Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells
Part 64 out of 78
and the horse suddenly pulled the carry-all to the right, and seemed
about to overset it.
"Oh, what are you doing, Albe't? "Mrs. Lander lamented, falling helpless
against the back of her seat. "Haven't I always told you to speak to the
"He wouldn't have minded my speakin'," said her husband. "I'm goin' to
take you up to the dooa so that you can ask for youaself without gettin'
This was so well, in view of Mrs. Lander's age and bulk, and the hardship
she must have undergone, if she had tried to carry out her threat, that
she was obliged to take it in some sort as a favor; and while the vehicle
rose and sank over the surface left rough, after building, in front of
the house, like a vessel on a chopping sea, she was silent for several
The house was still in a raw state of unfinish, though it seemed to have
been lived in for a year at least. The earth had been banked up at the
foundations for warmth in winter, and the sheathing of the walls had been
splotched with irregular spaces of weather boarding; there was a good
roof over all, but the window-casings had been merely set in their places
and the trim left for a future impulse of the builder. A block of wood
suggested the intention of steps at the front door, which stood
hospitably open, but remained unresponsive for some time after the
Landers made their appeal to the house at large by anxious noises in
their throats, and by talking loud with each other, and then talking low.
They wondered whether there were anybody in the house; and decided that
there must be, for there was smoke coming out of the stove pipe piercing
the roof of the wing at the rear.
Mr. Lander brought himself under censure by venturing, without his wife's
authority, to lean forward and tap on the door-frame with the butt of his
whip. At the sound, a shrill voice called instantly from the region of
the stove pipe, "Clem! Clementina? Go to the front dooa! The'e's
somebody knockin'." The sound of feet, soft and quick, made itself heard
within, and in a few moments a slim maid, too large for a little girl,
too childlike for a young girl, stood in the open doorway, looking down
on the elderly people in the buggy, with a face as glad as a flower's.
She had blue eyes, and a smiling mouth, a straight nose, and a pretty
chin whose firm jut accented a certain wistfulness of her lips. She had
hair of a dull, dark yellow, which sent out from its thick mass light
prongs, or tendrils, curving inward again till they delicately touched
it. Her tanned face was not very different in color from her hair, and
neither were her bare feet, which showed well above her ankles in the
calico skirt she wore. At sight of the elders in the buggy she
involuntarily stooped a little to lengthen her skirt in effect, and at
the same time she pulled it together sidewise, to close a tear in it, but
she lost in her anxiety no ray of the joy which the mere presence of the
strangers seemed to give her, and she kept smiling sunnily upon them
while she waited for them to speak.
"Oh!" Mrs. Lander began with involuntary apology in her tone, "we just
wished to know which of these roads went to South Middlemount. We've
come from the hotel, and we wa'n't quite ce'tain."
The girl laughed as she said, "Both roads go to South Middlemount'm; they
join together again just a little piece farther on."
The girl and the woman in their parlance replaced the letter 'r' by vowel
sounds almost too obscure to be represented, except where it came last in
a word before a word beginning with a vowel; there it was annexed to the
vowel by a strong liaison, according to the custom universal in rural New
"Oh, do they?" said Mrs. Lander.
"Yes'm," answered the girl. "It's a kind of tu'nout in the wintatime; or
I guess that's what made it in the beginning; sometimes folks take one
hand side and sometimes the other, and that keeps them separate; but
they're really the same road, 'm."
"Thank you," said Mrs. Lander, and she pushed her husband to make him say
something, too, but he remained silently intent upon the child's
prettiness, which her blue eyes seemed to illumine with a light of their
own. She had got hold of the door, now, and was using it as if it was a
piece of drapery, to hide not only the tear in her gown, but somehow both
her bare feet. She leaned out beyond the edge of it; and then, at
moments she vanished altogether behind it.
Since Mr. Lander would not speak, and made no sign of starting up his
horse, Mrs. Lander added, "I presume you must be used to havin' people
ask about the road, if it's so puzzlin'."
"O, yes'm," returned the girl, gladly. "Almost every day, in the
"You have got a pretty place for a home, he'e," said Mrs. Lander.
"Well, it will be when it's finished up." Without leaning forward
inconveniently Mrs. Lander could see that the partitions of the house
within were lathed, but not plastered, and the girl looked round as if to
realize its condition and added, "It isn't quite finished inside."
"We wouldn't, have troubled you," said Mrs. Lander, "if we had seen
anybody to inquire of."
"Yes'm," said the girl. "It a'n't any trouble."
"There are not many otha houses about, very nea', but I don't suppose you
get lonesome; young folks are plenty of company for themselves, and if
you've got any brothas and sistas--"
"Oh," said the girl, with a tender laugh, "I've got eva so many of them!"
There was a stir in the bushes about the carriage, and Mrs. Lander was
aware for an instant of children's faces looking through the leaves at
her and then flashing out of sight, with gay cries at being seen. A boy,
older than the rest, came round in front of the horse and passed out of
sight at the corner of the house.
Lander now leaned back and looked over his shoulder at his wife as if he
might hopefully suppose she had come to the end of her questions, but she
gave no sign of encouraging him to start on their way again.
"That your brotha, too?" she asked the girl.
"Yes'm. He's the oldest of the boys; he's next to me."
"I don't know," said Mrs. Lander thoughtfully, "as I noticed how many
boys there were, or how many girls."
"I've got two sistas, and three brothas, 'm," said the girl, always
smiling sweetly. She now emerged from the shelter of the door, and Mrs.
Lander perceived that the slight movements of such parts of her person as
had been evident beyond its edge were the effects of some endeavor at
greater presentableness. She had contrived to get about her an overskirt
which covered the rent in her frock, and she had got a pair of shoes on
her feet. Stockings were still wanting, but by a mutual concession of
her shoe-tops and the border of her skirt, they were almost eliminated
from the problem. This happened altogether when the girl sat down on the
threshold, and got herself into such foreshortening that the eye of Mrs.
Lander in looking down upon her could not detect their absence. Her
little head then showed in the dark of the doorway like a painted head
against its background.
"You haven't been livin' here a great while, by the looks," said Mrs.
Lander. "It don't seem to be clea'ed off very much."
"We've got quite a ga'den-patch back of the house," replied the girl,
"and we should have had moa, but fatha wasn't very well, this spring;
he's eva so much better than when we fust came he'e."
"It has, the name of being a very healthy locality," said Mrs. Lander,
somewhat discontentedly, "though I can't see as it's done me so very much
good, yit. Both your payrints livin'?"
"Yes'm. Oh, yes, indeed!"
"And your mother, is she real rugged? She need to be, with such a flock
of little ones!"
"Yes, motha's always well. Fatha was just run down, the doctas said, and
ought to keep more in the open aia. That's what he's done since he came
he'e. He helped a great deal on the house and he planned it all out
"Is he a ca'penta?" asked Mrs. Lander.
"No'm; but he's--I don't know how to express it--he likes to do every
kind of thing."
"But he's got some business, ha'n't he?" A shadow of severity crept over
Mrs. Lander's tone, in provisional reprehension of possible
"Yes'm. He was a machinist at the Mills; that's what the doctas thought
didn't agree with him. He bought a piece of land he'e, so as to be in
the pine woods, and then we built this house."
"When did you say you came?"
"Two yea's ago, this summa."
"Well! What did you do befoa you built this house?"
"We camped the first summa."
"You camped? In a tent?"
"Well, it was pahtly a tent, and pahtly bank."
"I should have thought you would have died."
The girl laughed. "Oh, no, we all kept fast-rate. We slept in the tents
we had two--and we cooked in the shanty." She smiled at the notion in
adding, "At fast the neighbas thought we we'e Gipsies; and the summa
folks thought we were Indians, and wanted to get baskets of us."
Mrs. Lander did not know what to think, and she asked, "But didn't it
almost perish you, stayin' through the winter in an unfinished house?"
"Well, it was pretty cold. But it was so dry, the aia was, and the woods
kept the wind off nicely."
The same shrill voice in the region of the stovepipe which had sent the
girl to the Landers now called her from them. "Clem! Come here a
The girl said to Mrs. Lander, politely, "You'll have to excuse me, now'm.
I've got to go to motha."
"So do!" said Mrs. Lander, and she was so taken by the girl's art and
grace in getting to her feet and fading into the background of the
hallway without visibly casting any detail of her raiment, that she was
not aware of her husband's starting up the horse in time to stop him.
They were fairly under way again, when she lamented, "What you doin',
Albe't? Whe'e you goin'?"
"I'm goin' to South Middlemount. Didn't you want to?"
"Well, of all the men! Drivin' right off without waitin' to say thankye
to the child, or take leave, or anything!"
"Seemed to me as if SHE took leave."
"But she was comin' back! And I wanted to ask--"
"I guess you asked enough for one while. Ask the rest to-morra."
Mrs. Lander was a woman who could often be thrown aside from an immediate
purpose, by the suggestion of some remoter end, which had already,
perhaps, intimated itself to her. She said, "That's true," but by the
time her husband had driven down one of the roads beyond the woods into
open country, she was a quiver of intolerable curiosity. "Well, all I've
got to say is that I sha'n't rest till I know all about 'em."
"Find out when we get back to the hotel, I guess," said her husband.
"No, I can't wait till I get back to the hotel. I want to know now. I
want you should stop at the very fust house we come to. Dea'! The'e
don't seem to be any houses, any moa." She peered out around the side of
the carry-all and scrutinized the landscape. "Hold on! No, yes it is,
too! Whoa! Whoa! The'e's a man in that hay-field, now!"
She laid hold of the reins and pulled the horse to a stand. Mr. Lander
looked round over his shoulder at her. "Hadn't you betta wait till you
get within half a mile of the man?"
"Well, I want you should stop when you do git to him. Will you? I want
to speak to him, and ask him all about those folks."
"I didn't suppose you'd let me have much of a chance," said her husband.
When he came within easy hail of the man in the hay-field, he pulled up
beside the meadow-wall, where the horse began to nibble the blackberry
vines that overran it.
Mrs. Lander beckoned and called to the man, who had stopped pitching hay
and now stood leaning on the handle of his fork. At the signs and sounds
she made, he came actively forward to the road, bringing his fork with
him. When he arrived within easy conversational distance, he planted the
tines in the ground and braced himself at an opposite incline from the
long smooth handle, and waited for Mrs. Lander to begin.
"Will you please tell us who those folks ah', livin' back there in the
edge of the woods, in that new unfinished house?"
