Gouverneur Morris.

The seven Darlings, by Gouverneur Morris; online

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isn't."

"The French people," said Langham, "hated the nobility because of their
wealth and luxury. To-day a common mechanic has more real luxuries at
his disposal than poor Louis XVI had, but he hates the rich people who
have more than he has - and so it will go on to the end of time."

"Will there always be rich people and poor people?"

"There will always be rich people, but some time they will learn to
spend their money more beneficently, and then there won't be any really
poor people. If the attic of your house were infected with dirt and
vermin you couldn't sleep until it had been cleaned and disinfected. So,
some day, rich men will feel about their neighbors; cities about their
slums; and nations about other nations. I can imagine a future Uncle Sam
saying to a future John Bull" - and he sunk his voice to a comically
confidential whisper: "'Say, old man, I hear you're pressed for ready
cash; now't just so happens I'm well fixed at the moment, and - oh, just
among friends! Bother the interest!' What a spectacle this world
is - it's like the old English schools that Dickens wrote out of
existence - just bullying and hazing all around! Why, if a country was
run on the most elementary principles of honesty and efficiency, the
citizens of that country would never have occasion to say: 'Our taxes
are almost unbearable.' They would be nudging each other in the streets
and saying: 'My, that was a big dividend we got!'"

Mr. Langham only stopped because he was out of breath. His face was red
and shining. He mopped his brow with his handkerchief.

Mary was almost perfectly happy. She loved to hear Langham run on and
on. His voice was so pleasant, and his face beamed so with kindness. And
from many things which he had from time to time let slip she was
convinced that she needn't be an old maid unless she wanted to be. And
so to climb a little hill with him, to sit in the sun, and to admire the
view was really an exciting venture. For she never knew what he was
going to let slip next. And equally exciting was the fact that if that
slip should be in the nature of a leading question, she could only guess
what her answer would be.

When a man is offered something that he very much wants - a trifling
loan, for instance - his first instinct is to deny the need. And a girl,
when the man she wants offers himself, usually refuses at the first
time of asking. And some, especially rich in girl nature, which is
experience of human nature and somewhat short of divine, will persist in
refusing even unto the twentieth and thirtieth time.

Mary Darling was in a deep reverie. From this, his eyes twinkling behind
their thick glasses, Mr. Langham roused her with the brisk utterance of
one of his favorite quotations:

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

Mary smiled her friendliest smile.

"I was wondering," she said, "what had become of Lee and Renier."

"I have noted," said Mr. Langham, "that she always calls him by his last
name, sometimes with the prefix you - 'You Renier' put like that. And I
was wondering if he ever turns the trick on her."

"Why should he?" asked Mary innocently.

"You have forgotten," said he, "that her last name is Darling." His eyes
twinkled with amazing and playful boldness. "You're _all_ Darlings," he
exclaimed, "and" - a note of self-pity in his voice - "I'm just a fat old
stuff!"

"That," said Mary primly, "is perfectly correct, but for three trifling
errors - you're not fat, you're not old, and you're not a stuff!"

If she had told him that he was handsome as Apollo he could not have
been more pleased.

And so their adventure progressed in the pleasant sunlight that warmed
the top of the little hill. No very exciting adventure, you say? And of
a shilly-shallying and even snail-like motion?

Oh, you can't be always riding to rescues, and falling over cliffs, and
escaping from burning houses.

At that moment, by the purest accident, the tip of Mr. Langham's right
forefinger just brushed against Mary's sleeve. And there went through
him from head to foot a great thrill, as if trumpets had suddenly
sounded.

"I suppose," said Mary, after a little while, "that we ought to be
going."

"But I'd rather sit here than eat," said Mr. Langham.

"Honestly? So would I."

"Then," said Mr. Langham, "without exposing ourselves to any other
danger than that of starvation, I propose that we lose ourselves - as
_other people do_ - in short, that we remain here until one or other of
us would rather - eat."

"Good gracious," said Mary, "we might be here a week!"

Mr. Langham rose slowly to his feet. Far off he could see pale smoke
flitting upward through the tree-tops. He turned and looked into Miss
Darling's smiling, upturned face.

"I'll just run down and tell Arthur we're not _really_ lost," he said.
"But I'll make him promise not to look for us. I'll be right
back - almost before you can say 'Jack Robinson.'"

