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A Marsh Island
Sarah Orne Jewett
This text duplicates the text of the first printing,
Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Company
The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1885
Introduction Chapters 8-10 Chapters 11-14 Chapters 1-3 Chapters 15-18 Chapters 4-7 Chapters 19-23
That afternoon Mr. Dale made himself delightfully agreeable. Mrs. Owen felt more than equal to the situation, and had already welcomed back the burly strength and reassuring cheerfulness of Temperance Kipp. This excellent person had grown up, or been raised, as she would have expressed it, on the farm, and remained loyal now to her early friends, in spite of the enticements of well-to-do members of her own family.
Dick rejoiced in his recovered personal belongings, which Temperance herself brought in from the wagon and placed beside him, urged to this service by an insatiable curiosity to see the guest of whom Doris had spoken. Her opinion was extremely favorable, and after a short time the good woman came downstairs quite shorn of her holiday garb, and resumed her duties in the household. Dick remembered a frequent expression of Mrs. Owen's as he caught an occasional glimpse of Temperance; he could well believe that she was always to be depended upon, yet he had an instant sense that she was not likely to take his part. Indeed one may think himself lucky whose enemies do not rank themselves in overpowering numbers, for woe be to the man whose nature is instinctively at war with others. Dick was so well used to finding himself in harmonious relations with his associates that he was for the moment shocked when Temperance's shrewd eyes regarded him with suspicion, and he at once determined to make friends with her.
By and by, after the early dinner was disposed of, Doris came with her sewing, to sit on the shaded step of the side door, outside the clock-room. The two elder women also kept the sufferer company. He told some capital stories, and spoke with exceeding wisdom and sympathy of certain aspects of farm life; he also praised his surroundings with rare discretion. Mrs. Owen was immensely pleased with Dick. She had an air of being even proud of him, and assured him in a most motherly way that he could give no trouble, and must take his own time about the pictures, and make himself at home.
But the day seemed a week long to both Doris and the painter. As for Dick Dale, he wondered, in the course of his afternoon's entertainment, if he might not be growing gray. He was used to a social aspect of life and to good-fellowship, but they were enjoying each other that day in the clock-room until it was fairly suffocating. Yet when Doris appeared in her cool afternoon dress, slender and shy and silent, his first pleasure returned. The salt breeze that came in from the sea as the sun grew low sent a delicious freshness through the house, and Dale looked out of the window, and wondered why he had not liked the view so much before. He spoke to Doris with gentle deference, quite unlike his frank comradeship with the other women; and she blushed a little as she answered his questions, and then blushed again to think she had blushed at all. Dale could see her from his chair, which was kept from rocking with extreme difficulty. He presently took from his pocket a book which he had chosen when he first opened his portmanteau. The not very orderly but familiar contents of that receptacle had given him a curious feeling of exile with an assurance of comfort, and as he made an evident signal of discontinuance to the conversation, Temperance and her mistress rose and went their ways. Dick would have liked to try reading aloud, but he was not prepared to take the risk of a great disappointment. Doris certainly looked as if she would know the meaning of such true poetry, and he glanced at his young hostess from time to time, and wished that it were possible to stroll through the upper orchard again, with her for company.
When the sun was low Doris came to look at the industrious old time-keeper, and then hurried away up the yard to the barns. Dick wistfully heard the horses stamp and her emphatic commands, and he listened with eager interest, a few minutes later, to a sound of wheels receding, and muffled by the soft grass. Doris must be going down to the creek again to meet the haymakers. Was it her father whom she wished to serve, or the lover, who was also at work on the marshes?
Doris herself was filled with a strange excitement that day. She was finding her own thoughts and actions painfully unfamiliar, and felt as if she were looking at them through another person's eyes. When she reached the landing-place she could not have explained why the bleached grass and twigs, which the hay-boat had kept from light and growth all summer, struck a respondent chord in her own mind. It might be that a weight of inapprehension and necessity of routine was lifted from her consciousness; but whether the coming of the young stranger had hastened this, or only marked it, no one could know. Doris became more and more disturbed; her thoughts busied themselves provokingly with Dan Lester and that fear of danger and impending crisis which had troubled her the evening before. She was not ready to listen to what she was certain Dan wished to say; her anticipation of the future reached no farther yet than her lover's proposal, and by no means made clear her own answer. Presently Doris was reminded of the morning's accident. The stranger's helplessness and pain had roused all her womanly pity and eagerness to be of use, yet something had taken away her power of action, and forbade such traits to show themselves. Her mother had never made her so impatient before. The homely expressions of concern and excitement seemed quite needless; but Mrs. Owen was ready with prompt service and simple remedies, while Doris herself only grew more self-conscious and distressed.
