From The Fair Lavinia and Others (Harper and Brothers; New York: 1907)
Adeline Weaver sat under the green trellis of the south door of the old Weaver mansion, and sewed her seam of fine linen. She did not like to sew, but her aunts, the Misses Jane and Eliza Weaver, with whom she lived, would have turned faint with horror had she suggested the possibility of ready-made garments. All the ladies of the Weaver family had always made their own underwear, and the custom had become, as a species of royal etiquette, not to be lightly ignored. Adeline sewed with a sort of surface patience. The green trellis over her head was all interlaced with delicate green grape-vines. The grapes had just begun to form. Tiny clusters of green globules like jewels dotted the tracery over her head. Adeline's aunts were sewing in the south room. Adeline could hear the soft murmur of their voices, but could seldom distinguish a word. The women of the Weaver family had naturally low and gentle voices with no harsh notes. There was a tradition that no women of the family ever screamed. If protest they had against pain or fear or injustice they kept it locked in their own breasts. This young Adeline was a true Weaver. She sat there in her cool, lilac muslin gown, cut V-shaped at the long, slender throat, and fastened with an amethyst brooch, with her soft gold hair parted over her serene forehead, and she was the very image of peaceful young womanhood at a peaceful task, when inwardly her whole spirit surged in a fierce revolt. Across the wide street, overarched with elms, she could see a row of neat little white cottages, each standing in its green yard. Adeline looked at them, and took another delicate stitch. She felt horribly irritated by the row of little white cottages in their green yards. She was eighteen years old, and she had never spent a night away from home, and her room faced those cottages, and she had never waked in the morning to another prospect. She had been educated by her aunts and a governess who was a distant relative of the family. The governess was a maiden lady, and she had taught the girl in a stereotyped fashion, as she and the Misses Weaver had been taught.
Now that her education was finished, the one thing which really asserted itself within her, and which was beyond all education, was her own youth, and her longing for her joy of life. The straight-laced fashion in which she had been trained made this almost abnormal. Adeline was full of dreams, but so far they had been dreams into which she could admit no man of her acquaintance without sacrilege. Still she dreamed with an innocent and almost holy ardor. This young thing fastened, as it were, by thongs of duty to age and conservatism, pulled hard at her leash. If she had ever known liberty, if she had ever had a change of scene, and lovers, they would not have seemed so precious to her. Adeline's dreams were not wholly of lovers, she dreamed also of mates of her own sex. She had never had any. Her aunts were full of a gentle but none the less obstinate pride of birth and education and modest affluence, and they considered that there were no fit mates for their niece in the village.
Presently Adeline saw two young girls coming down the street. They had their arms around each other's waists, and, although they were as old as she, were advancing with a hop and skip like children. Their shrill, sweet voices sounded like bird-songs. Adeline watched them enviously. One was the daughter of the village cobbler, the other of a man who got a frugal living from tending gardens, and doing odd jobs. Both glanced at her, then looked away and hushed their merry chatter and laughter. They stood in awe of her. Adeline felt hurt because of it. She did not feel in the least above them. Her very heart leaped after the other young things of her kind. She sighed, and took another stitch. The air had been very still. A breeze blew out of the west crossing two windows of the sitting-room. On the wings of this west wind came her Aunt Eliza Weaver's voice: “Of course, to-morrow afternoon as usual,” she said. Adeline sighed wearily. She knew so well what that meant: another recurrence of one of the monotonies of her life. The minister, Dr. Timothy Akers, was coming to tea. Regularly once a week, on Thursday, he came to tea. He was an old man, older than either of her aunts, but still hale. He liked the good things of life within clerical limits. Invitations to tea were his especial delights; especially he enjoyed taking tea at the Weaver mansion. He himself came of good old stock. He felt himself in the presence of his equals, and, moreover, he enjoyed a mild sense of gallantry in his relations with the Weaver ladies. He had never married. He had never had a love affair, but feminine attention was dear to him. He always came carefully brushed, with the faintest suggestion of masculine coquetry in his greeting, and the Weaver sisters never failed to meet him in kind arrayed in their old laces, and rich silks, and with their evanescent female coquetry of manner. Dr. Akers had come thus to tea ever since Adeline could remember. There was a time when village gossip had associated his name with that of Miss Eliza Weaver, the younger of the two sisters. Although she had long been an old maid and he an old bachelor, even when Adeline was a child still there were people who did not think a match between the clergyman and Miss Eliza altogether a ridiculous assumption. In those days Miss Eliza used possibly to dwell a little more upon her faded yet still sweet reflection in her looking-glass, and arrange with a trifle more care the clusters of soft curls on either side of her delicate face. She used to play the piano for him in her stilted lady-style, touching the yellow ivory keys daintily with the tips of her taper fingers. Now Adeline was called upon to do that. Miss Eliza had suffered one winter from rheumatism in her hands, and she was well aware that they were veinous, and wrinkled. She let soft lace fall over them, and did not play the piano any more. Adeline always played one particular piece for Dr. Akers which she disliked extremely. It was called “Dewfall.” There was a weakly, sentimental air with weary variations. Adeline suspected that Dr. Akers and her Aunt Eliza might have some romantic associations with the piece. Once, whirling around suddenly upon the piano stool, when she had finished, she had caught the coquettish simper upon her Aunt Eliza's face, and the clergyman's gentle, languishing glance at her. Adeline's first sensation had been one of wondering amusement, then she had felt the pathos of it. “Poor Aunt Liza,” she said to herself that night, when she was alone in her room brushing out her shining lengths of hair. Then she thought how easily her Aunt Eliza's fate might be her own, and she pitied herself, with a sort of fierce anger at herself for the pity. “Maybe I shall not have even a Dr. Akers, not even the ghost of a love affair, to dwell upon when I am Aunt Eliza's age,” she reflected.