She held out her hands. He took them and helped her to her feet. And
then they both laughed aloud.

"Thank Heaven," said Mary, "that whatever else you and I may suffer
from, it isn't from insanity - or slim appetites! As a matter of fact,
I'm famished."

"Thank God!" said Mr. Langham; "so am I."

And they began to descend the hill. For to keep men and women and
adventurers going, the essential thing is food. And there's many a
promising romance that has come to nothing for want of a loaf of bread
and a jug of wine.




XVIII


In a certain part of the Land of Cotton, where they grow nothing but
rice, Colonel Melville Meredith stood beside the charred foundations of
a house and nursed his chin with his hand. With the exception of a sword
which the King of Greece had given him, all those possessions which he
had considered of value had gone up in smoke with the house of his
ancestors. The family portraits were gone, the silver Lamarie, and
Lesage, and all the Domingan satinwood. If Colonel Meredith had been an
older man, he must almost have wept. But the grip upon his chin was not
of one mourning. It was the grip of consideration. He was wondering what
sort of a new house he should build upon the foundations of the old.

He must, of course, build upon the old site. There were other good sites
among his thousands of acres, but none which was so well planted. A good
architect could copy the Taj Mahal for you. But the Pemaque oak is one
hundred and seven feet, or less, in circumference, and the avenue of
oaks leading from the turnpike, two miles away, was planted in 1653.
There were also divers jungles of rhododendrons, laurel, and azalea in
the river garden that it had taken no less than a great-grandmother to
plant.

"It can't be the first conflagration in the family," he thought.
"Everybody's ancestors, at one time or another, must have lost by fire
and built again. As for Pemaque - it _was_ a lovely old house, but a new
house could be just as lovely, and it could have bathrooms and be made
rat-proof. And I wouldn't mind if people scratched the floors."

I have said that Colonel Meredith had lost all the possessions which he
valued. But of course the land remained, the trees, the duck ponds, the
alligator sloughs, and so forth. There remained, also, a robust youth,
crowded with experiences and memories of wars and statesmen and of
delightful people who live for pleasure. There remained, also - least
valuable of all to a man of action and sentiment - a perfectly safe
income, derived from bonds, of nearly two hundred and fifty thousand
dollars a year. Colonel Meredith was by all odds the richest man in that
part of the Land of Cotton, where they grow nothing but rice.

It was piping hot among the foundations of the old house; the sticky,
ticky season had descended upon the Carolina seacoast. The snakes and
the lizards were saying among themselves, "Now this is really something
like," and were behaving accordingly. Every few minutes a new and
ambitious generation of mosquitoes was hatched. The magnolias were going
to seed. Colonel Meredith's Gordon setter, a determined expression upon
his face, had been scratching himself with almost supercanine speed for
the last twenty minutes.

Colonel Meredith scorned ticks, trod with indifference upon snakes, and
was not poisoned or even pained by mosquitoes, but he had travelled all
over the world and was not averse to being cooler and more comfortable.

"We've got the grandest climate in the world," he thought loyally, "for
eight months in the year - but when it comes to summer give me Vera Cruz,
Singapore, or even hell. I'll build a home for autumn, winter, and
spring, but when it gets to be summer, I'll go away and shoot polar
bears."

He whistled his dog and walked thoughtfully to where his automobile was
waiting in the shade. His driver, an Irish boy from New York, was in a
state of wilt.

"I have determined," said Colonel Meredith, "not to begin building
until cool weather. We shall go North to-night. I hope the thought will
refresh you. Now we will go back to Mr. Jonstone's. Do you feel able to
drive, or shall I?"

It was typical of the region that the Mr. Jonstone with whom Meredith
was stopping should own the best bed of mint south of Washington, and
could make the best mint-juleps. The mint-bed was about all he did own.
Everything else was heavily mortgaged. Everything, that is, except the
family silver and jewels. These Jonstone's grandmother had buried when
Sherman came marching through, and had almost immediately forgotten
where she had buried them. Jonstone employed one trustworthy negro whose
year-around business was to dig for the treasure. There existed a list
of the objects buried, which was enough to make even a rich man's palm
itch.

"Nothing to-day," said Jonstone as his guest drove up. "And it's about
time for a julep."

"I'm going North to-night," said Meredith, "and you're going with me."

