Quaint Courtships
Howells & Alden, Editors

Part 4 out of 4

make it livable, let the sunshine into it, modernize it to an extent,
and then get some one under its roof. While there were so many homeless
folk in the world it wasn't right to have an untenanted house. Then he'd
get down to business, good and hard, and bring the thing up. It was a
good business, and it had an honorable reputation. He had been too
unappreciative of this fine legacy. Well, there were excuses. At school
he had thought of other things--and the life of the fraternity house had
been a gallant one! Then came his wander year--which stretched into two.
And now, having eaten of the apples of Paradise and felt them turn to
bitterness in his mouth, he would go back to duty.

He wished he had never seen her again--after that night when she belied
her long-continued kindness to him with her indifferent rejection of his
devotion. He devoutly wished he had not been forced to feel again the
subtle fascination of those deep eyes, and hear the thrilling contralto
of that rich voice! She was unscrupulous in her cold selfishness--

A sudden, inexplicable trembling of the whole great ship! A frightened
quivering, a lurch, a crash!

The chug-chug ceased. No--it couldn't! Nothing like that ever happened
to a ship of the line on a comparatively quiet night! Of course not!

Of course not--but for all of that, they were as inert as a raft, and
the passengers were beginning to skurry about and to ask the third
officer and the fourth officer what t' dickens it meant. The third
officer and the fourth officer did not know, but felt
convinced--professionally convinced--that it was nothing. The first
engineer? He had gone below. Oh, it was nothing. The captain? Really,
they could not say where he was.

Chalmers Payne strode around the after-cabin, and then ran to the spot
where he had left Helen Curtis. She was still there. She sat up and put
both her hands in his.

"I knew you'd be here as soon as you could, so I didn't move! I didn't
want to put you to the trouble to look for me!"

He held her hands hard.

"I don't think it is much of anything," he said. "It can't be. There's
no smell of fire. The sea is not heavy. At the very worst--"

"Be sure, won't you, that we're not separated? One of us might be put in
one boat and one in another, you know, if it should really be--be fire
or something. Then, if a storm came up and--"

People were running with vague rumors. They called out this and that
alarm. It was possible to feel the panic gathering.

"Remember," Helen Curtis whispered, "whatever comes, that we belong

"We do!" he acquiesced, saying the words between his teeth. "I have
known it a long time. But you--"

"Oh, so have I! But what made you so sure? What was there about your
home and your work and yourself to make you so perfectly sure I would be
interested in them all my life? You didn't lay out any scheme for me at
all, or act as if you thought I had any dreams or aspirations. I was to
come and observe you become distinguished--I was to watch what you could
do! Oh, Chalmers, I was willing, but what made you so sure?"

"Then you loved me? You loved me?" She looked white and scared, and he
could feel her hands chill and tremble.

"How ready you are to use that word! I'm afraid of it. I always said I
wouldn't speak it till I _had_ to. It frightens me--it means so much. If
I said it to you I could never say it to any one else, no matter how--"

"Not on any account! Say it, Helen!"

"I wish to explain. I--I couldn't stand the aimlessness of life after
you left. I began to suspect that it was you who made everything so
interesting. I wasn't so enamoured with the ancients as I thought I was;
but I was enamoured with your contemplation of my pose. Oh, I've been
dissecting myself! Should I really have cared so much for Lucerne and
Nuremberg if you hadn't been with me? I concluded that I should not.
Well, said I to myself, if he can make the Old World so fascinating, can
he not do something for the New World, too?"

An alarmist rushed by.

"They are going to lower the boats!" he cried. "Better get your
valuables together."

"There's a panic in the steerage," another cried.

"Oh, Helen! Go on. Don't let anything interrupt you."

"I won't. I realize that you ought to be told that I love you. I do. I
love you. I'm twenty-three, and I never said the words to any one else,
even though I'm an American girl. And I'll never speak them to any one
but you. I'm sure of it now. But I wouldn't say it till I was quite,
quite sure."

The captain came pacing down the deck leisurely. He lifted his hat as he
passed Payne and Miss Curtis.

"We shall be on our way in a few minutes," he said, agreeably. "I hope
this young lady has not suffered any alarm."

Helen showed him a face on which anything was written rather than fear.

"The port shaft broke off somewhere near the truss-block at the mouth of
the sleeve of the shaft, and the outer end of the shaft and the
propeller dropped to the bottom of the sea. It's quite inexplicable, but
I find in my experience that inexplicable things frequently happen.
We shall finish our run with the starboard shaft only, and shall be
obliged to reduce our speed to an average of three hundred and sixty
knots daily."

