THE apothecary shop in Old Chester stood a little back from the street. There was a garden in front of it, but the fence which inclosed it was broken in places, so that an envious hand, had any such been known in Old Chester, could easily have broken off a cluster of cinnamon roses, or grasped a stately stem of tall white lilies.
The shop itself was but the square front room of Mr. Tommy Dove’s old stone house. One of the windows had been cut down to make a door, so that customers might not wear out the whiteand-gray oil-cloth in his mother’s entry ; and the two front doors, side by side, were perhaps more of a distinguishing feature than the small pestle and mortar, which, suspended by some wires from an upper window, had long ago given to the wind and rain what gilding they possessed.
It was since Mrs. Dove’s death that the fence had fallen out of repair, and wayfarers might be tempted by the bloom and richness of the garden ; and since her death, too, the old front door had not been opened, and the gray house had lost its individuality as a home to become merely the apothecary shop.
Yet in spite of the closed shutters of the upper rooms and the silent entries, Tommy Dove still tried to feel that he had a home. He was glad to close the shop at night, first fixing the cord of the jangling bell, that he might be summoned if he were needed, and, going back into the kitchen, eat the somewhat uncomfortable supper which had been prepared for him by the woman who took charge of the house. He would open a book beside his plate, and eat, and read, and dream until Mrs. McDonald’s heavy step warned him that she was impatient to put the kitchen to rights for the night. On such occasions Tommy would rub his hands together, and listen to his kettle singing on the fire, and think how cozy he was, yet with a sort of disappointment in himself, and a dim consciousness that he was losing some richness in his life, as he remembered, with a pang, that he was not grieving for his mother ; and there was always the effort to drive his thoughts back to his own loneliness.
“ Ah, it ’s hard on a man to have to make his own tea, and look after his household affairs ! ”
It pleased the apothecary to say “household affairs,” and it pleased him yet more to meditate upon them in silence, with no shrill interruptions or commands. After long suppression and distrust, it was with a kind of wondering joy that this obedient son found the keys of the china-closet and the linenpress in his possession. True, their contents had no especial value, — “An ill-favored thing, sir, but mine own.” So he counted the sheets and pillowcases, and laid fresh sprigs of lavender among them with his own hands, and cautioned Mrs. McDonald to be careful in washing his old blue cups and saucers. He wished that she would not always reply, “ Yes. yes, Mr. Tommy. Don’t fret, dear.” She meant it kindly, he was sure, but it hurt his new-born dignity a little.
“ If mother had only called me Thomas instead of Tommy,’' he thought, “people would have treated me with more respect.”
But if a man’s own family snub him, he need not hope for anything more reverent than kindness from his immediate world. In a vague way Mr. Tommy realized this, and accepted the friendly nickname without a protest.
Part of the joy of being a proprietor expressed itself in the apothecary’s garden. He no longer rose early to weed it, dearly as he loved it, and much as he missed those hours of dawn among his flowers. The tropæolums should trail half-way across the gravel path if they wanted to, and the sweet-peas might clamber up into the white rose if it pleased them. Tommy would not train them. He sometimes thought he knew how they felt. The broken fence did trouble him a little, but that it should not be mended was his unconscious protest at the past.
Yet he did bestir himself in this matter a week before the Temples came back to Old Chester. He was unwilling that Mr. Temple should see any disorder about the shop, or little Dick Temple, who used to beg for seeds from the balloon-vine to crack against his rosy cheek, or Miss Jane. They must not think he neglected his plants. So it was really a relief to him when he went out to his kitchen, one June evening, to know that the fence was mended, and not a single weed had hidden among the flowers. He seated himself by the open kitchen window, and, rocking slowly back and forth, stirred his tea with a small, thin spoon. The morning-glories outside made a frame for the distant hills, and for the yellow sunset with its filmy bars of gray cloud. Tommy was thinking how long it was since the great house at the other end of the village had been opened. Yes, it was surely eight years ago that the Temples had been in Old Chester. He tried to adjust his thought of Dick. “ Why, he must be quite a boy,” he said. Then he reflected how the Temples would sympathize with him because of his mother’s death. That they knew all about it the apothecary did not doubt. Was it not the most important event of his life? He wondered if Miss Jane had changed much ; he even sighed a little as he thought of her. Miss Jane Temple, living in her brother’s rich, comfortable house, with strong, bright interests all around her, seemed to this silent and somewhat timid man like a being from another world. Henry Temple’s light-hearted indifference to everything outside of his own life had always awed the apothecary; but Miss Jane, in spite of her different world, was not like her brother, — she was quite simple, Tommy Dove thought, and gentle; so that when he saw her alone, on those rare days when she came to the shop, he was not at all afraid of her.
“ Yes,” he said to himself, putting his cup and saucer down on the broad white window-sill, “ I should n’t wonder a bit if she came in to tell me she sympathized with me, she’s so kind.”
And he was right in thinking Jane Temple would condole with him. She heard of Mrs. Dove’s death soon after her return, and knowing less of the character of the deceased than most of Old Chester, she came very soon to the apothecary shop to say, with tears in her eyes, that she had heard of Mr. Tommy’s loss, and she was so sorry. She was thinking of her own mother as she spoke, and the time when she was the guarded treasure of the big white house on the hill.
She had walked up the smooth gravel path with little Effie Temple hanging upon her hand, and she stood now at the low stone step. Mr. Tommy, leaning on his half-door and looking absently at the bloom and tangle of his garden, straightened up as he saw her coming, and hurried out to take the hand she extended, and to stumble through some sort of greeting.
“ And who is this little girl ? ” he inquired, buttoning his coat up to his chin with nervous fingers. The child’s calm stare disconcerted him even more than Miss Jane’s presence.
“This is my niece Effie,” Miss Jane answered, smiling, for the child did not speak. “ She was a baby when we left Old Chester.”
“ Oh, yes,” replied Mr. Tommy, — “ oh, dear me, yes, indeed. I remember there was a baby. Won’t you step in, Miss Jane ? — and perhaps the little girl will let me make some hollyhock ladies to amuse her.”
Effie frowned, but looked interested. “ BY hat are hollyhock ladies ? ” she demanded.
Her aunt did not go into the shop, though Mr. Tommy held the half-door hospitably open.
