Azalea's Silver Web by Peattie, Elia Wilkinson
This etext was transcribed by Les Bowler.
[Picture: Book cover]
[Picture: Being thrown by Paprika]
AZALEA’S SILVER WEB
BY ELIA W. PEATTIE Author of Azalea; Annie Laurie and Azalea; Azalea at Sunset Gap, etc.
_Illustrations by_ _E. R. Kirkbride_
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[Picture: Publisher logo]
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The Reilly & Britton Co. Chicago
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Copyright, 1915 by The Reilly & Britton Co.
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CHAPTER PAGE I GROWN GIRLS 9 II NEW RELATIONS 27 III OWN FOLK 46 IV MADAM GRANDMOTHER 64 V MALLOWBANKS 82 VI MY BALL 101 VII GETTING SETTLED 120 VIII THE PORTRAIT 139 IX GRANDMOTHER’S STORY 158 X “THE WATERS OF QUIET” 177 XI A FRIEND 195 XII A TRAVEL LOG 212 XIII CROSSROADS 231 XIV “WHERE THERE IS A WILL” 250 XV “RING, HAPPY BELLS” 267
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
So, in a moment more I felt myself—I who had never _Frontispiece_ been thrown in my life—going over Paprika’s head We stepped back in the shrubbery and kept very 84 still while they passed. Grandmother was weeping like a hurt child Azalea’s Coming Out Party 114 It was Keefe O’Connor who stood there holding out 276 his hands to me
CHAPTER I GROWN GIRLS
Tennyson Mountain, N. C., October 6.
_Carin_, _dear and far_:
So you are back at your beloved Vassar! Does it seem as wonderful as it did last year? Or more so? More so, I expect. You were a little lonely and strange last year, you know. But now it will be different. The girls will seem like old friends to you now that you are coming back to them. But, Carin, girl, they cannot _possibly_ be such old friends as I am, or as Annie Laurie is. Don’t dare to like one of them better than you like us. I can imagine, and really spend too much time imagining, just how lovely and cultivated and surprising some of them are. But, please, aren’t some of them quite stupid, too? I hope so. Annie Laurie hopes so. We want still to be the brightest stars in your sky.
Lest you should think we are not, we keep polishing ourselves. Annie Laurie, when she is not attending to her dairy, will take university extension work. And I, your own ever adoring, ever grateful Azalea, will keep hammering away at the books that dear Barbara Summers lends, and Keefe O’Connor sends down from New York, and those that your own library at the Shoals furnishes.
I have the heart to read, Carin, but not the time. That’s the truth. Or, come to think of it, perhaps it is a matter of eyelids. I have a queer, self-closing pair. If they would stay up after nine o’clock at night I could learn something. But, no, they appear to be attached to a wheel or a ratchet in the clock, and when nine strikes, down they go and down they stay.
What can I do?
Nothing, except kiss dearest Mother McBirney good night, trying not to yawn in her face as I do it, and after paying my respects to Father McBirney and “brother” Jim, slip away up to my darling loft.
Now, there, Carin! You see I’m nicer than your other friends, more unusual and surprising. (You told me the last time I saw you that you liked your friends to be unusual and surprising.) Well, have you any other friend who goes up to her bedroom by means of an outside pair of stairs and who sleeps in a loft, with a tame bat for company? You have not, Carin Carson, and you know it. And, Oh, how I love it! Shall I ever have another room I love so well? The soft noises of the night come purling down into it like a stream. The stars of the northern sky shine into it. The mountain-side is like a green curtain hanging before it. When I get up in that little room, my doors and windows wide to old Mount Tennyson’s whispering side, I seem to find my real self. Everything slips away from me except the night and myself and—and God.
Dearest Carin, I am feeling rather serious. It is because of something that I have just come to realize. Do you remember how, at the end of our school-teaching up at Sunset Gap three years ago, your father and mother offered to send me away to school, and I—thanking them more than I could possibly make them understand—refused? I said I wanted it to be Azalea for herself. That I meant to spin my own little web, and that I hoped it would be a silver one.
Since then, as you know, I have tried my best. I decided that I would become a teacher of the mountain handicrafts; I hoped that some day when good Mrs. Kitchell resigned her position as head of the Mountain Industries which your father and mother established, that I could take her place. What is more, I wanted to develop the Industries so that they would become much, much more useful and inspiring and important than they are now. I wanted, too, to fit myself to meet all the people who come to Lee—all the charming, gracious people. You know how I have worked for all this. Haystack Thompson, the best basket-maker in the country, has taught me to make baskets. Mrs. Kitchell, the cleverest little weaver of all the weavers, has instructed me in the weaving of woolen and linen and cotton cloth, and in the making of counterpanes, as well as the knotting of fringe and the looping of fancy edges. Mother McBirney has taught me knitting and lace making and crocheting. I can do a little wood carving. I can make mats. I can weave carpets. Even, if put to it, I can turn a jug. Then I have read and studied and thought. And in doing all that I have grown vain and foolish.
I’ll tell you how I found out.
Dear Father McBirney isn’t well. I think I spoke about this to you the other day. But he’s been getting rapidly worse, and now he can hardly move from his chair. It is rheumatism; and it’s likely to stay with him for a long, long time. He cannot help about the farm at all, and so all of the farm work falls on Jim. He can’t even go about the country to collect the chairs the mountaineers make for the Mountain Industries, as he promised your father he would.
Oh, Carin, do you remember the day you and your father and mother came up to our cabin to ask my foster-parents to go down and take charge of the Industries? And do you remember how Pa and Ma looked about at the darling cabin with its wistaria and trumpet vine, and its Pride of India tree with the graves of their little Molly and my own dear mama beneath it, and how they would not go? And then do you recall how Father McBirney promised to “beat up trade” for the Industries, and so we all stayed in the cabin with its nice open room in between the closed ones, and its own queer little smithy, and its beehives on the south slope, and its martin houses by the door? Oh, the dear, dear little house!
Well, there has been such a demand for the mountain chairs from the visitors to Lee, that the chair-makers have been making a good profit and Father McBirney has been enjoying a nice commission. This winter he quite depended on it, because, owing to his bad health, he hadn’t been able to do as much with the farm as usual. But now he isn’t well enough to go over the mountains arranging about the chairs, or getting them together, so even that little profit is denied us.
What are we to do? Jim may be able to do some hauling for people; there’s wood to be carted, and some work to do for the miller, but it’s very irregular.
And this is where I come in. This is where I am shown up as a person with much vanity and little common sense. For, of course, it should be my part to make ready money for the family. And I can’t. I don’t know how. I have been thinking I was so capable, and now I see I’m just as useless as—as most girls!
Of course I could go away somewhere else and perhaps find some other place where the mountain industries are being developed. But ought I to leave home now? I seem to be very much needed. As you know, sometimes our sweet, unselfish Mother McBirney gets melancholy. She has lived so long away up here on the mountain that her thoughts get to turning inward, and she remembers about Molly’s death, and then for days she is silent and brooding, and we all tremble for her. She looks far, far away and pays almost no attention to what we say to her. This is a very real danger, and if I were not here to shake her out of these moods, who knows what might happen?
So there I am, I who wanted to do such wonderful independent things, I who thought I had learned so much, about as useless as anyone could be. At least, as a money-earner. Of course I am not sitting about, beating my breast and throwing dust on my head. I hope you don’t think that. No, I have Mother McBirney’s loom in good working order, and have set it up not too far away from the fireplace, and I am throwing that shuttle like mad, weaving some perfectly fascinating counterpanes. You ought to see the one in red and black in the Tudor rose pattern. Truly, it’s a beauty. I know I can sell it easily enough, and I’m going to charge a good price for it, too. I’m a greedy pig.
But you see, I _must_ have money.
By rights, Father McBirney ought to have a change. He should go down to Bethal Springs. The waters there are said to cure some terrible cases of rheumatism. But he couldn’t go without Mother; and Mother wouldn’t go without Jim. So there you are. Such a puzzle!
Jim is dreadfully on my mind, too. What do you think has happened to him? He has “got religion.” Yes, I know you are laughing. Jim, the tease of the world, Jim with freckles and warts and funny words, and the very _dickens_ in him. But it is true. Mr. Summers did it—talked to him in the woods, and Jim “saw the light.” And now he wants to be a preacher like Mr. Summers. You ought to hear him preaching to the horses when he combs them down. I listen. Perhaps I ought not to. I don’t do it to make fun, you may be sure. I do it because the poor boy is so earnest and surprising. You can’t think what beautiful things he says. Nights he studies the Bible and some books Mr. Summers gives him. He drives away to town once every week to help with the Epworth League meeting, and he has got up some sort of a society among the boys, and has induced the members to pledge themselves not to drink whiskey or chew tobacco, or use profane words, or do any other horrid thing.
Carin, we’re all growing up, aren’t we?
You with your long dresses and touch-me-not air, and Annie Laurie, one of our leading business persons! And Sam Disbrow buying stock in Annie Laurie’s dairy, and Hi Kitchell doing draying, and Dick Heller going in the bank, and Keefe O’Connor sending me the catalogue of his “Autumn Exhibit.” You can fancy how Keefe played up Sunset Gap in his pictures! I could tell from the names where he had painted about half of them. I’ll send you the catalogue. But return it, won’t you? It seems like a memento of that queer, wild, happy summer at the Gap.
That was the last summer we really spent together. To be sure I have had glimpses of you, but usually you have been away on your wonderful journeys with your father and mother, and I have had to go about the mountain roads alone. But I haven’t minded, Carin, and you mustn’t think that I have. I tried to picture the beautiful places you were in, and the parties you were going to, and the pictures and palaces you were seeing, and I knew that if I was thinking of you, that you were thinking of me, too. It kept my heart warm; it peopled the lonely mountain roads.
I’ll tell you this, my Carin: Next to a well-loved human face, a well-loved road is the best thing. The sight of a familiar clump of grass can be as dear as a threshold. Twists of tree trunks, odd embankments, colors of the road, above all, the turns of a road, get to be like a part of one’s life. The little smells that come up from earth and grass and flower, rising over and over again from the same place, affect one almost like the voices of “home folk.” Even the wind on the face, though the wind is so wild and strange a thing, makes one feel at ease in one’s world; and the burst of the sun over a hill, or the going down of it at the close of a busy day—busy both for you and the sun—can make you realize as few things can, that you are the child of God—of the great Father, so silent, so unknowable, who has made suns and birds, mountains and little friendly crickets.
Oh, beautiful, beautiful life! In spite of trouble and sickness, perplexity and poverty, beautiful, beautiful life!
Dear Carin, don’t laugh at me if my letter has been a bit too ecstatic. You are surrounded all the time with fine teachers and brilliant friends, and moving, shifting life. I am just here by myself, so to speak. Yes, yes, dear, I know my own McBirneys are beside me. I have no desire deeper than the desire to help them. Yet, Carin, are they my kind of people? You know they are not; they know it. We try to be alike, but we cannot be, really.
I am the granddaughter of Colonel Atherton on one side; the granddaughter of some other proud old gentleman on the other side. For it was pride that made my grandfather Knox turn his son, my father, adrift. True, the McBirneys took me, a little ragged wanderer, orphaned and desolate, from a traveling show; but that was an accident in my life. It cannot change the fact that I have the tastes of the Athertons and the Knoxes, who have loved beauty and hospitality and other gracious things.
Oh, me, am I insinuating that Mother McBirney is not hospitable or that she does not love beauty? If so, shame on me. Her door stands open to every wanderer. It stood open to me. The flowers about her walls, and the purple valley below her hill, delight her. Yes, she is a true lover of beauty. May we never lose sight of each other, and to the last may I feel her hand waiting to grasp mine in whatever darkness she or I may have to walk through. I only say I wish I might, sometimes, have someone like you, my Carin, to talk with. Of course, there is Barbara Summers. But she is in the valley and I on the mountain.
Equally of course, there are Keefe O’Connor’s letters. And there are yours. Be sure you send me one soon.
Do not mind my changing moods. I am, after all, always the same old
P. S. This is the evening of the same day.
Who do you think called?
Mrs. Kitchell, Hi’s little brown mother, all in new clothes, with white cotton gloves on her hands—the hands that used to be so hard and scratched and battered with work. She had a red rose on her new fall hat, and her shoes were blacked. And you know what shoes are at Lee! The standard is low, owing to red mud and lack of elbow activity. But Mrs. Kitchell was grand. There is no other word for it.
This, however, is not the most exciting part of what I have to tell. Haystack Thompson was with her, and he actually wore a hat. Yes, he did too, Carin Carson. What is more, his hair had been cut—a little. But you could get seven crops a year of his hair, just as you can of alfalfa. He, too, was wonderful. He wore a collar. It was of celluloid, and it shone like Mother McBirney’s best milk pan. He did not bring his fiddle, and that made me feel sad. If he wants to court Hi’s “ma,” why let him, but is that any reason why he should turn his back on his faithful Betsy, his fiddle?
I felt like saying to him: “Haystack, Haystack, can any woman understand you, answer you, listen to you, rejoice with you, as your fiddle did? Will any woman cost you so little? Ask so few questions? Be such a companion on rainy and sunshiny days?”
But of course I didn’t say anything of the kind. Little Mrs. Kitchell is a brave creature, and Haystack is a lonely one. So if they decide to marry, I and everyone else ought to be glad. The only thing that really troubles me is how they are going to live. Dear Haystack never earns any money, except in little driblets, making baskets or playing at dances. Do you suppose that after that little beaver, Mrs. Kitchell, has reared a family of four, alone and unaided, that she’ll turn in and support Haystack in his old age? Wouldn’t that be odd of her? Still, perhaps she might like it. Hi, as I say, is “draying.” He has a pair of claybank mules and he is a proud man, I can tell you. He works quite as hard as anybody in Lee—harder than most. But he doesn’t like to be “driv.” You know he wouldn’t.
“When will that trunk be up to the house, expressman?” the Northerners say, not so much as looking at him.
Then you ought to hear Hi drawl. You know his drawl! But it’s grown worse.
“Sometime along in the forenoon, I reckon, ma’am.”
“Aren’t you sure of it? Because if you aren’t, I shall get another man to bring it up.”
“Yessum. Only I’m the only one in town jest now that does trunk haulin’. But don’t you worry, ma’am. I feel tollable sure that there trunk will git up to you-all’s house some time before evenin’.”
You can just hear the Northerners pant when he says that.
I know you and your people are Northerners, Carin, dear, but you’re not the snap-turtle variety.
I do wish you’d been down here this summer. I had so much to tell you. The Shoals looked very lonely with none of you in it. Was it so lovely up there in Maine that you forgot our purple mountains? I know it must be beautiful up there. I look at the map, and follow all the queer little inlets and outlets, and think how bright the water must be as it breaks on the rocks.
Well, we have had wonderful things to look at ourselves. Why, only to-day the mountains looked like gigantic plums, with rich purple bloom all over them; and the sky went to the trouble to try to match them. But I’d have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been so poor. Not that I’m any poorer than usual, but I feel poorer because I see that at last it is “up to me” to be the money-maker. And I don’t know how to begin.
I have explained to you distinctly a number of times, my dear Carin, that when I write this way I do it to ease my feelings. I want your advice. But that is all I do want of you, except, of course, your love and sympathy. I know you ache to play fairy godmother. You’ve tried to do that many times. But I think you understand pretty well by now that that wouldn’t really help me out. I want my own fight, my own life, my own victories. Just at present I’m terribly puzzled, because I want to help Father and Mother McBirney and Jim.
I can’t write it all to Keefe, because—well because he might be able to think of a way to help me out, but not of a way to help the others. Keefe is terribly impulsive, and he will not realize how young he is. He is disgracefully young. So am I. That extreme youthfulness of ours gets in the way of some of his plans. No, I can’t write him. He isn’t sensible. Perhaps that is one of the reasons he paints so well. Did I tell you he was making rather a specialty of portraits? He sent me one of a young Jewish girl who is in his color class at the Academy of Design. He says her name is Miriam. She fits the name.
Keefe wants to come down here this winter, but I’m not going to let him. There is no reason why he should come to this one place out of all the places in the world. Let him go up to Sunset Gap to his own wonderful little sister, Mary Cecily Rowantree. He says he needs inspiration, but if anyone can give it to him, she can. You see, if he came here, he would be terribly interrupting, and I cannot and will not be interrupted. I’m going to earn the living for the family, though, as I said at the beginning, I don’t know how.
Carin, I go out and sit down beside my dear little mama’s grave and think and think. I tell her how good these people were to her, how good they have been to me ever since that terrible day when I was left alone, and I beg her if she is indeed a spirit now, who can see and understand the things that are hidden from us earth-bound ones, that she will put something into my heart to tell me what to do.
I am ready, Carin, to prove myself. Here I am with my strong body, with my heart full to bursting with gratitude and love, with my waiting hands and brain. But I need direction. You couldn’t give me that, could you, dear yellow-headed one?
Yes, I wish you might have come home this summer. It would have helped. Barbara Summers was away, too. She went home to see her people for the first time since she was married. You remember her people didn’t approve of her marriage. She had a very happy time, and all is well between her and them at last. Of Annie Laurie I see little. She is too busy. But we signal each other, she from her roof, I from the “Outlook.”
Good-bye, dear. If I write you too much, forgive me. I need to write. It comforts me. You understand all I say—all I do not say, too.
CHAPTER II NEW RELATIONS
“Little Windows,” Mount Hebron, N. C., October 20th.
Yes, the letter is from Azalea, though she is in a place that neither you nor she ever heard of before.
Are you wondering what they are, or what it is?
It is the name of a cottage on the top of Mount Hebron. You have seen Hebron, looking like a cloud, from the top of our own Mount Tennyson.
The cottage belongs to Mr. and Mrs. David Knox, and, Oh, Carin, they—
But I must begin at the beginning.
In my last letter I told you how wretched Father McBirney was feeling. Well, he grew worse and worse, till at last he did not know a moment when he was free from pain. Jim and I tried to keep things going, but it was hard. We began to grow anxious about money and the bare necessaries. Then I said:
“I’m going out to see about the mountain chairs. I’m going to ride Paprika over the mountains and get up the contracts with the chair-makers. Then, if they’ll not haul them to market, Jim must.”
Mother objected. So did Father. I reminded them how they had always said that a woman was perfectly safe in these mountains. But it was different, it seemed, when the woman was their own girl. However, I overcame their objections, and one rainy morning I set forth on my pony with my saddlebags well packed with food and clothing, and with carefully written directions from Father McBirney in my pocket.
“Stick to them there orders,” said Pa, “and you can’t go wrong, Zalie. Except, maybe at the Trillers. I said for you to go to where the branch turns by the two black gums, but it might so be that Triller has cut down them gums. Seems as if he can’t take no rest while there’s a tree standin’ around his place. But anyhow, if you follow the branch after it takes a bend—that is to say, after you have taken the right-hand road turning off from the Session’s pike—then you can’t a-miss it.”
“I don’t mean to miss it,” I declared. “Don’t you worry, you two.”
Jim wasn’t at home. I made a point of going while he was down at Lee with some timber. He never would have let me go in peace.
I was not at all afraid. Indeed, I was very happy. I grew up on the road, as you remember, Carin. It isn’t as if I always had been house-bound. The woods were very still and lovely, with gray veils falling in among the trees, and the distance all hidden. The great tree trunks with their green moss and their lichen looked beautiful. I had been feeling a little gray in my mind, and the day just suited me.
By noon, though, I was chilly and rather miserable, though my raincoat kept me dry enough. But I was longing for a house, as you may well imagine, and just then, sure enough, I saw a tiny cabin in a clearing. I slipped off Paprika, and knocked at the door. No one answered. A smell of wood smoke came out from the chimney and I knew there was a fire inside, and I did want awfully to sit by it. Really, my teeth were chattering. So I tried the door. It was not locked, and I went in and crouched before the fire in the great blackened fireplace. It was very homy, with its great kettle of soup hanging over the coals, and its comfortable mountain chairs, thickly padded with cushions covered with butternut homespun. There were braided rugs on the floor, and in the darkest corner, one lofty bedstead with posts and a wonderful pieced bedquilt. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that everything was _outrageously_ clean, but on the other hand, it was not disagreeably unclean—just an easy medium. Anyway, the fire was a blessing and the soup a temptation.
So what do you think I did?
Yielded to temptation, of course. I dished myself out a good helping of the soup, took some of my own bread from my lunch box, and ate till I was satisfied. Meantime, I had got as warm as toast and felt as if I had lived in that house forever. Then I took a little snapshot picture of myself from my notebook and laid it on the table with some loaf sugar, some coffee and a fine piece of Mother McBirney’s honey cake, and wrote:
_This is the picture of the girl who sat by your fire and ate some of your soup_. _It is the first time she ever helped herself to anything_, _but she enjoyed it so much that she means to stop again the next time she is passing and see if there is some more of that delicious soup and to ask how it is made_. _Here are some little presents_, _which please accept_.
Well, this is just an incident, and I only mention it to show you what a happy time I had at the beginning. I could not dream how things would change with me.
In the early afternoon I visited two of the houses to which I was to go, and arranged about the number and kinds of chairs the men were to furnish. I drew up contracts for them to sign, for I thought that would be businesslike. Anyway, it pleased me to do it, and I think the chair-makers liked it too. It gave both of us a nice efficient feeling. They wanted me to stay at the last house I visited, and there was such a darling little baby there that I almost did, but I decided that I’d better be getting on and try to reach the Triller’s before sundown. Paprika was getting a bit fagged, but I know how quickly she rests up, so I hurried her along, getting, I confess, just a trifle worried as I found myself on strange roads, with the mist settling all about me.
It was very still. The mist seemed to muffle everything. No birds were singing, and I could not hear any creature in the woods, nor any falling water, and as there was no wind, the trees were motionless. Everything rested under a gray enchantment, and it gave me a very strange feeling. Yet I liked it. I felt as if something were going to happen.
And something did. But, Carin, it was not in the least what I would have imagined or wished for. It was as different as it could possibly be.
I have said that everything was very still—Oh, perfectly still. Then came a noise from afar, like a gathering wind, yet not a leaf stirred on the trees. The sound grew louder and louder. It seemed like a tempest. I trembled and so did Paprika. A moment later around the turn of the gray road came a sort of monster—an awful thing, all snout and flaming eyes. I knew in one terrible second what it was, of course.
An automobile—the first I ever had seen, face to face and eye to eye. Paprika, who had not looked at pictures to any great extent—except, perhaps, those on bill boards—did not know at all what it was. She gave one wild scream like a wounded horse and dashed straight up the bank. Then she looked back over her shoulder as if doubting her senses, saw the horrible thing again, heard its roaring and snuffling, and plunged on. There in the thick of the woods, with the mist still gathering, I could not see how to guide her, and anyway, she was beyond management. So, in a moment more I felt myself—I who never had been thrown in my life—going over her head.
And that was all, Carin dear, for four days, so they tell me. Four days.
You will wonder where I was when I opened my eyes. This letter paper will tell you. I was, and I am, at “Little Windows,” which is the name, as I have already explained, of a cottage on the top of Mount Hebron. Of course I can not say for sure that it is the loveliest place in the world, for I have seen but few places, not being like you, Carin, darling, forever going to beautiful spots. But at any rate it is lovely beyond my power to describe, with its great valleys and gulches, and its near acquaintance with stars and sun risings and moon settings.
When first I opened my eyes I was in a quiet bedroom. The walls were silver gray, and of wood. There were no pictures. The little windows were without curtains and looked right out at the wonderful world. It was sunset and from where I lay I could see it, crimson as the banners of a king. I could hear a fire leaping and rejoicing in some room beyond, and voices—two voices. A man and a woman were talking together, rather anxiously, I thought.
“They are talking of me,” I decided. And then I began to remember.
“Is my neck broken?” I asked myself. And I wriggled it. It wriggled in the good old way.
“It’s my back!” I decided. So I tried to sit up. I was pretty dizzy, but my back worked perfectly. I tried both legs and both arms. They were just as active as I could wish. I poked my ribs. They appeared to be in their right places. And then I grew frightfully weary. I wanted to cry, yet I felt it would be too much of an effort. It seemed as if I were sinking down, down through gray mist. Everything floated away from before me, and I knew nothing more for a time.
Then somebody brought in a light. It was not a very large or a very bright light, but it managed to reach the queer, shadowy place where I was living, and to make me open my eyes.
“How do you do, ma’am?” I heard myself saying.
The lady who carried the lamp nearly dropped it. But she controlled herself and set it on a table. Then she came and hung over me and said in a voice that trembled:
“I’m very well, thank you. How are you?”
We have both laughed about it since—about our speaking to each other in that queer formal way. But we had to make some sort of a beginning, and perhaps that was as good as any.
“I am all right, thank you, ma’am,” I said. “I tried myself all over a while ago, and there is nothing broken.”
“No,” said the lady, “there is nothing broken.” But she looked at me doubtfully, and with a queer kind of curiosity.
“Do you remember that you were hurt?” she asked. “That you were thrown from your horse and hurt?”
“My pony?” I asked. “Is she well?”
“Oh, yes, she’s all right. She wasn’t hurt. But you were, and my husband—it was his machine that frightened your pony—picked you up and brought you here.”
“Thank you,” I said. Then I began to wish she would go away and leave me alone. I wanted to go back into that queer, gray, silent place of mine again, where sort of shadowy things went by in a long procession, without one of them stopping to bother me with questions. I did think I would enjoy looking at the lady and see what she was like, but I was too lazy and so I decided I would do that another time. Only I could see that she was tall, that her hair was golden, and that she was very thin. That seemed enough for the present; so I closed my eyes.
Then presently I felt someone putting something between my lips. It was soup. And that made me laugh. I thought about the house where I had helped myself to the soup. I had liked it better than this—it had had more flavor.
“What are you laughing about?” asked the lady.
I felt terribly silly. I remembered something from “Alice.”
“Soup of the evening, beautiful soup,” I said. Then I laughed some more. I couldn’t quit. Suddenly I heard a voice roaring:
So I stopped and looked to see who had spoken to me that way. It was a tall man—a terribly tall man. The shadow of him ran along the floor for yards and doubled up on the ceiling.
“Who are you?” I asked. I was quite angry.
Then he bowed—and you ought to have seen that shadow bow at the same time. It was the funniest thing, and it nearly set me off again, but I crumpled up the sheet in my hands and squeezed it as hard as I could to keep from giggling.
“David Knox,” said the gentleman, “who was unfortunate enough to be the cause of all of your trouble.”
“I am glad to meet you,” I said politely. His bow was so nice I forgave him for yelling: “Stop that!”
“Lorena,” he said under his voice, “I think everything is going to be all right.”
Now you wouldn’t think that remark would make me laugh, would you? Oh, Carin, I’m so ashamed of it, now I remember. But I began to sing:
“‘The years roll slowly by, Lorena,’” and then when I couldn’t think of the next line I cried: “Why doesn’t somebody tell me what comes next?”
Well, they told me if I didn’t keep still they would go out and leave me alone. I didn’t want to be left alone, because just then I took a sort of turn and was afraid to sink down into that gray, still place where I had been. So I said:
“Oh, please stay, please stay, and I will tell you why I laughed at the soup.”
So before they could stop me I had told them about it.
“Some day,” I said, “I am going back and call on that woman. I will give her some patterns for weaving, and maybe she will have some old, old ones that she will give me.”
“Can you weave?” asked the lady. “You are very young and—and not a mountain girl, are you?”
“Oh, I’m a mountain girl,” I said, remembering back just as far as dear Mother McBirney and the cabin with my bedroom in the loft. “I’m Azalea McBirney of Tennyson Mountain, and I’m—I’m a weaver.”
“Azalea,” murmured the lady. “That was the name of poor Jack’s wife, wasn’t it? I always thought it a sweet name.”
Something shot through my brain. It was like a stroke of lightning. It was the strangest thing that ever happened to me. In a second, by some power I can’t explain, I began to know things. I saw them as if they were a vision. I sat right up in bed, and pushed my hair back from my face. I recollect that I kept pushing it back and pushing it back, as if it got in between me and what I wanted to understand.
“What Jack? What Jack?” I demanded.
“Jack Knox, my dead brother,” said the man soothingly. “No one you know I am sure, my dear. Don’t excite yourself, please.”
“Jack Knox! Jack Knox!” I said. “That was the man that married my little mama and left her to care for me alone. Jack Knox! No, I don’t know him. I don’t remember him at all. And I’m glad of it. Jack Knox! Jack Knox!”
You know it isn’t like me, Carin, to feel angry at anyone. But my mind seemed to have no resistance. Whatever idea got into it insisted on raging around in it. I couldn’t stop it. I was ashamed, and yet I couldn’t manage myself.
I felt the lady, Mrs. Knox, taking hold of me with those long, soft, cool hands of hers and forcing me back on the bed.
