From Quaint Courtships (Harper & Brothers Publishers; New York: 1906)
The group was seated on the flat door-stone and the gravel walk in front of it, which crossed the green square of the Lynn front yard. On the wide flat stone, in two chairs, sat Mrs. Rufus Lynn and her opposite neighbor, Mrs. Wilford Biggs. On a chair on the gravel walk sat Mr. John Mangam, Mrs. Biggs's brother — an elderly unmarried man who lived in the village. On the step itself sat Mrs. Samson, an old lady of eighty-five, as straight as if she were sixteen, and by her side, her long body bent gracefully, her elbows resting on her knees, her chin resting in the cup of her two hands, Sarah Lynn, her great-granddaughter. Sarah Lynn was often spoken of as “pretty if she wasn't so slouchy,” in Adams, the village in which she had been born and bred. Adams people were not, generally speaking, of the kind who understand the grace which may exist in utter freedom of attitude and motion.
It was a very hot evening of one of the hottest days of July, and Mrs. Rufus Lynn wore in deference to the climate a gown of white cambric with a little black sprig thereon, but nothing could excel the smoothly boned fit of it. And she did not lean back in her chair, but was as erect as the very old lady on the door-step, who was her grandmother, and who was also stiffly gowned, in a black cashmere as straightly made as if it had been armor. The influence of heredity showed strongly in the two, but in Sarah showed the intervening generation.
Sarah was a great beauty with no honor in her own country. Her long softly curved figure was surmounted by a head wound with braids of the purest flax color, and a face like a cameo. She was very fair, with the fairness of alabaster. Her mother's face had a hard blondness, pink and white, but fixed, and her great-grandmother had the same.
Mrs. Samson often glanced disapprovingly at her great-granddaughter, seated by her side in her utterly lax attitude. “Don't set so hunched up,” she whispered to her in a sharp hiss. She did not want Mr. John Mangam, whom she regarded as a suitor of Sarah's, to have his attention called to the girl's defects.
But Sarah had laughed softly, and replied, quite aloud, in a languid, sweet voice, “Oh, it is so hot, grandma!”
“What if it is hot?” said the old woman. “You ain't no hotter settin' up than you be slouchin'.” She still spoke in a whisper, and Sarah had only laughed and said nothing more.
As for Mrs. Wilford Biggs and her brother, Mr. John Mangam, they maintained, as always, silence. Neither of the two ever spoke, as a rule, unless spoken to. John was called a very rich man in Adams. He had gone to the far West in his youth and made money in cattle.
“And how in creation he ever made any money in cattle, a man that don't talk no more than he does, beats me,” Mrs. Samson often said to her granddaughter, Mrs. Lynn. She was quite outspoken to her about John Mangam, although never to Sarah. “It does seem as if a man would have to say somethin', to manage critters,” said the old woman.
Mr. John Mangam and Mrs. Wilford Biggs grated on her nerves. She privately considered it an outrage for Mrs. Biggs to come over nearly every evening and sit and rock and say nothing, and often fall asleep, and for Mr. Mangam to do the same. It was not so much the silence as the attitude of almost injured expectancy which irritated. Both gave the effect of waiting for the other people to talk to them, to tell them interesting bits of news, to ask them questions — to set them going, as it were.
Mrs. Lynn and her grandmother tried to fulfil their duty in this direction, but Sarah did not trouble herself in the least. She continued to sit bent over like a lily limp with the heat, and she stared with her two great blue eyes in her cameo face forth at the wonders of the summer night, and she had apparently very little consciousness of the people around her. Her loose white gown fell loosely around her; her white elbows were quite visible from the position in which she held her arms. Her lovely hair hung in soft loops over her ears. She was the only one who paid the slightest attention to the beauty of the night. She was filling her whole soul with it.