This afternoon, when she heard her aunts talking about the clergyman's coming to tea, a sensation of almost unbearable boredom which fairly amounted to pain came over her. She asked herself wearily how she could endure that endless repetition of events which would ensue the next evening. She knew just how the tea-table would look decked with its fine damask, its old cut glass, and thin silver, and the set of blue and white willow-ware, which her great-grandfather Weaver had brought from over seas. She knew just what they would have for tea. The menu never varied. There would be hot biscuits made with cream, cold ham cut in thick, pink slices, an omelet made with sweet herbs, a mould of quivering red jelly, pound cake, fruit cake, and tea, and dainty little pats of fresh butter. Once Adeline in sheer desperation had endeavored to make a change in the unvarying list of eatables. She had suggested cold tongue instead of ham, and a salad. But her aunts had regarded her with a gentle surprise and delicate chins set with obstinacy. “We have always had cold ham, and Dr. Akers prefers it,” her Aunt Eliza had replied. Again Adeline had detected the faint simper of sentimentalism upon her aunt's face. Again she felt at once amused and compassionate. “I suppose they had cold ham when they had a half-way love scene after Aunt Eliza played ‘Dewfall,’” Adeline thought. This afternoon, as she reviewed the unvarying programme for the next evening, that lackadaisical piece called “Dewfall” had its own place in her painful sense of monotony. She thought with sudden desperation that she might hide the music, then she reflected that nobody would believe that she could not play it by rote, as indeed she could. She took another stitch, and glanced over her fine seam at the opposite cottages. Again a soft puff of west wind roughed her yellow hair, and she caught plainly the sense of the conversation in the sitting-room. “I must not forget to remind Hannah to mix up the biscuits to rise to-night,” her Aunt Jane was saying. Adeline's lips curled scornfully, “As if Hannah could forget,” she fairly whispered.
She wished sometimes that the old servant-woman would forget something. It seemed to the girl often as if she were nothing but an incarnate memory of years of routine. Hannah was old, older than Miss Jane Weaver. She was large, and padded heavily about like a cushion-footed animal. Her immense face looked vacant of everything except old memories. Hannah, as it seemed to Adeline, would have fallen prostrate, a shuddering heap of flesh, before an Innovation. Once Adeline had prevailed upon her to try a new recipe for cake. The cake had been a failure, and Hannah had been nearly ill. “My dear,” her Aunt Jane had said to Adeline, “Hannah is used to doing things one way. She does them very well. Your Aunt Eliza and I think it best that you should not disturb her. Hannah is not as young as she has been.” Adeline had acquiesced sweetly, but she had eaten the cake failure, soggy as it was, with a sort of fierce animal relish. At least it was something different. Adeline was often conscious of a vandal wish that Hannah's unfailing recipes would fail. She almost felt at times, so weary she was, that it would be good to eat grass like Nebuchadnezzar. It was odd that the girls' health should not have deserted her, such was her weariness of spirit, but she came of a delicately healthy stock. She was fine in the grain, but built to endure even monotony. Then too, she was much in the open, and that served to preserve her health. Adeline often felt that had it not been for the variableness of weather, which was the only variableness in her life, she should have gone mad. Lately even nature had grown monotonous. There had been day after day of sweet serene weather. Light winds had risen now and then and shifted, then died away into a soft calm. It was neither cool nor hot. The summer advanced surely, but so slowly that one got little sense of change from that. Adeline looked up at the gold-green grape-vine over her head. “It looked just as it does now a week ago,” she thought. Then again the anticipation of the next evening: the bland clergyman, the tea, and herself playing “Dewfall” came over her, and fairly stung her into revolt. A bright red flamed out on her soft cheeks. She put up one slim hand, and gave the smooth folds of her hair an impatient push back, revealing a bold, almost boyish fulness of temples. She heard the faint clink of silver from the kitchen, where old Hannah was preparing tea, the invariable tea of that night of the week, cream toast, dried beef, and sponge cake. How she hated that, too! She made a straight line of her sweet lips which curved like a rose. She let her work fall into her lap, and threw herself back in her chair. She looked rebelliously at the work. She hemstitched all her fine linen handkerchiefs by hand. Her aunts would have shuddered at the thought of a machine-bordered handkerchief for a Weaver. She had been listlessly toiling at the square of fine linen for days. She shrugged her sloping shoulders contemptuously. “What is the use?” she thought. “I would just as soon have machine-worked handkerchiefs for the rest of my days. I would much rather than sit and sew as I do.” She thought again, a passion of longing, of the skipping young girls who had recently passed. How much better to run along the street with them, and laugh and prate with youth of the joys of youth, even the follies of youth, than to have