Gouverneur Morris.

The seven Darlings, by Gouverneur Morris; online

. (page 13 of 14)
Online LibraryGouverneur MorrisThe seven Darlings, by Gouverneur Morris; → online text (page 13 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

unrest; but it existed, nevertheless, and had its effect upon actions
and affections.

Renier had been leading a life of almost perfect happiness. For the
things that made him happy were the same sort of things that make boys
happy. No school; no parental obstructions or admonitions;
green-and-blue days filled from end to end with fishing, sailing,
making fires, shooting at marks, and perfecting himself in physical
attainments. Add to these things the digestion and the faculties of a
healthy boy interested neither in drink, tobacco, nor in any book which
failed to contain exciting and chivalrous adventures, and, above all, a
companion whose tastes and sympathies were such that she might just as
well have been a boy as not.

They were chums rather than sweethearts. It needed a sense of old times
coming to an end and new times beginning to make them realize the full
depth and significance of their attachment for each other.

There were four of us once "in a kingdom by the sea," and I shall not
forget the awful sense of partings and finality, and calamity, for that
matter, furnished by a sudden sight of the first flaming maple of

"I think your mother's a perfect brick," said Renier. "She makes you
feel as if she'd known you all your life, and was kind of grateful to
you for living."

"I'm rather crazy about the prince," said Lee. "Of course, I oughtn't to
be. But I can't help it, and after all he's been awfully good to mamma.
Do you believe in divorce?"

"I never did until I saw your mother. She wouldn't ask for anything that
she didn't really deserve."

"But it's funny, isn't it," said Lee, "that so many people get on
famously together until they are actually married, and then they begin
to fight like cats? I knew a girl who was engaged to a man for five
years. You'd think they'd get to know each other pretty well in that
time, wouldn't you? But they didn't. They hadn't been married six months
before they hated each other."

"And that proves," said Renier, "that long engagements are a mistake."

"Smarty!" exclaimed Lee.

"I suppose your brother'll be getting married right away, won't he?
Haven't they liked each other for ever so long?"

"M'm!" Lee nodded. "But Arthur never does anything right away. He does
too much mooning and wool-gathering. If a united family can get him to
the altar in less than a year they'll have accomplished wonders. There's
one thing, though - when we do get him married good and proper, he'll
stay married. He's like that at all games. It comes natural to him to
keep his eyes in the boat. He's got the finest and sweetest nature of
any man in this world, _I_ think."

"Of course, you except present company?"

"Heavens, yes!" cried Lee, and they both laughed.

Then, suddenly, Lee looked him in the eyes quite solemnly.

"I wasn't fooling," she said, "not entirely. I _do_ think you're fine
and sweet. I didn't always, but I do now."

There was levity in Renier's words but not in his voice.

"This," he said, "so far has been a perfectly good Tuesday."

"Whatever we do together," said Lee, "you always give me the best of it.
It's been a good summer."

"Do you feel as if summer was over, too?"

She nodded.

"That's funny, isn't it? Because it's nowhere near over, is it? Maybe
it's the excitement of the Oducalchis' arrival and your brother's
engagement. It makes you sort of feel as if there wasn't time to settle
back into the regular life and get things going again before the leaves

He spoke. And from the fine striped maple under which they sat there
fell, and fluttered slowly into Lee's lap, a great yellowing leaf ribbed
with incipient scarlet.

"That only means," said Renier - but there was a kind of awe in his
voice - "that this particular tree has indigestion."

And they sat for a time in silence and looked at the leaf. And lo!
Arthur came upon them, smiling.

"I was looking for you two," he said. "I thought maybe you'd do me a
great favor. I've got to play host, and - - "

"Nobody would miss us!" exclaimed Lee.

"They wouldn't?" said Arthur. "I'll bet you anything you like that,
during your absence, you will both be mentioned among the missing, by
name, at least five times."

"What'll you bet?" asked Lee eagerly. "Nobody ever thinks of _us_.
Nobody ever mentions _us_. Nobody even loves _us_. What'll you bet?"

"Anything you like," said Arthur, "and if necessary I will take charge
of the five personal mentionings and make them myself!"