He repeated this in a voice of impersonal courtesy, and went on to the
next group. Helen Curtis settled back in her chair and smiled up at her

"We shall be at sea at least two days longer," he said, exultantly.

"Ah, what shall we do to pass the time?" she interrupted, with mocking

"Chug-chug, chug-chug!"

It was the liner.

"Ah, my Beloved, fill the Cup that clears
To-day of past Regret and future Fears--"

This was Omar, but Miss Curtis would not listen.

"I've an aversion to your eloquent old heathen," she pleaded. "You must
not quote him, really."

"If you insist, I'll refrain. Can't I even quote 'A book of verses
underneath the bough--'"

"Oh, not on any account! That least of all."

"You don't want me to be hackneyed? Well, I'll be perfectly original. I
know one thing I can say which will always sound mysterious and

"Say it, say it!" she commanded, imperiously, knowing quite well what it

So he said it, and the two sat and looked off across the darkened water
and at the pale, reluctant stars, beholding, for that night at least,
the passionate inner sense of the universe. They said nothing more.

But as for the liner, it continued with its emphatic reiteration.



Mrs. Leah Bloodgood walked heavily, without the painstaking little
springy leaps she usually adopted as an offset to her stoutness. She
mounted Cornelia Opp's door-steps with an air of gloomy abstraction that
sat uneasily on the plump terraces of her face as if at any moment it
might slide off. It slid off now at sight of Cornelia Opp's serene,
sweet face.

"My gracious! Cornelia, is this your house?" laughed Mrs. Bloodgood,
pantingly. "Here I thought I was going up Marilla Merritt's steps! You
don't mean to tell me that I turned into Ridgway Street instead of

"This isn't Penn Street," smiled Cornelia Opp. She had flung the door
wide with a gesture of welcome.

"No--mercy, no, I can't come in!" panted the woman on the steps. "I've
got to see Marilla Merritt, right off. When I come calling on _you_,
Cornelia, I want my mind easy so we can have a good time."

"Poor Mrs. Merritt!"

"Well, Marilla ought to suffer if I do--she's on the Suffering
Committee! Good-by, Cornelia. Don't you go and tell anybody how
absent-minded I was. They'll say it's catching."

"It's the minister, then," mused Cornelia in the doorway, watching the
stout figure go down the street. "Now what has the poor man been doing
this time?" A gentle pity grew in her beautiful gray eyes. It was so
hard on ministers to be all alone in the world, especially certain kinds
of ministers. No matter how long-suffering Suffering Committees might
be, they could not make allowances _enough_. "Poor man! Well, the Lord's
on his side," smiled in the doorway Cornelia Opp.

Marilla Merritt was not like Mrs. Leah Bloodgood. Marilla was little
where Leah was big, and nothing daunted Marilla. She was shaking a rug
out on her sunny piazza, and descried the toiling figure while it was
yet afar off.

"There's Leah Bloodgood coming, or my name's Sarah! _What_ is Leah
Bloodgood out this time of day for, with the minister's dinner to get?
Something is up." She waved the rug gayly. "Mis' Merritt isn't at home!"
she called; "she's out--on the door-steps shaking rugs! Leah Bloodgood,"
as the figure drew near, "you look all tuckered out! Come in quick and
sit down. Don't try to talk. You needn't tell me something's up--just
say _what_. Has that blessed man been--"

"Yes, he has!" panted the caller, vindictively. It is harder to be
long-suffering when one is out of breath. "You listen to this. I've
brought his letter to read to you."

"His letter!" Marilla could not have been much more astonished if the
other had taken the minister himself out of her dangling black bag.

"Yes; it came this morn--Mercy! Marilla, don't look so amazed! Didn't
you know he'd gone away on his vacation? He forgot it was next month
instead of this, and I found him packing his things, and hadn't the
heart to tell him. I thought a man with a pleased look like that on his
face better _go_,--but, mercy! didn't I send you word? It _is_ catching.
I shall be bad as he is."

"Good as he is, do you mean? Don't worry about being that!" laughed
little Marilla Merritt. "Well, I'm glad he's gone, dear man."

"You won't be glad long, 'dear man'! Here's his letter. Take a long
breath before you read it. I suppose I ought to prepare you, but I want
you see how I felt."

"I might count ten first," deliberated smiling Marilla, fingering the
white envelope with a certain tenderness. A certain tenderness and the
minister went together with them all. "But, no, I'm going to sail right

"Take your own risks, of course, but my advice is to reef all your
main--er--jibsails first," Mrs. Leah Bloodgood wearily murmured. "You'll
find the sea choppy."

