The Lady of the Aroostook
W. D. Howells
Part 5 out of 5
It was like the heroic endeavor of the arctic voyager who feels the
deadly chill in his own veins, and keeps himself alive by rousing his
comrade from the torpor stealing over him. They saw in each other's
eyes that if they yielded a moment to the doubt in their hearts they
At ten o'clock Mrs. Erwin said abruptly, "Go to bed, Lydia!" Then
the girl broke down, and abandoned herself in a storm of tears.
"Don't cry, dear, don't cry," pleaded her aunt. "He will be here
in the morning, I know he will. He has been delayed."
"No, he's not coming," said Lydia, through her sobs.
"Something has happened," urged Mrs. Erwin.
"No," said Lydia, as before. Her tears ceased as suddenly as they
had come. She lifted her head, and drying her eyes looked into her
aunt's face. "Are you ashamed of me?" she asked hoarsely.
"Ashamed of you? Oh, poor child--"
"I can't pretend anything. If I had never told you about it at all,
I could have kept it back till I died. But now--But you will never
hear me speak of it again. It's over." She took up her candle, and
stiffly suffering the compassionate embrace with which her aunt clung
to her, she walked across the great hall in the vain splendor in
which she had been adorned, and shut the door behind her.
Dunham lay in a stupor for twenty-four hours, and after that he was
delirious, with dim intervals of reason in which they kept him from
talking, till one morning he woke and looked up at Staniford with
a perfectly clear eye, and said, as if resuming the conservation,
"I struck my head on a pile of chains."
"Yes," replied Staniford, with a wan smile, "and you've been out of
it pretty near ever since. You mustn't talk."
"Oh, I'm all right," said Dunham. "I know about my being hurt. I shall
be cautious. Have you written to Miss Hibbard? I hope you haven't!"
"Yes, I have," replied Staniford. "But I haven't sent the letter,"
he added, in answer to Dunham's look of distress. "I thought you were
going to pull through, in spite of the doctor,--he's wanted to bleed
you, and I could hardly keep his lancet out of you,--and so I wrote,
mentioning the accident and announcing your complete restoration.
The letter merely needs dating and sealing. I'll look it up and have
it posted." He began a search in the pockets of his coat, and then
went to his portfolio.
"What day is this?" asked Dunham.
"Friday," said Staniford, rummaging his portfolio.
"Have you been in Venice?"
"Look here, Dunham! If you begin in that way, I can't talk to you.
It shows that you're still out of your head. How could I have been
"But Miss Blood; the Aroostook--"
"Miss Blood went to Venice with her uncle last Saturday. The Aroostook
is here in Trieste. The captain has just gone away. He's stood watch
and watch with me, while you were off on business."
"But didn't you go to Venice on Monday?"
"Well, hardly," answered Staniford.
"No, you stayed with me,--I see," said Dunham.
"Of course, I wrote to her at once," said Staniford, huskily, "and
explained the matter as well as I could without making an ado about
it. But now you stop, Dunham. If you excite yourself, there'll be
the deuce to pay again."
"I'm not excited," said Dunham, "but I can't help thinking how
disappointed--But of course you've heard from her?"
"Well, there's hardly time, yet," said Staniford, evasively.
"Why, yes, there is. Perhaps your letter miscarried."
"Don't!" cried Staniford, in a hollow under-voice, which he broke
through to add, "Go to sleep, now, Dunham, or keep quiet, somehow."
Dunham was silent for a while, and Staniford continued his search,
which he ended by taking the portfolio by one corner, and shaking its
contents out on the table. "I don't seem to find it; but I've put it
away somewhere. I'll get it." He went to another coat, that hung on
the back of a chair, and fumbled in its pockets. "Hello! Here are
those letters they brought me from the post-office Saturday night,
--Murray's, and Stanton's, and that bore Farrington's. I forgot all
about them." He ran the unopened letters over in his hand. "Ah,
here's my familiar scrawl--" He stopped suddenly, and walked away
to the window, where he stood with his back to Dunham.