The man released his fork with one hand to stoop for a head of timothy
that had escaped the scythe, and he put the stem of it between his teeth,
where it moved up and down, and whipped fantastically about as he talked,
before he answered, "You mean the Claxons?"
"I don't know what thei' name is." Mrs. Lander repeated exactly what she
The farmer said, "Long, red-headed man, kind of sickly-lookin'?"
"We didn't see the man"--
"Little woman, skinny-lookin; pootty tonguey?"
"We didn't see her, eitha; but I guess we hea'd her at the back of the
"Lot o' children, about as big as pa'tridges, runnin' round in the
"Yes! And a very pretty-appearing girl; about thi'teen or fou'teen, I
The farmer pulled his fork out of the ground, and planted it with his
person at new slopes in the figure of a letter A, rather more upright
than before. "Yes; it's them," he said. "Ha'n't been in the neighbahood
a great while, eitha. Up from down Po'tland way, some'res, I guess.
Built that house last summer, as far as it's got, but I don't believe
it's goin' to git much fa'tha."
"Why, what's the matta?" demanded Mrs. Lander in an anguish of interest.
The man in the hay-field seemed to think it more dignified to include
Lander in this inquiry, and he said with a glimmer of the eye for him,
"Hea'd of do-nothin' folks?"
"Seen 'em, too," answered Lander, comprehensively.
"Well, that a'n't Claxon's complaint exactly. He a'n't a do-nothin';
he's a do-everything. I guess it's about as bad." Lander glimmered back
at the man, but did not speak.
"Kind of a machinist down at the Mills, where he come from," the farmer
began again, and Mrs. Lander, eager not to be left out of the affair for
a moment, interrupted:
"Yes, Yes! That's what the gul said."
"But he don't seem to think't the i'on agreed with him, and now he's
goin' in for wood. Well, he did have a kind of a foot-powa tu'nin'
lathe, and tuned all sots o' things; cups, and bowls, and u'ns for fence-
posts, and vases, and sleeve-buttons and little knick-knacks; but the
place bunt down, here, a while back, and he's been huntin' round for
wood, the whole winta long, to make canes out of for the summa-folks.
Seems to think that the smell o' the wood, whether it's green or it's
dry, is goin' to cure him, and he can't git too much of it."
"Well, I believe it's so, Albe't!" cried Mrs. Lander, as if her husband
had disputed the theory with his taciturn back. He made no other sign of
controversy, and the man in the hay-field went on.
"I hea' he's goin' to put up a wind mill, back in an open place he's got,
and use the powa for tu'nin', if he eva gits it up. But he don't seem to
be in any great of a hurry, and they scrape along somehow. Wife takes in
sewin' and the girl wo'ked at the Middlemount House last season. Whole
fam'ly's got to tu'n in and help s'po't a man that can do everything."
The farmer appealed with another humorous cast of his eye to Lander; but
the old man tacitly refused to take any further part in the talk, which
began to flourish apace, in question and answer, between his wife and the
man in the hay-field. It seemed that the children had all inherited the
father's smartness. The oldest boy could beat the nation at figures, and
one of the young ones could draw anything you had a mind to. They were
all clear up in their classes at school, and yet you might say they
almost ran wild, between times. The oldest girl was a pretty-behaved
little thing, but the man in the hay-field guessed there was not very
much to her, compared with some of the boys. Any rate, she had not the
name of being so smart at school. Good little thing, too, and kind of
mothered the young ones.
Mrs. Lander, when she had wrung the last drop of information out of him,
let him crawl back to his work, mentally flaccid, and let her husband
drive on, but under a fire of conjecture and asseveration that was
scarcely intermitted till they reached their hotel. That night she
talked along time about their afternoon's adventure before she allowed
him to go to sleep. She said she must certainly see the child again;
that they must drive down there in the morning, and ask her all about
"Albe't," she concluded; "I wish we had her to live with us. Yes, I do!
I wonder if we could get her to. You know I always did want to adopt a
"You neva said so," Mr. Lander opened his mouth almost for the first
time, since the talk began.
"I didn't suppose you'd like it," said his wife.
"Well, she a'n't a baby. I guess you'd find you had your hands full,
takon' a half-grown gul like that to bring up."
"I shouldn't be afraid any," the wife declared. "She has just twined
herself round my heat. I can't get her pretty looks out of my eyes.
I know she's good."
"We'll see how you feel about it in the morning."
The old man began to wind his watch, and his wife seemed to take this for
a sign that the incident was closed, for the present at least. He seldom
talked, but there came times when he would not even listen. One of these
was the time after he had wound his watch. A minute later he had
undressed, with an agility incredible of his years, and was in bed, as
effectively blind and deaf to his wife's appeals as if he were already
When Albert Gallatin Lander (he was named for an early Secretary of the
Treasury as a tribute to the statesman's financial policy) went out of
business, his wife began to go out of health; and it became the most
serious affair of his declining years to provide for her invalid fancies.
He would have liked to buy a place in the Boston suburbs (he preferred
one of the Newtons) where they could both have had something to do, she
inside of the house, and he outside; but she declared that what they both
needed was a good long rest, with freedom from care and trouble of every
kind. She broke up their establishment in Boston, and stored their
furniture, and she would have made him sell the simple old house in which
they had always lived, on an unfashionable up-and-down-hill street of the
West End, if he had not taken one of his stubborn stands, and let it for
a term of years without consulting her. But she had her way about their
own movements, and they began that life of hotels, which they had now
lived so long that she believed any other impossible. Its luxury and
idleness had told upon each of them with diverse effect.
They had both entered upon it in much the same corporal figure, but she
had constantly grown in flesh, while he had dwindled away until he was
not much more than half the weight of his prime. Their digestion was
alike impaired by their joint life, but as they took the same medicines
Mrs. Lander was baffled to account for the varying result. She was sure
that all the anxiety came upon her, and that logically she was the one
who ought to have wasted away. But she had before her the spectacle of a
husband who, while he gave his entire attention to her health, did not
audibly or visibly worry about it, and yet had lost weight in such
measure that upon trying on a pair of his old trousers taken out of
storage with some clothes of her own, he found it impossible to use the
side pockets which the change in his figure carried so far to the rear
when the garment was reduced at the waist. At the same time her own
dresses of ten years earlier would not half meet round her; and one of
the most corroding cares of a woman who had done everything a woman could
to get rid of care, was what to do with those things which they could
neither of them ever wear again. She talked the matter over with herself
before her husband, till he took the desperate measure of sending them
back to storage; and they had been left there in the spring when the
Landers came away for the summer.
They always spent the later spring months at a hotel in the suburbs of
Boston, where they arrived in May from a fortnight in a hotel at New
York, on their way up from hotels in Washington, Ashville, Aiken and
St. Augustine. They passed the summer months in the mountains, and early
in the autumn they went back to the hotel in the Boston suburbs, where
Mrs. Lander considered it essential to make some sojourn before going to
a Boston hotel for November and December, and getting ready to go down to
Florida in January. She would not on any account have gone directly to
the city from the mountains, for people who did that were sure to lose
the good of their summer, and to feel the loss all the winter, if they
did not actually come down with a fever.
She was by no means aware that she was a selfish or foolish person. She
made Mr. Lander subscribe statedly to worthy objects in Boston, which she
still regarded as home, because they had not dwelt any where else since
they ceased to live there; and she took lavishly of tickets for all the
charitable entertainments in the hotels where they stayed. Few if any
guests at hotels enjoyed so much honor from porters, bell-boys, waiters,
chambermaids and bootblacks as the Landers, for they gave richly in fees
for every conceivable service which could be rendered them; they went out
of their way to invent debts of gratitude to menials who had done nothing
for them. He would make the boy who sold papers at the dining-room door
keep the change, when he had been charged a profit of a hundred per cent.
already; and she would let no driver who had plundered them according to
the carriage tariff escape without something for himself.
A sense of their munificence penetrated the clerks and proprietors with a
just esteem for guests who always wanted the best of everything, and
questioned no bill for extras. Mrs. Lander, in fact, who ruled these
expenditures, had no knowledge of the value of things, and made her
husband pay whatever was asked. Yet when they lived under their own roof
they had lived simply, and Lander had got his money in an old-fashioned
business way, and not in some delirious speculation such as leaves a man
reckless of money afterwards. He had been first of all a tailor, and
then he had gone into boys' and youths' clothing in a small way, and
finally he had mastered this business and come out at the top, with his
hands full. He invested his money so prosperously that the income for
two elderly people, who had no children, and only a few outlying
relations on his side, was far beyond their wants, or even their whims.
She as a woman, who in spite of her bulk and the jellylike majesty with
which she shook in her smoothly casing brown silks, as she entered hotel
dining-rooms, and the severity with which she frowned over her fan down
the length of the hotel drawing-rooms, betrayed more than her husband the
commonness of their origin. She could not help talking, and her accent
and her diction gave her away for a middle-class New England person of
village birth and unfashionable sojourn in Boston. He, on the contrary,
lurked about the hotels where they passed their days in a silence so
dignified that when his verbs and nominatives seemed not to agree, you
accused your own hearing. He was correctly dressed, as an elderly man
should be, in the yesterday of the fashions, and he wore with
impressiveness a silk hat whenever such a hat could be worn. A pair of
drab cloth gaiters did much to identify him with an old school of
gentlemen, not very definite in time or place. He had a full gray beard
cut close, and he was in the habit of pursing his mouth a great deal.
But he meant nothing by it, and his wife meant nothing by her frowning.
