Mabel Osgood Wright.

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as he drew a small envelope from a compartment of his letter book, where
it had evidently been stowed away for this special purpose.

"Yes, I can manage nicely with it," replied Miss Lavinia, cheerfully;
"and now you must leave us at once, so that we can do this shopping, and
not be too late for luncheon. Remember, dinner to-night at 6:30." "One
thing more," he said, as we turned to leave, "I shall not now have time
to present my respects to Miss Latham's mother as I intended; do you
think that she will hold me very rude? I remember that Miss Sylvia once
said her mother was very particular in matters of etiquette, - about her
going out unchaperoned and all that, - and should not wish her to feel
slighted." Miss Lavinia assured him very dryly that he need not worry
upon that score, that no notice would be taken of the omission. Not
saying, however, that in all probability he was entirely unconsidered,
ranked as a tutor and little better than a governess by the elder woman,
even if Sylvia had spoken of him as her instructor.

So, after holding open the heavy doors for us, he strode off down town,
the bright smile still lingering about his eyes, while we retraced our
steps to the shop we had visited early that morning, and then down
again to a jeweller's. The result was a dress pattern of soft black
silk, brocaded with a small leafy design, a graceful lace-edged, muslin
fichu, and an onyx bar pin upon which three butterflies were outlined
by tiny pearls.

"Isn't he a dear fellow?" asked Miss Lavinia, apparently of a big gray
truck horse that blocked the way as we waited at the last crossing before
reaching home. And I replied, "He certainly is," with rash but
unshakable feminine conviction.



Sylvia came that afternoon well before dark, a trim footman following
from the brougham with her suitcase and an enormous box of forced early
spring flowers, hyacinths, narcissi, tulips, English primroses,
lilies-of-the-valley, white lilacs, and some yellow wands of Forsythia,
"with Mrs. Latham's compliments to Miss Dorman."

"What luxury!" exclaimed Miss Lavinia, turning out the flowers upon the
table in the tea room where she kept her window garden, "and how pale and
spindling my poor posies look in comparison. Are these from the Bluffs?"

"Oh no, from Newport," replied Sylvia. "There is to be no glass at the
Bluffs, only an outdoor garden, mamma says, that will not be too much
trouble to keep up. Mrs. Jenks-Smith was dining at the house last night,
and told me what a lovely garden you have, Mrs. Evan, and I thought
perhaps, if we do not go to California to meet father, but go to Oaklands
early in April, you might be good enough to come up and talk my garden
over with me. The landscape architect has, I believe, made a plan for the
beds and walks about the house, but I am to have an acre or two of
ground on the opposite side of the highway quite to myself.

"Oh, please don't squeeze those tulips into the tight high vases, Aunt
Lavinia," she said, going behind that lady and giving her a hug with one
arm, while she rescued the tulips with the other hand; for Miss Lavinia,
feeling hurried and embarrassed by the quantity of flowers, was jumbling
them at random into very unsuitable receptacles.

"May I arrange the dinner table," Sylvia begged, "like a Dutch garden,
with a path all around, beds in the corners, and those dear little silver
jugs and the candlesticks for a bower in the middle?

"A month ago," she continued, as she surveyed the table at a glance and
began to work with charming enthusiasm, "mamma was giving a very
particular dinner. She had told the gardener to send on all the flowers
that could possibly be cut, so that there were four great hampers full;
but owing to some mistake Darley, the florist, who always comes to
decorate the rooms, did not appear. We telephoned, and the men flew
about, but he could not be found, and mamma was fairly pale with anxiety,
as Mrs. Center, who gives the swell dinner dances, was to dine with her
for the first time, and it was important to make an impression, so that
_I_ might be invited to one or possibly more of these affairs, and so
receive a sort of social hall mark, without which, it seems, no young New
York woman is complete. I didn't know the whole of the reason then, to be
sure, or very possibly I should not have worked so hard. Still, poor
mamma is so in earnest about all these little intricacies, and thinks
them so important to my happiness and fate, or something else she has in
view, that I am trying not to undeceive her until the winter is over."

Sylvia spoke with careless gayety, which was to my mind somehow belied by
the expression of her eyes.

