While Caroline Was Growing/The Ends of the Earth
THE ENDS OF THE EARTH
"Caroline!" Henry D. Thoreau cocked one brindled ear cannily and rapped sharply with his tail on the piazza floor, but there was no other answer to the call. "Caroline!" The insistent voice rang louder; it was a very determined voice. A sleepy Angora cat scowled reprovingly at its violence; a gray and pink parrot mimicked its hortatory note, but after that the midsummer silence settled down again. Only the bees droned heavily among the heavy August roses.
"Don't nag her, dear; it doesn't do any good," a sleepy contralto, rich as creamy chocolate, crooned out of a scarlet-fringed hammock.
"That's all very well for you, Edith, you don't have the responsibility of her. Her father wants her to read a little history every day, and this is the best time—it's too hot for anything else."
"Rather hot for history, dear?"
"It's not too hot for the Moonstone, I notice! She's been at that since breakfast, steadily. Not a word for any one."
"'Moonstone' sounds cool, anyhow," drawled the contralto appeasingly.
"Oh, Edith! You're as bad as the child herself!"
"She's fourteen, dear."
"Fourteen! What is that?"
"Anything but a child, when it's you, Sis. You talk to her as if she were ten."
"You'd think she was, if you saw her riding that donkey—a great girl like her!"
"There it is, dear! One moment she's a baby, the next she's a great girl! It's hard on her, Sis."
"But, Edith—that donkey!"
"Poor Rose-Marie! I rode him myself—bareback and standing up!—when I was fifteen—at a circus. Do you remember?"
The voice chuckled unwillingly. "You always were a tomboy, Deedee! Do you remember Joe's bull fight?"
"And the lemonade stand!" Contralto cried, with a rich swoop of laughter. Their voices took up a happy canon of gold memories; there were no more cries for Caroline.
She was not a hundred yards away from the sister aunts, sheltering under a heavy arbor vitæ, flat on her stomach, her nose glued to the reprehensible Moonstone: that she had heard the calls and resented them the scowl between her eyebrows exhibited. Behind her, patiently at graze, a small, mouse-colored donkey stood, shifting a pair of quaint panniers from side to side and wagging his scarlet ear tassels thoughtfully.
The chapter ended, Caroline rose, peered across to the piazza, nodded to herself at the flow of voices and shrugged her shoulders.
"Good old Aunt Deedee!" she muttered, "she choked her off! Now, for heaven's sake, don't bray, Rose-Marie, and perhaps we can get away. I wouldn't dare get over to the house for a luncheon; we'll have to get along with sweet-boughs."
She slipped the book into one pannier, a cushion into the other and threw a worn steamer rug over the little beast's back; Caroline was a luxurious lounger and rarely traveled without her sumpter mule and his impedimenta. She led him with practiced quiet away from the house and paused under the gnarled old sweet-bough tree: the greenish-yellow, almost translucent globes dotted the lush, warm grass, their languorous sweet filled the air. Selecting a dozen thoughtfully, she added them to the donkey's load, and they went on at a foot pace, through the slowly reddening Baldwins and seek-no-furthers, the tiny lady-apples and the king-of-Tompkins-counties, through the belt of dead, warped fruit trees, blighted and gray—"like those Doré pictures," she murmured to Rose-Marie—down three, crumbling brick steps, where the little fellow picked his way as daintily as a careful lady, and across the dusty road into a pasture trail that led to a wood stretch, sparse at first, thicker as one plunged in deeper. The sun filtered through in delicious diamonds; here and there a resinous pine, steeped in heat, threw out a cloud of balmy odor; a chipmunk scuttered across their path, clicking nervously, only to squat on his haunches and stare beadily at Rose-Marie, taut with quivering curiosity. Caroline scowled at him.
"Rise of the Dutch Republic!" she muttered angrily. "I think not!"
The chipmunk winked sympathetically.
"Your father says it's as interesting as any novel" (with startling mimicry of the piazza voice). "I notice they don't read it!"
The chipmunk's place was empty; only a slight stir among the leaves marked his path.
Caroline's eyes widened, grew dreamy. She leaned her sharp elbows on Rose-Marie's hairy back and threw her weight on him thoughtfully: he checked and stood like a table.
"Do you suppose there really are regular roads through the trees, like the monkeys took Mowgli on?" she queried.
