While Caroline Was Growing/A Pillar of Society
A PILLAR OF SOCIETY
Caroline slipped out of the woodshed with Henry D. Thoreau barking under his breath at her heels, and struck across the dusty mountain road into the trail. The advantages of the woodshed were many: it was cool and dark, the stacked wood had a soothing odor and a neat, restful appearance, and one was more or less forgotten there. More important, it lay directly under the long living-room, and sounds carried easily through the primitive plank floor. Up to now the murmur of the company's voices had been a negligible quantity, a background for thought, merely, but suddenly a familiar intonation had risen higher.
"Why, certainly, Caroline can show you—she knows all the trails. Yes, indeed, she'd be delighted, I'm sure.... Oh, any time you prefer. Don't let her dawdle along, though; she's such a strange child—sometimes it will take her ten minutes to get across the road, and then another time she will be as quick as a flash. I'll see where she is."
But even as the boards squeaked above her head, Caroline had fled, and Henry D. Thoreau, smarting from the indignity of her brown, berry-stained hand circling his muzzle, was expressing his feelings to the yellow birches and ground pine.
"Oh shut up, won't you, Henry D.?" she urged him indignantly, "do you want to take that fat old tiresome lady around our nice mountain? I don't b'lieve you do. You can be called 'girlie' if you want to—I don't. She is so hot and she creaks so when she walks! I had to hold your nose."
Henry D., who had only wanted an explanation, subsided, and they trudged on in silence, Indian file, along the narrow trail.
The early afternoon sun filtered down through the birch and beech leaves on Caroline's brown head and Henry D.'s brindled back, pine needles crunched under their feet, thick glossy moss twinkled with last night's rain. They sniffed the damp, wholesome mold delightedly; from time to time Caroline kicked the rotten stump of some pithy, crumbling trunk or marked patterns with her finger nail in the thin new moss of some smooth slab. Indian pipes and glowing juniper berries embroidered the way; pale, late anemones, deceived by the cold mountain weather, sprang up between the giant mushrooms. It was as still as eternity.
The wood grew steadily thicker, the light pierced down in golden arrows only, the silence was almost oppressive. Caroline stepped suddenly out of the tiny path, pushed aside a clump of fern, buried her arm up to the elbow in a hollow stump and produced a large crumbling molasses cooky.
"Just where I left it, Henry D., just exactly!" she whispered delightedly. "I wish now I'd left 'em both, but I didn't feel able to spare 'em at the time."
They ate the cooky pleasantly, Henry D. receiving every third bite with scrupulous accuracy.
"I used to think maybe that huckleberryboy followed us up and discovered our places, but this proves he don't," she announced, as the last crumb disappeared; "he's not so smart as he thinks he is, is he, Henry D.?"
They trotted on, moving more quickly as the faint, regular crash of an axe on wood came nearer and nearer. A barbed-wire fence had sprung up unaccountably in the wood, following a devious course among the thick trees, and as they scrambled carefully under it, Henry D. pausing with accustomed gallantry while his mistress disentangled two petticoats and an unfortunate stocking, a little gray-shingled cottage jumped out suddenly from the gray beeches, and they emerged into its front yard.
It was a ridiculously operatic little cottage, composed chiefly of bulging balconies, scarlet and yellow with geraniums and nasturtiums, casement windows with tiny leaded panes, and double Dutch doors, evidently practicable. It had all the air of having retired from the other scenery to practice for its own act, and it seemed highly probable that a chorus of happy short-skirted peasantry would skip out from behind it and tunefully relate the fortunes of the heroine within.
But the only person in sight was obviously impossible of such classification. Though she was chopping wood, and chopping it very well, though she wore what is sometimes called a Mother Hubbard wrapper and a stiff, clean blue-checked apron, she was not in the least a peasant. Her figure was tall and spare, her hair gray and drawn into an uncompromising knot, her face wrinkled and shrewd, her eyes soft, and full of the experience that middle-age brings to the native American woman who has lived all her life in the sparsely-settled country districts.
Her face relaxed at sight of her visitors. "How d'ye do?" she called cheerfully, "ma want anything?"
"I don't believe so," Caroline returned sociably, "I've just come up, that's all."
"I thought maybe your ma was worried about them shirt-waists, but she needn't be: I'll have 'em back by Friday, sure. It'll be all I can do, though—he's on the rampage these days, and I've got my hands full, I tell you."
"Is Old Grumpy bad to-day?" Caroline inquired.
"Bad? Child, that old fellow is just about the worst I ever saw, and I've seen plenty. What's on his mind the Lord knows, but it's a lesson to us all to keep our tempers and not have secret thoughts preying on us night and day! Just now he told me the truth for once. 'I'm so worried I can't digest, Luella,' he says to me, 'and I digest so damnably that it's enough to worry an archangel!' There—I shouldn't 'a' said that before you, but—"
"Oh, I know 'damn,' Luella," Caroline assured her, "and it isn't as if you said it purposely, anyway; you just repeated it. It makes all the difference."
