November 1873-April 1874
Scribner's Monthly Magazine
November 1873-April 1874
Scribner's Monthly Magazine
“We’ll drive?” said young Chalkley, anxiously, halting on the steps of the Continental Hotel. He had Mr. Burgess, the English magazinist, in charge. “Oh, drive, of course!” beckoning to a hackman. If heaven had but willed him in this crisis of fate a buggy of his own—a team of any sort! This Londoner, no doubt, dwelt in an atmosphere of rank where coroneted chariots and footmen were every-day matters. It is true, Chalkley hired a trotting-horse for an hour per day, and he would willingly have mounted Burgess upon it, and run behind it, like an Egyptian donkey boy, if the thing had been practicable. As it was, he had to call a hack.
“Tut, no,” said Burgess, “I vote to walk.”
“Why, certainly,” with a reassured little giggle. “Why, I forgot what tremendous fellows you English are with your constitutionals, and so on.” He looked doubtfully down as they walked, at the little wiry man beside him, with his foxy face and red beard. Certainly, this was not his ideal of a bluff John Bull; but none the less did he feel that the New World was on trial to-night before the Old. Elsewhere, this judge could inspect its institutions and politics; but Parr Chalkley felt it had fallen to his lot to present its social aspects.
“Here you have the Quaker element,” waving his hand up the broad street, asleep at that early hour of the evening, the red brick fronts and marble steps distinct in the moonlight. “Arch street. Nobody, of course, in society lives north of Market street. We have our distinctions of rank here, Mr. Burgess, as in older countries. Still, it is possible to visit some houses in Arch.”
“Is Miss Derby’s one of them?”
“No, no!” laughing. “Society never heard of Miss Derby. I take you there just as I should to the Museum yonder. Both places are—well, irregular; but you’ll find some curious animals in them. I know what you want,” complacently. “You want our idiosyncrasies. Our good society is just a repetition of what you have at home.”
Mr. Burgess’s eyes twinkled. “Yes, well-bred people are the same the world over,” he said, politely, “and family parties are apt to be monotonous, as you say.”
“As for mountains and rivers,” continued Parr, loftily, “I never thrust them at any foreigner. They may have that hobby, or they may not. Nature, in my opinion, is a bore.” (He said “in me ahpinion is a barr.”)
“No, but really you know!” protested Burgess. “Your scenery is very nice indeed. It lacks the charm of history of course—what one might call the sauce of Age. But it serves the better as a background for my articles. We, Dickens, Kingsley and the rest of us, have used up all the back-grounds: Europe, the Nile, Australia. I think I’ve had a very lucky ‘find’ here. I mean to produce some very pretty effects in my papers with your Rocky Mountains, Yosemite, and all those, eh? This is Miss Derby’s street?” as they turned a corner. “It looks respectable. Nothing Bohemian here.”
“Oh, there are no Bohemians in Philadelphia,” energetically; “there is no room for them. No more than for cheap weeds in these grass plats. No, no, sir. You must not think of Jenny—of Miss Derby as anything but a very respectable girl. Yes, and a very sweet girl too,” he added, but with a quaver as though knowing that he put Society at defiance.
“But clever?” Burgess’s red-rimmed eyes were twinkling again. “Now come. American ladies are all oppressively clever, you know. ‘Have you read my last tragedy?” says one. Another thinks it more a woman’s work to dissect babies than to suckle them. The very school-girls attack you with their views of John Stuart Mill;  and this Miss Derby, still in her teens you say, lives alone, and has her ‘Saturday evenings.’”
“Don’t know,” said Parr, turning his whitish eyes full on Burgess; “I never thought Jenny Derby clever.” He was stolidly perplexed. Undoubtedly his companion was not what he had been taught to think well-bred. “‘Read her last tragedy’? Why it’s the Lambs he means, where he stayed in New York!” thought Parr with the look of an amazed ox. But—“It must be a shock,” he said gently, a moment after, “to plunge into our social chaos after the culture and refinement of England.” He hoped, however that Burgess would see how little he, a Philadelphian of the Philadelphians, had to do with social chaoses. He was going to London in the fall, and had planned that his new friend should introduce him into the very arcana of fashion. Burgess, meanwhile, was eying the big young fellow shrewdly; the heavy features, complexion like a girl’s, fair Dundreary whiskers,  foppish clothes, the rose in his buttonhole, skittish walk: all good points for a comic picture of a Philadelphian for his book. Since he came to this country he usually sketched his host’s face on his thumb-nail whenever he was invited out to dine, and so was accumulating a good stock of figures to front his “backgrounds.” The truth was, Burgess, being the son of a green-grocer at home, knew nothing of society beyond the acquaintance of a few men in inferior clubs, and had to make the best of his chance while he was here.
“No, Jenny Derby’s not clever,” maundered Parr, going back, as was his habit, to pick up a subject and wring more talk out of it. “She’s knocked around a good deal for her age, though old Derby was cranky; they lived in Italy when she was a little thing, and he went into spiritualism and then into Italian freedom; seeker after truth—American patriot—and all that sort of thing. Jenny, it seems, was a pet with some people worth knowing: Mrs. Browning, Mazzini, and so on. Four or five years later Derby was sent from here to Germany on some Reform Committee: Peace—Colonization, heaven knows what, and takes her with him, and they lunch with that bishop and dine with this duke—all humanitarians.”
“Tolerably sharp practice in the old man.”
“Not at all. Derby was not sharp. Derby,” deliberately, “was as little sharp as any man I know. But it gave Jenny a chance to see life, and she made deuced good use of her eyes. It’s astonishing the use she always makes of them!” growing animated. “Now that girl’s on two or three papers. Writes book notices, and a woman’s column. And that European experience of hers is all her material. Same thing over and over: roast, hash, and ragout; you have it again week after week, and, ‘pon my word, you don’t recognize it.”
“I know that kind of woman. And these receptions?”
“Oh, they don’t deserve such a large name as that. The old man left her in a Quaker boarding-house when he died, and they give her the use of a vacant room there. So she says to one friend and another, ‘Don’t come here through the week: you only are in my way. Come on Saturday evening. That’s your Sabbath, and mine.’ Newspaper people, you understand. So we go, to see Jenny, or each other. Sometimes she gives us tea, and dry toast; sometimes a supper from Augustin’s, if she’s in funds; but you never know what’s coming. Oh, it’s very nice indeed. Here we are,” turning up the marble steps of one of the interminable red houses and ringing the bell.
They entered a long hall, bare but for the gas flaring and the flying Naiads on the old wall paper: passing up a flight or two of stairs, and into a room, wide, high, and softly lighted. Burgess’s little eyes glanced here and there. Floor bare and stained in imitation of walnut, tables covered with warm-colored cloth, scattered about, with men at them, playing chess, and smoking, and women sewing. The whole affair was notably unlike any social gathering which Burgess had ever seen, to which women were admitted, and smacked much more of the club than the drawing-room. Yet men and women were quiet, low-voiced, and, if they had not been so eager and interested, would have satisfied his notions of good-breeding.
“Why these are pictures,” he cried, with an involuntary start, going up to the wall. “But what a combination! A Gérôme, a Bonheur, and surely I am not mistaken—this is a Meissonier?”
“I’m sure I don’t know. I’ll ask. This is only a tea-and-toast night. I see the cups yonder.”
“She has the walls the proper tint for them, too. But how can a woman earn enough money by scribbling for the daily journals to buy such pictures as these?”
“She does not buy them,” said a school-girl in an ill-fitting blue merino, who was looking at the Meissonier. She turned to Burgess, thinking he had asked her the question. “These are part of the Lingard collection which was brought to town for sale.”
Burgess bowed respectfully. “And Miss Derby hires them for her reception?”
“No. Mr. Lingard imports them twice a year, and he hangs the best here on private view. The critics and press reporters are sure to see them to-night. Lingard had the walls stained for her. It pays him. ‘Tis Monsieur Puff, my lord, coming round the corner,’”  she quoted, laughing and glancing up at Chalkley.
“And Miss Derby allows her wall to be used as advertisements?” He spoke to Parr, but the little girl replied:
“If it makes them pleasant to her guests, why not? She is a penniless little wretch, not able to put on wall paper. She allows Mr. Chalkley here to pay for that wood fire, and every pianist to bring his own instrument. It is a sort of neutral ground this, for artists and their critics to meet. There is John Shively, the publisher, coming in at the door. He will tell you in a five minutes more how many millions he is worth. There are half a dozen other kings here, in sugar or cotton. What would they care for Jane Derby or her dry toast and tea if they did not know that they would see better pictures and hear better music here than in any house in town?”
Burgess turned to Parr: “Yet you told me this woman was neither clever nor sharp?”
Chalkley stood between the two, red, bulky, stammering. The little girl laughed good-humoredly, and held out both her fat hands deprecatingly: “Don’t go any farther, Mr. Burgess. I am Jenny Derby. I thought you knew.” Seeing his embarrassment she covered it adroitly by leading him to the fire. “Here is a set from which you can take notes. I advised Mr. Chalkley to bring you here. Among these odds and ends of American society you may find a point or two for your book or lecture on us, whichever it is to be.”
“Neither, I assure you. Yet I might take you as the typical American girl, I suppose, Miss Derby?” staring at her through his half-shut red eyelashes.
“But no means,” quietly. “I am outside of all orthodox lines. But women can go on to man’s ground with safety further here than in England. Kit, pray give your chair to Mr. Chalkley. I want you.” She spoke to a man who sat by the fire playing with a dog. He rose leisurely, without looking at the newcomers, and followed her.
Mr. Burgess looked after her eagerly. “I don’t wonder I mistook her for a school-girl. She has the unformed figure and manner of a girl of fifteen; but there’s a cool aplomb about her, and a speculation in those gray eyes that show she has seen a good deal of the world.”
“Ah, that she has! I knew you would admire her!”
“She has seen more than you, Chalkley,” smiling. “But what a hospitality! ‘You came to caricature us. So to your business.’”
“’Pon my soul,” cried Chalkley, with sudden candor, “I’m afraid she was in the right, Mr. Burgess. She's the honestest creature alive. She is just as blunt about your faults as her own.”
“Who comes here?” hastily turning the subject.
Parr shrugged his big shoulders. “Shively, the publisher. A new man. Advertised himself into a fortune, and now he’s trying to advertise himself into society. I can’t present you. I don’t know him,” as he stood before them.
But Shively smiled on him benignly from his lank and bony height. From his shining shoes to his long hatchet-faced head with its curling ruffle of red whiskers and hair, he was one smile, affable, patronizing, aggressively innocent. Parr turned off with a distant bow, while Shively held out both hands to the Englishman.
“Mr. Burgess! Let me name myself! John Shively. You may have heard of my publications. Small things, small things! But they help me to aid my fellow-creatures, and for what else, in God’s name, are we here? But you!—I know you well, Mr. Burgess—through your works. We are old friends. Comrades in spirit, I may say, without being sentimental.”
“I do not doubt it, Mr. Shively.”
“And so you are going to write us up? Ah, you young fellows, you must each have your flight at us Americans. But we have grown more pachydermatous than in the days of Mrs. Trollope and Dickens. Seriously,” Mr. Shively growing suddenly grave, “the better men of the two nations have lately, as I may say, struck hands and brought their countries into accord. My friend, the Earl of Dundas, remarked, when he was dining with me the other day: ‘We are but one clan, after all, Shively.’ The Prince of Wales, (and a fine young fellow he is, by the way,) made a casual observation to me, when he was here, tending to the same effect. I do what I can to foster that brotherhood of feeling between America and all other nations. I had a Russian prince at my house yesterday, quite a cultivated man, too. It was really surprising to see how well informed he was on many subjects. You must come up and see my little place, by the way, Mr. Burgess. Only worth your notice as an example of what industry may do for a man who begins penniless in this country. Why the parlor curtains alone stood me in twelve thousand, and that in gold, sir. My wife will have nothing but point lace for her pillow slips. These women have their whims, you know, so I indulge her. Little points like that in your book will whet your readers’ appetite for heavier statistics. And I began as an errand boy. Yes, sir. An errand boy.”
“So I have heard.”
“Ah, indeed? Well, John Shively is tolerably well known, and he never denied his origin. I strive to uplift the class from which I came, Mr. Burgess. My employes have a bank of their own, and a private graveyard on my grounds where they can be buried as comfortably as though they were millionaires. Ah yes! Little things, but they help our fellow creatures, and what else in God’s name are we here for? Those fellows, the press reporters, look upon me a godsend. ‘You and your benefactions keep us in items, Mr. Shively,’ they often say,” drawing down his glossy shirt-cuffs.
“Who are these women, if I may ask?” interrupted Burgess, glancing around.
“Ah, women? None from our old families, Mr. Burgess. None of the class to which my young friend Parr Chalkley belongs. I do not bring my daughter here, as you perceive. Though little Miss Derby is very nice—very nice! And these persons are still respectable. Ah yes, quite so. Those Quaker ladies with white hair are old Anti-Slavery leaders. That young female in the corner, short, aggressive, you see, is a lecturer, I think; but really one cannot be familiar with all orders in a society so uncertain and chaotic as ours. That lovely creature with the mass of reddish hair tumbling around her shoulders is the famous actress, Devereux; fine woman, Mr. Burgess.”
Mr. Burgess lifted his eye-glass. “Yes, she is,” he said, after a critical pause. “But how does a busy man like yourself spare time to come here?”
Shively held up his white pulpy hand to his mouth. “Entre nous, it is business. I find this kind of people, artists, editors, and the like, much cheaper when you take them unawares out of their offices—off guard, as one might say. Just now I want a series of articles written, half scientific, half popular, for which I am willing to pay liberally. I know but one young fellow capable of doing it, and of course I’ll try to get him on as easy terms as possible. I came to find him to-night, but he is not here. A most brilliant young scamp, moody and unreliable, like all your men of genius.”
“Who is he? I have heard of him, no doubt.”
“Ah yes. One of the most promising men of the day, Niel Goddard. Is it possible Miss Derby hears me? She turned as I named him. She would advise him against my offer. She has notably a sharp eye for the pennies. Harte, where is your comrade, Goddard, now?”
Burgess turned quickly. Of Harte, he had heard—a figure painter, beginning to be known in Europe as here for the delicacy of his touch as well as the subtle grace of his meaning. He was a solid, squat, good-natured looking fellow, wearing his spectacles, and with black brows which met over his nose.
“Not in town. He is down on the coast, somewhere, studying the effect of sunset on the neap tide, for a marine he is going to paint.”
“Absurd! He is not going to waste his time in painting?”
“If Niel Goddard chose to take brush and palette seriously in hand,” said Harte, with some heat, “none of us could touch him. But he is lazy. That inevitably vis inertia of genius, you know.”
“Now Harte,” said Shively, as he turned away, “has no genius whatever. But the most indomitable endurance! Son of a butcher, sir! Chose the canvas instead of a meat-block, and had starved and drudged and worked his way for ten years, until he has done some neat things.”
“You will wake up some day and find in Harte a great painter,” said Burgess. “We begin to know him in England.”
“But if you could see Goddard’s studies! Just a line, here and there. But when you come to talk of power!---“
“What has Goddard done? Written or painted?”
“Done? done? Oh, if you put it that way, but little as yet, sir. Like all real artists, his studies will be severe. But as for promise, I know no man in America to equal him.”
Miss Derby, followed by the big fair-haired man whom she called Kit, went in-to a little ante-room or closet where a girl not so young as herself was kneeling before an open fire, toasting this slices of bread already thoroughly dried. Jenny broke a bit critically. “Too brown,” she said sharply. “And one slice must not lie on another; not for an instant. I don’t want to give them soggy dough. The refreshment is cheap,” smiling up at Kit, “but it must be perfect of its kind. Now this tea. It was a Christmas gift from Mr. Theris; not a pound of the like in the country. People talk of it when they go away, and that attracts notice. Pays me, you see? These Japanese cups I picked up in a London pawn shop. The man did not know their value. They look like a bubble cut in half. You drop a pinch of the tea in each. Pour on your water, and cover with the other half. Now taste, Kit.”
“It seems poor stuff, to tell you the truth. Besides, it’s only half a mouthful, Jenny.”
“I can’t give this lot of people what you’d call a square meal,” tartly. “Sometimes I do give them a supper that costs a quarter’s salary—though I get it cheaper than other people, by giving the caterer a puff, and besides he takes back from we whatever terrapin or croquettes are left.”
“Why do you go to such expense, Jenny? I cannot understand why you bring these people here, any how. This is not like our supper parties down in Delaware, where we all go because we like each other,” glancing to the open door.
“I do it because it pays me, you may be sure of it. In town they talk of me as a sharp woman pushing into a man’s place. People come here and they know me always afterward as Jenny Derby: a genial, warm-hearted little thing that needs help. And they’re all ready to help. You see?”
Christopher stood lazily pulling the dog’s ear for a minute; then he laughed. “I see that you are about as genial and warm-hearted as most other women, Jenny. But I can fancy you at forty, hoarding your money in an old tea-pot like our grandmother Shawn, and caring for nothing so much as the hoarding. You have her blood in your, so take care.”
She looked at him steadily for a moment. “I believe you’re right,” she said suddenly; then crossed the room to the fire. “That is enough, Miss Croft. Much obliged, I’m sure. You need not wait any longer. No, she’s not a servant,” to Kit’s look of inquiry. “She’s a wood engraver. I got work for her in the offices, and she’s glad to pay me in this way.”
“It saves you a burned face, at least;” drily. “Hers was purple.”
“Yes: and the servants would waste the bread and have to be paid besides. As for her face, it don’t matter to her. Now if it was that Devereux woman, yonder, it would be of such important; her face is worth a capital of a million. It brings her in an interest of five thousand per week.”
She went back to the lager room, and her cousin followed leisurely, and sat down by the window, through which a patch of moonlight fell. The dog kept a close beside him; it was the only one of Jenny’s companions who had made friends with the Delaware farmer, or with whom he felt at home. He had an awed admiration for all literary folks, or artists. The man who had written a book or painted a picture, vaguely ranked in this mind, with Caesar or the Muses, or Michael Angelo, or any of those dim Presences to whom he had been introduced in his college days, but had lost sight of since in the hurry of raising early peaches and Chester County pigs. But he was disappointed now that he was brought face to face with these makers of the lightning which illumined the world. Was this genius? It sounded to him like gossip smelling rankly of paint and ink. Was it in this fashion that the wits in Dick Steele’s time met at White’s, and drank and talked? After all, had Jenny got into the real Holy of Holies of literature? Were these the Simon-pure masters in intellect, or only shrewd hucksters of brain work? The talk and laughter about him seemed to him all sham and unmeaning, though in reality there was unusual heartiness and jest in it. People out of all cliques and ranks met at Miss Derby’s, and there was a certain newly wakened expression of both curiosity and humor in their eyes, as though each was testing the other unknown specimens of humanity in this newly discovered atmosphere.
Miss Derby herself stood near him with the Englishman, to whom she pointed out one after another her guests. “Those two prettily dressed ladies by the door belong to a class you don’t know yet in England, women correspondents of the newspapers. I too!” nodding and touching her breast, “I write letters from Paris for the Day-book, and from Rome for the Progress. They furnish me the news items, and it is quite easy to dress them up. There are two New York journalists, both of them from the West. Western men are never as authors worth a penny but they are at the head of the newspaper profession everywhere. What journalism wants is common sense, and that is the genius of the West.”