It was a wonderful night, and Adams was a village in which to see a wonderful night. It was flanked by a river, upon the opposite bank of which rose a gentle mountain. Above the mountain the moon was appearing with the beauty of revelation, and the tall trees made superb shadow effects. The night also was not without its voices and its fragrances. Katydids were shrilling from every thicket, and over somewhere near the river a whippoorwill was persistently calling. As for the fragrances, they were those of the dark, damp skirts and wings of the night, the evidences as loud as voices of green shrubs and flowers blooming in low wet places; but dominant above all was the scent of the lilies. One breathed in lilies to that extent that one's thought seemed fairly scented with them. It was easy enough, by looking toward the left, to see where the fragrance came from. There was evident, on the other side of a low hedge, a pale florescence of the flowers. Beyond them rose, pale likewise, the great Ware house, the largest in the village, and the oldest. Hyacinthus Ware was the sole representative of the old family known to be living. Presently the group on the Lynn door-step began to talk about him, leading up to the subject from the fragrance of the lilies.
“Them lilies is so sweet they are sickish,” said the old grandmother.
“Yes, they be dreadful sickish,” said Mrs. Lynn. Mrs. Wilford Biggs and Mr. Mangam, as usual, said nothing.
“Hyacinthus is home, I see,” said Mrs. Lynn.
“Yes, I see him on the street t'other day,” said the old woman, in her thick dialect. She sat straighter than ever as she gazed across at the garden of lilies and the great Ware house, and the cold step-stone seemed to pierce her old spinal column like a rod of steel; but she never flinched.
Mrs. Wilford Biggs and Mr. John Mangam said nothing.
“He is the handsomest man I ever saw,” said Sarah Lynn, unexpectedly, in an odd, shamed, almost awed voice, as if she were speaking of a divinity.
Then for the first time Mr. John Mangam gave evidence of life. He did not speak, but he made an inarticulate noise between a grunt and a sniff.
“Well, if you call that man good-lookin',” said Mrs. Lynn, “you don't see the way I do, that's all.” She looked straight at Mr. John Mangam as she spoke.
“I don't call him good-looking at all,” said the old woman; “dreadful white-livered.”
Sarah said nothing at all, but the face of the man, Hyacinthus Ware, was before her eyes still, as beautiful and grand as the face of a god.
“Never heerd such a name, either,” said the old woman. “His mother was dreadful flowery. She had some outlandish blood. I don't know whether she was Eyetalian or Dutch.”
“Her mother was Greek, I always heard,” said Mrs. Lynn. “I dun'no' as I ever heard of any other Greek round these parts. I guess they don't emigrate much.”
“I guess it was Greek, now you speak of it,” said the old woman. “I knew she was outlandish on one side, anyhow. An' as fur callin' him good-lookin' —” She looked aggressively at her great-granddaughter, whose beautiful face was turned toward the moonlit night.
It was a long time that they sat there. It had been a very hot day, and the cool was grateful. Hardly a remark was made, except one from Mrs. Lynn that it was a blessing there were so few mosquitoes and they could sit outdoors such a night.
“I ain't heerd but one all the time I've been settin' here,” said the old woman, “and I ketched him.”
Sarah, the girl, continued to drink, to eat, to imbibe, to assimilate, toward her spiritual growth, the beauty of the night, the gentle slope of the mountain, the wavering wings of the shadows, the song of the river, the calls of the whippoorwill and the katydids, the perfume of the unseen green things in the wet places, and the overmastering sweetness of the lilies.
At last Mrs. Wilford Biggs arose to go, and also John Mangam. Both said they must be goin', they guessed, and that was the first remark that had been made by either of them. Mrs. Biggs moved with loose flops down the front walk, and John Mangam walked stiffly behind her. She had merely to cross the road; he had half a mile to walk to his bachelor abode.
“I should think he must be lonesome, poor man, with only that no-account housekeeper to home,” said the old woman, as she also rose, with pain, of which she resolutely gave no evidence. Her poor old joints seemed to stab her, but she fought off the pain angrily. Instead she pitied with meaning John Mangam.