"'Dear Sister Bloodgood,'" read Marilla, aloud, with reckless glibness,
"'Will you be so kind as to send me my best suit? I am going to marry my
old friend whom I have met here after twenty years. The wedding will
take place next Wednesday morn--'


"Read on," groaned Mrs. Bloodgood. "He says the fishing's excellent."

"I should say so! And that's what he's caught! Leah Bloodgood, what did
you ever let him go away for without a body-guard? That poor dear,
innocent, kind-hearted man, to go and fall among--among _thieves_ like

"He's just absent-minded enough to go and do it himself. I don't suppose
we ought to blame _them_. Read on."

"'Next Wednesday morning, at ten o'clock,'" moaned little Marilla,
glibness all gone. "'It would be most embarrassing to do so in these
clothes, as I am sure you will see, dear sister. Kindly see that my best
white tie is included. I would not wish to be unbecomingly attired on so
joyous an occasion. She is a widow with five chil--'"

"Mercy! don't faint away! Where's your fans? Didn't I tell you there
were breakers ahead? I don't wonder you're all broken up! Give it to me;
I'll read the rest. M--m--m, 'joyous occasion'--'five children'--'she is
a widow with five children, all of them most lovable little creatures.
You know my fondness for children. I have been greatly benefited by my
sojourn in this lovely spot. I cannot thank you too warmly for
recommending it. I find the fish--'"

"Leah Bloodgood, that will do! Don't read another word. Don't fan me,
don't ask me how I feel now. Let me get my breath, and then we will go
over and open the parsonage windows. That, I suppose, is the first thing
to do. It's something to be thankful for that it's a good-sized

"Be thankful, then--_I'm_ not. I'm not anything but incensed clear
through. After I'd taken every precaution that was ever thought of, and
some that weren't ever, to keep that man out of mischief! I thought of
all the absent-minded things he might do, but I never thought of this,
no, I never! And we wanted him to marry Cornelia so much, Marilla!
Cornelia would have made him such a beautiful wife!"

"Beautiful!" sighed Marilla, hopelessly. It had been the dear pet plan
they had nursed in common with all the parish. Everybody but the
minister and Cornelia had shared in it.

"And five children! Marilla Merritt, think of five children romping over
our parsonage, knocking all the corners off!"

"I'm thinking," mourned Marilla, gustily. She felt a dismal suspicion
that this was going to daunt her. But her habit of facing things came to
the front. "Wednesday's only four days off," she said, with a fine
assumption of briskness. "I don't suppose he said anything about a
wedding tour, did he?"

"No. But even if he took one he'd probably forget and stop off here. So
we can't count on that. What's done has got to be done in four days.
What _has_ got to be done, Marilla?"

"Everything. We must start this minute, Leah Bloodgood! The house must
be aired and painted and papered, and window-glass set--there's no end!
And all in four days! We can't let our minister bring his wife and five
children home to a shabby house. Cornelia Opp must go round and get
money for new dining-room chairs, and there ought to be more beds with a
family like that. Dishes, too. Cornelia ought to start at _once_. She's
the best solicitor we have."

"There's another thing," broke out Mrs. Bloodgood; "the minister must
have some new shirts. He ought to have a whole trousseau. He hasn't
boarded with me, and I done all his mending, without my knowing what he
ought to have, now that he's going to go and get married. We can't let
_him_ be shabby, either."

"Then, of course, there ought to be a lot of cooked food in the house,
and supper all ready for them when they come. Oh, I guess we'll find
plenty to do! I guess we can't stop to groan much. But, oh, how
different we'd all feel if it was Cornelia!"

"Different! I'd give 'em my dining-room chairs and my cellar stairs! I'd
make shirts and sit up all night to cook! It's--it's wicked, Marilla,
that's what it is."

"I know _it_ is, but he isn't," championed Marilla. "He's just a good
man gone wrong. It's his guardian angel that's to blame--a guardian
angel has no business to be napping."

At best, it was pretty late in the day to overhaul a parsonage that had
been closed so long and sinking gently into mild decay. The little
parish woke with a dismayed start and went to work, to a woman.
Operations were begun within an amazingly brief time; cleaners and
repairers were hurried to the parsonage, and the women of the parish
were told off into relays to assist them.

