Copyright
Richard Whiteing.

The yellow van online

. (page 1 of 21)
Online LibraryRichard WhiteingThe yellow van → online text (page 1 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


3 182;? 01391 8644










N



LIBRARY

UNIVERSITY OF
CALIFORNIA
SAN DIEGO



3 1822 01391 8644






+

1103



-



THE
YELLOW VAN



THE
YELLOW VAN



BY



RICHARD WHITEING

Author of "No. 5 John Street"
and "The Island"




PUBLISHED BY THE CENTURY CO.
NEW YORK : 1903



Copyright, 1902, 1903, by
THE CENTUBY Co.



Published, October, 1903



THE DEVINNE PRESS.



THE YELLOW VAN



THE YELLOW VAN




there ever such a match! A
great English nobleman, the Duke
of Allonby, and a mere American
' ' school-marm ' ' from a rising com-
munity out West where they got
the fashions a month late. She
was beautiful, if you like, with
a mingled pride and tenderness in her face worthy
of the Madonna with the bambino; tall and with a
presence, too; educated, and withal of a true no-
bility of soul, and even of manners, that left nothing
to be desired. But a school-marm going to England
to be a duchess ! Yet there it was.

It had come about in the most natural way in the
world. He was looking about incognito for a ranch
on the Pacific slope; her uncle, a man of substance,
was the local real-estate agent, and so they met. The
alias of his mere family name, as distinct from the
title, kept him secure against impertinent curiosity,
and he was little more to them than a Mr. Nobody;
but he had an air of distinction, and he paid his



The Yellow Van

way, and that was enough. He stayed at her
uncle's house as what he called a "lodger" and
they a boarder. The two young people were thrown
together in romantic associations, and in that sole
circumstance you are well on your way to the
core of the mystery. For the rising township was
still backed by the deep forest, of which it was but
recently a clearing. And here in the heart of it
was a being with the virtues of the woods and the
toilets of civilization.

Her charm was subtly compounded. She was
cultivated and yet a wayside flower, a happy union
of opposites. She had taken a good degree at her
university, and was of much miscellaneous reading;
yet she lived and thought as simply as Lodge's
Rosalynde in the wild. She could talk the duke
down on any subject, because her intent seemed
only to be to talk herself up to the highest reaches.
There was something fascinating in the way in
which she leaned in the porch, at eventide, and
looked wistfully toward a wide, wide world which
she had almost made up her mind she was never
to see save through the medium of the monthly
magazines. She had charmed him not more by her
beauty and grace than by her character.

Hers was that high-bred assurance of self of
those who have never known the shock of a cross
word, and who are as free from a sense of bonds
as any creature of philosophic anarchy. This na-
turally made short work of one whose whole life
had been a surfeit of deference. She was his in-



The Yellow Van

tellectual superior, and she met him on that foot-
ing of social equality on which, by the somewhat
feeble tenure of a pious opinion, he held the hope
of one day meeting his fellow-creatures in heaven.
He had made her acquaintance at a time when his
head was still smarting from the impact of two
able-bodied young women of family, thrown at it
in a single season by as many unnatural mamas,
to say nothing of an orphaned third who had
achieved the same operation by a sort of double
somersault, of great initial velocity, on her own
account. He was eager to be loved for himself
alone. And, even beyond that, he wanted some-
thing not himself; and here it was in this most ex-
quisite being who was all faith, hope, energy, en-
thusiasm, and who seemed only to live to shape her-
self and others to the finest ends.

On the other hand, he was well to look at, in a
quiet, non-obtrusive, manly way, and his manners
were almost as good as her own, though just a
trifle tainted by the arrogance of his birth-mark
and of his training at Eton. He was one of those
rare creatures the gentlemen of nature, which is
as much as to say one who has the Christian, or
for that matter the pagan, virtues in a social setting,
and especially the unwillingness to give or to take
offense. Above all, in spite of the magnificence
which was as yet his own secret, he sought the har-
vest of the quiet eye, the quiet mind, and had a
lively horror of pribble-prabble and all pretense.

There are noblemen of that stamp, good fellows



The Yellow Van

who never feel so uneasy as when they are in their
robes, and whose evening pipe after the most im-
posing function is a sort of burnt-offering of re-
pentance for much foolishness suffered and some
done noblemen who go through life longing, and
too often in vain, to find a fellow-Christian who
will call them by a Christian name, and who have
come into miraculous possession of the great truth
that Charlemagne slept but little better for his
hundred and twenty watchmen with flaming
torches and naked swords. They are tired of their
state. Oh, how tired they are! One such, as we
know, actually fled from it in perpetuity, to serve
in a merchantman, by preference, we believe, in
the stoke-hole, for the benefit of the greater privacy,
and had the extreme good luck to die in mid-
ocean, where they had to bury him in the absolute
seclusion of fifty times fathom five.

