Charles W. (Charles Watts) Whistler.

The seas of God : a novel online

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"My poor little Lydia," he cried brokenly, holding her to
him, comprehending everything. "My poor little Lydia."


A Novel


'. . . .Are they not all the seas of God?"

Walt Whitman


Copyright, 1915, by

All rights reserved, including tht translation into foreign
languages, including the Scandinavian.





LYDIA stood looking out toward the sunset. She
delighted in this hour of the winter afternoon
when glow was dying into gloom, in the bare trees
etched in all the delicate, lacelike intricacy of their
twigs and branches against the deepening orange of
the sky; and she was deriving now, from this sad but
splendid sunset hour, most exquisite sensations, tinged
pleasurably with melancholy.

A great evergreen tangle of honeysuckle clung to
one end of a narrow porch that ran part way across
the front of the cottage. Slats broken, or missing en-
tirely, left conspicuous gaps in all the blinds, and both
green and grey paint, blinds and walls, were dingy and
streaked from Kingsville's fierce summer suns, and the
frequent soot-showers of her winters.

The cottage had no distinction except one of site,
and in Kingsville, girt by its blue mountains, a beau-
site was so common as hardly to constitute of itself
any distinction at all. For Kingsville was built on
seven hills, an old brick-built Southern town, bristling

with church spires. " Built like the Eternal City on
seven hills " Lydia, when a child, had heard some
one say. What a torch to her imagination had been
that comparison of Kingsville to far-off Rome !

A time had come when she wondered why she did
not hate, instead of love, Kingsville.

She was wondering that this evening, for her glance
would travel to a neighbouring hill where the old build-
ings of Ransom College stood silhouetted against the
southern sky, the chapel with its little bell-tower crown-
ing the hill-top. At the foot of the hill, in the house
surrounded with great magnolia trees, whose chimneys
she could make out from the cottage window, she had
lived from her earliest memories until Ransom College
where her father had given his best years had
invited his resignation.

She caught sight of her father coming up the brick
walk. She had realised his health was declining, but
all at once she became conscious that never before had
he looked quite like this.

He came in from the porch, shivering, and, saying
something about the cold, went over to the open fire,
and held his long, thin hands before it to warm them.

Lydia busied herself about the table she had set for
supper. Since economy in coal had become a pressing
necessity, they used this sitting room for meals as well.
It was an irking way to Lydia her tastes were spa-
cious an irking, poor-folk's way of managing. But
she was not thinking just of that now. The fact was,
she could not trust her voice to answer his remark about
the weather because of a sudden oppressive sensation


in her throat. She fled to the kitchen to escape the too
close surveillance of his eyes.

Here, in an odd flash, she caught herself thinking
how remarkable it was that the rosy glow thrown forth
into the dusk of the room from the little openings in
the front of the cookstove, and the gentle singing of the
tea-kettle, should convey to her homely sight and
sound that they were an impression of something
definitely reassuring. ... It could not, could not, be
so alarming, really, she said to herself, that look of
her father, as for an instant she had allowed herself
to believe.


She set about slicing a piece of cold boiled beef with
feverish activity. To have something definite like this
to do, and to do at once, was to make yourself half
believe that nothing out of the ordinary had occurred
no terrifying impression just been received ! She
opened the oven and tested the potatoes to see if they
were done. Through a back window she saw her
father, who had gone out to the coal-shed in the rear
lot, set the loaded coal buckets down half way the short
distance from the shed to the steps of the cottage, and
place his hand on his back.

Before he could lift the buckets again, Lydia had
darted out of the door.

His face was ashy.

" Father, let me carry them ! "

; ' I'm all right." He struggled to smile as he
brushed her aside.


She followed him Into the kitchen.

" Oh, Father, I wish you'd change doctors! I don't
believe Dr. Williams is helping you at all 1 " she said
vehemently, and as she uttered the words a flame of
indignation rose in her young breast. Dr. Williams
was responsible that was it for all these distress-
ing feelings that had suddenly overtaken her. But in
her effort to calm her growing fears, she kept saying
over to herself emphatically, " Well, if Dr. Williams
can't help him, surely some doctor can ! "


When they were seated at supper, her father drew
a letter from his pocket, unfolded a check from it, and
handed it to her.