Lee shook her head sadly, and said: "Once an accepted lover, always a
sure thing, man. Oh, Arthur, how low you have fallen! You used to
engineer bets with me for the sheer joy of seeing me win them. But now
you are on the make, and it looks as if there was no justice under
heaven - Where do you want us to go and what do you want us to do when
we get there? Of course, we'll go; we always do. Everybody sends us on
errands, and we always go. The longer the errands the oftener we go. But
nobody seems to realize that we might enjoy spending one single solitary
afternoon sitting under a striped maple and watching the green leaves
turn yellow. Nobody even loves us! But when we are dead there will be
the most frightful remorse and sorrow."

Arthur leaned heavily against the stem of the striped maple.

"Your sad case," he said, "certainly cries aloud for justice and
redress - - "

"'Kid us along, Bo,'" said Lee; "we love it!"

"I want two people," said Arthur, "for whom I have affection and in whom
I have confidence, to go at once to Carrytown in the _Streak_ and
consult a lawyer upon a matter of paramount importance and delicacy - "
He hesitated, and Lee said:

"I pray you, without further ado, continue your piquant narrative."

Then Arthur, in a tone of solemn, confidential eagerness:

"Look here, you two, go to Carrytown, will you, and find out how quickly
two people can get married in the State of New York, and what they have
to do about licenses and things? Will you? I'll be eternally obliged."

"Of course, we will," exclaimed Lee in sudden excitement. "Are you

"You bet your sweet life I'm game!" cried the vulgar Renier. And a few
minutes later the two inseparable school-boyesque chums, whom nobody
mentioned, whom everybody sent on errands, and whom nobody even loved,
were streaking across the lake in the _Streak_.

There was but the one lawyer in Carrytown and the one stenographer.
Their shingles hang one above the other on the face of the one brick

At the door of this building Lee suddenly drew back.

"Look here!" she said. "Won't it look rather funny if we march in hand
in hand and say: 'Beg pardon, sir, but how do you get married in the
State of New York?'"

"It _would_ look funny," said Renier, "and I shouldn't wonder if it made
us feel funny. But the joke would really be on the lawyer. We could say
'_Honi soit qui mal y pense_' to him. Of course, if it would really
embarrass you - - "

"It wouldn't," said Lee, "_really_."

So they went up a narrow flight of stairs and knocked on the door of
room Number Five. There was no answer. So they pushed open the door and
entered a square room bound in sheepskin with red-and-black labels.
There was nobody in the room, and Lee exclaimed:

"Nobody even loves us."

"He'll be in the back room," said Renier. "I know. Once I swiped a
muskmelon from a lawyer's melon-patch, and had to see him about it. _He_
was in the back room - - "

"'Counting out his money'?"

"No; he was drinking whiskey with a judge and a livery-stable keeper,
and they were all spitting on a red-hot stove."

"What did he do about the melon?"

"He told me to can the melon and have a drink. I had already canned the
melon as well as I could (I wasn't educated along scientific lines) and
my grandmother had promised me any watch I wanted if I didn't drink till
I was twenty-one."

"Did you?"

"I did not."

"Did you get the watch?"

"I did not."

"Why not?"

"Grandma reneged. She said she didn't remember making any such promise."

They pushed open a swinging door and entered the back room.

Here, in a revolving chair, sat a stout young man with a red face. Upon
his knees sat a stout young woman with a red face. And with something of
the consistency with which a stamp adheres to an envelope so the one red
face appeared glued to the other red face.

The red face of the stout young man had one free eye which detected the
presence of intruders. And the stout young man said:

"Caught with the goods! Jump up, Minnie, and behave yourself!"

Minnie's upspring was almost a record-breaker.

Renier began to stammer:

"I b-b-beg your pardon," he said, "but I thought you might b-b-be able
to tell me how to g-g-get married in New York State."

The stout young man rose from his revolving chair; he was embarrassed
almost to the point of paralysis, but his mind and mouth continued to

"You've come to just the right man," he said, "at just the right time,
for information of that sort. First, you hire a stenographer; then you
get a mash on her. Then she sits in your lap - she _will_ do it - and then
you kiss her. And then you get a license, and then you curse laws and
red tape for a while, and then you wed. Now, what you want is a

"Exactly," said Renier. "It - it's for another fellow."

"Friend of yours?" queried the stout young man.


"And you want a license for him, not for yourself?"

Renier nodded.

"At this moment," said the stout young man, "there are assembled on the
long wharf, chewin' tobacco and cursin', some twenty-five or thirty
marines. Would you mind just stepping down and telling that to them?"

"I am quite serious," said Renier. "It is my friend who wants to get

"And _you_ don't?"