She hated her own silliness, and thought of many things now as she stood waiting at the landing; but the twilight fell before the tired and hungry haymakers made their appearance. Once or twice she climbed the hill a little way, to watch for the dory. The silence of the place was very soothing, and she liked to hear the notes of birds, piping clear and untroubled from a thicket not far away. There were two thrushes answering each other with sweetest voices from tree to tree, and Doris leaned against the horse's warm shoulder and listened contentedly. She was glad that it would not do to leave the horse alone: it is a curious dislike that such domesticated creatures have to being left to themselves in lonely places. At last the sound of voices and of dipping oars came drifting through the still air, and the girl waited eagerly for her father's greeting.
It came presently, cheerful and pleased, and Doris answered. Then she saw that there was an unexpected person in the boat, five men in all, and hardly knew why she wished for some reprieve or defense, and even grew rigidly silent with displeasure. A minute later Dan Lester leaped ashore. "You and me'll walk up to the house, Doris," he said, decidedly. "It's a pretty evening." The other workmen were hurriedly landing their tools; they had not observed Dan's words, as Doris had angrily supposed. "I shall have to ride with father," she answered, coldly. "I must go right home now to help about supper."
This was very unlike her usual quiet friendliness. The young man stood still for a moment, looking at her; then, as she turned, he said, "Good-night, all!" and also turned away, crashing through the bushes as if he meant to take the straightest way toward his own home. Israel Owen looked after him wonderingly.
"I wish you would stop to supper, Dan!" he shouted, a moment afterward, but presently mounted the long wagon. Jim Fales sat in the end of it, swinging his feet, but the other men tramped alongside. The flash of unreasonable anger faded from the girl's mind. She was sorry that she had hurt Dan's feelings, - he was always so friendly; but she had not liked his speaking so before the rest. . . . The sky was clear and the air was very soft; there were only a few fragments of bluish cloud against the narrow band of rose color in the west. Doris could not help thinking that a walk over the hill and down through the orchard might have been pleasant, after all.
Dan Lester heard the farmer's anxious inquiry about some accident that had happened, and presently somebody spoke of the doctor. He was not far away, poor Dan; the thick hedgerow of black cherry-trees and underbrush prevented anybody's seeing him at the other side of a stone wall. "Dear! dear!" said Mr. Owen anxiously, once or twice; and the lover was sorry he had been so impatient, and would have given anything to know what had happened at the farmhouse. Perhaps he would walk up after dark; they might not have been able to bring Temperance back from Dunster, - and Dan hurried homeward along a faint trail of a footpath which crossed the dewy fields and a wide pasture. He blamed himself more and more for not going to the Owens' at once, but there was certainly something strange in Doris's behavior. He did not often make such a fool of himself as he had that night. If Doris's mother were ill, she would have told her father at once, or have sought him earlier. Perhaps the painter had met with an accident, and Dan concluded to have a look at him before an hour later. This kindly fellow was suddenly transformed into a vindictive, suspicious enemy of any person who could thwart his long-cherished love. Twenty-four hours were indeed a short time for a stranger to have gained much vantage-ground, but after all Doris Owen was a woman.
Dick Dale thought the men amusingly curious and excited about his slight accident. By this time it was quite an old story to everybody else. Each haymaker professed to have met with exactly the same disaster, and to be acquainted with the only infallible remedy. As for Doris, her expression had changed surprisingly; she looked hurt and impatient, and when she brought a tray with Dick's supper, she cast an appealing look into his very eyes. He became sure that something troubled her, and gave her more than one compassionate glance in return.
Westward from the farm, beyond an expanse of almost level country, a low range of hills made a near horizon. They were gray in the drought, and bare like a piece of moorland, save where the fences barred them, or a stunted tree stood up against the sky, leaning away from the winter storms toward a more sheltered and fertile inland region. The windward side of the Marsh Island itself was swept clean by the sea winds; it was only on the southern and western slopes that the farmer's crops, his fruit-trees, and his well-stocked garden found encouragement to grow. Eastward, on the bleak downs, a great flock of sheep nibbled and strayed about all day, and blinked their eyes at the sun. The island was a thrifty estate; going backward a little in these latest years, the neighbors whispered, but more like an old-country habitation than many homes of this newer world.
The salt-hay making was over at last. The marshes were dotted as far as eye could see by the round haystacks with their deftly pointed tops. These gave a great brilliance of color to the landscape, being unfaded yet by the rain and snow that would dull their yellow tints later in the year. September weather came early, even before its appointed season, and there was a constant suggestion of autumn before the summer was fairly spent. The delicate fragrance of the everlasting-flowers was plainly noticeable in the dry days that followed each other steadily. The summer was ripe early this year, and the fruits reddened, and the flowers all went to seed, and the days grew shorter in kindly fashion, being so pleasant that one could not resent the hurrying twilight, or now and then the acknowledged loss of a few minutes of daylight. From the top of the island hill a great fading countryside spread itself wide and fair, and seaward the sails looked strangely white against the deepened blue of the ocean. There were more coasting-vessels than could usually be seen, even in midsummer, as if great flocks of them had grown that year, like the birds.