“Lie still,” she begged. “Do lie still, Miss Azalea. You mustn’t care about anything. No one shall do you any harm, and we’ll not even let troublesome ideas come near you if we can help it.”
“Did you not say,” said the gentleman, “that your name was McBirney?”
“Yes, yes, McBirney. Don’t you know Ma and Pa McBirney? Why, everyone knows them. They take orphans in. At least they took me in. They would have taken my little mama in, only she was dead, so they put her beneath the Pride of India tree beside their own Molly. You can go see for yourself. You will know the house by the Pride of India tree and the gourds before the door. The gourds are for the martins—dozens and dozens of martins. The martins will show you the way if you like. Or the bees—thousands of bees.”
“Hush, hush,” whispered the lady. “David, go and take the light. Hush, Azalea, hush. It is all right. Your little mama would want you to hush.”
She began singing the song with her own name in it.
“The years roll slowly by, Lorena.”
I went to sleep. But this time it was different. I did not seem to be sinking into that chilly gray place where the visions were. I just went to sleep the way I ought.
The next morning when I awoke I was quite sensible and calm. I saw the world as it was, and remembered all my life, and knew that I had come by a strange, strange chance, among my dead father’s people. David Knox was his elder brother, and Lorena Knox, with her yellow hair and her long cool hands, was David’s wife. It made me deeply satisfied—not exactly happy, but deeply satisfied.
I ate the breakfast they brought me, and after a while I was taken out into the sitting room. It was a beautiful room, large and square and quiet, with a great fireplace of gray stone, and more little uncurtained windows looking out at the green and purple world. So then I sat up and looked at these people.
“I have never before seen anyone save my little poor mama who belonged to me,” I said. “It is very strange, to be here with you.”
“Do you like it?” asked Mrs. Knox.
“I am a little afraid,” I said.
“Because I want you to like me and I am afraid you may not.”
“Oh, but why? We already do!”
“Do you? Oh, I’m glad. Life has been—”
“How has it been?”
“Lonesome, sometimes. Interesting, of course, and nice, but lonesome. I was always taking favors from other people. I had no one of my own. There was only—only the Pride of India tree with mama under it. I used to go out and talk to it, but—”
“Hush,” said the lady. “Do not weep, Azalea. Save all your strength for our sakes. I cannot doubt that what you tell me is true. I want you to see something.”
She brought me a little album open at the face of a young man. Carin, darling, when I looked at it, I knew it was the face of my father. It was like my own face, only a man’s and bolder. And yet, so like!
“My father!” I said. “I never saw his face before.”
“It is wonderfully like your own,” said Mr. Knox. “And now you must call me your Uncle David, Azalea; and you must call my dear wife your Aunt Lorena. Remember, you must never feel lonely any more.”
Then I suddenly thought of Mother McBirney waiting for me, and watching and watching the road, and praying and wondering, and I cried out:
“Oh, my dear Mother McBirney! I can never leave her—never!”
“But someone else has a claim on you now,” said my Uncle David. Carin, think of having a right really to write that: “My Uncle David!”
“Yes, I know, but—”
“I do not mean your Aunt Lorena and myself,” he said. “I mean that you have a grandmother and that it will be the happiest hour of her old age when she takes the daughter of her favorite son in her arms.”
“Not a grandmother? A grandmother of my own?”
“Indeed you have, and a very wonderful and proud old lady she is. The grief of her life was the waywardness of her son. She cannot realize that he is dead. We have to watch her lest she steal out to meet him in secret as she did in the old days when his father turned him from home. She used to creep from the house to meet him and to take him money, for she lived in the light of his handsome countenance. So it is your duty, Azalea, to go to her.”
“A grandmother,” I said, “of my very own!”
It seemed wonderful—like having a mother, only more majestic. I can’t explain what I felt.
And I can’t write any more just now, darling Carin. My aunt has kept warning me that I must put my pen down. So I obey. Another day you shall know the rest.
CHAPTER III OWN FOLK
“Little Windows,” Mount Hebron, October 22nd.
I was not quite so well after writing you. Aunt Lorena says I mustn’t write so much at one time again till I am stronger. This is just to say that Mother McBirney has been sent for, though I can’t see how she is to leave home. Who will look after the men? Oh, how I am needed in that little house! And here I lie in this beautiful room, idle, of no use to anyone. And so sleepy! I never dreamed anyone could be so sleepy.
When I dream now, it is all about my grandmother. To think of an own grandmother! In my dreams she comes creeping softly into the room and strokes my hair. I do not believe a word they say about her being proud. I am sure she is gentle. At least, her dream-hand on my head is so.
I am writing to Mary Cecily Rowantree, and she can send the letter on to Keefe O’Connor—to “brother” as she always calls him. Have you noticed that she almost never speaks his name? That is, I suppose, because he does not bear the one that was given him when he was christened. What a strange story is his!
_Good-bye_, _yellow-haired one_,
* * * * *
_Dear old Carin_:
Mother McBirney has come. I have been alone with her. Of course she had been told everything by Uncle David on the way over.
“Mother-heart, mother-heart,” I said to her, “tell me what I shall do. Here we are alone, we two, and no one is listening. Whatever you decide on shall be done. No matter what anyone says, we shall do it.”
“Zalie,” she said in that lovely drawling voice of hers, “I reckon the time has come for me and you to go our separate ways.”
“Mother, do you know what I have been told? I am rich. I shall have money to spend. All at once, in one lump, right now, I can have the money that would have been mine all during the years since my father died. I have asked them, and they say that though I am not of age, I may do what I please with that money. So, mother-heart, you and Father McBirney can go to the Springs, and Jim can go to school. You can rent out the horses and the cattle or sell them. Perhaps Annie Laurie will add them to her stock. You can sell the chickens and the bees, or take them to Annie Laurie’s too.”
“Oh, Zalie,” cried Ma, “how can you go on talking about chickens and bees?”
“Because,” said I, “sooner or later that is what the three of you will sit up late at night talking about. I’m trying to arrange it so that you will not say ‘no.’ For I can’t stand it to have Father McBirney suffering the way he is, and you going sad and poor and Jim not having school. I knew all the time that I couldn’t stand it—that I’d have to do something about it. And now here, along comes Accident—whom I shall make my goddess—and she brings me among my own folk, and gives me a fortune.”
“And parts us, Zalie.”
“No, Mother McBirney. I say no! You shall go to the Springs, you shall see Father get well. I shall visit you from time to time. Then you will go back to your own home, perhaps, and some day I shall build on that lovely spot on the little bench, halfway up the mountain-side. You remember that place with the three great tulip trees and the spring of cold water? I’ll build me a little house there, and all the mountain people and all the valley people shall visit me. It will be near you, so that every time you go to town you will be obliged to stop and have something to eat and to get a drink at my spring. You shall not lose me, no, no, no.”
I gave her such a hug that she gasped. Though she is so gentle I think she always rather liked my fierce ways.
“Will you be living in that house alone, Zalie?” she asked me, looking just like Jim when he teases. And though there wasn’t a thing to make me blush—not one thing—I got to blushing and couldn’t stop. I was perfectly furious with myself. How is it that sensible people are sometimes so silly?
“Mother McBirney,” I said at last, “is it nice of you to peer into the future like that? Don’t you think you are prying and—and—”
She wouldn’t let me finish. Anyway, I didn’t know _how_ to finish.
“Don’t you do some of that kind of prying yourself?” she asked.
Would you have thought Ma McBirney could have been so naughty?
You will remember, Carin, that when your dear father and mother asked me to live with them and be a sister to you, I refused because I could not bring myself to leave Mother McBirney. But then she was all sore and suffering from the loss of her Molly; she had done the one wild and lawless thing of her life in stealing me from the terrible people who claimed me. I _had_ to stay with her then. But now I am a young woman. I must make my own way, and I must help the McBirney family. Moreover, the people who now take me are my kin. In going with them I do my duty to my own family, to my grandmother; I can make amends to her for all my father made her suffer. Do you not see how different it is?
I explained it all to Mother McBirney. She is reconciled—very quiet and rather strange, but reconciled. She will get happier as time goes on. Oh, I mean to make her very happy.
It is interesting to see her and my uncle and aunt together. My uncle and aunt are very grand people, Carin, but they have no better manners than little Ma McBirney. You and I always said she had the nicest manners in the world. They begin and end with kindness, and gentleness and thoughtfulness, and with it all, she is so self-respectful, as if she felt it her duty to cherish her own soul and mind and body because they were God’s gift to her.
Did I tell you that Mrs. Babb, the moon-shiner’s mother, was over taking care of Father McBirney and Jim? That fierce mother of wild sons! I remember describing her that way to myself long ago. But you know how kind and nice she can be. She always was an obliging neighbor, and so, for the matter of that, were her sons. You have heard about the time her son set Hi Kitchell’s arm and was good to Jim. That was when I was kidnapped, and the whole countryside was searching for little Azalea.
The funniest thing happened to Uncle David and Mother McBirney when they were coming over here together. Uncle David knew, of course, about my going into the little cabin and warming myself before the fire and helping myself to soup, so he was watching out for the place. And sure enough he came to it, and he and Mother McBirney went in. There were two women there, a mother and daughter, and both were very nice looking, though one, of course, was no longer young. They seemed different from most of the mountaineers; not inclined to tell much about themselves. They showed the picture of me, and they said they had enjoyed the things I left. They talked about me quite a little, and were polite, though cold and offish. Uncle David had his camera with him, and he wanted to take pictures of them to bring to me, but they objected to that. Wasn’t that queer of them? Some day I am going to call on them, unless indeed I leave this part of the country forever and ever. I suppose I may.
Aunt Lorena doesn’t want me to go to Mallowbanks—that is the name of the old Knox place—all in my homespun. She wants to dress me out as Queen Guinevere did Enid. I have asked her to wait, but she is not very well content to do so.
“If you are presented to your grandmother in homespun,” she says, “she will remember it to the last day of her life. Your grandmother is very old, Azalea, so that she is inclined to pay too much attention to little matters. She will say to everyone who comes to the house: ‘This is Azalea, the daughter of my dear Jack. She came to me in homespun, but I have clothed her in silk—as becomes her.’ Oh, it is so easy to imagine her saying it. Truly, she will never forget the homespun nor let you forget it. What is worse, she will insist on dressing you herself, and she will probably do it out of the cedar chests in the lumber room.”
“Out of the cedar chests?” said I.
“Yes, the famous, terrible cedar chests. They are filled with loot from all over the world—old shawls and crepes and brocades and laces. Never was there such an expensive and unusable mess. Ever since David married me she has wanted me to make over these things—”
“And very lovely you would look in them,” broke in my Uncle David in gentle rebuke.
“Lovely, indeed,” cried Aunt Lorena. “I would look like a romantic scarecrow. No, David, the ladies who wore those gowns dressed in the fashion of their day, and I mean to dress in the fashion of mine. I warn Azalea right now that if she doesn’t let me send to Charleston for fit and proper clothing for her, she’ll be wearing those stiff old things to the day of her—marriage.”
“Oh, I’d be certain to have my wedding dress made out of the chests, I should think,” I said, perfectly delighted with the idea. “Hasn’t grandmother saved her wedding dress?”
“Of course she has, and her wedding chemise and slippers and veil and fan.”
“Oh,” I cried, “just let me lie still and think about it awhile. Isn’t it like a fairy tale?”
So I did. I lay still quite a while looking at the fire, and wondering if it could be true that I, Azalea Knox, who had believed myself to be little more than a waif, was coming into a home all mellow and beautiful with old customs and memories and loves—and hates, too, I suppose. Then I seemed to feel that something was wrong, and looking up I saw my new Uncle David frowning at me—distinctly frowning.
So I said:
“Why do you frown, Uncle David?”
And he said:
“Why are you so interested in bridal dresses?”
“Aren’t all girls interested in bridal dresses?”
“Not when they are infants like yourself, miss.”
“I am eighteen and over,” I said. “If you don’t have daydreams when you are eighteen, when will you have them?”
“True for you, Azalea,” cried my aunt with her high laugh. “Pay no attention to him. I was just turned seventeen when we became engaged.”
“The circumstances were peculiar,” said my uncle, rather red in the face.
“They were,” said my aunt. “You wanted me, and you were afraid I might—want someone else.”
“But we waited,” said my uncle, “a long, long time.”
“Two years and three months,” said my aunt.
“Few, however, would be justified in marrying so young,” said my uncle. “But we were peculiarly suited to each other. Both families approved. You, my dear Azalea, have not been so situated as to see much of people in your own station of life, so it will probably be many years before you will have any occasion to ask my mother for her old white satin wedding gown.”
I said nothing at all but just smiled at the fire. I could feel Uncle David still watching me. At last he said:
“Why are you smiling?”
“I am happy.”
“Are you still thinking of the wedding gown?”
“Azalea, have you any secret to tell us?”
“Could Mrs. McBirney throw any light on that peculiar smile of yours?”
But would dear old Ma go back on me? You know she would not.
“Zalie is like my Jim,” she drawled, “a good deal of a tease.”
I threw her a kiss. And Uncle David shook his fist at me.
Ah, Carin, why are you not here? Why can we not slip in bed side by side each night as we used up at Sunset Gap? I have so many things to tell you, and I cannot begin to make them clear merely writing them like this. Though I find I like to write. I have been reading and reading for years and thinking how hard it must be to write, and now, for the first time, I am really trying my hand at it, and I find it about as easy as breathing. Of course, writing to you, who understand me and my ways so well, makes it particularly easy. I do not say that I would dare to write for strangers or that I would like to do it. And yet, I wonder, Carin, if one were to write a book just as if one were talking to a friend, showing all one’s heart and counting on the readers to understand and sympathize, if it would not be a good book.
A book has to be human to be good, doesn’t it? And writing that way, frankly, even lovingly, I may say, letting people feel that you who are writing are really a friend, although unknown, would make a book human, wouldn’t it?
I suppose there are a great many lonely folk in the world who have not had the good fortune to make friends, or even to find their own home, in any true and deep sense of the word, and that to such, a friendly book is a great boon. It is something to take down off the shelf at night in the quiet hours, and to read over and over again. It helps them to forget their troubles and even themselves, and they go to bed comforted and warmed at the heart, remembering that the old world is a pretty kind and genial place after all.
If I could write, it is such a book as that which I would choose to make. And do you know, the last few days as I have been lying here thinking and thinking, I’ve wondered if I might not write a little. It would do such pleasant things to my life. It would be like planting little gardens of flowers all about me. Haven’t we a right to plant flowers if we have a taste for them? Planting flowers and writing, like everything else that one does, is largely a matter of habit, don’t you think so?
To-morrow Mother McBirney is going home. Uncle David is going to take her. She is to close up the house, send Jim to school, and betake herself and Father McBirney to Bethal Springs for the winter. Uncle David has written down to engage a cosy little furnished cottage for them. He has given me a check for them. I am very happy, Carin.
I told you I was going to make Accident my goddess. I like Accident. Just turning around the corner may bring one face to face with—with something glorious. I feel all the time now as if something delightful and surprising were going to happen.
* * * * * * * * *
“Little Windows,” Oct. 29.
Carin, we are off. The “little windows” are all boarded up. The servants have been driven to the station. Outside the door the touring car is standing, silent but eager. I swear it looks eager, and that I am horribly afraid of it. I expect to have a chill. My teeth chatter at this moment at the thought of riding in that long, raging, rushing thing around these winding mountain roads. I feel as if this might be the last letter I shall ever write to you. I said I loved Accident, but that depends on how she looks. To-day I do not like the looks of her. I cut her acquaintance. If you never hear from me again, remember how I loved you.
Aunt Lorena and Uncle David are putting the last touches to things, and I am sitting on the porch scribbling in my notebook. From here we can see thirty peaks and many valleys and rivers. The rivers are silver threads in the purple distance, winding and winding. There is an eagle just above the house, probably come to see that we get safely away. I wish he would teach me how to fly so that I wouldn’t have to ride in that terrible machine.
The only thing that cheers me up is the thought that I am really going home. After so many homeless years, or years in which I had a home only by the kindness of others, I am going to my own home, to my own grandmother, blood of my blood, the mother of my father.
Do you suppose those who love us and are dead, know what is happening to us? Is my own little mother seeing me this day? Is she glad I am going to the home which never opened its doors to her? Am I loyal to her in going? These questions are too hard for me to answer. I only know that my uncle and aunt would be shocked and deeply offended if I did not go with them, and I remember that to the last my mother loved my father.
When she lay dead that day in dear Mother McBirney’s house, they found in the leather pocket book she carried, a little piece of dark hair which must have been his, with her “wedding lines,” as Mother McBirney called them, and a little blurred picture which was, no doubt, of him. But her tears or the rain had dimmed it so we could barely see it.
Your letter was brought me last night, Carin, and was the greatest sort of a comfort. Oh, I knew you would understand.
Aren’t you taking too many studies? You mustn’t wear yourself out. Never forget that you are going to be an artist and that you have to consider your talent above everything else. So be careful not to use yourself up on mathematics and physics and all those things.
I am glad you are having some good times. That young man who sent you flowers is a Southerner, is he? From Charleston? Why didn’t you tell me his name? Perhaps I shall be meeting him. For I am to meet people. I mean, I am to meet them the way you do. Aunt Lorena will give a “coming out” party for me. It rather amuses me. Poor Azalea, with her boots covered with red mud and her hands scratched with briars and burned with cooking and pricked with sewing, and her hair tumbled every which way, Azalea who can whistle through her fingers as well as Jim or Hi or any of the boys, who can climb a fence in a jiffy and shin up a tree if necessary, to stand all perfumed and proper, in a wonderful old drawing-room, saying: “Thank you, madam, you are very good to say so.” “Thank you, sir, indeed I am very much honored to meet my grandmother’s old friends.” Can you hear me? I wish you could in reality. Perhaps I can get my aunt to put off the party till Thanksgiving. If so, could you dash down to Mallowbanks? It is not far from Charleston. You could take a few extra days from college, couldn’t you?
The very thought of it puts new courage into me. You will find my new address within. Write me at once. I shall insist that Annie Laurie come to my party also. What a reunion that would be! To have the old friends and the new together would be something to remember always.
Maybe the young-man-who-sent-the-roses will be home for Thanksgiving. Then he could come too, and I would see if he was nice enough to—to be allowed to send you roses.
Do you suppose Keefe could come? But he wouldn’t, would he? At least, not unless I got an order for him to paint a portrait. And how could I do that? But maybe I can insist that he shall paint a portrait of my grandmother for me. My own grandmother!
There, Uncle David is cranking that terrible machine. I must go. Carin, we who go to die salute thee!
I will you my amber beads.
CHAPTER IV MADAM GRANDMOTHER
Mallowbanks, Brent County, S. C., November first.
_Poor neglected Carin_:
I know it, Carin. I know I have treated you badly. I know that you have been expecting and wondering and scolding because I have not written.
But when you say that I have forgotten you because of my new friends, well—I haven’t any answer to that. Nothing pleasant ever happens to me that I do not wish you were with me to share it, and nothing bad ever happens that I do not think in the midst of all my trouble:
“I will make a story out of that to tell to Carin and—well, Annie Laurie or any other person whom I love.”
But you first, Carin.
As you may have guessed, we got here alive. I was really very much surprised. Between shivers and shudders I enjoyed the ride tremendously. We had two days and a half of it, sleeping at night in inns where my uncle and aunt were welcomed very warmly, and where everybody marveled over me very much as they did in the old days when Mother McBirney first took me over and carried me with her everywhere to exhibit me so lovingly and triumphantly.
Only this time there were differences; very great differences. I soon realized that to be the daughter of the house of Knox was no small matter, and though I had insisted on keeping to my homespun, and still do think it very nice, I was a trifle worried about it. But my riding suit is well cut, and it fits like a dream, and the homespun is almost as soft as camel’s hair, and the color of it, a bottle green, becomes me very well. I was wearing the little dark green Alpine hat you brought me from Switzerland, and that was becoming too.
Yet, girl-o’-my-heart, I felt frightened and insignificant enough when, having passed by way of many charming old towns and wide plantations, we came at last to the long, shady road which they told me belonged to the Knox estate. The part we passed through was all in fine old trees, not so near together but that the sun could make bright carpets in between them. Here and there, where the ground lifted, we could see the plantations, now of course in their autumn bareness, stretching in three directions.
I have always loved to read about princes and princesses who have wandered, poor and forlorn, in strange lands, and who finally return to their royal homes and live happy ever after amid a loving people. I think that is the nicest sort of a story in the world, and I often have played, when it was cold and windy in my little loft on Tennyson Mountain, and when Jim teased me, and all the family was looking at something in a different way from what I was able to do, that I was a lost princess and that by and by I would come into my own.
But I never really thought it anything but a silly, silly dream. I played with it as I used, a few years before, to play with paper dolls.
Yet here I was, Carin, being swept up to the door of my ancestral mansion. We turned a bend in the road, and then saw the house across a stretch of lawn. It was all dripping with Virginia creeper; the leaves hung red as flame from the hooded windows, and bannerets of the scarlet vine fluttered from the wide door. Did uncle tell me the house was Georgian in its style? I do not remember. At any rate, it is of old-rose brick and “I am glad, mother,” said, as mellow as a soft sunset. There are six hooded windows and the beautiful door down below, and seven windows above; then at each end of the main part of the building is an L, running obliquely out into the lawn, and here, too, are the hooded windows above, but below are galleries, and they are roofed in some places and uncovered in others, so that you can stay under cover if you like, or right out under the stars.
I found myself clasping my hands tight over my heart as I looked.
“Do you like it, dear?” asked Aunt Lorena gently.
I seized her hand.
“Oh, Aunt Lorena, did you come here a bride? Did Uncle David bring you here? Had you ever seen it before?”
“I had known it ever since I was a child, but notwithstanding that, the day I entered it and knew it for my own to live in was one of the happiest of my life.”
“All on account of the house, I suppose,” growled Uncle David from the front seat of the car. Aunt Lorena laughed like a bird and said nothing.
“Oh, the years must have rolled sweetly by, Lorena,” said I under my breath.
She smiled at me beautifully, and then we got out of the car, and there were people running from out of the house and from around the house to help us—kind, affectionate, capable black people, happy and well placed.
They all looked at me, open-eyed, like children, and they bowed and smiled, but all the time I could see they were wondering. Then Uncle David took me by the hand and led me up the steps and turned with me and said:
“This is Miss Azalea Knox, the daughter of my brother John. She has come here to be the daughter of the house and your young mistress.”
In the old days—or at least in story books—my “faithful retainers” would have cheered. These did not cheer, but there were murmurs of interest and pleasure, and then they began coming up to wish me happiness with the sweetest manners imaginable. So I shook hands with them all, and liked them, and felt I would enjoy doing things for them and that I could ask them to do things for me. All the while, inside, deep down, there was a curious chuckling going on in me. I couldn’t help having that laugh with myself.
“So the poor homespun princess really has come to her ancestral halls,” I kept thinking. I wondered that it didn’t strike Uncle David and Aunt Lorena and that they didn’t laugh. But no, Carin, they were quite serious and grand, and I soon saw how well their stately ways went with that beautiful place.
I mustn’t take time to describe all the place to you, must I? But I cannot pass on without telling you my first impression of the great hall by which we entered. There was a high paneling in carved wood, and a sweeping staircase, with carved panels, and a fireplace, all beautifully carved too. The dark, shining floor was covered with strips of gray carpeting, and at the doors and the great window of leaded glass on the landing were silvery curtains with bands of white and black. Then there was the clock of teakwood, and a lovely statue of a Diana in pinky-white marble, so delicate the light came through her arm.
An unusual room, you must admit that. To the returning princess, who has seen no grandeur save that to be found in your beautiful home, Carin, it was rather—well, rather overpowering.
Mother McBirney had sent my clothes to me, of course, and now my little bag was taken up to my room, and I was told to follow Mary Greenville Female Seminary Simms—Semmy for short—the old benevolent-faced colored woman.
We went up the wonderful stairway, I saying nothing and breathing pretty hard, but trying not to let anyone know it, and then along the upper hallway to a shuttered door. It was opened for me and I went in to what was to be my room.
So quaint, so complete was it, Carin, that I hardly know how to describe it to you. The walls were papered with a design of pine leaves on pearly white; the draperies were white muslin and green silk; the furniture was of white wood, upholstered in green. There were only two pictures, both of the sea; one with wild waves dashing over a rock in the bright sunshine, the other a quiet, wonderful picture of rippling miles of water the color of the inside of a shell. The sun must have been rising, but one did not see it—only banks of soft cloud, with a gray veil before them.
Can you imagine it all?
Then, as each drawer was opened, or the closets, or the armoire, sweet odors of dried herbs came forth. Everywhere was fragrance and peace.
“You-all trunks will be comin’ along by express I reckon,” said Semmy as she began to unpack my bag. I wondered what Aunt Lorena would wish me to say. Should I let my black maid know that all I owned was there before her—not enough to fill two of the drawers in the deep bureau? Then it occurred to me that it was not necessary to tell her anything at all.
“How nicely you have put everything away,” I said to her. “Here is a little basket that I made with my own hands. Will you let me give it to you?”
So I got rid of Semmy and her questions, and was left alone wondering what I should do next. Nothing I possessed went in any way with my grand surroundings, but I reflected that Mother McBirney would have decided, in such circumstances, that one could at least be neat and clean.
So I bathed in my beautiful bathroom, and I donned fresh clothes. It was rather chilly, and I hardly knew what to wear. But at last I put on the low-necked white frock Aunt Zillah Pace made for me—every stitch hand sewn—and the amber beads your mother gave me, and a scarf of yellow silk that was Barbara Summers’ Christmas present to me. I had some white slippers and silk stockings—gifts from your dear mother, Carin. So I managed fairly well, I thought.
Out in the corridor I met my aunt coming to my room.
“I have told your grandmother,” she whispered. “She is terribly excited. I ought to have waited, perhaps—to let her get acquainted with you and then to tell her after she became fond of you. Oh, I wish I had! But it is too late now. Anyway, we mustn’t keep her waiting a minute. How lovely you look, Azalea! Just as a young girl should. Will you come with me now? Your uncle is with his mother.”
I had never seen Aunt Lorena excited before, and I could hardly understand why she should be so now, though I will confess that I felt very strange myself. I had to take hold of Aunt Lorena’s arm going down that long flight of stairs.
Then, once we were down, the old black butler bowed us into the drawing-room, which was glittering with old-time luster candelabra, and at the end of the room, all in gray and white and diamonds, with hair of pure silver, was the littlest, proudest, stateliest lady I ever saw or dreamed of. You cannot imagine how small she was or how regal. She sat in a high-backed carved chair on a dais, like a queen, and Uncle David stood by her quite as if he were her prime minister and were terribly worried over some affair of state.
I saw him looking at me anxiously, and I knew he was doubting my power to please this little queenly lady. But at that very moment all of my own fears departed and I only remembered that at last here was one of my very, very own folk, and I ran down the room and lifted her hand in mine and kissed it. Yes, I knelt right there on that queer little dais and held her hand to my lips. I was going to call her “grandmother,” but she looked so regal that I could not quite speak that familiarly, so I called her “madam grandmother” instead.
“Madam grandmother,” I cried, “I am your own granddaughter. Please, please love me!”
“Arise, my child,” she said as if I were indeed the long lost daughter of a queen—as I so often had pretended to be—and she lifted me up and looked at me through her little gold-rimmed lorgnette.
“David,” she said proudly, “she is the living image of our dear Jack!”
“Yes, mother,” said Uncle David gently. “I was sure you would think that, and indeed I agree with you, and so does Lorena.”
“Lorena,” said madam grandmother in a voice of command, “I confide this child to your keeping. She must be your especial care. You will rear her, Lorena, to be worthy of her name.”
“I am glad, mother,” said Aunt Lorena, “that you think me capable of performing such an important and delicate task.”
“Lorena, you were a Ravanel, and the Ravanels have no need to doubt themselves. I could place her in no better hands.”
“My Aunt Lorena has already been looking after me more kindly than I can say, madam grandmother,” I said. “I cannot tell you how good she was to me when I was ill.”
“Hah!” cried my grandmother, “I like your voice, Azalea. Moreover, I like your manner; and I admire your name. I wish to hear something of your life. David and Lorena, you have, no doubt, already heard this story. If you wish to withdraw you may do so. Please close the doors as you go. My granddaughter and myself will have a conference.”
Carin, would you have supposed anyone could speak in this manner in the present day and generation? I would never have believed it myself if I had not heard it.
Sampson, the old butler, was summoned to bring up a low, comfortable chair for me, and sitting in this, holding my grandmother’s little wrinkled, jeweled hands in mine, I told her all the story.
Once she asked me to ring to have the fire lighted in the great fireplace, and “old James,” as the utility man is called, came in and did it. Otherwise we were left quite to ourselves. Callers came, but she asked to be excused.
