From The Whole Family: A Novel by Twelve Authors (Harper & Brothers Publishers; New York: 1908)
“Remember,” said Charles Edward — he had run in for a minute on his way home from the office where he has been clearing out his desk, “for good and all,” he tells us — “remember, next week will see us out of this land of the free and home of the talkative.” He meant our sailing. I shall be glad to be with him and Lorraine. “And whatever you do, Peg, don't talk, except to mother. Talk to her all you want to. Mother has the making of a woman in her. If mother'd been a celibate, she'd have been, also, a peach.”
“But I don't want to talk,” said I. “I don't want to talk to anybody.”
“Good for you,” said Charles Edward. “Now I'll run along.”
I sat there on the piazza watching him, thinking he'd been awfully good to me, and feeling less bruised, somehow, than I do when the rest of the family advise me — except mother! And I saw him stop, turn round as if he were coming back, and then settle himself and plant his feet wide apart, as he does when the family question him about business. Then I saw somebody in light blue through the trees, and I knew it was Aunt Elizabeth. Alice was down in the hammock reading and eating cookies, and she saw her, too. Alice threw the book away and got her long legs out of the hammock and ran. I thought she was coming into the house to hide from Aunt Elizabeth. That's what we all do the first minute, and then we recover ourselves and go down and meet her. But Alice dropped on her knees by my chair and threw her arms round me.
“Forgive, Peggy,” she moaned. “Oh, forgive!”
I saw she had on my fraternity pin, and I thought she meant that. So I said, “You can wear it to-day”; but she only hugged me the tighter and ran on in a rigmarole I didn't understand.
“She's coming, and she'll get it out of Lorraine, and they'll all be down on us.”
Charles Edward and Aunt Elizabeth stood talking together, and just then I saw her put her hand on his shoulder.
“She's trying to come round him,” said Alice. I began to see she was really in earnest now. “He's squirming. Oh, Peggy, maybe she's found it out some way, and she's telling him, and they'll tell you, and you'll think I am false as hell!”
I knew she didn't mean anything by that word, because whenever she says such things they're always quotations. She began to cry real tears.
“It was Billy put it into my head,” said she, “and Lorraine put it into his. Lorraine wanted him to write out exactly what he knew, and he didn't know anything except about the telegram and how the letter got wuzzled, and I told him I'd help him write it as it ought to be ‘if life were a banquet and beauty were wine’; but I told him we must make him say in it how he'd got to conceal it from me, or they'd think we got it up together. So I wrote it,” said Alice, “and Billy copied it.”
Perhaps I wasn't nice to the child, for I couldn't listen to her. I was watching Charles Edward and Aunt Elizabeth, and saying to myself that mother'd want me to sit still and meet Aunt Elizabeth when she came — “like a good girl,” as she used to say to me when I was little and begged to get out of hard things. Alice went on talking and gasping.
“Peg,” she said, “he's perfectly splendid — Dr. Denbigh is.”
“Yes, dear,” said I, “he's very nice.”
“I've adored him for years,” said Alice. “I could trust him with my whole future. I could trust him with yours.”
Then I laughed. I couldn't help it. And Alice was hurt, for some reason, and got up and held her head high and went into the house. And Aunt Elizabeth came up the drive, and that is how she found me laughing. She had on a lovely light-blue linen. Nobody wears such delicate shades as Aunt Elizabeth. I remember, one day, when she came in an embroidered pongee over Nile-green, father groaned, and grandmother said: “What is it, Cyrus? Have you got a pain?” “Yes,” said father, “the pain I always have when I see sheep dressed lamb fashion.” Grandmother laughed, but mother said: “'Sh!” Mother's dear.
This time Aunt Elizabeth had on a great picture-hat with light-blue ostrich plumes; it was almost the shape of her lavender one that Charles Edward said made her look like a coster's bride. When she bent over me and put both arms around me the plumes tickled my ear. I think that was why I was so cross. I wriggled away from her and said: “Don't!”
Aunt Elizabeth spoke quite solemnly. “Dear child!” she said, “you are broken, indeed.”
