Marie Van Vorst.

Big Tremaine: a novel online

. (page 4 of 21)
Online LibraryMarie Van VorstBig Tremaine: a novel → online text (page 4 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


softly ; but she was a light sleeper and wondered how
he could work as he did on the few hours' rest that he
gave himself. He intended to repaint the house and re-
roof it. Already the colors of the paints were there to
choose from. He also spoke of completely refurnish-
ing. Everything suggested to him improvement, ren-
ovaticm. She was bewildered, and, in spite of herself,
became interested. Since she had refused to accept the
place from Mm for her own, she had no right to sug-
gest to him that she would like to leave it untouched,
but some of the changes were an anguish to h^, for she
would rather have seen Bi verside fall into ruin than be-
come a modernized, comfortable house. She was full of
sentiment and as deep in her nature as was John.

He asked her no questions, he consulted her about
nothing, and yet he laid his plans before her, and she
listened, set and reserved, non-committal, suffering, and
cold.

Mrs. Tremaine was far too clever a woman not to
understand that he had a purpose in what he did and that
even his apparent indifference was in reality only frank-
ness. She was too much of a woman not to know that
though he was a strong man and the master, and that
although nothing could stay his progress, she had only



Digitized by



Google



BIO TRBMAINB 53

to speak, to move her hand, to soggeBt, and everyihing
would be hers.

In the short space of time they were together each
day, she found that she grew to understand hun better
and that she no longer found him incomprehensible.
She found, too, that she was learning about other
countries, and although in his narratives John otdj
appeared in some vague personality as ^^a chap I
knew" she began to hear of his life. She learned of
the East, saw places whose very names had always
charmed her, and she listened entranced as she sat with
her work.

He looked at his property through the eyes of a
practical man of affairs. He saw a fortune in the land,
and he was determined to realize it. One day Mrs.
Tremaine at luncheon entertained two strange men
who talked with John about coaL She listened, re-
alizing that the run-down property was beginning to
assume brilliant possibilities.

That evening, when they found themselves once
more alone she waited with great curiosity to hear his
news, but he told her nothing. He was not cruel,
but was fitting a battle demanding tact as well as
strength.

They did not^ this evening, play chess, but he took a
chair at the window, through which what breeze there
was came to him, heavy with the smell of honeysuckle.
It was full moon, and in the warm summer night the
lamps had not been lit, and Mrs. Tremaine saw her son
plainly in the white light. She could study him, and



Digitized by



Google



54 BIG TREMAINE

it was impossible, she thought, that a man such as John
should not please the most fastidious woman. On this
night he wore white trousers and a dinner coat ; his
black tie and coat and his dark, sleek head were distinct
spots in the moonlit room. He was brown as an In-
dian. Already his mysterious past was beginning to be
indistinct in the mother's mind ; John was emphatically
connecting himself with Y irginia. How glad she would
be to wipe away from her remembrance the blot upon
his name ! She cried to herself mentally a thousand
times, looking at him at moments in a way she would
never let him see : ^^ Oh, John, how could you do it ;
how could you do it ? " And at those times even his
charm spoke against him. She called him weak, blamed
him bitterly, and hardened her heart.

This night she was longing to ask him the result of
the afternoon's prospecting, but she could not bring her-
self to put direct questions.

John smoked for a little, then asked abruptly :

" When does Malvern come back ? "

He had shown no interest in the neighborhood, had
never asked for any one, and she was surprised.

<< Isobel tells me that her father will be home next
week."

John said to himself : ^^ I dare say it will not be
easy to avoid him."

As he spoke, his mother's loyalty was roused for the
first time and she resented the fact that there was any one
in the world that could give him pain to meet. ITeither
she herself, nor her husband, nor Judge Tremaine had



Digitized by



Google



BIG TRBMAINE 55

ever been afraid of any man, and now John dreaded to
meet his neighf)or. It was bitter. She said slowly :

<< Bedmond rarely ever comes over. Sinoe he lost his
fortune, he has shut himself from us."

After a second, in which she watched acutely his ex-
pression, she was surprised to see that he was smiling.

" Malvern is the only man who ever gave me any ad-
vice." He knocked the ashes from his cigar. " I re-
member very well the occasion — ^as well as though it
happened yesterday," he said, still smiling. "Big
men don't realize the impression they make on young
chaps." He laughed. " Now I am not a big man, of
course, but in South Africa I have been rather a figure
of a certain kind for the last few years. At all events,
no end of people have sought me for one reason or an-
other. Whenever a young fellow came in to ask my
advice, I remembered that hot summer morning when t
stood before the president of the little bank here."