“I have been receiving callers all my life,” she said to me, “but never, never before have I sat with a granddaughter of my own—and as true a Knox as ever drew the breath of life. Every tone of your voice, my dear, reminds me of your father; every look and gesture is like him. This is the happiest day I have had for many years.”
“You do not question my identity at all, madam grandmother,” I said. “It is very gracious of you.”
“The story your Uncle David told me was convincing, my child. But aside from that, your face is a confirmation of the truth of your story. But continue, please. I wish to hear everything you have to say.”
So I talked on and on, and she listened seriously and kindly, sometimes with her head drooping a little, other times proudly, with her little gold-bound glasses raised. I could see that she suffered horribly when I told of how my sweet mother and I had struggled on, how we had gone hungry and cold and had had to associate with drunken, coarse, cruel people. But I told her everything. I seemed to owe that much to my little mother.
Then, after a long time, I finished. She looked at me with a strange, sad, wistful air that made me, for all her pride, think of a child who had done wrong and who wished to be forgiven.
“I am sorry,” she said, “that you did not know your father, Azalea. You would have loved him. No one could help loving him. Please, for my sake, do not hate his memory.”
“No, no,” I answered, “I will not hate him, or anyone. I haven’t time to hate anyone.”
Just then a beautiful sound stole through the room. I could not tell what it was or where it came from, but grandmother smiled at my surprise and told me that it was only the dinner gong. So she arose and said:
“Your arm, Azalea, please,” and we went down the long drawing-room together, and when we reached the door the old butler threw wide the leaves of it for us, and we crossed the great corridor and went to the dining room. It was all glittering with silver and glass and shining with white linen and glowing with flowers, and there was the butler and a man to help him, and Martha, grandmother’s own woman, to stand behind her chair.
Try to think of your own rough and ready Azalea, sitting there amid that grandeur, acting as if she were used to it. But it is asking too much of you, isn’t it, honey? Everyone talked very softly, and when they laughed they seemed to do so rather cautiously, and the servants moved about as if it would be a terrible crime to make a noise, though I could see perfectly well by the expression of their faces, that they took an interest in everything. Of course we had delicious things to eat. There was some kind of a frozen dessert that Aunt Lorena said was made in my honor.
“We have this only on notable occasions,” she declared.
After dinner we went back to the drawing-room again, and my grandmother asked me to sing. So I did, but not very well, and she asked me to dance, and I did that, too, with Aunt Lorena playing for me. But I don’t believe I danced very well either. Making up a solo dance as you go along isn’t easy, is it, Carin? But at any rate, grandmother seemed pleased, and I am sure it helped her to pass the evening. The last hour I sat beside her, telling her stories of Mother McBirney and all my friends, and she kept her hand on my arm, and now and then cried to Uncle David:
“Isn’t it incredible that we have found her? Isn’t she the picture of your brother Jack?”
Finally Aunt Lorena said it was time for us all to go to bed, and when grandmother protested, she reminded her how weary we were from our long journey. So old Martha was called for grandmother, and Semmy was called for me, and we all went off to our rooms. I had to laugh a little—at least, I think I laughed, but maybe I cried, too—to think of my little loft at home, and the pieces of round tin nailed over the mouse holes. And then to look around at this new room of mine!
The bed was soft as down, and scented with lavender, and there was an eiderdown comfort to snuggle under. It was such a wonderful bed that I couldn’t go to sleep for thinking about it, but lay awake for a long time, as I never had done in my little loft. There was much to think over, Carin—so much. And always I kept wondering: “Have I done right? Is this going to help me weave my silver web?”
I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I heard, without hearing, a certain little soft, stealthy sound for several seconds before I realized that something unusual was happening. Then, when that fact really came to me, I sat up in bed to listen.
Someone, it was evident, was stealing along the hall. Then I heard the soft, creeping steps down the stairs, and after a while a door opened—a little door right beneath my window.
I slipped out of bed and looked from my window, and I could see a little white figure gliding away from the house. It was no larger than that of a child, but the motions it made were not a child’s, and that is how I came to know that it was grandmother. I couldn’t think it right for her to be going out into the garden in the middle of the night in her night clothes, so I ran down the stairs. I found the little door opened from a cloak room, and I stumbled out into the darkness after her. But it was very dark and I did not know the garden, so in a few moments I found myself quite hopelessly lost amid the hedges. I was afraid something dreadful might happen if I wasted any more time, so I got back to the house, and ran upstairs to try to find Aunt Lorena’s room.
But all of the bedroom doors in the house have shutters to them, and these shutters were closed, so I could not possibly tell which rooms were occupied and which were not, and all I could do was to run up and down, knocking at each one and calling:
“Oh, Aunt Lorena, Uncle David, come!”
It was like a horrible nightmare. It seemed as if more doors kept coming into existence right there before my eyes. The place was so dark—I had no idea where to find the electric buttons—that if the doors had not been white I could not have seen them at all. Truly, Carin, it was the most frightening thing that ever happened to me.
But I hear the dinner gong. I will send this off, there is so much of it, and to-morrow I will write you again.
CHAPTER V MALLOWBANKS
Mallowbanks, November third.
Where did I leave off? Oh, yes, where I went running down the big dark, winding corridors, knocking and knocking at the strange doors!
Well, presently one of them, far away from where I was, opened, and a voice called:
“What is it? Oh, what is it?”
“Is it you, Aunt Lorena,” I cried, running toward the voice.
“Yes, yes, Azalea. Tell me what is the matter.”
“Grandmother has gone out in the garden in her night clothes. I tried to follow her, but I’ve lost her somewhere.”
“Oh, dear,” sighed my aunt. “It is her old trouble again. I suppose your coming excited her. She has little spells of forgetfulness and she wanders out to meet Jack, your father, secretly, forgetting that he is dead. After his father forbade him the house, she used to do that—to meet him at night and take him money and clothes—anything that she thought would help him. I don’t believe she’ll come to any harm. She never has. We’ll send old Martha for her, for it would hurt her feelings dreadfully if we were to go and if she were to realize that she has been wandering again. She’s very proud, you know.”
And, Oh, didn’t I know it, Carin! Never have I seen so much pride in such a little creature.
Aunt Lorena called old Martha, and the poor black thing, with her huge nightcap on, and a great flowered robe, and slippers that flopped at every step, ran sleepily out into the garden, calling:
“Ole Miss, ole Miss, where be ye? Cain’t ye answer Martha? She’s wanting ye bad! Please, ole Miss, where be ye?”
Aunt Lorena and I followed along behind, running down a long shaded walk which the moonlight mottled, till at last we came to a little pool. This was like a shield of bright steel, all shining and wonderful. There were rustling noises all about us which suited the place and the hour but which I did not understand.
“What is it?” I whispered.
“The swans. We have disturbed them.”
And just then, Carin, out into that glistening pool swam a coal black swan followed by two white ones. They didn’t seem like real birds but like some sort of a vision.
“It is just beyond the pond that mother used to go to meet your father,” said Aunt Lorena tenderly. I loved her for speaking like that. She was sorry for this old mother’s grief, and sympathized with the memories that haunted her and drove her from her bed. I put my arm right around her neck and kissed her.
“Oh, Aunt Lorena,” I said, “I think you are very sweet.”
“Hush!” she warned, and turning I saw Martha coming back with her arm around poor little madam grandmother. We stepped back in the shrubbery and kept very still while they passed. Grandmother was weeping like a hurt child.
[Picture: We stepped back in the shrubbery and kept very still]
“Your young master wasn’t there, Martha,” she was saying. “He was to meet me there to-night and I was to give him this.” She held up something in her hand that sparkled in the moonlight. “It was my own, Martha,” she went on, “so I had a perfect right to give it away if I wanted. Oh, what do you suppose has happened to your young master?”
“Jes’ nothin’ at all, ole Miss,” Martha said, her voice sounding more like that of a wild dove than anything else I could think of. “He’s sure all right, ole Miss. He’s jes’ doin’ fine. That’s why he didn’t need for to come for yo’ pretties. Yo’ jes’ take heart, ole Miss. That Mass’ Jack, he won’t let no hahm come to him.”
“I pray heaven,” Aunt Lorena whispered to me when they had passed, “that good old Martha will outlive mother, for I have no idea how we should manage without her.”
We stole softly into the house and up a little flight of stairs, and then down the corridor to grandmother’s door. We could hear Martha still crooning to her as if she were a frightened child, and then, little by little, grandmother ceased weeping.
“Come,” whispered Aunt Lorena, and we stole away to my room. She saw me back into my bed, and kissed me good night—not warmly, the way Mother McBirney used, but gently and kindly. I like her better for not pretending to what she does not feel. She will grow fonder of me if I deserve it.
“We’ll say nothing about this to your Uncle David,” she cautioned me. “It makes him wretched for days when he learns that his mother has been ‘wandering.’”
“She’ll not be ill as a result of this?”
“Probably not—only a little distrait and quiet.”
I was left alone again in my fragrant room, and still I could not sleep for thinking of how my life had changed, and how curious were these people I had come among. I saw the stars moving along in their courses, and light beginning to break in the east. And then, just to show how inconsistent I could be, I fell asleep.
I slept till noon. Think of it—me, the Early Riser!
Perhaps I wouldn’t have awakened then if Semmy hadn’t come in with chocolate and rolls and an omelet.
“Ole Miss is wanting you, Miss,” she said.
So I ate quickly and dressed in my dark blue frock with the crocheted lace collar and cuffs and was taken to her. She was in her bedroom still, or rather in her sitting room, for her bedroom is a stately alcove raised two or three feet above her sitting room. To-day she was all in purple, with studs of amethysts in her white lace chemisette and at the fastenings of her long lace sleeves. It was very difficult to imagine that this was the same little broken creature I had heard weeping aloud the night before, and being comforted like a baby.
“My dear,” she said when I went in, “I hear that you did not rest well last night.”
“Not very well, thank you, madam grandmother,” I said dropping her a curtsy as Aunt Lorena had told me to do.
“Being in a new place no doubt disturbed you,” said my grandmother. “You did well to refresh yourself with sleep this morning. At your age, my dear, I seldom arose before noon, but that was because of the many gayeties in which I participated—a ball or a rout almost every night, and gentlemen riding out in the afternoon to call. The times are not so brilliant now, I regret to say. However, a few of the old families remain to keep alive the elegant traditions of my time, and I have called you here, Azalea, to say that I wish you to be presented to my friends.”
I curtsied again. Her queer quaint way of talking made me feel that nothing save a curtsy would suit the occasion.
“Thank you, madam grandmother; I shall be honored.”
My grandmother put up her lorgnette. “Azalea!” she said sharply.
“Your manners are admirable.”
“Thank you, dear grandmother. I dare say they are—are inherited.”
My grandmother smiled and traced her left eyebrow with her jeweled fingers.
“You may sit down near me,” she said. “I want to talk to you about your coming-out party.”
So then she told me something about her friends; who had done this and who that, and every one she mentioned was at least sixty years of age and some, as nearly as I could reckon, were eighty or over. So at last I said:
“And may I also be permitted to invite some of my own friends, dear grandmother? Carin Carson who is now in the North at college, and Annie Laurie Pace, who lives at Lee, and Mr. and Mrs. Rowantree of Rowantree Hall, and their brother, Keefe O’Connor who is at the Academy of Design in New York? And of course the McBirneys and the Summers, and—and some others.”
I couldn’t help thinking how I would like to have Haystack Thompson play at my party, and how horrified grandmother would be if she knew my thought and what Haystack is like.
“Are you sure,” said my grandmother, “that these friends of yours would find congenial surroundings at Mallowbanks, my dear Azalea? There is such a thing as propriety to be considered.”
“Would it be proper for me to neglect the friends who were faithful to me for years and years?” I asked. “I was an orphan and poor as a beggar, and they took me in to sit beside their hearths. They gave me the best they had; hospitality and love and learning. If I know anything at all, it is owing to them.”
“My dear,” said my grandmother, “you speak poetically.”
“I speak the truth.”
“You have a loyal heart.”
“Yes, madam grandmother, I admit it. When I once love, I can never forget.”
“How do you know? You are only a child.”
“I shall be like you,” I declared boldly. “I wish to be like you and never to forget!”
She looked at me sideways. Then she tilted her delicate chin and faced me straight.
“Azalea—last night—did you know? Did you see?”
“I saw, grandmother dear. Forgive me.”
“Ah, Azalea, your father was my dearest! They almost killed me when they came between him and me. He was wayward, I know, but he didn’t have the same ideas of goodness and badness that others have. I always loved him. I love him still.”
“It is beautiful of you, madam grandmother. I hope to be just like that.”
“Very well, Azalea. You shall have your friends to your party if they will come. You shall ask the humblest if you choose.”
“Thank you, thank you, grandmother; you will be proud to know them. The humblest of them are very sweet, but some, I assure you, are not humble at all. They are accomplished enough to win even your approval.”
“No doubt they are charming, my dear granddaughter. But you must remember that you have now come into an important position. Much will be expected of you. You will probably wed a Ravanel. Many of the women of my family did. My son David did also, as you know. It is a custom with us I may say. Yes, a Ravanel or a Grévy.”
“But, dearest grandmother, I must marry the person I love. What will his last name have to do with it?”
“Everything, my dear child. Kindly fetch me yonder book.”
“Yonder book,” Carin, was very much done up in an embroidered cover and was lying on grandmother’s far cabinet. I wish you could see her cabinet of fans. Some are quite historic and all are exquisite.
I brought the book and it proved to be a genealogy of the Bryce family. (Bryce was grandmother’s maiden name.) We studied this for at least an hour, and then grandmother called Martha to carry it to my room that I might have it at hand to consult whenever I wished.
“You will see,” she said, “that the Bryce ladies have married Ravanels, Grévys or Knoxes from time immemorial. You are a Knox. You will marry a Bryce, a Ravanel or a Grévy.”
I tried not to laugh, but to save my life I couldn’t help it.
“Perhaps none of them will approve of me. Remember, madam grandmother, I am only a homespun mountain maid.”
“Ah, but we will transform you into a shining princess,” cried my grandmother excitedly. “I already have had that matter in mind.”
Then she clapped her jeweled old hands together as hard as she could, and when Martha came running, gasping: “Yessum, ole Miss, yessum, ole Miss,” grandmother said, like a potentate in the Arabian Nights:
“Have the chests brought.”
Then I remembered what Aunt Lorena had told me about the chests in which grandmother kept her old treasures. So I was to see these darling old brocades and crepes and embroideries! Aunt Lorena thought it would be a dreadful thing to have to dress in them, but I was wild to do it. It seemed a part of all the strange play that my life had become.
So presently two of the men servants came staggering in under the weight of a great chest, and when they had set that down they went back for another, and then for another yet.
I wouldn’t have the chests opened till I had looked all over the outside of them. One was covered with carmine leather all tooled with gilt, and it had a great clasp with cupids on it. Another was of dark carved wood, very heavy, and lined with sandalwood that filled the whole room with an old, dry perfume when it was opened. The other was a sea chest with a sailor’s name carved on it.
“‘Samuel Bings,’” said I. “What a funny name.”
My grandmother frowned.
“I see nothing funny about it,” she said. “Samuel Bings was a very distinguished and unfortunate man.”
“Oh, I should love to hear his story some time,” I said contritely.
“You shall,” said my grandmother relenting, “and when I have told it to you, you will be proud that the name of Bings appeared among your ancestry.”
Well, then, Carin, my little squirrel, we came to the opening of the chests. How shall I ever describe to you what was in them? I couldn’t—not in one letter nor three.
Shawls and dolmans, and great flounced skirts and lace petticoats and silken nubias, and beaded fascinators, and real lace and fans and slippers and silken stockings, and flowing undersleeves, and old gloves and hats and feathers, and embroidered lingerie and lace handkerchiefs and—Oh, mercy, Carin, everything a belle of long ago would wear. And a belle of to-day throw away. But, no, I must not be disrespectful to old lace and brocade, nor to China crepe and Irish poplin.
I tried on the old frocks and strutted and pranced around in them, and put on the queer, short gloves which were as freckled with mildew as Jim’s face. Of course I don’t mean that Jim is mildewed. Only that he is freckled.
I wore the shawls, and dropped preposterous curtsies in the flounced skirts, and I coquetted with my own venerable grandmother behind the cracked old fans, and did the plumes up in my hair.
“My dear,” said my grandmother at length, “you must have these interesting fabrics made over for you. Some slight alteration will be necessary I suppose, but on the whole they become you immensely. You look completely a Bryce in them.”
Just then Aunt Lorena came in. When she saw the litter in that room and myself in a flowered silk seven yards around the bottom of the skirt, and eighteen inches around the waist—I was almost smothered by this time—she dropped in a chair and turned white.
“At last!” she gasped.
“Yes, Lorena,” said my grandmother with great dignity. “At last I have found someone who appreciates these rare things. They were offered to you as the wife of my only living son. You rejected them. You preferred to wear inferior fabrics and passing styles. But the styles in which these exquisite fabrics are made up, are historic, Lorena, historic. This however, is a point which you do not seem to appreciate. I therefore pass them on to my granddaughter—the daughter of my second son. You will see that they are adapted to her needs, tightened perhaps—”
“No, no, dear grandmother,” I cried struggling with the hook of that terrible dress, that held me as if it were made of steel, “not tightened. Don’t say tightened! I am suffocating!”
Aunt Lorena came to my rescue and between us we got that band undone and I was able to draw a long breath.
“In my day,” said my little grandmother, “girls were more delicate than they are now. I grieve, Lorena, to discover that Azalea’s foot is far too substantial for these slippers.”
She looked regretfully at some yellowed satin slippers with tarnished sequins on them. Aunt Lorena and I looked down at my good sizable feet—they have done a powerful lot of mountain climbing, as you know—and we both laughed.
“Come,” said Aunt Lorena, “we must forget dressmaking for the day and go for a drive. You too, mother. Won’t you come in the motor just this once?”
“You know very well that I will not, Lorena. My pony cart will do for me. Have young James walk at the pony’s head to-day, please. Old James ruined my last drive by the way he groaned with the rheumatism.”
So all the finery was carted off to a big empty room where, as Aunt Lorena explained to grandmother, we would be able to look it over better, and I was told to dress warmly, and so got into the nice thick coat Mother McBirney had made for me, and put on my mole-skin cap, and my veil and gloves—for Aunt Lorena is terribly fussy about having people well wrapped when they go motoring—and uncle and auntie and I went off.
We were gone for an hour or two and saw many beautiful old estates, but none that I liked better than our own.
“Mother is being drawn about the garden in the pony cart,” Aunt Lorena told me. “It is curious, but she never was a horsewoman. Even as a girl she was rather timid with horses, and now she is very much afraid of them. As for an automobile, it fills her with terror. So it seems best to let her do the thing she enjoys, which is riding about the garden and scolding the gardeners.”
“My dear!” said Uncle David.
Aunt Lorena lifted her eyebrows.
“I’m sure I didn’t mean to say anything disrespectful,” she said. “I was only describing things as they are.”
That her description was quite right, we were soon to see. Grandmother was still going about the garden when we got home, and it was plain that she had “everybody by the ears.” Young James was almost in tears, the head gardener was sulky, the boys who helped him were laughing, and every one was or pretended to be quite frightened.
“Young James,” said my aunt, “you have kept Madam Knox out too long.”
“Yessum, I know it, mum. I wanted her to go in, mum, but she wouldn’t, mum.”
“Oh, mum, mum, mum!” snapped grandmother, quivering with fatigue. “Who ever heard such talk? Mum, mum, mum!”
Uncle David said nothing. He got out of the motor and gathered his little silver-headed mother up in his arms and carried her into the house as if she were a baby. She put her two arms around his neck and held on tight, and I saw him kiss her very tenderly when he put her down and called Martha to her.
“Mum, mum,” she began saying again, but Uncle David said: “Stop that, mother, please,” and she did.
So, Carin, this is the life at Mallowbanks.
My party is to be Thanksgiving Day. Say, Oh, say that you can come! To have you here, to have you see all I am so stupidly telling you about, to get off in my own room with you and laugh and talk as we used, would, perhaps, make this life seem real to me. Now, I confess, it seems like a dream.
You keep writing about that young Southerner. You say he is leaving the North and going home. He lives in Charleston? Is his name Bryce or Ravanel or Grévy? If so, I’ve got to marry him!
Aunt Lorena said, however, that the only unmarried Ravanel was at least seventy and deaf as an adder, and that she wouldn’t, if she were in my place, be so hackneyed as to marry a Grévy. As for the Bryces, they are my very own kin and out of the question. So you can imagine my distress! Tut, tut, no bridegroom. And me in long dresses with my hair up. How long must I wait?
As long, perhaps, as my coming-out party.
But it can’t be any sweeter than the birthday party Ma McBirney gave me when we danced till the moon came up—and after.
Carin, you _must_ come!
CHAPTER VI MY BALL
Mallowbanks, November thirtieth.
_Bad_, _dear_, _bad Carin_:
You didn’t come to my party! Oh, wretched, false friend, best and most cherished, why did you not come? Can it be that a mere desire to have higher marks than anyone else in school caused you to desert me in my hour of triumph? It was that, I know. You are trying to get that old Phi Beta Kappa key—which you’ll not wear after you _do_ get it. I call it intellectual pride, I do indeed.
Keefe couldn’t come either. He had an order to do a portrait for some Great Lady. So he wouldn’t even think of coming. He said he was in the Right Mood for Work, and he expected me to tremble before those awful words, just as you expected me to tremble before your Phi Beta Kappa record. You two, doing your duty with all your might and leaving me alone in my frivolity! I call it shabby of you.
Well, anyway, Annie Laurie came and Barbara Summers with her. Barbara put little Jonathan in the care of Aunt Zillah Pace, and she kept saying that she felt perfectly all right about him, though one could see that she didn’t. It was the first time she ever had left him overnight, and so it was natural for her to feel nervous. Though, as you know, Jonathan is going to insist on being taken care of, and if there is anything he wants he is going to have it. He is such a dear that no one can refuse him anything, as I know to my cost! The treasures of mine that child has broken!
Yes, those two came, and I leave you to imagine how happy it made me. There was my little brown Barbara with her sweet voice and her shy-eager eyes, all dressed so quaintly, and being so desirous of pleasing everyone, and yet holding to her own ideas with that darling dignity of hers; and there was my big, glorious Annie Laurie Pace with her red hair and her definite ways, trying to be frivolous with the rest of us, and looking like a preoccupied Diana all the time. I had some fears that when the folk at Mallowbanks learned that what she really was preoccupied with was her own dairy, that they might cast her into the outer darkness where the vast company of people-the-Knoxes-do-not-know drag out their miserable lives. But no, the vast fields of Annie Laurie—they did not lose a rod in my description of them—the cattle on a thousand hills, more or less, and the well trained force of helpers appealed to their imagination. They regarded her as a Planter—or a Plantress. She was accepted. And she was accepted all the more because she really and truly didn’t care much whether she was or not. Annie Laurie came to Mallowbanks for the sole purpose of making me happy, and she certainly succeeded. I put her in my room, and I slept on a lounge in the dressing room. So we contrived to be together, and of course, just like the girls in the song, we let down our hair before the fire after the ball.
But I must come to the subject of the ball.
To begin with, Mallowbanks was full of guests who had come to stay for two nights, or four, or seven, as the case might be. They were kin or near-kin, or old neighbors who were as dear as kin, and they all called each other by their first names. All the men, or nearly all, had military or judicial titles; and the women were lovely and, in a way, willful—because they had been much loved, I suppose. From first to last it seemed to me like one of my old dreams and nothing else.
My coming-out party was in several parts.
To begin with, there was the afternoon reception. Ladies, mostly, came to that, though there were some men, too. This was preceded by a luncheon for forty. (There were little tables scattered all over the drawing-room, as well as the dining room.) The next day there was a ball. That was the culmination. And all week there have been rides and drives and dinners and breakfasts and teas. I have met hundreds of people. I like them all. I love none, save the people here in my own house, and Annie Laurie and my little Barbara. I met Ravanels and Grévys and Bryces, but one and all neglected to ask my hand in marriage. There was, indeed, only one I would think of marrying, and, Oh, you yellow-headed little Hun, I had not talked with him three minutes before I knew that he was your Southerner.
“I have a great many messages for you from your friend Miss Carson,” said he to me.
“Oh,” I said right out, like the simple mountain person I am, “are you the—”
Then, of course, I stopped and turned a strange and beautiful red, something, I imagine, the color of a faded American beauty rose.
“Yes,” he said smiling, “I am. At least I hope I am. I’m not sure.”
“What, please,” I said, “is your name? I know all about your noble qualities, but I do not know your name.”
“My name,” he said, “is Vance Grévy.”
“Oh!” was all I could say, thinking how this was probably the particular person madam grandmother had picked out for me. Of course I couldn’t keep back my silly self-conscious grin, and he smiled in much the same way I did.
“May I present you,” I said, feeling very “heady,” the way Paprika used to on a cold morning, “to my madam grandmother?”
“Thank you,” he said, “I have just had the honor of talking with her. You were so surrounded that I waited for a moment before venturing to come to you.”
He smiled more than ever. I summoned my courage. I think it was my courage. Perhaps it didn’t deserve so good a name.
“May I inquire what she said to you?”
“Do you really want to hear?”
“More than anything.”
“And you’ll not lay it up against me?” he badgered.
“On my honor!”
“Then she said: ‘My dear Mr. Grévy, you are, I take it, the grandson of my old friend.’ She put up her lorgnette and looked me over. ‘Yes, you are the living image of him! Ah, your grandfather and I were good friends indeed, at one time, I assure you.’ ‘How I regret,’ I said, ‘that he had two generations the advantage of me.’ The dear little thing let me kiss her hand. ‘You have his turns of speech, also,’ she said. Then she asked: ‘Have you seen my granddaughter, the only child of my dear Jack?’ ‘I am on my way to it,’ I declared. ‘Ah,’ she said, ‘we must see to it, we Knoxes and Ravanels, we Bryces and Grévys, that she makes no mistakes, must we not?’ She looked at me again through her lorgnette, appealing apparently to my chivalry. ‘We are a solid phalanx,’ said I, ‘to see that she comes to no harm.’ ‘We understand each other,’ she said with satisfaction. ‘Your family never did need superfluous words.’”
I laughed and laughed.
“I have a friend, Mr. Rowantree,” I said, “who likes to tell me about the comedy of manners. Isn’t that what madam grandmother plays all of the time?”
“Just! But isn’t she exquisite? A survival of a splendid old time.”
“Yes. Oh, you can’t think how I admire and love her.”
“Yes, I can. I can very easily think how you do. Shall you confine yourself in your associations, Miss Knox, to the Ravanels and the Grévys? Why not cut out the Ravanels?”
“There aren’t many of them left, are there?” I asked more gravely. “And you—shall I have many Grévy’s to choose from?”
“There’s my great aunt and my mother and my married brother and some second cousins—nice girls they are, too.”
“Oh, that’s quite a selection. Now tell me about my Carin.”
But just then, of course, we were interrupted, and the only other times I got a chance to talk with him was when we were dancing together. That was quite a number of times, because I had him put down three dances for you, and I acted as your substitute.
All joking aside, Carin, I saw as much of him as I could because I was determined to find out what he was like. He would have to be so very, very fine to be worthy of you. I can see, my dear, partly from what you say and still more from what you do not say, that this is a serious matter with you. So I dropped all my nonsense and was grave with him, and he was grave with me, and I liked him—Oh, tremendously. He is earnest and ambitious and full of the new time. He doesn’t care any more about family than is right and sensible, and he’s determined to be a fine and successful man on his own account. What is more, he appreciates you, Carin! He does! I wouldn’t rest till I had found out whether he did or not. It is unnecessary to say what a gentleman I think him; and though he is not exactly handsome, he has a manliness and a grace that is even better.
Yes, my blessings are all ready for you. Just let me know whenever I am to bestow them.
Annie Laurie has a tiny, beautiful little diamond on a thread of gold which she wears on the little finger of her left hand.
“Annie Laurie,” I said, “that ring looks as if it had a history. It has a kind of a we’d-better-wait-a-while-before-we-tell-our-friends look.”
“Does it, impudent one?” she laughed. “Well, then it looks to be just what it is. Sam gave it to me.”
“Good Sam Disbrow,” I said. “He’ll be a fine person to live with—not ashamed in the wrong place nor proud at the wrong time, nor too selfish nor too unselfish—just sensible and reliable and honest straight through.”
“He and I understand each other,” said Annie Laurie softly, “perfectly.”
“Of course you do. Why shouldn’t you? Haven’t you taken years and years to get acquainted? Tell me, does he ever hear anything of his adopted father, and his family?”
“Not a thing,” said she. “Not one thing.”
“They just ‘went west.’”
“Have you any other news?”
Annie Laurie burst out laughing.
“Haven’t I, just?”
“About whom, then?”
“Haystack Thompson. Did you know he was courting Hi Kitchell’s ‘ma’?”