Rose-Marie waved his long, hairy ears meditatively, but said nothing.
"I don't mean in any fairy way," she explained hastily, "but just scientifically. It might be. Corners and turns and short-cuts—why not? they all know them. He may be running home by a back way, now, to call his children to look at Rose-Marie; it's as good as a whole circus parade to them, I suppose. And they talk to each other...."
Held in a muse, she leaned against the donkey; the moments slipped by. She lost all count of time. Her eyes stared emptily at some sunny flicker, some dappled pattern of leaf work; her ears were filled with the forest drone, the mysterious murmur made up of so many nameless instruments that only the Great Conductor can classify and number them. Time ceased to be.
At length she woke with a start, shook herself coltishly, and they pushed on. The wood grew thicker; now and then Rose-Marie had to force his way along the tiny trail; his red tassels caught on the twigs.
"I'll tell you what," Caroline began, suddenly, "I'm going to try that wood track to-day and see where it goes, to the very end. It must go somewhere. Where do they haul the wood from, if there isn't some place at the end? Come on, Rose-Marie!"
At a point where the trail forked she led the donkey along the wider and less interesting way. It was ridged and rutty, and Rose-Marie sniffed disgustedly as he slipped among the gnarled roots; the apples bumped and slid in the pannier. After a while Caroline stopped under a tree, ate three of the apples, gave the donkey two, and resting in an artfully constructed nest of rug and pillow, dipped refreshingly into the Moonstone.
"That's a kind of luncheon," she remarked philosophically, "and now we'll start again. I'll go to the end of this, if it takes all day!"
They settled down to a dogged pace and after an hour, during which the wood grew thinner by imperceptible degrees, found themselves on a relatively easy track that forked suddenly into a genuine country road, stretching far to left and right of them. It was a new country to Caroline; she found no landmarks whatever. The road glared with heat, the dust was powdery, the shade nowhere, once they had cleared the wood. She sighed with fatigue and emptiness; it seemed a long pull, and the harbor far from worth the voyage, when all was said and done.
"What did we want to get to this nasty hot road for, Rose-Marie?" she cried pettishly, shifting from one long leg to the other, shrugging a nervous, bony shoulder. "Oh, what's the sense of anything, anyway?"
Rose-Marie turned a patient, clear brown eye toward her and shook his head vaguely. Gnats buzzed about his flexible ears, and with a swishing fanning motion he displaced them.
"If my back aches," she warned him callously, "you'll have to take me home, you know! Tired or not. It feels as if it might, any minute. I never used to get tired, this way."
A half mile along the road, set off to the left, among cool trees and behind a great well sweep, she perceived suddenly a white farm house. It stood alone, neighborless and well up on a drained, southerly slope; smoke rose languidly from one of its chimneys.
"Perhaps they'll give us some milk, Rose-Marie," said Caroline, "and farms usually have cookies. If there are any children there, you can give 'em rides to pay for it!"
Rose-Marie nodded and they went on with some spirit. As they turned into the deep front yard Caroline almost wept with comfort and a pathetic sense of the wayworn wanderer on the edge of home and rest, so the place breathed of these. Clear and white with the faded whiteness of old New England white shingles, it drowsed under its elms; a fire of nasturtiums smoldered along the broken, flagged path that led to it; phlox and "Bouncing Bets" crowded up among the once formal bed of larkspur on each side the sagging flagstone steps, beneath the simple entrance porch. Old-fashioned green paper shades hung evenly half way down the clean windows; the door stood hospitably ajar.
"Just wait there, Rose-Marie, till I find out about things," said Caroline, tapping lightly on the door. The house was perfectly silent. She tapped again, and it seemed that something heavy moved across the floor in a farther room, but there was no answer. Pushing the door open gently, she stepped in and stood surprised, for she found herself not in the stiff, unused country "parlor" she had expected, but a neat bedroom. A quaint four-poster with a fluted valance, a polished mahogany chest of drawers, a stand by the bed with a Bible worn to a soft gray and a night lamp on it, some faded photographs tacked to the white walls—this was an odd reception room. She hesitated, and again the faint rumbling sound pointed to some person stirring and she went into the next room.
Here was a clean, kindly kitchen of the best; a swept floor, a freshly blackened cooking stove, a row of bright tins. It was carpeted with faded oilcloth, but rag rugs, washed dim and soft-toned, lay here and there, and the room was so large that the spread table, standing in an ell, made only a pleasant episode in it, a certainty of restoring food at needful times.
