The Old Gray Homestead
Frances Parkinson Keyes
Part 3 out of 4
as he left the train and walked down the long platform in the Grand
Central Station, he saw Sylvia, dressed in pure white serge, standing
near the gate. He waved his hat like a schoolboy, and hurried forward,
setting down his suit-case to grip her hands in both of his.
"Have you had any breakfast?" she asked, as they started off.
"Yes, indeed, an hour ago."
"Then where would you like to go first? I have the motor here, and we're
both entirely at your disposal."
He hesitated a moment, and then said, laughing, "It didn't occur to me
that you'd come to the station, and I fully intended to go somewhere and
get a hair-cut that wouldn't proclaim me as coming straight from
Hamstead, Vermont, and replenish the wardrobe that looked so
inexhaustible to me last fall, before I presented myself to you."
Sylvia joined in his laugh. "Go ahead. I'll sit in the motor and wait
for you. Afterwards we'll go shopping together."
"To buy things like these?" he asked, eyeing her costume with approval.
"No. I have enough clothes now. I was going to begin choosing our
furniture--and thought you might be interested. Get in, dear, this is
ours," she said, walking up to the limousine which Sally had described
with such enthusiasm, and which now stood waiting for her, its door held
open by a French chauffeur, who was smiling with true Gallic appreciation
of his mistress's "affaire de coeur," "and here," she added, after they
were comfortably seated inside, taking a gardenia from the flower-holder,
"is a posy I've got for you."
"Thank you. Have you anything else?" he asked, folding his hand over hers
as she pinned it on.
"Oh, Austin, you're such a funny lover!"
"Because you nearly always--ask beforehand. Why don't you take what
you've a perfect right to--if you want it?"
"Possibly because I don't feel I have a perfect right to--or sure that I
have any right at all," he answered gravely, "and I can't believe it's
really real yet, anyway. You see, I only had two days with you--the new
way--before you left, and I had no means of knowing when I should have
any more--and a good deal of doubt as to whether I deserved any."
There was no reproach in the words at all, but so much genuine
humility and patience that Sylvia realized more keenly than ever how
selfish she had been.
"You'll make me cry if you talk to me like that!" she said quickly. "Oh,
Austin, I've countless things to say to you, but first of all I want to
tell you that I'll never leave you like this again, that it's--just as
real as _I am_, that you can have just as many days as you care to now,
and that I'll spend them all showing you how much right you have!" And
she threw her arms around his neck and drew his face down to hers,
oblivious alike of Andre on the front seat and all the passing crowds on
"Don't," Austin said after a moment. "We mustn't kiss each other like
that when some one might see us--I forgot, for a minute, that there
_was_ any one else in the world! Besides, I'm afraid, if we do, I'll let
myself go more than I mean to--it's all been stifled inside me so
long--and be almost rough, and startle or hurt you. I couldn't bear to
have that happen to you--again. I want you always to feel safe and
shielded with me."
"Safe! I hope I'll be as safe in heaven as I am with you! Don't you think
I know what you've been through this last year?"
"No, I don't," he said passionately; "I hope not, anyway. And that was
before I ever touched you, besides. It's different now. I shan't kiss you
again to-day, my dear, except"--raising her hand to his lips--"like this.
Are you going to wait for me here?" he ended quietly, as the motor began
to slow down in front of the Waldorf.
"No," she said, her voice trembling; "I'm going to church, 'to thank God,
kneeling, for a good man's love.' Come for me there, when you're ready."
"Are you in earnest?"
"I never was more so."
He joined her at St. Bartholomew's an hour later, and seeking her out,
knelt beside her in the quiet, dim church, empty except for themselves.
She felt for his hand, and gripping it hard, whispered with downcast eyes
and flushed cheeks:
"Austin, I have a confession to make."
"Of course, you have--I knew that from the moment I got your telegram.
Well, how bad is it?" he said, trying to make his voice sound as light as
possible. But her courage had apparently failed her, for she did not
answer, so at last he went on:
"You didn't miss me much, at first, did you? When you thought of me I
seemed a little--not much, of course, but quite an important little--out
of focus on the only horizon that your own world sees. Well, I knew that
was bound to happen, and that if you really cared for me as much as you
thought you did at the farm, it was just as well that it should--for
you'd soon find out how much your own horizon had broadened and
beautified. Don't blame yourself too much for that. I suppose the worst
confession, however, is that something occurred to make you long, just a
little, to have me with you again--just as you were glad to see me come
into the room the last day our minister called. What was it?"
"Austin! How can you guess so much?"
"Because I care so much. Go on."
"People began to make love to me," she faltered, "and at first I
did--like it. I--flirted just a little. Then--oh, Austin, don't make me
"I never imagined," he said grimly, "that Thomas and Mr. Jessup were
the only men who would ever look at you twice. I suppose I've got to
expect that men are going to _try_ to make love to you always--unless I
lock you up where no one but me can see you, and that doesn't seem very
practical in this day and generation! But I don't see any reason--if
you love me--why you should _let_ them. You have certainly got to tell
"I will not, if you speak to me that way," she flashed back. "Why should
I? You wouldn't tell me all the foolish things you ever did!"
"Yes, Sylvia, I will," he said gravely, "as far as I can without
incriminating anybody else--no man has a right to kiss--or do more than
that--and tell, in such a way as to betray any woman--no matter what sort
she is. Some of the things I've done wouldn't be pleasant, either to say
or to hear; for a man who is as hopeless as I was before you came to us
is often weak enough to be perilously near being wicked. But if you wish
to be told, you have every right to. And so have I a right to an answer
to my question. No one knows better than I do that I'm not worthy of you
in any way. But you must think I am or you wouldn't marry me, and if
you're going to be my wife, you've got to help me to keep you--as sacred
to me as you are now. Shall I tell first, or will you? A church is a
wonderful place for a confession, you know, and it would be much better
to have it behind us."
"You needn't tell at all," she said, lifting her face and showing as she
did so the tears rolling down her cheeks. "_Weak_! You're as strong as
steel! If all men were like you, there wouldn't be anything for me to
tell either. But they're not. The night before I telegraphed you, an old
friend brought me home after a dinner and theatre party. We had all had
an awfully gay time, and--well, I think it was a little _too_ gay. This
man wanted to marry me long ago, and I think, perhaps, I would have
accepted him once--if he'd--had any money. But he didn't then--he's made
a lot since. He began to pay me a good deal of attention again the
instant I got back to New York, and I was glad to see him again, and--Of
course, I ought to have told him about you right off, but some way, I
didn't. I always liked him a lot, and I enjoyed--just having him round
again. I thought that if he began to show signs of--getting restive--I
could tell him I was engaged, and that would put an end to it. But he
didn't show any signs--any _preliminary_ signs, I mean, the way men
usually do. He simply--suddenly broke loose on the way home that night,
and when I refused him, he said most dreadful things to me, and--"
"Took you in his arms by force, and kissed you, in spite of yourself."
Austin finished the sentence for her speaking very quietly.
"Oh, Austin, _please_ don't look at me like that! I couldn't help it!"
"Couldn't help it! No, I suppose you struggled and fought and called him
all kinds of hard names, and then you sent for me, expecting me to go to
him and do the same. Well, I shan't do anything of the sort. I think you
were twice as much to blame as he was. And if you ever--let yourself
in for such an experience again, I'll never kiss you again--that's
"Well, I mean it--just that. I don't know much about society, but I know
something about women. There are women who are just plain bad, and women
who are harmless enough, and attractive, in a way, but so cheap and
tawdry that they never attract very deeply or very long, and women who
are good as gold, but who haven't a particle of--allure--I don't know how
else to put it--Emily Brown's one of them. Then there are women like you,
who are fine, and pure, and--irresistibly lovely as well; who never do or
say or even think anything that is indelicate, but whom no man can look
at without--wanting--and who--consciously or unconsciously--I hope the
latter--tempt him all the time. You apparently feel free to--play with
fire--feeling sure you won't get even scorched yourself, and not caring a
rap whether any one else gets burnt; and then you're awfully surprised
and insulted and all that if the--the victim of the fire, in his first
pain, turns on you. 'Said dreadful things to you'--I should think he
would have, poor devil! Perhaps young girls don't realize; but a woman
over twenty, especially if she's been married, has only herself to blame
if a man loses his head. Were you sweet and tender and--_aloof_, just
because you were sick and disgusted and disillusioned, instead of
because that was the real _you_--are you going to prove true to your
mother's training, after all, now that you're happy and well and safe
again? If you have shown me heaven--only to prove to me that it was a
mirage--you might much better have left me in what I knew was hell!"
He left her, so abruptly that she could not tell in which direction he
had turned, nor at first believe that he had really gone. Then she knelt
for what seemed to her like hours, the knowledge of the justice of all he
had said growing clearer every minute, the grief that she had hurt him so
growing more and more intolerable, the hopelessness of asking his
forgiveness seeming greater and greater It did not occur to her to try to
find him, or to expect that he would come back--she must stay there until
she could control her tears, and then she must go home. A few women,
taking advantage of the blessed custom which keeps nearly all Anglican
and Roman churches open all day for rest, meditation, and prayer, came
in, stayed a few minutes, and left again. At eleven o'clock there was a
short service, the daily Morning Prayer, sparsely attended. Sylvia knelt
and stood, mechanically, with the other worshippers. Then suddenly, just
before the benediction was pronounced, Austin slid into the seat beside
her, and groped for her hand. Neither spoke, nor could have spoken;
indeed, there seemed no need of words between them. A very great love is
usually too powerful to brook the interference of a question of
forgiveness. The clergyman's voice rose clear and comforting over them:
"'The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the
fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all ever more. Amen.'"
"Is there a flower-shop near here?" was the perfectly commonplace
question Austin asked as they went down the church steps together into
the spring sunshine.
"Yes, just a few steps away. Why?"
"I want to buy you some violets--the biggest bunch I can get."
"Aren't you rather extravagant?"
"Not at all. The truth is, I've come into a large fortune!"
"Austin! What do you mean?"
He evaded her question, smiling, bought her an enormous bouquet, and then
suggested that if her destination was not too far away they should walk.
She dismissed the smiling Andre, and walked beside Austin in silence for
a few minutes hoping that he would explain without being asked again.
"Did you say you were going to Tiffany's to buy furniture--I thought
Tiffany's was a jewelry store, and in the opposite direction?"
"It is. I'm going to the Tiffany Studios--quite a different place.
Austin--don't tease me--do tell me what you mean?"
"Why? Surely you're not marrying me for my money!"
"Good gracious, you plague like a little boy! Please!"
"Well, a great-aunt who lived in Seattle, and whom I haven't seen in ten
years, has died and left me all her property!"
"Mercy, Sylvia, how mercenary you are! Enough so you won't have to buy my
cigars and shoe-strings--aren't you glad?"
"Of course, but I wish you'd stop fooling and tell me all about it."
"Well, I shan't--if I did you'd make fun of me, because it would seem so
small to you, and I want to be just as lavish and extravagant as I like
with it all the time I'm in New York--you'll have to let me 'treat' now!
