The Hare and the Tortoise
NOT many years ago, one day late in April — That is the way the story begins ; but who could take time enough to describe either the place or the weather, since one was Beacon Street in Boston, and the other, as everybody had been saying, simply perfect ? Mary Chester had just told the friend from whom she had parted at the corner of Park Street that it was the first day when one could be really comfortable in a spring dress. In the broad bay of the sidewalk, always sheltered by the high wall of the State House yard, a great fleet of baby-carriages was riding at anchor under a gorgeous rigging of blankets and afghans: while a dozen plump young persons, who had but lately learned the art of walking, toddled about and talked to each other, or else took shelter beside their maids, where, holding fast a hand, they surveyed the rest of the company and refused to make acquaintances.
Miss Chester walked quickly, with light steps. She had a pretty way of walking, and deft and slender feet. It was always a pleasure to see her go along the street, she was so much less awkward than most of her companions, and unlike them could hurry without its seeming unnatural, or a lately acquired kind of movement. She smiled, and had a consciousness that the spring dress was becoming, and she looked down the hill ; but just then the sidewalk was quite deserted for some distance ahead. Two or three of the children ran toward her eagerly, with pretty chatter, and she stooped to kiss them and delayed good-naturedly to admire their dolls. The nurses smiled approvingly as she spoke or nodded to several of them and sent messages to their mistresses, who were oftener reported as invalids than as active persons. One bell after another struck two o’clock, and presently Miss Chester went on down the street. She now met several grown-up acquaintances, who either gave her most indulgent smiles, or removed their hats with pleased alacrity. It was evident that our heroine was a favorite with her town’s people, great and small, and also that she must not stop to speak to any one else, being already late to lunch.
But she found time, as she hurried, to look across the street at the trees in the Common, and to notice that the buds had grown larger since she had passed by earlier in the day. The grass was amazingly green, both under the trees and in the small samples of front yards close beside her, where the crocuses and hyacinths looked already wilted and out of season. Some robins and bluebirds were heard singing when there was a space between the carriages, and the English sparrows were squabbling as usual in the vines on the house fronts, and flocking down recklessly to the paving-stones.
Miss Chester bowed to an old lady who passed by in a well-closed carriage, and who felt a strange pang of regret and envy at the sight of so much beauty and such delightful youth. It seemed a very little while since she herself had scurried down Beacon Street, and what was more, had had something to scurry for; but this envy blew over presently, like a little gray spring cloud, since there really was nothing which one could not take one’s time about, and Michael was certainly a most perfect driver. “ Besides, the memory of my own youth is better than anything the young people of to-day can possibly enjoy,” said Mrs. Temple to herself consolingly; and as she passed the little children whom Miss Chester had just left, she remembered with a smile what an aunt of hers used to say; a dear old person, whose favorite window overlooked the length of a village street: “Every spring I see a new crop of little children come out to play in the sun ; they bloom with the flowers after the April rains, and come out afoot to see what they think of the world, — one from this house and another from the next. Little they know what it all means ! ”
Just as the carriage had passed, our friend noticed a young man who came springing up the steps from the Common at the Joy Street gate. He was struck by a small colored boy, who had crossed the street at full run, and knocked backward a little; but the boy stopped civilly, and the young man did not seem to be angry, but laughed and nodded, and then remained standing by the posts for a minute or two, while he surveyed the houses opposite and took a good look up and down the street. In the course of this his eye fell upon Miss Chester, who had gone too far to steal another look at the stranger, which fact she somewhat regretted. However, it had been interesting enough ; she had thought him a foreigner ; there was something un-American about his dress, and it was very attractive to her. He was a slender fellow; even his hat was not without an artistic element; it was of soft felt, and there was a tip of a feather at one side of its slightly Tyrolean crown, whereas the young men whom she saw most were at that time decking themselves in hard Derbys with high round crowns, which when removed by their wearers displayed a crimson mark like a scar across the forehead.
Miss Chester took her latch-key out of her pocket at least two minutes before she reached the house to which it belonged, and quickly sought the diningroom, where three elderly women were gathered about the table, and each gave her a reproachful glance as she entered.
“ I did n’t know it was so late,” said the girl pleasantly ; “ it struck two when I was in front of the State House. I wonder if our clocks are n’t a little fast! ”
“ I believe they are quite right,” observed the lady at the head of the table. “ Will you have the soup brought back ? ”
“ Oh dear, no ; it’s too hot for soup. Have you been out, mamma ? ” But mamma shook her head deprecatingly, as if this were no time for trivial conversation.
“ Would you mind removing your bonnet, my dear?” asked aunt Sophia, the first speaker. “ I dare say I am quite out of date, but it never seems proper to me that young people should sit at the table in their street clothes. It appears like a restaurant. We shall have young men wearing their hats within doors presently.”