" It's for you, Lydia. . . ."


Her eyes widened with surprise. She noticed the
check was in payment for an article he had written on
the " Flora of the Kingsville Region," but she was
puzzled to know why he should hand it to her.

" Didn't I see you looking at a suit, yesterday? "

She turned crimson. Then he had seen her looking
in the windows at Maxfield's !

' You need a suit, Lydia." He motioned her to
keep the check. " And get a * toque,' or whatever they
call those little hats," he added awkwardly, evidently
conscious that he knew very little about the intricacies
of feminine dress.

As he lifted his cup of tea, she noticed the frayed


edge of his coat sleeve, and the lump in her throat
seemed on the point of choking her.

He looked up from his plate, directly at her, and a
slight, almost wistful smile passed over his large-
featured face, deepening its furrows.

" Lydia, what's the matter?" he asked. "You're

" No, I'm not! " she broke in with abrupt vivacity,
a smile glistening through her tears.

" It's just . . . I'm so pleased . . . about the suit.
. . . Oh, thank you, thank you ! "

She jumped up from the table, and as she flew by
him into her bedroom she bestowed with childish
gaucherie a swift, agitated kiss on the thin locks of
greyish hair that straggled over his forehead.


An hour later, she persuaded him to put away his
writing for the evening those articles he wrote, alas !
so few accepted and brought out the chessboard.

For Lydia, chess was an expiatory diversion. The
long waits for determining whether Pawn should be
sacrificed, Knight advanced, or what not, were all but
unendurable to her impatient habit of mind. She only
proposed the game at times like this when she was feel-
ing vaguely burdened with guilt. For view it as she
would, she felt it somehow culpable in herself that she
should be exhilarated, as without doubt she was, over
the prospect of the suit in Maxfield's windows at which
she had gazed longingly her own I


It seemed to her this evening, as she bent over the
chessboard the light on the table making her bright
hair a nimbus about her head that the silences of the
game were longer and more appalling than ever before.
The only sound in the room was of the coal in the grate
crackling as little flames shot up through its fresh fis-
sures, and she felt, nervously, as though her father
could almost hear her thoughts clattering in her brain.

A sudden desire seized her to snatch his big, bony
hand hovering over the chess pieces and kiss it. She
wanted to express to him in some such savagely affec-
tionate, unmistakable way (before it was too late!)
her love for him, her respect, her admiration ! Bitter
injustice had been done him; he had been sacrificed to
satisfy the prejudices of absurd provincial bigotry, and
now perhaps he was dying, and those trustees of Ran-
som College not the seeds of the fatal disease that
were in him but those narrow trustees, and narrow
Kingsville opinion back of them, were killing him !
They had forced his resignation from the college, four
years earlier, because of a series of lectures he had
delivered there on the Descent of Man.

Those Thursday Night Lectures, which he had
taken his turn in the faculty in delivering, were a win-
ter's course always offered by Ransom College to the
public, an " effort to relate the College to the Town,"
the College expressed it; a relationship, when it came to
lectures, rather gingerly embraced, as a rule, by the

Her father's Thursday Nights had been well at-
tended because already suspicion had breathed over


Kingsville that he upheld those disquieting modern
theories so totally at variance with Kingsville's inher-
ited conviction that God, having finished heavens and
earth, had ended his work which he had made, and
rested !

A God still working at his work of creation? Im-
possible ! Blasphemous !

At least, in some such way, Lydia had scornfully in-
terpreted Kingsville's attitude, every drop of blood in
her young body fierce in justification of her father,
when the Kingsville clergy, hugging close the Book of
Genesis, had openly referred to his lectures, had ad-
monished their congregations of hearty-eating, soft-
sleeping Kingsvillians that God was still spelled with
a large G, nature with a small n they were not to
forget that had finally brought pressure to bear on
the trustees that had accomplished his severance from
the College.

The fire had burned down to a luminous bed of
ruby coals, over which little blue flames danced.

" Check ! " Professor Lambright's call broke the
long stillness.

Lydia's hand, moving to the rescue of her King, was
arrested by the sound of steps on the porch, and then
a knock.

' The Pooles, probably," she whispered, and before
opening the door, she gave to her hair that instinctive
feminine touch of adjustment so inevitable at such a


It was not the Pooles.

