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Mrs. Smithers, harshly. "I doesn't allow nobody to do wot I does no better
than wot I does it."

Dorothy smiled, for this was distinctly encouraging, from at least one
point of view.

"You wear a cap, I suppose?"

"Yes, mum, for dustin'. When I goes out I puts on my bonnet."

"Can you do plain cooking?" inquired Dorothy, hastily, perceiving that she
was treading upon dangerous ground.

"Yes, mum. The more plain it is the better all around. Your uncle was
never one to fill hisself with fancy dishes days and walk the floor with
'em nights, that's wot 'e wasn't."

"What wages do you have, Sa - Mrs. Smithers?"

"I worked for your uncle for a dollar and a half a week, bein' as we'd
knowed each other so long, and on account of 'im bein' easy to get along
with and never makin' no trouble, but I wouldn't work for no woman for
less 'n two dollars."

"That is satisfactory to me," returned Dorothy, trying to be dignified. "I
daresay we shall get on all right. Can you stay now?"

"If you've finished," said Mrs. Smithers, ignoring the question, "there's
a few things I'd like to ask. 'Ow did you get that bruise on your face?"

"I - I ran into something," answered Dorothy, unwillingly, and taken quite
by surprise.

"Wot was it," demanded Mrs. Smithers. "Your 'usband's fist?"

"No," replied Mrs. Carr, sternly, "it was a piece of furniture."

"I've never knowed furniture," observed Mrs. Smithers, doubtfully, "to get
up and 'it people in the face wot wasn't doin' nothink to it. If you
disturb a rockin'-chair at night w'en it's restin' quiet, you'll get your
ankle 'it, but I've never knowed no furniture to 'it people under the eye
unless it 'ad been threw, that's wot I ain't.

"I mind me of my youngest sister," Mrs. Smithers went on, her keen eyes
uncomfortably fixed upon Dorothy. "'Er 'usband was one of these 'ere
masterful men, 'e was, same as wot yours is, and w'en 'er didn't please
'im, 'e 'd 'it 'er somethink orful. Many's the time I've gone there and
found 'er with 'er poor face all cut up and the crockery broke bad. 'I
dropped a cup' 'er'd say to me, 'and the pieces flew up and 'it me in the
face.' 'Er face looked like a crazy quilt from 'aving dropped so many
cups, and wunst, without thinkin' wot I might be doin' of, I gave 'er a
chiny tea set for 'er Christmas present.

"Wen I went to see 'er again, the tea set was all broke and 'er 'ad court
plaster all over 'er face. The pieces must 'ave flew more 'n common from
the tea set, cause 'er 'usband's 'ed was laid open somethink frightful and
they'd 'ad in the doctor to take a seam in it. From that time on I never
'eard of no more cups bein' dropped and 'er face looked quite human and
peaceful like w'en 'e died. God rest 'is soul, 'e ain't a-breakin' no tea
sets now by accident nor a-purpose neither. I was never one to interfere
between man and wife, Miss Carr, but I want you to tell your 'usband that
should 'e undertake to 'it me, 'e'll get a bucket of 'ot tea throwed in
'is face."

"It's not at all likely," answered Dorothy, biting her lip, "that such a
thing will happen." She was swayed by two contradictory impulses - one to
scream with laughter, the other to throw something at Mrs. Smithers.

"'E's been at peace now six months come Tuesday," continued Mrs. Smithers,
"and on account of 'is 'avin' broke the tea set, I don't feel no call to
wear mourning for 'im more 'n a year, though folks thinks as 'ow it brands
me as 'eartless for takin' it off inside of two. Sakes alive, wot's that?"
she cried, drawing her sable skirts more closely about her as a dark
shadow darted across the kitchen.

"It's only the cat," answered Dorothy, reassuringly. "Come here,

Mrs. Smithers repressed an exclamation of horror as Claudius, purring
pleasantly, came out into the sunlight, brandishing his plumed tail, and
sat down on the edge of Dorothy's skirt, blinking his green eyes at the

"'E's the very cat," said Mrs. Smithers, hoarsely, "wot your uncle killed
the week afore 'e died!"