“I did. I saw him with a collar on, and no violin. He had combed his hair; and she wore white cotton gloves.”
“Well, we all thought it was settled. The only thing that worried us was how Haystack was to care for a wife when he got one. He has always been more or less like Tommy Tucker, singing for his supper—or rather, playing on Betsy, his violin. But for a time the violin had to stay in the background, which made some of us feel rather sad. We hardly liked to have Haystack settle down like other folks and be domestic and regular. But we needn’t have worried.”
“No. Little Mrs. Kitchell got a new gray Henrietta, and a gray velvet hat with a real plume, and made herself twelve new of everything, aprons included, and there was general excitement. The ladies about town began to give her presents and to insist that they should all be invited to the wedding, and to ask when it was to be. But Mrs. Kitchell didn’t quite know. ‘Very soon,’ she said. ‘In a week or two.’ She said that for quite a while. Then one morning, Haystack disappeared.”
“Oh, Annie Laurie!”
“Yes, he did. Just disappeared. He took Betsy the violin, and left all his new collars behind. Likewise his suit of blue diagonal that he was to have been married in. That was all, except a bunch of bittersweet berries tied with grass, which poor little Anne Kitchell found on her account book. Under it he had written the word ‘Good-bye.’”
“How did she take it?”
“Well, she sent for Aunt Zillah, and of course Aunt Zillah hurried right over to her and kept giving her dry handkerchiefs till she got over the worst of it. I think Aunt Zillah made the reason of his defection clear to her. ‘You couldn’t shut Mr. Thompson up in a house and keep him there any more than you could a catamount,’ she told her. ‘He’s a wander man and a music man. What would he be if he were to settle down and play a respectable part?’ Little Anne Kitchell admitted it. I liked him because he was so different from other folks,’ she said. ‘He didn’t seem to have no care nor trouble, but I suppose if I’d married him, he would have had.’ ‘Of course he would,’ said Aunt Zillah. ‘He would have had stepchildren, and they might not have liked him. And you would have wanted him to be proper and regular in his habits, and he would have fretted like a caged hawk.’ ‘I reckon it’s all for the best,’ said Anne Kitchell, and dried her tears. So no more has been heard from Haystack. He’s free again, drinking out of springs, sleeping in the woods, playing his violin to squirrels and children and lovers. As for Anne Kitchell, she is wearing her fine clothes and is setting her cap for a heavy-set man who has just come to town and set up a feed store.’”
Oh, Carin, isn’t that fun? And aren’t you glad Haystack Thompson got off? I’d hate to have civilization trap him, wouldn’t you?
Well, well, I started to tell you about my ball. It was a wonderful ball. We danced in the drawing-room under the luster candelabra, and we danced down the long corridor with the carved panels. We women were all shining in beautiful garments, but I haven’t any desire to describe them to you, except that my little grandmother wore a gown of cloth of silver and rose point lace and all of her diamonds; and I, to please her—and it almost drove poor Aunt Lorena wild—chose a queer old silk of hers striped like ribbon grass in white and greeny-white and faded lilac and mauve. Over it I draped the thinnest silken lace. Then grandmother gave me a necklace of darling little pearls, and I had white satin slippers with little butterflies embroidered on them in greeny-white and faded pink, and a fan of the same colors, painted with butterfly wings.
“I never saw a coming-out dress like that in all my life,” said Aunt Lorena.
“Lorena,” said grandmother magnificently, “the Knoxes can afford to do as they please.”
But for my afternoon reception, to please Aunt Lorena, I wore drifting white stuff—white everything—and carried Killarney roses, and was just as conventional as I could be. Aunt Lorena kept pointing to me and saying:
“This is the way I want the child to look,” and at the ball grandmother said to her old friends: “Wouldn’t you think she was one of us all over again? Don’t you like a young girl to dress like that?”
Everybody agreed with Aunt Lorena, and everybody agreed with grandmother. And I was very happy all of the time.
No, I find I’m not going to describe the ball.
Oh, because it was vague, after all—just meeting strange people and dancing with strange people, and trying to think of the right thing to say when people complimented me—as, of course, they thought they had to do—and being looked over and being told I was a perfect Knox, and hearing the music always, always, and feeling the dance get into my toes, and knowing my cheeks were burning and my eyes flaming, and wanting to put my face down in the cool moss on the bench of the mountain where the three tulip trees grow, and drink and drink of my spring till I was cooled in body and spirit.
[Picture: Azalea’s Coming Out Party]
Yes, Carin, it was like that. I am not ungrateful. I like this life; a part of me answers to it completely. Yet, somehow, I believe it has come too late. I feel that sooner or later I shall go back to the mountain and stay there. I miss the red roads and the misty dawns and the still, still moonlights, with me answering the whippoorwill and the owl. I miss Ma McBirney and the little graves under the Pride of India tree. I am just Azalea the mountain girl after all, I am afraid, though they keep telling me how gay I am and how I fit into my present life, and congratulating me because I never seem to be tired.
But I was secretly very tired when at last the week of festivities was over. There had been a great company of us at Thanksgiving dinner, and we had seen and tasted all that was most splendid in the way of Mallowbanks ham and Mallowbanks turkey, and Mallowbanks artichokes and mince meat, and we had talked and laughed and sung and danced, and bowed and scraped, and shaken hands and kissed, and at last it was all over. Even my darling Annie Laurie and my little Barbara were gone. And then I went up to my own room and closed and bolted the door.
Carin, I wept and wept. I was happy, but I wept. For, someway, after all, this was not my life. It was not the silver web I meant to weave. It was something that was being woven for me, and I was only a quite nice little yellow spider sitting in the midst of it and being admired without doing a single bit of spinning.
It was not at all what I had planned for myself. I am doing a great deal of receiving and little or no giving, and it makes me dissatisfied.
Of course I give some happiness to grandmother, and a new responsibility to Uncle David and Aunt Lorena. But what of my vocation? What of all the things I learned to do with these two hands of mine? What of the friendships I made with humble people and needy ones? What of all the good I was going to do in the world?
Carin, I am very happy. You mustn’t think anything else. But I have cried a tremendous lot, and I’m going to cry when I feel like it. And by and by I shall do something. It will not be liked very well at Mallowbanks—at least, not at first. But we have to be our true selves, don’t we? Don’t we owe that to—well I don’t know just Whom or What we owe it to. But we are made so much ourselves that to be anything other than ourselves is to offend what Kipling calls the God of Things as They Are.
Dear me, am I too serious? I, who have been making an art of gayety? I can talk nonsense endlessly, and I rather like to do it. It excites me. I feel like a young colt when it gets the bit in its teeth and whips off down the road. Then, if the person I am talking with, feels the same way, and the two of us dare the other to see who can run away the hardest—as Mr. Vance Grévy does, for example—then I enjoy myself very much indeed. Running away is, I can see, very pleasant for a time.
But after all, I am not of a nature to run very far. I can always be trusted to come home and stand beside the hitching post. It’s my way. I’m dependable old Azalea after all, and however rattle-brained I may sound, you can count on me to sober down at the critical moment. I’m still, Carin, right beside the hitching post.
The only thing I insist on is being hitched up to my own post. And I don’t believe Mallowbanks is it. It’s a carved, historic, marvelous post. But is it mine? Well, I’ll not think any more just now.
Father and Mother McBirney write contented letters from Bethal Springs. People have been very nice to them and they are not lonely. Father is doing well and feels some loosening up of his “j’ints.” Mother is sewing for somebody’s baby. Trust her to find someone who needs her. If she was set down in a desert you’d probably find her nursing a sick scorpion. I’m going up to see them soon.
Jim is studying his head off at Rutherford Academy and has started a Young Men’s Christian Association there. Dear Jim! Who would have thought he could have turned so good? Jim who used to put little green snakes in my closet!
Carin, when I see you, if I ever do, I will tell you more about the ball. It was simply grand.
But don’t you just wish we were riding up old Mount Tennyson side by side, with the crickets singing in the grass, and the saddles going creak-creak?
Carin, I believe I’m going to cry again.
P. S. There, I told you! See that blob? That was the first tear. Keefe O’Connor writes me stately letters. He says he is glad I have come into friends and fortune. What does he mean by that? Is he going to drop me? Carin, he is. He’s that kind of a horrid person who can’t forgive one for prosperity. They’ll stand by you in adversity but not in prosperity. I’d just as soon be cut for one as the other, every bit, wouldn’t you?
_A. McB._ _No_, _I mean A. K._
CHAPTER VII GETTING SETTLED
Mallowbanks, December 10th.
_Carin_, _my love_:
I hear you are to go home for Christmas and that all of your family will be together at the Shoals. I wish I could be with you, but I must be here, of course, and I suppose that if I were to be with you, I should be longing to be at Mallowbanks. That isn’t because I am discontented, but only that there are so many beautiful places in the world where I would like to be, that I find it difficult to choose.
I often think what a lucky thing it is that a person is born in a certain spot and is under the impression that she has to stay there. If we were allowed to flutter around over the earth before we were born, trying to decide whom we would have for parents and where we would live, what a state of indecision we should be in!
But here I am, with my own grandmother, in the home of my ancestors, making Christmas presents, and having—Oh, astonishing fact!—all the money I want to spend on them. But I’m not buying things. I mean I’m not buying already-done things to any great extent. I am making them. I want my loved ones to realize that it is still love that I am sending them, and not just a sign and token of my prosperity.
There are all the Carsons and all the McBirneys and all the Summerses and all the Kitchells and all the Paces and all the Rowantrees, to make things for. Of course I count Keefe in with the Rowantrees, though I’m not sure he would like to have me.
Speaking of Keefe, I wrote him a letter and told him what I thought of him.
“Keefe,” I wrote, “you are haughty. How have I come to fall in your esteem? Why am I suddenly ‘Miss Knox’ instead of Azalea. Do you think I ought to suffer a steady average of trouble, and because I have found my people and my fortune, are you going to make me miserable by turning against me? What harm does it do the world if I am happy?”
He wrote back at once, of course. If he hadn’t, I never should have written to him again. Never.
He said he had no idea he had the power to make me unhappy.
I wrote back and asked him since when had he stopped telling the truth. And I said I could see he was looking around for ways of discontinuing our friendship, and that at first I had been rather stupid and hadn’t seen what he was trying to do. But now I understood, and naturally, I would protest no more.
Then I got a letter from him which—well, which changed everything. He said he had not been sure but that I meant to enter upon a new life altogether, and if I had, he did not mean to stand in the way. He said we had been thrown together by accident and that he had forced his acquaintance upon you and me, and that we had been endlessly kind to him, but he did not mean to take advantage of that kindness, but that if I wished to continue our friendship upon the old basis that it would make all the difference in the world to him; that he had had no heart for work or life since the idea had come to him that he ought to let our friendship go in justice to me.
Well, of course I had guessed from the first that all the trouble came from some absurd idea like that!
So I wrote him that my friendships did not depend on the state of the money market. But I didn’t say, Carin, that I would rather talk with him than anyone I ever met (except you, sister of my heart). Perhaps he will never know that. He said he would love to come down and see me, but that, to be quite frank, he couldn’t afford it just now.
That reminded me of an old idea of mine. So that night I said to grandmother:
“Don’t you think, madam grandmother, that you ought to have a portrait painted of yourself as you are now?”
“I?” cried my grandmother. “At my age! Why, my dear, I am hideous! A wrinkled, white-headed, shriveled old woman! What do I want of a portrait?”
Then she arose and said as she often does: “Your arm, Azalea, if you please.”
So I gave her my arm, guessing that she was going once more to show me the portraits of herself in the paneled hall. And sure enough she did.
“This,” she said, stopping before the first one, “was by the greatest portrait painter in the South. At the time he painted me I was eighteen and already engaged to your father—your grandfather, I mean. I should not like to have you repeat it, but the painter fell desperately in love with me, my dear—desperately. Painters always fall in love with one, I fancy. That is why the picture has a slightly unfinished appearance. He left before he had quite completed it.”
“Poor man,” said I.
“Ah, I dare say he recovered. These loves that are founded on mere admiration amount to but little. We will proceed, if you please.”
I led her on to the next portrait of herself.
“This,” she said, quite as if she had not told me the same things half a dozen times before, “was done by an English artist just after my Jack was born. I wanted him to paint it with my little David sitting at my feet and my Jack in my arms, but he was not in favor of it. He said he preferred to paint me by myself. For one thing, he considered me too small to paint with such fine large sons. He said it made me look ridiculous. But I truly think, Azalea, that he did not regard me as motherly enough. I know I was and am a vain woman. But my vanity, my dear, is only skin deep—only skin deep. It is a manner, nothing more. In my time it was fashionable for girls in my class to act as if they were self-indulged and vain. But in reality—” she paused, and stood out before me, and I saw there were tears in her eyes, and her face grew tender and quiet—“in reality, my dear granddaughter, my motherhood was more to me than anything else.”
She drooped her head down among the laces on her gown, and I heard her say under her breath:
“I have almost died of it!”
I put my arm around her and drew her close to me—such a tiny creature as she is!
“Little madam grandmother,” I whispered, “come back to the fire, and I will make some tea. Then perhaps you will tell me a story. I love your stories very, very much.”
She straightened up again, calling on her courage and her pride.
“But there is one more portrait which I wish to show you, my dear. It was done by a celebrated South American when I was just turned forty—my autumnal picture, I call it. Here I am, in my spring, in my summer, in my autumn.”
She smiled up at me suddenly.
“And now, I suppose, you wish me to round out my year, and have my winter picture painted? Well, I can provide the snow.” She touched her silver hair with her wrinkled hand.
“Dear grandmother,” I said right out from the heart, “you are quite right. It needs the beautiful winter picture to complete the set.”
We went back to the fire then and she sat thinking while I made the tea. At last she spoke.
“Do you chance to know anyone who is particularly well adapted to painting such a portrait, Azalea? For, mind you, it will no longer be the picture of a beautiful woman; it will be what is far harder to paint, the record of a character. For every wrinkle tells its story, if only one is wise enough to read, and though my eyes are old, they still have their revelations to make, my dear. Who looks in them can read the book of experience there.”
“I think I know such an artist, ma’am,” I said. “He has painted many portraits recently and has had much praise for them. His name is Keefe O’Connor.”
“Keefe O’Connor,” she said musingly. “Do you know him personally, Azalea? But I think I have heard you say so.”
“He is the brother of my dear Mary Cecily Rowantree,” I said.
“Oh, yes, the Rowantrees of Rowantree Hall!”
She never forgets that the Rowantrees are of Rowantree Hall. You and I love the ramshackle old place so that we forget what a grand name it has. Grandmother, I suppose, thinks of it as a magnificent ancestral estate. What would she say if she could see that the gallery, instead of being supported by pillars, is held up by barked chestnut logs, and that there never has been a second coat of paint on the place. Ugh, how the wind can blow through those unfinished rooms! I sometimes think it is the most uncomfortable place I ever was in. A little mountain cabin is twenty times as warm and cosy in the winter time.
I would have liked to have told grandmother all this, but I knew it would be fatal; that if I did, she would just set the Rowantrees down as people I ought not to know, so I said nothing. By and by she remarked:
“Have you any idea of the prices of your friend’s portraits?”
Again I knew that I must mention a good price to make her respect him, so I said:
“I think he would paint your portrait, grandmother, for a thousand dollars. And we could entertain him, I suppose? That would make it so much more agreeable, wouldn’t it?”
“Oh, we would entertain him, certainly,” said grandmother. “We have a room built especially for studio purposes. I believe you never have seen it. It is in the west wing, and faces north. There is a bedroom attached. It always has been the custom of the Knoxes to have their portraits painted in the house and by someone with whom they were in daily association. Such intercourse assists in the understanding so necessary to the production of a good likeness.”
So I asked her if I had her permission to write to Keefe, and she said yes. I have written him.
No more for the present, Carin.
By the way, was I rather down-in-the-mouth in my last letter? Please forget about it. I suppose it was only a spell of homesickness. Seeing so many strangers and being expected to like them all, and to act as if I always had known them, rather upset me.
But as I said, no more at present.
I do wish you could see the room I call my Christmas room. It used to be a sort of morning room, but no one sits in it any more, so I have a work table in there, and my sewing machine and embroidery frame and my pyrography outfit, and my photographic stuff, and I am working early and late. Of course I interrupt myself to do whatever Aunt Lorena or grandmother wish me to. And people call, and I return calls, and there are little parties. But I like best to be working. Outside the window are honey locust trees, and they are very lovely even when stripped of their leaves. In the distance, on a hill, is a group of dark hemlock, and now that the sky is gray, they look particularly solemn. I have a fireplace in my Christmas room, and young James keeps it so that I need never be without a blazing hearth. My wood box is simply heaped. There are apples on my table, and a funny old writing desk stands in the corner. It is a terribly messed up room, and I love it. Not that I’m really disorderly. You wouldn’t say I was disorderly, would you, Carin? Come, now! No, I believe I like it because I have made it myself. I have in it what I can use. I am _living_ in it. In the other rooms I only look on; and that, emphatically, is not living.
_No more for the present_! _I mean it_!
* * * * *
Glidden Siding, December 24th.
Merry, merry Christmas, dear Carin. Dear old friend, _such_ a merry Christmas to you!
I am sitting here in the station, having come from Bethal Springs on the queerest little train ever you saw, and I am waiting for the train that is to take me home. It is cold, and I think it is going to rain. Seeing that I do not expect to reach home till after dark, this sounds a bit dismal. Semmy is with me. I wrote you about Greenville Female Seminary Simms, didn’t I? I wanted to travel alone, of course, but neither Aunt Lorena nor grandmother would hear of it.
I have just asked Semmy where she got her name, and she tells me that her mother was a “pore misfortunate so’t of a woman who nevah did git on in de worl’ nohow. An’ jes’ befo’ Ah was bo’n, she went fo’ to wuk in de Greenville Female Sem’nary. An’ theah dey was dat good to heh, dat she neveh did see! Yassum, dey jes’ cheered heh along and heartened heh up, an’ nussed heh, and when de baby come—that was me—dey gave heh a whole set of clo’s. An’ ma she jes’ had a change of heart. Yassum. She jes’ made up heh mind dat she wa’n’t goin’ to be downcas’ no moah. She might ’a’ been misfortunate, but dat didn’t keep de worl’ f’om havin’ any numbah o’ good, kind folk in it. No’um. So she named heh baby fo’ the Sem’nary, she did, sho’ ’nough, and she was glad of it to de las’ day of heh life. And Ah was glad of it too. Greenville Female Sem’nary Simms shore am a fine name.”
* * * * * * * * *
Well, I’ve been down to see Father and Mother McBirney. I couldn’t let Christmas go by without visiting them, could I, Carin? I went down on the twentieth, and had three whole days with them, and a Christmas celebration of the happiest sort.
The two dears were down to meet me at the train, and they took me up to their little cottage, which is in the pine woods, with a very pleasant vista which shows them the river and the river road, and though they are far enough from the road to be quiet, they can see the people coming and going. Mother wheels Father to the springs twice every day, and that gives them little excursions and helps to pass the time. Father McBirney says the waters are benefiting him, so that he has hardly any pain at all now. I can see for myself that the swelling is going down in his joints. The only thing is he can not walk steadily yet, and then only a short distance.
Oh, Carin, maybe it wasn’t fun to go to them with a big trunkful of things they needed! I had a suit for Father McBirney, and a suit for Jim, and a fine Scotch wool dress for dear Mother, and a knitted jacket for her for common, and a fine soft black coat for best, and gloves and stockings and warm underwear, and pretty curtains for the windows, and a turkey which Aunt Lorena sent, and a barrel of flour and one of apples from Uncle David, and some foot warmers and a coffee percolator from grandmother, and various small things too numerous to mention from all of us.
Then along in the afternoon of the day that I got there, Jim came over from Rutherford College, and so we four were all together again. Yes, Carin dear, there we sat in the little strange room and looked at each other, and thought of all we had gone through together, and how we loved each other, and yet—
And yet, we knew, each and every one of us, that my path and theirs had begun to part. Yes, we knew it. They felt a little differently toward me, and I felt a little differently toward them. But that didn’t keep me from loving my McBirneys.
Jim had a thousand things to tell me. He has been studying terribly hard, and he has made some good friends, and is full of noble, loving ideas. He wants me to be a missionary to foreign lands, and I’m afraid I hurt Mother McBirney’s feelings a little when I laughed at him.
“Do I look like a missionary, Jim?” I asked him. But he insisted on being serious.
“If you have the heart of a missionary,” he said, “that will be all that is necessary. Your looks don’t matter a particle, Zalie.”
The way he said it, you would have thought I was something frightful to look at, but that it might be lived down.
“I want very much to help my neighbors along,” I said, “and to be helped by them, I hope, but to go to a foreign country and set up my ideas against theirs doesn’t appeal to me personally. You’ll have to excuse me, Jim.”
After a little while he got off his religious themes and was just good old jolly Jim, and then we had a fine time. For I confess that I felt a little strange with him when he talked religion. We made candy together—nut candy—and we popped corn, and got the supper, and played chess, and had prayers and went to bed. And the next two days were like unto this day.
Only, of course, we had our Christmas feast. They insisted on cooking the turkey and all the other good things while I was there, so that took a good deal of work, as you may imagine. But it was great fun, too. The little cottage reeked with delicious odors, and it was charming to see with its new curtains and the walls all trimmed with bittersweet and holly, and the pine knots burning in the fireplace.
Then, this morning, Semmy and I left.
“Don’t forget us, Zalie, don’t forget us,” dear Ma McBirney said when I kissed her good-bye.
“Never while life lasts, dear,” I told her. “Never while I have any brain to remember with.”
“I’m grateful to you, Zalie,” Pa told me, shaking my hand till it ached. “You’ve given me comfort and peace, girl, and there ain’t a day or a night I don’t thank you.”
“Pa,” said I, “it’s hard getting even with you and Ma, but I’m going to do it if I can.”
Jim took me down to the station and told me he hoped to be a credit to me, and that he never forgot that he owed his education to me, and he hoped I wouldn’t become worldly.
“Jim, you old silly,” I said to him, “I’m just as worldly as I can be. I simply love the old world.”
“That, Zalie, is not what I mean, and you know it.”
“Don’t lecture me, Jim,” I warned him, “or it will make me more and more frivolous. Just leave me alone and I’ll work out my own salvation.”
But he said he would pray for me. He looked so dignified that I didn’t dare remind him of those little green snakes he used to put in my closet. There’s no doubt about it; Jim is getting ministerial already. Growing up is a queer thing, isn’t it, Carin? Little freckled Jim trying to make a foreign missionary out of me!
To-morrow we shall have a great celebration at Mallowbanks. There are to be some “kin” present, of course, and we are to have a tree and a great dinner and in the evening a sing around the fire. I am to sing for them, alone, at grandmother’s request, and I have been rehearsing. I wish I had a voice like Annie Laurie, rich and full like a robin, or a thrush-like voice such as your mother has. I don’t think much of my voice, and I wish they wouldn’t ask me to sing. But I’ll do my best, and I have some lovely songs. Aunt Lorena plays my accompaniments.
There, I hear the train coming!
How good it will be to get out of this stuffy little station. The light is so dim I can hardly see. But why should I fret? In two hours I shall be in Mallowbanks, my own home. My own! And I know now, Carin, that it will be a pretty fine thing to go up to my own room and feel that I possess it, and to sit at supper with my own people. Yes, Carin, I realize it more to-night than ever before.
And, dear me, I shan’t get in bed till after midnight, I know, with so many Christmas presents to do up and label and all. I’m tying everything with corn-colored ribbon and it looks very pretty. The little presentation cards have daffodils on them. Don’t you like dainty things like that?
“It is all very silly,” said Preacher Jim to me. “This money should have gone to the poor.”
“Jim,” said I, “it is going to the poor. For everybody in the world is poor. Everybody needs help. Some need money, but more need love, and all this silliness is just a girl’s way of showing love.”
“Humph!” said Jim.
Isn’t he funny, Carin? Who would have dreamed he would be so solemn?
I do hope you’ll like what I’ve sent you; and I’m wild to get home and find your package for me.
And Oh, Oh, if there isn’t one, what an Indignant Person I shall be! But there will be, for when have you or your darling parents forgotten me?
A thousand Christmas greetings to you all. There is no joy I do not wish you. Salute your hearthstone for me.
CHAPTER VIII THE PORTRAIT
Mallowbanks, January fifth.
_Carin_, _my own one_:
Mallowbanks is entertaining an artist—a painter of portraits. His name is Keefe O’Connor; his residence is New York. He was wired for imperatively by Madam Knox who offered him more for the painting of her portrait than he had previously received for any such commission. Telegrams were exchanged. The artist, it appeared, was much engaged. Madam Knox wished more than ever to secure him. She increased her offer. He came—he is here in “the artist’s suite.” Madam Knox sits to him in gray velvet and pearls. Her hair is as white as the drifted snow; her eyebrows are dark and pointed, her little mouth looks secret and proud, her aristocratic nose is a straight line, her old, beautiful eyes are full of vanity and wisdom, sternness and kindness, memories and hopes. She is very wrinkled and very beautiful. The portrait painter appears to be in raptures, and he works early and late and is growing hollow-eyed. My own conviction is that he does not eat enough nor sleep very well. Semmy seems to think he has a secret sorrow.
“Miss Zalie,” said she to me—she learned to call me Zalie from the McBirneys—“that theah painter man has somethin’ gnawin’ him, suah.”
The painter man avoids me. When I come near, he goes—as soon as politeness permits. I retire to my room and read his assurances of friendship; I remember my own, and wonder if my imagination is not running away with me. But no—he avoids me. The other day, however, we were left together at the breakfast table and conversation became absolutely necessary. What he said was:
“How changed you are, Miss Azalea.”
“And you don’t like the change, Mr.—Keefe?”
“My liking or disliking it has nothing to do with the case,” he answered gloomily. “I repeat, you are changed.”
“Yes,” I admitted. “I have changed a number of times in the course of my life, but so, I suppose, have others.”
“Should you say I had changed for the worse or the better?”
“It is not a question of better or worse. You wrote me that you were the same old Azalea, but I do not find you so. Why, how meek you used to be!”
“Meek! I never was! I wouldn’t be! Meek!”
“When I think of you teaching those mountain children so lovingly, going around in your little pink sunbonnet, chatting by the hour with Mrs. Medicine Bottle—what was her name?—and look at you as you are now, and hear you talk as you do now—”
“Oh, very well,” I said. “I will withdraw my presence and my voice.”
So I did. I ran up to my room, and I found that pink gingham I used to wear up at Sunset Gap, and the funny little sunbonnet you used to think too becoming for a school-teacher. I put on the pink dress, though it was halfway up to my knees; I let my hair down my back in braids, and pulled the sunbonnet over it. Then I waited till I knew grandmother was sitting for her painter and I got Semmy to go down and knock on the door and call Mr. Painter out for a minute.
In that minute I ran in, kissed madam grandmother and bribed her to get behind a screen, and when our portrait painter returned, I was on the dais looking as demure as a kitten.
He came in looking at a letter Semmy had given him, and said:
“Will you pardon me, ma’am, for one moment?” He glanced through his letter. Then he bowed, and took up his brushes again. That was when he saw me. He gave a sort of a gasp and broke into the good old, beautiful smile we used to see on him up at Sunset Gap.
“Azalea!” he cried.
Then he frowned.
“I do not like to paint a person in masquerade,” he said.
“But this,” I said, “is a return to type.”
He still frowned.
“Perhaps you don’t like the type?”
He did not answer.
“Are we keeping Madam Knox waiting?” he asked.
I dropped a curtsy and found grandmother behind the screen. She too, was looking not particularly well pleased.
I kissed her again and helped her up to her chair.
“Grandmother,” I explained, “was not a party to the deception which has moved you to such violent rage, Mr. O’Connor. She was taken by storm; was overcome by force of arms and a superior enemy. I withdraw. I never did see why anybody wanted to go to the Arctic regions.”
I curtsied again—twice—once to grandmother and once to him. They both looked sulky. I got into my riding habit, called for Sally McLean, the darling little mare they let me use, and went off for the rest of the morning. At noon I found myself at the house of a Ravanel—Delight Ravanel. She is a spinster, quite wrinkled and rather depressed, but she got her Christian name when she gave promise, I suppose, of other things. She asked me to stay to luncheon. I did, and found her a dear. She told me stories about who married whom and why. She proved to me that I was some sort of a cousin of hers. It was the middle of the afternoon before I started for home.