“Miss Derby is like other American ladies,” Burgess said to Parr when she had gone to some other part of the room. “She does not talk, she orates.”
“That is because of her business. I have always remarked that women who write for the press have that snappy didactic manner. If they tell me what’s o’clock, they must needs make an epigram out of it.”
It was Sturm who said this: languidly, as became the cynical philosophic turn of mind for which he was noted: a character which had grown on him of late years, since his bald head, shallow face, and waxed moustache seemed to require it. (Sturm was then, and indeed is still, musical critic for the Review.)
“I am glad I came here to-night,” replied Mr. Burgess. “I got a pretty fair idea, I fancy, of your professors of literature and art, with a good deal of the radical social element besides: one looks for radicalism in Philadelphia.”
“If literature and art,” enunciated Sturm slowly, “be trades, you are right. The time was, sir, when to be an author was to be a prophet, priest, and king. A man wrote a book, however poor, as the oracles spoke, from some divine impulse within. Now the book, the poem, or the article is manufactured and offered by these—these venders,” glancing around, “just as a clown turns summersault or plays a fresh prank—for the sake of a few pennies.”
“You’re right; by George you’re right!” chuckled Shively, “I’ve said as much in the office a dozen times! Why my writers—on books or papers—have as keen noses for their copyrights or salaries as the poorest mechanic in the bindery. You’re right, Sturm.”
“They don’t understand, probably, why the fountain of Helicon should bubble without charge either for mankind or for Mr. Shively,” said Sturm drily. “It’s the demand,” turning to Burgess, “the steady sale of literary work that has coarsened its quality. When a man used to give five years to the elaboration of the idea which he offered to the public, he fancied some of the real water of life sparkled in it: but these tradespeople in ink are like men who keep drinking booths at a fair. They stir up their drinks in an hour. What do they care whether they sell nectar, or bitter beer, or ginger-pop, so that the pressing thirst of the crowd is satisfied and they get their cursed money?”
Nobody appreciated this tirade but Shively, who chuckled through it continuously, rubbing his thick gold chain between his fat thumb and finger. “Yes, sir. I’ve known a dozen painters and authors who talked of being true to art, and meant to do some great work, and they all took to daubing pot-boilers of landscapes for the auction-shops, or scribbling skits of stories and articles for the newspapers and magazines. Pegasus is greedy for his oats, nowadays, and I can always tell when he is ready to lay his wings by and hire out to do carting by the day. No talk of Art then, but—how much a column, Mr. Shively?’”
Miss Derby, who stood near them, sheltering her flushed face from the fire, interposed, “I know one man whom you concede to have a real genius, Mr. Shively, as his birthright; but I heard you propose to buy him to-night for a very small mess of pottage indeed.”
“Oh, Goddard? Yes, I’ve no doubt Goddard will make his mark some day. Hit the public a downright blow between the eyes. But in the meanwhile he might as well turn an honest penny by writing up my popular scientific summary. Ah, going, Mr. Burgess? I see our friends are dropping off. I’ll accompany you. Good night, Miss Derby. You’ll not prejudice Mr. Goddard against my offer?”
“I shall not interfere,” said Jenny.
People began to come up to say good night to her. Whether they bowed or shook hands, Kit, whose lazy blue eyes saw every thing, observed that there was none of that fantastic deferential homage which men always pay to a young and pretty girl, but instead, a certain air of cordial comradeship as though Miss Derby were a hearty good fellow.
“They don’t quite slap her on the back: but very near it,” he thought, as she stood joking with Sturm and the others.
She evidently liked the comradeship. Her cheeks burned and her eyes sparkled as the last one turned lingering away. “That’s Stillwell, Kit; I went out with him on that exploring expedition a year ago to visit the Indian country. Old Doctor Swan and his wife were in command. Semi-political you see. I got an appointment as artist to the expedition. With that and my letters for the Progress I cleared three hundred dollars, besides expenses. After we came home, the Stillwell woman and I hired two good nags and rode through every county in Maryland, picking up adventures and land scapes and characters for our writing. You don’t approve of what I see, Kit?”
“We wanted you to spend that summer on the coast with us, Jenny,” he said evasively. “Why do you prefer such knight errantry to living among your father’s people? None of them know you but me, and I’ve had had to force myself on you here.”
She leaned forward and touched him on the arm. Because of the very manliness of the girl a touch from her had all the force of a caress from sweet fondling women. “I don’t know that they are all like you, Kit. Besides what matériel could I find in Delaware? I must have capital, grist to grind. I am making my bread and butter.”
“I suppose you have chosen the right way,” hesitatingly. “A woman with genius—”
Jenny laughed: a hearty laugh enough, yet there was a pathetic ring about it. “Bah! I have none of that, if even there be such a thing. I have not even a woman’s ordinary skill in saying pretty nothings about nothing. I know just what I am.”
The room was large and lonely: she sat in front of the firelight which flashed and darkened over her face, and showed it relaxed and older than when nerved and heated by excitement. “No, Kit: circumstances pushed me among literary people and put a pen in my hand. I have covered up my real character in a reputation for wit and fancy just as I hide the bare walls with those pictures, which don’t belong to me. It is shop-work with me. I read this book and that to find a style. I scour the country for ideas and facts as capital. Yet I write successful poetry. It tells. If I were older and had enough money saved I think I’d go into trade. I could make a fortune at that.” It certainly was a very shrewd face which met Kit’s, from the sharp chin to the broad, low, white brow.
“I know nothing about either poetry or trade,” he said gravely. “I suppose you must be born fit for one, and make yourself fit for the other. But I must go to business. I came to-night to bring you a message from Mr. Goddard.”
“Yes.” She rose suddenly and began putting the chairs in their places.
“He has been in Lewes for nearly a month now. He brought me your letter of introduction the day he arrived.”
“In Lewes? His business was in Georgetown.”
“Yes; he told me all about business. He’s franker than I’d be under the circumstances.”
Finding that he stopped, Miss Derby came back and stood leaning on the low mantel-shelf looking down at him. Her cousin, glancing up from the dog, found her apparently more attractive than before, for he watched her attentively.
“Do you think he will succeed?” she said.
“I’ve no doubt of it. The property has lain unclaimed since George Goddard’s death, waiting for this nephew to present himself. It was supposed that he was in the West; but he will have no difficulty in proving himself to be the person.”
“No. His father came from Iowa ten years ago. Is the property large?” after a pause.
“It will make him comfortable—not rich. I don’t have the faith in those late peaches most people do. The whole farm’s stocked with late peaches. The house is as good as any in Sussex County.”
“Niel Goddard ought to be a rich man. His temperament requires ease and luxury for its development. I think, too—” she hesitated—“he would be a happier man if he were able to—to marry.”
“Very likely,” with a gravity for which there seemed no adequate cause. “He bade me bring you home with me, Jenny. There were some knotty points in the will which he thought your shrewd wit could help him with. My mother will expect you. The will is registered at Georgetown. I went up with him twice to look at it—Why, what is the matter?”
“Oh, I could not go, Kit. Your mother is a stranger, and—”
“You are not afraid to junketing over the whole United States with a troop of strangers, and yet you blush and are frightened and tremble at the thought of meeting my mother. Why, Jenny?” taking her hand tenderly, for behind her smile and blush he could see the tears in her eyes. He certainly never had thought his cousin pretty before. It occurred to him for the first time now that he would like to take her in his arms and kiss her.
“Oh,” she fluttered, “how could I go, Christopher?” She went to the window on pretense of closing the curtains, and lingered shyly in the moonlight. Then she said sharply, without turning: “Only been to Georgetown twice, and now it’s a month? What does Mr. Goddard find in Lewes to keep him there? Is he really studying the tides, as Mr. Harte said?”
“I think it probable. I heard Audrey expounding them learnedly the other day. She puts implicit faith in his wisdom, and deals it about to us second-hand.”
Miss Derby stood quite quiet with her hands covering her eyes for a long time as she always did when she was planning the plot of a story. When she turned and came back it was with her ordinary cool, collected expression. “I am very glad that Mr. Goddard has such a chance of success about his farm; but I could not go down to advise about the will, Christopher. Tell him so. I shall see you in the morning?” as, without pressing the matter further, he rose to go.
“Yes; I shall take the noon train.”
“Why do you never bring Audrey, as you call her, to town? I should make her welcome, I’m sure.”
“Audrey?” Looking about him with a smile. “I could not imagine Audrey here. Oh, no, that would never do.”
“Too coarse a setting for your jewel?” with an answering smile. “She is a very beautiful woman then?”
Christopher hesitated. “I do not know. I think not. I really never considered before whether she was a pretty girl or not. But one cannot think of Audrey away from the sea.”
“Oh! You men are fanciful about women. About womanly women, that is,” with a bitter laugh. She had gone with him a step or two outside of the door, and after shaking hands, stood looking after him as he went down the stairway, nodding and smiling good-night as he looked back.
When he was gone, she crossed the halls hastily to her own chamber, locked the door, and stirred the clear anthracite fire. Her boots stood on the rug. They were short, broad and heavily soled; her gloves lay on the table. She took them up, looking at her thick and somewhat stumpy fingers. Stillwell, when they were out roughing it on the Prairies, used to say to her, “You are built for use and not for show, Jenny.”
She had not minded it a bit in Stillwell, and had never liked him a whit the less. But in Niel Goddard’s eyes, she was “a womanly woman.” She thought of that now, holding the glove, and playing with it softly as she looked in the fire, as she might with a baby’s hand. “I’m sharp, and a screw to all the world, even to Kit who sees everybody in the pleasantest light,” she thought. “But Niel—.”
Even to herself she did not say what she well knew; that in his big, blue, dreamy eyes her muddy skin was fair, her thin lips soft, her jet black eyes liquid and passionate as any tenderest sweetheart’s among women. Men who wished to stand well with Jenny were wont to talk to her of the strength of her articles; “quite as masculine as if they had been done by a man.” Neil laughed at all she wrote. “You precious little dunce!” he said often. Just as though she were a stupid child both silly and dear. Jane, remembering it now as she undressed herself, saw in the glass her hard eyes grow dewy and tender. But she saw too that they were hard eyes; and that her lips were thin and her breast flat. “Even Nature,” she said to herself, “forgot that I was a woman. Niel never does.”
Even alone as she was, the hidden woman in her answered to his name; flat breast and thin lips grew hot: she turned quickly from the glass too happy and ashamed to meet her own eyes.
“Audrey? What is Audrey to me? When would she give up for him what I have given up?” she said.
Presently she took down a japanned box filled with papers, neatly tied with red tape. Seating herself with a business air she took from among them copies of George Goddard’s will, and of one or two deeds relating to the Stone-post farm. For Miss Derby had privately been down to Sussex county a year ago on this business. It was she indeed who had unearthed the fact that Niel Goddard was the missing heir, and sent him down. She went over the papers now carefully line by line: then took out another, a legal opinion from a high authority—“for which he charged a pretty penny!” she muttered. But it was clear and decisive. The Stone-post farm belonged to the oldest living son of James Goddard. It had been left fifty years ago to Elizabeth Goddard and her heirs. But Elizabeth had married a Cortrell and gone to the West Indies on ill terms with her family and her whereabouts had never been discovered. The old man, George, who died last year, had made provision that the property should return to her heirs, should they present themselves. Failing that, James Goddard and his children came next in succession. Niel was James Goddard’s only living child.
Miss Derby folded the papers carefully in the same creases. Her thoughts ran in this wise, done into plain English: “Niel Goddard might think her or all women tender-eyed and soft-lipped, but he would dawdle through life until he was gray, and never ask one of them to marry him, as long as he had no money. With money, he would be on fire to marry to-morrow. He was the heir to this property, provided none of Elizabeth Goddard’s descendants were living. But Elizabeth Goddard’s only daughter had married a Derby, and Jane Derby’s father was her son. He had been used in his vague, whimsical way to talk of family estates to which it might be worth while to trace his claim. But with his usual slip-shod habit he had never traced it. His daughter had no whimsical slip-shod habit. Her claim was made out, ready in the japanned box. She never meant to present it. Niel himself never knew of it.
“It will be so sweet to take all from him—all!” She pushed the papers into the box as she thought this and stood up, her hands on the lid, her face lifted and glowing. For the moment, it was a rare face and worth study. It would content her to be a beggar and fed by his hand!
A few moments later, however, she rearranged the papers of her claim more carefully, placed the case in her traveling bag, and shut it with a snap.
“I’ll go down to Lewes with Kit tomorrow,” she thought. “It can do no harm to see how matters stand,” nodding significantly, as she put the satchel away.
The morning, after Miss Derby and Kit had reached the cars, proved to be warm. The fire was suffered to die out in the stove, and the windows were opened that the few lazy travelers might feel the soft October air which always differs from the soft air of spring because it seems to carry with it the strength and vitality of the whole of summer. Whether because of this air or of some subtile influence in her errand, Jenny had an odd sense that everybody but herself was out for a holiday. The road hurried out from the walling streets of brick and marble into pretty glimpses of villas, with Greek fronts and Gothic stables and henneries; and beyond them out again into breezy slopes of stubble-fields, copper-colored, blackened in patches by the early frost; with a blaze here and there in the dark lines of fence of orange butterfly-weed or the maroon velvet of the sumach. There were stretches of miles of peach orchards, too, when they had entered Delaware, the late pale green fruit clinging to the leafless boughs, dry and luscious, waiting to be plucked. A farm-house now and then showed itself on a sunny hillside, wide and pleasant and open-doored; a dog asleep on the porch, or fat brown cows huddled down in the muddy, lush meadow by the creek, would look up leisurely as the train went by, and drop their heads drowsily again. The few passengers in the car were peach farmers who had been up to close their accounts with their agents. The leisurely year was before them until the few busy weeks of harvest came again; why should they be in a hurry? The whole world was quiet and bright and still.
“The very sunshine is yellow and does not move,” said Jenny, shuffling her feet impatiently. “When we stop at a station every black and white lounger there is as glad to see you, Kit, as if you were the one friend of their souls, and they had no other business in life but to sit on the fence and watch for you.”
“I know them all,” quietly.
“Have they no work to do?” sharply. “Can all Delaware afford to go to sleep?” She had brought the items in her satchel out of which the next foreign letters were to be constructed; and even as she watched the people about her, she was dotting down notes for her woman’s column of the next week. “I left word at the office to telegraph me in case a steamer comes in,” she said, with a little importance, conscious of filing a place in the world unknown to Kit or Delaware.
As the still morning widened into stiller noon, however, she put away her notebook. She began to wish she too had gone out on a holiday. Her backbone felt heavy; shooting fibers of pain went through her legs, her arms, over the back of her head. It was only the neuralgia which she had every day; it never relaxed its grip on her; but she took time to think of it now, and of the doctor’s warning stories of other newspaper people who had suddenly collapsed and dropped from overwork. When they reached Georgetown, she looked eagerly over the sleeping, sunny hills. One day, in a home among some of them, she too could rest. Kit, turning around as the train stopped, saw the rare bright and tender look again filling her eyes.
“Can you see Mr. Goddard’s farm from here?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I have never been there.”
She was glad that he had not. Niel had not allowed any one to cross the threshold of his new home. He was waiting for her to come. It would be in keeping with his usual fancies. She felt as if she could taste the delight now of wandering over it step by step with him.
“Audrey,” said her cousin, “thought it dead and unmeaning. But she would find that fault with any inland place.”
“Miss Swenson has seen the farm then?”
“Yes. Mr. Goddard drove her over to look at it as soon as his title was secure.”
“Secure!” she cried in a loud, uncadenced voice. “Unless the Cortrells who have a prior claim should appear, you mean. No doubt,” she added presently, “Miss Swenson could give him valuable advice in the management of his property.”
He laughed. “Audrey? She’s not a capable woman like you, Jenny. She has no opinions. She never advised any body in her life. Not even herself,” he added to himself. “Mr. Goddard,” with a quizzical amusement in his heavy good-natured face, “professes to have unearthed some marvelous talent in her. But I fancy there’s nothing in it.”
The remainder of the afternoon was passed almost in silence. Jane, with her hand over her eyes, pretended to sleep. The sun was going down as they approached Lewes. When the clearing and thinning of the sky, and the salt gusts of wind over the low flats showed that they neared the sea, she grew nervous and irritable. She had quite forgotten the kinsfolk she was going to meet. The end of her journey was to her only Goddard and this Audrey.
At the next station above Lewes the train stopped for a moment; as it began its leisurely journey again Miss Derby heard a light footstep coming up the car behind her. She started and reddened like a school-girl. “Mr. Goddard—it’s Niel coming!” just as a small hand tapped on Kit’s hat.
“So Graff, you brought her? I knew you would. That lumbering, honest way of yours conquers the women. No, don’t rise, I can stand. Ta ta ta!—well, if you insist—thanks.” He sank in his light luxurious way into the seat opposite Jenny; so light and luxurious and dainty that for the glimmer of a moment the dirty plush seat appeared purple and royal. Graff, nodding good-naturedly, went out of the car, feeling snubbed, unreasonably enough, and heavy and earthy from his slow brain to his big feet.
“And now!”—said Goddard.
He leaned forward, putting the tips of his fingers on her satchel. His little body always seemed weighted too heavily with his soul, and now his small face was on fire with eagerness. The womanish, sensitive chin trembled. The red, curling hair waved impatiently back from his broad forehead to his neck. The large blue eyes were luminous, fixed on hers. From any other man words of irrepressible passion would have followed such a look.
“I thought you would come and see how I was,” said Mr. Goddard. “I know those souls which are like a rock to be built upon. Some day,” thoughtfully, “I mean to place and define the different uses of friend. Those who serve us as the dull earth, and make us sure of our footing; those who gives us water once, and no more, and those who lift—lift us!” with a quick glance at the clear sky. “Tu es Petrus, eh, Jenny? You may have the subject—nice little essay for the Atlantic—humorous, under-vein of pathos—or boil it down into a social-topic editorial. But how do you think I am looking? That demon of sleeplessness is routed; you can tell by my complexion and the white of my eye. It’s all owing to this place; no medicine. Nature and Man are asleep here together. You walk through this unalterable, waiting calm day after day, until you fancy that somewhere in the clear, bright air the fountain of life and youth which De Leon sought surely will open before you.”
“You look as though you had found it,” said Jenny, gently. “And the sailor clothes—why one would think they had been invented for you, Niel.”
“Don’t laugh at me,” gaily picking at the blue flannel shirt and tarpaulin hat. I sloughed off the cheviot clothes because they smelled of cigars and wines and printer’s ink. Audrey knows nothing of these things, and I don’t wish that she should.” He paused a moment uncertainly. “Jenny”—leaning forward again, “there was once a younger son who sat all his life in the ashes, and he set off one day to seek his fortune by the sea, and he found—“
“Audrey. I know.” Miss Derby looked jaded with her long journey, but she smiled pleasantly. “You shall tell me all about her presently. As to the other part of the fortune—the farm turns out very well, Kit tells me. A snug income, not enough to give you a thorough-bred to ride or Château Lafitte to drink every day, but snug.”
“It saves me,” gravely, “from the necessity of selling whatever original power I have for mere food and clothes. That’s enough!” in his usual light, half-ecstatic tone. “That means freedom! Love! Thorough-bred horses indeed? Why I shall ‘walk on thrones. I shall out-Anthony Anthony!’”
