Gouverneur Morris.

The seven Darlings, by Gouverneur Morris; online

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been sent upon an errand from which she should have long since returned.

"Oh," exclaimed Mary, as Mr. Langham entered, smiling, "everything is in
such a mess! I don't believe there's going to be any lunch to-day for
any one. And I think I shall have a nervous breakdown!"

"I told you you would long ago," said Langham, "if you didn't rest more
and take things easier. What _does_ it matter if things go wrong once in
a while? And if there isn't going to be any lunch, I'm glad, for one. I
was thinking of not eating mine, anyway. And if _I'm_ not hungry, you
can be pretty sure that nobody else is hungry. I tell you it hurts me to
see you work so hard. I admire it and I bow down, but it hurts. You tell
Chef to do the best he can, and you come for a brisk walk with me. We'll
walk up an appetite, and - - "

"I can't _possibly_," said Mary. "I've got to stand by."

"Then you go for a walk and I'll stand by. Only trust me. _I'll_ see
that nobody goes hungry."

She did not appear to have heard his offer, and Mr. Langham spoke again,
with a sudden change of tone.

"I'd like to take you out of this. I'd like to make everything in the
world easy for you, if you would only let me. But you know that. You've
known it all along. And knowing it, you've never even shown that it
interested you; and so I suppose it's folly for me to mention it. But a
man can't give up all his hopes of happiness in this world without even
stating them, can he? I've hoped that you might get to care a little
about me - - "

Mary interrupted him with considerable impatience.

"Really," she said, "with Chef shouting at the telephone, and all, I
don't know what you are driving at."

At that Mr. Langham looked so hurt and so unhappy and woebegone that
Mary was touched with remorse.

"I didn't realize you were in earnest," she said. "I'm sorry I've hurt
your feelings, but it's no use. I'm sorry - awfully sorry; but it's no
use."

"I'm sorry, too," said Langham; "sorry I spoke; sorrier there was no use
in speaking; sorriest of all that I'm no good to any one. But as long as
I had to come a cropper, why, I'm glad it was for no one less wonderful
than you. Will you let things be as they were? I won't bother you about
my personal feelings ever again by a look or a word."

After he had gone Mary stood for a while with knitted brows. Chef had
finished telephoning. The kitchen was in silence. Suddenly she broke
this silence.

"Chef," she exclaimed, "I'm no use at all! You'll just have to do the
best you can about lunch by yourself."

And she left the kitchen with great swiftness, looking like an angel on
the verge of tears.

Chef's shining red face divided into a white smile, and he began to
bustle about and make a noise with pots and pans and carving tools, and
to sing as he bustled:

"_Sur le pont d'Avignon_
_L'on y danse, l'on y danse_,
_Sur le pont d'Avignon_
_L'on y danse tout en rond - _
_Les belles dames font comm'ça_,
_Et puis encore comm'ça._"

It is probable that in his gay Parisian youth Chef had known a good deal
about _les belles dames_. He had latterly given much attention to the
progress of Miss Darling's friendship with Mr. Langham, and that this
same progress had received a sharp setback under his very nose concerned
him not a little. Chef possessed altogether too much currency that had
once belonged to that lavish tipper, Mr. Langham. And Chef did not wish
Mr. Langham to be driven from the kitchen and The Camp. He wished Mr.
Langham to become a permanent Darling asset - like himself and the
French range. And so, half singing, half speaking, and furiously
bustling, he announced:

"I'll show her how little difference she makes. Without advice or
dictation, practically without supplies of any kind, I shall arrange,
_nom de Dieu!_ a luncheon which, for pure deliciousness, will not have
been surpassed during the entire Christian era. I shall hint to her that
I tolerate her in my kitchen because I have known her since she was a
little girl, but I shall make it clear by words and deeds that her
presence or absence is not of the least importance. Let her then turn
for comfort to the worthy, generous, and rich Mr. Langham, for whom the
mere poaching of an egg is an exquisite pleasure!"

And he frowned and began to think formidable and inventive thoughts
about matters connected with his craft and immediate needs and
necessities.

Mary Darling had, of late, often imagined herself receiving an offer of
marriage from Mr. Langham. That is badly expressed. Only the most
insufferable and self-sufficient of men make offers of marriage. Your
true, modest, and chivalrous lover gets down on his real or figurative
knees and begs and beseeches. She had, then, often imagined her hand in
the act of being besought by Mr. Langham. Being a practical young woman,
she had pictured this as happening (repeatedly) at sunset, by moonlight,
in the depths of romantic forests or on the tops of romantic mountains.
And some voice in her (some very practical voice) told her that it never
should have happened in a kitchen.