“ Oh, don’t mind to-day, aunty. I am so hungry, and it takes some time to get my bonnet on and off. And you always go out to lunches in your own best bonnet.” . . .
“ That is different,” responded Miss Duncan, after a moment’s reflection, during which her niece had helped herself to cold prairie chicken, and Becket, the man-servant, moved forward with the salad from the side-board ; a very good salad it was, of lettuce crisp and green enough to match the day.
“ Could you find some raspberry jam, do you think, Becket ? ” inquired Miss Anne Duncan, who was very kind and almost entirely deaf. “ Miss Mary likes it with cold grouse, though I don’t know why,” and she looked at her companions for confirmation ; and when she saw that her elder sister wore a disapproving expression, she bowed her head over her plate as if grace were being said. “ Sophia,” she asked presently, “ don’t you think grouse are a little past ? It must be getting late for them.”
“ They are much better with jam,” the girl shouted gratefully across the corner of the table. “ You should be busy in the studio all the morning, and you would be ready to eat anything; ” and the old lady nodded and Mary nodded, and they formally renewed the secret understanding of each other which had been an unbroken satisfaction since Mary could walk alone or tell one aunt from the other. It was a curious household, and a most interesting one to those who knew it well. Duncan Chester, Mary’s father, had been the orphan ward of his aunts, and when he had married and brought his wife home to his pleasant house, nobody except outsiders had thought of expecting the ladies already established there to find a new house for themselves.
Although the house had come to Duncan by will, was it not their own father’s to begin with, and the home of their childhood ? They recognized no usurpers of their authority as its mistresses, that is, Miss Sophia did not; and young Mrs. Duncan was quietly thanked when she begged her to keep her timehonored seat at the head of the table. Mr. Duncan Chester frowned. He meant to have settled that point in good season ; but alas, it would have made little difference, for early in the time of the war he died, leaving his wife and little daughter. A young son had died before him, and Mrs. Chester had had a long illness afterward, and after her husband’s death she passed through a long siege of invalidism. Aunt Sophia was too kind and considerate, in those sad years, to be outwardly rebelled against, and as the true mistress of the house slowly regained her strength she not only saw that the chief occupation of the elder woman’s life was in her not by any means light business of housekeeping; but she discovered at first that the care of her daughter and later on certain charitable employments were better suited to her own mind. As for dear Miss Anne, she was the comfort and delight of everybody who came within her reach. She was as cheerful under her deafness as if it had been blindness instead. She could hear the conversation of people in books, at any rate, and she was as full of sympathy with the moods of her daily companions as if she were the personification of nature itself. She only cared not to be a trouble, and to make people happy, while her somewhat grim sister existed, one might believe, to remind people of their duties and delinquencies. The grandniece of these two good women had been always scolded by one and excused by the other, but it was as impossible to resist respecting and sometimes admiring Miss Sophia Duncan as it was petting and amusing Miss Anne.
Mrs. Chester was a quiet, sad woman, who always had worn the deepest mourning, and who spent more and more of her time in connection with the work of the various charities of the city. Her daughter had been a decided little person, and after having had a good start she had taken the bringing up of herself pretty much into her own hands, and had dispensed with the assistance of her relatives. Since she was a child she had been on most intimate terms with all three of the elders and betters under the home roof. She listened respectfully to their generous advice, and usually followed her own instincts and inclinations. She was really the strongest natured of the three, and soon gained the highest level of authority ; though this was quite unsuspected, especially by her aunt Sophia, who held herself accountable not only for her own doings, but those of all the rest of the household.
Mrs. Chester asked a few questions, and both she and the aunts remained at the lunch table while Mary finished a most satisfactory meal, and then all rose together with much solemnity. Three of the chairs proved to have cushions at their backs. Mary smiled at the sight of them, as she had often done before, and wondered if she should live on in just the same fashion until her chair had its cushion also. She spoke to Miss Anne’s unprincipled old parrot, who lived in great splendor in the sunny bay-window, and who gave a fierce squawk in reply that even her mistress heard and laughed at. This bird was a wellspring of joy to the family. Even Miss Duncan, who was hard to amuse, was a pleased spectator of Polly’s comedies.
“ She caught Mrs. Temple’s finger, this morning,” said aunt Anne in her careful, deafened voice. “ I was really frightened for a moment, but the glove was only scratched a little.”
“ I saw Mrs. Temple just now, on her way down town,” said Mary, snapping the parrot’s guilty beak. “ Had she been here?”
Miss Anne Duncan had turned away, and did not know that she was spoken to, but Mrs. Chester answered in her place. “ She was just leaving the house as I came in. She wished to say that she would come to dinner this evening, instead of to-morrow, for there was already some engagement which she had forgotten. Henry could not come tomorrow evening, either.”
