“ I ’LL go and see Utile Dulci,” said Dr. Lavendar to himself, with a sigh.
It was Friday afternoon, and Joseph was to be at home the next day ; but in spite of that Dr. Lavendar had received a letter from him. This in itself, apart from the possible contents of the letter, was a startling fact; for in all these years of “ being away from home ” in the middle of the week Dr. Lavendar had received scarcely six letters from his younger brother, save of course the note written each Monday night to announce Mr. Joseph’s safe arrival at Mercer. But here was a letter written on Thursday, though Joseph himself was to appear on Saturday.
Dr. Lavendar had been working at his lathe, for it was five o’clock, and this was his free hour. As he worked he thought very much about his book, and he perceived, suddenly, a chance for a new subdivision, — The Relation of Precious Stones to the Science and Practice of Medicine. The very title was rich with suggestions ! He saw at a glance the possibilities of psychical investigations ; delusions and illusions, and their uses ; and of course a dozen instances and minor histories. He sighed with happiness, and made a little mental calculation, as he had done many times before, as to the probable amount of money the book would earn for Joey.
The window was open beside him, for it was hot, and the hum of the bees outside mingled with the buzz of his diamond-wheel ; his thin, veined fingers were grimy with oil, and his face was full of that satisfaction in accomplishment which has no relation to the value of the thing accomplished. One sees it on the face of a child who surveys with ecstasy his mud pie, or in the eye of a woman measuring the day’s toil on a piece of embroidery for which the world has no need. It must be a comfortable frame of mind, this satisfaction with achievement without relation to value ; perhaps still higher beings than we, who observe the mud pies and embroidery, may envy us our anxious and happy preoccupation in our little reforms, or philanthropies, or arts, — who knows ?
Dr. Lavendar, his stiff white hair standing up very straight, his spectacles pushed up on his forehead, his head sunk between his shoulders, was saying to himself that he had never got so fine a polish on a carnelian. He sat on the edge of his chair, his knees together to make a lap for a dropping tool or stone, his gaitered feet wide apart to afford room for Danny to lie between them. His sermon was written ; he had made three parochial calls, — one of them upon Mrs. Pendleton ; he had seen a little blind horse — bought because it was blind and ill treated — installed in his stable ; and he had put an unequaled polish upon the carnelian. No wonder his face beamed with satisfaction.
And then arrived Mr. Joseph’s letter. It startled him so that he must have stepped upon Danny, for the little grizzled dog yelped sharply, and Dr. Lavendar, frowning with anxiety lest Joey should be writing to say that he was ill and could not come home on Saturday, paused, the unopened letter in his hand, to feel the little gray legs remorsefully and pull the ragged ears as an assurance that his awkwardness was unintentional.
Then he read the letter.
The experience of the human race should have decided by this time whether it is best to communicate unpleasant news by word of mouth or in writing ; but Mr. Joseph Lavendar, like all the rest of us, had had twenty minds about it. He had something to say which his brother would not like to hear. Should he tell it or should he write it ? One or the other must be done, for Mr. Lavendar was meditating an important step, and he was incapable of such disloyalty as acting, and then telling. The week before, he had decided to talk it out over their pipes in the arbor; but it had rained, and they had smoked indoors. Now, it is a fact that if one sets one’s mind on doing a thing in one way, it is quite difficult to do it in any other way. So Mr. Lavendar, owing to the rain, had carried his secret back with him to Mercer. But the consciousness of secrecy was misery ; he felt he must confess, and he dared not put confession off until his next visit, lest it might rain again. So he wrote his letter ; carried it about in his pocket for one uncertain, hesitating day; mailed it on a sudden impulse, and had regretted it ever since, because perhaps he ought to have spoken its news ?
He followed the letter in his thoughts on its journey in the battered leather mail-bag down to Old Chester. He knew the moment when Nancy would bring it into the study, her friendly Welsh face keen with curiosity to know what Mr. Joseph was writing about, and “ him to be home to-morrow.” His heart burned and ached as be fancied his brother reading it; he knew the old clergyman’s pipe would go out, that he would turn his back upon the lathe, — perhaps even upon an unfinished sermon. Oh, when we receive, as we all do now and then, a letter that strikes us to the heart, at least let us feel that the writer, too, calculating to the moment its arrival, may he turning hot and cold, as do we while we read it.
“I am sure, my dear James,” Mr. Lavendar had written, “ I am sure you will be glad to know that I have placed my affections upon a lady for whom I have the highest respect. Indeed, I am confident that you will feel as warmly as I do towards her when you truly know her, — which, my dear brother, judging from your opinions expressed about the estimable Mrs. Pendleton, you do not at present. It is my intention to beg her to accept my hand ; and my deepest desire, apart from the hope that she may accept it, is that I may have your sympathy in my suit.”
It was after supper that old Dr. Lavendar, still quite shaken from this distressing letter, said to himself, “ I ’ll go and see Utile Dulci.”
He sighed deeply as he took his hat and stick, and called Danny, and went plodding up the road to Miss Carr’s house. Of course he did not mean to speak to her of his dismay at Joey’s plan, but he might perhaps skirt the subject, if only in his thoughts ; and she, being a strong, good woman, an “ intelligent person,” would, quite unconsciously, give him some sort of comfort.