In these days, nobody stopped to think much about Dick Dale's lingering at the farmhouse. His temporary invalidism was the cause of most friendly relations with all the family; his presence appeared completely natural and inevitable. When he had given Israel Owen an excellent drawing made from the small picture of the soldier, there was no longer any question of the artist's being welcome to anything upon the island. Dick had taken great pains with this experiment in portrait-making. He told himself that he was not ashamed of it, either, though he was most grateful for having had some aid to contentment during the few days he had kept his lamed foot still in the clock-room. He was not without his fancies about the portrait's subject; for as he worked he had a vague consciousness of an unseen presence, and some most telling touches were made almost in spite of himself. He thought often of the possible unseen dwellers in such old houses, and as he resumed his out-of-door rambles it was with a continued sense of companionship, or as if another were sharing the use of his own eyes.
Though the mistress of the house had often spoken scornfully of those who sold their peace of mind and parted with all sovereignty and comfort in their homes to rapacious summer boarders, the presence of this quiet and courteous young gentleman in her own household appeared quite another thing. He did not make the daily work seem any more burdensome; on the contrary, he gave a pleasant flavor of holiday-making to her life. Everybody liked to please Dick, and, to do him justice, he tried not infrequently to give pleasure as well as take it; he knew how to confer a favor by the way he received one. To him the situation grew more and more satisfactory and almost ideal. There was a patriarchal character to the family. The gentle old farmer, with his flocks and herds and his love for his lands, was a charming example of the repose and peace to be gained from country life; it all contrasted strangely with the mode of existence Dale had known best. Sometimes he shut his eyes and tried to fancy the familiar racket outside his city windows. The English sparrows in their one smoke-blackened tree had alone reminded him that there was such life as this in the world. He assured himself again and again that he must send for Bradish, his studio partner and best crony, to come and share these treasures; but day after day went by, and still Dick delayed to write. He thought with scorn of those acquaintances who believed themselves bound to walk and drive and dine and sleep only at fashionable hours. They might read the same books, if they chose, and praise the same things as completely as the usual diversifications of human nature would allow. There was nothing so satisfactory as to step ashore out of the great current, - "Things are of the snake," quoted our hero, and was thankful for once that he was busy just at the time when so large a part of the world is idle. Since his student days in France he had done the lightest possible work at his profession, but now he was fired by an ambition to carry back to town some sufficient evidence of his skill and perception. Bradish and other comrades of his own were hard-working fellows, who found the American public absurdly economical in respect to art. They despised entirely that bad taste which allows a householder to pay five hundred dollars for a carpet, without annoyance, and to shrink from the extravagance of giving the tenth of that amount for a good sketch. Bradish, for whom our hero had a sincere friendship, was a generous young man, whose purse was usually empty; and it must be confessed that Dale quietly paid a large proportion of the studio bills, more for his comrade's sake than his own. But he must give the little group of painters some reason for their fond belief that he could do better things than any of them, if he tried; and it might be as well to reestablish his claim to belong to a circle of workers instead of drifting on as a well-known figure in general society.
Besides, there was a pleasing sense of having hidden away from the curious world, and it was wise to enjoy this while it lasted. Dale was much amused at watching the effect upon himself of being transplanted by a whimsical fate into that rural neighborhood. He was well endowed with practical gifts, though one must acknowledge that these were combined in an apparently unpractical character, and a few alterations and rearrangements in the rooms of the farmhouse made it much more interesting than it had ever been before. He liked it too well as it was to suggest many actual changes, but he rescued more than one piece of old Delft or mahogany from ignoble uses, and deeply enjoyed and profited by Mrs. Owen's generous exhibition of her household furnishings. She professed a vast indifference to his most cherished discoveries; it was the farmer whose sentiment and discernment were delicate enough to follow Dick far in his aesthetic enthusiasms. Doris, who watched and wondered, and moved about the old house with gentle quickness, enjoyed this new dispensation more than anybody else. She was made like her father. Some of their ancestors had been of gentle blood and high consideration in the old days of the colonies; her home-loving womanly pride bloomed now in new freedom and delight. What Mrs. Owen had in former years contemptuously spoken of as Doris's notions were referred to and paraded with motherly satisfaction. Sometimes the girl's heart was filled with confusion, because her mother, in some cordial, garrulous moment, unveiled one of the lesser shrines of her own nature. There was a sacred reserve in Doris: her inmost heart could not put itself into speech; she was only frightened and grieved when another dared to be noisy in her sweet silences. As for her own talk, it was apt to be so childishly simple, that those who wished to know her feelings must watch her eyes. With all her shyness, she had a way of forcing one to meet her eyes fully, and the tale they told was remembered afterward, while the words of her lips were forgotten.