“How much a year does it bring in, Niel?”
“How much? Always ‘how much?’ Oh, Jenny come, let us go look for De Leon’s fountain; you need it. Here we are at Lewes.” He rose gaily and preceded her to the platform. “You’ve a carry-all here, Graff? What a careful fellow you are! Just take Miss Derby’s trunk and satchel up in it and I’ll walk with her. Thanks. Now,--” drawing her arm in his with an air of thorough enjoyment when they were alone on the grassy road, in the melancholy twilight. Far off the lights of the village burned red in the gray cold; white dunes of sand which to her unpracticed eye appeared interminable, stretched drearily toward the sea, whose sullen roar was rising with the evening wind. Goddard’s face, turned slowly from side to side, seemed to gather the meaning of it all.
“Do you feel the silence—the infinite rest” he said. “Out on the prairies or the Western canons there is a calm, but it is different. That is the sleep of Nature before it has been called on for its strength; an infant giant or god in his cradle. But this is a place which has tried all agitation and work, and found it vain. Lewes is an old settlement, full of wealth and stir in the colonial times. Old legends hang about it of a tropical trade with the West Indies, of spicy breezes in the streets where stately ladies in brocade paced to church with a guard of black slaves. Now in its old age it has shaken off such frivolities and fallen into a perpetual calm. Even the railroad, as you see, passes on one side and will not waken it.”
They had reached the uneven street now, and were passing between the old solid stone houses, fenced by their double doors and windows against the winter storms; the quaint gardens smothered and hidden by old English ivy and hedges of box. Pale whiffs of smoke rose from the chimneys into the cold evening air; there was no other sign of life; the grass-grown streets, full of signs of long opulence, were abandoned to the damp fog coming up from the sea, and to a houseless dog that ran about without barking.
Miss Derby’s eye glanced about contemptuously. “It is possible for you to content yourself here, Niel? I see no signs of work; not even a blacksmith or shoemaker’s shop. How can these people progress?”
“They don’t progress, thank God!” cried Goddard. “There’s not a newspaper in the town; their ideas of literature have halted back in the Elizabethan era. What is our work at any rate?” pushing his thin fingers through the mass of red hair until in Jane’s eyes it resembled a halo. “To grub for money, in order to wear fine clothes—or buy better pictures than our neighbors. A man of culture here is content to use the furniture of his grandfather, and dress in the same fashion. He needs so little money that he has leisure to study himself and his place in the legion of souls. His poor neighbor ‘progs’ instead of working, fishes, hunts crabs for one day in the week, and rests and tastes life in the other six. Do you see the cannon used to fence in the gutter? There are four others laid in the street to command the bay, all grown over with grass and lichen. A hundred or so years ago the town was bombarded and the pilots and fishermen sit in the sun now on these cannons, day by day, and watch for the besieging ships to come again. I tell you, Jenny,” solemnly, “this calm, this tardiness of thought—this drowse has had a most wholesome effect on me. I mean to condense the whole idea into a picture or probably a story; but whichever it is, it will be my great work.”
Miss Derby stopped and faced in him the dull twilight. When she spoke it was with a forced smile.
“And this woman—Audrey—what is she to you?”
Goddard threw up his hands querulously: “Tut, tut! You bring the town with you, Jenny, with your sharp incisive questions. How can I tell what she is to me? Say that you go out and see the sea and the mountains for the first time, can you map and paint and label them out for your parlor at home? I cannot map out Audrey Swenson to you. To be with her is for any man to breathe a new and alien air.”
“Don’t be vexed with me, Niel,” for his face wore the scowl which marked that his sensitive soul had been disturbed. Everybody knew Goddard’s sensitive soul, and humored his insolence and ill-temper, knowing that they proceeded from the eccentricities of genius. He beamed forgiveness instantly on Jenny’s submission. “Seriously, the girl,” he said loftily, “has had an inspiring effect on me. I find that my development requires me to come in contact with wealthy, original souls, from time to time, and so be lifted into fresh levels. Just as a child’s body demands different food at different times, while it is growing. You shall see Audrey to-morrow. I planned that we should spend the evening with her and her uncle. Ah! here is your cousin’s house, and Graff is waiting at the door. No; I’ll not come in. Good night.”
The Swensons, of whom Audrey was the last representative, had been a Swedish colonial family of higher rank and wealth than any in Southern Delaware. Before going the next day to their house (where she thought, doubtless, the ancient stately grace still held sway), Jane gave many an anxious thought to her dress and demeanor. Her father had been originally a shoemaker; and though that was a secret known only to a few, it gave Miss Derby a double share of the usual American uneasiness about wealth and dress and position. In the afternoon she went down to the sea to clear her brain for this state supper with the heiress. It was a walk of two or three miles, but she reached the beach before the sun was down. She had brought paper and pencil, meaning to jot down a few ideas on the situation of the Papacy. But the ideas did not come. The town lay asleep behind her; at her left hand the Delaware Bay lapsed without a sound into the ocean; countless white sails hidden during the high wind behind the breakwater, were flitting out noiselessly to their far off havens; at her other side sand-hill beyond hill stretched bleakly from the sea landward. Despite the chilly salt air, and the pink sky, there was a mysterious ghost-like silence and meaning about her which the moan of the sea did not disturb, and which would not fit into Jane’s patchworked items for the Review. It annoyed her, as anything always did which lay outside of her own shrewd comprehension. She was relieved by seeing something human and tangible on the sea-beach—a boy catching blue mackerel with a squid. Jane sat down on one of the sand-hills to watch him; the small, black figure coming into bold relief between her and the sky, like a fine sepia drawing. This, at least, she could comprehend; and it was a pretty picturesque sight. The lad, who had a curiously free, lithe movement, paced slowly along the beach, as he rolled the line into a coil on one arm, then darted breast-high into the breaker. The glittering lead was thrown like a lasso far out into the still water; then he walked backward with head thrown back, and high, quick steps up the beach, drawing in the cord, hand over hand. At the end flapped a large shining fish. Jane, as pleased as though she had caught it herself, jumped up to go towards him when she perceived that her boy was a girl in a white flannel bathing suit. Just then Goddard, who had followed her, came up and stretched himself lazily on the sand.
“That fishwoman yonder has such a long, loping step that I took her to be a boy, Niel. What magnificent build and freedom of action she has for a woman! Her feet scarcely make a dint in the sand.”
“Sit still. She does not see us.”
The girl came towards them, glancing at the sun to know the time. The truth was she had gone out to catch something to eat. No fish, no supper. As she neared them, Pike, one of the incorrigible proggers of the village, came creeping up, smelling of whiskey and tobacco, from a heap of kelp and calm shells. She held up the mackerel. “It is a ten-pounder, Pike,” anxiously. “I want it to be a ten-pounder.”
“Dunno. Know you owe me de price of dat ar, Misses,” hauling his hat over one eye.
She let the fish slip to the ground. “I don’t know what you mean. Why, I caught it.”
“Jess so. Ef you had’nt caught it, you’d hev bought one off of me. Why, God bless you, de Lord gib you de money an’ me de fish. When you goes a fishin’ you is robbin’ ol’e Pike of his sheer of bread an’ butter; dar’s all about it.”
The girl stood frightened and anxious staring at him.
“That seems fair,” she said at last, putting her hand reluctantly to a pocket in her breast. “How much should I have paid you for it, Pike?”
He named a price and she paid him.
“But, my good girl, this is idiotic,” cried Jane, getting up indignantly. “How can you let yourself be so swindled? I can’t bear to see money wasted by anybody.”
“You think he cheated me, then?” looking angrily after the slouching Pike. “You should n’t laugh, Mr. Goddard. It is no laughing matter. I have been saving for months to buy a fall dress, and now I shall not have enough to do it. Well, no matter!” shaking off her irritation with a laughing shrug. “I forgot my slippers on the beach; I’ll run for them.”
Goddard did not offer to run for them, but watched her go with kindling eye. “That white woolen hangs about her like the drapery of an antique statue! Do you see how noble and grave and innocent she is from head to foot? Do you see how she finishes and gives the key-note to this landscape, to its strength and untainted freshness? Audrey--”
“That Audrey?” cried Jane. “Why, that girl is stupid! She is an imbecile. You can’t mean it, Neil [sic]?”
Goddard combed his beard with his fingers reflectively. “Yes, that is Audrey. I believe she is what one would lacking in intelligence on some points. ‘Imbecile’ would be going too far, perhaps. But what of that? In old times they did not ask from the oracle, through whom the divine message came, any special shrewdness of her own.”
“And how do you expect the divine message through this—this very remarkable fishwoman?”
“By her comprehension of music,” coolly. “When Audrey Swenson has studied (and she had bent herself to dry, hard work like an artist), there will be no interpreter through harmony with such power as hers in the world.”
“Ah, Niel! you have found so many lodes of gold that turned out to be nothing but poor quartz!” There was a pain and passion in Jane’s sharp voice which made Mr. Goddard turn. His soul, as everybody knew, responded like an Aeolian harp, to every touch of emotion. His eyes, fixed on hers in silence for a moment, caught a subtle fire from them and burned tender and brilliant.
“I never said,” he said in a low voice over which he had momentarily lost the control, “that divine messages came to the world through you. Your message is just a word or two of home and of womanly love. And I fancy sometimes it was sent only to me. Am I right, Jenny?” His face in his earnestness came close to hers. He took her short, thick hand in his delicate fingers; but dropped it again quickly. The fiery spirit in his veins rose to meet the heat in hers, and his womanish heart ached in pity for her jealous pain, but he really could not bear to see a young girl with a paw shaped like a man’s.
A moment before, the gray dunes of sand had stretched dreary and blank before Jane to the drearier, blanker sea. Now they shone like hills of gold in the yellow light. The waves plashed in little glad pools at her feet. Waves and beach and the vast sunset sky bending over were waiting breathless with her, listening for the words which her lover would say.
He was her lover? He lay in the warm, light sand, his chin resting in his hand, reading her face with the beatified, rapt look of some old star-gazer finding the secret of his future in the skies. No one but a lover could discover such meanings in her round, freckled visage. Now Niel Goddard, undersized though he was, was to her an exceptionally masculine, manly man; clear-minded too: while he usually bore down difficulties and swept people before him with a series of gusts and magnetic energy, the wind one felt was never unclean or malarious. Outside of his genius Jane had a keen pride in him as her own. He was her own! For years he had been wont thus to gaze in her face: there was a subtle fine kinship between them which in a crowd made them one by a touch or glance: there was not a secret or plan of his life which he had not brought to her: he had half finished a play once of which their exquisite sympathy and happy love had been the motif. He had never in so many words asked her to marry him: simply, as Miss Derby reasoned, because he had not the money. Now, he had it. It was hers, it is true, but it would soon be hers again of his free gift. So she waited, trembling with expectation. Mr. Goddard watched the fever heat and redden her cheeks with pleasure. It was contagious enough to excite him agreeably, and what a benefit, he thought, her love for him had been to Jenny! How it rarefied and ennobled an else commonplace character! His love for her too; how it calmed his nerves, and brought him en rapport with sea and sky and even the salt invigorating wind! No matter what rain fell, Goddard’s cup was always ready and up. He enjoyed a dinner set out with artistic china and aesthetic cooking with just as much goût as this scene of his long-lived drama with Jenny and his share of their mutual fine-spun passion.
But he did not ask her to marry him, then.
“How wet those clouds are against the sun! One can almost feel the damp winds shut up in them!” he said, looking about him lazily. “We have lost Audrey. But her cousin Kit is with her, down on the sands.”
“Until lately,” Miss Derby said with a sudden keen watchfulness of him, “I inferred that Miss Swenson was engaged to her cousin.”
Goddard looked at them attentively a moment. “I don’t know, I’m sure. A love affair loses its rare flavor of interest to me, as soon as the public is called in to see it and appraise it. There is no poem like the intangible accord of two spirits hymning their way through life together with a secret harmony of which no one knows but themselves and God. But when they make it a vulgar matter of engagements and wedding-rings, a community in clothes and marketing—pah! The flavor is gone for me, as I said.”
Miss Derby rose. “I don’t know any thing about hymning souls,” bitterly. The tears came into the poor girl’s eyes as she glanced down at the noble head lifted from the sand to look after the pair on the beach. How often she had thought of the keen delight of mending the clothes of this red-haired young Apollo, of marketing for him, saving the ten-cents and quarters for him, which he earned so slowly and flung about so recklessly! Her love was no intangible hymning. She was impatient to put it into matters which could be touched, tasted, handled. A pot or pan which had cooked anything for him, was as a sacred vessel in her eyes; she had an old hat-band which he had thrown aside long ago hanging next to her soft, hot bosom now.
“If Audrey should marry that unmannered lout, Graff,” continued Goddard, reflectively, “there is an end of her. In a dozen years she will be a tailoress and a cook for him and his children. It is intolerable!” rising, his fine features red with excitement. “I tell you. Jane, not one human being in a million is born into the world with such largess with her for mankind, as that girl!”
“You had better marry her yourself, Niel, and preserve the largess for mankind,” said Miss Derby, suddenly.
He did not take his eyes from Audrey’s distant figure. “Marry her? Marry Audrey? I had not thought of that,” he said quietly after a long pause. “no, I never thought of that before.”
Christopher Graff had gone to find his cousin Audrey with a purpose. What the purpose was she discovered in the first half dozen words, and walked more slowly in order to fling pebbles at her ease into the surf and to listen. People made such a habit of advising and lecturing Audrey, her ignorance and blunders were so great, in matters which were commonplace to all other girls, that she turned as readily to hear the advice and lecturing as a plant lifts its leaf to the rain when it is dry.
“You know I have been out in the world more than you, Audrey. I can compare this man by other men. Besides, you have no perception of human nature. Never had; not the slightest.”
“Very likely not, Christopher,” laughing.
“Besides—what does he mean? In Delaware, or among the civilized people anywhere, when a gentleman waits upon a lady as he has done on you he means love and a proposal and marriage. Now he--”
“But I don’t wish to marry Mr. Goddard. It is no disappointment to me. I did not even think of it,” gravely.
“That has nothing to do with his conduct. It is all of a piece! He’s an artist you say. Where are his pictures? Jane calls him a great writer; but he has not colored paper with ink in Lewes. That’s what he is!” stopping wrathfully by a pond of salt water, and pointing down to the bloated little angel fish at the bottom. “In front you see his wings outspread ready to fly. But it all ends in a miserable wriggle.”
“It is not like you to be coarse, or ill-tempered, Christopher,” she said looking up at him anxiously.
“Because I cannot see you tampered with, Audrey. “ He put his hand on her shoulder as they walked, as though she were a child and going to fall. She might be dull, but she saw that the big man ordinarily so good-humored, looking down at her, was no greatly moved, and forced himself to be calm.
“Now he has taken it into his cracked brain to convince you that you are like himself, and possess some exceptional power. What folly is that! You play very nicely, no doubt, though the piano is but a poor tinkling thing to my notion. And as for your singing, candidly, Audrey, I’ve heard or two women in the choir at Georgetown whose voices were stronger than yours. More volume in them, eh? I wish you could go up to Georgetown some Sunday, and you’d see for yourself. But Goddard would persuade you to give years of your life to studying those cursed Do Re Mis, and, then he’d bring you out on the stage of a theater. You, in a theater! What do you think of that?”
“I have never thought of the theater.” She had stopped and was looking across the gray sand, not at Neil [sic], her companion noted shrewdly, but far out to sea, as if behind that darkening horizon she had once found some secret of her life, and was searching for it again.
“To think of you—you in that tinsel, and bedaubed with paint, men reeking with liquor and tobacco flinging you bouquets! It was to-day Goddard broached the subject to me. He had much to say of the sympathetic quality of your voice, and its timbre, as if I cared for the damnable musical slang. Audrey,” turning on her so as to put his burly body between her and the sea, “I must have the right to protect you from such meddling. A fellow like that,” with a contemptuous nod towards Goddard, “such a wasp of a man as that only amuses me. If he struck me I believe I could laugh. But when he begins to finger and play with you as if you were his pet fiddle, it maddens me almost as if he had put his hand on your person. You know what I want, Audrey!” abruptly.
“Oh, yes. You wish me to marry you at once, Kit.” She had clasped her hands behind her head, and stood looking past him. Goddard regarding her a statue would have been thrilled anew by the noble, grave, innocence of the figure. But she was no statue to Graff.
“I wish you’d look at me, Audrey,” irritably. “You have a bad habit of putting your hands over your head, and looking off in that way as if your concerns were elsewhere, and you had nothing to do with people. It’s hardly civil, to my notion. Yes. Why shouldn’t we be married now? We have talked of it since we were children. You surely cannot doubt my love for you?” his coarse, steady voice shaken more than she had ever known it before.
“No, I don’t doubt you in any way,” energetically. “I trust nobody as I do you.” She laid her large white hand on his exactly as a man might do.
“Not even this Goddard?”
“I don’t know whether I trust him at all or not. There are times when I think of him just as you do, but at others--”
“Why should you think of him at all?” his hands on her shoulders. “Good God! Audrey, don’t you belong to me? Hasn’t all Sussex county talked for years of how you were to be my wife when you were grown? Have you forgotten that I built the addition to the house for you? Why, there’s even the new heifer waiting for you to name.”
“Yes, I know all that.”
“And here at the eleventh hour comes this Goddard with his talk of pianos. I am expected to sit down in the chimney corner, while my wife sets off on a wild-goose chase through the world with her gift for humanity.” He stopped hot and red, but she made no reply. “Now, perhaps,” he resumed, coaxingly, “you are afraid of the work and responsibility at the head of a large farm? You shall not be a drudge, like these farmers’ wives, Audrey. Mother will manage for you. And I’ll have plenty of help in peach season, and you’ll soon learn to can and dry peaches. It’s really not difficult, either canning or drying. Mother says you have quite a nice talent for preserves now. Well?” after a breathless pause, “won’t you answer me, Audrey? Just tell me exactly what you think of it.”
But she did not answer him directly.
“I knew long ago,” she said at last, “this if Audrey Swenson was not a musician, she was as poor material as ever a woman was made out of. As for canning or preserving or the heifers, they’re nice enough. But I don’t really often think about them. I’m afraid, Kit,” with a quizzical laugh, the vexed tears ready to rise to her eyes, “I’ve no real genius for either house-keeping or love. But Mr. Goddard,” going back to the first idea with a dogged, persistent nod, as she walked on, “told me nothing new about myself. I knew all that long ago—long ago.”
Meanwhile, the wet clouds against the sun had blown away; the tide was running out, and the light striking direct upon the flattened sea, two-thirds of the world seemed a vast plain of rippling, transparent yellow. The strip that was left was weird and dreary. The gray stretch of sand, Cape Henlopen light-house rising out of it, glittering and white, at the back of all the smoke of the village hanging blue in the cold air. Graff, as they walked, looked down at his companion anxiously, and cleared his throat once or twice.