" Why, Mr. Churchwell ! " she exclaimed.

" But you will let me in, won't you, Miss Lydia? "
the man in the doorway answered banteringly to her

He held his soft hat in his hand, and his dark eyes,
which swam in a slight mist, looked down eloquently
into Lydia's.

An instant before the thought of a visit from the
comfortable Pooles had been a prop to her; it was as
if the presence of that good but prosaic couple might
banish the shadowy form she discerned dimly behind
her father; but now the unexpected advent of Ransom
Churchwell brought suddenly into the room a great
colourful warmth the lovely radiance of afternoon
sun sifting through jewelled windows! They were
not isolated now, she and her father ! They were re-
lated through him, through Churchwell, to all the
wealth and warmth of the outside world! The very
tones of Churchwell's appealing voice, the graceful
movements of his gallant figure, reassured her, while
he remained within her ken, of the friendliness of the
whole planetary system !

" Interrupting one of your frivolous diversions, I
see " pointing to the chessboard " but I've brought
a book I thought you'd like to look over, Professor

He took a volume from the pocket of the ulster he
was removing and handed it to Lydia's father.


" Oh! Yes, I've been wanting to see it, Ransom."
Lydia thrilled! She always thrilled to hear her
own father call this particular man by his first name,
familiarly, Ransom ! It seemed to bring Ransom
Churchwell mysteriously, entrancingly, nearer herself!
When her father had known him a lad, his pupil, of
course. But now, in majesty of manhood! Choicest
flower of the complacent aristocracy of Kingsville !

Not that Lydia regarded her father unfit to treat
with the grandest, anywhere, on equal terms. Little
enough she knew, to be sure, of her father's forebears,
but they had been gentle she insisted that to herself,
always and her father a gentleman in something
more even than that sense of " high-erected thoughts "
and " heart of courtesy," of which surely indeed she
knew him possessed. The fact remained, however,
quite undeniably, that Ransom Churchwell was the
Lambrights' one point of contact with the picturesque
reigning class of Kingsville on which Lydia's child eyes,
and maiden eyes, had looked with so highly complex
a mixture of awe, contempt, hatred, envy !


Professor Lambright held the volume Churchwell
had brought him affectionately in his thin hands, turn-
ing the pages. Lydia had seated herself on a square
stool near the fire.

She had selected this spot, facing her father and
Churchwell, and placed her stool over it, because just
here the thin carpet had worn thinnest. Of course,
each time Churchwell came, things were, of necessity,


a trifle more dilapidated than the time before; but as
her eyes made a swift, furtive inventory of the room
the side-table on which an old-fashioned silver tea-
set was gleaming in the light of the open fire, the book-
shelves with their bust of Goethe, the engraving, after
Raphael, which her father had brought years before
from Rome (St. Peter asleep between the watchmen,
and being awakened by the angel) she decided there
was still that air of refinement in their surroundings
so essential to the ease of her fastidious young soul.
Her stool well covering carpet-holes, she had no apolo-
gies to make not even to Mr. Churchwell, whose
eyes rested on her while he talked to her father.

" But, of course, Professor Lambright, we must let
Miss Aristotle read and digest this work first," he was
saying, his eyes gleaming mischievously, " so she can
determine whether it'll be profitable for you and me to
peruse! "

Lydia and her father both laughed. What cama-
raderie in the three-cornered friendship! How, at
once, they all understood each other! It was months
since Churchwell's last visit, and yet, now he was with
them again, it was as if only a day had passed since

It was immeasurable comfort to Lydia that Church-
well sympathised with the views of her father which
had branded him dangerous in Kingsville, that he had
nothing but approval for those Thursday Night Lec-
tures on the Descent of Man which her father had
delivered at Ransom College, founded and endowed
by Ransom Churchwell's maternal grandfather.


It was clearly apparent, on Churchwell's part, that
he loved to see the sparkling challenge of this girl's
eye rise to his, for he continued to rally her.

" Miss Lydia, I don't see how your father and I
are going to marry you to a Prince of the Blood Royal
of Kingsville, when you will persist in poring over the
' First Principles of Synthetic Philosophy ' ! "

His quick eye had detected a battered copy on the
top of the shelves beside him, a small handkerchief
thrust between its pages to mark a place.