“ Oh, how provoking ! ” said Mary quickly ; “ but I am sure I shall not stay at home from the concert. Did n’t you say that I was going out, mamma? ”
“ I hardly saw Mrs. Temple, you know;” and at this point Miss Duncan reappeared from the china-closet, where she had been holding as secret a conference with Becket as if the rest of the family were unfamiliar guests.
“ Mrs. Temple said that Henry meant to go to the concert,” she announced, “ so you can go together. He has one of the Winterford’s tickets, so it all happens very well.”
“If there is anything I dislike, it is being obliged to talk with any one in the seat directly behind,” said Mary, not without a suspicion of pleasure in her tone. She liked Mr. Temple well enough, though she laughed at him a good deal, and always took the most unfavorable views of him when her aunts praised him, as they often did. He was the only son of his mother, a person of great wealth and dignity. He was himself a most irreproachable young man ; he had lately returned from a three years’ sojourn in foreign parts, which, instead of stimulating him to any youth-; ful vanities and pleasing worldliness, had apparently served to settle him down more than even a residence in Boston would have done. Instead of growing wilder, he had become tamer and duller than before, and his correctness, his amiability, were unrelieved by any faults save an occasional flicker of self-satisfaction and conceit, which Mary Chester always pounced upon with delight, and promptly convicted him of, so bringing an excitement into an otherwise too prosaic intercourse. It was by no means a new idea to anybody, except perhaps themselves, that they would in course of time marry, and creditably represent the time-honored families from which they had descended. As for the aunts and Mrs. Temple, they had many a time spoken of this probability with delighted assurance. Mrs. Chester alone had a reserve of opinion. She had too often noticed that “ nothing is certain to happen but the unforeseen.” In the meantime the young people saw each other often. Mary had liked young Temple better than she expected, when he had returned in February, and she had not yet grown quite used to his being at home. He certainly talked twenty times better than most young men, and she was fond of new ideas, and of reminiscences of London and of Roman society, which she longed for, but had never yet seen except as a child. Miss Anne’s deafness had carried them to the Paris physicians, and Miss Duncan’s wish to improve herself had led her to drag her companions over various long routes at the mercy of a rapacious courier, whom Mary Chester had laughingly proclaimed ever since to be the only living person whom her aunt feared. Mrs. Chester had been for several years desiring to spend at least a summer abroad, but there had always seemed to be some good reason for putting it off to another season, until Mary had accused her aunt of being still afraid of the courier, whom she was quite as likely to meet if she stayed on this side of the sea. Any day they were likely to be swept off by Angelo to California and the Russian possessions, or to be shipped for Patagonia, in spite of any objections.
Dinner was to be half an hour earlier, a great concession to the concert-goers, and in good season Mrs. Temple appeared with her son. She belonged by birth to a noble Salem family, and was a very handsome and attractive woman. She had married somewhat late, and had spent a few years in the East Indies, where her son was born. She was never commonplace, though not a brilliant, woman. She knew the world of society much better than her friends the Duncans; beside, she was a little younger. They were very dependent upon her good opinion. They wished, above all things, — even Mrs. Chester felt this, — to put no obstacle in the way of her satisfaction with the projected marriage. No one would have acknowledged this, if accused of having anything to do with such a plot, but the tide of reason and propriety was set, as we have seen, very strongly in that direction.
There was some very clever talk at the little dinner. Henry Temple was given the foot of the table, which Miss Chester resented, since she liked her own place, and had a feeling beside that aunt Sophia’s insistence upon this following out of etiquette had an inner meaning and suggestion to which she was not yet consenting. This evening, however, she was much pleased by her guest’s kindness to her favorite aunt, who sat, hearing little but smiling kindly at everybody, on his right. He carefully managed to keep her informed of at least the subjects of the conversation. Once or twice he twisted an entirely irrelevant remark into a seemingly appropriate one, and made her feel that she was taking an active part in most of the pleasure. He had never been so quick-witted or entertaining, Mary thought. It was possible to believe at last that he was nearer thirty than fifty ; but he had an elderly way with him that had made her feel usually that she belonged to quite another generation. She laughed and talked with him gayly. He looked at her a good deal, and thought she had never been so pretty; while he looked very well himself, as all the ladies thought; a well-made man, at any rate, with his clothes of an unmistakable London cut. Mrs. Chester had given him a flower, and Mary had smiled to see him carefully take a pin from some secret hiding-place to fasten it into its button-hole. “ I have broken the little cord from my coat,” he explained. “ I wish you would see to its being replaced, if you remember ; ” and he glanced at his mother affectionately, as if he desired to respond to the admiration with which she had been watching him.