all her garments handmade. The tragedy of a tight leash upon growth forced itself upon her consciousness. The holiest force in the world, that of the growth of youth, was being restrained. Angry tears came into her eyes. “It is cruel,” she said to herself — “cruel.” Again she heard the clink of silver. She smelled the bread toasting, she smelled the choice green tea which her aunts loved. She looked at the little gold watch which had been her mother's, which was suspended around her neck by a slender gold chain. It was almost tea time. A sudden resolve seized upon her. The spirit of rebellion grew. She made up her mind to do an unheard-of thing: something which she had never done. Punctuality was held as one of the cardinal virtues by her aunts. “None of the Weavers have ever been unpunctual,” Miss Jane was wont to say. Miss Eliza often remarked that she herself had always considered it unworthy of a gentlewoman to be unpunctual. Adeline resolved to fly in the face of this edict of the Weavers. She said to herself that she would be late for tea. She folded her work, and quilted in the needle. She placed it neatly in her little work-basket. Revolt had not yet fully asserted itself within her. She had been taught that no gentlewoman was disorderly. Order often wearied her, she had so much of it, but it had become involuntary. She rose, and stole noiselessly under the green canopy of the porch into the side door; she tiptoed noiselessly down the path; she skirted the house out of range of the sitting-room windows. Then she gathered up her muslin skirts and ran like a cat. She even kicked her heels a little, flirting out the back breadths of her skirts. If her aunts had only seen those unseemly gambols of the slim, pointed Weaver feet!
She ran in the direction which the two young girls had taken: towards the village post-office, which was in the big country store. Just as she reached it the girls came out. One was nibbling a barley sugar-stick; the other, one of red and white peppermint — both with the frank enjoyment of children. The cobbler's daughter carried a little paper bag and a letter.
Adeline entered the store, made a feint of looking in the post-office, and was out, at the heels of the other girls. Presently she caught up with them. They looked at her and nodded shyly. The cobbler's daughter, who was the less self-conscious of the two, said, “Good-afternoon,” in a thin, sweet little voice. Adeline responded. Then she walked along with the girls. She was the shyest of all. When superiority is shy, it is with intensity. Now and then she glanced at her companions. Her cheeks were burning. She said something about the weather in a faltering voice, and nobody could have understood the response which the other girls made. Finally the cobbler's daughter recovered herself. She extended the sticky little paper bag, which she carried, towards Adeline. “Have some candy?” she said, affably. The impulse of generosity gave her self-poise. She was an honest, friendly little soul. Adeline took a stick of candy and thanked her, and a specimen of familiarity was established. The girls had met on a common ground of young girlhood: the love of sweets. They looked indescribably young as they went on sucking the sweeties. Adeline lost completely her air of womanly serenity, which she always wore over her youthful turbulence. She looked the youngest, the freest of the three. She laughed, now and then she gave a little sidewise spring like a kitten out of pure animal spirits. Occasionally the other girls glanced at each other with wonder. They could not understand how it had happened that Miss Adeline Weaver had so descended from her height. However, at last, such was her spontaneous sweetness, her gay innocence, that they met her fully. They danced along, all linking arms. Presently they saw a young man walking towards them, and immediately feminine instinct asserted themselves. They separated. They walked demurely. When they passed the young man there was just the merest glimpse of dewy eyes between the modest droop of lids. He was a stranger to all of them. He was dressed after a different fashion from the youths of the village. He was very handsome, tall and fair-haired, with an aristocratic cast of features, yet withal a mischievous glance of appraisal at the girls. He was entirely out of hearing before the cobbler's daughter spoke.
“He must be Dr. Aker's nephew,” said she.
“Yes,” assented the other girl. “I heard he was coming. Dr. Aker's housekeeper told mother that he was coming for a visit. He lives in Boston, and his name is Farwell. He is Dr. Aker's sister's son.”
“Isn't he handsome?”
“He is beautiful,” said the gardener's daughter.
Adeline said nothing, but wonder and rapture were in her face. He was no stranger to her. He was the man of her dreams. Color suffused her face. She realized a sense of shame that she should have met him thus. They should have met in some green solitude which had always been the background of her dreams. Living constantly with her elders had given the girl an old-fashioned habit of thought. She had almost Elizabethan settings for all her romantic imaginings. It fairly shocked her that she should have met him on the village street with two young girls, and all three sucking sticks of candy like children. She drew hers from her mouth, and threw it on the ground. “Ain't it good?” asked the cobbler's daughter. Adeline started confusedly. Her courtesy was instinctive, and she had outraged it.