There was no light in Susan Carr’s parlor as Dr. Lavendar went groping through the hall, — for, in friendly Old Chester fashion, the frontdoor was open, — and the house seemed quite empty and deserted. He could hear Miss Susan’s Ellen moving heavily about in the kitchen, singing in a thin voice and with unmistakable camp-meeting emphasis one of those fierce evangelical hymns which display such a singular and interesting conception of the Deity. Dr. Lavendar sat down in the twilight of the silent room, and drew a long breath; his head sunk upon his breast, and his eyes fixed absently upon the floor. He was thinking, as most people do at some time or other in their lives, that this matter of falling in love knew no rule of reason, or common sense, or obvious propriety
“ There ought to be a law to prevent foolishness,” he said to himself despairingly. It seemed to him that there was a great deal of foolishness in the world; why, even in little Old Chester, just see what folly there had been ! Could anything have been more absurd than for William Drayton to marry that ridiculous Fanny Dacie ? Could anything be sadder than for a man like Philip Shore to have bound himself to a selfish, sensuous, soulless creature like poor Cecil ? And there was Eliza Todd, running into the trap of marriage with a drunkard whom she hoped to reform. “ Foolishness ! foolishness! ” said Dr. Lavendar, nodding, and pressing his lips together, his forehead wrinkling up to his short white hair. “And now to think that Joey should be foolish ! ” Then he heard Susan Carr’s step, and looked up with a vague apprehension of comfort to be found in her mere presence. She struck his hand, man fashion, in a hearty welcome, and said in her clear, strong voice that he had scared her when she saw him sitting there alone in the dark.
“ I ’ve just been in to say good-evening to Mrs. Pendleton,” she explained. “ Why did n’t you tell Ellen to run over for me ? ”
The dogmatic, gentle old man felt his heart suddenly come up in his throat; if he could only tell her all about it! She looked so wise and simple as she sat there in the dusk beside him ; her face was full of that clear, fresh color that tells of rain and sunshine ; her whole strong, vigorous body seemed to bring the scent of the friendly earth and the breath of growing trees into the still room. And to think that Joey should be foolish, when here was Susan Carr, whom he might have! For of course she could not — no woman could — resist Joey. His voice actually trembled when he said he had just dropped in for a moment. “ No, no ; nothing special. So you’ve been to call on your neighbor ? ”
Now, Susan Carr had that reverence for her clergyman as the vehicle of grace which all good women feel, —a reverence often so devoid of reason that it may be accompanied, where the clergyman is their junior, with a recollection of having dandled the vehicle of grace upon their knees, or even spanked him in his tender youth. But in spite of Susan Carr’s reverence she could not help feeling that sometimes Dr. Lavendar was hard upon her little sleek neighbor. She felt it now in his harmless question ; and though she would not for the world have seemed to reprove her pastor, she made haste to say a good word for Mrs. Pendleton : “I don’t see her as much as I ought to. I ’m so busy I never seem to have the time to make calls ; and I hardly know her well enough to just run in. She’s —pleasant, I think.”
“Ho ! ” said Dr. Lavendar.
At which Miss Susan cheerfully changed the subject. She asked him about his book ; and he told her, listlessly, of the chapter upon The Relation of Precious Stones to the Science and Practice of Medicine. He said he had not talked it over with Joey, hut he felt sure Joey would think it an admirable, in fact a necessary discursion. “ Though it will delay the book a little ; but, fortunately, Joey is in no hurry for it, financially.”
Then he fell into a moody silence, and Miss Carr talked ; she spoke of Lyssie and Mr. Carey, and, a little sadly, of Cecil. “ She has never belonged to us as Lyssie does,” said Miss Susan ; and in a troubled, hesitating way she added something about Philip and his wife : “ They don’t seem as affectionate as I could wish. I can’t help feeling anxious about them ? ”
“ I have n’t seen them together since they ’ve been here. But I was always doubtful about that marriage,” Dr. Lavendar answered, nodding his head. “ Look at ’em, — fire and ice ! He’s a good fellow, fine fellow ; but she never had a chance, poor child. Just think of being brought up by Fanny Dacie ! ”
“ Well, it was n’t always easy for poor Fanny,” Miss Carr reminded him, good naturedly.
“ Oh well, nothing ever was easy for her, was it ? ” said Dr. Lavendar. “ Dear me, how she does enjoy misery ! That was a queer marriage, too, — William Drayton and Fanny Dacie. Well, well, marriage is a very strange thing, Miss Susan ? ”
“I should think it was,”Miss Susan agreed, with the modesty of one who has really no right to an opinion. Then, to her dismay, she felt herself blushing. What would Dr. Lavendar think if he knew that Joseph was meditating this “ strange thing ” ? As for Dr. Lavendar, he sighed deeply.
“That Joey should be foolish! ” he was saying to himself. "Miss Susan, he said abruptly, “ do you think your neighbor has any — ah — wish to marry again ? ”
“ Dear me ! why, I never thought of such a thing. Oh no, Dr. Lavendar ; I ’ve heard her say that she could not endure second marriages. And just see what deep mourning she wears ! ”
“ Have you really heard her say that?” he asked eagerly. “Well, now, well! I ’m pleased to hear it. I’m glad she has so proper a feeling about marriage.”
“ She has to give up her money if she marries again ; at least, so they say. I think that shows how attractive her husband thought her,” Miss Susan observed, with mild reproof.
“ It shows him to have been a dog in the manger ! “ Dr. Lavendar cried joyously. “ But no, I had not heard that. Well, she ’ll never marry, — unless she finds a man with money enough to cover her loss. Joey and I — ah — differ a little in our judgment of your neighbor. I wonder if he knows this about the disposition of the money ? ”
“ I’m sure I don’t know,” Miss Susan answered constrainedly ; even such careless reference to Mr. Joseph made her conscious.