"I guess it does," Luella assented, "s'long's you understand it. But then, you understand everything, more or less, 'seems to me. Where you picked it all up at your age—"
"What's that, Luella? Who is talking out there? What's going on now behind my back?"
A petulant and gray-haired gentleman rushed out at them, very much like a wiry Scotch terrier, and glared fiercely at Caroline and Henry D. Thoreau.
"Nothin's goin' on behind your back that I know of, Mr. Wortley," Luella returned composedly. "This little girl comes up to see me every once 'n a while—I do washing for her mother at one of the cottages—and we were just talkin' back and forth, that's all."
"You fried that liver!" the gentleman burst forth abruptly, "you know you fried it, Luella! I might as well have eaten a shingle off the cottage—it's killing me! Ugh! As if I hadn't enough to bear without being murdered with fried liver!"
"I do' know what you've got to bear, Mr. Wortley," and Luella gathered her apron full of kindlings, "but you needn't add fried liver to it, 'cause it was broiled."
"Never!" exploded the fiery gentleman.
"I'd ought to know," said Luella firmly, "I had the grid-iron to wash."
"As for children," he veered off again, "you couldn't have poorer company. Think what they'll grow into—think!"
"Some don't turn out so bad," she reminded him, starting toward the house.
"Ah, but when are you going to decide that they have 'turned out'?" he demanded, trotting angrily beside her, "tell me that, will you? Perhaps you imagine that when they're of age, legally men and women, and you've managed to keep 'em out of the State Reform School up to then, you're justified in thinking they've 'turned out'? Hey?"
"Oh, now, I wouldn't go on so about the State Reform School, Mr. Wortley," Luella urged pacifically, "that's awful. I always say the young ones mean well, mostly; there ain't many that set out to be bad a-purpose. Only, accordin' to their judgment—"
"Their judgment! Their judgment! For God's sake!" he thundered, and darted into the house, slamming the door so that the casements rattled.
"I guess you'd better run on, dear," Luella suggested, "he's bad to-day. Some days I just have my hands full with him, and then again he'll be real pleasant and amusin'—he'll say the cutest things. But he's perturbed to-day, and that's a fact. You stop in 'long in the afternoon, when he takes his nap and I'm at my ironing, and we'll have a good visit."
Caroline nodded soberly and took up her journey again, not a little depressed; he had been such a whirlwind of a gentleman.
Unconsciously she followed a tiny, all-but-overgrown trail that led straight up the hill against which the cottage was built and lost itself, apparently, in the thick wood at the top. A belt of tall beeches half way up blotted out everything behind it, and the dozens of chipmunks and red squirrels that scurried hither and yon, the fat hen-partridge schooling her brood under Caroline's very nose, the flame-colored, translucent lizards slipping under mossy roots at her feet, showed the neglect into which the trail had fallen. She pushed on, hardly certain now that she had not lost it, or that it had ever led anywhere, when she stumbled suddenly over a handsome meerschaum pipe, still warm, and colored to a nicety. She picked it up, poked experimentally at the ashes with a twig, smelled it distastefully and stared about her. No one was in sight, and she had walked at least a quarter of a mile before she encountered a young man sitting in a dejected attitude on the stump of a yellow birch.
He was peering gloomily into the hemlocks opposite him, his hands were deep in his pockets, his feet crossed at an uncomfortable angle. He was a pale young man with dark circles under darker eyes, and an expression of such settled melancholy that Caroline lost no time in assuaging it as far as she could.
"Here it is," she remarked, holding out the pipe, "how do you do?"
The young man started violently.
"Holy Bridget, who are you?" he demanded. "How did you get here? This is private property—didn't you see the sign?"
"There wasn't any sign the way we came," she returned placidly, "we came over the mountain. Don't you want your pipe?"
The young man blushed and scowled. "Thank you very much," he said, extending a thin, brown hand, "I'm afraid I was rather rude. Where did you find it?"
"Oh, down there," she answered vaguely.
He handled the pipe lovingly, knocked it against the birch stump and cleared it further with a curl of the polished, champagne-tinted bark.
"Nice dog," he suggested, "what's his name?"
"Henry D. Thoreau," she replied, studying the green scarab in his necktie and the heavy seal-ring on his left hand.
"For heaven's sake! Who named him?"
"My Uncle Joe," she returned simply, "because he takes to the woods whenever he gets the chance. Was that pin a bug once?"
"Not since I ran across it," said the young man, "before that, I can't say. Has your uncle any other animals?"
"Oh, yes," she assured him. "There's the donkey, his name is Rose-Marie; and the baby's cat, his name is Pharaoh Meneptah, but the baby calls him Coo-coo; and there's Miss Honey's rabbits, they're all named Eleanor, because you can't tell them apart, and one name does just as well; and the canary, his name is Jean and Edouard de Reszke."
