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Title: Miss Primrose - A Novel
Author: Gilson, Roy Rolfe
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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MISS PRIMROSE

A Novel

by

ROY ROLFE GILSON

Author of "The Flower of Youth" "In the Morning Glow" etc.



[Illustration]

New York and London Harper & Brothers Publishers :: MCMVI

Copyright, 1906, by Harper & Brothers.

All rights reserved.
Published March, 1906.



_Contents_


PART I

  _A Devonshire Lad_

    I.  LETITIA                            3

   II.  LITTLE RUGBY                      13

  III.  A POET OF GRASSY FORD             27

   IV.  THE SEVENTH SLICE                 43

    V.   THE HANDMAIDEN                   61

   VI.  COUSIN DOVE                       71

  VII.  OF HAMADRYADS AND THEIR SPELLS    88


PART II

  _The School-Mistress_

     I.  THE OLDER LETITIA               101

    II.  ON A CORNER SHELF               113

   III.  A YOUNGER ROBIN                 123

    IV.  HIRAM PTOLEMY                   136

     V.  A. P. A.                        150

    VI.  TRUANTS IN ARCADY               164

   VII.  PEGGY NEAL                      177

  VIII.  NEW EDEN                        188

    IX.  A SERIOUS MATTER                202


PART III

  _Rosemary_

    I.  THE HOME-KEEPER                  211

   II.  JOHNNY KEATS                     219

  III.  THE FORTUNE-TELLER               234

   IV.  AN UNEXPECTED LETTER             244

    V.  SURPRISES                        252

   VI.  AN OLD FRIEND OF OURS            264

  VII.  SUZANNE                          275

 VIII.  IN A DEVON LANE                  287



  PART I

  _A Devonshire Lad_


  _Miss Primrose_

  I

  LETITIA


All little, white-haired, smiling ladies remind me of Letitia--Letitia
Primrose, whom you saw just now in a corner of our garden among the
petunias. You thought her odd, no doubt, not knowing her as I or as the
children do who find her dough-nuts sweet after school is done, or their
English cousins, those little brown-feathered beggars waiting on winter
mornings in the snow-drifts at her sill. As for myself, I must own to a
certain kinship, as it were, not of blood but of propinquity, a long
next-doorhood in our youth, a tenderer, nameless tie in after years, and
always a fond partiality which began one day by our old green fence.
There, on its Primrose side, it seems, she had parted the grape-vines,
looking for fruit, and found instead--

"Why! whose little boy is this?"

Now, it happened to be Bertram, Jonathan Weatherby's little boy--it
being a holiday, and two pickets off, and the Concords purple in a
witchery of September sheen--though at first he could make no sign to
her of his parentage, so surprised he was, and his mouth so crammed.

"Will I die?" he asked, when he had gulped down all but his tongue.

"Die!" she replied, laughing at his grave, round eyes and pinching his
nearer cheek. "Do I look like an ogress?"

"No," he said; "but I've gone and swallowed 'em."

"The grapes?"

"No--yes--but I mean the pits," whereat she laughed so that his brow
darkened.

"Well, a man _did_ once."

"Did what?"

"Died--from swallowin' 'em."

"Who told you that?"

"Maggie did."

"And who is Maggie?"

"Why, you know Maggie. She's our hired girl."

"How many did you swallow?"

"Five."

"Five!"

"Or six, I guess. I'm not quite sure."

"What made you do it?"

"I didn't. _You_ did."

"_I_ made you swallow them?"

"Why, yes, 'cause, now, I had 'em in my mouth--"

"Six all at once!"

"Yes, and you went and scared me. I forgot to think."

"Mercy! I'm sorry, darling."

"My name isn't darling. It's Bertram."

"I'm sorry, Bertram."

"Oh, that's all right," he forgave her, cheerfully, "as long as I don't
die like the man did; you'll know pretty soon, I guess."

"How shall I know?"

"Well, the man, he hollered. You could hear him 'cross lots, Maggie
says. So, if you listen, why, pretty soon you'll know."

And it is due partly to the fact that Letitia Primrose, listening, heard
no hollering across lots, that I am able here to record the very day
and hour when I first met her; partly that, and partly because Letitia
has a better memory than Jonathan Weatherby's little boy, for I do not
remember the thing at all and must take her word for it.

She was not gray then, of course. It must have been a pink, sweet, merry
face that peered at me through the grape-vines, and a ringing laugh in
those days, and two plump fingers that pinched my cheek. Her hair was
brown and hung in braids, she tells me. She may have been fourteen.

I do not remember her so young. I do remember hugging some one and being
hugged, next door--once in the bay-window by the red geraniums, whose
scent still bears to me some faint, sweet airs of summers gone. It was
not a relative who hugged me; I know by the feeling--the remembered
feeling--for I was dutiful but not o'er keen in the matter of kissing
our kith and kin. No, it was some one who took me by surprise and
rumpled me, some one who seemed, somehow, to have the right to me,
though not by blood--some one too who was nearer my age than most of our
relatives, who were not so young and round and luring as I recall them.
It was some one kneeling, so that our heads were even. The carpet was
red, I remember. I had run in from play, I suppose, and she was there,
and I--I may have been irresistible in those days. At least I know it
was not I, but Eve who--

_That_ must have been Letitia. I have never asked, but it was not Cousin
Julia, or the Potter girl, or Sammy's sister. Excluding the rest of the
world, I infer Letitia. And why not kiss me? She kissed Sammy, that fat,
little, pudding-head Sammy McSomething, who played the mouth-organ.
Since of all the tunes in the world he knew but one (you know which
one), it may seem foolish that I cared; but, remember, I played none!
And she kissed him _for_ playing--kissed him, pudgy and vulgar as he was
with the fetty-bag tied to his neck by a dirty string to ward off
contagions! Ugh! I swore a green, green oath to learn the accordion.

That night in bed--night of the day she kissed him--with only the
moon-lamp burning outside my window, I felt that my cheeks were wet. I
had been thinking. It had come to me awfully as I tossed, that I had
been born too late--for Letitia. Always I should be too young for her.
Dear Letitia, white and kneeling even then, perhaps, at your whiter
prayers, or reading after them, before you slept, in the _Jane Eyre_
which lay for years beneath your pillow, you did not dream that you also
were a heroine of romance. You did not dream of the plot then hatching
in the night: plot with a villain in it--oh, beware, Letitia, of a
pudgy, vulgar, superstitious villain wearing a charmed necklace of
assafoetida to ward off evils, but powerless, even quite odorless
against that green-eyed one! For, lo! Letitia: thy Hero standing
beneath thy chamber-window in the moonbeams, is singing soprano to the
gentle bellowsings of early love!

No, I do not play the accordion, nor did I ever. I never even owned one,
so I never practised secretly in the barn-loft, nor did I ever, after
all my plotting, lure young Sammy to play "Sweet Home" to our dear lady
in the moonshine, only to be eclipsed, to his dire confusion and
everlasting shame, by me. It may have been that I had no pocket-money,
or that Santa Claus was short that year in his stock of
wind-instruments, or that Jonathan Weatherby had no ear for melody about
the house, but it is far more likely that Letitia Primrose never again
offended, to my knowledge, in the matter of pudgy little vulgar boys.

Now, as I muse the longer of that fair young lady who lived next door to
us, as I see myself crawling through the place with the pickets off, and
recall beyond it the smell and taste of the warm Concords in my petty
larcenies of a dozen autumns, then other things come back to me, of
Letitia's youth, of its cares and sacrifice and its motherlessness. The
Rev. David Primrose, superannuate divine, bard and scholar, lived mostly
in a chair, as I recall him, and it was Letitia who wheeled him on sunny
days when other girls were larking, who sat beside it in the bay-window,
half-screened by her geraniums, reading to him when his eyes were weary,
writing for him, when his hand trembled, those fine fancies that helped
him to forget his sad and premature decay. She was his only child, his
only housemaid, gardener, errand-boy, and "angel," as mother said, and
the mater went sometimes to sit evenings with him lest Letitia should
never know joys of straw-rides and taffy-pulls and church-sociable
ice-cream and cake.

He had a fine, white, haggard face, too stern for a little child to
care for, but less forbidding to a growing school-boy who had found by
chance that it softened wonderfully with memories of that Rugby where
Tom Brown went to school; for Dr. Primrose had conned his Xenophon
within those very ivied-walls, and, what was more to Bertram Weatherby,
under those very skies had fled like Tom, a hunted hare, working fleet
wonders in the fields of Warwickshire.

"A mad March hare I was, Bertram," he would tell me, the light of his
eyes blazing in that little wind of a happy memory, only to sink and go
out again. Smoothing then with his fine, white hands the plaid shawl
which had been his wife's and was now a coverlet for his wasted knees,
he would say, sadly:

"Broomsticks, Bertram--but in their day there were no fleeter limbs in
Rugby."

There on my upper shelf is an old, worn, dusty copy of the _Odes of
Horace_, which I cannot read, but it bears on its title-page, in a
school-boy's scrawl, the name and date for which I prize it:

"David Buckleton Primrose, Rugby, _A.D._ 18--."

He laughed as he gave it to me.

"Mark, Bertram," said he, "the 'A.D.'"

"Thank you, sir," I replied, tremulously. "You bet I'll always keep it,
Mr. Primrose."

"_Dr._ Primrose," he reproved me, gently.

"Doctor, I mean. Maybe Tom had one like it."

"Likely," he replied. "You must learn to read it."

"Oh, I will, sir--and Greek."

"That's right, my boy. Remember always what Dr. Primrose said when he
gave you Horace: that no gentleman could have pretensions to sound
culture who was not well-grounded in the classics. Can you remember
that?"

Twice he made me repeat it.

"Oh yes, sir, I can remember it," I told him. "Do you suppose Tom put in
his name like that?"

"Doubtless," said Dr. Primrose, "minus the A.D."

"I didn't know you had a middle name," I said.

"Buckleton was my mother's maiden name," he explained. "She was of the
Wiltshire Buckletons, and a very good family, too."

"David Buckleton Primrose," I read aloud.

"Lineal descendant of Dr. Charles Primrose, Vicar of Wakefield," added
the minister, so solemnly that I fairly caught my breath. I had no
notion then of whom he spoke, but there was that in the chant of his
deep voice and the pleasant, pompous sound he gave the title, which awed
me so I could only stare at him, and then at Horace, and then at him
again, as he lay back solemnly in his chair, regarding me with half-shut
eyes. Slowly a smile overspread his features.

"I was only jesting. Did you never hear of the _Vicar of Wakefield_?"

"No," I said.

"There: that little yellow book on the third shelf, between the green
ones. He was its hero, a famous character of Oliver Goldsmith's. He also
was a clergyman, and his name was Primrose."

"Oh," I said, "and did he go to Rugby, sir?"

Now, though the doctor laughed and shook his head, somehow I got that
notion in my noddle, and to this very day must stop to remember that the
vicar was not a Rugby boy. I have even caught myself imagining that I
had read somewhere, or perhaps been told, that his middle name was
Buckleton. One thing, of course, was true of both Primroses: they lived
A.D.



  II

  LITTLE RUGBY


Hunting fox-grapes on a Saturday in fall, or rambling truantly on a fair
spring morning, and chuckling to hear the school-bells calling in vain
to us across the meadows, it was fine to say:

"Gee! If there was only a game-keeper to get into a row with!"

And then hear Peter's answer:

"Gee, yes! Remember how Velveteens caught Tom up a tree?"

It was fine, I say, because it proved that Peter, too, knew _Tom Brown's
School Days_, and all about Slogger Williams and Tom's fight with him,
all about East and Arthur and Dr. Arnold, and Tom in the last chapter
standing alone in the Rugby chapel by the doctor's grave.

One night in winter I remember keeping watch--hard-pressed was Cæsar
by the hordes of Gaul--a merest stripling from among the legions,
stealthily deserted post, braving the morrow's reckoning to linger in
delicious idleness by his father's shelves. There, in a tattered copy of
an old _Harper's_, whose cover fluttered to the hearth-rug, his eyes
fell upon a set of drawings of a gate, a quadrangle, a tower door with
ivy over it, a cricket-field with boys playing and scattering a flock of
sheep, a shop (at this his eyes grew wider)--a mere little Englishy
village-shop, to be sure, but not like others, for this, indeed, was
Sallie Harrowell's, where Tom bought baked potatoes and a pennyworth of
tea! And out of one full, dark page looked Dr. Arnold--a face as fine
and wise and tender as Bertram Weatherby had fancied it, so that he
turned from it but to turn back again, thinking how Tom had looked upon
its living presence in more wondrous days. Cæsar's deserter read and
looked, and looked and read again, beside the hearth, forgetting the
legions in the Gallic wilds, forgetting the Roman sentry calls for the
cries of cricketers, and seeing naught but the guarded wickets on an
English green and how the sheep browsed peacefully under the windows in
the vines.

Schoolward next morning Rugby and Cæsar nestled together beneath his
arm. He found his Little Rugby on a hill--a red brick school-house
standing awkwardly and solemn-eyed in its threadbare playground, for all
the world like a poor school-master, impoverished without, well stocked
within. It was an ugly, mathematical-looking Rugby, austere and angular,
and without a shred of vine or arching bough for birds or dreams to nest
in, yet Bertram Weatherby hailed it joyfully, ran lightly up its painted
steps, and flung wide open its great hall-door. A flood of sound gushed
forth--laughter, boisterous voices, chatter of girls, and the movement
of restless feet. Across the threshold familiar faces turned, smiling,
familiar voices rose from the tumult, his shoulders tingled with the
buffets of familiar hands.

"Hello, Bildad!"

"Hello, old saw-horse!"

"Hello, yourself! Take _that_!"

But suddenly, in the midst of these savage greetings, that gentle
pressure of an arm about him, and Peter's voice:

"Hello, old man!"

Bertram would whirl at that, his face beaming; they had met but
yesterday--it was as years ago--"Hello, old man! Look, Peter!"

But a gong clanged. Then all about them was the hurry and tramp of feet
upon the stairs. Lost in the precious pages, they climbed together, arm
in arm, drifting upward with the noisy current and through the doors of
the assembly-hall.

"See, Bertram--the cricket-bats on the wall!"

"Yes; and the High Street--and Sallie Harrowell's!"

"And the doctor's door!"

Through another door just then their own masters were slowly filing,
their own doctor last and weightiest of all, his smooth, strong face
busy with some chapel reverie.

"The Professor's like Arnold," Bertram told Peter as they slipped
together into their double seat.

The last gong clanged. There was a last bang of seats turned down, a
last clatter of books upon the desks, the last belated, breathless ones
fluttered down aisles with reddened cheeks, while the Professor waited
with the Bible open in his hand.

"Let us read this morning the one-hundred-and-seventh Psalm--Psalm one
hundred seven."

Peter was in Rugby, hidden by the girl in front. The boy named Bertram
fixed his gaze upon the desk before him. Fair and smooth it was--too
smooth with newness to please a Rugbeian eye. During the Psalm, with his
pocket-knife he cut his initials in the yellow wood, and smiled at
them. In days to come other boys would sit where he was sitting, and
gaze and puzzle over that rude legacy, and, if dreams came true, might
be proud enough to sprawl their elbows where a famous man had lolled.
They might even hang the old seat-top upon the wall, that all who ran
might read the glory of an _alma mater_ in the disobedience of a mighty
son. Bertram Weatherby gazed fondly upon his handiwork and closed his
knife. Time and Destiny must do the rest.

"Let us pray."

For a moment the Professor stood there silently with lowered eyes.
Bertram and Peter, their shoulders touching, bowed their heads.

"_Our Father in heaven...._"

There was no altar--only a flat-topped desk; no stained-glass
windows--only the sunshine on the panes; and there a man's voice, deep
and trembling, and here a school-boy's beating heart.

"_ ... Help us, O Father, to be kinder...._"

How you loved Peter, the Professor, and your ugly Rugby on its hill!

"_ ... Lead us, O Father, to a nobler youth...._"

Ay, they should know you for the man you were, deep down in your hidden
soul.

"_ ... Give us, O Father, courage for the battle...._"

Wait till the next time Murphy bumped you on the stairs!

"_ ... to put behind us all indolence of flesh and soul...._"

You would study hard that term.

"_ ... all heedlessness and disobedience...._"

You would keep the rules.

"_ ... for Jesus' sake--Amen._"

"Peter, did you see the sheep...."

"If the two young gentlemen _whispering_ on the back seat--"

You flushed angrily. Other fellows whispered on back seats. Why, always,
did the whole school turn so knowingly to you?

       *       *       *       *       *

Sitting, one study-hour, in the assembly-hall, Bertram's eyes wandered
to the top of the _Commentaries_, strayed over the book to the braids of
the Potter girl beyond, and on to the long, brown benches. The hum of
recitations there, whispering behind him, giggling half suppressed, and
the sharp rat-tat of the teacher's warning pencil came to him vaguely as
in a dream. Through the tall windows he saw the spotless blue of the
sky, the bright-green, swaying tips of the maples, and the flight of
wings. Out there it was spring. Two more months of Cæsar--eight more
dreary weeks of legions marching and barbarians bending beneath the
yoke--then summer and the long vacation, knights jousting in the
orchard, Indians scalping on the hill. Eight weeks--forty days of
school.

Behind a sheltering grammar Peter was reading Hughes. Over his shoulder
Bertram could make out Tom, just come to Rugby, watching the football,
and that cool Crab Jones, fresh from a scrimmage, with the famous straw
still hanging from his teeth. He read to the line of Peter's shoulder,
then his eyes wandered again to the school-room window. It was spring in
Grassy Ford--it was spring in Warwickshire....

"If the young _gentleman_ gazing out of the window--"

"_Tertia vigilia eruptionem fecerunt_"--third watch--eruption--they
made. _Eruptionem_--eruption--pimples--break out--sally. They made a
sally at the third watch. _Tertia vigilia_, ablative case. Ablative of
what? Ablative of time. Why ablative of time? Because a noun
denoting--oh, hang their _eruptionem_! They were dead and buried long
ago. Why does a fellow learn such stuff? Help his English--huh! English
helps his Latin--that's what. _How_ does a fellow know _eruptionem_?
Because he's seen pimples--that's how. No sense learning Latin. Dead
language--dead as a door-nail....

Bertram Weatherby drew a picture on the margin of his book--a head,
shoulders, two arms, a trunk--and trousered legs. Carefully, then, he
dotted in the eyes--the nose--the mouth--the ears beneath the tousled
hair. He rolled the shirt-sleeves to the elbows--drew the
trousers-belt--the shoes. Then delicately, smiling to himself the while,
his head tilted, his eyes squinted like a connoisseur, he drew a straw
pendent from the figure's lips.

"Peter, who's that?"

"Sh! not so loud. She'll hear you."

"Who's that, Peter?"

"Hm--Crab Jones."

"Now, if the idle young gentleman drawing _pictures_--"

"_Tertia vigilia eruptionem fecerunt_"--oh, they did, did they? What of
that?...

       *       *       *       *       *

"Rugby," said the Professor, who had a way of enlivening his classes
with matters of the outer world--"Rugby, as I have heard my friend Dr.
Primrose say, who was a Rugby boy himself, is very different from our
public schools. Only the other day he was telling me of a school-mate, a
professor now, who had returned to England, and who had spent a day
there rambling about the ivied buildings, and searching, I suppose, for
the ancient form where he had carved his name. Dr. Primrose told me how,
as this old friend lingered on the greensward where the boys played
cricket, as he himself had done on that very spot--fine, manly fellows
in their white flannels--he heard not a single oath or vulgar word in
all that hour he loitered there. One young player called to another who
ran too languidly after the ball. '_Aren't_ you playing, Brown?' he
cried, with a touch of irony in his voice."

The Professor paused.

"I have heard stronger language on our playground here."

He paused again, adding, impressively:

"We might do well to _imitate_ our English cousins."

"Just what _I_ say," whispered young Bertram Weatherby.

"The Prof.'s all right," Peter whispered back.

And so, down-town, after school that day, behold!--sitting on stools at
Billy's Palace Lunch Counter, in the Odd Fellow's Block--two fine, manly
chaps, not in white cricket flannels, to be sure, but--

"It's _some_ like Sallie Harrowell's," one mumbled, joyously, crunching
his buttered toast, and the other nodded, taking his swig of tea.

       *       *       *       *       *

So it came to pass that they looked reverently upon the Professor with
Rugbeian eyes, and more admiringly as they noted new likenesses between
him and the great head-master. There was a certain resemblance of
glowing countenance, they told themselves, a certain ardor of voice, as
they imagined, and over all a sympathy for boys.

"Well," he would say, stopping them as they walked together arm in arm,
"if you seek Peter, look for Bertram--eh?" giving their shoulders a
bantering shake which pleased them greatly as they sauntered on.

Listening to his prayers in chapel, hearing at least the murmur of them
as they bowed their heads, their minds swayed by the earnestness of the
great man's voice rather than by the words he uttered, they felt that
glow which comes sometimes to boys who read and dream. Then Bertram
loved the touch of Peter's shoulder, and, with the memory of another
doctor and another school-boy, he loved his Rugby, little and meagre and
vineless though it was upon its threadbare hill. When he had left it he
would return some day, he thought; he would stand like Tom in the last
chapter; he would sit again at his old brown desk, alone,
musing--missing his mate, and finding silence where happy whisperings
and secret play had been--but still in the pine before him he would
trace the letters he had cut, and, seeing them, he would be again the
boy who cut them there.

One morning, such was the fervor of the Professor's voice, there was
some such dream, and when it ended, prayer and dream together--

"After these exercises--"

It was the Professor's voice.

"--I wish to see in my office Bertram Weatherby and Peter Wynne."

They heard aghast. The whole school turned to them. The Past rose
dreadfully before their startled vision, yet for once, it seems, they
could find no blemish there.

Down-stairs, quaking, they slipped together through the office door. The
Professor had not arrived. They took their stations farthest from his
chair, and leaned, wondering, for support against the wall. There was a
murmur of assembling classes overhead, a hurry of belated feet, and
then--that well-known, awful tread. Peter gulped; Bertram shifted his
feet, his heart thumping against his ribs, but they squared their
shoulders as the door flew open and the Professor, his face grave, his
eyes flashing, swooped down upon them in the little room.

"Bertram!"

"Yes, sir."

"Peter!"

"Yes, sir."

"I have sent for you to answer a most serious charge--most serious,
indeed. I am surprised. I am astonished. Two of my best pupils, two
whom I have praised, not once but many times, here in this very
room--two, I may say, of my favorite boys found violating, wilfully
violating, the rules of this school. I could not believe the charge till
I saw the evidence with my own eyes. I could not believe that boys like
you--boys of good families, boys with minds far above the average of
their age, would despoil, openly despoil--yes, I may say, ruthlessly
despoil--the property of this school, descending--"

"Why, sir, what prop--"

"Descending," cried the Professor, "to vandalism--to a vandalism which I
have again and again proscribed. Over and over I have said, and within
your hearing, that I _would not countenance the defacing of desks_!"

Bertram Weatherby glanced furtively at Peter Wynne. Peter had sighed.

"Over and over," said the Professor, "I have told you that they were not
your property or mine, but the property of the people whose
representative I am. Yet here I find you marring their tops with
jack-knives, carving great, sprawling letters--"

"But, sir, at Rug--"

"Great, ugly letters, I say, sprawling and slashed so deeply that the
polished surface can never be restored."

"At Rug--"

"What will visitors say? What will your parents say if they come, as
parents should, to see the property for which they pay a tribute to the
state?"

"But, sir, at Rug--"

"Bertram, I am grieved. I am grieved, Peter, that boys reared to care
for the neatness of their persons should prove so slovenly in the matter
of the property a great republic intrusts to their use and care."

"But, sir, at Rug--"

"I am astonished."

"At Rug--"

"I am astounded."

"At Rug--"

"Astounded, I repeat."

"At Rugby, sir--"

"_Rugby!_" thundered the Professor. "_Rugby!_ And what of Rugby?"

"Why, at Rugby, sir--"

"And what, pray, has Rugby, or a thousand Rugbys, to do with your wilful
disobedience?"

"They cut, sir--"

"_Cut_, sir!" repeated the Professor. "_Cut_, sir!"

"Yes, sir--their desks, sir."

"And if they do--what then?"

"Well, sir, you said, you know--".

"Said? What did I say? I asked you to imitate the manliness of Rugby
cricketers. I did not ask you to carve your desks like the totem-poles
of savage tribes!"

His face was pale, his eyes dark, his words ground fine.

"Young gentlemen, I will have you know that rules must be obeyed. I will
have you know that I am here not only as a teacher, but as a guardian of
the public property intrusted to my care. Under the rules which I am
placed here to enforce, I can suspend you both--dismiss you from the
privileges of the school. This once I will act with lenience. This once,
young gentlemen, you may think yourselves lucky to escape with demerit
marks, but if I hear again of conduct so unbecoming, so disgraceful, of
vandalism so ruthless and absurd, I shall punish you as you deserve. Now
go."

Softly they shut the office door behind them. Arm in arm they went
together, tiptoe, down the empty hall.

"Well?"

The gloom of a great disappointment was in their voices.

"He's not an Arnold, after all," they said.



  III

  A POET OF GRASSY FORD


The lesser Primrose was a poet. It was believed in Grassy Ford, though
the grounds seem vague enough now that I come to think of them, that he
published widely in the literary journals of the day. Letitia was seen
to post large envelopes, and anon to draw large envelopes from the
post-office and hasten home with them. The former were supposed to
contain poems; the latter, checks. Be that as it may, I never saw the
Primrose name in print save in our _Grassy Ford Weekly Gazette_. There,
when gossip lagged, you would find it frequently in a quiet upper
corner, set "solid," under the caption "Gems"--a terse distinction from
the other bright matters with which our journal shone, and further
emphasized by the Gothic capitals set in a scroll of stars. Thus
modestly, I believe, were published for the first time--and I fear the
last--David Buckleton Primrose's "Agamemnon," "Ode to Jupiter,"
"Ulysses's Farewell," "Lines on Rereading Dante," "November: an Elegy
Written in the Autumn of Life," as well as those stirring bugle-calls,
"To Arms!" "John Brown," and "The Guns of Sumter," and those souvenirs
of more playful tender moods, "To a Lady," "When I was a Rugby Lad,"
"Thanksgiving Pies," and "Lines Written in a Young Lady's Album on her
Fifteenth Birthday." Now that young lady was Letitia, I chance to know,
for I have seen the verses in her school-girl album, a little leathern
Christmas thing stamped with forget-me-nots now faded, and there they
stand just opposite some school-mate's doggerel of "roses red and
violets blue" signed Johnny Gray. The lines begin, I remember:

    "Virtue is in thy modest glance, sweet child,"

and they are written in a flourished, old-fashioned hand. These and
every other line her father dreamed there in his chair Letitia treasures
in a yellow scrap-book made of an odd volume of Rhode Island statutes
for 18--. There, one by one, as he wrote them, or cut them with
trembling fingers from the fresh, ink-scented _Gazette_--"Gems," scroll
and all, and with date attached--she set them neatly in with home-made
paste, pressing flat each precious flower of his muse with her loving
fingers.

Editor Butters used to tell me of the soft-eyed girl, "with virtue in
her modest glance," slipping suddenly into his print-shop, preferably
after dusk had fallen, and of the well-known envelope rising from some
sacred folds, he never quite knew where, to be laid tremblingly upon his
desk.

"Something from father, sir."

It was a faint voice, often a little husky, and then a smile, a bow, and
she had fled.

Editor Nathaniel Butters had a weakness of the heart for all tender
things--a weakness "under oath," however, as he once replied when I
charged him with it, and as I knew, for I myself heard him one summer
afternoon, as he sat, shirt-sleeved and pipe in mouth, perched on a
stool, and setting type hard by a window where I stood beneath fishing
with a dogwood wand.

"The-oc-ri-tus! Humpf! Now, who in thunder cares a tinker's damn
for Theocritus, in Grassy Ford? Some old Greek god, I suppose, who died
and went to the devil; and here's a parson--a Christian parson who ought
to know better--writing an ode to him, for Hank Myers to read, and Jim
Gowdy, and Old Man Flynn. And I don't get a cent for it, not a blank
cent, Sam--well, he doesn't either, for that matter--but it's all
tommy-rot, and here I've got to sweat, putting in capitals where they
don't belong and hopping down to the darned old dictionary every five
minutes to see if he's right--Sam [turning to his printer] there's some
folks think it's just heaven to be a country editor, but I'll be--"

He was a rough, white-bearded, little, round, fat man, who showed me
type-lice, I remember (the first and only time I ever saw the vermin),
and roared when I wiped my eyes, though I've forgiven him. He was good
to Letitia in an hour of need.

Dr. Primrose, it seems, had written his masterpiece, a solemn, Dr.
Johnsonian thing which he named "Jerusalem," and reaching, so old man
Butters told me once, chuckling, "from Friday evening to Saturday
night." The muse had granted him a longer candle than it was her wont
to lend, and Letitia trembled for that sacred fire.

"Print it, child? Of course he'll print it. It's the finest thing I ever
did!"

"True, father, but its length--"

"Not longer than Milton's 'Lycidas,' my dear."

"I know, but--he's so--he looks so fierce, father." She laughed
nervously.

"Who? Butters?"

"Yes."

"Tut! Butters has brains enough--"

"It isn't his brains," replied Letitia. "It's his whiskers, father."

"Whiskers?"

"Yes; they bristle so."

"Don't be foolish, child. Butters has brains enough to know it is worth
the printing. Worth the printing!" he cried, with irony. "Yes, even
though it isn't dialect."

Dialect was then in vogue; no Grassy Ford, however small, in those days,
but had its Rhyming Robin who fondly imagined that he might be another
Burns.

"Dialect!" the doctor repeated, scornfully, his eyes roving to the
shabby ancients on his shelves. "Bring me Horace--that's a good girl.
No--yes." His hand lingered over hers that offered him the book.
"Child," he said, looking her keenly in the eyes, "do you find it so
hard to brave that lion?"

"Oh no, father. I didn't mean I was afraid, only he's so--woolly. You
can hardly make out his eyes, and fire sputters through his old
spectacles. I think he never combs his hair."

"Does he ever grumble at you?"

"Oh no"--and here she laughed--"that is, I never give him time; I run
away."

The old poet made no reply to her, but went on holding that soft little
hand with the Horace in it, and gazing thoughtfully at his daughter's
face.

"We can send it by mail," he said at last.

That roused Letitia.

"Oh, not at all!" she cried. "Why, I'm proud to take it, father. Mr.
Butters isn't so dreadful--if he _is_ fuzzy. I'm sure he'll print it.
There was that letter from Mr. Banks last week, a column long, on
carrots."

He smiled dryly at her over his opened book.

"If only my 'Jerusalem' were artichokes instead of Saracens!" he said.

The fuzzy one was in his lair, proof-reading at his unkempt desk. The
floor was littered at his feet. He was smoking a black tobacco in a
blacker pipe. He wore no coat, no cuffs, and his sleeves were--um; it
does not matter. He glared ("carnivorously," Letitia tells me) at the
opening door.

"Evening," he said, and waited; but the envelope did not arise. So he
rose himself, offering a seat in the midst of his clutter, a plain,
pine, rope-mended chair, from which he pawed soiled sheets of copy and
tattered exchanges that she might sit.

"Looks some like snow," he said.

"Yes," she assented. "I called, Mr. Butters--"

She paused uncertainly. It was her own voice that had disconcerted her,
it was so tremulous.

"Another poem, I suppose," he said, fondly imagining that he had
softened his voice to a tone of gallantry, but succeeding no better than
might be expected of speech so hedged, so beset and baffled, so
veritably bearded in its earward flight.

"You--you mentioned snow, I think," stammered Letitia. He had
frightened her away, or she may have drawn back, half-divining, even in
embarrassment, that the other, the more round-about, the snowy path,
was the better way to approach her theme.

"Snow and east winds are the predictions, I believe, Miss Primrose."

"I dread the winter--don't you?" she ventured.

"No," he replied. "I like it."

"That's because you are--"

"Because I'm so fat, you mean."

"Oh no, Mr. Butters, I didn't even think of that; I meant so--"

And then--heavens!--it flashed across her that she had meant "woolly"!
To save her soul she could think of no synonyme. Her cheeks turned red.

