Margaret Wade Campbell Deland.

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about the room. "Damn it! _I_ don't want to lose his good opinion,

Her face turned darkly red. "Oh," she cried, passionately, "'opinion'!
What difference does his 'opinion' make to me? A mother is a mother. And
I love him! Oh, I love him so, I could just _die_! If he would put his
arms around me the way he does to that terrible Miss Lydia, and kiss
me, and say" - she clenched her hands and closed her eyes, and whispered
the word she hungered to hear - "'_Mother! Mother!_' If I could hear him
say _that_," she said, "I could just lie down and die! Couldn't you? - to
hear him say 'Father'?"

Robertson set his teeth. "And what kind of an idea would he have of his
'father'? No, I won't consent to it!"

"We can't get him in any other way," she urged.

"Then we'll never get him. I can't face it."

"You don't love him as much as I do!"

"I love him enough not to want to risk losing his respect."

But this sentiment was beyond Johnny's mother; all she thought of was
her aching hunger for the careless, good-humored, but bored young man.
The hunger for him grew and grew; it gnawed at her day and night. She
urged Carl to take a house in Princeton while Johnny was in college, and
only Johnny's father's common sense kept this project from being carried
out. "You're afraid!" she taunted him.

"Dear," he said, kindly, "I'm afraid of being an ass. If he saw us
tagging after him he'd hate us both. He's a man!" Carl said, proudly.
"No, I've no fancy for losing the regard of" - he paused - "my son," he
said, very quietly.

His wife put her hand over her mouth and stared at him; the word was too
great for her; it was her baby she thought of, not her son.

In Johnny's first vacation, when she had rushed to Old Chester in June
to open the house, she was met by the information that he was going off
for the summer on a geological expedition.

Mary's disappointment made her feel a little sick. "What _shall_ I do
without you!"

"Oh, if Aunty can do without me, I guess outsiders can," said Johnny,
with clumsy amiability.

"We'll be here when you get back in September," she said.

He yawned, and said, "All right." Then he strolled off, and she went
upstairs and cried.

Johnny, walking home after this embarrassing interview, striking at the
roadside brambles with a switch and whistling loudly, said to himself:
"How on earth did Mr. Robertson fall in love with her? _He's_ got
brains." A day or two later he went off for his geological summer,
leaving in his mother's heart that rankling word, "outsiders." As the
weeks dragged along and she counted the days until he would be back, she
brooded and brooded over it. It festered so deeply that she could not
speak of it to Johnny's father. But once she said: "He's ungrateful! See
all we've done for him!" - and Carl realized that bitterness toward Miss
Lydia, who had "robbed" her, was extending to the boy himself. And
again - it was in August, and Johnny was to be at home in a
fortnight - she said, "He ought to be _made_ to come to us!"

Her husband looked at her in surprise. "You can't 'make' anybody love
you, Mary. We are just outsiders to him."

She cried out so sharply that he was frightened, not knowing that he had
turned a dagger-word in the wound.

Perhaps it was the intolerable pain of knowing that she was helpless
that drove her one day, without Carl's knowledge, to the rectory. "I'll
put it to Doctor Lavendar as - as somebody else's story - the trouble of a
'friend,' and maybe he can tell me how I can make Johnny feel that we
are _not_ outsiders! Oh, he owes it to us to do what we want! I'll tell
Doctor Lavendar that the father and mother lived out West and are
friends of mine. . . . He'll never put two and two together."

She walked past the rectory twice before she could get her courage to
the point of knocking. When she did, it was Willy King who opened the

"Oh - is Doctor Lavendar ill?" she said. And Doctor King answered, dryly,
that when you are eighty-two you are not particularly well.

"I thought I'd just drop in and ask his advice on something - nothing
important," said Johnny's mother, breathlessly. "I'll go away, and come
some other time."

Upon which, from the open window overhead, came a voice: "I won't be
wrapped up in cotton batting! Send Mary Robertson upstairs."

"Haven't I any rights?" Willy called back, good-naturedly, and Doctor
Lavendar retorted:

"Maybe you have, but I have many wrongs. Come along, Mary."

She went up, saying to herself: "I'll not speak of it. I'll just say
I've come to see him." She was so nervous when she entered the room that
her breath caught in her throat and she could hardly say, "How do you

The old man was in bed with a copy of _Robinson Crusoe_ on the table
beside him. He held out a veined and trembling hand:

"William's keeping me alive so he can charge me for two calls a day.
Well, my dear, what can I do for you?"

Mrs. Robertson sat down in a big armchair and said, panting, that - that
it was terribly hot.