And I began to feel again just as I had been feeling, as if I were in a show for everybody to look at, and I found I was shaking all over, and was angry with myself because of it. She had drawn up a chair, and she held both my hands.
“Peggy,” said she, “haven't you been to the hospital to see that poor dear boy?”
I didn't have to answer, for there was a whirl on the gravel, and Billy, on his bicycle, came riding up with the mail. He threw himself off his wheel and plunged up the steps as he always does, pretended to tickle his nose with Aunt Elizabeth's feathers as he passed behind her, and whispered to me: “Shoot the hat!” But he had heard Aunt Elizabeth asking if I were not going to see that poor dear boy, and he said, as if he couldn't help it:
“Huh! I guess if she did she wouldn't get in. His mother's walking up and down front of the hospital when she ain't with him, and she's got a hook nose and white hair done up over a roll and an eye-glass on a stick, and I guess there won't be no nimps and shepherdesses get by her.”
Aunt Elizabeth stood and thought for a minute, and her eyes looked as they do when she stares through you and doesn't see you at all. Alice asked Charles Edward once if he thought she was sorrowing o'er the past when she had that look, and he said: “Bless you, chile, no more than a gentle industrious spider. She's spinning a web.” But in a minute mother had stepped out on the piazza, and I felt as if she had come to my rescue. It was the way she used to come when I broke my doll or tore my skirt. But we didn't look at each other, mother and I. We didn't mean Aunt Elizabeth should see there was anything to rescue me from. Aunt Elizabeth turned to mother, and seemed to pounce upon her.
“Ada,” said she, “has my engagement been announced?”
“Not to my knowledge,” said mother. She spoke with a great deal of dignity. “I understood that the name of the gentleman had been withheld.”
“Withheld!” repeated Aunt Elizabeth. “What do you mean by ‘withheld’? Billy, whom are those letters for?”
In spite of ourselves mother and I started. Letters have begun to seem rather tragic to us.
“One's the gas-bill,” said Billy, “and one's for you.” Aunt Elizabeth took the large, square envelope and tore it open. Then she looked at mother and smiled a little and tossed her head.
“This is from Lyman Wilde,” said she.
I thought I had never seen Aunt Elizabeth look so young. It must have meant something more to mother than it did to me, for she stared at her a minute very seriously.
“I am truly glad for you, Elizabeth,” she said. Then she turned to me. “Daughter,” said she, “I shall need you about the salad.”
She smiled at me and went in. I knew what that meant. She was giving me a chance to follow her, if I needed to escape. But there was hardly time. I was at the door when Aunt Elizabeth rustled after so quickly that it sounded like a flight. There on the piazza she put her arms about me.
“Child!” she whispered. “Child! Verlassen! Verlassen!”
I drew away a little and looked at her. Then I thought: “Why, she is old!” But I hadn't understood. I knew the word was German, and I hadn't taken that in the elective course.
“What is it, Aunt Elizabeth?” I asked. I had a feeling I mustn't leave her. She smiled a little — a queer, sad smile.
“Peggy,” said she, “I want you to read this letter.” She gave it to me. It was written on very thick gray paper with rough edges, and there was a margin of two inches at the left. The handwriting was beautiful, only not very clear, and when I had puzzled over it for a minute she snatched it back again.
“I'll read it to you,” said she.
Well, I thought it was a most beautiful letter. The gentleman said she had always been the ideal of his life. He owed everything — and by everything he meant chiefly his worship of beauty — to her. He asked her to accept his undying devotion, and to believe that, however far distance and time should part them, he was hers and hers only. He said he looked back with ineffable contempt upon the days when he had hoped to build a nest and see her beside him there. Now he had reached the true empyrean, and he could only ask to know that she, too, was winging her bright way into regions where he, in another life, might follow and sing beside her in liquid, throbbing notes to pierce the stars. He ended by saying that he was not very fit — the opera season had been a monumental experience this year — and he was taking refuge with an English brotherhood to lead, for a time, a cloistered life instinct with beauty and its worship, but that there as everywhere he was hers eternally. How glad I was of the verbal memory I have been so often praised for! I knew almost every word of that lovely letter by heart after the one reading. I shall never forget it.