And just think! I'll be able to pay my own expenses when I take that
trip to Syracuse which you seem to think is going to complete my
agricultural education. Peter's going with me, and I imagine we'll be a
"How are things going in that quarter?"
"Rather rapidly, I imagine. I've given father one warning, and I
shan't interfere again, bless their hearts! I caught him kissing her
on the back stairs the other night, but I walked straight on and
pretended not to see."
"Thereby earning their everlasting gratitude, of course, poor babies!"
"How many years older than Edith are you?"
"Never mind, you saucy boy! Here we are--have you any suggestions you
may not care to make before the clerks as to what kind of furniture I
"None at all. I want to see for myself how much sense you have in certain
directions, and if I don't like your selections, I warn you beforehand
that the offending articles will be used for kindling wood."
"Do be careful what you say. They know me here."
"Careful what _I_ say! I shall be a regular wooden image. They'll think
I'm your second cousin from Minnesota, being shown the sights."
He did, indeed, display such stony indifference, and maintain such an
expression of stolid stupidity, that Sylvia could hardly keep her face
straight, and having chosen a big sofa and a rug for her living-room, and
her dining-room table, she announced that she "would come in again" and
"I have a good mind to shake you!" she said as they went down the steps.
"I had no idea you were such a good actor--we'll have to get up some
dramatics when we get home. Did you like my selections?"
"Very much, as far as they went. Where are you going now--I see that
your grinning Frenchman and upholstered palace on wheels are waiting for
"Well, I can't walk _all_ day--I'm going to Macy's to buy kitchen-ware.
You'd better do something else--I'm afraid you'll criticize my brooms and
"All right, go alone. I'm going to the real Tiffany's."
"To squander my fortune, Pauline Pry. I'll meet you at Sherry's at
one-thirty. I suppose some kindly policeman will guide my faltering
footsteps in the right direction. Good-bye." And he closed the door of
the car in her radiant face.
They had a merry lunch an hour later, Austin ordering the meal and paying
for it with such evident pleasure that Sylvia could not help being
touched at his joy over his little legacy. Then he proposed that,
although they were a little late, they might go to a matinee, and
afterwards insisted on walking up Fifth Avenue and stopping for tea at
"I've seen more beautiful cities than New York," he said, as they
sauntered along, much more slowly than most of the hurrying
throng,--"Paris, for instance--fairly alive with loveliness! But I don't
believe there's a place in the world that gives you the feeling of
_power_ that this does--especially just at this time of day, when the
lights are coming on, and all these multitudes of people going home after
their day's work or pleasure. It's tremendous--lifts you right off your
feet--do you know what I mean?"
They reached home a little after six, to find Uncle Mat, whose existence
they had completely forgotten, waiting for them with his eyes glued to
"I was about to have the Hudson River dragged for you two," he said, as
Austin wrung his hand and Sylvia kissed him penitently. "Where _have_ you
been? I came home to lunch, and made several appointments to introduce
Austin to some very influential men, who I think would make valuable
acquaintances for him. It's inexcusable, Sylvia, for you to monopolize
him this way."
The happy culprits exchanged glances, and then Sylvia linked her arm in
Austin's and got down on her knees, dragging him after her.
"I suppose we may as well confess," she said, "because you'd guess it
inside of five minutes, anyway. Please don't be very angry with us."
"What _are_ you talking about? Austin, can you explain? Has Sylvia taken
leave of her senses?"
"I'm afraid so, sir," said Austin, with mock gravity; "it certainly
looks that way. For about six weeks ago she told me that--some time in
the dim future, of course--she might possibly be prevailed upon to
Uncle Mat declared afterwards that this last shock was too much for him,
and that he swooned away. But all that Austin and Sylvia could remember
was that after a moment of electrified silence, he embraced them both,
exclaiming, "Bless my stars! I never for one moment suspected that she
had that much sense!"
"Are you two young idiots going out again this evening?" asked Uncle Mat
as the three were eating their dessert, glancing from Sylvia's low-necked
white gown to Austin's immaculate dress-suit.
"No. This is entirely in each other's honor. But I hope you are, for I
want to talk to Austin."
"Good gracious! What have you been doing all day? What do you expect
_me_ to do?"
"You can go to your club and have five nice long rubbers of bridge," said
Sylvia mercilessly, "and when you come back, please cough in the hall."
"I want to write a few lines to my mother, after I've had a little talk
with Mr. Stevens--then I'm entirely at your disposal," said Austin, as
she lighted their cigars and rose to leave them.
"I'm glad some one wants to talk to me," murmured Uncle Mat meekly.
Sylvia hugged him and kissed the top of his head. "You dear jealous old
thing! I've got some telephoning and notes to attend to myself. Come and
knock on my door when you're ready, Austin."
"You have a good deal of courage," remarked Uncle Mat, nodding in
Sylvia's direction as she went down the hall.
"Perhaps you think effrontery would be the better word."
"Not at all, my dear boy--you misunderstand me completely. Sylvia's the
dearest thing in the world to me, and I've been worrying a good deal
about her remarriage, which I knew was bound to come sooner or later. I'm
more than satisfied and pleased at her choice--I'm relieved."
"Thank you. It's good to know you feel that way, even if I don't
"You do deserve it. In speaking of courage, I meant that the poor husband
of a rich wife always has a good deal to contend with; and aside from the
money question, you're supersensitive about what you consider your lack
of advantages and polish--though Heaven knows you don't need to be!" he
added, glancing with satisfaction at the handsome, well-groomed figure
stretched out before him. "I never saw any one pick up the veneer of good
society, so called, as rapidly as you have. It shows that real good
breeding was back of it all the time."
"I guess I'd better go and write my letter," laughed Austin, "before you
flatter me into having an awfully swelled head. But I want to tell you
first--I'm not a pauper any more. I've got twenty thousand dollars of my
own--an old aunt has died and left most of her will in my favor. I've
taken capital, and paid off all our debts--except what we owe to Sylvia.
She can give me that for a wedding present if she wants to. It's queer
how much less sore I am about her money now that I've got a little of my
own! There are one or two things that I want to buy for her, and I want
to pay my own expenses and Peter's on a trip through western New York
farms this summer. The rest I must invest as well as I can, to bring me
in a little regular income. I'm sure, now that the farm and the family
are perfectly free of debt, that I can earn enough to add quite a little
to it every year. If Sylvia lost every cent she had, we could get married
just the same, and though she'd have to live simply and quietly, she
wouldn't suffer. I thought you would help me with investments--or take me
to some other man who would."
"I will, indeed--if you don't spend _all_ your time, as Sylvia fully
intends you shall, making love to her. This changes the outlook
wonderfully--clears the sky for both of you! It's bad for a man to be
wholly dependent on his wife, and scarcely less bad for her. But there's
"I don't want you to think I'm meddling--or underestimating Sylvia--"
"I won't think that, no matter what you say."
"How long have you and she been in love with each other? Wasn't it pretty
nearly a case of 'first sight'?"
Austin flushed. "It certainly was with me," he said quietly.
"And haven't you--quarrelled from the very beginning, too?"
The boy's flush deepened. "Yes," he said, still more quietly, "we seemed
to misunderstand--and antagonize each other."
"Even to-day?"--Then as Austin did not answer, "Now, tell me
truthfully--whose fault is it?"
"The first time it was mine," said Austin quickly. "She made me clean up
the yard--it needed it, too!--and I was furious! And I was rude--worse
than rude--to her for a long time. But since then--"
"You needn't be afraid to say it was hers," remarked Sylvia's uncle
dryly. "She wants an absolutely free hand, which isn't good for her to
have--she's only twenty-two now, pretty as a picture, and still
absolutely inexperienced about many things. She can't bear the thought of
dictation, and you're both young and self-willed and proud, and very much
in love--which makes the whole thing harder, and not easier, as I suppose
you imagine. Now, some women, even in these days, aren't fit to live with
until--figuratively speaking--they've been beaten over the head with a
club. Sylvia's not that kind. She's not only got to respect her husband's
wishes, she's got to _want_ to--and I believe you can make her want to! I
think you're absolutely just--and unusually decent. If I didn't I
shouldn't dare say all this to you--or let you have her at all, if I
could help it. And besides being fair, you know how to express
yourself--which some poor fellows unfortunately can't do--they're
absolutely tongue-tied. In fact, you're perfectly capable of taking
things into your own hands every way, and making a success of it--and if
you don't before you're married, neither of you can possibly hope to be
"There's one thing you're overlooking, Mr. Stevens, which I should have
had to tell you to-night, anyway."
"What is it?"
"I'm not worthy of tying up Sylvia's shoes--much less of marrying her.
I've been straight as a string since she came to the farm, but before
that--any one in Hamstead would tell you. It was town talk. I can't,
knowing that, act as I would if I--didn't have that to remember. It's all
very well to say that a man--_gets through_ with all that,
absolutely--I've heard them say it dozens of times! But how can he be
sure he is through--that the old sins won't crop up again? I love Sylvia
more than--than I can possibly talk about, and I'm _afraid_--afraid that
I won't be worthy of her, and that if she gave in absolutely--that I'd
abuse my position."
Uncle Mat glanced up quietly from his cigar. There were tears in the
boy's eyes, his voice trembled. The older man, for a moment, felt
powerless to speak before the penitent sincerity of Austin's confession,
the humility of his bared soul.
"As long as you feel that way," he said at last, a trifle huskily, "I
don't believe there's very much danger--for either of you. And remember
this--lots of good people make mistakes, but if they're made of the right
stuff, they don't make the same mistake but once. And sometimes they gain
more than they lose from a slip-up. You certainly are made of the right
stuff. Perhaps you will go through some experience like what you're
dreading, though I can't foresee what form it will take. Meanwhile
remember that Sylvia's been through an awful ordeal, and be very gentle
with her, though you take the reins in your hands, as you should do. I'm
thankful that she has such a bright prospect for happiness ahead of her
now--but don't forget that you have a right to be happy, too. Don't be
too grateful and too humble. She's done you some favors in the past, but
she isn't doing you one now--she never would have accepted you if she
hadn't been head over heels in love with you. Now write your letter, and
then go to her. But to-morrow I want you all the morning--we must look
into the acquaintances I spoke about, and the investments you spoke
about. Meanwhile, the best of luck--you deserve it!"
Austin smoked thoughtfully for some minutes after Uncle Mat left him, and
finally, roused from his brown study by the striking of a clock, went
hurriedly to the desk and began his letter. Before he had finished,
Sylvia's patience had quite given out, and she came and stood behind him,
with her arm over his shoulder as he wrote. He acknowledged the caress
with a nod and a smile, but went on writing, and did not speak until the
letter was sealed and stamped.
"Sorry to have kept you waiting, dear. Now, then, what is it?"
"I've been thinking things over."
"So I supposed. Well, what have you thought, honey?"
"First, that I want you to have these. I've been going through my jewelry
lately, and have had Uncle Mat sell everything except a few little
trinkets I had before I--was married, and the pearls he gave me then. In
my sorting process, I came across these things that were my father's. I
never offered them to--to--any one before. But I want you to wear them,
if you will."