Doctor Lavendar watched her from under his heavy, drooping eyelids.

"There was something I was going to ask you about," she said, "but it's
no matter. Doctor King says you are sick."

"Don't believe all Doctor King tells you."

"I just wanted to get advice for - for somebody else. But it's no

"Let's hear about the 'somebody else.'"

"They are not Old Chester people - so you won't mind if I don't name

"Not in the least," said Doctor Lavendar, genially. "Call 'em Smith;
that's a somewhat general title."

"Oh - no, that's not their name," she said, panic-stricken - then saw that
he had meant it as a joke, and said, trying to smile, yes, there _were_
a good many Smiths in the world! Then suddenly her misery rose like a
wave, and swept her into words: "These people are terribly unhappy, at
least the mother is, because - " She paused, stammered, felt she had gone
too far, and stumbled into contradictions which could not have misled
anyone, certainly not Doctor Lavendar. "They, these people, had let
their child be adopted - oh, a great many years ago, because they - they
were not so situated that they could bring him - it - up. But they could,
now. And they wanted him, they wanted him - her, I mean," said Mary; "I
believe it was a little girl. But the little girl didn't want to come
back to them. And the person who had taken her influenced her against
her parents, who had done _everything_ for her! - given her everything a
child could want. It's cruel," said Mary. "Cruel! I know the parents,
and - "

"Mary," said Doctor Lavendar, gently, "so do I."

She recoiled as if from a blow. "No - oh no! You are mistaken, sir. You
couldn't know them. His - his relatives don't live here. They live in
another city. You couldn't possibly know them!"

She was white with terror. What would Carl say? Oh, she must lie her way
out of it! How mad she had been to come here and hint at things!

"I have known Johnny Smith's parentage for several years, Mary."

"I didn't say the child was Johnny Smith!"

"_I_ said so."

"I don't know what you're talking about! The father and mother lived out
West, but _I_ don't know the child. He is nothing to me."

"I wonder," said Doctor Lavendar, half to himself, "do we all deny love
thrice? - for you do love him, Mary, my dear; I know you do."

She tried, in panic denial, to meet his quiet eyes - then gave a little
moan and bent over and hid her face on her knees.

"Oh, I do love him - I do," she said in a whisper. "But he doesn't love
me. . . . And yet he is _mine_ - Carl's and mine." Then anger flared up
again: "Who told you? Oh, it was Miss Lydia, and she promised she
wouldn't! How wicked in her!"

"No one told me." There was a moment's silence, then Doctor Lavendar
said, "There were people in Old Chester who thought he was Miss

"Fools! fools!" she said, passionately.

"No one came forward to deny it."

She did not notice this; the flood of despair and longing broke into
entreaty; how could she get her child - her own child - who considered her
just an outsider! "That's Miss Lydia's influence!" she said.

Doctor Lavendar listened, asked a question or two, and then was silent.

"I am dying for him!" she said; "oh, I am in agony for him!"

The old man looked at her with pitying keenness. Was this agony a
spiritual birth or was it just the old selfishness which had never
brooked denial? And if indeed it was a travail of the spirit, would not
the soul be stillborn if her son's love should fail to sustain it? Yet
why should Johnny love her? . . . Mary was talking and trying not to
cry; her words were a fury of pain and protest:

"Miss Lydia won't give him up to people who haven't any claim upon
him, - I mean any claim that is known. Of course we have a claim - the
greatest! But Johnny doesn't know, so he won't consent to take our
name - though it is our _right_! He doesn't know any reason for it. You

"I see."

"I suppose if we told him the truth we could get him. But I'm afraid to
tell him. Yet without telling him I can't make him love me! He said I
was an 'outsider.' _I!_ his mother! But if he knew there was a reason - "

Doctor Lavendar looked out of the window into the yellowing leaves of
the old jargonelle-pear tree, and shook his head. "Hearts don't come
when Reason whistles to 'em," he said.

"Oh, if I could just hear him say 'mother'!"

"Why should he say 'mother'? You haven't been a mother to him."

"I've given him everything!"

Doctor Lavendar was silent.

"He _ought_ to come to us. He is ours; and he owes us - "

"Just what you've earned, Mary, just what you've earned. That's what
children 'owe' their parents."

"Oh, what am I to do? What am I to do?"

"How much do you want him, Mary?"


She was stammering with sobs. "It's all I want - it's my life - "

"_Perhaps_ publicity would win him. He has a great respect for courage.
So perhaps - "

She cringed. "But that couldn't be! It couldn't be. Don't you

"Poor Mary!" said Doctor Lavendar. "Poor girl!"