“Well?” said Aunt Elizabeth. She was looking at me, and again I saw how long it must have been since she was young. “Well, what do you think of it?”
I told the truth. “Oh,” said I, “I think it's a beautiful letter!”
“You do!” said Aunt Elizabeth. “Does it strike you as being a love-letter!”
I couldn't answer fast enough. “Why, Aunt Elizabeth,” I said, “He tells you so. He says he loves you eternally. It's beautiful!”
“You fool!” said Aunt Elizabeth. “You pink-cheeked little fool! You haven't opened the door yet — not any door, not one of them — oh, you happy, happy fool!” She called through the window (mother was arranging flowers there for tea): “Ada, you must telephone the Banner. My engagement is not to be announced.” Then she turned to me. “Peggy,” said she, in a low voice, as if mother was not to hear, “to-morrow you must drive with me to Whitman.”
Something choked me in my throat: either fear of her or dread of what she meant to make me do. But I looked into her face and answered with all the strength I had: “Aunt Elizabeth, I sha'n't go near the hospital.”
“Don't you think it's decent for you to call on Mrs. Goward?” she asked.
She gave me a little shake. It made me angry. “It may be decent,” I said, “but I sha'n't do it.”
“Very well,” said Aunt Elizabeth. Her voice was sweet again. “Then I must do it for you. Nobody asks you to see Harry himself. I'll run in and have a word with him — but, Peggy, you simply must pay your respects to Mrs. Goward.”
“No! no! no!” I heard myself answering, as if I were in some strange dream. Then I said: “Why, it would be dreadful! Mother wouldn't let me!”
Aunt Elizabeth came closer and put her hands on my shoulders. She has a little fragrance about her, not like flowers, but old laces, perhaps, that have been a long time in a drawer with orris and face-powder and things. “Peggy,” said she, “never tell your mother I asked you.”
I felt myself stiffen. She was whispering, and I saw she meant it.
“Oh, Peggy! don't tell your mother. She is not — not simpatica. I might lose my home here, my only home. Peggy, promise me.”
“Daughter!” mother was calling from the dining-room.
I slipped away from Aunt Elizabeth's hands. “I promise,” said I. “You sha'n't lose your home.”
“Daughter!” mother called again, and I went in.
That night at supper nobody talked except father and mother, and they did every minute, as if they wanted to keep the rest of us from speaking a word. It was all about the Works. Father was describing some new designs he had accepted, and telling how Charles Edward said they would do very well for the trimmings of a hearse, and mother coughed and said Charles Edward's ideas were always good, and father said not where the market was concerned. Aunt Elizabeth had put on a white dress, and I thought she looked sweet, because she was sad and had made her face quite pale; but I was chiefly busy in thinking how to escape before anybody could talk to me. It doesn't seem safe nowadays to speak a word, because we don't know where it will lead us. Alice, too, looked pale, poor child! and kept glancing at me in a way that made me so sorry. I wanted to tell her I didn't care about her pranks and Billy's, whatever they were. And whatever she had written, it was sure to be clever. The teacher says Alice has a positive genius for writing, and before many years she'll be in all the magazines. When supper was over I ran up-stairs to my room. I sat down by the window in the dark and wondered when the moon would rise. I felt excited — as if something were going to happen. And in spite of all the dreadful things that had happened to us, and might keep on happening, I felt as if I could die with joy. There were steps on the porch below my window. I heard father's voice.
“That's ridiculous, Elizabeth,” he said — “ridiculous! If it's a good thing for other girls to go to college, it's been a good thing for her.”
“Ah,” said Aunt Elizabeth, “but is it a good thing?”