" Oh, I'm wedded already, to to Herbert
Spencer! " she laughed.

The deep, tender tones of Churchwell's voice were
still sounding through and through her. She was
wondering why his voice always made her feel so
queer, so sort of well, shaky, and perturbed, inside
withal rather a delicious tumult ! And she was
thinking, too, that it was tremendously clever in him,
actually very splendid and cosmopolitan, the easy, jest-
ing nonchalance with which he spoke of the Blood
Royal of Kingsville, as if he, himself, were not of the
strain. A rare Kingsvillian, truly, who could laugh
at Kingsville ! who could find amusing the airs
Kingsville's old families gave themselves, when Ran-
soms and Churchwells were of the oldest among them.

" Yes, you have the youths thoroughly terrified,
Miss Lydia! " insisted Churchwell, lifting one eyebrow
whimsically. " I heard young Bob Allen saying the
other day to my brother, ' There's that little Lydia
Lambright, prettier than any of them, but, confound
it, I'm afraid of her! She knows too much! ' "


" Poor Bob 1 " laughed Lydia. But her pulses had
begun beating quickly. Spots, each feeling no larger
than a dollar, were burning hotly in her cheeks. She
was breathing in with excitement the perfume of Bob's
phrase, " Little Lydia Lambright, prettier than any of
them ! " but the thing that was really fluttering her
most was the way Mr. Churchwell had looked at her
when he had repeated it.

Her father, smiling absently at their chaff, had been
cutting pages in the " Riddle of the Universe," dip-
ping into it here and there. He rose now, to put more
coal on the fire.

" Ransom, you're just back from Washington? . . .
How's your case coming on? " he asked, as he turned
from the fire.

The men fell into men's talk; and Lydia's thoughts,
after a time, again to revolving in old grooves. . . .
It seemed ages ago to her, though it was only a matter
of five or six years, since she had read the fateful en-
graved words:

". . . desire the honour of your presence

at the marriage of their daughter


Mr. Ransom Craighead Churchwell . . ."

Tear-drenched, secret hours had followed. Who
could have told her, better than she knew herself, how
futile ? How foolish I What right had she, child-to-
be-chucked-under-chin, nothing more, to him, to resent
this binding to Seraphina for better, for worse, till


death part, of her adored Mr. Churchwell? . . . Yet
she had resented it she was still vaguely resenting it.

Churchwell's voice startled her.

" Miss Lydia, may I speak to your father alone a
few moments? "


" That's odd! " she thought, as she went out into her
bedroom. " What can he want to see him alone for? "

But instantly she defended Churchwell against a
phantom accuser. " It's something good, anyway."

She lit the glass bedroom lamp, and held it so she
could see herself in the mirror of the walnut bureau,
scrutinising carefully the reflection in its small swing-
ing glass. The voices of Churchwell and her father
reached her through the closed door, but more insistent
than their low tones were Bob Allen's words buzzing
gaily in her ears, " Little Lydia Lambright, prettier
than any of them ! "

Opening a scuffed leather trunk, she drew out the
waist of an old evening gown one of the few me-
mentoes she had of a mother so mysterious to her
when alive, and each year since her death grown more
baffling a memory. It released a faint, slightly musty
scent, and handling it she became indefinably agitated.

She had never seen her mother wear it; it belonged
to days before those she could recall; but once before,
playing " grown lady " in her childhood, she had
donned this pretty relic, and now she unfastened her
childishly-made serge dress, slipped from it, and into
the crushed evening bodice of pale green, cut into a


low " V." She was shivering she could see her
breath form into vapour in the frigid air of the room
but she was burning too !

She held up the lamp again and her heart jumped !
It was that girl of Greuze in her father's copy ! gay,
dainty, elegant a cloud of fair hair waved back from
an oval face, high arch of crescent brows, a nose deli-
cately aquiline, soft pastel tints of downy skin height-
ened to rose in the cheeks ! She was bewitched by this
reflection of a Lydia transformed by a bit of old finery !
It pleased her mightily, too, to fancy that in the fluid,
glancing, indescribable charm she found in the face in
the mirror, she could behold traces of that one of her
grandmothers of whom she had a faint but fascinating
knowledge. For, however strangely shrouded from
her the background of her parents' lives, they had told
her one thing, at least that her mother's mother had
been a Frenchwoman.

