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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
Sunday evening was apt to be given to social advantages at the Marsh Island. The farmhouse had been for many years a favorite gathering-place of the few neighbors, and in the old days the Owens' tall clock had served as a frequent and formal excuse for the appearance of various sociable acquaintances. A clock of such high rank must necessarily rule all timekeepers of lesser degree by the autocratic sway of its leisurely pendulum; and once in a while somebody would still ask, with noticeable humility, for the right time, or set the hands of a cumbrous silver watch, by way of tribute, in the clock-room.
The elder Owens, Israel and Martha, with Temperance Kipp, returned tired and dispirited from their day's devotions, but a comfortable early supper had refreshed them; and Doris had seemed so entirely like herself that when Dick Dale came strolling up from the garden with his cigar, and heard the sound of voices, he joined the cheerful company without a moment's reflection. A luxuriant growth of petunias, still unhurt by frost, had made the old garden deliciously fragrant, and in the dim light he could see the flowers' pale faces glimmering at his feet. He picked one which gained his special attention, and gave it to Doris as he entered the room. A heavy dew was falling outside, and the company, for almost the first time that autumn, had forsaken the broad side-door step altogether. When Dick had first come to the farm, his presence had been a serious hindrance to the undisturbed flow of mild discussion and neighborhood news, but now, after a slight pause and cordial greeting, he was allowed to seat himself by one of the windows without note or comment. Old Mrs. Bennet, the last arrival, was still out of breath, and presently explained to the new-comer that she always used to walk the distance between her house and this in ten minutes, easy; but now she had to hurry along, in order to accurately compare the difference of the clocks.
Temperance Kipp regarded Mr. Dale with keen eyes. She had taken up the neglected championship of Dan Lester with more decision than before, since she had seen his discouraged face that morning in church. He looked thinner than usual, and altogether was very appealing to her tender heart. Even the news of his increase of fortune had not made him light-hearted, though his mother had exchanged a confiding and pleased glance with her old friend, as she sat in one of the side pews, not very far away.
Dale watched Temperance herself with uncommon pleasure that evening. He had always liked her face, which had a great deal of sympathy and wise understanding in it; for the first time he recognized a resemblance, which had always baffled and puzzled his memory, to Holbein's portrait of Sir Thomas More. He was a little amused and surprised at this; he would have liked Bradish to see her, as she sat in a high-backed rocking-chair. Bradish was very fond of the Holbein. "Ah, well, I must be getting back to town soon," the young man assured himself, and then moved his own chair a little, as if he wished to hear what was being said of the morning's sermon, but in reality to command a better view of Doris. He was not infrequently bored by the theological disputes of Israel Owen and his neighbor Churchill, who was a received authority on some questions, being a deacon of the first parish. This controversy was evidently almost over with. "Speakin' about the Lord knowin' them that are his," said Israel Owen, in an unsteady voice, "it makes a good text to enlarge upon for a minister; but when you come to put it right home, deacon, there's precious few for him to know. Folks ain't so common that bears him any great likeness that he can make friends of. Plenty of us is growing towards him, and kind of stirring about some; but it's a mercy, as I view it, that we've got another life to continue the upward way. If we can only git started whilst we're here, that's about all we can do, most on us."
The deacon grumbled something, which might be an assent, and might not. His own preference was for more inflexible condemnations and harsher definitions of the condition of fallen man; but somehow he never could bring his arguments to bear when Owen took this tone. "I don't wonder, when I look about me, that folks ain't better," the old man concluded; "the 'stonishment to me is that they ain't wuss. When you take in what folks have inherited down from gineration to gineration, and how some are weak in body and some in mind, 't is a wonder a good many is so decent behaved as they be."
But the deacon did not like to think of the practical achievements of himself and his brethren, - the abstractions and distinctions of certain doctrines were a much better liked subject; and he was relieved when a tall figure appeared in the doorway, and Dan Lester looked in, with a touch of defiance on his face.
"Come in, come in, Dan!" said the farmer. "Where've you kept yourself these weeks past? I didn't know but you was put out about something. Didn't overdo, haying, did ye? I've hardly seen ye since. Doris, git Dan a seat. We've got consider'ble of a meetin' here, but there's chairs enough. Step out to the entry, Doris, or fetch one right in from the kitchen."
Doris had risen at the guest's approach, and they stood together in the room for one awkward minute, with the rest of the people watching them. It takes little time for such a neighborhood to scent out the smallest excitement; and the curiosity to know if there were anything between Doris and Dan of an unpleasant nature, or any prospect of a love affair between her and Dale, had led two or three of the guests to pay this evening visit.
Dick Dale had sometimes been vastly entertained by such a Sunday evening gathering. He liked the quaint talk and picturesque expression of the elder people, and had more than once wished that he were a writer, and could profit by the specimens of a fast-disappearing dialect. This night, however, there was a strange influence of excitement and expectancy. He was inclined to resent Dan Lester's coming to the farm in that self-sufficient way, after his late treatment of Doris. He knew well enough that she had been grieved by it. Dear Doris, what a shame it would be to let her waste herself among such unappreciative people! He should like to hear what some of his acquaintances would say if they saw her, - and this irate admirer proposed to himself to go out-of-doors again, yet lingered, because it might appear that he was unfriendly to his rival.
"They always came to our funerals," Mrs. Bennet was saying, in a reproachful, low voice to the other women, "but they kind of hung off about it, too, and didn't step right to the front and jine in at such a time, as the Maxwells did, and others. 'T ain't what I call being related to folks."