“ I ’ll just wait down here,” she said; and while Mr. Tommy went over to the row of hollyhocks, and, standing bareheaded in the sunshine, began to fill his hat with the silky blossoms, white and buff, rose-color and deep wine-red, she sat resting on the warm, broad step. She watched the row of pigeons sunning their white breasts on the ridgepole of the old barn, and listened to their long, rippling coo. A shadow from the honeysuckle about the door blew back and forth across the path, and up from the garden came the scent of sweet-elyssum and mignonette.
When Mr. Tommy came back, Effie. with her hands behind her and grave, unresponsive face, watched him strip off the calyx and bend back the petals, leaving a puffy yellow ball with nodding plumes upon a slender neck. The apothecary’s fingers seemed all thumbs under the cool gaze of the child, but he managed to tie a blade of grass around the middle of the folded petals.
“ That is a sash,” he explained nervously.
“ I think,” observed Effie, slowly, “ that nobody would know they were intended for ladies.”
“ Oh, Effie, dear!” said Miss Jane, pleadingly. But Tommy hastened to agree with the child.
“Oh, no,” he said. “Oh, dear me, of course not. They don’t look at all like ladies. But when I was a little boy I used to think they did, and I made whole families of them when the hollyhocks were in blossom; they were my dolls, you know.”
“ I did n’t know boys played with dolls,” Effie answered.
But Miss Jane looked distressed and apologetic, and it was perhaps because she feared Mr. Tommy’s feelings had been hurt that she went through the shop into the small sitting-room beyond, and listened while he told her of his mother’s sickness and death. But Effie’s presence embarrassed him so much that, with a nervous desire to propitiate her, he opened the door of his cornercloset, and took out a cup and saucer of thin, fine china. There were little faded lavender flowers scattered over it, and the gilt upon the handle was somewhat worn, but it was delicate and pretty, and Tommy, standing in a streak of sunshine, with one lean hand upon the door of his closet, looked with wistful blue eyes at Effie.
“ Perhaps,” he said, “ the little girl will take this little gift. I would be pleased if she would accept it.”
“ Oh, it is so pretty, Mr. Tommy,” said Miss Jane. It would not have been kind to decline it, she thought, since Effie had been so naughty. “ Say thank you, Effie. Indeed, you are too good, Mr. Tommy.” And, in her mild way, as they walked home, she reproved the child because she had not seemed pleased.
But Effie was never known to hesitate for an excuse.
“ Well, but, aunty,” she explained. “ why should that man give me a cup and saucer? Haven’t we hundreds of cups and saucers ? And he kept calling me " little girl,’ — and his ridiculous old hollyhock ladies! ”
This little visit of Miss Jane’s gave Tommy Dove much to reflect upon.
How gentle she was, how low her voice, how condescending her manner! Mr. Tommy knew no better than to call Miss Jane’s timidity condescension, but that did not make him less happy. There was no one in Old Chester in the least like her, he thought; and then he fell to meditating upon his loneliness. He wondered how life would have seemed if his mother had not hated Mary Ellen Boyce, and the one dawn of love in all his cramped and timid life had been allowed to brighten into day. Yet, curiously enough, he found himself regretting his mother’s sternness less than he had ever done before.
He thought of his talk with Miss Jane so often that week, that, without quite knowing why, he found himself, at the close of the Wednesday evening prayermeeting, waiting outside the church door. But Miss Jane, stopping to speak to old friends, was so long in coming out that most of the congregation had dispersed ; so Tommy, quite naturally, began to walk beside her as he said " Good-evening,” and hoped that she “ found herself very well.”
Miss Jane answered with a gentle cordiality, which the apothecary thought beautiful, but all the while she looked anxiously up the moonlit road, which wound like a white ribbon back among the hills. “ I asked Dick to meet me,” she explained, “ but very likely he has forgotten it. He is such a good boy, Dick is. but sometimes he forgets.” Miss Jane’s love was not of the fibre which demands the best in its beloved.
“If,” said Mr. Tommy, eagerly, —
“ if you will allow me to walk along with you, ma’am " —
“ Oh, no, indeed, Mr. Tommy,” she answered, quite fluttered and hesitating. “ The lane is as quiet as can be, and the moon has made it as light as day. Oh, no, indeed.”
But the apothecary urged her again with respectful anxiety.
“You ought not to be alone, if you 'll allow me to say so, Miss Jane.” And so he went to the very door of Henry Temple’s house. Miss Jane had so many questions to ask about Old Chester, and he had so much to tell her, that the walk was a pleasant one to them both; and, with a friendly impulse, as she said good-night and thanked him for his kindness, she asked him if he would not come in.
It was with a strange sensation that, standing in the shadows at the foot of the white steps, Tommy Dove declined what he had never dreamed would be offered to him. But he did it, and then went back to his shop, and, sitting down behind the counter, leaned his head on his hands and thought it all over. He hoped that he had expressed himself well; “ elegantly ” was the word in Tommy’s mind. He felt sure that his conversation about his books had been very genteel, but he doubted a little if it had not been vulgar to speak of such common things as the snails and rosebugs in his garden. This troubled him. and he was not quite happy when he lighted his candle and went up-stairs to his bedroom, under the eaves.
Miss Jane had enjoyed the walk home, but she was a little relieved that Mr. Tommy had not accepted her invitation “ There are no lights in the parlor,” she said to herself, “ and I could n’t have taken him into the library.”
When she opened the library door, her sweet elderly face flushed by the night air, and her eyes dazzled by the light, Henry Temple glanced up at her over his glasses long enough to say, “Well, Janey ? ” and then settled back into his newspaper ; but Dick sprang up from his seat beside his mother’s sofa with a conscience-stricken look.
“ Oh, aunty,” he exclaimed, “ what a lout I am! I forgot all about prayermeeting ! ”
“ Why, Richard ! ” said his mother in dismay, and Mr. Temple put down his paper to say, “ Were you to go for your aunt ? I’m ashamed of you, sir ! ”
“ Oh, it is no matter, dear brother,” protested Miss Jane, her face shining with affection ; “ never mind, Dick. As though one could n’t come home alone in Old Chester ! — though, really, I did n’t ; Mr. Dove walked back with me.”