The young man burst into laughter and fell off the stump abruptly.
"Those are fine names, all of them," he declared, picking himself up with great solicitude for the pipe, "but why did the canary get two?"
"Because Aunt Edith likes Jean the best, but Uncle Joe says there's more to Edouard," she explained, "so they named him both, because Uncle Joe said anything was better than a divided family."
"That's right," said the young man, "anything is."
His face, which had looked for a moment merry and boyish, darkened again, and his big eyes glowered intently at the shadowy hemlocks.
"Anything," he added, in a low voice, "but a sacrifice of principle, a sacrifice of truth, as it actually is, to the petty conventions of a rotten society!"
With that he sat his teeth hard and pulling a leather pouch out of his pocket, began stuffing the pipe decisively. Caroline waited for him to continue, but as he lit the pipe and puffed at it in silence, she concluded that the interview was at an end, and started up the path.
"You'd better not—" he began, but stopped suddenly and appeared to reconsider. "Oh, I don't know," he added, "it might be better, after all. Go along."
The trail was little more than a worn line in the grass, now; soon it turned sharply to the left, skirted the wood, and led to a tiny, dilapidated cottage. Caroline had more than once passed it by under the impression that it was abandoned, or used perhaps for storing ice or wood; but to-day a thin curl of smoke stained the blue above it and through the open door of the one living-room that formed its ground-floor she saw a scarlet Navajo blanket, on which reposed a magnificent snowy Angora cat. A great green bough covered one of the walls, and a few chairs, a square pine table and a guitar flung against a pile of bright cushions, completed the furniture. At the further end of the room, stretched upon the mate to the Angora's blanket, lay a young woman, sobbing violently.
Caroline hesitated, but Henry D. Thoreau recognized grief, and knew perfectly well what to do. Stepping quietly over to the prostrate figure he encircled it once, looking for a point of vantage, then selecting two little white, pink-tipped fingers, he licked them caressingly.
The sobbing ceased: the girl drew a longer shaking breath.
"Is that you, Mimi?" she said huskily, "I didn't know you cared as much as—oh, what is that?"
Her hand had fallen on the little bull-dog's smooth, stiff coat and she started up in surprise. Caroline smiled shyly into her big, stained gray eyes.
"It's all right—Henry D. never bites—do you feel bad?" she asked.
The girl pushed back a handful of crinkly, chestnut hair from her damp face and rose, shaking out her skirts.
"Y—yes," she said, frankly, "yes, I do. Do you know why?"
"No. Why?" Caroline inquired.
"Because I can't make huckleberry bread," the girl assured her solemnly. "I—I've been trying all the morning. Look in there."
Caroline peered into the little lean-to, filled to over-flowing with a stove, some tin cooking pans, a table full of soiled dishes and a case of kitchen sundries, half unpacked.
"You did get it all over, didn't you?" she observed cheerfully, noting the prints of doughy fingers on oven and chairs and the burned, odorous wreck, resting in soggy isolation in the middle of the floor. "You cooked it a little too much, maybe."
"Maybe," the girl assented listlessly. "I was going to have it for luncheon. The woman promised to be here by ten o'clock, and I got the breakfast well enough—after a fashion—but she hasn't come, and I'm s-so hungry!"
Her eyes filled again. "It's simply filthy here," she murmured. "Do you know anybody we could depend on—oh, how stupid of me, of course you don't."
"There's Luella," Caroline suggested, "she's right near here, and she makes lovely huckleberry bread. Shall I go get her? Old Gr'— the gentleman that she keeps house for takes his nap now, and I know she could come."
The look of relief on the girl's face was enough, and Caroline hurried out, leaving Henry D. Thoreau, who seemed to feel responsible for his hostess's peace of mind, snuggled in her lap.
She burst into Luella's placid afternoon kitchen, big with her news, bustling about excitedly, while Luella methodically packed a market-basket with half a cold chicken, an untouched loaf of huckleberry bread, a pan of tiny biscuits and a glass of currant jelly.
"Butter I know they've got, and milk, for I see Wilkins stop up there this mornin' as I come down, and I wondered who on earth had taken that God-forsaken little cottage. 'Twasn't occupied last season. Cryin' right out loud, was she? She must 'a been all tired out to make such a fuss over a tin o' huckleberry bread. I s'pose she hasn't got many breakfasts in her life. Ten to one 'twas Myra Tenny that disappointed her: it sounds like her. Always undertakin' more 'n any one woman c'd possibly attend to, and then goin' back on you. Pretty cross himself, was he? Well, they'd had words, most likely. They take it hard at first. They ain't long married, of course, if they're young as you say. Poor things. There, I guess that's about all."
Luella closed the kitchen door softly and they hurried along the trail.