There was a studio now on the Marsh Island, - a place wholly picturesque and delightful to its occupant. Dick had early discovered an upper room, with an outer stairway, over the narrow chaise-house, and was told that the women of the family had once gone there in summer weather to do their spinning. In such coolness and airiness, at the edge of the orchard, there must have been almost a festival, as the wool-wheels and flax-wheels whirred and merry voices chattered together. There had formerly been a loom, also, but it had been taken to pieces; and when Dale first explored the spinning-room it was quite empty except for some damaged ears of seed-corn which the rats had rolled about the floor. The artist inspected these quarters eagerly. He looked out of a square north window at the apple-trees and a glimpse of blue water. Opposite he saw the back of the old farmhouse, with its quaint joiner-work half hidden by a woodbine flecked with red; beyond that, past the great willows, was the barren range of hills, already purple in the afternoon light. It was impossible not to return to the family at once with the suggestion of such possible ease and comfort in artistic pursuit. By that time next day, with the aid of some sober-tinted rugs which Temperance deemed the worst of her manufacture, and some ancient chairs that had hardly been thought fit even for a place in the kitchen; with a claw-footed table and a tall cider mug to hold a handful of flowers, the spinning-room delighted even Mrs. Owen. She laughed good-naturedly at the promotion of her disdained possessions, but the fanciful wayfarer stood proudly in the doorway to take a last look, while the good people went away. It was supper-time, and he was not disposed to be late, but he assured himself that such a studio would really make Bradish howl.
There was plenty of material for sketches to be had without straying far, and for some time Dick thought little of anything but his pictures. It was a busy month at the farm, with the successive harvestings; but he learned to greatly enjoy and to depend not a little upon the interest and comments of his housemates. As he leaned back in his chair, late one afternoon, to take a somewhat disheartening view of his work, he scarcely noticed at first that some one stood in the doorway. The sun was low, and filled the little room with golden light. The unfinished picture should have looked its best with such a halo, but Dale pushed back the easel with dangerous roughness, and gathered his brushes with an impatient hand. "Ah, Doris, is that you?" he said, more coldly than usual, and Doris smiled in unnecessary assent.
She did not often appear so interested and so comfortably forgetful of herself as that day. She stepped inside the room, and her face glowed with pleasure at the artist's unfinished work. "I like that better than anything you have painted, Mr. Dale," she said simply; and then, as if nobody need say anything else, she waited quietly, looking at the canvas with evident delight. It seemed as if she had a sudden revelation of the pleasantness of the little room and its contents, or rather as if she had been pleased already by something that had happened before she came to the spinning-room.
"I am very glad," Dale answered, beginning to take heart again. "I tore up one of the best water-colors I ever made, because I was too tired to like it when it was done."
"Oh, what a pity!" Doris whispered softly.
They had grown to be very good friends, though the girl was often elusive, and placed some indefinable barrier about herself. He was not the only person who felt its presence. Dale thought sometimes that Nature had made a mistake in putting this soul into so tall and commanding a body; perhaps Doris would have been more at ease in the world if she had been smaller; the sort of woman whom everybody takes care of and pets, if they have a right. But Nature could work out her own wise plans, and this fine, strong character would be ready to answer great demands as well as little ones. Martha Owen announced in these days that it had done Doris good to have Mr. Dale stay at the farm, - it had waked her up a little; but she would always be just like her father!
Doris was looking her very best, this September afternoon, in a simple white dress which had once been worn only on the finest and hottest summer Sundays. She had taken it for every-day use this year. To-day she had picked up a small broken twig of cider apples which had fallen from one of the old trees, and put it in her belt. The green leaves and the paler tints of the clustered dwarfed fruit, heightened here and there with a dash of red, were most charming, and Dale looked at Doris with great pleasure while she looked at the picture.
Presently she roused herself from her short reverie with a little sigh: "Oh, I came to ask you if you could find it convenient to go to Sussex with me to-morrow morning. Mother wants to send, and we remembered that you spoke about going, a while ago," and Doris looked in his face with childish eagerness. "Mother and Temp'rance and I have been as busy as bees all this week. I don't like to be drudging in-doors, this splendid weather," she added, with a rare little laugh. Dale was always delighted when she laughed; she was more apt to smile slowly and gravely, like her father.
Doris's plea of drudgery was almost unfounded; she was apparently less fettered by duty than the rest of the family, and this would not be the first drive they had taken. Mrs. Owen was only too willing for the young people to be together, and the farmer never objected. Yet Dick had become less familiar with them all rather than more, since he had involved himself in his work, and his first delight at his surroundings had ripened into more practical acquaintance. Latterly they had followed their own pursuits, and taken little heed of each other's. As for Dan Lester, he seemed to have disappeared altogether. The evening of Dick's accident was the last time he had come to the house. Dick himself suspected that there had been some quarrel; but to-night, at any rate, Doris was sufficiently light-hearted. Within a few days she had individualized herself in a strange way; he thought of her a great deal more than usual, and felt a new interest in her works and ways. So marked a growth of sympathy there was that he told himself she had been only a part of the general attractiveness of the Marsh Island at first. He had always liked to watch her, and had enjoyed her charming outlines and her coloring, in the same way that he made the most of the looks and behavior of one of the old willows. Doris was a woman, and the willow was a tree; but that had not made any difference in his feeling except one of degree. He began to wonder what her future would be, and gave a quick shrug at its probable inadequacy to her capabilities. He was curious to see Lester again, though quite thankful to him for taking himself off. Dick had been conscious of an instinctive liking for his rival when he had first entered the clock-room, divining the truth that the poor fellow was showing his worst side, either from some awkwardness or fancied injury and opposition.
