Gouverneur Morris.

The seven Darlings, by Gouverneur Morris; online

. (page 12 of 14)
Online LibraryGouverneur MorrisThe seven Darlings, by Gouverneur Morris; → online text (page 12 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


You're on the porch, aren't you?"

"No; I'm standing on the ground and resting my lazy forehead against the
porch railing."

"I'd feel easier if you came on the porch and made yourself comfortable
in a chair, just outside my window. And we could talk easier."

"But you're not supposed to talk."

"Listening would be good for me."

There was a sound of light steps and of a chair being dragged.

"I wish you wouldn't sit just round the corner," said Mr. Jonstone
presently. "If you sat before the window, sideways, I could see your
profile against the sky."

"I'm doing very well where I am, thank you."

"But, please, why shouldn't I see you? Why are you so embarrassed at
me?"

"Wouldn't you be embarrassed if you were a girl and had been through the
adventure I went through? Wouldn't you be a little embarrassed to see
the man who helped you, and look him in the face?"

"Don't you ever want me to see you? Because, if you don't, I will go
away from this place in the morning and never come back."

"Somehow, that doesn't appeal to me very much either."

"I am glad," said Mr. Jonstone quietly.

"How does your hand feel?"

"Which hand?"

"The one you hurt."

"It feels very happy, and the other hand feels very jealous of it."

"Seriously - are you having a pretty bad time?"

"I am having the time of my life - seriously - the time that lucky men
always have once in their lives."

"Are you very impatient for the morphine?"

"I shall not take it when it comes. It is far better knowing what one
knows, remembering what one remembers, and looking forward to what a
presumptuous fool cannot help but look forward to - it is far better to
keep awake; to lie peacefully in the dark, knowing, remembering, and
looking forward."

"And just what are you looking forward to?"

"To a long life and a happy one; to the sounds of a voice; to a sudden
coming to life of the whole 'Oxford Book of Verse'; to seeing a face."

There was a long silence.

"Are you there?"

"Yes; but you mustn't talk."

"I think you are tired. Please don't stay any more if you are tired."

"I'm not tired."

"Then perhaps you are bored."

"I'm not bored."

"Then what are you?"

"You keep quiet."

When, at last, Colonel Meredith came, important with morphine and the
doctor's instructions, he found his cousin Mr. Bob Jonstone sleeping
very quietly and peacefully, a much dog-eared copy of the "Oxford Book
of Verse" clasped to his breast.

Unfortunately the colonel, after putting out the light again, bumped
into a table, and Mr. Jonstone waked.

"That you, Mel?"

"Yes, Bob; sorry I waked you. Did Miss Darling send word explaining that
I should be quite a while coming back?"

"Which Miss Darling?"

"Which? Why, Miss Eve."

"Yes, she sent word."

"And how have you been?"

"I took a turn for the better shortly after you left. A little while ago
I lighted a candle, and read a little and got sleepy. And now I think
I'll go to sleep again."

"You don't need the morphine?"

"No, Mel. Thank you. Good-night."

"Good-night."

"Mel?"

"What is it?"

"Isn't Eve about the oldest name you know?"

"Oldest, I guess, except Adam and Lilith. You go to sleep."

And Colonel Meredith tiptoed out of the room, murmuring: "Seems to be a
little shaky in his upper stories."




XXVIII


A point of land just across the lake from the camp belonged to the
Darlings' mother, the Princess Oducalchi. One night the light of fires
and lanterns appeared on this point and the next morning it was seen to
be studded here and there with pale-brown tents. The Darlings were
annoyed to think that any one should trespass on so large a scale on
some one else's land. In a code of laws shot to pieces with class
legislation, trespassers are, of course, exempt from punishment; their
presence and depredations in one's private melon-patch are none the less
disagreeable, and Arthur Darling, as his mother's representative, was
peculiarly enraged.

Arthur, in his idle moments, when, for instance, he was not studying the
webs of spiders or classifying the cries of frogs, sometimes let his
mind run on politics and the whole state of the Union. In such matters,
of course, he was only a tyro. Why should the puny and prejudiced
population of Texas have two votes in the Senate when the hordes of New
York have but two? Why, in a popular form of government, should the
minority do the ruling? Why should not a hard-working rich man have an
equal place in the sun with a man who, through laziness and a moral
nature twisted like a pretzel, remains poor? Why should education be
forced on children in a country where education, which means good
manners and the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, amounts
practically to disfranchisement?