Peering with eager, parted lips into the swinging
glass, she thought she saw, far ahead, a destiny, for
this girl she gazed at, wondrous as dreams are won-
drous! There was a touch of initiation in the dark
eyes looking back at her that gave this promise, some
subtle, haunting quality of soul infused with the child
quality they had not entirely lost.

She threw up her head to let her eyes drift back
over the curve of white throat reflected, she turned
from side to side to catch every angle of enchantment.
With a little rapturous tremor she wound her arms em-
bracingly about her own shoulders, revealed to her frag-
ile but lovely as they rose above the pale-green bodice.


All at once her father's voice reached her distinctly :
" Ransom, I can't accept "

Then the murmur of both voices again, rising, low-
ering, as if in contest.

A great wave of shame swept over Lydia. She
stripped off the evening bodice and threw it upon the
trunk, hurrying back into her dark serge dress.

" Oh, Father! " she cried, kneeling on the floor by
the bed, " how could I be admiring myself in the glass
when you're dying? "


" Lydia!"

She sprang up, and hurriedly dried her eyes.

Churchwell was leaving when she re-entered the sit-
ting room. Her father was standing opposite him on
the hearth-rug. A singular change had come over his
face an expression of hope. Sun rifted Lydia's
gloom, broke over her world again in myriad dancing
points of light!

Churchwell, drawing on his gloves, had some last
jesting talk with her.

' You will come again soon won't you, Mr.
Churchwell? " escaped impulsively from her as he took
her hand.

"I will soon!" he promised. His eyes, so
searchingly sympathetic, so admiring ah, she could
not doubt it! beamed down assurance.

A moment more and he was gone, swallowed up in
the darkness outside, though for another moment Lydia
stood at the window, looking after him,


LYDIA opened sleepy eyes on the grey half-light
of a winter morning. She stretched drowsily,
dreading to step out of her warm bed into the cold
room. She would have loved another hour, but at
least she would give herself the guilty enjoyment of
just one more minute, two perhaps, or three, of warm
dreaminess before she made the plunge into the cold.
As her thoughts began to shape themselves more
clearly, she was filled with a sense of something agree-
able that had happened or was about to happen.
She wondered, more than she had the night before,
what Mr. Ransom Churchwell had talked to her father
about privately, and why her father had not told her
at once, after Mr. Churchwell left, what it was.

Her eyes wandered to a calendar which hung on the
wall beside her, and pushing a little farther away from
her the inevitable moment of getting up, she began to
read the dates on the calendar leaf. With a start, she
saw it was the twenty-seventh of January on which she
had just opened her eyes her father's birthday!
She had forgotten it ! And she was perplexed to know
where she could get enough money for a little feast,
something out of the ordinary, to surprise him.

A few moments later, she was so absorbed in secret


projects, that she hardly realised he had come into the
kitchen, until looking up from the coffee she had
ground and was pouring from the mill, she saw him
bent over the stove, his hands spread out above it.

" It gets warm here quicker than in the other room,"
he explained.

It was borne in upon her that only lately had he been
so keenly sensitive to cold; their changed relation struck
her, too, as it had once or twice before the wonder-
ful sense of protection the mere presence of her father
once had given her, and now he seemed to have become
her charge. This compassion for him, that never left
her entirely any more, hurt like physical pain. . . .
There had been, certainly, that eager spark in his eye
the night before, and her glad hope that had swiftly
twinned his. But was it still there? Her glance re-
vealed him grey and pinched in the chill morning light.

At any rate, the last thing to do was to let him
suspect her fears.

" I do think ' Peter Ibbetson ' is perfectly charming,
Father," she remarked, as they sat down to breakfast.
" I believe it's the most charming book I ever read;
I couldn't help crying. And Peter, a little boy in
France, in that old garden, oh, I loved that! "

She chattered on, but constantly in the back of her
mind while she talked and while her father answered,
was the thought that it was his birthday, and she won-
dered if he remembered that it was.



Breakfast over, she arranged the ironing-board, and
tested the irons, and as she did so, a memory flashed

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Online LibraryCharles W. (Charles Watts) WhistlerThe seas of God : a novel → online text (page 1 of 21)