Renier stammered ineffectually.

"Then," said the stout young man, with a glance at Lee (of the highest
admiration), "you're a gol-darn fool."

And forthwith he was so vulgar as to burst into a sudden snatch of

"Old man Rule was a gol-darn fool,
For he couldn't see the water in the gol-darn pool!"

At the finish of this improvisation the dreadfully confused Minnie went,

And, horror of horrors, that charming boylike companion, Lee Darling,
behind whom were well-bred generations, also went suddenly, "Tee-hee."

"Licenses," said the stout young man, "are applied for in room Five.
After you, sir; after you, miss."

And, with a waggish expression, he turned to Minnie.

"Be back in five minutes," he said; "try not to forget me, my flighty

When they were in the front room, he said:

"Before a license is issued, the licensor must be satisfied as to the
preliminaries. Now, then, what can you tell me as to lap sitting and

"You," cried Lee, in a sudden blaze of indignation, "are the freshest,
most objectionable American I ever set eyes on."

The stout young man turned appealingly to Renier.

"You wouldn't say that," he said; "you'd say I was just typical,
wouldn't you, now? And I wish you would tell her that, though in these
backwoods I have been obliged to eschew my Chesterfield, I've got a
great big heart in me and mean well."

During the last words of this speech he became appealingly wistful.

"Why," said he to Lee, "just because Minnie and me is stout, don't you
think we know heaven when we see it - the empyrean! Yesterday she threw
me down, and I says to her: 'Since all my life seems meant for
"fails" - since this was written and needs must be - my whole soul rises
up to bless your name in pride and thankfulness. Who knows but the world
may end to-night?' To-day she sits in my lap and we see which can hug
the hardest. Ever try that?"

And suddenly the creature's voice melted and shook. He was a genuine
orator, as we Americans understand it, having that within his powers of
voice that defies logic and melts the heart.

"Wouldn't you," he said, "even _like_ to sit in his lap? Wouldn't you
_love_ to sit in his lap and be hugged?"

Lee looked to Renier for help, as he to her. And they took a step apiece
directly toward each other, and another step. It was as if they had been
hypnotized. Suddenly Renier caught Lee's hand in his, and after a
moment of looking into his eyes she turned to the stout man, and sang in
miraculous imitation of him:

"Young Miss Mule is a gol-darn fool,
But you made her see the water in the gol-darn pool."

"I'll just get a license blank," said the stout young man. "They're in
the back room."

"Thank you," said Renier - "if you will, Mr. - - "

"Heartbeat!" flashed the stout young man, and left them. And he wasn't
lying or making fun that time. For that was his really truly name. And
in northern New York people are beginning to think that he is by way of
being up to it.

Suddenly Lee quoted from a joke that she and Renier had in common. She
said, as if surprised:

"'Why, there's a table over there!'"

And Renier, his voice suddenly breaking and melting, answered:

"'Why, so there is - and here's a chair!'"

And Mr. Heartbeat, making a supreme effort to live up to his name, did
not return with the license blank for nearly eight minutes. During
those minutes, Renier resolved that in every room in his home there
should be at least one revolving chair. And they came out of Mr.
Heartbeat's office no longer boyish companions but lovers, a little
startled, engaged, and licensed to be married.


"Lee, dear," said Renier, "you don't feel that that fellow buncoed you
into this, do you? Please say you don't."

"Of course, I wasn't buncoed," she said, and with infinite confidence.
"Why, I've seen the thing coming for months! Haven't you?"

"I've seen a certain girl begin by being very dear and grow dearer and
dearer - I wish we could _walk_ back. I'm afraid of motor-boats, fresh
water, and sudden storms on mountain lakes. And I hereby highly resolve
that after this perilous trip I shall never again do anything dangerous,
such as watching people going up in aeroplanes, such as sitting around
with wet feet, such as eating green fruit, such as - Oh, my own darling
little kiddie," he whispered with sudden trembling emotion, "but this
life is precious."

"George and Charley are looking at us," said Lee, "with funny looks. I
wonder if they are _on_? I wonder if everybody will be _on_ - just by
looking at us. _Do_ I look foolish?"

"You do not, but I think you are foolish to take a feller like me, and
that's why I'm going to dance down this gang-plank and snap my fingers
and shock George and Charley out of their senses."