They were cousins, second or third, of about the same age. They even
looked alike, but whereas Meredith had travelled all over the world,
Jonstone had never been south of Savannah or north of Washington.

He began with an ivory toddy-stick to convert sugar and Bourbon into
sirup.

"How's that, Mel?" he asked. "And why?"

"Between us two, Bob," said Meredith, "this is one hell of a climate in
summer. The brighter we are the quicker we'll get out of it."

"I'd like to go you on that, but aside from the family silver I haven't
a penny in the world."

"Bob, I'm sick of offering to lend you money. I'm sick of offering to
give you money. There's only one chance left."

Jonstone made a gentle clashing sound with fine ice.

"As you know, my family silver has all gone up in smoke. Now yours
hasn't. Suppose you sell me yours. What's it worth?"

"With or without the diamonds?"

"If I should ever marry, it would be advisable to have the diamonds."

"Well," said Jonstone, beginning to turn over a bundle of straws, with
the object of selecting four which should be flawless, "I don't want to
stick you. We have a complete list of the pieces, with their weights and
dates. Some of the New York dealers could tell us what the collection
would be worth in the open market. Double that sum in the name of
sentiment, and I'll go you."

"I must have a free hand to hunt for the stuff in my own way - It's
perfection - you never, never made a better one - now, how about the
diamonds?"

"I have the weights. And you know the Jonstones were always particular
about water."

"That's why they are all dead but you. Then you'll come?"

Bob Jonstone nodded.

"You'll have to lend me a suit of clothes - but, look here, Mel: suppose
the silver and stuff has been lifted - doesn't exist any more? Wouldn't
I, in selling it to you, be guilty of sharp practice?"

"Our great-great-grandfather, the Signer, doesn't exist any more, Bob.
That silver is somewhere - in some form or other. I pay for it, and it's
mine. Does it matter if I never see it or handle it? I shall always be
able to allude to it - isn't that enough? As for you, you'll be able to
pay all your mortgages, to fix the front door so's it won't have to be
kept shut with a keg of nails, and to spend what is necessary on your
fields."

"Of course," said Jonstone, who had finished his julep. "It afflicts me
to part with what has been in the family so long."

"But you ought to be afflicted."

"Why?"

"Didn't you vote for Wilson?"

Jonstone nodded solemnly.

"Come, then," said Meredith, as if he were pardoning an erring child;
"there's just time for one julep and to pack up our things. You'll just
love New York. And when we get there we'll make up our minds whether
we'll go to Newport or Bar Harbor. Bob, did it ever occur to you that
you and I ought to get married? That looks as if it was going to be
better than the other, though darker - What's the use of having
ancestors if you're not going to be one?"

"Show me a girl as handsome as Sully's portrait of Great-grandmother
Pringle, and I'll take notice."

"Why, every other girl in a Broadway chorus has got the old lady skinned
to death, Bob!"

"You may be worldly-wiser than me, Mel, but you've lost your reverence.
It's always been agreed in the family that Great-grandmother Pringle was
the most beautiful woman in the South. And when a man says 'the South,'
and refers at the same time to female charms, he has as good as said the
whole world."

"Bob, among ourselves, do you really think Jefferson Davis was a
greater man than Abraham Lincoln?"

"Ssssh!" said Jonstone.

"Do you really think the Southern armies wiped up the map with the
Northern armies every time they met? And do you really think that
wooden-faced doll that Sully painted has no equal for beauty north of
the Mason and Dixon line? What you need is travel and experience."

"What's the matter with _you_ getting married? - My God, don't spill
that, Mel!"

"There's nothing the matter with it. And I'll tell you what I'll do: I
will if you will."

"They ought to be sisters, seeing as how you and I have always been like
brothers and voted the Democratic ticket and fought chickens."

"And fed the same ticks and mosquitoes."

"We'll have a double wedding. We'll each be the other's best man, and
they'll each be the other's best girl."

"No - no; they are each to be our best girls."

"What I mean is - - "

"I know what you mean, but you've made this julep too strong."

"That's _one_ thing they can't do in the North."

"What's that?"

"Make a julep."

Meredith considered this at some length. "No, Bob," he said at length,
"they can't. But I once met a statesman from Maine who made a thing that
looked like a julep, tasted like a julep, and that - I'd say it if it was
my dying statement - had the same effect."