"Staniford! What is it?"
"It's--it's my letter to _her_" said Staniford, without
"Your letter to Miss Blood--not gone?" Staniford, with his face still
from him, silently nodded. "Oh!" moaned Dunham, in self-forgetful
compassion. "How could it have happened?"
"I see perfectly well," said the other, quietly, but he looked round
at Dunham with a face that was haggard. "I sent it out to be posted
by the _portier_, and he got it mixed up with these letters for
me, and brought it back."
The young men were both silent, but the tears stood in Dunham's eyes.
"If it hadn't been for me, it wouldn't have happened," he said.
"No," gently retorted Staniford, "if it hadn't been for _me_,
it wouldn't have happened. I made you come from Messina with me, when
you wanted to go on to Naples with those people; if I'd had any sense,
I should have spoken fully to her before we parted; and it was I who
sent you to see if she were on the steamer, when you fell and hurt
yourself. I know who's to blame, Dunham. What day did I tell you
"A week! And I told her to expect me Monday afternoon. A week without
a word or a sign of any kind! Well, I might as well take passage in
the Aroostook, and go back to Boston again."
"Why, no!" cried Dunham, "you must take the first train to Venice.
Don't lose an instant. You can explain everything as soon as you
Staniford shook his head. "If all her life had been different, if she
were a woman of the world, it would be different; she would know how
to account for some little misgivings on my part; but as it is she
wouldn't know how to account for even the appearance of them. What
she must have suffered all this week--I can't think of it!" He sat
down and turned his face away. Presently he sprang up again. "But I'm
going, Dunham. I guess you won't die now; but you may die if you like.
I would go over your dead body!"
"Now you are talking sense," said Dunham.
Staniford did not listen; he had got out his railroad guide and was
studying it. "No; there are only those two trains a day. The seven
o'clock has gone; and the next starts at ten to-night. Great heavens!
I could walk it sooner! Dunham," he asked, "do you think I'd better
"What would you say?"
"Say that there's been a mistake; that a letter miscarried; that
I'll be there in the morning; that--"
"Wouldn't that be taking her anxiety a little too much for granted?"
"Yes, that's true. Well, you've got your wits about you now, Dunham,"
cried Staniford, with illogical bitterness. "Very probably," he added,
gloomily, "she doesn't care anything for me, after all."
"That's a good frame of mind to go in," said Dunham.
"Why is it?" demanded Staniford. "Did I ever presume upon any
supposed interest in her?"
"You did at first," replied Dunham.
Staniford flushed angrily. But you cannot quarrel with a man lying
helpless on his back; besides, what Dunham said was true.
The arrangements for Staniford's journey were quickly made,--so
quickly that when he had seen the doctor, and had been down to the
Aroostook and engaged Captain Jenness to come and take his place
with Dunham for the next two nights, he had twelve hours on his hands
before the train for Venice would leave, and he started at last with
but one clear perception,--that at the soonest it must be twelve hours
more before he could see her.
He had seemed intolerably slow in arriving on the train, but once
arrived in Venice he wished that he had come by the steamboat, which
would not be in for three hours yet. In despair he went to bed,
considering that after he had tossed there till he could endure it no
longer, he would still have the resource of getting up, which he would
not have unless he went to bed. When he lay down, he found himself
drowsy; and while he wondered at this, he fell asleep, and dreamed a
strange dream, so terrible that he woke himself by groaning in spirit,
a thing which, as he reflected, he had never done before. The sun was
piercing the crevice between his shutters, and a glance at his watch
showed him that it was eleven o'clock.
The shadow of his dream projected itself into his waking mood, and
steeped it in a gloom which he could not escape. He rose and dressed,
and meagrely breakfasted. Without knowing how he came there, he stood
announced in Mrs. Erwin's parlor, and waited for her to receive him.
His card was brought in to her where she lay in bed. After supporting
Lydia through the first sharp shock of disappointment, she had yielded
to the prolonged strain, and the girl was now taking care of her. She
gave a hysterical laugh as she read the name on the card Veronica
brought, and crushing it in her hand, "He's come!" she cried.