"They ain't folks; they're nothin' but a pack o' images," proclaimed Temperance Kipp, in a tone that admitted no contradiction.
Dick laughed at this; the other listeners turned their heads to look at him half suspiciously, yet with great good humor. Presently, seeing that the full moon must be near its rising, he left his seat by the window, and went out. He did not notice the appealing glance of Mrs. Owen; in fact, there was no trace of any such feeling in Dale's heart as that of being driven off the field. He was simply doing his own pleasure, and leaving the good souls to theirs. A minute afterward there was a shout of laughter from the clock-room which made him wince. One naturally thinks one's self the injured subject of mirth at such a moment. Then, as he turned, he saw two figures come out of the door-way, Doris and Dan Lester, who had sat just inside, and who were also tempted to stroll out into the soft night air. As Dick looked and listened, the old farmer and his crony moved their chairs into the square side-entry, and the women passed to and fro in the clock-room, as if they were drawing nearer together for a season of gossip.
The great willows made huge masses of darkness against the starlit sky; the lights in the house cast a network of long shadows before their rays. Dick Dale leaned upon the garden fence, and watched the yellow harvest moon as it rose above the misty shrouding of the earth. The outline of the hill looked hard and more distant than the moon itself. He could hear a faint sound of the sea and an occasional laugh from the house. By and by Doris and Dan came back again. The grass had been wet the way they went, but indeed they seemed indifferent to their surroundings, and went walking to and fro, while the resentful spectator kept his chosen station. He thought that anybody might see him who looked that way, being as conscious of his own presence in the landscape as if it had been broad daylight.
Even Doris, who knew every outlook so well, did not see that any one stood this side of the withered sunflowers. She wondered once or twice which way Mr. Dale had gone; but since his lameness was cured, he had often been out until late in the evening, and let himself into the house after every one else was asleep. He was a revelation to her in many ways, with his knowledge of books and his love for nature. She felt a sense of wider liberty with Mr. Dale than with any one else she knew, and believed in the possible treasures of experience and knowledge that lay far beyond the horizon that she was able to discover.
To-night Dan Lester was very gentle, almost pathetic, but strangely compelling. As he came into the room, earlier, her heart gave a great bound of relief and affection. Now, as he spoke with eager impatience, as he stood close beside her, and she could just see his familiar features and mark his height against the dim western sky, she would have been thankful to find a way of escape. She did not stop to question his right to call her to account, neither did she answer him when he humbly condemned his own wrong-doing of the day before. Yes, he loved her; there was no doubt about the truth of his faithful kindness to her, or his endless care and tenderness, - she knew that without his telling it so tempestuously. She wished he would cease his entreaties. She could not speak in reply; she felt dumb before her inevitable fate when Dan told her of her father's favor toward him, weeks ago, as they were on the south marsh together, one August morning.
The lover's story did not touch her, after all; it seemed quite outside her heart, and could not find a way in. Doris grew more and more weighed down with a sense of this grave business. She felt a strange impulse to throw herself into poor Dan's brotherly arms, and beg him to defend her, as if this distress had come from any one but himself. A vision of Dick Dale's boyish face, with the strange, sweet look it had worn for an instant that day, came to her mind, and gave her a fancied courage and protection. She turned away from Dan with a sigh and feeling of reprieve. "Don't think hard of me, Dan; there's time enough," she faltered, and then hated herself for so heartless a wording. "I must go in. No, don't keep me, Dan. I do think everything of you. I always have" - and the girl's heart felt as if it would break with sorrow and despair. Strange to say, she did not think of Dick Dale any more, but of Dan himself instead. She wondered if he would speak again. Her heart softened, and though he had gone away a step or two she felt as if he were drawing her toward him through the darkness.
Then a thin figure appeared beside them, and hesitated, as if reluctant to intrude. "I guess you two had kind of dry scratchin', coming up the crick this mornin'," said Jim Fales, by way of pleasantry; "tide was pretty low when I see you. I set out to cross over and tell you to land on the pint where the big pitch-pine is; it ain't much further to walk, when the ma'sh is dry;" and he hurried on, being later than was his wont, and anxious to report to his employer.
Doris could not say a word. Dan Lester muttered something under his breath, and strode away. The girl looked after him, took a few steps as if she meant to follow him; then she stood still. "Oh, Dan, Dan!" she whispered, almost aloud. "He is so quick; what made me let him go!" But as love and pride fought together in her perplexed mind, the footsteps were gone out of hearing, down the long road, the long, long road, into the dreary darkness.
Later, the moon was round and bright in the sky; the cheerful sound of voices grew louder, and the guests were making ready to depart. "I guess the young folks is philanderin' off somewhere," said Mrs. Bennet, as she stood on the doorstep. Doris met her bravely, but she was not good at dissembling, and lingered in the shadow outside the door. Dan had gone home, she told the waiting audience; he had to be off early in the morning, as they knew. But Temperance grumbled that he might have said good-night, coming as seldom as he had lately. She looked narrowly at Doris's pale face, and resolved to have a talk with her before they slept. As for Doris's mother, she began to wonder if the girl had been foolish or hasty. Dan would be well off now; and after all, Doris would never like any place so well as the farm, - the love for it was born in her. Dan had treated Mrs. Owen very civilly as he came in, but he was resenting her smiling salutation of the morning more than ever at that moment, if she had only known it.
Later still, Dick Dale appeared. The night was growing very damp and chilly, he told his friends. He wondered what Lester had asked and what Doris had answered, but Doris was nowhere to be seen. The farmer was fastening the doors and windows. "We used to leave everything open in warm weather," he said, "but times have changed since the war. Good-night, my lad!" And so that day was ended.