A rain had set in and the roads were very muddy, so Sally McLean had a bad time of it. She is such a dainty thing that mud makes her miserable. Besides, she was shivering with cold and nervousness, though I can’t quite see what made her nervous. But Sally has her moods, like the rest of us. I made up my mind, however, that Paprika was the last horse that was ever going to throw me, and so I gentled poor Sally, and made my way along the road in the best spirit I could command. I fell to thinking about little Paprika, and Jim’s Mustard, and how we used to scamper down the long mountain road to school, and about the times when you and Annie Laurie and I used to race down the valley; and then I thought over the excursion Haystack Thompson and Miss Pace and Keefe and you and I made with Paralee Panther away over the nag road to the Panther’s, and how we dug them out of their cave, so to speak. I hear from Paralee quite often, by the way. She is teaching now in the Industrial School. Yes, she is really a teacher, just as she said she would be. Of course that is owing to the start you gave her, Carin; but I’m very proud to think how she has got on. She has been independent of all help for two years at least, hasn’t she? Perhaps she has written you about her teacher’s position, but I mention it, thinking she might not have ventured to write. She always stood in some awe of you, you were so beautiful and so far removed from her.
She, reminds me, someway, of those people I did not meet in the little cabin that lay between Mount Tennyson and Mount Hebron—the cabin, I mean, where I went in and helped myself to soup and firewood, and where I left the cake and sugar and things in exchange. I told you Mother McBirney met them afterward and learned their name. Wixon, it was, by the way. Well, just for fun, I sent them some Christmas presents—nothing really sensible and necessary, but something perfectly luxurious—a talking machine with a lot of records of various kinds. Also a year’s subscription to a good magazine which has many illustrations. I thought these things might help them to become alive. Oh, it certainly is glorious to have money!
But I am still out in the rain on Sally McLean’s back, in a bad fit of homesickness, am I not? These homesick spells do not come as often as they did and they are not as bad as they were, but still I have them, and while they last I am miserable enough. I could feel my tears trickling down my cold nose, but I was having such work to keep Sally on her feet that I couldn’t wipe them away. I suppose we made a pathetic pair, struggling along in the sodden afternoon in that friendless, forsaken way. (I’m not sure but Sally was crying too. I think I heard her sniffle.)
Then, just as we were in the worst of our dumps, who should appear on the landscape but “a solitary horseman”! He was riding Wellington, a tall, elegant looking horse belonging to Uncle David, and he himself—of course it was Keefe—looked tall and elegant, too, though he had on a raincoat and a little cap which fitted close to his head. He didn’t seem to mind the rain, but rode with his face turned up to it as if he liked it. When he saw me he stopped riding that way and tried to look as commonplace as he could.
“How do you do?” he said as if we were not very well acquainted neighbors meeting by chance on the road.
“Very well, thank you, Rain-in-the-Face.”
“You are angry with me! You have been away all day because you were angry with me.”
“I fled, Rain-in-the-Face, from the Arctic chilliness of Mallowbanks. I have in my time lived among strangers, I have danced and sung to stupid audiences, I have been hungry and wet through with the rain, I have slept on mouldy straw in a wretched tent, but never was I so chilled as to-day.”
He seemed shocked.
“Do you mean,” I asked him, angry, Carin, for one of the few times in my life, “that I ought not to mention that I was once a poor little waif, a show girl, a sad-hearted dancer? Yes, I was an ill-cared for, shamed little Infant Phenomenon, and I don’t care who knows it. And then I was poor Ma McBirney’s beloved child, and I took the place to her of her little dead daughter; that warmed and saved me and taught me love and faith, and I don’t care who knows that, either. Then I was Carin Carson’s friend, and we worked and learned together, and you saw us, and you liked me as I was then. Now I’m Azalea Knox of Mallowbanks, with such relatives and acquaintances as Fate has given me, and I’m grateful and proud of that, too. I take all as it comes, Rain-in-the-Face, and I cannot for the life of me understand what you are sulking about.”
“Am I sulking? I am unhappy. How could you change so? You used not to talk as you do now, nor dress as you do now. You asked me to forgive you your fortune and your place in the world, and I liked it and laughed at it and—and forgave it. Though it was hard. But still I didn’t want to come down here. I fought against it. I had too dear a memory of you, Azalea, to want to come down here in any other way than as your lover, and I knew it would never be fair to come that way—that your relatives would object. So I found one excuse after another for not coming, but your grandmother over-persuaded me. And my heart out-argued me, too. I had to come. I thought: ‘All the world may change, but she never will. She will be the same.’ But you aren’t—you aren’t!”
“Are you?” I retorted. “Do you imagine for a moment, Rain-in-the-Face, that after three years in New York City, making your way among artists and other clever, charming people, that you are the same boy who went singing over Sunset Gap? You are not, at all. Now you are not afraid to be rude or disagreeable or masterful, but then you would not have been one of those things. You were too kind.”
“So you think me unkind?”
“I am sorry.”
“But I’m sorrier.”
“What can I do to make you change your mind?”
“If I stay here where you are, I shall say something to be regretted.”
“Who will regret it?”
“I. Your uncle and aunt, above all, your grandmother, will look on me as an adventurer. They will even accuse you of—”
I could see him turn scarlet.
“I can’t say it.”
“Of having asked me down here knowing that—that I was fond of you.”
“Well, what of that? I’m not ashamed of that. I don’t believe that girls have to sit around without making any effort to get what they want in life.”
Carin, you are horrified, aren’t you? Darlin’, it just slipped out. But it was the truth.
“Do you mean—” he cried, putting his horse up beside Sally McLean. But I told you Sally was in a mood. She didn’t like that way of doing things. Perhaps she thought he meant to brush me off of her, or maybe she imagined that it was a race. I can’t say, because Sally and I do not understand each other very well yet. But at any rate, she was off down the road, mud or no mud, and I did not even try to hold her in.
I could hear Keefe thundering along behind me, crying:
“Can’t you hold her? Throw yourself off.”
But not I. I let her go as fast as she wished. At least, until I got near home and on the macadam, and then I gently drew her in. I didn’t know but she might be beyond all reason by that time, but she wasn’t, and I felt terribly ashamed of having let uncle’s fine mare get in such a fume.
“I do hope and pray, Sally,” I said, “that I haven’t ruined your disposition with my wretched temper.”
Just then it came over me that there was nothing at all the matter with Sally’s disposition. The trouble was all with me. I had been in a trembling rage all day and the sensitive creature had taken it from me. I was disgusted with myself.
“Little Sally,” I whispered in her ear as I dropped off her at the house door, “I’ll never, never act like that again.”
She has wonderful eyes. I wish I had eyes like that creature. She looked at me straight and we kissed and made up. That is to say, I made the boy hold her till I got her some sugar, and I told him to rub her down well and blanket her and feed her very lightly.
“She got a little excited,” I said. It was young James, and he looked at me curiously. I wondered if he, too, saw that I was the excited one.
“Yassum,” he said. “No-um. Yassum.” I thought it covered the ground.
I saw Keefe swinging around the drive just then, and I ran straight up to my room.
Oh, Carin, how safe and sweet it seemed there. I called Semmy and had her draw my bath and help me off with my wet things, and I told her to lay out my new flame-colored silk. It is gorgeous in hue but modest in make. “For dull nights,” said Aunt Lorena when she gave it to me. “A country house, my dear, can be particularly gloomy. I trust you to brighten this one up at such times. Perhaps you can do it successfully without the aid of a flame-colored gown, but in case—” Well, I put on the flame-colored dress; likewise the slippers that went with it. No jewels. I have only my little pearls, and the gold beads and the amber ones. The dress would have put any of those out. I did my hair low. I took off my one ring. The dress, I thought, could have the whole road to itself.
I was one minute late to dinner, and grandmother was watching for me.
“Madam grandmother,” I said, “will you do me the honor?” I gave her my arm, and we went out to the dining room. Grandmother, of course, always precedes the others.
I minded my manners and did not speak till I was spoken to.
“Where were you to-day, Azalea?” asked Aunt Lorena. “Not in your room, I know. You should not go out, child, without letting us know where you were going.”
“I went for a little ride, Auntie, and the imps took hold of my bridle and led me farther than I meant. I lunched with Miss Delight Ravanel. You wished, I think, to have me with the Ravanels as much as possible.”
“It was your grandmother who recommended the Ravanels to you particularly, I think.”
“I thank whoever it was. I had a beautiful time. Miss Ravanel is as quaint as an old gift book, and as lonely as—as a rook.”
“Rooks are not lonely,” said Keefe. “They go together in swarms.”
“Lonely rooks are lonely,” I said.
“I hope Miss Ravanel had received the apricot jam I sent her?”
“I have a note from her, aunt, to that effect. She has been meaning to thank you in person. She also—in the note—begs that I may spend the next fortnight with her.”
“Should you like to?” asked Uncle David in great surprise.
“My dear Azalea!” cried Aunt Lorena incredulously.
“Why not? You advised me to make new friends. I have. She is my new friend.”
“But Delight Ravanel is old enough to be your mother! And she’s always raging at things and people. How can you possibly endure her for two weeks?”
“She was very pleasant indeed to-day. Perhaps she is grouchy because she is lonely.”
“Azalea,” gasped my grandmother, “what was the word you used? Grouchy? What does that mean, pray? No such word was in use in my day.”
Then I saw myself as I was, a very naughty young person, setting all these lovely folks at odds.
“It means what I am to-night—cross and hateful, dearest grandmother. Please, please forgive me for using it. I ought never to use anything but the nicest words I know in your presence.”
I picked up her little wrinkled hand and squeezed it, and she looked at me as I love to have her, with something of the love in her eyes which she gave in the old days to my unforgotten, wayward father.
“Aunt Lorena,” I said, “she really does want me to visit her. But I’ll make it a weekend instead of two weeks if you think best.”
“We couldn’t spare you for two weeks, Azalea,” said Uncle David kindly. “Make it a week-end, do. For my part, I am glad you like her. Particularly glad. She is a lonely and hurt soul, is poor Delight, who delights nobody.”
At that, Carin, things I had heard came back to me, and I knew she once had loved uncle. It must be a terrible thing to love someone, always, who cares nothing for you. I can’t think of anything worse.
“I already had made up my mind to like her,” I said.
When we went to the drawing-room it was raining so terribly, and the wind was blowing so wildly, that the great room was unbearable.
“Let’s go to the writing room,” said Aunt Lorena.
The writing room is a delightful little place, mostly occupied by a great sofa. There is a wide fireplace, too, and seats coming out from it at right angles. Young James built a great fire for us, and Semmy brought in some marvelous nut candies she had made, and Martha served the coffee there.
“No light but the firelight, please, Lorena,” commanded grandmother.
So we sat there by the light of the fire and listened to the storm. Uncle and auntie were together on one of the cushioned benches beside the fire; grandmother was on the huge lounge, wrapped in her camel’s hair shawl and heaped about with pillows; I sat down on the other bench beside the fire. Keefe looked at me a moment as if undecided what to do. Then he bowed and asked:
“Have I your permission?”
“Oh, yes,” said I as simply as I could. So we sat side by side for the first time in all our lives, and after a time—after quite a time—I felt his hand touching mine under the folds of my flame-colored dress. It has a scarf to it, that floats from the shoulders. It is quite vol—how do you spell it?—voluminous. That is why we could hold hands.
But I was afraid uncle and auntie were watching us. So I had an idea.
“Oh, dearest dear grandmother,” I said, “this is the night of all the world for a story. Grandmother, you _must_ tell us a story—if you _please_.”
Grandmother gave a little laugh.
“I will do it,” she said. “I will tell you the story of an ancestress of yours.”
I have partly written that story, Carin, and when I have finished it I shall send it to you.
CHAPTER IX GRANDMOTHER’S STORY
Mallowbanks, January 8th.
_Carin_, _my waiting one_:
Play you are sitting in the firelight with all my family, and Keefe close beside me, and the rain falling outside. If the wind whistles down the chimney, it is, after all, not loud enough to drown my little grandmother’s voice, for it is a high and musical one, and rises above noises louder than itself. Very snug and happy we all are. It is a witching hour, and grandmother looks unearthly and shining, with her hair gleaming in the firelight like a silver cloud in the sun.
“Once on a time,” said she, beginning her story in the good old way, “there was an ancestress of yours, Azalea, my dear, named Dorothy Marshall. She was so gentle and sweet a woman that long, long after she was dead, the fame of her lived on, though no woman ever led a quieter life than she did. They say she had fair hair and dark blue eyes, with a complexion not pale, but golden, and ripe, full lips, and a beautiful dimple in her chin. In her youth she was a gallant horsewoman and she could sail a boat like a man. Indeed, it was the sea that she loved the best, though she grew up amid beautiful fields and was often in the mountains. But to be within sound and sight of the sea, and to have the smell of it in her nostrils, made her a happy woman indeed.
“That may have been one of the reasons that when she was only eighteen she married Samuel Bings. Now the Bings were a seafaring family if ever there was one. Twelve sons were there, giants all, and save one, each before he died became the commander of his own ship on the sea. They were merchantmen, these ships, in the carrying trade between Norfolk and ports all over the world, and to this day there are many strange things in our family which they brought from half around the world.
“Samuel was the fifth son and of them all the most like his father, who was a famous seaman and had been thrice around the world, and many times about the Horn. When Samuel and Dorothy were married there was feasting and dancing in the old Marshall home at Norfolk, and good wishes from high and low. They were so young, so handsome, so fortunate, that only one cloud could be discovered anywhere on their horizon, and that was that either they must be apart, or Dorothy must follow the fortunes of the sea with her husband. This she would gladly have done had it not been that her mother, whose only daughter she was, suffered poor health and could not endure to have her daughter leave her. So it was decided that Samuel was to make one journey more, for which he had signed, and that he would then give up his sailor’s life and conduct a ship chandlery at home.
“With that Dorothy begged him to go with her for one last journey over the mountains, that they might be together in solitude for a while. So he took his fine roan, Pacolet, and she her little mare, Bess, and they rode away for a wonderful month among the mountains, stopping where they pleased, and seeing the homes and plantations of their fellow Virginians, and everywhere they were entertained with great consideration, for two handsomer or more charming young people it would have been difficult to find. Moreover, Samuel loved his horse Pacolet better than anything in the world save his bride, and to feel this faithful and spirited steed under him, and to see the fair face of his love shining with health and joy, was, he thought, all that any man could ask of fate.
“So it was with a stout heart that at last he sailed away as commander of his elder brother’s merchantman, _The Adventure_, carrying cotton to France and tobacco to Algiers and gold to Constantinople. For you must know, Azalea, that at that time—I think it must have been about 1794, America did a good trade among the ports of the Mediterranean and even beyond. Perhaps, too, if you have read your history, you will know how the corsairs of the Barbary States preyed upon these merchantmen, so that it was necessary for America to place a fleet of battleships to guard the African coast in order to protect the merchant ships from the pirates. Notwithstanding this, many a ship was held against its will and its officers and crews made prisoners, and it was a common thing for notices to be read in American churches, giving the names of those in captivity in Tripoli or Algiers. Then would the friends and relatives of the imprisoned men raise money and buy them out again.
“But Samuel Bings had no fear. The Bings were brave men and subtle men, and they reckoned with their wits to keep them out of trouble.
“‘Keep heart of grace, Dorothy, my love,’ said Samuel when he bade her good-bye. ‘A year may pass, or a year and a half at farthest; then shall you see me home, and never more will I quit shore save by your leave or in your company.’
“But hardly had he put to sea when troubles came upon his bride. First her long-ailing mother died; then three months after that her father bade her farewell also. So she was left alone in the world. She had kin in plenty—though none of them were very near—who would have welcomed her to their homes, but they lived on plantations out of sight of the sea, and Dorothy had a mind to be where she could see it rolling in bringing the brave ships on it.
“‘What if _The Adventure_ should land and Samuel come seeking me and I not be at hand?’ she said.
“So she chose her a house on the side of the hill that led up from the wharves, and from its galleries she could see every ship that came sailing into port. Here she made her a home, putting into it whatever was most beautiful or treasured from the old house of the Marshalls, and those curious things which the brothers Bings had brought her from China and Java and Japan and the South Sea isles; yes, and from the Bahamas and the Azores and the Canaries and the Hebrides and all the islands they had visited. Moreover, she made it her business to build a fine stable for her husband’s beloved horse, Pacolet, so that he was tended like a king’s horse, and every day she rode him to keep him in form, and she would take him to a certain place where they could overlook the sea, and the two of them would stand there like statues, watching the horizon for a sight of _The Adventure_.
“The year passed with no word from Samuel. But Dorothy comforted her heart.
“‘Did he not say I might have to wait a year and a half a year?’ she asked.
“But the year and the half year went by, and it was two years, and then three, and nothing was heard of the ship at all. So a dark fear began to grow up in the heart of Dorothy, and she never missed her church, not only because she was devout, but because she thought that some time she might hear the name of her husband read as among those who were lying in one of the cruel Barbary prisons awaiting a ransom. But never a word did she hear, and the years rolled by.
“Then came the year 1801 and Tripoli declared war upon America, and Stephen Decatur was sent to deal with the treacherous governments of Tangier and Tripoli, and there, after his victories, he saw to the release of all American prisoners.
“‘Now, surely,’ thought Dorothy Bings, ‘my husband will return.’
“But he did not come, and though his brothers, always traveling, inquired at all ports if anything had been heard of him, they never were able to bring his waiting wife any word.
“Then the brothers, compassionate for her youth and her sorrow, bade her accept her widowhood with courage.
“‘Samuel is dead,’ they said. ‘He has died the death of a sailor and a gentleman, rest you sure. Be comforted, Dorothy. You loved him well and he loved you, but he is gone. Accept your sorrow and find another mate. He would be the last one to wish you to dwell here alone with your youth going and no child in your house to comfort you. We, his brothers, bid you seek new happiness.’
“And indeed the beautiful Mistress Bings might have had her pick of many gallant gentlemen. But though they sued her ardently, and though she was lonely with a loneliness beyond her words to express, she could not bring herself to be the bride of any one of them.
“‘For what,’ said she, ‘if I should wed me, and some day Samuel should come home, looking for me? What if he is eating his heart out now in some dungeon or on some lonely isle, dreaming of me and Pacolet, and I should take the horse and myself to a new master? No, no, I could never sleep quiet in my bed, nor Pacolet in his stall, were we false to him. He trusted us beyond all the world. We will be faithful.’
“So the years rolled by, and at last silver began to come in the golden hair of Mistress Dorothy. But her longing, instead of growing less, increased year by year, so that she did little else but watch the harbor and the wharves, and to every sailor man who came up the street, staggering from his long journey, she called:
“‘Pray pardon me, good sir, but have you been overseas? Then perhaps you will tell me if you saw anyway, in any port, a tall man with steel blue eyes, named Samuel Bings.’
“And the sailors, high and low, paid her courtesy, knowing her sad story, and respecting her for her steadfastness, and they would stop, hat in hand below her balcony, and tell her of their voyages, and of what they knew concerning the fate of missing men. But never a one of them, stranger or friend, could bring her word of the man she mourned.
“Because of this intercourse she came to know many, many sailors, and since she was one of those whom sorrow teaches, they trusted her and came to her in trouble, and brought her their joys, too. She was the friend to all, and since she had a liberal soul and a well-filled purse, she was enabled to help many a poor man in straits, and to send him on his way with a strengthened heart.
“At length, old age came upon her. She leaned upon a stick when she walked, and she must needs be wrapped in the rich shawls brought her from far lands, when she sat upon the galleries. But still her eyes were bright, and they were always seeking, seeking, and her voice was sweet though it quavered as she leaned over her gallery’s edge to question the men who came up from the ships.
“‘She will never hear from Samuel Bings this side heaven,’ the sailor men fell into the way of saying. And now she was so venerable, and her sad story was so widely known, that men coming to the port for the first time would question if she was yet to be seen, and they would salute as they approached, and would wait to hear the questions that she asked. She was to them like a ballad of true love, or a chant grown dear with use. Indeed, they made songs about her, and when they argued for true love, they were able to point to her. They venerated her silver hair, which had once been golden, and it was to the glory of Norfolk that she lived there.
“Then, one day as she sat in the sunshine, watching the harbor and noting the ships and the busy throng upon the wharves, and all the business that had become to her as her very life, an old, bent man, a sailor by his walk and dress, came shambling up the street. She never had seen him before, but no sooner had her eyes fallen upon him than her heart gave a great leap.
“‘Come to me,’ she called to the faithful servant who had been her companion since the days when she was a bride. ‘Come to me and hold me by the arm, for I must question yonder man.’
“So the maid supported her, and Mistress Bings got to the balustrade of her balcony, and leaning over it, called to the old stranger.
“‘Your pardon sir, but have you been traveling long and far?’
“The man lifted his cap, and as well as he could for his bent back, he looked up at the silver-haired lady on the balcony above him.
“‘Long and far, madam,’ he answered.
“‘Then I beg you of your goodness to come up here and talk with me a while.’
“The old man hesitated, perplexed at such an invitation. But she called again:
“‘I beg you of your goodness.’
“So he came, and she asked him to be seated before her, and then she fixed her burning eyes on him.
“‘Tell me, sir, have you in all of your travels ever met a man named Samuel Bings—a tall man with steel blue eyes, a sailor, every inch of him?’
“The old man stared at her a moment, and then started to his feet.
“‘Are you,’ he cried, ‘his wife, Dorothy? Had he a horse named Pacolet?’
“‘I knew it! I knew it,’ cried Mistress Bings. ‘As soon as ever I saw you coming up the street, I knew that at last I should hear of him. Oh, tell me, sir, is he living still?’
“The old man sank into his seat again and hung his huge head over his knees.
“‘No, madam, he is dead these ten years since.’
“‘Ah, dead,’ breathed Mistress Bings. ‘He is at rest, my Samuel. He is safe in his last bed. He suffers no longer. May God rest his soul!’
“For a little while she could say no more, only now and then crying to her maid:
“‘He is at rest. He suffers no longer.’
“Then, when she was calmer, she turned once more to the bowed stranger.
“‘For the love of God, sir, tell me all you know.’
“So he told her the story of how he had been a small planter in Jamaica, a man of English birth, and how a great tobacco merchant of that place had fitted out a ship to convey his produce to the Turkish ports, and how he, William Hull, had sailed with her, being minded to take a voyage. They had a fair crossing, and Hull said to himself that now at last he was living, now at last, he was seeing life. Then, off the Tripoli coast, the ship was attacked by corsairs and captured, and the captain and crew were thrown in prison. In time, the captain and all of his men save Hull were released, but Hull was of a restless and quick nature, and would not make friends of his foes. The jailors complained that he was quarrelsome; twice he tried to escape and was recaptured; and he openly vowed vengeance on Tripoli should he ever be a free man again and upon a ship of his own country. So, what with his hot-headedness, and the warfare that was on then between America and the Barbary States, he came under the notice of the dey, who, regarding him as a dangerous man, had him put in the dungeons below ground. For a time he was all alone, and he all but went mad in the solitude, but after a time there was need to put a dangerous murderer in his dungeon, and he was removed to another place, and thrown in with an old, half-crazed man.
“‘He had been a man of great stature,’ said Hull, ‘and it was easy to see, in spite of all his rags and filth, that he was a gentleman. He greeted me courteously when I entered, and I said to myself that now I should be able to hold converse with a fellow-being, but indeed, madam, it was little enough converse that we held. He could hold to one theme but a moment or two, and then he would fall under a sort of spell, and would sit softly mumbling to himself, as if he were going back over old scenes. Then he would arouse himself and call to me. And when I answered him, he would say:
“‘“Man, man, if ever you go free, for the love of God, search out my sweet wife Dorothy and my good horse Pacolet, and tell them I have not forgot.”
“‘Sometimes he would sob when he spoke these words, and sometimes he would call them at the top of his voice. Again he would whisper them, and often in his sleep I would hear him muttering: “My sweet wife Dorothy and my good horse Pacolet.”‘
“The old stranger stopped in compassion, for Mistress Bings lay with her face against the high back of her chair, as colorless as snow. But when she found that he had ceased, she motioned for him to proceed.
“‘This is the greatest day of my life, save one,’ she said, ‘and that was the day I became a bride. Do not fear for me. Finish your tale.’
“‘Nine years, lacking three months, we were together in that dungeon,’ continued Hull, ‘and then he died. A sudden cold, a closing of the lungs, and he was gone. He passed away in my arms, madam, very peacefully, and with his last breath he bade me carry messages to you.’
“‘And you waited all these years, man?’
“‘Madam, I knew nothing of the place he called his home, and though he often tried for hours at a time to remember, he could not recall them. Never, in all that time, did he talk lucidly upon any subject at all, save when he spoke of you and his horse, and then he said no more than I have told you. It was as if, finding that all things were going from him, he commanded himself to remember the two beings he loved.’
“‘Yet you knew his name, William Hull?’ said Mistress Bings.
“‘Aye, madam. When at last my old captain was able to secure my release, I begged him and the governor to go with me to the keeper of the prison, and there I told him that I had but one little favor to ask in return for the years of life he had wrenched from me, and that was the name of my companion. So he gave it to me—Bings. But he could not tell me from what American port he had sailed, nor would he give me anything of his story. To this day, madam, I do not know the fate of his ship or his crew, and I fear that this tragedy like many others, will be unrecorded to the end of time.’
“‘To the end of time,’ whispered Mistress Bings. ‘To the end of time is a long while, William Hull.’
“‘So long it will never come,’ said William Hull.
“‘But he never forgot? My husband never forgot? In darkness and solitude and madness, he remembered me still?’
“‘Madam, it was his one joy.’
“‘Pacolet is long since dead,’ said Mistress Bings. ‘He is buried in a fine field, and a great bowlder is placed above his grave to mark it.’
“‘He loved his horse,’ said William Hull.
“‘May they meet in Paradise!’ cried Mistress Bings.
“‘What, madam, the soul of the man and—and a horse?’
“‘May they meet in Paradise,’ she repeated. Then she bade William Hull enter her house, and she feasted him well, and when he had finished, she asked him concerning his life and his work, and when she found that though old, and bent and broken, he meant always to follow the sea, a common sailor before the mast—the least of all the signed men because of his bent back—she cried:
“‘Not so, William Hull. You shall not so weary yourself. If you have a mind to stay on land, I will build you a snug house on one of my plantations; but if you prefer the sea, I will buy you a yawl, and you can sail from port to port along our coast here.’
“So at first William Hull spoke for the sea and the yawl, but when he learned that she would no longer live in the house that watched the harbor there being no reason why she should continue to search the faces of returning sailors, looking among them for the one she loved—but would go onto a plantation and live among her trees and flowers, he elected to live near her and to be her servant. To the end, he served her, and she guarded him, he for the sake of a man who, though bereft of his senses, was still an affectionate friend, she for the sake of the bridegroom who had never forgotten his love, and who had been snatched from the sunlight to wither in a dungeon all his days.”
That is the tale my grandmother told.
And all the while, Carin, I let my hand stay in Keefe’s. The fire fell low, the wind grew higher, and the story, you might have thought, would have made us sad. But it did not do so. Grandmother walked up the stairs to her room with her head lifted; I saw Uncle David and Aunt Lorena going down the corridor hand in hand. As for me, I could have danced. I do not know what Keefe thought, but I heard him singing “Annie Laurie” when he reached his room. I saw then that the story had risen above sorrow into joy, and when I went to bed I was very, very happy—happier than ever before in my life. It is wonderful to know there is really such a thing as true love in the world, isn’t it?
CHAPTER X “THE WATERS OF QUIET”
Mallowbanks, January 21st.
_My own Carin_:
I no longer have a grandmother.
She has gone. She is dead; but we are trying not to grieve. We are thinking of her as sailing on “the waters of quiet” to where her husband and her beloved son await her.
It was her love for that dead son, my father, that brought about her death. Soon after I wrote you last, we could see that a cloud was settling over her spirit. She was very restless and could not sleep, but would go wandering about the house if she were not prevented.
“I reckon ole Miss has got to studyin’ about Mars Jack again,” said Semmy to me. Indeed, all of us in the house could see that this was so. She became suspicious of us and thought we were watching her to prevent her from going out to her boy. She thought he was living again, young and wayward, with no friend but herself, and though she seemed to be reasonable enough upon other subjects, in regard to that she was quite insane.
Martha was set to watch her early and late, and when she was weary Semmy or I took her place. She was sweet and gay at moments. One afternoon she showed me her painted fans and her jewels, and told me they would be mine, some day, and I was naughty enough to say:
“But madam grandmother, what shall little Azalea do with all those? Don’t you think her little string of ‘Job’s tears’ and a peacock fan made by herself become her better?”
That teased her, as I knew it would.
“My dear Azalea,” she said in her most earnest manner, “you are a true Knox, and these jewels and fans will become you. Wear them, not only for your own sake, but for the credit of your family.”
I like to think of those last days we spent together. They were dreamy, and happily-sad—different from other days altogether. Keefe was finishing her portrait, but we would no longer let her sit to him. He caught her expressions from day to day and made studies of them, and touched up the portrait by himself. It was wonderful to me to see her sparkling, wrinkled, aristocratic face, at once so worldly and so spiritual, growing out of the canvas. Then, when she told him that he was to make a second copy of it, that I might have one for my very own, you can fancy my pride and satisfaction.