“ Dove ? ” said Henry Temple. “ Oh, Mr. Tommy? Yes. Well, that was really very nice in him. Did n’t his mother die last winter ? Dick, you cub, have you apologized to your aunt ? Janey, while I think of it, just see that my gun-case is mended, will you ? The baize is torn at one end.”
“ And, aunty,” Dick said, penitently, “ if you ’ll forgive me this time, I ’ll go with you, as well as for you, next week. It’s this beastly translation ; just look at that stuff ! — Finditur nodus cordis ” —
Miss Jane took off her bonnet, and leaned over Dick’s shoulder : ever since the days in which she taught him his A B C’s, she had been impressed by her nephew’s learning, but she did not comment upon it now.
“ Yes, she died in January,” she said, slowly. “ He must be very lonely.”
No one answered her : each member of the family had its own occupations and interests, and Miss Jane’s pity was as unnoticed as the fall of a rose-leaf outside in the tranquil night.
The library was such a pleasant room, though it was dim with cigar smoke that evening, that it was easy to shut out other people’s affairs and be simply comfortable. The window on the south side had a broad, leather - cushioned seat, where Effie Temple was curled up reading by the light of a hanging lamp. The lattices were open, and the soft June air and the climbing roses came in together from the moonlit night. The walls were lined with books, and in the corners were racks for fishing-rods; a pair of spurs had been thrown down upon th ; table, already littered with papers and letters and bits of unfinished fancy-work. A liver-colored pointer had fallen asleep beside Mrs. Temple’s sofa, her delicate hand resting lovingly on his sleek head, and a collie was stretched at the feet of the master of the house.
Miss Jane felt, vaguely, that this careless comfort was the reason of the indifference to the outside world. Mr. Tommy’s sorrow could not touch any one here, and for that reason, perhaps, she kept it in her own heart; possibly because the interests of her life were not her own, but other people’s, Miss Jane’s heart had more room for Mr. Tommy’s griefs.
“Really,” said Mrs. Temple that night to her husband, after she had eaten the bowl of delicate gruel her sisterin-law had brought her, — “ really, Janey is a great help ; you have no idea how much, in a small way, she relieves me.”
“ I 've not a doubt of it,” responded Henry Temple, pausing with his bootjack in one plump white hand. “Janey has n’t any mind, particularly, but she is a very good sort of person to depend upon. It’s lucky for us she never married.”
“ Well,” said Mrs. Temple, doubtfully, “ it is for us, Henry — but, perhaps, — don’t you think for Jane it is n’t so lucky ? I ’m almost sorry for Jane. Not but what she’s contented, — in your house she could n’t be anything else, — but a woman ’s happier to be married, my dear.”
She smiled at him, adoringly ; possibly her sister-in-law’s usefulness had protected the romance of Euphemia Temple’s life, and kept her blind to facts. But her husband laughed. Henry Temple’s laugh was so frequent and so cordial that every one felt him to be the most good-natured fellow in the world.
“ Nonsense ! ” he said ; “ she ’s happy enough. What could she want better ? A comfortable home, a chance to travel sometimes, — and I’m sure we are all really fond of Janey ! No, no, she’s happy enough. Besides, she might not have found a good husband.”
And Mrs. Temple assented, with a sigh of thankfulness for her own blessings.
Miss Jane thought very often of Mr. Tommy’s sorrow. She saw him once or twice in the village after that walk home from prayer-meeting, and she met him again in the west pasture, where she had gone to look for wild strawberries for her sister-in-law, — a task which could not be entrusted to the dull eyes of servants, and Dick was too busy, and Effie did not like the July sun even as late as five o’clock.
Miss Jane had stopped to rest upon a ledge of rock, which the roots of a walnut-tree grasped like the fingers of a wrinkled hand. She liked to hear the rustle of the wind in the sweet-fern at her side, and the shrill cry of the crickets. She took off her broad hat, and smoothed back a lock of her pale brown hair ; then she watched a wandering butterfly light upon a swaying stalk of mullein, and slowly open and close his velvety wings. She was wondering, her eyes fixed absently upon the brown butterfly, if it would be very long before her brother opened the old house again, — this country life was very dear to Jane Temple, — so she did not hear Mr. Tommy’s step, and his voice startled her when he said timidly, “ Good-evening, ma’am.”But she was distinctly glad to see him ; he was part of Old Chester to Miss Jane. The apothecary’s arms were full of pennyroyal, and he buried his face in it once or twice, as though its fragrance delighted him, though really it was only to hide his embarrassed joy.
“ I 'vc been picking pennyroyal,” he said, as if its aromatic perfume needed any explanation ; “ it grows very thickly on the East Common.” Then, a little awkwardly, he pulled out half a dozen sprays from his bunch, and offered them to Miss Jane. “ Some like it,” he observed.
“ I do,” answered Miss Jane; and from that it was easy to fall to talking of his garden, and how dear Old Chester was to Miss Jane, and how sorry she should be when November came, and she must leave it— “And it may be very long before we come back again,” she ended, with a sigh.
They were both so interested they had not noticed how the shadows had lengthened, and then faded into the gray, warm dusk ; but when they did, Miss Jane rose, nervously.
“ Dear me,”she said, “ how late it is ! I must make haste ! ”
Tommy stumbled along at her side over the uneven ground, trying to see the path through his great bunch of pennyroyal. “ Miss Jane,” he said, a little breathless as he tried to keep pace with her, “ if — if you ’ll let me, I ’ll bring you a bunch of those cinnamon roses I told you of.”
“ Why, indeed, I shall be very glad to have them,” she answered. “ You are so kind. But I 'm afraid it will be a trouble, Mr. Dove.”
These little talks with the apothecary had lent him a new dignity in Miss Jane’s eyes, and she no longer called him “ Mr. Tommy.”
“ Why,” he protested, — “ why, it will be the greatest pleasure in the world, the greatest pleasure in the world ! ”
He walked to Henry Temple’s gate with her, and then stood peering between the iron bars at her small figure hurrying along the driveway under the overhanging trees.
Miss Jane was late, and she came breathlessly into the dining-room, to find the family at tea.