"Before who died?" asked Dorothy, a chill creeping into her blood.

"Your uncle," whispered Mrs. Smithers, her eyes still fixed upon Claudius
Tiberius. "'E killed that very cat, 'e did, 'cause 'e couldn't never abide
'im, and now 'e's come back!"

"Nonsense!" cried Dorothy, trying to be severe. "If he killed the cat, it
couldn't come back - you must know that."

"I don't know w'y not, Miss. Anyhow, 'e killed the cat, that's wot 'e did,
and I saw 'is dead body, and even buried 'im, on account of your uncle not
bein' able to abide cats, and 'ere 'e is. Somebody 's dug 'im up, and 'e
's come to life again, thinkin' to 'aunt your uncle, and your uncle 'as
follered 'im, that's wot 'e 'as, and there bein' nobody 'ere to 'aunt but
us, 'e's a 'auntin' us and a-doin' it 'ard."

"Mrs. Smithers," said Dorothy, rising, "I desire to hear no more of this
nonsense. The cat happens to be somewhat similar to the dead one, that's

"Begging your parding, Miss, for askin', but did you bring that there cat
with you from the city?"

Affecting not to hear, Dorothy went out, followed by Claudius Tiberius,
who appeared anything but ghostly.

"I knowed it," muttered Mrs. Smithers, gloomily, to herself. "'E was 'ere
w'en 'er come, and 'e's the same cat. 'E's come back to 'aunt us, that's
wot 'e 'as!"

"Harlan," said Dorothy, half-way between smiles and tears, "she's come."

Harlan dropped his saw and took up his hammer. "Who's come?" he asked.
"From your tone, it might be Mrs. Satan, or somebody else from the
infernal regions."

"You're not far out of the way," rejoined Dorothy. "It's Sa - Mrs.

"Oh, our maid of all work?"

"I don't know what she's made of," giggled Dorothy, hysterically. "She
looks like a tombstone dressed in deep mourning, and carries with her the
atmosphere of a graveyard. We have to call her 'Mrs. Smithers,' if we
don't want her to call us by our first names, and she has two dollars a
week. She says Claudius is a cat that uncle killed the week before he
died, and she thinks you hit me and gave me this bruise on my cheek."

"The old lizard," said Harlan, indignantly. "She sha'n't stay!"

"Now don't be cross," interrupted Dorothy. "It's all in the family, for
your uncle hit me, as you well know. Besides, we can't expect all the
virtues for two dollars a week and I'm tired almost to death from trying
to do the housework in this big house and take care of the chickens, too.
We'll get on with her as best we can until we see a chance to do better."

"Wise little woman," responded Harlan, admiringly. "Can she milk the

"I don't know - I'll go in and ask her."

"Excuse me, Miss," began Mrs. Smithers, before Dorothy had a chance to
speak, "but am I to 'ave my old rooms?"

"Which rooms were they?"

"These 'ere, back of the kitchen. My own settin' room and bedroom and
kitchen and pantry and my own private door outside. Your uncle was allers
a great hand for bein' private and insistin' on other folks keepin'
private, that 's wot 'e was, but God rest 'is soul, it didn't do the poor
old gent much good."

"Certainly," said Dorothy, "take your old rooms. And can you milk a cow?"

Mrs. Smithers sighed. "I ain't never 'ad it put on me, Miss," she said,
with the air of a martyr trying to make himself comfortable up against the
stake, "not as a regler thing, I ain't, but wotever I'm asked to do in the
line of duty whiles I'm dwellin' in this sufferin' and dyin' world, I aims
to do the best wot I can, w'ether it's milkin' a cow, drownin' kittens, or
buryin' a cat wot can't stay buried."

"We have breakfast about half-past seven," went on Dorothy, quickly;
"luncheon at noon and dinner at six."

