The Old Gray Homestead
Frances Parkinson Keyes
Part 2 out of 4
way to Calais, and I was glad I did, though I must confess I yawned a
good deal, even while I was looking at the Cathedral and the relics of
Joan of Arc.
I had just a week in the Channel Islands, and though I didn't think
beforehand that I could possibly get as much out of them as I did out of
the country in Holland, of course, I found that I was mistaken. I bought
six head of cattle, brought them to Southampton with me, and saw them
safely embarked for America, as I cabled father. I suppose they've got
there by now. They're beauties, but I believe I'm going to like the
Holsteins better, just the same. They're larger and sturdier--less
nervous--and give more milk, though it's not nearly so rich.
The Browns met me there, and I was awfully glad to see them again. I
bought a knapsack, and, leaving all my good clothes behind me, started
out with them on a week's walking trip through the Isle of Wight, getting
back here only last night. We stopped overnight at any place we happened
to be near, usually a farmhouse, and the next morning pursued our way
again, with a lunch put up by our latest hostess in our pockets. Of
course, the Browns didn't take the same interest in farming that I did,
but they had a fine time, too. It's been a great thing for me to know
them, especially Emily. She's not a bit pretty, or the sort that a fellow
could get crazy over, or--well, I can't describe it, but you know what I
mean. Every man who meets her must realize what a fine wife she'd make
for somebody, and yet he wouldn't want her himself. But she's a wonderful
friend. Do you know, I never had a woman friend before, or realized that
there could be such a thing--for a man, I mean--unless there was some
sentiment mixed up with it. This isn't the least of the valuable lessons
After lunch to-day, we're going off again--not on foot this time, as it
would take too long to see what we want to that way, but on hired
bicycles. I'm sending my baggage ahead to London to "await arrival," but
if the mild, though rather rainy, weather we've had so far holds, I hope
to have two weeks more of _country_ England before I go there; we have no
definite plans, but expect to go to some of the cathedral towns, and to
Oxford and Warwick at least.
And now I've overstayed the time you first thought I should be gone,
already, and yet I'm going to close my letter by quoting the last lines
in yours, "If you need more money, cable for it. (I don't; I haven't
begun to spend all I had.) Don't hurry; see all you can comfortably and
thoroughly; and if you decide you want to go somewhere that we didn't
plan at first, or stay longer than you originally intended, please do.
The family is well, the building going along finely, and Peter, your
Dutch boy, most efficient--by the way, we all like him immensely. This is
your chance. Take it."
Well, I'm going to. After the Browns leave London, they're going to Italy
for the winter, and they want me to go with them, for a few weeks before
I start home. I'll sail from Naples, getting home for Christmas, and what
a Christmas it'll be! I know you'll tell me honestly if you think I ought
not to do this, and I'll start for Liverpool at once, and without a
regret; but if you cable "stay," I'll go towards Rome with an easy heart
and a thankful soul.
I must stop, because I don't dare write any more. The "thank-you's" would
surely begin to crop out.
Ever yours faithfully
The first of October found a very quiet household at the old Gray
Homestead. Austin was in Europe; Thomas had gone to college at
Burlington, Molly to the Conservatory of Music in Boston. Sally had
prudently decided to teach for another year before getting married, and
now that she could keep all her earnings, was happily saving them for her
modest trousseau; she "boarded" in Wallacetown, where she taught, coming
home only for Saturdays and Sundays, while Katherine and Edith were in
high school, and gone all day. Mrs. Gray declared that she hardly knew
what to do with herself, she had so much spare time on her hands with so
many "modern improvements," and such a small family in the house.
"Go with Mr. Gray on the 'fall excursion' to Boston," said Sylvia. "He
told me that you hadn't been off together since you took your wedding
trip. That will give you a chance to look in on Molly, too, and see how
she's behaving--and you'll have a nice little spree besides. I'll look
after the family, and Peter can look after the cows."
Sylvia had recovered rapidly from her illness, and her former shyness and
aversion to seeing people were rapidly leaving her. She no longer lay in
bed until noon, but was up with the rest of the family, insisting on
doing her share in the housework, and proving a very apt pupil in
learning that useful and wrongly despised art; when callers came she
always dropped in to chat with them a little while, and even the
mail-carrier of the "rural delivery, route number two," the errand-boy on
the wagon from Harrington's General Store, and all the agents for
flavoring extracts and celluloid toilet sets and Bibles for miles around,
were not infrequently found lingering on the "back porch" passing the
time of day with her, whether they had any excuse of mail or merchandise
or not. Not infrequently she went to spend the day with Mrs. Elliott or
with Ruth, and to church on Sunday with all the family; and although
perhaps she was not sorry at heart that her deep mourning gave her an
excuse for not attending the village "parties" and "socials," she never
said so. The Library, the Grange, and the Village Improvement Society all
found her ready and eager to help them in their struggles to raise money,
provide better quarters for themselves, or get up entertainments; and the
Methodist minister was the first person to meet with a flat refusal to
his demands upon her purse. He was far-famed as a successful "solicitor,"
and conceived the brilliant idea that Sylvia was probably sent by
Providence to provide the needed repairs upon the church and parsonage
and the increase in his own salary. He called upon her, and graciously
informed her of his plan.
"The Lord has been pleased to make you the steward of great riches," he
said unctuously, "and I feel sure there is no way you could spend them
which would be more pleasing in his sight than that which I have just
"I agree with you perfectly that the church is in a disgraceful state of
disrepair," said Sylvia calmly, "and that your salary is quite inadequate
to live on properly. I have often wondered how your congregation could
worship reverently in such a place, or allow their pastor to be so poorly
housed. I believe the Bible commands us somewhere to do things decently
and in order."
"You are quite right, Mrs. Cary, quite right. Then may I understand--"
"Wait just a minute. I have also wondered at the lack of proper pride
your congregation seemed to show in such matters. It does not seem to me
that it would really help matters very much if I, a complete outsider,
not even a member of your communion, furnished all the necessary funds to
do what you wish. Your flock would sit back harder than ever, and wait
for some one else to turn up and do likewise when I have gone--and
probably that second millionaire would never materialize, and you would
be left worse off than before, even."
"My dear lady!" exclaimed the divine, amazed and distressed at the turn
the conversation had taken, "most of the members of my congregation are
in very moderate circumstances."
"I know--but they should do _their share_. And there are some, who,
for a small village, are rich, and just plain stingy--why don't you
go to them?"
"Unfortunately that would only result in the entire withdrawal of their
support, I fear."
"And those are the worthy, struggling Christians whom you wish me to
supply with everything to make their church beautiful and their minister
comfortable--you want me to put a premium on stinginess! I shan't give
you one cent under those conditions! Go to the three richest men in your
church, and say to them, 'Whatever sum you will give, Mrs. Cary will
double.' Appeal to your congregation as a whole, and tell it the same
thing. Ask those who you know have no cash to spare to give some of their
time, at whatever it is worth by the hour or the day. Set the children to
arranging for a concert--I suppose you wouldn't approve of a little
play--and see how the relatives and friends will flock to hear it. I'll
gladly drill them. When you've tried all this, and the response has been
generous and hearty, if still you haven't all you need, I'll gladly lend
you the remainder of the sum without interest, and you may take your own
time in discharging the debt."
"That is a young lady who gives a man much food for thought," remarked
the minister to Mr. Gray, as, somewhat abashed, but greatly impressed, he
was leaving the house a few minutes later.
"Very true--in more ways than one."
"Her person is not unpleasing and she seems to have an agile mind,"
continued Mr. Jessup.
Mr. Gray turned away to hide a smile. Later he teased Sylvia about her
new conquest. "I am afraid," he said, his mouth twitching, "that you
would flirt with a stone post."
"I didn't flirt with _him_" said Sylvia indignantly; "he ended the call
by dropping on his knees, right there in my sitting-room, and saying,
'Let us pray--for new hearts!' Well, I've had lots of calls end with a
prayer for a change of heart--"
"You little wretch! What did you do?"
"Do! I always strive to please! I knelt down beside him, of course, and
then he took my hand, so I--Honestly, I don't care much what men
_say_--if they only say it _right_--but I draw the line at being
_stroked_! If that's your idea of a flirtation, it isn't mine!"
"Look out, my dear," warned Howard; "he's a widower and a famous beggar."
And Sylvia laughed with him. During the first months she had never
laughed. "I am getting to love that child as if she were my own," he said
to his wife later. "Whatever shall we do when she goes away? It won't be
long now, you'll see."
"Mercy! Don't you even speak of it!" rejoined Mrs. Gray. But she, too,
was brooding over the possibility in secret. "Are you sure you're
quite contented here, Sylvia?" she asked anxiously the next time they
Sylvia laid down the dish she was wiping, and came and laid her cheek,
now growing softly pink again, against Mrs. Gray's. "Contented," she
echoed; "why, I'm--I'm happy--I never was happy in my whole life before.
But I shall freeze to death here this winter, unless you'll let me put a
furnace in this great house; and I want to glass in part of the big
piazza, and have a tiny little conservatory for your plants built off the
dining-room. Do you mind if I tear up the place that much more--you've
been so patient about it so far."
Mrs. Gray could only throw up her hands.
The "spree" to Boston took place, and proved wonderfully delightful, and
then they all settled down quietly for the winter, looking forward to
Christmas as the time that was to bring the entire family together again.
For even James, the eldest son, had written that he was about to be
married, and should come home with his bride for the holidays for his
wedding trip; and as Sylvia still firmly refused to leave the farm, Mr.
Stevens asked for permission to join Austin when he landed, and be with
his niece over the great day. As the time drew near, the house was hung
with garlands, and every window proudly displayed a great laurel wreath
tied with a huge red bow. Sylvia moved all her belongings into her
parlor, and decorated her bedroom for the bride and groom, and went about
the house singing as she unpacked great boxes and trimmed a mammoth
Four days before Christmas, Mr. and Mrs. James Gray arrived, and Mrs.
James was promptly pronounced to be "all right" by her husband's family,
though the poor girl, of course, underwent tortures before she was sure
of their decision. Fred, who with his father and mother was to join in
the great feast, brought Sally home from Wallacetown that same night, and
took advantage of the mistletoe which Sylvia had hung up, right before
them all. Thomas and Molly, both wonderfully citified already, appeared
during the course of the next afternoon from opposite directions, and
Molly played, and Thomas expounded scientific farming, to the wonder of
them all. And finally Mr. Gray went to meet the midnight train from New
York at Wallacetown the night before Christmas Eve, and found himself
being squeezed half to pieces by the bear hugs of Austin and the hearty
handshakes of Mr. Stevens.
"Pile right into the sleigh," he managed to say at last when he was
partially released, but still gasping for breath; "we mustn't stand
fooling around here, with the thermometer at twenty below zero, and a
whole houseful waiting to treat you the same way you've treated me.
Austin, seems as if you were bigger than ever, and you've got a different
look, same as Thomas and Molly have, only yours is more different."