“ Well, Janey,” said her brother, “ we began to think you were going to spend the night in the fields ! ”
“ I am so sorry,” Jane answered, with anxious contrition. “ I really did n’t know how late it was. Have you tried to make the tea, dear sister ? Do let me take your place. I ’m sure you are tired, and — I ’m so sorry ! ”
“ But what happened to you, Janey ? ” Mr. Temple asked, good-naturedly ; he had finished his curry, and could afford to be interested in small matters. “ I suppose you have brought home a bushel of strawberries ? ”
“ No, she has n’t! ” cried Effie, shrilly, from her perch on Dick’s knee. “ She has n’t been picking strawberries all this time. I went out to meet her, so I did, an’ I got to the pasture bars, an’ then I did n’t go any further, ’cause I saw aunty sitting under the big walnut with Mr. Tommy Dove,—an’ I don’t like that Mr. Tommy Dove.”
“ What ? ” exclaimed Henry Temple, his eyes full of amusement. “ This is very surprising, Jane ! ”
“ Aunty, I II get the strawberries for you, next time ! ” said Dick, with a laugh.
Miss Jane tried to make her somewhat weak voice heard. “I — I was just going to say, dear brother ”—she began, her anxious face hot with blushes —“ I met Mr. Dove; he came across the pasture, and I was resting — and he ” —
“ Yes, yes, we understand,” said her brother, pushing his chair back. “ Euphemia, I think Jane will prefer that Effie is kept at home in the afternoons. Effie, confine yourself to large facts, my child : say you went to meet your aunt, but spare the details. Eh, Jane ? ”
His jolly laugh drowned her answer, and he did not wait for her to repeat it; indeed, the whole matter went out of his mind, nor did it occur to him again until a week later, when Mrs. Temple, with a droll look, told him that Mr. Tommy had brought Miss Jane a bunch of cinnamon roses, and had stayed talking with her upon the porch for nearly an hour.
“ Well, now, see here,”he said, as he flung his head back, with a laugh; “ it ’s absurd, of course, but really Jane must be careful. It‘s very well to be kind and neighborly, — nobody believes in that sort of thing more than I do, — only, it must n’t turn into ‘ Love’s Offering,’ Euphemia.”
He was even careful to drop a goodnatured sarcasm concerning Mr. Tommy in Miss Jane’s presence, and had a moment of uncomfortable surprise in seeing his sister’s face flush a little. But, after all, Jane was a woman and a Temple, and was but properly kindhearted ; so he ceased to be thoughtful for the apothecary, and spared him his ridicule.
The taking that bunch of roses to Miss Jane had been a great pleasure to Mr. Tommy. He thought of it so continuously that he was strangely absentminded when he mixed his powders and potions, thereby causing no little anxiety to some nervous customers. He began to say to himself that Miss Jane had received his little nosegay with such kindness that he wished he had something better to give her. After meditating for several days upon this subject, it occurred to him that there was a certain blue chest in the garret, which held women’s gowns and some small fineries of his mother’s. Yet it was not until he had once more walked home from prayer-meeting with her that he made up his mind to open it, and see if it contained anything worthy of Henry Temple’s sister.
The Dove house was full of the slumberous silence of the August afternoon, when Tommy climbed the dusty stairs to search the blue chest. The garret under the roof was very hot, and there was a scorched smell from the wormeaten rafters, that mingled with the pungent fragrance of herbs which were drying upon the floor. A blue fly buzzed fitfully up and down one of the small panes of glass in the window, and the hot silence was accented by the tick of the death-watch in the wall, or the muffled stir of bird life under the eaves outside. Against the brick chimney, which was rough with lines of mortar, were spiders’ webs, gray with the dust of years ; and in a tarnished brass warming-pan was a family of mice, that started at Tommy’s step, the mother peering at him with bright, anxious eyes, and then running across the floor to hide beneath a loosened plank.
Tommy propped the window open with a broken sandal-wood box, which held nothing more valuable than some old yellow letters ; the blue fly spread his wings and tumbled out into the sunshine, and the fresh air came in, in a warm, sweet gust. Then he lifted the lid of the chest and looked in. There was a vague regret for himself in Tommy’s mind that the contents roused no sacred sorrow ; indeed, he was much more conscious of what a refuge the garret had been to him in his boyhood, when he longed to escape from the sharp, scolding voice to which he never dared reply ; but he forgot this as he lifted out two gowns and examined them critically. One was of shimmering gray, with small bunches of purple flowers scattered over it, and the other of thin changeable silk. He held them out at arm’s-length and reflected.
They did not seem quite like the dresses Miss Jane wore, but he could not tell why. Then a thought struck him. He looked towards the door by which he had entered, and though he knew that in the empty house there were no other curious eyes than those of the gray mouse, he stepped back across the uneven floor, and shut and bolted the door. There was a mirror in one corner, hanging high upon the discolored wall; its worn gilt frame flung a shadow on its powdery surface, but Mr. Tommy, standing on tiptoe, and holding the gray dress up in front of him, could catch a glimpse of the high waist and balloon sleeves. He shook his head : the dresses would not do, he thought; they did not look like Miss Jane. He laid the gowns down upon a cowhide trunk, upon the lid of which Dove was marked in brass nailheads, and began his search again.
There was not much to hope for among the bonnets and chintz gowns and queer mantillas, but almost at the bottom of the chest he found a square package folded in silvered paper. This he opened anxiously. It contained a pale pea-green crêpe shawl, embroidered along the edge, and with heavy silk fringe laid straight and smooth. Tommy breathed quick with pleasure. He could not have explained it, but this seemed as though it belonged to Miss Jane. He replaced the other things, and then closed the lid and sat down upon it.
He shook the shawl out of its folds of forty years, and held it up to dusk and gleam in the sunshine. Yes, it was certainly beautiful, and it was the very thing for Miss Jane. But how should he give it to her ? Was it best to wrap it up again, or to throw it over his arm, and just remark — incidentally ? He lifted the silvered paper that it might help him to decide, but it fell apart along the worn creases. After all, that settled it. He would carry it to her folded across his arm; it would make too much of it to present her with a packet.
He shut the small window, and stopped to turn the pennyroyal over, and then he left the old garret to its hot stillness.
The apothecary was not in a position to know that Henry Temple was entertaining some gentlemen at dinner that evening, but it would have spared him some pain could he have guessed it. As it was, he was impatient for the tall clock in the shop to strike eight, that, with the shawl upon his arm, he might walk up the shadowy lane to the white house on the hill.