They had no wish to subdue or overawe any one, or to pass for persons of
social distinction. They really did not know what society was, and they
were rather afraid of it than otherwise as they caught sight of it in
their journeys and sojourns. They led a life of public seclusion, and
dwelling forever amidst crowds, they were all in all to each other, and
nothing to the rest of the world, just as they had been when they resided
(as they would have said) on Pinckney street. In their own house they
had never entertained, though they sometimes had company, in the style of
the country town where Mrs. Lander grew up. As soon as she was released
to the grandeur of hotel life, she expanded to the full measure of its
responsibilities and privileges, but still without seeking to make it the
basis of approach to society. Among the people who surrounded her, she
had not so much acquaintance as her husband even, who talked so little
that he needed none. She sometimes envied his ease in getting on with
people when he chose; and his boldness in speaking to fellow guests and
fellow travellers, if he really wanted anything. She wanted something of
them all the time, she wanted their conversation and their companionship;
but in her ignorance of the social arts she was thrown mainly upon the
compassion of the chambermaids. She kept these talking as long as she
could detain them in her rooms; and often fed them candy (which she ate
herself with childish greed) to bribe them to further delays. If she was
staying some days in a hotel, she sent for the house-keeper, and made all
she could of her as a listener, and as soon as she settled herself for a
week, she asked who was the best doctor in the place. With doctors she
had no reserves, and she poured out upon them the history of her diseases
and symptoms in an inexhaustible flow of statement, conjecture and
misgiving, which was by no means affected by her profound and
inexpugnable ignorance of the principles of health. From time to time
she forgot which side her liver was on, but she had been doctored (as she
called it) for all her organs, and she was willing to be doctored for any
one of them that happened to be in the place where she fancied a present
discomfort. She was not insensible to the claims which her husband's
disorders had upon science, and she liked to end the tale of her own
sufferings with some such appeal as: "I wish you could do something for
Mr. Landa, too, docta." She made him take a little of each medicine that
was left for her; but in her presence he always denied that there was
anything the matter with him, though he was apt to follow the doctor out
of the room, and get a prescription from him for some ailment which he
professed not to believe in himself, but wanted to quiet Mrs. Lander's
He rose early, both from long habit, and from the scant sleep of an
elderly man; he could not lie in bed; but his wife always had her
breakfast there and remained so long that the chambermaid had done up
most of the other rooms and had leisure for talk with her. As soon as he
was awake, he stole softly out and was the first in the dining-room for
breakfast. He owned to casual acquaintance in moments of expansion that
breakfast was his best meal, but he did what he could to make it his
worst by beginning with oranges and oatmeal, going forward to beefsteak
and fried potatoes, and closing with griddle cakes and syrup, washed down
with a cup of cocoa, which his wife decided to be wholesomer than coffee.
By the time he had finished such a repast, he crept out of the dining-
room in a state of tension little short of anguish, which he confided to
the sympathy of the bootblack in the washroom.
He always went from having his shoes polished to get a toothpick at the
clerk's desk; and at the Middlemount House, the morning after he had been
that drive with Mrs. Lander, he lingered a moment with his elbows beside
the register. "How about a buckboa'd?" he asked.
"Something you can drive yourself "--the clerk professionally dropped his
eye to the register--"Mr. Lander?"
"Well, no, I guess not, this time," the little man returned, after a
moment's reflection. "Know anything of a family named Claxon, down the
road, here, a piece?" He twisted his head in the direction he meant.
"This is my first season at Middlemount; but I guess Mr. Atwell will
know." The clerk called to the landlord, who was smoking in his private
room behind the office, and the landlord came out. The clerk repeated
Mr. Lander's questions.
"Pootty good kind of folks, I guess," said the landlord provisionally,
through his cigar-smoke. "Man's a kind of univussal genius, but he's got
a nice family of children; smaht as traps, all of 'em."
"How about that oldest gul?" asked Mr. Lander.
"Well, the'a," said the landlord, taking the cigar out of his mouth.
"I think she's about the nicest little thing goin'. We've had her up
he'e, to help out in a busy time, last summer, and she's got moo sense
than guls twice as old. Takes hold like--lightnin'."
"About how old did you say she was?"
"Well, you've got me the'a, Mr. Landa; I guess I'll ask Mis' Atwell."
"The'e's no hurry," said Lander. "That buckboa'd be round pretty soon?"
he asked of the clerk.
"Be right along now, Mr. Lander," said the clerk, soothingly. He stepped
out to the platform that the teams drove up to from the stable, and came
back to say that it was coming. "I believe you said you wanted something
you could drive yourself?"
"No, I didn't, young man," answered the elder sharply. But the next
moment he added, "Come to think of it, I guess it's just as well. You
needn't get me no driver. I guess I know the way well enough. You put
me in a hitchin' strap."
"All right, Mr. Lander," said the clerk, meekly.
The landlord had caught the peremptory note in Lander's voice, and he
came out of his room again to see that there was nothing going wrong.
"It's all right," said Lander, and went out and got into his buckboard.
"Same horse you had yesterday," said the young clerk. "You don't need to
spare the whip."
"I guess I can look out for myself," said Lander, and he shook the reins
and gave the horse a smart cut, as a hint of what he might expect.
The landlord joined the clerk in looking after the brisk start the horse
made. "Not the way he set off with the old lady, yesterday," suggested
The landlord rolled his cigar round in his tubed lips. "I guess he's
used to ridin' after a good hoss." He added gravely to the clerk, "You
don't want to make very free with that man, Mr. Pane. He won't stan' it,
and he's a class of custom that you want to cata to when it comes in your
way. I suspicioned what he was when they came here and took the highest
cost rooms without tu'nin' a haia. They're a class of custom that you
won't get outside the big hotels in the big reso'ts. Yes, sir," said the
landlord taking a fresh start, "they're them kind of folks that live the
whole yea' round in hotels; no'th in summa, south in winta, and city
hotels between times. They want the best their money can buy, and they
got plenty of it. She"--he meant Mrs. Lander--"has been tellin' my wife
how they do; she likes to talk a little betta than he doos; and I guess
when it comes to society, they're away up, and they won't stun' any
Lander came into his wife's room between ten and eleven o'clock, and
found her still in bed, but with her half-finished breakfast on a tray
before her. As soon as he opened the door she said, "I do wish you would
take some of that heat-tonic of mine, Albe't, that the docta left for me
in Boston. You'll find it in the upper right bureau box, the'a; and I
know it'll be the very thing for you. It'll relieve you of that
suffocatin' feeling that I always have, comin' up stars. Dea'! I don't
see why they don't have an elevata; they make you pay enough; and I wish
you'd get me a little more silva, so's't I can give to the chambamaid and
the bell-boy; I do hate to be out of it. I guess you been up and out
long ago. They did make that polonaise of mine too tight after all I
said, and I've been thinkin' how I could get it alt'ed; but I presume
there ain't a seamstress to be had around he'e for love or money. Well,
now, that's right, Albe't; I'm glad to see you doin' it."
Lander had opened the lid of the bureau box, and uncorked a bottle from
it, and tilted this to his lips.
"Don't take too much," she cautioned him, "or you'll lose the effects.
When I take too much of a medicine, it's wo'se than nothing, as fah's I
can make out. When I had that spell in Thomasville spring before last,
I believe I should have been over it twice as quick if I had taken just
half the medicine I did. You don't really feel anyways bad about the
heat, do you, Albe't?"
"I'm all right," said Lander. He put back the bottle in its place and
Mrs. Lander lifted herself on her elbow and looked over at him.
"Show me on the bottle how much you took."
He got the bottle out again and showed her with his thumb nail a point
which he chose at random.
"Well, that was just about the dose for you," she said; and she sank down
in bed again with the air of having used a final precaution. "You don't
want to slow your heat up too quick."
Lander did not put the bottle back this time. He kept it in his hand,
with his thumb on the cork, and rocked it back and forth on his knees as
he spoke. "Why don't you get that woman to alter it for you?"
"What woman alta what?"
"Your polonaise. The one whe'e we stopped yestaday."
"Oh! Well, I've been thinkin' about that child, Albe't; I did before I
went to sleep; and I don't believe I want to risk anything with her. It
would be a ca'e," said Mrs. Lander with a sigh, "and I guess I don't want
to take any moa ca'e than what I've got now. What makes you think she
could alta my polonaise?"
"Said she done dress-makin'," said Lander, doggedly.
"You ha'n't been the'a?"
"You didn't say anything to her about her daughta?"
"Yes, I did," said Lander.
"Well, you ce'tainly do equal anything," said his wife. She lay still
awhile, and then she roused herself with indignant energy. "Well, then,
I can tell you what, Albe't Landa: yon can go right straight and take
back everything you said. I don't want the child, and I won't have her.
I've got care enough to worry me now, I should think; and we should have
her whole family on our hands, with that shiftless father of hers, and
the whole pack of her brothas and sistas. What made you think I wanted
you to do such a thing?"
"You wanted me to do it last night. Wouldn't ha'dly let me go to bed."
"Yes! And how many times have I told you nova to go off and do a thing
that I wanted you to, unless you asked me if I did? Must I die befo'e
you can find out that there is such a thing as talkin', and such anotha
thing as doin'? You wouldn't get yourself into half as many scrapes if
you talked more and done less, in this wo'ld." Lander rose.
"Wait! Hold on! What are you going to say to the pooa thing? She'll be
"I don't know as I shall need to say anything myself," answered the
little man, at his dryest. "Leave that to you."
"Well, I can tell you," returned his wife, "I'm not goin' nea' them
again; and if you think--What did you ask the woman, anyway?"
"I asked her," he said, "if she wanted to let the gul come and see you
about some sewing you had to have done, and she said she did."
"And you didn't speak about havin' her come to live with us?"
"Well, why in the land didn't you say so before, Albe't?"
"You didn't ask me. What do you want I should say to her now?"
"Say to who?"
"The gul. She's down in the pahlor, waitin'."
"Well, of all the men!" cried Mrs. Lander. But she seemed to find
herself, upon reflection, less able to cope with Lander personally than
with the situation generally. "Will you send her up, Albe't?" she asked,
very patiently, as if he might be driven to further excesses, if not
delicately handled. As soon as he had gone out of the room she wished
that she had told him to give her time to dress and have her room put in
order, before he sent the child up; but she could only make the best of
herself in bed with a cap and a breakfast jacket, arranged with the help
of a handglass. She had to get out of bed to put her other clothes away
in the closet and she seized the chance to push the breakfast tray out of
the door, and smooth up the bed, while she composed her features and her
ideas to receive her visitor. Both, from long habit rather than from any
cause or reason, were of a querulous cast, and her ordinary tone was a
snuffle expressive of deep-seated affliction. She was at once plaintive
and voluable, and in moments of excitement her need of freeing her mind
was so great that she took herself into her own confidence, and found a
more sympathetic listener than when she talked to her husband. As she
now whisked about her room in her bed-gown with an activity not
predicable of her age and shape, and finally plunged under the covering
and drew it up to her chin with one hand while she pressed it out
decorously over her person with the other, she kept up a rapid flow of
lamentation and conjecture. "I do suppose he'll be right back with her
before I'm half ready; and what the man was thinkin' of to do such a
thing anyway, I don't know. I don't know as she'll notice much, comin'
out of such a lookin' place as that, and I don't know as I need to care
if she did. But if the'e's care anywhe's around, I presume I'm the one
to have it. I presume I did take a fancy to her, and I guess I shall be
glad to see how I like her now; and if he's only told her I want some
sewin' done, I can scrape up something to let her carry home with her.