"There was more room for improvement in my case," his son laughed back,
throwing his arm around him again. "My, but it's good to see you! Talk
about changes! You look ten years younger, doesn't he, Mr. Stevens? How's
mother? And--and Thomas, and the girls? And--and Peter?"
"Yes, how is _Peter_?" said Mr. Stevens.
"Why, Peter's all right," returned Mr. Gray soberly; "what makes you ask?
That sort is never sick and he's as good and steady a boy as I ever saw."
"I'm so glad to hear it," murmured Mr. Stevens in an interested voice.
"And we had the biggest creamery check this month, Austin," went on his
father, "that we _ever_ had--with just those few cows you sent! Peter
tends them as if they were young girls being dressed up for their
sweethearts. The hens are laying well, too, right through this cold
weather--the poultry house is so clean and warm, they don't seem to know
that it's winter. We have enough eggs for our own use, and some to sell
besides--I guess there won't be any to sell _this_ week, will there?
You'll like James's wife, I'm sure, Austin, and you, too, Mr.
Stevens--she's a nice, healthy, jolly girl with good sense, I'm sure.
She's not as pretty as my girls, but, then, few are, of course, in my
eyes. It's plain to see they just set their eye-teeth by each
other--Sadie and James, I mean--and, of course, Fred is about most of
the time; so with two pairs of lovers, it keeps things lively, I can
"Has Thomas recovered?" inquired Austin.
"Indeed, he hasn't! It's mean of us all to make fun of him--he's very
much in earnest."
"How does Sylvia take it?" asked Sylvia's uncle.
"I don't think she notices."
"Oh, don't you?" said Mr. Stevens, in the same interested tone he had
Mrs. Gray was standing in the door to receive them, even if it was
twenty below zero, and was laughing and crying with her great boy in her
arms before he was half out of the sleigh. The kissing that had taken
place at the Fessendens' was nothing to that which now occurred at the
Grays'; for when he had finished with his mother, Austin found all his
sisters waiting for him, clamoring for the same welcome, and he ended
with his new sister-in-law, and then began all over again. Meanwhile Mr.
Stevens stood looking vainly about, and finally interrupted with
"Where's _my_ girl?"
"Oh, _there_, Mr. Stevens!" exclaimed Mrs. Gray, wiping her eyes, and
settling her hair, "it was downright careless of me not to tell you right
away, but I was so excited over Austin that I forgot all about it for a
minute; of course, it's a dreadful disappointment to you, but it just
couldn't seem to be helped. Frank--my son-in-law, you know, that lives in
White Water--telephoned down this morning that the trained nurse had
left, an' little Elsie was ailin', an' the hired girl so green, an'
nothin' would do but that Sylvia must traipse up there to help Ruth
before I could say 'Jack Robinson.'"
"What do you mean?" thundered Uncle Mat and Austin in the same breath; so
Mrs. Gray tried again.
"Why, Ruth had a new baby a month ago, another little girl, an' the
dearest child! They're all comin' home to-morrow, sure's the world, an'
you'll see her then--they've named her Mary, for me, an' of course I'm
real pleased. But as I was sayin'--it did seem as if some one had got to
take hold an' help them get straightened out if they was goin' to put it
through, an' of course, there's no one like Sylvia for jobs like that.
Land! I don't know how we ever got along before she come! Anyway, she's
up there now. Rode up with Hiram on the Rural Free Delivery--he was
tickled most to death. She left her love, an' said maybe one of the boys
would take the pair an' her big double sleigh, an' start up to get 'em
all in real good season to-morrow mornin'."
"That means me, of course," said Thomas importantly.
"Of course," echoed both his brothers, quite unanimously.
Mr. Stevens said nothing, but calmly went up to bed, where he apparently
slept well, as he did not reappear until after nine o'clock the
following morning. He sought out Mrs. Gray in the sunny, shining
kitchen, but did not evince as much surprise as she had expected when
she told him, while she bustled about preparing fresh coffee and toast
for him, that when Thomas, at seven o'clock, had gone to the barn to
"hitch up" he had found that the double sleigh, the pair, and--Austin
had all mysteriously vanished.
"Austin always was a dreadful tease," she ended, "but I can't help sayin'
this is downright mean of him, when he knows how Thomas feels."
"My dear lady," said Mr. Stevens, cracking open the egg she had
set before him with great care, "where are your eyes? What about
Mrs. Gray set down the coffee-pot, looking at him in bewilderment.
"What do you mean?" she asked. "I hope Austin is grateful to her
now--an' that he'll _say_ so. At first he didn't like her at all, an'
he's never taken to her same as the rest of us have--seems to feel
she's bossy an' meddlesome. Howard an' I have spoken of it a thousand
times. He began by resenting everything she did, an' then got so he
didn't even mention her name."
"Exactly. I've noticed that myself. I don't pretend to be an infallible
judge of human nature, but mark my words, Austin has cared for my
Sylvia since the first moment he ever set eyes on her. No man likes to
feel that the woman he's in love with is doing everything for him and
his family, and that he can't--as he sees it--do anything in return.
That's why he seems to resent her kindness, which I really think the
rest of you have almost overestimated--if she's helped you in material
ways, you've been her salvation in greater ways still. But there's
still more to it than that: I think your son Austin has in him the
makings of one of the finest men I ever knew, but he doesn't consider
himself worthy of her. He'll try to conceal, and even to conquer, his
feelings--just as long as he possibly can. I suppose he believes
that'll be always. Of course, it won't. But naturally he can't bear to
talk about her. Thomas has fallen in love with her face--which is
pretty--and her manner--which is charming--after the manner of most
men. But Austin has fallen in love with her mind--which is
brilliant--and her soul--which, in spite of some little superficial
faults that I believe he himself will unconsciously teach her to
overcome, is beautiful--after the manner of very few men--and those men
love but once, deeply and forever. And so, my dear Mrs. Gray, tease
Thomas all you like, for Sylvia will refuse Thomas when he asks for
her, and he will be engaged to another girl within a year; but she will
run away from Austin before he brings himself to tell her how he
feels--and it will be many a long day before his heart is light again."
"I fairly dread to have Christmas come for one reason," had said Mrs.
Gray to her husband beforehand.
"Why? I thought you were counting the days!"
"So I am. But I hate to think of all the presents Sylvia's likely to load
us down with. Seems as if she'd done enough. I don't want to be beholden
to her for any more."
"Don't worry, Mary. Sylvia's got good sense, and delicate feelings as
well as an almighty generous little heart. She'll be the first to think
how we'd feel, herself."
Mr. Gray was right. When Christmas came there was a simple, inexpensive
trinket for each of the girls, and slightly costlier ones for the bride
and Mrs. Gray; little pocket calendars, all just alike, for the men; that
was all. Mr. Stevens had taken pleasure in bringing great baskets of
candy, adorned with elaborate bows of ribbon, and bunches of violets as
big as their heads, to all the "children," a fine plant to Mrs. Gray, and
books to Howard and his sons; and Austin's suit-case bulged with all
sorts of little treasures, which tumbled out from between his clothes in
the most unexpected places, as he unpacked it in the living-room, to the
great delight of them all.
"Here's a dress-length of gray silk from Venice for mother," he said,
tossing the shimmering bundle into her lap; "I want her to have it made
up to wear at Sally's wedding. And here's lace for Sadie and Sally
both--the bride and the bride-to-be. Nothing much for the rest of
you"--and out came strings of corals and beads, handkerchiefs and
photographs, silk stockings and filagree work, until the floor was
strewn with pretty things. After all the presents were distributed, it
was time to begin to get dinner, and to decorate the great table laid
for sixteen. There was a turkey, of course, and a huge chicken pie as
well, not to mention mince pies and squash pies and apple pies, a plum
pudding and vanilla ice-cream; angel cakes and fruit cakes and chocolate
cakes; coffee and cider and blackberry cordial; and after they had all
eaten until they could not hold another mouthful, and had "rested up" a
little, Sylvia played while they danced the Virginia Reel, Mr. Stevens
leading off with Mrs. Gray, and Mr. Gray with Sadie. And finally they
all gathered around the piano and sang the good old carols, until it was
time for the Elliotts to go home, and for Ruth to carry the sleepy
babies up to bed.
Since early fall it had been Sylvia's custom to sit with the family for a
time after the early supper was over, and the "dishes done up"; then she
went to her own parlor, lighted her open fire, and sat down by herself
to read or write letters. But she always left her door wide open, and it
was understood that any one who wished to come to her was welcome. Austin
was the last to start to bed on Christmas night, and seeing Sylvia still
at her desk as he passed her room, he stopped and asked:
"Is it too late, or are you too tired and busy to let me come in for a
She glanced at the clock, smiling. "It isn't very late, I'm not a bit
tired, and in a minute I shan't be too busy; I've been working over some
stupid documents that I was bound to get through with to-night, but I'm
all done now. Throw that rubbish into the fire for me, will you?" she
continued, pointing to a pile of torn-up letters and printed matter, "and
draw up two chairs in front of the fire. I'll join you in a minute."
He obeyed, then stood watching her as she straightened out her silver
desk fixtures, gravely putting everything in perfect order before she
turned to him.
"What a beau cavalier you have become," she said, smiling again, as he
drew back to let her pass in front of him, and turned her chair to an
angle at which the fire could not scorch her face; "what's become of the
old Austin? I can't seem to find him at all!"
"Oh, I left him in the woods the night of the fire, I hope," returned
Austin, laughing, "while you were asleep. I'm sure neither you nor any
one else wants him back."
Sylvia settled herself comfortably, and smoothed out the folds of her
dull-black silk dress. "Wouldn't you like to smoke?" she asked; "it's
an awfully comfortable feeling--to watch a man smoking, in front of an
"I'd love to, if you're sure you don't mind. I don't want to make the air
in here heavy--for I suppose you've got to sleep here on this sofa,
having allowed yourself to be turned out of your good bed."
She laughed. "I'm so small that I can curl up and sleep on almost
anything, like a kitten," she said. "And it's fine to think of being able
to give my room to James and Sadie--they're so nice, and so happy
together. I can open the windows wide for a few minutes after you've
gone, and there won't be a trace of tobacco smoke left. If there were, I
shouldn't mind it. Now, what is it, Austin?"
"I want to talk. I haven't seen you a single minute alone. And though the
others are all interested, it isn't like telling things to a person who's
done all the wonderful things and seen all the wonderful places that I
just have. I've simply got to let loose on some one."
"Of course, you have. I thought that was it. Talk away, but not too
loud. We mustn't disturb the others, who are all trying to go to sleep by
this time. Tell me--which of the Italian cities did you like
best--Rome--or Florence--or Naples?"
"Will you think me awfully queer if I say none of them, but after Venice,
the little ones, like Assisi, Perugia, and Sienna. I'm so glad we took
the time for them. Oh, _Sylvia_--" And he was off. The little clock on
the mantel struck several times, unnoticed by either of them, and it was
after one, when, glancing inadvertently at it, Austin sprang to his feet,
apologizing for having kept her awake so long, and hastily bade her
"May I come again some evening and talk more?" he asked, with his hand on
the door-handle, "or have I bored and tired you to death? You're a
"Come as often as you like--I've been learning things, too, that I want
to tell you about."