Well, we had fallen into the way of locking the two doors that lead from her bedroom, so that if she should be taken with one of her old wandering spells and should try to slip by Martha, who had a cot in the room with her, she would be unable to get out. I slept in the little dressing room next to her that I might be of assistance to Martha should she need me, and several times she did, for grandmother insisted on going out to the old place at the end of the garden. Once she had her jewel case with her, and insisted that Jack must have the jewels, because he was going hungry and was sleeping by the wayside, while she and all the rest of the family lived in luxury. It took me a long time to quiet her.
But she was so well guarded that we thought no harm could possibly come to her. But the hour came when we all failed her. I cannot bear to think of it. No one in the house can.
It happened this way. I had gone motoring with Uncle David and Keefe. Aunt Lorena remained at home to be near grandmother, and Martha was in immediate charge. But Martha is old, too, and though she is most loyal, she does not always use the best judgment. At any rate, while Aunt Lorena was down with the cook talking over Sunday’s dinner, Grandmother sent Martha to call her. She said she wished to consult with her at once upon some important matter.
So Martha, nothing doubting, went in search of Aunt Lorena, and when she came back grandmother was missing. She had been in the little upstairs sitting room, but she was not to be found there nor in her bedroom. Unfortunately, Martha wasted a few minutes in looking for her on the second story, and then she came trembling down to the first floor, her old knees quaking under her, and looked there without success. Old James had been tidying up the walk in front of the house—for there had been a rain and a cold wind, and twigs and branches were lying all about the ground—and he said she had not come out. So more time was spent in searching for her all about the great rambling house. The servants began looking in the rooms we never use, and then they ran up to the attic, thinking she might be up there looking over her chests and boxes as she likes to do sometimes. But she was not there either.
Then Uncle David, Keefe and I came home.
I had noticed as we swept around the drive which goes by the east wing of the house, that a certain little side door opening into the garden, stood ajar, which was curious for this time of the year. It is a door used only in the summer time, and then usually by someone who wishes to escape quietly into the garden without being seen by those in the front of the house.
“It’s a cold day for a door to be standing open like that,” I said to Uncle David.
“Curious,” he said. “Mr. O’Connor, as you go in, be kind enough to close it. It leads from the little coat room beneath the stairs.”
Keefe and I went in together, and then we heard the tumult in the house.
“We can’t find your grandmother!” said Aunt Lorena to me, showing her white face at the head of the stairs. With that it flashed through me at once that she had escaped by the side door. I flung off my motor coat and ran for the coat room and through the door into the garden. There, sure enough, by the narrow brick terrace was the imprint of her little shoe.
“Come, Keefe, come,” I called, for I felt there was great trouble ahead, and I wanted him to be with me, Carin. Yes, I can tell you, my dear, to whom every event, almost every feeling of my life, is known, that I wanted him above everyone else in the world.
It was almost dark by this time, and the two of us ran out, hand in hand, and down the gray garden in the mist. Nothing looked natural to me. The very shrubbery, wreathed all in white as it was, frightened me. The bushes looked like strange, unheard-of beasts, crouching to spring. And the whole place was so terribly still! I could feel my breath catching in my throat and strangling me.
“It is at the end of the garden she goes to meet him,” I managed to say through my throat.
“To meet whom?” asked Keefe. (I never had told him the story of my father.)
“Her dead son,” I gasped, and said no more. For how could I explain then? Keefe looked at me as if he thought I was out of my head, but I said nothing, and we ran on.
And then we came to the pool—the little sweet pool that is like the heart of the garden. The three swans were close to the shore looking at something dark that lay there.
And it was she, Carin. It was little madam grandmother. She had fallen with her face in the water, and it seemed as if she had not even tried to rise.
Keefe saw her and sprang to her and picked her up in his arms, and I came and looked at her.
“She has gone where she wished to go,” said Keefe. “She is with her son.”
“Yes, I am sure it is as she would like it to be,” I cried, and I held her hand in mine all the way to the house, and wondered if she knew I was glad for her—that I was congratulating her.
But, Oh, Carin, how one’s throat can ache! How one’s heart can hang heavy, like a weight! How one’s eyes can burn and head can throb, and how one’s thoughts can heavily turn and turn, like an iron wheel! Did you ever have a great sorrow? Oh, yes, I remember that you did, when your three brothers were lost in that horrible theater fire. Well, I have had a great sorrow before, too, when I lost my little mother. But I was so young then and so generally miserable, and life had been hideous for so long, that it was only one added pang. It was different from this. I seem unable to get that scene in the garden out of my mind. Grandmother seems still to be fluttering before those portraits of herself, or in among the cabinets in the drawing-room, or along the corridors, beckoning to her old Martha, or calling out to me: “Your arm, Azalea, please.”
The funeral was strangely quaint and beautiful. So many old people came—old friends from far away as well as near at hand, and I cannot begin to tell you about the curious coaches and carriages that some of them came in. The bishop preached the service, the funeral being held, oddly enough, in the old ballroom of the house—the room where grandmother had danced as a bride. But it looked very imposing and solemn on the day of her burial. It is paneled in dark wood, and all about it were candles burning in their sconces, and from grandmother’s coffin trailed a great cloth of gold and black brocade.
The bishop had a voice like an organ, and when I heard him reading:
“I am the resurrection and the life,” my sorrow seemed to lighten.
Everyone was very kind to me—much kinder than I had any right to expect. I had to meet many of the old family friends. It was really required of me, Aunt Lorena explained, for there were a number present on this occasion who had not been at my coming-out party. So, after the funeral, I was introduced to them.
You understand, Carin, grandmother was not taken from the house after the funeral. No, she was left lying up in that splendid room, and downstairs the funeral guests were given some refreshments—for most of them had come a long way, and many were old—and then, at midnight, the old servants carried the coffin to the great vault that stands in a grove near the house, and Uncle David and Aunt Lorena and Keefe and I followed, and she was laid away with others of her family, my father among the rest.
There are cypress trees and hemlocks round about this vault, and they stood up black against the dark sky, swaying and crying. Not one of us spoke a word, and the only sound was the sobbing of the black people. I felt more like crying than I ever had before in my life—yes, I wanted to sob aloud and to call to grandmother to come back. Little sweet, proud, loving, laughing grandmother! But I kept very still. It seemed as if I could read Keefe’s thoughts and as if he were telling me to be quiet. So I said over and over to myself the last line of a lovely poem I read the other day. “‘O waters of quiet, go softly.’”
After so long a life, one must be glad to rest. I found out that night, Carin, how that death, like life, is sweet and all in the course of things and nothing to be afraid of.
Going back to the house I told Keefe that.
“Life is our comrade,” he said, “but death is our mother, holding out kind hands to us when we are tired.”
When he left me he—he kissed me, Carin. On the forehead. I shall always remember.
I did not leave my room the next day. I wanted to think. Old Semmy stayed with me. But I did not mind her. I like old Semmy. She rocks to and fro like the trees and seems to be waiting to give comfort when comfort is needed. And that is like trees, too. After my little mama died I used to wrap my arms about the trees up there on the mountain-side and weep and weep, and they were very kind to me—those great chestnuts and hemlocks. But now I am thinking out many things. I couldn’t have written to anyone save you. But soon I shall write dear Mother McBirney and Annie Laurie. (I have, of course, sent them word.)
Carin, tell me if you love me.
* * * * *
Mallowbanks, January 30th.
Other troubles have come to me—things I never dreamed of. I don’t know how to meet them. They aren’t things like death, that just have to be accepted with courage. No, they are things I have to decide about. I have to make up my mind what is right and what is wrong. I never knew before that it could be hard to do that.
This is the story: Two days after dear little grandmother was buried, I was told that the family solicitor would be at the house at three in the afternoon and that the will would be read, and I was expected to be present. So I put on one of the new black dresses that tell their own story, and when the time came I went down to the library. Uncle and auntie were there before me, and they introduced me to Mr. Lindsay, and then when the servants had come, he read grandmother’s will.
She was a rich woman, of course, but I had not guessed how rich, and she gave bequests to Martha and James which would make it unnecessary for them to work any more, with substantial remembrances to the other servants, and a fine sum to the college her sons attended, and then all of the rest she divided between Uncle David and me.
Only I was not to have mine—except for a small annuity—unless I married according to Uncle David’s wishes.
This, the will said, was not because of lack of affection for me or lack of confidence in me, but only because my early associations were such, and I was of such an impulsive nature, that I was in danger of doing something I would always regret. So she placed me lovingly in her son’s hands, and expected me to defer to his judgment in all things.
Aunt Lorena looked down through all the reading of the will, and when it was all over I tried to take her hand, but she wouldn’t let me, and it was Semmy who took my hand and led me away to my room. I lay down on my lounge and thought and thought. I could hear the winter wind shouting through the pines, and outside the twilight was stormy and bleak. Semmy wanted to build up a fire and to bring me tea there in my room, but I did not want a fire and tea. There was only one thing in the world that I wanted then, and I knew perfectly well what it was.
It was Keefe O’Connor.
And it was on account of him that grandmother had made that will. She had seen that we cared for each other. She had not wanted me to marry him. I knew then as well as when Uncle David had told me, that she particularly objected to him—that is, that she particularly objected to having him marry me. Not that he ever really asked me to, or that we would marry for years and years. Yet—yet I know that is what she meant when she made that will.
So now, Carin, I have learned my second great lesson this week. The first was, that there could not be life without death, and that if life is sweet, why so is death sweet too; and the second is that life cannot be sweet without liberty.
Yes, I know it is an old, old truth, and that I ought to have known it long ago. But to read a thing, or even to say it, is very different from _realizing_ it.
I lay there asking myself if freedom meant more to me than anything else. And I decided that it did. It wasn’t Keefe, merely, that made me ask this question, or decide in this way. It was the whole principle of the thing. Should I sell my right to do as I thought best—to do the thing that would bring me happiness—for the sake of a fortune?
I did not go down to dinner. Semmy carried my excuses for me.
Then, a little later in the evening she came to ask if I would see Mr. Keefe in the writing room. That was the room, you will remember, where we all sat together the night grandmother told us the story about Dorothy Bings.
I said I would go, and I brushed my hair and went on down the stairs. Uncle David and Aunt Lorena were sitting in the library and they saw me, and called out to know if I was feeling better, and I told them quite frankly that I was not—thank them, very much.
So, with them looking at me, I went on to the writing room, and Keefe stood there by the door waiting for me, and we went in and sat down there, one on each side of the table. There was no firelight this time to cheer us. The room was so chilly that it made my teeth chatter, but I did not really think about that till afterward.
“Mr. Knox has told me,” said Keefe as soon as we were seated, “about your grandmother’s will. He has said that he hopes I will not make the fulfillment of its conditions difficult for you.”
“How did he know that you were likely to?” I asked.
“He could not very well help but know that, Azalea. Anyone who has seen me with you must have known that I loved you.”
“Then you do?” I said. “You do, Keefe?”
“Why should I need to take the trouble to say it?” he demanded. “Haven’t you known it from the first?”
“I have hoped it—sometimes.”
“Hoped it?” he said. “Haven’t you heard me say it?”
“Once—only once. But I thought that might have been an accident.”
Oh, Carin, what beautiful eyes he has! He took my hands in his there across the table. We knew quite well that Aunt Lorena could see us from where she sat, but we did not care at all.
“Did you promise my uncle that you would not make it hard for me?”
“No. I said if you wished it I would go away.”
“Not at all. For the present. I said I would go away and give you a chance to make up your mind. Your uncle and aunt wish to take you to Europe with them. They want you to travel for a year or two. You will meet other men, men whose lives and training will make them fitter companions for you than I can ever be.”
“Keefe!” I said sharply. “Don’t muddle up facts like that. Your early training was propriety itself compared with mine.”
“Nevertheless, now you are a very rich woman. You bear the name of an old and distinguished family.”
“Not half so distinguished as the O’Connors,” I laughed. “Weren’t they kings in Ireland once?”
“But my name is not even O’Connor, as you know.”
“Well, whatever your name may be by rights, Keefe—and at this moment I have forgotten what it is—there is one word I cannot forget, and that is spelled L-I-B-E-R-T-Y. In America we have always had a regard for that little word. Perhaps we have preferred it to any in the language. Hundreds of thousands of men have died for it, and as many women have had broken hearts because of it. I’m not going to be behind them in my regard for it. I—have you asked me? I love you, Keefe. I’d rather be one year with you than twenty with anybody else. I shan’t mean anything to myself if I try to live my life away from you. I choose you, Keefe. I set the fortune aside and choose you.”
“No, Azalea,” he said, breathing as if he had been running, “no, you mustn’t choose yet. As your uncle says, it isn’t fair. I ought to go away—I ought to give you a chance to clear your mind. It isn’t clear now—”
“But I want you to stay,” I broke in.
And just then Uncle David came to the door.
“Nevertheless, Azalea,” he said quietly, “Mr. O’Connor, having finished both of your grandmother’s portraits, will be leaving for the North to-morrow.”
“Oh, but why to-morrow?” I cried.
“Because,” he said, still in that quiet voice, “it is best so. I sympathize with you, my girl. But believe me, it is best so.”
That is the way it stands, Carin. He has gone. It is very quiet here in the house. Miss Delight Ravanel has asked me to spend a week with her and I have accepted.
_Always with love_,
CHAPTER XI A FRIEND
Monrepos, January 28.
Thank you for all your letters. You are very good to me. No matter how careless I am about writing, you never forget, you dear! And now I think I am to send you congratulations because you are engaged to that fine Vance Grévy. Truly, I think him one of the most interesting young men I have ever known. Moreover, he looks good, and true, and firm and enduring. Oh, little Carin, my own yellow-headed one, be very happy with him! I send you a thousand kisses and ten thousand good wishes, and I want you to know that if ever, ever I can do anything for you, I want to be allowed to do it. Please find something for me to do. You must not be so happy that you will forget me. I have always known there was a jealous streak in my disposition, and I am feeling it right now.
You say you have your ring? Your engagement ring! It’s not like other engagement rings? How nice! A pink pearl. Well, pearls suit you just as they do your darling mother.
I am so glad that she and your father like your Vance. Oh, fortunate girl! Always beautiful things happen to you. That, of course, is just as it ought to be. I hope they will keep right on happening to you all through life.
But, once more, in your happiness, do not forget your Azalea. For she is not very happy. No, though now she has much money and some friends—you, always, and Barbara and Annie Laurie, not to mention others—yet she is sad. Things are wrong—quite wrong.
I told you I was coming over here to visit Miss Delight Ravanel at her quaint old home, which she calls “Monrepos.” Aunt Lorena was quite willing I should come. She and I had a frank talk together, and now I understand many things that I did not before.
“I am going to ask you, Aunt Lorena,” I said to her, “if you _truly_ like me. You mustn’t be polite, please, because that would not help me at all. You asked me to come here, and I came, and you have been very kind, and I have done the best I could. But lately there has been a change. You—you have not looked at me quite the way you used. Or at any rate, the understanding between us is not perfect. So let us speak out and say what we really think.”
A silly woman would have been disagreeable, probably, at having a young girl speak this way, but Aunt Lorena is not silly, and she is not disagreeable.
“Azalea,” she said quietly, “I truly like you. I am, indeed, happily surprised in you. I like you better as a house companion than I thought I could like any woman. For, to tell the truth, I am not a social person. If I have not looked at you in quite the old way, it is because I feel conscious of the complications that have arisen. I do not believe, Azalea, in trying to influence the life of another in the way that your grandmother has tried to influence your life. It is not right. I believe that everyone should be free in this world, so far as possible, and your grandmother has taken your freedom away from you.”
“Yes,” I said, “she has. But she meant to be wise and kind for me. I loved her, Aunt Lorena, and I always shall.”
“Are you willing to abide by the terms of her will? Are you willing to marry the man your uncle approves of—the man who will, according to your grandmother’s idea, bring credit to the family?”
She looked so intense and sympathetic that I couldn’t help laughing.
“I am willing to marry just one man,” I found courage to say. “I hope uncle will approve of him.”
“If you mean Keefe O’Connor,” she said in her high voice, “you will see that your hopes are not realized. Your uncle likes him very much personally, but your grandmother did not. Or at least, she did not approve of having him enter the Knox family. It was to keep him from doing so that she made her will as she did. She told your uncle that.”
Carin, was it very bad of me to laugh again. “Then,” I said, “I shall have to let the fortune go, Aunt Lorena.”
She lifted both of her thin white hands in warning.
“That is very easy for you to say, my dear, very easy indeed. You are young and do not know the value of money and of position and of an estate like this. It is the feeling that you do not realize these things, that made it necessary for your uncle and myself to ask Mr. O’Connor to—to absent himself—until you have had time to make up your mind. We want you to travel and to see the world. We want you to meet people and to have a chance to compare this one with that. But when we insist upon all this, it may seem to you as if we were opposing you and setting ourselves against your happiness, whereas, above everything else, we want to do what is for your best interest.”
She looked more solemn than ever.
“You are going against your own heart, Auntie,” I told her. “It is that which makes you seem so changed. Oh, don’t think about it at all. Just treat me the way you did at first. Love me, love me! Somehow, the other matter will straighten itself out. We have troubles enough without bringing any on ourselves.”
But she wouldn’t take the matter lightly. She seemed very much depressed. Uncle was very sad, too, partly on account of the loss of his mother, partly because he was made to act the part of a ‘stern guardian,’ when it is not in keeping with his nature. I feel sure he tried to dissuade grandmother from doing what she did, but he did not succeed. I think, myself, that if people at Mallowbanks had more to do they would be a great deal happier.
Well, anyway, I kept my promise to my nice twenty-seventh cousin, Miss Ravanel, and came away over to her, and was put in a quaint, bare, sunny room, and here I have been for almost a week. My chocolate is sent up to my bed in the morning; Miss Ravanel does not appear until ten. Then we meet in the morning room and she embroiders while I read “Lorna Doone” to her. She has been in England in the Lorna Doone country, and she interrupts the reading to tell me about what she has seen. It is very interesting. But, Oh, Carin, it is as if I were listening to something afar off, and as if the bright fire burning in the grate, the pale sunshine on the pines, the little room with its fantastic chintz, were all a dream.
It does not seem real at all to me. Is it because I am always thinking of something else?
Did I do well, Carin, to give up my life with Mother McBirney, my little busy, useful, struggling life, and to come here among my relatives, who are, after all, strangers? Yes, yes, I know that for a time I felt at ease with them, that to be among my own people brought me great delight. But now, suddenly, I seem useless and stripped of all that made life rich.
* * * * * * * * *
Carin, I have just been reading this over, and I never read anything more dismal. You remember that song of Jean Ingelow’s where the dove sat on the mast and mourned and mourned and mourned. Well, I sound precisely like that ridiculous dove.
I know if you were here you would give me a piece of your mind. So would Keefe. So would Annie Laurie. Actually I am glad none of you is here. Mercy me, how you would scold me!
It has occurred to me during the last minute and a half that I haven’t been treating my tremendously nice little hostess very well. And how good she has been to me!
I am going to reform. I shall ask her if she’ll not go walking—she loves to walk—and I shall suggest visiting old Mrs. Treadway, whom Miss Ravanel likes to look after.
Carin, forgive me for being such a dolorous creature. And you so happy, too! I wanted to do something for you, and I go and throw cold water on your sparkling day with a sighing, moaning letter. Shame on me.
_I love you_,
* * * * *
Monrepos, February 1st.
So you are to be at Lee for the spring vacation. What fun! Of course I shall try to get there. I feel as if I must see you. And do you really mean to tell me that you want me to go to Europe with you, Carin? How wonderful that would be. But I couldn’t, could I? If I go at all I must go with Uncle David and Aunt Lorena. So that’s settled.
What do you think Miss Ravanel and I have been doing? Making dresses. She needed some and there didn’t seem to be anybody at hand to make them, and so I said to please let me try. At first she thought I would make a botch of them. But not at all. Mother McBirney taught me to be very particular, and I have a sort of a “touch” as you and Annie Laurie always said. The dresses, which are for spring, are really very nice. She said she never had any that really suited her so well.
While we sewed, she told me many things about her life. I was quite right; she did love my Uncle David when she was a girl and he was a young man, but when Aunt Lorena came back from boarding school, he fell terribly in love with her and went to Miss Ravanel and told her, and she bade him do whatever his heart prompted.
“You’re not going to hate me, are you, Delight?” he asked her.
“Hate you?” she said. “Why should I hate you? I want you to be very happy and mean to be happy myself.”
“You will marry someone much more worthy of you than I am,” he assured her. She said that was as might be. She hoped she would love someone again. But she never did, Carin. All of her life she has had to see her kin leaving her, either to go to some other part of the country, or into the family vault, and never once has she met anyone she could care for. But she says she has been quite happy after all.
“I love life,” she told me. “I like to watch the seasons roll around, and I enjoy each one as it comes. I am never tired of walking about my woods and my garden, and it amuses me to care for my old house. I enjoy my books, my music and my thoughts. Sometimes I am glad that I never married. I have fallen into very quiet ways, and it would disturb me to have anyone about, except someone like yourself, Azalea.”
When I see her, so shy and dainty and content, going about her little duties and hospitalities, I am glad, too, that she did not marry. She is like a little domestic nun. I like her the way she is.
Uncle and Aunt Lorena called this morning to ask me when I was coming home, and I told them I would come any time they liked, and they wanted me to go with them at once, but Miss Ravanel begged that I might stay over one Sunday more. She wants to teach me to make Washington pie, and we both want to finish “Lorna Doone.” So I am staying. I’m much happier. This is just a line to tell you.
* * * * *
Mallowbanks, February 10.
We are getting ready to go to England. Aunt Lorena is having a charming outfit made for me. Now that she and I really understand each other, we are getting along together beautifully. You see, she is a frank, straight-forward, fair-minded woman and she couldn’t enjoy herself while she thought I was not being fairly treated. But now that I know everything, and that she sees I have the courage to make my choice, she feels better about it all.
I wish you could see my new clothes. They are delightful, and so becoming! They are very practical too. We are not going to take quantities of things, because it would only bother us. But I have my traveling suit of Scotch cloth in a small blue and green plaid, and a hat of blue silk braid trimmed with green, and a steamer rug and coat that look well with it; and then two little silks for dinner, nights when we are stopping at any rather fashionable places—one of old rose, and the other of dove color. The pink will be for gay moods, the dove color for pensive ones. Then there is my street suit of tan with shoes and gloves to suit, and the cleverest hat you ever saw, with two big tawny chrysanthemums on it. I don’t seem to be very good at describing clothes, but really, as I said at the beginning, these things are charming.
Then to think of seeing England! Me, Azalea! I don’t believe it. I cannot bring myself to see that it can possibly be true.
Carin, that reminds me: Why don’t you ask Annie Laurie to go abroad with you? Do you know, I think she would do it. I remember hearing your mother say to her, years and years ago, that some day she and Annie Laurie would be together in Europe, listening to great music. And why not? Annie Laurie could easily afford it. Sam Disbrow is through with school now, and he could look after Annie Laurie’s dairy. Propose it, do. Perhaps we could all meet over there.
I must run down to see Mother McBirney before I go. Father McBirney is almost well and hopes to reach home in March to do the plowing. He will get someone to help him of course, for Jim is to stay on at school. I have placed a certain sum in the bank for Jim—enough to last him till he has graduated if he is careful. And Jim _is_ careful. I made up my mind that whatever happened, I was going to see that Jim got what he wanted in the way of an education. He really is wonderfully bright and learns so fast that I don’t see how he can remember all that he crams into his head.
Keefe doesn’t write. That was a part of the bargain that he made with Uncle David—that he was not to write.
But I write to him.
Is that terribly bold?
But you wouldn’t think so if you could see the letters. Anyway, sometimes they aren’t letters. They are just envelopes with little poems in them that I find in the magazines or newspapers and the like. Of course, sometimes I write a poem, too. About daffodils, you know, or sunsets, or rainy days. Never anything sentimental. Not at all. Or personal. I wouldn’t be personal. I merely remind Keefe that I am alive. A couple of violets in a blank sheet of paper will do that nicely. Aunt Lorena knows. She doesn’t approve. Not quite, that is. She says it is foolish. So since then I’ve only been sending little drawings—pictures of people who call, and one of the Grévy’s parrot, and another of some geese I saw flying north. They are such bad drawings that they are quite sure to annoy Keefe. I pointed out their badness to Aunt Lorena.
“Wouldn’t it be a good idea to annoy him?” I asked. “Now just look at this sketch of a cat which I mean to send him. That cat will make him furious. I tried to foreshorten it, but I seem to have performed a surgical operation on it instead.”
“He’ll have you arrested for cruelty to animals,” she agreed. “But really, Azalea, I wish you would keep perfectly silent. This young man does not write to you. Are you doing what is dignified?”
“Aunt Lorena,” I said, shaking my finger at her, “my own private opinion is that he is writing to me every night of his life, and filing the letters away for future reference.”
Aunt Lorena lifted her eyebrows very, very high. I smiled.
“What are you laughing at, Azalea?” she asked sharply.
“At your Gothic eyebrows, dearest Auntie,” I said. Then I kissed her.
“Don’t ask me to be too dignified,” I begged. “I’m only Azalea.”
“Azalea Knox is a very pleasing and interesting young woman of a good deal of importance in the world, if she would only realize it,” she said.
I looked at her a moment.
“She’s not so very, very happy,” I said. The tears came in her eyes, and her eyebrows were not pointed at all. Really, Aunt Lorena is a dear. You just have to break through her crust. The only trouble is that the crust grows over, and you have to keep breaking through. It makes you feel a little like an Eskimo, fishing.
“I am truly sorry,” she said. “But I think if she is a really obedient and patient girl that some day she will be very happy, and that she will thank the friends who now seem to her to be afflicting her.”
We didn’t say anything for a few minutes.
Then I ventured:
“Then you really think I ought not to send anything to Keefe? Not even this terrible drawing of a cat? Not even to make him laugh and—and hold me in contempt?”
She laughed at that.
“Not for any reason at all,” she said.
“Then, Aunt Lorena, let me send word just once more—only once. It will be the end.”
“I will never direct another envelope of any sort to him till he writes to me. If he has given his word, he will not do that until—”
“Until?” Her eyebrows were Gothic arches again.
“Until we find, beyond all question, that we cannot live apart.”
“Piffle,” she said. “One can live without anyone. It is a mere question of making up one’s mind.”
I sent Keefe the terrible little picture of the cat.
“Keefe,” I wrote him, “please excuse me for being a bold-faced minx. I must be one, or I wouldn’t have sent you poems and violets and things. Kindly observe this drawing of a cat. It is a cat, I don’t care what you say. She looks as I feel, somewhat cramped. But she is a good cat, and I am a good, obedient girl. I shall waste no more stamps on you. I am going to England, and I am commanded to be very happy. So, since I am obedient, pray think of me as being not only happy but gay.”
I signed my name to it—just “Azalea”—and sent it off. Now I shall write no more.
P.S. I wish you could see my traveling veil. It looks like a peacock’s breast. Clothes are nice, aren’t they? I never realized before how nice they are.
CHAPTER XII A TRAVEL LOG
London! London! London! April tenth.
_Carin_, _my dear_:
I haven’t been writing to you because I haven’t thought best. I didn’t want to put myself on record. I have been keeping my thoughts to myself, and I never could have done that successfully if I had been gossiping to you, could I? Anyway, I knew you were particularly happy and busy. You were down to Lee for the spring vacation I suppose and opened up the Shoals, and had your own Vance Grévy there, and delightful people to meet him and all that. Then you went back to Vassar. And in two months you will be graduating, and then you and your people will come over to Europe, bringing, I hope, Annie Laurie with you. I believe you agreed with me that it would be a fine thing for both of you if she would join you.
As for me, I have been living in two worlds at once: this mellow, storied world of England, and my own little secret world of memories and dreams. We have had unusual opportunities for seeing the real English life. Both Aunt Lorena and Uncle David have relatives and friends here, and we have been entertained in a number of homes very graciously indeed.
I like the English people. They are not always fizzing and bubbling like Americans. There is a repose about them and a quietness of character that rests me. It even rests me from my fizzly and bubbly self.
But deep down, Carin, beneath all the effervescence, there is something very quiet and peaceful in me. When I am alone, after the day of sight-seeing and chattering and laughing and admiring, I and this Still Soul of mine sit down together and commune.
Then I am no longer foolish. I am something that—how shall I put it? Something that forever strives! Is that it? I want to do well with my little life, Carin. I want to spin my silver web very beautifully, so that when I am old, and the web is all but done, I can look it over and be satisfied with it.
I have been keeping a diary, and in it are descriptions of all the places I have seen and the record of what I have done each day. When we get together again I shall show this to you, and then you can read all about what has been happening to me. But having written those descriptions once, I don’t at all feel like doing it again.