During this first part of the _Streak_'s swift rush from Carrytown to
The Camp a tranquil silence came over them. Lee, I think, was searching
her heart with questions. But she had no doubt of her love for Renier;
she doubted only her capacity to be to him exactly the wife he needed.
And I know that Renier just sat, brazening the critical glances of
George and Charley, and adored her with his eyes.

And what were his thoughts? Would you give a penny for them? He leaned
closer to her, and in a whisper that thrilled them both to the bone, he
quoted from Poe:

"And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee."

And a little later he said:

"I never knew till to-day what poetry is for. I thought people who wrote
it were just a little simple and that people who read and quoted it were
perfect jackasses."

"And what is poetry for?" asked Lee, smiling.

"Poetry," he said, "is for _you_."

As they neared the camp the sentiment in their hearts yielded a little
to excitement.

"When we tell 'em," said Lee, "it's going to be just like a bomb going
off. And everybody will be terribly envious."

"Nobody even loves us," laughed Renier, and he quoted:

"Among ten million, one was she,
And surely all men hated me."

And like a flash Lee answered:

"Among ten million he was one,
So all the ladies fought like fun."

"One thing is sure," sand Renier, "we've more than executed Brother
Arthur's delicate and confidential commission. What we don't know about
getting married in the State of New York simply doesn't exist."

Arthur, eager and impatient, was like a more famous person, watching and

"Well," he said, "thank you a thousand times. And what did you find

"We've brought you a license blank," said Lee; "you simply fill it out
with your names and ages and things - like this - " And she placed a
second paper in her brother's hands.

And conspicuous on the paper he saw Lee's name and Renier's. His hands
shook a little, and his face became very grave and tender.

"Say you're surprised!" exclaimed Lee; "say you were never so surprised
in all your born days!"

"But I'm not surprised," said Arthur. "Come here to me!" He opened his
arms to her and she flung herself into them. Over her shoulder and
hiding head Arthur spoke to Renier.

"No man," he said, "knows his own heart, and no woman knows hers. Nobody
can promise with honesty to love forever. For sometimes love dies just
as simply and inexplicably as it is born. But a man can promise to be
good to his wife always, and tender with her and faithful to her, and if
he is a gentleman he will make those promises good."

"I make those promises," said Renier simply; "will you give her to me?"

"It is for no man to give or to withhold," said Arthur. "The gods give.
The duty of brothers is just to try to help things along and to love
their sisters and to be friends with their brothers-in-law."


"And now," said Lee, "I think I'll tell mamma."

On the way to find the princess, Lee and Renier encountered Herring. He
appeared to be hurrying, but something in their faces brought him to a
sudden stop.

Their attempts to meet his inquiring gaze with indifference proved
unavailing, for he closed one eye and said:

"Which of you two has swallowed the family canary? Or has each of you
swallowed half of him?"

The guilty pair were unable to preserve their natural coloring. They
turned crimson, and each showed a courteous willingness to let the other
be the first to speak.

"You've been to Carrytown," said Herring. "I saw you start. You raced
down to the float. And in your rivalry to see which should board the
_Streak_ first, it looked as if you were going to knock each other
overboard. Renier, he won, and you, Miss Lee, were annoyed. When you
returned from Carrytown, you had long, pensive, anxious faces. Renier
stepped ashore and, in helping you ashore, gave you both hands. When a
girl whom I have seen climb a tree after a baby owl accepts the aid of a
man's two hands in stepping from a solid boat to a solid float, there is
food for thought. Having landed, you proceeded direct to the head of the
Darling family and were for some time engaged with him in solemn
discourse. A paper was shown him. From a distance it looked as if it
might be some sort of a license - a license to hunt and be hunted,
perhaps - - "

"But it wasn't," said Lee suddenly, and she thrust her hand under
Renier's arm. "If you must know, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, it was a license
to love and be loved. So there!"

She was no longer blinking, nor was Renier. They looked so loving and
proud that it was Herring's turn to feel embarrassment. Then he said:

"I only meant to be a tease. If I'd really thought anything - I wouldn't,
of course; none of my darn business. But I'm _awfully_ glad. I've hoped
all along it would happen. It's the best ever. Am I to be secret as the
grave or can I tell - any one I happen to meet?"

"Give us ten minutes to tell mamma," said Lee, "and then consider your
lips unsealed."

Herring had drawn from his pocket a stop-watch and set it going.

"Ten minutes," he said. "Thanks awfully! And good luck!"