"I asked Perkins to get out the Dutch silver, toys and all, that mamma
has been collecting ever since I can remember, and bring down a long
narrow mirror in a plain silver frame that backs my mantel shelf. Then I
begged mother to go for her beauty sleep and let me wrestle with the
flowers, also to be sure to wear her new Van Dyck gown to dinner.

"This was not according to her plan, but she went perforce. I knew that
she felt extremely dubious, and, trembling at my rashness, I set at work
to make a Dutch flower garden, with the mirror for a canal down the
centre. Perkins and his understudies, Potts and Parker, stood watching me
with grim faces, exchanging glances that seemed to question my sanity
when I told Parker to go out to the corner where I had seen workmen that
afternoon dump a load of little white pebbles, such as are used in
repairing the paving, and bring me in a large basketful. But when the
garden was finished, with the addition of the little Delft windmills I
brought home, and the family of Dutch peasant dolls that we bought at the
Antwerp fair, Perkins was absolutely moved to express his approval."

"What effect did the garden have upon the dance invitations?" asked Miss
Lavinia, highly amused, and also more eager to hear of the doings of
society than she would care to confess.

"Excellent! Mrs. Center asked mother who her decorator was, and said she
should certainly employ him; which, it seems, was a compliment so rare
that it was equivalent to the falling of the whole social sky at my feet,
Mr. Bell said, who let the secret out. I was invited to the last two of
the series, - for they come to a conspicuous stop and turn into theatre
parties when Lent begins, - and I really enjoyed myself, the only drawback
being that so few of the really tall and steady men care for dancing.
Most of my partners were very short, and loitered so, that I felt
top-heavy, and it reminded me of play-days, when I used to practise
waltzing with the library fire tongs. I dislike long elaborate
dinners, though mamma delights in them, and says one may observe so much
that is useful, but I do like to dance with a partner who moves, and not
simply progresses in languid ripples, for dancing is one of the few
indoor things that one is allowed to do for oneself.

"Now, Aunt Lavinia, you see the garden is all growing and blowing, and
there are only enough tulips left for the Rookwood jars in the library,"
Sylvia said, stepping back to look at the table, "and a few for us to
wear. Lilies-of-the-valley for you, pink tulips for you, Mrs. Evan, - they
will soon close, and look like pointed rosebuds, - yellow daffies to match
my gown, and you must choose for the two men I do not know. I'll take a
tuft of these primroses for Mr. Bradford, and play they grew wild. We
always joked him about these flowers at college until 'The Primrose' came
to be his nickname among ourselves. Why?

"One day when he was lecturing to us on Wordsworth, and reading
examples of different styles and metres, he finished a rather
sentimental phrase with

"'A primrose by a river's brim
A yellow primrose was to him
And it was nothing more.'

"Suddenly, the disparity between the bigness of the reader and the
slimness of the verse overcame me, and catching his eye, I laughed aloud.
Of course, the entire class followed in a chorus, which he, catching the
point, joined heartily. It sounds silly now, but it seemed very funny at
the time; and it is such little points that make events at school, and
even at college."

"Mr. Bradford told me some news this morning," said Miss Lavinia, walking
admiringly about the table as she spoke. "He is Professor Bradford, of
the University, not merely the women's college now, or rather will be at
the beginning of the next term."

"That is pleasant news. I wonder how old Professor Jameson happened to
step out, and why none of the Rockcliffe girls have written me about it."

"He did not tell me any details; said that they would keep until
to-night. We met him in the street this morning, immediately after we
left you," and Miss Lavinia gave a brief account of our shopping.

"That sounds quite like him. All his air castles seemed to be built about
his mother and the old farm at Pine Ridge. He has often told me how easy
it would be to get back the house to the colonial style, with wide
fireplaces, that it was originally, and he always had longings to be in a
position to coax his mother to come to Northbridge for the winter, and
keep a little apartment for him. Perhaps he will be able to do both now."

Sylvia spoke with keen but quite impersonal interest, and looking at her
I began to wonder if here might not, after all, be the comrade type of
woman in whose existence I never before believed, - feminine,
sympathetic, buoyant, yet capable of absolutely rational and unemotional
friendship with a man within ten years of her own age. But after all it
is common enough to find the first half of such a friendship, it is the
unit that is difficult; and I had then had no opportunity of seeing the
two together.