"Wot at six?" demanded Mrs. Smithers, pricking up her ears.

"Dinner! Dinner at six."

"Lord preserve us," said Mrs. Smithers, half to herself. "Your uncle
allers 'ad 'is dinner at one o'clock, sharp, and 'e wouldn't like it to
'ave such scandalous goin's on in 'is own 'ouse."

"You're working for me," Dorothy reminded her sharply, "and not for my

There was a long silence, during which Mrs. Smithers peered curiously at
her young mistress over her steel-bowed spectacles. "I'm not so sure as
you," she said. "On account of the cat 'avin come back from 'is grave, it
wouldn't surprise me none to see your uncle settin' 'ere at any time in
'is shroud, and a-askin' to 'ave mush and milk for 'is supper, the which
'e was so powerful fond of that I was more 'n 'alf minded at the last
minute to put some of it in 's coffin."

"Mrs. Smithers," said Dorothy, severely, "I do not want to hear any more
about dead people, or resurrected cats, or anything of that nature. What's
gone is gone, and there's no use in continually referring to it."

At this significant moment, Claudius Tiberius paraded somewhat
ostentatiously through the kitchen and went outdoors.

"You see, Miss?" asked Mrs. Smithers, with ill-concealed satisfaction.
"Wot's gone ain't always gone for long, that's wot it ain't."

Dorothy retreated, followed by a sepulchral laugh which grated on her
nerves. "Upon my word, dear," she said to Harlan, "I don't know how we're
going to stand having that woman in the house. She makes me feel as if I
were an undertaker, a grave digger, and a cemetery, all rolled into one."

"You're too imaginative," said Harlan, tenderly, stroking her soft cheek.
He had not yet seen Mrs. Smithers.

"Perhaps," Dorothy admitted, "when she gets that pyramid of crape off her
head, she'll seem more nearly human. Do you suppose she expects to wear it
in the house all the time?"

"Miss Carr!"

The gaunt black shadow appeared in the doorway of the kitchen and the
high, harsh voice shrilled imperiously across the yard.

"I'm coming," answered Dorothy, submissively, for in the tone there was
that which instinctively impels obedience. "What is it?" she asked, when
she entered the kitchen.

"Nothink. I only wants to know wot it is you're layin' out to 'ave for
your - luncheon, if that's wot you call it."

"Poached eggs on toast, last night's cold potatoes warmed over, hot
biscuits, jam, and tea."

Mrs. Smithers's articulate response resembled a cluck more closely than
anything else.

"You can make biscuits, can't you?" went on Dorothy, hastily.

"I 'ave," responded Mrs. Smithers, dryly. "Begging your parding, Miss, but
is that there feller sawin' wood out by the chicken coop your 'usband?"

"The gentleman in the yard," said Dorothy, icily, "is Mr. Carr."

"Be n't you married to 'im?" cried Mrs. Smithers, dropping a fork. "I
understood as 'ow you was, else I wouldn't 'ave come. I was never one
to - - "

"I most assuredly _am_ married to him," answered Dorothy, with due
emphasis on the verb.

"Oh! 'E's the build of my youngest sister's poor dead 'usband; the one wot
broke the tea set wot I give 'er over 'er poor 'ed. 'E can 'it powerful
'ard, can't 'e?"

Quite beyond speech, Dorothy went outdoors again, her head held high and a
dangerous light in her eyes. To-morrow, or next week at the latest, should
witness the forced departure of Mrs. Smithers. Mrs. Carr realised that the
woman did not intend to be impertinent, and that the social forms of
Judson Centre were not those of New York. Still, some things were

The luncheon that was set before them, however, went far toward atonement.
With the best intentions in the world, Dorothy's cooking nearly always
went wide of the mark, and Harlan welcomed the change with unmistakable

"I say, Dorothy," he whispered, as they rose from the table; "get on with
her if you can. Anybody who can make such biscuits as these will go out of
the house only over my dead body."