Then I knew they were talking about me, and I put my fingers in my ears and said the Latin prepositions. I have been talked about enough. They may talk, but I won't hear. By-and-by I took my fingers out and listened. They had gone in, and everything was still. Then I began to think it over. Was it a bad thing for me to go to college? I'm different from what I was three years ago, but I should have been different if I'd stayed at home. For one thing, I'm not so shy. I remember the first day I came out of a class-room and Stillman Dane walked up to me and said: “So you're Charlie Ned's sister!” I couldn't look at him. I stood staring down at my note-book, and now I should say, quite calmly: “Oh, you must be Mr. Dane? I believe you teach psychology.” But I stood and stared. I believe I looked at my hands for a while and wished I hadn't got ink on my forefinger — and he had to say: “I'm the psychology man. Charlie Ned and I were college friends. He wrote me about you.” But though I didn't look at him that first time, I thought he had the kindest voice that ever was — except mother's — and perhaps that was why I selected psychology for my specialty. I was afraid I might be stupid, and I knew he was kind. And then came that happy time when I was getting acquainted with everybody, and Mr. Dane was always doing things for me. “I'm awfully fond of Charlie Ned, you know,” he told me. “You must let me take his place.” Then Mr. Goward told me all those things at the dance, how he had found life a bitter waste, how he had been betrayed over and over by the vain and worldly, and how his heart was dead and nobody could bring it to life but me. He said I was his fate and his guiding-star, and since love was a mutual flame that meant he was my fate, too. But it seemed as if that were the beginning of all my bad luck, for about that time Stillman Dane was different, and one day he stopped me in the yard when I was going to chapel.
“Miss Peggy,” said he, “don't let's quarrel.” He held out his hand, and I gave him mine quickly.
“No,” said I, “I'm not quarrelling.”
“I want to ask you something,” said he. “You must answer, truly. If I have a friend and she's doing something foolish, should I tell her? Should I write to her brother and tell him?”
“Why,” said I, “do you mean me?” Then I understood. “You think I'm not doing very well in my psychology,” I said. “You think I've made a wrong choice.” I looked at him then. I never saw him look just so. He had my hand, and now I took it away. But he wouldn't talk about the psychology.
“Peggy,” said he, “do your people know Goward?”
“They will in vacation,” I said. “He's going home with me. We're engaged, you know.”
“Oh!” said he. “Oh! Then it is true. Let him meet Charles Edward at once, will you? Tell Charles Edward I particularly want him to know Goward.” His voice sounded sharp and quick, and he turned away and left me. But I didn't give his message to Charles Edward, and somehow, I don't know why, I didn't talk about him after I came home. “Dane never wrote me whether he looked you up,” said Charles Edward one day. “Not very civil of him.” But even then I couldn't tell him. Mr. Dane is one of the people I never can talk about as if they were like everybody else. Perhaps that is because he is so kind in a sort of intimate, beautiful way. And when I went back after vacation he had resigned, and they said he had inherited some money and gone away, and after he went I never understood the psychology at all. Mr. Goward used to laugh at me for taking it, only he said I could get honors in anything, my verbal memory is so good. But I told him, and it is true, that the last part of the book is very dull. While I was going over all this, still with that strange excited feeling of happiness, I heard Aunt Elizabeth's voice from below. She was calling, softly: “Peggy! Peggy! Are you up there?”
I got on my feet just as quietly as I could, and slipped through mother's room and down the back stairs. Mother was in the vegetable garden watering the transplanted lettuce. I ran out to her. “Mother,” I said, “may I go over to Lorraine's and spend the night?”
“Yes, lamb,” said mother. That's a good deal for mother to say.
“I'll run over now,” I told her. “I won't stop to take anything. Lorraine will give me a nightie.” I went through the vegetable garden to the back gate and out into the street. There I drew a long breath. I don't know what I thought Aunt Elizabeth could do to me, but I felt safe. Then — I could laugh at it all, because it seems as if I must have been sort of crazy that night — I began to run as if I couldn't get there fast enough. But when I got to the steps I heard Lorraine laughing, and I stopped to listen to see whether any one was there.
“I tell Peter,” said she, “that it's his opportunity. Don't you remember the Great Magician's story of the man who was always afraid he should miss his opportunity? And the opportunity came, and, sure enough, the man didn't know it, and it slipped by. Well, that mustn't be Peter.”