"I meant--why, of course, I meant--you're so well prepared."

"Well prepared," he grumbled.

"Why, yes, you--men can wear beards, you know."

"Egad! you're right," he roared. "You're right, Miss Primrose. I _am_
well mufflered, that's a fact."

"But, really, it must be a great assistance, Mr. Butters."

"Oh yes; it is--and it saves neckties."

And this, mark you, was the way to Poetry! Poor Letitia, with the
manuscript hidden beneath her cloak, was all astray. The image of the
poet with Horace in his lap rose before her and rebuked her. She was
tempted to disclose her mission, dutifully, there and then.

"How is Mrs. Butters?" she inquired instead.

"About as well as common, which is to say, poorly--very poorly, thank
you."

"Oh, I'm sorry."

Editor Butters seemed downcast.

"She's tried everything," he said. "Even had a pocket made in her gown
to hold a potato and a horse-chestnut--but this rheumatism does beat
all, I tell you. How's the old gentleman?"

"The doctor says he will never walk."

"Yes, so I heard," muttered the editor. "It's a damned shame."

He was fumbling with his proofs and did not see her face--yet, after
all, she could feel the sympathy even in his rudeness.

"Still hatching poems, I suppose?"

Her heart, which had warmed even as her cheeks had colored at his other
words, grew cold at these. What manner of toil it was that brought forth
things so pure and beautiful in her sight, what labor of love and
travail of spirit it was to him, she alone would ever know who watched
beside him, seeing his life thus ebbing, dream by dream. She sat silent,
crumpling those precious pages in her hands.

"Well," Butters went on, gruffly, clearing his throat, "he's a good hand
at it." He was not looking at Letitia, but kept his eyes upon a ring of
keys with which he played nervously; and now when he spoke it was more
spasmodically, as if reluctant to broach some matter for which, however,
he felt the time had come. "Yes, he's a good hand at it. Used to be even
better than he is now--but that's natural. I wish, though--you'd just
suggest when it comes handy--just in a quiet sort of way, you know--some
day when you get the chance--that he's getting just a leetle bit--you
can say it better than I can--but I mean long-winded for the _Gazette_.
It's natural, of course, but you see--you see, Miss Primrose, if we
print one long-winded piece, you know--you can see for yourself--why,
every other poet in Grassy Ford starts firing epics at us, which is
natural, of course, but--hard on me. And if I refuse 'em, why, then,
they just naturally up and say, 'Well, you printed Primrose's; why not
mine?' and there they have you--there they have you right by the--yes,
sir, there they have you; and there's the devil to pay. Like as not they
get mad then and stop their papers, which they don't pay for--and that's
natural, too, only it causes feeling and doesn't do me any good, or your
father either."

"But, Mr. Butters, you printed Mr. Banks's letter on carrots, and that
was--"

The editor fairly leaped in his chair.

"There, you have it!" he cried. "Just what I said! There's that
confounded letter of Jim Banks's, column-long on carrots, a-staring me
in the face from now till kingdom come when any other idiot wants to
print something a column long. Just what I say, Miss Primrose; but you
must remember that the readers of the _Gazette_ do raise carrots, and
they _don't_ raise--well, now, for instance, and not to be mean or
personal at all, Miss Primrose--not at all--they _don't_ raise
Agamemnons or Theocrituses. I suppose I should say Theocriti--singular,
Theocritus; plural, Theocriti. No, sir, they don't raise
Theocriti--which is natural, of course, and reminds me--while we are
_on_ the subject--reminds me, Miss Primrose, that I've been thinking--or
wondering--in fact, I've been going to ask you for some time back, only
I never just got the chance--ask you if you wouldn't--just kind of speak
to your father, to kind of induce him, you know, to--to write
on--about--well, about _livelier_ things. You see, Miss Primrose, it's
natural, of course, for scholars to write about things that are dead and
gone. They wouldn't _be_ scholars if they wrote what other people knew
about. That's only natural. Still--still, Miss Primrose, if the old
gentleman _could_ just give us a poem or two on the--well, the issues of
the day, you know--oh, he's a good writer, Miss Primrose! Mind, I'm not
saying a word--not a word--against that. I'd be the last--Good God,
what's the matter, girl! What have I done? Oh, I say now, that's too
bad--that's too bad, girlie. Come, don't do that--don't--Why, if I'd
a-known--"

Letitia, "Jerusalem" crushed in her right hand, had buried her face
among the proof-sheets on his desk. Woolier than ever in his
bewilderment, the editor rose--sat--rose again--patted gingerly (he
had never had a daughter), patted Letitia's shaking shoulders and strove
to soothe her with the only words at his command: "Oh, now, I
say--I--why, say, if I'd a-known"--till Letitia raised her dripping
face.

"You m-mustn't mind, Mr. B-Butters," she said, smiling through her
tears.

"Why, say, Miss Primrose, if I'd a-dreamed--"

"It's all my f-fault, Mr. B-Butters."

"Damn it, no! It's mine. It's mine, I tell you. I might a-known you'd
think I was criticising your father."

"Oh, it's not that exactly, Mr. Butters, but you see--"

She put her hair out of her eyes and smoothed the manuscript.

"Egad! I see; you had one of the old gentleman's--"

Letitia nodded.

"Egad!" he cried again. "Let's see, Miss Primrose."

"Oh, there isn't the slightest use," she said. "It's too long, Mr.
Butters."

"No, no. Let's have a look at it."

"No," she answered. "No, it's _altogether_ too long, Mr. Butters."

"But let's have a look at it."

She hesitated. His hand was waiting; but she shook her head.

"No. It's the longest poem he ever wrote, Mr. Butters. It's his
masterpiece."

"By George! let's see it, then. Let's see it."

"Why, it's as long, Mr. Butters--it's as long as 'Lycidas.'"

"Long as--hm!" he replied. "Still--still, Miss Primrose," he added,
cheerfully, "that isn't so long when you come to think of it."

"But that's not all," Letitia said. "It's about--it's called--oh, you'll
_never_ print it, Mr. Butters!"

She rose with the poem in her hand.

"Print it!" cried Butters. "Why, of course I'll print it. I'll print it
if every cussed poet in Grassy--"

"Oh, _will_ you, Mr. Butters?"

"Will I? Of course I will."

He took it from her unresisting fingers.

"Je-ru-sa-lem!" he cried, fluttering the twenty pages.

"Yes," she said, "that's--that's the name of it, Mr. Butters," and
straightway set herself to rights again.



  IV

  THE SEVENTH SLICE


It was the editor himself who told me the story years
afterwards--Butters of "The Pide Bull," as he ever afterwards called his
shop, for in her gratitude Letitia had pointed out to him how natural it
was that he of all men should be the patron of poets, since beyond a
doubt, she averred, he was descended from that very Nathaniel Butter for
whom was printed the first quarto edition of _King Lear_. Indeed, with
the proofs of "Jerusalem" she brought him the doctor's Shakespeare, and
showed him in the preface to the tragedy the record of an antique
title-page bearing these very words:

    "Printed for _Nathaniel Butter_, and are to be sold at his shop in
    _Paul's_ Churchyard at the signe of the Pide Bull neere St.
    Austin's Gate, 1608."

"Egad!" said Butters, "I never heard that before. Well, well, well,
well."

"I think there is no doubt, Mr. Butters," said Letitia, "that he was
your ancestor."

"You don't say so," mumbled the delighted editor. "Shouldn't wonder.
Shouldn't wonder now at all. I believe there was an 's' tacked on our
name, some time or other, now that I come to think of it, and printer's
ink always did run in the Butters blood, by George!"

He even meditated hanging up a sign with a pied bull upon it--or so he
said--but rejected the plan as too Old English for Grassy Ford. He never
ceased, however, to refer to "my old cousin--Shakespeare's publisher,
you know," and in the occasional dramatic criticisms that embellished
the columns of the _Gazette_, all plays presented at our Grand
Opera-House in the Odd Fellow's Block were compared, somehow,
willy-nilly, to _King Lear_.

Butters of "The Pide Bull," I say, first told me how that young Crusader
with the tear-wet face had delivered "Jerusalem," saving it from the
stern fate which had awaited it and setting it proudly among the
immortal "Gems." Then I sought Letitia, whose briefer, more reluctant
version filled in wide chinks in the Butters narrative, while my
knowledge of them both, of their modesty and their tender-heartedness,
filled in the others, making the tale complete.

I was too young when the poet wrote his masterpiece to know or care
about it, or how it found its way to the wondering world of Grassy
Ford--nay, to the whole round world as well, "two hemispheres," as old
man Butters used to remind me with offended pride in his voice, which
had grown gruffer with his years. Did he not send _Gazettes_ weekly, he
would ask, to Mrs. Ann Bowers's eldest son, a Methodist missionary in
the Congo wilds, and to "that woman in Asia"? He referred to a Grassy
Ford belle of other days who had married a tea-merchant and lived in
Chong-Chong.

Who knows what befell the edition of that memorable _Gazette_ which
contained "Jerusalem," set solid, a mighty column of Alexandrine lines?
One summer's afternoon, tramping in an Adirondack wilderness, I came by
chance upon the blackened ashes of a fire, and sitting meditatively upon
a near-by log, poking the leaf-strewn earth with my stick, I unearthed a
yellow, half-burned corner of an old newspaper, and, idly lifting it to
read, found it a fragment of some Australian _Times_. Still more
recently, when my aunt Matilda, waxing wroth at the settling floors of
her witch-colonial house in Bedfordtown, had them torn up to lay down
new ones, the carpenters unearthed an old rat's nest built partially of
a New York _Tribune_ with despatches from the field of Gettysburg.

"Sneer not at the power of the press," old man Butters used to say,
stuffing the bowl of his black pipe from my tobacco-jar and casting the
match into my wife's card-tray. "Who knows, my boy? Davy Primrose's
'Jerusalem' may turn up yet."

It is something to ponder now how all those years that I played away,
Letitia, of whom I thought then only as the young lady who lived next
door and occasional confidante of my idle hours, was slaving with pretty
hands and puzzling her fair young mind to bring both ends together in
decent comfort for that poor dependent one. Yet she does not sigh, this
gray Letitia among the petunias, when she talks of those by-gone days,
but is always smiling back with me some happy memory.

"You were the funniest boy, Bertram," she tells me, "always making
believe that it was old England in Grassy Ford, and that you were Robin
Hood or Lord Somebody or Earl Somebody Else. How father used to laugh at
you! He said it was a pity you would never be knighted, and once he drew
for you your escutcheon--you don't remember? Well, it had three books
upon it--_Tom Brown's School-days_, _Tales of a Grandfather_, and the
_Morte d'Arthur_."

Then I remind her that Robin Saxeholm was half to blame for my early
failure as an American. He was a Devonshire lad; he had been a Harrow
boy, and was a Cambridge man when he came, one summer of my boyhood, to
Grassy Ford to visit the Primroses. His father had been the doctor's
dearest friend when they were boys together in Devonshire, and when
young Robin's five-feet-eleven filled up the poet's doorway, Letitia
tells me, the tears ran down the doctor's cheeks and he held out both
his arms to him:

"Robin Saxeholm!--you young Devon oak, you--tell me, does the Dart still
run?"

"_He_ does, sir!" cried the young Englishman, speaking, Letitia says,
quite in the Devon manner, for those who dwell upon the banks of that
famous river find, it seems, something too human in its temper and
changeful moods to speak of it in the neuter way.

They sat an hour together, the poet and his old friend's son, before
Letitia could show the guest to the room she had prepared for him.

_That_ was a summer!

Robin taught me a kind of back-yard, two-old-cat cricket with a bat
fashioned by his own big hands. Sometimes Letitia joined us, and the
doctor watched us from his chair rolled out upon the garden walk,
applauding each mighty play decorously, in the English fashion, with
clapping hands. Robin Goodfellow, the doctor called our captain, "though
a precious large one, I'll be bound," he said. Letitia called him Mr.
Saxeholm, first--then Mr. Robin, and sometimes, laughingly, Mr.
Bobbin--then Robin. I called him Mr. Bob.

I made up my mind to one thing then and there: I should be happier when
I grew old enough to wear white cricket flannels and a white hat like
Mr. Bob's, and I hoped, and prayed too on my knees, that _my_ skin would
be as clear and pinkish--yes, and my hair as red. Alas! I had begun all
wrong: I was a little beast of a brunette.

I taught Mr. Bob baseball, showed him each hill and dale, each
whimpering brook of Grassy Ford, and fished with him among the lilies in
shady pools while he smoked his pipe and told me of Cambridge and
Harrow-on-the-Hill and the vales of Devon. He had lived once, so he told
me, next door to a castle, though it did not resemble Warwick or
Kenilworth in the least.

"It was just a _cah-sle_," said Mr. Bob, in his funny way.

"With a moat, Mr. Bob?"

"Oh yes, a moat, I dare say--but dry, you know."

"And a drawbridge, Mr. Bob?"

"Well, no--not precisely; at any rate, you couldn't draw it up."

"But a portcullis, I'll bet, Mr. Bob?"

"Well--I _cahn't_ say as to that, I'm sure, Bertram."

He had lived next door to a castle, mind you, and did not know if it had
a portcullis! He had never even looked to see! He had never even asked!
Still, Mr. Bob was a languid fellow, Bertram Weatherby was bound to
admit, even in speech, and drawled out the oddest words sometimes,
talking of "trams" and "guards" and "luggage-vans," which did seem queer
in a college man, though Bertram remembered he was not a Senior and
doubtless would improve his English in due time. Indeed, he helped him,
according to his light, and the credit is the boy's that the young
Britisher, after a single summer in Grassy Ford, could write from
Cambridge to Letitia: "I guess I will never forget the folks in Grassy
Ford! Remember me to the little kid, my quondam guide, philosopher, and
friend."

Robin was always pleasant with Letitia, helping her with her housework,
I remember, wiping her dishes for her, tending her fires, and weeding
her kitchen-garden. There never had been so many holidays, she declared,
gratefully, and she used to marvel that he had come so far, all that
watery way from Devon, yet could be content with such poor fare and such
humble work and quiet pleasures in an alien land so full of wonders. Yet
it must have been cheerful loitering, for he stayed on, week after week.
He had come intending, he confessed, to "stop" but one, but somehow had
small hankering thereafter to see, he said, "what is left of America,
liking your Grassy Fordshire, Bertram, so very well." Perhaps secretly
he was touched by the obvious penury and helplessness of his father's
friend, as well as by the daughter's loving and heavy service, so that
he stayed on but to aid them in the only unobtrusive way, overpaying
them, Letitia says, for what he whimsically called "tuition in the quiet
life," as he gently closed her fingers over the money which she blushed
to take. Then he would quote for her those lines from Pope:

                       "... Quiet by day,
    Sound sleep by night; study and ease
    Together mixt, sweet recreation,
    And innocence, which most doth please
                       With meditation."

He read Greek and Latin with Dr. Primrose, and many an argument of
ancient loves and wars I listened to, knowing by the keen-edged feeling
of my teeth when the fray was over that my mouth had been wide open all
the while. Letitia, too, could hear from the kitchen where she made her
pies, for it was a conversational little house, just big enough for a
tête-à-tête, as Dr. Primrose used to say, and when debate waxed high,
she would stand sometimes in the kitchen doorway, in her gingham apron,
wiping the same cup twenty times.

"Young Devon oak," the doctor called him, sometimes half vexed to find
how ribbed and knotty the young tree was.

"We'll look it up, then," he would cry, "but I know I'm right."

"You'll find you are mistaken, I think, doctor."

"Well, now, we'll see. We'll see. You're fresh from the schools and I'm
a bit rusty, I'll confess, but I'm sure I'm--here, now--hm, let's
see--why, can that be possible?--I didn't think so, but--by George!
you're right. You're right, sir. You're right, my boy."

He said it so sadly sometimes and shut the book with an air so beaten,
lying back feebly in his chair, that Robin, Letitia says, would lead the
talk into other channels, merely to contend for ground he knew he could
never hold, to let the doctor win. It was fine to see him then, the
roused old gentleman, his eyes shining, sitting bolt upright in his
chair waving away the young man's arguments with his feeble hand.

"I think you are right, doctor, after all. I see it now. You make it
clear to me. Yes, sir, I'm groggy. I'm down, sir. Count me out."

And you should have seen the poet then in his triumph, if victory so
gracious may be called by such a name. There was no passing under the
yoke--no, no! He would gaze far out of the open window, literally
overlooking his vanquished foe, and delicately conveying thus a hint
that it was of no utter consequence which had conquered; and so
smoothing the young man's rout, he would fall to expatiating,
soothingly, remarking how natural it was to go astray on a point so
difficult, so many-sided, so subtle and profound--in short, speaking so
eloquently for his prone antagonist, expounding so many likely arguments
in defence of that lost cause, one listening would wonder sometimes who
had won.

Evenings, when Letitia's work was done, she would come and sit with us,
Robin and me, upon the steps. There in the summer moonlight we would
listen to his tales, lore of the Dartmoor and Exmoor wilds, until my
heart beat strangely at the shadows darkening my homeward way when the
clock struck ten. Grape-vines, I noted then, were the very place for an
ambush by the Doones, of whom they talked so much, Robin and Letitia!
Later, when the grapes were ripe, a Doone could regale himself,
leisurely waiting to step out, giant-wise, upon his prey! There were
innumerable suspicious rustlings as I passed, and in particular a
certain strange--a dreadful _brushing_ sound as of ghostly wings when I
squeezed, helpless, through the worn pickets!--and then I would strike
out manfully across the lawn.

One day in August--it was August, I know, for it was my birthday and
Robin had given me a rod and line--we took Letitia with us to the top of
Sun Dial, a bald-crowned hill from which you see all Grassy Fordshire
green and golden at your feet. Leaving the village, we crossed a brook
by a ford of stones and plunged at once into the wild wood, forest and
ancient orchard that clothed the slope. I was leading--to show the way.
Robin followed with Letitia--to help her over the rocks and brambles and
steeper places of the long ascent, which was far more arduous than one
might think, looking up at it from the town below.

I strode on proudly, threading the narrow hunter's trail I knew by
heart, a remnant of an old wagon-lane long overgrown. I strode on
swiftly, I remember, breaking the cob-webs, parting the fragrant tangle
that beset the way--vines below, branches above me--keeping in touch the
while, vocally, when the thickets intervened, with the pair that
followed. I could hear them laughing together over the green barriers
which closed behind me, and I was pleased at their troubles among the
briers. I had led them purposely by the roughest way. Robin, stalking
across the ford, had made himself merry with my short legs, and I had
vowed secretly that before the day was out he should feel how long those
legs could be.

"I'll show you, Mr. Bob," I muttered, plunging through the brushwood,
and setting so fast a pace it was no great while before I realized how
faintly their voices came to me.

"Hello-o!" I cried.

"H'lo-o!" came back to me, but from so far behind me I deemed it wiser
to stop awhile, awaiting their approach.

The day was glorious, but quiet for a boy. The world was nodding in its
long, midsummer nap, and no birds sang, no squirrels chattered. I looked
in vain for one; but there were berries and the mottled fruit of an
antique apple-tree to while the time away--and so I waited.

I remember chuckling as I nibbled there, wondering what Mr. Bob would
say of those short legs which had outstripped him. I fancied him coming
up red and breathless to find me calmly eating and whistling between
bites--and I did whistle when I thought them near enough. I whistled
"Dixie" till I lost the pucker, thinking what fun it was, and tried
again, but could not keep the tune for chuckling. And so I waited--and
then I listened--but all the wood was still.

"Hello-o!" I cried.

There was no answer.

"Hello-o!" I called again, but still heard nothing in reply save my own
echo.

"_Hello-o!_" I shouted. "_Hello-o!_" till the wood rang, and then they
answered:

"H'lo-o!" but as faint and distant as before.

They had lost their way!

"_Wait!_" I shouted, plunging pell-mell through the bushes. "Wait where
you are! I'm coming!"

And so, hallooing all the way, while Robin answered, I made my way to
them--and found them resting on a wall.

"Hello," I said.

"Hello," said Robin. "We aren't mountain-goats, you know, Bertram."

I grinned gleefully.

"I thought my legs were so short?" I said.

"And so they are," he replied, calmly, "but you go a bit too fast, my
lad--for Letty."

I had forgotten Letitia! Revenging myself on Robin, it was she alone who
had suffered, and my heart smote me as I saw how pale she was, and
weary, sitting beside him on the wall. Yet she did not chide me; she
said nothing, but sat there resting, with her eyes upon the wild-flower
which she plucked to pieces in her hand.

We climbed more slowly and together after that. I was chagrined and
angry with myself, and a little jealous that Robin Saxeholm, friend of
but a summer-time, should teach me thoughtfulness of dear Letitia. All
that steep ascent I felt a strange resentment in my soul, not that Robin
was so kind and mindful of her welfare, guiding her gently to where the
slope was mildest, but that it was not I who helped her steps. I feigned
indifference, but I knew each time he spoke to her and I saw how
trustingly she gave her hand.

And I was envious--yes, I confess it--envious of Robin for himself, he
was so stalwart; and besides, his coat and trousers set so rarely! They
were of some rough, brownish, Scotchy stuff, and interwoven with a fine
red stripe just faintly showing through--oh, wondrous fetching! Such
ever since has been my ideal pattern, vaguely in mind when I enter
tailor-shops, but I never find it. It was woven, I suppose, on some
by-gone loom; perhaps at Thrums.

Reaching the summit and drinking in the sweet, clear, skyey airs, with
Grassy Fordshire smiling from all its hills and vales for miles about
us, I forgot my pique.

"What about water?" Letitia asked.

I knew a spring.

"I'll go," said Robin. "Where is it, Bertram?"

"Oh no, you won't!" I cried, fiercely. "That's my work, Mr. Bob. You're
not the only one who can help Letitia."

He looked astonished for a moment, but laughed good-naturedly and handed
me his flask. Letitia smiled at me, and I whistled "Dixie" as I
disappeared. I hurried desperately till I lost my breath; I skinned both
knees; I wellnigh slipped from a rocky ledge, yet with all my haste I
was a full half-hour gone, and got back red and panting.

They had waited patiently. Famished as they were, neither had touched a
single mouthful. Letitia said, "Thank you, Bertram," and handed me a
slice of the bread and jam. She seemed wondrous busy in our service.
Robin was silent--and I guessed why.

"I didn't mean to be rough," I said.

"Rough?" he asked. "When were you rough, Bertie?"

"About the water."

"Oh," he said, putting his hand upon my shoulder. "I never thought of
it, old fellow," and my heart smote me for the second time that day,
seeing how much he loved me.

Letitia, weary with our hard climbing, ate so little that Robin chided
her, very gently, and I tried banter.

"Wake up! This is a picnic." But they did not rally, so I sprang up
restlessly, crying, "It's not like our other good times at all."

"What!" said Robin, striving to be playful. "Only six slices, Bertram?
This is our last holiday. Eat another, lad."

Then I understood that gloom on Sun Dial: he was going to leave us.
Boylike, I had taken it for granted, I suppose, that we would go on
climbing and fishing and playing cricket in Grassy Ford indefinitely. He
was to go, he said, on Monday.

"News from home, Mr. Bob?"

He was silent a moment.

"Well, no, Bertie."

"Then why not stay?" I urged. "Stay till September."

He shook his head.

"Eat one more slice for me," I can hear him drawling. "I'll cut it--and
a jolly fat one it shall be, Bertram--and Letty here, she'll spread it
for you." Here Mr. Bob began to cut--wellnigh a quarter of the loaf he
made it. "Lots of the jam, Letty," he said to her. "And you'll eat it,
Bertram--and we'll call it--we'll call it the Covenant of the Seventh
Slice--never to forget each other. Eh? How's that?"

Now, I did not want the covenant at all, but he was so earnest; and
besides, I was afraid Letitia might think that I refused the slice
because of the tears she had dropped upon it, spreading the jam.



  V

  THE HANDMAIDEN


Robin gone, I saw but little of Letitia, I was so busy, I suppose, with
youth, and she with age. The poet's lamp had burned up bravely all that
summer-time, its flame renewed by Robin's coming--or, rather, it was the
brief return of his own young English manhood which he lived again in
that fine, clean Devon lad. Robin gone, he felt more keenly how far he
was from youth and Devonshire, what a long journey he had come to age
and helplessness, and his feeble life burned dimmer than before.

Two or three years slipped by. The charm was gone which had drawn me
daily through the hole in our picket-fence. Even the doctor's Rugby
tales no longer held me, I knew them so by heart. When he began some old
beginning, my mind recited so much more glibly than his faltering
tongue, I had leaped to the end before he reached the middle of his
story. He was given now to wandering in his narratives, and while he
droned there in his chair, my own mind wandered where it listed, or I
played restlessly with my cap and tried hard not to yawn, longing to be
out-of-doors again. Many a time has my conscience winced, remembering
that eagerness to desert one who had been so kind to me, who had led my
fancies into pure-aired ways and primrose paths--a little too English
and hawthorn-scented, some may think, for a good American, but we meant
no treason. He, before Robin, had given my mind an Old-World bent never
to be altered. Only last evening, with Master Shallow and a certain
well-known portly one of Windsor fame, I drank right merrily and ate a
last year's pippin with a dish of caraways in an orchard of ancient
Gloucestershire. Before me as I write there hangs a drawing of pretty
Sally of the alley and the song. Between the poet and that other younger
Devonshire lad, they wellnigh made me an English boy.

We heard from Robin--rather, Letitia did. He never wrote to me, but
sent me his love in Letitia's letters and a book from London, _Lorna
Doone_, for the Christmas following his return. Letitia told me of him
now and then. She knew when he left Cambridge and we sent him a
present--or, rather, Letitia did--_Essays of Emerson_, which she bought
with money that could be ill-spared, and she wrote an inscription in it,
"From Grassy Fordshire, in memory of the Seventh Slice." She knew when
he went back home to Devon, and then, soon afterwards, I believe, when
he left England and went out to India. Now, she did not tell me that
wonderful piece of news till it was old to her, which was strange, I
thought. I remember my surprise. I had been wondering where Robin was
and saying to her that he must be in London--perhaps in
Parliament!--making his way upward in the world, for I never doubted
that he would be an earl some day.

"Oh no," Letitia said, when I mentioned London. "He is in India."

"India! Mr. Bob in India?"

"Yes. He went--why, he went last autumn! Didn't you know?"

No, I did not know. Why, I asked, and as reproachfully as I could make
the question--why had she never told me?

She must have forgotten, she replied, penitent--there were so many
things to remember.

True, I argued, but she ought at least to have charged her mind with
what was to me such important news. Mr. Bob and I were dear, dear
friends, I reminded her. He had gone to India, and I had not known!

She knew it, she said, humbly. She would never forgive herself. I did
not go near her for days, I remember, and long afterwards her offence
still rankled in my mind. Had she not spread that slice on Sun Dial,
never to forget? When next I saw her I made a rebuking point of it,
asking her if she had heard from Robin. She shook her head. Months
passed and no letter came.

"We don't see you often any more, Bertram," her father said to me one
day.

"No," I stammered. "I'm--"

"Busy studying, I suppose," he said.

"Yes, sir; and ball-games," I replied.

"How do you get on with your Latin?" he inquired, feebly.

"We're still in Virgil, sir."

"Ah," he said, but without a trace of the old vigor the classics had
been wont to rouse in him. "That's good--won'erful writer--up--"

He was pointing with his bony fore-finger.

"Yes?" I answered, wondering what he meant to say. He roused himself,
and pointed again over my shoulder.

"Up there--on the--s'elf."

He was so ghastly white I thought him dying and called Letitia.

"'S all right, Bertram," he reassured me, patting my hand. I suppose he
had seen the terror in my face. He smiled faintly. "'M all right,
Bertram."

Outside the apple-trees were blooming, I remember, and he lived,
somehow, to see them bloom again.

My conscience winces, as I say, to think how I twirled my cap by my old
friend's bedside, longing to be gone; yet I comfort myself with the hope
that he did not note my eagerness, or that if he did he remembered his
own boyhood and the witchery of bat and ball. Not only was the poet's
life-lamp waning, not only was Letitia burdened with increasing cares,
fast aging her, the mater said, but I was a child no longer; a youth,
now, mindful of all about me, and seeing that neighbor household with
new and comprehending eyes.

The very house grew dismal to me. The boughs outside were creeping
closer--not to shelter it, not to cool it and make a breathing nook for
a lad flushed with his games in the summer sun. It was damp there; the
air seemed mouldy under the lindens; there was no invitation in the
unkempt grass; toads hopped from beneath your feet, bird-songs came to
you, but always, or so it seemed to me, they came from distance, from
the yards beyond.

There within, across that foot-worn threshold which had been a goal for
me in former years, there was now a--not a poet any longer, or Rugby
boy, but only a sick old man. Upon a table at his side his goblets
stood, covered with saucers, and a spoon in each. His drugs were watery;
there was no warmth in them, no sparkle even when the sun came
straggling in, no wine of life to be quaffed thirstily--only a tepid,
hourly spoonful to be feebly sipped, a sop to death.

Even with windows open to the breeze the air seemed stifling to the lad
I was. The sunlight falling on the faded carpet seemed always ebbing to
a kind of shadow of a glow. The clock, that ugly box upon the shelf,
ticked dreadfully as if it never would strike a smiling hour again. The
china ornaments at its side stood ghastly mute, and hideous
flowers--_ffff!_ those waxen faces under glass! If not quite dead, why
were they kept so long a-dying there? Would no kind, sunny soul in mercy
free them from their pallid misery? I was a Prince of Youth! What had I
to do with tombs? I fled.

Even Letitia, kind as ever to me, seemed always busy and
preoccupied--sweeping, dusting, baking, cleansing those everlasting pots
and pans, or reading to her father, who listened dreamily, dozing often,
but always waking if she stopped. Content to have her at his side
because discontent to have her absent, even for the little while her
duties or the doctor's orders led her, though quite unwillingly, away.
Impatience for her return would make him querulous, which caused her
tears, not for its failing consciousness of her devotion, but for its
warning to her of his gentle spirit's slow decline despite her care.

"Where have you been so long, Letitia?"

"So long, father? Only an hour gone."

"Only an hour? I thought you would never come."

"See, father, I've brought you a softer pillow," she would say, smiling
his plaints into oblivion. It was the smile with which she had caught
the grape-thief by the fence, the one with which she had charmed a
Devonshire lad, now gone three years and more--the tenderest smile I
ever saw, save one, and the saddest, though not mournful, it was so
genuine, so gentle, and so unselfish, and her eyes shone lovingly the
while. Its sadness, as I think now of it, lay not so much in the smile
itself as in the wonder of it that she smiled at all.

The mater--was she not always mother to the motherless?--was Letitia's
angel in those weary days, carried fresh loaves of good brown bread to
her, a pot of beans, or a pie, perhaps, passing with them through the
hole in the picket-fence. I can see her now standing on Letitia's
kitchen doorstep with the swathed dish in her hands.

"The good fairy," Letitia called her; and when she was for crying--for
cry she must sometimes, though not for the world before her father's
eyes--she shed her tears in the kitchen in the mater's arms. So it was
that while I was yet a school-boy an elder sister was born unto our
house and became forever one of the Weatherbys by a tie--not of blood, I
have said before, yet it was of blood, now that I come to think of
it--it was of gentle, gentle human blood.

There was an old nurse now to share Letitia's vigils, but only the
daughter's tender hands knew how to please. She scarcely left him.
Doctor or friends met the same answer, smiling but unalterable: she
would rather stay. Not a night passed that she did not waken of her own
anxiety to slip softly to his bedside. He smiled her welcome, and she
sat beside him with his poor, thin hand in hers, sometimes till the dawn
of day.

Day by day like that, all through the silent watches of the darkened
world, that gentle handmaiden laid her sacrifice upon the altar of her
duty, without a murmur, without one bitter word. It was her youth she
laid there; it was her girlhood and her bloom of womanhood, her first,
her very last young years--sparkle of eyes, rose and fulness of maiden
cheeks, the golden moments of that flower-time when Love goes choosing,
playtime's silvery laughter and blithe, untrammelled song.

"'Titia," he said to her, "there's no poem--'alf so beaut'ful--'s your
love, m' dear."

The words were a crown to her. He set it on her bowed head with his
trembling fingers.