“It must be pretty hard for him,” assented Mrs. Lynn. She also thought it would be a very good thing for her daughter to marry John Mangam.
Sarah said nothing. The old woman, after saying, like the others, that she guessed she must be goin', crept off alone across the field to her little house. She would have resented any offer to accompany her, and Mrs. Lynn arose to enter the house.
“Well, be you goin' to set there all night?” she asked, rather sharply, of Sarah. It had seemed to her that Sarah might have made a little effort to entertain Mr. John Mangam.
“No. I am coming in, mother,” Sarah said. Sarah spoke differently from the others. She had had, as they expressed it in Adams, “advantages.” She had, in fact, graduated from a girls' school of considerable repute. Her father had insisted upon it. Mrs. Lynn had rather rebelled against the outlay on Sarah's education. She had John Mangam in mind, and she thought that a course at the high school in Adams would fit her admirably for her life. However, she deferred to Rufus Lynn, and Sarah had her education.
The Lynn house was a large story-and-a-half cottage, the prevalent type of house in Adams. Mrs. Lynn slept in the room she had always occupied on the second floor. In hot weather Sarah slept in the bedroom opening out of the best parlor, because the other second-floor room was hot. Mrs. Lynn went up-stairs with her lamp and left Sarah to go to bed in the bedroom out of the parlor. Sarah went in there with her own little lamp, but even that room seemed stuffy. The heat of the day seemed to have become confined in the house. Sarah stood irresolute for a moment. She looked at the high mound of feather bed, at the small window at the foot, whence came scarcely a whiff of the blessed night air. Then she went back out on the door-step and again seated herself. As she sat there the scent of the lilies came more strongly than ever, and now with a curious effect. It was to the girl as if the fragrance were twining and winding about her and impelling her like leashes. All at once an impulse of yielding which was really freedom came to her. Why in the world should she not cross the little north yard, step over the low hedge, and go into that lily-garden? She knew that it would be beautiful there. She looked forth into the crystalline light and the soft plumy shade, — she would go over into the Ware garden. With all this, there was no ulterior motive. She had seen the man who lived in the house, and she admired him as one from afar, but she was a girl innocent not only in fact, but in dreams. Of course she had thought of a possible lover and husband, and that some day he might come, and she resented the supposition that John Mangam might be he, but she held even her imagination in a curious respect. While she dreamed of love, she worshipped at the same time.
When she had stepped lightly over the hedge and was moving among the lilies in the strange garden where she had no right, she was beautiful as any nymph. Now that she was in the midst of the lilies, it was as if their fragrance were a chorus sung with a violence of sweet breath in her very face. She felt exhilarated, even intoxicated, by it. She felt as if she were drawing the lilies so into herself that her own personality waned. She seemed to realize what it would be to bloom with that pale glory and exhale such sweetness for a few days. There were other flowers than lilies in the garden, but the lilies were very plentiful. There were white day-lilies, and tiger-lilies which were not sweet at all, and marvellous pink freckled ones which glistened as with drops of silver and were very fragrant. There were also low-growing spider-lilies, but those were not evident at this time of night, and the lilies-of-the-valley, of course, were all gone. There were, however, many other flowers of the old-fashioned varieties — verbenas sweet-williams, phlox, hollyhocks, mignonette, and the like. There was also a quantity of box. The garden was divided into rooms by the box, and in each room bloomed the flowers.
Sarah moved along at her will through the garden. Moving from enclosure to enclosure of box, she came, before she knew it, to the house itself. It loomed up before her a pale massiveness, with no lights in any of the windows, but on the back porch sat the owner. He sat in a high-back chair, with his head tilted back, and his eyes were closed and he seemed to be asleep, but Sarah was not quite sure. She stopped short. She became all at once horribly ashamed and shocked at what she was doing. What would he think of a girl roaming around his garden so late at night — a girl to whom he had never spoken? She was standing against a background of blooming hollyhocks. Her slender height shrank delicately away; she was like a nymph poised for flight, but she dared not even fly lest she wake the man on the porch if he were asleep, or arouse his attention were he awake.