She handed him a little worn leather box as she spoke, and on opening it
he found, besides a few pins and studs of no great value, a handsome,
old-fashioned watch and a signet ring.
"Thank you very much, dear. I'll wear them with great pride and pleasure,
and this will be an exchange of gifts, for I've got something for you,
too--that's what my shopping was this morning."
He took her left hand in his, slipped off her wedding ring, and slid
another on her finger--a circle of beautiful diamonds sunk in a platinum
band delicately chased.
"_Austin!_ How exquisite! I never had--such a lovely ring! How did you
happen to choose--just this?"
"Largely because I thought you could use it for both an engagement ring
now, and a wedding ring when we get married--which was what I wanted."
And without another word, he took the discarded gold circle and threw it
into the fire. "And partly," he went on quite calmly--as if nothing
unusual had happened, and as if it was an everyday occurrence to burn up
ladies' property without consulting them--"because I thought it was
beautiful, and--suitable, like the little star."
"And you expect me to wear it, publicly, now?"
"I shall put it a little stronger than that--I shall insist upon your
She looked up in surprise, her cheeks flushing at his tone, but he went
"I've just written my mother, and asked her to tell the rest of the
family, that we are engaged. They have as much right to know as your
uncle. You can do as you please about telling other people, of course.
But you can't wear another man's ring any longer. And it seems to me, as
we shall no longer be living in the same house, and as I shall be coming
constantly to see you after you come back to Hamstead, that it would be
much more dignified if I could do so openly, in the rôle of your
prospective husband. While as far as your friends here are
concerned--after what you told me this morning--I think you must agree
with me that it is much fairer to let them know at once how things stand
with you, and introduce me to them."
"I don't want to use up these few precious days giving parties. I want
you to myself."
"I know, dear--that's what I'd prefer, in one way, too. But I have got to
take some time for business, and later on your friends will feel that you
were ashamed of me--and be justified in feeling so--when they learn that
we are to be married, and that you were not willing to have me meet them
when I was here."
Sylvia did not answer, but sat with her eyes downcast, biting her lips,
and pulling the new ring back and forth on her finger.
"That is, of course, unless you _are_ ashamed--are you perfectly sure of
your own mind? If not, my letter isn't posted yet, and it is very easy to
tell your uncle that you have found you were mistaken in your feelings."
"What would you do if I should?" she asked defiantly.
"Do? Why, nothing. Tell him the same thing, of course, pack my suit-case,
and start back to Hamstead as soon as I had met the men I came to see on
"Oh, Austin, how can you talk so! I don't believe you really want me,
"Don't you?" he asked in an absolutely expressionless voice, and pushing
back his chair he walked over to the window, turning his back on her
She was beside him in an instant, promising to do whatever he wished and
begging his forgiveness. But it was so long before he answered her, or
even looked at her, that she knew that for the second time that day she
had wounded him almost beyond endurance.
"If you ever say that to me again, no power on earth will make me marry
you," he said, in a voice that was not in the least threatening, but so
decisive that there could be no doubt that he meant what he said; "and
we've got to think up some way of getting along together without
quarrelling all the time unless you have your own way about everything,
whether it's fair that you should or not. Now, tell me what you wanted
to talk to me about, and we'll try to do better--those troublesome
details you mentioned before you left the farm? Perhaps I can straighten
out some of them for you, if you'll only let me."
"The first one is--money."
"I thought so. It's a rather large obstacle, I admit. But things are not
going to be so hard to adjust in that quarter as I feared. I'll tell you
now about the little legacy I mentioned this morning." And he repeated
his conversation with Uncle Mat. "You can do what you please with your
own money, of course--take care of your own personal expenses, and run
the house, and give all the presents you like to the girls--but you can't
ever give me another cent, unless you want to call the family
indebtedness to you your wedding present to me."
"You can't get everything you want on the income of ten thousand
dollars--which is about all the capital you'll have left when you've paid
all these first expenses you mention."
"I can have everything I _need_--with that and what I'll earn. What's
your next 'detail'?"
"I suppose I'll have to give in about the money--but will you mind, very
much, if we have--a long engagement?"
"I certainly shall. As I told you before, I think too much has been
sacrificed to convention already."
"It isn't that."
"I don't know how to tell you, and still have you believe I love
"You mean, that for some reason, you're not ready to marry me yet?" And
as she nodded without speaking, her eyes filling with tears, he asked
very gently, "Why not, Sylvia?"
"No--that is, not of you personally--but of marriage itself. I can't bear
yet--the thought of facing--passion."
The hand that had been stroking her hair dropped suddenly, and she felt
him draw away from her, with something almost like a groan, and put her
arms around his neck, clinging to him with all her strength.
"_Don't_--I love you--and love you--and _love you_--oh, can't I make you
see? Are you very angry with me, Austin?"
"No, darling, I'm not angry at all. How could I be? But I'm just
beginning to realize--though I thought I knew before--what a perfect hell
you've been through--and wondering if I can ever make it up to you."
"Then this doesn't seem to you dreadful--to have me ask for this?"
"Not half so dreadful as it would to have you look at me as you did on
He began stroking her hair again, speaking reassuringly, his voice full
"Don't cry, dearest--it's all right. There's nothing to worry over. It's
right that you should have your way about this--it's _my_ way, too, as
long as you feel like this. I hope you won't _too_ long--for--I love you,
and want you, and--and need you so much--and--I've waited a year for you
already. But I promise never to force--or even urge--you in any way, if
you'll promise me that when you _are_ ready--you'll tell me."
"I will," she sobbed, with her head hidden on his shoulder.
"Then that's settled, and needn't even be brought up again. Don't cry so,
honey. Is there anything else?"
"Just one thing more; and in a way, it's the hardest to say of any."
"Well, tell me, anyway; perhaps I may be able to help."
"My baby," she said, speaking with great difficulty, "the poor little
thing that only lived two weeks. It's buried in the same lot with--its
father--at Greenwood. I never can go near that place again. I've paid
some one to take care of it, and Uncle Mat has promised me to see that
it's done. I think some day you and I--will have a son--more than one, I
hope--and he will _live_! But if this--this baby--could be taken away
from where he is now, and buried in that little cemetery, you know--I
could go sometimes, quite happily, and stay with him, and put flowers on
his little grave; and later on there could be a stone which said, merely,
'Harold, infant son of Sylvia--Gray.'"
Apparently Austin forgot what he had said that morning, for long before
she had finished he took her in his arms; but the kisses with which he
covered her face and hair were like those he would have given to a little
child, and there was no need of an answer this time. For a long while she
lay there, clinging to him and crying, until she was utterly spent with
emotion, as she had been on the night when they had stayed in the wood;
and at last, just as she had done then, she dropped suddenly and quietly
to sleep. Through the tears which still blinded his own eyes, Austin
half-smiled, remembering how he had longed to kiss her as he carried her
home, rejoicing that his conscience no longer needed to stand like an
iron barrier between his lips and hers. He waited until he was sure that
she was sleeping so soundly that there would be little danger of waking
her, then lifted her, took her down the hall to her room, and laid her
on the big, four-posted bed.
"That's the second time you've been to sleep in my arms, darling," he
whispered, bending over to kiss her before he left her; "the third time
will be on our wedding might--God grant that isn't very far away!"
"Graduation from high school" ranks second in importance only to a
wedding in rural New England families. For not only the "Graduating
Exercises" themselves, with their "Salutatory" and "Valedictory"
addresses, their "Class History" and "Class Prophecy," their essays and
songs, constitute a great occasion, but there is also the all-day
excursion of picnic character; the "Baccalaureate Sermon" in the largest
church; the "Prize Speaking" in the nearest "Opera House"; and last, but
not least, the "Graduation Ball" in the Town Hall. The boys suffer
agonies in patent-leather boots, high, stiff collars and blue serge
suits; the girls suffer torments of jealousy over the fortunate few whose
white organdie dresses come "ready-made" straight from Boston. The
Valedictorian, the winner at "Prize Speaking," the belle of the parties,
are great and glorious beings somewhat set apart from the rest of the
graduates; and long after housework and farming are peacefully resumed
again, the success of "our class" is a topic of enduring interest.
A wedding brings even more in its train. The bride's house, where the
marriage service, as well as the wedding reception, generally takes
place, must be swept and scoured from attic to cellar, and, if possible,
painted and papered as well. Guest-rooms must be set in order for
visiting members of the family, and the bridal feast prepared and served
without the help of caterers. The express office is haunted for incoming
wedding presents, and though the destination of "the trip"--generally to
Montreal or Niagara Falls if the happy pair can afford it--is a
well-guarded secret, the trousseau and the gifts, as they arrive, stand
in proud display for the neighbors to run in and admire, and the
prospective bride and groom, self-conscious and blushing, attend divine
service together in the face of a smiling and whispering congregation.
It was small wonder, then, that the Gray family, with the prospect of a
graduation and a wedding within a few days of each other before it, was
thrown into a ferment of excitement compared to which the hilarity of the
Christmas holidays was but a mild ripple. Molly had won a scholarship at
the Conservatory, and was beginning to show some talent for musical
composition; Katherine was the Valedictorian of her class; Edith had
every dance engaged for the ball; and though Thomas had not distinguished
himself in any special way, he had kept a good average all the year in
his studies, and managed to be very nearly self-supporting by the outside
"chores" he had done at college, and it was felt that he, too, deserved
much credit, and that his home-coming would be a joyful event. He was
trying out "practical experiments" with his class, and could promise only
to arrive "just in time"; but Molly, who headed her letters with the
notes of the wedding march, and said that she was practising it every
night, wrote that she would be home _plenty_ long enough beforehand to
help with _everything_, and that mother _simply mustn't_ get all worn out
working too hard with the house-cleaning; Sadie and James were coming
home for a week, to take in both festivities, though Sadie must be
"careful not to overdo just now." Katherine was entirely absorbed in her
determination to get "over ninety" in every one of her final
examinations; and Mr. and Mrs. Gray were both so busy and so preoccupied
that Edith and Peter were left to pursue the course of true love
unobserved and undisturbed.
The effect which Austin's letter to his mother, written the night after
he reached New York, produced in a household already pitched so high, may
readily be imagined. A thunderbolt casually exploding in their midst
could not have effected half such a shock of surprise, or the gift of all
the riches of the Orient so much joy. And when, a week later, he came
home bringing Sylvia with him--a new Sylvia, laughing, crying, blushing,
as shy as a girl surprised at her first tête-à-tête, Mr. and Mrs. Gray
welcomed the little lady they loved so well as their daughter.
Those were great days for Mrs. Elliott, who, as mother of the prospective
bridegroom, as well as Mrs. Gray's most intimate friend, enjoyed especial
privileges; and as she was not averse to sharing her information and
experiences, the entire village joyfully fell upon the morsels of choice
gossip with which she regaled them.
"I don't believe any house in the village ever held so many elegant
clothes at once," she declared. "For besides all Sally's things, which
are just too sweet for anything, there's Katherine's graduation dress an'
ball-dress, an' a third one, mind, to wear when she's bridesmaid--most
girls would think they was pretty lucky to have any one of the three!