"Somebody go to Mrs. Higginbotham Taylor's and get a high chair,"
directed Marilla Merritt. "I'll lend my tea-chair for the
next-to-the-baby, anyway, till they can get something better. We don't
want our minister's children sitting round on dictionaries and

The minister had come to them, a lone bachelor, with kind, absent eyes
and the faculty of making himself beloved. For six years they had taken
care of him and loved him--watched over his outgoings and his incomings
and forgiven all his absent-mindednesses. They had picked out Cornelia
Opp for him, and added it to their prayers like an earnest codicil--"O
Lord, bring Cornelia Opp and the minister together. Amen."

Cornelia Opp herself lived on her sweet, unselfish, single life, and
prayed, "Lord, bless the minister," unsuspectingly. She was as much
beloved among them all as the minister. They were proud of her slender,
beautiful figure and her serene face, and of her many capabilities. What
the minister lacked, Cornelia had; Cornelia lacked nothing.

Marilla Merritt and Cornelia Opp were appointed receiving committee, to
be at the parsonage when the minister and his wife and five children
arrived. A bountiful supper was to be in readiness, prepared by all the
good women impartially. The duty of the receiving committee was merely,
as Mrs. Leah Bloodgood said, "to smile, and tell pleasant little
lies--'Such a delightful surprise,--so glad to welcome, etc.'

"Cornelia and Marilla Merritt are just the ones," she said, succinctly.
"_I_ should say: 'You awful man, you! Can't we trust you out of our
sights?' And I suppose that wouldn't be the best way to welcome 'em."

The minister had sent a brief notice of his expected arrival home on
Wednesday evening, and, unless he forgot and went somewhere else, there
was good reason to expect him then. Everything was hurried into
readiness. At the last moment some one sent in a doll to make the
minister's children feel more at home. Cornelia laughed and set the
little thing on the sofa, stiffly erect and endlessly smiling.

"Looks nice, doesn't it?" sighed tired little Marilla, returning from a
last round of the tidy rooms. "I don't see anything else left to do,
unless--Is that dust?"

"No, it's bloom," hastened Cornelia, covertly wiping it off. "You poor,
tired thing, don't look at anything else! Just go home and rest a little
bit before you change your dress. Mine's all changed, and I can stay
here and mount guard. I can be practising my lies!"

"I've got mine by heart," laughed Marilla, "I could say 'so delighted'
if he brought two wives and ten children!"

"Don't!" Cornelia's sweet voice sounded a little severe. "We've said
enough about the poor man. It's four o'clock. If you're going--"

"I am. Cornelia Opp, turn that child back to! She makes me nervous
sitting there on that sofa staring at me! Will you see her!"

"She does look a little out of place," Cornelia admitted, but she left
the stiff little figure undisturbed. After the other woman had gone she
sat down beside it on the sofa, and smoothed absently its gaudy little
dress. Cornelia's face was gently pensive, she could scarcely have told
why. Not the minister, but the trimly appointed house with its
indefinable atmosphere of a home with little children in it was what she
was thinking of without conscious effort of her own. The smiling doll
beside her, the high chair that she could see through an inner door, and
the foolish little gilt mug that some one had donated to the minister's
babyest one--they all contributed to the gentle pensiveness on
Cornelia's sweet face. She was but a step by thirty, and a woman at
thirty has not settled down resignedly into a lonely old age. Let a
little child come tilting by, or a little child's foolish belongings
intrude themselves upon her vision, and old, odd longings creep out of
secret crannies and haunt her, willy-nilly. It is the latent motherhood
within her that has been denied its own. It was the secret of the soft
wistfulness in Cornelia's eyes. So she sat until the minister came home.
It was the sound of his big step on the walk that roused her and sent
the color into her face and made it perilously beautiful.

Cornelia was frightened. Where was Marilla Merritt? Why had they come so
soon? Must she meet them alone? She hurried to the door, her perturbed
mind groping blindly for the "lies" she had misplaced while she sat and

The minister was striding up the walk alone! He did not even look back
at the village hack that was turning away with his wife and five
children! He looked instead at the beautiful vision that stood in the
parsonage doorway, glimpses of home behind it, welcome and comfort in
it. The minister was in need of welcome and comfort. His loneliness had
been accentuated cruelly by the bit of happiness he had caught a brief
glimpse of and left behind him. Perhaps the loneliness was in his face.

"Welcome home," Cornelia said, in the doorway. She put aside her
astonishment at his coming alone, and answered the need in his face. Her
hands were out in a gracious greeting. To the minister how good it was!