It is evident that in such a situation the duke was
at the mercy of the following accidents: a summer
evening on a veranda, where the inwardness of
things was a sort of message printed in glowing
colors over all the sky, a more subtle blend of light
and shadow in a fine face, an eye drooping liquid
glories like the orb itself, a pretty evening gown
of white, just speckled with floral ornament, a
shapely foot peeping therefrom, folded hands, and
a sigh. And, one day, they all came together, the
sigh with the rest. It was a sigh at the right time,
no doubt, but it was not an effect of art. A sort of
acquired distaste for flirtation had kept her in ig-

6



The Yellow Van

norance of that terrible law of the Amazons that no
girl should marry until she had killed a man. She
simply pitied herself, for the moment, under a sense
of the limitations of her lot.

Then he sighed on his own account ; and, with that
same self-consciousness, not unpleasing, on her part,
and embarrassment as well.

In states of this description, when they are of hope-
ful tendency, the mood of one soon becomes the
mood of both. There is not a more infectious com-
plaint. It was so in this instance. He caught the
embarrassment as quickly as he had caught the
sigh.

There was silence for a while.

"It is so wretched to have to say good-by," he
said at length. "Yet I must soon go; I have had
letters from home."

"At least you are going back to the world."

"Hardly: the world is here."

"As a pious opinion in transcendentalism," she
laughed. "I heartily agree but "

"What more would even you have?"

"Well, perhaps one might wish to import the isles
of Greece and all the rest of it, since they are to be
had in no other way. ' '

"Believe me, you have their best as it is their
beauty of life particularly."

"Oh!"

"Yes just in a woman going and coming look-
ing after her Hoys and girls in the school-house, and
setting them endless examples of manliness and



The Yellow Van

womanliness ministering to her quaint old uncle
and the little household when she comes home."

It was not easy to mistake his meaning now, and
she grew troubled, mainly with the wish to hide the
signs of it.

"There may still be something wanting," she
said, with a rather piteous smile.

"What, I wonder?"

' ' The larger life. You should know, for you have
told me of it men and cities, Provence and Avignon,
Florence, the world! the world!"

"Not one thing assuredly, and that the chief."

There was silence once more, but it was as the
silence in heaven for both.

She turned toward the house.

He detained her; and, in the desperation of the
moment, he said his word, timidly at first, but with
all the needful fire and energy as he drew courage
from her rising color and even from her downcast
eyes. And, since it was to be so, he presently heard
the one precious word he wanted in return, but no
more.

Yet she felt that her duty was not entirely to
herself. So it was still a conditional promise, with
more than one clause the full consent of the se-
nior who had for many years been father and
mother to the orphaned girl; the suitor's own fixity
of resolve, to be tested by his temporary return
to his own country, with all the risks it might bring
forth; and withal some natural terror of the great
venture of marriage in a strange land. This, in-

8



The Yellow Van

deed, still left her brother, a young man just leav-
ing college, out of the reckoning; but she knew
that any wish of hers would be his law.

The duke was obliged to be content with this. He
had more speedy success than he expected with the
old man. As a dealer in real estate Mr. James
Gooding was particularly accessible to the tempta-
tion of satisfactory reference. The duke, as "Mr.
Harfoot," was easily able to put him in communi-
cation with bankers and others, who, without re-
vealing more than was necessary, fully confirmed
their client's assertion of independent means, and
gave the inquirer complete satisfaction on every ma-
terial point.

Then he went away to his own side of the world,
to write to her every day, to chuckle over her letters
in reply, with her sweet little motherly cautions to
him against overboldness in the attempt to make
their common fortune letters with promises to
wait till he was quite ready, and assurances that
they were already married in her heart. Yet, be-
ing characteristically American, she still talked of
fortune as one of his goals in life. It was not that
she coveted the riches, but only that she feared to
depress him by seeming to question his power to
acquire them. To have doubted a man's prowess
for such an achievement in this age would have
been like doubting his power to make short work
of a giant in the days of chivalry.

And when the correspondence had yielded its
full delight, he crossed the ocean again, to reveal



The Yellow Van

himself as one of the greatest nobles in the world,
to lay at her feet a fortune that matched his title,
to beat down every objection in his new-found joy
in feeling that he was loved for himself alone, and
finally to marry and bring her back to his ancestral
home.

Do not be too hard on him or on his chronicler.
Such things may happen, do happen, or they would
never form the staple of fairy-tale, which perhaps,
in its essence, is but the realized highest possible
of our human lot.