He saw the keen attention given to him by his
listener; he felt the emotion with which his mother
heard every word that told of his career.

" I was a hero worshipper, and Malvern was one of
my heroes. He had been awfully decent to David
and me, but I had never spoken with him in business
hours. It is hard to believe that a great big six-footer
of a country chap could shake in his boots before the
president of a little bank in his own town, but my
hands were cold when I handed him the paper he asked
me for and waited for further orders."

John smoked. Down in the orchard to the left, the



Digitized by



Google



56 BIG TREMAINE

nightingaleB began to sing. Both mother and son
listened, and he remembered how often in the heart
of Africa he had seemed to hear again that divine
musio.

He continued : ^^Malveniy for some curious reason,
had done me the honor to observe me, and strangely
enough he alone had noticed that I was unhappy. I
have often thought that he must be a man of unusually
delicate feeling."

John waited a moment and his mother murmured :
^^ He is a distinguished gentleman."

^^ Malvern did not ask me any questions, but what
he said was to the point ; I have never forgotten it.
He leaned forward over his desk and looked at me.

^< < You must not let obstacles take an important place
in your mind, John,' he said. ^ Remember they only
serve to strengthen a man's determination, and that
every time he overcomes one he is the stronger for it.
The consciousness of overcoming an obstacle is one of
the most invigorating things in a man's career.'

^^ It wasn't a very brilliant piece of advice, mother,
you will say. Just a remark or two from an important
man to a subordinate at the time when the young chap
needed it"

John smoked. ^^I never saw him again, and the
first thing I shall do when I see him now will be to
thank him. I can at least do that ! "

It was a curious moment. The mother of the thief
listened. After this interview, which he remembered
with tenderness, the young man had gone to Richmond,



Digitized by



Google



BIO TRBMAINB 57

and oooUy stolen ten thonsand dollars. He could
scarcely have told her an incident which would have
brought to her eyes more distinctly his wretched past
Her heart rose in her throat, her cheeks flushed, she
leaned forward with hands clasped ; it was on her lips
to say the words that rang through her :
" John, John I How could you do it?"



Digitized by



Google



CHAPTER VI

One morning John found his fields deserted^ and
only Bob in the stable, a curry brush in hand, remained
to give news of his own people.

^^De niggers done gone on strike, Marse John.
Yessh* ! Dey do low you'se a bery hard marster.''

John laughed. In his white flannels and panama,
oool and indifferent, he was an object of awe and ad-
miration to Bob, who thought him something of a god.

" What are their grievances. Bob ? "

" Lawd, Marse John," drawled the negro, who had
no idea what the word meant, "dey ain't got no
grimmances. It's de hours an' de wages."

" I pay them more than any man in the district."

" Dat's just it, Marse John," said the negro keenly.
" Yo' done ought to pay dem less. Den dey'd have
stayed."

John glanced at the summer fields, where the light,
palpitating and delicate, hung over the meadows like
a golden curtain. Here and there were deep furrows
on the old pastures. Along the lower meadows the
tossed-up earth was rich and brown, indicating the
fertile creative heart. It seemed to cry : " Sow me
with seed ! I will repay." Every hour lost seemed
a shocking waste to this ambitious man. Moreover,
his time was Umited. This summer only would he till



Digitized by



Google



BIG TREMAINE 59

and plough and sow. The following year he would
return to South Africa.

"They're a pack of idlers," he said. "I'll show
them I'm not dependent on a lot of lazy niggers. Do
what you've got to do, my boy," he added sharply to
Bob, " and Nolan will lend you a hand." .

He made Nolan and Bob harness to a hand plough
a pair of splendid horses that Nolan had bought in
Eichmond, and he himself drove the plough into the
earth of one of the fallow fields.

During the fifteen years which had seen his battle
with destiny, he had turned his hands to many things,
but he had always loved anything that had to do with
the earth. He was thinking of this as he ploughed
through the dry earth of his own farm. Already
in his mind he conceived a model property, and it
pleased him to think that what had been a splendid
old place in Colonial days should be again a splendid
modem property, brought back to its old perfection by
his hand. It had been said of him in South Africa
that he never touched anything that he did not leave
the better for his interest ; he would prove this to be
true here, at any rate.