"Soft--brown 'air," he murmured. He could not see how the gray was
coming there.

Spring came, scenting his room with apple blooms; summer, filling it
with orient airs--but he was gone.



  VI

  COUSIN DOVE


Up in the attic of the Primrose house one day, I was helping Letitia
with those family treasures which were too antiquated for future usage,
but far too precious with memories to cast out utterly--discarded laces,
broken fans, pencilled school-books, dolls and toys that had been
Letitia's, the very cradle in which she had been rocked by the mother
she could not remember, even the little home-made pieced and quilted
coverlet they had tucked about her while she slept. She folded it, and I
laid it carefully in a wooden box.

"How shall we fill it?" I asked her, gazing at the odds and ends about
my feet.

"With these," she said, bringing me packages of old newspapers, each
bundle tied neatly with a red ribbon, too new and bright ever to have
been worn. I glanced carelessly at the foolish packages, as I thought
them--then suddenly with a new interest.

"Why," I said, "they're papers from Bombay!"

"Yes," she answered.

"Where Robin is?" I asked.

There was no reply from the garret gloom.

"Did Mr. Bob send them?"

She was busy in a chest.

"What did you ask, Bertram?" she inquired, absently.

"Did Mr. Bob send these Bombay papers?"

"Oh," she answered, "those?"

She paused a moment.

"No," she told me.

"Oh," said I, much disappointed, "I thought he might. They're last
year's papers, too, some of them."

"Do they fill the box?" she asked.

"Yes," I said. "Shall I nail the cover on?"

"Oh, don't _nail_ it," she protested, shuddering. "We won't put any
cover on, I think; at least--not yet."

Long before Dr. Primrose died he had planned with Letitia what she
should do without him. His home then would be hers, and she was to sell
it and become a school-mistress, the one vocation for which his
classical companionship had seemed to fit her and to which her own
book-loving mind inclined. Left alone then she tried vainly to dispose
of her little property, living meanwhile with us next door to it, and
gradually, chiefly with my own assistance and the mater's, packing and
storing the few possessions from which she could not bring herself to
part. To Editor Butters she presented an old edition of _King Lear_; to
me, not one, but many of her father's best-loved books, which she
fancied might be of charm and use to me.

Of relatives across the sea Letitia knew little beyond a few strange
names she had heard her father speak, and in her native and his adopted
land she had no kinsfolk she had ever seen save a distant cousin as far
removed from her in miles as blood, and remembered chiefly as a
marvellously brocaded waistcoat with pearl buttons, to which she had
raised her timorous eyes on his only visit to her father years ago.
Apparently, this little girl had gone no farther up. She could never
remember a face above that saffron vest, and, what was still more
remarkable, considering her shyness, was never certain even of the
knees and boots that must have been somewhere below.

Now the yellow waistcoat, whose name was George--Cousin George
McLean--had a daughter Dove, or Cousin Dove, as Letitia called her,
concerning whom we always used to smile and wonder, so that in course of
time myths had grown up about the girl whom none of us had ever seen and
of whom we had no notions save the idle fancies suggested by her odd,
sweet, unforgettable little name.

The mater had always said that she must be a quaint and demure little
thing--in short, dovelike.

That, my father argued, was quite unlikely, since he had never known a
child to mature in keeping with a foolish, flowery, or pious Christian
name. He had never known a human Lily to grow up tall and pale and
slender, or a Violet to be shy and modest and petite, or a Faith or Hope
or Patience to be singularly spiritual and mild. For example, there was
Charity B----, of Grassy Ford, who hinted that heaven was Presbyterian,
and that she knew folks, not a thousand miles off, either, who would
never be--Presbyterians, my father said; and so, he added, it was
dollars to dough-nuts that Cousin Dove was not at all dovelike, but a
freckled and red-haired, roistering, tomboy little thing.

Letitia had a notion, she scarce knew how or why, that Cousin Dove was
not birdlike, but like a flower, she said--a white-and-pink-cheeked
British type with fluffy yellow hair and a fondness for candy, trinkets,
and even boys.

As for myself, I had two notions as a boy--one for the forum, the other
for my cell. The first was simply that Cousin Dove was pale and tall and
frigid beyond endurance. I could see her, I declared, going to church
somewhere with two little black-and-gilt books held limply in her
hand--and she had green eyes, I said. On the other hand, privately, I
kept a far different portrait in mind--a gilded one, rather a golden
vision by way of analogy, I suppose, for was not Dove the veritable
daughter of a gorgeous, saffron-hued brocade? From yellow waistcoat to
cloth of gold is but a step for a bookish boy. She was tall and stately,
I told myself; and as I saw her then, her mediæval robe clung lovingly
about her, plain but edged with pearls (seed-pearls I think they called
them in the old romances), and she had a necklace of larger pearls,
loops of them hanging a golden cross upon her bosom. Her face was
radiant, her eyes blue, her hair golden, and she wore a coronal of
meadow flowers. I do not mean that I really fancied Cousin Dove was so
in flesh and blood, but such to me was the spirit of her gentle name,
the spell of which had conjured up for me in some rare moment of
youthful fancy this Lady of the Marigolds, this Christmas-card St. Dove.

In the midst of Letitia's sad uprooting of her old garden, as she called
the only home she had ever known, a letter came from the yellow
waistcoat conveying surprising news. Dove herself was leaving for Grassy
Ford to persuade her cousin to return with her and dwell henceforth with
the McLeans. A thrill ran through our little household at the thought of
that approaching maid of dreams. Now we should know, the mater said,
that the girl was dovelike. "Humpf!" was my father's comment. Letitia
trembled, she said, with a return of her childish awe of the yellow
waistcoat. I myself was stirred--I was still in teens, and dreaded girls
I had never met.

On the July morning that was to bring her, I rose early, I remember,
and took down my fishing-rod.

"Not a bad idea, either," remarked my father, as he stood watching me.
"Still," he added, "there's no hurry, Bertram. She'll want to change her
dress first, you know."

I made no answer.

"It's a bit selfish though," he continued, "to be carrying her off this
way the very first morning."

"Mother," I said, coolly, "will you put up some sandwiches? I may not be
back till dark."

"Why, Bertram! Going fishing on the day--"

"I don't really see what that's got to do with it," I interrupted. "Must
I give up all my fun because a mere girl's coming?"

"No, Bertram," said my father, in his kindest tones. "Go, by all means,
and here [he was rummaging in the bookcase drawer]--here, my son, take
these along, these old field-glasses. They may come handy. You can see
our yard, you know, from the top of Sun Dial--and the front porch.
Splendid fishing up on Sun Dial--"

But I was off.

"Bertram! Bertram!" called my mother, but I did not heed her. I stopped
at a grocery for cheese and crackers, and strode off to the farthest
brook--farthest, I mean, from Sun Dial. Troublesome Brook, it was
called, not so much for the spring freshets that spread it over the
lower meadows as for the law-suits it had flowed through in its fickle
course between two town-ships and good farm-lands. Under its willows I
cooled my wrath and disentangled my knotted tackle. The stream flowed
silently. There was no wind, no sound, indeed, but the drone of insects;
all about me was a world in reverie, mid-summer-green save for the
white and blue above and the yellow wings of vagrant butterflies and the
sun golden on the meadows. Many a time I have fished in that very spot.
It is a likely one for idleness and for larger fish than any I ever
caught there, and waiting for them as a boy I used to read in the little
pocket-fitting books I dote on to this day--they fit the hand so warmly,
unlike their bigger brethren, who at the most give you three-fingers'
courtesy. There on that same moist bank I have sounded deeper pools than
Troublesome's, and have come home laden with unlooked-for spoil that
glistens still in a certain time-worn upper creel of mine.

But I had no book that day, having forgotten one in my hurried parting,
and I had not yet mastered that other tranquil art of packing little
bowls with minced brown meditation--so I was restless. The world seemed
but half awake. I chafed at the stillness. Before, I had found it
pleasant; now it nettled me. I frowned impatiently at my cork dozing on
the waters. I roused it savagely, and gazed up at the sun.

"Queer," I said to myself. "Queer it should be so late this
morning"--but I did not mean the sun.

Trains from the West glide into Grassy Ford on a long curve following
the trend of Troublesome and the pastoral valley through which it runs.
It is a descending grade down which the cars plunge roaring as though
they had gathered speed rather than slackened it, and as though they
would run the gantlet of the ugly buildings and red freight-cars that,
from the windows of the train, are all one sees of our lovely town. Now
the Black Arrow was the pride of the X., Y. & Z., and all that summer
had arrived in the nick of its schedule time.

"Funny," said I to myself, looking at the sun. "Funny it should be late
this morning."

I pulled up my hook and cast it in again. My cork shook itself--yawned,
I was about to say, and settled down again as complacently as before.
Leisurely the ripples widened and were effaced among the shadows.

What right had any one to assume that I had not long planned to go
a-fishing that very morning?

I pulled up my line again.

Even a father should not presume on the kinship of his son.

I dropped my bait into a likelier hole.

Besides, I was not a child any longer, to be bullyragged by older
people. Had I not gone fishing a hundred times?--yet no one had ever
deemed it odd before.

My float drifted against a snag. I jerked it back.

It was the only unpleasant trait my father had.

Again I squinted at the sun. "Queer," said I, "it should be so late this
morning." I pulled up my--

Hark! _That_ was a whistle! There would be just time to reach the open
if I ran!

I ran.

Breathless, I made the meadow fence and clambered up--and saw her train
go by. Yes, I--I waved to it. Suppose she had seen me! I was only some
truant farm-boy on a rail.

Her train ran by me in a cloud of dust and clattered on among the
freight-cars. I heard the rumble die away, but the bell kept ringing.
The brakeman, doubtless, would help her off--Letitia would be waiting
with out-stretched arms--girls are such fools for kissing--and then
father would take her bag, and the surrey would whisk her off to the
mater, bareheaded at the gate. Rails are sharp sitting; let us look at
the cork again.

It was calm as ever and nestling against a snag. I pulled up my line
till the bait emerged, limp, unnibbled. Savagely I swished it back--it
caught in the willows. I pulled. It would not budge. In a sudden rage I
whipped out my pocket-knife, severed the cord as high above me as I
could reach, and wrapping the remnant about my rod, turned townward.

A dozen yards from the faithless stream, I remembered my cheese and
crackers, and went back for them, and started off again, purposeless.
Never before had vagabondage on a golden morning seemed irksome to me.
It was not that I wished to see Cousin Dove, but merely that I had no
desire to do anything else--a different matter. Only one way was really
barred to me, since in point of pride I could not go homeward till the
sun sank, yet all other ways seemed shorn somehow of their old delights,
I knew so well every stick and stone of them.

While I was dallying thus, irresolute, I thought of "The Pide Bull" and
my old friend Butters. It was inspiration. In twenty minutes (mindful of
my father's eyes meanwhile) I had reached the shop.

"Hello," he growled, as I appeared. "You here again?"

"Yep."

"What do you want?"

"Nothing."

"Humpf! Help yourself, then."

"Mr. Butters, what kind of type is this?"

"What type?"

"This type."

"What good '11 it do to tell you? You won't remember it, if I do."

"Yes, I will."

"You won't know ten minutes after I tell you."

"Go on, Mr. Butters. Tell me."

"Well, if you must know, it's b'geois."

"B-what?"

"B'geois, I tell you, and I won't tell you again, either."

"How do you spell it, Mr. Butters?"

"Say, what do you think I am? I haven't got time to sit here all day and
answer questions."

"But how do you spell it, Mr. Butters?"

"Dictionary's handy, isn't it?"

"You ought to know how to spell it," I remarked, fluttering the
dictionary.

"Who said I didn't know how to spell it?"

"You told me to look it up."

"Did, hey? And what d' I do it for? D' you think I've got time to be
talking to every young sprig like you?"

"Here it is, Mr. Butters. It's spelled b-o-u-r-g-e-o-i-s."

"Precisely," said the editor--"b-o-u-r-g-o-i-s, bur-joyce."

"No--g-_e_-o-i-s, Mr. Butters."

"Just what I said."

"You left out the 'e.'"

"Why, confound you, what do you mean by telling me I don't know my own
business?"

"I was only fooling, Mr. Butters. You did say the 'e,' of course."

"You're a liar!" he promptly answered. "I didn't say the 'e,' and you
know it!"

He broke off into a roar of triumphant laughter, but well I knew who had
won the day. He was mine--he and "The Pide Bull," and the story of his
wife's uncle's old yellow rooster, and the twenty legends of Tommy Rice,
the sexton, who "stuttered in his walk, by George!"--yes, and the famous
narrative of how Mr. Butters thrashed the barkeep--all, all his darling
memories were mine till sunset if I chose to listen.

He took me to luncheon at the Palace Hotel near by his shop, and
afterwards mellowed perceptibly over his pipe, as we sat together in the
clutter of paper about his desk waiting for the one-o'clock whistle to
blow him to work again.

"How old are you?" he asked.

"Eighteen," said I, half ashamed I was no more.

"Beautiful age," he mused, nodding his head and stroking his warm, black
bowl. "Beautiful age, my boy." He spoke so mildly that I waited, silent
and a little awed to have come so near him unawares, and feeling the
presence of some story he had never told before.

But the whistle blew one o'clock and he rose and put on his apron, and
went back to his case again, talking some nonsense about the weather;
and though I lingered all afternoon, he was nothing but the old, gruff
printer, and never afterwards did I catch him nooning and thinking of
the age he said was beautiful.

It was six when I took up my fishing-tackle and went home to supper,
whistling. I found the mater in the kitchen.

"Ah," she said. "What luck, Bertram?"

"None," I replied. "The fish weren't biting."

"_Oh_, that's too bad. You must be tired."

"I am, and hungry. Is father home?"

"Not yet. Come, you must meet--"

But I ran up the kitchen staircase to the hall above. Safe in my room, I
could hear a murmuring from Letitia's. Hers was a front room, mine a
rear one, and a long hall intervened, so I made nothing of the voices.

I scrubbed and lathered till my nose was red and shining beautifully.
Then I drew on my Sunday suit, in which I always stood the straighter,
and my best black shoes, in which I always stamped the louder, and my
highest, whitest collar, and my best light silk cravat--a Christmas
present from Letitia, a wondrous thing of pale, sweet lavender, 'in
which not Solomon--though it _would_ hike up behind. It was not like
other ties, and while I was struggling there I heard the supper knell. I
pulled fiercely. The soft silk crumpled taut--and the bow stuck up seven
ways for Sunday. So I unravelled it again--looped it once more with
trembling fingers, for I heard the voices on the stairs, and jerked it
into place--but what a jumble!

"Bertram! Bertram!" It was father's voice. "Supper, Bertram."

"In a minute."

The face in the glass was red as a sunset in harvest-time. The eyes I
saw there popped wildly.

"Bertram!"

"Yes; I hear you! [Confound it.]"

"Supper, Bertram. We are all waiting."

I deigned no answer.

Then father rang. Oh, I knew it was father. I looped desperately and
hauled again like a sailor at his cordage, and so, muttering, wrung out
a bow-knot. Then in the mirror I took a last despairing look, leaped for
the doorway, slipped, stumbled, and almost fell upon the stairs, hearing
below me a lusty warning--"Here he comes!"--and so emerged, rosy, a
youth-illumined, with something lavender, they tell me, fluttering in my
teeth (and something blood-red, I could tell them, trembling in my
heart).

And there she was!

There she stood in the smiling midst of them, smiling herself and giving
me her hand--Cousin Dove--Cousin Dove McLean, at the first sight of whom
my shyness vanished.

"Your tie, my son, seems a trifle--"

So _this_ was Cousin Dove?--this was the daughter of the golden
waistcoat--this brown-eyed school-girl with brown--no, as I lived!--red
hair.



  VII

  OF HAMADRYADS AND THEIR SPELLS


It was a golden summer that last of my youth at home, with Cousin Dove
to keep us forever smiling. She was just eighteen and of that blessed
temperament which loves each day for its gray or its sunny self. She
coaxed Letitia out-of-doors where they walked much in the mater's garden
with their arms about each other's waist. Letitia's pace was always
deliberate, while Dove had the manner of a child restrained, as if some
blithe and skipping step would have been more pleasant, would have
matched better her restless buoyancy, her ever upturned beaming face as
she confided in the elder woman--what? What do girls talk so long about?
I used to marvel at them, wondering what Dove could find so merry among
our currant-vines. She was a child beside Letitia. She had no memories
to modulate that laughing voice of hers, no tears to quench the twin
flames dancing in her eyes, and never an anxious thought in those days
to cast its shadow there where her hair--red, I first called it; it was
pure chestnut--brown, I mean, with the red just showing through, and
wondrous soft and pretty on the margin of her fair white forehead, where
it clung like tendrils of young scampering vine reddening in the April
sun. Even Letitia, whose Present seemed always twilit, was tempted
by-and-by into claiming something of that heritage of youth of which she
had been so long deprived. From mere smiling upon her gay young cousin
she fell to making little joyous venturings herself into our frolics,
repartees, and harmless badinage--"midsummer madness," father called
it--a sort of scarlet rash, he said, which affected persons loitering on
starlit evenings on the porch or wandering under trees. He was the soul
of our table banter, and after supper sat with us on the steps smoking
his cigar and "devilling," as he said, "you younger caps and bells."
Whom he loved he teased, after the fashion of older men, and Dove was
the chief butt of that rude fondness. It was not his habit to caress,
but his eyes twinkled at his fair victim.

"And to think, Dove," he was wont to say-when she had charmed him, "that
Bertram here swore that you carried prayer-books and had green eyes!"

"And what did you prophesy, Uncle Weatherby?"

"I? The truth."

"And what was that?"

"Why, _I_ said you were an angel, though a little frolicsome perhaps,
and with beautiful auburn hair. Did I not, my son?"

"No, sir. You thought she would be a tomboy with red--"

"Precisely," he would interrupt. "You see, my dear, how in every
particular I am corroborated by my son."

Into these quiet family tournaments, Letitia, as I have said, was slowly
drawn, but it was a new world to her and she was timid in it. Doctor
Primrose had been endowed with wit, even with a quiet, subtle humor in
which his daughter shared, but beneath their lighter moments there had
flowed always an undercurrent of that sad gravity which tinged their
lives together. If they were playful in each other's company, it was
out of pity for each other's lot, his in his chair, hers by its side,
rather than because they could not help the jest. It was meant to cheer
each other--that kind of tender gayety which, however fanciful, however
smiling, ends where it begins--in tears unshed. Waters in silent
woodland fountains, all untouched by a single gleam from the sky above
the boughs, lose sometimes their darker hues and turn to amber beneath
the fallen leaves--but they are never golden like the meadow pools; they
never flash and sparkle in the sun.

Letitia was not yet thirty; life stretched years before her yet; so,
coaxed by Cousin Dove and me, she gave her hands to us, half-delighted,
half-afraid. Here now, at last, were holidays, games, tricks, revels,
the mummery and masque, the pipe and tabor--all the rosy carnival of
youth. Her eyes kindled, her heart beat faster as we led her on--but at
the first romp failed her. It was beautiful, she pleaded--only let her
smile upon it as from a balcony--she could not dance--she had never
learned our songs.

We did not urge her. She sat with the mater and smiled gladly upon our
mirth. In all the frolics of that happy summer her eyes were always on
Cousin Dove, as if, watching, she were thinking to herself--enviously,
often sadly, I have no doubt, but through it all lovingly and with a
kind of pride in that grace and flowerness--

"There is the girl I might have been."

Dove, even when she seemed the very spirit of our effervescence, kept
always a certain letter of that lovely quaintness which her name
implied. She _was_ a dove, the mater said, reminding us for the
hundredth time of her old prediction--a dove always, even among the
magpies; meaning, I suppose, father and myself.

It was not all play that summer. I was to enter college in the fall, and
I labored at exercises, helped not a little by a voice still saying:

"That's right, my boy. Remember what Dr. Primrose said when he gave you
Horace."

Now was I under the spell of that ancient life which had held him
thralled to his very end. Mine were but meagre vistas, it is true, but I
caught such glimpses of marble beauty through the pergola of Time, as
made me a little proud of my far-sightedness. Seated with Dove and
Letitia beneath a favorite oak, half-way up Sun Dial, I discoursed
learnedly, as I supposed, only to find that in classic lore the poet's
daughter was better versed than I. She brightened visibly at the sound
of ancient names; they had been the music of her father's world, and
from earliest childhood she had listened to it. Seated upon the grass,
I, the school-boy, expounded text-book notes. She, the daughter of "Old
David Homer," as Butters called him, told us bright tales of gods and
heroes, nymphs and flowers and the sailing clouds shell-pink in the
setting sun. They had been to her what _Mother Goose_ and _Robinson
Crusoe_ had been to me; they had been her fairy stories, told her at eve
ere she went to bed; and now as she told them, an eager winsomeness
crept upon her, her voice was sweeter, her face was glorified with
something of that roseate light in which her scenes were laid; she was a
child again, and Dove and I, listening, were children with her, asking
more.

She sat bolt-upright while she romanced for us. I lay prone before her
with my chin upon my hands, nibbling grass-stalks. Dove, like Letitia,
sat upon the turf, now gazing raptly with her round brown eyes at the
story-teller's face, now gazing off at the purple woodland distance or
at Grassy Ford's white spires among the elms below.

"Why, Letty, you're a poetess," Dove once said, so breathlessly that
Letitia laughed. "And I," Dove added, "why, I don't know a single
story."

"Why should you know one?" replied Letitia, pinching Dove's rueful face.
"Why tell an idyl, when you can live one, little Chloe, little wild
olive? You yourself shall be a heroine, my dear."

Idling there under distant trees for refuge from the August sun, which
burns and browns our Grassy Fordshire, crumbling our roads to a gray
powder and veiling with it the green of way-side hedge and vine--idling
there, Dove was a creature I had never seen before and but half-divined
in visions new to me. Fair as she seemed under our roof-tree, there in
the woodland she was far the lovelier. Young things flowered about us,
their fragrance scenting the summer air. Like them her presence wore a
no less subtle spell. It was an ancient glamour, though I did not know
it then, it seemed so new to me--one which young shepherds felt,
wondering at it, in the world's morning; and since earth's daughters,
then as now, with all their fairness, could scarce be credited with such
wondrous witchery, those young swains came home breathless from the
woodland with tales of dryads and their spells. Maiden mine, in the
market-place, you are only one among many women, though you be beautiful
as a dream, but under boughs the birds still sing those songs the first
birds sang--there it is always Eden, and thou art the only woman there.

On my nineteenth birthday three climbed Sun Dial as three had climbed it
once before. Leaving the village we crossed the brook by that self-same
ford of stones, and plunged at once into the forest and ancient orchard
that clothed the slope. I was not leading now, but helping them, Dove
and Letitia, over the rocks and brambles and steeper places of the
ascent. Threading as before that narrow trail I knew by heart, I broke
the cob-webs and parted the fragrant tangle that beset our way, vines
below, branches above us. It was just such another August noon, and the
world was nodding; no birds sang, no squirrels chattered. We stopped for
breath, resting upon a wall shaded by an ancient oak.

"The very spot!" I cried. "Do you remember, Letitia, how you and Robin
rested here?"

"Yes," she answered.

"Do you remember how I called to you, and came running back?"

"Yes."

"I'd been waiting for you under an apple-tree. How I should like to see
old Robin now!"

"Who was Robin?" asked Cousin Dove, and so I told her of the Devonshire
lad. During my story Letitia wandered, as she liked to do, searching for
odd, half-hidden flowers among the grasses. Soon she was nowhere to be
seen, nor could we hear her near us.

"Letitia was fond of Robin, was she not?" asked Cousin Dove.

"Oh yes," I said. "So were we all."

"But I mean--don't you think she may have loved him?"

"Oh," I said, "I never thought of that; besides, Letitia never had time
for--"

Dove opened wide her eyes.

"Must you have time for--"

"I mean," I stammered, "she was never free like--you or me; we--"

"I see," she replied, coloring. "He must have been a splendid fellow."

"He was," I said.

"Dear Letitia!" murmured Cousin Dove, gazing thoughtfully at the wilted
flower she held. The wood which had been musical with voices was
strangely silent now. It was something more than a mere stillness. It
was like a spell, for I could not break it, though I tried. Dove, too,
was helpless. There was no wind--I should have known had one been
blowing--yet the boughs parted above her head, and a crown fell shining
on her hair!--her hair, those straying tendrils of it, warm and ruddy
and now fired golden at that magic touch--her brow, pure as a nun's,
beneath that veiling--the long, curved lashes of her hidden eyes--her
cheeks still flushed--her lips red-ripe and waiting motionless.

She raised her eyes to me!--a moment only, but my heart leaped, for in
that instant it dawned upon me how all that vision there--flesh, blood,
and soul--was just arm's-length from me!

It was--I know.



  PART II

  _The School-Mistress_

  I

  THE OLDER LETITIA


Precisely at half-past seven there was a faint rustling on our staircase
and a moment later Letitia Primrose appeared at our breakfast-table
smiling "Good-morning." She was dressed invariably in the plainest of
black gowns with the whitest of ruching about her wrists and throat, and
at the collar a pin which had been her mother's, a cameo Minerva in an
antique setting of vine leaves wrought in gold. The gown itself--I
scarcely know how to style it, for no frill or foible of the day was
ever visible in its homely contour, or if existing there, had been so
curbed by the wearer's modesty as to be quite null and void to the naked
eye. Every tress of her early whitening hair lay smoothly back about her
forehead, and behind was caught so neatly beneath her comb, it might be
doubted how or if she ever slept upon it. Just so immaculate, virginal,
irreproachable did the older Letitia come softly down to us every
week-day morning of her life, and taking her chair between Dove's seat
and mine, she would adjust her gold-rimmed glasses to better see how the
night had dealt with us, and beaming upon us with one of the pleasantest
of inquiring smiles, would murmur--

"Well?"

She ate little, and that so unobtrusively, I used to wonder if she ate
at all. I can remember her lifting her cup, but do not recall that it
ever reached her lips. She had, I think, some trick of magnetism, some
power of the eye that held yours at the crucial moment, so that you
never really saw her sip or bite, and she never chewed, I swear, yet I
never heard of her bad digestion. Eating in her was a chaste indulgence
common only, I believe, to spinsterhood--a rite, communionlike, rather
than a feast.

When the clock struck eight, we would rise together--I for my office,
Dove for farewells, Letitia for the school-room; I with a clattering
chair, Dove demurely, Letitia noiselessly, to put on a hat as vague and
unassuming as that decorous garment in which she cloaked herself from
the outer world--a kind of cape and jacket, I think it was, in winter,
but am not quite sure. In summer it was a cashmere shawl. Then slipping
on a pair of gloves, black always and always whole, however faded, she
would take up her small pearl-handled parasol, storm or shine, and that
linen bag of hers, a marvellous reticule for books and manuscripts with
a separate pocket in the cover-flap for a comb and mirror and extra
handkerchief--though not to my knowledge; I am merely telling what was
told. Nor am I telling all that was said of Letitia's panoply and
raiment, the manner of which at every season, at every hour of the night
and day, was characterized--if I have understood the matter--not so much
by a charm of style as of precaution, a modest providence, a truly
exquisite foresight and readiness for all emergencies, however perilous,
so that fire nor flood nor war's alarms nor death itself, however
sudden, should find her unprepared. Fire at night would merely have
illumined a slender, unobtrusive figure descending a stair or ladder
unabashed, decently, even gracefully arrayed in a silk kimono which hung
nightly on the foot-board of her bed; and since for other purposes it
was never worn, it remains unscorched, and, indeed, unblemished, to this
very day. But for that grim hand the moment of whose clutch can never be
foretold with certainty, nothing could exceed Letitia's watchfulness and
care. She dressed invariably, I have said, in the plainest black, but I
have heard, and on authority I could not question, that however simple
and inexpensive those outer garments were, the inner vestments were of
finest linen superimposing the softest silk. Thus--for a tendency to
some heart-affection was hereditary in the Primrose family--thus could
no sudden dissolution or surrender, such as might occur in an absence
from home and the ministration of loving friends, be attended ever by
any _post-mortem_ embarrassment or chagrin, but rather would disclose a
pride and delicacy of taste and consideration, the more remarkable and
worthy of approval and regret, because it could never otherwise have
been revealed. Nothing I know of in the way of gifts was more acceptable
to Letitia Primrose than those black silk ones which she took such pains
to purchase and secrete.

It was a wondrous reticule, that linen pouch of which I spoke, bearing
"L. P." embroidered on its outer side. I say its outer, for so she
carried it always; and in years, so many I will not count them, I never
knew that monogram turned in, or down. She met me with it in the doorway
from which Dove watched us till we had left the gate. Mornings, for
years, we went to our work together, save when an urgent matter summoned
me earlier or compelled me, against my will and exercise, to drive. Morn
after morn we walked together to the red brick school-house, talking of
village news and the varying moods of our fickle northern weather, or
perhaps of books, old ones and new ones, or of those golden memories
that we shared. They were not perfunctory as I recall them, those
morning dialogues. There was no abstraction about Letitia, no cursory,
unweighed chattering of things so obvious as to need no comment. Every
topic might be a theme for her mild eloquence. It might be of Keats that
she discoursed to me, or Browning or Alfred Tennyson or perhaps the
Corsican, whom she hated, partly for tyranny, partly because he made her
"look at him," she said; it might be the Early Church, whose records she
had read and read again, though not one-half so much for Cuthbert's
holiness, I told her, as for Fuller's quaintness, which she loved; or it
might be a March morning that we walked together, while she spoke like a
poet's daughter of the first pink arbutus some grinning farm-boy had
laid but yesterday upon her desk.

Why no one ever wooed and won such fervor seemed passing strange to Dove
and me. With all the grace of goodness and gentle courage in which she
faced the world alone, in all those years which had followed her
father's death, she had never, to Dove's ken or mine, won a single
suitor. Those burdens of care and sacrifice laid too soon upon her
frail, young shoulders had borne early fruit--patience, wisdom, and a
sweet endurance beyond her years--but on such harvest young men set
small store. A taste for it comes late. It made her pleasing to her
elders, but those of her own years shrank instinctively from its very
perfectness. She had matured too soon. How then should any one so coolly
virtuous know trial or passion? Surely so young a saint could have no
warm impetuous hours to remember, no sweet abandonment, no pretty
idyls--had she even a spring-time to recall?

Men admired her for her mind and heart, but in her presence secretly
were ill at ease. Her self-dependence rendered useless their stronger
arms accustomed to being leaned upon. She smiled upon them, it is true,
but not as men like to be smiled upon--neither as a child, trustingly,
nor as a queen, confident of their homage and gallant service. She
appealed neither to their protection nor to their pride. She awoke the
friend, but not the lover, in them; and so the years slipped by and she
won no chivalry, because she claimed none. She had but asked and but
received respect.

Our raillery, harmlessly meant, was not always kind, as I look back at
it. It is scarcely pleasant to be reminded that among one's kind one is
not preferred, yet Letitia bore all our jesting with steadfast
pleasantry.

"Do I look forlorn? Do I look so helpless?" she would ask. Her very
smile, her voice, her step, seemed in themselves an answer. "What do I
want with a husband then?"

"Why," Dove would say, "to make you happy, Letitia."

"You child: I am perfectly happy."

"Well," Dove would answer, stubbornly, "to make you happier, then."

I have forgotten Letitia's answers--all but one of them:

"I lived so long with my scholar-love," she once said, sweetly, of her
father, "I fear I never should be content with an ordinary man."

Dove declared that no one in Grassy Fordshire was half worthy of her
cousin; at least, she said, she knew but one, and he was already
wedded--and to a woman, she added, humbly, not half so good or wise or
wonderful as Letitia. Dove stoutly held that Letitia could have married,
had she wished it, and whom she would. Father would shake his head at
that.

"No," he would say, "Letty is one of those women men never think of as a
bride."

"But why?" Dove would demand then, loyally. "She is the very woman to
find real happiness in loving and self-sacrifice. Adversity would never
daunt her, and yet," my wife would say with scorn rising in her voice,
"the very men who need such help and comprehension and comradeship in
their careers, would pass her by, and for a chit of girl who would never
be happy sharing their struggles--but only their success!"