“It mustn't be any of us,” said a voice. “Things are mighty critical, though. It's as if everybody, the world and the flesh and the Whole Family, had been blundering round and setting their feet down as near as they could to a flower. But the flower isn't trampled yet. We'll build a fence round it.” My heart beat so fast that I had to put my hand over it. I wondered if I were going to have heart-failure, and I knew grandmother would say, “Digitalis!” When I thought of that I laughed, and Lorraine called out, “Who's there?” She came to the long window. “Why, Peggy, child,” said she, “come in.” She had me by the hand and led me forward. They got up as I stepped in, Charles Edward and Stillman Dane. Then I knew why I was glad. If Stillman Dane had been here all these dreadful things would not have happened, because he is a psychologist, and he would have understood everybody at once and influenced them before they had time to do wrong.
“Jove!” said Charles Edward. “Don't you look handsome, Peg!”
“Goose!” said Lorraine, as if she wanted him to be still. “A good neat girl is always handsome. There's an epigram for you. And Peggy's hair is loose in three places. Let me fix it for you, child.”
So we all laughed, and Lorraine pinned me up in a queer, tender way, as if she were mother dress-me for something important, and we sat down, and began to talk about college. I am afraid Stillman Dane and I did most of the talking, for Lorraine and Charles Edward looked at each other and smiled a little, in a fashion they have, as if they understood each other, and Lorraine got up to show him the bag she had bought that day for the steamer; and while she was holding it out to him and asking him if it cost too much, she stopped short and called out, sharply, “Who's there?” I laughed. “Lorraine has the sharpest ears,” I said. “Ears!” said Lorraine. “It isn't ears. I smell orris. She's coming. Mr. Dane, will you take Peggy out of that window into the garden? Don't yip, either of you, while you're within gunshot, and don't appear till I tell you.”
“Lorraine!” came a voice, softly, from the front walk. It was Aunt Elizabeth. She has a way of calling to announce herself in a sweet, cooing tone. I said to Charles Edward once it was like a dove, and he said: “No, my child, not doves, but woodcock.” Alice giggled and called out, quite loudly, “‘Springes to catch woodcock!’” And he shook his head at her and said, “You all-knowing imp! isn't even Shakespeare hidden from you?” But now the voice didn't sound sweet to me at all, because I wanted to get away. We rose at the same minute, Mr. Dane and I, and Lorraine seemed to waft us from the house on a kind little wind. At the foot of the steps we stopped for fear the gravel should crunch, and while we waited for Aunt Elizabeth to go in the other way I looked at Mr. Dane to see if he wanted to laugh as much as I. He did. His eyes were full of fun and pleasure, and he gave me a little nod, as if we were two children going to play a game we knew all about. Then I heard Aunt Elizabeth's voice inside. It was low and broken — what Charles Edward called once her “come-and-comfort-me” voice.
“Dears,” said she, “you are going abroad?”
“Yes,” Charles Edward answered. “Yes, it looks that way now.”
“Yes,” said Lorraine, rather sharply, I thought, as if she meant to show him he ought to be more decisive, “we are.”
“Dears,” Aunt Elizabeth went on, “will you take me with you?”
Mr. Dane started as if he meant to go back into the house. I must have started, too, and my heart beat hard. There was a silence of a minute, two minutes, three perhaps. Then I heard Charles Edward speak, in a voice I didn't know he had.
“No, Aunt Elizabeth, no. Not so you'd notice it.”
Mr. Dane gave a nod as if he were relieved, and we both began tiptoeing down the path in the dark. But it wasn't dark any more. The moon was coming through the locust-trees, and I smelled the lindens by the wall. “Oh,” I said, “it's summer, isn't it? I don't believe I've thought of summer once this year.”
“Yes,” said he, “and there never was a summer such as this is going to be.”
I knew he was very athletic, but I don't believe I'd thought how much he cared for out-of-doors. “Come down here,” I said. “This is Lorraine's jungle. There's a seat in it, and we can smell the ferns.”