The farmer had spoken a few grateful words in recognition of Lester's generous service when he was short of help. Dan was the best ship's blacksmith in that region, the stranger was told; and Doris had looked up, when her father said this, more pleased than Dan himself, who scowled and shook his head disclaimingly. Doris was evidently most penitent because she had offended this friend, and made shy endeavors to restore herself to favor; but she kept her seat by the window when he said good-night, and it was the kindly old farmer who held the flickering lamp high in the dark side doorway, while Dan lingered a minute wistfully, looking back once or twice, and then tramped away angrily down the yard. Doris thought she should see him in the morning, when he came to join the others; but though she was early at the landing, having insisted on her father's driving down, Dan had again crossed the meadows by the foot-path, and was gloomy and troubled all day as he cut and raked the grass. But Doris had done nothing wrong, she proudly told herself; Dan had no right yet to be master; while Dan considered himself more and more aggrieved, and so went presently to Sussex, and hammered away his wrath on the innocent bolts and bars of a fishing smack, but would not be merry or like himself, while many days went by.
Nobody could have prophesied such a complication of hindrances, but in all this length of time Doris could find no reasonable excuse for going to Sussex. She often drove in other directions with her father or with Mr. Dale, who had more than once asked to be transported whither his sketching instinct led him, but Sussex seemed to be forbidden ground. Once she would have gone simply because she wished; now there must be an indisputable necessity, evident to all beholders, and such, at last, was her mother's desire to inquire for the well-being of a cousin of whose illness they had chanced to hear. Dan was so old and dear a friend, she would certainly manage to see him, and to learn why he was behaving in this fashion. The color flamed in Doris's cheeks at the consciousness that he cared for her now in a new way; but it was strange enough that love, if this were love, should make him so impatient with her. All their lives long, they had differed more or less, and it never had separated them in the least. She had put him in her elder brother's vacant place, in her childhood. He had said once that he always meant to take as good care of her as Israel would have done.
But when Doris reminded herself of this, and wished that his feeling might never have changed, a sense of untruthfulness made the wish a not very compelling one. Mr. Dale had often spoken of going to Sussex, and Doris mentioned this to Mrs. Owen, to that good woman's intense satisfaction, and then serenely went her way to the studio.
"Sussex?" asked Dick, in a fretful tone. "Yes, that would be just the thing. I should like to see something new; I am tired of this awkward sham; and while you do your errand, I will try a sketch in one of those little ship-yards. I mustn't scold at this, though, since you are kind enough to be pleased with it. Doris!" - He came a step nearer, and stood before her, looking at the white dress and at the apple-twig; then he gave a quick glance at her face. "Doris, you really must not forget that I am going to make a sketch of you. Your father would like to have one to keep with your brother's, perhaps," he added. "I mean if I can make it good enough."
"Yes," answered Doris, ready to promise anything that day. "There would be nothing to prevent, almost any afternoon."
Dick took his brushes in his other hand. He was unusually smeared with his paints, and felt hot and cross again. Doris might have spoken so, if she had been a sort of picturesque gate-post or a sunflower; she must surely have understood something of what he meant to say; but at that moment she smiled, and was better to look at than ever. "I think you are tired," she said, in an altogether sisterly but quite charming manner. "You must take a whole day's vacation to-morrow, if we go to the ship-yards." But the thought of her secret made the least bit of a guilty blush flicker for one moment in her cheeks. Dan would be so angry, she thought, to see her coming with Mr. Dale, but she felt more than confident of her power of pacification.
Notes for Chapter 9
everlasting-flowers: Any of several varieties of plants that have permanent color or whose dried flowers hold their color and form, e.g., cudweed, immortelles.
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coasting-vessels: Sea-going ships that travel along a coast rather than crossing oceans.
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"Things are of the snake": Probably referring to the serpent who tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3. The quotation is from Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Ode" Inscribed to William H. Channing." See: http://www.walden.org/emerson/Writings/Poems/Ode.htm
Addressing an abolitionist, Emerson writes:
What boots thy zeal,
O glowing friend,
That would indignant rend
The northland from the south?
Wherefore? To what good end?
Boston Bay and Bunker Hill
Would serve things still:
Things are of the snake.
The horseman serves the horse,
The neat-herd serves the neat,
The merchant serves the purse,
The eater serves his meat;
'Tis the day of the chattel,
Web to weave, and corn to grind,
Things are in the saddle,
And ride mankind.
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Delft: Delftware is tin-glazed Dutch earthenware, decorated characteristically in blue and white, but also in multiple colors.
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woodbine: A name given in the United States to Virginia Creeper and to American ivy.
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fishing smack: A fishing vessel fitted with a well to keep the fish alive.