Edith has a bridesmaid's dress just like hers, an' a bright yellow one
for the ball, an' Molly's maid-of-honor's outfit is handsomest of
all--pale pink silk, draped over kind of careless-like with chif_fon_,
an' shoes an' silk stockin's to match. An' Mis' Gray, besides that
pearl-colored satin Austin brought her from Europe, has a lavender
brocade! 'I didn't feel to need it at all,' she told me, 'but Sylvia just
insisted. "Two nice dresses aren't a bit too many for you to have," says
Sylvia; "the gray one will be lovely for church all summer, an' after
Sally's weddin', you can put away the lavender for--Austin's," she
finished up, blushin' like a rose.' 'Have you any idea when that's goin'
to be?' I couldn't help askin'. 'No,' says Mis' Gray, 'I wish I had.
Howard an' I tried to persuade her to be married the same night as Sally!
I've always admired a double-weddin'. But she wouldn't hear of it, an' I
must say I was surprised to see her so set against it, an' that Austin
didn't urge her a bit, either, for they just set their eyes by each
other, any one can see that, an' there ain't a thing to hinder 'em from
gettin' married to-morrow, that I know of, if they want to--unless
perhaps they think it's too soon,' she ended up, kinder meanin'-like."
"The presents are somethin' wonderful," Mrs. Elliott related on another
occasion. "Sally's uncle out in Seattle--widower of her that left Austin
all that money--has sent her a whole dinner-set, white with pink roses on
it--twelve dozen pieces in all, countin' vegetable dishes, bone-plates,
an' a soup-tureen. She's had sixteen pickle-forks, ten bon-bon spoons,
an' eight cut-glass whipped-cream bowls, but I dare say they'll all come
in handy, one way or another, an' it makes you feel good to have so many
generous friends. Austin's insisted on givin' her one of them Holst_een_
cows he fetched over from Holland, an' Fred says it's one of the most
valuable things she's got, though I should feel as if any good bossy,
raised right here in Hamstead, would probably do 'em just as well, an'
that he might have chosen somethin' a little more tasty. Ain't men queer?
Sylvia? Oh, she's given her a whackin' big check--enough so Sally can pay
all her 'personal expenses,' as she calls 'em all her life, an' never
touch the principal at that; an' a big box of knives an' forks an'
spoons--'a chest of flat silver' she calls it, an' a silver tea-set to
match--awful plain pattern they are, but Sally likes 'em. Yes, it's nice
of her, but it ain't any more than I expected. She's got plenty of
money--why shouldn't she spend it?"
Only once did Mrs. Elliott say anything unpleasant, and the village,
knowing her usually sharp tongue, thought she did remarkably well, and
took but little stock in this particular speech.
"I'm glad it's Sally Fred picked out, an' not one of the other girls,"
she declared; "she's twenty-nine years old now--a good, sensible
age--pleasant an' easy-goin', same's her mother is, an' yet real capable.
Ruth always was a silly, incompetent little thing--she has to hire help
most of the time, with nothin' in the world to do but cook for Frank,
look after that little tiny house, take care of them two babies, an' go
into the store off an' on when business is rushin'. Molly's head is full
of nothin' but music, an' Katherine's of books. As to that pretty little
fool, Edith, I'm glad she ain't my daughter, runnin' round all the time
with that Dutch boy, an' her parents both so possessed with the idea that
she ain't out of her cradle yet--she bein' the youngest--that they can't
see it. Peter ain't the only one she keeps company with either--if he
was, it wouldn't be so bad, for I guess he's a good enough boy, though I
can't understand a mortal word he says, an' them foreigners all have a
kinder vacant look, to me. But the other night I was took awful sudden
with one of them horrible attacks of indigestion I'm subject to--we'd had
rhubarb pie for supper, an' 'twas just elegant, but I guess I ate too
much of it, an' the telephone wouldn't work on account of the
thunderstorm we'd had that day--seems like that there'd been a lot of
them this season--so Joe had to hitch up an' go for the doctor. As he
went past the cemetery, he see Edith leanin' over the fence with that
no-count Jack Weston--an' it was past midnight, too!"
In the midst of such general satisfaction, it was perhaps inevitable that
at least one person should not be pleased. And that person, as will be
readily guessed, was Thomas. Sylvia, thinking the blow might fall more
bearably from his brother's hand than from hers, relegated the task of
writing him to Austin; and Austin, with a wicked twinkle in his eye,
wrote him in this wise:
When you made that little break that I warned you against this spring,
Sylvia probably offered to be a sister to you. I believe that is usual on
such occasions. You have doubtless noticed that she is exceptionally
truthful for a girl, so--largely to keep her word to you, perhaps--she
decided a little while ago to marry me. Of course, I tried to dissuade
her from this plan, but you know she is also stubborn. There seems to be
nothing for me to do but to fall in with it. I don't know yet when the
execution is going to take place, and though, of course, it would be a
relief in a way if I did, I am not finding the death sentence without its
compensations. Why don't you come home over some Sunday, and see how well
I am bearing up? Sylvia told me to ask you, with her love, or I should
not bother, for I am naturally a little loath, even now, to have so
dangerous a rival, as you proved yourself in your spring vacation, too
much in evidence.
Your affectionate brother
P.S. Have you taken any more ladies to Moving-Picture Palaces lately?
Needless to say, if Sylvia had seen this epistle, it would not have gone.
But she did not. Austin took good care of that. And Thomas did come
home--without waiting for Sunday. He rushed to the Dean's office, and
told him there had been a death in the family. It is probable that, at
the moment, he felt that this was true. At any rate, the Dean, looking at
the boy's flushed cheeks and heavy eyes, did not doubt it for an instant.
"Of course, you must go home at once," he said kindly; "wait a minute, my
Ford's at the door. I'll run you down to the station--you can just catch
the one o'clock. I'll tell one of the fellows to express a suit-case to
you this evening."
Travel on the Central Vermont Railroad is safe, but its best friend
cannot maintain that it is swift. To get from Lake Champlain to the
Connecticut River requires several changes, much patient waiting in small
and uninteresting stations for connections, and the consumption of
considerable time. It was a little after seven when Thomas, dinnerless
and supperless, reached Hamstead, and plodding doggedly up the road in a
heavy rain, met Mr. and Mrs. Elliott just starting out in their buggy for
Thursday evening prayer meeting.
"Pull up, Joe," the latter said excitedly, as she spied the boy advancing
towards them. "I do declare, there's Thomas Gray comin' up the road. I
wonder if he's been expelled, or only suspended. I must find out, so's I
can tell the folks about it after meetin', an' go down an' comfort Mary
the first thing in the mornin' after I get them tomato plants set out. I
always thought Thomas was some steadier than Austin, but Burlington's a
gay place, an' he's probably got in with wild companions up there. Do you
suppose it's some cheap little show girl, or gettin' in liquor by express
from over in New York State, or forgin' a check on account of gamblin'
debts? I know how boys spend their time while they're gettin' educated,
you can't tell me. Or maybe he hasn't passed some examination. He never
was extra bright. Failed everything, probably.--Good-evenin', Thomas,
it's nice to see you back, but quite a surprise, it not bein' vacation
time or nothin'. I suppose everything's goin' fine at college, ain't it?"
Thomas had never loved Mrs. Elliott, and lately he had come as near
hating her as he was capable of hating anybody. He longed inexpressibly
to cast a withering scowl in her direction, and pass on without
answering. But his inborn civility was greater than his aversion. He
pulled off his cap and stopped.
"Yes, everything's all right--I guess," he said, rather stupidly. Then a
brilliant inspiration struck him. "I've been doing so well in my studies
that they've given me a few days off to come home. That doesn't often
happen--they made an exception in my case."
It was seldom that the slow-witted Thomas was blessed with one of
these flights of fancy. For a minute he felt almost cheered. Mrs.
Elliott was baffled.
"Do tell," she exclaimed. "It must be a rare thing--I never hear the like
of it before. I'm most surprised you didn't take advantage of such a
chance to go down to Boston an' see Molly. Didn't feel's you could afford
it, I suppose. I guess she's kinder lonely down there. She don't seem to
get acquainted real fast. You'd think, with all the people there _are_ in
Boston, she wouldn't ha' had much trouble, but then Molly's manner ain't
in her favor, an' I suppose folks in the city is real busy--must be awful
hard to keep house, livin' the way they do. I don't think much of city
life. The last time Joe an' I went down on the excursion, we see the
Charles River, an' the Old Ladies' Home, an' the Chamber of Horrors down
on Washington Street, but we was real glad to come home. There was
somethin' the matter with the lock to our suit-case, an' we couldn't get
it undone all the time we was there, but fortunately it was real warm
weather, so we really didn't suffer none. I thought by this time Molly
might have a beau, but then, Molly's real plain. If the looks could ha'
ben divided up more even between her an' Edith, same's the brains between
you an' Austin, 'twould ha' ben a good thing, wouldn't it? But then you
say you're gettin' on well now, an' in time some man may marry her, so's
he can set an' listen to her play when he comes in tired from his chores
at night. I've heard of sech things. An' then there's quite a bunch of
love-affairs in the family already, ain't there?"
"Yes," said Thomas angrily, "there is."
Mrs. Elliott was quick to mark his tone. She nudged her husband.
"Well, well," she said playfully, "Austin's cut you out, ain't he? Mr.
Jessup was in the race for a while, too, an' I thought he was runnin'
pretty good, but you know we read in the Bible it don't always go to the
swift. An' Austin may not get her after all--I hear there's several in
New York as well an' she might change her mind. I never set much stock in
young men marryin' widows myself. Seems like there's plenty of nice girls
as ought to have a chance. An' Sylvia's awful high-toned, an' stubborn as
a mule--I dunno's she an' Austin will be able to stick it out, he's some
set himself. I shouldn't wonder if it all got broke off, an' I'm not
sayin' it mightn't be for the best if it was. But I don't deny Sylvia's
real pretty an' generous, an' I like her spunk. I was tellin' Joe only
"I'm afraid I'm keeping you from meeting," said Thomas desperately, and
strode off down the road.
The barn--the beautiful new barn that Sylvia had made possible and that
had filled his heart with such joy and pride--was still lighted. He
walked straight to it, and met Peter coming out of the door. Peter
stared his surprise.
"Where's my brother?" asked Thomas roughly.
"Mr. Gray ben still in the barn vorking. It's too bad he haf so much to
do--he don't get much time mit de missus--den she tink he don't vant to
come. I'm glad you're back, Mr. Thomas. I vas yust gon in to get ve herd
book for him. I took it in to show Edit' someting I vant to explain to
her, and left it in ve house. Most dum."
"You needn't bring it back. I want to see him alone."
Peter nodded, his bewilderment growing, and disappeared. Thomas flung
himself down the long stable, without once glancing at the row of
beautiful cows, his footsteps echoing on the concrete, to the office at
the farther end. The door was open, and Austin sat at the roll-top desk,
which was littered with account books, transfer sheets, and pedigree
cards, typewriting vigorously. He sprang up in surprise.