“I hope you’re enjoying this view, Audrey?” At least she should not suppose Goddard’s was the only soul alive to Nature’s beauties. “Now there’s a very pretty effect on the top of those rollers, d’ye see? I don’t know what I ever saw a better yellow than that—a kind of a corn-color. On the whole, I believe I’d a lief look at the sea as at a landscape, though of course, one misses the house and people. A human being must have something human, you know.” He was very well satisfied with this little intellectual effort: he was used to look at the sea in the light of blue fish and sheepshead, but now that he chose to consider it aesthetically, he thought he put the question as neatly as though, like Goddard, he has been in the habit of making pilgrimages to Concord to sit at the feet of the Yankee Gamaliel, Emerson.Miss Swenson was pleased, too, apparently, for her eye ran over him from head to foot, and she smiled a queer, slow smile peculiar to herself, that had in it something inexpressibly tender and loyal.
“So I am to name the house and the heifer? Heifer first, then. Now—let me see—“ They walked on deliberating together. Miss Derby, as they came near, noted this slow, fine smile of the other woman and her movements, as leisurely as those of a deer at ease in its own covert. Audrey, she was sure, had never felt one throb of love in her soul or passion in her body. While she—she and Goddard, at least, had grasped life in media res half an hour ago. They approached, they had almost touched, the imminent moment of their lives: all these long years of repressed fire and longing would have culminated in a few words, as they sat on the sand, if it had not been for this girl, whose every thought was single and cool, and alien to theirs. As for Audrey, she hardly observed the awkward constraint of her companions. To talk of love, in no wise embarrassed her. She was very fond of Kit, of course. Everybody was fond of Kit; marriage with him simply meant to live a little nearer to his good nature, to have a share in his house, heifers, and peach-canning.
Her eyes suddenly kindled: “Why here are all the guests, and here is the supper! Why not cook it now?” This was something at least with zest in it.
“Capital!” cried Niel, who had had enough of emotional entertainment for the day, and felt chowder to be a relief.
“Gather the wood, then; and you, Kit, go to the house for bread, butter, and coffee. You know as well as I do what is wanted.” Mr. Graff muttered irritably, for he had rather made a point to himself of this supper, and the effect which the Swenson china and the old plate would have on Jane.
“It’s not the thing at all which Miss Derby has a right to expect from you,” following Audrey as she flew here and there, gathering dried sea-grass and bits of wreck. “A regular tea at least—“
“Oh, Kit, go!”
“If I go, you must promise to call properly on her to-morrow. Wear that summer silk. It’s not made as I saw them in town, but Jane’s not particular as to fashion. But as for this absurd bathing rig—“
Jane, meanwhile, with the envy and jealous rage which belongs to women of her caliber, and which is so often kindled by a matter of hats and petticoats, watched the bathing rig: watched Niel Goddard’s rapt scrutiny of it and every motion of its wearer, as he lay idle on the sand, the fire gone out in his cigar.
“‘Fleet-footed Atalanta skims across the plain,’ he murmured, his eyes passing critically over Audrey, from the wavy masses of reddish-brown hair to the delicate blue-veined feet.
“It would have been more to the purpose if Atalanta had sent for her stockings,” Miss Derby replied.
He laughed. “Jenny,” flinging away his cigar, “I mean to give serious thought to that idea of yours, about making Audrey my wife. It strikes me as if you had drawn up the curtain from a landscape with which I was long familiar. A woman of absolute, original power is really, after all, what I need. It would be a daily cordial to give me life. Of course, I never should have burthened myself with work for the support of a wife. What I am I have dedicated to art. But the farm would clear away the money difficulty—”
“O, yes. The farm—it all arranges itself very comfortably.” She got up as she spoke and fell to gathering sea-weed; but Niel did not follow her stumpy figure with his eyes.
“Though in fact, Jenny,” he reflected, “has a narrow intense power of affection, as valuable in its way as grace of body or attractive features. That old, ever recurring domestic type of woman! There it comes again, even in a scribbler for the press who lives by her wits! Well, well! I wonder if it is not the best for a man to have about him, after all?”
The fish was not made into chowder; Audrey broiled it a golden brown under the hot coals; Goddard, who had the palate of an epicure, and the deft fingers of a cook, seasoned it. He was as pleased as a baby with a toy at the sight of the old damask cloth which Graff had brought and pinned down on the sand with half a dozen pieces of the famous Swenson china. But Jane, stunned as she was at the wreck of her life which she foresaw, could not help scolding at Audrey’s folly in risking such priceless pottery. Her dread of Goddard’s fickleness was not as overwhelming, however, as it would have been had she not known him so long.
“He has had such fancies and fevers a dozen times,” she thought, as she stood, pale and jaded, watching him fluttering and beaming down on Audrey and the coffee-pot, radiant as a winged Mercury just lighted on the earth. “There was that pious Madame La Rouche, hippopotamus of a woman as she was; his taste for six months ran into devotion and fatness, and that silly Quaker girl with her beetles last summer; and the jolly burlesque actress afterward. It was always the good in them that he loved—some good that I had not. His taste is so pure!” and the poor young woman groaned almost audibly. “It will be the same after we are married, I suppose. Though he always comes back to me as he would to a comfortable old coat that he liked.” As she buttered the biscuit, which was her share of the work, she set herself again as she had done every day for so many years, to find out how she was to strain her nature to match it with his. It was, she felt, the bare stalk of corn with its one or two ears stretching itself to mate with the great blossoming tree which flung wide its branches to catch every breeze.
“If he had been like Kit Graff? If I could have just canned peaches or buttered biscuit for him and satisfied him with that and—” She did not say “love,” only looked across the fire at the handsome little man until the water stood in her eyes with the hunger of them. It was for him, Jenny Derby with her dull intellect and sharp perception had worked half her life to be Bohémienne and littérateuse, and groped and stretched after the aesthetic tastes and fancies so real to him, but to her such airy, unconquerable nothings.
After all, the little feast was gay and hearty enough. Goddard and Audrey, like two children out on a frolic, cooked and told stories, and sang by turns: Graff after consoling himself with observing that Goddard actually wore No. 4 boots, and that no sensible woman could care for such a little gadfly, ate his supper comfortably. Besides, the sea air had made them all hungry, except Miss Derby, who tasted nothing but talked more than anyone, her cheeks colorless and eyes burning. When the supper was over she got up and walked about.
“You will make a picture of it, you say, Niel?” shivering and glancing about her. “I never want to see the picture, then, I’m sure. These gray sands and the eternal wash of water and the dull red blotch of fire with your three faces behind it—it is all unreal and ghastly to me. As if some final crisis for one of us was coming to-night, and these common things had taken on life, and, somehow, had a prophetic meaning.”
“I think I know what you mean,” said Audrey, eagerly. “I have seen it when death came suddenly. The very walls and trees had a prophecy of evil. My grandmother,” turning earnestly to Goddard, “had the second sight. Many a time when she was spinning, she said that she held in her hand instead of thread the bride’s dress or shroud it was to be. Miss Derby is the same. She touched the shroud just now.”
“Miss Derby,” irritably, “has nerves and you are a silly, superstitious child, I’m afraid. Do sit down, Jane, and talk common sense. You do not know how real such things are to people on the sea coast.”
“We live nearer to Nature; so it is natural that she should take part with us and make some sign when we are about to die.” Audrey tried to joke the matter away, but she was ill at ease, and watched Miss Derby anxiously.
“I had no intention of playing seeress or medium,” said Jenny tartly. But she still went to and fro; she could not be quiet; every nerve was strung and rasped. Audrey, before night fell, had wrapped a waterproof cloak about her. It was her head rising out of this mass of black drapery, and lighted by the dull burning fire that Jane saw instead of any spirit; its rare sweetness and power made her draw her breath more quickly; what must it be then to Goddard? The poor girl did not need second sight to tell her the crisis of life was coming to her to-night; and the sands and sky and wash of water seemed to wait and listen with her.
Graff cleared his throat once or twice. “There are some queer beliefs hung around Henlopen Cape,” he said, ponderously. “I don’t make much account of them, though Audrey does. These old pilots and fishermen have so much time on their hands that they spend it in seeing ghosts. They’ll tell you that the old Swensons and Rodneys keep guard over the Cape to this day. By the way,” hesitating a little, “there was an odd thing happened to me a year or two ago. I set one of my men, a stout mulatto (Henry it was, Audrey) to ploughing a certain pasture land, one morning. Presently he came tome, his yellow skin actually spotted with his fight. A man on horseback, with flowing gray hair, and sword in hand, had suddenly stood before him and commanded him to stop. His dress, as the lad described it, was that of an officer in the Continental uniform. On going to the place I found the fellow had, without knowing it, ploughed up the grave where a hundred years ago Colonel Dagmar Graff has been laid—not to rest, as it seems, but to keep watch,” forcing an uneasy laugh. “There’s the fact. I don’t pretend to explain it. Of course Henry had never heard of Colonel Graff.”
There was an uncomfortable silence. Usually, Goddard would have relished a well authenticated ghost-story as he would a good cigar, but now he was busied with the effect on Audrey. In his opinion, if she had a fault, it was that of indifference. Very few subjects interested her; but to-night she was roused and excited by these trifles. “Not,” thought Goddard, shrewdly, “That she cares for these dead Graffs, but this lonely coast and sea have come to be the realest thing in the world to her, and she fancies through these superstitions she will get at their secrets.”
Graff had beckoned one of his men who was in waiting, to carry home the basket, and now began to throw sand on the fire. “Time for home and bed,” he said, hiding a yawn. They strolled slowly all together down the beach. The sun had long gone down. Inland was an unbroken, sullen darkness, except where the five gigantic white hills of sand loomed in spectral procession. A low moon hung over the sea in the far horizon, hardly strong enough to throw their shadows upon the beach. The sea was to-night simply an unknown dark and cold; the waves flowed out of it to their feet and ebbed into it again unseen but for an instant flash of dappled light on the wet sand as each died away.
“The old settlers at the Cape will tell you these sands are alive,” said Audrey, with a good deal of embarrassment. “These great mountains rise out of the sea year after year, and march steadily southward. No one knows whence they came, or why they move. It is a thing which I suppose nobody could explain,” she added gravely.
“Any geography would give you the reason for it,” retorted Jane sharply. “In the Landes of Gascony31] these dunes are—”
“These are very different , of course, as Audrey says, from any European hills,” interrupted Graff, gruffly. “Where do they come from?—there’s the question. Do you see those green twigs at the top of that first hill? That is not grass, but the highest branches of a pine forest under which Audrey and I have played many a day. Fourteen feet and a half these hills move southward every year; not an inch more or less. Do you think there’s no intelligence in that? But they have their object,” dropping his tone, “and they are following it, as sure and certain as death; and no man can stop them.”
Miss Derby was hurrying on with her scientific explanation, but Goddard checked her by an amused look. “What is their purpose?” he said gently.
“It may be only a foolish tale to you,” Audrey said, “but it is a fact that these mysterious hills were not always here. The story is that shipwrecks were once so common on this coast that the people grew hardened, and would risk nothing to save the crews. One ship was suffered to go down within sight of land when a single boat could have rescued the men on board. A man named Cortrell was the only one who saw it, and he sat quiet, too selfish to venture to their help. One of the sailors, who was washed ashore, lived long enough, the story goes, to pray that the vengeance of God might pursue this man from out of the sea until there should be not one drop of his blood, or trace that he had lived, left on the earth; he swore too that he would not sleep in his grave until this vengeance was fulfilled.”
“That is the legend; the facts are that these dunes did rise out of the sea that very year, and have gone down the coast until every hearth-stone of the Cortrells is buried out of sight. The old man’s two sons went down at sea: he was lost in a quicksand, it is supposed; for he went out one day and never returned. Only his whip and a sunken spot in the sand showed where the sea had stretched its fingers inland to claim him.”
“The rest of the story may be true, too,” said Graff, “for all ship-wrecked sailors were buried hereabout in the sand, and here—you see the result.” He stopped and pointed to the side of a white hillock, whence protruded a broken coffin and some glistening polished bones. “Hide them as you will, the wind uncovers them. The sailors are keeping watch still.”
“What beastly inhumanity! The town of Lewes ought to look for the fate of the Cortrells,” said Goddard, with a shudder. “Come away, Audrey.”
“The whole tradition has taken a curious meaning here,” said Audrey. “They say that the sea stretches out its hand to punish selfishness. Sand or wave creeps over every man’s life who lives for himself alone. He is sure to die by the one or the other.”
They had reached the Graff house now, and paused at the gate to bid good night to Jane. Kit went in with her, as bound by hospitality. “Mr. Goddard will leave you safely at home, Audrey,” he said with the air of ownership. When he entered the house he found, much to his relief, that Jane had gone to her own room. She was watching from the windows the two dark figures passing down the road. They did not turn to the Swenson house, but went back to the beach. After a moment, Jane, wrapping a cloak about her, followed them.
“Certainly,” said Audrey. “I will go down to the sands for a while. Unless,” bluntly, “your being with me would annoy Miss Derby. I will not do that. Going or not going, is of no importance to me.”
Of no importance? Niel Goddard looked at her. The grapes out of reach became desirable. At that moment he first felt a real love for her. It was real, though purely of the Goddard kind.
“There is no reason why it should matter anything to Jane,” he said quietly.
“None?” Yea was yea to Audrey Swenson, and nay, nay. Her large blue eyes rested on him steadily for a minute as they walked on together. After that some impalpable veil which she had let fall between them was gone.
There is so little to tell of these two who were going down together, and of Jane following behind, that I am tempted to give up the story. But after all what is all life but the history of some man and some woman—lovers, or husband and wife, or mother and child, with a background of sea sand or farm-house or city street, trying to catch hands—to find in each other something which they lack in themselves or in God? Marriage seldom makes a break in the story. Sometimes the knife or pistol interferes to put a vulgar, bloody, cluttered end to the fine tragedy or comedy, and then it becomes public.
The mist was heavy, and not only hid Jane, but carried their voices toward her. No scruples had she about eaves-dropping; her notions of honor were never accurate nor neat. Fighting for her life as she was just now, all the world for her had gone down into those two shadows in the mist—the woman’s a little taller than the man’s and held carefully apart; for Audrey had an odd habit of walking free, and alone. “If she once touches hands with him, that will be the sign it is all over,” thought Jane, guessing at even the personal whims of the woman who had taken her place. She knew well—no guessing there—all that would go in that other and smaller shadow, into the marriage. Just now, when she loved him best, she held up his faults and his minauderies and jeered at them savagely. “If she knew him as I do, she would not care for him; she is not a fool!” she said. She knew by the merest drift of a word the current of their talk; for Niel, like all “brilliant conversationalists” was apt to repeat himself. “Now he is telling her about his mother; every woman cries when he tells about his mother; now he is on his struggles to keep art out of trade; he makes the common run of women think he could feed himself on fame and his aspirations without market-money. Aspirations, indeed! Though it does seem as if his soul kept his body alive,” said Jane, faithful in her rage, with a choke and sob in her throat. “And now—now he is letting silence speak for him.” One of his maxims was, that “with souls nearest akin to our own, intuition took the place of words.” She knew all his maxims as she did her alphabet; they were a sort of alphabet to her, in fact.
Dropping the cloak-hood from her ears, Jane came closer to catch their words more distinctly. They had stopped below a headland on the beach. She was hidden in its shadow; between them lay a patch of wet sand. The moon was bright enough for her to see Goddard’s face. She knew it in all its moods, but never had seen it kindled with such resolve and intentness as now. But could she have heard their words she would have found that this was assuredly on Audrey’s part no love-making.
“What I want from you,” deliberately as if she were buying sugar from a grocer, “is to tell me what my voice, touch, and knowledge of music are worth. These are only my tools, to be sure, but I must know whether they are good tools or not. I never met anybody before who could tell me.”
“It would need five years, at least, of severe study to give you such power of expression as would content you.”
She nodded gravely. “I thought it would be longer. Well, I can give that.”
“You would not be a very young girl at the end of five years,” essayed Goddard, after a cautious pause. “It is the very time of life which most women give to dreams and fancy, and to—love.”
She was looking at him anxiously, with precisely the practical air that she might have worn had she doubted that the sugar was good. “I’m not sure;” thoughtfully, “but I don’t think that I know what dreams and love are, as other women do.”
Niel Goddard was no sensualist, but he drew his breath faster as his eye ran over the delicate yet strong hand and arm which the cloak left bare. The swelling throat, the erect head of the girl, held at a level with his own, were unique, in his knowledge of women, in their beauty and power. Nature, he remembered, made no mistakes. Cleopatra in soul or body was not better fitted for the subtile communion of spirit, the kindling of passion, than this cold, unawakened child. “I don’t believe,” she continued with a grave simplicity, “that God made me to be a wife or mother.”
“You think,” said Goddard, as grave as she, “that instead, he has given you a message to deliver?”
She turned sharply. “Who told you that I thought that? I never did. I never put that into words.” She was greatly shaken, and finally, without recovering herself, walked hastily away from him. He followed her, speaking as though she had not answered him at all.
“You are not sure of your means of expression in music. But are you sure of what you want to say?”
“Yes. I know that. I do know that. If I were not sure of that—what would become of me?”
Goddard stopped to consider. He began to comprehend how this one idea possessed this lonely woman, almost to insanity. She had always been so simple in words and manner that he had begun to think her ignorant of her exceptional power, and shallow in feeling, to deficiency. Now, he feared to meddle, to suggest an idea to her, as though he had been about to thrust his rough hand into the chorded strings of a harp. If his words should be coarse, jar against this belief, offend her!
“In your message is it only the sky or sea you must interpret? Has no other woman a share in it? No man?
She laughed. Her secret was shut down by this time quite out of sight—no glimpse of emotion in the steady blue eye. Outside of her secret, the world was still but a cheerful holiday ground to Audrey. “What could I have to say for humanity? Humanity for me means my uncle and Kit.”
“And me?” carelessly.
“And you.” Surely he detected a pale pink on her face that had not been there before. There was a sudden silence, too, which they found it difficult to break.
Miss Derby, unable to hear what they said, had had time to decide upon a plan of action. There was something in Goddard’s manner different from anything she had ever seen there with the women who had been the objects of his fervent shortlived friendships. “All other women have petted Niel. This is the first one whom he could protect,” she thought shrewdly. The danger, therefore, was real.
But Jane tapped her thin breast, under which a paper rustled. “He will never marry her while he is a poor man. And the Stonepost Farm is mine—mine.”
Nothing was easier than to join them; to prevent Goddard, by her mere presence, from betraying his feeling, and when they were alone together to show him the paper,--“in a light joking way,” she resolved, “as if it would be impossible for me to interfere with his good fortune. It is precisely the absurd romantic kind of generosity which Niel would appreciate. He will believe afterward in this girl’s ‘largesse for mankind’ just as entirely; he will pay homage to her hair and eyes and genius, for a week or two, but he will never make her his wife while I own the Stonepost Farm. Market-money versus Aspiration! I know which will win.” With bitter tears in her eyes she buttoned her cloak, looking for a dry path, for the sand on which she stood was uncomfortably wet and clammy, but seeing none, struck boldly across the sunken space between herself and him. The next moment she looked down. Was it mud on which she walked? It gave way quickly to her tread, but closed and clung about her shoes. Her feet sank deeper with each step; the weight of the wet sand, if sand it were, grew heavy on them as though it were glue. Before she was one-third of the way across her ankles were not strong enough to drag them out.
“Niel! Niel!” she cried.
“Miss Derby has followed us,” Audrey exclaimed, and hurried to meet her. Goddard came slowly after her with an impatient shrug, muttering something about being spied upon perpetually. Audrey stopped.