“Oh, very good indeed!” she cried, “very good!”
“Then why did you throw it away?”
“I never eat much candy. I beg your pardon,” said Adeline.
The other girls were perfectly good-natured and merry. They laughed, but Adeline continued to feel abashed. The old sense of aloofness reasserted itself.
She went along soberly with them a little farther, then the cobbler's daughter reached her own home, and said good-night, and turned her steps into the path between two rows of clove pinks, which led through the green front yard to the door. The gardener's daughter lived a little farther on. Adeline looked at her watch innocently and conscious of the awe which the action inspired in her companion. “I must go, too,” said Adeline; “good-night.”
The gardener's daughter stood looking after her. The cobbler's daughter danced back between the rows of clove-pinks for a last word. “She didn't act a mite stuck up, and then she did,” she said.
“That's so,” assented the other girl.
Adeline meantime hastened home. She was already late for tea, but the fact, instead of exhilarating her, as she had expected, alarmed her. When she reached home both her aunts were on the porch swathed, one in a fleecy white shawl, the other in an ancient India-web. They regarded Adeline with anxiety as she came hurrying towards them.
“My dear,” said her Aunt Jane.
“My dear,” said her Aunt Eliza.
That was all that either said, but there was a world of meaning in the two words.
“I am sorry,” stammered Adeline. “It was so pleasant, and I had had no exercise to day, and I — went to the post-office —”
She paused. Both her aunts appeared to be waiting. Untruth or even the silence of deceit was not in the girl.
“I met Flora Shaw and Lizzie Ellis,” said Adeline, “and I walked a little way down the street with them.”
Then Adeline waited. She knew there was no storm for which to wait, only a calm, but it was a calm which she had dreaded ever since she could remember.
At last her Aunt Jane spoke. “Flora Shaw and Lizzie Ellis.”
Then her Aunt Eliza spoke. “Flora Shaw and Lizzie Ellis.”
“Yes, Aunts,” responded Adeline.
There was another pause before another calm. Then Miss Jane spoke again. “Come in, dear,” said she, “tea has been waiting for over half an hour.”
Adeline followed her two aunts, majestic in their unruffled patience of exterior, trailing their rich black skirts, holding their heads erect above their soft laces, into the house.
She took her place at the table. She was outwardly as serene as her aunts. Inwardly the waves of youthful excitement and unrest again surged. She felt a hysterical delight that she was late, that she had successfully invaded the monotony of things, and yet she was conscious of remorse and grief that she had disturbed her aunts. She loved her aunts. Affection existed in the girl's soul as an essential perfume. Without it her own self was inconceivable. And yet she had that delight in rebellion against that which she loved. She did not want any supper, yet she cleared her plate daintily of all which was placed thereon. It was one of the laws of the house that nothing should be left on a plate. Adeline had been taught that it was not lady-like. All the time Adeline was eating, taking small mouthfuls, scarcely moving her mouth, as she had been taught, she was thinking of the young man whom she had met: Dr. Aker's nephew. She wondered if he might not be coming to tea with his uncle the next afternoon. She felt herself turn hot and cold at the supposition. She kept waiting for one of her aunts to say something with regard to it. When she woke the next morning that was her first thought. Every time she looked at her Aunt Eliza or her Aunt Jane or even Hannah, there was an inquiring expression on her face. However, not a word was said with regard to Dr. Aker's nephew during the day, although the preparations for the company tea went on as they had always gone on, with the same wearying monotony. It was always Adeline's task on these occasions to polish the old silver, of which the Weavers had a large stock. Of late years she had also set the tea-table. She took especial pains with it that day. She could not help having a faint hope that Dr. Aker's nephew might come, although not a word had been said. In the middle of the afternoon she had the table decked with the fine old damask and silver, and a great china vase of roses adorned the centre, when she overheard a conversation between her aunts in the sitting-room:
“I met Mrs. Samuel Whitridge this morning on the street,” said Miss Eliza Weaver, “and she told me that Dr. Aker's nephew from Boston, Elias Farwell, had been spending two days with him.”
“Then we ought to send Hannah at once and invite him to come to tea with Dr. Akers,” responded Jane, and Adeline's heart leaped.
It sank again at Eliza Weaver's reply: “Mrs. Whitridge said he was going away on the noon train,” said she.
“It would have been strange if Dr. Akers had not told us if his nephew were to be here,” said Jane, “and given us a chance to invite him. He must be Dr. Akers's sister Lily's son.”
“Yes, she married a Farwell,” assented Eliza.