"My dear," father would reply, sagely, "a man glories in his power to
hand a woman something she cannot reach herself. Letty Primrose has too
long an arm."

"But if a man once married Letitia--" Dove would protest, and father
would chuckle then.

"Ah, yes, my dear, if one only would! But there's the rub. Doubtless he
would find Letitia much like other women, quite willing he should reach
things down to her from the highest shelf. But he must be a wise man to
suspect just that--to guess what lies beneath our Letty's apparent
self-sufficiency."

"An older man might," Dove once suggested. "A general, or a great
professor, or a minister plenipotentiary."

"Doubtless," he answered, "but our Grassy Ford is a narrow world, my
dear. The young sprigs in it are only silly lads, and the elder
bachelors are very musty ones, I fear--and not an ambassador among them.
I doubt very much if Letitia will ever meet him--that man you mean, who
might choose Letty's love through wisdom, and whose wisdom she might
choose through love."

Dove's answer was a sigh.

"Bertram," she said, "you must make some real nice, elderly bachelor
doctor friends, and we'll ask them to visit us."

It seemed a likely plan, but nothing came of it, and the silly lads and
the musty ones alike left our Letitia more and more to friendships
beyond her years. From being so much in the company of her elders, she
grew in time to be more like them. Her modesty became reserve; reserve,
in turn, a certain awkwardness or shy aloofness in the presence of the
other sex--primness, it was called. She had not forgotten how to smile;
her talk was blithe enough with those she knew, and was still colored by
her love for poetry, but it fast grew quainter and less colloquial;
there was a certain old-fashioned care and subtlety about it, a rare
completeness in its phrases not at all like the crude, half-finished
ones with which our Grassy Ford belles were content. It added to her
charm, I think, but to the evidence as well of that maturity and
self-complacency which all men seemed to fear and shun, not one
suspecting that the glow beneath meant youth--youth preserved through
time and trial to be a light to her, or to Love belated.

Her brown hair turned to gray, her gray to white, and she still came
down to us smiling good-morning; still worshipped Keats, still scorned
the upstart who made her look; taught on, year after year, in the red
brick school-house, wearing the wild flowers farm-boys gathered in the
hills. Her life flowed on like a stream in summer, softly in shadow and
in sun. She seemed content--no bitter note in her low voice, no glance
of envy, malice, or chagrin in those kind gray eyes of hers, which
beamed so gently upon others' loves; we used to wonder how they might
have shone upon her own.

One day in August--it was again that anniversary birthday around which
half my memories of her seem to cling--she gave me a copy of _In
Memoriam_, and bought for herself the linen for another reticule.
Neatly, and in the fashion of our grandmothers' day, she worked upon it
her initials, L. and P., in Old-English letters, old-rose and gold.

"What," I asked, "is the figure meant for?"

"The figure? Where?"

"In the background there--the figure seven, in the lighter gold."

She bent to study it.

"There _is_ a seven there," she said. "I must have used a lighter silk."

"Then shall you alter it?" I asked.

"No," she answered. "It is now too late."

"She means the figure," I explained to Dove.

"The letters also," Dove murmured, softly, as we turned away.



  II

  ON A CORNER SHELF


At five minutes to four o'clock the red school-house gave no sign of
the redder life beating within its walls. The grounds about it, worn
brown by hundreds of restless feet and marked in strange diagrams, the
mystic symbols of hop-scotch, marbles, and three-old-cat, were quite
deserted save for sparrows busy with crumbs from the mid-day
luncheon-pails. Five minutes later, one listening by the picket-fence
might have heard faintly the tinkling of little bells, and a rising
murmur that with the opening of doors burst suddenly into a tramping of
myriad feet, while from the lower hallway two marching lines came down
the outer stair, primly in step, till at the foot they sprang into wild
disorder, a riot of legs and skirts, with the shouts and shrieks and
shrill whistlings of children loosed from bondage. When the noisy tide
had swept down the broad walk into the street, Letitia might be seen
following smilingly, her skirts surrounded by little girls struggling
for the honor of being nearest and bearing her reticule.

At the end of happy days Letitia's face bore the imprint of a sweet
contentment, as if the love she had given had been returned twofold, not
only in the awkward caresses of her little ones, but in the sight of
such tender buds opening day by day through her patient care into fuller
knowledge of a great bright world about them. She strove earnestly to
show them more of it than the school-books told; she aimed higher than
mere correctness in the exercises, those anxious, careful, or heedless
scribblings with which her reticule was crammed. In the geography she
taught there were deeper colorings than the pale tints of those twenty
maps the text-book held; greater currents flowed through those green and
pink and yellow lands than the principal rivers there, and in the plains
between them greater harvests had been garnered, according to her
stories, than the principal products, principal exports--principal
paragraphs learned by rote and recited senselessly.

Drawing, in Letitia's room, it was charged against her by one named
Shears, who had the interests of the school at heart and jaw, had become
a subterfuge for teaching botany as well.

"For draggin' in a study," as he told a group on the corner of Main and
Clingstone streets, "not _in_cluded in the grammar-grade curriculum!"

He paused to let the word have full effect.

"For wastin' the scholars' time and gettin' their feet wet pokin' around
in bogs and marshy places, a-pullin' weeds! And for what?--why, by gum,
to _draw_ 'em!"

His auditors chuckled.

"What," he asked, "are drawin'-books _for_?"

His fellow-citizens nodded intelligently.

"And even when she _does_ use the books," cried Mr. Samuel Shears, "she
won't let 'em draw a consarned circle or cross or square, without they
tell her some fool story of Michael the Angelo!"

The crowd laughed hoarsely.

"And who _was_ Michael the Angelo?" asked Mr. Shears, screwing his face
up in fine derision and stamping one foot, rabbit-like, by way of
emphasis to his scorn. "Who _was_ this here Michael the Angelo?"

Four men spat and the others shuffled.

"A _Dago_!" roared Shears, and the crowd was too much relieved to do
more than gurgle. "What does my son care about Michael the Angelo?"

Letitia admitted, I believe, that _his_ son didn't.

"And further_more_," said Mr. Shears, insinuatingly, "what I want to
know is: why has she got them pitchers a-hanging around the school-room
walls? Pitchers of Dago churches and Dago statures--and I guess _you_
know what Dago statures are--I guess you know whether they're dressed
like you and me!--I guess you fellows know all right--and if you don't,
there's them that do. And, in conclusion, I want to ask right here:
who's a-payin' for them there decorations?"

Mr. Shears spat, the crowd spat, and they adjourned.

Now, there may have been a dozen prints relieving the ugliness and
concealing the cracks in the school-room walls, but all quite innocent,
as I recall them: "Socrates in the Market-Place," "The Parthenon," "The
Battle of Salamis," "Christian Martyrs," a tragic moment in the arena of
ancient Rome, "St. Peter's," I suppose, "St. Mark's by Moonlight," and
of statues only one and irreproachable, the "Moses" of Michael Angelo.
His "David" was Letitia's joy, but she never dreamed, I am sure, of its
exhibition in a grammar-school, though I have heard her declare
(shamelessly, Mr. Shears would say) that were it not for a Puritan
weakness of eyesight hereditary in Grassy Ford, that lithe Jew's ideal
figure would be a far better lesson to her boys than all the text-books
in physiology.

"Might it not incite them to sling-shots?" queried Dove, softly.

"I don't agree with you," said Letitia, lost in her theme, and noting
only the fact, and not the nature, of the opposition. "I don't agree
with you at all. It would teach them the beauty of manly--Why do you
laugh?"

If Shears could have heard her! His information, such as it was, had
been derived from his only son, a youth named David, "not by Angelo,"
Letitia said, and hopelessly indolent, whose only fondness was for
sticking pins into smaller boys. He was useful, however, as a barometer
in which the rise or fall of his surly impudence registered the parental
feeling against her rule.

Shears and his kind held that the proper study of mankind was
arithmetic. What would he not have said at the corner of Main and
Clingstone streets, had he known that Letitia was trifling with
Robinson's Complete?--that between its lines, she was teaching
(surreptitiously would have been his word), an original, elementary
course in ethics, a moral law of honesty, fair-dealing, and
full-measure, so that all examples, however intricate, were worked out
rigidly to the seventh decimal, by the Golden Rule!

Red geraniums bloomed in her school-room window, and on a corner-shelf,
set so low that the children easily might have leaned upon it, lay
Webster and another book--always one other; though sometimes large and
sometimes small, now green, now red, now blue, now yellow, but always
seeming to have been left there carelessly. Every volume bore on its
fly-leaf two names--"David Buckleton Primrose," written in a bold,
old-fashioned script in fading ink, and below it "Letitia Primrose," in
a smaller, finer but no less quaint a hand. That book, whatever its
name and matter, had been left there purposely, you may be sure. Letitia
remembered how young Keats drank his first sweet draught of Homer and
became a Greek; how little lame Walter poured over border legends to
become the last of the Scottish minstrels; and how that other, that
English boy, swam the Hellespont in a London street, to climb on its
farther side, that flowery bank called poesy. It was her dream that
among her foster-children, as she fondly called them, there might be
one, perhaps, some day--some rare soul waiting rose-like for the sun,
who would find it shining on her school-room shelf. So she dropped there
weekly in the children's way, as if by accident, and without a word to
them unless they asked, books which had been her father's pride or her
own young world of dreams--books of all times and mental seasons, but
each one chosen with her end in mind. They were beyond young years, she
admitted frankly, as school years go, but when her Keats came, she would
say, smiling, they would be bread-and-wine to him; milk and wild-honey
they had been to her.

"Suppose," said Dove, "it should be a girl who bears away sacred fire
from your shelf, Letitia?"

"Yes, it might be a girl," replied the school-mistress. "Perhaps--who
knows?--another 'Shakespeare's daughter'!" And yet, she added, and with
the faintest color in her cheeks, knowing well that we knew her
preference, she rather hoped it would be a boy.

Few could resist that book waiting by the dictionary; at least they
would open it, spell out its title-page, flutter its yellowing leaves,
looking for pictures, and, disappointed, close it and turn away. But
sometimes one more curious would stop to read a little, and now and
then, to Letitia's joy, a lad more serious than the rest would turn
inquiringly to ask the meaning of what he found there; then she would
tell its story and loan the volume, hoping that Johnny Keats had come at
last.

No one will ever know how many subtle lures she set to tempt her pupils
into pleasant paths, but men and women in Grassy Ford today remember
that it was Miss Primrose who first said this, or told them that, and
while her discipline is sometimes smiled at--she was far too trusting at
times, they tell me--doubtless, no one is the worse for it, since
whatever evil she may have failed to nip, may be balanced now by the
good of some lovely memory. Bad boys grown tall remembering their
hookey-days do not forget the woman they cajoled with their forged
excuses; and it is a fair question, I maintain, boldly, as one of that
guilty clan, whether the one who put them on an honor they did not have,
or, let us say, had mislaid temporarily--whether the recollection of
Letitia Primrose and her innocence is not more potent now for good than
the crimes she overlooked, for evil.

Sometimes I wonder if she was half so blind as she appeared to be, for
as we walked one Sabbath by the water-side, with the sun golden on the
marshes, and birds and flowers and caressing breezes beguiling our steps
farther and farther from the drowsy town, I remember her saying:

"It is for this my boys play truant in the spring-time. Do you wonder,
Bertram?"

For the best of reasons I did not. I was thinking of how the springs
came northward to Grassy Fordshire when I was a runaway; and then
suddenly as we turned a bend in Troublesome, there was a splash, and two
bare feet sank modestly into the troubled waters. There was a bubbling,
and then a head emerged dripping from all its hairs. Young David Shears
had dived in the nick of time.



  III

  A YOUNGER ROBIN


When our boy was born we named him Robin Weatherby, after that elder
Robin who had charmed my youth. If his babyhood lacked aught of love or
discipline, it was neither Dove's fault nor Letitia's, for Robin's
mother had ideas and a book on childhood, and dear Letitia did not need
a book. In fact, she clashed with Dove's. I, as physician-in-ordinary to
my child--for in dire emergencies in my own family I always employ an
old-fogy, rival--was naturally of some little service in consultation
with the two ladies and the Book. Of the characters of these associates
of mine, I need only say that Dove was ever an anxious soul, the Book a
truthful but at times a vague one, while Letitia was all that could be
desired as guide, philosopher, and friend. Alarming symptoms might
puzzle others, but never her; they might, even to myself, even to the
Book, bode any one of twenty kinds of evil; to her they pointed solely,
solemnly to one--that one, alas! which had carried off some dear child
of her school.

Dove, I am sure, had never been impatient with Letitia, but now, such
was the tension of these family conferences and such the gravity of the
case involved, there were times, I noted, when the cousins addressed
each other with the most exquisite and elaborate courtesy, lest either
should think the other in the least disturbed. For example, there was
that little affair of consolation--a sort of rubber make-believe with
which young Robin curbed and soothed his appetite and invited
pensiveness. Microbes, Letitia said, were--

Dove interposed to remind her that the things were boiled just seven--

Germs, Letitia argued, were not to be trifled with.

"Just seven times a week, my dear," said Dove, triumphantly.

"And besides," Letitia continued, undismayed, "they will ruin the shape
of the child's mouth."

"But how?" cried Dove. "Pray tell me how, my love, when they are made in
the very identical im--"

"And modern doctors," Letitia stated with some severity, "are doing away
with so many foolish notions of our grandmothers."

"Yet our fathers and mothers," Dove replied, "were very fair specimens
of the race, my dear. Shakespeare, doubtless, was rocked in a cradle,
and his brains survived. They were quite intact, I think you will admit.
_He_ wasn't joggled into--"

"Yet who knows what he might have written, dear love," answered Letitia,
"if he had been permitted to lie quite--"

"_You_ try to make a child go to sleep, my darling, without
_something_!" my wife suggested. "Just try it once, my dear."

"Cradles," said Letitia--but at this juncture I stepped in,
authoritatively, as the father of my child. It is due to Dove, I confess
gladly, and partly to Letitia also, that this fatherhood has been so
pleasant to look back upon. Robin's mouth is very normal, as even
Letitia will admit, I know, as she would be the last person in the world
to say that his brains had suffered any in the joggling. Somehow, by
dint of boiling the consolation I suppose, and by what-not formulæ, we
got him up at last on two of the sturdiest, little, round, brown legs
that ever splashed in mud-puddle--Dove's Darling, my Old Fellow, and
Letitia's Love.

Love she called him in their private moments, and other names as fond, I
have no doubt; publicly he was her Archer, her Bowman, her Robin Hood.
She, it was, who purchased him bow-and-arrows, and replaced for him
without a murmur, three panes in the library windows and a precious
little wedding vase. The latter cost her a pretty penny, but she
reminded us that a boy, after all, will be a boy! She took great pride
in his better marksmanship and sought a suit for him, a costume that
should be traditional of archers bold.

"Have you cloth," she asked, "of the shade called Lincoln green?"

The clerk was doubtful.

"I'll see," she said. "Oh, Mr. Peabody! Mr. Peabody!"

"Well?" asked a man's voice hidden behind a wall of calicoes. "Well?
What is it?"

"Mr. Peabody, have we any cloth called Abraham--"

"Not Abraham Lincoln," Letitia interposed, mildly. "You misunderstood
me. I said Lincoln green."

"Same thing," said the clerk, tartly.

Mr. Peabody then emerged smilingly from behind his wall.

"How do you do, Miss Primrose," said he. "What can we do for you this
morning?" Letitia carefully repeated her request. He shook his head,
while the young clerk smiled triumphantly.

"No," he said. "You must be mistaken. I have never even heard of such a
color--and if there was one of that name," he added, with evident pride
in his even tones, "I should certainly know of it. We have other
greens--"

Letitia flushed.

"Why," she explained, "the English archers were accustomed to wearing a
cloth called Lincoln green."

Mr. Peabody smiled deprecatingly.

"I never heard of it," he replied, stiffly; "and, as I say, I have been
in the business for thirty years."

"But don't you remember Robin Hood and his merry men?"

"Oh!" exclaimed the merchant, a great light breaking in upon him. "You
mean the fairy stories! Ha, ha! Very good. Very good, indeed. Well, no,
Miss Primrose, I'm afraid we can hardly provide you with the cloth that
fairies--"

"Show me your green cloths--all of them," said Letitia, her cheeks
burning.

"Certainly, Miss Primrose. Miss Baggs, show Miss Primrose all of our
green cloths--_all_ of them."

"Light green or dark green?" queried Miss Baggs, who had been delighted
with the whole affair.

Letitia pondered. There had been some reason, she reflected, for Robin
Hood's choice of gear.

"Something," she said, at last--"something as near to the shade of
foliage as you can give me."

"I beg pardon?" inquired Miss Baggs.

"The color of leaves," explained Letitia.

"Well," Miss Baggs retorted, smartly, "some leaves are light, and some
are dark, and some leaves are in-between."

There was a dangerous gleam in Letitia's eyes. "Show me _all_ your green
cloths," she requested, curtly--"all of them." Miss Baggs obeyed.

"I suppose it really isn't Lincoln green, you know," Letitia said, when
she had brought the parcel home with her and had spread its contents
upon the sofa, "but I hope you'll like it, Dove. It is the nearest to
tree-green I could find."

It was, indeed.

Now, Dove had never heard of a boy in green, and had grave doubts, which
it would not do, however, to even hint to dear Letitia; so made it was,
that archer-suit, though by some strange freak of fancy that caused
Letitia keen regret, Robin, dressed in it, could seldom be induced to
play at archery, always insisting, to her discomfiture, that he was
Grass!

"When you grow up, my bowman," she once told him, "I'll buy you a white
suit, all of flannel, and father shall teach you to play at cricket in
the orchard."

"But crickets are black," cried Robin, whose eye for color, or the
absence of it, I told Letitia, was bound to ruin her best-laid English
plans.

It was good to see them, the Archer Bold and the Gray Lady walking
together, hand-in-hand--the one beaming up, the other down; the one so
subject to sudden leaps and bounds and one-legged hoppings to avoid the
cracks, the other flurried lest those wild friskings should disturb the
balance she had kept so perfectly all those years till then.

In their walks and talks lay many stories, I am sure--things which never
will be written unless Letitia turns to authorship, for which it is a
little late, I fear; but even then she would never dream of putting such
simple matters down. She does not know at all the delicious Lady of the
Linen Reticule, who, to herself, is commonplace enough. She might,
perhaps, make a tale or two of the Archer in Lincoln Green, but what is
the romance of an archer without the lady in it?

One drowsy afternoon on a Sunday in summer-time I stretched myself in
my easy-chair with another for my slippered feet. My dinner had ended
pleasantly with a love-in-a-cottage pudding which had dripped blissfully
with a heavenly cataract of golden sauce. Dove had gone out on a Sabbath
mission, rustling away in a gown sprinkled with rose-buds--one of those
summer things in which it is not quite safe for any woman to risk
herself in this wicked world.

Such shallow thoughts were passing through my mind as Dove departed, and
when the front gate clicked behind her, I opened a charming novel and
went to sleep. I know I slept, for I walked in a path I have never seen.
I should like to see it, for it must be beautiful in the spring-time. It
was a kind of autumn when I was there. I was dragging my feet about in
the yellow leaves, when a senile hollyhock leaned over quietly and
tickled me on the ear. As I brushed it away I heard it giggling. Then a
twig of pear-tree bent and trifled with my nose, which is a thing no
gentleman permits, even in dreams, and I brushed it smartly. Then I
heard a voice--I suppose the gardener's--telling something to behave
itself. Then I swished again among the leaves. How long I swished there
I have no notion, but I heard more voices by-and-by, and I remember
saying to myself, "They are behind the gooseberries." They did not know,
of course, that I was there, else they had talked more softly.

"No," said he, "you be the horsey."

"Oh no," said the other, "I'd rather drive."

"No, _you_ be the horsey."

"Sh! Let me drive."

"I said _you_ be the horsey."

"I be the horsey?"

"Yes. Whoa, horsey! D'up! Whoa! D'up!"

Then all was confusion behind the gooseberries and the horsey d'upped
and whoaed, and whoaed and d'upped, till I all but d'upped. I _did_
move, and the noise stopped.

How long I slept there I do not know, but I heard again those voices
behind the vines, though more subdued now, mere tender undertones like
lovers in a garden seat. Lovers I supposed them, and, keeping still, I
listened:

"But I'm not your little boy," said one, "because you haven't any."

"Oh yes, you are," replied the other, confidently. "You're my little boy
because I love you."

"But why don't you ask God to send you a little boy all your own, just
four years old like me, so we could play together? Why don't you?"

"Because," the reply was, "you're all the little boy I need."

"But if you _did_ ask God and the angel brought you a little boy, then
his name would be Billie."

"Oh, would it?"

"Yes, his name would be Billie, because now Billie is the next name to
Robin."

"What do you mean by the next name to Robin?"

"Why, 'cause now, first comes Robin, and then comes Billie, and then
comes Tommy, or else Muffins, if you turn the corner--unless he's a
girl--and then he's Annie."

"What?" gasped the second voice. "I don't understand."

"Well, then," the first voice answered, wearily, "call him Johnny."

I know at the time the explanation seemed quite clear to me, as it must
have been to the second speaker, for the colloquy ended then and there.
I might have peeked through the gooseberries and not been discovered, I
suppose, but just then I went out shooting flamingoes with a friend of
mine, and when I got back, some time that day, the gooseberry-vines were
thick with rose-buds. And while I was gone a brook had come--you could
hear it plainly on the other side--and I was surprised, I remember, and
angry with my aunt Jemima (I never had an Aunt Jemima) for not telling
me. I listened awhile to the tinkle-tinkling till presently the burden
changed to a

   "Tra, la, la,
    Tra, la, la,"

over and over, till I said to myself, "These are the Singing Waters the
poets hear!" So I tiptoed nearer through the crackling leaves, and
touching the rose-vines very deftly for fear of thorns, again I
listened. My heart beat faster.

"It is an English linn!" I said, astonished, for there were words to it,
English words to that singing rivulet! I could make out "gold" and "rue"
and "youth."

"Some woodland secret!" I told myself; so I listened eagerly, scarcely
breathing, and little by little, as my ears grew more accustomed to the
sounds, I heard the song, not once, but often, each time more clearly
than before:

    "Many seek a coronet,
    Many sigh for gold,
    Some there are a-seeking yet--
    (Never thought of you, my pet!)
       --Now they're passing old.

    "Many yearn for lovers true,
    Some for sleep from pain,
    Seeking laurel, some find rue--
    (Oh, they never dreamed of you!)
       --Now want youth again.

    "Crown and treasure, love like wine,
    Peace and laurel-tree,
    Have I all, oh! world of mine--
    (Soft little world my arms entwine)
       --Youth thou art to me."

It seemed familiar, yet I could not place the song, till at last it came
to me that Dr. Primrose wrote it for his only child, a kind of lullaby
which he used to chant to her.

Then I remembered how all that while I had been listening with my eyes
shut, and so I opened them to find the singer--and saw Letitia with
Robin sleeping in her arms.



  IV

  HIRAM PTOLEMY


One afternoon in a spring I am thinking of, passing from my office to
the waiting-room beyond it, I found alone there a little old gentleman
seated patiently on the very edge of an old-fashioned sofa which
occupied one corner of the room. He rose politely at my entrance, and,
standing before me, hat in hand, cleared his throat and managed to
articulate:

"Dr. Weatherby, I believe."

I bowed and asked him to be seated, but he continued erect, peering up
at me with eyes that watered behind his steel-bowed spectacles. He was
an odd, unkempt figure of a man; his scraggly beard barely managed to
screen his collar-button, for he wore no tie; his sparse, gray locks
fell quite to the greasy collar of his coat, an antique frock, once
black but now of a greenish hue; and his inner collar was of celluloid
like his dickey and like the cuffs which rattled about his lean wrists
as he shook my hand.

"My name is Percival--Hiram De Lancey Percival," he said. "De Lancey was
my mother's name."

"Will you come into my office, Mr. Percival?" I asked.

"No--no, thank you--that is, I am not a patient," he explained. "I just
called on my way to--"

He wet his lips, and as he said "New York" I fancied I could detect
beneath the casual manner he assumed, no inconsiderable
self-satisfaction, accompanied by a straightening of the bent shoulders,
while at the same moment he touched with one finger the tip of his
collar and thrust up his chin as if the former were too tight for him.
With that he laid his old felt hat among the magazines on my table and
took a chair.

"The fact is," he continued, "I am a former protégé of the late Rev.
David Primrose, of whom you may--"

He paused significantly.

"Indeed!" I said. "I knew Dr. Primrose very well. He was a neighbor of
ours. His daughter--"

My visitor's face brightened visibly and he hitched his chair nearer to
my own.

"I was about to ask you concerning the--the daughter," he said. "Is
she--?"

"She lives with my family," I replied. "Letitia--"

"Ah, yes," he said; "Letitia! That is the name--Letitia Primrose--well,
well, well, well. Now, that's nice, isn't it? She lives with you, you
say."

"Yes," I explained, "she has lived with my family since her father's
death."

"He was a remarkable man, sir," Mr. Percival declared. "Yes, sir, he was
a remarkable man. Dr. Primrose was a pulpit orator of unusual power,
sir--of unusual power. And something of a poet, sir, I believe."

"Yes," I assented.

"I never read his verse," said the little old gentleman, "but I have
heard it said that he was a fine hand at it--a fine hand at it. In fact,
I--"

He paused modestly.

"I am something of a writer myself."

"Indeed!" I said.

"Oh yes; oh yes, I--but in a different line, sir, I--"

Again he hesitated, apparently through humility, so that I encouraged
him to proceed.

"Yes?" I said.

"I--er--in fact, I--" he continued, shyly.

"Something philosophical," I ventured.

"Yes; oh yes," he ejaculated. "Well, no; not that exactly."

"Scientific then, Mr. Percival."

He beamed upon me.

"Well, now, how did you guess it? How did you guess it?" he exclaimed.

"Oh, I merely took a chance at it," I replied, modestly.

"Well, now, that's remarkable. Say--you seem to be a clever young
fellow. Are you--are you interested--in science?" he inquired, sitting
forward on the very edge of his chair.

"Well, as a doctor, of course," I began.

"Of course, of course," he interposed, "but did you ever take up ancient
matters to any extent?"

"Well, no, I cannot say that I have."

"Latin and Greek, of course?" suggested Mr. Percival.

"Oh yes, at college--Latin and Greek."

"Dr. Weatherby," said my visitor, his eyes shining, "I don't mind
telling you: I am a--"

He wetted his lips and glanced nervously about him.

"We are quite alone," I said.

"Dr. Weatherby, I am an Egyptologist!"

"You are?" I answered.

"Yes," he replied! "Yes, sir, I am an Egyptologist."

"That," I remarked, "is a very abstruse department of knowledge."

"It is, sir," replied the little old gentleman, hitching his chair still
nearer, so that leaning forward he could pluck my sleeve. "I am the only
man who has ever successfully deciphered the inscriptions on the great
stone of Iris-Iris!"

"You don't say so!" I exclaimed.

"I do, Dr. Weatherby. I am stating facts, sir. Others have attempted it,
men eminent in the learned world, sir, but I alone--here in my bosom--"

He tapped the region of his heart, where a lump suggested a roll of
manuscript. "I alone, Dr. Weatherby, have succeeded in translating
those time-worn symbols. Dr. Weatherby"--he lowered his voice almost to
a whisper--"it has been the patient toil of seven years!"

He sprang back suddenly in his chair, and drawing a red bandanna from
his coat-tails proceeded to mop his brow.

"Mr. Percival," I said, cordially, looking at my watch, "won't you come
to dinner?" His eyes sparkled.

"Well, now, that's good of you," he said. "That's very good of you. I
_was_ intending to go on to New York to-night by the evening-train, but
since you insist, I might wait over till tomorrow."

"Do so," I urged. "You shall spend the night with us. Letitia will be
delighted to see an old friend of her father, and my wife will be
equally pleased, I know. Have you your grip with you?"

"It is just here--behind the lounge," said Mr. Percival, springing
forward with the agility of a boy and drawing from beneath the flounce
of the sofa-cover a small valise of a kind now seldom seen except in
garrets or in the hands of such little, old-fashioned gentlemen as my
guest. It had been glossy black in its day, but now was sadly bruised
and a little mildewed with over-much lying in attic dust. In the very
centre of the outer flap, which buckled down over a shallow pocket,
intended, I suppose, for comb and brush, was a small round mirror,
dollar-sized, which by some miracle had escaped the hand of time.

"By-the-way," I said, as we entered my buggy, "you haven't told me--"

He interrupted me, smiling delightedly.

"Why I am going to New York?"

"Yes," I said.

"Well, sir, I'll tell you. I'll tell you, doctor, and it's quite a
story."

"Where is your home, Mr. Percival?"

"Sand Ridge," he said, "has _been_ my home, but I expect to reside
hereafter in--"

He wetted his lips and pulled at his collar again--

"In New York, sir."

On our drive homeward he told his story. Early in manhood he had been a
carpenter by day, by night a student of the ancient languages, which he
acquired by dint of such zeal and sacrifice that Dr. Primrose, then in
the zenith of his own career, discovering the talents of the poor young
artisan, urged and aided him to obtain a pulpit in a country town. He
proved, I imagine, an indifferent preacher, drifting from place to
place, and from denomination to denomination, to become at last a
teacher of Greek and Latin in the Sand Ridge Normal and Collegiate
Institute. Whatever moments he could spare from his academic duties, he
had devoted eagerly to Egyptian monuments, and more particularly to that
one of Iris-Iris which had baffled full half a century of learned men.

"But how did you do it?" I inquired. He wriggled delightedly in the
carriage-seat.

"Doctor," he said, "how does a man perform some marvellous surgical
feat, which no one had ever done, or dreamed of doing, before? Eh?"

"I see," I replied, nodding sagely. "Such things are beyond our ken."

"I did it," he chuckled. "I did it, doctor. And now, sir--"

He paused significantly.

"You are going to New York," I said.

"Exactly. To--"

"Publish," I suggested.

"The very word!" he cried. "Doctor, I am going to give my discovery to
the world--to the world, sir!--not merely for the edification of
savants, but for the enlightenment of my fellow-men."

"By George!" I said, "that's what I call philanthropy, Mr. Percival."

"Well, sir," he replied, modestly, "all I ask--all I ask in return, sir,
is that I may be permitted to spend the remainder of my days, rent free
and bread free, in some hall of learning, that I may edit my books and
devote myself to further research undismayed by the--the--"

"Wolf at the door," I suggested.

"Exactly," he replied. "That's all I ask."

"It is little enough," I remarked.

"Doctor," he said, solemnly, "it is enough, sir, for any learned man."

When I reached home with my unexpected guest, Dove and Letitia smilingly
welcomed him; I say smilingly, for there was that about the little old
gentleman which defied ill-humor. He seemed shy at first, as might be
expected of a bachelor-Egyptologist, but the simple manners he
encountered soon reassured him. I led him to our best front bedroom,
where he stood, dazzled apparently by the whiteness and ruffles all
about him, and could not be induced to set down his valise till he had
spread a paper carefully upon the rug beneath it.

"Now, I guess I'll just wash up," he said, "if you'll permit me,"
looking doubtfully at the spotless towels and the china bowl decorated
with roses, which he called a basin. I assured him that they were there
to use.

It was not long before we heard him wandering in the upper halls, and
hastening to his rescue I found him muttering apologies before a door
through which apparently he had blundered, looking for the staircase.
Safe on the lower floor again, Letitia put him at his ease with her kind
questions about Egyptology, and the delighted scientist was in the midst
of a glowing narrative of the great stone of Iris-Iris when dinner was
announced. It was evident that Dove's table quite disconcerted him with
its superfluity of glass and silver, and dropping his meat-fork on the
floor, he strenuously resisted all Dove's orders to replace it from the
pantry.

"No, no, dear madam," he exclaimed, pointing to the shining row beside
his plate, "do not disturb yourself, I pray. One of these extras here
will do quite as well."

During the dinner Letitia plied him with further questions till he
wellnigh forgot his plate in his elation at finding such sympathetic
auditors. Dove considerately delayed the courses while he talked on,
bobbing forward and backward in his chair, his slight frame swayed by
his agitation, his face glowing, and his beard bristling with its
contortions.