She dared do nothing but remain perfectly still — as still as one of the tall hollyhocks behind her which were crowded with white and yellow rosettes of bloom. She had her long dress wound around her, holding it up with one hand, and the other hand and arm hung whitely at her side in the folds. She stood perfectly still and looked at the man in the porch, on whose face the moon was shining. He looked more than ever to her like something wonderful beyond common. The man had really a wonderful beauty. He was not very young, but no years could affect the classic outlines of his face, and his colorless skin was as clear and smooth as a boy's. And more than anything to be remarked was the majestic serenity of his expression. He looked like a man who all his life had dominated not only other men, but himself. And there was, besides the appearance of the man, a certain fascination of mystery attached to him. Nobody in Adams knew just how or where he had spent his life. The old Ware house had been occupied for many years only by an old caretaker, who still remained. This caretaker was a man, but with all the housekeeping ability of a woman. He was never seen by Adams people except when he made his marketing expeditions. He was said to keep the house in immaculate order, and he also took care of the garden. He had always been in the Ware household, and there was a tradition that in his youth he had been a very handsome man. “As handsome as any handsome woman you ever saw,” the old inhabitants said. He had come not very long before Joseph Ware, the father of Hyacinthus, had died. Joseph's wife had survived him several years. She died quite suddenly of pneumonia when still a comparatively young woman and when Hyacinthus was a boy. Then a maternal uncle had come and taken the boy away with him, to live nobody knew where nor how, until his return a few months since.
There was, of course, much curiosity in Adams concerning him, and the curiosity was not, generally speaking, of a complimentary tendency. Some young and marriageable girls esteemed him very handsome, but the majority of the people said that he was odd and stuck up, as his mother had been before him. He led a quiet life with his books, and he had a room on the ground-floor fitted up as a studio. In there he made things of clay and plaster, as the Adams people said, and curious-looking boxes were sent away by express. It was rumored that a statue by him had been exhibited in New York.
Some faces show more plainly in the moonlight, or one imagines so. Hyacinthus Ware's showed as clearly as if carved in marble. He in reality looked so like a statue that the girl standing in the enclosure of box with the background of hollyhocks had for a moment imagined that he might be one of his own statues. The eyes, either closed in sleep or appearing to be, heightened the effect.
But the girl was not now in a position to do more than tremble at the plight into which she had gotten herself. It seemed to her that no girl, certainly no girl in Adams, had ever done such a thing. Her freedom of mind now failed her. Another heredity asserted itself. She felt very much as her mother or her great-grandmother might have felt in a similar predicament. It was as horrible as dreams she had sometimes had of walking into church in her nightgear. She was sure that she must not move, and the more so because at a very slight motion of hers there had been a motion as if in response from the man on the porch. Then there was another drawback. Some roses grew behind the hollyhocks, and her skirt was caught. She had felt a little pull at her skirt when she essayed a slight tentative motion. Therefore, in order to fly she could not merely slip away; she would have to make extra motions to disentangle her dress. She therefore remained perfectly still in the attitude of shrinking and flight. She thought that her only course until the man should wake and enter the house; then she could slip away. She had not much fear of being discovered unless by motion; she stood in shadow. Besides, the man had no reason whatever to apprehend the presence of a girl in his garden at that hour, and would not be looking for her. She had an intuitive feeling that unless she moved he would not perceive her. Cramps began to assail even her untrammelled limbs. To maintain one pose so long was almost an impossible feat. She kept hoping that he would wake, that he must wake. It did not seem possible that he could sit there much longer and not wake; and yet the night was so hot — hot, probably, even in the great square rooms of the old Ware house. It was quite natural that he should prefer sleeping there in the cool out-of-doors if he could, but an unreasoning rage seized upon her that he should. She rebelled against the very freedom in another which she had always coveted for herself.