The latter part of the speech was unfortunate. "My surroundings are so
extremely cheerful," remarked Dorothy, "that I've decided to spend the
afternoon in the library reading Poe. I've always wanted to do it and I
don't believe I'll ever feel any creepier than I do this blessed minute."

In spite of his laughing protest, she went into the library, locked the
door, and curled up in Uncle Ebeneezer's easy chair with a well-thumbed
volume of Poe, finding a two-dollar bill used in one place as a book mark.
She read for some time, then took down another book, which opened of
itself at "The Gold Bug."

The pages were thickly strewn with marginal comments in the fine, small,
shaky hand she had learned to associate with Uncle Ebeneezer. The
paragraph about the skull, in the tree above the treasure, had evidently
filled the last reader with unprecedented admiration, for on the margin
was written twice, in ink: "A very, very pretty idea."

She laughed aloud, for her thoughts since morning had been persistently
directed toward things not of this world. "I'm glad I'm not
superstitious," she thought, then jumped almost out of her chair at the
sound of an ominous crash in the kitchen.

"I won't go," she thought, settling back into her place. "I'll let that
old monument alone just as much as I can."

Upon the whole, it was just as well, for the "old monument" was on her
bony knees, with her head and shoulders quite lost in the secret depths of
the kitchen range. "I wonder," she was muttering, "where 'e could 'ave put
it. It would 'ave been just like that old skinflint to 'ave 'id it in the


The Coming of Elaine

There is no state of mental wretchedness akin to that which precedes the
writing of a book. Harlan was moody and despairing, chiefly because he
could not understand what it all meant. Something hung over him like a
black cloud, completely obscuring his usual sunny cheerfulness.

He burned with the desire to achieve, yet from the depths of his soul came
only emptiness. Vague, purposeless aspirations, like disembodied spirits,
haunted him by night and by day. Before his inner vision came unfamiliar
scenes, detached fragments of conversation, the atmosphere, the feeling of
an old romance, then, by a swift change, darkness from which there seemed
no possible escape.

A woman with golden hair, mounted upon a white horse, gay with scarlet and
silver trappings - surely her name was Elaine? And the company of gallant
knights who followed her as she set forth upon her quest - who were they,
and from whence did they hail? The fool of the court, with his bauble and
his cracked, meaningless laughter, danced in and out of the picture with
impish glee. Behind it all was the sunset, such a sunset as was never seen
on land or sea. Ribbons of splendid colour streamed from the horizon to
the zenith and set the shields of the knights aglow with shimmering flame.
Clashing cymbals sounded from afar, then, clear and high, a bugle call,
the winding silvery notes growing fainter and fainter till they were lost
in the purple silence of the hills. Elaine turned, smiling - was not her
name Elaine? And then - -

Darkness fell and the picture was utterly wiped out. Harlan turned away
with a sigh.

To take the dead, dry bones of words, the tiny black things that march in
set spaces across the page; to set each where it inevitably
belongs - truly, it seems simple enough. But from the vast range of our
written speech to select those which fittingly clothe the thought is quite
another matter, and presupposes the thought. Even then, by necessity, the
outcome is uncertain.

Within the mind of the writer, the Book lives and breathes; a child of the
brain, yearning for birth. At a white heat, after long waiting, the words
come - merely a commentary, an index, a marginal note of that within.
Reading afterward the written words, the fine invisible links, the colour
and the music, are treacherously supplied by the imagination, which is at
once the best friend and the worst enemy. How is one to know that only a
small part of it has been written, that the best of it, far past writing,
lingers still unborn?