As Mrs. Temple was too great an invalid to be present on such occasions, Miss Jane took the head of her brother’s table. She was so silent and timid a hostess that by degrees Henry Temple’s friends had ceased to feel that politeness made it necessary to try to include her in their conversation. Miss Jane had no small feminine opinions upon social or political problems, and she was filled with mild astonishment to learn that their talk of der Aberglaube was a religions discussion ; indeed, she rarely knew what they were talking about, and it was always a relief to her when she was allowed to leave them to their cigars and wine, and retire to the parlor. There, on this still August evening, she sat nervously waiting to give them their coffee, while Tommy was hastening up the hill. There was a bowl of roses on the table beside her, and she was trying, by the light of two candles in the twisted arms of a tall candelabrum, to read one of her brother’s learned books. Miss Jane was constantly “ improving her mind. ’ As Tommy caught a glimpse of her through one of the open French windows, it seemed to him that there was a halo round her bending head, such as he had seen about the gracious faces of pictured saints.
It was unfortunate that at that moment Henry Temple and his guests should have been coming, with talk and laughter, through the hall. It was impossible not to see Tommy’s shrinking figure in the doorway, his small face quivering with embarrassment, and the green shawl upon his arm making a spot of white under the porch lamp.
“ What does this person want, Jane ? ” her brother said in a low, annoyed tone.
“ I — I must ask you to excuse me, brother,” she answered, frightened, yet with the loyalty of a gentle heart. " I think Mr. Dove has come to see — me.”
Henry Temple frowned. “ Very well,” he said, briefly ; and then, with his charming, cordial voice, he joined again in the drawing-room conversation of the men, explaining with good-natured carelessness that they must pour out the coffee for themselves.
The apothecary followed Miss Jane to the library, but he would not sit down ; he stood first on one foot and then on the other, nervously rolling the shawl into a muff to hide his hands.
“ I 'll go right home again, ma’am,” he said. “ I won’t interrupt you — I won’t stay.”
“ Oh, please don’t go, Mr. Dove,” Miss Jane remonstrated, tremulously. “ My brother is — is occupied, but I ’ll be glad if you will stay and talk to me.”
So Tommy stayed a little while. Once, when Henry Temple came in to find some book, he rose, and said, ” Goodevening, sir,” with respectful timidity. Mr. Temple’s good-nature was restored by that time, and he answered, “Oh, how are you, Mr. Tommy ? ” in a way which warmed the apothecary’s heart. He did not stay long after that, but when he rose to go it took some little time to find suitable language in which to present his gift to Miss Jane. He stumbled over his words as he tried to tell her that he hoped she would accept it. “ If you will please to take it,” he ended, holding the shawl out to her entreatingly.
Miss Jane was as confused as he. “Indeed, Mr. Dove”— she protested.
“ It was my — my dear mother’s,” he said, imploringly. “I 'd like to think you were wearing it. There never was anybody else I could have given it to except Mary Ellen Boyce, and mother did n’t like her, Miss Jane ; and — if — if you would just be willing ” —
“ Why,” said Miss Jane, the tears coming into her eyes with embarrassed pleasure, “ I hardly know how to refuse, you are so kind, and it is so beautiful ; only I —I ought not to accept it, you know.”
“ Oh, please do, ma’am ! ” burst out Tommy.
And Miss Jane could only take it, touching it with her white fingers in womanly enjoyment of its exquisite texture. “ Why, it ’s as fine as a cobweb,” she said. “ You are too kind, Mr. Dove.”
Tommy went home thrilled with happiness. Miss Jane thought him kind, — she had taken his little present, and said it was beautiful! The very existence of Mary Ellen Boyce faded out of his mind; his heart beat high with pride; he said to himself that he really did not know what he should do when Miss Jane went away from Old Chester.
Perhaps that was the moment when a vague, undefined thought came into the apothecary’s mind. Perhaps she need not go away! Tommy was actually frightened at himself. “ Why,” he said aloud, “ if Miss Jane knew I had thought of such a thing, she would be very angry with me.”
Then the image of Henry Temple presented itself, and Tommy shivered. Nevertheless, with a sort of awful pleasure, he said again, “ Perhaps she need not go away.”
That was the first of half a dozen calls. Miss Jane began not only to enjoy them, but to look forward to them. It was impossible not to be touched by the subtle flattery of Tommy’s timidity ; and, after that, his honest belief in her judgment, which dared to be admiration, and the simplicity with which he began to show how happy he was if he could but be near her, caused a deepening interest in Miss Jane’s mind. Perhaps her pleasure was greater because her brother had been called away from home for a few weeks, and she did not fear his sarcasms. The amused and annoyed looks of Mrs. Temple and Dick hurt her only when she saw them ; she began to feel a certain bravery for her own life which she had never known before. Dearly as she loved these dear people, and absorbed as she was in their interests, she began to see that it was possible that she might have an interest which should be all her own, and to realize that there was room in the life which they had seemed to fill for an affection which did not need their sanction. She began to have a feeling of proprietorship; a new and trembling dignity crept into her manner. To be sure, it could be overthrown by a word. Effie’s remark that the green crêpe shawl she had boldly thrown across her shoulders was a hideous old thing made her quick to put it away ; but there were some rose-geranium leaves from one of Tommy’s nosegays between its soft folds. The alteration in her manner was so slight, however, that Henry Temple, at least, would never have noticed it, or been particularly concerned that the apothecary should call, had not Tommy’s first visit after his return fallen upon an evening when her brother needed Miss Jane’s services.
“ Really, Euphemia,” he said, on finding that Miss Jane had been summoned to the parlor to see Mr. Dove, “ is n’t this thing getting to be something more serious than a bore ? ”
Mr. Temple was standing with his back to the fire, his elbows on the mantelshelf behind him, and a cigar between his fingers. His handsome face showed decided annoyance. “ I wanted Jane to copy some manuscript for me, and here comes this confounded apothecary to delay me. What business has the fellow to be here, anyhow ? What is Jane thinking of to allow it ? ”
As Mr. Temple reflected upon his own inconvenience, his irritation increased.