Charles Edward had been watering the garden, and everything was sweet. Thousands of odors came out such as I never smelled before. And all the time the moon was rising. After we had sat there awhile, talking a little about college, about my trip abroad, I suddenly found I could not go on. There were tears in my eyes. I felt as if so good a friend ought to know how I had behaved — for I must have been very weak and silly to make such a mistake. He ought to hear the worst about me. “Oh,” I said, “do you know what happened to me?”
He made a little movement toward me with both hands. Then he took them back and sat quite still and said, in that kind voice: “I know you are going abroad, and when you come back you will laugh at the dolls you played with when you were a child.” But I cried, softly, though, because it was just as if I were alone, thinking things out and being sorry, sorry for myself — and ashamed. Until now I'd never known how ashamed I was. “Don't cry, child,” he was saying. “For God's sake, don't cry!” I think it came over me then, as it hadn't before, that all that part of my life was spoiled. I'd been engaged and thought I liked somebody, and now it was all over and done. “I don't know what I'm crying for,” I said, at last, when I could stop. “I suppose it's because I'm different now, different from the other girls, different from myself. I can't ever be happy any more.”
He spoke, very quickly. “Is it because you liked Goward so much?”
“Like him!” I said. “Like Harry Goward? Why, I —” There I stopped, because I couldn't think of any word small enough, and I think he understood, for he laughed out quickly.
“Now,” said he, “I'm a psychologist. You remember that, don't you? It used to impress you a good deal.”
“Oh,” said I, “it does impress me. Nobody has ever seemed so wise as you. Nobody!”
“Then it's understood that I'm a sage from the Orient. I know the workings of the human mind. And I tell you a profound truth: that the only way to stop thinking of a thing is to stop thinking of it. Now, you're not to think of Goward and all this puppet-show again. Not a minute. Not an instant. Do you hear?” He sounded quite stern, and I answered as if I had been in class.
“You are to think of Italy, and how blue the sea is — and Germany, and how good the beer is — and Charlie Ned and Lorraine, and what trumps they are. Do you hear?”
“Yes, sir,” said I, and because I knew we were going to part and there would be nobody else to advise me in the same way, I went on in a great hurry for fear there should not be time. “I can't live at home even after we come back. I could never be pointed at, like Aunt Elizabeth, and have people whisper and say I've had a disappointment. I must make my own life. I must have a profession. Do you think I could teach? Do you think I could learn to teach — psychology?”
He didn't answer for a long time, and I didn't dare look at him, though the moon was so bright now that I could see how white his hand was, lying on his knee, and the chasing of the ring on his little finger. It had been his mother's engagement ring, he told me once. But he spoke, and very gently and seriously. “I am sure you could teach some things. Whether psychology — but we can talk of that later. There'll be lots of time. It proves I am going over on the same steamer with Charlie Ned and Lorraine and you.”
“You are!” I cried. “Why, I never heard of anything so —” I couldn't find the word for it, but everything stopped being puzzling and unhappy and looked clear and plain.
“Yes,” said he. “It's very convenient, isn't it? We can talk over your future, and you could even take a lesson or two in psychology. But I fancy we shall have a good deal to do looking for porpoises and asking what the run is. People are terribly busy at sea.”
Then it occurred to me that he had never been here before, and why was he here now? “How did you happen to come?” I asked. I suppose I really felt as if God sent him.
“Why,” said he, “why —” Then he laughed. “Well,” said he, “to tell the truth, I was going abroad if — if certain things happened, and I needed to make sure. I didn't want to write, so I ran down to see Charlie Ned.”
“But could he tell you?” said I. “And had they happened?”
He laughed, as if at something I needn't share. “No,” he said, “the things weren't going to happen. But I decided to go abroad.”
I was “curiouser and curiouser,” as Lorraine says. “But,” I insisted, “what had Charles Edward to do with it?”
There were a great many pauses that night as if, I think, he didn't know what was wise to say. I should imagine it would always be so with psychologists. They understand so well what effect every word will have.
“Well, to tell the truth,” he answered, at last, in a kind, darling way, “I wanted to make sure all was well with my favorite pupil before I left the country. I couldn't quite go without it.”
“Mr. Dane,” I said, “you don't mean me?”
“Yes,” he answered, “I mean you.”