It's well I keep my things where I can put my hand on 'em at a time like
this, and I don't believe I shall sca'e the child, as it is. I do hope
Albe't won't hang round half the day before he brings her; I like to have
a thing ova."
Lander wandered about looking for the girl through the parlors and the
piazzas, and then went to the office to ask what had become of her.
The landlord came out of his room at his question to the clerk. "Oh, I
guess she's round in my wife's room, Mr. Landa. She always likes to see
Clementina, and I guess they all do. She's a so't o' pet amongst 'em."
"No hurry," said Lander, "I guess my wife ain't quite ready for her yet."
"Well, she'll be right out, in a minute or so," said the landlord.
The old man tilted his hat forward over his eyes, and went to sit on the
veranda and look at the landscape while he waited. It was one of the
loveliest landscapes in the mountains; the river flowed at the foot of an
abrupt slope from the road before the hotel, stealing into and out of the
valley, and the mountains, gray in the farther distance, were draped with
folds of cloud hanging upon their flanks and tops. But Lander was tired
of nearly all kinds of views and prospects, though he put' up with them,
in his perpetual movement from place to place, in the same resignation
that he suffered the limitations of comfort in parlor cars and sleepers,
and the unwholesomeness of hotel tables. He was chained to the restless
pursuit of an ideal not his own, but doomed to suffer for its
impossibility as if he contrived each of his wife's disappointments from
it. He did not philosophize his situation, but accepted it as in an
order of Providence which it would be useless for him to oppose; though
there were moments when he permitted himself to feel a modest doubt of
its justice. He was aware that when he had a house of his own he was
master in it, after a fashion, and that as long as he was in business he
was in some sort of authority. He perceived that now he was a slave to
the wishes of a mistress who did not know what she wanted, and that he
was never farther from pleasing her than when he tried to do what she
asked. He could not have told how all initiative had been taken from
him, and he had fallen into the mere follower of a woman guided only by
her whims, who had no object in life except to deprive it of all object.
He felt no rancor toward her for this; he knew that she had a tender
regard for him, and that she believed she was considering him first in
her most selfish arrangements. He always hoped that sometime she would
get tired of her restlessness, and be willing to settle down again in
some stated place; and wherever it was, he meant to get into some kind of
business again. Till this should happen he waited with an apathetic
patience of which his present abeyance was a detail. He would hardly
have thought it anything unfit, and certainly nothing surprising, that
the landlady should have taken the young girl away from where he had left
her, and then in the pleasure of talking with her, and finding her a
centre of interest for the whole domestic force of the hotel, should have
forgotten to bring her back.
The Middlemount House had just been organized on the scale of a first
class hotel, with prices that had risen a little in anticipation of the
other improvements. The landlord had hitherto united in himself the
functions of clerk and head waiter, but he had now got a senior, who was
working his way through college, to take charge of the dining-room, and
had put in the office a youth of a year's experience as under clerk at a
city hotel. But he meant to relinquish no more authority than his wife
who frankly kept the name as well as duty of house-keeper. It was in
making her morning inspection of the dusting that she found Clementina in
the parlor where Lander had told her to sit down till he should come for
"Why, Clem!" she said, "I didn't know you! You have grown so! Youa
folks all well? I decla'e you ah' quite a woman now," she added, as the
girl stood up in her slender, graceful height. "You look as pretty as a
pink in that hat. Make that dress youaself? Well, you do beat the
witch! I want you should come to my room with me."
Mrs. Atwell showered other questions and exclamations on the girl, who
explained how she happened to be there, and said that she supposed she
must stay where she was for fear Mr. Lander should come back and find her
gone; but Mrs. Atwell overruled her with the fact that Mrs. Lander's
breakfast had just gone up to her; and she made her come out and see the
new features of the enlarged house-keeping. In the dining-room there
were some of the waitresses who had been there the summer before, and
recognitions of more or less dignity passed between them and Clementina.
The place was now shut against guests, and the head-waiter was having it
put in order for the one o'clock dinner. As they came near him, Mrs.
Atwell introduced him to Clementina, and he behaved deferentially, as if
she were some young lady visitor whom Mrs. Atwell was showing the
improvements, but he seemed harassed and impatient, as if he were anxious
about his duties, and eager to get at them again. He was a handsome
little fellow, with hair lighter than Clementina's and a sanguine
complexion, and the color coming and going.
"He's smaht," said Mrs. Atwell, when they had left him--he held the
dining-room door open for them, and bowed them out. "I don't know but he
worries almost too much. That'll wear off when he gets things runnin' to
suit him. He's pretty p'tic'la'. Now I'll show you how they've made the
office over, and built in a room for Mr. Atwell behind it."
The landlord welcomed Clementina as if she had been some acceptable class
of custom, and when the tall young clerk came in to ask him something,
and Mrs. Atwell said, "I want to introduce you to Miss Claxon, Mr. Fane,"
the clerk smiled down upon her from the height of his smooth, acquiline
young face, which he held bent encouragingly upon one side.
"Now, I want you should come in and see where I live, a minute," said
Mrs. Atwell. She took the girl from the clerk, and led her to the
official housekeeper's room which she said had been prepared for her so
that folks need not keep running to her in her private room where she
wanted to be alone with her children, when she was there. "Why, you
a'n't much moa than a child youaself, Clem, and here I be talkin' to you
as if you was a mother in Israel. How old ah' you, this summa? Time
does go so!"
"I'm sixteen now," said Clementina, smiling.
"You be? Well, I don't see why I say that, eitha! You're full lahge
enough for your age, but not seein' you in long dresses before, I didn't
realize your age so much. My, but you do all of you know how to do
"I'm about the only one that don't, Mrs. Atwell," said the girl. "If it
hadn't been for mother, I don't believe I could have eva finished this
dress." She began to laugh at something passing in her mind, and Mrs.
Atwell laughed too, in sympathy, though she did not know what at till
Clementina said, "Why, Mrs. Atwell, nea'ly the whole family wo'ked on
this dress. Jim drew the patte'n of it from the dress of one of the
summa boa'das that he took a fancy to at the Centa, and fatha cut it out,
and I helped motha make it. I guess every one of the children helped a
"Well, it's just as I said, you can all of you do things," said Mrs.
Atwell. "But I guess you ah' the one that keeps 'em straight. What did
you say Mr. Landa said his wife wanted of you?"
"He said some kind of sewing that motha could do."
"Well, I'll tell you what! Now, if she ha'n't really got anything that
your motha'll want you to help with, I wish you'd come here again and
help me. I tuned my foot, here, two-three weeks back, and I feel it,
times, and I should like some one to do about half my steppin' for me.
I don't want to take you away from her, but IF. You sha'n't go int' the
dinin'room, or be under anybody's oddas but mine. Now, will you?"
"I'll see, Mrs. Atwell. I don't like to say anything till I know what
Mrs. Landa wants."
"Well, that's right. I decla'e, you've got moa judgment! That's what I
used to say about you last summa to my husband: she's got judgment.
Well, what's wanted?" Mrs. Atwell spoke to her husband, who had opened
her door and looked in, and she stopped rocking, while she waited his
"I guess you don't want to keep Clementina from Mr. Landa much longa.
He's settin' out there on the front piazza waitin' for her."
"Well, the'a!" cried Mrs. Atwell. "Ain't that just like me? Why didn't
you tell me sooner, Alonzo? Don't you forgit what I said, Clem!"
Mrs. Lander had taken twice of a specific for what she called her nerve-
fag before her husband came with Clementina, and had rehearsed aloud many
of the things she meant to say to the girl. In spite of her preparation,
they were all driven out of her head when Clementina actually appeared,
and gave her a bow like a young birch's obeisance in the wind.
"Take a chaia," said Lander, pushing her one, and the girl tilted over
toward him, before she sank into it. He went out of the room, and left
Mrs. Lander to deal with the problem alone. She apologized for being in
bed, but Clementina said so sweetly, "Mr. Landa told me you were not
feeling very well, 'm," that she began to be proud of her ailments, and
bragged of them at length, and of the different doctors who had treated
her for them. While she talked she missed one thing or another, and
Clementina seemed to divine what it was she wanted, and got it for her,
with a gentle deference which made the elder feel her age cushioned by
the girl's youth. When she grew a little heated from the interest she
took in her personal annals, and cast off one of the folds of her bed
clothing, Clementina got her a fan, and asked her if she should put up
one of the windows a little.
"How you do think of things!" said Mrs. Lander. "I guess I will let you.
I presume you get used to thinkin' of othas in a lahge family like youas.
I don't suppose they could get along without you very well," she
"I've neva been away except last summa, for a little while."
"And where was you then?"
"I was helping Mrs. Atwell."
"Did you like it?"
"I don't know," said Clementina. "It's pleasant to be whe'e things ah'
"Yes--for young folks," said Mrs. Lander, whom the going on of things had
long ceased to bring pleasure.
"It's real nice at home, too," said Clementina. "We have very good
times--evenings in the winta; in the summer it's very nice in the woods,
around there. It's safe for the children, and they enjoy it, and fatha
likes to have them. Motha don't ca'e so much about it. I guess she'd
ratha have the house fixed up more, and the place. Fatha's going to do
it pretty soon. He thinks the'e's time enough."
"That's the way with men," said Mrs. Lander. "They always think the's
time enough; but I like to have things over and done with. What chuhch
do you 'tend?"
"Well, there isn't any but the Episcopal," Clementina answered. "I go to
that, and some of the children go to the Sunday School. I don't believe
fatha ca'es very much for going to chuhch, but he likes Mr. Richling;
he's the recta. They take walks in the woods; and they go up the
"They want," said Mrs. Lander, severely, "to be ca'eful how they drink of
them cold brooks when they're heated. Mr. Richling a married man?"
"Oh, yes'm! But they haven't got any family."
"If I could see his wife, I sh'd caution her about lettin' him climb
mountains too much. A'n't your father afraid he'll ovado?"
"I don't know. He thinks he can't be too much in the open air on the
"Well, he may not have the same complaint as Mr. Landa; but I know if I
was to climb a mountain,' it would lay me up for a yea'."