“She does not move,” turning to him startled, “and this is near—”
“I cannot move,” cried Jane. “It feels as if some one were dragging my feet down.”
“So like a woman!” muttered Goddard. “She has run open-eyed into a swamp, and cries to be taken out of it.” But Audrey caught him by the shoulder breathlessly.
“Stop! Let me see where we are,” turning her pale face from side to side. “The lighthouse to the left. Symme’s pond at our back. Merciful God! she is in the quicksand!”
Goddard shook her off. “Let me go. Keep still, Jenny. Don’t struggle, I’m coming. Let go my arm, I say!” but Audrey held him in a grip like iron.
“No, I’ll not let you go. You don’t understand. Three men have been lost in that quicksand, with the whole village looking on. There’s no help possible. You would only sink with her.”
“Yes, I am heavier than she, that’s true,” wiping the cold sweat from his face. “But, good God! I can’t stand here and see Jenny Derby die! You don’t know what she has been to me, woman! Let me go. I can die with her.” He shook her off, and shivering and quaking stretched out his hands to Jane, who stood quite motionless hearing every word that was spoken, but uttering neither word nor cry. “It was natural that the other woman should hold him back. But he loves me! Me.” The thought flashed through her like a fiery heat of triumph. For herself she suffered no physical pain. It was incredible that she could be in imminent danger. Her feet and ankles were buried in the sand, which had now closed firmly about them. She was not conscious of the slow, steady sinking.
Audrey had loosed her hold. “But you will not go,” she said, as an older person speaks to a younger. “I do not mean that she shall die. I am going for Kit and the people. Stand here, Mr. Goddard. Just here. You can give her great comfort and strength by speaking to her. But if you go to her you only cause her to sink faster. Remember that.” She disappeared swift as a shadow.
Goddard held out his arms across the dull gray space. “I could not bear the agony of seeing her die!” glancing up to heaven in a confidential way, and wiping the cold sweat from his face. Then he called to her: “If I cannot devise a way to save you, I will come, and we will die together, Jenny.”
“Yes, Niel,” she said quietly. Her head fell upon her breast. In her ordinary moods Jane would have struggled against dying, tried medicines and doctors with all the alertness and shrewdness of her small body and small mind, but death had taken her by the throat when she was in a manner lifted above her usual self by passion and jealousy. She was calm to heroism. It seemed to her a simple and natural thing that this man whom she loved should come to die with her.
As for Goddard, he stood still. Ten steps would bring him at any minute beside her, on to the swaying shadow which the moon made of her figure on the fatal glistening flat of sand. Death seemed to him at moment a drink divine. Surrounded by the somber majesty of the night, in the vast silence of sea and shore, going like a young god to the side of this faithful creature who loved him with dog-like affection—it was to pass the dark portals as a hero or a king! Indeed, the first line of a poem descriptive of the sacrifice he meant to make rushed into his heated brain.
Meanwhile, with his hands outstretched, the wind blowing back his hair from his white, set face, instinct with all its noble meanings, he was a very fair type of hero.
Goddard, after awhile, recovering from his rapt contemplation of death, was conscious of a crowd of people ringed about the quicksand. There was but little noise: the most of them being horrified into silence. Kit Graff’s big, burly figure was nearest to him. “Tut! tut!” was all that Kit could find to say, now that the crisis which poor Jenny had foreseen was upon her. Goddard turned from him disgusted.
“You might as well have brought one of his own oxen,” he thundered to Audrey. The little man’s fiery indignation was always ready to blaze forth recklessly at any hint of cowardice or lack of feeling.
The moon was up now; sea and quicksand, the whispering groups of women and arguing men, stood out clear against its ghastly pallor to Goddard’s eye as a black picture on a white ground—one of Fuseli’s terrible outlines. In the midst, with the treacherous pitfall around her, underneath which lay death and the grave, Jane crouched on the ground a black tumbled heap. Her heroism had evaporated; she struggled and cried and shrieked and threw herself to and fro as any other poor unreasoning animal would do, sucked into the jaws of death inch by inch. How far her body had really sunken it was impossible to tell owing to her crouching position.
But now that she had wakened to the fear of death for herself, she was suddenly conscious that it might come to Goddard. She stopped short in her cries for help (which had been so shrill and piteous as to drive the blood to the heart of every man there) the moment she heard his loud protestation of his resolve to die with her, and listened intently. Then she stood up and called out to them with a certain tone of authority.
“You men, I’ll not cry for you to help me again. I don’t want to vex any of my friends. But I’ll pay any man well that will come to save me. And I’ll pay you double if you will keep Mr. Goddard back. For God’s sake keep him back.”
This moonlight showed her her Apollo, poised vehement, as though ready to spring to her from the heights of heaven. She could see the upturned flash of his blue eyes, the moonlight was so bright; see even the intaglio which dangled from his watch-chain over his blue sailor shirt; and she remembered, poor Jane, how she had gone without meat and butter for a year, to buy and send it to him anonymously. “He thought old Shively sent it; and that pleased him better,” she thought, looking at him with a queer, tender smile, even while the dead weight on her legs tugged cold and heavy, as though her feet were in truth already in the grave. So that he were pleased, what did it matter who had had the credit?
The hum of voices began to grow dull to her ears; the black encircling line of figures swam and swayed like a mist; only Goddard stood out distinct. If she died he would suffer so! It seemed to her but little matter whether she lived or died if he could be kept safe in his youth and brilliance and power. And yet an hour ago she had intended, in her mean, selfish spite, to rob him of his inheritance, to keep him from marrying the woman she thought he loved. She stretched out her hands to him. If she could but creep into some corner of the world, and watch him from there, happy with any woman, even with Audrey! What! was poor Jane Derby to be the wife of such a man!
It was but a little while that she was thus driven in on herself by the hold of death, but it first taught her what love was, as it does many a woman and man. After that the very cold and pain and physical nervous shock conquered her, and she fell into a sort of stupor.
The villagers, during those few minutes, had great difficulty in keeping Goddard back. He was quite sincere in his efforts to dash across the sand and perish with her. However, they held him, while they laid plans for her rescue, and discussed the situation with that deliberative zeal about to-morrow’s work peculiar to people in Delaware and Jersey.
“I do allow,” said Pike, “that she could have been got out of any other sands or swamp than this by means of ropes and drags such as Mr. Graff there is preparing. But not out of this. No sir. It’s noted dangerous, this quicksand is.”
Audrey, who was the only woman who was not weeping , and who did not join the men in their talk, came up now to Graff. “I thought or heard of a way, long ago, that seems worth trying. If she had thing, stout planks, such as the staves of a hogshead, and could drive them into the sand about her, in a circle—sloping in, you understand, until they met below her feet—the sand in which she stood would then be motionless and we could easily drag her out of it.”
There was the usual civil, doubting pause with which men receive a practical suggestion from women. Then Pike nodded. “Seems to be somethin’ in that, Mr. Graff, provided we had the staves. But staves don’t lie loose around hyar on the beach. Nor axes to drive ‘em. Before we’d bring ‘em, that poor young creature ‘ll be drawed out of sight.”
“The difficulty would be,” said Graff, “that she is not strong enough to drive the staves sufficiently deep. But—we’ll go for them, boys,” nodding to a group of young men. After they were gone the others went on talking.
“Who is this young woman? Derby? Don’t know the name. Don’t belong to Sussex county.” Audrey paid no heed to those whisperings going about, until one question made her prick up her ears.
“Is she got any Cortrell blood? ‘d like to know that. If she has there’s no chance for her. The sea’ll never give up its old grudge agin the Cortrells.”
“It is not possible that she should have any Cortrell blood in her veins?” going up anxiously to Goddard as he stood gloomily apart, his eyes closed to keep out the death scene in which he could not share. “Her foreboding to-night was strange. Women with the second-sight always have those clear gray eyes. What do you think, eh?”
Audrey’s shudder, her evident belief in the superstition itself threw Goddard quite out of his agony, just as a switch puts a train off one track on to another. He stared at her as Hamlet at the murdered Dane. “Her grandfather or aunt or somebody was a Cortrell! I remember now hearing her once talk of them.”
“Now,” said Graff to the men, who, like himself carried a lot of these planks on their backs, “Lay them here. Stand out of the way, if you please, Mr. Goddard. You’re the strongest, Joe. When I call out to you, ‘steady!’ you’re to throw the planks to me, one at a time.”
“Where are you going?” Audrey stepped in front of him. Her face more than her hand barred his way.
“Stand aside, child. There’s no time to lose. She’s not able to drive the staves, but I am, I fancy. I can reach her safe enough, and when I reach her we’re safe enough, too.” Goddard wondered why the man, if he did propose to play the hero, could not shape his sentences more grammatically and dramatically.
“This is my errand,” stepping forward and thrusting Graff aside, “I am ready, God knows, to risk or give my life for her.”
“Very likely,” said Graff, coolly, “you can find another axe and follow if you life. You can’t have this one. I don’t reckon you’re much of a pile-driver, though,” looking down contemptuously on the tin little man dilated with heroic resolve. “You understand, boys? Heft me the planks as I call for them. By-bye, child,” looking down at Audrey for an instant, and then turning quickly away.
“You must not go, Kit,” and down went her voice to a whisper,--“She is a Cortrell.”
Graff unquestionably lost color. “The devil!” stopping short, axe in hand. “So she is. I remember now. Well,” drawing breath, “no matter.” He turned to the quicksand again. But as he passed Audrey he laid his hand on her shoulder, and looking at her steadily, said, “Good-bye, child,” once more.
Audrey’s plan for getting out of a quicksand, like the invention of a sewing machine, or the best passages of Shakespeare, was so simple and admirable a matter, when done, so undeniably the only way in which the thing could properly be done, that nobody found much in it to applaud.
“It was lucky,” Pike said, his hands in the waistband of his trousers, “that Miss Swenson hit on it ‘arly in the evenin’. But of course it was the right way. Some on us would have hit on it afore long.”
Mr. Goddard bestowed a word of praise on her. “Very nice in you to remember the idea,” coming up to where she stood like a ghost watching Graff’s steady driving of the piles. Goddard was quite secure of Jane’s rescue, and was his own buoyant self again, sauntering from group to group, enjoying their queer idioms and traits. One could have sworn his fanciful blue suit of clothes was newer than the one he wore half an hour ago, and surely his reddish mustache was freshly waxed.
“Very apropos, your remembrance, I’m sure, and fortunate for poor Jane. But really you must not fill your brain with facts. It would be like choking up a vase of old Dresden with matches, burned and unburned, as I have seen done.”
“‘Old Dresden?’ Oh yes, certainly, certainly,” said Audrey, staring at the two dark figures in the quicksand. Goddard, finding she was deaf to all sounds but the axe, wandered off up the beach and stood alone with an awe-struck face surveying the awful plane of water and the sky above, muttering to himself, “The heavens declare the glory of God. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge.” The words so expressed his own emotion that the tears rose to his eyes, and he quite forgot the dying Jane, who loved him, and the living Audrey, whom he loved.
Graff had time to think of both. Driving the piles was slow work, and the remembrance of the Cortrell blood of his companion dragged him down harder than the invisible jaws of the sand below. Jenny kept him from any serious thoughts of death by an incessant nagging of questions and orders how to work. If it had not been for that, he would have liked to pray silently in this extreme and sore strait, for Kit was a steady church-going Methodist. Jane had not looked at the question of death at all from a religious point of view; the top of her head was remarkably flat. She observed Goddard going off to Audrey as soon as Graff reached her; she felt with an humble, dull misery, that it would have helped to keep her soul alive, and eased the deathly cold in her back if he had stayed on the bank, but what did it matter for her? It was all miserable. Even if she were saved she could not use the experience in her newspaper letters. There was something so ridiculous in being swallowed in a quicksand. “But Goddard would have died for me if they had not kept him back,” she said at last, looking after him.
“No doubt, no doubt. Goddard’s a very clever fellow. Another stave, Joe,” hallooed Kit.
“I wish he would go home out of this night-air. His bronchial tubes are affected; he forgets he’s not used to outdoor work like these rough men here. I can’t see the use of driving those planks in slanting,” turning to him snappishly. “It’s a mistake. Drive them straight. You’re so slow, too. Do you think there’s any chance for me?”
“We’ll hope so at any rate. Try and keep up, Jenny,” cheerfully. But for himself he had very little hope. He knew he could drive a pile with any man, but not when the Cortrell blood and the sea were both against him.
Hammer, hammer away. The moon had set, but the men had kindled fired on the bank, and the fierce red glow flushed out now and then through the gray mist. They had not spoken for a long time.
“That pounding,” said Jane at last with a feeble cackle of a laugh, “sounds as if you were making our coffins.”
“Umph!” muttered Graff. “It would be more to the purpose if you’d sing a hymn, Jane, or say a prayer.”
“I don’t sing hymns. But if I die, when he marries Audrey, Kit, I want you to tell him that I said I hoped God would bless him.”
Graff stopped. “Don’t talk like a fool. Do you think Audrey would marry that—that cock-sparrow?”
She did not answer him, and looking around he saw the she had fallen and lay at his feet. “Jane! Jenny!” He was not sure whether she had fainted or was dead. “And I spoke like a brute to her!” he said. But death and the chance that Audrey would marry Goddard were too near at hand for him to choose his words or stop his pounding.
Jane was quite cold and white when Graff at last dragged her out and carried her to the side of one of the sandhills. The crowd gathered about her. Audrey began to breathe in her mouth.
“Lay her down, Christopher. Just here,” said his mother who had arrived with a black woman and a wheelbarrow of necessaries. She was a little light woman in black alpaca, with a curl of gray hair dangling at each cheek from a side-comb; one of those executive and legislative females who, if she had been in Eve’s place, would have had flannels, and a patent medicine, and a code of morals in half an hour wherewith to defy death and put Satan to the right-about.
“Lay her on this settle. Now take it up, you men. Tut, tut! She’s sopping wet to the hips. She’ll have a pretty cold!”
“It’s not likely to end in a cold,” said Audrey, “the sea has had a hold on her, and she has the Cortrell blood.”
“I don’t know that the Cortrells ever had more rheumatism than other folks,” dryly. “Don’t be absurd, child. Kit, do you go home at once and take a hot bath and get to bed.”
“You are coming, Audrey?” anxiously. “Then I will, mother. I’ll drink some boneset tea, too.” For Kit, like many other brawny heroes, would follow duty to the cannon’s mouth, but liked to be coddled and plastered and dosed for every twinge of a sick stomach.
A miscellaneous group formed their escort. “That ar Goddard’s a tre-mendous fellow, Mrs. Graff,” said Pike. “We could hardly hold him from rushin’ in to the young woman, to die with her. It ‘ud have brought the tears to yer eyes to hear him cryin’, ‘Let me sheer her fate! let me sheer her fate!’”
Mrs. Graff’s restless black eyes were on Audrey in an instant. “No doubt, you thought that very fine, child, eh?”
“What more can a man do than to die for his friend?” said Audrey gravely.
“Don’t know,” returned Kit’s mother, “when a woman’s in a scrape it’s the business of a man to take her out of it, just as it is to hold an umbrella over her, or to earn her bread and butter and clothes. So I’ve taught my boy, at any rate, and I’m glad to see he remembered his training to-night. Do you think he would have dared come home to me if he had left Jenny in the lurch?”
But Audrey, apparently, attached no more credit to Kit’s night work than to any ordinary stave-driving. She turned her head carefully from him and stooped over Jane. “Her eyes are open, Aunt Ann,” she said.
“Of course her eyes are open. Three quinine pills will bring her right. Take Kit’s arm, child. He looks shaky.” But Audrey drew off and walked in her usual lonely, free fashion, her hands clasped behind her. Aunt Ann had superintended motherless little Audrey through measles and whooping-cough, and so up to the age of love, and was now engineering her into a marriage with Kit. “A shiftless, good-natured creature who would waste a year’s income in a month. But dear me! the boy would not care for his life without her,” she said. She was fond of the girl besides, and she really had a broad motherly bosom, if her chin was sharp. But the two women were ill at ease together, always. Audrey usually stood off as she did now, and eyed her in her sober absorbing fashion, feeling herself big and young and useless beside the energetic little woman. A block of unhewn stone, if stone could feel, might have just such a sense of uncouthness and out-of-place-ness beside a sharp little steel chisel tip-tapping and boring into it.
Audrey was conscious suddenly that Goddard was beside her, and dropped behind to walk with him, with a brilliant smile of welcome, at sight of which Jane, Kit, and his mother all pricked up their ears.
“She is better,” said Audrey, nodding to the settle.
“Oh, yes,” indifferently. “My head,” pressing both hands over it, “has been oppressed too much. I want relief. Let me hear you talk.”
She nodded, but walked on so silently that he doubted if she had understood him. The night, after the moon had gone down, was dark. They had left the fires behind them, but a sudden flash of auroral light showed their faces to each other and the dark; scattered figured trooping silently along the beach, the dunes rising in a procession of gigantic white shadows against the vague darkness.
“We look like the damned upon the shores of the last sea,” said Goddard, determined to make small talk out of the vastness and terror, as he could not shift the scene. “The sky is dead and the sea is dead, and those are but the ghosts of hills, too.” Another glimmer of light showed him that Audrey was not looking at sea or sky; her head was bent on her breast, her face thoughtful. He started forward.
“I read it in your eyes! You have learned a new lesson to-night. You can never say again that nature suffices to you! Some heroic thought, some human being has touched you closer than ever you were touched before! Audrey?” He took her hand, and when the light died out she had not yet withdrawn it. Kit, turning from them in sullen, dumb rage, saw by the same flash Jane’s eyes fixed on the clasped hands, and heard a faint sigh.
“What a gesticulating talent your friend Goddard has, my dear,” observed Mrs. Graff, calmly. “He ought to turn it to account on the stage. Too much hand wringing there for every day use.”
“The man is well enough, mother,” said Kit, sharply; he would like to have knocked him down with the axe he held, but he could not tolerate woman’s pin-sticking revenges. “He is going to make a great name as an artist, I have heard.”
“I should suppose his virtues lay in the future,” retorted his mother coldly.
“I hope, Audrey,” said Mrs. Graff, as they halted at the gate of the Swenson House, “that you’ll go to bed at once. I would advise a Dover’s power also, and hot water bottles for your feet.”
“Yes, Aunt Ann.”
“Dover’s powder?” grunted Audrey’s uncle, as she pushed open the door of the sitting-room. “What is that female quack doing abroad at this time of night? It is Ann Graff, isn’t it?”
“She is taking home a sick woman.”
“The Lord have mercy on the sick woman then.” Audrey made no reply. She let her Aunt Ann and the night’s events drop at once, having no fondness for waving red rags in anybody’s face. In fact, it was what Audrey did not say that gave people the odd sense of security and faith in both her depth and height.