Dr. Lavendar felt suddenly cheered. Of course Mrs. Pendleton would not marry Joey. Give up her money for a poor music teacher ? Not she ! Dr. Lavendar was almost gay.
“ Come, Danny,” he said, “ we must be going home. Well, Utile Dulci, I ’m always the better for a talk with you. The fact is, I had something on my mind when I came up, but I believe it will all come out right.”
“ Has Job been troubling you again ? ” Miss Susan asked sympathetically. “ Is there anything I can do ? ”
“ No, it was n’t Job. I was a little anxious,” — the impulse to be confidential is what one pays for relief, and some of us have reflected that the price is high, — “I was a little anxious about some matter in which I feared Joey was going to be disappointed. Nothing of importance — at least — yes, it’s very important; but I did n’t mean to speak of his affairs, I ’in sure. Well, you’ve done me good, as you always do, and I ’in sure everything will come out all right.”
Susan Carr’s face flamed ; she stepped back from his outstretched hand, the quick tears stinging in her eyes. “ Oh — Dr. Lavendar,” she stammered.
“ Why,” he said, peering at her in the dusk, and blinking with astonishment, “ why — do you — has he spoken to you ? ”
“ He wrote,” faltered Miss Susan, “ but that was a month ago. I hoped — by this time — he had forgotten it.” Her agitation was apparent.
(“Why, how she feels it! ” Dr. Lavendar thought. “ She knows what a fool the Pendleton woman is ! ”)
“You are a good friend,” he said warmly. “ Joseph could n’t have done better than write to you, — though he did not mention to me that he had done so. No, he has n’t forgotten it; and, my dear Miss Susan, this is the time to prove your friendship for Joey ; he never needed it more than he does now. Of course I could n’t have spoken to you before he did, but I can’t tell you what a relief it is to know that he has done it himself. I depend on you, Susan. I might as well tell you I have been very anxious and distressed about it.” He sighed deeply, but added, nodding, “ However, what you have said makes me feel better.”
Poor Susan Carr nearly wept. “ Oh, Dr. Lavendar, please don’t! I can’t bear to have you speak of it. It’s no use — and — and I’m so unhappy, so disappointed.”
Unhappy ? disappointed ? Dr. Lavendar stood, with his mouth open, looking at her. Why was Susan Carr so overcome at this prospect of Joey’s foolishness ? He saw how tightly her hands were clasped on the back of a chair in front of her; he heard her voice break and tremble. Could it be that — Dr. Lavendar was appalled. A terrible possibility flashed into his mind. “ My dear Miss Susan — my dear Miss Susan ! ” he said. He forgot the danger that threatened Joey, in his grief at this other grief which he had never suspected. “ I can’t tell you what this is to me! I had no idea — I never supposed that you ” — “ I can’t help it,” she said faintly ; “ I’m very sorry. I ’m sure I’d do anything I could — but one can’t make — affection.”
Dr. Lavendar’s jaw actually dropped with dismay; he saw in a flash Susan Carr’s mortification when, alone, she should reflect upon this extraordinary loss of self-control; he felt his very ears burn for her ; he was glad the room was dark, so that he could not see her face ; he wanted to get away ; and yet her trembling voice went to his heart. He took her hand very tenderly in his. “ Good-night, my dear friend,” he said. “ This — this is very dreadful. But I hope it will not be what we fear. I ’ll do my part, you may be sure of that; there’s nothing I want more, — I ’ll do my part. Good-night, my dear Susan. God bless you.” He took his hat, and went stumbling into the hall, where he paused for a moment, and swallowed once or twice, and winked hard; then she heard him come back. “Susan,” he said tremulously, “never mind having spoken to me. I feel your confidence just as though you were my sister, Susan.”
“ Lyssie — I beg your pardon — Miss Lyssie ” — Roger Carey paused to be told that he was forgiven, and perhaps to hear that he might drop the title ; but Miss Drayton did not even smile at the slip or the apology. “ Do you know that I’ve got to go away from Old Chester next week ? In fact, by rights I ought to have been at work a week ago.”
Alicia, with great presence of mind, asked no explanation of this neglect of duty ; she only said that she wondered that anybody liked to be in town in such weather.
“ Why, I don’t like it ! ” cried Roger. “ You would n’t think I could like it, Miss Lyssie, if you knew how much I cared for Old Chester.”
“ Have you really liked Old Chester ? ” Lyssie said, and blushed ; she wished she had said anything but that.
“ It is like heaven ! ” Roger Carey declared, in a low voice.
“Is it?” Alicia asked, with entire seriousness. “ I have n’t traveled about very much, but it always seemed to me pleasant.”
Lovers, so far as they themselves are concerned, have no sense of humor. Roger never noticed Lyssie’s literalness.
“ Yes,” he said, “ like heaven ! ”
It was dusk, and he, instead of Philip, was walking home with Miss Drayton. Eric was jogging along behind them, leaving them for moments to themselves when a rustle in the hedge or the whir of a wing was too enticing for the responsibility of chaperonage, but coming back again, with a sidewise, deprecating glance which said, “ My young friends, this shall never happen again.”
Roger was enchanted to be alone with her, but not because he had any special purpose in view. In fact, he had quite made up his mind that a young man with no special income has no right to have any special purpose in regard to a nice girl. Indeed, a lack of income, together with periods of uncertainty as to whether she is, after all, completely and exactly the woman who can satisfy every need of a man’s soul, is surely an excuse for being without such purpose when walking home with her.