"I will not see him!" said Lydia instantly.
"No," assented her aunt. "It wouldn't be at all the thing. Besides,
he's asked for me. Your uncle might see him, but he's out of the way;
of course he _would_ be out of the way. Now, let me see!" The
excitement inspired her; she rose in bed, and called for the pretty
sack in which she ordinarily breakfasted, and took a look at herself
in a hand-glass that lay on the bed. Lydia did not move; she scarcely
seemed to breathe; but a swift pulse in her neck beat visibly. "If it
would be decent to keep him waiting so long, I could dress, and see
him myself. I'm _well_ enough." Mrs. Erwin again reflected.
"Well," she said at last, "you must see him, Lydia."
"I--" began the girl.
"Yes, you. Some one must. It will be all right. On second thought,
I believe I should send you, even if I were quite ready to go myself.
This affair has been carried on so far on the American plan, and I
think I shall let you finish it without my interference. Yes, as your
uncle said when I told him, you're all Americans together; and you
_are_. Mr. Staniford has come to see you, though he asks for me.
That's perfectly proper; but I can't see him, and I want you to excuse
me to him."
"What would you--what must I--" Lydia began again.
"No, Lydia," interrupted her aunt. "I won't tell you a thing. I might
have advised you when you first came; but now, I--Well, I think I've
lived too long in Europe to be of use in such a case, and I won't have
anything to do with it. I won't tell you how to meet him, or what to
say; but oh, child,"--here the woman's love of loving triumphed in
her breast,--"I wish I was in your place! Go!"
Lydia slowly rose, breathless.
"Lydia!" cried her aunt. "Look at me!" Lydia turned her head. "Are
you going to be hard with him?"
"I don't know what he's coming for," said Lydia dishonestly.
"But if he's coming for what you hope?"
"I don't hope for anything."
"But you did. Don't be severe. You're terrible when you're severe."
"I will be just."
"Oh, no, you mustn't, my dear. It won't do at all to be _just_
with men, poor fellows. Kiss me, Lydia!" She pulled her down, and
kissed her. When the girl had got as far as the door, "Lydia, Lydia!"
she called after her. Lydia turned. "Do you realize what dress you've
got on?" Lydia looked down at her robe; it was the blue flannel
yachting-suit of the Aroostook, which she had put on for convenience
in taking care of her aunt. "Isn't it too ridiculous?" Mrs. Erwin
meant to praise the coincidence, not to blame the dress. Lydia smiled
faintly for answer, and the next moment she stood at the parlor door.
Staniford, at her entrance, turned from looking out of the window and
saw her as in his dream, with her hand behind her, pushing the door
to; but the face with which she looked at him was not like the dead,
sad face of his dream. It was thrillingly alive, and all passions were
blent in it,--love, doubt, reproach, indignation; the tears stood in
her eyes, but a fire burnt through the tears. With his first headlong
impulse to console, explain, deplore, came a thought that struck
him silent at sight of her. He remembered, as he had not till then
remembered, in all his wild longing and fearing, that there had not
yet been anything explicit between them; that there was no engagement;
and that he had upon the face of things, at least, no right to offer
her more than some formal expression of regret for not having been
able to keep his promise to come sooner. While this stupefying thought
gradually filled his whole sense to the exclusion of all else, he
stood looking at her with a dumb and helpless appeal, utterly stunned
and wretched. He felt the life die out of his face and leave it blank,
and when at last she spoke, he knew that it was in pity of him, or
contempt of him. "Mrs. Erwin is not well," she said, "and she wished
But he broke in upon her: "Oh, don't talk to me of Mrs. Erwin! It was
you I wanted to see. Are _you_ well? Are you alive? Do you--"
He stopped as precipitately as he began; and after another hopeless
pause, he went on piteously: "I don't know where to begin. I ought
to have been here five days ago. I don't know what you think of me,
or whether you have thought of me at all; and before I can ask I must
tell you why I wanted to come then, and why I come now, and why I
think I must have come back from the dead to see you. You are all
the world to me, and have been ever since I saw you. It seems a
ridiculously unnecessary thing to say, I have been looking and acting
and living it so long; but I say it, because I choose to have you know
it, whether you ever cared for me or not. I thought I was coming here
to explain why I had not come sooner, but I needn't do that unless--
unless--" He looked at her where she still stood aloof, and he added:
"Oh, answer me something, for pity's sake! Don't send me away without
a word. There have been times when you wouldn't have done that!"