"Oh, how to cook and sweep and sew--and how to be well and happy and at
peace," she added in a lower voice. Then, speaking lightly again, "We'll
try to keep up that French you've worked so hard at, together--I'm
dreadfully out of practice, myself--and read some of Browning's Italian
poems, if you would care to. Goodnight, and again, Merry Christmas."
He left her, almost in a daze of excitement and happiness; and mounted
the stairs, turning over everything that had been said and done during
the two hours since he entered her room. As he reached the top, a sudden
suspicion shot through him. He stopped short, almost breathlessly, then
stood for several moments as if uncertain what to do, the suspicion
gaining ground with every second; then suddenly, unable to bear the
suspense it had created, ran down the stairs again. Sylvia's door was
closed; he knocked.
"All right, just a minute," came the ready answer. A minute later the
door was thrown open, and Sylvia stood in it, wrapped in a white satin
dressing-gown edged with soft fur, her dark hair falling over her
shoulders, her neck and arms bare. She drew back, the quick red color
flooding her cheeks.
"_Austin!"_ she exclaimed; "I never thought of your coming back--I
supposed, of course, it was one of the girls. I can't--you mustn't--"
But Sylvia was too much mistress of herself and woman of the world to
remain embarrassed long in any situation. She recovered herself before
"What has happened?" she asked quickly; "is any one ill?"
"No--Sylvia--what were those papers you gave me to burn?"
"Waste--rubbish. Go to bed, Austin, and don't frighten me out of my wits
again by coming and asking me silly questions."
"What kind of waste paper? Please be a little more explicit."
"How did you happen to come back to ask me such a thing--what made you
think of it?"
"I don't know--I just did. Tell me instantly, please."
"Don't dictate to me--the last time you did you were sorry."
"Yes--and you were sorry that you didn't listen to me, weren't you?"
"No!" she cried, "I wasn't--not in the end. If I hadn't gone out to
ride that day, you never would have gone to Europe--and come back the
man you have!"
She turned away from him, her eyes full of tears, her voice shaking. He
was quite at a loss to understand her emotion, almost too excited himself
to notice it; but he could not help being conscious of the tensity of the
moment. He spoke more gently.
"Sylvia--don't think me presuming--I don't mean it that way; and you and
I mustn't quarrel again. But I believe I have a right to ask what that
document you gave me to burn up was. If you'll give me your word of honor
that I haven't--I can only beg your forgiveness for having intruded upon
you, and for my rudeness in speaking as I did."
She turned again slowly, and faced him. He wondered if it was the unshed
tears that made her eyes so soft.
"You have a right," she said, "and _I_ shouldn't have spoken as I did.
You were fair, and I wasn't, as usual. I'll tell you. And will you
promise me just to--to give this little slip of paper to your father--and
never refer to the matter again, or let him?"
"Well, then," she went on hurriedly, "about a month ago I bought the
mortgage on this farm. It seemed to me the only thing that stood in the
way of your prosperity now--it hung around your father's neck like a
millstone--just the thought that he couldn't feel that this wonderful
old place was wholly his, the last years of his life, and that he
couldn't leave it intact for you and Thomas and your children after you
when he died. So I made up my mind it should be destroyed to-day, as my
real Christmas present to you all. The transfer papers were all
properly made out and recorded--this little memorandum will show you
when and where. But Hiram Hutt's title to the property, and mine--and
all the correspondence about them--are in that fireplace. That burden
was too heavy for your father to carry--thank God, I've been the one to
help lift it!"
In the moment of electrified silence that followed, Sylvia
misinterpreted Austin's silence, just as he had failed to understand her
tears. She came nearer to him, holding out her hands.
"Please don't be angry," she whispered; "I'll never give any of you
anything again, if you don't want me to. I know you don't want--and you
don't need--charity; but you did need and want--some one to help just a
little--when things had been going badly with you for so long that it
seemed as if they never could go right again. You'd lost your grip
because there didn't seem to be anything to hang on to! It's meant new
courage and hope and _life_ to me to be able to stay here--I'd lost my
grip, too. I don't think I could have held on much longer--to my _reason_
even--if I hadn't had this respite. If I can accept all that from you,
can't you accept the clear title to a few acres from me? Austin--don't
stand there looking at me like that--tell me I haven't presumed too far."
"What made you think I was angry?" he said hoarsely. "Do men dare to be
angry with angels sent from Heaven?" He took the little slip of paper
which she still held in her extended hand. "I thought you had done
something like this--that was why you made me burn the papers myself--in
the name of my father--and of my children--God bless you." Without taking
his eyes off her face, he drew a tiny box from his pocket.
"Sylvia--would you take a present from _me_?"
"Why, yes. What--"
"It isn't really a present at all, of course, for it was bought with your
money, and perhaps you won't like it, for I've noticed you never wear any
jewelry. But I couldn't bear to come home without a single thing for
you--and this represents--what you've been to me."
As he spoke, he slipped into her hand a delicate chain of gold, on which
hung a tiny star; she turned it over two or three times without speaking,
and her eyes filled with tears again. Then she said:
"It _is_ a present, for this means you travelled third-class, and stayed
at cheap hotels, and went without your lunches--or you couldn't have
bought it. You had only enough money for the trip we originally planned,
without those six weeks in Italy. I'll wear _this_ piece of jewelry--and
it will represent what _you've_ been to _me_, in my mind. Will you put it
She held it towards him, bending forward, her head down. It seemed to
Austin that her loveliness was like the fragrance of a flower.
Involuntarily, the hands which clasped the little chain around her white
throat, touching the warm, soft skin, fell to her shoulders, and drew
The swift and terrible change that went over Sylvia's face sent a thrust
of horror through him. She shut her eyes, and shrank away, trembling all
over, her face grown ashy white. Instantly he realized that the gesture
must have replied to her some ghastly experience in the past; that
perhaps she had more than once been tricked into an embrace by a gift;
that a man's love had meant but one thing to her, and that she now
thought herself face to face with that thing again, from one whom she had
helped and trusted. For an instant the grief with which this realization
filled him, the fresh compassion for all she had suffered, the renewed
love for all her goodness, were too much for him. He tried to speak, to
take away his hands, to leave her. He seemed to be powerless. Then,
blessedly, the realization of what he should do came to him.
"Open your eyes, Sylvia," he commanded.
Too startled to disobey, she did so. He looked into them for a full
minute, smiling, and shook his head.
"You did not understand, dear lady," he said. And dropping on his knees
before her, he took her hands, laid them against his cheek for a minute,
touched them with his lips, and left her.
Uncle Mat made a determined effort to persuade Sylvia to return to New
York with him; and though he was not successful, he was not altogether
discouraged by her reply.
"I _have_ been thinking of it," she said, "but I promised Mrs. Gray
I'd stay here through the winter, and she'd be hurt and disappointed
now if I didn't; besides, I don't feel quite ready for New York myself
yet. I realize that I've remained--nearly long enough--and as soon as
the warm weather comes, I'm going to have my own little house
remodelled and put in order, and move there for the summer. It'll be
such fun--just like doll's housekeeping! Then in the fall--I wont
promise--but perhaps if you still want me, I'll come to you, at least
until I decide what to do next."
"Come now for a visit, if you won't for the rest of the winter."
"Not yet; by spring I'm afraid I'll have to have some new clothes--I've
had nothing since I came here except a fur coat, which arrived by
parcel post! Sally wants to go away in the Easter vacation, and if you
can squeeze us both into your little guest-room, perhaps we'll come
"You're determined to have some sort of a bodyguard in the shape of your
new friends to protect you from your old ones?"
"Not quite that. I'll come alone if you prefer it," said Sylvia quickly.
"No, no, my dear; I should be glad to have Sally. How about Austin, too?
He could sleep on the living-room sofa, you know, and that would make
four of us to go about together, which is always a pleasant number.
Thomas would be home at that time, and Austin could probably leave more
easily than at any other."
"Ask him by all means. I think he would be glad to go."
Austin was accordingly invited, and accepted with enthusiasm. Uncle
Mat found him in the barn, where he was separating cream with the
new electric separator, but he nodded, with a smile which showed all
his white teeth, as his voice could not be heard above the noise of
"Indeed, I will," he said heartily, when the current was switched off
again. "How unfortunate that Easter comes so late this year--but that
will give us all the longer to look forward to it in! I hate to have you
go back, Mr. Stevens, but I suppose the inevitable call of the siren city
is too much for your easily tempted nature!"
Mr. Stevens laughed, and assented. "How that boy has changed!" he said
to himself as he walked back to the house. "He fairly radiates
enthusiasm and wholesomeness. Well, I'm sorry for him. I wish Sylvia
would leave now instead of in the spring, in spite of her promises and
scruples and what-not. And I wish, darn it all, that she were as easy to
read as he is."
Austin's existence, just at that time, seemed even more rose-colored than
Uncle Mat could suspect. The day after Christmas he pondered for a long
time on the events of the night before, and gave some very anxious
thought to his future line of conduct. At first he decided that it would
be best to avoid Sylvia altogether, and thus show her that she had
nothing to dread from him, for her sudden fear had been very hard to
bear; but before night another and wiser course presented itself to
him--the idea of going on exactly as if nothing had happened that was in
the least extraordinary, and prove to her that he was to be trusted.
Accordingly, assuming a calmness which he was very far from feeling, he
stopped at her door again before going upstairs, saying cheerfully:
"Tell me to go away if you want to; if not, I've come for my first
Sylvia looked up with a smile from the book she was reading. "Entrez,
monsieur," she said gayly; "avez-vous apporté votre livre, votre cahier,
et votre plume? Comment va l'oncle de votre ami? Le chat de votre mère,
Austin burst out laughing at her mimicry of the typical conversation in a
beginner's grammar, and she joined him. The critical moment had passed.
He saw that he was welcome, that he had risen and not fallen in her
regard, though he was far from guessing how much, and opening his book,
drew another chair near the fire and sat down beside her.
"You must have some romances as well as this dry stuff," she said, when
he had pegged away at Chardenal for over an hour. "We'll read Dumas
together, beginning with the Valois romances, and going straight along in
the proper order. You'll learn a lot of history, as well as considerable
French. Some of it is rather indiscreet but--"
"Which of us do you think it is most likely to shock?" he asked, with
such an expression of mock-alarm that they both burst out laughing again;
and when they had sobered down, "Now may we have some Browning, please?"
So Sylvia reached for a volume from her shelf, and began to read aloud,
while Austin smoked; she read extremely well, and she loved it. She went
from "The Last Duchess" to "The Statue and the Bust," from "Fra Filippo
Lippi" to "Andrea del Sarto." And Austin sat before the fire, smoking and
listening, until the little clock again roused them to consciousness by
"This will never do!" he exclaimed, jumping up. "I must have regular
hours, like any schoolboy. What do you say to Monday, Wednesday, and
Friday evenings, from seven-thirty to ten? The other nights I'll bend my
energies to preparing my lessons."