"Never," he told me afterwards, as we passed from the dining-room
arm-in-arm--"never have I enjoyed more charming and intelligent
conversation--never, sir!"

I offered him cigars, but he declined them, observing that while he
never used "the weed," he had up-stairs in his valise, if we would
permit him--

We did so, though none the wiser as to what he meant, for he did not
complete his sentence, but, bowing acknowledgment, he briskly
disappeared, to return at once without further mishap in our deceitful
upper hallway--reappearing with a paper bag which he untwisted and
offered gallantly to the ladies.

"Lemon-drops," he said. "Permit me, Mrs. Weatherby. Oh, take more, Miss
Letitia--do, I beg; they are quite inexpensive, I assure you--quite
harmless and inexpensive. Help yourself liberally, Mrs. Weatherby.
Lemon-drops, as you are doubtless aware, doctor, are the most healthful
of sweets, and as a--have another, Miss Primrose, do!--as a relaxation
after the day's toil are much to be preferred, if you will pardon my
saying so, Dr. Weatherby--much to be preferred to that poisonous cigar
you are smoking there."

"Quite right, Mr. Percival," I assented.

"They are very nice," Dove said.

"Oh, they are delicious!" cried Letitia.

"Are they not?" said the little man, delighted with his hospitality, and
so I left them--two ladies and an Egyptologist sucking lemon-drops and
talking amiably of the great stone of Iris-Iris--while I attended on
more modern matters, but with regret. I returned, however, in time to
escort the scientist to his bedroom, where he opened his valise and took
from it a faded cotton night-gown, which with a few papers and a
Testament seemed its sole contents. His books, he explained, had gone on
by freight. As I turned to leave him he said, earnestly:

"Doctor, my old friend's daughter is a most remarkable woman, sir--a
most remarkable woman."

"She is, indeed," I assented.

"Why," said he, "she evinced an interest in the smallest detail of my
work! Nothing was too trivial, or too profound for her. I was
astonished, sir."

"She is a scholar's daughter, you must remember, Mr. Percival."

"Ah!" said he. "That's it. That's it, doctor. And what an ideal
companion she would make for another scholar, sir!--or any man."

Next morning I was called into the country before our guest had risen,
and when I returned at noon he had gone, leaving me regretful messages.
I heard then what had happened in my absence. Hiram Ptolemy--it is the
name we gave to our Egyptologist--had awakened soon after my departure
and was found by Dove walking meditatively in the garden. After
breakfast, while my wife was busy with little Robin, Letitia listened
attentively to a further discourse on the Iris-Iris, which, she was
told, bore on its surface a glorious message from the ancient to the
modern world.

"It will cause, dear madam," said the scientist, his eyes dilating and
his voice trembling with emotion, "a revolution in our retrospective
vision; it will bring us, as it were, face to face with a civilization
that will shame our own!"

Letitia told Dove there was a wondrous dignity in the little man as he
spoke those words. Then he paused in his eloquence.

"Miss Primrose," he said, "permit me to pay you a great compliment: I
have never in my life had the privilege--of meeting a woman--of such
understanding as your own. You are remarkably--remarkably like your
learned and lamented father."

"Oh, Mr. Percival," Letitia said, flushing, "you could not say a kinder
thing."

"And yet," said the scientist, "you--you are quite unattached, are you
not?"

"Quite--what, Mr. Percival?"

"Unattached," he repeated, "by ties of--the affections?"

"Oh, quite," she answered, "quite unattached, Mr. Percival."

"But surely," he said, "you still have--"

He paused awkwardly.

"Oh," said Letitia, "I shall never marry, Mr. Percival--if you mean
that."

He bowed gravely.

"Doubtless, dear madam--you know best."



  V

  A. P. A.


One spring a strange infection spread through the land and appeared
suddenly in our corner of it. First a rash became a matter of discussion
in our public places, but was not thought serious until the journals of
the larger cities brought us news that set our town aflame with
apprehension. Half our citizens broke out at once in a kind of measles,
not, however, of the common or school-boy sort--that speckled cloud with
a silver lining of no-more-school-till-it's-over--nor yet that more
malignant type called German measles. It was, in fact, quite Irish in
its nature, generally speaking, and in particular it was what might be
termed anti-papistical--for, hark you! it had been discovered that the
Catholics were arming secretly to take the world by storm!

There are many Romanists in Grassy Ford. St. Peter's steeple, tipped
with its gilded cross, towers higher than our Protestant spires, and on
the Sabbath a hundred farmers tie their horses beneath its sheds and
follow their womenfolk and flocks of children in to mass. In those days
Father Flynn was the priest, a youngish, round-faced man, who chanted
his Latin with a rich accent derived from Donegal, and who was not what
is called militant in his manner, but was, in fact, the mildest-spoken
of our Grassy Ford divines. He held aloof from those theological
disputes which sometimes set his Protestant brethren by the ears,
declining politely all invitations to attend the famous set debates
between our Presbyterian and Universalist ministers, which ended, I
remember, in a splendid God-given victory for--the one whose flock you
happened to be in. Father Flynn only smiled at such encounters; he was
not belligerent, and while his parish might with some good reason be
described as coming from fine old fighting stock, it had never given
evidence, so far as I am aware, of any desire to use cold steel, its
warm, red, hairy fists having proven equal to those little emergencies
which sometimes arise--more particularly on a Saturday night, at
Riley's. But when it was whispered, then spoken aloud, and finally
charged openly on the street corners and even in letters to the
_Gazette_, then edited by Butters's son, that Father Flynn was training
a military company in the basement of St. Peter's church, that the young
Romanists had been armed with rifles, and that ammunition was being
stored stealthily and by night under the very altar!--and this by order
from the Vatican, where a gigantic plot was brewing to seize the New
World for the Pope!--then it was shrewdly observed by those who held the
rumors to be truth that Father Flynn _did_ have the look of a
conspirator and that he walked with a military ease and swing.

The priest and his flock denied the charges with indignant eloquence,
but without convincing men like Shears, who argued that the guilty were
ever eager to deny. Shears himself was of no persuasion, religious or
otherwise, but belonged by nature to the great party of the Opposition,
whose village champion he was, whether the issue was the paving of a
street or a weightier matter like the one in hand, of protecting the
nation, as he said, from the treason of its citizens and the
machinations of a decaying power eager to regain its ancient sway! He
was a lawyer by profession, but one whose time hung heavily on his
hands, and, frequenting village shops where others like him gathered
daily to argue and expound, he would hold forth glibly on any theme, the
chief and awe-inspiring quality of his eloquence being an array of
formidable statistics, culled Heaven knows where, but which few who
listened had the knowledge or temerity to oppose. He was now brimming
with figures concerning Rome--ancient, mediæval, or modern Rome:
"Gentlemen, you may take your choice; I'm your man." He was armed also,
by way of climax and reserve, should statistics fail to convince his
auditors, with some strange stories having a spicy flavor of Boccaccio,
which he told in a lowered voice as illustrations of what had been and
what might be again should priests prevail.

To hear him pronounce the Eternal City's name was itself ominous. His
mouth, always a large one, expanded visibly as he boomed out "R-rome!"
discharging it as from a cannon's muzzle, and with such significance and
effect that many otherwise sanguine men began to suspect that there
might be truth in his solemn warnings. Lights _had_ been seen in St.
Peter's church at night! Catholic youths _did_ hold some kind of drill
there on certain week-day evenings! And, lastly, it was pointed out,
Father Flynn himself had ceased denials!

"And why?" Shears asked. "Why, gentlemen? I'll tell ye!--_I'll_ tell
ye!--orders from R-rome! You mark my words--orders from Rome!"

Apprehension grew. A society was formed, with Shears at its head, to
protect the village, and assist, if need be, the State itself. Meetings
were held--secret and extraordinary sessions--in the Odd Fellow's Block.
Watches were set on the priest's house and on St. Peter's. Resolute men
stood nightly in the shrubbery near the church lest guns and cartridges
should be added to the stores already there. Zealous Protestant matrons
of the neighborhood supplied hot coffee to the midnight sentinels. All
emergencies had been provided for. At a given signal--three pistol-shots
in quick succession, and the same repeated at certain intervals--the
Guards of Liberty would assemble, armed, and march at once in two
divisions, a line of skirmishers under Tommy Morgan, the light-weight
champion of Grassy Fordshire, followed by the main body in command of
Shears. No one, however, was to fire a shot, Shears said--"not a shot,
gentlemen, till you can see the whites of their eyes. Remember your
forefathers!"

Every night now half the town pulled down its curtains and opened doors
with the gravest caution.

"Who's there?"

"Peters, you fool."

"Oh, come in, Peters. I thought it might be--"

"I know: you thought it might be the Pope."

It was considered wise to take no chances. Assassination, it was widely
known, had ever been a favorite method with conspirators, especially at
Rome, and Shears made it plain, in the light of history, that "the vast
fabric," as he loved to call the Romish world, was composed of men who,
certain of absolution, would murder their dearest friends if so
commanded by cipher orders from the Holy See!

Meanwhile, in Grassy Ford, friendships of years were crumbling.
Neighbors passed each other without a word; some sneered, some jeered,
some quarrelled openly in the street, and there were fisticuffs at
Riley's, and in the midst of this civil strife some one
remembered--Shears himself, no doubt--that Dago pictures hung
shamelessly on the walls of a public school-room!

"Michael the Angelo" had been a Catholic!

_What if Letitia Primrose were the secret ally of the Pope!..._

"But she's not a Catholic," said one.

"She's Episcopalian," said another.

"What's the difference?" inquired a third.

"Mighty little, I can tell ye," said Colonel Shears. "The thing's worth
seein' to."

A knock on Letitia's door that afternoon was so peremptory that she
answered it in haste and some trepidation, yet was not more surprised by
the sudden summons than by the man who stepped impressively into the
school-room. The pupils turned smilingly to David Shears.

"Your father!" they whispered.

It was, indeed, Colonel Samuel Shears, of the Guards of Liberty. He
declined the chair Letitia offered him.

"No," he said, majestically, "I thank you. I prefer"--and here he thrust
up his chin by way of emphasis--"to stand."

The school giggled.

"Silence!" said Letitia. "I am ashamed."

Colonel Shears coolly surveyed the array of impudent youths before him,
or perhaps not so much surveyed it as turned upon it, slowly and from
side to side, the calm defiance of his massive jowls. He was well
content with that splendid mug of his, which he carried habitually at an
angle and elevation well calculated to spread dismay. Upon occasion he
could render it the more remarkable by a firm compression of the
under-lip, pulled gravely down at the corners into what old Butters used
to say was a plain attempt "to out-Daniel Webster." The resemblance
ended, however, in the regions before described. His brow, it should be
stated, did not attest the majesty below them, nor did his small eyes
glower with any brooding, owl-like light of wisdom, as he supposed, but
bulged rather with a kind of fierce bravado, as if perpetually he were
saying to the world:

"Did I hear a snicker?"

Colonel Shears surveyed the school, and then, more slowly, the pictures
on the walls about him, turning sharply and fixing his gaze upon
Letitia.

[Point One: She was clearly ill at ease.]

[Point Two: A guilty flush had overspread her features.]

"These pictures--" said Colonel Shears, with a wave of his hand in their
direction. "Who--if I may be so bold"--and here he raised his voice to
the insinuating higher register--"who, may I inquire, paid for them?"

"I did, Mr. Shears," Letitia answered.

"A-ah! _You_ paid for them?"

"I did."

"Very good," he replied. "And now, if I may take the liberty to--"

"Pray don't apologize, Mr. Shears."

The Colonel's crest rose superior to the interruption.

"If I may be permitted," he said, "to repeat my humble question--may I
ask, was it your money--that bought--the pictures?"

"It was."

"Your own?"

"My own."

"You are remarkably generous, Miss Primrose."

"I think not," said Letitia, with increasing dignity. "You will pardon
me, Mr. Shears, if I continue with my classes. After school I shall be
at liberty to discuss the matter. Meanwhile, won't you be seated?"

Colonel Shears for the second time declined, but asked permission,
humbly he said, to examine the works of art upon the walls. His request
was granted, and Letitia proceeded with her class. When the inspector
had made a critical circuit of the room, and not without certain
significant clearings of his throat and some sharp glances intended to
catch Letitia unawares, he sniffed the geraniums in the window and
picked up a book lying on the corner shelf. He glanced idly at its title
and--started!--gasped!--and then, horrified, and as if he could not
believe his bulging eyes, which fairly pierced the covers of the little
volume, he read aloud, in a voice that echoed through the school-room:

"_The Lays of Ancient Rome_--by Thomas--Babington--Macaulay!"

Letitia, whose back was turned, jumped at the unexpected roar behind
her, and the Colonel, perceiving that evidence of what he had suspected,
now strode forward with an air of triumph, tapping the _Lays_ with his
heavy fore-finger.

"Pardon me," he said, his countenance illumined by a truly terrible
smile of accusation, "but when, may I ask, did these here heathen tales
become a part of the school curriculum?"

"They are not a part of it," replied Letitia.

"Ah! They are _not_ part of it! You admit it, then? Then may I ask when
you _made_ them a part of it, Miss Primrose?"

"The stories of Roman heroes--" Letitia began.

"That is not my question. That is not my humble question. _When_ did
these here Romish--"

"Mr. Shears," Letitia interposed, flushed, but speaking in a quiet tone
she sometimes used, and which the Colonel might well have heeded had he
known her, "I observe that you are not familiar with Macaulay. I shall
be pleased to loan you the volume, to take home with you and read at
leisure. You will find it charming."

She turned abruptly to the class behind her.

"We will take for to-morrow's lesson the examples on page one hundred
and thirty-three."

The Colonel glared a moment at the stiff little back before him, and
then at the book, which he slipped resolutely into his pocket. A dozen
strides brought him to the door, where he turned grandly with his hand
upon the knob.

"I bid you," he said, with a fine, ironical lowering of the under-lip,
and bowing slightly, "good-day, ma'am," and the door closed noisily
behind him. There was a tittering among the desks. Young David Shears,
red-faced and scowling, dropped his eyes before his school-mates' gaze.
Letitia tapped sharply on her bell.

       *       *       *       *       *

That evening the president of the school-board called and talked long
and earnestly with Letitia in our parlor. Mr. Roach was a furniture
dealer by trade, a leading citizen by profession--a tight, little,
sparrow-like man, who had risen by dint of much careful eying of the
social and political weather to a place of honor in the village
councils. He was considered safe and conservative, which was merely
another way of saying that he never committed himself on any question,
public or private, till he had learned which way the wind was blowing.
He smiled a good deal, said nothing that anybody could remember, and
voted with the majority. Out of gratitude the majority had rewarded him,
and he was now the custodian of our youth--the sentinel, alert and
fearful of the slightest shadow, starting even at the sound of his own
footfall on the Ramparts of the Republic, as Colonel Shears once called
our public schools. He had come, therefore, under the shadow of the
night, but out of kindness, as he himself explained, to advise the
daughter of an old friend--and in a voice so low and cautious that Dove,
seated in the room beyond, heard nothing but a soothing murmur in
response to Letitia's spirited but respectful tones. In departing,
however, he was heard to say:

"Oh, by-the-way--er--I think you had better not mention my calling, Miss
Primrose. Better not mention it, I guess. It--er--hum--might do harm,
you know. You understand."

"Perfectly," replied Letitia. "Good-night." When the door was closed she
turned to Dove.

"What do you think that little--that man wants?" she asked.

"Don't know, I'm sure."

"Wants me to take down all my pictures--"

"Your pictures!"

"Yes--and remove all books but text-books from the school-room. And
listen: he says my geraniums--fancy! my poor little red geraniums!--are
'not provided for in the curriculum.'"

"The curriculum!" cried Dove, hysterically.

"The curriculum," replied Letitia, without a smile. "Do you know what I
asked him?" She leaned her chin upon her hands and gazed at Dove's
laughing face across the table. "Do you know what I asked that man?"

"No."

"I asked him if Samuel Luther Shears was provided for in the
curriculum."

"You didn't say _Luther_, Letitia!"

"I did--I said Luther."

"Darling! And what did he say to that?"

Letitia smiled.

"What could he say, my love?"



  VI

  TRUANTS IN ARCADY


The excitement vanished as it had come, in our tranquil air. A few keen
April nights had been sufficient for the sentinels in the lilac-bushes,
who wearied of yawning at St. Peter's silent and gloomy walls. Their
ardor and the matrons' midnight coffee cooling together, they were
withdrawn, and the Guards themselves, though they had no formal
mustering-out, forgot their fears and countersigns and met no more.
Friendships were renewed. Neighbors nodded again across their fences.
Protestant housewives dropped Catholic-vended sugar into their tea, and
while there were men like Shears, who still in dreams saw candles
burning, St. Peter's arsenal became a quiet parish church again.

Untouched by the whirlwind's passing, Letitia's window-garden went on
blooming red, her pictures still hung defiantly on the walls, and
classic fiction tempted our youth to her corner shelf. Colonel Shears,
however, in that single visit to the school-room, had found new texts
for his loquacity, and, our courts failing as usual to furnish him with
sufficient cases to engross his mind, he devoted himself with new ardor
to our public welfare, and recalled eloquently, to those who had time to
listen, the little, old, red school-house of their youth, the simpler
methods of the old school-masters, who had no fads or foibles beyond the
birch, and who achieved, he said--witness his hearers, to say nothing of
his humble self--results to which the world might point with
satisfaction if not with pride. Had the modern schools produced an
Abraham Lincoln, he wished to know?

"Not by a jugful," was his own reply. "You may talk about your
kindergartens, and your special courses, and your Froebel, and your
Delsarte, and you may hang up your Eyetalian pictures on the wall, and
stick up geraniums in your windows--but where is your Abraham? That's
what I ask, gentlemen. I tell you, the schools they had when you and I
were boys--gentlemen, they were ragged--they were ragged, as we
were--but they turned out men! And you mark my words: there ain't any
old maid in Grassy Ford, with all her ancient classics, and her new
methods, and her gimcracks and flower-pots, that'll ever--produce--an
Honest--Abe!"

I am told that the crowd agreed with him so heartily and with such
congratulatory delight that he was emboldened to announce himself then
and there as a candidate for the school-board. Though he failed of
election, there was always a party in Grassy Ford opposed to
new-fangled methods in the schools. Letitia herself was quite aware
that even among her fellow-teachers there were those who smiled at her
geraniums, and there had been some criticism of her manner of conducting
classes. Shears was fond of relating how a visitor to her room had found
a class in fractions discussing robins' eggs! Letitia explained the
matter simply enough, but the fact remained for the Colonel to enlarge
upon.

"A lesson," he said, "in Robinson's _Complete Arithmetic_, page
twenty-seven, may end in somebody's apple-tree, or the top of Sun Dial,
or Popocatapetl, or Peru! Gentlemen, I maintain that such dilly-dallying
is a subversion of the--"

"Subversion!" growled old man Butters, who still came out on sunny days
with the aid of his cane. "I calculate you mean it's not right."

"That," said the orator, suavely, "is the meaning I intended to convey,
Mr. Butters."

"Well, then, you're wrong," grumbled the old man. "Why, that there
girl"--he called her so till the day he died, this side of ninety--"that
there girl's a trump, Sam Shears, I tell ye. She teaches Robinson and
God A'mighty, too!"

Letitia was often now in the public eye; her teaching was made a
campaign issue, though all her nature shrank from such contests. It was
easy to attack her manner of instruction, and sometimes difficult to
defend it--it had been so subtle in its plan, and so unusual in its
execution, and, moreover, time alone could disclose what fruits would
ripen from its flowery care. Old Mr. Butters had put roughly what Dr.
Primrose himself had taught:

"Dearly beloved, in the fountains of learning, no less than in the
water-brooks, His lilies blow."

"Wouldst thou love God?" he asked, in the last sermon that he ever
wrote. "First, love His handiwork."

It was his daughter's motto. It hung on the walls of her simple chamber,
with others from her "other poets," as she used to call them--little
rubrics printed for her in red and gold at the "Pide Bull." That
handiwork of God which she still called Grassy Fordshire was so full of
marvels to this poet's daughter, there were so many flowers in it, the
birds there sang so blithely, its waters ran with such tremulous
messages echoed by woods and whispered by meadow-grasses, its skies,
melting into glowing promises in the west, shone thereafter with such
jewelled truths, she could hold no text-books higher than her Lord's.

It was not mere duty that drew her morn after morn, year after year, to
the red-brick school-house. All the tenderness, all those eager hopes
and fears which she lavished so upon her labor, meant life and love to
her, for she truly loved them--those troops of laughing, heedless
children, passing like flocks of birds, stopping with her for a little
twittering season to seize her bounty and, as it seemed to her, fly on
gayly and forget.

It may be that I write prejudiced in her favor, but I write as one
knowing the dream of a woman's lifetime to set those young feet
straight in pleasant paths, to open those wondering eyes to the beauty
of an ancient world about them, in every leaf of it, and wing--in the
earth below and the sky above it, and there not only in the flawless
azure, but in the rain-clouds' gloom.

"Dark days are also beautiful," she used to tell them. "Had you thought
of that?"

They had not thought of it. It was one of those subtler things which
text-books do not say; but Letitia taught them, and a woman of Grassy
Ford, when sore bereft, once said to me: "Dark days, doctor, are also
beautiful. Miss Primrose told us that, when we went to school to her. It
was of clouds she spoke, but I remembered it--and now I know."

"Oh, Miss Primrose," Johnny Murray used to say. "Do you remember when I
went to school to you? Do you remember where I sat--there by the window?
Well, it's awfully funny, but do you know, I never add or multiply or
subtract but I smell geraniums."

Perhaps, the Colonel would reply, that was why Johnny Murray deserted
the ledgers he was set to keep--the scent of the flowers in them proved
too strong for him. It may be so, for little things count so surely; it
may be the reason he is today a sun-browned farmer instead of a
lily-white clerk in his father's store. From the geraniums in a
school-room window to a thousand peach-trees blooming in a valley is a
long journey, but it was for just such journeys that Letitia taught, and
not merely for that shorter one which led through her petty school-room
to the grade above.

Letitia tells me that sitting there at her higher desk above those rows
of heads, she used to think of them as flowers, and of her school-room
as a garden. Often then it would come to her how pleasant a task it was
to tend the roses there--golden-haired Laura Vane, and Alice Bishop, and
Isabel Walton, and handsome, black-eyed Tommy Willis, whose pranks are
famous in Grassy Fordshire still; then, at the doting thought of them,
her heart would smite her, and she would turn to those other homelier
flowers. It must have been in some such moment of repentance that Susan
Leary, chancing to raise her eyes to her adored school-mistress, found
Letitia smiling so amiably upon her that the girl blushed, and from that
hour grew more mindful of her scolding looks; her freckled face was
scrubbed quite glossy after that, her dress was neater, her ribbons
tied, till by-and-by, to Letitia's wonder and reward, she found in that
beaming Irish face upturned to her, color and fragrance for her very
soul.

Young Peter Bauer was a German sprout transplanted steeragewise to a
corner of the garden, and slow in budding, his face as blank as the
blackboard-wall he grew beside; but one fine morning, at a single
question in the B geography, it burst into roseate bloom.

"Teacher, teacher, I know dot! Suabia ist in Deutschland. Mein vater ist
in Deutschland! Ich bin--"

And after that Peter was a poppy on Friday afternoons, reading essays on
his fatherland. Thus, honest gardener that Letitia was, she trained and
pruned, disdaining nothing because of weediness, believing that what
would bear a leaf would bear a flower as well. To leave at four o'clock,
to return at nine and find one open which had been shut before!--is it
not the gardener's morning joy?

It was not alone the plants which refused to grow for her that caused
her pain. These at least she had never loved, however patiently she had
cared for them. There were wayward beauties in her garden who on
tenderer stalks bore longer thorns. She learned, in her way, the lesson
mothers learn in theirs, who sometimes love and toil and sacrifice
unceasingly, and wait, years or forever, for reward.

"Remember, Miss Primrose, you are not a mother," snapped a certain
sharp-tongued matron of our town who had disagreed with her.

"Oh," said Letitia, "but I have loved so many children. I am a kind of
mother."

"Mother!" cried the matron.

"Yes," Letitia answered. "I am a mother--without a child."

Had they been her children, it had been easier to forgive their
thoughtlessness. Offended sometimes by her discipline, they said plain
things of her lack of pretty youth; they whispered lies of her; she shed
some tears, I know, over those scribblings which she intercepted or
found forgotten on the school-room floor. Then her garden was the abode
of shadows, her efforts vain there. Sometimes, for solace, she sought
out Dove, but the habit of lonely thinking had grown upon her; it had
been enforced by her maidenhood.

While I am not a herb-doctor by diploma, I am one by faith, simples have
wrought such speedy cures in my own gray hours, and Grassy-Fordshire is
so green with them that a walk by Troublesome or a climb on Sun Dial is
in itself a marvellous remedy, aromatic and anodyne. In my drives to
patients beyond the town, I have been seized suddenly by a kind of
fever. There are no pills for it, or powders, or any drugs in all the
bottles on my shelves--but a jointed fishing-rod and line kept in the
bottom of a doctor's buggy is efficacious if applied in time. Often when
that spell was on me I have turned Pegasus towards the nearest stream,
and while he nibbled, one hour on a scented bank, fish or not--sixty
drops from the grass-green phial of a summer's day--has restored my
soul. Clattering home again at double-quick, Pegasus's ears on end, his
nostrils quivering, my buggy thumping over thank-you-ma'ams, I would not
be a city leech for a brown-stone front and a brass name-plate upon my
door.

In some such pleasant hooky-hour in spring I had cast, sullenly enough,
but was now humming to myself, in tune with Troublesome, when a twig
snapped behind the willows. Some cow, thought I, and kept my eyes upon
the stream. Another twig: I turned inquiringly. There, by the
water-side, and all unmindful of my presence, was Letitia Primrose.

I bit my pipe clean through. I would have called at once, but something
stopped me. She stood quietly by the brook, gazing at the stones on
which it played and sang. Her shoulders drooped a little, her face
seemed tired and pale. She turned and saw me.

"Bertram!" Her face was guilty.

"Hello!" I said, lighting my pipe.

"You here, Bertram?"

"Yes," I replied, casting again. "How is it you're here? No school,
Letitia?"

She hesitated.

"No patients, doctor?" she asked, softly.

"No patients dying," I retorted. We eyed each other.

"I had a headache," she said, meekly, seating herself upon a log. "And I
have a substitute."

"There are other doctors," I remarked.

Suddenly she rose.

"I think," she said, "I'll just stroll that way, if you don't mind,
Bertram."

"Not at all," I replied. "I know how you feel, Letitia. That's why I
come here."

"Do you?" she asked. "Then this isn't your first--"

"Nor my twentieth offence," I replied, laughing. She sighed.

"I'm glad of that. It's my first--really. I feel like a criminal."

I pointed with my broken pipe-stem.

"You'll find the best path there," I said.

"I think I'll stay, if you don't mind, Bertram."

"Stay, by all means," I replied, and went on fishing. Letitia was the
first to speak.

"It's hard always trying to be--dominant," she remarked, "isn't it?"

"Why, I rather like it," I replied.

"You are a man," she said. "Men do, I believe. But I, I get so tired
sometimes"--she bit her lip--"of being master." She laughed nervously.
"That's why I ran away."

Presently she went on speaking.

"If we could only be surrounded by such things as these, always, how
serene our lives might be. Don't smile. It's my old sermon of
environment, I know; but why are you here?--and why am I? I try my
best to keep the beautiful before my children's eyes, to tempt them into
lovely thinking. Bertram, I believe, heart and soul, in the power of
beauty. I am so sure of it, I know I should be a stronger teacher if I
were young and beautiful myself--or even pretty, like Helen White."

"She is a mere wax doll," I said.

"But children like pretty faces," she replied. "Look! You have a fish!"

It was a snag, but while I was busy with it she rose. "Wait," I said,
"I'll drive you home."

"No, thank you, Bertram. I'd rather walk. My head is better now.
Good-bye."

I did not urge her. When she had gone I picked up a slip of paper from
the path where she had passed. It was a crumpled half of a blue-ruled
leaf torn from some pupil's tablet, and, scrawled upon it in a
school-girl's hand, I read:

     "DEAR EDNA,--Don't mind the homely old thing. Everybody says
     she's fifty if she's a day. No one would marry her, so she had to
     teach school."

It was written, Dove told me afterwards, by one of the rose-girls in
Letitia's garden.



  VII

  PEGGY NEAL


My aunt Miranda, who was wise in many things, used to maintain that a
woman ceased to be charming only when she thought she had ceased to be
so; that age had nothing whatever to do with the matter--and so saying,
she would smile so bewitchingly upon me that I was forced inevitably to
the conclusion that she bore her fifty years much better than many women
their paltry score. Letitia was not so sanguine; she laid more stress
upon the spring-time. I have heard her say that there was nothing
lovelier in the world than a fair young girl full of pure spirits as a
rose-cup full of dew. She would turn in the street to look at one; she
liked them to be about her; her own face grew more winning in such
comradeship, and when she was given a higher school-room, where the
girls wore skirts to their shoe-tops and put up their hair, it was an
almost childish pleasure which she displayed. It was this very
preference for exquisite maidenhood that explained her fondness for
Peggy Neal. It was not scholarship which had won the teacher's heart,
for Peggy was an indifferent student, as Letitia herself confessed, but
she was a plump and brown-eyed, pink-cheeked country girl who always
smiled and who had that grace of innocence and bloom of health which are
the witchery of youth. She was a favorite with school-boys, a belle of
theirs at straw-rides, dances, and taffy-pulls, and other diversions of
our Grassy Fordshire teens, where, however, her gentle ways, her
readiness to follow rather than to lead, her utter incapability of envy
or spiteful speech made her beloved of girls as well. She was the
amiable maiden whom men look twice at, yet whose sisters are never quite
jealous, holding her charm to be mere pinkish prettiness and beneath the
envy of superior minds like theirs. Peggy was the sort of girl Letitia
had never been, roseate with the kind of youth Letitia had never known,
and it enchanted her as a joy and beauty which had been denied.

Neal, the father, was a drunken farmer, whose wife was chiefly
responsible for the crops they planted, and who, being strong and abler
than her shiftless spouse, was usually to be seen in the field and
garden directing and aiding the hired man. Peggy was the only child. She
helped her mother in the kitchen, fed the chickens, skimmed the milk,
sold the butter, and let her father in o' nights. He was a by-word in
the village. Occasional revivalists prayed for him publicly upon their
knees, but without effect. His wife could have told them how futile that
method was; she had tried it herself in more hopeful years. She had
tried rage also, but it left her bitter and sick of life, and Pat the
drunker; so wisely she had fallen back upon resignation, though not of
the apathetic sort, and had made herself mistress of the farm, where her
husband was suffered to spend his nights if he chose, or was able to
walk so far from the tavern where he spent his days.

For Peggy the mother had better dreams. She knew that the girl was
beautiful, and she knew also what beauty, however born, might win for
itself in a wider world than her own had been. Peggy, therefore, was to
finish school, however the farm might suffer by her absence and the
expense of such simple dress as her village friendships would require.
Nature might marry Thrift or Money, thought the hard-faced woman in the
faded sunbonnet; silk and lace and a new environment might make a queen
of this beggar-maid, her last hope in a life of hopelessness. Proudly
she watched her daughter flower into village fame, guarding that
fairness with jealous eyes.

"Daughter," she would say, "where is your hat?"

"Mamma, I like the sun."

"Nonsense. Go straight and fetch it and put it on. Do you want to be
speckled like your ugly old mother-hen?"

It was a care and pride that would have turned another and far less
lovely head than Peggy's, yet in spite of it this country school-girl
ripened sweetly. Driving on country visits I used to meet her by the
way, walking easily and humming to herself the while, her books and
luncheon swinging at her side--a perfect model for romantic painters who
run to milk-maids, or, as Letitia used to say, the veritable Phyllis of
old English song.

The mother rose at dawn; she toiled by sunlight and by lamplight; her
face grew haggard, her figure gaunter, her voice sharper with bitter
irony, her heart harder save in that one lone corner which was kept
soft--solely for her child. Peggy, I believe, was the only living thing
she smiled upon. Neighbors dreaded her cutting tongue; her husband was
too dazed to care.