Anyway, what is the use? You have seen all of these places. They were an old story to you before I so much as thought of coming over here. But I do love London! Uncle and auntie have seen it before, and they get tired of wandering, so I am put in the care of an excellent Englishwoman who knows everything, apparently, and who is paid to pass on as much of her information to me as she possibly can. Her voice is very monotonous, unfortunately, so that I find myself nodding right on the busses, in the midst of her discourses, and I am afraid I am not learning one-tenth of what I ought.
But at odd moments I catch sight of things that enchant me.
The other day she and I were going to the Tate Gallery together, and after leaving the bus we came out on the Embankment by means of a curious little street, and suddenly, Carin, we were face to face with some sort of a ship wrecking place. It looked as if it had been there for hundreds of years. The great enclosure was heaped up with parts of ships, with the giant beams and the masts, and hulls, and, more interesting than all the rest, with countless figureheads.
Of course I knew that nearly every ship carries its figure at its bow. It was for such a purpose that the beautiful _Victory of Samothrace_ was built, wasn’t it? But not until I had seen these great wooden creatures, made to represent Neptune and Boreas and Victory and Venus and mermaids and angels, and heaven knows what, did I have any idea what care the ship builders put on these figures.
Miss Sheepshanks, my chaperon, of course didn’t want me to stop to look at them. She was telling about the pictures waiting for us at the gallery, and reminding me of the closing hour, et cetera, et cetera, but for once I was determined to have my way. So I pleaded with her until she allowed me to go in. There was a white-headed old man in charge, whose face simply shone when I told him I would like to walk around and look at his figureheads. So we went side by side, Miss Sheepshanks following, looking as grieved as she could, and that darling old man told me stories about the ships these figures had come from.
I swear to you they literally smelled of the seven seas! Ah, such strange, weird creatures as some of them were, and their battered forms told their own story of the storms they had weathered and the sights they had seen.
“What a heap of stories you must know,” I said to him.
“Stories?” he repeated looking at me with his old, bright eyes. “Every ship could tell as many stories as would make an Arabian Nights. If I started in, miss, telling the stories I know, I should never be done till the day of my death.”
“I do wish I lived near here,” I couldn’t help saying; “then I could come over and listen when you were not busy. That is, if you would be willing to tell some of your stories to me.”
“It would put life into my old age,” he said earnestly. “Now, miss, I’m something of a reader in my way. There is a library near that I get my books from, for thripence a day. Not bad, is it? Even a poor man can afford that, miss. But when I read the tales, I think to myself: ‘Why don’t some of you writing fellows come around here and ask the old man a few questions? He could tell you tales of the salt seas that would make men’s hair bristle.’”
Miss Sheepshanks seemed to think this was terribly strong language for me to hear, and she tried to hasten me away, but I wouldn’t go till I had told him the story of Samuel Bings and had a wonderful story from him in return. I noted it all down in my diary, and you shall read that, too. We went to the Gallery after that, and saw some beautiful pictures, but I am such a silly that my mind kept going back to that old man and the stories he could tell, and when we came out I insisted on going by his place again, and we could see him inside his little office, making his own tea. So the next day, without telling anyone, I sent him a pound of tea in a queer Chinese cannister, just saying it was from the girl who liked stories.
Well, well, I shan’t see him again. They hedge me around in every way. A maid or a chaperon must be with me every minute. How I wish I were free to go about and get acquainted with people! They—I mean Aunt Lorena and all the powers of propriety—seem to think that if I did I would have some awful mishap. But do you know, Carin, I don’t think that would be the case. I feel as if right at my hand there may be someone I ought to be knowing and who ought to be knowing me.
That reminds me of what I so long dreamed of doing down in Lee. Not only was I going to take charge of the Industries and help the mountain people as they never were helped before, but I was going to have a home which should be open to every passer-by. Before it was to be a spring of water—I know the very spring—where people could stop for a cold drink, and beside the spring would be seats where they could rest. Not far down the road there would be a trough for horses and another for dogs; and in my cupboard would always be something for whomever was hungry. It would not matter how poor or soiled or strange any passer-by might be, he or she should come in and sit beside my hearth and have of my best. Even very wicked people could come in. And men on the chain gang, mending the road—how I would like to take them out a fine dinner and let them know I believed in them. Perhaps they would let me eat with them, and then maybe I could find out what they were really thinking.
Carin, that is what I want more than anything, I believe, to know what other people are really thinking. I can’t tell you how it interests, nay, absorbs me!
But in the sort of life that I lead now, no one speaks out and says what he thinks. We are endlessly polite. We all say the same thing. We all do the same things. At times, it is true, I see someone looking at me with the eyes of true friendship, but we are parted by the people about us, and we do not really become acquainted. So I am very lonely, in spite of all that is interesting and beautiful about me, and I wish you and I and Annie Laurie were sitting together up in your little studio-room, with the world far from us, and just we three opening our hearts to each other.
I have been out to-day selecting some presents for friends back at home, and I enjoyed that very much. Do you know, I couldn’t resist getting something for those two lonely women, the Wixons, up on Hebron mountain—the ones whose soup I ate uninvited. If ever I get back to Lee, I shall ride up and get acquainted with those women. Isn’t it curious how people draw you and draw you, even people you have never met, but know only by report? As for those you do know, they can draw you half around the world. Yes, out of the millions and millions of human beings on this old globe, there will be but two or three, perhaps, who are verily your own, and those you must have.
A young man called on uncle yesterday, bearing a letter of introduction. He lives, I believe, in Baltimore, and his name is Gerald Hargreaves. His father was a friend of uncle’s, and some mutual friend who knew that uncle was over here, gave him the letter. I don’t think he was very keen about presenting it, but we are glad he did, for he seems a delightful young man. Uncle David took to him at once, and so, for the matter of that, did Aunt Lorena and I. He is an athletic young person with a general blond appearance and a nice voice. He seems modest, too, and genial. He finished college last year and has been traveling around Europe, but he means to go back home soon and settle down. He is to follow the custom of his family and go into the railroad business. Naturally, we talked about railroads a good deal, and the methods of home and foreign travel. He turned to me and said:
“What is your favorite means of travel, Miss Knox?” And before I thought how it would sound I replied:
“Oh, nag travel.”
Aunt Lorena looked rather embarrassed, but Uncle David roared.
“My niece is a true Southern mountaineer,” he said, “and she isn’t afraid of anything in the way of horseflesh.”
“Though I have been thrown,” I admitted, looking at Uncle David and thinking of the fateful day that Paprika scampered up the mountain away from Uncle David’s machine.
“Fortunately,” said Uncle David, and left the young man to figure out what that might mean.
“I’m glad you think it was fortunate, dear,” I whispered to him. He gave my hand a little squeeze under the table—we were at tea—and I felt my heart warm up. When I think that Uncle David loves me it brightens up everything; but he is a quiet man and does not say much. He likes to go his own way and amuse himself after his own fashion, and he doesn’t wish to be bothered all of the time by paying attention to those around him. As for Aunt Lorena, she takes life as it comes. She is very philosophical and patient and proud, and she sinks back into her easy feminine place and doesn’t question anything. The trouble with me is that I’m nearly bursting with questions.
“Ought I to do this? Ought I to think that? Am I making the most of my opportunities? Am I being myself, Azalea, or am I imitating these others? Am I of any use or am I just consuming good oxygen and nice food and getting in the way generally?”
That’s how I keep at it. I don’t seem to be able to give myself any rest, but must always be badgering myself like that.
We are all going to the theater to-night to see “A Winter’s Tale.” Mr. Hargreaves goes with us. I shall wear my white silk and my peach-blow silk jacket. They are charming together. I have a fillet of silver wheat for my hair. Yesterday I sewed little perfume bags—with violet powder in them—in all of my frocks. Violet is the pleasantest of the perfumes, I think. Though Aunt Lorena uses white rose. What is your favorite, Carin? I have forgotten. Or perhaps when you and I saw each other, I was not thinking much about perfumes.
Well, now I think about all such things. I have learned to approve of certain makes of gloves and to disapprove of others. I know what sort of laces an unmarried girl should wear, and what ones should be reserved for married ladies. I know—Oh, I know a thousand things! I hope little madam grandmother would approve of me. Though she is gone, I still try to please her. Sometimes, when I have tried particularly hard to be polite and gay the way she would like me to be, I fancy I feel her little jeweled hand on my head and that I hear her say:
“You are doing very well indeed, my dear. Really, I could ask nothing more of you.”
What a pity grandmother could not have passed on her charm as well as her money to me!
But I am thankful for the money, though money can never play a tremendously large part in my life, because it is so much less interesting than some other things. But as I said, I have been out shopping, and you ought to see what I bought Annie Laurie—a picture of the sea that I know she will love. And I got a watch for Paralee Panther—a wrist watch. She’s really a school-teacher at last, as I think I told you, so the watch will be useful. But I have presents for everybody. Buying these things for the people dear to me keeps me from feeling homesick.
Good night, Carin. It is time to dress for dinner. And after that comes the theater, and I am glad. I do love the theater! And best of all I enjoy the moment when the curtain begins to rise. It is such a throbbing moment. What will one see? What story is to be told? Will one forget that it is a play and believe it all to be true? Will one like life better for having seen it? Will one go out dancing or weeping?
Oh, it’s a great moment when the curtain begins to rise.
* * * * *
Como, August 13.
_Oh_, _my dear neglected friend_:
I meant to have sent you a dozen letters between my last one and this, but we have been so busy that I simply could not write. I thought I was a particularly strong person, but I give you my word, Carin, that at the end of a day of sight-seeing I am glad to eat my dinner and slip into my bed. However, there is usually something required of me between the eating of the dinner and the seeking of my couch, for we have been entertaining much, and have been much entertained.
We left London late in May and sailed to Genoa, and since then we have been seeing Italy. As it chanced, Aunt Lorena fell in with some old friends who have been living for years near Fiesole, and they decided to journey with us. This has given us the entrée to many homes which we should otherwise not have seen, and it has all been very gay and diverting.
Never have I loved any place as I do Italy. Such beauty, such pathos! I cannot express all I feel, though my diary shall some day show you that I have tried. But more of that some other time, dear girl. I insist that we must be together this winter for a while. Am I right in thinking you will go home for the winter, and that you are to have the delicious experience of preparing your trousseau there in your own dear old home? I want to help with that. I have hunted out a few little things that may find a place in it, and I want to use my needle in your service.
Mr. Hargreaves has been everywhere with us. I thought it odd of him to accompany us to Venice and to Rome, since he had been in both places only a few months ago. But it was his affair. There was nothing to keep him from visiting both places again if he chose. Of course he has added to my pleasure, being nearer my age than any of the others. Uncle and Aunt Lorena appear to have much satisfaction from his presence, too. They like him immensely and talk about him a great deal. They think him brilliant, but I am not sure that I do. His mind clings too long to one subject. I like a little more agility. Weren’t you always amused at the way the minds of Mary Cecily and her brother danced from subject to subject? It was touch and go with them. All they needed was half a sentence—they understood the rest before it was spoken.
I think myself that no one ought to visit Venice except with her own true love. To float over those moonlit canals to the sound of music, between those regal, slumbering palaces in the company of mere casual acquaintances or elderly relatives is too much to ask of anyone.
We four, uncle, auntie, Mr. Hargreaves and I, were much in the gondolas, going now here, now there, seeing strange old things and dreaming old dreams. Not at all, I am sure, because he cares for me, but just because the surroundings were too much for him, Mr. Hargreaves was inclined to be—well, a trifle sentimental. But I couldn’t endure that. Having the wrong man make love is worse than going without—Oh, much! But I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so I took it all as a joke, and told him to hold Aunt Lorena’s hand; that she was a much more sentimental person than I.
He sent me flowers every morning, but I wouldn’t keep them. There was a sweet English girl there who was not well, and I made her take most of them. The rest I threw in the canal—not as an insult to the flowers or their giver, but because, when I was gondola riding, it gave me pleasure to throw out a rose now and then and see it drift with the tide. Aunt Lorena wasn’t sure that I was being kind to her friend, but I was, really. It wouldn’t have been at all kind to let him think I cared when I didn’t, would it, dear?
We met a bright young fellow the other day who had studied at the Academy of Design with Keefe, and he said he thought Keefe had decided to go into landscape work instead of portraits, after all, which seems rather odd considering what a success he was making with portraits. I said:
“Why do you think he changed?”
“Oh, it’s hard to say,” he answered. “Keefe doesn’t seem the fellow he used to be. You remember how jolly he was, and how he loved company? It is different with him now. He keeps much to himself and works beyond all reason. I believe in being industrious, but there’s no use in being a fanatic about work.”
“But is he well? Does he look as he used?”
Suddenly I remembered that he had come south years ago because his lungs were not strong, and I turned cold at the thought that the trouble that had threatened him, might really have come back and fastened itself on him.
“Oh, he looks well enough,” the young man replied. “Only a little wild and queer. But O’Connor is queer, don’t you think so? A sign of genius, no doubt. He had a strange bringing up, hadn’t he? He’s a gentleman, of course; any one can see that; but he’s rather adventurous too; a strange mixture.”
I didn’t know what to say. I felt I should betray myself if I talked about him any longer, so I only ventured:
“He has a charming sister. She is one of my best friends.”
“Really?” said the young man. “Well, I hear O’Connor is putting up a studio somewhere in the Blue Ridge and that he means to try his hand at interpreting the mountains, but I think myself, he had better have stuck to portraits.”
“Very likely,” said I.
I have heard many conversations during the last few weeks, Carin, but that is the only one I remember.
How good to be able to write you like this! I am so tired of keeping things to myself. We shall be starting for home some time in October, I believe. I shall hope to write you, but if I do not, think of me still, in spite of all silences, as
_Your loving friend_,
CHAPTER XIII CROSSROADS
Mallowbanks, November 15.
_Carin_, _always best and dearest_:
Here I am, back again. Back from England, back from Italy. The first seemed to me like the great Mother of my Mind; the second like the eternal Mother of my Soul. Always, as long as I live, I shall dream of them.
And this is a good place for dreaming. Indeed, there is little else to do here. The old house lies in perpetual quiet. The garden is dead again. You will remember that I have only seen it when it was dead. I did not mean to do it, but by accident, when I was walking in it, I came on the little pool where my darling grandmother was drowned, and there were the three swans, aimlessly floating about, just as they did that terrible twilight.
But I don’t know that the swans go about any more aimlessly than we do here in the house. There is very little coming and going, for we are in mourning. Uncle does not take a daily paper. He says it frets him and that there is really no use. He says he can get all the essentials from the _Weekly Eyrie_. And so, I suppose, he can. But all this helps to keep us very quiet. It is as if we lived in an ivory tower. We might be enchanted, so little do we know of other lives than our own.
I said something like this to Aunt Lorena, and she replied:
“It is only the reaction after your journey. A person is likely to feel rather let down on first coming home from a tour. Can you not amuse yourself, Azalea, thinking over the places you have seen? Oughtn’t you to be taking up your French again? I think I had better arrange for Monsieur Angier to come from Charleston once a week to teach you.”
I thanked her, and went away to my room, presumably to do as she recommended and “think.” But thinking is not living, Carin, and I want to live. I don’t want to remember. I want to do! I’m tired of having other people do things for me; I’m tired of being treated as if I were better than other people; I’m tired of being cheated of my youth by being made to act as if I were seventy.
Yes, that is what it amounts to. I am being cheated of my youth. I am so strong and well, so restless and full of energy that I nearly expire in this soft house, where everyone goes quietly, and where we must not even pass things at the table lest we break rules.
Carin, I want to “reach” for the bread and to eat it with mountain honey, and I’m starving for one of Ma McBirney’s corn cakes, and I’d like better than anything to have some bacon and eggs for _dinner_—with just barely enough to go around.
I tell you, I’m eating too much, I’m sleeping too much. I’m moping too much! I wish I could get on Paprika’s back and go scurrying down the valley, whooping as I go.
Well, let’s talk of something else.
You say that Mrs. Kitchell is really going to marry the feed store man. That is fine. I must think what to send her for a wedding present. I shall make it something quite gorgeous—nothing sensible at all. She has had so much good sense in her life that she must be nearly dead of it. I think I’ll get her a table lamp with a rose-colored shade, and perhaps a rose silk table cover to go with it. Dear Anne Kitchell! I’m so glad some rose color is coming into her life.
What about the Mountain Industries? Is she going to give up the superintendence of them? If so, who is to take her place?
You say someone has bought the little bench on Mount Tennyson that I loved so much. Can it really be so? Of course I might have expected it, for it was the best building place on the whole mountain. But, Oh, my spring of sweet water, and my darling tulip trees—which it appears aren’t mine, after all, and now never will be.
That was where I was going to build my little shack and hold open house. Everyone who went by was to be at liberty to stop there, and I was going to share with them whatever I had, and to listen to their stories, and to give them comfort. Now I share nothing. No one tells me anything. I give comfort to no one.
But there I am, mooning again and making myself sound very ungrateful in the bargain. But I’ll tell you, Carin, Uncle David and Aunt Lorena do not really need me. They are as kind as they can be, and of course we have some very social and happy hours together, but the whole truth of it is that they are quite bound up in each other and do not really need anyone else at all in their lives. Never having had any children, and having found each other so satisfying, the presence of another person in the house is more of an interruption than a satisfaction to them. No, I know I am not needed here. That realization is growing on me. Perhaps it is my fault. Maybe I have not made myself needed. But at any rate, this is the rather melancholy truth.
Yet _is_ it a melancholy truth? Why not cheerfully face the fact? Why not look the whole situation in the face?
For, Oh, Carin, there is a place where I am needed. It is at Lee, at the Mountain Industries. I know that no one else can look after them as well as I. Who else knows so many of the mountain people? With whom would they be as free and friendly as with Azalea McBirney, the waif-girl they saw grow up among them, the girl they taught to weave and sew and knit? And now that I have been so much with people of a different sort, I mean with the friends of my uncle and aunt, I am fairly well qualified to meet the other sort of people, too, the visitors to Lee, who are the patrons of the Industries. Yes, I should feel quite at ease with them now. I think I would know ways of bringing them and the mountain people together.
That introduces me to a perfectly beautiful thought! What is more, it is the first time I have reached it. I am glad I came across it when I was writing to you, because that lets you in at the find. It is this: All I have lived and experienced the last year has simply been a part of my preparation for doing what I always wanted to do. It has made me twice as fit as I was before, to be the friend and teacher of my dear mountain people. Isn’t that so, Sister Carin? Am I not ready now to come back to Lee and take my place there, and to spin my silver web? Oh, Carin, now, at last, I can be the woman your dear father and mother wanted me to be. I can serve the people toward whom I feel the greatest loyalty—the people of the mountains, to whom, for Mother McBirney’s sake, I owe endless gratitude. But gratitude quite aside, I want to do it for myself. I want to be helped in helping them. I want to live in broadening their lives.
So I think I am going to make up my mind to come back to Lee.
Yes, I think I am.
. . .
I can feel myself making up my mind!
. . .
It is made up!
I am going over to Delight Ravanel’s to tell her about it. She will object, and then I can listen to my own arguments and make myself sure I am doing right. Then I shall come home and let Uncle David and Aunt Lorena know.
How excited I am!
I have just rung for young James to saddle Bess. Now I shall put on my riding habit.
Carin, don’t you wish you were going to be along?
_Hastily and happily_,
Monrepos, one hour later.
Carin, Miss Ravanel understands everything. She says she will stand by me. She quite agrees that I must do something, and that I have a right to live my life in my own way, just so it is not a selfish way. Now, giving up a fortune for the sake of liberty can’t be selfish, can it? Maybe it can. That is another thing I’ll have to think about.
Because, you understand, do you not, that going back to Lee will mean going back to freedom? I shall claim my privilege of giving up the money grandmother left me, and of framing my life as seems to suit my conscience and desire—my deep heart’s desire—the best. That was where I stood before I went to Europe, and it is where, after all this time, I still stand. I have tried to see things as my relatives wished me to, but I have not succeeded. I want to be myself, to make my own choice in matters that concern my happiness, and to be free to use my own powers.
Dear Carin, while I was merely considering in a vague, abstract way whether or not I should be able to marry the man of Uncle David’s choice, it was not so hard. He might, by some possibility, choose the right man. But that young man I wrote you of when I was abroad, is expected here soon. His father and Uncle David went to the University of Virginia together, and he is all that Uncle David thinks a man should be. He is a fine fellow, too, Gerald Hargreaves is. I concede that. I want him to be happy—with someone else. He is cultivated, handsome, rich, gracious and good-tempered. This recommends him. But it does not make me love him. It might, only—
You know of what my _only_ consists. I cannot forget Keefe. I never hear from him. I no longer even write to Mary Cecily, his sister. She stopped writing me, first, and I inferred that Keefe had, in his pride and sadness, asked her to do so. He would not have any roundabout communications. He would hear from me straight or not at all. So of course I stopped writing.
Yet I feel that he remembers. Oh, Carin, I feel that he does. But whether he does or not really makes no difference. I must be true to my own heart, and that will not let me say “I love you” to any man save Keefe.
If I were the old-fashioned sort of a girl, I suppose I should not be writing in this way, so frankly and unashamed. But what have I to be ashamed of? I cannot think it is wrong to love Keefe. It seems the rightest thing in the world to me. I feel no confusion of any sort about it. I know my own mind. I can look in it as if it were a nice clean mirror, and I see Keefe there every time.
I have just told Delight Ravanel all this. And what do you think she did? She kissed me! I had looked for a sharp scolding.
So I am going back home greatly cheered and strengthened. Yet I realize that it is a hard task I have before me—the hardest that ever has come to me. How I do hope I shall prove myself brave. I want to be brave more than anything. I mustn’t cry! I won’t cry! It is too important a matter to cry about.
Miss Ravanel says she will come to Lee to visit me. She hasn’t been anywhere for twelve years, except to Charleston now and then, and sometimes to a distant neighbor’s. I want her to come and show my mountain women how to make blue and white work. It is a kind of embroidery and lace combined, made on a linen base. She says she will. Isn’t she a dear? I hope you’ll not mind her wrinkles and think her old. She looks a little old, but she’s really very young, judged by the things that count.
Well, she has given me encouragement and tea and sponge cake and this beautiful promise to come and visit me in what she calls my exile. Exile! In Lee! Near you and all the others I love best. The only drawback to the whole thing will be seeing somebody else’s house go up on my treasured building site. I do hope to goodness that whoever is building it will put up a charming house. I couldn’t stand it to see an ugly one there.
I’m writing this while Miss Delight is down contracting with a man for six live turkeys. I can’t imagine what she is going to do with them. How could she eat them all by herself, or even with her servants to help? There are only two and neither has any teeth to speak of. Perhaps she likes to hear turkeys gobble. I agree with her that it is a cheerful sound.
Well, she is returning. Farewell. I will have Miss Ravanel’s man mail this letter for me.
_Excitedly and rather fearfully_,
* * * * *
Mallowbanks, November 18.
It is done, my dear, it is done. I am free. And the getting of the freedom has not been so terrible as I feared it would be.
I went home from Miss Ravanel’s that afternoon with my courage, as you remember, screwed to the sticking point. It was a glorious afternoon, Carin, and although the summer was gone, everywhere there were things to remind me of how plenteous it had been. I had not ridden far before I came to the Knox estate, which is marked by low stone posts with the letter “K” upon the top. The sunshine was over everything—over the wide, well-kept fields, the beautiful woodlands, the creeks, the broad, noisy shallows, the winding roads, the houses of the tenants and the noble structure of Mallowbanks. If ever there was a fair domain it is this. And half of it is mine—or was mine. I have given it up—resigned all claim to it. I can hardly realize it yet. But I must soon set my hand to certain signatures, and then my sacrifice will be made regular and legal, and Azalea will go out of this house as poor as when she entered it. Almost, that is. For it is true that I shall have an annuity which will last as long as I do, and will provide for my needs. Once, I suppose, I would have called that a fortune. But it seems very little now. Since I came here, I have spent more a month on gifts than this will come to.
But never mind all that. I must tell you what happened. As I said, it was a glorious afternoon, and I found my uncle and aunt sitting in the great hallway before a fire, laughing and talking together very happily. When I saw how contented they were with each other, and how perfectly they fitted into that beautiful home, I was able to comfort myself by thinking of all they had to make their life rich. They did not, as I have so often said, really need me.
So, without even waiting to change from my habit to my house garments, I went up to them and kissed them both, and then I stood by the side of the great fireplace and prayed for the right words to come. All I could think of was this—or something like this:
“Uncle David,” I began, “Aunt Lorena, I have come to say something very important.”
Uncle David looked up sharply. I had had a letter that morning from Gerald Hargreaves and he knew it. I think he thought that what I had to say related to that. So I shook my head at him, and he knew I had been reading his thoughts.
“It has to do,” I said, “with a princess who was not fit to be a princess. She was a princess with a very queer life. She had her high inheritance, but she was born in poverty for all of that, and she was reared in poverty, and in the days when she was poor she used to dream that some day her kingdom would be given to her, and that she would find her own people and live with them, beloved and loving. There was no reason to suppose this dream would ever come true, and certainly the princess never supposed it would. Dreaming the dream was just a game that she played to pass away the time.
“Then, one day, by the strangest chance, her people found her—her own people—and so kind and noble were they that they at once acknowledged her and took her to her own kingdom—though it might all have been theirs had they not been so good and true that it was a pleasure to them to do right and to divide it between themselves and her. They did all they could to make the princess happy. The great house and the garden, the fields and woods, were for her to enjoy. She was taken on a journey to beautiful lands. She was given tutors and books, gowns and jewels, a horse after her own heart and many luxuries which it would take too long to name. But there was one thing she did not have, and that was the right to make her own choice of the sort of life she wished to lead. She must stay within her kingdom, she must marry the prince that her kin should choose, and she must live as became one of her rank.
“Now it so happened that the manner in which the princess had been reared did not make it possible for her to consent to this, although she wished from the bottom of her heart to pay full duty to these kind and true kinsmen of hers. But she had a higher duty yet than that, and that was to be true to her own soul. Day by day and hour by hour this truth grew upon her: that it would be a great sin for her not to be what she was made to be. ‘Be what thou art’ she had once read in a book. ‘Be what thou art.’ She could not forget it. It seemed to her that there was great wisdom in that saying.
“So she has come to tell her dear kinspeople that she must let the fortune go. The houses and lands, the streams and forests, are dear to her, but they are not so dear as liberty. No, not nearly so dear. But there is one thing that is dear to her beyond words, and that is the love of her kinspeople, and that she never means to let go if she can hold on to it. Whatever the cords are that tied them and her together, she wants to make stronger and faster, for as long as she lives she will love them and be grateful to them.
“Yet she must be free. Will they understand, and forgive?”
Then I cried. I said I wouldn’t, that I mustn’t; but I did. Not with sobs. No, but those miserable tears simply poured out of my eyes over my cheeks and I couldn’t stop them. And Aunt Lorena cried, too. Only she cried slowly. She sat with her long hands clasped and let the big, lazy tears roll down her cheeks. As for Uncle David, he grew red and then white, and for what seemed a long time I stood there, waiting, until after a long time Uncle David said:
“Come to me, child,” and I went to him, and kneeled down by him, and he brushed back my hair and kissed me on the forehead.
“You were never,” he said in a voice that trembled a little, “so true a Knox as you are to-day, my dear.”
Oh, Carin, wasn’t that beautiful? I had been afraid of his disapproval, but now I seemed, in a way I cannot describe, almost more afraid of his approval. It was hard for me to stand his kindness when I had been so determined to go my way.
Then I heard Aunt Lorena talking, but for a moment or two my heart and brain were in such an uproar that I could not really make out what she was saying. But at last the words got through to me.
“We know, Azalea, many things which you, perhaps, do not give us credit for knowing. We know that you are full of ambition and that the life here seems meaningless to you. Life has trained you in a different school from what it has us. We believe if you had waited, you would have come to see opportunities for great good in this life here, but since it truly does not appeal to you, I for one think you ought to be allowed to go your way and live the life you like. I know—we know—that there lies behind this resolution your determination to have a free choice in other matters than your vocation. Am I not right in this?”
“Yes,” I said, and found the courage to look straight into her eyes.
“I do not blame you,” she said. “I married the man I loved, and I believe every woman should do that if she can.”
“At any price?” asked Uncle David, looking first at me and then at her.
“Oh, at any price consistent with honor,” she said.
“The price you pay is a large one,” he said to me. “I doubt if you appreciate how large.”
“It would mean nothing to me if my heart always hung heavily in me,” I said.
“No,” he agreed.
“No,” echoed Aunt Lorena.
They are very tender with me. They deeply regret the conditions of the will, but they have no power to change them. As for me, I do not wish any change made. I want all left as my little grandmother desired. I resent nothing. I have too much for which to be thankful.