"A capital idea. Good-night, Austin."
There were, however, no more French lessons that week. The next evening
twenty young people went off together in sleighs, got their supper at
White Water, danced there until midnight, and did not reach home until
three in the morning. The following night there was a "show" in
Wallacetown, and although they had all declared at their respective
breakfast-tables--for breakfast is served anywhere from five-thirty to
six-thirty in Hamstead, Vermont--that nothing would keep them out of bed
after supper _that_ night, off they all went again. A "ball" followed the
"show," and the memory of the first sleigh-ride proved so agreeable that
another was undertaken. And finally, on New Year's Eve the Grays
themselves gave a party, opening wide the doors of the fine old house for
the first time in many years. Sylvia played for the others to dance on
this occasion, as she had done at Christmas, but in the rest of the
merry-making she naturally could take no part. Austin, however, proved
the most enthusiastic reveller of all, put through his work like chain
lightning, and was out and off before the plodding Thomas had fairly
begun. Manlike, it did not occur to him to give up any of these
festivities because Sylvia could not join in them. For years he had
hungered and thirsted, as most boys do, for "a good time"--and done so in
vain. For years his work had seemed so endless and yet so futile--for
what was it all leading to?--that it had been heartlessly and hopelessly
done, and when it was finished, it had left him so weary that he had no
spirit for anything else much of the time. Now the old order had, indeed,
changed, yielding place to new. Good looks, good health, and a good mind
he had always possessed, but they had availed him little, as they have
many another person, until good courage and high ideals had been added to
them. He scarcely saw Sylvia for several days, and did not even realize
it, they seemed so full and so delightful; then coming out of the house
early one afternoon intending to go to the barn to do some little odd
jobs of cleaning up, he met her, coming towards him on snowshoes, her
cheeks glowing, and her eyes sparkling. She waved her hand and hurried
"Oh, _Austin_! Are you awfully busy?"
"No, not at all. Why?"
"I've just been over to my house, for the first time--you know in the
fall, I couldn't walk, and then I lost the key, and--well, one thing
after another has kept me away--lately the deep snow. But these last few
days I got to thinking about it--you've all been gone so much I've been
alone, you see--so I decided to try getting there on snowshoes--just
think of having a house that's so quiet that there isn't even a _road_ to
it any more! It was quite a tramp, but I made it and went in, and, oh!
it's so _wonderful_--so exactly like what I hoped it was going to
be--that I hurried back to see if you wouldn't come and see it too, and
let me tell you everything I'm planning to do to it?"
She stopped, entirely out of breath. In a flash, Austin realized, first,
that she had been lonely and neglected in the midst of the good times
that all the others had been having; realized, too, that he had never
before seen her so full of vitality and enthusiasm; and then, that,
without being even conscious of it, she had come instinctively to him to
share her new-found joy, while he had almost forgotten her in his. He was
not sufficiently versed in the study of human nature to know that it has
always been thus with men and women, since Eve tried to share her apple
with Adam and only got blamed for her pains. Austin blamed himself,
bitterly and resentfully, and decided afresh that he was the most utterly
ungrateful and unworthy of men. His reflections made him slow in
"Don't you _want_ to come?"
"Of course I want to come! I was just thinking--wait a second, I'll get
"I'm going to tear down a partition," she went on excitedly as they
ploughed through the snow together, "and have one big living-room on the
left of the front door; on the right of it a big bedroom--I've always
_pined_ for a downstairs bedroom--I don't know why, but I never had one
till I came to your house--with a bathroom and dressing-room behind it;
the dining-room and kitchen will be in the ell. I'm sure I can make that
unfinished attic into three more bedrooms, and another bathroom, but I
want to see what you think. I'm going to have a great deep piazza all
around it, and a flower-garden--and--"
She could hardly wait to get there. Her enthusiasm was contagious. Austin
soon found himself making suggestions, helping her in her plans. They
went through every nook and corner of the tiny cottage; he had not
dreamed that it possessed the possibilities that Sylvia immediately found
in it. They stayed a long time, and walked home over fields of snow which
the sinking sun was turning rosy in its glowing light. That evening
Austin came for his lesson again.
By the second of January, the last of the visitors had gone, and the old
Gray place was restored to the order and quiet which had reigned before
the holidays began. Mrs. Gray was lonely, but her mind was at ease. She
had been watching Austin closely, and it seemed quite clear to her that
Uncle Mat was mistaken about him. The idea that her favorite son was
going to be made unhappy was quickly dismissed; and in her rejoicing over
the first payment on their debt at the bank, and in the new position of
importance and consequence which her husband was beginning to occupy in
the neighborhood, it was soon completely forgotten. The succeeding months
seemed to prove her right; and the all-absorbing interest in the family
was Mr. Gray's election to the Presidency of the Cooperative Creamery
Association of Hamstead, and his probable chances of being nominated as
First Selectman--in place of Silas Jones, recently deceased--at March
Wallacetown, the railroad centre which lay five miles south of Hamstead
across the Connecticut River, was generally regarded by the agricultural
community in its vicinity as a den of iniquity. This opinion was not
deserved. Wallacetown was progressive and prosperous; its high school
ranked with the best in the State, its shops were excellent, its
buildings, both public and private, neat and attractive. There were
several reasons, however, for the "slams" which its neighbors gave it.
Its population, instead of being composed largely of farmers, the sons,
grandsons, and great-grandsons of the "old families" who had first
settled the valley, was made up of railway employees and officials, and
of merchants who had come there at a later date. Close team-work between
them and the dwellers in Hamstead, White Water, and other villages near
at hand, would have worked out for the advantage of both. But
unfortunately they did not realize this. Wallacetown was also the only
town in the vicinity where a man "could raise a thirst" as Austin put it,
Vermont being "dry," and New Hampshire, at this time, "local option."
Probably, from the earliest era, young men have been thirsty, and their
parents have bemoaned the fact. It is not hard to imagine Eve wringing
her hands over Cain and Abel when they first sampled generously the
beverage they had made from the purple grapes which grew so plentifully
near the Garden of Eden. Wallacetown also offered "balls," not
occasionally, but two or three times a week. The Elks Hall, the Opera
House, and even the Parish House were constantly being thrown open, and a
local orchestra flourished. These "balls" were usually quite as innocent
as those that took place in larger cities, under more elegant and
exclusive surroundings; but the stricter Methodists and
Congregationalists of the countryside did not believe in dancing at all,
especially when there might be a "ginger-ale high-ball" or a glass of ale
connected with it. Besides, there were two poolrooms and a wide street
paved with asphalt, and brilliantly lighted down both sides. Trains
ran--and stopped--by night as well as by day, and Sundays as well as
week-days. In short, Wallacetown was up-to-date. That alone, in the eyes
of Hamstead, was enough to condemn it. And when an enterprising citizen
opened a Moving-Picture Palace, and promptly made an enormous success of
it, Mrs. Elliott could no longer restrain herself.
"It's something scandalous," she declared, "to see the boys an' girls who
would be goin' to Christian Endeavor or Epworth League if they'd ben
brought up right, crowdin' 'round the entrance doors lookin' at the
posters, an' payin' out good money that ought to go into the missionary
boxes for the heathen in the Sandwich Islands, to go an' see filums of
wimmen without half enough clothes on. We read in the _Wallacetown Bugle_
that there was goin' to be a picture called 'The Serpent of the Nile' an'
Joe an' I thought we could risk that, it sounded kinder geographical an'
instructive. Of course we went mostly to see the new buildin' an' who
else would be there, anyway. But land! the serpent was a girl dressed in
the main in beads an' a pleasant smile. She loafed around on hard-lookin'
sofas that was set right out in the open air, an' seemed to have more
beaux than wimmen-friends. I'm always suspicious of that kind of a woman.
I wanted to leave right away, as soon as I see what it was goin' to be
like, but Joe wouldn't. He wanted to set right there until it was over.
He seemed to feel afraid some one might see us comin' out, an' that maybe
we better stay until the very end, so's we wouldn't be noticed, slippin'
out with the crowd.--Have you took cold, Sylvia? You seem to have a real
Sylvia, who had been sewing peacefully beside the sunny kitchen window
filled with geraniums, rose hastily, and left Mrs. Gray alone with her
friend. Having gained the hall in safety, she sank down on the stairs,
and laughed until the tears rolled down her cheeks. And here Austin,
coming in a moment later, found her.
"What on earth--?" he began, and then, without even pursuing his
question, sat down beside her and joined in her laugh. "What would you
do?" he said at last, when some semblance of order had been restored,
"without Mrs. Elliott? Considering the quiet life you lead, you must be
simply pining for amusement."
"I am," said Sylvia. "Austin--let's go to the movies in Wallacetown
Austin, suddenly grave, shook his head. "Shows" in Wallacetown were
associated in his mind with a period in his life when he had very nearly
broken his mother's heart, and which he had now put definitely behind
him. The idea of connecting Sylvia, even in the most remote way, with
that period, was abhorrent to him.
"Why not?" she asked defiantly.
"Well, for one thing, the roads are awful. This combination in March of
melting snow and mud is worse than anything I know of--ruts and holes and
slush. It would take us over an hour to get there."
"And three to get back, I suppose," said Sylvia pertly; "we could go in
"I haven't taken out the new license for this year yet. Besides, though I
believe the movies are very good for a place the size of Wallacetown, of
course, they can't be equal to what you'll be seeing in New York pretty
soon. Wait and go there."
"I won't!" said Sylvia, springing up. "I'll get Thomas to take me. You
always have some excuse when I want you to do anything. Why don't you say
right out that you don't care to go?"
Sylvia expected denials and protestations. She was disappointed. Thomas
had arrived home for his long spring vacation a few days before, and had
promptly begun to follow Sylvia about like a shadow. Austin, who never
sought her out except for his French lessons, had endeavored to
remonstrate with his younger brother. The boy flared up, with such
unusual and unreasonable anger, that Austin had decided it was wiser not
to try to spare him any longer, but to let "him make a fool of himself
and have it over with." When Sylvia made her tart speech, it suddenly
flashed through his mind that a ten-mile ride, without possibility of
interruption, was an excellent opportunity for this. He therefore grinned
so cheerfully that Sylvia was more puzzled and piqued than ever.
"I'm sure Thomas would be tickled to death to take you," he said
enthusiastically; "I'll get the car registered the first thing in the
morning, and he can spend the afternoon washing and oiling it. It really
needs a pretty thorough going-over. It'll do my heart good to see him in
his old clothes for once. He seems to have entirely overlooked the fact
that he was to spend this vacation being pretty useful on the farm, and
not sighing at your heels dressed in the height of fashion as he
understands it. He's wearing out the mat in front of the bureau, he
stands there so much, and I've hardly had a chance for a shave or a tub
since he got here. He locks himself in the bathroom and spends hours
manicuring his nails and putting bay-rum on his hair. He--All right, I
won't if you say so! But, Sylvia, you ought to make a real spree of this,
and go in to the drug-store for an ice-cream soda after the show."