It was evidently a sitting room as well, in the primitive, clear fashion that groups all domestic life about the central fire that feeds it; a stand with books, a sewing basket, oil lamps for evening reading, all not too far from brick-shaped pans where unmistakable bread rose under a clean, folded, red cloth. The whole place seemed waiting, quietly, hospitably waiting, for just such an empty, discouraged pilgrim as Caroline.
She sank gratefully into a high-backed arm-chair, stuffed to just the hollow of her tired back, covered with a clean, homely patchwork, and drew out the faithful Moonstone from under her elbow.
"Someone'll come soon," she assured herself, and slipped into the story as a hot swimmer slips off his sunny rock into the waiting blue. Another world, a delicious, smooth element—Romance itself—received her, and of hunger and heat, thirst and the fatigue of the road, she knew no more than the blessed dead themselves....
A sharp tap at the farther door disturbed her, and instinctively she called, "Come in!"
A swift, swishing step brushed across the bedroom and a slender, angry-eyed young woman poised like a gull before her.
"Can I get something to eat here?"
Her voice was at once imperious, irritated, unsure of itself. It could not be that the owner of this voice, dressed with that insolent simplicity that need not consider the costly patience of the work-women, ringed like a dowager with great audacious squares of ruby and white diamond, booted and hatted as one who wears and throws away, with a bag of golden mesh on her wrist to pay the price of any whim—it could not be that she doubted what answer she should receive. And yet she did—did, and had before this: so much was evident at first sight. She was a curious gypsyish type, for all her Rue de la Paix curvings and slim, inevitable folds and pleats; a full, drooping mouth in a slender dark face, great brown eyes and heavy waves of black hair. She looked discontented and ready to make some one suffer for it.
"Well—can I?" she repeated, as Caroline stared. "I'm ready to pay, of course."
"I don't know—I don't live here," said Caroline shortly. She felt untidy and badly dressed beside this graceful thing standing in a faint cloud of subtle perfume of her own; her sleeves were too short and her heavy shoes knobby and worn. She wanted furiously to smell sweet like that; and the golden bag—oh, to feel it, powerful and careless, on her wrist!
"Can you find out?" said the girl, eyeing the room attentively; "my car broke down—the man left it in the road and went to Ogdenville for gasoline. I've got to rest somewhere."
"I don't know anything about it," Caroline said coldly. "I'm waiting for someone to come, myself. There's nobody here. I don't live here at all."
With that, and because she was embarrassed and cross and hungry, she opened her book ostentatiously and affected to read busily. The girl frowned angrily a moment, then gave a foreign little shrug of her shoulder and settled herself in a low rocking chair near the bread, her hands loose in her lap. The old clock ticked reprovingly through the hot and conscious silence of the room, but there was no other sound. Caroline could not have lifted her eyes to save her life, and the older girl's lips curled scornfully: her eyelids were sullen.
After a few moments of this intolerable stillness the same low rumbling sound was heard again, this time moving nearer. Something was advancing to the kitchen from a farther room, and as they looked instinctively at the door it pushed open slowly and a sort of foot rest upon wheels appeared; two large wheels followed, and a woman pushed her chair into the kitchen. She was a large, good-looking woman, middle-aged, and not weak, evidently, for she managed her chair easily with one hand; the other held a slice of pink ham on a white platter in her lap. Her face, under a placid parting of grayish fair hair, was rather high colored than of an invalid pallor, her chest broad and deep, her blue eyes at once kind and keen. She wore a neat dress of dark-blue print with a prim, old-fashioned linen collar and a blue bow, a white apron around her plump waist almost covered the patchwork quilt that wrapped her from the hips down: a shell comb showed slightly above her crisp hair. As she faced her two angry guests a smile of unmistakable sincerity and delight greeted them.
"Well, of all things!" she cried eagerly; "how long, 'you been here?"
Caroline waited sulkily for her social superior; the girl was undoubtedly a "young lady." Her errand was soon explained, her question asked.