"Why, Thomas!" he exclaimed cordially. "Where did you drop from? I'm
awfully glad to see you!"
"You damned mean deceitful skunk!" cried the boy, slamming the door
behind him, and ignoring his brother's outstretched hand. "I'd like to
smash every bone in your body until there wasn't a piece as big as a
toothpick left of you! You made me think you didn't care a rap about
her--you said I wasn't worthy of her--that I was an ignorant farmer and
she was a great lady. That's true enough--but I'm just as good as you
are, every bit! I know you've done all sorts of rotten things I never
have! But just the same this is the first time I ever thought that
you--or any Gray--wasn't _square_! And then you write me a letter about
her like that--as if she'd flung herself at your head--_Sylvia_!"
Austin's conscience smote him. He had never seen Thomas's side before;
and neither he nor any other member of the family had guessed how much
their incessant teasing had hurt, or how hard the younger brother had
been hit. In the extremely unsentimental way common in New England, these
two were very fond of each other, and he realized that Thomas's
affection, which was very precious to him, would be gone forever if he
did not set him right at once.
"Look here," he said, forcing Thomas into the swivel chair, and seating
himself on the desk, ignoring the papers that fell fluttering to the
floor, "you listen to me. You've got everything crooked, and it's my
fault, and I'm darned sorry. I never told you I cared for Sylvia, not
because I wanted to deceive you, but because I cared so everlasting
_much_, from the first moment I set eyes on her, that I couldn't talk
about it. No one else guessed either--you weren't the only one. The
funny part of it is, that _she_ didn't! She thought, because I steered
pretty clear of her, out of a sense of duty, that I didn't like her
especially. Imagine--not liking Sylvia! Ever hear of any one who didn't
like roses, Thomas? But I never dreamed that she'd have me--or even of
asking her to! As to throwing herself at my head--well, she put it that
way herself once, and I shut her up pretty quick--you'll find out how to
do it yourself some day, with some other girl, though, of course, it
doesn't look that way to you now--but I can't give you that treatment! I
guess I'll have to tell you--though I never expected to tell a living
soul--just how it did happen. It's--it's the sort of thing that is too
sacred to share with any one, even any one that I think as much of as I
do of you--but I've got to make you believe that, five minutes
beforehand, I had no idea it was going to occur." And as briefly and
honestly as he could, he told Thomas how Sylvia had come to him while he
was making his bonfire, and what had taken place afterwards. Then, with
still greater feeling in his voice, he went on: "There's something else I
haven't told any one else either, and that is, that I can't for a single
instant get away from the thought that, even now, I'm not going to get
her. I know I haven't any right to her and I don't feel sure that I can
make her happy--that she can respect me as much as a girl ought to respect
the man she's going to marry. I certainly don't think I'm any worthier of
her than you--or as worthy--never did for a minute. I _have_ done lots of
rotten things, and you've always been as straight as a string--and you'd
better thank the Lord you have! When you get engaged you won't have to go
through what I have! But you see the difference is, as far as Sylvia and
you and I are concerned"--he hesitated, his throat growing rough, his
ready eloquence checked--"Sylvia likes you ever so much; she thinks
you're a fine boy, and that by and by you'll want to marry a fine girl;
but I'm a man already, and young as she is, Sylvia's a woman--and God
knows why--she loves me!"
Austin glanced at Thomas. The anger was dying out of the boy's face, and
unashamed tears were standing in his eyes.
"A lot," added Austin huskily. Then, after a long pause: "Won't you have
a whiskey-and-soda with me--I've got some in the cupboard here for
emergencies, while we talk over some of this business I was deep in when
you came in? There are any number of things I've been anxious to get your
opinion on--you've got lots of practical ability and good judgment in
places where I'm weak, and I miss you no end when you're where I can't
get at you--I certainly shall be glad when you're through your course,
and home for good! And after we get this mess straightened out"--he bent
over to pick up the scattered sheets--"we'd better go in together and
find Sylvia, hadn't we?"
Strangely enough, Sylvia and Austin were perhaps less happy at this time
than any of the other dwellers at the Homestead. After the first day, the
week in New York had been a period of great happiness to both of them,
and Austin had proved such an immediate success, both among Sylvia's
friends and Uncle Mat's business associates, that both were immensely
gratified. But after the return to the country, matters seemed to go less
and less well. During the year in which they had "loved and longed in
secret," each had exalted the other to the position of a martyr and a
saint. The intimacy of their engagement was rapidly revealing the fact
that, after all, they were merely ordinary human beings, and the
discovery was something of a shock to both. Austin had thought over Uncle
Mat's advice, and found it good; he was gentle and considerate, and
showed himself perfectly willing to submit to Sylvia's wishes in most
important decisions, but he refused to be dictated to in little things.
She was so accustomed, by this time, to having her slightest whim not
only respected, but admired, by all the adoring Gray family, and most of
her world at large besides, that she was apt to behave like a spoiled
child when Austin thwarted her. She nearly always had to admit,
afterwards, that he had been right, and this did not make it any easier
for her. His "incessant obstinacy," as she called it, was rapidly
"getting on her nerves," while it seemed to him that they could never
meet that she did not have some fresh grievance, or disagree with him
radically about something. She wanted him at her side all the time; he
had a thousand other interests. She saw no reason why, after they were
married, they should live in the country all the year, and every year; he
saw no reason why they should do anything else. And so it went with every
subject that arose.
If Sylvia had been less idle, she would have had no time to think about
"nerves." But the manservant and his wife whom she had installed in the
little brick house were well-trained and competent to the last degree,
and the ménage ran like clock-work without any help from her. She was
debarred from riding or driving alone, and the girls at the farm had no
time to go with her, and it was still an almost unheard-of thing in that
locality for a woman to run a motor. She could not fill an hour a day
working in her little garden, and she had no special taste for sewing.
The only thing for her to do seemed to be to sit around and wait for
Austin to appear, and Austin was not only very busy, but extremely
absorbed in his work. It was impossible for him to come to see her every
night, and when he did come, he was so thoroughly and wholesomely tired
and sleepy, that his visits were short. On Sundays he had more leisure;
but Mr. and Mrs. Gray seemed to take it for granted that Sylvia would
still go to church with them in the morning, and spend the rest of the
day at their house. She could not bring herself to the point of
disappointing them, though she rebelled inwardly; but she complained to
Austin, as they were walking back to her house together after a day spent
in this manner, that she never saw him alone at all.
"It's not only the family," she said, "but Peter, and Fred, and Mr. and
Mrs. Elliott are around all the time, and to-day there were Ruth and
Frank and those two fussy babies needing something done for them every
single minute besides! It was perfect bedlam. I want you to myself once
in a while."
"You can have me to yourself, for good and all, whenever you want me,"
This was so undeniable a statement that Sylvia changed the subject
"There is no earthly need of your working so hard, and you know it."
"But Sylvia, I like to work; and I'm awfully anxious to make a success of
things, now that we've got such a wonderful start at last."
"Are you more interested in this stupid old farm than you are in me?"
"Why, Sylvia, it isn't a 'stupid old farm' to me! It's the place my
great-grandfather built, and that all the Grays have lived in and loved
for four generations! I thought you liked it, too."
"I do, but I'm jealous of it."
"You ought not to be. You know that there's nothing in the world so dear
to me as you are."
"Then let me pay for another hired man, so that you'll have more time for
yourself--and for me."
"Indeed, I will not. You'll never pay for another thing on this farm if I
can help it. No one could be more grateful than I am for all you've done,
but the time is over for that."
"Won't you come in?" she asked, as, they reached her garden, and she
noticed that he stopped at the gate.
"Not to-night--we've had a good walk together, and you know I have to get
up pretty early in the morning. Good-night, dear," and he raised her
fingers to his lips.
She snatched them away, lifting her lovely face. "Oh, Austin!" she cried,
"how can you be so calm and cold? I think sometimes you're made of stone!
If you must go, don't say good-night like that--act as if you were made
of flesh and blood!"
"I'm acting in the only sane way for both of us. If you don't like it, I
had better not come at all."
And he went home without giving her even the caress he had originally
intended, and slept soundly and well all night; but Sylvia tossed about
for hours, and finally, at dawn, cried herself to sleep.
The first serious disagreement, however, came just before Katherine's
graduation. Austin, who loved to dance, was looking forward to his
clever sister's "ball" with a great deal of pride and pleasure, and was
genuinely amazed when Sylvia objected violently to his going, saying
that as she could not dance, and as all the rest of the family would be
there, Katherine did not need him, and that he had much better stay at
home with her.
"But, Sylvia," protested Austin, "I _want_ to go. I'm awfully proud of
Katherine, and I wouldn't miss it for anything. Why don't you come, too?
I don't see any reason why you shouldn't."
"Of course you don't. You weren't brought up among people who know what's
proper in such matters."
"I know it, Sylvia. But if that's going to trouble you, you should have
thought of it sooner. My knowledge of etiquette is very slight, I admit,
but my common-sense tells me that announcing one's engagement should be
equivalent to stopping all former observances of mourning."
"I didn't want to announce it. It was you that insisted upon that, too."
"Well, you know why," said Austin with some meaning.
"All right, then," burst out Sylvia angrily, "go to your old ball. You
seem to think you are an authority on everything. I'm sure I don't want
to go, anyway, and dance with a lot of awkward farmers who smell of the
cow-stable. I shouldn't think you would care about it either, now that
you've had a chance to see things properly done."
"I care a good deal about my sister, Sylvia, and about my friends here,
too. There are no better people on the face of the earth--I've heard you
say so, yourself! It's only a chance that I'm a little less awkward than
some of the others."
The result of this conversation was that Austin did not go near Sylvia
for several days. He was deeply hurt, but that was not all. He began to
wonder, even more than he ever had before, whether his comparative
poverty, his lack of education, his farmer family and traditions and
friends, were not very real barriers between himself and a girl like
Sylvia. What was more, he questioned whether a strong, passionate,
determined man, who felt that he knew his own best course and proposed to
take it, could ever make such a delicate, self-willed little creature
happy, even if there were no other obstacles in their path than those of
Something of his old sullenness of manner returned, and his mother,
after worrying in silence over him for a time finally asked him what the
trouble was. At first he denied that there was anything, next stubbornly
refused to tell her what it was, and at last, like a hurt schoolboy,
blurted out his grievance. To his amazement and grief, Mrs. Gray took
Sylvia's part. This was the last straw. He jerked himself away from her,
and went out, slamming the front door after him. It was evening, and he
was tired and hot and dirty. The rest of the family had almost finished
supper when he reached the table, an unexpected delay having arisen in
the barn, and he had eaten the unappetizing scraps that remained
hurriedly, without taking time to shave and bathe and change his clothes.