Notes for Chapter 15
Holbein's portrait of Sir Thomas More: Hans Holbein, the Younger (1497? - 1543) completed his drawing of Sir Thomas More in 1527. Holbein was a popular portrait painter who depicted many powerful and important historical figures included humanists from More's circle. The portrait of More is in the Frick Collection in New York City. Another of Holbein the Younger's major works is The Family of Sir Thomas More, but it was destroyed and is known only from a remaining drawing. Source: John Rowlands, Holbein: The Works of Holbein the Younger (1985). Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) is perhaps best remembered for refusing to endorse King Henry VIII's separation of the English Church from the Roman Catholic Church, for which refusal More was beheaded. (Research: Claire Smith).
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deacon of the first parish: A deacon is a leading church member designated to handle various affairs of the church (Research, Allison Easton). Typically, the first parish would be the first congregation established in a community, and typically this would be Congregationalist in New England. The Congregationalist Church was rooted in the Calvinism of the Puritan settlers of early New England.
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the Lord knowin' them that are his: Among likely biblical texts, a probable one is John 15: 18-19.
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we've got another life to continue the upward way: Owen and the Deacon are apparently arguing a perennial controversy among 19th-century American Christians - concerning the innate depravity of human beings and the power of individuals to "earn" salvation through faith and works. Jewett's most admired characters regularly take Owen's point of view. See for example, the end of "The Foreigner," where Mrs. Todd echoes one of Jewett's favorite quotations from Thomas Browne's "Letter to a Friend" (1690):
Time past is gone like a shadow; make Times to come, present; conceive that near which may be far off; approximate thy last Times by present Apprehensions of them: live like a Neighbour unto Death, and think there is but little to come. And since there is something in us that must still live on, joyn both Lives together; unite them in thy Thoughts and Actions, and live in one but for the other. He who thus ordereth the Purposes of this Life, will never be far from the next; and is in some manner already in it, by an happy Conformity, and close Apprehension of it. <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/letter/letter.html>
It also is possible that Israel has been attracted to Spiritualism; his characterization of the next life as a continued journey toward God echoes the views of the popular religious novelist, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps. See especially The Gates Ajar (1868), which opens with the inconsolable grief of a young woman whose beloved brother is killed in the Civil War.
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Next morning the farmhouse seemed quite unlike the scene of an excitement of any sort. The walls kept many a secret already, and the old homestead concerned itself only in providing a shelter and resting-place for its children. Mrs. Owen was singing one of yesterday's psalm-tunes in a high, energetic voice, and sometimes Temperance might be heard also, in a more subdued key, grumbling out some unattractive refrain of an air she did not know very well. Out-of-doors the apple-picking had begun. The farmer had always looked forward to Jim Fales's superior usefulness at this season. Jim was at this moment near the top of the high fall-sweeting tree, and, apparently impatient with his charge of hand-picking the fruit, shuffled it into his basket with all the haste possible. As he pushed his way, head and shoulders, through the topmost branches, his eyes beheld Mr. Dale at the spinning-room window, near by, and the friends exchanged as cordial and ceremonious greetings as if they had not parted from each other at the breakfast table three quarters of an hour before.
"See here," said Jim confidentially, after having carefully surveyed the world beneath him, "was it you was talking to Doris, as I come in the yard last night?"
"No," said Richard Dale gravely. "No, it was not I," he repeated, gazing with much interest at his questioner's countenance, which suddenly looked like a clock-face that has lost its hands.
"I thought I'd ask. I had some misgivin's before the words had left my mouth," the youth explained, and all at once drew back within the green boughs, and was lost to sight. Presently, with much difficulty, he transferred the clumsy ladder to a tree still closer to the window, and climbed it with an empty basket, as if the path of duty led that way, and no other. Dick was inclined to resent this; the brilliant color of the fruit had delighted his eyes, and there was little of it left, at any rate. He felt a sudden pang as Jim rustled about among the leaves, and hated him as he selected a fair apple and began to devour it with evident satisfaction. "I think there ain't no such crispy ones on the place as them," he announced. "Have one?" and he twisted another from the tree, and gave it a leisurely toss at the window, where Dick barely succeeded in catching it. The invasion of his favorite outlook made him impatient. He put the apple on the window-sill, and took up his book again, as if he did not mean to be interrupted. This harvesting hinted at the spoiling of his beloved surroundings. Somehow, there had been so slight and amiable a change in the landscape and the weather itself, that Dick had not been led to think of an end of his pleasant arrangements and his sunshine holiday. He sighed, as if he were obliged to go back to a veritable treadmill, and presently looked out of the window again. The green old apple-tree, with its flecks of red fruit, had been a very lovely thing to look at against the blue and white September skies, and when he first discovered the spinning-room the apples were little more than half grown.
Jim had been on the alert to catch the least sign of renewed attention, and said softly, leaning toward his listener, "I had it right over about seeing you an' Doris out in the boat yisterday forenoon. Dan Lester must have been fit to swear. He can't abide that anybody should look at Doris but him. We roughed him fearful one day down on the ma'sh, when we was getting the salt hay in."
"He's a good fellow, isn't he?" asked Dale, as carelessly as possible.