Doctor Swenson trotted over to a bookcase, wrapping his faded dressing-gown about him with a shrill little chuckle. “Your Aunt Ann is not content with drenching people with magnesia, and pills, and potassium, she dabbles in spiritual pharmacy. She comes to me with a story of one who has fallen from grace into a state of despair, when I know all that ails the man is too much salt pork; and of another who sees visions like St. Teresa, and all that she or St. Teresa needed was a husband and a baby. Did you see my slippers anywhere? I began to look for them to go up to bed, and took up my violin, and now it is quite late. No, Audrey, you need not dispute the point; there is not a trait nor a passion in a man’s character, as your sentimentalists call them, that cannot be resolved into an overplus of carbon, or ozone, or a lack of phosphorus. Did I ever explain his theory to you before?” anxiously. “Of course I have, though. I’m a bore to everybody with it, I suppose. Now, Audrey, you are fond of what they call Nature. You look at the clouds of the river, and have what you deem immortal longings. It is nothing but the matter in the trees, or rain, or growing corn attracting similar matter in the body. Lime calls to lime, and oxygen to oxygen. When you or Kit die you will be so much salts, so much phosphates, so much gaseous matter; that’s all, nothing more.” The little man stood see-sawing in his gray stocking feet, a candle in one hand, the other grasping his flowered gown, his round cheeks and blue eyes on fire with delight under the wig pulled askew.
Audrey laughed. “You are an amiable ghoul! Go to bed, uncle.”
“I cannot sleep. Neither can you, I’ll wager. Now you think it’s love or remorse keeps you awake? It’s electricity. Why, the sea and sky are alive to-night with it. If I were a sentimentalist like you I should say they were angry—had been disappointed of their prey.”
“So they were. One of the Cortrells—” She stopped, and laughed. What could the great forces of Nature have to do with poor scribbling Jane, with her shrewd brain and lumpy body?
“Cortrell, eh?” eagerly snuffing the candle with his fingers. “Now, do you know there’s a great deal of reason in those old superstitions? Sea and sand are made of the same matter as ourselves, so how can we tell how much of the same knowledge they have? You’re not sick, my dear? Your nose is pinched, and there are dark rings about your eyes. Liver all right, Audrey?” He took her hand in his, and Audrey was glad to let it lie there, though the pudgy fingers were stained with snuff and candle-wick. She had a curious longing to-night, for the mother she had never known, and could almost have laid her head against the flowered gown, and cried.
Instead, she only laughed when he stroked her hand fondly.
“Some lime and phosphate is worth a good deal more to you than others. Eh, Uncle Tom?”
“I’ve made such a poor substitute for your mother, child. That’s the trouble. Susan would have known how to manage about your lessons, and falling love, and diet, and all that. I could only make you sound in your music. As to your knowledge of counterpoint, I’m satisfied there, quite satisfied. Suppose we try--?” taking down his violin, and opening the old, fine piano that seemed oddly out of place on the bare floor with its strip of rag-carpet.
“Not to-night. You must really go to sleep.” She lighted the candle again, found the slippers, and kissed him goodnight. She did not know what ailed her to-night; even his petting she could not bear. Of the usual nervous, sickly megrims of girls, Audrey, with her light strong frame, and fair firm flesh, rose-tinted and healthy as a baby’s, knew nothing; but now a kind touch made her shiver, and, as he opened his door to nod good-night again, her blue eyes filled with tears. Was it only the electricity, as her uncle said? She took up the violin to play the sonata with which she often quieted the old man to sleep, but the notes seemed to have caught the fierce foreboding temper of the night, and shrieked fitfully. The girl listened as though a living being was talking to her, laid down the violin, and, paler than was her wont to be, went out to the garden, which, darkened with the quaint box of the old colony town, sloped down to the sands.
If these were the dead sea, and sky of Hades, as Goddard said, they had taken life in the last hour, and, as it seemed to Audrey, the life of vengeful, malignant purpose. The long stretch of beach and dunes had drawn back into a gray melancholy twilight, and the sea thrust itself into sight, solid and black, yellow flashes of phosphoric light upon the incoming waves, like the fiery crest of Milton’s Satan as he rose from the undermost darkness. It muttered with an ominous thunder. Audrey had learned its voices since she was a child, but this was unknown to her. To the north and west, hedging in and driving on the sea, pale columns of auroral light followed each other through the darkness. She went through the gate aimlessly, over the sand, her grave, steady face turned towards them as though some one called her. The village was lost in the fog and silence, the light was out in her uncle’s window; she remembered, hardly knowing that she remembered it, that he and Kit, and even her aunt, Ann Graff, were asleep. She was glad that all the world was asleep, and she alone was left to receive the message. Audrey had been abroad in all seasons; in nights when the storms had driven sea-faring men in-doors; when she was a child, frightened at the wind or crash of the waves on the shore, she yet had gone, dragged, as it were, against her will. Now, it seemed to her, she had grown to the age of sea and woods: they had received her into their company: she was one with them. She knew in sun or storm, summer or winter, she must go when they called her, to know what was this word they would have her speak for them. She never had found it. It came near her, often, in sight as in sound, in a nor’-easter whistling through the rigging, in the fretted brown seeds upon a fern leaf, in the glint of sun through the tan-colored bay water upon the kelp below. It was so real a thing to her, they were such actual companions, that she talked of them to no one, just as a man does not talk of the wife whose head lies on his bosom to mere passers-by. Aunt Ann, had she ever sounded the girl’s brain, would have called her an idiot, and Kit would not have taken an undeniably mad woman to be his wife. But Audrey kept silent, and looked on their blindness with an amused wonder. “Can they not hear the sea? Does not the sun shine on them as on me? Are these things not as real to them as a Dover’s powder, or a box of canned peaches?”
The voice she could almost hear, the uncomprehended message was never as near her as to-night. It was as though all the world sang a lofty hymn, in which there was one word lacking left for her to supply. It seemed to her that all nature came close and pressed upon her to give her knowledge of it. She stooped and buried her hands in the warm sand, she touched the thick bay-leaves as she passed; the wet sou’-wester flapped dashes of spray in her face. The cries of the sea grew shriller, as it sent in a heavier tide from its far off caverns; the northern lights, to the north, crossed the unbroken night unceasingly like a troop of pale and vengeful ghosts.
She wandered down the beach; she would have penetrated into the heart of this eternal world if she could; its mysteries, its vastness, its infinite, inaccessible repose, even in this transient outcry, reached through her flesh to something within which awoke and answered again. Her blood grew heavy in her veins, vain tears rushed to her eyes. The longing, the hope, which belong to those who are akin with Nature, for which no man has ever found words, oppressed and choked her, “And I,” she said, looking up and around her, as one who seeks a familiar face, “I, too!”
She would find words for this unknown hope; her message had been close to her to-night. Some day she would reach it.
A curious change came upon Audrey from that moment. The forces that had appealed to her might be incomprehensible to others, but their effect upon her was plain and practical enough. She had heard a heavenly call and she would not slight it. Messages of high meaning were given to a few men to deliver to the world, as of old to the prophets; they wrote or painted, or cut them out of stone. Audrey knew that she had no utterance but in song. “It may be but a poor work that is given to me to do; but it is mine,” she said humbly.
She sat down on one of the sand-hills overlooking the sea. Strains of simple, powerful harmony were heard, unknown before by her; whether she sang them or not she did not know. If she could make audible to the world the meaning of this night to her? How angry storm and prophetic sea, the malignant wind, and the gracious, comforting earth to its smallest green leaf, summoned alike and unwilling soul to the work which God had given it, and forbade it to accept any other. If she could find fit utterance for even so much as this, her life was cheaply given.
Morning had broken before she entered the garden again. The box hedges drenched with rain were hung with spiders’ webs, and in the early light her cow was fretting in the stable to be sent down to the salt-marsh pastures; they belted the beach with rich browns and purples, covered yet by mist; a biting wind drove the pink clouds from the brightening west to the dark sky overhead; a covey of white sail fled further behind the wall of the breakwater; a flock of kingbirds preparing to go southward whirred from a clump of cedars past her feet. Audrey and they were old friends; their black beads of eyes, full of a courage greater than that of any living creature, were fixed on her with a friendly meaning. Wherever she turned, from the vast, red plane of the sea, with the sandpiper hopping along the white wash of the tide, to the wet poppies and gillyflowers of the beds beside her, all things seemed waiting, glad, questioning, having accepted her as their own. She went down and threw herself into the sea, floated out to deep water; the waves light and buoyant caressing her with fine supporting touches. To Audrey it had the solemnity of a baptism. She came out with a glad bound of her blood from heart to limbs. Beyond the brilliant sky line lay the world where she must work; she felt the touch of sun and wind as a benediction; even the man she loved, (and in her secret soul Audrey knew she loved him,) would surely bid her God speed.
Mr. Goddard was awake with the dawn that day. He usually hit upon all his plans for life before breakfast; it was the enervating, deliberative evening that shook his faith in them and had postponed them all, an unlaid meddlesome mob of ghosts, to the present time. This nipping east wind and bright sunshine strengthened his resolution. He would marry Miss Swenson. He lay in his feather-bed at the hotel, looking at the smouldering woodfire in the stove, and out of the window at the glittering bay and the silent ships, with their bare masts behind the dark bar of the breakwater. He wished that lazy negro would come and kindle the fire; he was glad that he had not been born into one of the indolent, tropical races; the Anglo-Saxon—what if he should go and get a boat and take Audrey out into some of those hushed, dusky coves and there ask her to marry him? Whereupon he sprang out of bed. Before his boots were on he was in a fever of love, and zeal, and energy from head to foot; he could have died, or even worked for her just then, provided fate had been there to hit the nail on its momentary head. But would there be any necessity for working? The farm was good for an easy income, rented on shares. Jenny could tell how much, no doubt; and the farm was his absolutely, unless some heir of that mythical Elizabeth Cortrell turned up. He was shaving as these mediations passed through his mind, and stopped, razor in hand. No danger of such an infernal chance as that, surely? The fine poetic eyes stared thoughtfully at themselves and the lathered chin in the glass awhile; then he finished shaving gravely. “I’ll go and talk to Jane about it first,” he said, nodding to himself.
“Bail out that boat,” he called, as he went out of the tavern door, to a bare-legged youth who sat on one of the cannon, meditatively throwing pebbles into a skiff on the shore. “I want it in five minutes.” He hurried off, leaving the boy to look after him, stunned for a moment by such fiery heat, and then to resume his pebble-throwing with increased thoughtfulness.
Miss Derby was up and dressed; none of Mrs. Graff’s household tarried in bed, well or ill.
Goddard took both her hands in his, and looked fondly into her eyes. He was an affectionate fellow, as everybody knew; his aged mother declared he was the tenderest son ever mother had; and his brother, who supported them both, fancied he found Niel more sympathetic than even a wife would have been. His sympathies were alive to-day as the flock of migrating birds outside, fluttering here and there through the world to find a nest and home.
“You are quite well, Jane?” he said. “You look remarkably well after your terrible night, except for the hollows under your eyes. It was a terrible night to me, I assure you. Looking on and comprehending your danger, I suffered, of course, as you could not do. I feel every nerve frightfully shaken. But I have a plan. I wish to consult you. We’ll go and take a row along the beach. You’ll go, Jane?”
“Oh, yes; I’ll go, Niel.” There was an odd submission and humility in her sharp tones which startled him, but he said nothing. He could attend to poor Jane and her case after a while, when his own affairs were settled.
“You shall not go out of the house without a cup of hot coffee and a roll,” said Mrs. Graff, coming in as Jane was buttoning her sacque. “Sea, indeed. The sea is there year in and year out, and did any body ever see me bathing or punting about in it, or making a magazine article out of it? Drink the coffee, and be back in half an hour at the farthest, mind.”
Jane made no reply, but followed Goddard. She would have followed him as a servant to the ends of the earth, and asked no wages of love, or even notice. She had gone down into the grave last night and shaken hands with death, and it had taught her the actual truth of things—what this man, this red-headed god was to her, must always be to her, and that she was nothing to him. She knew he was going to tell her that he meant to marry Audrey Swenson, and that by a word she could prevent it. She went up to her chamber for a few minutes; and when she came back she carried a little Japanned case in her hand, inside of which was her own title to the Stone-post farm.
“Going to dredge for specimens?” glancing at the case. “I did not know any of your tastes ran into weeds or fishes, Jane; but I shall require all your attention to-day. I will carry the case, though.”
“No!” hiding it jealously under her arm.
Mr. Goddard was unusually silent as they walked down the drowsy village street. His boots were unblackened, the clay of the night before yet stained his fanciful sailor clothes, and he had forgotten to trim his curling, red beard. Such signs were open letters to Jane. In his ordinary friendships and loves he was finical and dainty. “This is a reality to him,” thought Jane.
Down the long board-path; past the quaint old houses with their double doors and windows to fend off the fierce wind; their walls green with ivy, and roofs gray with lichen, while the gardens, filled with old-fashioned prince’s feathers and asters, crimsoned and purpled in patches, in the sun; Jane with a dreary sense of humor, thought of herself as of some criminal going to his death, with no chance of reprieve. For so many years the world had meant for her only this little man, walking beside her in his baggy, blue flannel shirt and trousers, and in five minutes more they would be done with each other for ever. Yet it was Jane who, with that reticence with which an ordinary woman is born, armored as an armadillo with his scales, kept up the flow of small talk. She pointed out the beds of oyster-shells on the sands, accumulated by the Indians centuries ago. “They seem of more interest to me than the sand or the sea, because human beings touched them,” she said. “Here is a broken stone-hammer which, I suppose, some young chief wore in his belt, and the bone needle with which his squaw mended his moccasin!”
Goddard looked at them and stopped. “Yes, the hammer and needle are here, while they are but lime and clay, and their loves and hates are remembered no more. Yet, no doubt, Jane, their love was deep and real as ours now-a-days.”
Jane dropped the needle. “Very likely,” she said dryly, and walked on.
She showed him presently a ship’s cabin perched close to the sidewalk, with half a dozen children swarming in and out. “There is Peggotty’s house, Niel.” But Goddard was one of the school of later critics who smile patronizingly on Dickens. “Burlesque sailors and old mawthers are neither Nature nor Art,” he said loftily. “Wait until I have settled down in my new life here and I will write you a story, which will stir the blood of the nation, I fancy. Lewes shall suffice for scenery.”
She hurried on. This new life? She had not been mistaken, then? She walked more slowly past an old, weather-beaten house, looking curiously over the garden-fence; Goddard could see nothing worth notice except an enormous turtle’s shell, which was turned over and filled with verbenas. But Jane, beyond the gaudy blooms, saw a baby who had crawled out and fallen asleep on the lower door-step, one fat, muddy leg sunken in the soft grass.
“What the deuce is in that to bring the water to her eyes?” Goddard asked himself impatiently as they walked on. “Jane has the most disagreeable habit of unearthing a misery at shorter notice than any woman I ever saw.”
Past the high grave-yard, looking down upon the quiet street out of the height of its eternal silence; past the bald, bare hotel with its many windows staring down at the bay, waiting hopelessly for the quiet to be broken; past the solemn group of pilots with their skins and breeches alike of leather color, seated on the old cannon, waiting for the bombardment of their grandfathers to be renewed, down to the edge of the rippling water. Jane wondered vaguely to herself how these things would look when she came back; if, after she had heard those few words of his, anything in the world would seem as it had done before.
Goddard found the boy preparing to go down and bail out the boat; he swore with impatience, snatched the sponge and tin dipper from him, and in a few moments called to Jane to come on, while the pilots and fisherman smiled at each other at his energy, and nodded significantly over their pipes.
“Now, thank God, we are rid of them!” he exclaimed, drawing a long breath, as the boat floated out into the bright ripples of the bay. “Do you, know, Jane, human beings oppress me lately? They rob me of myself,--each a little. I begin to feel like a mirror which has reflect a crowd of people, and is nothing in itself. That is one reason I feel that a strong personality close to mine would serve to nourish and shield me from these outside influences.”
“You know best what you need, Niel.”
They drifted down the shore until they were opposite to the Swenson house. Its open windows could be seen behind the cedars. Through one of them they could see a little man in his shirt-sleeves, with a high beaver hat, playing on the violin as anxiously as though he played to save a life. It was Dr. Swenson, who had stopped digging his potatoes to give Audrey an idea from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, which he thought she had never observed. She stood beside him, attentive, her eyes apparently fixed on the far sea-line, as she did not notice the boat.
Jane was glad at that moment; glad of the simplicity and power of this figure in the window, draped in black; of the delicate, proud head, the royal yet confiding eyes. Were not all these goods for Niel? Ought he not to have the best the world could offer? But—
“She is there, Jane,” whispered Niel, with a sort of gasp, and did not speak again for a long time.
“I wonder,” said Jane, “if her poor uncle was digging potatoes for his breakfast. Mrs. Graff tells me that Audrey is no better manager than the dog or cat. They fare miserably.” She could not resist this thrust of the needle, though she had spent half of the night praying God to bless them both in their marriage.
“I should fancy Audrey would be a poor caterer,” said Niel, with a happy indulgent laugh. His face glowed as he stood in the prow, sheltering his eyes to catch a last glimpse of her; his eyes were radiant; the sun brought out the fine red lights in his heavy hair. To Jane he had the strength of a man, and the tenderness and pure fire of a young girl. When she thought of his marriage with Audrey it was like a poem,--a saga of the loves of the Norse youths and maidens in old times, when drops of the blood of the gods ran in their veins. What she said was:--
“Kit’s mother tells me that she had but little education and knows nothing of home duties; she can actually neither sew a seam nor cook a beefsteak. You see yourself how she flings money about.”
“You must teach her, then, Jane. You will always be a welcome visitor at the Stone-post Farm,--be sure of that. I shall not give up my friends for my wife. Audrey will have no little jealousies either; her mind is too largely built for that.
“You wish me to come as a guest to that farm?” said Jane slowly. She was stooping over the side, and letting the water pass through her fingers. “Your guest and Audrey Swenson’s?”
“Yes, Jane; certainly. It will be pleasant for you in peach-season, when you are off the paper. And I really would take more holidays, Jenny,” tenderly. “I cannot bear to think of you moiling over proofs and cooking those hashes of letters, when I shall be one of the ‘Lords High Proprietors’ of the soil, as the old Delaware records would have it.”
That word or two of kindness saved him. Jane’s brain had been gathering up a bitter store against him. Why should she spare him? He cast her away as indifferently as he would a half-burned cigar. He was going to take this woman to his breast in order that they might take their ease for the rest of their lives on her money—her farm. But, at this first careless, affectionate touch of interest in her, her face relaxed. She said quietly, “Newspaper work is tiresome in summer, that is true; but it is my work, Niel, after all. I suppose I’ll die in the harness.”
They drifted on and on. Goddard, all fire and zeal about his love, appeared quiet content to spend the morning in dreaming about it, and to leave its realization until afternoon. Jane, stiff like martinet always over herself, tried to turn away from the sea and from him, and to go back to the old newspaper work, the office, to her receptions, and Parr Chalkley and Sturm and Shively. How wretched a sham it all was! The tasteless tea and the chaffy toast; the huckster notions of art and authorship! The morning was sunny, the sea air full of vitality; but Jane, in that half-hour, felt that she was no longer a young woman. Nothing was left to her in life but the newspaper jobbery, and to fight off neuralgia from back and head. She went wearily back to think of the Indian woman, who, hundreds of years ago, sat in the sand yonder by the heap of shells. She wondered if her one chance of love was lost to her—and was that bone needle as wearying to take up again as the pen in her inkstand at home would be to-morrow?
“You can command a view of the sea from the porch at the Farm,--did I tell you, Jane? I was just thinking that may save Audrey an attack of calenture.”
She did not speak for a moment. “You have quite determined on this marriage, Niel?”