"Doctor Lavendar, make him come to us. _You_ can do it. You can do

"Mary, neither you nor I nor anybody else can 'make' a harvest anything
but the seed which has been sowed. My child, you sowed vanity and
selfishness." . . . By and by he put his hand on hers and said: "Mary,
wait. Wait till you love him more and yourself less."

It was dark when she went away.

When Doctor King came in in the evening he said to himself that Mary
Robertson and the whole caboodle of 'em weren't worth the weariness in
the wise old face.

"William," said Doctor Lavendar, "I hope there won't be any conundrums
in heaven; I don't seem able to answer them any more." Then the
whimsical fatigue vanished and he smiled. "Lately I've just said, 'Wait:
God knows.' And stopped guessing."

But he didn't stop thinking.


AS for Johnny's mother, she kept on thinking, too, but she yielded, for
the moment, to the inevitableness of her harvest. And of course the
devotion, and the invitations to Philadelphia, and the summers in Old
Chester continued. Johnny's bored good humor accepted them all patiently
enough; "for she is kind," he reminded himself. "And I like _him_," he
used to tell his aunt Lydia. Once he confided his feelings on this
subject to William King:

"They are queer folks, the Robertsons," Johnny said. "Why do they
vegetate down here in Old Chester? They don't seem to know anybody but
Aunt Lydia."

William and the big fellow were jogging along in the doctor's shabby
buggy out toward Miss Lydia's; she was very frail that summer and Johnny
had insisted that William King should come to see her. "The Robertsons
know _you_, apparently," the doctor said.

"Well, yes," John said, "and they've been nice to me ever since I can

"G'on!" Doctor King told his mare, and slapped a rein down on Jinny's

"But, Doctor King, they _are_ queer," Johnny insisted. "What's the milk
in the coconut about 'em?"

"Maybe a thunderstorm soured it."

Johnny grinned, then he looked at Jinny's ears, coughed, and said, "I'd
like to ask you a question, sir."

"Go ahead."

"When people are kind to you - just what do you owe 'em? I didn't ask
them to be kind to me - I mean the Robertsons - but, holy Peter!" said
Johnny, "they've given me presents ever since I was a child. They even
had a wild idea of getting me to take their name! I said, 'No, thank
you!' Why should I take their name? . . . Mrs. Robertson always seems
sort of critical of Aunty. Think of that! Course she never says
anything; she'd better not! If she did I'd raise Cain. But I _feel_ it,"
Johnny said, frowning. "Well, what I want to know is, what do you owe
people who do you favors? Mind you, _I_ don't want their favors!"

"Well," William ruminated, "I should say that we owe people who do us
favors, the truth of how we feel about them. If the truth wouldn't be
agreeable to them, don't accept the favors!"

"Well, the 'truth' is that I get mad when Mrs. Robertson looks down on
Aunty! Think of what she's stood for me!" the boy said, suddenly very
red in the face. "When I was fifteen one of the fellows told me I
was - was her son. I rubbed his nose in the mud."

"Oh, that was how Mack got his broken nose, was it?" Doctor King
inquired, much interested. "Well, I'm glad you did it. I guess it cured
him of being _one_ kind of a fool. There was a time when I wanted to rub
one or two female noses in the mud. However, they are really not worth
thinking of, Johnny."

"No," John agreed, "but anybody who looks cross-eyed in my presence at
Aunt Lydia will get his head punched."

"Amen," said William King, and drew Jinny in at Miss Lydia's gate.

It cannot be said that William King's opinion as to what we owe people
who do us favors was very illuminating to Johnny. "I like 'em - and I
don't like 'em," he told Miss Lydia, with a bothered look. "But I wish
to Heaven she'd let up on presents!"

On the whole he liked them more than he failed to like them; perhaps
because they were, to a big, joyous, somewhat conceited youngster,
rather pitiful in the way in which they seemed to hang upon him. He said
as much once to his aunt Lydia; Mrs. Robertson had asked him to come to
supper, but had not asked Miss Lydia. "I suppose I've got to go," he
said, scowling, "but they needn't think I'd rather have supper with them
than with you! I just go because I'm sorry for 'em."

"I am, too, Johnny," she said. She had ceased to be afraid of them by
this time. Yet she might have been just a little afraid if she had known
all that this special invitation involved. . . .