"He's off as sound as a baby," she confided to Caroline, "sometimes he'll sleep two hours, he's up so much in the night."
As the relief expedition neared the cottage, Henry D. Thoreau bounded out to greet them, the girl behind him, still flushed and swollen-eyed, but with her thick, reddish hair newly braided in a crown around her head.
"Good afternoon," Luella called cheerily, "I hear you're in trouble up here! You ought to let me known—I'm the one for jobs like this. Just let me into the kitchen, Miss——" She paused, but as the girl made no attempt to help her, continued easily, "well, I should say so! Got a little burnt, didn't it? Never mind, you ought to a' seen my first corn-meal muffins! Now you just step out and rest a minute, dear, and by the time you've called your husband I'll have a little lunch scratched up and you'll feel so different you won't know yourself. It's surprisin' how distressed you c'n get on an empty stomach. 'Tis your husband, isn't it, or is it your brother?"
"No, it's not—yes. It—it's not my brother," the girl said in a low voice.
"No," Luella repeated soothingly, "no, I see. That's a fine cat, ain't it? I've read of 'em—Angora, ain't it?—but I never saw one. They say they're mostly deaf. Is that one?"
"Yes. No—I don't know. I don't believe she is," the girl murmured, brokenly. She seemed newly distressed; her lips, very red against her white cheeks, quivered, her full breast strained against her white linen blouse.
Luella strode lightly about the disorderly little kitchen; she had forgotten the very presence of the girl, it seemed, for as she gathered the soiled dishes, coaxed the fire, filled the kettle and hastily removed the traces of the ill-fated huckleberry bread, she hummed a tune and appeared to see only her work.
Caroline was on her knees before the Angora and knew nothing of the flight of time, though it was really hardly more than a quarter of an hour before the kitchen rivalled Luella's in neatness and the pine table in the living-room, covered with a fresh cloth, and shiny plated silver, only waited its host.
"Now if you'll step out and call your husband, Miss—I didn't just get the name?" said Luella invitingly.
The girl rose from the chair where she had been sitting, motionless, except for her eyes, which had followed every movement of the older woman. She stood very straight and threw her head back with a gesture almost defiant.
"My name is Dorothy Hartley," she declared, and ran abruptly out of the cottage.
"Well, well," Luella shook her head whimsically, "she's pretty well wrought up, isn't she? Sweet little thing, too—real loveable, I sh'd say. It don't seem possible he'd be mean to her. But o' course he wants his breakfast fit to eat, just the same. I put a place for you, Car'line, 'cause I know you c'n eat, no matter what time 'tis— you're 's empty's a bag. There he comes—my, but he's haughty! He looks like somebody in one o' those novels, don't he, now?"
They came slowly up the path, hand in hand, like children, her gray eyes on the ground, his black ones challenging the world. The clear mountain air carried his words easily to the two in the door:
"Now, dearest, be brave! Remember, we are right, and we know we are right."
She clutched his hand nervously, but made no reply.
"Come right in," Luella urged them hospitably, "you must be 'most starved."
"Oh, no," he assured her, with a loyal glance at the girl, "I—I had a good breakfast, didn't I, dear?"
But his eyes brightened at sight of the half chicken and the omelet, glowing in a parsley wreath, and he had broken one of the puffy rolls and plunged into a great cup of coffee before he addressed Caroline.
"You seem to be a valuable person to know," he observed, "you and Matthew Arnold or John Greenleaf Whittier or what-ever-his-name-is."
Caroline looked embarrassed and helped herself to jelly.
"You have helped my—we are very much obliged to you, I am sure," he turned to address Luella, who was passing from stove to table, "aren't we, dearest?"
The girl sat with her hands in her lap, staring at her plate.
"Yes, of course," she agreed, "certainly."
"If you could come every day—they told me I could find some one to do that—it would be a great accommodation," he went on, with a worried look at the sad face opposite him, "and anything it might be worth, I am sure, Mrs.——"
"Judd, Luella Judd," she supplied, briskly. "Now, dear, try to eat a little, do! That omelet'll do you good. And that's a lovely piece o' breast I cut you off. It was all right my bringin' it, for the old gentleman never touches cold meat and the jelly's my own. There, that's right. I thought you'd like it, once you began. There's no need to tempt Car'line and your husband, is there? But that's all right: young folks ought to eat—I never grudged mine a crumb, and the Lord knows they eat me out of house and home."
The young man, indeed, ate voraciously, and under Luella's kindly domineering the hostess herself cleared her plate. The hot coffee brought the color to her cheeks, and she had even smiled at Henry D. Thoreau. Caroline had never seen anyone prettier. She had a great dimple in either cheek, and her gray eyes smiled with the sweetest confidence into the black eyes opposite: any one could see that they loved each other very much, even if they had "had words."