I could have danced and sung with happiness. “Oh,” said I, “then I must have been a better scholar than I thought. I feel as if I could teach psychology — this minute.”
“You could,” said he, “this minute.” And we both laughed and didn't know, after all, what we were laughing at — at least I didn't. But suddenly I was cold with fear.
“Why,” I said, “if you've only really decided to go to-night, how do you know you can get a passage on our ship?”
“Because, sweet Lady Reason,” said he, “I used Charlie Ned's telephone and found out.” (That was a pretty name — sweet Lady Reason.)
We didn't talk any more then for a long time, because suddenly the moon seemed so bright and the garden so sweet. But all at once I heard a step on the gravel walk, and I knew who it was. “That's Charles Edward,” I said. “He's been home with Aunt Elizabeth. We must go in.”
“No!” said he. “No, Peggy. There won't be such another night.” Then he laughed quickly and got up. “Yes,” he said, “there will be such nights — over and over again. Come, Peggy, little psychologist, we'll go in.”
We found Lorraine and Charles Edward standing in the middle of the room, holding hands and looking at each other. “You're a hero,” Lorraine was saying, “and a gentleman and a scholar and my own particular Peter.”
“Don't admire me,” said Charles Edward, “or you'll get me so bellicose I shall have to challenge Lyman Wilde. Poor old chap! I believe to my soul he's had the spirit to make off.”
“Speak gently of Lyman Wilde,” said Lorraine. “I never forget what we owe him. Sometimes I burn a candle to his photograph. I've even dropped a tear before it. Well, children?” She turned her bright eyes on us as if she liked us very much, and we two stood facing them two, and it all seemed quite solemn. Suddenly Charles Edward put out his hand and shook Mr. Dane's, and they both looked very much moved, as grandmother would say. I hadn't known they liked each other so well.
“Do you know what time it is?” said Lorraine. “Half-past eleven by Shrewsbury clock. I'll bake the cakes and draw the ale.”
“Gee whiz!” said Mr. Dane. I'd never heard him say things like that. It sounded like Billy, and I liked it. “I've got to catch that midnight train.”
For a minute it seemed as if we all stood shouting at one another, Lorraine asking him to stay all night, Charles Edward giving him a cigar to smoke on the way, I explaining to Lorraine that I'd sleep on the parlor sofa and leave the guest-room free, and Mr. Dane declaring he'd got a million things to do before sailing. Then he and Charles Edward dashed out into the night, as Alice would say, and I should have thought it was a dream that he'd been there at all except that I felt his touch on my hand. And Lorraine put her arms round me and kissed me and said, “Now, you sweet child, run up-stairs and look at the moonlight and dream — and dream — and dream.”
I don't know whether I slept that night; but, if I did, I did not dream.
The next forenoon I waited until eleven o'clock before I went home. I wanted to be sure Aunt Elizabeth was safely away at Whitman. Yet, after all, I did not dread her now. I had been told what to do. Some one was telling me of a song the other day, “Command me, dear.” I had been commanded to stop thinking of all those things I hated. I had done it. Mother met me at the steps. She seemed a little anxious, but when she had put her hand on my shoulder and really looked at me she smiled the way I love to see her smile. “That's a good girl!” said she. Then she added, quickly, as if she thought I might not like it and ought to know at once, “Aunt Elizabeth saw Dr. Denbigh going by to Whitman, and she asked him to take her over.”
“Did she?” said I. “Oh, mother, the old white rose is out!”
“There they are, back again,” said mother. “He's leaving her at the gate.”
Well, we both waited for Aunt Elizabeth to come up the path. I picked the first white rose and made mother smell it, and when I had smelled it myself I began to sing under my breath, “Come into the garden, Maud,” because I remembered last night.
“Hush, child,” said mother, quickly. “Elizabeth, you are tired. Come right in.”
Aunt Elizabeth's lip trembled a little. I thought she was going to cry. I had never known her to cry, though I had seen tears in her eyes, and I remember once, when she was talking to Dr. Denbigh, Charles Edward noticed them and laughed. “Those are not idle tears, Peg,” he said to me, “They're getting in their work.”