Long afterward, when the original picture has faded as though it had never
been, one may read his printed work, and wonder, in abject self-abasement,
by what miracle it was ever printed. He has trusted to some unknown
psychology which strongly savours of the Black Art to reproduce in the
minds of his readers the picture which was in his, and from which these
fragmentary, marginal notes were traced. Only the words, the dead,
meaningless words, stripped of all the fancy which once made them fair, to
make for the thousands the wild, delirious bliss that the writer knew! To
write with the tears falling upon the page, and afterward to read, in some
particularly poignant and searching review, that "the book fails to
convince!" Happy is he whose written pages reproduce but faintly the glow
from whence they came. For "whoso with blood and tears would dig Art out
of his soul, may lavish his golden prime in pursuit of emptiness, or,
striking treasure, find only fairy gold, so that when his eyes are purged
of the spell of morning, he sees his hands are full of withered leaves."

A meadow-lark, rising from a distant field, dropped golden notes into the
still, sunlit air, then vanished into the blue spaces beyond. A bough of
apple bloom, its starry petals anchored only by invisible cobwebs, softly
shook white fragrance into the grass. Then, like a vision straight from
the golden city with the walls of pearl, came Elaine, the beautiful, her
blue eyes laughing, and her scarlet lips parted in a smile.

Harlan's heart sang within him. His trembling hands grasped feverishly at
the sheaf of copy-paper which had waited for this, week in and week out.
The pencil was ready to his hand, and the words fairly wrote themselves:

_It came to pass that when the year was at the Spring, the Lady Elaine
fared forth upon the Heart's Quest. She was mounted upon a snowy palfrey,
whose trappings of scarlet and silver gleamed brightly in the sun. Her
gown was of white satin, wondrously embroidered in fine gold thread, which
was no less gold than her hair, falling in unchecked splendour about

_Blue as sapphires were the eyes of Elaine, and her fair cheek was like
that of an apple-blossom. Set like a rose upon pearl was the dewy,
fragrant sweetness of her mouth, and her breath was like that of the rose
itself. Her hands - but how shall I write of the flower-like hands of
Elaine? They - _

The door-bell pealed portentously through the house, echoing and
re-echoing through the empty rooms. No answer. Presently it rang again,
insistently, and Elaine, with her snowy palfrey, whisked suddenly out of

Gone, except for these few lines! Harlan stifled a groan and the bell rang
once more.

Heavens! Where was Dorothy? Where was Mrs. Smithers? Was there no one in
the house but himself? Apparently not, for the bell rang determinedly, and
with military precision.

"March, march, forward march!" grumbled Harlan, as he ran downstairs, the
one-two, one-two-three being registered meanwhile on the bell-wire.

It was not a pleasant person who violently wrenched the door open, but in
spite of his annoyance, Harlan could not be discourteous to a lady. She
was tall, and slender, and pale, with blue eyes and yellow hair, and so
very fragile that it seemed as though a passing zephyr might almost blow
her away.

"How do you do," she said, wearily. "I thought you were never coming."

"I was busy," said Harlan, in extenuation. "Will you come in?" She was
evidently a friend of Dorothy's, and, as such, demanded proper

The invitation was needless, however, for even as he spoke, she brushed
past him, and went into the parlour. "I'm so tired," she breathed. "I
walked up that long hill."

"You shouldn't have done it," returned Harlan, standing first on one foot
and then on the other. "Couldn't you find the stage?"

"I didn't look for it. I never had any ambition to go on the stage," she
concluded, with a faint smile. "Where is Uncle Ebeneezer?"

"No friend of Dorothy's," thought Harlan, shifting to the other foot.
"Uncle Ebeneezer," he said, clearing his throat, "is at peace."

"What do you mean?" demanded the girl, sinking into one of the haircloth
chairs. "Where is Uncle Ebeneezer?"

"Uncle Ebeneezer is dead," explained Harlan, somewhat tartly. Then, as he
remembered the utter ruin of his work, he added, viciously, "never having
known him intimately, I can't say just where he is."

She leaned back in her chair, her face as white as death. Harlan thought
she had fainted, when she relieved his mind by bursting into tears. He was
more familiar with salt water, but, none the less, the situation was

There were no signs of Dorothy, so Harlan, in an effort to be consoling,
took the visitor's cold hands in his. "Don't," he said, kindly; "cheer up.
You are among friends."