"Just a little more o' the huckleberry bread, dear?" Luella urged her. "I've been sort o' plannin' out how I c'd manage to get here every day, and I guess I can, if you'll be content to wait a little for your breakfast. My old gentleman don't have anything but a cup o' coffee in the morning, an' I c'd be over here by ha' past eight, easy enough, Mr. Hartley, if that suited you—"
"Wortley, my name is Wortley," the young man interrupted, hastily.
Luella looked puzzled.
"Wortley?" she repeated, "why, that's— well, never mind, it's none o' my business. I cert'nly thought she said Hartley, though. Well, if you'n Mrs. Wortley can wait till ha' past eight—"
"Frank, dear," the girl broke in appealingly, but the young man shook his head.
"No, darling," he said firmly, and then looking straight at Luella, he went on: "This lady's name is Hartley. We are not—we are not related."
Luella stared blankly at him a moment, then turned to the girl. But she, though she got up from her seat and going over to the young man seized his hand and pressed it between her own, did not lift her eyes to the woman's troubled and accusing gaze.
Luella drew a long breath, took off her checked apron and rolled it mechanically into a bundle. Her face had hardened; only the shrewdness was left in her eyes.
"You might 'a told me so before," she said briefly, and turned on her heel.
The girl was crying on his shoulder. "Tell her, Frank, please tell her why," she begged, through her sobs.
Luella faced her sternly. "He needn't trouble to tell me why," she said, "I know more'n you think, maybe. I know who your father is, Mr. Wortley, an' I guess I understand pretty well by now what his troubles are. If he forbade you marryin' each other, he had his reasons, I don't doubt, for he's a good man, if he is quick-tempered, an'—"
"He didn't forbid our marrying," the young man broke in sharply, glaring with ill-suppressed irritation at Luella, while he softly patted the girl's shoulder. "He begged us on his bended knees to marry, though I don't know how you know him."
Luella paused with her hand on the door.
"What!" she exclaimed sharply. "Then it was your folks?" She looked at the girl.
"No, it wasn't!" Dorothy lifted her head. "They b-begged us on their b-bended knees, too," she sobbed and disappeared again.
"For the Lord's sake!" Luella muttered. Then turning fiercely on him she took a step forward.
"Do you mean to tell me you're scoundrel enough—" she began, but the young man—he was really only a boy—shook his head angrily.
"Not at all, not at all," he burst out with a curious likeness to his father, "I'm no more a scoundrel than you are, Mrs. Judd, and you'll oblige me by acting accordingly."
It was so evident that he meant what he said, he appeared so righteously indignant, that Luella paused, dumbfounded, twisting the apron in her hands.
"Wh-why ain't you married, then?" she demanded.
The young man surveyed her calmly. "Because I—we disapprove of marriage," he said.
Luella turned a brick-red; her mouth opened vaguely. Though she spoke not a word, he answered her amazed face.
"The conditions of marriage at the present day," he stated loftily, "are not such as to lead me—to lead us to suppose that as an institution it has accomplished its purpose. Where it is not merely legalized—"
"Oh, Frank!" the girl moaned softly, putting her little hand over his opened lips. He kissed it gently, but removed it.
"To say nothing of the absolute misery you can see all about you as a result of a chain that ought long ago to have been broken, or better still, never—"
"And before that child, too!" Luella burst out. "Caroline, you get right up and come home. I never heard anything like it in my life. Come this minute, now!"
Caroline rose unwillingly; she thought Luella unnecessarily severe.
"As to that," young Mr. Wortley announced composedly, "we differ again. The sooner these matters are discussed frankly before children, the sooner we shall have fewer unhappy men and women. There is nothing whatever in my intentions or Miss—or Dorothy's, to shock or affront the youngest child. I have no children myself, but—"
"Humph!" Luella sniffed furiously, "I sh'd hope not!"
"—but if I had," he pursued evenly, "I should teach them precisely—"
"Look here," Luella interrupted roughly, "look me in the face, both of you!"
They turned their eyes full on her, the boy's dilated to fanaticism, glowing with obstinacy; the girl's, wet and pleading, miserable, but full of love. Luella, with narrowed lids, bored into those clear young eyes: no shadow of deceit, no hint of shuffling or double-dealing could withstand that relentless scrutiny.
Slowly her face softened, her eyebrows relaxed, her hold on the twisted apron loosened.
"I guess we better talk this over," she said decisively, closing the door and seating herself squarely in the chair nearest it. "How old did you say you was, Mr. Wortley?"
The forensic expression faded helplessly from the boy's face. He clutched at it, but it failed him, and with the air of a pupil addressing his teacher, he replied: "I didn't say, but I'm twenty-one."
Luella nodded. "An' you can't be a day over nineteen, can you?" she demanded of the girl. The braided chestnut head shook sadly.
"I thought not. I s'pose you've found out that your views ain't shared by most o' the world," she proceeded, with a fine air of impartiality.