Arthur, in his political ruminations, could never get beyond such
questions as these. If A has paid for and owns a piece of land, why is
it not A's to enjoy, rather than B's, whose sole claim thereto is
greater strength of body than A, and the desire to possess those things
which are not his?

At least, Arthur could row across to the point and protest in his
mother's name. If the trespassers were gentlefolk who imagined
themselves to have camped upon public land, they would, of course, offer
to go and to pay all damages - in which event, Arthur would invite them
to stay as long as they pleased, only begging that they would not set
the woods on fire. If, however, the trespassers belonged to one of the
privileged classes for whose benefit the laws are made and continued, he
would simply be abused roundly and perhaps vilely. He would then take a
thrashing at the hands of superior numbers, and the incident would be
closed.

Colonel Meredith, seeing Arthur about to embark on his mission, offered
help and comfort in the emergency.

"Just you wait till I fetch my rifle," he said; "and if there's any
trifling, we'll shoot them up."

"Shoot them up!" exclaimed Arthur. "If we shot them up, we'd go from
here to prison and from prison to the electric chair."

"In South Carolina," Colonel Meredith protested, "if a man comes on our
land and we tell him to get off and he won't, we drill a hole in him."

"And that's one of the best things about the South," said Arthur. "But
we do things differently in the North. If a man comes on my land and I
tell him to get off and he says he won't, then I have the right to put
him off, using as much force as is necessary. And if he is twice as big
as I am and there are three or four of him, you can see, without using
glasses, how the matter must end."

"Then all you are out for is to take a licking?"

"That is my only privilege under the law. But I hope I shall not have to
avail myself of it. Where there are so many tents there must be money.
Where there is money there are possessions, and where there are
possessions, there are the same feelings about property that you and I
have."

"Still," said Colonel Meredith, "I wish you'd take me along and our
guns. There is always the chance of managing matters so that fatalities
may be construed into acts of self-defense."

"Get behind me, you man of blood!" exclaimed Arthur, laughing, and he
leaped into a canoe, and with a part of the same impulse sent it flying
far out from the float. Then, standing, he started for the brown tents
with easy, powerful strokes, very earnest for the speedy accomplishment
of a disagreeable duty. That anything really pleasant might come of his
expedition never entered his head.

"Arthur gone to put them off?"

"Why, yes! Good-morning, Miss Gay."

"Good-morning, yourself, Colonel Meredith, and many of them. Want to
look?"

"Thank you."

Colonel Meredith focussed the glasses upon the brown tents.

"What do you make them out to be?"

"I can make out a sort of nigger carrying tea into one of the tents. And
there's a young lady in black. She seems to be walking down to the
shore to meet your brother. And now she's waving her hand to him."

"The impudent thing," exclaimed Gay. "What's my brother doing?"

"He's paddling as if he expected to cross a hundred yards of water in a
second. If the young lady comes any closer to the water, she'll get
wet."

Suddenly blushing crimson, he thrust the field-glasses back into Gay's
hands, and cried with complete conviction that he was "blessed."

In the bright field of magnification, hastily focussed to her own
vision, Gay beheld her brother and the young woman in black tightly
locked in each other's arms.




XXIX


To Arthur, half-way across the lake, considering just what he should say
to the trespassers, the sudden sight of the person whom of all persons
in the world he least expected and most wanted to see was a staggering
physical shock. He almost fell out of his canoe. And if he had done that
he might very likely have drowned, so paralyzing in effect were those
first moments of unbelievable joy and astonishment. Then she waved her
hand to him and swiftly crossed the beach, and he began to paddle like a
madman. When the canoe beached with sudden finality, Arthur simply made
a flying leap to the shore and caught her in his arms.

Then he held her at arm's length, and if eyes could eat, these would
have been the last moments upon earth of a very lovely young woman.

Then a sort of horror of what he had done and of what he was doing
seized him. His hands dropped to his sides and the pupils of his eyes
became pointed with pain. But she said:

"It's all right, Arthur; don't look like that. My husband is dead."

"Dead?" said Arthur, his face once more joyous as an angel's. "Thank God
for that!"

And why not thank God when some worthless, cruel man dies? And why not
write the truth about him upon his tombstone instead of the conventional
lies?

"But why didn't you write to me?" demanded Arthur.

"It had been such a long time since we saw each other. How did I know
that you still cared?"