He had never gone to Sylvia in this manner before; but he strode down the
path to her house with a bitter satisfaction in his heart that she was to
see him when he was looking and feeling his worst, and that she would
have to take him as he was, or not at all. He found her in her garden
cutting roses, a picture of dainty elegance in her delicate white
fabrics. She greeted him somewhat coolly, as if to punish him for his
lack of deference to her on his last visit, and his subsequent neglect,
and glanced at his costume with a disapproval which she was at no pains
to conceal. Then with a sarcasm and lack of tact which she had never
shown before, she gave voice to her general dissatisfaction.
"_Really, Austin_, don't come near me, please; you're altogether too
_barny_. Don't you think you're carrying your devotion to the nobility of
labor a little too far, and your devotion to me--if you still have
any--not quite far enough? You're slipping straight back to your old
slovenly, disagreeable ways--without the excuse that you formerly had
that they were practically the only ways open to you. If you're too proud
to accept my money and the freedom that it can give you, and so stubborn
that you make a scene and then won't come near me for days because I
refuse to go to a cheap little public dance with you--"
She got no farther. Austin interrupted her with a violence of which she
would not have believed him capable.
"_If_! If you're too stubborn to go with me to my sister's _graduation
ball_, and too proud to accept the fact that I'm a _farmer_, with a
farmer's friends and family and work, and that _I'm damned glad of it_,
and won't give them up, or be supported by any woman on the face of the
earth, or let her make a pet lap-dog of me, you can go straight back to
the life you came from, for all me! You seem to prefer it, after all, and
I believe it's all you deserve. If you don't--don't ask my forgiveness
for the things you've said the last two times I've seen you, and say
_you'll go to that party_ with me, and be just as darned pleasant to
every one there as you know how to be--and promise to stop quarrelling,
and keep your promise--I'll never come near you again. You're making my
life utterly miserable. You won't marry me, and yet you are bound to have
me make love to you all the time, when I'm doing my best to keep my hands
off you--and I'd rather be shot _than_ marry you, on the terms you're
putting up to me at present! You've got two days to think it over in, and
if you don't send for me before it's time to start for the ball, and tell
me you're sorry, you won't get another chance to send for me again as
long as you live. I'm either not worth having at all, or I'm worth
treating better than you've seen fit to do lately!"
He left her, without even looking at her again, in a white heat of fury.
But before the hot dawn of another June day had given him an excuse to
get up and try to work off his feelings with the most strenuous labor
that he could find, he had spent a horrible sleepless night which he was
never to forget as long as he lived. His anger gave way first to misery,
and then to a panic of fear. Suppose she took him literally--though he
had meant every word when he said it--suppose he lost her? What would the
rest of his life be worth to him, alone, haunted, not only by his
senseless folly in casting away such a precious treasure, but by his
ingratitude, his presumption, and his own unworthiness? A dozen times he
started towards her house, only to turn back again. She _hadn't_ been
fair. They _couldn't_ be happy that way. If he gave in now, he would have
to do it all the rest of his life, and she would despise him for it. As
the time which he had stipulated went by, and no message came, he
suffered more and more intensely--hoped, savagely, that she was
suffering, too, and decided that she could not be, or that he would have
heard from her; but resolved, more and more decidedly, with every hour
that passed, that he would fight this battle out to the bitter end.
It was even later than usual when he came in on the night of the ball,
and when he entered, every one in the house was hurrying about in the
inevitable confusion which precedes a "great occasion." Edith, the only
one who seemed to be ready, was standing in the middle of the
living-room, fresh and glowing as a yellow rose in her bright dress,
Peter beside her buttoning her gloves. She glanced at her grimy brother
with a feeble interest.
"Mercy, Austin, you'd better hurry! We're going to leave in five
"Well, _I'm_ not going to leave in five minutes! I've got to get out of
these clothes and have a bath and it's hardly necessary to tell me all
that--one glance at you is sufficient," said Edith flippantly.
"Well, I can come on later alone, I suppose. Where's mother?"
"Still dressing. Why?"
"Do you happen to know whether--Sylvia's been over here this
afternoon--or sent a telephone message or a note?"
"I'm perfectly sure she hasn't. Why?"
"Nothing," said Austin grimly, and left the room.
Like most people who try to dress in a hurry when they are angry, Austin
found that everything went wrong. There was no hot water left, and he
had to heat some himself for shaving while he took a cold bath; his
mother usually got his clothes ready for him when she knew he was
detained, but this time she had apparently been too rushed herself. He
couldn't find his evening shoes; he couldn't get his studs into his
stiff shirt until he had had a struggle that raised his temperature
several degrees higher than it was already; the big, jolly teamful
departed while he was rummaging through his top drawer for fresh
handkerchiefs; and he was vainly trying to adjust his white tie
satisfactorily, when a knock at the door informed him that he was not
alone in the house after all; he said "come in" crossly, and without
turning, and went on with his futile attempts.
"Has every one else gone? I didn't know I was so late--but I've been all
through the house downstairs calling, and couldn't get any answer. Let me
do that for you--let's take a fresh one--"
He wheeled sharply around, and found Sylvia standing beside
him--Sylvia, dressed in shell-pink, shimmering satin and foamy lace,
with pearls in her dark hair and golden slippers on her feet, her neck
and arms white and bare and gleaming. With a little sound that was half
a sob, and half a cry of joy, she flung her arms around his neck and
drew his face down to hers.
"Austin--I'm--I'm sorry--I do--beg your forgiveness from the bottom of my
heart. I promise--and I'll keep my promise--to be reasonable--and
kind--and fair--to stop making you miserable. It's been all my fault that
we've quarrelled, every bit--and we never will again. I've come to tell
you--not just that I'll go to the party with you, gladly, if you're still
willing to take me, but that there's nothing that matters to me in the
whole world--except you--"
The first touch of Sylvia's arms set Austin's brain seething; after the
hungry misery of the past few days, it acted like wine offered to a
starving man, suddenly snatched and drunk. Her words, her tears, her
utter self-abandonment of voice and manner, annihilated in one instant
the restraint in which he had held himself for months. He caught the
delicate little creature to him with all his strength, burying his face
in the white fragrance of her neck. He forgot everything in the world
except that she was in his arms--alone with him--that nothing was to come
between them again as long as they lived. He could feel her heart beating
against his under the soft lace on her breast, her cool cheeks and mouth
growing warm under the kisses that he rained on them until his own lips
stung. At first she returned his embrace with an ardor that equalled his
own; then, as if conscious that she was being carried away by the might
of a power which she could neither measure nor control, she tried to turn
her face away and strove to free herself.
"Don't," she panted; "let me go! You--you-hurt me, Austin."
"I can't help it--I shan't let you go! I'm going to kiss you this time
until I get ready to stop."
For a moment she struggled vainly. Austin's arms tightened about her like
bands of steel. She gave a little sigh, and lifted her face again.
"I can't seem to--kiss back any more," she whispered, "but if this is
what you want--if it will make up to you for these last weeks--it doesn't
matter whether you hurt or not."
Every particle of resistance had left her. Austin had wished for an
unconditional surrender, and he had certainly attained it. There could
never again be any question of which should rule. She had come and laid
her sweet, proud, rebellious spirit at his very feet, begging his
forgiveness that it had not sooner recognized its master. A wonderful
surge of triumph at his victory swept over him--and then, suddenly--he
was sick and cold with shame and contrition. He released her, so abruptly
that she staggered, catching hold of a chair to steady herself, and
raising one small clenched hand to her lips, as if to press away their
smarting. As she did so, he saw a deep red mark on her bare white arm. He
winced, as if he had been struck, at the gesture and what it disclosed,
but it needed neither to show him that she was bruised and hurt from the
violence of his embrace; and dreadful as he instantly realized this to
be, it seemed to matter very little if he could only learn that she was
not hurt beyond all healing by divining the desire and intention which
for one sacrilegious moment had almost mastered him.
A gauzy scarf which she had carried when she entered the room had fallen
to the floor. He stooped and picked it up, and stood looking at it,
running it through his hands, his head bent. It was white and sheer, a
mere gossamer--he must have stepped on it, for in one place it was torn,
in another slightly soiled. Sylvia, watching him, holding her breath,
could see the muscles of his white face growing tenser and tenser around
his set mouth, and still he did not glance at her or speak to her. At
last he unfolded it to its full size, and wrapped it about her, his eyes
giving her the smile which his lips could not.
"Nothing matters to me in the whole world either--except you," he said
brokenly. "I think these last few--dreadful days--have shown us both how
much we need each other, and that the memory of them will keep us closer
together all our lives. If there's any question of forgiveness between
us, it's all on my side now, not yours, and I don't think I can--talk
about it now. But I'll never forget how you came to me to-night, and,
please God, some day I'll be more worthy of--of your love and--and your
_trust_ than I've shown myself now. Until I am--" He stopped, and,
lifting her arm, kissed the bruise which his own roughness had made
there. "What can I do--to make that better?" he managed to say.
"It didn't hurt--much--before--and it's all healed--now," she said,
smiling up at him; "didn't your mother ever 'kiss the place to make it
well' when you were a little boy, and didn't it always work like a charm?
It won't show at all, either, under my glove."
"Your glove?" he asked stupidly; and then, suddenly remembering what he
had entirely forgotten--"Oh--we were going to a ball together. You came
to tell me you would, after all. But surely you won't want to now--"
"Why not? We can take the motor--we won't be so very late--the others
went in the carryall, you know."
He drew a long breath, and looked away from her. "All right," he said at
last. "Go downstairs and get your cloak, if you left it there. I'll be
with you in a minute."
She obeyed, without a word, but waited so long that she grew alarmed, and
finally, unable to endure her anxiety any longer, she went back upstairs.
Austin's door was open into the hall, but it was dark in his room, and,
genuinely frightened, she groped her way towards the electric switch. In
doing so she stumbled against the bed, and her hand fell on Austin's
shoulder. He was kneeling there, his whole body shaking, his head buried
in his arms. Instantly she was on her knees beside him.
"My darling boy, what is it? Austin, _don't_! You'll break my heart."
"The marvel is--if I haven't--just now. I told your uncle that I was
afraid I would some time--that I knew I hadn't any right to you. But I
didn't think--that even I was bad enough--to fail you--like _this_--"
"You _haven't_ failed me--you _have_ a right to me--I never loved you
so much in all my life--" she hurried on, almost incoherently, searching
for words of comfort. "Dearest--will it make you feel any better--if I
say I'll marry you--right away?"
"What do you mean? When?"
"To-night, if you like. Oh, Austin, I love you so that it doesn't matter
a bit--whether I'm afraid or not. The only thing that really counts--is
to have you happy! And since I've realized that--I find that I'm not
afraid of anything in the whole world--and that I want to belong to you
as much--and as soon--as you can possibly want to have me!"