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Next morning Mrs. Owen was in an unusually brisk and bustling frame of mind and body. She gave her daughter many important charges and messages, and treated the little expedition as if it were a most serious enterprise and a special embassy from herself. Dale half repented at the last, when he went to the studio to see his work and leave it in safety, lest a wandering breeze should overturn the easel, and break the corners of his treasured sketches. He liked the new picture now, and felt disposed to stay at home and go on with it, after all; but Doris was already waiting.
Mrs. Owen watched them drive away together with feelings of great pride. They meant to be home by dinner-time, for it was early yet, but who knew what might happen in the mean time!
As Doris had grown more and more anxious about her lover's non-appearance, she had become less self-conscious and more friendly with Mr. Dale, and this was readily mistaken by her mother for increasing interest. Lately the good woman had allowed herself to believe that propinquity, the cause of so many matches, was coming to the aid of this, and visions of Doris's city life and her own share in such real prosperity often delighted her. Sometimes she told herself that she was too old now and too far behind the times to take her part in the affairs of polite society, but the fact that her daughter would not be cut off from them and need not rust out on a farm almost made up for her own disappointment. A woman of more quick sympathies and perceptions would never have duped herself so completely. Outwardly, the frank good-fellowship of the two young people had been deceptive, and the sight of Doris driving her fleet young horse along the country roads, with Dale sitting by her side, had become familiar and most suggestive to more lookers-on than Mrs. Owen. The other farm horses were almost always used at that season, and Doris's had been unruly in its youth, and finally broken and always driven by herself. She was in the habit of going to the village to do errands, and it seemed the most natural thing in the world that she should often take the artist as passenger.
Dale carried a sketching-block and a brush or two in his hand, while his coat-pocket sagged heavily with the weight of his largest paint-box. There were some colors in it that he might need; beside, if he chose, he could stay all day at Sussex, and be driven home at night. It was more than an hour's journey, even at the quick rate the horse went, but there was nothing unpleasant in that thought. Doris was more than ever attractive, and her companion stole many glances at her. She was intent upon controlling the frolicsome horse; she looked eagerly at the windows of a neighbor's house; she thought of anything and everything, apparently, but the opportunity of taking a drive with Dick, whose efforts at conversation and successful jokes were only a part of the general excitement and delight of the morning. Doris was utterly unconscious of her own beauty, if an observer's opinion were to be trusted; her family also seemed to consider it of so little consequence that Dale sometimes wondered if he were deceiving himself, even while he had the delightful evidence before his eyes. It appeared to him that she made little use of her gift. Some women would lay waste and destroy, and others would be an inspiration to poets and painters; but Doris went her simple ways, dutiful, unselfish, and quiet, fulfilling her destiny with no regret at being defrauded of social gains or victories. She would have liked to escape a stormy wooing; if she should ever love any one, she wished the lover would understand, and say little about it to her or to any one else. The changes and events of life had always come to her naturally, as leaves push out of the bare trees in spring and flowers come into bloom. She did not like to speak her gravest and sweetest thoughts, or of her troubles, either; she was self-contained, and did not desire to be won through such harsh fashions. Dan ought to know that she had never thought of unkindness toward him. But now, if he were foolish and put out with her, she would surely go to see him and make it right. She had no coquetry, but she could avail herself of its weapons. She would tease Dan a little with the sight of Mr. Dale, and then undeceive him if he were deceived. Dear Doris! she turned toward Dick at that moment to see if he also had a mind to enjoy the morning's pleasure.
Love is forever a mystery; it is rooted deep in still greater mysteries, and the attractions and repulsions even of friendship are as inflexible as law can make them. Love and death are unknowable this side of heaven, but mankind is ever busy watching the signs of both with curious, unsatisfied eyes, - these strange powers that take possession of us against our will, and make us strangers even to ourselves. Dick Dale sometimes wondered afterward if this morning were not the time when a new motive and affection first took guidance of him. At any rate, he never before had been filled with a desire to kiss Doris Owen, often as he had looked at her lovely face. He was surprised at himself a minute later, but the wish was not to be forbidden so easily. The first leaf of that growth curled itself back into the soil again, having found the weather a little frosty for much flourishing, but the root was already strong, having taken several weeks now to fortify and spread itself unseen.
It was some distance across the sea of grass which surrounded the Marsh Island, and the free wind blew to and fro, as if it came from no particular quarter of the clear blue sky. The autumn haze had disappeared, and the outlines of the low country were clear-cut, and the bright, blurred colors of the vegetation strangely distinct. The bare hills, which reminded Dale very often of Northern Scotland, looked more astray than ever in the landscape. At all times of the year they seemed inharmonious and unrelated to the sea-meadows or fruitful upland slopes, as if some mistake had been made in putting together a great dissected map. Doris slowly turned her head as she glanced along the gray, sad hills. The least wild creature could hardly find shelter in all the distance; there was no reserve and no secret; the hills were like the telling of some sad, unwelcome news, in their harsh insistence and presence. "I used to be afraid to go over them when I was a little girl," she said. "I remember, after Israel died, father would stay there all day, sometimes. He used to say that he must mend the fences, but one day mother made me go and find him, and he just had his head in his hands, and sat there doing nothing. Poor father!" and Doris was silent again.