“ You ought to have a little pocketpincushion,” said Mary innocently, although filled with a wicked desire to tease him. “ Ask aunt Anne to make you one; she would be delighted ; ” and aunt Anne, who knew her name by sight, took on such a pleading look that no one could have helped indulging her with the repetition of the sentence. Mr. Temple flushed and stuttered a little as he said, “ Miss Chester says you ought to work me a pincushion ; ” at which everybody laughed, they hardly knew why, and Miss Anne with the rest, though she was much puzzled to know by what means the conversation had suddenly descended from the last subject of Carlyle’s Reminiscences. It was an easy thing to throw Henry Temple off his equilibrium, and Mary delighted in doing it. She often remembered things he had said and opinions he had given, yet it always provoked her if he managed to keep his equilibrium by the half hour together, and discoursed as if his decisions were to be regarded as final by all his listeners.
But he was good-tempered and interested, and his elder hostesses praised him after he went away with Mary and Miss Anne to the concert. He had given excellent advice about some new claret, having lately discovered a treasure when buying some for his mother. He had eaten his dinner as if he liked it even more than usual, and Becket had treated him with unusual deference and civility. There were some guests for whom Becket had suffered the loss of a near relative of his own in South Boston to defend himself from their reception or entertainment. Miss Sophia liked to avoid unpleasantness so far as she could, but Becket’s power over her was not that of the courier’s, and he often was obliged to suffer in silence when she had asked company at improper seasons, though gloom overspread his countenance at such times, until a skeleton would have seemed a bon-vivant and an enlivenment to the feast by contrast. More than once, however, when Mr. Temple had come to dinner, Becket had set forth the best silver and most unreplaceable wine quite of his own accord. He also thought that his young mistress was likely to marry this welcome guest, and Becket kept an eye to the windward, as his personal feeling toward the young man was kind, to begin with.
There were a few aggravating minutes of delay about the carriage, at which Miss Chester fretted, and she did not recover her spirits until she discovered that they were in good season, after all. It was a famous night of music, and the Music Hall was filled to overflowing. People were clustered about the doors that led to the galleries, like little swarms of bees. One hardly knew whether they stood or clung, and the grim statue of Beethoven waited before the great sculptured wall of the organ as if it were impatient and annoyed because of the mild confusion and delay. Miss Anne Duncan had also excused herself to Mrs. Temple. She was the only musical member of the family except her grand-niece, and this was one of the few pleasures that still remained to her. She had never grown deaf to the sound of music, thank Heaven, and one friend after another recognized her with great satisfaction and sympathy as they passed by to their places.
The noise was hushed as the first notes of the violins called out loud and clear, with a cry together, to the other instruments. It was a fine orchestra to look at: the ugly little heads of the bass viols held themselves high in a proud, tall row, and overlooked the crowded musicians with a certain air of condescension, while the violin bows rose and fell as if they were the swaying bayonets of troops on the march. Sometimes the organ made itself heard, and dwarfed the smaller voices of the rest of the instruments as the sea overpowers the noises on its shore. The trumpets glistened ; the symphony sang itself in one fashion after another most gloriously. We have done with mediæval vainglories in our New World life, for the most part, but there is still an instinct in the human breast for pomps and ceremonies, and the quaint orderliness of an orchestra, with the thousandyear-old shapes of its wind and string instruments, gives a pleasure that is altogether independent of their sound. The people were hushed and serious. Mary Chester took hold of her aunt’s hand, as she had done many a time before, as they sat beside each other in feasts or fasts. They came very close together in their hearts, these two. That night it seemed to the elder woman as if the people whom she had known and loved, and who had passed out of her sight and keeping, were listening to the music with her. It was a lovely sense of companionship, as if the same music could belong to the seen world and the unseen, and her angels could make her certain of their presence.
When the symphony ceased there was a gust of sighs and long breaths of delight. Mr. Temple leaned forward to say that it was well played, on the whole, but the adagio dragged, and one of the ’cellos was very flat ; had not they noticed it? Mary Chester gave a little shrug of impatience, and at that moment she observed a young man who was sitting with some other persons on the stairs that led down at the side of the organ to the stage. He was quite still ; he did not seem to know that the players had stopped. He was some distance away, and the space dulled his features somewhat, but Mary recognized the young stranger of the morning. He was now in evening dress. He presently clasped his hands at the back of his head, as if unconsciously, and looked up at the ceiling; then he suddenly came to himself, and looked about him hastily, and came down from his perch and disappeared. “ He does n’t wish to hear another note,” said Mary to herself, with a feeling of great sympathy. “ I wonder who he is ! ” and she asked Henry Temple, who arranged his eyeglasses and looked carefully at the deserted steps, as if he could solve the problem by a proper investigation.
The next piece on the programme seemed trivial and uninteresting, and our heroine commented upon it in a way that was far from flattering. “ I wonder why the least attractive part of the performance always follows the best,” she thought, and she was pleased with Mr. Temple’s outraged whisper that it was injustice to give the audience such an inferior thing as this.
But aunt Anne turned to her niece at its close with a radiant face: “It must be twenty years since I have heard that. You can’t think how it has carried me back to the old days,” at which her companions forbore further criticism.