* * * * *
It was many months before Hamstead stopped talking about the "Graduation
Ball of that year." It surpassed, to an almost extraordinary degree, any
that had ever been held there. But the event upon which the village best
loved to dwell was the entrance of Sylvia Cary, the loveliest vision it
had ever beheld, on Austin Gray's arm, when all the other guests were
already there, and everyone had despaired of their coming. Following the
unwritten law in country places, which decrees that all persons engaged,
married, or "keeping company," must have their "first dance" together,
she gave that to Austin. Then Thomas and James, Frank and Fred, Peter,
and even Mr. Gray and Mr. Elliott, all claimed their turn, and by that
time Austin was waiting impatiently again. But country parties are long,
and before the night was over, all the men and boys, who had been
watching her in church, and bowing when they met her in the road, and
seizing every possible chance to speak to her when they went to the
Homestead on errands--or excuses for errands--had demanded and been given
a dance. She was lighter than thistledown--indeed, there were moments
when she seemed scarcely a woman at all, but a mere essence of fragile
beauty and sweetness and graciousness. It had been generally conceded
beforehand that the honors of the ball would all go to Edith, but even
Edith herself admitted that she took a second place, and that she was
glad to take it.
Dawn was turning the quiet valley and distant mountains into a riotous
rosy glory, when, as they drove slowly up to her house, Austin gently
raised the gossamer scarf which had blown over Sylvia's face, half-hiding
it from him. She looked up with a smile to answer his.
"Are you very tired, dear?"
"Not at all--just too happy to talk much, that's all."
"You know I have planned to start West with Peter three days after
"Would you rather I didn't go?"
"No; I'm glad you're going--I mean, I'm glad you have decided to keep to
"What makes you think I have?"
"Because, being you, you couldn't do otherwise."
"But when I come back--"
Her fingers tightened in his.
"I want two months all alone with you in this little house," he
whispered. "Send the servants away--it won't be very hard to do the
work--for just us two--I'll help. That's--that's--_marriage_--a big
wedding and a public honeymoon--and--all that go with them--are just a
cheap imitation--of the real thing. Then, later on, if you like, this
first winter, we'll go away together--to Spain or Italy or the South of
France--or wherever you wish--but first--we'll begin together here. Will
you marry me--the first of September, Sylvia?"
Austin drove home in the broad daylight of four o'clock on a June
morning. Then, after the motor was put away, he took his working clothes
over his arm, went to the river, and plunged in. When he came back, with
damp hair, cool skin, and a heart singing with peace and joy, he found
Peter, whistling, starting towards the barn with his milk-pail over his
arm. It was the beginning of a new day.
"I, Sarah, take thee, Frederick, to my wedded husband, to have and to
hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for
poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till
death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance. And thereto I give
thee my troth."
The old clock in the corner was ticking very distinctly; the scent of
roses in the crowded room made the air heavy with sweetness; the candles
on the mantelpiece flickered in the breeze from the open window; outside
a whip-poor-will was singing in the lilac bushes.
"With this ring I thee wed, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."
An involuntary tear rolled down Mrs. Gray's cheek, to be hastily
concealed and wiped away with her new lace handkerchief; her husband was
looking straight ahead of him, very hard, at nothing; Ruth adjusted the
big white bow on little Elsie's curls; Sylvia felt for Austin's hand
behind the folds of her dress, and found it groping for hers.
Then suddenly the spell was broken. The minister was shaking hands with
the bride and groom, Sally was taking her bouquet from Molly, every one
was laughing and talking at once, crowding up to offer congratulations,
handling, admiring, and discussing the wedding presents, half-falling
over each other with haste and excitement. Delicious smells began to
issue from the kitchen, and the long dining-table was quickly laden down.
Sylvia took her place at one end, behind the coffee-urn, Molly at the
other end, behind the strawberries and ice-cream. Katherine, Edith, and
the boys flew around passing plates, cakes of all kinds, great sugared
doughnuts and fat cookies. Sally was borne into the room triumphant on a
"chair" made of her brothers' arms to cut and distribute the "bride's
cake." Then, when every one had eaten as much as was humanly possible,
the piano was moved out to the great new barn, with its fine concrete
floors swept and scoured as only Peter could do it, and its every stall
festooned with white crepe paper by Sylvia, and the dancing began--for
this time the crowd was too great to permit it in the house, in spite of
the spacious rooms. Molly and Sylvia took turns in playing, and each
found several eager partners waiting for her, every time the "shift"
occurred. Finally, about midnight, the bride went upstairs to change her
dress, and the girls gathered around the banisters to be ready to catch
the bouquet when she came down, laughing and teasing each other while
they waited. Great shouts arose, and much joking began, when Edith--and
not Sylvia as every one had privately hoped--caught the huge bunch of
flowers and ribbon, and ran with it in her arms out on the wide piazza,
all the others behind her, to be ready to pelt Sally and Fred with rice
when they appeared. Thomas was to drive them to the station, and Sylvia's
motor was bedecked with white garlands and bows, slippers and bells, from
one end of it to the other. At last the rush came; and the happy victims,
showered and dishevelled, waving their handkerchiefs and shouting
good-bye, were whisked up the hill, and out of sight.
Sylvia insisted on staying, to begin "straightening out the worst of the
mess" as soon as the last guest had gone, and on remaining overnight,
sleeping in Sally's old room with Molly, to be on hand and go on with the
good work the first thing in the morning. Sadie and James had to leave on
the afternoon train, as James had stretched his leave of absence from
business to the very last degree already; so by evening the house was
painfully tidy again, and so quiet that Mrs. Gray declared it "gave her
the blues just to listen to it."
The next night was to be Austin's last one at home, and he had
promised Sylvia to go and take supper with her, but just before six
o'clock the telephone rang, and she knew that something had happened
to disappoint her.
"Is that you, Sylvia?"
"Mr. Carter--the President of the Wallacetown Bank, you know--has just
called me up. There's going to be a meeting of the bank officers just
after the fourth, as they've decided to enlarge their board of directors,
and add at least one 'rising young farmer' as he put it--And oh, Sylvia,
he asked if I would allow my name to be proposed! Just think--after all
the years when we couldn't get a _cent_ from them at any rate of
interest, to have that come! It's every bit due to you!"
"It isn't either--it's due to the splendid work you've done this
"Well, we won't stop to discuss that now. He wants me to drive up and see
him about it right away. Do you mind if I take the motor? I can make so
much better time, and get back to you so much more quickly--but I can't
come to supper--you must forgive me if I go."
"I never should forgive you if you didn't--that's wonderful news! Don't
hurry--I'll be glad to see you whatever time you get back."
She hung up the receiver, and sat motionless beside the instrument, too
thrilled for the moment to move. What a man he was proving himself--her
farmer! And yet--how each new responsibility, well fulfilled, was going
to take him more and more from her! She sighed involuntarily, and was
about to rise, when the bell sounded again.
"Hullo," she said courteously, but tonelessly. The bottom of the evening
had dropped out for her. It mattered very little how she spent it now
until Austin arrived.
"Land, Sylvia, you sound as if there'd ben a death in the family! Do perk
up a little! Yes, this is Mrs. Elliott--Maybe if some of the folks on
this line that's taken their receivers down so's they'll know who I'm
talkin' to an' what I'm sayin' will hang up you can hear me a little more
plain." (This timely remark resulted in several little clicks.) "There,
that's better. I see Austin tearin' past like mad in your otter, and I
says to Joe, 'That means Sylvia's all alone again, same as usual; I'm
goin' to call her up an' visit with her a spell!' Hot, ain't it? Yes, I
always suffer considerable with the heat. I sez this mornin' to Joe,
'Joe, it's goin' to be a hot day,' and he sez, 'Yes, Eliza, I'm afraid it
is,' an' I sez, 'Well, we've got to stand it,' an' he--"
"I hope you have," interrupted Sylvia politely.
"Yes, as well as could be expected--you know I ain't over an' above
strong this season. My old trouble. But then, I don't complain any--only
as I said to Joe, it is awful tryin'. Have you heard how the new
minister's wife is doin'? She ain't ben to evenin' meetin' at all regular
sence she got here, an' she made an angel cake, just for her own family,
last Wednesday. She puts her washin' out, too. I got it straight from
Mrs. Jones, next door to her. I went there the other evenin' to get a
nightgown pattern she thought was real tasty. I don't know as I shall
like it, though. It's supposed to have a yoke made out of crochet or
tattin' at the top, an' I ain't got anything of the kind on hand just
now, an' no time to make any. Besides, I've never thought these
new-fangled garments was just the thing for a respectable woman--there
ain't enough to 'em. When I was young they was made of good thick cotton,
long-sleeved an' high-necked, trimmed with Hamburg edgin' an' buttoned
down the front. Speakin' of nightgowns, how are you gettin' on with your
trousseau? Have you decided what you're goin' to wear for a weddin'
dress? I was readin' in the paper the other day about some widow that got
married down in Boston, an' she wore a pink chif_fon_ dress. I was real
shocked. If she'd ben a divorced person, I should have expected some such
thing, but there warn't anything of the kind in this case--she was a
decent young woman, an' real pretty, judgin' from her picture. But I
should have thought she'd have wore gray or lavender, wouldn't you? There
oughtn't to be anything gay about a second weddin'! Well, as I was sayin'
to Joe about the minister's wife--What's that? You think they're both
real nice, an' you're glad he's got _some_ sort of a wife? Now, Sylvia, I
always did think you was a little mite hard on Mr. Jessup. I says to Joe,
'Joe, Sylvia's a nice girl, but she's a flirt, sure as you're settin'
there,' an' Joe says--"
"Have you heard from Fred and Sally yet?"
"Yes, they've sent us three picture post-cards. Real pretty. There ain't
much space for news on 'em, though--they just show a bridge, an' a
park, an' a railroad station. Still, of course, we was glad to get 'em,
an' they seem to be havin' a fine time. I heard to-day that Ruth's baby
was sick again. Delicate, ain't it? I shouldn't be a mite surprised if
Ruth couldn't raise her. 'Blue around the eyes,' I says to Joe the first
time I ever clapped eyes on her. An' then Ruth ain't got no
get-up-and-get to her. Shiftless, same's Howard is, though she's just as
well-meanin'. I hear she's thinkin' of keepin' a hired girl all summer.
Frank's business don't warrant it. He has a real hard time gettin'
along. He's too easy-goin' with his customers. Gives long credit when
they're hard up, an' all that. Of course it's nice to be charitable if
you can afford it, but--"
"Frank isn't going to pay the hired girl."
"There you go again, Sylvia! You kinder remind me of the widow's cruse,
never failin'. 'Tain't many families gets hold of anything like you.
Well, I must be sayin' good-night--there seems to be several people
tryin' to butt in an' use this line, though probably they don't want it
for anything important at all. I've got no patience with folks that uses
the telephone as a means of gossip, an' interfere with those that really
needs it. Besides, though I'd be glad to talk with you a little longer,
I'm plum tuckered out with the heat, as I said before. I ben makin'
currant jelly, too. It come out fine--a little too hard, if anything.
But, as I says to Joe, 'Druv as I am, I'm a-goin' to call up that poor
lonely girl, an' help her pass the evenin'.' Come over an' bring your
sewin' an' set with me some day soon, won't you, Sylvia? You know I'm
always real pleased to see you. Good-night."
"Good-night." Sylvia leaned back, laughing.
Mrs. Elliott, who infuriated Thomas, and exasperated Austin, was a
never-failing source of enjoyment to her. She went back to the porch to
wait for Austin, still chuckling.