"Oh, I _did_ care for you!" she broke out. "You know I did--"
He was instantly across the room, beside her. "Yes, yes, I know it!"
But she shrank away.
"You tried to make me believe you cared for me, by everything you
could do. And I did believe you then; and yes, I believed you
afterwards, when I didn't know what to believe. You were the one
true thing in the world to me. But it seems that you didn't believe
"That I didn't believe it myself? That I--I don't know what
"You took a week to think it over! I have had a week, too, and I
have thought it over, too. You have come too late."
"Too late? You don't, you can't, mean--Listen to me, Lydia; I want
to tell you--"
"No, there is nothing you can tell me that would change me. I know
it, I understand it all."
"But you don't understand what kept me."
"I don't wish to know what made you break your word. I don't care to
know. I couldn't go back and feel as I did to you. Oh, that's gone!
It isn't that you did not come--that you made me wait and suffer; but
you knew how it would be with me after I got here, and all the things
I should find out, and how I should feel! And you stayed away! I don't
know whether I can forgive you, even; oh, I'm afraid I don't; but I
can never care for you again. Nothing but a case of life and death--"
"It was a case of life and death!"
Lydia stopped in her reproaches, and looked at him with wistful doubt,
changing to a tender fear.
"Oh, have you been hurt? Have you been sick?" she pleaded, in a
breaking voice, and made some unconscious movement toward him. He put
out his hand, and would have caught one of hers, but she clasped them
in each other.
"No, not I,--Dunham--"
"Oh!" said Lydia, as if this were not at all enough.
"He fell and struck his head, the night you left. I thought he
would die." Staniford reported his own diagnosis, not the doctor's;
but he was perhaps in the right to do this. "I had made him go down
to the wharf with me; I wanted to see you again, before you started,
and I thought we might find you on the boat." He could see her face
relenting; her hands released each other. "He was delirious till
yesterday. I couldn't leave him."
"Oh, why didn't you write to me?" She ignored Dunham as completely
as if he had never lived. "You knew that I--" Her voice died away,
and her breast rose.
"I did write--"
"But how,--I never got it."
"No,--it was not posted, through a cruel blunder. And then I thought
--I got to thinking that you didn't care--"
"Oh," said the girl. "Could you doubt me?"
"You doubted me," said Staniford, seizing his advantage. "I brought
the letter with me to prove _my_ truth." She did not look at
him, but she took the letter, and ran it greedily into her pocket.
"It's well I did so, since you don't believe my word."
"Oh, yes,--yes, I know it," she said; "I never doubted it!" Staniford
stood bemazed, though he knew enough to take the hands she yielded
him; but she suddenly caught them away again, and set them against
his breast. "I was very wrong to suspect you ever; I'm sorry I did;
but there's something else. I don't know how to say what I want to
say. But it must be said."
"Is it something disagreeable?" asked Staniford, lightly.
"It's right," answered Lydia, unsmilingly.
"Oh, well, don't say it!" he pleaded; "or don't say it now,--not till
you've forgiven me for the anxiety I've caused you; not till you've
praised me for trying to do what I thought the right thing. You can't
imagine how hard it was for one who hasn't the habit!"
"I do praise you for it. There's nothing to forgive _you_; but
I can't let you care for me unless I know--unless"--She stopped, and
then, "Mr. Staniford," she began firmly, "since I came here, I've
been learning things that I didn't know before. They have changed
the whole world to me, and it can never be the same again."