Yet, as Roger Carey was going away from Old Chester, he was, not unnaturally, glad of this last chance to hear Alicia Drayton talk, and to reverence her serious simplicity and truth. He had not had the forethought — he would have seen fit to name it conceit — to consider that, as he had no special purpose, it might be well to shield her from himself. He was too absorbed in watching her; in answering her little questions, drawing out her little opinions, smothering his laughter at her sweet, unworldly views ; too absorbed in feeling that he should like to kneel down and kiss her little feet, and tell her she made him want to be a good man, to give any thought to such responsibilities.
“ I ’m not in love,” he had assured himself several times during the last week. The sort of woman with whom Mr. Carey had long ago decided that he should probably fall in love was far enough removed from this good child. Still, it must be admitted that he had insisted upon his loveless condition far less during the last day or two, and he did not think of it at all as they walked along now in the dusk, talking of nothing in a voice that meant all things.
He told her that he hoped he should not forget to go and say good-by to Mrs. Pendleton ; and she assured him, simply enough, that he could not forget it.
“ Why, it would be unkind to forget it! ” she reminded him, with a surprised look.
“Well, the fact is, she’s not overfond of me, I fancy,” Roger defended himself. “ I’m one of the relations to whom her money would go if she married again, you know. That was an outrageous will of my cousin’s. Ben was a cub.”
“ I should n’t have thought he would have wanted to buy her faithfulness,” Lyssie announced, with a little toss of her head.
“ No, would you ? Love like that is not love. Love does n’t need any chains.” Here he sighed deeply, for joy of the moonlight, and the scent of the new hay in a field on their right, and the glorious word sweet upon his lips. “ Love is immortal, don’t you think so ? Second marriages, anyhow, seem to me sacrilege.”
This he really felt, being at the moment very young. But Alicia said, nervously, with the suspicion of age in her manner, “ Well, not always.”
And Roger, much confused, remembered Mr. William Drayton, and turned the subject.
“ Let’s go out on the river ; that little boat down by the bridge belongs to you, Philip said. Won’t you ? ”
“ Oh, I’m afraid I ought n’t to,” faltered Alicia, — “ mother might need me ; but I ’d like to so much ! Oh well, just for a few minutes.”
So they turned, and walked down the street and out towards the bridge, where, under a leaning birch, Alicia’s rowboat was tied to a small float, which rocked and swayed as Roger jumped down on it. He hauled in on the painter slippery with dripping water grasses ; some yellowing birch leaves had drifted under a thwart, and he brushed them out, and said, ruefully, that they seemed a little damp, but —
“ Oh, dampness does n’t matter,” said Alicia (the idea of thinking about dampness!), and she laughed, and took the hand that Roger, kneeling to hold the skiff against the float, reached up to her. But there was a look in his upturned face that made her heart give a sudden beat. “ Oh, really, I ’m afraid I ought n’t to go,” she said, breathless. “ It ’s late, and ” —
“ Get in, please,” said Mr. Carey ; and she got in, meekly, for there was that in his voice that took the matter out of her hands. She felt that she must talk, rapidly, without a single pause, of — anything ! Eric would do : was n’t he the dearest old fellow ? Sometimes she thought he had some spaniel blood in him, he was so fond of the water. He often went in after sticks. Did Mr. Carey think he would swim after them now ?
“ I hope you don’t think I’m a stick,” Roger retorted, his breath catching in a nervous laugh at his own feeble joke.
Eric, however, sat down upon the float, and made no effort to follow. He thumped his tail a little, as though to say, “ I trust you ; but I shall stay right here and watch you, my children ; ” and as the boat pushed rustling through the lily pads and out into the middle of the stream, he looked at them benignly, until his big black nose dropped between his paws, and it was an effort to lift one eyelid for an occasional glance into the twilight.
The river, full of shadowy quiet, was so deep that there was not even the silken slipping sound of a ripple. Roger Carey had suddenly fallen very silent. How sweet she was, in her white dress, sitting there in the little old boat, her eyes looking so shyly into his, her voice speaking what was always his own best thought! “Dear little soul!” he said under his breath ; he wanted to take her in his arms and kiss her. He did not stop to inquire whether he was in love with her; the moment and the moonlight were too much for such cynical speculations ; he felt his heart beating fast as he looked at her; the tears stood in his eyes. “ Dear little soul! how sweet she is, how good she is ! ” Roger Carey was experiencing religion.
“ How black the trees look, don’t they?” said Alicia.
The skiff rocked and swayed, and the water gurgled softly at the prow; the branches of a sycamore on the left and a beech on the right nearly met in midstream ; the green dusk began to wink with fireflies, and from far above, through the domes of the treetops, the faint moonlight filtered down, and broke here and there upon the water in a slipping film of icy shine, that sparkled and was lost, and sparkled again.
“ It’s growing pretty dark ? ” Lyssie observed.
Another silence, melodious with the rhythmic dip of the oars and the low brush and rustle of lily pads. “ I never supposed I could be so much in love,” Roger thought, profoundly moved. The water ran black and silent between the straight staves of the arrowheads and past the sides of the boat; he could see her finger tips dragging lightly upon it; once she leaned over and caught a lily, and there was a soft tug of restraint upon the skiff’s smooth progress, until the long stem yielded and she pulled it in, and then seemed absorbed in studying its fragrant, tremulous heart.