The girl did not urge anything against this conviction. She smiled
politely and waited patiently for the next turn Mrs. Lander's talk should
take, which was oddly enough toward the business Clementina had come
"I declare I most forgot about my polonaise. Mr. Landa said your motha
thought she could do something to it for me."
"Well, I may as well 'let you see it. If you'll reach into that fuhthest
closet, you'll find it on the last uppa hook on the right hand, and if
you'll give it to me, I'll show you what I want done. Don't mind the
looks of that closet; I've just tossed my things in, till I could get a
little time and stren'th to put 'em in odda."
Clementina brought the polonaise to Mrs. Lander, who sat up and spread it
before her on the bed, and had a happy half hour in telling the girl
where she had bought the material and where she had it made up, and how
it came home just as she was going away, and she did not find out that it
was all wrong till a week afterwards when she tried it on. By the end of
this time the girl had commended herself so much by judicious and
sympathetic assent, that Mrs. Lander learned with a shock of
disappointment that her mother expected her to bring the garment home
with her, where Mrs. Lander was to come and have it fitted over for the
alterations she wanted made.
"But I supposed, from what Mr. Landa said, that your motha would come
here and fit me!" she lamented.
"I guess he didn't undastand, 'm. Motha doesn't eva go out to do wo'k,"
said Clementina gently but firmly.
"Well, I might have known Mr. Landa would mix it up, if it could be
mixed; "Mrs. Lander's sense of injury was aggravated by her suspicion
that he had brought the girl in the hope of pleasing her, and confirming
her in the wish to have her with them; she was not a woman who liked to
have her way in spite of herself; she wished at every step to realize
that she was taking it, and that no one else was taking it for her.
"Well," she said dryly, "I shall have to see about it. I'm a good deal
of an invalid, and I don't know as I could go back and fo'th to try on.
I'm moa used to havin' the things brought to me."
"Yes'm," said Clementina. She moved a little from the bed, on her way to
the door, to be ready for Mrs. Lander in leave-taking.
"I'm real sorry," said Mrs. Lander. "I presume it's a disappointment for
"Oh, not at all," answered Clementina. "I'm sorry we can't do the wo'k
he'a; but I know mocha wouldn't like to. Good-mo'ning,'m!"
"No, no! Don't go yet a minute! Won't you just give me my hand bag off
the bureau the'a? "Mrs. Lander entreated, and when the girl gave her the
bag she felt about among the bank-notes which she seemed to have loose in
it, and drew out a handful of them without regard to their value.
"He'a!" she said, and she tried to put the notes into Clementina's hand,
"I want you should get yourself something."
The girl shrank back. "Oh, no'm," she said, with an effect of seeming to
know that her refusal would hurt, and with the wish to soften it.
"I--couldn't; indeed I couldn't."
"Why couldn't you? Now you must! If I can't let you have the wo'k the
way you want, I don't think it's fair, and you ought to have the money
for it just the same."
Clementina shook her head smiling. "I don't believe motha would like to
have me take it."
"Oh, now, pshaw!" said Mrs. Lander, inadequately. "I want you should
take this for youaself; and if you don't want to buy anything to wea',
you can get something to fix your room up with. Don't you be afraid of
robbin' us. Land! We got moa money! Now you take this."
Mrs. Lander reached the money as far toward Clementina as she could and
shook it in the vehemence of her desire.
"Thank you, I couldn't take it," Clementina persisted. "I'm afraid I
must be going; I guess I must bid you good-mo'ning."
"Why, I believe the child's sca'ed of me! But you needn't be. Don't you
suppose I know how you feel? You set down in that chai'a there, and I'll
tell you how you feel. I guess we've been pooa, too--I don't mean
anything that a'n't exactly right--and I guess I've had the same
feelin's. You think it's demeanin' to you to take it. A'n't that it?"
Clementina sank provisionally upon the edge of the chair. "Well, it did
use to be so consid'ed. But it's all changed, nowadays. We travel
pretty nee' the whole while, Mr. Lander and me, and we see folks
everywhere, and it a'n't the custom to refuse any moa. Now, a'n't there
any little thing for your own room, there in your nice new house? Or
something your motha's got her heat set on? Or one of your brothas? My,
if you don't have it, some one else will! Do take it!"
The girl kept slipping toward the door. "I shouldn't know what to tell
them, when I got home. They would think I must be--out of my senses."
"I guess you mean they'd think I was. Now, listen to me a minute!"
Mrs. Lander persisted.
"You just take this money, and when you get home, you tell your mother
every word about it, and if she says, you bring it right straight back
to me. Now, can't you do that?"
"I don't know but I can," Clementina faltered. "Well, then take it!"
Mrs. Lander put the bills into her hand but she did not release her at
once. She pulled Clementina down and herself up till she could lay her
other arm on her neck. "I want you should let me kiss you. Will you?"
"Why, certainly," said Clementina, and she kissed the old woman.
"You tell your mother I'm comin' to see her before I go; and I guess,"
said Mrs. Lander in instant expression of the idea that came into her
mind, "we shall be goin' pretty soon, now."
"Yes'm," said Clementina.
She went out, and shortly after Lander came in with a sort of hopeful
apathy in his face.
Mrs. Lander turned her head on her pillow, and so confronted him.
"Albe't, what made you want me to see that child?"
Lander must have perceived that his wife meant business, and he came to
it at once. "I thought you might take a fancy to her, and get her to
come and live with us."
"We're both of us gettin' pretty well on, and you'd ought to have
somebody to look after you if--I'm not around. You want somebody that
can do for you; and keep you company, and read to you, and talk to you--
well, moa like a daughta than a suvvant--somebody that you'd get attached
"And don't you see," Mrs. Lander broke out severely upon him, "what a
ca'e that would be? Why, it's got so already that I can't help thinkin'
about her the whole while, and if I got attached to her I'd have her on
my mind day and night, and the moa she done for me the more I should be
tewin' around to do for her. I shouldn't have any peace of my life any
moa. Can't you see that?"
"I guess if you see it, I don't need to," said Lander.
"Well, then, I want you shouldn't eva mention her to me again. I've had
the greatest escape! But I've got her off home, and I've give her money
enough! had a time with her about it--so that they won't feel as if we'd
made 'em trouble for nothing, and now I neva want to hear of her again.
I don't want we should stay here a great while longer; I shall be
frettin' if I'm in reach of her, and I shan't get any good of the ai'a.
Will you promise?"
"Well, then!" Mrs. Lander turned her face upon the pillow again in the
dramatization of her exhaustion; but she was not so far gone that she was
insensible to the possible interest that a light rap at the door
suggested. She once more twisted her head in that direction and called,
The door opened and Clementina came in. She advanced to the bedside
smiling joyously, and put the money Mrs. Lander had given her down upon
"Why, you haven't been home, child?"
"No'm," said Clementina, breathlessly. "But I couldn't take it. I knew
they wouldn't want me to, and I thought you'd like it better if I just
brought it back myself. Good-mo'ning." She slipped out of the door.
Mrs. Lander swept the bank-notes from the coverlet and pulled it over her
head, and sent from beneath it a stifled wail. "Now we got to go! And
it's all youa fault, Albe't."
Lander took the money from the floor, and smoothed each bill out, and
then laid them in a neat pile on the corner of the bureau. He sighed
profoundly but left the room without an effort to justify himself.
The Landers had been gone a week before Clementina's mother decided that
she could spare her to Mrs. Atwell for a while. It was established that
she was not to serve either in the dining-room or the carving room; she
was not to wash dishes or to do any part of the chamber work, but to
carry messages and orders for the landlady, and to save her steps, when
she wished to see the head-waiter, or the head-cook; or to make an excuse
or a promise to some of the lady-boarders; or to send word to Mr. Atwell
about the buying, or to communicate with the clerk about rooms taken or
She had a good deal of dignity of her own and such a gravity in the
discharge of her duties that the chef, who was a middle-aged Yankee with
grown girls of his own, liked to pretend that it was Mrs. Atwell herself
who was talking with him, and to discover just as she left him that it
was Clementina. He called her the Boss when he spoke of her to others in
her hearing, and he addressed her as Boss when he feigned to find that it
was not Mrs. Atwell. She did not mind that in him, and let the chef have
his joke as if it were not one. But one day when the clerk called her
Boss she merely looked at him without speaking, and made him feel that he
had taken a liberty which he must not repeat. He was a young man who
much preferred a state of self-satisfaction to humiliation of any sort,
and after he had endured Clementina's gaze as long as he could, he said,
"Perhaps you don't allow anybody but the chef to call you that?"
She did not answer, but repeated the message Mrs. Atwell had given her
for him, and went away.
It seemed to him undue that a person who exchanged repartees with the
young lady boarders across his desk, when they came many times a day to
look at the register, or to ask for letters, should remain snubbed by a
girl who still wore her hair in a braid; but he was an amiable youth, and
he tried to appease her by little favors and services, instead of trying
to bully her.
He was great friends with the head-waiter, whom he respected as a college
student, though for the time being he ranked the student socially. He
had him in behind the frame of letter-boxes, which formed a sort of
little private room for him, and talked with him at such hours of the
forenoon and the late evening as the student was off duty. He found
comfort in the student's fretful strength, which expressed itself in the
pugnacious frown of his hot-looking young face, where a bright sorrel
mustache was beginning to blaze on a short upper lip.
Fane thought himself a good-looking fellow, and he regarded his figure
with pleasure, as it was set off by the suit of fine gray check that he
wore habitually; but he thought Gregory's educational advantages told in
his face. His own education had ended at a commercial college, where he
acquired a good knowledge of bookkeeping, and the fine business hand he
wrote, but where it seemed to him sometimes that the earlier learning of
the public school had been hermetically sealed within him by several
coats of mathematical varnish. He believed that he had once known a
number of things that he no longer knew, and that he had not always been
so weak in his double letters as he presently found himself.
One night while Gregory sat on a high stool and rested his elbow on the
desk before it, with his chin in his hand, looking down upon Fane, who
sprawled sadly in his chair, and listening to the last dance playing in
the distant parlor, Fane said. "Now, what'll you bet that they won't
every one of 'em come and look for a letter in her box before she goes to
bed? I tell you, girls are queer, and there's no place like a hotel to
"I don't want to study them," said Gregory, harshly.
"Think Greek's more worth your while, or know 'em well enough already?"
"No, I don't know them at all," said the student.
"I don't believe," urged the clerk, as if it were relevant, "that there's
a girl in the house that you couldn't marry, if you gave your mind to
Gregory twitched irascibly. "I don't want to marry them."