"I'm sorry for that; but if they haven't changed you, the world
"No, not if we're to live in it," answered the girl, with the
soberer wisdom women keep at such times. "It will have to be known
how we met. What will people say? They will laugh."
"I don't think they will in my presence," said Staniford, with
swelling nostrils. "They may use their pleasure elsewhere."
"And I shouldn't care for their laughing, either," said Lydia.
"But oh, why did you come?"
"Why did I come?"
"Was it because you felt bound by anything that's happened, and you
wouldn't let me bear the laugh alone? I'm not afraid for myself. I
shall never blame you. You can go perfectly free."
"But I don't want to go free!"
Lydia looked at him with piercing earnestness. "Do you think I'm
proud?" she asked.
"Yes, I think you are," said Staniford, vaguely.
"It isn't for myself that I should be proud with other people. But
I would rather die than bring ridicule upon one I--upon you."
"I can believe that," said Staniford, devoutly, and patiently
reverencing the delay of her scruples.
"And if--and--" Her lips trembled, but she steadied her trembling
voice. "If they laughed at you, and thought of me in a slighting way
because--" Staniford gave a sort of roar of grief and pain to know
how her heart must have been wrung before she could come to this.
"You were all so good that you didn't let me think there was anything
strange about it--"
"Oh, good heavens! We only did what it was our precious and sacred
privilege to do! We were all of one mind about it from the first.
But don't torture yourself about it, my darling. It's over now; it's
past--no, it's present, and it will always be, forever, the dearest
and best thing in life Lydia, do you believe that I love you?"
"Oh, I must!"
"And don't you believe that I'm telling you the truth when I say
that I wouldn't, for all the world can give or take, change anything
"Yes, I do believe you. Oh, I haven't said at all what I wanted to
say! There was a great deal that I ought to say. I can't seem to
He smiled to see her grieving at this recreance of her memory to her
conscience. "Well, you shall have a whole lifetime to recall it in."
"No, I must try to speak now. And you must tell me the truth now,
--no matter what it costs either of us." She laid her hands upon his
extended arms, and grasped them intensely. "There's something else.
I want to ask you what _you_ thought when you found me alone
on that ship with all of you." If she had stopped at this point,
Staniford's cause might have been lost, but she went on: "I want
to know whether you were ever ashamed of me, or despised me for it;
whether you ever felt that because I was helpless and friendless
there, you had the right to think less of me than if you had first
met me here in this house."
It was still a terrible question, but it offered a loop-hole of
escape, which Staniford was swift to seize. Let those who will
justify the answer with which he smiled into her solemn eyes: "I
will leave you to say." A generous uncandor like this goes as far
with a magnanimous and serious-hearted woman as perhaps anything
"Oh, I knew it, I knew it!" cried Lydia. And then, as he caught her
to him at last, "Oh--oh--are you _sure_ it's right?"
"I have no doubt of it," answered Staniford. Nor had he any question
of the strategy through which he had triumphed in this crucial test.
He may have thought that there were always explanations that had to
be made afterwards, or he may have believed that he had expiated in
what he had done and suffered for her any slight which he had felt;
possibly, he considered that she had asked more than she had a right
to do. It is certain that he said with every appearance of sincerity,
"It began the moment I saw you on the wharf, there, and when I came
to know my mind I kept it from you only till I could tell you here.
But now I wish I hadn't! Life is too short for such a week as this."
"No," said Lydia, "you acted for the best, and you are--good."
"I'll keep that praise till I've earned it," answered Staniford.
In the Campo Santi Apostoli at Venice there stands, a little apart
from the church of that name, a chapel which has been for many years
the place of worship for the Lutheran congregation. It was in this
church that Staniford and Lydia were married six weeks later, before
the altar under Titian's beautiful picture of Christ breaking bread.