They went home together, and the two ladies, at least, were very tired. Miss Chester leaned back in the corner of the carriage, and announced gravely that she never meant to attend more than half a concert in the future. “ I like music too much,” she explained, “ and a concert of the average length is like a dinner of too many courses, to use an unworthy comparison. I envied a young man who whisked himself off after the symphony. Half a concert would be just enough, but a whole one is too long.”
“ By the way, have you seen young Dean?” asked Mr. Temple. “I don’t know why I was reminded of him just now, I am sure ; ” and Miss Chester forgot her weariness, and sat upright in an instant to reply, “ What young Dean do you mean ? ” and without waiting for his answer she exclaimed, “ Why, when did he come home ? Of course that was Dick Dean whom I saw this morning. It seemed to me then that I ought to remember his face; and again tonight. Don’t you know, I spoke of him this evening. It was he who wished to hear nothing after the symphony ! ” The girl was very eager as she had said all this, and sat waiting for whatever Mr. Temple might have to tell her. Miss Anne looked from one to the other with great curiosity, and wondered what Mary was so excited about, but she did not like to ask. The young man might have even taken that occasion to make his proposal, and it would be an extremely awkward thing for him to be called upon to repeat his sentences.
“ He has been at home a day or two, at least, He came in on the Parthia. I heard him scolding about her in the reading-room at the club, yesterday morning. I believe he is only here for a visit to his uncle. He told me that he had lent his studio to a friend. I imagine that he often does that; he never was to be found there when I was in Paris. An idle fellow, I fear, though very well gifted by nature. It is a pity he had not been poor. I think he would have been sure to achieve something worth doing,” said Mr. Temple, somewhat pompously ; and Miss Chester had only time to return the assurance that she had always remembered him as being the most clever and delightful boy of her set, when she discovered that she had reached the door of her own home. Henry Temple was very kind, and escorted Miss Anne Duncan up the steps with great gallantry. He was well used to being his mother’s squire, and when they were all in the brightly lighted parlor again, he was certainly much to be admired. Mary herself thought she had never seen him look so handsome, as when he waited beside his mother’s chair for her last chapter of reminiscence and opinion to come to its end. The flower in his buttonhole was still unfaded. When the leave-takings were over, Miss Duncan and Miss Anne, and Mrs. Chester even, spoke in his praise, and Mary herself could not say that there was a better fellow in the world. Next day, she went to Hovey’s to do some long-deferred errands; for, like many another Boston girl, she often planned the disposal of her whole time for a fortnight ahead. She took kindly to society life ; she was making the most of a somewhat uncommon talent for painting; and she joined, partly to please her mother, and partly from her own inclination, in various endeavors to prevent pauperism in her native city. She was to read German with a friend, it being the occupation of her Friday mornings from eleven to one, and it was already eleven o’clock, and the friend lived at some distance down Marlborough Street, which was discouraging to her own habit of punctuality. She hurried across the Common, for a message must be left at the house, and she did not notice the footsteps which were rapidly overtaking hers, until she looked up suddenly to find the stranger of the day before, picturesque hat and all, walking alongside.
Of course it was Dick Dean. — as eager and quick to smile as ever ! The hat was hardly touched, he was in such a hurry to shake hands and be sure that he was remembered, and the first greetings over they walked on together, side by side. This old friend had grown taller and browner, and had taken on a fine, half-boyish manliness since Mary had seen him last, many years before ; indeed, they made themselves very merry because their first instinctive salutations of each other had been, “ How you have grown! ” And the girl was touched and saddened at the sight of him ; he was very like his younger sister, who had been her dearest friend, and who had died when they were all three hardly more than children. This was the only real sorrow Mary had known ; and Dick thought of his little sister too, and for a minute they both kept silent, until the remembrance of the old grief had faded away again out of the April day, and Mary said that she had been puzzled the day before when she had noticed him in the street and at the concert. She had been sure that he was a foreigner on his travels.
“ I feel exactly like one,” said the young fellow. “Indeed, Boston is like meeting one’s grandmother in costume at a fancy ball. Here is all the Back Bay for a court train to her plain everyday gown. Was the dome of the State House always gilded? I think that is the best of the changes. This morning early, for a wonder, I could n’t sleep, so I went out-of-doors to see what things were like ; and do you know that there is a chance for a lovely picture, if one stands on Boylston Street, and takes in the brown tops of the elms on the Public Garden and the Common ; the high gables and windowed roofs on this street and Mount Vernon, and the dull gold of the old dome, and a very particularly clear blue sky.”