Mr. Langham's "sweet beseeching", instead of "moving her strangely," had
made her rather cross. And such tenderness as she usually had for him
had fled to cover. But now, as the clean, green forest closed about her,
she had a reaction. She came to a dead stop and realized that she had
been through an emotional crisis. Her heart was beating as if she had
just finished a steep, swift climb. And her heart was aching too, aching
for the kind and gentle friend and well-wisher to whom she had been so
inexplicably cold and cutting. It was in vain to mourn for that diamond
of a heart which she had rejected with so much finality. He had said
that he would never "bother" her again (_Bother_ her! The idea!), and he
never would. He was a man of his word, Sam Langham was. Perhaps, even
now he was causing his things to be packed with a view to leaving The
Camp for ever and a day. But what could she do? Could she go to him (in
person or by writing) and in his presence eat as much as a single
mouthful of humble-pie? No, she could not possibly do that. Then, what
could she do? Well, with the usual negligible results, she could cry her
eyes out over the spilt milk.

She went swiftly forward, the shadows dappling her as she went, and her
heart swelling and swelling with self-pity and general miserableness.
Thoughts of Arthur and his happiness flashed through her mind. The
thought that she, Mary Darling, unmarried, would in the course of a few
years be called an old maid, caused her a panicky feeling. She pictured
herself as very old (and very ugly), exhibiting improbable Chinese dogs
at dog-shows and scowling at rosy babies. And I must say she almost
laughed.

The path turned sharply to the right and disclosed to Mary's eyes two
young people who stood locked in each other's arms and rocked slightly
from side to side - rocked with ineffable delight and tenderness.

She stood stock-still, in plain view if they had looked her way, until
presently they unlocked arms, drew a little apart, and had a good long
look at each other, and then turned their backs upon that part of the
forest and departed slowly.

Whither she was going, Mary did not know. But she went very swiftly and
had upon her face the expression of a beautiful female commuter who has
arrived at the station just in time to see her train pull out. But this
expression changed when she found her path blocked by the diminutive
house in which Sam Langham lived, and saw Sam Langham, a look of wonder
on his face, rise from his big piazza chair and come toward her.

"Lee and Renier are going to be married," she exclaimed, all out of
breath, "and I didn't mean to be such a brute! And I wouldn't have hurt
you for anything in the world!"

Sam Langham only looked at her, for he was afraid to speak.

"I'm just an old goose," said Mary humbly, but very bravely, "and I take
everything back. And if you meant what you said, Sam, and want to begin
all over again, why, don't just stand there and look at me."

And presently she was ashamed of herself for having been so forward, and
so she pursued the feelings of shame to their logical conclusion and hid
her face.

And now, for the first time, she realized how hard she had worked ever
since The Camp was changed into an inn to make it a go, and how much
she needed rest and comforting and a masculine executive to lean on.

"Who said," murmured the ecstatic Langham, "that nothing good ever came
of liking good things to eat?"

"Sam," said Mary, "I'm so happy I don't care if lunch is burned to a
cinder."

It wasn't. Out of odds and ends of raw materials, and great slugs and
gallons of culinary genius, Chef produced a lunch that transcended even
Mary's and Langham's belief in him.

But it was Arthur who insisted that champagne be opened; and perhaps the
champagne made the lunch seem even more delicious than it really was.

Maud and Eve had already discounted Arthur's engagement and Lee's. They
had not, it is true, learned of the latter without feeling that if they
didn't hurry they would miss their train; but they had disguised and
fought off that feeling until now they were their gay and natural
selves. It remained for Mr. Langham to shock them suddenly into a new
set of emotions.

"I should be obliged," said he, rising to his feet, with a glass of
champagne in his hand, "if everybody would drink the health of the
happiest man present." Arthur and Renier looked very self-conscious.
But Mr. Langham concluded: "And that man is myself. I have the honor to
announce that, beyond peradventure, the loveliest and sweetest girl in
all the world - - "

And at that Mary blushed so and looked so happy and beautiful that
everybody shouted with joy and surprise and laughter, and drank
champagne, and tossed compliments about like shuttlecocks. And Arthur
and Renier and Langham had a violent dispute as to which was the
happiest; and decided to settle the dispute with sabres at - twenty
paces.

Her first burst of surprise and excitement and pleasure having passed,
Eve Darling experienced a sudden sinking feeling. She felt as if all the
people she most loved to be with were going away on a delightful
excursion and that she was being left behind. It was at this moment,
while the uproar was still at its height, that she heard the shaken
voice of Mr. Bob Jonstone in her ear.