And still he sat there, as white and beautiful and motionless as a statue, and still she kept her enforced attitude. She suffered tortures, but she said to herself that she would not yield, that she would not move. Rather than have that man discover her at that hour in his garden, she would suffer everything. It did not occur to her that possibly this suffering might have consequences which she did not foresee. All that she considered was a simple question of endurance; but all at once her head swam, and she sank down at the feet of the hollyhocks like a broken flower herself. She had completely lost consciousness.
When she came to herself she was lying on the back porch of the old Ware house and a pile of pillows was under her head, and she had a confused impression of vanishing woman draperies, which later on she thought she must have been mistaken about, as she knew, of course, that there was no woman there. Hyacinthus Ware himself was bending over her and fanning her with a great fan of peacock feathers, and the old caretaker had a little glass of wine on a tray. The first thing Sarah heard was Hyacinthus's voice, evenly modulated, with a curious stillness about it.
“I think if you can drink a little of this wine,” he said, “you will feel better.”
Sarah looked up at the face looking down at her, and all at once a conviction seized upon her that he had not been asleep at all; that he had pretended to be so, and had been enjoying himself at her expense, simply waiting to see how long she would stand there. He probably thought that she — she, Sarah Lynn — had come into his garden at midnight to see him. A sudden fury seized upon her, but when she tried to raise herself she found that she could not. Then she reached out her hand for the wine, and drank it with a fierce gulp, spilling some of it over her dress. It affected her almost instantly. She raised herself, the wine giving her strength, and she looked with a haughty anger at the man, whose expression seemed something between compassion and mocking.
“You saw me all the time,” she said. “You did, I know you did, and you let me think you were asleep to see how long I would stand still there, and you think — you think — I was sitting on my door-step — I live in the next house — and it was very warm in the house, so I came out again and I smelled the lilies over the hedge, and — and — I did not think of you at all.” She was quite on her feet then, and she looked at him with her head thrown back with an air of challenge. “I thought I would like to come over here in the garden,” she continued, in the same angrily excusing tone, “and I did not dream of seeing any one. It was so late, I thought the house would be closed, and when I saw you I thought you were asleep.”
The man began to look genuinely compassionate; the half-smile faded from his lips. “I understand,” he said.
“And I thought if I moved you would wake and see me, and you were awake all the time. You knew all the time, and you waited for me to stand there and feel as I did. I never dreamed a man could be so cruel.”
“I beg your pardon with all my heart,” began Hyacinthus Ware.
But the girl was gone. She staggered a little as she ran, leaping over the box borders. When she was at last in her own home, with the door softly closed and locked behind her, and she was in the parlor bedroom, she could not believe that she was herself. She began to look at things differently. The influence of the intergeneration waned. She thought how her mother would never have done such a thing when she was a girl, how shocked she would be if she knew, and she herself was as shocked as her mother would have been.
It was only a week from the night of the garden episode that Mr. Ware came to make a call, and he came with the minister, who had been an old friend of his father's.
She lay awake a long time that night, thinking with angry humiliation how her mother wanted her to marry John Mangam, and she thought of Mr. Hyacinthus Ware and his polished, gentle manner, which was yet strong. Then all at once a feeling which she had never known before came over her. She saw quite plainly before her, in the moonlit dusk of the room, Hyacinthus Ware's face, and she felt that she could go down on her knees before him and worship him.
“Never was such a man,” she said to herself. “Never was a man so beautiful and so good. He is not like other men.”
It was not so much love as devotion which possessed her. She looked out of her little window opposite the bed, at the moonlit night, for the storm had cleared the air. She had the window open and a cool wind was blowing through the room. She looked out at the silver-lit immensity of the sky, and a feeling of exaltation came over her. She thought of Hyacinthus as she might have thought of a divinity. Love and marriage were hardly within her imagination in connection with him. But they came later.