After the conversation she had had with him, she was greatly surprised,
when, a little after eight o'clock, the garden gate clicked. She ran down
the steps hurriedly with his name on her lips. But the figure coming
towards her through the dusk was much smaller than Austin's and a voice
answered her, in broken English, "It ain't Mr. Gray, missus. It's me."
"Why, Peter!" she said in amazement; "is anything the matter at
"No, missus; not vat you'd called _vrong_."
"What is it, then? Will you come up and sit down?"
He stood fumbling at his hat for a minute, and then settled himself
awkwardly on the steps at her feet. His yellow hair was sleekly
brushed, his face shone with soap and water, and he had on his best
clothes. It was quiet evident that he had come with the distinct
purpose of making a call.
"Can dose domestics hear vat ve say?" he asked at length, turning his
wide blue eyes upon her, after some minutes of heavy silence.
"Not a word."
"Vell den--you know Mr. Gray and I goin' avay to-morrow."
"To be gone much as a mont', Mr. Gray say."
"I believe so."
"Mrs. Cary, dear missus,--vill you look after Edit' vile I'm gone?"
"Why, yes, Peter," she said warmly, "I always see a good deal of
Edith--we're great friends, you know."
"Yes, missus, that's vone reason vy I come--Edit' t'ink no vone like
you--ever vas, ever shall be. But den--I'm vorried 'bout Edit'."
"Worried? Why, Peter? She's well and strong."
"Oh, yes, she's vell--ver' vell. But Edit' love to have a good
time--'vun' she say. If I go mit, she come mit me--ven not, mit some
"I see--you're jealous, Peter."
"No, no, missus, not jealous, only vorried, ver' vorried. Edit' she's
young, but not baby, like Mr. and Missus Gray t'ink. I don't like Mr. Yon
Veston, missus, nod ad all--and Edit' go out mit him, ev'y chance she
get. An' Mr. Hugh Elliott, cousin to Miss Sally's husband, dey say he
liked Miss Sally vonce--he's back here now, he looks hard at Edit' ev'y
time he see her. He's that kind of man, missus, vat does look ver' hard."
Sylvia could not help being touched. "I'll do my best, Peter, but I can't
promise anything. Edith is the kind of girl, as you say, that likes to
have 'fun' and I have no real authority over her."
As if the object of his visit was entirely accomplished, Peter rose to
leave. "I t'ank you ver' much, missus," he said politely. "It's a ver'
varm evening, not? Goodnight."
For a few minutes after Peter left, Sylvia sat thinking over what he had
said, and her own face grew "vorried" too. Then the garden gate clicked
again, and for the next two hours she was too happy for trouble of any
kind to touch her. Austin's interview with Mr. Carter had proved a great
success, and after that had been thoroughly discussed, they found a great
deal to say about their own plans for September. For the moment, she
quite forgot all that Peter had said.
It came back to her, vividly enough, a few nights later. She had sat up
very late, writing to Austin, and was still lying awake, long after
midnight, when she heard the whirr of a motor near by, and a moment later
a soft voice calling under her window. She threw a negligee about her,
and ran to the front door; as she unlatched it, Edith slipped in, her
finger on her lips.
"Hush! Don't let the servants hear! Oh, Sylvia, I've had such a
lark--will you keep me overnight!"
"I would gladly, but your mother would be worried to death."
"No, she won't. You see, I found, two hours ago, that it would be a long
time before I got back, and I telephoned her saying I was going to spend
the night with you. Don't you understand? She thought I was here then."
"Edith--you didn't lie to your mother!"
"Now, Sylvia, don't begin to scold at this hour, when I'm tired and
sleepy as I can be! It wasn't my fault we burst two tires, was it? But
mother's prejudiced against Hugh, just because Sally, who's a perfect
prude, didn't happen to like him. Lend me one of your delicious
night-dresses, do, and let me cuddle down beside you--the bed's so big,
you'll never know I'm there."
Sylvia mechanically opened a drawer and handed her the garment she
"Gracious, Sylvia, it's like a cobweb--perhaps if I marry a rich man, I
can have things like this! What an angel you look in yours! Austin will
certainly think he's struck heaven when he sees you like that! I never
could understand what a little thing like you wanted this huge bed for,
but, of course, you knew when you bought it--"
"Edith," interrupted Sylvia sharply, "be quiet! In the morning I want to
talk with you a little."
But as she lay awake long after the young girl had fallen into a deep,
quiet sleep, she felt sadly puzzled to know what she could, with wisdom
and helpfulness, say. It was so usual in the country for young girls to
ride about alone at night with their admirers, so much the accepted
custom, of which no harm seemed to come, that however much she might
personally disapprove of such a course, she could not reasonably find
fault with it. It was probably her own sense of outraged delicacy, she
tried to think, after Edith's careless speech, that made her feel that
the child lacked the innate good-breeding and quiet attractiveness, which
her sisters, all less pretty than she, possessed to such a marked
extent, in spite of their lack of polish. She tried to think that it was
only to-night she had noticed how red and full Edith's pouting lips were
growing, how careless she was about the depth of her V-cut blouses, how
unusually lacking in shyness and restraint for one so young. In the
morning, she said nothing and Edith was secretly much relieved; but she
went and asked Mrs. Gray if she could not spare her youngest daughter for
a visit while Austin was away, "to ward off loneliness." She found the
good lady out in the garden, weeding her petunias, and bent over to help
her as she made her request.
"There, dearie, don't you bother--you'll get your pretty dress all
grass-stain, and it looks to me like another new one! I wouldn't have
thought baby-blue would be so becomin' to you, Sylvia. I always fancied
it for a blonde, mostly, but there! you've got such lovely skin, anything
looks well on you. Do you like petunias? Scarcely anyone has them, an'
cinnamon pinks, an' johnnie-jump-ups any more--it's all sweet-peas, an'
nasturtiums, an' such! But to me there ain't any flower any handsomer
than a big purple petunia."
"I like them too--and it doesn't matter if my dress does get dirty--it'll
wash. Now about Edith--"
"Why, Sylvia, you know how I hate to deny you anything, but I don't see
how I can spare her! Here it is hayin'-time, the busiest time of the
year, an' Austin an' Peter both gone. I haven't a word to say against
them young fellows that Thomas has fetched home from college to help
while our boys are gone, they're well-spoken, obligin' chaps as I ever
see, but the work don't go the same as it do when your own folks is doin'
it, just the same. Besides, Sally's not here to help like she's always
been before, summers, an' it makes a pile of difference, I can tell you.
Molly can play the piano somethin' wonderful, an' Katherine can spout
poetry to beat anything I ever heard, but Edith can get out a whole
week's washin' while either one of 'em is a-wonderin' where she's goin'
to get the hot water to do it with, an' she's a real good cook! I never
see a girl of her years more capable, if I do say so, an' she always
looks as neat an' pretty as a new pin, whatever she's doin', too. Why
don't you come over to us, if you're lonely? We'd all admire to have you!
There, we've got that row cleaned out real good--s'posin' we tackle the
candytuft, now, if you feel like it."
Sylvia would gladly have offered to pay for a competent "hired girl," but
she did not dare to, for fear of displeasing Austin. So she wrote to
Uncle Mat to postpone his prospective visit, to the great disappointment
of them both, and filled her tiny house with young friends instead,
urging Edith to spend as much time helping her "amuse" them as she
could, to the latter's great delight. Unfortunately the girl and one of
the boys whom she had invited were already so much interested in each
other that they had eyes for no one else, and the other fellow was a
quiet, studious chap, who vastly preferred reading aloud to Sylvia to
canoeing with Edith. The girl was somewhat piqued by this lack of
appreciation, and quickly deserted Sylvia's guests for the more lively
charms of Hugh Elliott's red motor and Jack Weston's spruce runabout. Mr.
and Mrs. Gray saw no harm in their pet's escapades, but, on the contrary,
secretly rejoiced that the humble Peter was at least temporarily removed
and other and richer suitors occupying the foreground. They were far from
being worldly people, but two of their daughters having already married
poor men, they, having had more than their own fair share of drudgery,
could not help hoping that this pretty butterfly might be spared the
coarser labors of life.
Sylvia longed to write Austin all about it, but she could not bring
herself to spoil his trip by speaking slightingly, and perhaps unjustly,
of his favorite sister's conduct. As she had rather feared, the short
trip originally planned proved so instructive and delightful that it was
lengthened, first by a few days and then by a fortnight, so that one week
in August was already gone before he returned. He came back in holiday
spirits, bubbling over with enthusiasm about his trip, full of new plans
and arrangements. His enthusiasm was contagious, and he would talk of
nothing and allow her to talk of nothing except themselves.
"My, but it's good to be back! I don't see how I ever stayed away so
"You didn't seem to have much difficulty--every time you wrote it was to
say you'd be gone a little longer. I suppose some of those New York
farmers have pretty daughters?"
"You'd better be careful, or I'll box your ears! What mischief have _you_
been up to? I've heard rumors about some bookish chap, who read Keats's
sonnets, and sighed at the moon. You see I'm informed. I'll take care how
I leave you again."
"You had better. I won't promise to wait for you so patiently next time."
"Don't talk to me about patient waiting! Sylvia, is it really, honestly
true I've only got three more weeks of it?"
"It's really, honestly true. Good-night, darling, you _must_ go home."
"And _you've_ only got three weeks more of being able to say that! I
suppose I must obey--but remember, _you'll_ have to promise to obey
"I'll be glad to. Austin--"
"Yes, dear--Sylvia, I think your cheeks are softer than ever--
"I don't think Edith looks very well, do you?"
"Why, I thought she never was so pretty! But now you speak of it she
_does_ seem a little fagged--not fresh, the way you always are! Too much
gadding, I'm afraid."
"I'm afraid so. Couldn't you--?"
"My dear girl, leave all that to Peter--I've got _my_ hands full, keeping
_you_ in order. Sylvia, there's one thing this trip has convinced me
we've got to have, right away, and that's more motors. We've got the
land, we've got the buildings, and we've got the stock, but we simply
must stop wasting time and grain on so many horses--it's terribly out of
date, to say nothing else against it. We need a touring-car for the
family, and a runabout for you and me,--do sell that great ark of yours,
and get something you can learn to run yourself, and that won't use half
the gasoline,--and a tractor to plough with, and a truck to take the
cream to the creamery."
"Well, I suppose you'll let me give these various things for Christmas
presents, won't you? You're so awfully afraid that I'll contribute the
least little bit to the success of the farm that I hardly dare ask. But I
could bestow the tractor on Thomas, the truck on your father, and the
touring-car on the girls, and certainly we'll need the runabout for
all-day trips on Sundays--after the first of September."
"All right. I'll concede the motors as your share. Now, what will you
give me for a reward for being so docile?"
She watched him down the path with a heart overflowing with happiness.
Twice he turned back to wave his hand to her, then disappeared, whistling
into the darkness. She knelt beside her bed for a long time that night,
and finally fell into a deep, quiet sleep, her hand clasping the little
star that hung about her throat.
Three hours later she was abruptly awakened, and sat up, confused and
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