Planning and musing, he ploughed into the rich
Virginia soil. Suddenly he heard some one call out
to him and stopped to look in the direction of the
voice. On the other side of the gray old fence which
separated the Tremaine property from the Malvern
estate sat a girl on a bay mare, evidently waiting for
the bars to be let down. The girl's hat swung from



Digitized by



Google



6o BIG TREMAINE

an elastio on her arm. She beckoned to the plough-
man with her whip in an authoritative manner :

" Let down the bars for me, will you ? " And there
came a rather tardy ^^ please," as she held back her
mare.

Tremaine, with his hands on the plough handle,
glanced at her, but did not hasten to do what she
asked.

The young girl nodded commandingly and cried out
again in a clear voice :

" Will you let down these bars ? My horse does not
Uke to stand."

Tremaine wound his reins about the handle of the
plough and came forward. He was hot, felt for his
handkerchief, discovered that he had left it in his
other clothes when he changed, and wiped his face and
forehead with his sleeve.

He was sure that this was Isobel Malvern. In her
summer habit she was slender as a boy. She was
flushed by exercise, and her red curving lips were
parted, showing brilliant white teeth. Beddish brown
curls clustered about her forehead and her large eyes
were deeply blue with purple depths, like certain seas
that he had seen in his travels. He recalled the little
creature he had known fifteen years before. There
were no freckles on that lovely skin, and the wild curls
of the child were neatly gathered into braids about her
head. But the ploughman did not awaken any mem-
ory in the mind of the young girl ; she looked at him
with cool indifference and patted her mare's neck.



Digitized by



Google



BIG TREMAINE 6i

^^ I am used to riding through here. Let down the
burs, please/' and it was a not-to-be-disregarded com-
mand.

Tremaine obeyed, and the mare, with careful little
feet, stepped over.

<< My mare's feet will not hurt the field," said the
girl, and added : '^I suppose you are oae of Mr. Tre-
maine's new men ? "

John understood that she took him for a day laborer.
The humor of it amused him. He unwound the reins
from the handle of the plough and answered :

^^ Yes, I am the new man."

As she touched her mare, she called to him pleas-
antly:

" Thank you very much."

He glanced aft^ her as she rode away. She sat her
horse well, and he said to himself :

^^ In her eyes, clothes make the man."

The new man! Would he have taken her for a
kitchen maid, if he had found her washing dishes ? ^^ It
is not what one is, but what people think you are," he
mused.

The girl's passing on the warm beautiful afternoon
would have been an agreeable incident had he not been
embittered by the thought that if she knew of his past
she would never care to see him again. And the sight
of Isobel brought back to his mind some of his affairs
with wcmien. Th«re had been one girl in particular
whom he would have liked to ask to be his wife ; but
the fact that he should have had to tell her who he was



Digitized by



Google



62 BIG TREMAINE

and where he came from and what his reputation was
at home, had kept him from declaring himself. As
for the other women, they had known nothing about
him, excepting that he was a good lover, a generous
friend and thoroughly liked wherever he went.

He dug the plough deeper into the earth, and the
dirt spurted up. How clear the girl's voice had
sounded across the meadow I It was rather odd to be
ordered about by a young girl. He was used to com-
manding and to mastery. The touch of authority from
a woman was not unpleasant. '" Let down the bars ! "
There had been an imperious note in her voice. . . .

Miss Malvern had ridden over to bid Mrs. Tremaine
good-by and she had hoped to meet Mr. John Tremaine,
of whom every one was talking. She had first heard of
his coming through her own Mammy, who had told her,
as Pompey had told Mr. Leavitt, of Mammy Chloe's
joy. The mysterious son of her beloved friend had
come back fabulously rich, ^^ high-handed and turrible
proud, like all the Tremaines," she had heard with
interest. From Mrs. Tremaine herself she had received
no announcement. She only knew that the time had
come for Mrs. Tremaine's departure^ an event which
they had both talked about for a long time, and which
now was near at hand.

Isobel had the habit of leaving her horse in the
stables and walking in through the kitchen to the living-
room and taking Mrs. Tremaine by surprise. To-day
there was no Bob to hold her horse ; instead, a tall.



Digitized by



Google



BIO TREMAINB 63

well-set-up Irishman in shirtrsleeves sat on a soap box,
cleaning a bridle. He sprang up as Isobel rode to the
door and put his hand to his forelock. She threw her-
self from her horse easily. H^re was another new man
—a good-looking pair of them. She looked at this
novel spectacle of a white servant working on the run-
down property. Already the stable, the dear old dirty,
disorderly stable, was as neat as a pin.