The wedding was private, but it was not quite a family affair. Miss
Hibbard had come down with her mother from Dresden, to complete
Dunham's cure, and she was there with him perfectly recovered; he was
not quite content, of course, that the marriage should not take place
in the English chapel, but he was largely consoled by the candles
burning on the altar. The Aroostook had been delayed by repairs which
were found necessary at Trieste, and Captain Jenness was able to come
over and represent the ship at the wedding ceremony, and at the lunch
which followed. He reserved till the moment of parting a supreme
expression of good-will. When he had got a hand of Lydia's and one of
Staniford's in each of his, with his wrists crossed, he said, "Now, I
ain't one to tack round, and stand off and on a great deal, but what
I want to say is just this: the Aroostook sails next week, and if you
two are a mind to go back in her, the ship's yours, as I said to Miss
Blood, here,--I mean Mis' Staniford; well, I _hain't_ had much
time to get used to it!--when she first come aboard there at Boston.
I don't mean any pay; I want you to go back as my guests. You can use
the cabin for your parlor; and I promise you I won't take any other
passengers _this_ time. I declare," said Captain Jenness,
lowering his voice, and now referring to Hicks for the first time
since the day of his escapade, "I did feel dreadful about that
"Oh, never mind," replied Staniford. "If it hadn't been for Hicks
perhaps I mightn't have been here." He exchanged glances with his
wife, that showed they had talked all that matter over.
The captain grew confidential. "Mr. Mason told me he saw you lending
that chap money. I hope he didn't give you the slip?"
"No; it came to me here at Blumenthals' the other day."
"Well, that's right! It all worked together for good, as you say.
Now you come!"
"What do you say, my dear?" asked Staniford, on whom the poetic
fitness of the captain's proposal had wrought.
Women are never blinded by romance, however much they like it in the
abstract. "It's coming winter. Do you think you wouldn't be seasick?"
returned the bride of an hour, with the practical wisdom of a matron.
Staniford laughed. "She's right, captain. I'm no sailor. I'll get home
by the all-rail route as far as I can."
Captain Jenness threw back his head, and laughed too. "Good! That's
about it." And he released their hands, so as to place one hairy paw
on a shoulder of each. "You'll get along together, I guess."
"But we're just as much obliged to you as if we went, Captain Jenness.
And tell all the crew that I'm homesick for the Aroostook, and thank
all for being so kind to me; and I thank _you_, Captain Jenness!"
Lydia looked at her husband, and then startled the captain with
He blushed all over, but carried it off as boldly as he could. "Well,
well," he said, "that's right! If you change your minds before the
Aroostook sails, you let me know."
This affair made a great deal of talk in Venice, where the common
stock of leisure is so great that each person may without self-
reproach devote a much larger share of attention to the interests of
the others than could be given elsewhere. The decorous fictions in
which Mrs. Erwin draped the singular facts of the acquaintance and
courtship of Lydia and Staniford were what unfailingly astonished
and amused him, and he abetted them without scruple. He found her
worldliness as innocent as the unworldliness of Lydia, and he gave
Mrs. Erwin his hearty sympathy when she ingenuously owned that the
effort to throw dust in the eyes of her European acquaintance was
simply killing her. He found endless refreshment in the contemplation
of her attitude towards her burdensome little world, and in her
reasons for enslaving herself to it. He was very good friends with
both of the Erwins. When he could spare the time from Lydia, he went
about with her uncle in his boat, and respected his skill in rowing
it without falling overboard. He could not see why any one should be
so much interested in the American character and dialect as Mr. Erwin
was; but he did not object, and he reflected that after all they were
not what their admirer supposed them.
The Erwins came with the Stanifords as far as Paris on their way home,
and afterwards joined them in California, where Staniford bought a
ranch, and found occupation if not profit in its management. Once cut
loose from her European ties, Mrs. Erwin experienced an incomparable
repose and comfort in the life of San Francisco; it was, she declared,
the life for which she had really been adapted, after all; and in the
climate of Santa Barbara she found all that she had left in Italy. In
that land of strange and surprising forms of every sort, her husband
has been very happy in the realization of an America surpassing even
his wildest dreams, and he has richly stored his note-book with
philological curiosities. He hears around him the vigorous and
imaginative locutions of the Pike language, in which, like the late
Canon Kingsley, he finds a Scandinavian hugeness; and pending the
publication of his Hand-Book of Americanisms, he is in confident
search of the miner who uses his pronouns cockney-wise. Like other
English observers, friendly and unfriendly, he does not permit the
facts to interfere with his preconceptions.