Time went by. In spite of that stern resolve in the woman's nature, and
all her labor and frugal scheming, what with the failure of crops and
her lack of knowledge of their better care, and an old encumbrance whose
interest could be barely met on the quarter-days that cast their shadows
on the whole round year, the farm declined. Letitia's gifts from her own
wardrobe were all that kept Peggy Neal in school. It was a word from
Letitia also that raised the cloud on the mother's face when despair was
darkest there. Might not summer-boarders, Letitia asked, bear a surer,
more golden harvest than those worn-out fields?

"Summer-boarders!" cried Mrs. Neal, with a grim irony in her voice. But
she repeated it--"Summer-boarders," in a milder tone, and the plan was
tried.

The first ones came in June. They descended noisily from the fast
express, lugging bags and fishing-rods and guns. Some of them stared;
some young ones whistled softly at the fair driver of that old
two-seated buckboard waiting to bear them to the farm. They greeted
effusively--for the daughter's sake--the hard-mouthed woman who met them
at the door, striving her best to smile a welcome. She it was who showed
them their plain but well-scrubbed chambers, while their minds were at
the barn.

Pastures and orchards bore strange fruit that summer: white-faced city
clerks in soft, pink shirts smoked cigarettes and browned in the sun;
freckled ladies set up their easels in the cow-lot; high-school
professors asked one another puzzling questions, balanced cannily on the
topmost rail of the Virginia fence, and all--all, that is, to a
man--helped Peggy carry in the milk, helped Peggy churn, helped Peggy
bake, helped Peggy set the table, and clear it, and wipe the dishes, and
set them safely away again in the dim pantry--helped Peggy to market,
and Peggy to church: so rose her star.

The mother watched, remembering her own girlhood. Its romance, seen
through a mist of gloomy years, seemed foolish now. There might be
happiness in human life--she had never known any. There was a deal of
nonsense in the world called love, she knew, and there was a surer thing
called money. Peggy should wait for it.

The mother watched, smiling to herself sardonically, secretly
well-pleased--smiling because she knew quite well that these callow
sprigs had far less money than negligées; well-pleased because she
guessed that soon enough a man with both would be hovering about sweet
Peggy's dairy. It was a humorous thing to her that all these city men
should think it beautiful--that dampish, sunless spot where the
milk-cans stood waist-deep in cresses.

She kept sharp eyes upon her daughter, and farm-house duties filled
Peggy's days to their very brim. There must be no loitering by
star-light, either. Mother and daughter now slept together in the attic
store-room, for the new farming had proved a prosperous thing.

The summer was not like other summers. There was life and gayety up at
Neal's: strumming of banjos and the sound of laughter and singing on
the porch, much lingering in hammocks under the pine-trees, moonlit
jaunts in the old hay-rick, lanterns moving about the barn and dairy,
empty bowls on the buttery table when Mrs. Neal came down at dawn, and
half-cut loaves in the covered crocks.

September came and the harvest had been gathered in. The last boarder
had returned cityward. Peggy was in school again. One day, however, she
was missing from her classes, and Letitia, fearing that she might be
ill, walked to the farm after school was over. It was a pleasant road
with a narrow path beside it among the grasses, and the day was cool
with premonitions of the year's decline.

The farm seemed silent and deserted. She knocked at doors, she tapped
lightly on the kitchen-windows, but no one was at home. At the barn,
however, the horses were in their stalls, turning their heads to her and
whinneying of their empty mangers. Surely, she thought, the Neals could
not be gone. She stood awhile by the well-curb from which she could
better survey the farm: it lay before her, field and orchard, bright
with sunshine and golden-rod, yet she saw no moving thing but the crows
in the corn-stubble and the cows waiting by the meadow-bars. Then she
tried the dairy, and there heard nothing but the brook whimpering among
the cans and cresses, and she turned away.

Now a lane runs, grassy and strewn with the wild blackberry-vines,
through the Neal farm to a back road into town, and Letitia chose it to
vary her homeward way. It passes first the brook, over a little
hoof-worn, trembling bridge, and then the vineyard, where the grapes
were purple that autumn evening. There, pausing to regale herself,
Letitia heard a strange sound among the trellises. It was a child
crying, moaning and sobbing as if its heart would break. For a moment
only Letitia listened there; then she ran, fearfully, stumbling in the
heavy loam between the rows of vines, to the spot from which the moaning
came. She found a girl crouching on the earth.

"Peggy!" she cried, kneeling beside her. "Peggy! Are you hurt? Peggy!
Answer me!"

The girl shook her head and shrank away among the lower leaves.

"Oh, what is the matter?" Letitia begged, terrified, and gathered Peggy
into her arms. "Tell me! Tell me, sweet!"

"Nothing," was the wretched answer. "Please--please go away!"

But Letitia stayed, brushing the dirt from the girl's dark hair, kissing
her, petting her, murmuring the tenderest names, and gently urging her
to tell. Peggy raised herself upon her knees, putting both hands to her
temples and staring wildly with swollen eyes.

"Mamma's gone in, Miss Primrose," she said, brokenly. "She'll--she'll
tell you. Please--please go away!"

She begged so piteously, Letitia rose.

"I'd rather stay, Peggy; but if you wish it--"

"Yes. Please go!"

"I'd rather stay."

"No. Please--"

Slowly, and with many misgivings, Letitia went. She knocked again at the
farm-house, but got no answer, as before. She tried the doors--they were
locked, all of them. Then her heart reproached her and she hurried back
again to the lane. It was growing dusk, and in the vineyard the rows
confused her.

"Peggy!" she called, softly.

Her foot touched a basket half-filled with grapes.

"Peggy! Where are you?"

She could hear nothing but the rustling leaves.

"Peggy!" she called. "Peggy!"

There was no answer, but as she listened with a throbbing heart, she
heard cows lowing at the pasture-bars--and the click of the farmyard
gate.



  VIII

  NEW EDEN


Letitia's church, the last her father ever preached in, is a little
stone St. Paul's, pine-shaded and ivy-grown, upon a hill-side. There are
graves about it in the lawn, scattered, not huddled there, and no paths
between them, only the soft grass touching the very stones. Above them
in the untrimmed boughs swaying with every wind, the wild birds nest and
sing, so that death where Dr. Primrose lies seems a pleasant dreaming.

"Our service," he used to say, "is the ancient poetry of reverence;" and
every verse of it brings to Letitia memories of her father standing at
the lecturn, while she was a child listening in the pews.

"I was very proud of him," she used to tell us. "His sermons were
wonderful, I think. You will say that I could not judge them as a girl
and daughter, but I have read them since. I have them all in a box
up-stairs, and now and then I take one out and read it to myself, and
all that while I can hear his voice. They are better than any I listen
to nowadays; they are far more thoughtful, fuller of life and fire and
the flower of eloquence. Our ministers are not so brimming any more."

She told us a story I had never heard, of his earnestness and how hard
it was for him to find words fervent enough to express his meaning; how
when a rich old merchant of Grassy Ford confessed to him a doubt that
there was a God, dear Dr. Primrose turned upon him in the village street
where they walked together and said, with the tears springing to his
eyes:

"Gabriel Bond, not as a clergyman but as a man, I say to you, consider
for a moment that apple-bloom you are treading on!" It was spring and a
bough from the merchant's garden overhung the walk where they had
paused. "Hold it in your hand, and look at it, and think, man, _think_!
Use the same reason which tells you two and two make four--the same
reason that made you rich, Gabriel--and tell me, if you can, there is
no God! Why, sir--" and here Dr. Primrose's heart quite overcame him,
and his voice broke. "Gabriel, you are not such a damned--"

And the merchant, Letitia said, for it was Bond himself who told her the
story long after Dr. Primrose's voice was stilled--the merchant,
astounded to find a clergyman so like another man struggling for
stressful words for his emotion, picked up the bruised twig from beneath
his feet and stuck it in her father's coat.

"Doctor," he said, quietly, "there's force, sir, in what you say," and
left Dr. Primrose wondering on the walk. But the next Sunday he appeared
at church, and every Sunday for many years thereafter, merely explaining
to those who marvelled, that he had found a man.

It was not likely that the daughter of such a man would be much troubled
with doubts of what he had taught so positively or what she had come to
believe herself; if led astray it would be like her sex in general,
through too much faith. While not obtrusive in her views of life in her
younger years, Letitia, as she reached her prime, and through the habit
of self-dependence and her daily duty of instructing undeveloped minds,
grew more decisive in her manner, more impatient of opposition to what
she held was truth, especially when it seemed to her the fruit of
ignorance or that spirit of bantering argument so common to the
humorously inclined. She liked humor to know its place, she said; it was
the favorite subterfuge of persons championing a losing cause. In such
discussions, finding her earnestness useless to convince, and scorning
to belittle a theme dear to her with resort to jest or personalities,
she would sit silenced, but with a flush upon her cheeks, and if the
enemy had pressed too sharply on her orderly retreat, one would always
know it by the tapping of her foot upon the floor.

She was no mean antagonist. For she read not only those volumes her
father loved, but the books and journals of the day as well. Reading and
theorizing of the greater world outside her little one, she was not
troubled by those paradoxes which men meet there, which cause them to
falter, doubt, and see two sides of questions where they had seen but
one, till they fall back lazily, taking their ease on that neutral
ground where Humor is the host, welcoming all and favoring none. We used
to smile sometimes at Letitia's fervency; we had our little jests at
its expense, but we knew it was her father in her, poet and preacher not
dead but living still. In his youth and prime Dr. Primrose was ever the
champion of needy causes, whose name is legion, so that his zeal found
vent, and left him in his decline the mild old poet I remember. Would
Letitia be as mild, I wondered?

"A few more needy causes," I used to say, "would soften that tireless
spirit--say, stockings to darn and children to dress for school, and a
husband to keep in order."

"Yet in lieu of these," Dove once replied, "she has her day's work and
her church and books--"

"But are they enough for a woman, do you think?" I asked my wife. We
were standing together by Robin's bedside, watching him as he slept.
Dove said nothing, but laid her hand against his rose-red cheek.

Little by little we became aware of some subtle change in our Letitia.
She took less interest in the mild adventures of our household world.
She smiled more faintly at my jests, a serious matter, for I have at
home, like other men, some reputation for a pretty wit upon occasion.
It was a mild estrangement and recluseness. She sat more often in her
room up-stairs. She was absent frequently on lonely walks, sometimes at
evening, and brought home a face so rapt, and eyes with a look in them
so far away from our humble circle about the reading-lamp, we deemed it
wiser to ask no questions. For years it had been an old country custom
of ours, when we sat late, to seek the pantry before retiring, but now
when invited to join us in these childish spreads, "No, thank you,"
Letitia would reply, and in a tone so scrupulously courteous I used to
feel like the man old Butters told about--a poor, inadvertent wight, he
was, who had offered a sandwich to an angel. I forget now how the story
runs, but the man grumbled at his rebuff, and so did I.

"I know, my dear," Dove reproved me, "but you ought not to do such
things when you see she's thinking."

"Thinking!" I cried, cooling my temper in bread-and-milk. "Is it
thinking, then?"

"I don't know what it is," Dove sighed. "She isn't Letitia any more, yet
for the life of me I can't tell why. I never dream now of disturbing
her when she looks that way, and I cannot even talk to her as I used to
do."

"She isn't well," I said.

"She says she was never better."

"She may be troubled."

"She says she was never happier."

"Well, then," I decided, sagely, "it must be thinking, as you say."

We agreed to take no notice of what might be only moody crotchets after
all; they would soon pass. We no longer pressed her to join our
diversions about the lamp, but welcomed her in the old spirit when she
came willingly or of her own accord. Yet even then it was not the same:
there was some mute, mysterious barrier to the old, free, happy
intercourse. Some word of Dove's or mine, mere foolery, perhaps, but
meant in cheerfulness, would dance out gayly across the table where we
sat at cards, but slink back home again, disgraced. What could this
discord be? we asked ourselves--this strange impassiveness, this
disapproval, as it seemed to us--negative, but no less obvious for
that?

There was a heaviness in the air. We breathed more freely in Letitia's
absence. We grew self-conscious in that mute, accusing presence, which
I resented and my wife deplored. Dove even confessed to a feeling of
guiltiness, yet could remember no offence.

"What have I done?" I asked my wife.

"What have _I_ done?" asked she.

At meals, especially, we were ill at ease. The very viands, even those
famous dishes of Dove's own loving handiwork, met with disfavor instead
of praise. Letitia had abandoned meats; now she declined Dove's pies!
Pastry was innutritious, she declared, meats not intended for man at
all, and even of green things she ate so mincingly that my little
housewife was in despair.

"What can I get for you, dear?" she would ask, anxiously. "What would
you like?"

"My love," Letitia would reply, flushing with annoyance, "I am perfectly
satisfied."

"But I'll get you anything, Letitia."

"I eat quite enough, my dear," was the usual answer--"quite enough," she
would add, firmly, "for any one."

Then Dove would sink back ruefully, and I, pitying my wife--I, rebuked
but unabashed and shameless in my gluttony, would pass my plate again.

"Give me," I would say, cheerfully, "a _third_ piece of that excellent,
that altogether heavenly cherry-pie, my dear."

It may sound like triumph, but was not--for Letitia Primrose would
ignore me utterly. "Have you read," she would ask, sipping a little
water from her glass, "_New Eden_, by Mrs. Lord?"

We still walked mornings to the school-house, still talked together as
we walked, but not as formerly--not of the old subjects, which was less
to be wondered at, nor yet of new ones with the old eloquence. I felt
constrained. There was a new note in Letitia's comments on the way the
world was going, though I could not define its pitch. She spoke, I
thought, less frankly than of old, but much more carelessly. She seemed
more listless in her attitude towards matters that had roused her, heart
and soul, in other days. Me she ignored at pleasure; could it be
possible, I wondered, that she was determined to renounce the whole
round world as well?

It was I who had first resented this alienation, but it was Dove who
could not be reconciled to a change so inscrutable and unkind. Time, I
argued, was sufficient reason; age, I reminded her, cast strange shadows
before its coming; our friend was growing old--perhaps like her
father--before her time. But Dove was alarmed: Letitia was pale, she
said; her face was wan--there was a drawn look in the lines of the mouth
and eyes; even her walk had lost its buoyancy.

"True," I replied, "but even that is not unnatural, my dear. Besides,
she eats nothing; she starves herself."

My wife rose suddenly.

"Bertram," she said, earnestly, "you must stop this folly. I have tried
my best to tempt her out of it, but I have failed. It is you she is
fondest of. It is you who must speak."

"I fear it will do no good," I answered, "but I will try." I have had
use for courage in my lifetime, both as doctor and man, but I here
confess to a trembling of the heart-strings, a childish faintness, a
lily cowardice in these encounters, these trifling domestic sallies and
ambuscades. Nor have I strategy; I know but one method of attack, and
its sole merit is the little time it wastes.

"Letitia," I said, next morning, as we walked townward, "you are ill."

"Nonsense, Bertram," she replied.

"You are ill," I replied, firmly. "You are pale as a ghost. Your hands
tremble. Your walk--"

"I was never stronger in my life," she interposed, and as if she had
long expected this little crisis and was prepared for it. "Never, I
think, have I felt so tranquil, so serene. My mind--"

"I am not speaking of your mind," I said. "I am talking of your body."

"Bertram," she said, excitedly, "that is just your error--not yours
alone, but the whole world's error. This thinking always of earthly--"

"Now, Letitia," I protested, "I have been a doctor--"

"Illness," she continued, "is a state of mind. To think one is ill, is
to be ill, of course, but to think one is well, is to be well, as I
am--well, I mean, in a way I never dreamed of!--a way so sure, so
beautiful, that I think sometimes I never knew health before."

"Letitia," I said, sharply, "what nonsense is this?"

"It is not nonsense," she retorted. "It is living truth. Oh, how can we
be so blind! The body, Bertram--why, the body is nothing!"

"Nothing!" I cried.

"Nothing!" she answered, her face glowing. "The body is nothing; the
mind is everything! It is God's great precious gift! With my mind I can
control my body--my life--yes, my very destiny!--if I use God's gift of
Will. It is divine."

"Letitia," I said, sternly, "those are fine words, and well enough in
their time and place. I am not a physician of souls. I mend worn bodies,
when I can. It is yours I am thinking of--the frail, white, half-starved
flesh and blood where your soul is kept."

"Stop!" she cried. "You have no right to speak that way. You mean well,
Bertram, but you are wrong. You are mistaken--terribly mistaken," she
repeated, earnestly--"terribly mistaken. I am quite, quite able to care
for myself. I only ask to be let alone."

She had grown hysterical. Tears were in her eyes.

"See," she said, in a calmer tone, wiping them away, "I have had perfect
control till now. This is not weakness merely; it is worse: it is sin.
But I shall show you. I shall show you a great truth, Bertram, if you
will let me. Only have patience, that is all."

She smiled and paused in a little common near the school-house where
none might hear us.

"I learned it only recently," she told me. "I cannot see how I never
thought of it before: this great power mind has over matter--how just by
the will which God has given us in His goodness, we may rise above these
petty, earthly things which chain us down. We can rise _here_,
Bertram--here on earth, I mean--and when we do, even though our feet be
on Grassy Fordshire ground, we walk in a higher sphere. Ah, can't you
see then that nothing can ever touch us?--nothing earthly, however
bitter, can ever sadden us or spoil our lives! There will be no such
thing as disappointment; no regret, no death--and earth will be Eden
come again."

Her eyes were shining.

"Letitia," I said, "it is of another world that you are dreaming."

"No, it is all quite possible here," she said. "It is possible to you,
if you only think so. It is possible for me, because I do."

"It seems," I said, "a monstrous selfishness."

"Selfishness!" she said, aghast.

"As long as you have human eyes," I said, "you will see things to make
you weep, Letitia."

"But if I shut them--if I rise above these petty--"

"The sound of crying will reach your ears," I said. "How then shall you
escape sadness and regret? What right have you to avoid the burdens your
fellows bear?--to be in bliss, while they are suffering? It would be
monstrous, Letitia Primrose. You would not be woman: You would be a
fiend."

She shook her head.

"You don't understand," she said.

"At least," I answered, "I will send you something from the office."

She shut her lips.

"I shall not take it."

"It will make you stronger," I insisted.

"You can do nothing," she answered, coldly, "to make me stronger than I
am."



  IX

  A SERIOUS MATTER


If ever woman had a tender heart, that heart was Dove's. I used to say,
to her confusion, that a South Sea cannibal might find confessional in
her gentle ear, were his voice but low enough; that she might draw back,
shuddering at his tales of the bones he had picked, but if only his
tears were real ones, I could imagine her, when he had done, putting her
hand upon his swarthy shoulder and saying, earnestly:

"I know just how you feel!"

Such was the woman Letitia confided in, now that her tongue was loosened
and the mystery solved, for her soul was brimming with those new
visions--dreams so roseate as she painted them that my wife listened
with their wonder mirrored in her round brown eyes, and dumb before that
eloquence. Dove loved Letitia as a greater woman than herself, she
said, worshipped her for her wider knowledge and more fluent speech,
just as she wondered at it ruefully as a girl on Sun Dial listening to
Letitia's tales of dryads and their spells. In return for all this rapt
attention and modest reverence, Letitia formerly had been grace itself.
It was a tender tyranny she had exercised; but now?--how should my
simple, earthly Dove, mother and housewife, confide any longer her
favorite cares, her gentle fears, her innocent regrets? With what balm
of sympathy and cheer would the new Letitia heal those wounds? Would not
their very existence be denied; or worse, be held as evidence of
sin?--iniquity in my poor girl's soul, hidden there like a worm i' the
bud, and to be chastened in no wise save by taking invisible white wings
of thought, and soaring--God knows where?

The new Letitia was not unamiable, nor yet unkind, knowingly, for she
smiled consistently upon all about her--a strange, aloof, unloving smile
though, at which we sighed. We should have liked her to be heart and
soul again in our old-time common pleasures, even to have joined us now
and then in a fault or two--to have looked less icily, for example,
upon our occasional petty gossip of our neighbors, or to have added one
wrathful word to our little rages at the way the world was straying from
the golden mist we had seen it turn in, in our youth. As we watched her,
wondering, laughing sometimes, sometimes half-angry at this new and
awful guise she had assumed, it would come to us, not so much how sadly
earthen we must seem to her, nor yet how strange and daft and airy her
new views seemed to us in our duller sight--but how the old Letitia whom
we had loved was gone forever.

"Bertram," said my wife one evening as we sat together by the lamp,
"what do you think Letitia says?"

"I am prepared for anything, my dear."

Dove, who was sewing, laid down her work and said, gravely:

"She does not believe in marriage any more."

I raised my eyebrows. There was really nothing to be said.

"At least," my wife went on, resuming her sewing, "she says
that the time will come when the race will have"--Dove paused
thoughtfully--"risen above such things, I think she said. I really
don't remember the words she used, but I believe--yes, there _will_ be
marriage--in a way--that is"--Dove knitted her brows--"a union of
kindred souls, if I understand her."

"Ah!" I replied. "I see. But what about the perpetuation--"

My wife shook her head.

"Oh, all that will be done away with, I believe," she said, gravely.

"Done away with!" I cried.

"At least," Dove explained, "it will not be necessary."

My face, I suppose, may have looked incredulous.

"I don't quite comprehend what Letitia says sometimes," my wife
explained, "but today she was telling me--"

Dove laughed quaintly.

"Oh, I forget what comes next," she said, "but Letitia told me all about
it this morning."

I returned to my quarterly. Presently my wife resumed:

"She has four books about it."

"Only four!" I said. "I should think one would need a dozen at least to
explain such mysteries."

"She says herself she is only at the beginning," Dove replied. "She's
now in the first circle--or cycle, I've forgotten which--but the more
she reads and the more she thinks about it, the more wonderful it grows.
Oh, there was something else--what was it now she called it?--something
about the--cosmos, I think she said, but I didn't quite grasp the thing
at all."

"I'm surprised," I replied. "It's very simple."

"I suppose it is," Dove answered, quickly, and so humbly that I laughed,
but she looked up at me with such a quivering smile, I checked myself.
"I suppose it _is_ simple," she replied. "I guess my mind--is not very
strong, Bertram. I--I find it so hard to understand some--"

I saw the tears were coming.

"Don't trouble yourself about such things, my dear," I said, cheerfully.
"It's a bonny mind you have, you take my word for it."

Dove wiped her eyes.

"No," she said; "when I listen to Letitia, I feel like a--"

"There, there, my dear," I said, "you have things a thousand times more
vital and useful and beautiful than this cosmos Letitia talks about.
It's only another word for the universe, my love, if I remember
rightly--I'm not quite sure myself, but it doesn't matter. It's easy to
pronounce, and it may mean something, or it may mean nothing, but we
needn't trouble ourselves about it, little one. You have work to do. You
must remember Letitia has no such ties to bind her to the simple things,
which are enough for most of us to battle with. I am tired of theories
myself, dear heart. Work--everyday, humble, loving service is all that
keeps life normal and people pleasant to have about. I see so much of
this other side, it is always good to come home to you."

I went back to my medical journal--I forgot to say I had come around to
my wife's side of our reading-table in settling this perplexing matter;
I went back to my work, and she to hers, and we finished the evening
very quietly, and in as good health and unruffled spirits as the cosmos
itself must enjoy, I think, judging from the easy way it has run on,
year after year, age after age, since the dark beginning.



  PART III

  _Rosemary_

  I

  THE HOME-KEEPER


The years slip by so quietly in Grassy Ford that men and women born here
find themselves old, they scarce know how, for are they not still within
sound of the brooks they fished in, and in the shadow of the very
hill-sides they climbed for butternuts, when they were young? The brooks
run on so gayly as before, and why not they as well?

"Butters," Shears used to grumble, "never could learn that he was old
enough to stop his jawing and meddling around the town, till they dug
his grave for him; then he shut up fast enough."

"Well, then," said Caleb Kane, another character, "we'll sure enough
have to send for the sexton."

Colonel Shears eyed Caleb with suspicion.

"What for?" he asked.

"Why, to get a word in edgewise, Sam'l," Caleb replied, and the Colonel
rose, shifted his cigar, and sauntered homeward.

"Mostly comedies," said the one we call Johnny Keats, when I urged him
to write the stories of his native town; yet, as I told him, there are
tragedies a-plenty too in Grassy Fordshire, though the dagger in them is
a slower torture than the short swift stab men die of in a literary way.
Our heroic deaths are done by inches, as a rule, so imperceptibly, so
often with jests and smiles in lieu of fine soliloquies, that our own
neighbors do not always know how rare a play the curtain falls on
sometimes among our hills.

If I do not die in harness, if, as I often dream of doing, I turn my
practice over to some younger man--perhaps to Robin, who shows some
signs of following in his father's steps--I shall write the story of my
native town; not in the old way, embellished, as Butters would have
termed it, with family photographs of the leading citizens and their
houses and cow-sheds, and their wooden churches, and their corner stores
with the clerks and pumpkins in array before them--not in that old,
time-honored, country manner, but in the way it comes to me as I look
backward and think of the heroes and heroines and the clowns and
villains I have known. I shall need something to keep me from "jawing
and meddling around the town"; why not white paper and a good stub pen,
while I smoke and muse of my former usefulness. I suppose I shall never
write the chronicle; Johnny Keats could, if he would; and I would, if I
could--thus the matter rests, while the town and its tales and I myself
grow old together. Even Johnny Keats, who was a boy when Letitia taught
in the red brick school-house, has a thin spot in his hair.

Had Dove but lived--it is idle, I know, to say what might have been, had
our Grassy Fordshire been the same sweet place it was, before she went
like other white birds--"southward," she said, "but only for a winter,
Bertram--surely spring comes again."

This I do know: that I should have had far less to tell of Letitia
Primrose, who might have gone on mooning of a better world had Dove not
gone to one, leaving no theories but a son and husband to Letitia's
care. It was not to the oracle that she intrusted us, but to the
woman--not to the new Letitia but to the old, who had come back to us
in those vigils at my wife's bedside.

"This is not sin, Letitia," Dove said to her.

"Oh, my dear!" replied Letitia. "You must not dream that I could call it
so."

"Still," Dove answered, "if I had your mind, perhaps--"

"Hush, dear love," Letitia whispered. "My sweet, my sweet--oh, if I had
your soul!"

From such chastening moments Letitia Primrose was the mother she might
have been. A tenderer, humbler heart, save only Dove's, I never knew,
nor a gentler voice, nor a stronger hand, than those she gave us, man
and boy bereft--not only in those first blank days, but through the
years that followed. So easily that I marvelled did the school-mistress
become the home-keeper, nor can I look upon a spinster now, however
whimsical, that I do not think of her as the elder sister of that wife
and mother in her soul.

A new dream possessed Letitia: it was to be like Dove. She could never
be youthful save in spirit; she could never be lovely with that subtle
poise and grace which cannot be feigned or purchased at any price,
neither with gold nor patience nor purest prayer nor any precious thing
whatever, but comes only as a gift to the true young mother at her
cradle-side. She could not be one-half so perfect, she confessed humbly
to herself, but she could keep the fire blazing on a lonely hearth,
where a man sat silent with his child.

My girl's housewifeliness had seemed a simple matter when Letitia's mind
was on her school and sky; it was now a marvel as she learned what Dove
had done--those thousand little things, and all so easily, so placidly,
that at the day's fag-end Letitia, weary with unaccustomed cares,
wondered what secret system of philosophy Dove's had been. What were the
rules and their exceptions? What were the formulæ? Here were sums to do,
old as the hills, but strange, new answers! There must be a grammar for
all that fluency, that daily smoothness in every clause and phrase--a
kind of eloquence, as Letitia saw it now, marvelling at it as Dove had
marvelled at her own. When she had solved it, as she thought, the steak
went wrong, or the pudding failed her, or the laundry came home torn or
incomplete, moths perhaps got into closets, ants stormed the pantry, or
a pipe got stopped; and then, discomfited, she would have Dove's magic
and good-humored mastery to seek again.

She had kept house once herself, it is true, but years ago, for her
simple father, and not in Dove's larger way. The Primrose household as
she saw it now had been a meagre one, for here in the years of Dove's
gentle rule, a wondrous domestic ritual had been established, which it
was now her duty to perform. That she did it faithfully, so that the
windows shone and the curtains hung like snowy veils behind them, so
that the searching light of day disclosed no film upon the walnut, who
could doubt, knowing that conscience and its history? She kept our linen
neatly stitched; she set the table as Dove had set it; she poured out
tea for us more primly, to be sure, but cheerfully as Dove had poured
it, smiling upon us from Dove's chair.

Robin grew straight of limb and wholesome of soul as Dove had dreamed.
Letitia helped him with his lessons, told him the legends of King
Arthur's court, and read with him those _Tales of a Grandfather_, which
I had loved as just such another romping boy--though not so handsome
and debonair as Dove's son was, for he had her eyes and her milder, her
more poetic face, and was more patrician in his bearing; he is like his
mother to this day. His temper, which is not maternal, I confess--those
sudden gusts when, as I before him, he chafed in bonds and cried out
bitter things, rose hotly sometimes at Letitia's discipline, though he
loved her doubly now.

"You are not my mother!" he would shout, clinching his fists. "You are
not my mother!"

Then her heart would fail her, for she loved him fondly, even in his
rage, and her penalty would be mild indeed. Often she blamed herself for
his petty waywardness, and feeling her slackening hand he would take the
bit between his teeth, coltlike; but he was a good lad, Robin was, and,
like his mother, tender-hearted, for all his spirit, and as quick to be
sorry as to be wrong. When they had made it up, crying in each other's
arms, Letitia would say to him:

"I'm not your mother, but I love you, and I've got no other little boy."

It was thus Letitia kept our home for us, tranquil and spotless as of
old; and if at first I chose more often than was kind to sit rather
among my bottles and my books and instruments, leaving her Robin and
the evening-lamp, it was through no fault or negligence of hers I did
it, for, however bright my hearth might glow, however tended by her
gentle hands, its flame was but the ruddy symbol to me of a past whose
spirit never could return.

"Who _is_ Miss Primrose?" strangers in Grassy Ford would ask.

"She's a sort of relative," the reply would be, "and the doctor's
house-keeper."

For the woman who keeps still sacred and beautiful another woman's home,
in all the language, in all our wordiness, there is no other name.



  II

  JOHNNY KEATS


The one we call Johnny Keats is well enough known as Karl St. John. He
was a Grassy Fordshire boy and Letitia's pupil, as I have said, till he
left us, only to like us better, as he once told me, by seeing the world
beyond our hills. He went gladly, I should say, judged by the shining in
his eyes. He was a homely, slender, quiet lad, except when roused, when
he was vehement and obstinate enough, and somewhat given, I am told, to
rhapsody and moonshine. He read much rather than studied as a
school-boy, and was seen a good deal on Sun Dial and along Troublesome
where he never was known to fish, but wandered aimlessly, wasting, it
was said, a deal of precious time which might have been bettered in his
father's shop. Letitia liked him for a certain brightness in his face
when she talked of books, or of other things outside the lessons;
otherwise he was not what is termed in Grassy Ford a remarkable boy. We
have lads who "speak pieces" and "accept," as we say it, "lucrative"
positions in our stores.

Karl drifted off when barely twenty, and as time went by was half
forgotten by the town, when suddenly the news came home to us that he
had written, and what is sometimes considered more, had published, and
with his own name on the title-page, a novel!--_Sleepington Fair_, the
thing was called. There are those who say Sleepington Fair means Grassy
Ford, and that the river which the hero loved, and where he rescued a
maid named Hilda from an April flood, is really our own little winding
Troublesome, widened and deepened to permit the wellnigh tragic ending
of the tale. You can wade Troublesome; Hilda went in neck-deep. They say
also that the man McBride, who talks so much, is our old friend Colonel
Shears; the fanciful McBride is tall in fact, and the actual Shears is
tall in fancy. Be that as it may, the book was excellent, considering
that it was written by a Grassy Fordshire boy, and it set at least two
others of our lads, and a lady, I believe, to scribbling--further
deponent sayeth not.