Mary Robertson no longer shared her longing for her son with her
husband. She had not even told him of that day when her misery had
welled up and overflowed in frantic words to Doctor Lavendar. But she
had never resigned herself to reaping what she had sowed. She was still
determined, _somehow_, to get possession of her boy. Occasionally she
spoke of this determination to Doctor Lavendar, just because it was a
relief to put it into words; but he never gave her much encouragement.
He could only counsel a choice of two things: secrecy - and fortitude; or
truth - and doubtful hope.

Little by little hope gained, and truth seemed more possible. And by and
by a plan grew in her mind: she would get Doctor Lavendar to help her to
tell Johnny the truth, and then, supported by religion (as she thought
of it), she would tell her son that it was his duty to live with
her; - "nobody will know _why_! And he can't say 'no,' if Doctor Lavendar
says, 'honor thy father and thy mother'!" That Doctor Lavendar would say
this, she had no doubt whatever, for was he not a minister, and
ministers always counseled people to obey the Commandments. "But when I
get him here, with Johnny, we must be by ourselves," she thought; "I
won't speak before _her_!"

So that was why Miss Lydia was not invited to supper when Johnny
was - Johnny and Doctor Lavendar! Mary Robertson was so tense all that
September day when her two guests were expected that her husband noticed

"You're not well, Mary?" he said.

"Oh yes, yes!" she said - she was pacing up and down, up and down, like a
caged creature. "Carl, Doctor Lavendar is coming this evening."

"My dear, I think that is about the tenth time you have mentioned it! I
should not call the old gentleman a very exciting guest."

"And Johnny is coming."

"Well, what of it? I hope Doctor Lavendar won't ask him to say his

As it happened, Johnny came first, and his mother was so eager to see
him and touch him that, hearing his step, she ran to help him off with
his coat - to his great embarrassment; then she came into the library
clinging to his arm. Father and son greeted each other with, "Hello,
youngster!" and, "Hello, sir!" and Johnny added that it was beginning to
rain like blazes.

"I sent the carriage for Doctor Lavendar," Mrs. Robertson said.

"He coming?" Johnny asked.

"Yes," she said; "he's very, very good, Johnny, and" - she paused, then
said, breathlessly, "_you must do whatever he wants you to do_."

The young man looked faintly interested. "What's she up to now?" he
asked himself; then began to talk to his father. But remembering his
aunt Lydia's parting injunction, "Now, Johnny, be nice to Mrs.
Robertson," he was careful to speak to his mother once in a while.
Happening to catch the twinkle of her rings, he tried to be especially

"When I get rich I'm going to buy Aunty a diamond ring like yours, Mrs.

"I'll give you one of mine, if you'll wear it," she said, eagerly.

Johnny's guffaw of laughter ended in a droll look at his father, who

"My dear Mary! This _cub_, and a diamond ring?"

She was too absorbed in loving her child to be hurt by his bad manners,
and, besides, at that moment Doctor Lavendar arrived, and she ran out
into the hall to welcome him; as she took his hand she whispered:

"Doctor Lavendar, you will help me with Johnny? _I am going to tell
him._ I'm going to tell him to-night! - and I depend on you to make him
come to us."

The old man's face grew very grave; he looked closely at Mary, standing
there, clasping and unclasping her hands, but he did not answer her.
Later, when they went out to the dining room, he was still silent, just
watching Mary and listening to Johnny, - who laughed and talked (and was
"nice" to his mother), and ate enormously, and who looked, sitting there
at his grandfather's old table, as much like the new Mr. Smith as
twenty-three can look like seventy-eight.

"Well," the young fellow said, friendly and confidential to the company
at large, "what do you suppose? It's settled - my 'career'!"

"I hope that means Robertson and Carey?" Mr. Robertson said. He glanced
over at his son with a sort of aching pride in his strength and
carelessness. "I've offered this youngster a place in my firm," he
explained to Doctor Lavendar, who said:

"Have you, indeed?"

"No," Johnny said, "it doesn't mean Carey and Robertson, though you're
mighty kind, Mr. Robertson. But you see I can't leave Old Chester. It
would pull Aunt Lydia up by the roots to go away. And of course I
couldn't go without her."

Mary's plump hand, with its shining rings, clenched sharply on the
tablecloth; she drew in her breath, but she said nothing.

"Well, what are you going to do?" Carl said, not daring to meet his
wife's eyes.

"Aunt Lydia got a job for me in Mr. Dilworth's hardware store."

His mother cried out - then checked herself. "Miss Lydia ought not to
have thought of such a thing!" she tried to speak quietly, but she had
to bite her lip to keep it steady.

"Mary!" her husband warned her.

John's face darkened. "Aunty ought always to do whatever she does do,"
he said.