"But how could I stop caring - about you?"

"Couldn't you?"

"Why, I didn't even try," said Arthur. "I just gave it up as a bad job.
But how, in the name of all that's good and blessed, do you happen to be
in this particular place at this particular time? Did you, by any
chance, come by way of the heavens in a 'sweet chariot'? I came to eject
trespassers, and I find you!"

"And I came to spy on you, Arthur, and to find out if you still cared.
And if you didn't, I was going to tie a stone round my neck and lie down
in the lake. Of course, if I'm a trespasser - - "

They had moved slowly away from the shore toward the tents. From one of
these a languid, humorous voice that made Arthur start hailed them. And
through the fly of the tent was thrust a beautiful white hand and the
half of a beautiful white arm.

"I can't come out, Arthur," said the voice; "but good-morning to you,
and how's the family?"

"Of all people in the world," exclaimed Arthur; "my own beautiful
mamma!" And he sprang to the extended hand and clasped it and kissed it.

"Your excellent stepfather," said the voice, "is out walking up an
appetite for breakfast. I hope you will be very polite to him. If it
hadn't been for him, Cecily would have stayed in London, where we found
her. He wormed her secret out of her and brought her to you as a
peace-offering."

There was a deep emotion in Arthur's voice as he said:

"Then there shall always be peace between us."

The hand had been withdrawn from the light of day; but the languid,
humorous voice continued to make sallies from the brown tent.

"We didn't want to be in the way; so, remembering this bit of property,
we just chucked our Somali outfit into a ship, and here we are! I was
dreadfully shocked and grieved to hear that you were all quite broke and
had started an inn. In New York it is reported to be a great success, is
it?"

"Why, I hope so," said Arthur; "I don't really know. Mary's head man.
Maud keeps the books; the triplets keep getting into mischief, and Eve,
so far as I know, keeps out. As for me, I had an occupation, but it's
gone now."

"What was your job, Arthur?"

"My job was to have my arm in imagination where it now is in reality."

"Cecily!" exclaimed the voice. "Is that boy hugging you publicly? Am I
absolutely without influence upon manners even among my own tents?"

"Absolutely, Princess!" laughed Cecily.

"Then the quicker I come out of my tent the better! You'll stop to
breakfast, Arthur?"

"With pleasure, but shan't I get word to the girls? Of course, they
would feel it their duty to call upon you at once."

"I should hope so - as an older woman I should expect that much of them.
But, princess or no princess, I refuse to stand on ceremony. In my most
exalted and aristocratic moments I can never forget that I am their
mother. So after breakfast _I_ shall call on _them_."

At this moment, very tall and thin, in gray Scotch tweeds, carrying a
very high, foreheady head, there emerged from the forest Prince
Oducalchi, leading by the hand his eight-year-old son, Andrea, and
singing in a touching, clear baritone something in Italian to the effect
that a certain "Mariana's roses were red and white, in the market-place
by the clock-tower!"

Andrea wore a bright-red sweater, carried a fine twenty-bore gun made by
a famous London smith, and looked every inch a prince. He had all the
Darling beauty in his face and all the Oducalchi pride of place and
fame.

"Mr. Darling, I believe?" asked the prince, his left eyebrow slightly
acockbill. "I have not had the pleasure of seeing you for some years,
but I perceive that you are by way of accepting my peace-offering."

"I was never just to you," said Arthur, a little pale and looking very
proud and handsome, "and you have been very good to my mamma and you
have been very good to me. Will you forgive me?"

"I cannot do that. There has been nothing to forgive. But I will shake
hands with you with all the pleasure in the world - my dear Cecily, does
he come up to the memories of him? Poor children, you have had a sad
time of it in this merry world! I may call you 'Arthur'? Arthur, this is
your half-brother, Andrea. I hope that you will take a little time to
show him the beautiful ways of your North Woods."

Arthur shook hands solemnly with the small boy, and their stanchly met
eyes told of an immediate mutual confidence and liking.

"I've always wanted a brother in the worst way," said Arthur.

"So have I," piped Andrea.

And then Princess Oducalchi came out of her tent, and proved that,
although her daughters resembled her in features, simplicity, and grace
and dignity of carriage, they would never really vie with her in beauty
until they had loved much, suffered much, borne children into the world,
and remembered all that was good in things and forgotten all that was
evil.