"First-rate," replied Jim, with another survey of the immediate neighborhood. "Folks has wondered a good deal that him an' Doris is so slow about gettin' things settled; but land! folks must have something to work over in their minds. I don't expect she sets half so much by him as he does by her, any way," he added confidentially. Jim Fales admired the new resident of the Marsh Island with all his heart. Dale had been very friendly with the young fellow, and seemed, to one person at least, quite the hero; but now he felt that there was danger of disloyalty if this conversation were allowed to go on. His desire to hear all that Jim was more than ready to say was promptly quenched, as he gave a careless nod to the Romeo at his balcony, and retreated to the opposite side of the room. He had been told nothing yet that he was surprised to hear, but an undefined dread arose lest there should be some evident recognition of his own personal interest in the tale.
Somehow, Dick was not inclined toward painting; his interest in that once-absorbing avocation had been dwindling, of late. No wonder; he had never done so many good bits in the same length of time before. The sketch of Doris did not seem so necessary and inevitable as it had once, for Doris herself claimed the better part of his thoughts. Doris as she had looked at him yesterday under the great beech-tree was never to be forgotten, and a strange thrill went over him at the remembrance. She was very sweet and silent and busy that morning, and the temptation came to him to win this little kingdom of the world and the glory of it. He must take Doris away from her own world, - that would be the trouble; he certainly was possessed of no gifts or qualifications for tilling the soil. He smiled as he whispered to himself,
"His highest plot
To plant the bergamot,"
and wondered if, with all his experience and a half weariness and impatience of the fashionable world, he should make the worst sort of country gentleman. His imagination flew quickly about the old farm. Delightful as it was, it might be made infinitely more attractive. Dick almost loved Doris's father, but he was not so pleased with the thought of her mother, though this was followed with a quick self-reproach. He could not disguise the fact that there was a tinge of unreality over all these uncharacteristic visions of himself. He must go away soon, and leave Doris to her true lover. She had looked very troubled once or twice that day. After all, he did not believe in making himself miserable; but at that moment the thought of Dan Lester's triumph made Dick amazingly angry. Why should such a beautiful creature as Doris be degraded into an ordinary country housekeeper, and lose the better sort of love and favor and true knowledge of life? It must not be; the young man's heart beat fast with a new inspiration. If Doris loved him and he loved her, they would face the future together, and his face grew pale as he stood still in the little studio, looking straight forward, but seeing nothing for a moment; then the radiant bubble had burst, and all that was left was the same uncertainty and vexation of spirit as before.
"James," old Mr. Owen was saying under the window, "I thought you had better pick those fall-sweetings first."
"They was covered with dew, sir," responded the defendant. "There ain't but a few of these, and then I'm going back to finish. The sun strikes here earlier," and Jim began a self-satisfied whistling, as he let a slender, unburdened branch rustle back into place.
Dick spent a miserable, wandering day. He felt unpardonably thrown off his track, and as if he must not allow such weakness and foolishness. He might have made a fool of himself on a good many occasions, but, thank Heaven, he had always behaved like a man, and not, as now, like a silly woman. It was difficult even to announce his determination to go back to town the next week, and this distressed knight strayed about the familiar places of the farm as if he were bidding them farewell. It was an afternoon to be laughed at heartily some day, - he knew himself well enough to be sure of that; but a sigh followed this reflection, which was more than likely to be repeated.
Notes for Chapter 16
fall-sweeting tree: a variety of sweet apple.
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Romeo at his balcony: See William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene ii.
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To plant the bergamot: from Andrew Marvell (1621-1678), "An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland." Speaking of Cromwell, Marvell writes:
Much to the man is due,
Who from his private gardens where
He liv'd reserved and austere,
As if his highest plot
To plant the bergamot,
Could by industrious valour climb
To ruin the great work of time,
And cast the kingdom old
Into another mould.
In this case, bergamot probably refers to a kind of pear.
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vexation of spirit: "All is vanity and vexation of spirit." This is a refrain in the book of Ecclesiastes. See for example, 1:14. See also Isaiah 65:14.
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Later in the day Dick came through the clock-room, and stopped a moment to look for a book. There was a noise of strange voices outside, and just as he reached the outer door some one knocked hurriedly, - a fumbling, unaccustomed sort of knock. It must be confessed that he recognized with something like a shock the familiar figure on the broad doorstep.
"For pity's sake, Richard, how came you here?" exclaimed this unexpected guest, forgetting for the moment her evidently exciting errand, as she gazed at her nephew in complete astonishment. "I believe I never was so thankful to see you," she went on, without waiting for any explanation. "We have lost our way, though I was sure that I knew the right turn. You see this is a new coachman" (tone nearly inaudible, but more spirited). "Johnson became so unreliable that I had to dismiss him, after fourteen years' service. I believe we have broken the bolts of the victoria" (louder), "and I was really in despair; I have already walked quite a long distance. Do find somebody to look at the carriage and see if it will be safe to drive home; we have promised to dine with the Chaunceys this evening. You surely remember Mrs. Farley? - May I present my nephew, Mr. Dale? I haven't the slightest idea how he happens to be here, but I really never was so glad to see him in my life."
The very buttons of the new coachman's new coat were surprising to Mr. Richard Dale, but to such emergencies as this he was more than equal. He bowed smilingly to Mrs. Farley, and helped her to alight, and then inspected the damaged vehicle under the guidance of Johnson's successor. "That's a very simple affair," this useful nephew said, with charming reassurance. "Mr. Owen is sure to be able to put it right in a few minutes. You must go into the house and rest yourselves, and I will take the carriage up the yard."