"I have no friends," she answered, between sobs. "I lost the last when my
dear mother died. She made me promise, during her last illness, that if
anything happened to her, I would come to Uncle Ebeneezer. She said she
had never imposed upon him and that he would gladly take care of me, for
her sake. I was ill a long, long time, but as soon as I was able to, I
came, and now - and now - - "

"Don't," said Harlan, again, awkwardly patting her hands, and deeply
touched by the girl's distress. "We are your friends. You can stay here
just as well as not. I am married and - - "

Upon his back, Harlan felt eyes. He turned quickly, and saw Dorothy
standing in the door - quite a new Dorothy, indeed; very tall, and stately,
and pale.

Through sheer nervousness, Mr. Carr laughed - an unfortunate, high-pitched
laugh with no mirth in it. "Let me present my wife," he said, sobering
suddenly. "Mrs. Carr, Miss - - "

Here he coughed, and the guest, rising, filled the pause. "I am Elaine St.
Clair," she explained, offering a white, tremulous hand which Dorothy did
not seem to see. "It is very good of your husband to ask me to stay with

"Very," replied Dorothy, in a tone altogether new to her husband. "He is
always doing lovely things for people. And now, Harlan, if you will show
Miss St. Clair to her room, I will speak with Mrs. Smithers about
luncheon, which should be nearly ready by this time."

"Thunder," said Harlan to himself, as Dorothy withdrew. "What in the devil
do I know about 'her room'? Have you ever been here before?" he inquired
of the guest.

"Never in my life," answered Miss St. Clair, wiping her eyes.

"Well," replied Harlan, confusedly, "just go on upstairs, then, and help
yourself. There are plenty of rooms, and cribs to burn in every blamed one
of 'em," he added, savagely, remembering the look in Dorothy's eyes.

"Thank you," said Miss St. Clair, diffidently; "it is very kind of you to
let me choose. Can some one bring my trunk up this afternoon?"

"I'll attend to it," replied her host, brusquely.

She trailed noiselessly upstairs, carrying her heavy suit case, and
Harlan, not altogether happy at the prospect, went in search of Dorothy.
At the kitchen door he paused, hearing voices within.

"They've usually et by themselves," Mrs. Smithers was saying. "Is this a
new one, or a friend of yours?"

The sentence was utterly without meaning, either to Harlan or Dorothy, but
the answer was given, as quick as a flash. "A friend, Mrs. Smithers - a
very dear old friend of Mr. Carr's."

"'Mr. Carr's,'" repeated Harlan, miserably, tiptoeing away to the library,
where he sat down and wiped his forehead. "'A very dear old friend.'"
Disconnectedly, and with pronounced emphasis, Harlan mentioned the place
which is said to be paved with good intentions.

The clock struck twelve, and it was just eleven when he had begun on _The
Quest of the Lady Elaine_. "'One crowded hour of glorious life is
worth' - what idiot said it was worth anything?" groaned Harlan, inwardly.
"Anyway, I've had the crowded hour. 'Better fifty years of Europe than a
cycle of Cathay'" - the line sang itself into his consciousness. "Europe be
everlastingly condemned," he muttered. "Oh, how my head aches!"

He leaned back in his chair, wondering where "Cathay" might be. It sounded
like a nice, quiet place, with no "dear old friends" in it - a peaceful
spot where people could write books if they wanted to. "Just why," he
asked himself more than once, "was I inspired to grab the shaky paw of
that human sponge? 'Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean' - oh, the
devil! She must have a volume of Tennyson in her grip, and it's soaking

Mrs. Smithers came out into the hall, more sepulchral and grim-visaged
than ever, and rang the bell for luncheon. To Harlan's fevered fancy, it
sounded like a sexton tolling a bell for a funeral. Miss St. Clair, with
the traces of tears practically removed, floated gracefully downstairs,

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Online LibraryMyrtle ReedAt the sign of the Jack o'Lantern → online text (page 4 of 16)