Ware quite often called at the Lynn house. He often joined the group on the door-step in the summer nights. He often came when John Mangam occupied his usual chair in his usual place, and his graceful urbanity on such occasions seemed to make more evident the other man's stolid or stupid silence. Hyacinthus and Sarah usually had the most of the conversation to themselves, as even Mrs. Lynn and the old woman, who were not backward in speech, were at a loss to discuss many of the topics introduced. One evening, after they had all gone home, Mrs. Lynn looked fiercely at her daughter as she turned, holding her little lamp, which cast a glorifying reflection upon her face, into the parlor whence led her little bedroom.
“You are a good-for-nothin' girl,” she said. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
“What do you mean, mother?” asked Sarah. She stood fair and white, confronting her mother, who was burning and coarse with wrath.
“You talk about things you and him know that the rest of us can't talk about. You take advantage because your father and me sent you to school where you could learn more than we could. It wasn't my fault I didn't go to school, and 'twa'n't his fault, poor man. He had to go to work and get all that money he has.” By the last masculine pronoun Mrs. Lynn meant John Mangam.
Sarah had a spirit of her own, and she turned upon her mother, and for the time the two faces looked alike, being swayed with one emotion. “If,” she said, “Mr. Ware and I had to regulate our conversation in order to enable Mr. Mangam to talk with us, I am sure I don't know what we could say. Mr. Mangam never talks, anyway.”
“It ain't always the folks that talks that knows the most and is the best,” said Mrs. Lynn. Then her face upon her daughter's turned malevolent, triumphant, and cruel. “I wa'n't goin' to tell you what I heard when I was in Mis' Ketchum's this afternoon,” she said. “I thought at first I wouldn't, but now I'm goin' to.”
“What do you mean, mother?” asked Sarah, in an angry voice; but she quailed.
“I thought at first I wouldn't,” her mother continued, pitilessly, “but I see to-night how things are goin'.”
“What do you mean by that, mother?”
“I see that you are fool enough to get to likin' a man that has got the gift of the gab, and that you think is good-lookin', and that wears clothes made in the city, better than a good honest feller that we have all known about ever since he was born, and that ain't got no outlandish blood in him, neither.”
“You needn't say mother that way. I ain't a fool, if I haven't been to school like some folks, and I see the way you two looked at each other to-night right before that poor man that has been comin' here steady and means honorable.”
“Nobody asked or wanted him to come,” said Sarah.
“Maybe you'll change your mind when you hear what I've got to tell you. And I'm goin' to tell you. Hyacinthus Ware has got a woman livin' over there in that house.”
Sarah turned ghastly pale, but she spoke firmly. “You mean he is married?” she said.
“I dun'no' whether he is married or not, but there is a woman livin' there.”
“I don't believe a word of it.”
“It don't make no odds whether you believe it or not, she's there.”
“I don't believe it.”
“She's been seed.”
“Who has seen her.”
“Abby Jane Ketchum herself, when she went round to the back door day before yesterday afternoon to ask if Mr. Ware would buy some of her soap. You know she's sellin' soap to get a prize.”
“Where was the woman?”
“She was sittin' on the back porch with Mr. Ware, and she up and run when she see Abby Jane, and Mr. Ware turned as white as a sheet, and he bought all the soap Abby Jane had left to git out of it, so she's got enough to get a side-board for a prize. And Abby Jane she kept her eyes open and she see a blind close in the southwest chamber, and that's where the woman sleeps.”
“What kind of a looking woman was she?” asked Sarah, in a strange voice.
“As handsome as a picture, Abby Jane said, and she had on an awful stylish dress. Now if you want to have men like that comin' here to see you, and want to make more of them than you do of a man that you know is all right and is good and honest, you can.”
There was something about the girl's face, as she turned away without a word, that smote her mother's heart. “I felt as if I had to tell you, Sarah,” she said, in a voice which was suddenly changed to pity and apology.