“ The lilies are lovely, are n’t they ? ” she said. Her voice had a nervous thrill in it.
“ Yes ; oh, very.”
“ I think perhaps we’d better go back now ? ”
“Yes!” he assented, with sudden alacrity. “I — I can’t seem to talk, somehow; you seem so far off, down at that end. Let’s go ashore.”
“ Oh, I don’t mind staying out a little longer,” Alicia said quickly. She held tightly to the sides of the boat, as though she would detain it, and postpone that beautiful moment whose gracious steps she heard coming nearer and nearer.
But Roger cut deep into the flowing blackness of the slow current, and the skiff swung in a rocking circle and pointed down stream. “ It ’ll take me ten minutes to get back to that float! ” he said savagely, and sighed and bent to his oars. His thought, if he had spoken it, would have been, “ Why did I get into this confounded thing ? Why did n’t I speak on the road ? ” The boat shot with steady pulls down the river.
“ I don’t like to talk at arm’s length,” Roger announced.
Lyssie seemed to have nothing to say.
“ If we were in the house it would be better. I could — I could — we could talk, I mean.”
Lyssie, apparently, had no opinions. He looked over at her, and his lips trembled.
“ Just see the fireflies ! ” Alicia said faintly ; and Roger Carey, struggling to hold both oars in one hand, flung out the other towards her.
“ Oh, Lyssie, Lyssie, I love you ! I — did you know I loved you ? Do you love me a little ? Lyssie ! ”
Oh, that wonderful shining moment of silence while a girl gets her breath after hearing those words; when the tears rush to her eyes, and her soft throat trembles, and her heart swells suddenly with the passion and the pain of joy ! “ I love you ! Did you know I loved you ? Do you love me a little ? ” She says the words over and over, and thinks she has answered them ; but she is silent.
“ I’m not good enough to tie your little shoes ; of course I know that. (Oh, this boat!) I can’t talk about it, somehow, here. But if I can ever get back to that float I can — I can say, you know, that you are as far above me as a star in heaven.”
“ I ? ” said little Lyssie under her breath. “ Oh ! ”
The skiff came pushing through lily leaves, and bumped softly against the crumbling wooden pier ; the low voice of the river sang between them.
“ Lyssie ? ”
He let the oars catch and swing backwards, and rose with an impetuous step. The boat rocked and dipped. Lyssie caught desperately at the sides.
“Oh. don’t — yes!” she said, the happy tears breaking in her voice.
Roger sat down. “ Did you say Yes ? ”
Alicia nodded ; she could not speak.
Without a word, Roger pulled the boat in against the pier ; he got out very carefully, and with a silent but not ungentle movement of his heel instructed the affectionate and joyous Eric to keep out of the way ; then he knelt down to tie the skiff, and felt sharp between his fingers the cold smoothness of the river grasses tangled along the rope; he saw the white feather of water under the boat’s prow as the current struck it; he heard the wash of the float swaying under his weight; he heard the soft break in the breath of the girl who loved him. How alert, how conscious, how wonderful, the supreme moment!
“ Lyssie ! say it — just once more ? ” He had no difficulty in talking now; he could hardly wait to hear again that enchanting word before he burst into the telling of his love. And how she listened ! Her listening was almost as beautiful as any words she spoke. But she did not speak many.
“Yes;” “yes;” “yes.” She loved — she knew — she felt — Oh, symphony of assent!
Roger said he was poor ; Alicia loved poverty. He said he had no “prospects” outside of his profession ; she thought “ prospects ” ruinous to real achievement. He confessed that his practice was small; Lyssie felt that if it were large it would be a sign that he was too eager to make money.
“ There’s so much more than that in living,” the young girl said, looking at him with believing eyes. “ I know how you feel about mere money-making ; I heard you talk to Philip and Cecil about responsibility, and—and I liked what you said.”
“ I did n’t know you ever listened when I talked. You always looked so remote — so — so above all the rest of us. Oh, Lyssie, when did you first begin to care the least bit? ”
“ I think — I think it was the day you looked at the pigeons ; no, it was the day before that. Oh, I don’t mean that I ” — she looked the word she could not speak — “ but I liked to hear you talk.”
Perhaps it is only when a man looks back upon it that he realizes the charm of a little coquetry on such occasions ; at the moment, Roger felt only the noble simplicity of her confession, the benediction of her tender, overflowing eyes.
“ Why, that was the day I came! ” he said rapturously.
“ When did you first know that you cared ? ” she said, divinely shy and bold at once.
“ I ? Why — well — Oh, I think it must have been the minute I saw you ; only, of course I did n’t recognize it myself, you know, until later.”
They walked slowly along the road. It was dark, and they were leaving Old Chester behind them ; but Lyssie was not aware of either fact, did not remember her mother and her duty for nearly an hour, and then it was with a start of dismay and remorse.
So they came back to actual life, and Roger Carey realized that he had fallen in love, and was an engaged man. He was very much astonished, but he found it very delightful.
They turned towards Old Chester, and Roger began to be silent. Lyssie’s stillness fell into his like chords of music melting into some larger harmony. She would have been content never to speak again, she thought. It seemed as though all were said, forever. But Roger had something to say, though he did not say it until they stood at Alicia’s door. Then, very low, very anxiously, “ Lyssie, do you know ? I’m going to kiss you before you go in.”