"He seems entirely at home," meditated Mrs. Winchester, as she gave a sigh of relief and turned toward her friend. Mrs. Farley had become somewhat impatient with the needless excitement and fears of her companion, who had been behaving as if they were wrecked among cannibals. She had known real disasters herself, but Mrs. Winchester was so used to a luxurious routine of life that she was quite helpless in anything that approached the nature of an accident. She was accustomed to the opportune appearance of her gentlemen friends, and it was only a repetition of the usual state of affairs that Dick should open the farmhouse door for her when she was overwhelmed with anxiety at finding herself belated on a strange road, a dozen miles from home.
"I could have made the carriage alright, sir," said the distressed servant, as soon as they were out of the ladies' hearing. He evidently thought it best to forestall reproach for his want of resource. "Mrs. Winchester kept telling me the roads, though I knew we were all the time getting too far from home, please, sir. And she screeched with fright when I was getting down from the box. I had a bit of stout cord, too. I am with her only a month, sir, or I'd know every road within reach."
Dick nodded indulgently, and the new retainer held himself in his most upright and stiffly effective position as they approached hospitable Mr. Owen, who was quite unconscious of the town-like splendor of this appearance: and wondering Jim Fales, who was nearly overcome with awe and delight.
As for Mrs. Owen, she had promptly come forward to welcome the strangers, after first having watched them through the kitchen blinds, with a temporary loss of self-confidence. The ladies were much pleased with the simple hospitality and friendliness of her greeting, and presently were invited to leave the sitting-room, where they had established themselves, and accompany their hostess to the best parlor. They had been delighted with the clock-room; but the parlor, which had been refurnished by good Mrs. Owen according to her own mistaken lights, had always been shunned by Dick with ill-concealed abhorrence, and was now more than ever damp and close, and pervaded with the odor of its woolen carpet and haircloth upholstery. The blinds were opened, and the fading light of day entered somewhat doubtfully. Mrs. Winchester grew more and more puzzled. What could Dick mean by being here, evidently quite familiar with the household, and never letting her know of his whereabouts?
There was a light step in the hall outside; somebody pushed back a chair which had been moved out of its place; then a young woman stood, surprised, at the best room door.
Mrs. Farley, who was ready at conversation, and a most sympathetic soul, had been describing their wanderings and distress to her new acquaintance. Now she noticed a new look of interest in her auditor's pleasant face, and Mrs. Owen, without waiting for a pause in the narrative, said, with motherly pride, "Come in, Doris, do. This is Mr. Dale's aunt, and - I didn't catch the other lady's name? They met with an accident, and lost their way besides. Yes, I'm sure it was confusing," she added encouragingly to Mrs. Farley, who showed no desire to continue, and just then met Mrs. Winchester's confidential and most meaning glance and gesture with an amused smile.
Doris hesitated on the threshold; she was never awkward, but who would not have quailed now? She had not heard the visitors enter, but the next instant she had taken her place beside them, and was even busy with thought for their comfort. The place displeased her strangely; these guests dismayed her. "Wouldn't you like to go up to the room Mr. Dale has used for his studio?" she asked, with sudden self-reliance. "I am sure he will want to show you his pictures."
The ladies rose with alacrity; and presently Dick turned from a consultation with Mr. Owen and the coachman to see them coming up the yard. "That was very clever of Doris," he said to himself gratefully, and nodded to them as they disappeared. Mrs. Owen was of the party, and almost directly the delinquent nephew's ears caught the sound of delighted exclamations. Then he saw Doris come down the steep outer stairway of the spinning-room, looking preoccupied, and go quickly by, stopping to confer with Temperance, whose head emerged from one of the kitchen windows.
In a few minutes he saw the fair daughter of the house returning with a white-covered tray of fruit and cakes. These dear, good people! This lovely Doris! He was glad enough when his part of the work was done, and he could join the pleased and pacified company.
"This is very kind of you, to make my shipwrecked friends so comfortable, Mrs. Owen," he said. Dick's aunt thought he had never been so handsome. Doris looked at him, and felt as if he were again a stranger. She had needed only this hint and visible evidence of his previous life and associations to disengage herself, as it were, from a sense of entire familiarity.
"You will have the moon to light you home, if you wait," Dick was saying. "I do not think that you need hurry away. I have told the coachman a much shorter road back. He seems an excellent fellow. I wonder that you risked your life so long with Johnson."
"You should have followed the short road yourself long ago, Dick," said Mrs. Winchester. "But I will not scold you, after seeing these sketches. You never began to do anything so charming. I dare say that I am quite faithless about the new man," she went on, "but since I have found you I mean to lay claim to you. We cannot possibly get home before evening: the horses are very slow; you know that you always make fun of them. Dick, you really must go back with us, and I will send you over as early as you like in the morning."
There was no mistaking the sincerity and insistence of Mrs. Winchester's plea, and her nephew consented, though without enthusiasm. Perhaps it was just as well, after all, and a little later he found himself spinning along the East Road on the box of the victoria. The maligned horses were much excited at their unusual delay, and more than anxious for their supper. Mrs. Winchester's thoughts were busy now with hopes of reaching home in time for her evening engagement, all other perplexities having been dispersed.
"Do you think they would let me have butter, another year?" she asked once, with sudden eagerness; but Dick was sure that he did not know, and she concluded, from his evident lack of interest, that the butter might not be entirely to his taste. "I dare say they would not care to bring it so far," Mrs. Winchester announced magnanimously. In spite of the sketches, she could not help thinking that the young girl's undeniable good looks had something to do with Dick's going into retreat in such a determined fashion.