“You did perfectly right to tell me, mother,” said Sarah. When at last she got in her little bedroom she scarcely knew her own face in the glass. Hyacinthus Ware had kissed that face the night before, and ever since the memory of it had seemed like a lamp in her heart. She had met him when she was coming home from the post-office after dark, and he had kissed her at the gate and told her he loved her, and she expected, of course, to marry him. Even now she could not bring herself to entirely doubt him. “Suppose there is a woman there,” she said to herself, “what does it prove?” But she felt in her inmost heart that it did prove a good deal.
She remembered just how Hyacinthus looked when he spoke to her; there had been something almost childlike in his face. She could not believe, and yet in the face of all this evidence! If there was a woman living in the house with him, why had he kept it secret? Suddenly it occurred to her that she could go over in the garden and see for herself. It was a bright moonlight night and not yet late. If the woman was there, if she inhabited the southwest chamber, there might be some sign of her. Sarah placed her lamp on her bureau, gathered her skirts around her, and ran swiftly out into the night. She hurried stealthily through the garden. The lilies were gone, but there was still a strong breath of sweetness, a bouquet, as it were, of mignonette and verbena and sweet thyme and other fragrant blossoms, and the hollyhocks still bloomed. She went very carefully when she reached the last enclosure of box; she peeped through the tall file of hollyhocks, and there was Hyacinthus on the porch and there was a woman beside him. In fact, the woman was sitting in the old chair and Hyacinthus was at her feet, on the step, with his head in her lap. The moon shone on them; they looked as if they were carved with marble.
Sarah never knew how she got home, but she was back there in her little room and nobody knew that she had been in the Ware garden except herself. The next morning she had a talk with her mother. “Mother,” said she, “if Mr. John Mangam wants to marry me why doesn't he say so?” She was fairly brutal in her manner of putting the question. She did not change color in the least. She was very pale that morning, and she stood more like her mother and her great-grandmother than herself.
Mrs. Lynn looked at her, and she was almost shocked. “Why, Sarah Lynn!” she gasped.
“I mean just what I say,” said Sarah, firmly. “I want to know. John Mangam has been coming here steadily for nearly two years, and he never even says a word, much less asks me to marry him. Does he expect me to do it?”
“I suppose he thinks you might at least meet him half-way,” said her mother, confusedly.
That afternoon she went over to Mrs. Wilford Biggs's, and the next night, it being John Mangam's night to call, Mrs. Biggs waylaid him as he was just about to cross the street to the Lynn house.
After a short conversation Mrs. Biggs and her brother crossed the street together, and it was not long before Mrs. Lynn asked Mrs. Biggs and the old grandmother, who had also come over, to go in the house and see her new black silk dress. Then it was that John Mangam mumbled something inarticulate, which Sarah translated into an offer of marriage. “Very well, I will marry you if you want me to, Mr. Mangam,” she said. “I don't love you at all, but if you don't mind about that —”
John Mangam said nothing at all.
“If you don't mind that, I will marry you,” said Sarah, and nobody would have known her voice. It was a voice to be ashamed of, full of despair and shame and pride, so wronged and mangled that her very spirit seemed violated.
John Mangam said nothing then. She and the man sat there quite still, when Hyacinthus came stepping over the hedge.
Sarah found a voice when she saw him. She turned to him. “Good evening, Mr. Ware,” she said, clearly. “I would like to announce my engagement to Mr. Mangam.”
Hyacinthus stood staring at her. Sarah repeated her announcement. Then Hyacinthus Ware disregarded John Mangam as much as if he had been a post of the white fence that enclosed the Lynn yard. “What does it mean?” he cried.
“You have no right to ask,” said she, also disregarding John Mangam, who sat perfectly still in his chair.
“No right to ask after — Sarah, what do you mean? Why have I no right to ask, after what we told each other? — and I intended to see your mother to-night. I only waited because —”
“Because you had a guest in the house,” said Sarah, in a cold, low voice. Then John Mangam looked up with some show of animation. He had heard the gossip.