"How about us?" he demanded.

"How about us - what?" she answered.

Then she felt her hand seized and held in the secret asylum furnished by
the table-cloth, and there stole over her the solaceful feeling of
having been asked at the last moment to go upon the delightful
excursion.

"Eve?"

"Eve, darling - is it all right?"

"All right."

And then up shot Mr. Jonstone like a projectile from a howitzer, and he
cried aloud, his habitual calmness and lazy habit of speech flung to the
winds.

"You're not the only happy men in the world," he shouted. "I'm happier
than the three of you put together, I am! Because my Darling is the best
and most beautiful of all Darlings, and if any man dares to gainsay
that, let him just step outside with me for five minutes - that's all."

Colonel Meredith's hair bristled like the mane of a fighting terrier.

"Do you mean to say," he whispered to Maud in a sort of savage whisper,
"that I've got to swallow that insult without protest?"

It was on the tip of Maud's tongue to say that she didn't know what he
meant. But how could she say that when she knew perfectly well?

"Only give me the right to answer him," continued the sincere warrior.
He rose to his feet. "Is it yes - or no?"

"It's yes - yes," exclaimed Maud and, horrified with herself, she leaned
back blushing and full of wonder.

"Mr. Jonstone - Mr. Bob - Jonstone!" cried Colonel Meredith.

Mr. Jonstone's attention was presently attracted, and he gave his cousin
a glittering look.

"I'll be only too delighted to step outside with you for five minutes,"
said Colonel Meredith.

And the cousins glared and glared at each other. But whether or not they
were really in earnest, if only for a moment, will never be known; at
any rate, each of them appeared suddenly to perceive something comic
about the other, and both burst into peals of schoolboy laughter.

Only Gay's happiness seemed a little forced, and her mother's.




XXXV


Gay hardly slept at all. She was at her window half the night asking
troubled questions of the stars and of the moon and of the moonlight on
the lake. She had not, during the summer, taken her sisters' affairs
very seriously, perhaps because she was so seriously engrossed with her
own. She had, even in her heart, almost accused them of flirting and
carrying on lest time hang heavy on their hands. Her own romance she had
supposed all along to be real, the others mere reflections of romantic
places and situations. But it began to look as if only her own romance
had been spurious. It was a long time since she had heard from
Pritchard. He had told her very simply that he was now the Earl of
Merrivale, and that, as soon as certain things were settled and
arranged, he intended to return to America. After that, there had been
no word from him of any kind. She tried to comfort herself with the
thought that if he was that kind of man - blow hot, blow cold - she was
well rid of him, and she failed dismally.

A man is in love with a certain girl. He learns that she is vain, gay,
extravagant, heartless, and going to marry some other man. Does any of
this comfort him? Not if he is in love with her, it doesn't. Not a bit.

So Gay could say to herself: "He's thoughtless and inconstant, and I'm
well out of it!" She could say that, and she did say that, and then she
buried her face in her pillow and cried very quietly and very hard.

She was up before the sun.

It would have taken more than one night of wakefulness and weeping to
leave marks upon that lovely face which sudden cold water and the
resolution to suffer no more could not erase.

But she had not rowed a mile or more before the color in her cheeks was
really vivid again and the whites of her eyes showed no traces of tears.

She did not know why she was rowing or whither. It was as if some strong
hand had forced her from bed before sunrise, forced her into her
fishing-clothes, forced her into a guide boat, placed oars in her hands,
and compelled her to row.

She even smiled, wondering where she was going.

"I can go anywhere I like," she thought; "but I don't want to go
anywhere in particular, and yet I am quite obviously on my way to
somewhere or other. I'm like Alice in Wonderland. I think I'll go to
Carrytown and get the morning mail."

But she had no sooner beached toward Carrytown than the distance there
seemed unutterably long, especially for a rower who had yet to
breakfast.

"I know," thought Gay at last; "I'll row to Placid Brook and see if the
big trout is still feeding in his private preserve. I'll land just where
we did before and cross the meadow and spy on him from behind a bush. I
wish I'd brought some tackle. I'd like to catch him and cook him for my
breakfast - so I would!"

Upon this resolution, the work of rowing became very light. It was as if
the force which had started her upon the excursion had had Placid Brook
in mind all the time.

Having laid her course for the meadow at the mouth of Placid Brook, she
kept the stern of the boat in direct line with a distant mountain-top,
and so held it. The sun was now peeping over the rim of the world, and
here and there morning breezes were darkening and dappling the burnished
surface of the lake.