They loitered for a minute, before Mary ran up the steps, to finish their merry chatter, looking frankly and delightedly in each other’s faces all the while. Mr. Richard Dean promised himself the pleasure of calling very soon. “ I have always meant to apologize to Miss Duncan for breaking one of the front windows with my ball, some time since,” he said by way of parting; and after Miss Chester was in the hall, and had given a message to Becket for her aunt Anne, she thought it had been very foolish of her not to tell her old friend and playmate that she was going down the street directly. She was sure he would have been glad to wait for her; indeed, he had turned that way himself, as she left him. She lingered in the hall for a short time, however, for it would be very foolish to follow him so soon ; it would seem as if she had not been able to resist going out again in quest of him. Becket reappeared presently, burdened with a jar of great pink roses. “ It was Mr. Temple sent them, miss, to the ladies, a few minutes ago. I was just filling the jar with water as you rang.” Mary thought it was very good of Mr. Temple, and crossed the room to pull the leaves out a little, and to enjoy their fragrance. “ Oh, I might have known better,” she told herself, a trifle disappointed ; “ these hybrid roses are only to look at; ” and then she caught sight of the clock, and went away down the hill, and through the side path of the Public Garden, and noticed with admiration that Dick Dean was there also, quite out of reach, but looking about him as he strolled along ; and once he crossed the forbidden grass and stooped to pick something, and placed it in his button-hole. She was sure it must have been a dandelion, which was her own favorite flower.
After this ‘the days flew by, as the spring days always do when there is so much to be done in-doors and out. The flowers are getting ready to bloom; the people are trying to get ready for summer also, some for their holidays and others for their toil ; to some it means idleness and to others business. New clothes are brought home, new plans are made ; the days grow longer and longer, and the leaves of the trees come out, and presently make a shade for the ground ; the nurses and children take shelter under their kindly branches ; one house after another is shuttered and closed, and as for the rest, they put out gay awnings, like flags and banners, as if summer were a queen, who walked up and down Beacon Street every day at the head of a grand procession.
Dick Dean has made his first call, and his second and third, for that matter. The grand-aunts and Mrs. Chester are all delighted with him. The families were always intimate in the old times, and he is a most well-bred and charming fellow. He must be asked to dinner ; but he is placed at Miss Sophia’s right hand, and Mary keeps her post at the foot of the table, next but one away. The guest is vastly entertaining; he has a ringing, clear voice, so that Miss Anne, who is close beside him, hears much that he says without being specially told, and he devotes himself to her in a way that reminds Mary of Henry Temple’s attentions only to make them appear patronizing and clumsy; but she is angry with herself for her disloyalty a moment afterwards. Mr. Dean is able to give late news of some friends in London. It is proved that his studio is there now, and that he knows Mr. Burne Jones and has often met Rossetti, which is more than most persons can say. The ladies have kept themselves well informed of the progress of art and literature, as prominent Bostonians should; they even talk somewhat of English politics, and, to be in keeping with the fact that their immediate ancestors were subjects of the British crown, the elder ladies begin almost unconsciously, as if from force of habit, like their grandmothers, to gossip about the royal family. The young man talks eloquently about some literary persons of tender years and great renown, of whom his listeners have not heard ; he speaks modestly of his own pictures and his plans, and laughingly owns himself to be an idle fellow, who works hard when the fancy seizes him, and finds it terribly hard to keep himself long in harness. “ There is so much to learn and to enjoy in London,” he says. “ I can’t resist spending half my time in tramping about the country, either; it is lovely down in Surrey, and as for North Devon and Cornwall, one can never get enough of them ! I wish I could show you the way around the shore,” he tells Mary eagerly. “ And everybody goes to the Hebrides, you know, since Black wrote A Princess of Thule ; ” while he suddenly thinks that it is Sheila whom Mary is so much like, and turns to look at her earnestly, blushing like a school-boy when she glances up at him, as if to question what his thought may be and why he has stopped speaking. “ She is like a pink hyacinth, or a crocus, or something like that; she belongs to the spring flowers,” he tells himself.
Mary longs to know more of his society life ; she has often heard of his being a good deal of a society man. But he returns to his pictures; and says that he got the idea for the best thing he has ever done in a forlorn court-yard in the east of London, where the river and the old houses were kept apart by no Thames embankment of any sort but the most dismal. Mary wishes to have her aunts see the water-color sketch of his that some friends of theirs brought home a year before, and says that she has always liked it; and the guest is pleased. He means to work very hard when he goes back ; indeed, he is going to do one or two things while he stays in Boston. Some one has offered him a corner of a studio.
They talk about Newport and Nahant, and the changes at Harvard, and Becket is sent away to the library for the last copy of Punch, though if Miss Sophia objects to anything it is to people’s reading at table ; but Dick Dean must show them a capital caricature of a conspicuous society person, which they have not discovered, and Mary rearranges some flowers which have begun to droop in the heat of the gaslight, and gives aunt Anne a sprig of her favorite mignonette, and tosses the young man a dark carnation for his coat. “ They are like port wine,” he says. “ I wonder if the little pale pink ones with a fringe grow in the country gardens as they used. I made a visit in Portsmouth every summer when I was a boy, and I used to drive about in that lovely country the other side of the river. I hope it has not been spoiled.”