“ It’s clear enough what he’s thinking of,” said Dick, who was lounging about the room, with his hands in his pockets : " he ’s in love with aunty ; the romance of the apothecary is a perfect nuisance in this household. I wanted her to mend my cap for me to-night. Effie, you humbug, why don’t you learn to sew and mend your brother’s things ? ” “'Cause,” Effie replied concisely ; and then she added, " He met me in the village yesterday, that Mr. Tommy Dove did, an’ he asked me if aunty was going to be at home last night, an’ I told him no, she was n’t.”
“ But, Eflie, dear,” protested her mother from the sofa, “ she was at home ! ”
“ I know it,” said Effie calmly, “but I did n’t want him round ; she promised to play backgammon with me.”
Mrs. Temple’s troubled remonstrance was drowned in her husband’s rollicking laugh.
“ Well done, Ef! ” he said; “ but the ecclesiastical game should teach you a regard for truth, — though, on the whole, no; it would have the opposite result. Don’t play it, child, if its effect upon your morals is so evident. But, seriously, Euphemia— Go to bed, Effie, and remember, I will not allow untruthfulness ; ” and when she had gone pouting up-stairs, for a punishment which it chanced to be convenient to her father to administer, — for the child’s presence was a restraint in a conversation of this nature, — he finished his sentence : " I don’t like this at all. Has this person been coming here to see Jane ? ”
“ Yes, he has,” said Dick, who was sitting on the arm of his mother’s sofa, and examining the loop of his ridingwhip critically. " It’s perfectly preposterous. Something ought to be done.”
“ Oh, Richard, dear,” said his mother in her weak voice, “ don’t say such a thing to your father. It is nothing, my dear; he has called occasionally, but I’ve no doubt it has only been about — about my medicine.”
“ Nonsense,” said her husband, briefly, with an annoyed glance at the clock.
“ Dick, just tell me how long this thing has been going on, will you ? I won’t get that manuscript off to-night ! ”
“ Well,” Dick answered, “ he has been coming once a week, certainly. In fact, I think this is the second time this week. Mother, darling, you must take a good deal of medicine ? ”
“ But there’s no harm, Henry,” she said, anxiously. “ Sometimes I think we are almost selfish about Janey. We expect her to be satisfied to have only our pleasures, not her own ! ”
“ Now, Euphemia,” Mr. Temple answered, gesticulating with his halfsmoked cigar, “ you really must not be absurd, you know. I 'm perfectly willing for Jane to have her own pleasures when they are reasonable or proper. But I don’t propose to receive the apothecary at my house to divert Jane Temple, — granted it is only diversion, and nothing more serious. But I 'm inclined to think it is more serious. Do you want Tommy for a brother-in-law, my dear ?
“ If Janey were fond of him” — Mrs. Temple said, trembling.
“ Euphemia,” responded her husband, “ you have heard me remark, I think, that I hate a fool; now try and understand, please, that I am only anxious for Jane’s best happiness. Do you suppose she could be happy with such a person as this Tommy Dove? Pshaw! It is n’t to be considered seriously, — it is preposterous ! ”
He flung his cigar down on the smouldering logs with an angry exclamation.
“Your father will have his joke,” Mrs. Temple said, looking at her son, with wistful apology for her husband. “ Of course, dear, I know you only do what is best for us all. No doubt it would be a great mistake for Janey; I only thought ” —
“Don’t think,” interrupted Henry Temple, with a laugh; " it is one of the greatest mistakes. Just accept things, my dear, as they are, and don’t argue about them. That’s what I am going to do now, and end it. ”
“ And what aunty will do, also, ” Dick said, grimly.
“ I think not” returned his father, with equal grimness.
All this time, Mr. Tommy, unusually nervous, but very happy, was sitting in the chilly parlor with Miss Jane. He had come to Henry Temple’s house that night with a purpose. He knew that Miss Jane would very soon go away from Old Chester, perhaps not to return for years, and unless he could persuade her to stay, who could tell whether he might ever see her again ? And though he trembled at his own presumption, he meant to try to persuade her. He had dreamed of this moment for weeks; every word to her had been uttered with the distinct intention of encouraging himself, every look had betrayed his thought.
Mr. Tommy had felt vaguely that the atmosphere of the place was against him. Yet Effie was the embodiment of its antagonism, he thought, rather than the master of the house, and so of late he had, in many humble little ways, tried to propitiate the child. He had gathered small nosegays, and, tying a bit of bright ribbon about them with awkward fingers, had offered them to Miss Jane, with the request that she should give them to “the little girl.” He never knew that though she thanked him, and told him he “ was so kind to remember Effie,” the flowers went no further than Miss Jane’s own dressingtable, or the white stand at her bedside, where she kept her Bible, and Thomas a Kempis, and small good books. Nor did a game, which he had purchased in the village, fare any better, nor a picture of a girl and a dog. But as Mr. Tommy never guessed the destination of his gifts, he was not discouraged, and so continued to offer them, with unabated hope that the contemptuous Effie would soon dislike him less.
On this sharp October night, he had brought in the pocket of his black coat six little red-cheeked apples. He polished them stealthily upon his sleeve as he climbed the hill, and when he laid them in a row upon the table in front of Miss Jane, they actually shone in the lamplight.
“ They are paradise apples,”he said, “ and I brought them for the little girl. I thought may be she would like them.”
Miss Jane was very nervous that evening ; perhaps she had guessed the intention of the apothecary’s call: at all events, her mild face was full of anxious indecision, though she was strangely happy.
“ Indeed, you are too good, Mr. Dove,” she said. She had hurried upstairs for the green shawl when he had been announced, and she drew it now a little closer about her shoulders. “ Those paradise apples are so pretty.”
“ They are rather sour,” Tommy answered, doubtfully, “ but they seemed pretty, and I thought the little girl might like to play with them.”
“ We had one of those trees in the lower garden, when I was a child,”said Miss Jane, ‘‘but it is dead now; the garden has run wild in all these years we have been away. I wish brother could live here, and it could be taken care of, and look as it used to.”
“ Do you ? ” Tommy said, slowly. He was not particularly anxious that Mr. Henry Temple should remain in Old Chester.
“ Yes,” she responded ; “ but I suppose it would be too lonely in the winter.”