"Pretty cheap lot, you mean? Well, I don't know."
"I don't mean that," retorted the student. "But I've got other things to
"Don't you believe," the clerk modestly urged, "that it is natural for a
man--well, a young man--to think about girls?"
"I suppose it is."
"And you don't consider it wrong?"
"Well, a waste of time. I don't know as I always think about wanting to
marry 'em, or be in love, but I like to let my mind run on 'em. There's
something about a girl that, well, you don't know what it is, exactly.
Take almost any of 'em," said the clerk, with an air of inductive
reasoning. "Take that Claxon girl, now for example, I don't know what it
is about her. She's good-looking, I don't deny that; and she's got
pretty manners, and she's as graceful as a bird. But it a'n't any one of
'em, and it don't seem to be all of 'em put together that makes you want
to keep your eyes on her the whole while. Ever noticed what a nice
little foot she's got? Or her hands?"
"No," said the student.
"I don't mean that she ever tries to show them off; though I know some
girls that would. But she's not that kind. She ain't much more than a
child, and yet you got to treat her just like a woman. Noticed the kind
of way she's got?"
"No," said the student, with impatience.
The clerk mused with a plaintive air for a moment before he spoke.
"Well, it's something as if she'd been trained to it, so that she knew
just the right thing to do, every time, and yet I guess it's nature. You
know how the chef always calls her the Boss? That explains it about as
well as anything, and I presume that's what my mind was running on, the
other day, when I called her Boss. But, my! I can't get anywhere near
"It serves you right," said Gregory. "You had no business to tease her."
"Now, do you think it was teasing? I did, at first, and then again it
seemed to me that I came out with the word because it seemed the right
one. I presume I couldn't explain that to her."
"It wouldn't be easy."
"I look upon her," said Fane, with an effect of argument in the sweetness
of his smile, "just as I would upon any other young lady in the house.
Do you spell apology with one p or two?"
"One," said the student, and the clerk made a minute on a piece of paper.
"I feel badly for the girl. I don't want her to think I was teasing her
or taking any sort of liberty with her. Now, would you apologize to her,
if you was in my place, and would you write a note, or just wait your
chance and speak to her?"
Gregory got down from his stool with a disdainful laugh, and went out of
the place. "You make me sick, Fane," he said.
The last dance was over, and the young ladies who had been waltzing with
one another, came out of the parlor with gay cries and laughter, like
summer girls who had been at a brilliant hop, and began to stray down the
piazzas, and storm into the office. Several of them fluttered up to the
desk, as the clerk had foretold, and looked for letters in the boxes
bearing their initials. They called him out, and asked if he had not
forgotten something for them. He denied it with a sad, wise smile, and
then they tried to provoke him to a belated flirtation, in lack of other
material, but he met their overtures discreetly, and they presently said,
Well, they guessed they must go; and went. Fane turned to encounter
Gregory, who had come in by a side door.
"Fane, I want to beg your pardon. I was rude to you just now."
"Oh, no! Oh, no!" the clerk protested. "That's all right. Sit down a
while, can't you, and talk with a fellow. It's early, yet."
"No, I can't. I just wanted to say I was sorry I spoke in that way.
Good-night. Is there anything in particular?"
"No; good-night. I was just wondering about--that girl."
Gregory had an habitual severity with his own behavior which did not stop
there, but was always passing on to the behavior of others; and his days
went by in alternate offence and reparation to those he had to do with.
He had to do chiefly with the dining-room girls, whose susceptibilities
were such that they kept about their work bathed in tears or suffused
with anger much of the time. He was not only good-looking but he was a
college student, and their feelings were ready to bud toward him in
tender efflorescence, but he kept them cropped and blighted by his curt
words and impatient manner. Some of them loved him for the hurts he did
them, and some hated him, but all agreed fondly or furiously that he was
too cross for anything. They were mostly young school-mistresses, and
whether they were of a soft and amorous make, or of a forbidding temper,
they knew enough in spite of their hurts to value a young fellow whose
thoughts were not running upon girls all the time. Women, even in their
spring-time, like men to treat them as if they had souls as well as
hearts, and it was a saving grace in Gregory that he treated them all,
the silliest of them, as if they had souls. Very likely they responded
more with their hearts than with their souls, but they were aware that
this was not his fault.
The girls that waited at table saw that he did not distinguish in manner
between them and the girls whom they served. The knot between his brows
did not dissolve in the smiling gratitude of the young ladies whom he
preceded to their places, and pulled out their chairs for, any more than
in the blandishments of a waitress who thanked him for some correction.
They owned when he had been harshest that no one could be kinder if he
saw a girl really trying, or more patient with well meaning stupidity,
but some things fretted him, and he was as apt to correct a girl in her
grammar as in her table service. Out of work hours, if he met any of
them, he recognized them with deferential politeness; but he shunned
occasions of encounter with them as distinctly as he avoided the ladies
among the hotel guests. Some of the table girls pitied his loneliness,
and once they proposed that he should read to them on the back piazza in
the leisure of their mid-afternoons. He said that he had to keep up with
his studies in all the time he could get; he treated their request with
grave civility, but they felt his refusal to be final.
He was seen very little about the house outside of his own place and
function, and he was scarcely known to consort with anyone but Fane, who
celebrated his high sense of the honor to the lady-guests; but if any of
these would have been willing to show Gregory that they considered his
work to get an education as something that redeemed itself from discredit
through the nobility of its object, he gave them no chance to do so.
The afternoon following their talk about Clementina, Gregory looked in
for Fane behind the letter boxes, but did not find him, and the girl
herself came round from the front to say that he was out buying, but
would be back now, very soon; it was occasionally the clerk's business to
forage among the farmers for the lighter supplies, such as eggs, and
butter, and poultry, and this was the buying that Clementina meant.
"Very well, I'll wait here for him a little while," Gregory answered.
"So do," said Clementina, in a formula which she thought polite; but she
saw the frown with which Gregory took a Greek book from his pocket, and
she hurried round in front of the boxes again, wondering how she could
have displeased him. She put her face in sight a moment to explain, "I
have got to be here and give out the lettas till Mr. Fane gets back," and
then withdrew it. He tried to lose himself in his book, but her tender
voice spoke from time to time beyond the boxes, and Gregory kept
listening for Clementina to say, "No'm, there a'n't. Perhaps, the'e'll
be something the next mail," and "Yes'm, he'e's one, and I guess this
paper is for some of youa folks, too."
Gregory shut his book with a sudden bang at last and jumped to his feet,
to go away.
The girl came running round the corner of the boxes. "Oh! I thought
something had happened."
"No, nothing has happened," said Gregory, with a sort of violence; which
was heightened by a sense of the rings and tendrils of loose hair
springing from the mass that defined her pretty head. "Don't you know
that you oughtn't to say 'No'm' and 'Yes'm?"' he demanded, bitterly, and
then he expected to see the water come into her eyes, or the fire into
Clementina merely looked interested. "Did I say that? I meant to say
Yes, ma'am and No, ma'am; but I keep forgetting."
"You oughtn't to say anything!" Gregory answered savagely, "Just say
Yes, and No, and let your voice do the rest."
"Oh!" said the girl, with the gentlest abeyance, as if charmed with the
novelty of the idea. "I should be afraid it wasn't polite."
Gregory took an even brutal tone. It seemed to him as if he were forced
to hurt her feelings. But his words, in spite of his tone, were not
brutal; they might have even been thought flattering. "The politeness is
in the manner, and you don't need anything but your manner."
"Do you think so, truly?" asked the girl joyously. "I should like to try
He frowned again. "I've no business to criticise your way of speaking."
"Oh yes'm--yes, ma'am; sir, I mean; I mean, Oh, yes, indeed! The'a!
It does sound just as well, don't it?" Clementina laughed in triumph at
the outcome of her efforts, so that a reluctant visional smile came upon
Gregory's face, too. I'm very mach obliged to you, Mr. Gregory--I shall
always want to do it, if it's the right way."
"It's the right way," said Gregory coldly.
"And don't they," she urged, "don't they really say Sir and Ma'am, whe'e
--whe'e you came from?"
He said gloomily, "Not ladies and gentlemen. Servants do. Waiters--like
me." He inflicted this stab to his pride with savage fortitude and he
bore with self-scorn the pursuit of her innocent curiosity.
"But I thought--I thought you was a college student."
"Were," Gregory corrected her, involuntarily, and she said, "Were, I
"I'm a student at college, and here I'm a servant! It's all right!" he
said with a suppressed gritting of the teeth; and he added, "My Master
was the servant of the meanest, and I must--I beg your pardon for
meddling with your manner of speaking"--
"Oh, I'm very much obliged to you; indeed I am. And I shall not care if
you tell me of anything that's out of the way in my talking," said
"Thank you; I think I won't wait any longer for Mr. Fane."
"Why, I'm su'a he'll be back very soon, now. I'll try not to disturb you
Gregory turned from taking some steps towards the door, and said, "I wish
you would tell Mr. Fane something."
"For you? Why, suttainly!"
"No. For you. Tell him that it's all right about his calling you Boss."
The indignant color came into Clementina's face. "He had no business to
call me that."
"No; and he doesn't think he had, now. He's truly sorry for it."
"I'll see," said Clementina.
She had not seen by the time Fane got back. She received his apologies
for being gone so long coldly, and went away to Mrs. Atwell, whom she
told what had passed between Gregory and herself.
"Is he truly so proud?" she asked.
"He's a very good young man," said Mrs. Atwell, "but I guess he's proud.
He can't help it, but you can see he fights against it. If I was you,
Clem, I wouldn't say anything to the guls about it."
"Oh, no'm--I mean, no, indeed. I shouldn't think of it. But don't you
think that was funny, his bringing in Christ, that way?"
"Well, he's going to be a minister, you know."
"Is he really?" Clementina was a while silent. At last she said, "Don't
you think Mr. Gregory has a good many freckles?"
"Well, them red-complected kind is liable to freckle," said Mrs. Atwell,
After rather a long pause for both of them, Clementina asked, "Do you
think it would be nice for me to ask Mr. Gregory about things, when I
"Oh-wo'ds, and pronunciation; and books to read."
"Why, I presume he'd love to have you. He's always correctin' the guls;
I see him take up a book one day, that one of 'em was readin', and when
she as't him about it, he said it was rubbage. I guess you couldn't have
a betta guide."
"Well, that was what I was thinking. I guess I sha'n't do it, though.