“ Oh ! ” said Lyssie, “ are — are you ? ”
“ Yes,” Roger answered, very gently. And then he took her hands, and, with delicate precision, he kissed her on her left cheek, just below her ear.
“ Oh — oh ! ” said Alicia. At which he took her instantly in his arms, and kissed her heartily right on her lips. After that, it took nearly twenty minutes of adieus to fortify themselves for absence overnight.
“ You will come to-morrow morning ? ”
“ Yes ! Yes ! May I come as early as half past eight ? ”
“ Oh, I’m afraid that is a little early ” —
“ Well, eight forty-five ? ”
“ And I will tell mother to-night; and will you tell Cecil ? ”
At which Mr. Carey said abruptly,
No ; you tell her, Lyssie.”
Tell Cecil Shore ? Speak to such a woman of such an experience ? He thought, tenderly, that Lyssie could never understand why, at such a noble moment, a man could be repelled by her sister. He rejoiced in her ignorance ; perhaps because at that time he did not need the tolerance or the sympathy which such ignorance of life forever precludes.
Lyssie, after yet one more impassioned “ Good-night! ” went into the house and closed the door upon her lover. She stood still in the hall, listening to his retreating footsteps, with her hands over her face and the sound of her own pulses in her ears.
Then she went into her mother’s room, where, in the lamplight, her eyes vague with happiness and the summer darkness, everything seemed blurred and dazzled ; perhaps that was why she did not see the fretful look on Mrs. Drayton’s face. She went, like a child, to her mother’s knee, and, slipping down on the floor, hid her face in her bosom. "Oh, mother, mother ! ” she murmured.
“ What is it ? Is anything the matter ? ” cried Mrs. Drayton, with nervous sharpness.
“ Oh, mother — Roger ! ”
Mrs. Drayton fell back in her chair. “ Oh, Alicia, can you never remember how weak I am? You come bouncing into the room, and at such an hour, too! It’s nine o’clock. I’ve been terrified about you. I thought something had happened. You have no consideration at all; you know how anxiety makes my head ache ” — She fretted on, half in tears, and then suddenly seemed to remember Lyssie’s whispered word. “ Roger ? What do you mean by ’Roger ’ ? Why — do you mean — has he — Why, Lyssie ! ”
“ Oh, mother darling, yes ! Just think of it. Me ! ”
The tears sprang to Mrs. Drayton’s eyes, — real tears. She put her arms about the kneeling child, and they trembled with unconscious tenderness. "Oh, my dear, my dear ! ” Mrs. Drayton forgot herself ; she kissed and cried over the girl with honest mother love. She asked a hundred sympathetic questions, which Lyssie answered dreamily, with little tender reserves, which would break suddenly because of the bliss of putting such wonderful facts into words.
After the first reality of it, Mrs. Drayton could not help glancing over Lyssie’s head into the mirror. It was a pretty picture: the frail mother, with her delicate, pallid face ; the girl kneeling at her feet; the flood of soft lamplight shining on the open pages of the Bible on the table.
“ My child ! ” murmured Mrs. Drayton, resting her cheek on Lyssie’s hair. It was a charming scene.
“ Oh, mother,” said Alicia, with a long sigh, “ putting aside any personal feeling, — I mean, speaking impartially, as a matter of judgment, — I am certainly a very fortunate girl. He is not at all like anybody else; he is — well, mother, just wait till you know him ! ”
Mrs. Drayton was not disturbed by Lyssie’s halting language ; she had plenty of words of her own. She began to speak of the glory of duty, the joy of self-sacrifice, — in a word, of love, — in a way which satisfied even this young lover at her feet. Indeed, so perfect was the situation that it would have been still prolonged but for Lyssie’s sudden realization that it was long after Mrs. Drayton’s bedtime. With a happy sigh she rose, and made haste to begin her loving task of maid. Mrs. Drayton’s hair had to be brushed steadily for a quarter of an hour before it could be put up in curl papers ; then a psalm must be read, and the selection for the day in Gathered Pearls.
“ Oh, mother dear, how selfish in me to have kept you up ! ” Lyssie said. “ It will be nearly eleven before you are in bed ! ”
“Oh well, a girl can’t be engaged every day,” said Mrs. Drayton magnanimously. “ I’m willing to sacrifice something ; we won’t read to-night. I can think of my blessed Bible, and repeat a hymn while I lie awake. Of course I shall lie awake after this excitement. But never mind that.”
Lyssie winced ; but she thought that now, since Roger loved her, she would be, for the rest of time, unselfish and considerate. She would be good ! She was very tender to her mother, with a tenderness which was half remorse because of her own joy. “ I have n’t done all I might to make her happy,” Lyssie was thinking; “ and her life is so empty without papa ! ”
The emptiness of life may have struck Mrs. Drayton, for she took occasion, when Lyssie kissed her good-night, to say that she had been lonely.
“ You were very late in coming home,” she said. “ It was rather sad to sit here all by myself. But you were happy, so I don’t complain.”
Alicia opened her lips to speak, but stopped ; a strange apprehension gathered in her heart. It was too vague for words, but a little mist crept across her joy. Her mother lonely without her ? Well, but how would it be when she was— She did not say the word, but she adored it in her heart. How would Mrs. Drayton feel when —
Lyssie kissed her again silently, and crept softly to her own room.