Staniford's choice long remained a mystery to his acquaintances, and
was but partially explained by Mrs. Dunham, when she came home. "Why,
I suppose he fell in love with her," she said. "Of course, thrown
together that way, as they were, for six weeks, it might have happened
to anybody; but James Staniford was always the most consummate flirt
that breathed; and he never could see a woman, without coming up,
in that metaphysical way of his, and trying to interest her in him.
He was always laughing at women, but there never was a man who cared
more for them. From all that I could learn from Charles, he began
by making fun of her, and all at once he became perfectly infatuated
with her. I don't see why. I never could get Charles to tell me
anything remarkable that she said or did. She was simply a country
girl, with country ideas, and no sort of cultivation. Why, there
was _nothing_ to her. He's done the wisest thing he could by
taking her out to California. She never would have gone down, here.
I suppose James Staniford knew that as well as any of us; and if he
finds it worth while to bury himself with her there, we've no reason
to complain. She did _sing_, wonderfully; that is, her voice was
perfectly divine. But of course that's all over, now. She didn't seem
to care much for it; and she really knew so little of life that I
don't believe she could form the idea of an artistic career, or feel
that it was any sacrifice to give it up. James Staniford was not
worth any such sacrifice; but she couldn't know that either. She was
good, I suppose. She was very stiff, and she hadn't a word to say for
herself. I think she was cold. To be sure, she was a beauty; I really
never saw anything like it,--that pale complexion some brunettes have,
with her hair growing low, and such eyes and lashes!"
"Perhaps the beauty had something to do with his falling in love
with her," suggested a listener. The ladies present tried to look
as if this ought not to be sufficient.
"Oh, very likely," said Mrs. Dunham. She added, with an air of being
the wreck of her former self, "But we all know what becomes of
_beauty_ after marriage."
The mind of Lydia's friends had been expressed in regard to her
marriage, when the Stanifords, upon their arrival home from Europe,
paid a visit to South Bradfield. It was in the depths of the winter
following their union, and the hill country, stern and wild even in
midsummer, wore an aspect of savage desolation. It was sheeted in
heavy snow, through which here and there in the pastures, a craggy
bowlder lifted its face and frowned, and along the woods the stunted
pines and hemlocks blackened against a background of leafless oaks
and birches. A northwest wind cut shrill across the white wastes,
and from the crests of the billowed drifts drove a scud of stinging
particles in their faces, while the sun, as high as that of Italy,
coldly blazed from a cloudless blue sky. Ezra Perkins, perched on the
seat before them, stiff and silent as if he were frozen there, drove
them from Bradfield Junction to South Bradfield in the long wagon-body
set on bob-sleds, with which he replaced his Concord coach in winter.
At the station he had sparingly greeted Lydia, as if she were just
back from Greenfield, and in the interest of personal independence had
ignored a faint motion of hers to shake hands; at her grandfather's
gate, he set his passengers down without a word, and drove away,
leaving Staniford to get in his trunk as he might.
"Well, I declare," said Miss Maria, who had taken one end of the trunk
in spite of him, and was leading the way up through the path cleanly
blocked out of the snow, "that Ezra Perkins is enough to make you wish
he'd _stayed_ in Dakoty!"
Staniford laughed, as he had laughed at everything on the way
from the station, and had probably thus wounded Ezra Perkins's
susceptibilities. The village houses, separated so widely by the one
long street, each with its path neatly tunneled from the roadway to
the gate; the meeting-house, so much vaster than the present needs
of worship, and looking blue-cold with its never-renewed single coat
of white paint; the graveyard set in the midst of the village, and
showing, after Ezra Perkins's disappearance, as many signs of life
as any other locality, realized in the most satisfactory degree his
theories of what winter must be in such a place as South Bradfield.