I sh'd neva have the courage." Clementina laughed and then fell rather
seriously silent again.
One day the shoeman stopped his wagon at the door of the helps' house,
and called up at its windows, "Well, guls, any of you want to git a numba
foua foot into a rumba two shoe, to-day? Now's youa chance, but you got
to be quick abort it. The'e ha'r't but just so many numba two shoes
made, and the wohld's full o' rumba foua feet."
The windows filled with laughing faces at the first sound of the
shoeman's ironical voice; and at sight of his neat wagon, with its
drawers at the rear and sides, and its buggy-hood over the seat where the
shoeman lounged lazily holding the reins, the girls flocked down the
stairs, and out upon the piazza where the shoe man had handily ranged his
They began to ask him if he had not this thing and that, but he said with
firmness, "Nothin' but shoes, guls. I did carry a gen'l line, one while,
of what you may call ankle-wea', such as spats, and stockin's, and
gaitas, but I nova did like to speak of such things befoa ladies, and now
I stick ex-elusively to shoes. You know that well enough, guls; what's
He kept a sober face amidst the giggling that his words aroused,--and let
his voice sink into a final note of injury.
"Well, if you don't want any shoes, to-day, I guess I must be goin'."
He made a feint of jerking his horse's reins, but forebore at the
entreaties that went up from the group of girls.
"Yes, we do!" "Let's see them!" "Oh, don't go!" they chorused in an
equally histrionic alarm, and the shoeman got down from his perch to show
"Now, the'a, ladies," he said, pulling out one of the drawers, and
dangling a pair of shoes from it by the string that joined their heels,
"the'e's a shoe that looks as good as any Sat'd'y-night shoe you eva see.
Looks as han'some as if it had a pasteboa'd sole and was split stock all
through, like the kind you buy for a dollar at the store, and kick out in
the fust walk you take with your fella--'r some other gul's fella, I
don't ca'e which. And yet that's an honest shoe, made of the best of
material all the way through, and in the best manna. Just look at that
shoe, ladies; ex-amine it; sha'n't cost you a cent, and I'll pay for youa
lost time myself, if any complaint is made." He began to toss pairs of
the shoes into the crowd of girls, who caught them from each other before
they fell, with hysterical laughter, and ran away with them in-doors to
try them on. "This is a shoe that I'm intaducin'," the shoeman went on,
"and every pair is warranted--warranted numba two; don't make any otha
size, because we want to cata to a strictly numba two custom. If any
lady doos feel 'em a little mite too snug, I'm sorry for her, but I can't
do anything to help her in this shoe."
"Too snug !" came a gay voice from in-doors. "Why my foot feels
puffectly lost in this one."
"All right," the shoeman shouted back. "Call it a numba one shoe and
then see if you can't find that lost foot in it, some'eres. Or try a
little flour, and see if it won't feel more at home. I've hea'd of a
shoe that give that sensation of looseness by not goin' on at all."
The girls exulted joyfully together at the defeat of their companion,
but the shoeman kept a grave face, while he searched out other sorts of
shoes and slippers, and offered them, or responded to some definite
demand with something as near like as he could hope to make serve.
The tumult of talk and laughter grew till the chef put his head out of
the kitchen door, and then came sauntering across the grass to the helps'
piazza. At the same time the clerk suffered himself to be lured from his
post by the excitement. He came and stood beside the chef, who listened
to the shoeman's flow of banter with a longing to take his chances with
"That's a nice hawss," he said. "What'll you take for him?"
"Why, hello!" said the shoeman, with an eye that dwelt upon the chef's
official white cap and apron, "You talk English, don't you? Fust off, I
didn't know but it was one of them foreign dukes come ova he'a to marry
some oua poor millionai'es daughtas." The girls cried out for joy, and
the chef bore their mirth stoically, but not without a personal relish of
the shoeman's up-and-comingness. "Want a hawss?" asked the shoeman with
an air of business. "What'll you give?"
"I'll give you thutty-seven dollas and a half," said the chef.
"Sorry I can't take it. That hawss is sellin' at present for just one
hundred and fifty dollas."
"Well," said the chef, "I'll raise you a dolla and a quahta. Say thutty-
eight and seventy-five."
"W-ell now, you're gittin' up among the figgas where you're liable to own
a hawss. You just keep right on a raisin' me, while I sell these ladies
some shoes, and maybe you'll hit it yit, 'fo'e night."
The girls were trying on shoes on every side now, and they had dispensed
with the formality of going in-doors for the purpose. More than one put
out her foot to the clerk for his opinion of the fit, and the shoeman was
mingling with the crowd, testing with his hand, advising from his
professional knowledge, suggesting, urging, and in some cases artfully
agreeing with the reluctance shown.
"This man," said the chef, indicating Fane, "says you can tell moa lies
to the square inch than any man out o' Boston."
"Doos he?" asked the shoeman, turning with a pair of high-heeled bronze
slippers in his hand from the wagon. "Well, now, if I stood as nea' to
him as you do, I believe I sh'd hit him."
"Why, man, I can't dispute him!" said the chef, and as if he had now at
last scored a point, he threw back his head and laughed. When he brought
down his head again, it was to perceive the approach of Clementina.
"Hello," he said for her to hear, "he'e comes the Boss. Well, I guess I
must be goin'," he added, in mock anxiety. "I'm a goin', Boss, I'm a
Clementina ignored him. "Mr. Atwell wants to see you a moment, Mr.
Fane," she said to the clerk.
"All right, Miss Claxon," Fane answered, with the sorrowful respect which
he always showed Clementina, now, "I'll be right there." But he waited a
moment, either in expression of his personal independence, or from
curiosity to know what the shoeman was going to say of the bronze
Clementina felt the fascination, too; she thought the slippers were
beautiful, and her foot thrilled with a mysterious prescience of its
fitness for them.
"Now, the'e, ladies, or as I may say guls, if you'll excuse it in one
that's moa like a fatha to you than anything else, in his feelings"--the
girls tittered, and some one shouted derisively--"It's true!"--"now there
is a shoe, or call it a slippa, that I've rutha hesitated about showin'
to you, because I know that you're all rutha serious-minded, I don't ca'e
how young ye be, or how good-lookin' ye be; and I don't presume the'e's
one among you that's eve head o' dancin'." In the mirthful hooting and
mocking that followed, the shoeman hedged gravely from the extreme
position he had taken. "What? Well, maybe you have among some the summa
folks, but we all know what summa folks ah', and I don't expect you to
patte'n by them. But what I will say is that if any young lady within
the sound of my voice,"--he looked round for the applause which did not
fail him in his parody of the pulpit style--"should get an invitation to
a dance next winta, and should feel it a wo'k of a charity to the young
man to go, she'll be sorry--on his account, rememba--that she ha'n't got
this pair o' slippas.
"The'a! They're a numba two, and they'll fit any lady here, I don't ca'e
how small a foot she's got. Don't all speak at once, sistas! Ample
time allowed for meals. That's a custom-made shoe, and if it hadn't b'en
too small for the lady they was oddid foh, you couldn't-'a' got 'em for
less than seven dollas; but now I'm throwin' on 'em away for three."
A groan of dismay went up from the whole circle, and some who had pressed
forward for a sight of the slippers, shrank back again.
"Did I hea' just now," asked the shoeman, with a soft insinuation in his
voice, and in the glance he suddenly turned upon Clementina, "a party
addressed as Boss?" Clementina flushed, but she did not cower; the chef
walked away with a laugh, and the shoeman pursued him with his voice.
"Not that I am goin' to folla the wicked example of a man who tries to
make spot of young ladies; but if the young lady addressed as Boss"--
"Miss Claxon," said the clerk with ingratiating reverence.
"Miss Claxon--I Stan' corrected," pursued the shoeman. "If Miss Claxon
will do me the fava just to try on this slippa, I sh'd be able to tell at
the next place I stopped just how it looked on a lady's foot. I see you
a'n't any of you disposed to buy 'em this aftanoon, 'and I a'n't
complainin'; you done pootty well by me, already, and I don't want to
uhge you; but I do want to carry away the picture, in my mind's eye--what
you may call a mental photograph--of this slipper on the kind of a foot
it was made fob, so't I can praise it truthfully to my next customer.
What do you say, ma'am?" he addressed himself with profound respect to
"Oh, do let him, Clem!" said one of the girls, and another pleaded, "Just
so he needn't tell a story to his next customa," and that made the rest
Clementina's heart was throbbing, and joyous lights were dancing in her
eyes. "I don't care if I do," she said, and she stooped to unlace her
shoe, but one of the big girls threw herself on her knees at her feet to
prevent her. Clementina remembered too late that there was a hole in her
stocking and that her little toe came through it, but she now folded the
toe artfully down, and the big girl discovered the hole in time to abet
her attempt at concealment. She caught the slipper from the shoeman and
harried it on; she tied the ribbons across the instep, and then put on
the other. "Now put out youa foot, Clem! Fast dancin' position!" She
leaned back upon her own heels, and Clementina daintily lifted the edge
of her skirt a little, and peered over at her feet. The slippers might
or might not have been of an imperfect taste, in their imitation of the
prevalent fashion, but on Clementina's feet they had distinction.
"Them feet was made for them slippas," said the shoeman devoutly.
The clerk was silent; he put his hand helplessly to his mouth, and then
dropped it at his side again.
Gregory came round the corner of the building from the dining-room, and
the big girl who was crouching before Clementina, and who boasted that
she was not afraid of the student, called saucily to him, "Come here, a
minute, Mr. Gregory," and as he approached, she tilted aside, to let him
see Clementina's slippers.
Clementina beamed up at him with all her happiness in her eyes, but after
a faltering instant, his face reddened through its freckles, and he gave
her a rebuking frown and passed on.
"Well, I decla'e!" said the big girl. Fane turned uneasily, and said
with a sigh, he guessed he must be going, now.
A blight fell upon the gay spirits of the group, and the shoeman asked
with an ironical glance after Gregory's retreating figure, "Owna of this
"No, just the ea'th," said the big girl, angrily.
The voice of Clementina made itself heard with a cheerfulness which had
apparently suffered no chill, but was really a rising rebellion. "How
much ah' the slippas?"
"Three dollas," said the shoeman in a surprise which he could not conceal
at Clementina's courage.
She laughed, and stooped to untie the slippers. "That's too much for
"Let me untie 'em, Clem," said the big girl. "It's a shame for you eva
to take 'em off."