"She must be better-looking than Great-grandmother Pringle," said
Jonstone. "She must be able to make a julep, and she must have a sister
just like her. Can you lend me a suit of clothes till we get to New
York?"

"I can lend you anything from a yachting suit to a Bulgarian uniform."

"And you're sure I'm not imposing on you in the matter of the silver?"

"Sure. I just want to know it's mine."

In the morning, soon after this precious pair had breakfasted, a boy
went through the train with newspapers and magazines. He proclaimed in
the sweetest Virginian voice that his magazines were just out, but a
copy of _The Four Seasons_ which Colonel Meredith bought proved not only
to be of an ancient date but to have had coffee spilled upon it.

At the moment when this discovery was made, the youthful paper-monger
had just swung from the crawling train to the platform of a way
station, so there was no redress. The cousins agreed, laughing, that if
a Yankee had played them such a trick they would have wished to cut his
heart out, but that, turned upon them by a fellow countryman, it was
merely a proof of smartness and push.

"Between you and me, Bob," said Colonel Meredith, "an accurate count of
our Southern population would proclaim a villain or two here and there.
I was brought up to believe that to be born in a certain region was all
that was necessary. But that's not so. I tell you this because I am
afraid that when you are meeting people in New York and having a good
time you will be wanting to lay down the law, to wit, that one
Southerner can whip five Yankees. Don't do it. I will tell you a horrid
truth. I was once whipped by a small-sized Frenchman within an inch of
my life. He had studied _le boxe_ under Carpentier and I hadn't. Did you
ever study _le boxe_? No? An Anglo-Saxon imagines that he was born
boxing. And it takes a licking by a man of Latin blood to prove to him
that he wasn't. Just because people make funny noises and monkey cries
when they fight doesn't prove that they are afraid. There is nothing so
ridiculous as a baboon going into action and nothing more terrible when
he gets there."

"The more you travel, Mel, the more you show a deplorable tendency to
foul your own nest."

"_I_ run down the South? I like that! But, my dear Bob, there is only
one chosen people. And it isn't us." Here he made a significant gesture
with his hands, turning the palms up, and they both laughed. "A Jew," he
went on, "is what he is because he is a Jew. His good points and his bad
are racial. But between two men of our race there is no material
resemblance. One is mean, the other generous; one broad, one narrow; one
brave, the other not. Do you know why hornless cows give less milk than
horned cows? Because there are fewer of them. Do you know why there are
more honest men in the North, and pretty girls, than there are in the
South? Simply because there are more men and more girls. It also follows
that there are more dishonest men and ugly girls; more of everything, in
fact."

He was slowly turning over the pages of _The Four Seasons_, looking
always, with Pemaque in mind, at pictures of country houses. Suddenly he
closed the magazine, looked pensively out of the window, and began to
whistle with piercing sweetness. He once more opened the magazine, but
this time with great caution as if he was half afraid that something
disagreeable would jump out at him. Nothing did, however. He folded the
magazine back upon itself and held it close to his eyes, then far off,
then at mid-distance.

"What's the matter with you?" said Bob Jonstone.

"Nothing," said Meredith, "only I'm thinking there ought to be six of us
instead of only two. Look at that page and tell me where we're going to
spend the summer."

Jonstone took the magazine and saw the six Darling sisters sitting on
the float in their bathing-dresses. Presently he smiled and said:
"You've just won an argument, Mel."

"How's that?"

"Why, in the South there wouldn't be so many of them - but maybe they are
not always there. Maybe they were only there last summer."

"Well, we can find out where they've gone, can't we?"

"It doesn't seem in strict good breeding to pursue ladies one doesn't
know."

"Why, bless you, I chased all over Europe after a face I saw in _The
Sketch_, only to find out that she was willing to marry anybody with
money and had a voice like a guinea-hen. And after I'd found that out,
she chased _me_ all over Europe and as far East as Cairo."

"I've never been chased by a woman," said Jonstone a little wistfully.
"What happened in the end?"

"I left Cairo between two days, fled away into the desert with some
people just stepped out of the Bible, and never came back."

"Suppose she hadn't been willing to marry you and had had a voice like a
dove?"

"Don't suppose. We are on a new quest."

"What is the Adirondacks?"