Old Chester grew quite wide-awake over Alicia Drayton’s engagement. There had been no such sensation since Miss Jane Temple married beneath her, and found happiness and content in the home of the village apothecary. Of course Lyssie’s romance could not compare in interest to Miss Temple’s; it did not have in it anything of which Old Chester could disapprove, — and to be truly interesting to the world about us, we must not be too good. Lyssie’s engagement only gave opportunity for conversation and speculation. “ What will Frances Drayton do when the child gets married ? ” everybody said to everybody else, although, so far, no one had said it to Mrs, Drayton, who was enjoying very much the importance of being the mother of her daughter. It was almost as good as making a sensation herself ; indeed, she entered into the situation with so much histrionic earnestness that she was obliged to take to her bed, and receive Mrs. Dale and all the other ladies, reclining upon her pillows, attended by Alicia. It was thus that Cecil found her listening to Mrs. Pendleton’s congratulations, allowing Lyssie to fan her, and saying many noble things about a mother’s joy in a child’s happiness.
“ I enter so into Lyssie’s romance,” said Mrs: Drayton, “ that I live my own over again.”
“ Except,” Cecil returned, after that meditative pause which gave such weight to her slow words, “ except that no youthful indiscretion made Mr. Carey a widower, he must indeed remind you of papa. But I almost think, Mrs. Drayton, that in entering into Lys’s romance yourself you keep her out of it a little. She can’t listen to lover’s vows and fan you at the same time.”
There was an eager disclaimer from Lyssie, and Mrs. Drayton said tearfully that it was a little bitter to have Cecil, who was exactly like her own child (some one had once asked Susan Carr which was Mr. Drayton’s child by his first wife ; she did not know whether she had ever mentioned that to Mrs. Pendleton ?), — it certainly was a little bitter to have Cecil speak so to her.
As for Mrs. Pendleton, she thought to herself that there was some truth in Mrs. Shore’s remarks ; but she only said, soothingly, that she had no doubt dear Roger would rather have Miss Alicia dutiful than have her society.
“ I am inclined to think,” Mrs. Shore observed, “ that Mr. Carey would feel that one included the other.” And then she went away, saying to herself that she hoped she had done some good.
“ He leaves Old Chester in three days,” she thought, “ and Lys, poor little thing, ought to see more of him.” But she was not very hopeful; she knew how probable it was that Lyssie, from a sense of duty, would yield to her mother’s demands upon her time; indeed, Mrs. Shore had long since recognized that Alicia’s especial form of selfishness was unselfishness.
This immoral unselfishness is characteristic of many excellent women. They practice an abnegation of their comforts, their rights, their necessities, even, which they feel endears them to their Maker, and at the same time gives them real happiness. Apparently they are unable to perceive that this unselfishness of theirs brutalizes and enslaves to self the man (for men are generally the victims of this unscrupulous virtue), — the man who accepts the sacrifices made for him, indeed often thrust upon him in spite of his gradually weakening protests ; and young Alicia, painfully conscientious as she was, never once realized that if it were selfish for her mother to accept a sacrifice, it was a sin for her to make it.
As for Cecil Shore, she did not put it quite that way to herself, but little Lyssie’s foolishness struck her with a sense of being pathetic. “ Little goose,” she thought, smiling. But she was very gentle with Alicia, looking at her with a halfwondering amusement.
“ You are very happy, kitty, are n’t you ? ” she said that evening, when Lyssie, through Cecil’s intervention, really had succeeded in coming to dine with her, and the two sisters, before dinner, were alone in the library. “ You are very happy ? ”
Alicia’s face, so radiant and young, sobered, suddenly, almost to tears. “ Oh, Ceci ! ” she said, and put her face down on Cecil’s shoulder and was silent for a moment. Something came into the eyes of the elder woman, that mist that sometimes dims the eyes of a dog, which cannot weep, but yet can suffer ; it is unutterably sad, but it is not a spiritual pain.
“ You poor little thing,” she said, almost passionately.
Lyssie looked up, wondering. But Cecil only laughed, though the tears stood in her eyes.
Is the happiest life that ever was led ! ’ ”
she cried gayly. “ Go on being engaged, pussy ; it is really very good fun.”
“ I never thought of anything else ! ” protested Alicia, even her slender neck crimsoning; and Cecil laughed until she cried at the innocence of the child. But the situation seemed to her a cruel one ; Lyssie was so happy !
She did not think very much about Mr. Carey ; if she had, she would have discovered in herself an astonishment at his conduct which was almost contempt. Her mind was dwelling upon certain miserable facts which are thrust upon all of us men and women when we soberly observe the marriage relation as we see it about us, especially when we observe it in contrast to this first beautiful dawn of love in the faces of two young lovers ; two who believe — as they all do, or else they are not lovers — that they, out of all the world of failures about them, shall make permanent that which is by its nature evanescent and fleeting, the mystery and passion of young love. They need — ah, what deep experiences, before they can know, two such sweet optimists, that it is as foolish to hope that they will keep love forever young and mad and wonderful as it would be to seek to hold back the dim beauty of the dawn, which must change, perhaps into a leaden and dreary day, perhaps into the calm glory of the sunlight; into a noon serene and perfect and secure as the light upon the face of God, — the noon of married love !
Cecil Shore believed only in the dawn. "Poor little thing ! ” she thought again, pityingly, as she watched Alicia’s frank happiness. How cruel it was that it could not last! These two some time would be among that great army of husbands and wives who are not unhappy, not incompatible, who get along very well with each other,” as they would say, — the very husbands and wives who give little smiles and shrugs at the ecstasies of young love as they observe it ; the men and women who, simply, have missed the best. Cecil was not thinking of the miserable marriages, — there were such things, no doubt; there were infidelities, cruelties, baseness ; but when they happened in her class they were concealed. No, it was only the grotesque disillusionment of it all that struck her with grim amusement. “ Poor little Lys ! ” she thought.