The western sky was clear and shining after the sunset, and there was already a glow of coming moonlight in the east as the belated victoria trundled homeward. The lamps were lit in one wayside farmhouse after another, the shadows were gathering faster and faster in the fields, and some tracts of woodland were dark as night and cold as late October when they drove under the overarching boughs. The two ladies were very warm and comfortable in their wraps; they leaned back against their cushions, and talked together in low voices about the house and the people they had just left. They were pleased with their adventure, now that all danger was past, and it seemed a great joke that Dick should have been discovered and drawn from his hiding-place. Mrs. Farley kindly took the young man's part, and spoke of his work with admiration, but his aunt amused herself with little jokes at his expense; therefore Dick himself was conscious of a great liking for Mrs. Farley, who was an old friend of his mother's, and had lived in China for many years. Dick assured himself, with sudden satisfaction, that it would not be such a bad thing to go to the East Indies. Bradish and he had often talked about it. Nothing could give Bradish a better chance; it was exactly in his line.
Mrs. Winchester, after a long pause, repeated an accusation about Dick's love for peaches. He had stolen some once which had been procured at vast expense for a dinner party, and he was an altogether unamiable nephew as he turned half-way round to wave a deprecatory hand at his accuser. Aunt Susan was a kind-hearted creature, and was considered very clever by her friends. Dick was obliged to confess that he had heard her talk charmingly to other people; but somehow she usually treated him like a school-boy, and they were not apt to enjoy each other. Why need she hunt up all those silly old stories of his infancy every time they found themselves together? He wrapped the thin lap-rug about his knees, and settled himself into his place, as if he did not wish to be spoken to again. It was strange how entirely out of sympathy he was with this change of scene.
The victoria was driven into its own avenue, after a while. The lights were bright in the great house, and the alarmed maids came hurrying out to hear what had happened. Dick was recognized with surprise, and as the coachman turned the horses away from the door one or two comrades appeared from behind the hedge, and walked beside him, asking eager questions.
"We lost our way, - that was all," said the mistress, in an amiable, clear voice, to the little audience. "Luckily we found Mr. Dale, who had been sketching, and he brought us home. We must have some tea up-stairs directly, and Mr. Dale will have supper presently in the dining-room. Dear me, how late we shall be!" and Mrs. Winchester and her guest quickly ascended the long staircase. It seemed a pity that their allegiance to society did not permit any comfort or rest at that moment. A great fire was leaping and crackling in the wide hall fireplace, and the chairs near by looked most inviting. Dick chose the largest, and pulled it close to the hearth; he heard a scurrying to and fro up-stairs, the doors were opened and shut many times, and his aunt once recalled a loitering maid impatiently to add further directions about his own supper. She had been annoyed because he had disobeyed her command to bring his evening clothes, and had reprimanded him sharply as they were driving homeward. "I am not in any mood for squiring to-night," he told himself, and smiled to think what joy they would have presently in relating their adventure to their friends.
The ladies came rustling down; the cocoons of the victoria were transformed into moth-like creatures of sober splendors and soft raiment. Here and there they glittered and shone, and Dick examined them with sudden interest. There was a thinness and poverty about the dress of those women at the farm, compared with this richness and stateliness. Doris Owen would be beautiful in such quiet tints; the simplicity of true elegance would suit her exactly.
"I am admiring you both immensely," the young man said. "I have been quite unused to such magnificence, you know."
"How charming it was at the farm!" and Mrs. Farley smiled at him in a most sympathetic fashion. "I shall so often remember the spinning-room and the clock-room, and all the rest of it. What a pretty idea to make that your studio! But you ought to have kept the spinning-wheels, and asked the rustic maidens to come and whir them while you painted."
"I am certain that the peaches won the day," interrupted Mrs. Winchester, with conscious unconsciousness and a good deal of emphasis. "It was all very picturesque, but I can't imagine your being contented there for a month or more, unless you happened to see your favorite fruit in a green state, and determined to wait and enjoy it. But I am heartily pleased about the sketches. I can see every one now! I can't forgive myself for leaving that delightful bit where the two little sails are following each other through the green marsh. I dare say you will throw it away upon one of your cronies, when you go back to town."
"It shall be yours from this moment," Dick responded gallantly, while they made little bows at each other. The aunt was very fond of him; and indeed he returned her unselfish affection, after his own fashion.
The ladies deplored the impossibility of staying at home, and waited impatiently for things they had forgotten; finally they went out into the moonlight. "I should never think of going at this late hour," said the hostess, "but they will be so anxious to know what has become of us. I have a feeling that we shall make ourselves very interesting, my dear. They would be disappointed not to see you!"
Mrs. Farley gave her shoulders a little shrug. She did not think these neighbors very amusing, and she was curious to know more about Mr. Dick Dale. She wished that she had ventured to act her own pleasure, and send a regret to her entertainers.
As for Dick, his ears had caught the sound of the sea, as he stood in the doorway watching the ladies drive away. He lighted a cigar, and went across the grounds to a small summer-house, which looked ghostly and felt damp; and here he sat at the edge of the high cliff, and saw the familiar country, sea and shore. The moon was high in the sky; could it be possible that he saw it only last night as it rose above the marshes? That seemed like a year ago. The small fire of the cigar went out, and the world instantly grew large and exceedingly cold; then Dick gave a great shiver, and went back to the house. The servant who met him looked displeased; they had been looking for him everywhere, and his supper was waiting. He had seldom enjoyed a supper more than he did this, but once or twice he looked up, and was obliged to recognize the fact that he had expected to see Doris opposite him, as usual. In the morning he would ask his aunt's advice upon the subject of a proper gift for Mrs. Owen. But that night he made a selection of new books, and marched up to his own room in excellent season. He well knew his aunt's love for a bit of midnight gossip, and he was not sure of his answers for some simple questions which she would be sure to ask. He wondered what was going on at the farmhouse; his thoughts kept flying in that direction, and this once familiar life became a little strange and constraining.