Adeline heard no more. She stood still with a drumming in her ears. Then it was all over: the little chance of a break in the terrible, tragic monotony of things. He was not coming. It was all to be the way it had always been. The girl's soft cheeks flushed, a strange glitter came into her sweet blue eyes, an inconsequent rage against existing conditions of things seized her. She had not yet put the precious old willow-ware on the table. She glanced around her. Her aunts, already dressed, were in the sitting-room. Old Hannah had gone to the store on an errand. Adeline softly closed the dining-room door. Then she did an awful thing. She carried the willow-ware — the whole set, loading her slender arms with as many pieces at a time as she could carry — out into the garden to the summer-house. In the floor of the summer-house were two loose boards. She hid the willow-ware under the floor, replacing the boards, then she flew back to the house.
When she entered the dining-room; her Aunt Eliza was calling to her from the sitting-room:
“Is the table set, dear?” asked Aunt Eliza.
Adeline opened the door a little way, and stood, her pallid, shocked young face peering through. “All except the dishes,” replied Adeline, faintly. “I think I must go up to my room and lie down a little while, Aunt Eliza.”
“Why, what is the matter, aren't you well?” inquired her aunt's soft, anxious voice.
“My head aches a little.”
Then Miss Jane Weaver spoke. “Go up to your room at once, then,” said she, “and bathe your head with cologne, and lie down until it is time to dress for tea.”
“Yes, Aunt Jane,” replied Adeline. She heard dimly her Aunt Eliza saying something about the dear child having been too long out in the sun that morning as she fled up the spiral stairs. When she reached her own room, and had closed the door, she stood still in the midst of it. She had never known before the awful delight of wickedness. Now she realized that she knew it. Hiding away that willow-ware, breaking in upon the sacred conservatism of the daily Weaver life, was to her consciousness a deed of the nature of sacrilege, let alone the deceit and the secresy involved. She was frightened as she had never been frightened, she was wretched as she had never been wretched, and yet she was conscious of a mad exhilaration which was entrancing. She took off her gown, put on a loose white wrapper, and lay down on a couch under her window. Her room was over the dining-room. She thought she might overhear something of the consternation which would arise when Hannah returned and the loss of the willow-ware was discovered. She thought, with a terrified pang, what she could do if they should come and question her, but she had not much fear of that. What she had done would be so inconceivable to her aunts that questioning would simply not occur to them.
Presently, as she lay there, she heard Hannah's heavy shuffle on the gravel-walk. Then she waited a long time. Then she heard a shrill chorus: her aunts' voices for once raised above their gentle pitch, and Hannah's, loudly vociferous, almost hysterical. They had discovered the loss of the willow-ware. Adeline felt as if she might faint. A chill crept over her in the warm afternoon. Would they come at once to her and inquire when she had last seen the willow-ware — if she knew aught concerning its disappearance? Guilty of deceit although she was, a downright falsehood was inconceivable to Adeline. She knew that if they asked, she must answer truly. She lay tense with fear, but gradually the tumult died away and nobody came. Then she heard the far-away clink of china. “Hannah is setting the table with the china with lavender sprigs,” she thought. The china with lavender-sprig pattern was regarded as the second best in the Weaver house. Adeline felt relieved. She reflected how the willow-ware had been kept by itself in one of the china closets, the closet without a glass door. In the Weaver dining-room were three china closets. The family was rich in china. Two of the closets had wood doors, one had glass in leaded pane. In that was kept odd pieces and the cut glass, for which there was no room on the old Chippendale sideboard. Adeline reasoned that no one would have noticed that the willow-ware had disappeared unless she had purposely gone to the closet for it. It was a small closet, and had contained nothing else. When she had robbed it she had left the shelves entirely bare.
It had been two o'clock when Adeline lay down. She could not sleep, but she remained on the couch in that odd state of terror and guilty exhilaration until she heard the tall clock in the hall below strike four. Dr. Akers always arrived punctually at half-past four. She realized that she must rise and dress. She arranged her hair carefully before her little muslin-draped mirror. She washed her flushed face. She looked guilty to herself. She wondered if anybody would notice. She lingered over her toilet. She got out an old sprigged muslin gown. “It does not make any difference what I wear,” she said, rebelliously to herself. She thought how different it would have been had Dr. Akers' nephew been coming. At half-past four she was dressed. She had put on a little coral necklace to brighten the old muslin. She was about to go down when she heard voices. She peeped around her dimity curtains, and — Dr. Akers was approaching the house, and his nephew was with him.
Adeline started violently. The first sensation which she had was one of shame and remorse. She felt like a naughty child who had fought, to her own undoing, against wind. Here she had done what she realized to be almost something which savored of unreason, because of disappointment and unhappiness, and here there was no disappointment, no unhappiness save what she had brought upon herself.