He had turned, waving his free hand to them, and darted away.

Lee laughed scornfully.

"Any one he happens to meet!" she exclaimed. "He's headed straight for
the garden, and there he'll just _happen_ to meet Phyllis. She was
speaking of her tomatoes at breakfast, and saying that they ought to be
ripening and that she was going to have a look at them."

"Lee, darling," said Renier, "nobody can possibly see us. And when Mr.
Heartbeat left us alone in the front room it was a frightfully long time
ago. And sometimes a fellow's arms get to aching with sheer emptiness,
and - and, 'this is the forest primeval, the murmuring pines and the
hemlocks - - '"

"Are mostly birches and larches hereabouts," said Lee, and, with a happy
laugh, she drifted into a pair of arms that closed tightly about her.
And, "It doesn't matter if anybody does see us," she said.

* * * * *

It was characteristic of Herring that he should enter the garden by
leaping over the fence. It was also characteristic that he should catch
his foot on the top rail and fall at full length in a bed of very
beautiful and much cherished phlox.

Phyllis, in the path near by, gazed at the fallen man with mirth and

"Hurt?" she asked.

He rose and examined a watch which he was carrying in his right hand.

"Crystal smashed," he said, "but still going. And I've got to wait four

"Why have you got to wait four minutes?"

"Because I promised to wait ten, and six of them have elapsed. Oh, but
won't you be excited when I am at liberty to speak! It's more exciting
than when we were lost in the woods, crossing the swamp that had never
been crossed before. Meanwhile, let us calm ourselves by talking of
something prosaic. How are the tomatoes getting on?"

Phyllis put up her hand in a smiling military salute.

"'General Blank's compliments,'" she said, "'and the colored troops are
turning black in the face.'"

"My favorite breakfast dish," said Herring, "is grilled tomatoes,
preceded by raw oysters and oatmeal."

"Isn't it nice," said Phyllis, "that there is money in the family after
all, and we're going to give up The Camp as an inn?"

"It would have been given up anyway," said Herring. "A determined body
of men had so resolved in secret. There's one minute left."

For some reason they found nothing to say during the whole of that
minute. When the last second thereof had passed forever, Herring said

"Your sister Lee and Renier are going to be married."

I cannot describe the expression that came over Phyllis's face. It
wasn't exactly jealousy; it wasn't exactly the expression of a beautiful
female commuter who has just missed her train. It wasn't a wild look, or
a happy look, or a sad look. Perhaps it was a little bit more of an
aching void look than anything else.

Whatever its exact nature, the wily Herring studied it with an immense
satisfaction. And then his heart began to flurry in a sort of panic.

"Lee!" exclaimed Phyllis, "married! Why, they're nothing but children!"

She felt something encircle her waist. She looked down and saw a hand
and part of an arm.

"What are you doing?" she asked, in a sort of daze.

"I'm trying to establish a hold on you," said Herring, and toward the
end of so saying his voice broke; "and you're not to feel lonely and
deserted with me standing here, are you?"

For a moment it seemed to Herring that Phyllis was going to extricate
herself from his encircling arm. She achieved, indeed, a quarter
revolution to the left and away from him.

"Don't, Phyllis!" he cried. "Don't do it! I couldn't bear it!"

Then she ceased revolving to the left, stopped, and from a startled,
uncertain, half-frightened young person became suddenly a warmly loving
young person, warmly loved, who revolved suddenly to the right, and
became the recipient of a sudden storm of ecstatic exclamations and

And then, nestling close to the one and only man in the world, she
listened with complete satisfaction to his efforts to explain to her
just how beautiful and wonderful and good she was.


When Lee and Renier, locked in each other's arms, stood in the forest
primeval, they were mistaken in imagining themselves to be unobserved.

A short half-hour before, Mary Darling had received a proposal of
marriage. But Mr. Sam Langham, usually so worldly-wise, had erred,
perhaps, in his choice of time and place. Whatever a huge kitchen,
bright with sunlight upon burnished copper, may be, it is not a romantic
place. And, worse than this, Mary herself was not in a romantic mood.
Certain supplies due by the morning express had not arrived. Chef was at
the telephone shouting broken French to the butcher in Carrytown; one of
the kitchen-maids had come down with an aching tooth, and the other had

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13

Online LibraryGouverneur MorrisThe seven Darlings, by Gouverneur Morris; → online text (page 13 of 14)