Now I was so sorry for her that I stopped thinking of last night and put it all away. It seemed cruel to be so happy. Aunt Elizabeth sat down on the step and mother brought her an eggnog. It had been all ready for grandmother, and I could see mother thought Aunt Elizabeth needed it, if she was willing to make grandmother wait.
“Ada,” said Aunt Elizabeth, suddenly, as she sipped it, “what was Dr. Denbigh's wife like?”
“Why,” said mother, “I'd almost forgotten he had a wife, it was so long ago. She died in the first year of their marriage.”
Aunt Elizabeth laughed a little, almost as if no one were there. “He began to talk about her quite suddenly this morning,” she said. “It seems Peg reminds him of her. He is devoted to her memory. That's what he said — devoted to her memory.”
“That's good,” said mother, cheerfully, as if she didn't know quite what to say. “More letters, Lily? Any for us?” I could see mother was very tender of her for some reason, or she never would have called her Lily.
“For me,” said Aunt Elizabeth, as if she were tired. “From Mrs. Chataway. A package, too. It looks like visiting-cards. That seems to be from her, too.” She broke open the package. “Why!” said she, “of all things! Why!”
“That's pretty engraving,” said mother, looking over her shoulder. She must have thought they were Aunt Elizabeth's cards. “Why! of all things!”
Aunt Elizabeth began to flush pink and then scarlet. She looked as pretty as a rose, but a little angry, I thought. She put up her head rather haughtily. “Mrs. Chataway is very eccentric,” she said. “A genius, quite a genius in her own line. Ada, I won't come down to luncheon. This has been sufficient. Let me have some tea in my own room at four, please.” She got up, and her letter and one of the cards fell to the floor. I picked them up for her, and I saw on the card:
Mrs. Ronald Chataway
Magnetic Healer and Mediumistic Divulger
Lost Articles a Specialty
I don't know why, but I thought, like mother and Aunt Elizabeth, “Well, of all things!”
But the rest of that day mother and I were too busy to exchange a word about Mrs. Chataway or even Aunt Elizabeth. We plunged into my preparations to sail, and talked dresses and hats, and ran ribbons in things, and I burned letters and one photograph (I burned that without looking at it), and suddenly mother got up quickly and dropped her lapful of work. “My stars!” said she, “I've forgotten Aunt Elizabeth's tea.”
“It's of no consequence, dear,” said Aunt Elizabeth's voice at the door. “I asked Katie to bring it up.”
“Why,” said mother, “you're not going?”
I held my breath, Aunt Elizabeth looked so pretty. She was dressed, as I never saw her before, in a close-fitting black gown and a plain white collar and a little close black hat. She looked almost like some sister of charity.
“Ada,” said she, “and Peggy, I am going to tell you something, and it is my particular desire that you keep it from the whole family. They would not understand. I am going to ally myself with Mrs. Chataway in a connection which will lead to the widest possible influence for her and for me. In Mrs. Chataway's letter to-day she urges me to join her. She says I have enormous magnetism and — and other qualifications.”
“Don't you want me to tell Cyrus?” said mother. She spoke quite faintly.
“You can simply tell Cyrus that I have gone to Mrs. Chataway's,” said Aunt Elizabeth. “You can also tell him I shall be too occupied to return. Good-bye, Ada. Good-bye, Peggy. Remember, it is the bruised herb that gives out the sweetest odor.”
Before I could stop myself I had laughed, out of happiness, I think. For I remembered how the spearmint had smelled in the garden when Stillman Dane and I stepped on it in the dark and how bright the moon was, and I knew nobody could be unhappy very long.
“I telephoned for a carriage,” said Aunt Elizabeth. “There it is.” She and mother were going down the stairs, and suddenly I felt I couldn't have her go like that.
“Oh, Aunt — Aunt Lily!” I called. “Stop! I want to speak to you.” I ran after her. “I'm going to have a profession, too,” I said. “I'm going to devote my life to it, and I am just as glad as I can be.” I put my arms round her and kissed her on her soft, pink cheeks, and we both cried a little. Then she went away.