that Jeannette has made a terrible mistake. Brought up as she has been, it is not conceivable that she should continue to find this sort of life possible."
It was with this moan in her ears that, a few minutes later, Georgiana listened to James Stuart. He had drawn her away from the group and was strolling with her across the lawn.
"Well, George, tell me your honest opinion. Is my wife happy?"
It was a blunt question, but Georgiana understood. He asked it not to be reassured but because he was confident of the answer.
She spoke guardedly: "I never saw her seem more so, Jimps. You are sure of it yourself?"
"I want you to ask her point-blank. Will you?"
"It's not the sort of question to ask anybody point-blank, is it?"
"It is in this case. Do you think I don't know the doubt in all your minds?—yes, even yours, for you've become another person since you married Craig."
"Oh, yes! You've been thinking ever since you came that you're dead thankful you don't have to come back to it—now, haven't you?"
"Jimps, dear, I lived all my life in the hardest, narrowest economy. If I had had all this beautiful experience Jean is having——"
"I know. But you wouldn't come back, even to this place of ours——"
"That's begging the question. For Jean it's a wonderful change, and any one can see what it's done for her."
"Physically, yes. But I want you to find out whether she's actually happy or not."
"I will," promised his friend with a nod; for she knew James Stuart much too well to imagine she could put him off without complying with his expressed desire.
It looked as if Jeannette herself were anxious to assure her cousin's mind, for Stuart had no sooner brought Georgiana back to the porch than his wife took possession of her.
"Georgiana, dear, I want you to tell me one thing," began Jeannette, as the two moved slowly a little away from the rest. "Do you think we are making a success of it?"
"A wonderful success, Jean. I couldn't have believed it, even what I see on the surface. How about it—inside? That's a pretty searching question, and you needn't answer it if you don't want to. Everything about you seems to answer it."
Jeannette stopped short and turned to face her cousin. "Haven't I written you the answer, over and over?"
"Yes. That's why I want to hear it from your own lips."
"You shall. First, though—Georgiana, you knew Antoinette Burwell married Miles Channing last December?"
"I heard of it. How do they come on?"
"Separated; she's gone back to her father. She was the most wildly happy bride I ever saw. Think of it, George—in six months! What do you suppose would have happened if you——"
"Don't! I didn't." And Georgiana's grateful thoughts went back to one of the crises in her life, the one from which Jefferson Craig had rescued her.
"Do you know the Ralph Hendersons? Married two years now—I'm sure you've heard me speak of them. Everybody knows they quarrel like cats and dogs; they're hardly civil to each other in public. And I know several more of our old set who are none too happy, if one may judge by their looks. Yet they all married 'in their own class,' as mother is so fond of saying, as if I didn't!—I married above it! And I am supposed to have cast away all my chances for this life, not to mention the next, by marrying my farmer! Georgiana, I'm getting to hate that word farmer! Why isn't there a new word made for the man who reads and studies and uses the latest modern methods on his farm? There are such a lot of them now. College graduates, like Jimps, and men who have taken agricultural courses and are putting their brains into their work. Why isn't there a new word?"
"The old word must be made to acquire a new dignity," Georgiana suggested. "Never mind the word; you're glad you married your farmer?"
"Glad! I thank God every night and morning; I thank Him every time I go running down the lane to meet my husband coming up from the meadow! Of course I know, Georgiana, that the life I'm living isn't the typical life of the farmer's wife at all—thanks to Jimps' success and my own little pocket-book! But it has all outdoors in it and lots of lovely indoors; and I'm growing so well and strong—you can see that by just looking at me. And I'm getting to know my neighbours, and like them—some of them—oh, so much! Life never was so full. Mother talks about how hard I'll find it to get through my second winter. It doesn't worry me. We'll order books and books, and we'll go for splendid tramps, and every now and then we'll run into town—for concerts and plays. And best of all, Georgiana,"—her voice sank—"I'm sure—sure—Jimps isn't disappointed in me."
"Disappointed! I should say not—the lucky boy!" Georgiana agreed, all her fears gone to the winds.
* * * * *
When they returned to the porch it was to hear an outcry from Jeannette's mother: "Chester Crofton! Have you gone absolutely crazy?"
"I think so, mother. Positively dippy. Got it in its worst form. It's been coming on me for some time, but it's taken me now, for better or for worse. I'm going to buy that small farm across the road and try what I can do."
"I'll back you," came in Mr. Thomas Crofton's deepest chest tones.
"Hear, hear!" Dr. Jefferson Craig's shout drowned out Mrs. Crofton's groan.
"O Ches—I'll come and keep house for you—part of the year, anyhow!" This was dainty Rosalie, her silk-stockinged ankles swinging wildly, as she sat upon the porch rail.
Georgiana was laughing, as her eyes met her husband's in a glance of understanding, but her heart was very warm behind the laughter.
Beyond the gleam of the lanterns she caught the golden glow of a summer moon rising, to illumine the depths of the country sky—the immense, star-spangled arch of the heavens. Beneath lay many homes, big and little, all filled with human lives, each with its chance somehow to grow; each with its chance, small or great, as a beloved writer has said inspiringly, "to love and to work and to play and to look up at the stars."