“Why, no. Certainly not until I have your advice. Why, that is what I brought you here for. But I have regarded this step seriously. It is no sudden whim with me. Audrey is necessary to me. I feel as though Providence had designedly planned her for my support and comfort. There is a fund of original power about her which—other women exhaust, drain me; but she would be as a fountain of life ready to my hand.” He waited a moment for a reply, but Jane was looking down through the pale, brown water at the shadows of the ripples on the sand below. “Well,” with an embarrassed laugh, “you know I told you she had largesse for mankind, so you cannot blame me if I try to claim it all for myself.”
“No. Push out into deeper water, Niel. These shimmering shadows blind me.”
“I feel,”—after a few vigorous strokes which shot the boat out beyond the breakers,--“I feel, Jenny, at times an intolerable solitude about me, a lack, a want of something which I have never had in life. Do you understand what I mean?”
“Yes, I understand.”
“God knows whether love will satisfy this longing, but I hope it will.”
Jane spoke at last, after her silence had made him look curiously at her.
“If you had not the Farm—”
His face sank into blank disappointment, but he answered firmly, “I could not marry without the Farm. I am no more fit to earn beafsteaks [sic] than Audrey to cook them.”
On and on over the rolling water, each time coming nearer to shore. Oh, to stay out for ever! To leave farm, Audrey, newspapers, all questions of genius or of money behind, and to drift on with that one face before her. But after that flash of blinding passion, thought, cool, keen, comprehensive, came to Jane’s shrewd brain. She held in her hand the proof which made her owner of the farm; if she showed it Goddard would never marry Audrey; it was possible, even probable, that he might marry her. It was no slight thing, too, for her to throw from her the ownership of the farm even if she never married. It was the only chance of comfort for age; happiness she had done with to-day, but there would be a certain pleasure in managing crops, in rearing cattle, in saving pennies from the sale of milk and butter. Even in this hour of her great pain and loss, the idea of these occupations came to Jane with a sense of compensation as strong as literature was hateful to her. If she made the sacrifice, she at least knew its worth. Her black, penetrating eyes were fixed on his.
“Niel, if you had not this farm,--if you could not marry her--?” But she did not need to wait for an answer. The color left his face, intolerable pain showed itself through his eyes, his contracted features, his quivering chin. “God knows best. I would bear it as best I could.”
She stood up, unconscious, so strongly was she moved, that the boat rocked to and fro with her.
“You do love her then?”
“I never loved woman before, Jane.”
She made no answer except a commonplace, “Very well,” and sat down again.
“What are you thinking of?” he asked irritably, after a while. “You do not take much interest in my affairs it seems to me, Jane.”
“Yes,” she said slowly. “I was thinking, Niel, that nothing ought to stand in the way of your happiness.”
“Nothing is going to stand in its way that I know of.”
“Is this the deep sea-water here? How many fathoms deep?”
“How should I know? I am not nautical beyond my clothes. Deep enough if you fall overboard to hold you where you will never touch shore again.”
“I think you are mistaken, we are not off the bar. The swell would soon carry anything in from here. Push out further.”
“As you please,” moodily. It was selfish in Jane to chatter about trifles when his whole future was at stake.
“If I should throw anything in here,” she said when they had reached the darker green beyond, “it would never come back?”
“Not till the sea gives up its dead. What is that you are going to sacrifice?” trying civilly to be interested. “Your specimens? That’s a pity.”
“There is nothing in the box of any value except to me,” holding it uncertainly in her hand, and looking down into the water.
“If you were a mother burying your child, you could not look more wretched, Jane,” laughing.
She turned and looked at him quickly. “My child?” she said.
She let the case fall into the water, which closed over it with a dull gurgle. “It is not such women as I who have children to bury. Let us go back now, Niel. It is time you were with Audrey.”
When Goddard had reached Miss Swenson’s house, and found her alone, he was not long in unfolding his errand. An hour or two of dreaming of the future as her husband, made him feel secure as an already married man, and it seemed to him there was little more to do than to mention the matter to her, that she might immediately begin to dream with him of the joy and development in store for both. The manner of mentioning it had not, it is true, been without its force. There was always a certain strength and exaltation in Goddard’s statement of his plans, which affected his hearers, and usually carried them with him. When he began to make a balloon at school, which was to convey him both to New York and to glory, most of the other boys were ready to go up with him; and thought they were men now, and knew it was never finished, but rotted in an outhouse, they remembered him still as a fellow of fine invention, and likely even now to do something in the balloon way. No man could write a more slashing leading article. Year before last he carried half Philadelphia with him in his radical notions of municipal election reform; last year he became conservative, and then so persuasive was his eloquence, that all his followers sank back again contented into the embrace of stock-jobbers, repeaters and ward politicians. It was no wonder that Audrey Swenson was startled and moved by his fiery love-making. But he began to think presently that her answer lingered a long time on the way. She had walked from him to the open window. He had leisure to contemplate the free, light figure in relief against the lowering afternoon light. If he ever chose to be a sculptor, (and he had begun two or three very remarkable things in that way,) here was a model ready to his hand. As she stood poised on the beach yesterday, for instance, the mackerel line just flung! By George, the very thing! What would your impossible young Mohawks or imaginary Cleopatras be to that as a bit of American art; of, if he finished the novel he had planned, she should be the principal figure; or, if he wrote poems, she could set them to music—free, simple, outspoken music like herself. But he must draw consent now from the sweet, shy creature. He was about to rise when she turned toward him. Sweet and shy enough, probably, but had the Swensons been Swedish kings instead of Swedish sailors she could not have held her suitor from her with more grave stateliness.
“I never have had lovers, Mr. Goddard; I have to consider before I give you an answer as to how I ought to give it.”
“There is no need to speak any words at all. I need you, Audrey; come to me!” He held out both hands passionately.
Audrey surveyed them tranquilly. There was a gleam of fun in her steady, soft eyes. “Yes, you told me that you needed me for many purposes. I do not at all understand how that can be. But,” with sudden gravity, “supposing it were true, if I loved you, if your need of me was as great as that of the dead for life, I could not go to you. I say this to you so strongly,” after a momentary pause, “because I want you not to hurt yourself by thinking that I should have decided differently with a different man. I can never marry.”
With an ordinary woman all this would have been the prelude to a coy acceptance; but Goddard knew this was no ordinary woman. The man at bottom was genuine. His manner changed on the instant. He was frank, outspoken, straight-forward as she.
“You propose to give your life to your art?”
“Yes; my art,” hurriedly, “is all there is of me.”
“The best of you, I grant,” eagerly. “But not all.” They had suddenly shifted from the question of love to the freemasonry of those who stand on the ground of a common idea. “Half of your nature will lie fallow. Besides, what do you know to teach by your art? What experience have you of life? Why none at all, Audrey; you have not even loved.”
“No;” yet, as she stopped, the sudden warm blood rushed to her face and throat and bosom. Like a spark on tinder, the blush set Goddard on fire.
“Let me be your teacher then,” in his low, passionate tones. “I will make you know what love is, and you shall utter it again to charm the world if you will.” Unfortunately for his cause, he laid his hand upon her arm. Audrey drew hastily back, straightening the black sleeve. Goddard, who was wont to sit like Apollo, crowned by the Muses, among literary women of New York and Philadelphia, was to her at that moment simply a presuming, disagreeable, little man, whose breath was rank with tobacco.
“I shall never marry,” quietly. “Nothing can make that possible.”
Goddard started and turned away from her. He showed signs of pain by shivers and uncertain motions as a hurt animal would do. He stood looking down on the sea a long time before he said, “I am sorry to have annoyed you. But I loved you; I have never loved a woman before, and I never shall again.”
Audrey’s innocent blue eyes filled, as she watched him go out for his hat and gloves. She had never seen such hopeless woe as his sensitive face bore.
“Will you bid me a farewell in your own way?” coming back, and pausing by her chair.
She got up eagerly, and went to the piano, struck the keys once again, and then stopped. “There is nothing for me to say to you. How can I play?”
To her amazement, his countenance was at once irradiated. “But this is the feeling of a true artist! On such an idea Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn built their divine work—the necessity of utterance. They wrote no score for a royalty of filthy dollars. You did right to reject me. Let me be sacrificed to art. Better so! better so!”
He paced up and down, rubbing his wrists like a nervous woman, while Audrey eyed him with a cold surprise.
He stopped before her at last, his thin face red with enthusiasm. “Ah, God! that I had your devotion, your integrity to your work! I shall think of you and your beauty and power as set apart hereafter from human touch. My love was a mistake, but I shall take with me this great thought to refresh me. Thank God there are sometimes such thoughts to refresh me!” He looked at her from head to foot in a hazy, rapt way. “Nature,” he said earnestly, “could have created no more perfect type of the vestal virgin to dedicate to Art, and I will help to dedicate it.”
“Eh, what’s that? What’s the matter, Mr. Goddard?” cried the Doctor bustling in, half awake from his afternoon nap.
“Nothing, sir, nothing,” abstractedly. “But I have this moment thought of a plan which concerns Miss Swenson’s future life. I must go and elaborate it. Good-bye,” holding out his hand to her. “I shall take the next train. Trust all to me. Don’t make a step without my advice in this matter. As soon as my arrangements are perfected you shall hear from me.”
“What ails the young man, Audrey?”
“How can I tell?” dryly, closing the piano.
“What the deuce has he to do with your future life? Vestal virgin, eh? His talk has had no Catholic tendency? No mention of nunneries, eh?”
“No, sir. He was in great trouble a few minutes ago. But it certainly seems to have quite evaporated,” as she rose and went out.
A couple of hours later Goddard, bustling into the little railway station, in and out of which an engine was puffing sleepily, ran against Kit.
“Going up to town, Graff” airily.
“Yes.” But he waited to buy his ticket and count the change before finishing the sentence. His only defense for his heavy bucolic self against his tricksy little Ariel in marvelous attire was a stiff formality. “I am going up with Miss Derby, Mr. Goddard. Probably you know better than I why she limits her visit to Lewes to one day.”
“Jane going? Now that is lucky. So am I; so am I! You need not go up with her, my dear boy. Not the slightest necessity. I’ll take charge of Jane.”
“I shall escort my cousin home again,” drily.
“Certainly,” cried Goddard. “Delighted to have you of the company. Well, I’ll go in the car and hunt Jenny up if you’ll buy my ticket and check my trunk,” tossing him his porte-monnaie, and disappearing in the car.
Jane sat alone. She was dressed with scrupulous plainness; the shabby alpaca and unbecoming hat with its flat bows had given her the sort of dismal comfort which a widow takes in the blackness of her new veil. A book, and newspaper, and box of gum-drops, which Kit had provided for the journey, lay on her lap, while her eyes were closed. Niel glanced at the colorless fat face.
“Why, Jenny! homesick for the office?”
“You here! Niel?”
“Yes, to be sure. Don’t look so wild. Did I waken you? You look ready to cry. Lucky I chanced on this train, isn’t it?” dropping into the seat beside her. He had doffed his sailor shirt and trousers, and wore the carefully unpretending clothes fit for Chestnut street.
“Why have you left—left your friend?” Jane could not force the name to her tongue.
“Audrey? Oh, Jane! I have the most capital plan! It occurred to me this afternoon, and every moment some detail arranges itself. I want to smooth the way for her in the world—like the messengers who ran before the king, you remember, eh? Prepare the way. You must help, too, a little later. I know every prima donna and tenore that has sung in this country. They’ll furnish introductory letters to whatever master I select for her in Europe. Two or three years of study, with such hints as I shall give her as to changes in public taste;—then she comes home—our influence can command every musical critic in New York, and Boston, and at home—you furnish the popular squibs, anecdotes, etc., etc.,—first nights, a packed jury of our own choosing,—oh! success is certain! No such true artist has ever sung on Americans boards.”
Jane set up erect. “You mean your wife to appear in opera.”
“Wife! Why, didn’t you know? She would not marry me. It all seems so long ago, what with packing and so on, that I had really forgotten to tell you. No. She is vowed to her art. Audrey Swenson is an uncommonly sensible woman, Jane. And heroic. The woman who refuses marriage to devote herself to any art, is a daughter of the gods, divinely taller than the rest of her sex. Why, what’s the matter? Are you ill, Jane? Is the car—?”
“The motion has made her dizzy, that is all,” said Graff, quietly, from where he sat, unnoticed, opposite. He brought her a glass of water, and fanned her with a handkerchief smelling of a horrible sachet power, a queer twinkle in his eye whenever he glanced toward Goddard. “You do not choose your subjects carefully enough,” he remarked as he took his seat again, and turned his back to them.
Goddard sat silent for a long time. Could it be the loss of him that had so chilled and aged Jenny in a few days? Did the child care for him then so much? Jane was really a year older than himself, but he thought of her as quite a tender baby, and felt his heart ache to pain with her suffering. After all, it was pleasant to be coming back to the club, and the gossip of studios and newspaper offices, and to Christian clothes for himself, and to women who did not wear bathing suits in mid-day. Jenny meant all these things to him. He could not understand why she sat so stiff and immovable beside him. She did not seem at all relieved that he had not married Audrey, and was coming back to her. “For really Jenny is quite as necessary to me as my pipe, or old dressing-gown, or any other comfort. The woman I marry must marry her too, I suppose.”
Just as he reached this sage conclusion the train rushed into a fresh cut in the road, the high banks of dripping clay overtopping the cars at either side. And then—Heaven knows how it all came about! It was the one experience which Goddard never described, and which Jane never used as material. It was a grating sound and a convulsive shriek or two of the engine, and then a blinding crash, and darkness. When light and consciousness came to Goddard, he was quite assured that he was dead. A weight seemed to have been taken from his brain, which turned back as from an airy height, to look at life again.
He was lying on the muddy roadside, his head in a woman’s arms. There was a horrible smell of cinders and burning wood. Opening his eyes at last, he saw the crowd far off, the green branches of a sycamore rustling between him and the sky, and close beside him Jane Derby’s homely, familiar face.
“I am not dead, then?”
She shook her head, the tears coming too fast for her to speak. How strangely dear the ugly face showed itself to him at that!
The crowd came and went; there was a wild uproar and confusion; dust and soot whirled past in clouds; the engines shrieking; shapeless masses, covered with coats, carried by on boards; but, through all, the steady eyes of the woman never moved from his, and her hand chafed his head. Eyes and hands were dragging him back to life, he felt, by some power stronger than magnetism. “O God, I want to live!” he cried, to help her, if he could. How he hated the grave then, as never before! It was then, halting on the precipice of death, that Niel Goddard thought how steadily these eyes had always turned towards him; and the fingers (he could not help laughing inwardly to remember how thick and pudgy they were!) had love in their very touch. Who, besides, of all his hosts of followers and admirers in the life he had almost let slip from him, was true to him as this woman? Not one. What was there, besides her love, secure and stable for him to build the future on? “Tu es Petrus, Jenny.” This old, poor joke came back to his memory, and his lips moved with it, but made no sound.
“Did you speak, Niel?” she whispered, bending her head.
“Stoop closer, Jenny. Is it so that women bring back to life the men they love? Stay!” passionately holding her down with a grip like that of a dead man. “It is you who have given me life to-day, Jenny. There is nothing for me to come back to in that life but you.”
“Ah, Niel!” disengaging herself with a laugh more sorrowful than any sigh, “there are all the Audreys past, and all the Audreys to come. What am I?”
“You are the only living being who loves me! Don’t desert me. This is no sudden fancy, as the others were,—I’ve loved you a good many years. There’s no happiness for either of us,” after a little pause, during which he looked up thoughtfully into the tree overhead, “unless we are husband and wife. What do you say, Jenny?”
She laid his head back on the grass quickly, and stood up, trembling violently, “I shall say nothing now. Your brain is dizzy; the shock—thinking you were dead—and finding nobody but me under the tree—oh, I know how it was! I know. To-morrow—”
“You are growing ungrammatical, Jenny,” smiling. “Very well; leave it until to-morrow,” closing his eyes wearily. “By the way, where is Graff?”
“Yonder, helping the passengers out of the car. He carried you out.”
Goddard raised himself on his elbow. Graff, with one or two others, stood on a ledge of the cut, lifting the bodies, both dead and living, that were handed to him over the heaps of debris. Goddard watched him for a moment, and then gave a sudden exclamation, for a sharp explosion took place just at the entrance to the cut, and a cloud of fiery white steam rushed up from some neglected boiler over Graff’s body and head. He stood one instant, and then toppled and fell, like a log, into the ruins.
“He is gone!” cried Goddard.
“Are you hurt? Did the steam reach you?” said Jenny.
“Eight hours of Gluck; no wonder your head aches.” The old doctor, perceiving Audrey leave the piano, followed her, anxious and fussing, out into the garden.
“It is not headache, nor is it Gluck,” she said, looking about, as if searching for something. A light, cold mist, almost amounting to rain, was chilling the air. She bared her head and shook her hair loose in it.
“Not enough breakfast, then?” chirped the old man, after feeling her pulse. “You usually are a hearty eater, Audrey; that encouraged me as to your chances of success as an artist. The mill must have grist, my dear. Your great musicians have been men of strong physique,--kept the divine fire in the head burning with plenty of either beef or beer in the stomach. What do you expect to achieve on a soft-boiled egg? Go, take a walk on the sands and come back hungry, and after supper you can go to Gluck with some chance of comprehension.”
Was it, then, only a lack of beef that made the day seem so empty? Audrey went alone to the garden gate, and stood with her hands clasped over her head, in her old habit, when dull or ill at ease.
It had been a day of hard, faithful work; yet when she looked for the recompense it did not come.
All music was unmeaning to her; her own voice, harsh and unable. The truth was, Audrey, like every worker mastering his tools, found them master her for the moment. Was Art, then, nothing but technical rules; a sequence of facts inexorable and material as a mathematical problem? She went out of doors, as other women come to their firesides, for the cheer and comfort of her real home, but it was not there. Mother Nature had no word for her child to-day. Nature, living, eternal, restful, was not there. Nothing was there but heaps of grains of sand, and a vast wash of water. If sea or shore had other meaning, she was blind and deaf to it.
Now the loss of this subtle, cheery greeting which Audrey was wont to receive as soon as she went out from the house, chilled and disheartened her as none of us, probably, can comprehend. She walked on down the beach. The driving mist crossed the field of the sea like solid walls advancing from horizon to horizon.
“Fine weather for the late ploughing!” said an incisive voice behind her. “What on earth, Audrey Swenson, are you dong without a water-proof?”
“I’ll bring it at once, Aunt Ann,” said Audrey, who always conceded every step of the way in advance to Mrs. Graff.
“What ails you, child?” looking curiously in her eyes. “You’re either sick or you’re unhappy, and there is no use in denying it.”
“Uncle Tom says too much music and too little beef accounts for my ailment,” laughed Audrey.
“Very likely. Though I never approved of girls eating meat. It ruins the complexion. You ought to have spent the day with me. I was putting up tomatoes, canning catsup and soy. Of course, you don’t know how to make good soy?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Now,” after a moment’s angry pause, in which Aunt Ann was striving to control her temper, “don’t you think it would be more to the purpose if you would spend part of the day in my kitchen of sewing-room, than wandering on this beach in all kinds of weather? How can you ever govern or manage a house without knowledge of this kind?”
It was impossible to irritate Audrey. “But I shall not have a house to manage,” she said smiling.