Adeline hesitated a second; then she hurriedly divested herself of the old muslin gown, and got a pretty new one from her closet. The gown was cross-barred muslin with a pattern of green leaves. Adeline tied a green ribbon around her waist. Then she paused irresolute before her dressing-table. She owned a valuable ornament which she longed to wear, but she was not quite sure what her aunts would think. She had never worn it much. Her aunts had always told her that it was not suitable for ordinary occasions, and poor Adeline had experienced very few occasions which did not come under that head. Finally she could not resist the temptation. She took out of a drawer a case, opened it, and forth with a green light flashed in her eyes from an emerald necklace which had come down to her from her great-grandmother, Adeline Weaver. She fastened the ornament around her neck, and, in spite of her secret guilt, smiled radiantly and innocently at her reflected image in the glass. The emeralds around her white throat gave the finishing touch to the picture. She was complete, wonderful to see. She turned her head this way and that; she smoothed the glossy golden ripples of hair which concealed her ears except the rosy tips. She perked anew the bow of her green belt-ribbon. Then she went down-stairs. When she entered the stately best parlor in which her aunts were seated with their guests, she had forgotten the willow-ware and the dreadful thing she had done. She thought only of the radiant picture adorned with emeralds which she had seen in her glass. She thought only of meeting — not meeting, had they not met already hundreds of times, in the sacred intimacy of her maiden dreams? Meeting was not the word to use with regard to her coming sight of Dr. Akers's nephew. Incarnation better expressed her exalted passion with regard to it all. The gentlemen arose directly, when Adeline crossed the parlor threshold. Dr. Akers saluted her with ceremonious politeness, and begged leave to present his nephew, Mr. Elias Farwell. Adeline courtesied. She felt the young man's hand enclosing hers. Her heart beat hard, there was a singing in her ears, but she was a gentlewoman born and bred. She greeted Mr. Farwell with the gentle composure which she had been taught. Then she seated herself beside a window. The window was open, and a green vine outside partly veiled it. The sun shone through the vine-leaves over the girl with her gold hair. Her soft face glowed with triumphant tints of rose and pearl in spite of the green light. The emeralds at her throat gleamed. She crossed her slim hands in her lap, and an emerald on one of them also gleamed. Elias Farwell gazed at her with a startled air. He thought that he had never before seen such a beautiful girl, and he had seen many girls. He had passed dreams into realities, although he was worthy of the stock from which he came.
Dr. Timothy Akers had reason for the pride with which he had presented his nephew to the Weaver ladies. It was not long before tea was announced. Young Farwell sat beside Adeline. They talked a little about the village, about Boston, how he was enjoying his visit, the weather. The surface of the conversation was prosaic enough, but there were depths below the surface. When Elias remarked upon the beauty of the weather he looked at the girl's beautiful face, he looked at the slim white hand with its gleaming emerald, and his tone took on almost a singing cadence, the cadence of a love song. Adeline's cheeks deepened in color; she scarcely raised her eyes. She heard the sweet tone of the depths: how when Elias said the weather was beautiful, he in reality was saying, “How beautiful art thou, oh my beloved, and how my heart leaps with joy at the discovery of thee.”
Yet Elias Farwell was not all sentiment and romance. He had a ready wit, and often Adeline had sore work to keep her young laughter within bounds, and not shock her aunts and Dr. Akers. She had never been so happy in her life, and yet beneath the happiness was ever present the dreadful memory of the willow-ware. Now that the maddening spell of monotony which had influenced her was broken the act seemed one of the most incredible follies as well as of wickedness.
She had little fear that her aunts would mention it while at the tea-table; she knew that they might account it a breach of good manners to mention a loss under such circumstances. However, when they were in the parlor again, she listened to Elias, with her ears ready for the willow-ware. Presently it came. First Miss Eliza mentioned the mysterious disappearance of the household treasures, then Miss Jane. Dr. Akers listened. Then he responded at once with what seemed a solution of the problem. A man had been at his own home a few days before, and had tried by the most strenuous means to induce him to sell a valuable old clock and a table. He was a collector of antiques. Dr. Akers, with a charitable bias towards doubt, voiced his suspicion of this man. He had been aggressive, fairly impertinent, perhaps he —
Miss Eliza immediately concurred with his half-expressed view. She had little doubt that some one had told the man of their willow-ware, that the man had also been told that there was no hope of his being able to purchase. “We often have the side door unlocked,” said Miss Eliza; “then if sister and I were in our rooms, and Adeline out — Hannah does not hear readily — it would be quite possible.”
Miss Jane also became convinced. “In future we must keep that door locked,” she said. She did not even then express much grief for the loss of the china. She felt grief, but she held it to be ill-bred to manifest it. Miss Eliza, too, was restrained. Adeline said nothing. Elias was watching her. He looked puzzled and concerned. The girl's face was as pale as chalk, her eyes were dilated as with fear. She expected every moment a point-blank question, as to when she had last seen the china. She felt that she could not bear it before him. Elias leaned over and almost whispered in her ear:
“Haven't you a garden behind the house?” he asked.
Adeline nodded. She could not speak.