"Is that the usual thing?"
"It's the most usual thing that I should recommend to you. Of course,
there are others--
"Austin, you are really getting to be the limit. Go tell Thomas I
"With pleasure. I haven't," murmured Austin, "had a chance to tell him
that so far. He's never been far enough off--except when he was
getting ready to come. That's probably what he's doing now. I'll go
upstairs and see."
Austin had guessed right. Thomas stood in front of the mirror, shining
with cleanliness, knotting a red silk tie. He had reached that stage in a
young man's life when clothes were temporarily of supreme importance.
Gone was the shy and shabby ploughboy of a year before. This
self-assertive young gentleman was clad in a checked suit in which green
was a predominating color, a black-and-white striped shirt, and
chocolate-colored shoes. His hair, still dripping with moisture, was
brushed straight back from his forehead and the smell of perfumed soap
hung heavy about him.
"Hullo," he said, eyeing his brother's intrusion with disfavor, "how
dirty you are!"
Austin, whose khaki and corduroy garments made him look more than ever
like a splendid bronze statue, nodded cheerfully.
"I know. But some one's got to work. We can't have two lilies of the
field on the same farm.--Sylvia wants to speak to you."
"Do you know why?" asked Thomas, promptly displaying more dispatch.
"I think she intends to suggest that you should take her to the
moving-pictures in Wallacetown to-morrow night. She doesn't get much
amusement here, and now that she's feeling so much stronger again, I
think she rather craves it."
"Of course she does," said Thomas, "and if you weren't the most selfish,
pig-headed, blind bat that ever flew, you'd have seen that she got it,
long before this. Where is she?"
It seemed to the impatient Thomas that the next evening would never
arrive. All night, and all the next day, he planned for it exultantly. He
was to have the chance which the ungrateful Austin had seen fit to cast
away. He would show Sylvia how much he appreciated it. Through the long
afternoon, suddenly grown unseasonably warm, he toiled on the motor until
it was spick and span from top to bottom and from end to end. He was
careful to start his labors early enough to allow a full hour to dress
before supper, cautioned his mother a dozen times to be sure there was
enough hot water left in the boiler for a deep bath, and laid out fresh
and gorgeous garments on the bed before he began his ablutions. He was
amazed to find, when he came downstairs, that Sylvia, who had tramped
over to the brick cottage that afternoon, was still in the short muddy
skirt and woolly sweater that she had worn then, poking around in the
yard testing the earth for possibilities of early gardening.
"The frost has come out a good deal to-day," she said, wiping grimy
little hands on an equally grimy handkerchief; "I expect the mud will be
awful these next few weeks, but I can get in sweet peas and ever-bearing
strawberries pretty soon now."
"We'll have to start right after supper," said Thomas, by way of a
delicate hint. He did not feel that it was proper for him to suggest to
Sylvia that her present costume was scarcely suitable to wear if she
were to accompany him to a "show."
"Start?" Sylvia looked puzzled. Then she remembered that in a moment of
pique with Austin she had arranged to go to Wallacetown with Thomas. As
she thought it over, it appealed to her less and less. "You mean to
Wallacetown? I'm afraid I'd forgotten all about it, I've been so busy
to-day. I wonder if we'd better try it? The warmth to-day won't have
improved the roads any, and they were pretty bad before."
Thomas felt as if he should choke. That she should treat so casually the
evening towards which he had been counting the moments for twenty-four
hours seemed almost unbearable. He strove, however, to maintain his
"Just as you say, of course," he replied with hurt coolness.
Sylvia glanced at him covertly, and the corners of her mouth twitched.
"I suppose we may as well try it," she said. "Do you suppose some of the
others would like to come with us? There's plenty of room for everybody."
Again Thomas choked. This was the last thing that he desired. How was he
to disclose to Sylvia the wonderful secret that he adored her with the
whole family sitting on the back seat?
"I don't believe they could get ready now," he said; "they didn't know
you expected them to go, you see, and there's really awfully little
time." He took out his watch.
Sylvia fled. Twenty minutes later she appeared at the supper-table, clad
in a soft black lace dress, slightly low in the neck, her arms only
partially concealed by transparent, flowing sleeves, her waving hair
coiled about her head like a crown. She had on no jewels--only the little
star that Austin had given her--and the gown was the sort of
demi-toilette which two years before she would have considered hardly
elaborate enough for dinner alone in her own house. To the Grays,
however, her costume represented the zenith of elegance, and Thomas began
vaguely to feel that there was something the matter with his own
"Ought I to have put on my dress-suit?" he asked Austin in a
stage-whisper, as Sylvia left the room to get her wraps.
The mere thought of a dress-suit at the Wallacetown "movies" was comic to
the last degree, but the merciless Austin jumped at the suggestion.
"Why don't you? You won't be very late if you change quickly. You won't
need to take another bath, will you? I'll bring round the car."
He showed himself, indeed, all that was helpful and amiable. He not only
brought around the car, he went up and helped Thomas with stubborn studs
and a refractory tie. He stood respectfully aside to let his brother wrap
Sylvia's coat around her, and held open the door of the car.
"Have a good time!" he shouted after them, as they plunged out of sight,
somewhat jerkily, for Thomas, who had not driven a great deal, was not a
master of gear-shifting. His mother looked at him anxiously.
"I can't help feelin' you're up to some deviltry, Austin," she said
uneasily, "though I don't know just what 'tis. I'm kinder nervous about
this plan of them goin' off to Wallacetown."
"I'm not," said Austin with a wicked grin, and took out his French
The first part of the evening, however, seemed to indicate that Mrs.
Gray's fears were groundless. Sylvia and Thomas reached the
Moving-Picture Palace without mishap, though they had left the Homestead
so late owing to the latter's change of attire and the slow rate at which
the mud and his lack of skill had obliged them to ride, that the audience
was already assembled, and "The Terror of the Plains," a stirring tale of
an imaginary West, was in full progress before they were seated. Thomas's
dress-suit did not fail to attract immediate attention and equally
immediate remarks, and Sylvia, who hated to be conspicuous, felt her
cheeks beginning to burn. But--more sincerely than Mr. Elliott--she
decided that it was better to wait until the entertainment was over than
to attract further notice by going out at once. Thomas, less sensitive
than she, enjoyed himself thoroughly.
"We have splendid pictures in Burlington," he announced, "but this is
good for a place of this size, isn't it, Sylvia?"
"Yes. Don't talk so loudly."
"I can't talk any softer and have you hear unless I put my head up
closer. Can I?"
"Of course, you may not. Don't be so silly."
"I didn't mean to be fresh. You're not cross, are you, Sylvia?"
It seemed to her as if the "show" would never end. Chagrin and resentment
overcame her. What had possessed her to come to this hot, stuffy place
with Thomas, instead of reading French in her peaceful, pleasant
sitting-room with Austin? Why didn't Austin show more eagerness to be
with her, anyway? She liked to be with him--ever and ever so much--didn't
see half so much of him as she wanted to. There was no use beating about
the bush. It was perfectly true. She was growing fonder of him, and more
dependent on him, every day. And every other man she had ever known had
been grateful for her least favor, while he--Her hurt pride seemed to
stifle her. She was very close to tears. She was jerked back to composure
by the happy voice of Thomas.
"My, but that was a thriller! Come on over to the drug-store, Sylvia, and
have an ice-cream cone."
"I'm not hungry," said Sylvia, rising, "and it must be getting awfully
late. I'd rather go straight home."
Thomas, though disappointed, saw no choice. But once off the brilliantly
lighted "Main Street," and lumbering down the road towards Hamstead, he
decided not to put off the great moment, for which he had been waiting,
any longer. Wondering why his stomach seemed to be caving in so, he
"Did you know I was going to be twenty-one next month, Sylvia?" he asked.
"No," said Sylvia absently; "that is, I had forgotten. You seem more like
eighteen to me."
This was a somewhat crushing beginning. But Thomas was not daunted.
"I suppose that is because I was older than most when I went to college,"
he said cheerfully, "but though you're a little bit older, I'm nearer
your age than any of the others--much nearer than Austin. Had you ever
thought of that?"
"No," said Sylvia again, still more absently. "Why should I? I feel about
"Well, you _look_ about sixteen! Honest, Sylvia, no one would guess
you're a day over that, you're so pretty. Has any one ever told you how
pretty you are?"
"Well, it has been mentioned," said Sylvia dryly, "but I have always
thought that it was one of those things that was greatly overestimated."
"Why, it couldn't be! You're perfectly lovely! There isn't a girl in
Burlington that can hold a candle to you. I've been going out, socially,
a lot all winter, and I know. I've been to hops and whist-parties and
church-suppers. The girls over there have made quite a little of me,
Sylvia, but I've never--"
There was a deafening report. Thomas, cursing inwardly, interrupted
"We must have had a blow-out," he said, bringing the car to a noisy stop.
"Wait a second, while I get out and see."
It was all too true. A large nail had passed straight through one of the
front tires. He stripped off his ulster, and the coat of his dress-suit,
and turned up his immaculate trousers.
"You'll have to get up for a minute, while I get the tools from under the
seat, Sylvia. I'm awfully sorry.--It's pretty dark, isn't it?--I never
changed a tire but once before. Austin's always done that."
"Austin's always done almost everything," snapped Sylvia. Then, peering
around to the back of the car, "Why don't _you do_ something? What _is_
the matter now?"
"The lock on the extra wheel's rusted--you see it hasn't been undone all
winter. I can't get it off."
"Well, _smash_ it, then! We can't stay here all night."
"I haven't got anything to smash it _with_. I must have forgotten to put
part of the tools back when I cleaned the car."
"Oh, Thomas, you are the most _inefficient_ boy about everything except
farming that I ever saw! Let me see if I can't help."
She jumped out, her feet, clad in silk stockings and satin slippers,
sinking into the mud as she did so. Together for fifteen minutes, rapidly
growing hot and angry, they wrestled with the refractory lock. At the end
of that time they were no nearer success than they had been in the
"We'll have to crawl home on a flat tire," she said at last disgustedly;
"I hope we'll get there for breakfast."
Thomas had never seen her temper ruffled before. Her imperiousness was
always sweet, and it was Heaven to be dictated to by her. The fact that
he believed her to be comparing him in her mind to Austin did not help
matters. Austin, as he knew very well, would have managed some way to get
that tire changed. For some time they rode along in silence, the mud
churning up on either side of the guards with every rod that they
advanced. At last, realizing that his precious moments were slipping
rapidly away, and that though, in Sylvia's present mood, it was hardly a
favorable time to go on with his declaration, the morrow would be even
less so, Thomas summoned up his courage once more.
"Is your back tired?" he asked. "It's awfully jolty, going over these
ruts. I could steer all right with one hand, if you would let me put my
other arm around you."
"You're not steering any too well as it is," remarked Sylvia tartly.
"_Thomas_! What are you thinking of? Don't you touch me!--There, now
you've done it!"