"They told me to come right here," he said, "or I should have gone to
Mrs. Bloodgood's as usual. I don't quite understand--"

"Never mind understanding," Cornelia smiled, leading the way into the
pretty parlor, "anyway, till you get into a comfortable rocker. It's so
much easier to understand in a rocking-chair! I--well, I think I need
one, too! You see, we expected--we _didn't_ expect you alone."

"No?" his puzzled gaze taking in all the kind little appointments of the
room, and coming to a stop at the smiling doll. The two of them sat and
stared at each other.

"We thought you would bring--we got all ready for your wife and the
children," Cornelia was saying. The doll stared on, but the minister
looked up.

"My wife and the children?" he repeated after her. "I don't think I know
what you mean, Miss Cornelia. I must be dreaming--No, wait; please don't
tell me what it all means just yet! Give me a little time to enjoy the
dream." But Cornelia went on.

"You wrote Mrs. Bloodgood about your marriage," she said. Sweet voices
can be severe. "It hurried us a little, but we have tried to get
everything in readiness. If there is another bed needed for the chil--"

"I wrote Mrs. Bloodgood about my marriage?" he said, slowly; then as
understanding dawned upon him the puzzled lines in his face loosened
into laughter that would out. He leaned back in his rocker and gave
himself up to it helplessly. As helplessly Cornelia joined in. The doll
on the sofa smiled on--no more, no less.

"Will you ex--excuse me?" he laughed.

"No," laughed she.

"But I can't help it, and you're l-laughing yourself."


He got to his feet and caught her hands.

"Let's keep on," he pleaded, unministerially. "I'm having a beautiful
time. Aren't you? I wish you'd say yes, Miss Cornelia!"

"Yes," she smiled, "but we can't sit here laughing all the rest of the
afternoon. Marilla Merritt will be here--"

"Oh, Marilla Merritt--" He sighed. The minister was young, too.

"And she will want to know--things," hinted Cornelia, mildly. She drew
the smiling doll into her lap and smoothed its dress absently. The
minister retreated to his rocker again.

"I think I would rather tell you," he said, quietly. "I did marry my old
friend this morning, but I married her to another man. It was a
mistake--all a mistake."

"Then you ought not to have married her, ought you?" commented Cornelia,
demurely. Over the doll's little foolish head her eyes were dancing.
Marilla Merritt might not see that it was funny, Mrs. Bloodgood
mightn't, but it was. Unless--unless it was pathetic. Suddenly Cornelia
felt that it was.

The minister was no longer laughing. He sat in the rocker strangely
quiet. Perhaps he did not realize that his eyes were on Cornelia's
beautiful face; perhaps he thought he was looking at the doll. He knew
what he was thinking of. The utter loneliness behind him and ahead of
him appalled him in its contrast to this. This woman sitting opposite
him with the face of the woman that a man would like always near him,
this little home with the two of them in it alone--the minister knew
what it was he wanted. He wanted it to go right on--never to end. He
knew that he had always wanted it. All the soul of the man rose up to
claim it. And because there was need of hurry, because Marilla Merritt
was coming, he held out his hands to Cornelia and the foolish,
unastonished doll.

"Come," he said, pleadingly, and of course the doll could not have gone
alone. He dropped it gently back into its place on the sofa.

Marilla Merritt had been unwarrantably delayed. She came in flushed and
panting, but indomitably smiling. Her sharp glance sought for a wife and
five children.

"Such a delightful surprise!" she panted, holding out her hand to the
minister. "We are so glad to welcome--Why!--have you shown them to their
rooms, Cornelia?"

"They--they didn't come," murmured Cornelia, retreating to her unfailing
ally on the sofa. In the stress of the moment--for Cornelia was not
ready for Marilla Merritt--it had seemed to her that the time for "lies"
had come. She had even beckoned to the nearest one. But the ghosts of
ministers' wives that had been and that were to be had risen in a
warning cloud about her and saved her.

"Didn't come!" shrilled Marilla Merritt in her astonishment. "His wife
and children didn't come! Do you know what you are saying, Cornelia? You
don't mean--Then I don't wonder you look flustered--" She caught herself
up hurriedly, but her thoughts ran on unchecked. Of all things that
ever! Could absent-mindedness go further than this--to marry a wife and
forget to bring her home with him?--and _five children!_

Marilla Merritt turned sharply upon the minister.

"Where is your wife?" she demanded, the frayed ends of her patience
trailing from her tone. The minister crossed the room to Cornelia and
the doll. He laid his big white hand gently on Cornelia's small white
one. There was protective tenderness in the gesture and the touch.

"I found her here waiting for me," the minister said.



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