We went upstairs together, and lingered by the fire in Miss Lavinia's
sitting room before going to make ready for dinner. The thaw of the
morning was again locked by ice, and it was quite a nippy night for the
season. I, revelled mentally in the fact that my dinner waist was crimson
in colour, and abbreviated only in the way of elbow sleeves, and the
pretty low corn-coloured crêpe bodice that I saw Lucy unpacking from
Sylvia's suit case quite made me shiver.

The only light in Miss Lavinia's den, other than the fire, was a low
lamp, with a soft-hued amber shade, so that the room seemed to draw close
about one like protecting arms, country fashion, instead of seeking to
turn one out, which is the feeling that so many of the stately apartments
in the great city houses give me.

When I am indoors I want space to move and breathe in, of course, but I
like to feel intrenched; and only when I open the door and step outside,
do I wish to give myself up to space, for Nature is the only one who
really knows how to handle vastness without overdoing it.

As we sat there in silence I watched the play of firelight on
Sylvia's face, and the same thought seemed to cross it as she closed
her eyes and nestled back in Miss Lavinia's funny little fat sewing
chair, that was like a squab done in upholstery. Then, as the clock
struck six, she started, rubbed her eyes, and crossed the hall to her
room half in a dream.

"She is as like her Grandmother Latham when I first saw her, as a girl
of twenty-one can be like a woman of fifty," said Miss Lavinia, from the
lounge close at my elbow. "Not in colouring or feature, but in poise
and gesture. The Lathams were of Massachusetts stock, and have, I
imagine, a good deal of the Plymouth Rock mixture in their back-bones.
Her father has the reputation, in fact, of being all rock, if not quite
of the Plymouth variety. Well, I think she will need it, poor child;
that is, if any of the rumours that are beginning to float in the air
settle to the ground."

"Meaning what?" I asked, half unconsciously, and paying little heed,
for I then realized that the daily letter from father had not arrived;
and Lucy at that moment came in, lit the lamps, and began to rattle
the hair-brushes in Miss Lavinia's bedroom, which I took as a signal
for me to leave.

The door-bell rang. It was Evan; but before I met him halfway on the
stairs, he called up: "I telephoned home an hour ago, and they are all
well. The storm held over last night there. Father says it was the most
showy snow they have had for years, and he was delayed in getting his
letter to the post."

"Is that all?" I asked, as I got down far enough to rest my hands on his

"Yes; the wires buzzed badly and did not encourage gossip. Ah!" (this
with an effort to appear as if it was an afterthought), "I told him I
thought that you would not wait for me tomorrow, but probably go home on
the 9:30. Not that I really committed you to it if you have other plans!"

* * * * *

Martin Cortright appeared some five minutes before Horace Bradford. As it
chanced, when the latter came in the door Sylvia was on the stairs, so
that her greeting and hearty handshake were given looking down at him,
and she waited in the hall, in a perfectly unembarrassed way, as a matter
of course, while he freed himself from his heavy coat. His glance at the
tall girl, who came down from the darkness above, in her shimmering gown,
with golden daffies in her hair and on her breast, like a beam of
wholesome sunshine, was full of honest, personal admiration. If it had
been otherwise I should have been disappointed in the man's completeness.
Then, looking at them from out of the library shadows, I wondered what he
would have thought if his entry had been at the Latham home instead of at
Miss Lavinia's, how he would have passed the ordeal of Perkins, Potts,
and Parker, and if his spontaneity would have been marred by the

Perhaps he would have been oblivious. Some men have the happy gift of
not being annoyed by things that are thorns in the flesh to otherwise
quite independent women. Father, however, is always amused by flunkies,
and treats them as an expected part of the show; even as the jovial
Autocrat did when, at a grand London house, "it took full six men in red
satin knee-breeches" to admit him and his companion.

Bradford did not wear an evening suit; neither did he deem apology
necessary. If he thought of the matter at all, which I doubt, he
evidently considered that he was among friends, who would make whatever
excuses were necessary from the circumstances of his hurried trip.

Then we went in to the dining-room, Miss Lavinia leading with Martin
Cortright, as the most recent acquaintance, and therefore formal guest,
the rest of us following in a group. Miss Lavinia, of course, took the
head of the table, Evan opposite, and the two men, Cortright on her right
and Bradford on her left, making Sylvia and me vis-à-vis.