Thomas certainly had "done it." Sylvia, at his first movement, had
slapped him in the face with no gentle tap. And Thomas, with only one
hand on the wheel, and too amazed to keep his wits about him, had allowed
the car to slide down the side of the road into the deep, muddy gutter,
straight in front of the Elliotts' house.
Late as it was, a light was snapped on in the entrance without delay.
Electricity had been installed here before any other place in the village
had been blessed with it, for the owners never missed a chance of seeing
anything, and Mrs. Elliott seemed to sleep with one eye and one ear open.
She appeared now in the doorway, dressed in a long, gray flannel
"wrapper," her hair securely fastened in metal clasps all about her head,
against the "crimps" for the next day.
"Who is it?" she cried sharply--"and what do you want?"
Of all persons in the world, this was the last one whom either Sylvia or
Thomas desired to see. Neither answered. Nothing dismayed, Mrs. Elliott
advanced down the walk. Her carpet-slippers flapped as she came.
"Come on, Joe," she called over her shoulder to her less intrepid spouse.
"Are you goin' to leave me alone to face these desperate drunkards,
lurchin' around in the dead of night, an' makin' the road unsafe for
doctors who might be out on some errand of mercy--they're the only
_respectable_ people who wouldn't be abed at this hour of the night. You
better get right to the telephone, an' notify Jack Weston. He ain't much
of a police officer, to be sure, but I guess he can deal with bums like
these--too stewed to answer me, even!" Then, as she drew nearer, she gave
a shriek that might well have been heard almost as far off as
Wallacetown, "Land of mercy! It's Sylvia an' Thomas!"
Thomas cowered. No other word could express it. But Sylvia got out,
slamming the door behind her.
"We've been to Wallacetown to a moving-picture show," she said with a
dignity which she was very far from feeling, "and we've been unfortunate
in having tire-trouble on the way home. And now we seem to be stuck in
the mud. I had no idea the roads were in such a condition, or of course I
shouldn't have gone. We can't possibly pry the motor up in this darkness,
so I think we may as well leave it where it is, first as last until
morning, and walk the rest of the way home. Come on, Thomas."
"I wouldn't ha' b'lieved," said Mrs. Elliott severely, "that you would
ha' done such a thing. Prayer-meetin' night, too! Well, it's fortunate no
one seen you but me an' Joe. If I was gossipy, like some, it would be all
over town in no time, but you know I never open my lips. But, land sakes!
here comes a _team_. Who can this be?"
Eagerly she peered out through the darkness. Then she turned again to the
"It's Austin in the carryall," she cried excitedly; "now, ain't that a
piece of luck? You won't have to walk home, after all. Though what _he's_
out for, either, at this hour--"
Austin reined in his horse. "Because I knew Sylvia and Thomas must have
got into some difficulty," he said quietly. Considering the pitch at
which it had been uttered, it had not been hard to overhear Mrs.
Elliott's speech. "Pretty bad travelling, wasn't it? I'm sorry. Tires,
too? Well, that was hard luck. But we'll be home in no time now, and of
course the show was worth it. You didn't hurt your dress-suit any, did
you, Thomas? I worried a little about that. You drive--I'll get in on the
back seat with Sylvia, and make sure the robe's tucked around her all
right. It seems to be coming off cold again, doesn't it? Good-night, Mrs.
Elliott--thank you for your sympathy."
Conversation languished. Austin, unseen by the miserable Thomas on the
front seat, and unreproved by the weary and chilly Sylvia, "tucked the
robe around her" and then, apparently, forgot to take his arm away.
Moreover, he searched in the darkness for her small, cold fingers, and
gathered them into his free hand, which was warm and big and strong. As
they neared the house, he spoke to her.
"The next time you want to go to 'a show' I guess I'd better take you
myself, after all," he whispered. "You'll find a hot-water bag in your
bed, and hot lemonade in the thermos bottle on the little table beside
it. I put a small 'stick' in it--oh, just a twig! And I've kept the
kitchen fire up. The water in the tank's almost boiling, if you happen to
feel like a good tub--"
He helped her out, and held open the front door for her gravely. Then,
closing it behind her, he turned to Thomas.
"You'd better run along, too," he said, with a slight drawl; "I'll put
the horse up."
"Oh, go to hell!" sobbed Thomas.
"So you refused Weston's offer of three hundred dollars for Frieda?"
"Yes, father. Do you think I was wrong?"
"Well, I don't know. That's a good deal of money, Austin."
"I know, but think what she cost to import, and the record she's making!
I told him he might have two of the brand-new bull calves at
"What did he say?"
"Jumped at the chance. He's coming _for_ the calves, and _with_ the cash
early to-morrow morning. I said he might have a look at Dorothy, too.
Peter thinks she isn't quite up to our standard, and I'm inclined to
agree with him, though I imagine his opinion is based partly on the fact
that she's a Jersey! If Weston will give three hundred for _her_, right
on the spot, I think we'd better let her go."
"Did you do any other special business in Wallacetown?"
"I took ten dozen more eggs to Hassan's Grocery, and he paid me for the
last two months. Thirty dollars. Pretty good, but we ought to do better
yet, though, of course, we eat a great many ourselves. How's the tax
assessing coming along? I suppose you've been out all day, too."
"Yes. I'm so green at it I find it rather hard work. It's hard luck that
both of the listers should be sick just now, though in New Hampshire the
selectmen always have to do the assessing. But I've had some funny
experiences to-day. I found one woman terribly distressed because her
husband wasn't at home. 'He waited 'round all yesterday afternoon for
you, thinkin' you'd probably be here,' she said, 'but he's gone to White
Water to-day.' 'Well,' I said, 'let's see if we can't get along just as
well without him. Have you a horse?' 'Yes, but he's over age--he can't be
taxed.' 'Any cows?' 'Just two heifers--they're too young.' 'Any money on
deposit?' 'Lord, no!' 'Then there's only the poll-tax?' I suggested.
'Bless you, he's seventy-six years old--there ain't no poll-tax!' she
rejoined. And the long and short of it was that they weren't taxable for
a single thing!"
Austin laughed. "How much longer are you going to be at this, father?" he
asked, as he turned to go away.
"All through April, I'm afraid. I'm sorry it makes things so much harder
for you on the farm, Austin, but it means three dollars a day. I'm so
glad Katherine and Edith could go on the high school trip to
Washington--your mother had her first letter this noon. You'll want to
read it--they're having a wonderful time. I'm trying to figure out
whether we can possibly let Katherine go to Wellesley next year. She's
got her heart just set on it, and Edith seems perfectly willing to stay
at home, so we shan't be put to any extra expense for her."
"I guess when the time comes we can find a way to help Katherine if she
helps herself as much as Thomas and Molly are doing. By the way, has it
occurred to you that there may be some reason for Edith's sudden turn
"Why, no--what do you mean?"
"Peter!" echoed Mr. Gray, aghast; "why the child isn't seventeen yet, and
he can't be more than a couple of years older!"
"I know. But such things do sometimes happen."
"You don't consider Peter a suitable match for one of your sisters?" went
on the horrified father; "why, she's oceans above him."
"Any farther than Sylvia is above Thomas? You seem to be taking that
For Thomas, in spite of Austin's warnings, and his chastening experience
on the night of the expedition to the Moving-Picture Palace, had broken
bounds again and openly declared himself. Sylvia, who already reproached
herself for her ill-temper on that occasion, was very kind and very
sweet, and had the tact and wisdom not to treat the matter as a joke; but
she was as definite and firm in her "no" as she was considerate in the
way she put it. Thomas was as usual quite unable to conceal his feelings,
and his parents were grieving for him almost as much as he was for
himself, although they had never expected any other outcome to his first
love-affair, and were somewhat amazed at his presumption.
"You never thought of this yourself," went on the bewildered parent,
ignoring Austin's last remark, feeling that his children were treating
him most unfairly by indulging in so many affairs of the heart which
could not possibly have a fortunate outcome. "_I_ haven't noticed a
thing, and I'm sure your mother hasn't, or she would have spoken about it
to me. Why, Edith's hardly out of her cradle."
"It would take a pretty flexible cradle to hold Edith nowadays," returned
Austin dryly; "she's running around all over the countryside, and she has
more partners at a dance than all the other girls put together. She isn't
as nice as Molly, or half so interesting as Katherine, but she has a
little way with her that--well, I don't know just _what_ it is, but I see
the attraction myself. I thought I'd tell you so that if you didn't like
it, we could try to scrimp a little harder, and send her off for a year
or so, too--she never could get into college, but she might go to some
school of Domestic Science. No--I didn't notice Peter's state of mind
myself at first."
"Sylvia!" said his father sharply. "She didn't approve, of course."
"On the contrary, very highly. She says that the sooner a girl of Edith's
type is married--to the right sort of a man, of course--the better, and
I'm inclined to think that she's right. Then she pointed out that Peter
had gone doggedly to school all winter, struggling with a foreign
language, and enduring the gibes he gets from being in a class with boys
much younger than himself, with very good grace. She mentioned how
faithful and competent he was in his work, and how interested in it;
asked if I had noticed the excellency of his handwriting, his
accounts--and his manners! And finally she said that a boy who would
promise his mother to go to church once a fortnight at least, and keep
the promise, was doing pretty well."
"Speaking of church," said Mr. Gray uneasily, as if forced to agree with
all Austin said, yet anxious to change the subject, "Mr. Jessup is
calling. He comes pretty frequently."
"Yes--I had noticed _that_ for myself! I don't think Sylvia particularly
"Then I imagine she can stop it without much outside help," said his
father, somewhat ruefully. "Well, we must get to work, and not sit here
talking all the rest of the afternoon--not that there's so very much
afternoon left! What are you going to do next, Austin?"
"Change my clothes, and then start burning the rubbish-pile--there's a
good moon, so I can finish it after the milking's done."
"That means you'll be up until midnight--and you were out in the barn at
five!" exclaimed Mr. Gray. "I don't see where you get all your energy."
"From ambition!" laughed Austin, starting away. "This is going to be the
finest farm in the county again, if I have anything to do about it." As
he entered the house, and went through the hall, he could hear voices in
Sylvia's parlor, and though the door was ajar, he went past it, contrary
to his custom. His father was right. If she did not like the minister's
visits, she was quite competent to stop them without outside help. Was it
possible--_could_ it be?--that she _did_ like them? He flung off his
business clothes and got into his overalls with a sort of savage
haste--after all, what difference ought it to make to him whether she
liked them or not? She was going away almost immediately, would
inevitably marry some one before very long, Mr. Jessup at least held a
dignified position and possessed a good education, and if she married
him, she would come back to Hamstead, they could see her once in a
while--Having tried to comfort himself with these cheering reflections,
he started down the stairs, inwardly cursing. Then he heard something
which made him stop short.
"Please go away," Sylvia was saying, in the low, penetrating voice he
knew so well, "and I think it would be better if you didn't come any
more. How dare you speak to me like that! And how can a clergyman so lose
his sense of dignity as to behave like any common fortune-hunter?"
Austin pushed open the door without stopping to knock, and walked in.