As he might have known, the Owens were taking great pleasure in talking over the surprising events of the afternoon. Doris alone had not much to say. Temperance was considerably displeased because one of the guests had offered her money, just as they were ready to begin their homeward drive. She had refused it indignantly, with the information that she had done nothing to earn it, and a wise suspicion of such unnecessary patronage.
"I suppose that was her way of showing gratitude," said Doris, with a sigh. "I dare say such people find enough who are ready to take pay for everything. They were very pleasant, I'm sure."
The farmer looked at his daughter, as he sat reading close by the lamp. This was the day for the Semi-Weekly Tribune, and he was deeply interested in a political argument, but he did not go on with it directly. Doris was very pale to-night. Something had evidently gone wrong with her, and he accused himself of being neglectful and thoughtless. They had not been so much together as usual this fall. Doris was grown into a woman now. The truth flashed upon him that she was no longer the childish creature he had loved and fondly wished to keep beside him. Dan Lester had behaved strangely, but he was a high-strung fellow, and might have had some foolish notions about young Dale. He would stop and have a word with Dan to-morrow, when he must go through Sussex. Perhaps he would take Doris herself along, and this thought gave Israel Owen great pleasure. Dan was the best fellow in the world, and seemed like a son already. There was no need for his tinkering away at a trade, if he and the little girl made it up. Dan had uncommon good sense about farming, and he should have his way, - he should have his way. A sudden remembrance of the little flag came to the farmer's mind. The colors of it were faded now: May was long ago. The family never had gathered round the evening light, in all these years, that the father had not sadly, and as if for the first time, missed his son. To-night they had established themselves in the wide kitchen, after supper was over. The clock-room was a trifle damp, and for some reason or other a little cheerless.
Mrs. Owen was still revolving the news of Dan Lester's good fortune in her mind, and viewing it in all aspects. She had been longing to ask Temperance certain questions, and she wondered if Dan himself had said anything to Doris the evening before; but she was not yet ready to throw her long-cherished opposition and objection to the four winds. As if she were afraid of being even suspected of these thoughts, she hastened to talk about the afternoon's guests again. "I'm real glad it was so that they saw the parlor," she said once, in a gratified tone.
Notes for Chapter 17
victoria: a large, four-wheeled, horse-drawn carriage with a folding top, suitable for two passengers and a driver.
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haircloth upholstery: haircloth was woven from horse or camel hair.
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the little flag: On Decoration Day, May 30th, Americans decorated the graves of veterans of the Civil War (1861-1865). This holiday is now Memorial Day.
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Mr. Dale was just reflecting that he should soon be very sleepy indeed, and that he had not been awake so late for several weeks, when a sound was heard outside his door, followed by a light knocking.
"Come in!" he said reluctantly, and then almost laughed aloud at the innocence and good-nature of his aunt's expression. "I might have known she would not let me off so easily," he said to himself, and rose from his comfortable arm-chair without a word, as Mrs. Winchester entered, though he looked as if he were ready to be informed of so unseasonable an errand.
"I knew that you couldn't be asleep," declared Mrs. Winchester, resuming her beaming expression, which had been abandoned temporarily, at the sight of the flaring candles. Dick really was as much care as when he was ten years old and her orphan ward. "I thought you must be reading when I saw the bright light, as I came up the avenue. The Chaunceys were really quite hurt because you didn't make your appearance. Dinner was later than usual, - at any rate, only the soup had been served; and Will Chauncey was detained in town, so that there was an empty seat for you next Kate Dent. She is here for a week it seems. I always thought her extremely handsome and attractive. You haven't seen her since she returned from abroad have you?"
"I believe not," answered Dick patiently.
"I see that you have the Village on the Cliff. Was there ever anything so charming and full of color!" pursued the little lady, after a short pause. She was comfortably settled in a low chair, and was taking a careful survey of her nephew. Really, his clothes were much the worse for wear; he looked not unlike a farmer, himself. "I have been telling everybody what a lovely face that old Mr Owen has," she continued enthusiastically. "I wish you were fond of figure-sketching. I should like a portrait of him immensely; just a suggestion of all but his eyes, you know, - in charcoal, perhaps."
"All but his eyes," repeated Dick cynically. "I think" -
"Oh, you know what I mean," she laughed. "Don't be superior, Dick, if you have such a misfortune as a stupid old aunt. I meant, of course, that his eyes are so fine I cared most for that part of his likeness. He has such a pathetic expression at times. A most sincere, kindly old man. He seems very fond of you. What did he mean by telling me that you bore a welcome resemblance?"
"He thought, when I first went there, that I was like his only son, who was killed in the war," answered Dick, in a more sympathetic tone than he had used before. "I supposed he had forgotten about that."
"And the old handmaiden, too. Charity did they call her? No, Temperance! She has an interesting, blighted sort of face. She was very indignant because I offered her some money. I suppose it was rude of me, but one gets so used to that way of expressing gratitude in this mercenary world."
"You must wait until you die to pay your debts to your friends gracefully," announced the host of the occasion, beginning to pace up and down the room. It was a familiar sign of his impatience, but Mrs. Winchester did not mean to be dismissed so soon.
"I never thought of that," she said, apparently much pleased. "Yes, we can give money to whom we like, - it is the way we do the thing;" whereupon Dick came and stood before his aunt, and regarded her benignantly.