"I—we have been very much misunderstood," said the boy stiffly, "but I have never been in the habit of allowing other people's ideas to affect my actions."
"You been spoiled, you mean," Luella interpolated, "I thought so. Spoiled to death, prob'ly."
He bit his lip. "But I hope I—we are prepared for anything—anything," he repeated with emphasis, "that may result from the course we have taken. I expect the results will be unpleasant—I expect it fully."
"I guess your expectations 'll be fulfilled right enough," she responded promptly. "And as for bein' prepared—you remind me o' my father, Mr. Wortley. He used to say he'd been prepared for death since the age o' seven years, but he did hope the Lord wouldn't take advantage of it. Is—is she prepared, too?"
He looked lovingly at the girl who crouched on the floor beside him. "Dorothy and I think precisely the same in everything," he said proudly, "don't we, my dearest one?"
Luella's lips twitched; she looked at the flushed arrogant young face with irrepressible admiration.
"I reely b'lieve you think so!" she declared, and as his hand clinched and his eyes flashed dangerously, she raised her hand with a warning gesture.
"There, there now, I get enough o' that from your father!" she admonished him, adding quickly, "Does he know you're here?"
"I don't know," he answered irritably, "I never supposed he'd be here. I came up here because I'd made all my plans to—and I never let my plans be interfered with, if I can possibly avoid it. I told the man to get it ready for me, but just before we started he telegraphed that it was engaged for the season. But I came all the same, because I knew this little one would be empty. Father bought it up to protect himself. Does he know I'm here?"
Luella looked thoughtful. "I reely don't know," she said slowly.
"It'll come pretty hard on her, doin' her own work, won't it?" she went on, watching him curiously. Then, as he started angrily, "Oh, there ain't nobody here will come, by the day, or any other way—I sh'd s'pose you'd known that. And as for any o' the cottage people—heavens an' earth, Car'line, will you get up an' go home? I don't know what's come over me to forget that child—she sits so still—"
But as Caroline got sulkily from her seat, cowed by Luella's stern face, Dorothy put out her hand and caught the child's dress.
"Oh! Oh!" she cried hysterically, "don't send her away—don't, Frank! L-let me have somebody!"
"There, you see!" said Luella sadly, "you see how 'tis, Mr. Wortley. Do you mean to say you have the heart—"
"Dorothy, I don't understand you at all," said the young man, with evident self restraint.
"You probably do not realize the very trying position you put me in. I hope it is not necessary to explain to you, Mrs. Judd, that if Miss Hartley wishes to marry me, she has but to say the word, and it shall be done instantly—instantly!" he repeated with emphasis, "as if," Luella said later, "he'd had a minister in his side pocket."
"There, my dear, hear that!" she cried triumphantly, "now just tell him what you want—"
"You horrid woman, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!" the girl broke in furiously. "How dare you intimate—as if I didn't know that Frank would do anything in the world I asked him to!"
"Oh, no, dearest," he broke in satirically, "that's a poor basis for action in this beautiful world of ours! Catch your man and tie him tight before he has time to change his mind. Then he'll be obliged to stay by you—you've got him hand and foot! That is love!"
"It's just as well, sometimes, though," Luella inserted placidly.
"Do you suppose I would ever," the girl stormed, "unless I—oh, dear, will somebody understand? Don't you know that my—that Frank has studied this question very deeply, that it's a matter of principle with us? If you had read all the dreadful things—"
"I am afraid, darling," he interrupted, with cold dignity, "that if your people and mine cannot understand the position I take, if we are actually obliged to take the matter into our own hands, and—and run away, in fact, in order to prove our sincerity, you can hardly expect people of a different—of less—with fewer—"
"I know what you mean, Mr. Wortley," Luella said gravely. She rose to her feet, beckoning to Caroline, whose waist the girl still clasped.
"I haven't got your education," she went on, with a simple humility that became her very touchingly, "we're poor people up here, us 'natives,' and we don't get much time for books, or when we do, we're too tired to read 'em much. I don't doubt you've been to college, yourself, and you've prob'ly learnt a lot about the mistakes that's been made in the world—a lot that I wouldn't understand. But I want to tell you one thing. I'm old enough to 'a been your mother, Mr. Wortley, my oldest boy'd 'a been twenty if he'd lived—and I've buried two besides him. You'll know I've seen trouble when I tell you that I've always thought we'd saved him and Annie if we could 'a had another doctor that'd had more experience with typhoid, and that's an awful thing to feel."
She paused a moment with somber eyes.
"I've worked hard since I was ten years old, and for the last five years there's been nothin' but me between the children and the poor house. You don't know much about that kind o' worry, Mr. Wortley, an' 'taint likely you ever will. I was married when I was nineteen—" Her eyes fell on the girl and softened lovingly, "'an what that means in the country with seven children an' no help, an' the winters what they are here, maybe you can guess a little. But I tell you this: I ain't had the sorrow, all told, that's preparin' for that girl, if you keep on like this. An' I wouldn't change my lot for hers, nor would she, if she knew."