“ What does he keep calling things ‘ lovely ’ for ? ” aunt Sophia said snappishly, when the hall door was shut behind him. “I think it is foolish enough for girls to do it. He is very agreeable, but he seems to me to have no distinct purpose in life and little stability. I like to see a young man with some dignity. Henry Temple is far more to be admired, it seems to me.”
“ But they are so different,” said Mary, who had spent a most delightful evening. “ I should as soon think of not admiring Henry as of not respecting King’s Chapel, He has given his whole attention to making himself admirable, you know. Dick Dean is like the champagne and paté, after Henry’s sherry and soup. I think the dinner was very good to-night, but why Becket will insist upon spilling something over his gloves to begin with, I cannot understand.”
“ He is a most faithful and devoted servant,” said aunt Sophia reproachfully ; and Mrs. Chester laughed a little at Mary when the others were not looking. Becket had been the picture of melancholy, and it was an omen of ill fortune to the cheerful guest. “ It is a pity we had not asked some one to meet him,” said Miss Anne, as she rose to go up-stairs ; “ but he seemed to enjoy himself, and it is quite too late for dinners.”
There is no use in wearying the reader with details of the intercourse of Mary Chester’s two lovers ; for such they proved to be, with herself and her family, and with each other. It complicated matters not a little, because the two young men professed, or really felt, a great friendship for each other for a time; but they ceased spending their hours in each other’s society after it was first patent to everybody else, and then to themselves, that they were in love with the same young lady. The month of May and the early weeks of June sped by. On the 15th of June the Duncans and Mrs. Chester and her daughter went annually to their country-place at Beverly. It sometimes seemed late in the season to make the change, but this year the summer had been late in coming, for May was cold and rainy.
It was soon known that Dick Dean and Miss Chester had been seen two or three times coming in from long rides together, and among his friends he was sometimes chaffed a little, He did not touch one of his carefully packed box of brushes, and the corner of the studio which his friend had offered was left without a tenant. He had found a capital horse to keep step with Mary Chester’s, and she rode a great deal that spring.
Aunt Sophia’s insistence upon the late date of flitting to Beverly suited her niece very well that year. Mary and her mother had sometimes gone down earlier by themselves, but it was a movement requiring immense tact and diplomacy.
As for Mr. Temple, he at last took fright, and determined to press his suit. Mary Chester was still very young to marry, and though he had looked forward with increasing ardor to making her his own, it had seemed to him best to leave the time and season of it very much to circumstance and to favoring fortune. He had wished many times, for a year past, that he were entirely sure of her, but he felt little real uneasiness. They were growing more and more used to being together, and he thought he could see that she was becoming more and more attached to him. Until now he never had discovered a rival who seemed at all dangerous, although Miss Chester was much liked and admired. It was a very difficult thing to imagine himself pleading the cause of his heart, as they sat together in the parlors of either his house or hers, in constant expectation of the appearance of his mother or her own, or the aunts, if by any accident they found themselves alone. Her thoughts were not of any fashion of romance as they talked together or met in the street by chance, and he became more and more in earnest and determined to have the question settled in the minds of the world as it already was in his own. It seemed to him the proper thing that he should marry, and he found Mary Chester very pleasing; he really was fonder of her than he ever had been of any one in his life ; besides, it was the chosen wish of his mother’s heart that this girl should be her daughter-in-law.
With Dick Dean the case was quite different : he had been attracted by a dozen girls, who had wielded one sort of attraction or another ; but he had never loved any one as he knew he could love. His few years of adventure and of artist life had amused and delighted him ; he felt still as if he were beginning his intercourse with men and things. He had been praised and flattered by some of his friends, and scolded by others for wasting his time ; but there was good stuff in him; he had lived longer already than his friend Temple, who appeared sometimes like an elderly man. He had often felt that his active life had not begun ; it seemed to him as if he were always waiting for something, — as if the world were a great railway station, where he expected a belated train. He was simply watching the people about him, and trying to amuse himself by reading the placards on the wall, or contemplating the not very wide outlook from the windows. But the train was sure to come, and then all would be different. He looked at Temple with much curiosity ; he could not understand his satisfaction with his prosaic existence. The two men were well matched as to their wealth and respectability; they were by no means partners to be disdained, and each said to himself at last that he would be a single man no longer.
For young Dean’s expected train had whistled at last, and he had fallen deep into love, and Mary Chester knew it; and at first was amazed and then frightened, until she undertook to resent the state of affairs, and spent long hours awake, when she should have been asleep, in thinking of her two lovers, and trying to make sure whom she loved best.