Now and then, as she neared the meadow, Gay glanced over her shoulder,
once for quite a long time, resting on her oars, because she thought
she saw a doe with a fawn. They turned out to be nothing more tender
than a couple of granite rocks. And once again she rested on her oars
and looked for a long time - not this time upon the strength of a
hallucination, but of an impulse.

She followed this inconsequential act with a long sigh, and enough
strokes of the oar to bring her to land.

When she stood upright on the meadow she could see the very spot from
which Pritchard had cast for the big trout. And she saw (and had a
curious dilating of the heart at the same moment) that that particular
spot of meadow was once more occupied by a human being - or were her eyes
and her breakfastless stomach playing tricks?

A young man in rusty meadow-colored clothes appeared to be kneeling with
his back toward her. She advanced swiftly toward him, curious only of a
great wonder and an indescribable (and possibly fatal) beating of her
heart. And suddenly she knew that her man was real and no hallucination,
for she perceived at her feet the stub of a Turkish cigarette, still
smoking. Then she called to him:

"Halloo, there!"

The Earl of Merrivale started as if he had been shot at, then leaped to
his feet and turned toward her with a cry of joy.

"What are you doing here?" he cried.

And they had approached to within touching distance of each other.

"I don't know," she said. "What are you?"

"It was too early to pay calls," he said, "so I thought I'd have one
more whack at the big char and bring him to you for a present. But tell
me - does our bet still stand?"

He looked at her so tenderly and lovingly and hopefully that she hadn't
the heart to be anything but tender and loving herself.

"The bet still stands," she said, "if you win. I've missed you
terribly."

"I took him," said the earl. "I was just weighing him when you called.
He weighs a lot more than three pounds. So I win."

"Yes, you win."

"And the bet still stands?"

She nodded happily.

"And you won't renege - you'll pay? You'll be Countess of Merrivale?"

"If you want me to be," she said humbly.

"If I want you to be!"

And she had imagined herself so often in his arms that she was not now
surprised or troubled to find herself there.

"I was so unhappy," she said; "and now I'm so happy."

And after a little while she said:

"I'd like to see him."

Presently they stood looking down at the great trout.

"He's done a lot for us, hasn't he?" said Gay. "He was the beginning of
things. And it seems sort of a pity - - "

"He's still breathing. He'll live if we put him back. Shall we?"

"Yes, please."

There was plenty of life and fight in the old trout. He no sooner felt
that water was somewhere under him than he gave a triumphant, indignant
flop, tore himself from Merrivale's hands, and disappeared with a
splendid, smacking splash.

"Good old boy!" laughed Merrivale.

"And yet," said Gay, "it's a pity that we couldn't take him back to camp
and show him off. He was the biggest trout I ever saw."

"He wasn't a trout, dear," said Merrivale; and he grinned lovingly at
her. "He was a char."

"Of course he was," said Gay humbly; "I forgot."




XXXVI


I wish I could write first, "The Seven Darlings lived happily ever
afterward," and then the word "Finis." But I cannot end so easily and
maintain a reputation for veracity. They can't have lived happily
afterward until they are dead - can they? At the moment they have just
closed The Camp after the summer and scattered to their winter homes;
that is, all of them except Gay.

The Camp, of course, is no longer an inn. They run it on joint account
for themselves and for their friends. And they have delightful times.

Colonel Meredith has built a tremendous house on his ancestral acres,
and during the winter Arthur and his wife, the Herrings, the Reniers,
the Jonstones, and the Langhams are apt to make it their headquarters.

Gay and her young man were to have visited the Merediths this winter.
There was going to be a united family effort to discover the buried
silver which Mr. Bob Jonstone sold to his cousin, but of course the
great war has upset this excellent plan, together with a good many
million other plans, even more excellent and important.

The Earl of Merrivale is fighting somewhere in the wet ditches - Gay
doesn't know exactly where. She herself, a red cross on her sleeve, is
with one of the field-hospitals, working like a slave to save life.
Because her husband is an Englishman, she didn't think that she could
ever be kind to a German or an Austrian, but that turned out to be a
whopping big error of judgment. They all look alike to her now, and her
heart almost breaks over them. But I don't know what will become of her
if anything happens to Merrivale. I think poor little Gay would just
curl up and die. He is all the world to her, just as she is to him.

Well, they are only one loving couple out of a good many hundred
thousands. The times are too momentous to follow them further or waste
words and sympathy on them. The world is thinking in big figures, not in
units.

Only a sentimentalist here and there regards as more important than
empire and riches the little love-affairs that death is hourly ending,
and the little babies who are never to be born.







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