Carin, it seems incredible, but in a few days I shall be at Lee. I will wire you when I am coming. Ride up to see Mother McBirney. Let her know everything. Tell everyone I am coming home. Oh, how my heart beats at thought of it! I can write no more. I cannot see my page for these silly tears.
CHAPTER XIV “WHERE THERE IS A WILL”
The Shoals, November 24.
_Dear Aunt Lorena and Dear Uncle David_:
Just a line to say that I am safe here and am sending Semmy back to you with many, many thanks. She asked to stay with me, but it was, I fancy, more to compliment me than for any other reason. I would not keep her, of course. She belongs to Mallowbanks, does dear good Greenville Female Seminary Simms. May heaven bless her. I hated to part with her.
Dear me, how many kinds of homesickness one may have. When I was away from Lee I was longing for it; now that I am here I love to dream of Mallowbanks. Still, I am glad I am here. There is work awaiting me. In fact, it is piled high, and someone was desperately needed to take hold of it. Lee is bulging with nice visitors with fashionable-looking purses, and they are wild to do things and spend money. They would rather purchase these mountain products than anything else, because they are such quaint souvenirs of this lovely place. But, alas, all is in confusion in the little shop. The weavers have been lazy, the basket-makers must have been wool gathering, the pottery makers have all been getting married—just like Ma Kitchell—and there is, to say the least, the dickens to pay.
Mr. and Mrs. Carson had been most eager to have me come back and take up the work, but as you know, there was not a hint from them that they wanted me, because, of course, they would not in any way interfere with me, nor tempt me to return. Anyway, I do not suppose they had the faintest idea that I would do so. But when they found that I was willing and ready to take up the work, they were simply delighted, and now they are doing everything in their power to help my task along. Within two or three weeks I hope to have things running very well. I would like to make a good showing before Christmas.
I am staying with my own Carin Carson for the present, because I am not inclined to take the long ride up and down the mountain. It would be too exhausting. Moreover, since I would not be able to help Mother McBirney with the housework, I would very much object to staying there and making her extra trouble. But of course I went up there the day after I arrived. Things are going on quite in the old way with the McBirneys. Except, of course, that Jim is not there, being still at school. Hi Kitchell’s younger brother is a helper for Father McBirney, and seems a fine, willing boy. Father McBirney is pretty well, considering his condition of a year ago, but he will never be quite so strong and nimble as he once was. Mother McBirney is well and happy in her quiet way, and she sends her respects to you.
I am asking a few friends for subscriptions for the Industries. It would not become me to place any limit on their generosity, would it?
Oh, what an impertinent one I am to badger you, when you have already done so much for me!
How am I to thank you for everything? How, above all, am I to express my gratitude to you for your large-minded consideration for my feelings and preferences? I am now a worker in the world of workers, and I am very happy, for a deep need of my being is finding expression. Try to understand as well as to forgive.
_With abiding affection_,
* * * * *
The Shoals, December 5.
_Dearest Miss Delight_, _my own beloved twenty-seventh cousin_:
Oh, why do you not come to see me? You thought you might come along in a week or two. It is more than a week or two and you are not here. I am having such fun, but it would be yet more fun if you were sharing it with me.
I am selling things!
Yes, selling them at the Mountain Industries.
They are going like hot cakes. I haven’t made up my books yet, but from present indications I should say that the Mountain Industries would presently be very, very rich. Of course I’m really not a good judge, because this is the first selling I ever have done, and it may have excited me a bit.
Let me tell you what I have been doing. As I mentioned in the little note I wrote you, things were rather at sixes and sevens here. Mrs. Kitchell, who has had charge of the place from the very beginning, was a fine worker and was and is one of the dearest little things that ever lived, but she wasn’t just the person for managing a growing business. She was better at weaving than at negotiating the weaving of other folk, for example. Actually, when I came to look things over I found quantities of fine saleable stuff tucked away here and there. No one ever had come in and demanded those particular things—not knowing of the existence of them—and they had therefore remained unsold.
I had the whole “kit an’ bilin’” taken out in the yard and spread around on bushes and fences and the ground and aired and _aired_ and _aired_! Then I had the salesroom calcimined a most magnificent pumpkin color. The decorator was as stupid as a rabbit about mixing the right color, so Carin came over and did it. Then I had racks put around the wall. Some of them hung from the ceiling; some stood on the floor. Also I had a few drawers and shelves put up, and I got some show cases with black finishings, and I furnished the room with mountain furniture stained black. Also I have the floor covered with extra heavy rag carpeting in pumpkin yellow and black.
Fancy, if you please, how beautiful my blue hand-woven coverlets and my brown-and-orange and black-and-red counterpanes look against this wall. Fancy how attractive is the snarl of fine hand-woven baskets that I have tied up on one side of the room.
What is more, we are now opening a regular tea room. Mrs. Kitchell had had one at the beginning, but it had fallen into nothingness. Now I have one—the darlingest room—all in golden brown and white. It complements the other room in the nicest way, and yet is very different indeed. I have some curious Japanese dishes, sort of crackled in effect, white and brown, and odd serving dishes in dull yellow majolica. And we use the mountain-made trays of willow and some of the mountain pottery. I have three neat, sweet, fleet mountain girls in here helping with the tea room, and people simply throng to it. I write out the little menu every morning before I get out of bed, and one of these girls, who really has a head on her, prepares the things in the most appetizing manner.
“People,” I said to her, “don’t come in here because they are hungry. They come because they want to be amused. And they won’t be amused unless everything looks beautiful.”
Carin is doing a lot of the cooking. She is doing it because she wants to know how to cook. She is going to be married before spring, and there is simply no use in her trying to do anything in her own kitchen. The servants won’t let her; or if they do consent they all stand around and watch till she is so nervous she can’t do a thing. But over in our kitchen she can do just what she pleases. She makes those delicious little cakes called “hermits” and “marguerites” and “rocks” and her sandwiches are as good to look at as they are to taste. She has a new kind every day.
I am terribly stern with her about keeping books, however, and she has to put down every cent she spends. The tea room must make money for us or we’ll not run it. I have become fiercely practical.
Oh, how light my heart is! There is so much to do each day that I can hardly get through, and I fall asleep as soon as I touch the bed, and am oblivious to the whole world until my alarm goes off. But I set my alarm pretty early because each day I must think out my work before I get up. I write out my program for the day and insist on following it.
Of course quantities and quantities of people come in the shop who do not purchase, but I do not waste much time with them. I have a little sign on the wall telling our patrons to look around as much as they please, and when they have made their selection to let us know. I add that they are most welcome; whether they purchase or no, they are to make themselves at home.
Meantime, I have a pleasant young girl at hand ready to wait on them when they wish her to, and I, though I appear to be busy with other matters, keep an ear cocked, and if she seems to need reinforcing, I come to her assistance. By the way, who do you suppose that girl is? Why, she is Liza Wixon, from Mount Hebron, the girl whose soup I sampled so generously without invitation. I have persuaded both her mother and her to come down and help me. So they have put their sadness behind them and are working like good fellows. Of course they have a secret of some kind, but I shall never ask what it is.
I am sending off letters to our workers, begging them to hasten their wares to us, telling them the demand for their work is here. All we need is the goods.
No, I don’t go anywhere. Do you wish I would? When I first came home people began giving me teas and all that, but I begged them not to.
“Come and see me Sunday afternoons,” I told them. “I mustn’t indulge in a social life. I wouldn’t have time and strength for that along with all my work.”
I knew the people who really cared for me would come, and as for the others, it would be better for them to visit their chosen friends and not bother with me.
Well, why don’t you come to visit me and to help me with the Christmas trade? Wouldn’t it be the joy of the world to see the exclusive Miss Delight Ravanel waiting on people and wearing a pleasant saleslady’s smile? It would fill me with great glee. Please come down here and let me see you doing it.
Do you miss me? I miss you very, very much. Evenings, when I leave the drawing-room and go up to my own quiet room, I think of you sitting by yourself, so lady-fine and peaceful beside your lamp, your busy needles and thoughts going, and outside the trees sighing and the wind whistling. How still you can be, dear friend. Is it hard to learn to be as still as that?
I have been telling Barbara Summers all about you. Of course she had met you at the time of my coming-out party, but she couldn’t possibly know you—or even guess you—until she had sat with you evening after evening as I have, in so pleasant a “solitude of two” and mined for your treasures of brain and heart. For you hide your virtues as other people do their faults.
Dear Delight R., I have had occasion whenever I went to Mother McBirney’s, to go by the place I used to call mine. I mean that little, out-looking bench on the mountain-side where the tulip trees rustle and the spring of cold water whispers. I have already told you that a house is going up there. Well, it is beginning really to look like a house now, and I cannot resist dismounting every time I pass it, and looking it over.
It is going to be a bewitching house, nothing less. There is a covered porch which in winter is to be made into a sun room, that literally hangs over the blue abyss, but so firmly is it supported with its foundations of cement and its huge beams of oak, that it is as firm and enduring as the mountain-side itself. There is a long, fine living room; the mantel is to be of blue tile—yes, and the chimney piece, too. It will be curious, will it not? But I think I shall like it. There are two bedrooms on the first floor, and there is, of course, the kitchen and a small dining room. The wood is chestnut, which takes on a beautiful color when it is oiled.
Upstairs there is a bedroom which reminds me of my dear little loft at Mother McBirney’s only that it is, of course, to be very nicely finished off. It looks up the mountain-side, too, and it opens on a sleeping porch. Then there is a long room beside it, the use of which I do not know. Perhaps it is being left undivided merely because it is not needed for present use. I have asked a number of persons who is building this house, but no one seems to know. The contractor is a friend of mine, but even he professes to know nothing. He says that a man at Rutherford is doing all the business with him, but that he understands it is for some gentleman who wishes to have a quiet spot to come to now and then, and who once visited Lee and saw this beautiful building site.
Well, if he had taken any other spot in the whole county except the particular one that he did, he would be welcome. But as it is, he annoys me.
Haven’t I chattered about enough? Mind, I am looking for you. I want you to come down and play at being a “rich merchant” with me.
If you see the good people at Mallowbanks, give them my love, please.
* * * * *
The Shoals, November 21.
_Dear Aunt Lorena_:
I have just come home from the wedding of my dear Annie Laurie Pace to Samuel Disbrow. It was quite a sudden affair at the last. Of course they have been in love with each other for years, and it must be a year and a half since they became engaged. But they were both so busy superintending the dairy which Annie Laurie’s father left her, and following up their university extension course, that we had about decided, Carin and I, that they had forgotten all about getting married.
But it seems that we were mistaken. They were thinking about it all of the time.
The wedding was held in the Baptist church, and there were three ministers to make it what it should be. There was the Baptist minister, who belonged there, and the Methodist minister—Mr. Summers—who helped because Annie Laurie loved him, and there was old Mr. Mills, who came back from Florida to put on the finishing touches, because Annie Laurie had known him ever since she was a baby.
She looked glorious, did Annie Laurie, so tall and strong and fine, with her dark red hair burnished like a bird’s breast, all in her white, with her floating veil. Instead of bride’s roses she carried a bouquet of great tawny chrysanthemums the color of her hair. Sam has grown to be a magnificent fellow and everyone likes him. When I remember what a pale-faced, anxious boy he was once, and see what a strong, capable, independent fellow he has become, I feel tremendously proud, not only of him, but of Lee, which helped him to make himself what he is. There was a time when everybody thought him the son of a thief, and when he was broken-hearted with grief and shame, when he might have gone down and become worse than nothing. But he wanted to be good and fine, and everybody in Lee turned in and gave him a boost. Annie Laurie helped most of all, of course.
Now she has her reward.
They have gone away on a wedding trip, and I am so glad. Never before has either of them gone outside of the state they were born in. But now she and Sam are off to the North, and will visit New York and Boston, Washington and Baltimore, and a number of other places. Fortunately, they have a good superintendent, and the dairy will get on very well without them. I am going to stay in the house with Annie Laurie’s two aunts until she returns. Aunt Adnah is very restless, and Aunt Zillah cannot manage her very well, but when I am there I can, I think, keep them amused. I move over to-morrow, and shall stay in Annie Laurie’s own room, which is as clean, if not as bare, as in the old days when I knew it first.
How Annie Laurie did want dear old Haystack Thompson to play at the little dance after the wedding! But he is not to be found. Never since he ran away from good little Mrs. Kitchell has he been seen or heard of. But I can’t believe that any harm has come to him. He is off in some other part of his beloved mountains, fiddling for new friends. I miss him terribly. Don’t think me egotistical, but I do wonder if he would return if he knew that I was back here. He always loved me quite out of proportion to my deserts. It was because he helped to find me that time I was kidnapped, I think, and because I was such a queer, unlucky little girl and needed him so much. But whatever the reason, we are great friends, and I can not think of anything that would give me greater pleasure than to see him loping down the mountain-side, with his fiddle under his arm, and his hair all in a shock, like a windblown haystack.
I had no time to prepare a fit present for Annie Laurie, the announcement of her wedding was so unexpected. So now I am weaving a counterpane for her of blue, orange and white in the wheel and star pattern. It is going to be beautiful, and will bring color into her room, which always has been too austere. Carin has ordered a beautiful rug from New York, which will have the same colors in it. And Mrs. Carson will give the hangings of blue for the windows. So we shall have a charming room for her by the time she returns. The truth is, Annie Laurie never pays any attention to herself or to the things which she alone uses, beyond keeping everything spotlessly clean and in order after the immemorial fashion of the Paces.
But she deserves a beautiful bedroom, and she shall have it.
I am so busy in the shop during the day that I have to weave the counterpane at night. I might have someone else do it, only I prefer to do it with my own hands. Anyway, I have to economize a bit. Not that I mind. Which reminds me that the first installment of the annuity dear grandmother provided for me, arrived safely. Enclosed please find receipt. Mr. Carson is paying me a nice little salary for my work at the Industries. So I am well provided for, as you see. But I want to be a bit saving, because now, indeed, Azalea is out for herself, and she does not want to have to fall back on anybody.
I am sorry Uncle David does not write me. He isn’t vexed with me, is he? Oh, I know he is disappointed. I know I seem to him not to have done the right or the grateful thing. But try to make him understand that I love him. I had to go my own way, that is all. And I am justified; I feel that in my heart. I enjoy each moment as it comes, and I continually feel that something yet more glorious is about to happen.
CHAPTER XV “RING, HAPPY BELLS”
The Shoals, December 26.
_My dear_, _dear Uncle and Aunt_:
A happy New Year! Was it a merry Christmas for you? Oh, I hope it was. You had many of your kith and kin with you, I know. I would have liked to have been there if only I could have been in two places at once. But you know how difficult that is.
And this year I had to be right here.
You still wonder why?
It is not easy to explain. But it had to be. I felt the need of it. I have been working my way back to the true, original Azalea, and she was to be found here and not amid all the luxury and quietude and tradition of Mallowbanks. But now, I think, at last, she is really found, and so she hopes that next year you may be able to include her in your Christmas celebration.
Let me thank you and then thank you again for your beautiful Christmas gifts. A piano of my own, and a music cabinet and folios and folios of music! It was a royal gift and I do not see just how ordinary thanks are going to express my gratitude. All I can say is that it shall be the comfort of my lonely hours, and the joy of my bright ones, and that I promise now that never shall I sit down to this exquisite instrument without thinking of the two who gave it to me, and being thankful that my life met theirs. That my life and theirs could not, for reasons, run along in the same channel, makes the joy of the meeting no less. I look at this wonderful gift and find myself not quite believing that it is really mine. This morning I could hardly wait to dress to run into Carin’s studio to see if it really was there. Having no place of my own, I have had it put in her lovely room for the time being.
I have many things to tell you, and I am going to try to tell them with proper dignity as becomes your niece. I know I write dreadful nonsense at times, and I know, too, that I am too impulsive and enthusiastic. I remember that dear Father McBirney warned me against those faults in my character years ago, when I first came to him. I am afraid I have not improved very much, but at least I am aware that he was right, and that I ought to be a more sober and calm person than I am.
So, quite calmly and soberly, I am happier than I ever thought anybody could be. I have promised Keefe O’Connor to marry him. By Spring I shall have done it—and you two shall be here beside me, to deliver me with all possible conventionality into his hands.
There! Did I not tell that soberly enough?
And now to go back!
I did not write to Keefe nor he to me. We had promised you that we would not, and we kept our word. I did not even let him know that I was here at Lee, or that I had renounced all of my right to my grandmother’s splendid legacy in order to be free to weave my own silver web. No, I just worked and kept still.
But I confess that I knew that Annie Laurie had written to Keefe’s sister, Mrs. Rowantree, all about it, and that I was morally sure she would write to Keefe. But that, as you will plainly see, was something over which I had no control. Not, I will confess, that I tried to have.
Meantime, I tried to be content, and I was, really, but it was a contentment made up largely of expectation. You see how frank I am with you. Do you mind? It is Azalea’s way. You don’t want her to try to be any other way than is natural to her, do you?
Yes, I had a beautiful, deep-down, reassuring sense of expectation. I felt as if Happiness was journeying toward me.
“Maybe,” I often said to myself, “she will be a long while coming, but she is on the way. By putting my ear to the ground, I am sure I can hear her footsteps.”
So I kept on working and working, and the work thrived and I thrived. At night I slept the sleep of the very weary, and all day long I was playing the fine exciting game of building up the business of the Mountain Industries.
Then, when I had nothing else to do, I dreamed dreams.
There was only one thing in the world that bothered me, and that was the little house up on the mountain. It seemed too outrageous that anybody—a stranger at that—should have come down into the Blue Ridge and bought and built on the one spot of all the whole range that I had selected for myself. To add insult to injury, he was putting up precisely, identically, the sort of a house that I had designed for the place. There was only one way to account for that, and that was that both he and I had selected the most appropriate sort of a house for the place. Such a house, I finally decided, must be inevitable in such a spot. And yet, after all, that didn’t quite account for the strangeness of the fact that the place was such a materialization of my dream. It really annoyed me. I did not like that man. I was prepared to be disagreeable to him.
And then, one day, I saw him.
It was a Sunday, clear and crisp and cold, and I had been up to have dinner with Mother McBirney. Jim was home, too, for the holidays, and the four of us sat in the quaint, dear old room just as we used years ago. Only now it was Jim and not Father McBirney who said grace at table. It was he who carved the turkey too. For it was a feast, and we ate one of the turkeys which usually are kept for market. But nothing is too good for Jim, home from college. Or for Azalea, who is keeping him there.
Yes, turkey we had, and yams cooked in sugar and wild crab apple jelly and green tomato pickles and molasses bread and biscuits and gravy, and coffee and “stickies” for dessert. To make stickies, you make a pie crust and roll brown sugar in it. You are always glad when you see them and sorry after you have eaten them. Ma makes the best ones in the South. Oh, yes, we were very happy. The fire leaped in the old black fireplace, and the hounds curled up before it and whined with joy. Ma was a dream in her blue dress and white apron with her dear face shining with goodness and love, and Pa McBirney was a picture with his whitening hair. Outside the mountain dreamed and dreamed, and told us how long mountains lived, and what a little while mere folks had for enjoying themselves, and warned us to gather up all the sweetness we could while we have a chance.
So we did. We ate and laughed and were glad together; we tidied the little house and then we sang and read. But all the time I noticed Mother looking at me in a new way, and sometimes the tears would come to her eyes, and it seemed as if she never passed me without dropping a hand on my head or my shoulder. And Jim was tender too. He neither teased me nor preached to me. He was just sweet. As for Pa, he asked me if I didn’t think all of our ways were laid out for us by One Who Knew What Was Best. Oh, yes, it surely was a day long to be remembered.
But it surprised me a little when they urged me to start on my way.
“You mustn’t be out after dark, my dear,” said Mother McBirney, patting my hand. “I want to think of you as safe at the Shoals before the twilight comes. So you’d better be on your way, honey-girl.”
“But I want to stay,” I pleaded.
“No, no,” she laughed, “you want to go. You may not know it, but you do.”
So among them they got me into my things and onto my horse. I miss my little Paprika when I ride these mountain roads, and sometimes wish I could buy her back again. The horse I ride is from the Carson stables, of course, and is a fine, gentle creature which Mrs. Carson often uses and which knows every inch of the way.
To my surprise, Jim insisted on coming along.
“But no,” I said. “What is the use, Jim? Stay with the folks.”
“I need exercise, sister,” he answered, still in that surprisingly gentle way. “You must let me do what I like when I am home so seldom. I get discipline enough at college.”
So off we went together, just as we used in the old days when we were boy and girl.
“Jim,” I said, “you aren’t at all sorry that you chose to be a minister?”
I never had had a chance to ask him this, seriously, and I was glad of the opportunity.
“Sis,” he said, “every day of my life I am more and more thankful that I decided to be one. It is only that—only living the best I can and giving all my heart and life to the service of the God who made this beautiful earth and our wonderful bodies and souls—that can satisfy me. I must do it. I live in the thought of it.”
I looked at him as he rode beside me and saw how his face had strengthened and beautified, and I wondered how such things happened; how it was that little commonplace teasing boys grew up to be men like the one beside me.
“Oh, Jim,” I cried, holding out my hand to him, “I congratulate you from my deepest heart. I feared that your taking up of the ministry might be a mood; that you might change. But now I see you never will. You will be a tower of strength, brother Jim, and in the years to come when I am troubled about life, I shall come to you for help.”
“It is you who always have helped me, Zalie,” he said. “It is you who are making it possible now for me to prepare for my great work.”
I write you all this, dear Uncle and Auntie, to show you how sweet he is and how interesting and peaceful my life is here, so you’ll not be sorry, thinking of all I let go from me.
Well, we went on down the road, looking at the purple valley with the shafts of smoke arising straight from the houses below and towering, silver bright, in the light of the lowering sun. I was so absorbed with it all that I did not realize how rapidly we were covering the road, till suddenly I saw we were beside the house on the bench.
And what do you think? There was a shaft of silvery smoke arising from that chimney, too, and it was shot through with little sparks like stars, as if the fire it came from had been newly lighted.
“Oh,” I cried, “the owner of the house has come!”
I had been so happy all day that I forgot to be disagreeable, and though I had quite made up my mind to dislike this person intensely, I neglected to do it at that moment, for thinking of how happy he must be to have come to his beautiful little house. I wondered too if his wife was with him, and what she was like. Then I remembered that I had heard he was not married, and I thought:
“He can never be lonely amid such beauty. To look off on a scene like this will be company enough.”
[Picture: It was Keefe O’Connor who stood there holding out his hands to me]
But I knew that wasn’t really so. No beauty, however great, can comfort one for a lonely hearth; no meal is delicious for which only one place is set.
Then, out of that purplish gloom and from the shadow of the porch at the side of the house I heard a voice saying lazily:
“Won’t you be pleased to ’light and come in?”
It had the mountain drawl and the mountain way, but there was something wrong with it, and it made me look inquiringly at Jim. He was wearing a broad grin—a perfectly wonderful, old-time-Jim grin.
“Shall we?” said he.
Curiosity got hold of me and flung me off that horse and sent me right up to the stranger on the porch.
“It is very kind of you,” I said in a fine Mallowbanks manner, “and we shall be delighted. We have so long been interested in the building of this beautiful little house, and we did not know its owner—”
Then I said no more.
It was Keefe O’Connor who stood there holding out his hands to me.
“I’ll put up the horses, sis,” said Jim with a little funny break in his voice. And then Keefe drew me into the lighted room.
You two have been such true lovers for so many years, that I need tell you nothing about what that moment meant. No, I need not tell you anything at all.
After a while we went into the long room where the fire was leaping.
“Oh,” I cried, “it is perfect!”
For the room completely suited me.
“It is bare,” said Keefe. “But I left the furnishings to you.”
I said nothing. I laughed. It was different from any other laugh I ever had. I laughed and laughed.
“What is so amusing?” asked Keefe at last.
“Nothing is amusing,” I said. “I am not amused. I am happy.”
“Oh,” he said, and then he laughed too. By and by he asked:
“Ought I to have waited longer?”
“Why should you?”
“I shall paint here half the year or more,” he explained. “Then, when I must, I shall go to the cities. It will be necessary. I must hold my exhibits, visit the art academies, see what other men are doing—keep in touch with the world. But this shall be my home—our home.”
“Shall we give it a name?”
“I have thought of hundreds and rejected them.”
“Perhaps Jim can name it for us.”
We went to look for him and found him star-gazing. His teeth were beginning to chatter a little, I am afraid, with the sharp chill of the air.
“Jim,” I said, giving him a good hug and kiss, “I didn’t think you would keep a secret from your Zalie.”
Dear old Jim! He gave me such a squeeze and let loose a big, blundering kind of a laugh, and then we brought him in and we all sat around the fire and talked. I never knew just how much like a brother he seemed to me till that moment.
We asked him to name the cottage for us, but he could think of nothing, and then, quite suddenly it came to me. I would call it “Delight Cottage” in honor of my own dear Delight Ravanel.
Don’t you agree with me that it is a good idea?
But I haven’t told her yet. I thought I would keep it a secret until she came to visit me, which will be in a few days now. Keefe said he would himself make the sign and place it at the gateway—the same gateway being nothing less than two of my beloved tulip trees.
Keefe told me he had come down to finish some paintings, and that he would go on living right there in the cottage, working on certain parts of the house himself, such as the staining of the wood, the making of fire screens and benches for the chimney side, and various other things. He said there was work enough to keep him busy in his odd moments for a year or two. Mrs. Babb is coming over to cook for him and to keep “Delight Cottage” tidy.
Well, a little later in the evening Jim started me on my way again, only this time both he and Keefe were my cavaliers, and I burst into the drawing-room at the Shoals expecting to give them the greatest sort of a surprise, but I was vastly disappointed. They only laughed at me. They had known all along that Keefe was building the house, and they had met him at the train and had taken him up to Delight Cottage themselves, I all the while toiling away in my shop. He wanted, it seems, to make the place look as well as it could in its incomplete state before I saw it.
Ah, what a happy, happy girl I am! Only one thing troubles me, and that is your possible disapproval. Keefe is writing you, I believe. He said to me more than once:
“I do hope your uncle and aunt are not going to think that I have done wrong. I have cared more for your happiness, Azalea, than for anything on earth, and if I had for one moment believed that you would have been happier if I had withdrawn myself entirely from your life, I would have done so without regard to my lifelong loneliness. But when I heard that you had resigned your inheritance and come back here, I was forced to conclude that it was a sign and token to me.”
“It was,” I confessed. “Just that.”
Well, my dear kinfolk, Christmas came with all its pleasures, and it brought me your beautiful gift, also my ring from Keefe, and lovely things from the Carsons and from many other friends. Even there were many remembrances from my mountain people.
There was one gift—or token, rather—which filled me with the greatest surprise. It was a copy of Delight Ravanel’s will, bequeathing to me all of her possessions when the day comes that she must go into the Other Land. Oh, I hope it will be many, many years till then!
Try to fancy my amazement. Truly, I never was more surprised in my life, although, as you know, I have had a good many surprises for a person of my age.
Moreover, she is coming to see me next week, and in preparation for her visit I have had Mrs. Kitchell’s old living rooms fitted up all fresh for us. There is a little sitting room, and a kitchen and two bedrooms. With the help of my always kind Mrs. Carson, the place has been made—or is being made—as cosy and dainty as you can imagine. Mrs. Wixon will help me keep house, and I shall be quite independent and settled. Of course Mrs. Carson and Carin beg me to stay with them, but I feel I have been their guest quite long enough. Now—only fancy—I shall be able to entertain them at times, and to return in some small measure the endless hospitality they have shown me. I think Cousin Delight will love this little experiment in housekeeping, and I wouldn’t be the least surprised to see her taking an interest in the weaving and basket-making and in the little shop. It would be the best thing in the world for her if she would, for life certainly is pretty drowsy at Monrepos, where she has lived so long alone, remembering and brooding and doing her little solitary tasks. If I have my way she shall stay with me or near me altogether.
So you see into what a shining and rapid current my little life has been swung. And you will forgive me for everything I did not do and for everything I am doing. I insist on being forgiven—and loved. You must love me when I love you so much.
When I am married you must be my first guests. Until you come, I shall have no one. I would never be satisfied if you did not dedicate my house for me by your presence.
The wedding day is not yet set exactly. It will be in the early summer, after Keefe has finished some orders he has, and so is feeling quite rich, and after I have really got the Mountain Industries in such a condition that I can safely pass them on to others. Even after I am married I shall keep an overseeing eye on them, and Mrs. Carson and Carin will help me. Then, of course, there is my trousseau to make. I am so glad you let me have dear little madam grandmother’s chests. I think I can make over her wedding dress so that I can wear it, and of course I shall wear her veil.
If you will send on the portrait that she had painted for me, I can hang it above my new piano in my little sitting room. Or shall I hang it above my fireplace? I must try and see in which place it looks the best.
My heart is singing with joy, and I send you a thousand little carefully wrapped packages of love. Undo them one by one and think of