" Why, Where's Bob ? " she asked.

^^ Hatchin' eggs," said the Irishman coolly as he took
the horse.

^ Hatching eggs t " she repeated.

^^ Shure, it's the wan thing he's fit for — settmV' said
the Irishman. *^ I just run out toclanea bit of bridlefor
the master unbeknownst," he explained. ^^ Not that it's
my work, at all, at alL Wull I lift the saddle off
hef?"

^^ No," said Miss Malvern. *^ Let her stand as she is,
and when I call from the kitchen, fetch her round to
the front door."

She could not ask this man of his master, but in the
kitchen Mammy received her with joy.

^^ Glory hallelujah. Miss Isobel ! Ma boy's come
home!"

" Dear old Mammy, you must be awfully glad."

"Gladl Why, he's jest ackshually gwine to be
President of the United States. Honey," she said
solemnly, " you'se gwine to see a gra-ate big man."

Isobel patted her cheek. ^^Is Mrs. Tremaine at
home? I'll go in."



Digitized by



Google



64 BIG TREMAINB

Mammy was making bisonits ; she continued her
work of cutting out the dough in little rounds.

" She's home. You gwan in."

But Isobel lingered, for she knew the negress so well
that she understood there was something wrong.
Mammy lifted her eyes suddenly to IsobeL

^^ What f o' de Lawd gin her two sons. Missy, if she
was only gwine to love one ? "

" Why, what do you mean ? "

^^ She don' keer a mite for Marse John, an' he is so
kine and good."

"Tou must be wrong, Mammy." The girl went
toward the door. She felt there was disloyalty in
hearing anything about the family outside of Mrs.
Tremaine's presence.

^'Sho'," said the colored woman coolly, going on
with her work. "Didn' I raise 'em both, two Ul'
boys? Marse John was straight as a pine tree."



Digitized by



Google



CHAPTER Vn

IsoBEL went thonghtfally toward the living-room,
where she was aocustomed to find her Mend. The
quiet seourity of Riverside had been invaded and al-
ready she felt the change in the atmosphere. There
was an unknown person now in the environment and a
stranger was the master. In passing through the hall,
she had noticed on a chair a man's suit of clothes,
neatly brushed and folded, and by their side russet
boots on their forms. She smelled for the first time in
this house the odor of tobacco, and through the open
door glanced into the little front room used as a repos-
itory for riflf-raflf — which in a Southern home is con.
siderable— and there she saw a table in the window,
with writing things neatly arranged upon it; it had
become the office of Riverside's new master.

Then she opened the door into the sitting-room
and saw there a transformation indeed. She had
loved the shabbiness of the 'old place, and was accus-
tomed to the chairs without springs, where her idle
hand had met the loosened horsehair in the frayed old
arms. She was accustomed to the disorda*, and every
object in the room had memories for her which she
would not lose. She had watched life unfold here ;
she had grown to know and love Mrs. Tremaine, and
their friendship had formed and developed in the



Digitized by



Google



66 BIG TREMAINE

agreeable intimacy of the old room. Mrs. Tremaine,
reserved and often mihappy, had opened her heart with
extraordinary frankness to this younger woman, and
Isobel, keen and thoughtful beyond her years, had un-
derstood Mrs. Tremaine's loneliness and craving for
affection ; had listened to her hero worship of David ;
and had gone discreetly into the past with the woman
who had lost her husband and her son. Of John Tre-
maine she had heard nothing, and in spite of her inti-
macy she knew that there were subjects which her
friend would not touch upon with her.

As Isobel now stood on the threshold of the living-
room, she saw that the room had been changed as
though by magic. This old parlor, which had wel-
comed back Tremaine, was the first thing that had
been altered by the new master. For him too it was
filled with memories, but they were not pleasant ones,
Uke Isobel's. Here he had made love to Julia Cam-
eron ; here he could recall hot scenes with his brother,
and days of bitter loneliness. He had wanted to forget
it all.