But no one could have seemed to need pity less than Alicia Drayton. It might better have been bestowed on her lover, who felt conscious and half irritated all the time they were at table. He wished Philip were at home ; he was grateful to Molly for talking to him ; he wished Lyssie (bless her dear little heart !) would not be quite so — so young ; he wished Mrs. Shore, with her slightly cynical smile, were drowned in the depths of the sea. Without the slightest reason, he began to be angry with her ; he answered one of her assertions apropos of some discussion about the working classes so curtly that Alicia looked apprehensively at her sister ; but Cecil, strangely enough, seemed more hurt than offended. She colored, and said that Mr. Carey had certainly misunderstood ; she had not meant quite what he supposed, and she tried by a hasty explanation to bring a certain seriousness into the flippant statement that the submerged tenth was as necessary to the higher civilization, to the culture of the few, as a fertilizer was to a flower garden.
Roger Carey said carelessly, “ Do you think your culture and mine quite worth such manure? Think of the misery of the sweating system, for instance ! Perhaps you are worth it, Mrs. Shore, but I ’m sure I’m not.” But when he saw the pain and truth in Alicia Drayton’s face, as she said, “ When I see readymade clothing, I always wonder, ‘ Who suffered for that?’” he felt ashamed of having paraded his irritation in the dress of a fine sentiment; so he became rather more frankly rude to Mrs. Shore to console himself.
Lyssie was quite discouraged, and gave him that little appealing look which we see so often on the faces of those dear souls who long to have us do ourselves justice. It said, “ Oh, be nice, Roger; don’t be so—not-as-pleasant-as-usual.” But Roger continued to be “ not-as-pleasant-as-usual “ until he got away from Mrs. Shore; and then — ah well, a girl knows of no adjective to describe her lover in those adorable first moments when she has him to herself, and he is even more pleasant than usual.
Roger was to go away on Tuesday, and he wanted to be with Lyssie every moment that he could. He was still vaguely astonished to find himself in love, but he liked it! And he was distinctly cross when Mrs. Shore mentioned, casually enough, on Monday, that he would not be able to see Lyssie that afternoon.
“ Really you must be a little firmer,” she said. “ She was to have gone to the upper village this morning on some stupid errand for her mother ; but Mrs. Drayton wished to be fanned, so she had to put it off until this afternoon; she could just as well have gone this morning. You must teach her some of your firmness, Mr. Carey.”
“ This afternoon ! ” said Roger blankly. “ Why, I thought I could see her this afternoon.”
“ Oh well, later you can see her, — when she comes back ; about five, I think. Meantime, I ’ll entertain you by taking you out to drive. No, you can’t go with Lyssie,” she silenced him, smiling. “ She has started by this time. The people dine here, you know, at half past twelve, so she started nearly an hour ago.”
Roger resigned himself to a drive with his hostess with an ill grace. “ She ’ll be back by five, surely ? ” he asked, and intimated to Mrs. Shore that he cared to drive with her only until that hour.
And no one was more surprised than Roger Carey to find himself at half past six, in the midst of a discussion with Mrs. Shore, driving into Old Chester on the way back to his hostess’s door.
“ Why,” he said, “ why, what time is it ? Are we back again ? ” He looked at his watch, and turned red, and said something under his breath. How could he have forgotten ? He asked himself the question a dozen times, finding no satisfactory answer. But it was not so very remarkable ; human nature is human nature. For one thing, his companion was a beautiful woman ; but beside that she could talk. To Roger Carey discussion was like the breath in his nostrils, and when Mrs. Shore took him to task for a statement of his, that, without the great human experience of friendship, a soul was still potential, he grew keen and interested, and intent upon making his point. Cecil had declared that friendship was a beautiful thing, if it were true, and he had burst out in hearty condemnation of the insinuation. But her remark had been genuine enough : she had never experienced friendship ; she had known no schoolgirl frenzies of letters and copied poems and exchanged locks of hair, — all that rehearsal of love with which young women so seriously amuse themselves, but which so often cools into sincere and lifelong regard. Roger told her, frankly, that he was sorry for her, and added his conviction of her potentiality. Curious that this topic of friendship is so especially alluring to a man and woman between whom friendship is impossible !
After that their discussion turned upon the abstractions of truth and duty and conduct, and Roger Carey, in his perfectly straightforward earnestness, fell into that courteous trap of “ you and I; ” “ you and I think,” or “ feel,” or “know better.” There is no more subtle flattery from an intelligent man to an intelligent woman than this “ you and I; ” it is an intellectual caress, and the mind responds to it with an abandon which betrays its ethical effect. Roger was too interested to be aware of anything more than an added brilliancy in his companion’s look, an added force in her words. But his interest made him forget that Lyssie would be back from her errand to the upper village at five. Now, realizing it, he was angry at himself, with that painful anger which was only a form of astonishment at his own possibilities. He was plainly sulky with Mrs. Shore, which was most unjust, for Cecil, though she laughed at him a little, was really sorry. “ I never thought of Lys,” she said ; “ it’s too bad ! You were too entertaining, Mr. Carey. She will never ” — An exclamation from Roger made her turn, and she saw, in the meadow on her right, Lyssie and Molly, and, further off, her husband struggling with a drunken man.