The men appropriated their buttonhole flowers naturally. Martin smiled at
my choice for him, which was a small, but chubby, red and yellow,
uncompromising Dutch tulip, far too stout to be able to follow its family
habit of night closing, except to contract itself slightly. Evan
caressed his lilies-of-the-valley lightly with his finger-tips as he
fastened them in place, but Bradford broke into a boyish laugh, and then
blushed to the eyes, when he saw the tiny bunch of primroses, saying:
"You have a long memory, Miss Sylvia, yet mine is longer. May I have a
sprig of that, too?" and he reached over a big-boned hand to where the
greenhouse-bred wands of yellow Forsythia were laid in a formal pattern
bordering the paths. "That is the first flower that I remember. A great
bush of it used to grow in a protected spot almost against the kitchen
window at home; and when I see a bit of it in a strange place, for a
minute I collapse into the little chap in outrageous gathered trousers,
who used to reach out the window for the top twigs, that blossomed
earliest, so as to be the first to carry 'yellow bells' to school for a
teacher that I used to think was Venus and Minerva rolled in one. I saw
her in Boston the other day, and the Venus hallucination is shattered,
but the yellow bells look just the same, proving - "

"That every prospect pleases
And man (or woman) alone is vile,"

interpolated Evan.

Grape fruit, with a dash of sherry, or the more wholesome sloe-gin, is
Miss Lavinia's compromise with the before-dinner cocktail of society,
that is really very awakening to both brain and digestion; and before the
quaint silver soup tureen had disappeared, even Martin Cortright had not
only come wholly out of his shell, but might have been said to have
fairly perched on top of it, before starting on a reminiscent career with
his hostess, beginning at one of the monthly meetings of the Historical
Society; for though Martin's past belonged more to the "Second Avenue"
faction of the old east side, and Miss Lavinia to the west, among the
environs of what had once been Greenwich and Chelsea villages, they had
trodden the same paths, though not at the same time. While Sylvia and the
"Professor," as she at once began to call him, picked up the web of the
college loom that takes in threads of silk, wool, and cotton, and mixing
or separating them at random, turns out garments of complete fashion and
pattern, or misfits full of false starts or dropped stitches that not
only hamper the wearers, but sometimes their families, for life. All that
Evan and I had to do was to maintain a sympathetic silence, kept by
occasional ejaculations and murmurs from growing so profound as to cause
a draught at our corner of the table. "Yes, we used to go there
regularly," I heard Miss Lavinia say; "when we were girls Eleanor
(Barbara's mother) and I attended the same school - Miss Black's, - Eleanor
being a boarding and I a day pupil and a clergyman's daughter also,
which, in those days, was considered a sort of patent of respectability.
Miss Black used to allow her to spend the shorter holidays with me and go
to those historical lectures as a matter of course. We never publicly
mentioned the fact that Eleanor also liked to come to my house to get
thoroughly warmed and take a bath, as one of Miss Black's principles of
education was that feminine propriety and cold rooms were synonymous, and
the long room with a glass roof, sacred to bathing, was known as the
'refrigerator'; but those atrocities that were committed in the name of
education have fortunately been stopped by education itself. I don't
think that either of us paid much attention to the lectures; the main
thing was to get out and go somewhere; yet I don't think any other later
good times were as breathlessly fascinating.

"Mother seldom went, the hermetically sealed, air-proof architecture of
the place not agreeing with her; so father, Eleanor, and I used to walk
over, crossing the head of Washington Square, until, as we passed St.
Mark's Church and reached the steps of the building, we often headed a
procession as sedate and serious as if going to Sunday meeting, for there
were fewer places to go in those days. Once within, we usually crept well
up front, for my father was one of the executive committee who sat in the
row of chairs immediately facing the platform, and to be near him added
several inches to my stature and importance, at least in my own
estimation. Then, too, there was always the awesome and fascinating
possibility that one of these honourable personages might fall audibly
asleep, or slip from his chair in a moment of relaxation. Such events had
been known to occur. In fact, my father's habit of settling down until
his neck rested upon the low chair back, made the slipping accident a
perpetual possibility in his case.