"Something to eat?" echoed their delighted hostess. "Well, I should think so! I'm just getting my dinner. Of course I'm all alone, this time o' day, but I always say if I'm good enough to cook it well, I'm good enough to eat it comfortable, and I sit down to table just's if the family was all here. There's some that believe in a bite and a bit, when the men folks are out, but I never did. And then—" she blushed shyly like a girl—"I always want to feel ready in case anyone should come. Just in case. He says it's foolishness, but look at you two, now! How'd I feel if I wasn't prepared! And once—in April, 'twas—a sewing-machine man came. I had ham then, too."
She beamed on them, frankly overjoyed in their company, and in the mellow warmth of that honest pleasure the fog and anger in the room rolled back like mist under a noon sun, and Caroline unbent, named herself, and mentioned her donkey and their woodland journey.
"You don't say!"
Quick as a flash their hostess was across the room and peering through the window.
"Well, of all the funny little fellows! I never saw one before, that I remember. Aren't those red tossels neat, though! I s'pose he's tame?"
Caroline put him through his paces, as he came like a dog at her call, and she of the wheel chair applauded like a child at a Punch and Judy.
"We saw so many of those in Italy," said the older girl. "I rode one in the Alps."
The woman's face flushed a deep, quick red; she gripped the arms of her chair and stared at the nervous little jeweled creature before her as if she were a vision of the night.
"Have you been to Italy?" she cried eagerly, "not really!"
"Me? Oh, yes, I've been all over Europe," said the girl indifferently. "Why? Do you like it?"
Now it was the woman who echoed, "Me?"
She flashed a whimsical look at Caroline; instinct taught her that they were two to one, here.
"Why, dear, I've never been out of Lockwood's Corners in my life!"
Simple, rude incredulity pushed out the girl's lip.
"Nonsense!" she said brusquely, "that's ridiculous!"
"Maybe it is," her hostess answered quietly, "but it's true, all the same. I never have." Gold-bag did not blush for her rudeness, for the simple reason that she did not realize it, and Caroline suddenly felt less embarrassed by her. Girls of that age were too old to talk so pettishly to people not in their own families, and she twiddled her fingers too much, anyway, and stared too much, or else, again, she didn't look at one enough.
"You've been to New York, haven't you?" she asked abruptly.
"Never," said the woman. "I've been this way since I was seventeen. I'm a pretty heavy woman, you know, and they couldn't put me on a train very well. So—"
"There's plenty of room in a drawing-room car."
"I guess we couldn't afford that," said the woman simply.
There was an awkward pause; Caroline blushed furiously. How horrid it all was! But their hostess brushed it away in a moment.
"And here you are hungry!" she cried; "the idea! I'll get this ham right on and fry up some potatoes—I'll do them French! I've got some fresh raised-doughnuts—I got the prize for them at the county fair, years ago, so I know they're all right—and some summer apple sauce; 'tain't much, with summer apples, but I put in lemon peel and a taste o' last year's cider—it makes a relish, anyhow; and I've got some fine sweet-pickled watermelon rind. I could have had sponge cakes, if I'd only known! Would you care to try a cut pie? The sewing-machine man said he hadn't tasted anything like my squash pie in years. It was cut, too."
With incredible swiftness she rolled from table to buttery, from stove to larder. As the pink ham curled and sputtered in its savory juices, she turned an earnest face to the girl who watched her curiously.
"Can't you tell us a little about Italy, while we're waiting?" she begged.
"It's full of fleas," said the traveler carelessly, "and moldy old places—it's awfully cold, too. I wore my furs a lot of the time. It smells bad nearly everywhere. Do you stay here in the winter, too?"
"I've stayed here forty-five winters"—she turned the ham capably—"and I expect to stay as many more as the Lord spares my life! I was born here. So was father. Grandfather was born right in the Corners. In eighty-eight we were snowed up a week here. Mr. Winterpine—that's my husband—had bronchitis, and he couldn't get out to tend to the stock. Edgar—that was the hired man's name—was only twenty, and I had to help with one of the cows; I went out in my chair through a snow tunnel!"
She chuckled reminiscently and her guests listened, fascinated.
"We were caught in a bad storm outside of St. Petersburg, once," Gold-bag volunteered. "If it hadn't been for J. G. we'd have gone out, probably. As it was, the driver lost a finger."
"St. Petersburg, Russia?" the woman inquired respectfully, her skillet full of potatoes colored like autumn beech leaves.
The girl nodded. "J. G. swore at the man, so he didn't dare die," she continued, with a hard little grin; "and we just about pulled through."