Hyacinthus looked at her a moment, speechless, then he left her without another word and went home across the hedge.
It was soon told in Adams that Sarah Lynn and John Mangam were to be married. Everybody agreed that it was a good match and that Sarah was a lucky girl. She went on with her wedding preparations. John Mangam came as usual and sat silently. Sometimes when Sarah looked at him and reflected that she would have to pass her life with this automaton a sort of madness seized her.
Hyacinthus she almost never saw. Once in a great while she met him on the street, and he bowed, raising his hat silently. He never made the slightest attempt at explanation.
One night, after supper, Sarah and her mother sat on the front door-step, and by and by the old grandmother came across the fields, and Mrs. Wilford Biggs across the street, and Mr. John Mangam from his own house farther down. He looked preoccupied and worried that night, and while he was as silent as ever, yet his silence had the effect of speech.
They sat in their customary places: Mrs. Lynn and Mrs. Biggs in the chairs on the broad step-stone, Sarah and the old woman on the step, and Mr. John Mangam in his chair on the gravel path, — when a strange lady came stepping across the hedge from the Ware garden. She was not so very young, although she was undeniably very handsome, and her clothes were of a fashion never seen in Adams. She went straight up to the group on the door-step, and although she had too much poise of manner to appear agitated, it was evident that she was very eager and very much in earnest. Mrs. Lynn half arose, with an idea of giving her a chair, but there was no time, the lady began talking so at once.
“You are Miss Sarah Lynn, are you not?” she asked of Sarah, and she did not wait for a reply, “and you are going to be married to him?” and there was an unmistakable emphasis of scorn.
“I have just returned,” said the lady; “I have not been in the house half an hour, and my father told me. You do not know, but the gentleman who has lived so long in the Ware house, the caretaker, is my father, and — and my mother was Hyacinthus's mother; her second marriage was secret, and he would never tell. My father and my mother were cousins. Hyacinthus never told.” She turned to Sarah. “He would not even tell you, when he knew that you must have seen or heard something that made you believe otherwise, because — because of our mother. No, he would not even tell you.”
She spoke again with a great impetuosity which made her seem very young, although she was not so very young. “I have been kept away all my life,” she said, “all my life from here, that the memory of our mother should not suffer, and now I come to tell, myself, and you will marry my brother, whom you must love better than that gentleman. You must. Will you not? Tell me that you will,” said she, “for Hyacinthus is breaking his heart, and he loves you.”
Before anything further could be said John Mangam rose, and walked rapidly down the gravel walk out of the yard and down the street.
Sarah felt dizzy. She bent lower as she sat and held her head in her two hands, and the strange lady came on the other side of her, and she was enveloped in a fragrance of some foreign perfume.
“My brother has been almost mad,” she whispered in her ear, “and I have just found out what the trouble was. He would not tell on account of our mother, but poor mother is dead and gone.”
Then the old woman on the other side raised her voice unexpectedly, and she spoke to her granddaughter, Mrs. Lynn. “You are a fool,” said she, “if you wouldn't rather hev Serrah merry a man like Hyacinthus Ware, with all his money and livin' in the biggest house in Adams, than a man like John Mangam, who sets an' sets an' sets the hull evenin' and never opens his mouth to say boo to a goose, and beside bein' threatened with a suit for breach.”
“I don't care who she marries, as long as she is happy,” said Sarah's mother.
“Well, I'm goin',” said the old woman. “I left my winders open, and I think there's a shower comin' up.”
She rose, and Mrs. Wilford Biggs at the same time. Sarah's mother went into the house.
“Won't you?” whispered the strange lady, and it was as if a rose whispered in Sarah's ear.
“I didn't know that he — I thought —” stammered Sarah.
Sarah did not exactly know when the lady left and when Hyacinthus came, but after a while they were sitting side by side on the door-step, and the moon was rising over the mountain, and the wonderful shadows were gathering about them like a company of wedding-guests.