It was an untried and unknown life into which she must enter with Richard Dean, but the future with Temple seemed plain and familiar to her ; it meant a great deal to a conservative and homeloving girl like herself that she should live on in the same dear way, among the well-known and comfortable associations. She could not give up so sweet a certainty for an uncertainty of many risks and dangers. All this process of thought went on while she still simply liked both her lovers, and was only consenting in either case to be loved. She was very ungracious to her family whenever the cause of Henry Temple was mentioned, and this her aunts took for a good sign ; for Mrs. Chester, in these dread days, was paying a visit in New York. It is true that Mary felt very lonely, and that life seemed a great puzzle and very hard to bear. There is no reason why I should marry either of them,” she told herself over and over; but the shadow of a great change not far beyond kept all the sunshine from her sky — until an evening came when she heard that Dick Dean was to join a party of artists who were going abroad directly to sketch in Venice and perhaps the Tyrol, whereupon she wondered that he had not told her himself, and suddenly the question was decided. Nothing that was left behind would be worth caring for if he went away, and this was the spark of news that kindled the great blaze of her love. She could hardly wait to see him again. A great faith in the career he was sure to have had possessed her ; but she forgot even that now ; she looked at his sketches only because he had done them, and not because he had done them well.
So at last a certain Wednesday morning dawned in the middle of June, which was to be a day of great decisions. Dick Dean had been spending a day and night with a friend in Newport, and did not reach town until toward noon. He would not try to go to see Mary until after lunch. She was at the painting lesson which he had longed of late to give her himself, and he should only take up the time of the not very friendly old ladies.
So he strolled along the street under the shade of the Common elms, and looked fondly at the house which had always been her home. One of the maids was giving a last polish for that season to the brasses of the door, and he wished to go and speak to her. It seemed to him as if he had been in Newport a month. Presently Mr. Temple, of all people, was seen approaching, and Mr. Dean, in a strange fit of recklessness, stopped to propose that they should go out riding for a long distance together that afternoon. Mr. Temple was ill at ease; he looked at the sky, and finding no excuse there at last pleaded an engagement with Miss Chester at three o’clock. It was an awful moment to both, but they behaved with great composure, and parted serenely to outward view: one wending his way onward to the Union Club, and the other to the Somerset. If poor Dick had only known it, his rival had asked the interview at three o’clock, which Miss Chester, for lack of any excuse, had granted. “It must be something about the red setter he told me of day before yesterday,” she tried to assure herself. “ He never could mean to say anything else at that time in the afternoon.”
Dick was more miserable than ever. There was something very self-assured and triumphant about Temple, who was not a person he ever wished to see again as long as he lived. It might be that he could go to see Mary early, soon after lunch, which she usually finished by half past two. Perhaps she would go out with him, after all, though it was such short notice. They might have a late afternoon walk or ride ; perhaps it would be the last. But he must speak to her. At any rate, he had brought some messages from Newport. . . .
It was a long time since he had taken his hurried, early breakfast that morning, so he went straight to the diningroom of the club; and in spite of his love and his woe he took a reasonable pleasure in a salad and some other trifles, and afterward, finding that it was not much after one o’clock, he seated himself in a comfortable chair in the reading-room, and tried to beguile himself with the newspapers. He smiled at the placid face of an old fellow who was sleeping soundly in another chair, just opposite. He wondered idly if he had ever fallen in love in his day, and presently — O careless and unreasonable Hare! — he dropped the paper on the floor, and went to sleep himself in the shaded room, with the carriages and carts outside rumbling his lullaby.
There he dreamed, not about Mary Chester at all, but of riding to the hunt in dark November weather in England, and after a time he waked in great alarm. It took him a second or two to remember what he was so anxious about, and then he sprang from his chair and snatched his hat, which was a Derby now, like other young men’s, in spite of Mary’s deprecation. As he went out of the door he found it was three o’clock already, and his only hope was that Temple’s watch might not be right; in fact, he had heard him complain of it more than once of late.
But alas ! as he hurried down the hill he saw the punctual Temple on the opposite side of the way. There was an unpleasant triumphant expression in his very back and the way he held his head. He was walking at his usual dignified pace. He would not hurry, even to see Mary, and at this thought his indignant rival promptly overtook him. And just as the Tortoise prepared to cross the street the Hare ran quickly up the steps. Becket opened the door at once, for a wonder ; he had happened to be standing beside it.
Our heroine was waiting in the library ; she thought it was for Henry Temple, and she wished more and more that he would come and go away again. The aunts had ascended the stairs, and were making arrangements for their afternoon naps. She heard a quick footstep in the hall, but instead of any other voice it was Dick’s, saying, “ Oh, Mary ! ” in a wonderful sort of way, while Temple lingered for one awful, foreboding half minute on the edge of the sidewalk, looking at the closed door.
For in this new version of the story of the Hare and the Tortoise, it was the Hare that won.
Sarah Orne Jewett.