"Good-afternoon, Mr. Jessup," he said coolly, "my father told me we were
having the pleasure of a call from you. I'm just going out to milk--won't
you come with me, and see the cattle? They're really a fine sight, tied
up ready for the night."
Mr. Jessup picked up his hat, and Austin held the door open for him to
pass out, leaving Sylvia standing, an erect, scornful little black
figure, with very red cheeks, her angry eyes growing rapidly soft as she
looked straight past the minister at Austin.
The results of Mr. Jessup's visit were several. The most immediate one
was that Austin's work was so delayed by the interruption it received
that it was nearly nine o'clock before he was able to start his bonfire.
Thomas joined him, but after an hour declared he was too sleepy to work
another minute, and strolled off to bed. Austin's next visitor was his
father, who merely came to see how things were getting along and to say
good-night. And finally, when he had settled down to a period of
laborious solitude, he was amazed to see Sylvia open and shut the front
door very quietly, and come towards him in the moonlight, carrying a
white bundle so large that she could hardly manage it.
"For Heaven's sake!" he exclaimed, hurrying to help her, "you ought to
have been asleep hours ago! What have you got here?"
"Something to add to your bonfire," she said savagely, and as he took the
great package from her, the white wrapping fell open, showing the
contents to be inky black. "All the crepe I own! I won't wear it another
day! I've been respectful to death--even if I couldn't be to the
dead--and to convention long enough. I've swathed myself in that stuff
for nearly fifteen months! I won't be such a hypocrite as to wear it
another day! And if Thomas--and--and--Mr. Jessup and--and everybody--are
going to pester the life out of me, I might just as well be in New York
as here. I'm glad I'm going away."
"No one else is going to pester you," said Austin quietly, "and they
won't any more. But you'll have a good time in New York--I think it's
fine that you're going." He tossed the bundle into the very midst of the
burning pile, and tried to speak lightly, pretending not to notice the
excitement of her manner and the undried tears on her flushed cheeks. "I
think you're just right about that stuff, too. Will this mean all sorts
of fluffy pink and blue things, like what Flora Little wears? I should
think you would look great in them!"
"No--but it means lots and lots of pure white dresses and plain black
suits and hats, without any crepe. Then in the fall, lavender, and gray,
and so on."
"I see--a gradual improvement. Won't you sit down a few minutes? It's a
"Thank you. Austin--you and Sally will have to help me shop when I get to
New York--Heaven knows what I can wear to travel down in."
Austin stopped raking, and flung himself down on the grass beside her.
"Sylvia," he said quickly, "I'm awfully sorry, but I can't go."
"Can't go! Why not?" she exclaimed, with so much disappointment in her
voice that he was amazed.
"Father's a selectman now, you know, and away all day just at this time
on town business. There's too much farmwork for Thomas and Peter to
manage alone. I didn't foresee this, of course, when I accepted your
uncle's invitation. I can't tell you how much it means to me to give it
up, but you must see that I've got to."
"Yes, I see," she said gravely, and sat silently for some minutes,
fingering the frill on her sleeve. Then she went on: "Uncle Mat wants me
to stay a month or six weeks with him, and I think I ought to, after.
deserting him for so long. When I come back, my own little house will be
ready for me, and it will be warm enough for me to move in there, so I
think these last few days will be 'good-bye.' Your family has let me stay
a year--the happiest year of all my life--and I know your mother loves
me--almost as much as I love her--and hates to have me go. But all
families are better off by themselves, and in one way I think I've stayed
too long already."
"You mean Thomas?"
She nodded, her eyes full of tears. "I ought to have gone before it
happened," she said penitently; "any woman with a grain of sense can
usually see that--that sort of thing coming, and ward it off beforehand.
But I didn't think he was quite so serious, or expect it quite so soon."
"The young donkey! To annoy you so!"
"_Annoy_ me! Surely you don't think _Thomas_ was thinking of the money?"
"Good Lord, no, it never entered his head! Neither did it enter his head
what an unpardonable piece of presumption it was on his part to ask you
to marry him. A great, ignorant, overgrown, farmer boy!"
"You are mistaken," said Sylvia quietly; "I do not love Thomas, but if I
did, the answer would have had to be 'no' just the same. The presumption
would be all on my part, if I allowed any clean, wholesome, honest boy,
in a moment of passion, to throw away his life on a woman like me. Thomas
must marry a girl, as fresh as he is himself--not a woman with a past
like mine behind her."
For nearly a year Austin had exercised a good deal of self-control for a
man little trained in that valuable quality. At Sylvia's speech it gave
way suddenly, and without warning. Entirely forgetting his resolution
never to touch her, he leaned forward, seizing her arm, and speaking
"I wish you would get rid of your false, gloomy thoughts about yourself
as easily as you have got rid of your false, gloomy clothing," he said,
passionately. "The mother and husband who made your life what it was are
both where they can never hurt you again. Your character they never did
touch, except in the most superficial way. When you told me your story,
that night in the woods, you tried to make me think that you did
voluntarily--what you did. You lied to me. I thought so then. I know it
now. You were flattered and bullied, cajoled and coerced--a girl scarcely
older than my sister Edith, whom we consider a child, whose father is
distressed to even think of her as marriageable. It is time to stop
feeling repentance for sins you never committed, and to look at yourself
sanely and happily--if you must be introspective at all. No braver,
lovelier, purer woman ever lived, or one more obviously intended to be a
wife and mother. The sooner you become both, the better."
There was a moment of tense silence. Sylvia made no effort to draw away
from him; at last she asked, in a voice which was almost pleading in
"Is that what you think of me?"
Austin dropped his hand. "Good God, Sylvia!" he said hoarsely; "don't you
know by this time what I think of you?"
"Then you mean--that you want me to marry you?"
"No, no, no!" he cried. "Why are you so bound to misunderstand and
misjudge me? I beg you not to ride by yourself, and you tell me I am
'dictating.' I go for months without hearing from you for fear of
annoying you, and you accuse me of 'indifference.' I bring you a gift as
a vassal might have done to his liege lady--and you shrink away from me
in terror. I try to show you what manner of woman you really are, and you
believe that I am displaying the same presumption which I have just
condemned in my own brother. Are you so warped and embittered by one
experience--a horrible one, but, thank Heaven, quickly and safely over
with!--that you cannot believe me when I tell you that the best part of a
decent man's love is not passion, but reverence? His greatest desire, not
possession, but protection? His ultimate aim, not gratification, but
He bent over her. She was sitting quite motionless, her head bowed, her
face hidden in her hands; she was trembling from head to foot. He put his
arm around her.
"Don't!" he said, his voice breaking; "don't, Sylvia. I've been rough and
violent--lost my grip on myself--but it's all over now--I give you my
word of honor that it is. Please lift your head up, and tell me that you
forgive me!" He waited until it seemed as if his very reason would leave
him if she did not answer him; then at last she dropped her hands, and
raised her head. The moon shone full on her upturned face, and the look
that Austin saw there was not one of forgiveness, but of something so
much greater that he caught his breath before she moved or spoke to him.
"Are you blind?" she whispered. "Can't you see how I have felt--since
Christmas night, even if you couldn't long before that? Don't you know
why I just couldn't go away? But I thought you didn't care for me--that
you couldn't possibly have kept away from me so long if you did--that you
thought I wasn't good enough--Oh, my dear, my dear--" She laid both hands
on his shoulders.
The next instant she was in his arms, his lips against hers, all the
sorrow and bitterness of their lives lost forever in the glory of their
When, two days later, Sylvia and Sally left for New York, none of the
Grays had been told, much less had they suspected, what had happened. A
certain new shyness, which Austin found very attractive, had come over
Sylvia, and she seemed to wish to keep their engagement a secret for a
time, and also to keep to her plan of going away, with the added reason
that she now "wanted a chance to think things over."
"To think whether you really love me?" asked Austin gravely.
"Haven't I convinced you that I don't need to think that over any more?"
she said, with a look and a blush that expressed so much that the
conversation was near to being abruptly ended.
Austin controlled himself, however, and merely said:
"I'm going down to our little cemetery this afternoon to put it in good
order for the spring; I know you've always said you didn't want to go
there, but perhaps you'll feel differently now. All the Grays are buried
there, and no one else, and in spite of all the other things we've
neglected, we've kept that as it should be kept; and it's so peaceful and
pretty--always shady in summer, when it's hot, and sheltered in winter,
when it's cold! I thought you could take a blanket and a book, and sit
and read while I worked. Afterwards we can walk over to your house if you
like--you may want to give me some final directions about the work that's
to be done there while you're gone."
"I'd love to go to the cemetery--or anywhere else, for that matter--with
you," said Sylvia, "and afterwards--to _our_ house. Perhaps you'll want
to give some directions yourself!"
The tiny graveyard lay in the hollow of one of the wooded slopes which
broke the great, undulating meadow which stretched from the Homestead to
the river, a wall made of the stones picked up on the place around it, a
plain granite shaft erected by the first Gray in the centre, and grouped
about the shaft the quaint tablets of the century before, with
old-fashioned names spelled in an old-fashioned manner, and with homely
rhymes and trite sayings underneath; farther off, the newer gravestones,
more ornate and less appealing. The elms were just beginning to bud, and
the cold April wind whistled through them, but the pines were as green
and sheltering as always, and Sylvia spread her blanket under one of
them, and worked away at the sewing she had brought instead of a book,
while Austin burned the grass and dug and pruned, whistling under his
breath all the time. He stopped once to call her attention to a robin,
the first they had seen that spring, and finally, when the sacred little
place was in perfect order, came with a handful of trailing arbutus for
her, and sat down beside her.
"I thought I remembered seeing some of this on the bank," he said; "it's
always grown there--will you take it for your 'bouquet des fiançailles,'
Sylvia? I remember how surprised we all were last year because you liked
the little wild flowers best, and went around searching for them, when
your rooms were full of carnations and hothouse roses. And because you
used to go out to walk, just to see the sunsets. Do you still love
"Yes, more than ever. In the fall while you were gone, I used to go down
to the river nearly every afternoon, and watch the color spread over the
fields. There's something about a sunset in the late autumn that's unlike
those at any other time of year--have you ever noticed? It's not rosy,
but a deep, deep golden yellow--spreading over the dull, bare earth like
the glory from the diadem of a saint--one of those gray Fathers of early
Italy, for instance."
"I know what you mean--but they seem to me more like the glory that comes
into any dull, bare life," said Austin,--"the kind of glory you've been
to me. It worries me to hear you say you want to go away to 'think
things over.' What is there to think over--if you're sure you care?"
"There are lots of details to a thing of this sort."
"A thing of what sort?"
"Oh, Austin, how stupid you are! A--a marriage, of course."
"I thought all that was necessary were two willing victims, a license,
and a parson."
"Well, there's a good deal more to it than that. Besides, your family
would surely guess if I stayed here. I want to keep it just to ourselves
for a little while."
"I see. It's all right, dear. Take all the time you want."