"Mamma," said Arthur, "is worth travelling ten thousand miles to see any
day, isn't she?"

"On foot," said Prince Oducalchi, "through forests and morasses infested
with robbers and wild beasts."

The princess blushed and became very shy and a little confused for a few
moments. Then, with a happy laugh, she thrust one hand through her
husband's arm, the other through Arthur's, and urged them in the
direction of the tent, where breakfast was to be served.

Andrea followed, with Cecily holding him tightly by the hand.

"If we had not been buried in Somaliland at the time," said Arthur's
mother, "we would never have let this 'Inn' happen. I'm sure you were
against it, Arthur?"

"Of course," said he simply. "But with sister Mary's mind made up, and
the rest backing her, what could a poor broken-hearted young man do? And
it has worked out better than I ever hoped. I don't mean in financial
ways. I, mean, the sides of it that I thought would be humiliating and
objectionable haven't been. Indeed, it's all been rather a lark, and
Mary insists upon telling me that we are a lot better off than we were.
We charge people the most outrageous prices! It's enough to make a dead
man blush in the dark. And the only complaint we ever had about it was
that the prices weren't high enough. So Mary raised them."

"But," objected Prince Oducalchi, "you, and especially your sisters,
cannot go on being innkeepers forever. You, I understand, for
instance" - and his fine eyes twinkled with mirth and kindness - "are
thinking of getting married."

"I am," said Arthur, with so much conviction that even his Cecily
laughed at him.

"When I divorced your poor father," said the princess, "he happened to
be enjoying one of his terrifically rich moments. So, in lieu of
alimony, he turned over a really huge sum of money to me. When I married
Oducalchi and told him about the money, he made me put it in trust for
you children, to be turned over to you after your father's death. So you
see there was never any real need to start the Inn - but of course we
were in Africa and so forth and so on - If you've finished your coffee,
I'm dying to see the girls. And I'm dying to tell them about the money,
and to send all the horrid guests packing!"

"Some of the horrid guests," said Arthur, "won't pack. Of course, the
girls think that I only study frogs and plants; but it's a libel. When
two and two are thrust into my hands, I put them together, just as
really sensible people do. You will find, mamma, a sad state of affairs
at the camp."

Princess Oducalchi began to bristle with interest and alarm.

"Andrea," said his father, "have a canoe put overboard for me."

Andrea rose at once and left the breakfast tent.

"Now, Arthur," cried the princess, "tell me everything at once!"

"Gay," said Arthur, "is in love with a young Englishman, and knows that
she is. He had to go home to be made an earl; but I think she is
expecting him back in a few days, because she is beginning to take an
interest in the things she really likes. Mary is in love with Sam
Langham, and he with her. They, however, don't know this. Phyllis has
forsaken her garden and become a dead-game sport. This she has done for
the sake of a red-headed Bostonian named Herring. Lee and a young fellow
named Renier are neglecting other people for each other. And our sedate
Maud, formerly very much in the company of two fiery Southerners, is now
very much in the company of one of them, Colonel Meredith, of South
Carolina. The other Carolinian, Mr. Bob Jonstone, sprained his wrist the
other day, and it seems that sister Eve was intended by an all-wise
Providence to be a trained nurse. But in the case of those last
mentioned there are certain mysteries to be solved."

At this moment Andrea appeared at the tent opening and announced in his
piping child voice: "The canoe is overboard, papa."




XXX


Andrea stuck to his big brother like a leech, and insisted upon crossing
to The Camp in the same canoe with him and Cecily. To Andrea the
possibility of newly engaged persons wishing to be by themselves was
negligible. Princess Oducalchi, an old hand on inland waters, took
charge of the other canoe, and, like Arthur, in spite of a look of
resigned horror on her husband's face, paddled standing up.

Arthur, too happy to make speed, was rapidly distanced by his mother,
whose long, graceful figure and charming little, round head he regarded
from time to time with great admiration.

"She might be one of my sisters!" he exclaimed to Cecily.

"If she only was," said Cecily, "and the others were only exactly like
her, then I shouldn't be a bit frightened."

"Frightened?"

"Wouldn't you be frightened if I had six great angry brothers and you
were just going to meet them for the first time?"

Arthur smiled steadily and shook his head.

"I'm too happy to be afraid of anything."

"I'm not. The happier I feel the more frightened I feel. And I can feel
your sisters picking me all to pieces, and saying what a horrid little
thing I am!"