The apothecary hastened to agree with her in this, and to tell her how desolate the great house looked in the winter, when the snow drifted across the porch, or lay unbroken on the window ledges and the thresholds. “ It’s so high on the hill, ma’am,” he explained, “that the wind just sweeps it all the time. But it ’s pleasanter in the valley, Miss Jane.”
Then they talked of Old Chester as it was long ago, and Miss Jane reminded him of the coast on the West Common. “ The gypsies used to camp there in the summer, — do you remember? — but in the winter we children used to go sledding. I had a blue sled, and Billy Spear — he was our coachman — used to pull it up the hill for me.”
Mr. Tommy listened ecstatically, the palms of his lean hands squeezed together between his knees. “ Yes, yes,” he said ; “ oh, dear me, yes, indeed, it was pleasant! If you were going to be here in the winter again, ma’am, I — I could pull the blue sled up the hill for you, Miss Jane.”
“ Oh,”replied Miss Jane sadly, without the slightest consciousness of humor, “it’s broken now; the children broke it. And your rheumatism, Mr. Dove.”
“ But I would n’t mind that,” Cried Tommy,— “oh, my, no! Oh, Miss Jane, if you — only could — stay ! ”
“ But I could n’t, you know, Mr. Dove,” she answered, the color coming and going in her faded cheek, and her voice unsteady. “ I could n’t let brother’s family go back without me, and I could not be here alone, of course. But I shall miss — Old Chester.'’
She seemed to crouch further back into her chair, but Tommy sat quite upon the edge of his. Their two elderly hearts beat so quickly that they were both a little breathless as they spoke.
“ But,” said Mr. Tommy, huskily, rubbing his hands together and edging yet further forward, “ if I — I mean if you — if we — if it could be arranged — if — if — Oh, don’t you understand, ma’am ? ”
“ Oh, no, indeed, I don’t,” said Miss Jane, faintly; “ not at all, I’m sure. And it could n’t — could it ? ”
“ Oh, my goodness, Miss Jane,” said Tommy, almost crying, “ I ’ll — I 'll do anything— if you — if you just will ” —
Here the door opened, and Henry Temple walked leisurely into the room.
“ Ah, — Jane,” he said, looking with calm directness at Tommy, yet without the slightest sign that he saw him, though the apothecary had risen and bowed, and bowed again. “ There is some manuscript on my table, which I wish you would be so kind as to copy for me.”
“ Yes, brother,” she said, white and trembling, “ I will. But — Mr. Dove
— you did n’t see that Mr. Dove was here.”
“ Oh ! ” returned Mr. Temple, still gazing blankly at Tommy’s quivering little face, while he fumbled for his glasses. He adjusted them, and his dark eyebrows gathered in a fleeting frown. “ Ah, — Dove? Good-evening, Dove. You will excuse Miss Temple, I am sure. Jane, be good enough to attend to that, if you please.”
He stood holding the door open, and looking down at Tommy with a certain high, calm glance which burned into the apothecary’s soul.
“ Brother ! ” Jane cried, her voice unsteady with anger. Yet she did not finish her sentence. Mr. Tommy interrupted her.
“ Oh, yes,” he said — “ oh, dear me — why, certainly — yes. I’m just going
— just going ! ” He seemed to shrink and grow smaller, as he slipped sideways past Henry Temple to find his hat in the hall. “Yes, yes,” he repeated. “ Good-night, sir, good-night.” He did not even look at Miss Jane, but Opened the front door, and, stumbling with haste, without stopping for his lantern. which he had left at the foot of the steps, he found his way under the heavy shadows of the trees to the gate.
The sharp, cold wind seemed to brush the mist of his preposterous dream aside. He closed the iron gate with a clang behind him, and ran with all his might down the stony lane, his little legs shaking under him, and his eyes stinging with tears.
“ Oh, my ! ” he said to himself. There was a lump in his throat, and he almost sobbed aloud.
That next hour in Jane Temple’s unselfish life left its lasting imprint on her gentle face. She had followed her brother into the library, and, trembling in every limb, and with frightened eyes, listened to Henry Temple’s announcement that he meant to put a stop to this folly.
“ You don’t understand these things, Jane,” he said, “ and it’s my duty to protect you from the consequences of your ignorance. I 'm glad to be kind to these people about here, — they are well-meaning and unoffensive ; but kindness from a woman in your position to such a person as this apothecary will be misunderstood. He will begin to imagine he is in love with you.”
“He’s making a fool of himself,” Dick broke in. “ Somebody ought to do something about it. He’s trespassing upon your good-nature, aunty.”
“ Dick,” said Miss Jane, holding her head high, “ I will listen to anything your father says, because he is my brother, and he has a right to speak, but I will not hear you say such things. Mr. Dove is — my friend. I will not listen to you.”
There was a moment of astonished silence ; then, at a look from his father, Dick muttered an apology. But Henry Temple, with a calm indifference, which might almost have been mistaken for kindness, added one or two keen, stern words, and then turned to leave the room. He had forgotten the necessity for his manuscript, and there was no reason why he should have the discomfort of seeing his sister’s pain.
He stopped in the doorway, his hands in his pockets, and looked back at Miss Jane. “ I ’ve no fear that you will forget yourself, Jane,” he said. “ Do not imagine for a moment that I distrust you.”
When he had gone, and Dick, with an odd sensation of shame, had followed him, Mrs. Temple covered her face with her thin hands and burst into tears.
“ Oh, Janey, you would n’t leave us ! You could n’t! I — I ’m no use, and Henry depends so on you he would n’t have any comfort without you, and — oh, we could n’t get along without you. Of course ”—sobbing— “ Henry speaks only for your best happiness. He said so. For you would n’t be happy here — with Mr. Tommy — and that’s the first consideration, of course.”
Jane Temple’s anger melted under those tears. The old love asserted itself in her faithful heart. “They need me,” she thought tenderly. But though she comforted her sister-in-law with gentle words, she clung still to the belief that her own life “ had a claim ; ” and when at last, hurt and exhausted and full of uncertainty, she locked herself into her own room, she was yet vaguely happy. Her eyes filled with tears, but her lips smiled; and when she knelt down to say her prayers, and pray that she might be submissive and patient, she buried her tear-stained face in the green shawl, and thanked God that Mr. Dove loved her. All that night she tried to see her duty, to conquer her selfishness, to be just to the apothecary, to remember that she had some right to her own life, and then, again, — to conquer her selfishness ! She longed for day to come that she might hear the rest of Mr. Tommy’s sentence, and comfort her heart with his honest love. “ Then I can tell him it can never be,” she made herself say.