"Who is J. G.?" asked Caroline abruptly.
"J. G. Terwilliger," she answered simply. It was as if one had said "Edward Seventh" or "Adelina Patti" or "P. T. Barnum."
"He's my father, for one thing. I suppose you know who he is as well as anybody else."
"I never heard of him," Caroline said carelessly, "are you all ready, now, Mrs. Winterpine?"
"He is the greatest mining expert in the world," the girl declared emphatically, "and I don't know where you've lived not to know it. You—" with a look at the woman, "you know him, of course?"
"I don't know anybody of that name, no," the woman admitted; "but then, you know, we don't know much, 'way off here, about city people."
"There hasn't been a daily paper for ten days that hasn't had his name in it," the girl remarked dryly.
Mrs. Winterpine wiped her face, flanked the ham with the potatoes, assembled an incredible array of sweets and relishes in odd, thick little glass dishes, and with a wave of her hand indicated her guests' places.
"We take the Lockwood's Corners Clarion," she explained pacifically.
They addressed themselves to the meal, a strange trio. Caroline, usually a hopeless chatterbox, fell somehow and inevitably into the listener's seat. Their hostess could no longer be denied: her thirst gleamed in her eyes, and flesh and blood could not have withstood her plea for tidings of those distant, rosy lands whose laden wharves she could never see, nor ever glimpse their tiled roofs under foreign sunsets, their white spires beneath mysterious moons. Their clothes: was it true that the French wore wooden shoes? She had read that men in Italy walked in gay capes, colored like birds. Was there water in the streets, and were boats really their carriages? Did soldiers, red-coated, demand passports? Had her guest seen the snow tops of green slopes? Did dogs drag milk carts for white-capped women?
The girl, sulky at first, yielded finally, and in quick, nervous phrases poured out of her full budget. Taken from her convent school in California at fifteen, she had roamed the world with the tireless "J. G." From Panama to Alaska, from Cairo to Christiania, with her uncreased Paris frocks and the discontented line between her dark eyes, she had steamed and sailed and ridden; she had ridden a camel in Algeria, a gelding in Hyde Park, a broncho on the Western plains.
"Why do you call your father 'J. G.'?" Caroline demanded suddenly.
"Do you like 'Klondike Jim' any better? That's his other name," Gold-bag shot at her defiantly.
Then came strange tales of a flaring, glaring mining camp: lights and liquor and bared knives, rough men and rougher words, and in the midst a thin, big-eyed little creature in the hand of a burly, red-shirted miner, with the very gift of gold under his matted hair, the scent for it in his blunt nostrils, the feel for it in his callous finger tips. Klondike Jim! He had made for his Klondike as a bloodhound makes for the quarry; he could not be mistaken. Night and day she had been with him, his first claim named for her—the Madeline— his first earnings a gold belt for her childish waist!
And then, money and money and more money. Rivers of it, ponds of it.
"If J. G. said there was copper under Fifth Avenue, they'd dig it up to-morrow!"
"You must be real proud of him," said Mrs. Winterpine genially.
"I used to be," the girl answered, with her mouth a little awry.
"My dear, my dear!"
"Oh, yes," she cried angrily, pushing back her chair and facing them; "all very well, but who are we? Who was my mother? Who was my grandfather? Where did we come from? Will a sapphire bracelet answer me that, do you think? Who knows us? 'Miss Maddy Money Bags'! How long do you think I'd stay in that convent? Who does J. G. know? Hotelmen and barkeeps and presidents of things! If you could see the counts he wanted me to marry! If you could hear the couriers laugh at him!"
"But think of all the traveling you've done, dear! What things to remember! How happy—"
"Happy! I hate it. As J. G. says, I hate it like—well, I just hate it," she concluded, with propriety, if a little lamely.
Something in the look she cast around the warm, clean kitchen struck the woman suddenly. "You don't mean you'd rather live here—here?" she exclaimed amazedly.
"Don't you like it?" queried Madeline sharply.
Mrs. Winterpine considered a moment. "You see, it's my home," she began. The girl's dry laugh interrupted her.
"That's just it. It's your home," she repeated. "We haven't any. That's the idea. What's the use of traveling if you can't come home? And we can't, ever. Unless we go back to the Klondike," she added satirically.