"Little? Haven't I told you that you are exactly the right size?"

"No, you haven't."

"Then I tell you now. I leave it to Andrea. Isn't she exactly the right
size, Andrea?"

"Then mamma is too tall."

"No, mamma is exactly the right size for a mamma. In fact, Andrea,"
exulted Arthur, "on this particular morning of this particular year of
grace everything in the world is exactly the right size, except me. I'm
not half big enough to contain my feelings. So here goes!"

And the sedate Arthur put back his head, which resembled that of the
young Galahad, and opened his mouth, and let forth the most
blood-curdling war-whoop that has been sounded during the Christian era.

Cecily clapped her hands to her ears, and Andrea gazed upon his big
brother with redoubled admiration.

"Is that like Indians do?" he asked.

"Not at all," said Arthur; "that's what studious and domesticated young
men do when they've overslept, and wake up to find the sky blue and the
forest green." And once more he whooped terrifically. And Wow, the dog,
heard him, and thought he had gone mad; and Uncas, the chipmunk, ran to
the top of a tall tree at full speed, down it even faster, and into a
deep and safe hole among the roots.

Gay alone was at the float to receive the Oducalchis; but now word of
their coming had gone about The Camp, and the remaining Darlings could
be seen hurrying up from various directions.

From embracing her mother, Gay turned with characteristic swiftness and
sweetness to Cecily, who had just stepped from Arthur's canoe to the
float, flung her arms around her, and kissed her.

"I'm not quite sure of your name," she said; "but I love you very much,
and you're prettier than all outdoors."

Then Maud came, followed by Eve and Mary, with Lee next and Phyllis
last, and they all talked at once, and made much of their mother and
Cecily and little Andrea. And they all teased Arthur at once, and
showered Oducalchi with polite and hospitable speeches. And he was
greatly moved, because he knew very well that these beautiful maidens
had loved their own brilliant scapegrace father to distraction, and that
it was hard for them to look with kindness upon his successor.

Never, I think, did a mere float, an affair of planks supported by the
displacing power of empty casks, have gathered upon it at one time so
much beauty, so many delighted and delightful faces.

And now came guides, servants, and camp helpers, to whom Princess
Oducalchi had been a kind and understanding mistress in the old days,
and then, shyly and hanging back, hoping they were wanted and not sure,
Sam Langham, Renier, Herring, the Carolinians, and others, until the
float began to sink and there was a laughter panic and a general rush up
the gangway to the shore. Here Wow, the dog, did a great deal of swift
wagging and loud barking, and Uncas, the chipmunk, from the top of a
tree said: "I'm not really angry, but I'm scolding because I'm afraid to
come down, and nobody loves me or makes much of me - ever!"

To Arthur, standing a little aside, beaming with pride and happiness,
and recording in his heart every pleasant thing which his sisters said
to Cecily and every pleasant look they gave her, came Gay presently, and
slipped an arm through his.

"I'm so glad," she said.

But there was something in her voice that was not glad, and with one
swift glance he read her wistful heart. He pressed her arm, and said:

"I know one poor little kid that's left out in the cold for the moment;
one little lion that feels as if it wasn't going to get any martyr; one
little sister that a big brother loves and understands a little bit
better than any of the others - So there! At the moment every _chacune_
has her _chacun_, except one. Moments are fleeting, my dear, and other
moments are ahead. I, too, have lived bad, empty, unhappy moments."

"But you always knew that she cared."

"And don't you know about him?"

"I only know that I've seen so many people appear to be idiotically
happy at the same time, and it makes me want to cry."

"And for that very reason," said Arthur, "the moments that are ahead
will be the happier."

"I wonder," said Gay, and, "I know," said Arthur.




XXXI


The fact of Arthur's sudden blossoming into a full-fledged and emphatic
figure of romance had an unsettling effect upon many of the peacefully
disposed minds in The Camp. It is always so when friends, especially in
youth, come to partings of ways. Clement, who takes the Low road, cannot
but be disturbed at the thought of those possible adventures which lie
in wait for Covington, who has fared forth by the High. There was the
feeling among many of the young people in the camp that, if they didn't
hurry, they might be left behind. Nobody expressed this feeling or
acknowledged it or recognized in it anything more than a feeling of


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14

Online LibraryGouverneur MorrisThe seven Darlings, by Gouverneur Morris; → online text (page 12 of 14)