The shabby curtains had been replaced by cretonne
of bright, soft hues, with great peacocks in the pat-
tern, surrounded by large-petalled flowers. In the
center of the room stood a fine old table covered with
brocade and books ; flowers filled bowls and vases of
foreign design, evidently collected by a person of taste.
There were only mats upon the floor, but they too had
been woven in far lands. In one comer was stacked a
quantity of savage-looking weapons. Over the chimney-



Digitized by



Google



BIG TREMAINE 67

piece, however, still hung the stag's head— she had
been told that John Tremaine had shot it as a boy ;
onoe Mammy had told her this with pride. The room
had much distinction, but it failed to please IsobeL Its
faded loveliness was gone, and Tremaine, in these reno-
vations, had dealt Isobel his first blow.

The windows were open, aud she could see the lux-
uriant honeysuckle vines covering the verandah.
Through breaks were visible vistas of the oaks and of
the unmown lawns. The penetrating perfume of the
honeysuckle came sweetly to her ; it always made her
think of Biverside. In the window, on a work-table,
lay the pile of white linen with which she had seen
Mrs. Tremaine's hands busied.

As she stood there, three or four negroescame from
the back of the house with scythes over their shoul-
ders. Indolently, every gesture marked by the slow-
ness of their race, they began to cut the high, flower-
ing grass. They never worked long without singing,
and presently in unison, in the soft voices she loved,
they began to sing :

^^ Hard times, hard times,
Gome again no mo' • . •"

"Hard times," she said to herself, "I suppose they
have gone from Riverside. They say he is so terribly
rich!"

" Done brung home bar'ls an' bar'ls of gole," her
Mammy had told her, with widening eyes; but she



Digitized by



Google



68 BIG TREMAINE

could not feel, indifferent as she was by nature a^d
education to material things, that barrels of gold would
mean very much to her distinguished friend, or that
anything could soften the rudeness of a change which
apparently had not resulted in making Mrs. Tremaine
feel at home — had not created such an atmosphere as
should decide her to remain. All her life she had
heard stories of John Tremaine ; just what those stories
were she could not have quite specified, but the impres-
sion that they made upon her mind had varied. Every
time his name had been mentioned it was surrounded
by mystery. And with romance, too ! " John Tre-
maine 1 " There was a shadow upon it. She could
not definitely say just what she imagined this sec-
ond son to be or to have done — there was no direct
scandal, but there were imputations. He had run
away from home — that every one knew. He had
nearly broken his mother's heart. It made her bit-
ter toward him to think of it, and when she thought
of him at all, she blamed him. Her father had never
spoken of John Tremaine, and as discretion was one of
her strong points, she had asked nothing about him.
He was a blot on the fine old 'scutcheon, and out of
place in Mrs. Tremaine's serene life. Yesterday, in
speaking of him, her Mammy had said :

" Chloe do akshually worship dat boy. Missy Isobel."
And this was the one soft note that fell in with the
harsher sounds. Now, as she had just passed through
the kitchen and heard Mammy Ohloe's words about the
child she nursed, she saw that somewhere, in some



Digitized by



Google



BIG TREMAINE 69

heart, there was a tenderness for the black sheep. Far
back in her own memory there had been for years a
faint recollection, and today it had taken a distinct
form. She remembered now qnite plainly that; she had
once seen John Tremaine.

When she was a little thing, still holding on to her
Mammy's skirts, she had secured sufficient freedom
from her black guardian to pick blackberries all by
herself from the vines on the gray old gate down in
the Back Pasture. With the poignant memories of all
childish escapades, she remembered how those ber-
ries had tasted, picked very fast and eaten as hastily ;
she remembered the feel of the summer day and the
exciting thrill of being naughty and alona She re-
membered, too, how a big man had come along, walking
as though he did not see her, with his hands in his
podcets, and his head bowed down, and how, still un-
conscious of the little child, he had come up to the
fence and leaned on it in an attitude that even the tiny
girl had known to be one of unhappiness. She remem-
bered that she had tried to climb upon the rails of the
fence, unseen by him, close to his side. Isobel had al-
ways been a comforting child. The only child of her
father, replacing her mother to the lonely man, she had
learned when a baby that women must be comforters —
that it is part of their work in the world. Down in the
Back Pasture, hurriedly, she had gone up to the side of
somebody whom she took to be crying and in need of
comfort. When John Tremaine, who, though not cry-
ing, undoubtedly was unhappy, finally turned and saw



Digitized by



Google



70 BIG TREMAINE

the berry-stained child with her large eyes fixed on him,
Isobel was too frightened to speak and had burst into


1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryMarie Van VorstBig Tremaine: a novel → online text (page 4 of 21)