_Sleepington Fair_ was read by the ladies of the Longfellow Circle, our
leading literary club. Our Mrs. Buhl, acknowledged by all but envious
persons to be the most cultured woman in Grassy Ford, pronounced it
safely "one of the most pleasing and promising novels of the past
decade," and, in concluding her critical review before the club, she
said, smilingly: "From Mr. St. John--_our_ Mr. St. John, for let me call
him so, since surely he is ours to claim--from our Mr. St. John we may
expect much, and I feel that I am only voicing the sentiments of the
Longfellow Circle when I wish for him every blessing of happiness and
health, that his facile pen may through the years to come trace only
what is pure and noble, and that when, as they will, the shadows
lengthen, and his sun descends in the glowing west, he may say with the
poet--"

What the poet said I have forgotten, but the words of Mrs. Buhl brought
tears to the eyes of many of her auditors, who, at the meeting's close,
pressed about her with out-stretched hands, assuring her that she had
quite outdone herself and that never in their lives had they heard
anything more scholarly, anything more thoughtfully thought or more
touchingly said. Would she not publish it, she was asked, pleadingly?
No? It was declared a pity. It was a shame, they said, that she had
never written a book herself, she who could write so charmingly of
another's.

"Ladies! Ladies!" murmured Mrs. Buhl, much affected by this ovation, but
her modest protest was drowned utterly in a chorus of--

"Yes, indeed!"

_Sleepington Fair_ aroused much speculation as to its author's rise in
the outer world, chiefly with reference to the money he must be making,
the sum being variously estimated at from five to twenty-five thousand a
year.

"Too low," said Shears. "Suppose he makes half a dollar on every book,
and suppose he sells--well, say he sells one hundred thousand--"

"One hundred thousand!" cried Caleb Kane. "Go wan!"

"Why, darn your skin," said Colonel Shears, "why not? _The Old Red Barn_
sold _five_ hundred thousand, and only out two years. Saw it myself in
the paper, the other day."

"No!"

"I say _yes_! Five hundred thousand, by cracky!"

"Oh, well," said Caleb, "that thing was written by a different cuss."

When it was learned one morning that Karl had returned under cover of
night for a visit to Grassy Ford, those who had known the boy looked
curiously to see what manner of man he had become. And, lo! he was
scarcely a man at all, but a beardless youth, no laurel upon his head,
no tragic shadow on his brow!--a shy figure flitting down the long main
street, darting into stores and out again, and nodding quickly, and
hurrying home again as fast as his legs would take him--to dodge a
caller even there and wander, thankful for escape, on the banks of
Troublesome.

"Well, you 'ain't changed much," said Colonel Shears, when he met the
author.

"No," said Karl.

"Look just as peaked as ever," was the cheerful greeting of Caleb Kane.

"Yes," said Karl.

"Don't seem a day older," said Grandma Smith.

"No?" said Karl.

"Why, Karl," said Shears, "I thought you'd change; thought you'd look
different, somehow! Yes, sir, I thought you'd look different--but, I
swan, you don't!"

"No," said Karl, and there was such honest chagrin in the faces of those
old-time friends, he was discomfited. What had they expected, he asked
at home?

"Why," said his mother, "don't you know? Can't you guess, my dear? They
looked at least for a Prince-Albert and a stove-pipe hat."

"Silk hat! Prince-Albert!"

"Why, yes," said his father. "The outward and visible sign of the soul
within."

Karl's clothes, it is true, were scarcely the garb to be hoped for in so
marked a man. The dandies of Grassy Ford noted complacently that his
plain, gray, wrinkled suit did not compare for style and newness with
their own, while they wore at their throats the latest cravats of
emerald and purple loveliness. Karl's tie was black, and a plain and
pinless bow which drooped dejectedly. His hat was a mere soft,
weather-beaten, shapeless thing, and he walked on Sunday with gloveless
hands. Miss Johnson, a reigning belle, tells how he once escorted her
from the post-office to her father's gate, talking of Wordsworth all the
way, and all unconscious of the Sun Dial burrs still clinging to his
coat!

Letitia, for one, declared that she was not disappointed in the author
of _Sleepington Fair_. In honor of her old pupil she gave a dinner, and
spent such thought upon its menu and took such pains with its service,
lest it should offend a New-Yorker's epicurean eye, it is remembered
still, and not merely because it was the only literary dinner Grassy
Ford has known. There was some agitation among the invited guests as to
the formality involved in a dinner to a lion--even though that lion
might be seen commonly with burrs in his tail. The pride and honor of
Grassy Ford was at stake, and the matter was the more important as the
worthy fathers of the town seldom owned dress-suits in those days. For a
time, I believe, when I was a boy, Mr. Jewell, the banker, was the sole
possessor, and became thereby, no less than by virtue of the manners
which accompany the occasional wearing of so suave a garment in so small
a town--our first real gentleman. In his case, however, the ownership
was the less surprising in that he was known to enjoy New York
connections, on his mother's side.

Now, to those who consulted Letitia as to the precise demands of the
approaching feast, she explained, gracefully, that they would be welcome
in any dress--adding, however, for the gentlemen's benefit, and
hopefully no doubt, for she had the occasion in heart and hand, that the
conventional garb after six o'clock was a coat with tails. As a result
of the conference two guests-to-be might have been seen through a
tailor's window, standing coatless and erect upon a soap-box, much
straighter than it was their wont to stand, much fuller of chest,
robin-like, and with hips thrown neatly back--to match, as the Colonel
said. Two other gentlemen of the dinner-party told their wives bluntly
that they would go "_as_ usual," or they would be--not go at all, before
which edicts their dames salaamed.

Letitia counted on five dress-suits, at least, including the author's
and my own. Mine I must wear, she said, or she would be shamed forever;
so I put it on when the night arrived, wormed my way cautiously into its
outgrown folds, only to find then, to my pain, that an upright posture
alone could preserve its dignity and mine.

The hour arrived, and with it the Buxtons, old friends and neighbors;
Dr. Jamieson, homoeopathic but otherwise beyond reproach, and Miss
Jamieson, his daughter, who could read Browning before breakfast, much,
I suppose, as some robust men on empty stomachs smoke strong cigars; the
Gallowses, not wanted over-much, but asked to keep the white wings of
peace hovering in our hills; the Jewells, and some one I've forgotten,
and then the Buhls--Mr. Buhl smiling, but unobtrusive to the ear, Mrs.
Buhl radiant and gracious, and pervading the assemblage with a
dowagerial rustling of lavender silk. To my mind the quieter woman in
the plain black gown adorned only by an old-lace collar and antique pin,
her hair the whiter for her cheeks now rosy with agitation, her eyes
shining with the joy of the first great function she had ever given, was
the loveliest figure among them all.

Last came two plain, unassuming folk, though proud enough of that only
son of theirs, and then--

"_Oh!_" cries Mrs. Buhl, so suddenly, so ecstatically that the hum
ceases and every head is turned. "_Mister_ St. John!"

It is indeed the author of _Sleepington Fair_. And behold the lion!--a
slight and faltering figure, pausing upon the threshold, burrless
indeed, but oh!--in that old sack suit of gray!

Letitia bore the shock much better than might be expected. She changed
color, it is true, but the flush came back at once, and, standing
loyally at his side, she led the lion into the room.

It was a trying moment. He was an Author--he had written a Book--but we
were thirteen to his one, and four dress-suits besides! Thirteen to one,
if you omit his parents, and four dress-shirts, remember, bulging and
crackling before his dazzled eyes! New York wavered and fell back, and
the first skirmish was Grassy Ford's.

At the same instant it was whispered anxiously in my ear that the ices
had not arrived, but I counselled patience, and dinner was proclaimed
without delay. The lion and Letitia led the procession to the feast, and
I have good reason for the statement that he was a happier lion when we
were seated and he had put his legs away. Still, even then he could
scarcely be called at ease. Once only did he talk as if he loved his
theme, and then it was solely with Letitia, who had mentioned
Troublesome, out of the goodness of her heart, as I believe. His face
lighted at the name, and he talked so gladly that all other converse
ceased. What was the lion roaring of so gently there? Startled to hear
no other voices, he stopped abruptly, and, seeing our curious faces all
about him, dropped his eyes, abashed, and kept them on his plate. Then
Mrs. Buhl, famous in such emergencies, came to the rescue.

"Oh, Mr. St. John," she said, while we all sat listening, "I've wanted
to ask you: how did you come to write _Sleepington Fair_?"

"Oh," he replied, reddening, "I--I wanted to--that was all."

"I see," she replied.

"Do you like 'Sordello'?" asked Miss Jamieson, in the awkward silence
that ensued.

"Well, really--I cannot say; I have never read it," was his confession.

"Not read 'Sordello'!"

"No."

"Let's see, that's Poe, isn't it?" asked a young dress-shirt, swelling
visibly, emboldened to the guess by the lion's discomfiture.

"Robert Browning," replied the lady, with a look of scorn, and the
dress-shirt sank again.

"New York is a great place, isn't it?" volunteered Jimmy Gallows.

"Yes," said the lion.

"Been up the Statue of Liberty, I suppose?" Jimmy went on.

"No," said the lion.

"What!" cried the chorus. "Never been up the--"

"What did he say?" asked Mrs. Jewell, who was deaf. Mr. Buxton solemnly
inclined his lips to her anxious ear and shouted:

"_He has never been up the Statue of Liberty._"

"Oh!" said the lady.

The silence was profound.

"What, _never_?" piped Jimmy Gallows.

"Never," said the lion, shaking his mane a little ominously. "I have
never been a tourist."

Letitia mentioned Sun Dial, and would have saved the day, I think, had
not Mrs. Buhl leaned forward with the sweetest of alluring smiles.

"Oh, Mr. St. John," she said, "I've been going to ask you--in fact, for
a long, long time I have wanted to know, and I wonder now if you won't
tell me: how do authors"--she paused significantly--"how do authors get
their books accepted?"

A dress-shirt crackled, but was frowned upon.

"What did he say?" asked the lady who was deaf.

"_He hasn't said anything yet_," roared Mr. Buxton.

"Oh!"

"Do tell us," urged Mrs. Buhl. "Do, Mr. St. John. I almost called you
Karl."

"Was it a conundrum?" inquired the deaf lady, perceiving that it had
been a poser.

"_No. Question: how do authors get their books accepted?_"

"Yes--how do they?" urged Mrs. Buhl.

"Why," said the lion at last, for all the table hung upon his answer,
"by writing them well enough--I suppose."

It was a weak answer. There was no satisfaction in it, no meat, no pith
at all, nothing to carry home with you. Mrs. Buhl said, "Oh!"

"To what, then," piped Jimmy Gallows, "do you attribute your success?"

He was a goaded lion, one could see quite plainly; the strain was
telling on his self-control.

"It is not worth mentioning, Mr. Gallows," he replied, stiffly.

"Mr. St. John," Letitia interposed, in a quiet voice, "was just now
telling me that there is no music in all New York to compare with
Troublesome's. Shall we go into the other room?"

That night, when the last guest had departed, I asked Letitia, "Well,
what do you think of the author?"

"_I_ am not disappointed," she replied.

"Not much of a talker, though?" I suggested.

"He does not pretend to be a talker," she replied, warmly. "He is a
writer. No," she repeated, "I am not disappointed in my Johnny Keats."

Next day, I think it was, in the afternoon, he asked Letitia to walk
with him to the banks of Troublesome, to a spot which she had praised
the night before. His heart was full, and as they lingered together by
those singing waters he told her of his struggles in the city whose
statue he had never climbed. He told her of his black days there, of his
failure and despondency, of his plans to leave it and desert his dreams,
but how that mighty, roaring, dragon creature had held him pinioned in
its claws till he had won.

"And then," he told her, "when I saw my book, I looked again, and it was
not a dragon which had held me--it was an angel!"

Seeing that her eyes were full of tears, he added, earnestly:

"Miss Primrose, I wanted you to know. You had a part in that little
triumph."

"I?"

"You. Don't you remember? Don't you remember those books you left for
us?--in our old school-room?--on the shelf?"



  III

  THE FORTUNE-TELLER


Autumn comes early in Grassy Fordshire. In late September the nights are
chill and a white mist hovers ghostly in the moonlight among our hills.
The sun dispels it and warms our noons to a summer fervor, but there is
no permanence any longer in heat or cold, or leaf or flower--all is
change and passing and premonition, so that the singing poet in you must
turn philosopher and hush his voice, seeing about him the last sad rites
of those little lives once blithe and green as his own was in the
spring.

Ere October comes there are crimson stains upon the woodlands. "God's
plums, father!" Robin cried, standing as a little boy on Sun Dial and
pointing to the distant hills. A spell is over them, a purple and
enchanted sleep, though all about them the winds are wakeful, and the
sumac fire which blazed up crimson in the sun but a moment gone, burns
low in the shadow of white clouds scudding before the gale. Here beneath
them the bloom of the golden-rod is upon the land; fieldsful and
lanesful, it bars your way, or brushes your shoulders as you pass. Only
the asters, white and purple and all hues between, vie here and there
with the mightier host, but its yellow plumes nod triumph on every
crest, banks and hedgerows glow with its soldiery, it beards the forest,
and even where the plough has passed posts its tall sentries at the
furrow's brim.

In the lower meadows there is still a coverlet of summer green, but half
hidden in the taller, rusting grasses, whose feathery tops ripple in the
faintest wind, till suddenly it rises and whips them into waves, now
ruddy, now flashing silver, while a foam of daisies beats against the
gray stone hedges like waters tumbling on a quay.

There is cheerful fiddling in these dying grasses, and crickets scuttle
from beneath your feet; there is other music too--a shrill snoring as of
elder fairies oversleeping; startled insects leap upon you, flocks of
sparrows flee from interrupted feasts, squirrels berate you, crows
spread horrid tales of murder stalking in the fields.

Then leave the uplands--tripping on its hidden creepers; part the briers
of the farthest hedgerow, and descend. Down in the valley there is a
smell of apples in the air, pumpkins glow among the wigwams of the
Indian-corn, and deeper still runs Troublesome among the willows,
shining silver in the waning sun. There in the sopping lowlands they are
harvesting the last marsh hay. A road leads townward, the vines scarlet
on its tumbling walls; the air grows cooler--

"Oh, it is beautiful!" says Letitia, sadly--"but it is fall."

I observe in her always at this season an unusual quietness. She is in
the garden as early as in the summer-time, and while it is still
dripping with heavy dew, for she clings tenderly to its last flowers--to
her nasturtiums, to the morning-glories on the trellis, and the
geraniums and dahlias and phlox and verbenas along the path; but she
gives her heart to her petunias, and because, she says, they are a
homely, old-fashioned flower, whom no one loves any more. As she
caresses them, brushing the drops from their plain, sweet faces, she
seems, like them, to belong to some by-gone, simpler time. Some think
her an odd, quaint figure in her sober gown, but they never knew the
girl Letitia, or they would see her still, even in this elder woman with
the snow-white hair.

Every fall gypsies camp in the fields near Troublesome on their way
southward. It is the same band, Letitia tells me, that has stopped there
year after year, and Letitia knows: she used to visit them when she was
younger and still had a fortune to be told. It was a weakness we had not
suspected. She had never acknowledged a belief in omens or horoscopes,
or prophecies by palms or dreams, though she used to say fairies were
far more likely than people thought. She had seen glades, she told us,
lawn or meadow among encircling trees, where, long after sundown, the
daylight lingered in a fairy gloaming; and there, she said, when the
fire-flies danced, she had caught such glimpses of that elf-land dear to
childhood, she had come to believe in it again. There was such a spot
among our maples, and from the steps where we used to sit, we would
watch the afterglow pale there to the starlit dusk, or that golden glory
of the rising moon break upon the shadowy world, crowning the tree-tops
and quenching the eastern stars. Then, sometimes, Dove and Letitia would
talk of oracles and divination and other strange inexplicable things
which they had heard of, or had known themselves; but Letitia never
spoke of the gypsy band till three giggling village maids, half-fearful
and half-ashamed of their stealthy quest, found their school-mistress
among the vans! She flushed, I suppose, and made the best of a curious
matter, for she said, simply, when we charged her with the story that
had spread abroad:

"They are English gypsies, and wanderers like the Primroses from their
ancient home. That is why they fascinate me, I suppose."

How often she consulted them, or when she began or ceased to do so, I do
not know, but when I showed her the vans by the willows and the smoke
rising from the fire, last fall, she smiled and said it was like old
times to her--but she added, quaintly, that palms did not itch when the
veins showed blue.

"Nonsense," I said, "we are both of us young, Letitia. Let us find the
crone and hear her croak. I am not afraid of a little sorcery."

Paying no heed to her protestations I turned Pegasus--I have always a
Pegasus, whatever my horse's other name--through the meadow-gate. A
ragged, brown-faced boy ran out to us and held the bridle while I
alighted, and then I turned and offered Letitia a helping hand. She
shook her head.

"No, I'll wait here."

"Come," I said, "have you no faith, Letitia?"

"Not any more," she replied. "This is foolishness, Bertram. Will you
never grow up?"

"It's only my second-childhood," I explained. "Come, we'll see the
vans."

"Some one will see us," she protested.

"There is not a soul on the road," I said.

Shamefacedly she took my hand, glancing uneasily at the highway we had
left behind us, and her face flushed as we approached the fire. An ugly
old woman with a dirty kerchief about her head, was stirring broth for
the evening meal.

"Tripod and kettle," I said. "Do you remember this ancient dame?"

"Yes," said Letitia, "it is--"

"Sibyl," I said. "Her name is Sibyl."

Letitia smiled.

"Do you remember me?" she asked, offering her hand. The old witch peered
cunningly into her face, grinning and nodding as if in answer. Two or
three scraggy, evil-eyed vagabonds were currying horses and idling about
the camp, watching us, but at a glance from the fortune-teller, they
slouched streamward. The crone's entreaties and my own were of no avail.
Letitia put her hands behind her--but we saw the vans and patted the
horses and crossed the woman's palm so that she followed us, beaming and
babbling, to the carriage-side. There we were scarcely seated when,
stepping forward--so suddenly that I glanced, startled, towards the
camp--the gypsy laid a brown hand, strong as a man's, upon the reins;
and turning then upon Letitia with a look so grim and mysterious that
she grew quite pale beneath those tragic eyes, muttered a jargon of
which we made out nothing but the words:

"You are going on a long journey," at which the woman stopped, and
taking a backward step, stood there silently and without a smile, gazing
upon us till we were gone.

Letitia laughed uneasily as we drove away.

"Did she really remember you?" I asked.

"No, I don't think so--which makes it the more surprising."

"Surprising?"

"Yes; that she should have said again what she always told me."

"And what was that?"

"That I was going on a long journey."

"Did she always tell you that?"

"Always, from the very first."

"Perhaps she tells every one so," I suggested.

"No, for I used to ask, and very particularly, as to that."

Why, I wondered, had she been so curious about long journeys? I had
never known travel to absorb her thoughts. Why had she inquired, and
always so very particularly, as she confessed, about that single item of
gypsy prophecy, and the very one which would seem least likely to be
verified? Never in my knowledge of Letitia's lifetime had there been any
other promise than that of the fortune-teller that she would ever wander
from Grassy Ford. I might have asked her, but she seemed silent and
depressed as we drove homeward, which was due, I fancied, to the gypsy's
rude alarm. For some days after she continued to remark how strangely
that repetition of the old augury had sounded in her ears, and smiling
at it, she confessed how in former years she had laid more stress upon
it, and had even planned what her gowns would be.

"Did you guess where you were going?" I ventured to inquire.

"Well, I rather hoped--"

"Yes?" I said.

"You know my fondness for history," she continued. "I rather hoped I
should see some day what I had read about so long--castles and
things--and then, too, there were the novels I was fond of, like _Lorna
Doone_. I always wanted to see the moors and the Doone Valley, and the
water-slide that little John Ridd had found so slippery, when he first
saw Lorna."

"You wanted to see England then," I said.

"Yes, England," she replied. "England, you know, was my father's
country."

"The Doone Valley," I remarked, "would be Devon, wouldn't it?"

"Yes," she replied, "and it was Devon where father was a boy."

"And our old friend Robin Saxeholm came from Devon, you know," I said.

"So he did," she answered. Then we talked of Robin and his visit to
Grassy Fordshire years ago, and what Letitia had forgotten of it I
recalled to her, and what I could not remember, she supplied, so that
it all came back to us like a story or a summer dream.

When she had gone up-stairs I sat for a long time smoking by the dying
fire, and musing of some old-time matters which now came back to me in a
clearer light. From thinking of my own youth, little by little, I came
to Robin's--I mean the younger, who was now so soon to be a man. Tall
and fair like the youth he was named for, though not red-haired, he had
all but completed that little learning which is a "dangerous thing": he
was a high-school senior now, and overwhelmed sometimes with the wonder
of it, but a manly fellow for all that, one whom my eyes dwelt fondly on
more often than he knew. In the spring-time he would have his parchment;
college would follow in the fall--college! What could I do to give my
son a broader vision of the universe, lest with only Grassy Ford behind
him, he should think the outside world lay mostly within his college
walls?

"You are going on a long journey."

The gypsy's words came back unbidden as I rose by the embers of the
fire. "A long journey," I repeated; "and why not?"



  IV

  AN UNEXPECTED LETTER


During the winter a great piece of news stirred Grassy Ford, and in
spite of the snow-drifts on our walks and porches furnished an excuse
for a dozen calls that otherwise would never have been made so soon. Old
Mrs. Luton was discovered in a state of apoplexy on our steps, but on
being brought in and divested of her husband's coon-skin cap, a plush
collar, a scarf, a shawl, a knitted jacket, and a newspaper folded
across her chest, recovered her breath and told her story. Mrs. Neal, so
Mrs. Luton said, had been heard to say, according to Mrs. Withers, who
had it from Mrs. Lowell, who lived next door to Mrs. Bell--who, as the
world knows, called more often than anybody else at the Neal farm-house,
feeling a pity for the lonely woman there, as who did not?--Mrs. Neal
had been heard to say, what Mrs. Luton would not have repeated for the
world to any one but her dear Miss Primrose, who could be trusted
implicitly, as she knew, and she had said it in the most casual
way--Mrs. Neal, that is--but secretly very well pleased, though, Heaven
knows, she, Mrs. Luton--

"Won't you have some coffee?" asked Letitia, for the breakfast was not
yet cold.

"Yes, thank you, I _will_, for I'm as cold as can be," exclaimed her
visitor, laughing hysterically, and she was profuse in her praise of
Letitia's beverage, and inquired the brand. Her manner of sipping it as
she sat in an easy-chair before the fire did away with all necessity for
a spoon, but was a little trying to a delicate sense of hearing like
Letitia's, and was responsible beside for what was wellnigh a disastrous
deluge when in the midst of a copious ingurgitation she suddenly
remembered what she had come to tell:

"_Ffff_--Peggy Neal's a-living in New York!" she splashed, her eyes
popping. It would be impossible to relate the story as Mrs. Luton told
it, for its ramifications and parentheses involved the history of Grassy
Ford and the manifold relationships of its inhabitants, past and
present, to say nothing of the time to come, for in speculations Mrs.
Luton was profound.

Mrs. Neal, it seems, had broken her long silence and had been heard to
allude to "my daughter Peggy in New York." Some years had passed since
the farm-gate clicked behind that forlorn and outcast girl, and in all
that time the mother had never spoken the daughter's name, nor had any
one dared more than once to question her. Letitia had tried once, but
once only, to intercede for the pupil she had loved, the manner of whose
departure was well enough understood in the town and country-side,
though where she had gone remained a mystery.

On leaving the farm that September evening, Peggy, with a desperate and
tear-stained face, had been met by a neighbor girl, who as a confidant
in happier hours, was intrusted with the story. It was not a long one.
The mother had pointed to the gate.

"Look there!" she cried. "_He_ went that way. I guess you'll find him,
if you try, you--"

Then her mother struck her, Peggy said. She did not know it was the name
which felled her.

Now after silence which had seemed like death to the lonely woman in
the hills, Peggy had written home to her, to beg forgiveness, to say
that in a life of ease and luxury in a great city, she could not help
thinking of the farm, which seemed a dream to her; she could never
return to it, she said, but she wondered if her father was living, and
if her mother had still some heart for her wayward daughter, and would
write sometimes. She said nothing of a child. That she was still
unmarried seemed evident from the signature--"Your loving, loving Peggy
Neal." That some good-fortune had befallen her in spite of that sad
beginning in her native fields, was quite as clear, for the paper on
which she had scrawled her message was of finest texture and delicately
perfumed; and, what was more, between its pages the mother had found a
sum of money, how much or little no one knew.

It was observed that the mother's face had relaxed a little. That she
had answered her daughter's message was asserted positively by Mrs.
Bell, though what that answer was, and whether forgiveness or not, she
did not know. It was assumed, however, to have been a pardon, for the
mother seemed pleased with the daughter's progress in the world, which
must have seemed to her the realization, however ironical, of her
discarded hopes; and it was she herself who had divulged the contents of
the letter. To the cautious curiosity manifested by elderly ladies of
Grassy Ford, who called upon her now more often than had been their
wont, as she took some pleasure in reminding them, to their obvious
discomfiture, and to all other hints and allusions she turned her deafer
ear, while to direct questions she contented herself with the simple
answer:

"Peggy's well."

"You hear from her often, I suppose?" some caller ventured. The reply
was puzzling:

"Oh, a mother's apt to."

She said it so sadly, looking away across the farm, that Letitia's
informant as she told the story burst into tears.

"She's a miserable woman, Miss Letitia, depend upon it. She's a
miserable, broken-down, heart-sick creature for what she's done. 'You
hear often, I suppose?' said I. 'A mother's apt to,' says she, and
turned away from me with a face so lonesome as would break your heart."

For myself, as Letitia told me, I had my own notion of the mother's sad
and evasive answer, but I held my peace.

It was the coldest winter we had known in years. For weeks at a time our
valley was a bowl of snow, roads were impassable, and stock was frozen
on the upland farms. Suddenly there came a thaw: the sun shone brightly,
the great drifts sank and melted into muddy streams, and early one
morning Farmer Bell, his shaggy mare and old top-buggy splashed with
mire and his white face spattered, stopped at the post-office and called
loudly to the passers-by.

"Old Neal's dead and I want the coroner."

To the crowd that gathered he told the story. Neal's wife, waiting up
for him Christmas night, had made an effort to reach the Bells to ask
for tidings, but the wind was frightful and the drifts already beyond
her depth. She had gone back hoping that he was safe by his tavern fire,
but she sat by her own all night, listening to the roaring of the wind
and the rattling windows through which the snow came drifting in. At
dawn, from an upper chamber, she peered out upon a sight that is seldom
seen even in these northern hills. The storm was over, but the world was
buried white; roads and fences and even the smaller trees were no
longer visible, and the barn and a neighbor's cottage were unfamiliar in
their uncouth hoods. For days she remained imprisoned on the lonely
farm. She cut paths from the woodshed to the near-by barn and saved the
cattle in their stalls. Then the thaw came, and she reached the Bells.

Hitching his mare to his lightest buggy, for the roads were rivers, the
farmer drove through the slush and the remnant drifts to the corner
tavern where Neal had been. The bartender stared blankly at his first
question.

"Neal?" he stammered out at last.

"Yes, Neal! _John_ Neal, confound you! Can't you speak?"

The man laid the glass he was wiping upon the bar.

"Neal left here Christmas day--along about four in the afternoon, when
the storm began."

As Bell drove homeward he saw two figures at the Neal farm-gate--that
gate which Peggy had closed behind her--and, coming nearer, he made out
his own man Tom and the widow, lifting the body from the melting snow.

Peggy Neal did not come to her father's funeral. Letitia herself would
have written the news to her, for the woman, dry-eyed and dumb and
sitting by the coffin-side, had aged in a day and was now as helpless as
a child.

"Shall I write to Peggy?" Letitia asked her, but she did not hear. Twice
the question was repeated, but they got no answer, so Letitia wrote, and
laid the letter on the casket, open and unaddressed. It was never sent.



  V

  SURPRISES


Jogging homeward from a country call one afternoon in May, I was
admiring the apple-orchards and the new-ploughed fields between them,
when I chanced upon my son Robin with a handful of columbine, gathered
among the Sun Dial rocks.

"Oh," said he, "is that you, father?" It is an innocent way of his when
he has anything in particular to conceal.

"At any rate," I replied, "you are my son."

He smiled amiably and I cranked the wheel, making room for him beside
me.

"Columbine," I remarked.

"Yes."

"Letitia will be pleased," I said.

Now I knew it was for the Parker girl--Rita Parker, who blushes so when
I chance to meet her that I know now how it feels to be an ogre, a
much-maligned being, too, for whom I never had any sympathy before.

"I just saw a redstart," remarked my son.

"So?" I replied. "Did you notice any bobolinks?"

"_Did_ I?" he answered. "I saw a million of them."

"You did?"

"Down in the meadows there."

"A million of them?"

"Almost a million," he replied. "Every grass-stalk had one on it,
teetering and singing away like anything."

"Why, I didn't know Rita was with you."

"Rita!" he exclaimed, reddening.

"Why, yes," I said. "You saw so many birds, you know."

It was a little hard upon the boy, but I broke the ensuing silence with
some comments on the weather, and having him wholly at my mercy then, I
chose a subject which so long had charmed me, I had been on the point of
telling him time and again, yet had refrained.

"Robin," said I, "you will be a graduate in a day or two. What do you
say to a summer in England, boy?"

He caught my hand--so violently that the rein was drawn and Pegasus
turned obediently into the ditch and stopped.

"England, father!"

"If we are spared," I said, getting the buggy into the road again.

"All of us!" he cried.

"No."

"But you'll come, father?" He said it so anxiously that I was touched.
It isn't always that a boy cares to lug his father.

"I should like to," I said, "but--no."

"Why not?"

"I cannot leave," I replied. "Jamieson's going. We can't both go."

"Oh, bother Jamieson!" Robin exclaimed. "What does he want to choose
_our_ year for? Why can't he wait till next?"

"It's his wife," I explained. "She's ill again. But you go, Robin, and
take Letitia."

"When do we start?"

"In June."

"_This_ June?"

"Next month. I've laid out the journey for you on a map, and I've got
the names of the inns to stop at, and what it will cost you, and
everything else."

"But when did you think of it?" asked my son.

"Last fall."

"Last fall! Does Aunt Letty know?"

"Partly," I said. "She knows you're going, but not herself. It's a
little surprise for her. You may tell her yourself, now, while I stop at
the office."

He scrambled out and hitched my horse for me, so I held the flowers. He
flushed a little as he took them.

"Father, you're a trump," he said.

I bowed slightly: it is wise to be courteous even to a son. I had
stopped at the office to get the map, and an hour later Letitia met me
in our doorway.

"Bertram!" she said, taking my hand.

"Robin told you?"

"Yes. Oh, it's beautiful, Bertram, but I cannot go."

"Nonsense," I said.

"But you?"

"I shall do very nicely."

"But the cost?"

"Will be nothing," I said. "The boy must not go alone."

"That's not the reason you are sending me, Bertram."

"It's a good one," I replied.

"No," she insisted, shaking her head.

"You have been good to the boy, Letitia," I explained. "This is only a
way of saying that I know."

"You do not need to say it," she replied. "I have done nothing."

"You have done everything, Letitia--for us both."

The tears ran down her cheeks. My own eyes--

"You have loved Dove's husband and son," I told her. "We shall not
forget it."

Her face was radiant.

"It has been nothing for me to do," she said. "Loving no one in
particular, I have had the time to love every one, don't you see? Why,
all my life, Bertram, I've loved other people's dogs, and other people's
children"--she paused a moment and added, smiling through her
tears--"and other people's husbands, I suppose."

"You will go?" I asked.

"I should love to go."

"You will go, Letitia?"

"I will go," she said.

That evening I took from my pocket a brand-new map of the British
Isles--I mean brand-new last fall. Many a pleasant hour I had spent that
winter at the office with a red guide-book and the map before me on my
desk. With no little pride I spread it now on the sitting-room table
which Letitia had cleared for me.

"What are the red lines, father?" asked my son. He had returned
breathless from telling the Parker girl.

"Those in red ink," I replied, "I drew myself. It is your route. There's
Southampton--where you land--and there's London--and there's Windsor and
Oxford and Stratford and Warwick and Kenilworth--and here," I cried,
sweeping my hand suddenly downward to the left--"here's Devonshire!"