There was a long pause. It seemed that the girl was slowly undressing herself before them: travel and money and gold bag and scented linings slipped from her like so many petticoats and left her thin and cold between them, warm as they were in their solid homespun of kin and hearth. Lean and empty, a houseless, flitting, little shadow, she had scoured the world and sat now, envious, by a kitchen fire. How strange!
Mrs. Winterpine gathered the dishes with accustomed hands and piled them by a pan of hot, soapy water. Caroline, sobered, rose to help her with the instinctive courtesy of the home-trained child, but drew back at her shaken head and waving finger, and followed her glance toward her other guest, who stared morosely into the dooryard, her chin in her ringed, brown hand. She was evidently not far from tears—in a nervous crisis.
"I wonder if you'd help me with these dishes, Madeline?" said the woman quietly, and with a start the girl rose, stood meekly while a checked apron was tied about her waist and received the moist, shining ware from the plump hands without a word. She appeared to have utterly forgotten Caroline.
After a few moments of rhythmical click and splash, a few journeys from sink to dresser, the tension broke quietly and the air was aware of it, as when a threatened thunderstorm goes by above and dissipates in wind. Feeling this, Mrs. Winterpine began to talk softly, half to herself it seemed, for her voice took on the tone of one who is much alone and thinks aloud.
"All my life I've been crazy for travel. I used to read my geography book till I wore it out nearly; the exports and the imports, you know? And the pictures of those Arabian men with white turbans, and the South Sea Islanders riding on surf boards—I can see 'em now. There was a castle for Germany, with the moon behind it and the Rhine—do you know 'Bingen on the Rhine'? I love the sound of that. And the Black Forest! Think of it!"
She paused with a platter dripping in her hand, her eyes fixed; and so strong was the compulsion of her vision that to Caroline, vibrant as a wind harp to such suggestion, the splash of the water in the tin was the very tinkle of Undine's mystic stream and Kühleborn, that wicked uncle-brook dashed in cold floods over the belated knight in the dark German wood!
"I dreamed once about an Indian temple," the woman went on, "and you'd really think I'd been there, I saw it so plain. Fat priests and that big idol that sits cross-legged, all made of brass, and smiling; and such funny drums and pipes—creepy music. The heathens brought wreaths and stretched out on their stomachs flat on the ground. I'd read it somewhere, I guess. I could smell the flowers, like pond lilies and honeysuckle."
She poured away the dish water, wiped the pan and began rinsing her towels and cloths in a small wooden tub bound with tin. The girl moved aimlessly about the room, fingering the worn furniture.
"That clock looks awfully old," she said abruptly, pausing before a square high Dutch affair with a ridiculous picture of Mount Vernon, wobbly-columned, let in at the bottom.
"Goodness, yes! That clock—why, that clock was a wedding present to Lorenzo's great aunt Valeria—she was a Swedenborgian, I believe. She used to have trances and she could tell you where things were lost. That chair by the window was her mother's. It's made with wooden nails, dowels, they call 'em."
"Did she live here, too?"
"Yes, indeed. The Winterpines are great hands to stay in one place. And the way they come back to die! I'm half Winterpine myself—he and I were second cousins—and I well remember Uncle Milton Winterpine coming home from Java to die in his bed. He was a sailor, and how I used to hang around and coax him to tell me what he'd seen! I remember how he staggered into the house—Mother Winterpine was living then.
"'Here, Esther, here's a fifty-pound sack of Old Gov'ment Javvy for ye, green, and fit for the president's table as soon's it gits ripe,' he says, 'and you won't have to nurse me long;' and we got his boots off and helped him to bed. He never left it. He brought me a parrot, that trip, sort of indigo color and pink. It used to set me thinking of the hot countries and pineapples and natives, and those tall trees with all the leaves on top—palms, I guess I mean. It seems the stars are lower, there, and look bigger; did you ever see the Southern Cross?"
"Oh, yes. It's like any other stars. The first officer on the P & O line always asks me to come and see it. Then he proposes. J. G. plays poker the whole trip. He can't lose. He says it's tiresome."
The strange dialogue went on for what might have been an hour. Far ports and foreign streets, full sails and thronged inns, the fountains of paved courts, the market squares of dark and vivid nations, blossomed from the tongue of this chair-bound woman in her farmhouse prison; and from the blind, unhappy voyager came halting, telegraphic phrases: climate and train schedules and over-lavish fees, miles and meals and petty miseries. No sunset had stained her hurried way, no handed flowers from shy street children had sweetened it. And ever and again she returned insistently to the barnyard interests of the Winterpines!