There was a dead silence in the room. Only the short, grunting breaths of the sleeping dog stirred the air. The girl sat as if turned to stone, her arm hard about Caroline; the boy stared doubtfully at the woman, studying her plain, wrinkled face.
"I—I have plenty of money," he said, in a hollow thin little voice, "she will always—"
"Money!" Luella's voice shook with scorn, " what's money? The Lord knows, Mr. Wortley, I need money more'n you ever will, but let me tell you there's things money can't buy. Can you buy children—nice children like this one—to play with your children? Tell me that!"
"I shall never have any children," the girl's voice came in a husky, strained whisper, "I shall be too—too miserable," she concluded softly, and utterly to herself; she had absolutely forgotten the others, even the boy, whose eyes turned incessantly from her face to the older woman's.
Luella's shrewd glance enveloped the strong young figure. "I never heard 't misery prevented 'em," she said dryly.
The boy seemed unable to move, so intense was the concentration of his thoughts; his fingers stuck out stiffly in a purposeless, set gesture.
"If it is true, all that we thought," he said slowly, "then no hardship, no merely personal suffering should prevent ... the experiment must be made ... must inevitably, sometime...."
"But not with her, not her, Mr. Wortley!" Luella cried. Her expression turned quickly whimsical.
"You remind me o' me an' my mother one time, when I was a girl," she cried. "I wanted to prove that you c'd raise biscuits without the bakin' powder—I was terrible headstrong; I know what 'tis well 'nough, an' how hard 'tis to give 'way—an' she was tryin' to persuade me.
"'I think 't least you might let me make th' experiment,' I says, an' she turned to me—I c'n see her now an',
"'Luella,' says she, 'it's all very well for you to make th' experiment, but I'm the one that'll have to pay the bill!' she says.
"It'll be like that with you, Mr. Wortley—you'll make th' experiment, but she'll pay!"
There was another silence.
"We always pay," Luella added thoughtfully, "it don't seem just fair, but we do."
The young man shook himself suddenly, like a dog fresh from the water.
"I didn't mean to—God knows I wouldn't hurt a hair of her head," he said, in a low voice. His hands relaxed, his shoulders drooped. "It seemed the best thing only this morning—is that what you meant this morning, Dorothy, when we—when we—when I went away?" he asked gently.
She held out her hand to him, still clasping Caroline, and he knelt beside her, one arm around her neck.
"I—I don't want you ever—to do—what you—think—is—is wrong," she said brokenly, but with a brave effort at steadiness. "I'll—I'll never—leave you—Frank."
She gazed adoringly into his eyes, her hand tight in his. Luella's mouth twitched and she choked as she spoke.
"Oh, Mr. Wortley," she urged, "it isn't that I don't see what you mean—partly. You think I don't, but I do. There's awful mistakes made in marryin', we all see 'em; even 'way back here in the country dreadful things happen, an' the papers—we c'n read 'em, that's enough an' more'n enough. There's things that ought to be changed, I know, but not the way you want to change 'em—oh, not that way! It can't help any, not marryin', don't you see— folks must just take pains and marry more careful, 'cause we've begun this way and now we can't stop without somebody gettin' hurt—and that won't be you, nor any other man. Marryin's all we've got to tie to, Mr. Wortley, us women, an' we can't quit now!"
The boy looked thoughtfully at her: "I—I think perhaps you are right," he said slowly. He appeared unaccountably older; small, worried lines were cutting themselves deep around his eyes and mouth.
He threw back his head in an attempt to regain the old, masterful manner.
"I hope I am too sincere not to state honorably that I—I feel sure you are right!" he announced, "that is, in this particular instance. I have no desire to establish any point at the expense—at the expense...."
He frowned into space; his lips tightened obstinately.
"But it will have to be at somebody's expense!" he cried irritably. "Shall we always go on like this, putting off, putting off, letting this shameful, unsatisfactory state of things continue, just because it would be our wives that would suffer...."
"I guess that's about it," Luella answered, seriously.
"Then all I have to say is, we're damned cowards, all of us!" he cried, with the old flash of rage.
But it was the last time. Beaten, yet triumphant, he stooped for his harness and himself assumed it, with set teeth.
"I—I shouldn't have said that," he said, gravely. "It's—it's a very difficult thing ... a man has so many responsibilities...."
They waited patiently.
"It seems one must compromise—something—anyway," he went on, thinking his way painfully along. "I don't know why it seems so difficult to me now; ... they talked enough, all the others, and of course I shall never speak to your Aunt Ethel again—you may use your own judgment, Dorothy—because there are some insults...."
He shook himself again and drew the girl to her feet.