"Where father was a boy," Letitia murmured, touching the pinkish county
tenderly with her hand.

Ah, I was primed for them! There was not a question they could ask that
I could not answer. There was not a village they could name, I could
not instantly put my finger on. Those winter hours had not been spent in
vain. I knew the inns--the King's Arms, the Golden Lion, the White Hart,
the Star and Anchor, the George and Dragon, the Ring o' Bells! I knew
where the castles were--I had marked them blue. I knew the
battle-fields--I had made them crimson. For each cathedral--a purple
cross. Each famous school--a golden star. Never, I believe, was there
such a map before--for convenience, for ready reference: one look at the
margin where I made the notes--a glance at the map--and there you were!

"Oh, it is beautiful!" exclaimed Letitia.

"Isn't it?" I cried.

"You should have it patented," said my son.

"Suppose," I suggested, "you ask me something--something hard now. Ask
me something hard."

I took a turn with my cigar. Robin knitted his brows, but could think of
nothing. Letitia pondered.

"Where's--"

She hesitated.

"Out with it!" I urged.

"Where's Tavistock?" she asked.

I thought a moment.

"Is it a castle?"

She shook her head.

"Is it a battle-field?"

"No."

"Is it just a town, then?"

"Yes, just a town."

"Did anything famous happen there?"

She hesitated.

"Well," she said, "perhaps nothing very famous--but it's an old little
town--one that I've heard of, that is all."

Well, she did have me. It was not very famous, and only a--an idea came
to me.

"Oh," I said, shutting my eyes a moment, "that town's in Devon."

Letitia nodded.

"See," I said. Adjusting my glasses, and peering a moment at the pinkish
patch, I tapped it, Tavistock, with my finger-nail. "Right here," I
said.

We made a night of it--that is, it was midnight when I folded my map
and locked it away with the guide-book and the table of English money I
had made myself. There was one in the book, it is true, but for ready
reference, for convenience in emergencies, it did not compare with
mine--mine worked three ways.

A fortnight later I had the tickets in my hand--ss. _Atlantis_, date of
sailing, the tenth of June. I myself was to steal a day or two and wave
farewell to them from the pier. Robin already had packed his grip;
indeed, he repacked it daily, to get the hang of it, he said. It was a
new one which I had kept all winter at the office in the bottom of a
cupboard, and it bore the initials, R. W., stamped on the end. And he
had a housewife--a kind of cousin to a needle-book--stuffed full of
handy mending-things, presented by the Parker girl. The boy was radiant,
but as June drew nigh I saw he had something heavy on his mind. A dozen
times he had begun to speak to me, privately, but had changed the
subject or had walked away. I could not imagine what ailed the fellow.
He seemed restless; even, as I fancied, a little sad at times, which
troubled me. I made opportunities for him to speak, but he failed to do
so, either through neglect or fear. I saw him often at the office, where
he was always bursting in upon me with some new plan or handy matter for
his precious bag. He had bought a razor and a brush and strop.

"But what are they for?" I asked, amazed. A blush mantled his beardless
cheeks.

"Those? Oh--just to be sure," he said.

Now what could be troubling the lad, I wondered? It was something not
always on his mind, for he seemed to forget it in preparations, but it
lurked near by to spring out upon his blithest moments. His face would
be shining; an instant later it would fall, and he would walk to the
window and gaze out thoughtfully into the street, in a way that touched
me to the heart, for, remember, this was to be my first parting with the
boy. The more I thought of it, the more perplexed I was; and the more I
wondered, the more I felt it might be my duty to speak myself.

"Robin," I said one day, and as casually as I could make my tone, "did
you want to tell me anything? What is it? Speak, my boy."

We were alone together in my inner office and the door was shut. He
walked resolutely to the desk where I was sitting.

"Father," he said, "I have."

My heart was beating, he looked so grave.

"Well," I remarked, "you have nothing to fear, you know."

"Father," he said, doggedly, "it's about--it's about--"

"Yes?" I encouraged him.

"It's about this trip."

"This trip?"

"Yes. It's about--father, _you'll_ tell her--"

"Tell her?" I repeated.

"Yes. You tell her."

"Tell whom? Tell what?"

"Why, Aunt Letty."

"Aunt Letty! Tell Aunt Letty what?"

He blurted it fiercely:

"About her hat."

"Her hat! Her hat! Good Lord, what hat?"

"Why, her Sunday hat!"

"You mean her--"

"Why, yes, father! You know that hat."

I knew that hat.

"Do you object," I asked, "to your aunt's best Sunday hat?"

His scowl vanished and his face broke into smiles.

"That's it," he said.

"Don't be alarmed," I assured him, keeping my own face steady--no easy
matter, for, as I say, I knew the hat. "Don't be alarmed, my son. She
shall have a new one, if that will please you."

His smiles vanished. He seemed suspicious. His tone was cautiousness
itself.

"But who will buy it?" he asked.

"Why, you!" I said.

He leaped to my side.

"_I?_"

"You," I repeated.

He laughed hysterically--whooped is the better word.

"You wait!" he cried, and, fairly dancing, he seized his cap and rushed
madly for the door. It shut behind him, but as swiftly opened again.

"Oh, dad," he said, beaming upon me from the crack, "it'll be a stunner!
You'll see."

It was.



  VI

  AN OLD FRIEND OF OURS


"Oh, I know the town," I had told them confidently--had I not been there
in 18--? But no, it was not my town. It was not my New York at all that
we found at our journey's end, but belonged apparently to the mob we
fell among, bags and bundles, by the station steps, till from our
cabman's manner, when I mildly marvelled at the fare he charged us, the
place, I suspected, belonged to him. Four days and nights we heard it
rumbling about us. Robin got a mote in his eye, Letitia lost her
brand-new parasol, and I broke my glasses--but we saw the parks and the
squares and the tall buildings and the statue which Johnny Keats never
climbed. Reluctantly, for the day was waning as we stood on the Battery
looking out at it across the bay, we followed his example. On the third
afternoon Letitia proposed a change of plans. Her eyes, she confessed,
were a little tired with our much looking. Why not hunt old friends?

"Old friends?" I asked. "Whom do we know in New York, Letitia?"

"Why, don't you remember Hiram Ptolemy and Peggy Neal?"

"To be sure," I said--"the Egyptologist! But the addresses?"

"I have them both," she replied. "Mrs. Neal came to the house crying,
and gave me Peggy's, and begged me to find her if I could. And Mr.
Ptolemy--why can I never remember the name of his hotel?"

"You have heard from him then?"

She blushed.

"Yes," she replied. "It's a famous hotel, I'm sure. The name was
familiar."

"Hotel," I remarked. "Hiram must be getting on then?"

"Oh yes," she said, fumbling with her address-book. "It's the Mills
Hotel."

"And a famous place," I observed, smiling. "So he lives at a Mills
Hotel?"

"I forgot to tell you," she continued, "I have been so busy. He wrote
me only the other day, that, after all these years--mercy! how long it
has been since he fed us lemon-drops!--after all these years of tramping
from publisher to publisher, footsore and weary, as he said, he had
found at last a grand, good man."

"One," I inferred, "who will give his discovery to the world."

"Oh, more than that," explained Letitia, "this dear, old,
white-haired--"

"Egyptologist," I broke in.

"Publisher," she said, with spirit, "has promised him to start a
magazine and make him editor--a scientific magazine devoted solely to
Egyptology, and called _The Obelisk_."

"Well, well, well, well," I said. "We must congratulate the little man.
Perhaps you may even be impelled to recon--"

"Now, Bertram," began Letitia, in that tone and manner I knew of old--so
I put on my hat, and, freeing Robin to likelier pleasures, we drove at
once to "the" Mills Hotel. Letitia's address-book had named the street,
which she thought unkempt and cluttered and noisy for an editor to live
in, though doubtless he had wished to be near his desk.

"Is Mr. Hiram Ptolemy in?" inquired Letitia.

"I'll see," said the clerk, consulting his ledgers.

He returned at once.

"There is no one here of that name, madam."

"Strange!" she replied. "He was here--let me see--but two weeks ago."

"No madam," he said. "You must mean the other Mills Hotel."

"Is there another Mills Hotel?" she asked.

"Yes," he replied. "Hotel number--"

"I _thought_," said Letitia, "this place seemed--"

She glanced about her.

"But," said I, "the address is of this one."

"True," she replied. "Did you look in the P's?" she inquired, sweetly.

"Why, no; in the T's. You said--"

"But it's spelled with a P," she explained. "P-t-o-l--"

Then her face reddened.

"Never mind," she said. "You are right--quite right. It _is_ the other
hotel. But can you tell me, please, if Mr. Hiram De Lancey Percival
lives here?"

The clerk smiled broadly.

"Oh yes," he said. "Mr. Percival does, but he's out at present. You
will find him, however, at this address."

He wrote it down for her and she took it nervously.

"Thank you," she said, glancing at it. "Don't be silly, Bertram. Yes,
it's the publisher's. Let us go. Good-day, sir."

It was not a large publisher's, we discovered, for the place was a
single and dingy store-room in a small side street. Its walls were
shelved, filled from the floor to the very ceiling--volume after volume,
sets upon sets, most of them shopworn and bearing the imprints of
by-gone years. Between the shelves other books, equally old and faded,
and offered for sale at trifling prices, lay on tables in that tempting
disarray and dust which hints of treasures overlooked and waiting only
for recognition--always on the higher shelf, or at the bottom of the
other pile. The window was filled with encyclopædias long outgrown by a
wiser world, and standing beside them, and looking back towards the
store-room's farther end, was a melancholy vista of discarded and
forgotten literature.

"Who buys them?" asked Letitia.

"Who wrote them?" I replied.

A bell had tinkled at our entrance, but no one came to us, so we
wandered down one narrow aisle till we reached the end. And there, at
the right, in an alcove hitherto undiscernable, and at an old,
worm-eaten desk dimly lighted by an alley window, sat our old friend
Ptolemy, writing, and unaware of our approach. It was the same Hiram, we
observed, though a little shabbier, perhaps, and scraggier-bearded than
of old, but the same little, blinking scientist we had known, in
steel-bowed spectacles, scratching away in a rickety office-chair. He
was quite oblivious of the eyes upon him, lost, doubtless, in some
shadowy passage of Egyptian lore.

I coughed slightly, and he turned about, peering in amazement.

"Miss Primrose! Dr. Weatherby! I do believe!" he exclaimed, and,
dropping his pen, staggered up to us and shook our hands, his celluloid
cuffs rattling about his meagre wrists and his eyes watering with
agitation behind his spectacles.

"_You_--in New York!" he piped. "I--why, I'm astounded--I'm
astounded--but delighted, too--de_light_ed to see you both! But you
mustn't stand."

I looked curiously at Letitia as he brought us chairs, setting them
beside his desk. She was a little flushed, but very gracious to the
little man.

"Miss Primrose," he said, fidgeting about her, "allow me--allow me,"
offering what seemed to be the stabler of the wooden seats. She had
accepted it and was about to sit, when he stopped her anxiously with a
cry, "Wait!--wait, I beg of you!" and replaced it with his own. His was
an elbow chair whose sagging leathern seat had been reinforced with an
old green atlas, its pasteboard cover still faintly decorated with a
pictured globe.

Seating himself again beside his desk, he turned to us beaming with an
air of host, and listened with many nervous twitchings and furtive
glances at Letitia, while I explained our presence there.

"It's a grand journey--a grand journey, Miss Primrose," he declared. "I
only wish I were going, too."

"Tell us," said Letitia, kindly, "about _The Obelisk_. Is the first
number ready yet?"

He sat up blithely, wetting his lips, and with that odd mannerism which
recalled his visit to Grassy Ford, he touched with one finger the tip
of his celluloid collar, and thrust out his chin.

"Almost," he said. "It's almost ready. It'll be out soon--very soon
now--it'll be out soon. I've got it here--right here--right here on the
desk."

He touched fondly the very manuscript we had surprised him writing.

"That's it," he said. "_The Obelisk_, volume one, number one."

"And the great stone of Iris-Iris?" queried Letitia.

He half rose from his chair, and exclaimed, excitedly, pointing to a
drawer in the paper-buried desk:

"Right there! The cut is there!--cut of the inscription, you know. It's
to be the frontispiece. Here: page one--my story--story of the
translation and how I made it, and what it means to the civilized world.
Don't fail to read it!"

He wiped his glasses.

"When," I asked, "will it be out?"

"Soon," he replied. "Soon, I hope. Not later than the fall."

"That's some time off yet," I remarked.

"You do not understand," he replied, anxiously. "You do not understand,
Dr. Weatherby. A magazine requires great preparation--great preparation,
sir--and particularly a scientific magazine, Dr. Weatherby."

"Ah," I said. "I see."

"_Great_ preparation, sir," the little man went on, leaning forward and
tapping me on the knee. "There must be subscribers, sir."

"To be sure," I assented. "They are quite essential, I believe."

"Very," said Hiram Ptolemy. "Very, sir. We must have fifty at the fewest
before we go to press. My publisher is obdurate--fifty, he says, or he
will not invest a penny--not a penny, sir."

"And you have already--?" I inquired. I was sorry afterwards to have
asked the question. It was not delicate. I asked it thoughtlessly,
intending only to evince my interest in the cause. Coloring slightly, he
wet his lips and cleared his throat before replying.

"One, sir; only one, as yet."

"Then put me down number two," I said, eager to retrieve my blunder.

His face lighted, but only for a moment, and turning an embarrassed
countenance upon Letitia, and then on me, he stammered:

"But I--"

"Oh, by all means, Bertram," said Letitia, "we must subscribe."

The Egyptologist swallowed hard.

"I think--" he began.

"Bertram Weatherby is the name, Mr. Percival," said Letitia, in a clear,
insistent tone, and at her bidding the little man scrawled it down, but
so tremulously at first that he tore up the sheet and tried again.

"And the subscription price?" I inquired, opening my pocket-book.

"You--you needn't pay now, doctor," he replied.

"Is one dollar a year," said Letitia, promptly, and I laid the bill upon
the desk.

Hiram Ptolemy touched it gingerly, fumbled it, dropped it by his chair,
and, still preserving his embarrassed silence, fished it up again from
the cluttered floor. Ten minutes later, when we said farewell to him, he
still held it in his hand.

"What was the matter with him?" I asked Letitia, as we drove away,
glancing back at that odd and shamefaced figure standing wistfully in
the doorway.

"The other subscriber," she replied. "Didn't you guess?"

"What!" I said. "You, Letitia?"

She smiled sadly.

"Poor little man!"



  VII

  SUZANNE


It was evening when we set out, not without trepidation, to find Peggy
Neal. We had dined--over-dined--in a room of gilt and mirrors and
shining silver, watching the other tables with their smiling groups or
puzzling pairs; some so ill-assorted that we strove vainly to solve
their mystery, others so oddly mannered for a public place, we
thought--the men so brazen in their attentions, the women so prinked and
absurdly gowned and unabashed, Letitia at first was not quite sure we
were rightly there.

"Still," she said, "there _are_ nice people here--why, even children!"

"The place is famous," I protested.

"I suppose it must be respectable," she replied, "but I never saw such a
_mixture_!"

She gazed wonderingly about her.

"I suppose it must be New York," she said.

It was half-past eight when we entered the street again. We drove at
once to the number Mrs. Neal had given, riding silently and a little
nervously, but still marvelling at the scene we had left behind us, a
strange setting for two such elder village-folk as we, making us wonder
if we had missed much or little by living our lives so greenly and far
away.

"I hope she will be at home," said Letitia. "Every one seemed to be
going to the theatre."

"For my part," I confessed, "I rather hope we shall not find her."

"But why, Bertram?"

I could not say. The cab stopped. There were lights in the house, and,
leaving Letitia, I went up the steps and pulled the bell. The household
was at home, apparently, for I heard voices and the music of a piano as
I stood waiting at the door. It was one of the older streets,
ill-lighted and lined monotonously by those red-brick fronts so
fashionable in a former day.

The door was opened by a colored maid, and there was a gush of laughter
and the voices of men and women, with the tinkling undercurrent of a
waltz.

"Is Miss Neal at home?" I asked.

"Miss who?"

"Miss Neal."

"Miss Neal?"

"Miss Peggy Neal."

She hesitated. "I'll see," she said. "Will you come in, suh?"

"No," I replied. "I'll wait out here."

She returned presently.

"Did you say Miss Peggy Neal, suh?"

"Yes," I replied, "Miss Peggy Neal."

"Don't any such lady live heah, suh."

"Strange," I murmured, and was about to turn away when a woman clad in a
floating light-blue robe, her face indefinite in the dimly illumined
hallway, but apparently young and pretty, or even beautiful, perhaps,
and with an amazing quantity of golden hair, slipped through the
portières and pushed aside the maid.

"I am Peggy Neal," she said, in a low voice. "What is wanted?"

"You!" I gasped, but Letitia had left the carriage and was at my
shoulder.

"Peggy!" she said.

"Miss Primrose! And this is--Dr. Weatherby!"

"Dear Peggy," Letitia murmured, kissing the astonished girl on both
powdered cheeks. "But how you've changed! You're so pale, Peggy--and
your eyes--and your hair--Peggy, what _have_ you done to your hair?"

"Yes, my hair," murmured Peggy.

"Why, it used to be jet," Letitia said. "But you don't ask us in, my
dear--and here we've come all the long way from Grassy Ford to see you."

"Hush!" said Peggy, and Letitia paused, for the first time noting the
voices in the inner rooms.

"Oh," she whispered, "I see: you have a party."

"Yes," Peggy answered. "We--we have a party."

"I think we should go, Letitia," I interposed, but she did not hear me.

"I can't get over your hair," she murmured, holding Peggy at
arm's-length from her and then turning her head a little to look about
her. "Do they smoke at your parties?" she asked.

"Oh yes," laughed Peggy, "all the men smoke, you know."

"But I thought," said Letitia, "I saw a woman with a cigarette."

"It may have been a--candy cigarette," Peggy answered.

"That's true," said Letitia, "for I've seen them at Marvin's in Grassy
Ford."

The portières before which Peggy stood, one hand grasping them, parted
suddenly behind her head, and the face of another girl was thrust out
rudely behind her own and staring into mine. It was a rouged and
powdered face, with hard-set eyes that did not flinch as she gazed
mockingly upon me, crying in a voice that filled the hall with its harsh
discords:

"Aha! Which one to-night, Suzanne?"

Then she saw Letitia, and with a smothered oath, withdrew laughingly.
The music and talking ceased within. It was not in the room behind the
curtains, but seemingly just beyond it, and I could hear her there
relating her discovery as I supposed, though the words were indistinct.

"How I hate that girl!" hissed Peggy, her eyes black with anger.

"Then I wouldn't have her, my dear," said Letitia, soothingly. "I should
not invite her."

There was a burst of laughter within, followed by subdued voices, and I
heard footsteps stealthily approaching. Peggy heard them too, no doubt,
though she was answering Letitia's questions, for she grasped the
curtains more tightly than before, one hand behind her and the other
above her head. As she did so the loose sleeves of her robe slipped down
her arm, disclosing a spot upon its whiteness.

"Peggy, dear," Letitia said, anxiously, "you have hurt yourself."

"Yes," was the answer, "I know. It's a bruise."

It was a heart, tattooed. She hid it in her hair.

"We must go, Letitia," I urged. "We must not keep Peggy from her
friends."

"Yes," she assented. "But I had so much to ask you, Peggy, and so much
to tell."

The curtains parted again, this time far above Peggy's head, and I saw a
man's eyes peering through. She appeared to be disengaging the flounces
about her slippered feet, but I saw her strike back savagely with her
little heel, and he disappeared. But other faces came, one by one,
though Letitia did not see them. Her eyes were all for her darling
Peggy whom she plied with questions. How had her health been? How did
she like New York? Did she never yearn for little old Grassy Ford again?
Was she quite happy?

"Yes," Peggy murmured, "quite; quite happy."

She spoke in a hurried, staccato voice, in an odd, cold monotone. There
was no kindness in her eyes.

The door-bell rang, and we stepped aside as the maid answered it. Two
young men swaggered in, flushed and garrulous, nodding, not more
familiarly to the servant than to Peggy herself, who parted the curtains
to let them pass. They gazed curiously at her guests.

"Why, they kept on their hats!" Letitia said, in a shocked undertone.
"Is it customary here, Peggy?"

"Everything," was the bitter answer, "is customary here. How is my
mother?"

"It was your mother, Peggy, who asked me to find you." Letitia spoke,
gently. "She wants to see you. She is not very strong since your
father's--"

She paused.

"Is my father dead?"

"Didn't you know?"

"No; but I thought as much; he was such a boozer."

Letitia stared. "Peggy!" she said.

"Oh, I know what you think," the girl replied, wearily, seating herself
upon the stairs, and putting her chin upon her hands. She did not ask us
to be seated.

"Letitia," I said, firmly, "come; we must go." I put my hand upon the
door-knob.

"Doctor," said Peggy Neal, rising again, "you won't mind waiting outside
a moment? I have something to say to dear Miss Primrose."

"Certainly," I replied. "Good-bye, Miss--Neal."

She gave her hand to me. "Good-bye, doctor." Then she looked me
strangely in the eyes, saying, in an undertone, "Mind, I shall tell her
nothing"--and paused significantly, adding in a clearer tone again--"but
the truth."

I waited anxiously upon the steps. Five minutes
passed--ten--twenty--thirty--and I grew impatient. Then the door opened,
and Letitia appeared with Peggy, and radiant though in tears.

"Good-bye," she said, kissing her, "dear, _dear_ Peggy. Oh, Bertram, I
have heard such a wonderful story!"

"Indeed?"

"Yes," Peggy said from the doorway, "Miss Primrose is the same
enthusiast she used to be when I went to school to her."

"It is like a novel," declared Letitia; "but we must go. You must
forgive me for keeping you so long away--from your newer friends."

"It is nothing," was the answer. "I'm so glad you came."

"Remember your promise, Peggy!"

"Oh yes--my promise," Peggy murmured. "Good-bye, Miss Primrose.
Good-bye, doctor. Good-bye. Good-bye."

The carriage-door had scarcely closed upon us when Letitia seized my
arm.

"Bertram," she said, "it _is_ a story! I thought it was only in books
that such things happened. I would not have missed this visit for the
world!"

"But," I said, "do you trust--"

"Trust her? Yes. A woman never cries like that when she's lying,
Bertram. Listen: she came to New York from Grassy Ford. He was nowhere
to be found. He had given her a false address. Then a little girl was
born--dead. Oh, you can't imagine what that child's been through,
Bertram--the disgrace, the sorrow, the rags and poverty, hunger
even--and only think how _we_ were eating and sleeping soundly in Grassy
Ford, all that time she was starving here! Then temptations came in this
miserable, this wicked, wicked place! Oh, how can man--Well--she did not
dare to come home, but stayed on here. It was then she took the name
Suzanne, to hide her real one. Twice--twice, Bertram--she went down to
the river--"

Letitia's voice was breaking.

"Oh, I can't tell you all she told me. But just when it all seemed
darkest, she met this good, kind woman with whom she lives."

"What!" I said. "Did she tell you that?"

"Bertram, that woman saved her!--saved her from worse than death--took
her from the very street--clothed her, fed her, and nursed her to health
again. Did you see her dress? It was finest silk and lace. Did you see
the rings on her fingers? One was a diamond, Bertram, as large as the
pearl you wear; one was an opal, set in pearls; another, a ruby--and she
told me she had a dozen more up-stairs."

"Who is this woman?"

"She did not tell me. I forgot to ask."

"What was the promise she made you?"

"To visit us--to come next summer to Grassy Ford."

"_Us_, Letitia?"

"Yes; I made her promise it. She refused at first, but I told her there
were hearts as loving in Grassy Ford as in New York--oh, I hope there
are, Bertram; I hope there are! She will go first to the farm, of
course, to see her mother, and then, before she comes back to this new
mother, who makes me burn, Bertram, when I ask myself if any woman in
Grassy Ford would have done as much--then she will visit us. It will
mean so much to her. It will set that poor, spoiled life right again
before our petty, little, self-righteous world. Oh, I shall _make_ them
receive her, Bertram! I shall make them _take her in their arms_!"

She paused breathlessly, but I was silent.

"I thought you wouldn't mind," she said.

Still I could not speak.

"Tell me," she urged, "did I presume too much? Was I wrong to ask her
without consulting you?"

"No," I answered--but not through kindness as Letitia thought, let me
confess it; not through having the tenderest man's heart in the world,
as she said, gratefully, but because I knew--how, she will always
wonder--that Peggy would never come.



  VIII

  IN A DEVON LANE


I have never seen an English lane, but I have a picture of one above the
fireplace, and I once smelled hawthorn blooming. A pleasant, hedgerow
scent, it seemed to me, with a faint suggestion of primroses on the
other side--I say primroses, but Letitia smiles when I declare I can
smell them still, or laughs with Robin: they have been in England.

"Are you quite sure about it, Bertram?"

"They do have primroses," I reply, defiantly.

"But are you sure they are primroses?" she demands.

"Smell again, father!" cries my son.

"Yes," I retort; "or violets; they may be violets beyond the hedge."

It is then they laugh at me, and they make a great point of their
puzzling questions: am I certain--for example, that the primrose is
fragrant enough to be smelled so far, and is it in flower when the
hawthorn blooms? That is important, they insist. It is not important, I
reply--in _my_ England.

"_Your_ England!" they cry.

"To be sure," I say. "In my England--and I see it as plainly as you do
yours--the hawthorn and primrose is always flowering. In my England it
is always spring."

It is summer in theirs. It is always cool and fragrant and wholly
charming in my Devonshire. It was rather hot when they got to
theirs--that is, the sunny coast of it they brag of was a little trying,
sometimes, I suspect, in midsummer, though neither will confess.

"But not the moors!" they say.

"Oh, well--the moors--no; I should think not," I answer. "I am not such
a fool as to think that moors are hot."

"How cool _are_ the moors?" they then inquire, innocently, but I see the
trick; I hear the plot in their very voices, and am wary.

"Oh," I reply, "as cool as usual."

"But there are dense forests on the moors," Robin suggests. "Regular
jungles--eh, father?"

I am not to be taken without a struggle.

"Hm," I reply.

"Hm--what, father?"

"Well, I prefer the coast myself."

"The dear white coast," says Letitia, slyly.

"The dear _red_ coast!" I cry in triumph, but they only sigh:

"Ah, it was a wonderful, wonderful journey! One could never imagine
it--or even tell it. One must have been there."

It was a wonderful journey, I then admit, and I do not blame them for
their pridefulness, but what, I ask, would they have done without my
map?

I am bound by honesty to confess, however, that fair as my Devon is with
the vales and moorlands I have never seen, Letitia's Devon must be
fairer. She found it lovelier far than she had thought, she tells me,
and she smiles so happily at the mere sound of its magic name--what, I
ask, must a shire be made of to stand the test of that woman's dreams?

"Here we have hills," I tell her.

"But not those hills, Bertram."

"Have we not Sun Dial?" I protest.

"Yes, we have Sun Dial," she admits.

"We have winds," I say, "and singing waters, in Grassy Fordshire."

She shakes her head.

"You never heard the Dart or Tamar or the Tavy. You never stood on the
abbey bridge."

"And where," I ask, "was that?"

"That was at Tavistock," she replies, "at dear little Tavistock after a
rain, with the brown water rushing through the arches where the moss and
fern and ivy clings--rushing over bowlders and swirling and foaming and
falling beyond over a weir; then racing away under elm-trees and out
into meadows--oh, you never heard the Tavy, Bertram."

"We have Troublesome," I insist.

"Yes," she replies, but her mind is absent. "We have Troublesome, to be
sure."

Then I rouse myself. I fairly menace her with her treason.

"Surely," I cry, "you do not prefer old Devon to Grassy Fordshire!"

It is a question she never answers.

"Grassy Fordshire is your native heath," I remind her, jealously.

"Devon was my father's," she replies, "and mother's, too."

"Still," I insist, "you do not prefer it to your own?"

"It is beautiful," is her answer.

Had ever man so exasperating an antagonist? She declines utterly to be
convinced; she talks of nothing but that ruddy land as if it always had
been hers to boast of, is forever telling of ancient villages cuddled
down in the softest corners of its hills and headlands to doze and dream
in the English cloud-shadows and the sun--some of them lulled, she says,
by the moorland music of winds among the granite tors, and waters
falling down, down through those pastoral valleys to the sea; some
lapped by the salt waves rippling into coves blue and tranquil as the
sky above them, and others still in a sterner setting, clinging to edges
in the very clefts of a wild and rugged coast, like weed and sea-shells
left there by the fury of the autumn storms. So, she tells me, her Devon
is; so I picture it as we sit together by the winter fire, while for the
thousandth time she tells her story: how she and Robin, with my map
between them, made that long journey which, years before it, the gypsy
had found forewritten in her hand. It was the very pilgrimage that as a
boy I planned and promised for myself when I should come to be a man,
but have found no time for--yet my son has seen it, that land of the
youth whose name he bears, so that, listening, I take his glowing word,
as I took that of the youth before him, for its moorland heather and its
flashing streams.

Robin, it seems, preferred north Devon--Lynton and Lynmouth and their
crags and glens. Letitia, I note, while yet agreeing with his wildest
adjectives, leans rather towards the south.

"But think," he says, "of Watersmeet and the Valley of Rocks, Aunt
Letty!"

"I do think of them," she answers, "but think of Dartmoor, my dear."

"And so I do," is his reply.

"That day the wind blew so," she calls to mind, "that morning when we
rode to Tavistock."

"Tavistock?" I always ask. "Tavistock? Where have I heard that name? Do
all Devonshire roads lead up to Tavistock?"

She only smiles.

"You should see Tavistock," she says, and resumes her memories. I sit
quite helpless between the combatants. They differ widely, one might
think, to hear their voices rising and falling in warm debate, yet
listening to their words I detect nothing but a rivalry of praise, an
effort on the part of each to outdo the other, as I tell them, in pæans
and benisons on what I am led inevitably to believe is the fairest of
earthly dwelling-places.

When Robin withdraws his youthful vigor and goes off to bed, or if he is
away at school, from which he writes such letters as I wish Dove could
but see, the talk is tranquil by our hearth, or little by little drops
quite away.

"Such lands breed men," observes Letitia for the hundredth time. It is
her old, loved theory, the worth and grace of a rare environment, of
which she speaks, sewing in the fire-light. "The race must be hardy to
wring its living from such shores and heights."

"True," I answer, thinking of the wreckers and smugglers who haunted
those creeks and coves in years gone by--more lawless summers than the
quiet one which found a woman on the very sands their heels had
furrowed, or choosing flowers to press on the very cliffs they climbed
with their spray-wet booty. I think vaguely of the soldiers and sailors
who fought the battles whose dates and meanings it was Letitia's joy to
teach in the red-brick school-house. I think more vividly of great John
Ridd and Amyas Leigh, and then--a clearer vision--I remember that other,
that later Devonshire lad who was flesh and blood to me; and sitting
here by my Grassy Fordshire fire, a man grown gray who was once a boy
eating the slice two lovers spread for him, I keep their covenant.

You go up from Plymouth, Letitia tells me, and by-and-by you are on the
moors, marvelling; and you like everything, but you love Tavistock. It
is in a valley, with the Tavy running beneath that bridge of which she
is forever dreaming, for, as she stood there watching the waters
playing, and listening to their song, she said:

"Here Robert Saxeholm was a boy. How often he must have stood here!"

"Robin Saxeholm?" asked a clear voice almost at her side; and Letitia
turned. A pretty English lady stood there smiling and offering her hand.

"Yes," said Letitia, "did you know him, too?"

The lady smiled--a sad little smile it was. She was in black.

"He was my husband," she replied, "and this"--turning to the blue-eyed,
fair-haired girl beside her "is Letitia Saxeholm."

"Why," my Robin cried--"why, that's--"

Letitia Primrose stopped him with a glance, and turning swiftly to that
little English maid--

"_Letitia?_" she said, taking those pink cheeks gently between her
hands, and kissing them wellnigh with every word she uttered.
"Letitia--what a sweet--sweet name!"



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:

There were a few unnecessary quotation marks within the text that
have been removed.

The spelling of two words has been changed: Apent is now spent and
valeys is now valleys.

The oe ligature has been expanded.





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