"Of course," his father agreed, soothingly.

"I only meant," Mary explained, in a frightened voice, "that a hardware
store isn't much of a chance for a man like you."

"It means staying in Old Chester with Aunty," he explained; "she's not
very well now, Mrs. Robertson," he said, and sighed; "it would be too
much for her, to move. She's not equal to it." His strong, rather harsh
face softened and sobered. "And as for a hardware store not being a
chance for _me_ - I mean to make Rome howl with a Mercer branch! You see,
Aunty bought a half-interest for me. The Lord knows where she got the
money! Saved it out of her food all these years, I guess."

"She didn't, apparently, save it out of your food," Doctor Lavendar
said, dryly; "I believe you weigh two hundred, Johnny."

"Only a hundred and eighty-four," the young man assured him.

Mary, listening, was tingling all over; she had planned a very cautious
approach to the truth which was to give her son back to her. She meant
first to hint, and then to admit, and then to declare her _right_ to his
love. But that Miss Lydia, without consulting Johnny's father and
mother, should have put him into such a business - "_my son_ in a
hardware store!" Mary thought; - that Miss Lydia should have dared! "He's
mine - he's mine - he's mine! . . . Of course," she was saying to herself
as they went back to the library after dinner - "of course, he'll give it
up the minute he knows who he is. But I hate her!"

The room, in the September dusk, was lighted only by a lamp on the big
desk; the windows opening on the garden were raised, for it was hot
after the rain, and the air blew in, fragrant with wet leaves and the
scent of some late roses. Johnny's father, sinking down in a great
leather chair, watched the young, vigorous figure standing in front of
the mantelpiece, smoking and, after the fashion of his years, laying
down the law for the improvement of the world. Doctor Lavendar did not
look at Johnny, but at his mother, who stood clutching the corner of the
big desk - that desk at which, one September night twenty-three years
ago, Johnny's grandfather had been sitting when Miss Lydia came into the
library. . . .

"Mary, my dear, aren't you going to sit down?" said Doctor Lavendar.

She did not seem to hear him. "Look here," she said, harshly; "I can't
stand it - I won't stand it - "

Carl sprang up and laid his hand on her arm. "Mary!" he said, under his
breath. "_Please_," he besought her; "for God's sake don't - don't - "

"Johnny, you belong to me," Mary said.

John Smith, his cigar halfway to his lips, paused, bewildered and
alarmed. "Isn't she well?" he said, in a low voice to Doctor Lavendar.

"I'm perfectly well. But I'm going to speak. Doctor Lavendar will tell
you I have a right to speak! Tell him so, Doctor Lavendar."

"She has the right to speak," the old man said.

"You hear that?" said the mother. "He says I have a right to you!"

"I didn't say that," said Doctor Lavendar.

"Mary," her husband protested, "I will not allow" - but she did not hear

"Miss Lydia sha'n't have you any longer. You are _mine_, Johnny - _mine_.
I want you, and I'm going to have you!"

John Smith's face went white; he put his cigar down on the mantelpiece,
went across the long room, closed the door into the hall, then came back
and looked at his mother. No one spoke. Doctor Lavendar had bent his
head and shut his eyes; he would not watch the three struggling souls
before him. Johnny slowly turned his eyes toward Mr. Robertson.

"And you - ?"

"Yes," his father said. "John, you'll make the best of us, won't you?"

Silence tingled between them.

Then, unsteadily, and looking always at his father, John began to speak.
"Of course it makes no difference to me. Aunt Lydia and I have our own
life. But - I'm sorry, sir." He put his shaking hands into his pockets.
"You and Mrs. Robertson - "

"Oh, say 'mother'! Say 'mother'!" she cried out.

" - have been very kind to me, always," - he paused, in a sudden,
realizing adjustment: their "kindness," then, had not been the
flattery he had supposed? It was just - love? "Awfully kind," he said,
huskily. "Once I did wonder . . . then I thought it couldn't be,
because - because, you see, I've always liked you, sir," he ended,

Carl Robertson was dumb.

"I've told you," his mother said, trembling - her fingers, catching at
the sheet of blotting paper on desk, tore off a scrap of it, rolled it,
twisted it, then pull off another scrap - "I've told you, because you are
to come to us. You are to take our name - your name." She paused,
swallowing hard, and struggling to keep the tears back. "You are _ours_,
not hers. People thought you were hers, and it just about killed me."

Instantly the blood rushed into John Smith's face; his eyes blazed.

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Online LibraryMargaret Wade Campbell DelandAn Old Chester secret → online text (page 5 of 6)