"See here!" she burst out suddenly, "I'll tell you what I'll do! I told J. G. that I wouldn't go another step with him—mascot or no mascot. He wants to go over the Himalayas—to start next week—he has an idea. But if you'll go, I'll take you! What do you say? My guest, of course: it don't cost you a penny."
The woman turned utterly white. Where her knuckles gripped the arms of the chair they showed a bluish tinge.
"Me? Me?" she whispered. Her eyes fell to her helpless knees.
"Oh, you needn't think of that at all," said Madeline. "I knew a man who didn't have any legs, even, that went round the world and up the Pyramids. He had money."
The woman looked wildly about. Her eyes fell on Caroline and this seemed to bring her into some sort of focus again; the color came back to her face.
"That was lovely for you to think of, dear," she said, breathlessly yet; "but—but—for a moment I forgot.... I—I didn't think of Lorenzo!"
"Oh, we'll get a housekeeper for Lorenzo," Madeline said lightly; "he'll do very well, won't he? One man can't be much to take care of—you haven't any children?"
The easy, equal tone, the bright, dry impudence of this little air plant, this rootless, aimless bubble skipping over the bottomless deeps of life, brought the dazzled woman quickly to herself. She looked compassionately at the girl.
"No," she said gravely, her hands unconsciously flying to her deep breast; "we haven't any children. And he's not much to take care of—for his wife. But he wouldn't care for a housekeeper."
"Oh!" her eyes fell uneasily. "Then we'll take him along!" She recovered herself.
Mrs. Winterpine sent her chair with a swift push close to the girl and laid one hand on her hot forehead, pushing back the thick hair.
"What a gen'rous little thing you are!" she cried wonderingly. "But where were you brought up, child? Lorenzo can't jump and run off to the Himalaya Mountains like that! It takes him a long time to make up his mind. He—he don't care for travel, besides. He's a regular Winterpine. And there's the stock. No. I guess I'll keep on doing my traveling at home. That book you said you'd send...."
"I'll send a dozen—fifty!" the girl cried impulsively. "I'll bring them up from New York to-morrow! I'll bring some pictures, too. The Alps and Venice and the snapshots I took on the Nile! You seem to know how they look, well enough!"
"Yes, I know, I know...." the woman repeated dreamily.
"Don't you want to go?" Madeline urged curiously.
Again Mrs. Winterpine turned white.
"Then why don't you?"
"Child, child!" cried she of the chair, "didn't I tell you he don't care for travel? We can't do as we like in this world—we don't live alone. We're placed. There's a hundred things.... Where were you brought up?"
Madeline's face flushed a dark, heavy red. Her light confidence drowned in it; she dropped her eyes.
"In the Klondike!" she said sullenly, "I told you."
A loud, whirring horn cut through the country quiet. A great rattle of gear and chain stormed along the road.
"There's the machine!" the girl said sulkily; "I must go. It's fifteen miles to Ogdenville, and a vile road. Good-by—I'll be up with the books in a day or two."
She moved to the door.
"If I can't come—I change my mind awfully—I'll send them just the same, and—and—" a curious sense of struggle, a visible effort at thought for another, an attempt to grasp an alien point of view, dawned in the defiant dark eyes—"I'll write to you from India, if you want. Would you like it? I can take snap shots...."
"You're real gen'rous, dear," said her hostess, and wheeling quickly to her, kissed her warmly.
She was gone in a cloud of dust. Caroline and the woman sat in silence. At last Rose-Marie yawned pitifully and his mistress got up with reluctance.
"Good-by, Mrs. Winterpine," she said soberly; "I have to go home. They'll be anxious about me. But I'll come again."
"Do, my dear," said the other; "this'll be a wonderful summer for me, with so much company. Wonderful. He'll be interested. But you run right on: don't let the folks worry. I never had any children, but I always had my heart set on a daughter. Good-by."
Caroline and the donkey walked slowly off toward the wood, which cast cool shadows. They vanished into its depths, and Mrs. Winterpine sat and watched them kindly from her chair, as one watches off the traveler bound for far and golden countries.
"He'd have liked that young one," she said softly.