Just then Dr. Aker asked her to play. She could not feel her feet as she walked towards the ancient piano. Dr. Akers asked for “Dewfall,” and Elias found the music and turned the pages. Adeline always wondered how she ever got through it. When she had finished, Elias spoke rather peremptorily:
“It is charming,” he said — “charming; but Miss Weaver cannot play again now. She has promised to show me the garden before dark.”
Miss Eliza looked politely dismayed. In spite of her sentimental yearnings over the piece of music called “Dewfall,” she had passed the age when she cared to be exposed to the reality of the title. She thought of her rheumatism, she felt a premonitory twinge, but she rose at once. Of course Adeline could not be allowed to walk in the garden with a young man, so late, without a chaperon. “Please get my white shawl, my dear,” she said, patiently to Adeline.
But Dr. Akers regarded her with more of romantic reminiscence than usual. He begged that she would remain. He had some matters pertaining to the church to discuss with her. Dr. Akers had a covert sympathy with his nephew. Then it was Miss Jane's turn. She rose and fluttered perceptibly like a bird for a second. Then she sat down again. It was manifest that she could not be in two places at once. She also did not like to be from under the shelter of a roof after dewfall, and she considered that her sister as well as Adeline required a chaperon.
It thus happened that young Elias Farwell and young Adeline Weaver went forth alone into the garden together. Adeline gathered up her filmy muslin skirts, and flitted beside the young man along the box-bordered paths. The dark was coming rapidly, and a heavy silver steam was at once rising and falling. Clouds from the moist, warm earth met shafts of cloud reaching down from the sky. Through these shafts presently the moon shone dimly, turning them from silver to a mystery of gold. All around them was the subtle odor of the box, and also of roses and heliotrope. The pair walked on in this silver and gold mist inhaling the bouquet of youth and summer. Adeline had taken Elias's arm. Their talk at first was commonplace enough. Elias inquired if she were not afraid of the dampness, and Adeline replied that she was not, and there had been a world of tender solicitude and responsive trust in the trite remarks. Then Adeline said something about the odor of the box being so evident, and that some people considered it unhealthy, but she loved it, and Elias replied, fervently, that he loved it too. He felt in truth as if he loved everything which had the slightest relation to this lovely creature on his arm. They walked through the garden-paths several times; the mist deepened. Adeline's face was as dewy as a flower. Elias laid his hand on her muslin sleeve. “Why, your sleeve is wet, fairly wet,” said he.
“Perhaps we had better return to the house,” Adeline said. She spoke like a reluctant child. A little laugh sounded at her side, a little laugh of tender triumph and amusement.
“Nonsense, you do not want to go in and sit with my uncle and your aunts,” he said.
Adeline shrank away from him a little. “But it is really very wet,” she said, “such a heavy dew.” In reality she dreaded what her aunts might think if she came in with her new muslin limp and draggled.
Elias had an inspiration. “You do not want to go into the house,” he said. “Why not sit for a while in that summer-house we just passed. There will be a roof over our heads and floor under our feet. Why?” He paused in amazement at the violent start which the girl beside him gave. Suddenly she remembered the willow-ware.
“What is the matter?” he inquired, anxiously.
“Nothing,” replied Adeline, faintly.
“Come, then,” said Elias. Soon the two sat side by side in the summer-house, gazing out into the pale luminousness which surrounded them, and out of which the scent of the box called like a voice with some mystic message. “What is the name of the piece you played?” asked Elias.
Elias laughed out. “Who taught you to play?” he asked.
Elias laughed again. “That is the reason why you touch the keys as if you had little shell thimbles on your fingers,” he said.
Adeline laughed, too. She was not at all offended. “That is the way Aunt Eliza taught me,” she said — “the way she used to play it. I don't like the piece very well.”
“Nor I. But when you play your fingers ought to kiss the keys, not peck at them. Your aunt's fingers are very tapering.”
Then Elias spoke like a boy, and indeed he was little more. “I am twenty-three,” said he. “How old are you?”
“I think my Uncle Timothy used to be rather in love with one of your aunts,” said Elias.
“I think so,” Adeline admitted, tremulously.
“Your Aunt Eliza?”
“If they had been married we should have been as good as cousins,” said Elias. “Your Aunt Eliza must have been a pretty girl.”
“I think she must have been.”
“I wonder if they ever think of it now. It must seem very far away,” Elias said.
The two looked at each other, their faces were white blurs. They were almost a part of the shadows around them, but they felt their youth in every vein. They were something apart from the elderly people in the house, they triumphed over the faint languishing of the night.
They sat so close that their shoulders touched. Each tried to conceal the fact from self-consciousness and from the other. Each felt for self, the most sacred modesty; for the other, the most sacred respect; and yet their young shoulders touched, and such thrills of sweetness passed through their souls and their bodies that it seemed as if light and perfume and music must come of it.