"What would you tell them, anyway?" she went on lightly,--"that I
proposed to you, and that you accepted me? Or, to be more exact, that you
didn't accept me, but said, 'No, no, no!' most decidedly, and went on
repeating it, with variations, until I threw myself into your arms? It
was an awful blow to my pride--considering that heretofore I've certainly
had my fair share of attention, and even a little more than that--to have
to do _all_ the love-making, and I'm certainly not going to go brag about
it--' This time the conversation really did get interrupted, for Austin
would not for one instant submit to such a "garbling of statistics" and
took the quickest means in his power to put an end to it."
He had the wisdom, however, greater, perhaps, than might have been
expected, not to oppose any of her wishes just then, and it was Sylvia
herself who at the last minute felt her heart beginning to fail her, and
called him to the farther end of the station platform, on the pretext of
consulting him about some baggage.
"I don't see how I can say good-bye--in just an ordinary way," she
whispered, "and I'm beginning to miss you dreadfully already. If I can't
stand it, away from you, you must arrange to come down for at least a
day or two."
It was beginning to sprinkle, and, taking her umbrella, he opened it and
handed it to her, leaning forward and kissing her as soon as she was
hidden by it.
"I never meant to say good-bye 'in an ordinary way,'" he said cheerfully,
"whatever your intentions were! And, of course, I'll manage to come to
town for a day or two, if you find you really want me. Fred would be glad
to help me out for that long, I'm sure. On the other hand, if it's a
relief to be rid of me for a while, and New York looks pretty good to
you, don't hurry back--you've been away for a whole year, remember. I'll
In spite of his cheerful words and matter-of-course manner, Austin stood
watching the train go out with a heavy heart. He was very sincere in
feeling that his presumption had been great, and that he had taken
advantage of feelings which mere youth and loneliness might have awakened
in Sylvia, and from which she would recover as soon as she was with her
own friends again. And yet he loved her so dearly that it was hard--even
though he acknowledged that it was best--to let her go back to the world
by whose standards he felt he fell short in every way.
"If I lose her," he said to himself, "I must remember that--of course I
ought to. King Cophetua and the beggar maid makes a very pretty
story--but it doesn't sound so well the other way around. And then she's
given me such a tremendous amount already--if I never get any more, I
must be thankful for that."
Sally spent a rapturous week in New York, and came home with her modest
trousseau all bought and glowing accounts of the good times she had had.
"The very first thing Sylvia did, the morning after we got there," she
said, "was to buy a new limousine and hire a man to run it. My, you ought
to see it! It's lined with pearl gray, and Sylvia keeps a gold vase with
orchids--fresh ones every day--in it! She helped me choose all my things,
and I never could have got half so much for my money, or had half such
pretty things if she hadn't; and she began right off to get the most
_elegant_ clothes for herself, too! I knew Sylvia was pretty, but I never
knew _how_ pretty until I saw her in a low-necked white dress! We went to
the theatre almost every evening, and saw all the sights, besides--it
didn't take long to get around in that automobile, I can tell you!
Perfect rafts of people kept coming to see her all the time, telling her
how glad they were to see her back, and teasing her to do things with
them. I bet she'll get married again in no time--there were _dozens_ of
men, all awfully rich and attractive and apparently just _crazy_ about
her! We went out twice to lunch, and once to dinner, at the grandest
houses I ever even imagined, and every one was lovely to me, too, but of
course it was only Sylvia they really cared about. I was about wild, I
got so excited, but it didn't make any more impression on Sylvia than
water rolling off a duck's back--she didn't seem the least bit different
from when she was here, helping mother wash the supper dishes, and
teaching Austin French. She took it all as a matter of course. I guess we
didn't any of us realize how important she was."
"I did," said Austin.
"You!" exclaimed his sister, with withering scorn. "You've never been
even civil to her, much less respectful or attentive! If you could see
the way other men treat her--"
"I don't want to," said Austin, with more truth than his sister guessed.
A young, lovely, and agreeable widow, with a great deal of money, and no
"impediments" in the way of either parents or children, is apt to find
life made extremely pleasant for her by her friends; and every one felt,
moreover, that "Sylvia had behaved so very well." For two months after
her husband's death, she had lived in the greatest seclusion, too ill,
too disillusioned and horror-stricken, too shattered in body and soul--as
they all knew only too well--to see even her dearest friends. Then she
had gone to the country, remaining there quietly for a year, regaining
her health and spirits, and had now returned to her uncle's home,
lightening her mourning, going out a little, taking up her old interests
again one by one--a fitting and dignified prelude for a new establishment
of her own. She could not help being pleased and gratified at the warmth
of her reception; and she found, as Austin had predicted, that "New York
looked pretty good to her." It is doubtful whether the taste for luxury,
once acquired, is ever wholly lost, even though it may be temporarily
cast aside; and Sylvia was too young and too human, as well as too
healthy and happy again, not to enjoy herself very much, indeed.
For nearly a month she found each day so full and so delightful as it
came, that she had no time to be lonely, and no thought of going away;
but gradually she came to a realization of the fact that the days were
_too_ full; that there were no opportunities for resting and reading and
"thinking things over"; that the quiet little dinners and luncheons of
four and six, given in her honor, were gradually but surely becoming
larger, more formal and more elaborate; that her circle of callers was no
longer confined to her most intimate friends; that her telephone rang in
and out of season; that the city was growing hot and dusty and tawdry,
and that she herself was getting tired and nervous again. And when she
waked one morning at eleven o'clock, after being up most of the night
before, her head aching, her whole being weary and confused, it needed
neither the insistent and disagreeable memory of a little incident of the
previous evening, nor the letter from Austin that her maid brought in on
her breakfast-tray, to make her realize that the tinsel of her gayety was
* * * * *
DEAREST (the letter ran):
It is midnight, and--as you know--I am always up at five, but I must send
you just a few words before I go to bed, for these last two days have
been so full that it has seemed to be impossible to find a moment in
which to write you. "Business is rushing" at the Gray Homestead these
days, and everything going finely. The chickens and ducklings are all
coming along well--about four hundred of them--and we've had three
beautiful new heifer calves this week. Peter is beside himself with joy,
for they're all Holsteins. I went to Wallacetown yesterday afternoon, and
made another $200 payment on our note at the bank--at this rate we'll
have that halfway behind us soon.
To-day I've been over at your house every minute that I could spare and
succeeded in getting the last workman out--for good--at eight o'clock
this evening. (I bribed him to stay overtime. There are a few little odd
jobs left, but I can work those in myself in odd moments.) There is no
reason now why you shouldn't begin to send furniture any time you like. I
never would have believed that it would be possible to get three such
good bedrooms--not to mention a bathroom and closets--out of the attic,
or that tearing out partitions and unblocking fireplaces would work such
wonders downstairs. It's all just as you planned it that first day we
tramped over in the snow to see it--do you remember?--and it's all
lovely, especially your bedroom on the right of the front door, and the
big living-room on the left. The papers you chose are exactly right for
the walls, and the white paint looks so fresh and clean, and I'm sure the
piazza is deep enough to suit even you. I've ploughed and planted your
flower- and vegetable-gardens, as well as those at the Homestead, and
this warm, early spring is helping along the vegetation finely, so I
think things will soon be coming up. We've decided to try both wheat and
alfalfa as experiments this year, and I can hardly wait to see whether
they'll turn out all right.
Katherine graduates from high school the eighteenth of June, and as
Sally's teaching ends the same day, and Fred's patience has finally given
out with a bang, she has fixed the twenty-fifth for her wedding. Won't
she be busy, with just one week to get ready to be a bride, after she
stops being a schoolmarm? But, of course, we'll all turn to and help her,
and Molly will be home from the Conservatory ten days before that--you
know how efficient she is. By the way, has she written you the good news
about her scholarship? We may have a famous musician in the family yet,
if some mere man doesn't step in and intervene. Speaking of lovers, Peter
is teaching Edith Dutch! And when mother remonstrated with her, she
flared up and asked if it was any different from having you teach me
French! (I sometimes believe "the baby" is "onto us," though all the
others are still entirely unsuspicious, and keep right on telling me I
never half appreciated you!) So they spend a good deal of time at the
living-room table, with their heads rather close together, but I haven't
yet heard Edith conversing fluently in that useful and musical foreign
language which she is supposed to be acquiring.
I haven't had a letter from you in nearly a week, but I'm sure, if you
weren't well and happy, Mr. Stevens would let us know. I'm glad you're
having such a good time--you certainly deserve it after being cooped up
so long. Sorry you think it isn't suitable for you to dance yet, for, of
course, you would enjoy that a lot, but you can pretty soon, can't you?
Good-night, darling. God bless you always!
* * * * *
There was something in the quiet, restrained tone of the letter, with its
details of homely, everyday news, and the tidings of his care and
interest in her little house, that touched Sylvia far more than many
pages of passionate outpouring of loneliness and longing could have done.
She knew that the loneliness and longing were there, even though he would
not say so, and she turned from the great bunch of American Beauties
which had also come in with her breakfast-tray, with something akin
almost to disgust as she thought of Austin's tiny bunch of arbutus--his
"bouquet des fiançailles," as he had called it--the only thing, besides
the little star, that he had ever given her. She called her maid, and
announced that in the future she would never be at home to a certain
caller; then she reached for the telephone beside her bed and cancelled
all her engagements for the next few days, on the plea of not feeling
well, which was perfectly true; and then she called up Western Union, and
dispatched a long telegram, after which she indulged in a comforting and
salutary outburst of tears.
"It will serve me quite right if he won't come," she sobbed. "I wouldn't
if I were he, not one step--and he's just as stubborn as I am. I never
was half good enough for him, and now I've neglected him, and frittered
away my time, and even flirted with other men--when I'd scratch out the
eyes of any other woman if she dared to look at him. It's to be hoped
that he doesn't find out what a frivolous, empty-headed, silly, vain
little fool I am--though it probably would be better for him in the end
if he did."
Sylvia passed a very unhappy day, as she richly deserved to do. For the
woman who gives a man a new ideal to live for, and then, carelessly,
herself falls short of the standard she has set for him, often does as
great and incalculable harm as the woman who has no standards at all.
Uncle Mat received a distinct shock when he reached his apartment that
night, to find that his niece, dressed in a severely plain black gown,
was dining at home alone with him. Before he finished his soup he
received another shock.
"Austin Gray is coming to New York," she said, coolly, buttering a
cracker; "I have just had a telegram saying he will take a night train,
and get in early in the morning--eight o'clock, I believe. I think I'll
go and meet him at the station. Are you willing he should come here, and
sleep on the living-room sofa, as you suggested once before, or shall I
take him to a hotel?"
"Bring him here by all means," returned her bewildered relative; "I like
that boy immensely. What streak of good luck is setting him loose? I
thought he was tied hand and foot by bucolic occupations."
"Apparently he has found some means of escape," said Sylvia; "would you
care to read aloud to me this evening?"
"Why, Sylvia, my dear! I never dreamed that you would come to meet me!"
Austin was, indeed, almost beside himself with surprise and delight when,
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