"Then, when the meeting was called to order, and the minutes read with
many h-hems and clearings of the throat, and the various motions put to
vote with the mumbled 'All-in-favour-of-the-motion-will-please-signify-
by-saying-Ay! Contrary-minded-no-the-motion-is-accepted!' that some one
would only say 'No' was our perpetual wish, and we even once meditated
doing it ourselves, but could not decide which should take the risk.

"Another one of our amusements was to give odd names to the dignitaries
who presided. One with lurching gait, erectile whiskers, and blinking
eyes we called 'The Owl'; while another, a handsome old man of the
'Signer' type, pink-cheeked, deep eyed, with a fine aquiline nose, we
named 'The Eagle.'"

"Oh, I know whom you mean, exactly!" cried Martin, throwing back his head
and laughing as heartily as Bradford might; "and 'The Owl' was supposed
to have intentions of perpetuating his name by leaving the society money
enough for a new building, but he didn't. But then, he doubtless
inherited his thrift from the worthy ancestors of the ilk of those men
who utilized trousers for a land measure. Do you also remember the
discussions that followed the reading of paper or lecture? Sometimes
quite heated ones too, if the remarks had ventured to even graze the
historical bunions that afflicted the feet of many old families."

"No, I think we were too anxious to have the meeting declared adjourned
to heed such things. How we stretched ourselves; the physical oppression
that had been settling for an hour or two lifting suddenly as we got on
our feet and felt that we might speak in our natural voices.

"Then father would say, 'You may go upstairs and examine the curiosities
before joining us in the basement,' and we would go up timidly and
inspect the Egyptian mummy. I wonder how he felt last year when there was
a reception in the hall and a band broke the long stillness with 'The Gay
Tomtit.' Was ever such chocolate or such sandwiches served in equally
sepulchral surroundings as in the long room below stairs. I remember
wondering if the early Christians ever lunched in the catacombs, and how
they felt; and I should not have been surprised if Lazarus himself had
appeared in one of the archways trailing his graveclothes after him, so
strong was the spell of the mummy upon us.

"It seems really very odd that you were one of those polite young men who
used sometimes to pass the plates of sandwiches to us where we stayed
hidden in a corner so that the parental eye need not see how many we

Thus did Martin Cortright and Miss Lavinia meet on common ground and
drift into easy friendship which it would have taken years of
conventional intercourse to accomplish, while opposite, the talk between
Sylvia and Bradford dwelt upon the new professorship and Sylvia's
roommate of two years, who, instead of being able to remain and finish
the course which was to fit her for gaining nominal independence through
teaching, had been obliged to go home and take charge, owing to her
mother's illness.

"Yes, Professor Jameson's decision to give all his time to outside
literary work was very sudden," I heard Bradford say. "I thought that it
might happen two or three years hence; but to find myself now not only in
possession of a salary of four thousand dollars a year (hardly a fortune
in New York, I suppose), but also freed this season from being tied at
Northbridge to teach in the summer school, and able to be at home in
peace and quiet and get together my little book of the 'Country of the
English Poets,' seems to me almost unbelievable."

"I have been wondering how the book was coming on, for you never wrote of
it," answered Sylvia. "I have been trying all winter, without success, to
arrange my photographs in scrap-books with merely names and dates. But
though, as I look back over the four months, everything has been done for
me, even to the buttoning of my gloves, while I've seemingly done nothing
for any one, I've barely had a moment that I could call my own."

"I do not think that it is strange, after having been away practically
for six years, that family life and your friends should absorb you.
Doubtless you will have time now that Lent has come," said Bradford,
smiling. "Of course we country Congregationalists do not treat the
season as you Anglican Catholics do, and I've often thought it rather a
pity. It must be good to have a stated time and season for stopping and
sitting down to look at oneself. I picked up one of your New York church
papers in the library the other day, and was fairly surprised at the
number of services and the scope of the movement and the work of the
church in general."

Sylvia looked at him for a moment with an odd expression in her eyes, as
if questioning the sincerity of his remarks, and then answered, I thought
a little sadly: "I'm afraid it is very much like other things we read of
in the papers, half truth, half fiction; the churches and the services
are there, and the good earnest people, too - but as for our stopping! Ah,

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Online LibraryMabel Osgood WrightPeople of the Whirlpool → online text (page 8 of 19)