“Why, you are a woman. You cannot shirk your real work for any whim. Nobody can do that, and not suffer for it in the long run. There’s Pike going down to the breakwater. The lazy scamp engaged to bring me my blue fish for salting down, last week, and not one have I seen. They are all alike, these fellows,” and off she went, her feet leaving hollows in the sand with every firm, swift step.
The world about her seemed dumber and more unmeaning after that. For the first time in her life, Audrey doubted. The something which spoke to her in sun or sea was intangible; might be but the dream of a dream, or as her uncle said, only the attraction of matter for matter; but tomatoes and salt fish, and a comfortable, well ordered household, these were realities. What if she had made a mistake? What, if, though there were such a voice, she had no power to comprehend or interpret it? She might spend years in hard work such as this of to-day, and find herself a poor, unable failure after all. And yet--- As she turned to go home, she looked toward the far sea-line, behind which the ships, phantom-like, were going down. So they went down year after year. There was a great unknown world of men and women beyond, which she had meant to reach some day. The welcome and the friends waiting for her there had grown real things to her in her lonely fancies. Surely there was there some one for whom fish and tomatoes and household drudgery were not the best of life? She had something to say to such a one—something which ached and pained in her breast now. It would give her a share in their joy or their sorrow. Some day she would be able to utter it clearly.
Until that day nothing should turn her from her work.
At that moment she perceived half a dozen of men hurrying from the little station on the beach down the road. As they came near they consulted for a moment, and then one or two left the others and came towards her. They were in trouble, she saw, and it was usual for people in trouble in the town to come to Audrey or her uncle.
“Well, what is it, Ben?”
“There’s been an accident on the train up to town this morning, Miss Swenson, and there is a car just run in with some of the dead and wounded. Mr. Graff—”
But she threw out her hand to silence him, and turning, walked swiftly away.
“She might ha’ stayed to hear the rest on’t,” grumbled Pike, who had built a good deal on her behavior when she heard the news for his evening’s gossip.
“She couldn’t bear it. She was stunned,” said good-humored Ben. “She’s gone straight to Mrs. Graff’s house. They’re cousins you know.”
Dead? Kit dead? How heavy this shawl and her head was! She dropped it on the sand as she went, but the weight on her breast was still heavy to suffocation. What was her fantastic dream of voices and mother Nature now? Here was reality—torn bodies and shattered cards, and coffins, and Kit—
Why it was only yesterday he had been planning his whole life out for her, and she had laughed at it and at him. Now it was over and gone. She suddenly saw his face and hands as she had seen them last night as he carried Jane out from the quicksand, big, and red, and covered with mud.
“He’s a good fellow—a good fellow!” she said, and then stopped, shocked at herself. Any of these men would have said as much for Kit. Had she, a woman, nothing tenderer to give to her old playmate? He had always loved her so faithfully, too. If he were dead, perhaps he would know why—
She had reached the gate of the Graff house. A crowd of dark, whispering figures stood about it, but made way for her. A lamp, lighted hastily, flared and smoked without its chimney on the hall table, and Audrey thought, as one thinks of absurd trifles in the face of sudden horror, how her aunt Ann’s head would wildly shake at the sight of it.
The parlor was vacant; the door from it open [sic] into Mrs. Graff’s chamber beyond; by the gray, dreary twilight in the row of square windows, she could see a large figure on the bed, covered with blankets, the face hidden in white bandages. The silence of death was in the room.
Death? She looked about her quickly. There was the bare floor, the chairs with the von Graff coat of arms worked in dingy chenille, Kit’s portrait when he was a red-cheeked baby in laces. Kit and she had been every day in this room together, ever since that portrait was painted.
Old Doctor Dorn, who saw her from the bed-chamber, came out. “Be calm, Miss Swenson,” he whispered, heavily. “Do not disturb his last moments by any outcry. He has asked for you.”
“He is alive, then?”
“Well, yes,” with doubtful solemnity; “he still lives. But come in. He has asked for you. It is always my opinion that the wishes of the dying should be gratified, when it is feasible.”
Aunt Ann’s voice, shriller than usual, through excessive pain, was heard at the moment. “What do you want with her, my son? She’s down wandering on the beach, I suppose. Let your mother nurse you. She’s a poor, do-less creature; she never cared for you as she ought.”
Kit’s voice was feeble and hoarse. “On the beach! I shall die before she comes!”
Audrey went in, passing quickly before the doctor. Mrs. Graff would have moved from where she stood by his side, but Audrey, with her large, firm hands on the little woman’s shoulders, pushed her gently down.
“Not your place,” she said, humbly, and knelt down by the bed. “I am here, Kit.”
He put his hand out feebly, and she took it in hers.
The evening darkened: they brought a lamp, and placed it where the light fell on him. The crowd without (a quiet grave crowd, being sea-coast people) disappeared one by one across the sands. Doctor Swenson and his compeer, the village physician, shabby and ponderous as his saddle-bags, which lay on the table, sat side by side by the foot-board. Mrs. Graff stooped over her boy silently, wetting bandages; but still Audrey knelt motionless, her hand immovable in his.
Once when he spoke, they all leaned forward to listen. “It’s all for you, if I die, Audrey. My farm. Mother’s provided for. I only cared for it for you.”
“It would appear to me to be proper,” whispered Doctor Dorn, “to send for a lawyer, and let him make his will.” But Audrey, with an imperative gesture, commanded silence.
“I am here.”
“I must speak to you alone.”
They drew back, and Audrey stooped closer to catch the broken whisper. “I’ve been selfish,” said poor Kit; “but you were all I had. The other young men had cared for a dozen girls; but I loved you since we were little together. I want you to forget that I worried you for your love, if I die. I want you to forget me, and be happy. If there is anybody else, Audrey—.” He stopped. The big hand grew cold in hers.
“There’s nobody else,” and Audrey, with that queer, loyal smile of hers, held his hand tighter.
“There will be. You never loved me as a wife ought to love her husband. When he comes, and you marry him, be sure that I am glad of it. It was just you I cared for—to make you happy, that was all.”
He held her fingers tightly, but did not speak again. Presently she knew by his breathing that he was asleep; his hand fell from hers. Mrs. Graff stole gently up, caught her by the shoulder, and drew her out of the room.
“Audrey, did my boy ask you to marry him now?”
“You must do it then. He is dying; he has but a few hours to live, and you see how every thought is for you. You surely will not refuse him any comfort you can give him?”
“Marry him? Marry him?”
“Good God! the girl is stone! Any woman would be proud of my boy’s love. You can make his last hour happy, and you will not do it; yet you love him, Audrey Swenson?”
“I love Kit, yes.” She walked to the window. There was the look of a caged animal in her blue eyes. To go out—out—if but for a moment to the sea and free air, and leave his death and breathless pressure behind!
“Then why not marry him? It would be but the saying of a word or two. You will not be bound to him but an hour—.”
“And who the deuce authorized you to say that?” demanded Dr. Swenson, shrilly, at her back. “The boy is in no more danger of dying than you, Ann Graff. It’s all that old humbug, Dorn,” he growled. “Don’t let it fret you, Audrey, and do you go back to your bandages, Ann, and you’ll have your darling about in a week.”
“He’ll live?” Mrs. Graff rose, and staggered to the door. “Live,” she muttered again, as she went in.
“Yes, and better for him he had died,” ejaculated the old man. “A pretty mess you would have made of your life, Audrey, if I had not come in. To marry that man!”
Audrey raised her head indignantly. “Why should I not marry him? Any woman might be proud of his love.”
“Yes, yes,” so his mother says. “Hen and chick crow alike. Kit’s well enough, good, honest creature; but not the sort of man to interfere with your career as an artist. To begin with, he is a beggar. Gives you his farm indeed! It is not his to give, as I happen to know. The law suit which was settled yesterday in Wilmington, concerning lands held as crown gifts by the heirs, will take from him the best part of his property. A very homeopathic portion of it will be left.”
“Kit,” said Audrey calmly, after the first twinge of pity, “is not a man depending on property. He can earn his living in a dozen ways.”
“He could before this accident.”
She turned on him quickly. “You told me he was safe? How is he hurt?”
“Better he had died in my opinion. The man is blind for life.”
It was a long time before Audrey answered him. She stood still by the window.
“He has nothing left then? Nothing?” she said.
Her uncle replied, but she did not seem to hear his answer. She was looking down at the sea and at the shore, as one who goes from them inland to see them no more.
She turned at last, and opening the door went up to Kit’s bed. His mother, who was alone with him, with one quick look at her face, drew back and left her there.
“Kit,” she said, taking his hand again in hers; “Kit.”
“Yes, my darling.”
“Your mother has told you, you will live?”
“Yes, she had told me.”
“Would it make your life worth more, if I should come and share it with you?”
“Audrey!” he tried to stretch out his hands to her, and vainly strove to open the closed eyes.
“I will come, then,” she said quietly, and, stooping over him, kissed for the first time the poor scorched lips.
Goddard did not repent the next day of his resolution to marry Jenny, or, if he did, he found it easier to drift lazily into marriage, than once in, to get out of the current. Jane, on the other hand, had too much tact to startle him by her happiness, or by the necessity of any change in his habits or manners. Matters jogged on as usual for a month or two, when they found that nothing interfered with their being married at once. Jenny had her new winter dresses ready, and Goddard decided that he could begin his new book with better chances of success in the quiet of the Delaware farmhouse, with Jane to keep off society.
One evening, therefore, when Jenny had her usual Saturday reception, Goddard mentioned in a casual way to their most intimate friends that Miss Derby and he had been married the day before, and everybody was quick enough to take the cue, and to express neither superfluous surprise nor congratulations.
Mr. Burgess, indeed, noted the incident eagerly, as an illustration of the habit of young girls in American society to drop causally into a church, and be married while out on a morning stroll.
Parr Chalkley, who would have had a lingering flirtation with Jenny, had she belonged to the proper set in Philadelphia, sent her the next day a wedding present of a jeweled dressing case, which Goddard appropriated and used ever after. Shively the publisher, too, hearing of the matter, presented Jenny with a paid up policy of her husband’s life, for ten thousand dollars which she put carefully away.
But eight years have passed since then and there appears to be little risk for the insurance companies. Goddard has grown fat and scant o’ breath. His wife and their three boys live on the farm year round, which, under Jenny’s management has increased in both acres and quality, until it now yields a larger income than any other in the county. Jenny herself has softened and brightened into a genial, gentle and handsome middle age. Her gowns are turned and re-turned until they are too ragged to give away, and her boys are taught to wear the coarsest cloth and eat the plainest food, but the keen delight of her life is to see Goddard in the finest of linen, and to prepare little surprises for him of gifts of choice jewelry or rare old editions. He always spends the peach season at the farm, bringing a party of clever fellows down from town; but in winter he remains in Philadelphia, as it is necessary for him to be near libraries, and to receive a weekly mail from Europe, in the preparation of the great treatise on Modern Art which he is going to write. Jenny sold an acre or two to enable him to go the Vienna Exposition, as, she said, that would aid him so materially in his studies, to that especial end. A party of young journalists, musicians, etc., went over to New York to see him off. None of them mentioned to Mrs. Goddard that Miss Roberts, the noted painter of la nature morte, was on the Scotia. She is Niel’s last intimate friend; Mrs. Goddard does not usually share in these pure and platonic friendships. However, all the world knows that Niel’s thirsty soul requires such spiritual refreshment occasionally, and society is not niggardly, now-a-days; it knows how to regard with liberal eye the needs and frailties of genius. If Jane does not share in its magnanimous view of the young women who run after her brilliant husband, she, at least, had enough of her old tact and good sense to laugh at them secretly, knowing they cannot touch her hold on him.
She drives over to Lewes now and then, to give her advice to her cousin Kit and his wife, for, since her Aunt Ann became too old to move about, the household affairs, Jane fancies, need supervision from an experienced eye. She went over last October to see if the canning, pickling, etc., had been properly attended to, and found they had all been forgotten until too late.
“One can so easily buy those things,” said Audrey, calmly. “I suppose I shall always be a bad housekeeper, Mrs. Goddard.”
Audrey is always calm; and what enrages Jane still more, her big, handsome husband (there is no handsomer man in Sussex county than Kit Graff), whatever she may do or leave undone, follows her with the same contented, adoring eyes; for Kit, after a few years of partial blindness recovered his sight, and by dint of hard work and shrewd management was able to buy back a large share of his property. During these years, while he was both blind and helpless, his wife supported the family by giving music lessons to all the children in the neighborhood. Her old uncle opposed her bitterly, and made a queer speech in Jane’s hearing.
“Don’t make a market of your birthright,” he said, “hide it, bury it in a napkin if you will. You sold yourself, but don’t sell that for your own selfish ends, or God will punish you.”
“My birthright is to love,” said Audrey, and laid her hand on her husband’s arm.
Jane always thought the old man half crazy before that, and was not particularly grieved to hear, soon afterwards, that he was dead. “People with such odd notions,” she said, “were better in some other sphere and society than this. Not take your talents into the market, indeed! What were we commanded to do with them, except to trade, and to trade for usury, too?”
Her sharp little speeches and sarcasms trouble Audrey no more than the buzzing of wasps in the window-pane. Jane, who likes almost everybody (though she loves nobody but her husband) does not like Kit Graff’s wife, and would only be glad of a ground for quarreling with her. But people can only quarrel on trifles, and Audrey takes no heed of trifles. Meanwhile she goads Jane to desperation. She works hard to make money, and lets it slip from her like water. She knows nothing of “good society,” yet her manner is so simple and rare that even Jane pays her unwilling homage. She cares nothing for dress, but her plain clothes hang upon her like the bathing rig of old, with the grand grace of the drapery of an antique statue. No wife could be more loving and cheerful with Kit. Yet, unconsciously, she gives you the impression that she has her own home and her own people elsewhere, and will be gone to them presently.
After Jane had paid them her last visit, Graff went with Audrey and their little girl down to the beach to watch the tide come in. He seemed glad to be rid of the closeness of the air in-doors, and of Jane’s gossip, and to rejoice in his own fashion in the sun and sea.
“The thermometer is 78,” he says. “Audrey, that is very good for this time of year. These are fine swells, too. Watch for the big tenth one, little sweetheart.”
But Audrey ties the child’s shoe indifferently. The sun is heat to her now, and the sea, water.
Presently, when evening begins to gather, and the sunset colors the sky and the pools in the marshes behind them, blood-red, and the sea washes into their feet, dark and heavy, with subdued cries and moans, as though all the love and unappeased longing of the world had gone down into it, and sought to find speech in it, Audrey takes up the child, and begins to hush it on her breast, singing a little cradle song, a simple chant with which she was always crooning it to sleep. It is so hopeful, so joyful, so full of the unutterable brooding tenderness of mother’s love, that Kit, who cares little for music, finds his heart swell and his eyes dim.
“Your uncle and that Goddard,” he observes, “used to think you had a pretty talent for music, Audrey. You were going to teach the whole world by your songs, I remember. But that little tune is all you ever made, eh?”
“That is all.”
“And nobody ever heard it but Baby and me. However, it’s very pretty, very pretty. And it was lucky your uncle taught you as thoroughly as he did. Your scales and notes helped us over a rough place. They served their purpose very well, though your voice is quite gone with teaching.”
He got up presently, and strolled up the beach.
When he was out of sight, a flock of kingbirds flew up from the hedges of bay bushes, and lighted near her, turning on her their bright black eyes with a curious look of inquiry. When was it they had looked at her so before?
For one brief moment the tossing waves, the sand dunes, the marshes put on their dear old familiar faces. Old meanings, old voices came close to her as ghosts in the sunlight. The blood rushed to her face, her blue eyes lighted. She buried her hands in the warm white sand. She held the long salt grass to her cheeks. She seemed to have come home to them again. “Child,” they said to her, as the statues to Mignon, “where hast thou stayed so long?”
It seemed to her that she must answer them. She began to sing, she knew not what. But the tones were discordant, the voice was cracked. Then she knew that whatever power she might have had was quite washed and gone. She would never hear again the voice that once had called to her.
She rose then, and, taking up her child, went to the house, still looking in its face. Kit joined her, and was dully conscious that she had been troubled. “You’re not vexed at what I said down there, eh?” he asked. “You’re not really sorry, that you leave to the world but that little song?”
“I leave my child,” said Audrey; repeating after awhile, “I leave my child.”
Her husband, at least, was sure that she made no moan over that which might have been and was not.
 The driver of a hired horse and buggy.↩
 A cartoon personification of England, usually a stout, conservative, middle-aged man.↩
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) and Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) were famous Victorian novelists.↩
 John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was an influential Victorian philosopher.↩
 Exaggeratedly bushy sideburns.↩
 In the 19th century, there was a political and social battle to unify the separate Italian states into a single nation of Italy.↩
 Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) was a popular Victorian poet; Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872) was an Italian politician, journalist, and activist.↩
 Dragonflies. ↩
 Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) was a French painter and sculptor and an important leader in the Academic art movement; Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899) was a French realist artist; and Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891) was a French Classicist painter and sculptor.↩
 "'Tis Monsieur Puff, my lord, coming round the corner"...↩
 Thickened, insensitive.↩
 Between us. ↩
 Force of inertia. ↩
 Dick Steele's time met at White's...↩
 In Greek Mythology, Helicon was a mountain with two fountains sacred to the Muses (the goddesses of literature, science, and the arts).↩
 In Greek Mythology, a white winged-horse sired by Poseidon. He was the horse of the Muses and his hoof was said to create the fountains at Helicon.↩
 Sacred choral work written by 16th Century Italian Renaissance composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.↩
 Canvas, waterproof hat.↩
 In the 16th century, Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon set out to find the legendary fountain of youth.↩
 Musical instrument played by the wind.↩
 In a close and harmonious relationship. ↩
 Taste, appetite.↩
 Greek god of music, poetry, art, oracles, archery, plague, medicine, sun, light, and knowledge.↩
 Medium-sized saltwater fish.↩
 Gamaliel was a leading rabbi and teacher of Jewish Law among 1st Century Jews. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1822) was an American essayist, lecturer, poet, and leading Transcendentalist. ↩
 Into the middle of things.↩
 A virgin huntress in Greek mythology who resisted marriage. ↩
 Roman god of financial gain, poetry, travelers, luck, trickery, and thieves.↩
 Bohemian, a nineteenth century term to describe non-traditional and often impoverished artists, writers, and perfomers.↩
 Female writer of literary works.↩
 Found in southwestern France, the Landes of Gascony are the largest maritime pine forest in Europe.↩
 Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) was a Swiss artist whose work focused on supernatural subjects.↩
 An etching or engraving.↩
 Planks of wood from a barrel.↩
 Dresden porcelain is expensive, beautifully made German porcelain.↩
 From Psalm 19.↩
 Herbal treatment for colds, flus, pneumonia, and rheumatism.↩
 St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) was a Spanish nun and mystic who experienced powerful visions of Jesus.↩
 In John Milton (1608-1674) epic poem Paradise Lost, Satan is a powerful but conflicted figure<↩
 A short, loose-fitting garment for women and children.↩
 The Peggotty family are characters in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield (1850).↩
 Heat stroke or fever.↩
 Ariel is a mischievous spirit in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.↩
 A small pocketbook or purse.↩
 Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) was a German composer of operas.↩
 Mignon is a comic French opera that was first performed in 1866 and became popular throughout the turn-of-the-century.↩