"Do scold me," he said. "I know you are tired to death, aunt Susy, but you must do your duty by me before you sleep. I must be off early to-morrow. I have set my heart upon making a few sketches over at Sussex."
"I have always wished that somebody would do that very thing. To me it is the most charmingly picturesque little place. But, Richard, you must surely give me a few days before I go back to town; you used to like to stay with me. And this year, of all others, while Nelly and the children are away, and I have missed them so much, I do think you should not have forgotten me."
"You always have such a houseful of people," grumbled Dick. "Yes, I suppose I can come for next week; or you may put me down for all next summer, if you like that better. Don't be foolish, aunt Susan. You always have laughed at me, but you never must let me make you sorry," and he laid his hand gently on her little lace cap and soft gray hair, and then turned away quickly, and walked over to the window. "What bright moonlight!" he said. "Do go to bed, aunt. Be friendly, and take yourself off now. You have no idea how early I had my breakfast."
"Dick," said the little woman, raising herself to her full height and coming to stand before him, - "Dick, my dear, I begin to think you had better let me have your traps brought here to-morrow or next day. I don't quite like your staying there any more. They're good people and ever so fond of you; but for their sakes, and that nice girl's sake especially, I hate to have you run into any sort of danger. I think it has been a great thing for you in many ways, and a charming experience on the whole; but believe me, you had better come away. I really should be hurt if you didn't come to me, now that I have told the Chaunceys that you have been hiding yourself so near me for weeks and weeks. If you were a girl yourself, I should feel differently; but with your good looks and your fortune, and your way of making everybody like you, I think it is all a great risk."
Dick tried to laugh at this determined charge, but at that moment he felt as a girl might truly feel, not like a man. "I am all right, thank you, dear old lady," he said. "Doris has a lover already, if that is what you mean. Perhaps you think that Temperance is setting her nets."
"Good old soul!" responded Mrs. Winchester, with some spirit. "I won't have you make such low jokes, Dick."
"I like her, myself," answered the young man, angrily. "I like every one of them at the island. If I ever amount to anything, I shall thank those sincere, simple people for setting me the example of following my duty and working hard and steadily. I wish sometimes that I hadn't two cents in the world. I never was so happy in my life as I have been there; nobody ever asked whether I was rich or poor. You have to be put into an honest place like that to know anything of yourself. You can't think how tired and sick I am of the kind of life I have somehow drifted into."
"I have always felt that you were capable of better things," agreed aunt Susan, much moved by the gloomy eagerness of her nephew. "But now that you have had your lesson you must profit by it; you would waste yourself even more if you stayed long on that farm. Think of your opportunities! I dare say you have found time for thought, and I congratulate you; but what are you going to do with your new energy? Dick, dear, I have been a sort of mother to you. I have loved you, and tried to make up for the loss of your own mother. Now don't be foolish and sentimental, and fall in love with that pretty girl. You're spasmodic; you're led by your enthusiasms. I think she is really charming to look at, but she is not a fit wife for you."
"Aunt Susan," and the listener to those exhortations faced about suddenly from the window, "Doris Owen is the most beautiful woman I ever knew. She's capable of anything. She is not inferior. She may lack certain experiences, but she is equal to meeting them. She is a fit wife for any man."
"Oh dear, dear!" groaned aunt Susan at this incomprehensible nephew, "is it as bad as that?"
"Bad as what?" said Dick, ready to fight for his rights. "Come, this is too late a council; we never should have fallen to discussing such things by daylight."
"You must tell me all about it. How far have you really gone?" persisted the troubled woman.
"Gone?" exclaimed Dick Dale. "I have done nothing at all. If you wish to know whether I have asked Doris Owen to be my wife, I certainly have not. And nobody but you should drive me to the wall in this fashion, and question me as if I were a schoolboy."
Mrs. Winchester asks to be forgiven. She trusts Dick, and tells him so. She has never been ashamed of him yet. All these things she says in a matter-of-fact tone, and then bids him good-night, and goes away. Dick does not kiss her, after his old fashion, though she wishes he would, as she lets go his strong hand and looks at him an instant before she flits away from the door, stepping softly along the hall in her light little shoes. A moment after it is too late, Dick is sorry he did not give her the kiss, and then he considers the propriety of his last statement. He liked, after all, to be treated in exactly this way; it was the only bit of home life that seemed to be always his own. He was invariably called to account by his aunt Susan, and as a general thing took his catechising meekly, as became the nephew whom a kind fate had put under Mrs. Winchester's charge through his early years. The time of boyish marauding, of shirking lessons and abusing clothes and tormenting servants, was happily over with, but his misdemeanors were only transferred to more dangerous quarters. Poor Dick! He felt very young and very willful now; it was only city life and association that made him look upon himself as the Methuselah of society.
The sea was dashing against the low cliffs, not far away. He listened to the sound of it until he fell asleep. The waves were calling and waiting, and calling again, louder than before. The great sea was farther away from the Marsh Island, and there the cry of it seemed more distant and dull; here there was an insistence, a mercilessness, in its voice. There was a great pain in such a consciousness of great possibilities and miserable achievements. Was Mrs. Winchester wrong or right? Her horizons might indeed be contracted, but her directions were as true as the compass.
Notes for Chapter 18
Village on the Cliff: The Village on the Cliff (1866) is by Ann Thackeray, Lady Ritchie (1837-1919).
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Methuselah of society: According to Genesis 5:25-26, Methuselah lived more than nine hundred years.
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Introduction Chapters 8-10 Chapters 11-14 Chapters 1-3 Chapters 15-18 Chapters 4-7< Chapters 19-23