The burning smell of the sheet-iron stove in the parlor, with its
battlemented top of filigree iron work; the grimness of the horsehair-
covered best furniture; the care with which the old-fashioned fire-
places had been walled up, and all accessible character of the period
to which the house belonged had been effaced, gave him an equal
pleasure. He went about with his arm round Lydia's waist, examining
these things, and yielding to the joy they caused him, when they
were alone. "Oh, my darling," he said, in one of these accesses of
delight, "when I think that it's my privilege to take you away from
all this, I begin to feel not so very unworthy, after all."
But he was very polite, as Miss Maria owned, when Mr. and Mrs. Goodlow
came in during the evening, with two or three unmarried ladies of
the village, and he kept them from falling into the frozen silence
which habitually expresses social enjoyment in South Bradfield when
strangers are present. He talked about the prospects of Italian
advancement to an equal state of intellectual and moral perfection
with rural New England, while Mr. Goodlow listened, rocking himself
back and forth in the hair-cloth arm-chair. Deacon Latham, passing
his hand continually along the stove battlements, now and then let
his fingers rest on the sheet-iron till he burnt them, and then
jerked them suddenly away, to put them, back the next moment, in his
absorbing interest. Miss Maria, amidst a murmur of admiration from
the ladies, passed sponge-cake and coffee: she confessed afterwards
that the evening had been so brilliant to her as to seem almost
wicked; and the other ladies, who owned to having lain awake all
night on her coffee, said that if they _had_ enjoyed themselves
they were properly punished for it.
When they were gone, and Lydia and Staniford had said good-night,
and Miss Maria, coming in from the kitchen with a hand-lamp for her
father, approached the marble-topped centre-table to blow out the
large lamp of pea-green glass with red woollen wick, which had shed
the full radiance of a sun-burner upon the festival, she faltered at
a manifest unreadiness in the old man to go to bed, though the fire
was low, and they had both resumed the drooping carriage of people
in going about cold houses. He looked excited, and, so far as his
unpracticed visage could intimate the emotion, joyous.
"Well, there, Maria!" he said. "You can't say but what he's a master-
hand to converse, any way. I'd know as I ever see Mr. Goodlow more
struck up with any one. He looked as if every word done him good; I
presume it put him in mind of meetin's with brother ministers: I don't
suppose but what he misses it some, here. You can't say but what he's
a fine appearin' young man. I d'know as I see anything wrong in his
kind of dressin' up to the nines, as you may say. As long's he's got
the money, I don't see what harm it is. It's all worked for good,
Lyddy's going out that way; though it did seem a mysterious providence
at the time."
"Well!" began Miss Maria. She paused, as if she had been hurried too
far by her feelings, and ought to give them a check before proceeding.
"Well, I don't presume you'd notice it, but she's got a spot on her
silk, so't a whole breadth's got to come out, and be let in again
bottom side up. I guess there's a pair of 'em, for carelessness."
She waited a moment before continuing: "I d'know as I like to see a
husband puttin' his arm round his wife, even when he don't suppose any
one's lookin'; but I d'know but what it's natural, too. But it's one
comfort to see't she ain't the least mite silly about _him_. He's
dreadful freckled." Miss Maria again paused thoughtfully, while her
father burnt his fingers on the stove for the last time, and took them
definitively away. "I don't say but what he talked well enough, as far
forth as talkin' _goes_; Mr. Goodlow said at the door't he didn't
know's he ever passed _many_ such evenin's since he'd been in
South Bradfield, and I d'know as _I_ have. I presume he has his
faults; we ain't any of us perfect; but he _does_ seem terribly
wrapped up in Lyddy. I don't say but what he'll make her a good
husband, if she must _have_ one. I don't suppose but what people
might think, as you may say, 't she'd made out pretty well; and if
Lyddy's suited, I d'know as anybody else has got any call to be over
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