“I was going away this afternoon,” Elias said, in a whisper. Adeline shuddered a little at the thought; they sat closer to each other. “I saw you last night on the street with those two girls,” Elias went on, “and — I — decided I would not go. Uncle Timothy said he would bring me here to tea to-night, and so I —”
His voice trailed into nothingness. Suddenly the young man's arm was around the girl's waist, his cheek against her soft cool one, his panting whisper in her ear: “I — I have only known you a few hours, a few minutes,” he said, “but — but I never saw any one like you. Can you tell so soon? Can you tell if you can ever care? You have only known me a few minutes — can you —”
“I have known you forever,” Adeline whispered back.
Then they kissed each other. Adeline's head sank on the young man's shoulder. She was in a sort of ecstasy.
“Then you — can tell,” stammered Elias. “You can tell now that some day you can care enough for me to marry me. I —”
Elias stopped in dismay. Adeline had torn herself from his arms. She was on her feet. She had remembered the dreadful thing she had done. She remembered the blue china under the very floor on which they stood. How could she tell him? And yet she could not marry him unless she did tell.
“It is very damp and very late,” Adeline said, in a quivering but peremptory voice. “I must return to the house.”
With that she was already in the path, flitting ahead, and naught for Elias to do but to follow her, pressing her softly with anxious questions, to which she paid no heed. Adeline fairly ran, and soon they were in the parlor with their elders, and Adeline was pale, and her aunts were feeling her damp muslin with dismay. Soon Dr. Akers and his nephew took their leave, and Adeline was made to drink a glass of port to ward off a cold before she went to bed.
The next day Elias Farwell appeared again, and the next, and the next. He was a most ardent wooer, but he seemed to make no progress. Adeline gave him no more solitary interviews. She looked at him at times as if she loved him, but also as if she were afraid. Young Elias Farwell did not underrate his attractions. He was no faint heart. He remained in the village as his uncle's guest, and he laid siege to Adeline day after day. But it was a full month before he discovered the obstacle to his wooing. One Thursday evening he was taking tea at the Weaver mansion with his uncle, and the subject of the willow-ware was broached again. He happened to be looking at Adeline, and something in her face betrayed her. He did not know what the secret was, but he knew that she had a secret concerning the missing china which made her heart sore.
That evening for the first time Adeline weakened, and the two went out in the garden again. Now the roses were gone, but the scent of the box endured under a clear sky, through which the great lustre of the moon floated. They sat down in the summer-house again, and Elias laid his hand resolutely on the girl's.
“Now you must tell me,” said he. “I know a good deal already. You have shunned me because of the willow-ware. Why? What has a set of blue and white china's disappearance to do with you and me?”
“It is under this floor,” Adeline said, in a strained voice.
Elias stared at her. “Under this floor?”
“Yes, there were two loose boards.”
“You put it there?”
“Because — I had seen you, and I thought you had gone, and — because —”
“Because every day was like every other, and I was tired of it.” Adeline began to weep.
Elias broke into a peal of laughter, and caught her in his arms. “Lord! I should have smashed the willow-ware, every dish of it, long before now if I had had to live the way you do with your dear old aunts, with every day the same, except when Uncle came to tea, and you had to play ‘Dewfall’!” said he.
“You understand?” faltered Adeline.
“I think you can never do anything which I shall not be able to understand,” said Elias Farwell.
The next Thursday evening the uncle and nephew came again to the Weaver mansion to tea. Adeline wore a pearl ring on her engagement finger. Her aunts and Dr. Akers approved of the match, and Elias's mother had written her a beautiful letter. And the table was set with the willow-ware. The Misses Weaver looked years younger. They seemed to have gotten renewed vitality. They talked quite loudly, quite rapidly.
“Only think,” said Miss Eliza, “Hannah opened the door, and there was the willow-ware.”
“Yes,” said Miss Jane, “every piece.”
“Probably the man grew conscience stricken and brought it back; the side door was left unlocked the night before,” said Miss Eliza.
“It is beautiful how much honesty and goodness there is in this world, after all,” said Miss Jane. Her eyes sparkled with radiant excitement. Nobody knew what the disappearance and mysterious recovery of the willow-ware meant to the Misses Weaver.
They had probably not realized it in the least, but the monotony of their lives had told upon them as well as upon their niece. They had become wearily stagnated. Now all was changed. In spite of their natural grief, when Adeline had married Elias Farwell and gone away to live, they seemed to acquire an after-bloom in their old age. It was all due to the willow-ware. “It would be fairly cruel to tell them,” Elias often said to Adeline, when her conscience smote her, and he was right. Not a day but had its savor of mystery and excitement — because — who could tell if the willow-ware would be on its accustomed shelves when the china-closet door was opened or not? It was a shock of happiness which acted like some subtle stimulant for their spirits when they found the china intact. The ever present wonder if they might not, was another. Even Dr. Akers wrote new sermons under this strange influence. He went home in those days from the Weaver mansion feeling an odd mental strengthening after a discussion about the willow-ware. Right or wrong, they had all gotten a jolt towards happiness out of their ruts of life, which had been wearing their very souls bare of youth and hope.