Not since that solemn day when Mrs. Dove had been carried over the threshold of the unused front door had Tommy crossed it, but some instinct, which he could not have defined, made the apothecary, breathless with his run down the hill, brush the cobwebs away from the keyhole, and fumble through his bunch of keys, that he might enter now.
He Struck a match in the darkness of the hall, and, curving his lean hand about it, mounted the stairs to the parlor above the shop. On the mantelpiece, in the head of a dusty china shepherdess, was a candle, bent sideways by the summer’s heats. This he lighted, and put upon the centre-table.
The parlor had the musty smell of a long-closed room, and as he touched the table he felt the grit of dust. He sat down upon the slippery horsehair sofa, and buried his face in his hands. The candle flickered a little in the current of air from the open door, and cast a grotesque shadow of his bending head upon the wall; a drop of wax fell with a white splash upon the rosewood table. Tommy raised his head, and looked about the dreary room. He did not spare himself one detail of its ugliness.
The furniture was stiff and clumsy. There were some engravings upon the wall, of celebrated people in their libraries and of children at prayer, and there was a cast of Little Samuel in one corner. Some faded family photographs of not attractive people hung in a row high above the black mantel, on which was a large conch shell, whose curving red lip held a bunch of dried grass and certain silky white seed-pods. There was a clock under a glass shade and a bunch of wax flowers in a blue vase; and on a fuzzy green mat upon a side table were the family Bible and the large parlor lamp with its knitted shade.
Mr. Tommy’s haggard eyes traveled slowly from point to point. How had he dared to dream that he might ask Henry Temple’s sister to come to such a home! But oh, how, in this last month, his life had been brightened by the mere thought of such a thing! Tommy wrung his hands together and groaned, but it was because of his intolerable humiliation rather than his despair, for now Miss Jane seemed such worlds away from him he did not realize that he had ever hoped. His whole lean body tingled with mortification. He pressed his fingers hard upon his eyes, and his breath came fast.
The candle burned down to the head of the china shepherdess, guttered, smoked, and, wavering into a sickly blue flame, went out. The darkness of the long-closed room seemed palpable as it closed about him, but before his eyes was still the glimmer of the lamps in Mr. Temple’s drawing-room, and the silence of the night was jarred by his voice.
By and by there was a faint lightening of the heavy darkness ; through the round hole in the closed wooden shutter came the gray gleam of dawn. It touched the motionless figure on the old sofa, and little by little the furniture began to take vague shapes in the shadows. Tommy lifted his head, and watched the daylight creep stealthily about.
At last he rose, slowly and stiffly, and went to the window to try to push the shutter back. The ivy held it outside, and the hinges were rusty, but it yielded a little, and then opened half-way. The white mist shut out the hills, and a stone’s-throw from the gate the road was swallowed up in it.
The cold air struck his face like a rebuff from the great world outside : he shivered as he closed and bolted the shutter. He looked to see that he had left no matches about, and that there was no spark smouldering in the china shepherdess, and then crept silently out of the room.
Mr. Tommy Dove had made up his mind.
First he wrote a line to Mrs. McDonald, pinning it to the white curtain in the kitchen window ; then he went upstairs to the garret. There was a traveling-bag there, he thought. He groped in the dark corner under the mirror until he laid his hand upon it. As he left the room he caught sight of the blue chest, and his sudden pang of regret was like physical pain. He took the shabby bag to his room, and with unsteady hands thrust some few of his possessions into it. His money he put into his breast-pocket, and then looked at himself in the glass to see if any one could guess that under his tightly buttoned coat lay his little store of wealth. Some loose change he dropped into a snuff-box, which it was his custom to use instead of a purse, and as he did so he noticed one new, shining penny. The habit of these last weeks asserted itself, and he thought of Effie, but it was only for a moment.
A little later Mr. Tommy Dove opened his shop door, and let himself out into the dawn.
In the thick mist that covered the garden, the frosted flower-stalks stood up like brown, thin ghosts, and there was a heavy scent of wet fallen leaves. Mr. Tommy peered anxiously about for some last pansy or belated sweet-pea that had not yet taken wing, but he could find only two small, dull asters and a wilted spray of salvia rimmed with frosted dew. These he picked, tying them together with a long, wet blade of grass. He looked back once at the gray house; the reddening ivy along the south side was thinned by frost, and was shining faintly, as though it had rained in the night. The damp horse-chestnut leaves that covered the ground like a yellow mantle hardly rustled as he walked through them to the road.
It did not take Mr. Tommy very long to climb the lane to Henry Temple’s gate. He did not enter, but stood pressing his face against the wet, cold iron, and staring up the dim driveway.
“ Oh, dear me ! ” he said, with a catch in his breath. “Why, just think of it, I 'll never see her again ; and the only thing in the world I can do for her is just to go away ! ”
Then, with a dull ache in his heart, he began to say to himself that he knew what a relief it would be to Miss Jane not to see him.
“ She has such a tender heart,” he said : “ she would be so sorry to make me feel badly by saying no. Oh my, to think I ever supposed she ’d say anything else; it seems so selfish in me, but — but I did ! ”
He looked at his bunch of wilted flowers, and touched them softly with reverent fingers. A moment later he laid them down against the stone gatepost, and then slowly turned back into the mist.
Miss Jane Temple, still irresolute, still miserable, but yet strangely happy, waited for Tommy all that dim October day. She did not know until nearly a week later, a week of misgivings, and grief, and wounded pride, that the shop in the village was closed, and no one knew just where the apothecary had gone, nor when he would return. She never saw the asters and the salvia, and the great iron gate, swinging open to let her go away from her old home, told her no story.
“After all,” Mrs. Temple comforted herself, when the family were safe in town again, “we need n’t have been anxious. He never could have dreamed of such a thing, though Henry thought he did, — and so did Janey. But an unmarried woman of her age is very likely to make such a mistake.”