"That's right, lady," said the shoeman. "And you don't eva need to," he
added, to Clementina, "unless you object to sleepin' in 'em. You pay me
what you want to now, and the rest when I come around the latta paht of
"Oh keep 'em, Clem!" the big girl urged, passionately, and the rest
joined her with their entreaties.
"I guess I betta not," said Clementina, and she completed the work of
taking off the slippers in which the big girl could lend her no further
aid, such was her affliction of spirit.
"All right, lady," said the shoeman. "Them's youa slippas, and I'll just
keep 'em for you till the latta paht of August."
He drove away, and in the woods which he had to pass through on the road
to another hotel he overtook the figure of a man pacing rapidly. He
easily recognized Gregory, but he bore him no malice. "Like a lift?"
he asked, slowing up beside him.
"No, thank you," said Gregory. "I'm out for the walk." He looked round
furtively, and then put his hand on the side of the wagon, mechanically,
as if to detain it, while he walked on.
"Did you sell the slippers to the young lady?"
"Well, not as you may say sell, exactly," returned the shoeman,
"Have you-got them yet?" asked the student.
"Guess so," said the man. "Like to see 'em?"
He pulled up his horse.
Gregory faltered a moment. Then he said, "I'd like to buy them. Quick!"
He looked guiltily about, while the shoeman alertly obeyed, with some
delay for a box to put them in. "How much are they?"
"Well, that's a custom made slipper, and the price to the lady that
oddid'em was seven dollas. But I'll let you have 'em for three--if you
want 'em for a present."--The shoeman was far too discreet to permit
himself anything so overt as a smile; he merely let a light of
intelligence come into his face.
Gregory paid the money. "Please consider this as confidential," he said,
and he made swiftly away. Before the shoeman could lock the drawer that
had held the slippers, and clamber to his perch under the buggy-hood,
Gregory was running back to him again.
"Stop!" he called, and as he came up panting in an excitement which the
shoeman might well have mistaken for indignation attending the discovery
of some blemish in his purchase. "Do you regard this as in any manner a
deception?" he palpitated.
"Why," the shoeman began cautiously, "it wa'n't what you may call a
promise, exactly. More of a joke than anything else, I looked on it. I
just said I'd keep 'em for her; but"--
"You don't understand. If I seemed to disapprove--if I led any one to
suppose, by my manner, or by--anything--that I thought it unwise or
unbecoming to buy the shoes, and then bought them myself, do you think it
is in the nature of an acted falsehood?"
"Lo'd no!" said the shoeman, and he caught up the slack of his reins to
drive on, as if he thought this amusing maniac might also be dangerous.
Gregory stopped him with another question. "And shall--will you--think
it necessary to speak of--of this transaction? I leave you free!"
"Well," said the shoeman. "I don't know what you're after, exactly, but
if you think I'm so shot on for subjects that I've got to tell the folks
at the next stop that I sold a fellar a pair of slippas for his gul--Go
'long!" he called to his horse, and left Gregory standing in the middle
of the road.
The people who came to the Middlemount in July were ordinarily the
nicest, but that year the August folks were nicer than usual and there
were some students among them, and several graduates just going into
business, who chose to take their outing there instead of going to the
sea-side or the North Woods. This was a chance that might not happen in
years again, and it made the house very gay for the young ladies; they
ceased to pay court to the clerk, and asked him for letters only at mail-
time. Five or six couples were often on the floor together, at the hops,
and the young people sat so thick upon the stairs that one could scarcely
get up or down.
So many young men made it gay not only for the young ladies, but also for
a certain young married lady, when she managed to shirk her rather filial
duties to her husband, who was much about the verandas, purblindly
feeling his way with a stick, as he walked up and down, or sitting opaque
behind the glasses that preserved what was left of his sight, while his
wife read to him. She was soon acquainted with a good many more people
than he knew, and was in constant request for such occasions as needed a
chaperon not averse to mountain climbing, or drives to other hotels for
dancing and supper and return by moonlight, or the more boisterous sorts
of charades; no sheet and pillow case party was complete without her; for
welsh-rarebits her presence was essential. The event of the conflict
between these social claims and her duties to her husband was her appeal
to Mrs. Atwell on a point which the landlady referred to Clementina.
"She wants somebody to read to her husband, and I don't believe but what
you could do it, Clem. You're a good reader, as good as I want to hear,
and while you may say that you don't put in a great deal of elocution, I
guess you can read full well enough. All he wants is just something to
keep him occupied, and all she wants is a chance to occupy herself with
otha folks. Well, she is moa their own age. I d'know as the's any hahm
in her. And my foot's so much betta, now, that I don't need you the
whole while, any moa."
"Did you speak to her about me?" asked the girl.
"Well, I told her I'd tell you. I couldn't say how you'd like."
"Oh, I guess I should like," said Clementina, with her eyes shining.
"But--I should have to ask motha."
"I don't believe but what your motha'd be willin'," said Mrs. Atwell.
"You just go down and see her about it."
The next day Mrs. Milray was able to take leave of her husband, in
setting off to matronize a coaching party, with an exuberance of good
conscience that she shared with the spectators. She kissed him with
lively affection, and charged him not to let the child read herself to
death for him. She captioned Clementina that Mr. Milray never knew when
he was tired, and she had better go by the clock in her reading, and not
trust to any sign from him.
Clementina promised, and when the public had followed Mrs. Milray away,
to watch her ascent to the topmost seat of the towering coach, by means
of the ladder held in place by two porters, and by help of the down-
stretched hands of all the young men on the coach, Clementina opened the
book at the mark she found in it, and began to read to Mr. Milray.
The book was a metaphysical essay, which he professed to find a lighter
sort of reading than fiction; he said most novelists were too seriously
employed in preventing the marriage of the lovers, up to a certain point,
to be amusing; but you could always trust a metaphysician for
entertainment if he was very much in earnest, and most metaphysicians
were. He let Clementina read on a good while in her tender voice, which
had still so many notes of childhood in it, before he manifested any
consciousness of being read to. He kept the smile on his delicate face
which had come there when his wife said at parting, "I don't believe I
should leave her with you if you could see how prettty she was," and he
held his head almost motionlessly at the same poise he had given it in
listening to her final charges. It was a fine head, still well covered
with soft hair, which lay upon it in little sculpturesque masses, like
chiseled silver, and the acquiline profile had a purity of line in the
arch of the high nose and the jut of the thin lips and delicate chin,
which had not been lost in the change from youth to age. One could never
have taken it for the profile of a New York lawyer who had early found
New York politics more profitable than law, and after a long time passed
in city affairs, had emerged with a name shadowed by certain doubtful
transactions. But this was Milray's history, which in the rapid progress
of American events, was so far forgotten that you had first to remind
people of what he had helped do before you could enjoy their surprise in
realizing that this gentle person, with the cast of intellectual
refinement which distinguished his face, was the notorious Milray, who
was once in all the papers. When he made his game and retired from
politics, his family would have sacrificed itself a good deal to reclaim
him socially, though they were of a severer social than spiritual
conscience, in the decay of some ancestral ideals. But be had rendered
their willingness hopeless by marrying, rather late in life, a young girl
from the farther West who had come East with a general purpose to get on.
She got on very well with Milray, and it was perhaps not altogether her
own fault that she did not get on so well with his family, when she began
to substitute a society aim for the artistic ambition that had brought
her to New York. They might have forgiven him for marrying her, but they
could not forgive her for marrying him. They were of New England origin
and they were perhaps a little more critical with her than if they had
been New Yorkers of Dutch strain. They said that she was a little
Western hoyden, but that the stage would have been a good place for her
if she could have got over her Pike county accent; in the hush of family
councils they confided to one another the belief that there were phases
of the variety business in which her accent would have been no barrier to
her success, since it could not have been heard in the dance, and might
have been disguised in the song.
"Will you kindly read that passage over again?" Milray asked as
Clementina paused at the end of a certain paragraph. She read it, while
he listened attentively. "Could you tell me just what you understand by
that?" he pursued, as if he really expected Clementina to instruct him.
She hesitated a moment before she answered, "I don't believe I undastand
anything at all."
"Do you know," said Milray, "that's exactly my own case? And I've an
idea that the author is in the same box," and Clementina perceived she
might laugh, and laughed discreetly.
Milray seemed to feel the note of discreetness in her laugh, and he
asked, smiling, "How old did you tell me you were?"
"I'm sixteen," said Clementina.
"It's a great age," said Milray. "I remember being sixteen myself; I
have never been so old since. But I was very old for my age, then. Do
you think you are?"
"I don't believe I am," said Clementina, laughing again, but still very
"Then I should like to tell you that you have a very agreeable voice. Do
"No'm--no, sir--no," said Clementina, "I can't sing at all."
"Ah, that's very interesting," said Milray, "but it's not surprising.
I wish I could see your face distinctly; I've a great curiosity about
matching voices and faces; I must get Mrs. Milray to tell me how you
look. Where did you pick up your pretty knack at reading? In school,
"I don't know," answered Clementina. "Do I read-the way you want?"
"Oh, perfectly. You let the meaning come through--when there is any."
"Sometimes," said Clementina ingenuously, "I read too fast; the children
ah' so impatient when I'm reading to them at home, and they hurry me.
But I can read a great deal slower if you want me to."
"No, I'm impatient, too," said Milray. "Are there many of them,--the
"There ah' six in all."
"And are you the oldest?"
"Yes," said Clementina. She still felt it very blunt not to say sir,
too, but she tried to make her tone imply the sir, as Mr. Gregory had
"You've got a very pretty name."
Clementina brightened. "Do you like it? Motha gave it to me; she took
it out of a book that fatha was reading to her."
"I like it very much," said Milray. "Are you tall for your age?"
"I guess I am pretty tall."
"You're fair, of course. I can tell that by your voice; you've got a
light-haired voice. And what are your eyes?"
"Blue!" Clementina laughed at his pursuit.
"Ah, of course! It isn't a gray-eyed blonde voice. Do you think--has
anybody ever told you-that you were graceful?"
"I don't know as they have," said Clementina, after thinking.
"And what is your own opinion?" Clementina began to feel her dignity
infringed; she did not answer, and now Milray laughed. "I felt the
little tilt in your step as you came up. It's all right. Shall we try
for our friend's meaning, now?"
Clementina began again, and again Milray stopped her. "You mustn't bear
malice. I can hear the grudge in your voice; but I didn't mean to laugh
at you. You don't like being made fun of, do you?"
"I don't believe anybody does," said Clementina.
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