The marshes had faded since the day Dick Dale saw them first that year; their surface was soft and brown now, and even a cold gray where the grasses had not grown since the salt hay was gathered, - except that the shores of all the creeks were bordered with vivid green, so that the sombre coat of that part of the wide country was laced with green ribbons, and on such a day as this, when the tide was high, was also decorated with broad and narrow bands of blue, with crimson orders and noble decorations, embroidered here and there with samphire. The world was charmingly gay with all these colors and delights, but it was like a merry-making in a tottering and defeated kingdom. A sadness hovered in the air; this was more like a commemoration of past glories than an inspiration and heralding of any that were to come. Dale was reminded, almost with pain, that he must leave his pleasant quarters before long; it would hardly be possible to stay at the farm in the winter; but he need not appoint the day for his departure now, thank fortune!
They stopped sometimes, while Doris spoke to an acquaintance, and often Dick could hardly help smiling at the quaint speech or the character of the conversation. He could not overcome the idea that Doris only played a part in such intercourse, that her natural instincts and experiences were of the sort he knew best, and that she looked at this rural life in his own fashion. He had discovered long before that the Owens were above the common level of society, and their character as a family bore much likeness to the uplifted Marsh Island itself. Doris really knew few people beside her own townsfolk. She had no idea of the vast number of persons with whom those who go much about the world may gain a half acquaintance. She often seemed, like her father, to have an insight into human nature which could have been secured only through some crafty and unnatural means. Yet their simplicity was the most marked thing about them, - their simplicity first, and then their generosity.
Dale had no idea of the real importance of the morning's enterprise. He concerned himself with his own pleasure, and enjoyed Doris's uncommon enthusiasm and excitement as if he were the inspirer of it; thinking once how she would grace a broader life than this, and that she deserved something better than Sussex and Dunster. He did not like her best clothes, simple as they were, so well as her plain house-frocks; he wished she would always wear the little dress of yesterday; but she never seemed quite like the tasteless and often tawdry young people he had been forced to associate with his remembrance of country neighborhoods.
Sussex came into view at last, - a white, irregular village, crowded close to the river, as if it had either made up its mind to embark, or had just come ashore. Doris's eyes brightened at the sight of her journey's end, and Dale's grew a trifle cloudy and disappointed. He would have liked to go driving on and on all that day, asking idle questions about the people and the houses along the road, and hearing a pleasant, clear voice answer him. There was something delightful in the very way her hands held the tightened reins, and one foot kept itself planted and braced. In fact, there was an admirable decision and purposefulness in the girl's manner which made her more interesting than ever.
It was after her usual manner of doing things that she faithfully performed her acknowledged errand first, and Dick was left for half an hour to his own devices, while she sat with the cousin inside an old gray house on the edge of the village. He would have been delighted to follow her, being curious to see if the interior were half as rewarding as he fancied, but he was not invited. He had decided only to look about the town that day, and to put in marks, as he expressed it; then he would come back again later. Dick had more work begun now than he was likely to finish; but as he sat before the old house which held Doris, and looked lovingly at its rain-colored, lichen-grown walls and the adorable traces of successive coats of green and yellow paint on its wide front door, he became again enthusiastic. Why would not every builder give his house one coat of red paint, and then leave all mural decoration to the weather? The very shutters on the inside of the windows were blotched and sunburnt into a semblance of mahogany, and the small, greenish panes of glass made delicious reflections in a sort of beckoning way at him. Yet the time went by slowly until Doris reappeared, and crossed the smooth, short grass toward the wagon. He had not observed the French pinks that grew near the worn doorstep until her dress brushed them as she went by; but then he saw, instead of looking straight in her face, as he would have done once, that a fresh tuft of flowers had blossomed on one of the fading stalks, and he could not help wishing to gather it for her. It might have bloomed at the sight of her, he thought, and then smiled in spite of himself, as he wondered what she would think if he told her such a sentimental thing. Once he had never hesitated at mentioning his pretty fancies, but it makes a great difference from whence a fancy springs.
"Are you tired of waiting?" she asked. "I am not ready yet. I must take my baskets in;" and by the time Dick had alighted to help her she had nearly reached the house with her burden, and laughed bravely at him a few minutes afterward, when she returned. He began to wonder what made her so merry. She was not laughing with him, neither did she seem to be exactly laughing at him, but the secret of her cheerfulness remained her own.