"Dearest," he said, and there was a sad little ring in his voice, but a strangely kind one, "I—we have been mistaken. It wouldn't do. I think—" he looked anxiously at Luella—"the sooner we get some one—to—to—a clergyman, you know, or a—a legal person of some kind—"
"I'll get Mr. Andrews right away," Luella assured him briskly. "He's Cong'ational, and he's a real pleasant young man—new here. Car'line, you run right down cross-lots to that first white house an' there he'll be, callin' this minute on the Wilkinses, 'cause she told me he would. You say Luella Judd wants him right away, an' he'll come."
"Yes, Luella, I will," said Caroline but her eyes were fastened on the girl.
She was in the boy's arms, her head on his shoulder; she clung to him tightly, shivering a little, hiding her face.
"You don't mind, darling?" he begged her earnestly, "you believe I am doing it for the best? You won't blame me for changing, after all I've said?"
She lifted her head and through her loving gray eyes looked out at him the woman she would be in ten years. A little tender smile curved her lips; she patted his shoulder as a mother caresses her headstrong, dearest son.
"Whatever you think is best, Frank dear," she said, "let's do that."
"I only hope to heaven she don't understand!" Luella muttered nervously, glancing unguardedly at Caroline.
Caroline stamped her foot angrily. Her sensitive little body had thrilled in the girl's arm; she had felt all the pathos and dignity of Luella's appeal, the young man seemed to her mysterious and noble. And now she was distrusted, grudged her free part in this exciting afternoon! She scowled at Luella.
"You must think I'm a baby, Luella Judd!" she cried irritably. "I understand all about it, just as well as you do! Didn't we have just the same thing in the family, ourselves?"
"For heaven's sakes, Car'line, wha' do you mean?" she demanded; "it's perfectly awful the things you city children know! I do declare, I don't think it's right!"
"Pooh!" said Caroline grandly. "I should hope I knew more'n that! Why, my Uncle Joe's own sister, her man that she was engaged to, he didn't believe in church weddings, either, and he told my mother if he had to stand up in gray trousers with those six girls in pink hats and the bishop all togged out and the whole town glaring at 'em he'd run away with Cousin Elizabeth, and he didn't know whether he'd marry her at all! And they cried and they begged 'em, and I was to be a flower girl and wear my white silk stockings, but still they wouldn't. And Cousin Elizabeth cried, too, and she said she'd never feel married in a travelling dress, but Cousin Richard said he guessed she would. And everybody was terribly angry with them, but they just had it in her aunt's house that was paralyzed and couldn't ever go out, and it was right next door to Cousin Richard's father's house, too, just like this! Not one bridesmaid and nobody had any cake in a box to take away. It was awful, just like Luella says, but afterwards we all forgave 'em. They ran off and did it in the afternoon—there was only her father and that paralyzed aunt."
She drew a long breath and smiled importantly at them.
Dorothy put an arm over her fat little shoulders.
"You must be my bridesmaid and my flower girl, too," she said softly.
"You'll go get your father, o' course, Mr. Wortley?" Luella appeared unconscious of the possibility of any refusal, and though he started, scowled, and shook his head, her warning glance in Caroline's direction checked him, and he plunged out of the door.
"And may God bless you both," the Reverend Mr. Andrews concluded unofficially, noting with a certain curiosity, the impeccable riding breeches of the groom, and the bride's looped-up linen habit—he had never married a couple attired in precisely that manner, and he scented romance.
"Your generosity, Mr. Wortley, to say nothing of your father—" He paused helplessly. "Mrs. Judd knows what this will mean to us this winter," he finished. "No, I thank you, Mr. Wortley, I thank you sir, but I never touch liquor in any form. But I drink their health in this excellent iced coffee, I do indeed."
Caroline slipped around to Luella, who sat mopping her eyes behind the kitchen door.
"I wish Mr. Wortley—Mr. Grumpy Wortley—wouldn't kiss me any more, Luella," she complained, "it prickles my face dreadfully. I don't see why I can't go with 'em as far as the Mountain Road—I'd love to ride on his horse. I was bridesmaid—why can't I? Do you think my mother'll let me keep this pin? What did you cry for, Luella? What was it he said to you? He's going to drive me down to the village to write some telegrams to New York with him, after they've started. And then he'll speak to mother about the pin, but we have to get the telegrams written first. Why do they always put it into the papers the first thing, Luella? When you were married, were there telegrams about it in the papers, up here?"
Luella tied on her checked apron and attacked the soiled dishes heaped on the kitchen table; her cheeks were deeply flushed and her hands trembled a little. She smiled affectionately at Caroline.
"I'll drive down with you, I guess, an' stop off at your ma's," she answered.
"No, it wasn't telegraphed 'round much when I was married, but then," with a humorous twinkling of her deep-set eyes, "I hadn't never studied into the marryin' question so thorough as some!"