"We wouldn't think much of it in the South. It's a place where you are
always cool and clean and can drink the nearest water. The trout don't
eat mud and haven't got long white whiskers, and the deer are bigger
than dogs, and you don't go to sleep at night. The night just comes and
puts you to sleep. It's just like Bar Harbor - only a little more so in
some ways and a little less so in others."

Jonstone spread _The Four Seasons_ wide open upon his knees.

"Let's agree right now," he said, "which each of us thinks is the
prettiest. It would be dreadful after travelling so far if we were both
to pick on the same one."

"We would have to fight a duel," said Meredith, "with swords, and
considering that you could never even sharpen a pencil without cutting
yourself - - "

"A boy wouldn't come along," said Jonstone, "and sell us a copy of a
magazine months old if fate hadn't meant us to see this picture. I think
I like the third one from the end."

"I think I like the three that look just alike."

"That is because you have travelled in Turkey. You never seem to
remember that you are a Christian gentleman."




XIX


When they found out how much the buried silver was worth - the inventory
was very thorough in the matter of description, dates, and weights - Mr.
Bob Jonstone burst out laughing. But Colonel Meredith, although
determined to stand by his bargain whatever the cash cost, looked like a
man who has just missed the last train.

"I haven't got that much money loose, Bob," he said, "but I can raise it
in a few days and then we'll execute a bill of sale. Meanwhile, allow me
to congratulate you on your accession to the aristocracy."

"Aristocracy? It's blood that counts - not money."

"According to the old democracy, yes. According to the new,
distinguished people pay an income tax and common people don't. And you,
a moment ago, before the valuation was completed, were a very common
fellow, indeed."

"Mel, I had no idea that old junk was worth so much."

"You hadn't? Well, it's worth more. I'm getting a bargain. Thank the
Lord you're a gentleman, so there's no danger of your backing out."

Jonstone seized his cousin's hand and pressed it affectionately.

"Mel," he said, "can you afford to do this thing? God knows the money
will make all the difference in the world to me! But in taking it I
don't feel any too noble."

"It was always ridiculous for me to be rich and for you to be poor.
That's done with. I'm still rich, thank God! - and you're well-to-do. You
can travel if you like, breed horses, install plumbing, burn coal, and
marry."

"If I was sure that the silver would ever be turned up, I wouldn't feel
so sheepish."

"As long as you don't look sheepish or act sheepish - suppose that now,
after a slight fortification, we visit a tailor. It is necessary for you
to dress according to your station in life."

Their first day in New York was immensely amusing to both of them.
Meredith was coming back to it after a long absence; Jonstone was seeing
it for the first time, and for the first time his pockets were full of
money that he did not owe. Now, New York is one of the finest summer
resorts in the world. Do not pity the poor business man who sends his
family to the mountains for the hot weather, for while they are burned
by the sun and fed an interminable succession of blueberry pies, he
basks in the cool of electric fans and dines on the fat of the land. His
business may worry him, but there is no earthly use in his attending to
it. That is done for him. He can skip away when he pleases for an
afternoon's golf or tennis. Somebody's motor is always going somewhere
where there is pleasure to be found and laughter. The lights of Luna
Park are brighter than the Bar Harbor stars, and the ocean which pounds
upon Long Beach is just as salt as that which thunders against Great
Head - and about twice as warm. For pure torture give me a swim anywhere
north of Cape Cod. Merely to step into such water is like having one's
foot bitten off by a shark.

It did not take Jonstone long to acknowledge that New York is even
bigger than Richmond, Virginia, and even livelier. The discovery of a
superannuated mosquito in his bathroom had made him feel at home, and
the fact that the head bartender in the hotel, though a native of
Ireland, fashioned a delicious julep.

But his equanimity came very near to being upset in the subway. He felt
a hand slipping into his pocket and caught it by the wrist. He had a
grip like looped wire twisted with pinchers. The would-be thief uttered
a startled shriek and was presently turned over to a policeman.

All the way to the station-house Mr. Jonstone talked excitedly and
triumphantly to his cousin.

"Yes, sir," he said, "you had me groggy with your high buildings and
your Aladdin-cave stores and your taxicabs and park systems. But by the
Everlasting, sir, this would never have happened to me south of the
Mason and Dixon line. No, sir; we may be short on show but we're long on


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