He had not remembered how picturesque and delightful the quaint town was. The high houses of sea-captains, the pride and circumstance of meeting-houses, the business of ship-building, and the almost Venetian privilege of water-ways won his heart completely. There was a long bridge, which seemed like a hawser that held the two parts of the town together, and stray seamen who lounged there in the morning sunshine spoke in voices that had caught some notes from the creak of rigging and sounds of wind and wave. Here and there a half-finished schooner pushed its bowsprit far ashore, and the incessant knocking of shipwrights' hammers was heard in a sort of rhythm, as they drove the treenails and fitted the stout planks, or more gently wedged in the wisps of oakum to keep the thievish water out. There was a strong flavor of tar and hard wood, a clean, dry odor, which contrasted with the dampness that rose from the black sides of the wharves and the sticky mud in the creeks. The tide was going out; the foundation of the village seemed to be insecure piles and slender sea-bitten timbers, between which one could look, as if they were great cages for long-since-escaped marine monsters. Olive-colored and brown seaweeds clung to this old wood, while here and there was hanging a brilliant strand of green moss like floss-silk, shining and heavy with water. In the distance, a high white sail was slowly passing down the thoroughfare that led to the sea. From the rigging of an old schooner, under process of repair, the sharp, childish voice of a naughty boy was calling triumphantly to a troubled little sister below. A bright red flannel shirt - Dale never thought of the man who wore it - was wending its way slowly up the hill beyond the bridge. He did not notice in the least that they were so near a blacksmith's shop, or that they could hear the decided clink and ring of a heavy hammer upon an anvil, while Doris had looked for nothing and listened for nothing else.
Dick wondered why Doris stopped the horse in just that place. There were two large and rusty anchors and other small ones, and lengths of battered chain seemed to have been scattered about unnecessarily. Could she mean to have the horse shod by a ship's blacksmith? And then occurred to him the unwelcome thought that this must be Lester's place of business, which suspicion was confirmed directly by Lester's appearance in the doorway. He was scowling at Dale unmistakably, though he tried to be unconcerned; he did not look at Doris, who had begun to get down from the wagon. She took her foot from the step, however, and waited silently as he came toward them, stepping over the chains. His cheek was blackened by a careless touch of his smutted hand, and he had evidently been hard at work; where his shirt collar had lost its button and was falling open, the fairness of his throat made one imagine he had stained and darkened his face for some disguise. He swung his great hammer lightly, stood beside his visitors like a slender, vindictive Vulcan, and said carelessly, "Good-day, Mr. Dale. Any news, Doris?" as if he were only anxious to lose as little time as possible.
"No," said Doris, "there isn't any news;" and yet he would not look at her.
"Shall you be home this Sunday?" she asked softly, and was answered, with a quick glance from the blue eyes, that it was not likely. They were very busy with the schooner; some parties in Westmarket seemed to be in great distress for her. And at this pleasantry Doris took heart. "We were wondering what had become of you." But Dan Lester answered, in a tone that admitted no further conversation, that he was all right, and she must give his respects to the folks; at which Doris gathered up the reins quickly, turned the horse's head toward home, and departed.
There was a look in her face which Dale was not familiar with, and he did not see it then, though he felt it perfectly. He was sorry for the girl: he understood the morning's excursion well enough now, and would have liked to pound the surly blacksmith with his own hammer. Doris, for her part, felt as hard as a stone. She was rarely made so angry as this, and they drove homeward silently. A little later she told herself that Mr. Dale should not know that she had been defeated in the plan which she had made and cherished through so many happy hours. This was a quick and sorry ending, and she was as much grieved as angered. She thought nobody could tell that anything unusual had happened when she said, in a straightforward way, that Dan seemed to be busy that morning, and reached over to take a small basket from the floor of the wagon. "Will you eat a golden pippin?" she asked, with much composure, and chose one for herself, while Dick knew perfectly well that they had all been meant for Dan Lester.
They were outside the village now, and beyond the sound of either the clinking hammers or the knocking ones. A few minutes afterward they passed a school-house, and Doris scattered the rest of the apples by the roadside as she went slowly by, and laughed to see the children tumble together in a heap over them, while a little stray dog jumped and barked fiercely, as if he claimed a share. The teacher nodded to Doris from the doorway, and at that moment our heroine remembered that this person boarded at the same house as Dan Lester. "I suppose she will go straight home and tell him," thought Doris, more troubled than ever. There was a willfulness in the way things were going wrong. The teacher wondered why Doris blushed. It must have had something to do with Mr. Dale; but she need not feel so grand if she did get him to go to ride with her, just when everybody else was hard at work.
Notes for Chapter 10
samphire: Probably glasswort, a fleshy-stemmed marine plant of genus Salicornia, that grows in salt marshes. The ash is rich in soda, which was once used for making glass.
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put in marks: as in putting in a book mark to know where to return?
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French Pinks: The OED defines French pink in the United States as "the cornflower, Centaurea cyanus, or a species of Armeria."
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treenails: wooden pegs for joining timbers. They swell when dampened, and so are useful in ship-building.
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pippin apples: An apple from a tree raised from the seed and not grafted; a seedling apple, but this name also has been given to several different kinds of apples. (Source: ARTFL Project: Webster Dictionary, 1913)
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Introduction Chapters 8-10 Chapters 11-14 Chapters 1-3 Chapters 15-18 Chapters 4-7 Chapters 19-23
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