10



II




H, what a night of vigil it was for
her when her lover had told her
his news and suffered her to es-
cape from his embrace! Her little
bedchamber seemed all alight in the
darkness, and every single object
in it to be burning itself into her consciousness
in outlines of fire. All the livelong night the brain
throbbed, taking its time from the heart. The
shock of surprise was too great, almost too cruel
to-day a little nobody, to-morrow to stand before
kings! The mere rank, in and for itself, was the
smallest allurement of the prospect; the greatest
was the realization of more generous ideals. She
who had scarcely moved beyond her own modest
circumscription in all her life, save for a State
fair in the local capital or a flying visit to New
York, was now to see the via sacra of European
travel, with a monument or a memento at every
step. And she was to see it in total freedom from
the sordid considerations of ways and means.

Ever, when the girl had tried to visit these ro-
mantic scenes in fancy, with the help of her little
picture-gallery of foreign post-cards and her "Pic-
turesque Europe," she had been all too surely held
back by the fear that their boarding-house rates

1 1



The Yellow Van

might not fit in with her scheme of enchantment.
What a thing for her to be able to put away for-
ever such humiliating cares, and to be free for the
true business of living nature, art, and poesy, and
the commerce of great souls! For she was unso-
phisticated enough to think that the first families
of the British peerage necessarily kept the best
spiritual society of their time.

Add to this her greater joy in the contemplation
of those families as shapers of human lots. Her
heart beat faster than ever at the thought of the
good she would do as the chieftainess of an historic
house, and of the obliging nature of the lesser
people about her who would kindly suffer it to be
done. It was rather hard to play that bountiful
part in America, with a whole democracy wanting
nothing of its neighbor but his power to want no-
thing of anybody else. A great English commu-
nity, with its culture and refinement in the upper
ranks, its ordered degrees of dependence in the
lower, and its supposed equality of happiness in
all, would satisfy the deepest need of her woman's
nature in giving her a comforting and protecting
part.

Her blood coursed through her veins, in the very
ecstasy of being, at the prospect. But, a moment
after, it became sluggish in the cold fit of the dread
of her unfitness for the position, and of the tor-
tures she might have to bear in the persecution of
grand dames resenting her intrusion into their set.
She saw herself made to look a fool in her own

12



The Yellow Van

drawing-room by vindictive rivals who had once
hoped to sit in her seat, all forlorn with her want
of pedigree, her country manners, and, where these
failed to barb the dart, with the "twang" which was
hers inalienably, for better or for worse, as much
as her beautiful complexion. These white nights on
the eve of new ventures in being who that has ever
aspired has not known them? And since we live
rather by the count of sensations than by the count
of time, to have watched through one of them is to
have lengthened the allotted span by a count of
years.

She spoke her fears to him next morning: only
to be told, of course, that her voice was music ; that,
for her pedigree, she would be his wife; and that,
for the trick of manners and customs as distinct
from the root of the matter which she had in her
own fine nature, she would be placed under the sure
guidance of a dowager of his own choice. With
all this to comfort and to strengthen her, being
human, she was still a little wild in her course. She
borrowed "Lives of Eminent Women" from the
nearest public library, and was mentally marked as a
backslider by the gray-headed librarian by reason of
her inquiries for recent British fiction dealing with
the manners of the great. Her repentance, however,
was both rapid and effectual. Before a week had
passed she had returned to her allegiance to classic
authors, and had registered a vow from which she
never afterward departed to take herself, as finally
she gave him leave to take her, for better or for worse.

'3



The Yellow Van

But what a stir in the papers when it was known !
That day was her last of perfect privacy on this
earth. Its morrow saw her in the forefront of the
publicity of two continents of one continent es-
pecially. Uncle Gooding, with the duke's leave,
whispered it to the editor of the local paper. The
editor, who was in touch with a great news agency,
blazed it forth to the AVestern Hemisphere. The
Western passed it on to the Eastern that same night,
through three thousand miles of sea. Weary for-
eign editors looked up his Grace's pedigree in the
"Peerage," and his speeches in the House of Lords,
as materials for a sketch of his career. Smart writ-
ers of leaderettes compared him to King Cophetua,
and wrote homilies on the American invasion.
And next morning it was on its way to every
capital, to every club, to every hamlet and house-
hold of the planet, south of that ultimate settlement
of civilized man at Hammerfest, beyond which lie
sheer barbarism and the arctic night. Such is the
circulation of a paragraph when it is a paragraph
of the right sort.

The evening of the second day brought down
swarms of reporters, and the poor girl had to sub-
mit to the process known technically as "writing
up." In a few hours more she was able to read her
own history from birth with the interest of one
who has met a stranger for the first time. She was,
so to speak, introduced to herself. It was not that
the particulars were inaccurate: she had wisely
guarded against that by a meek submission to the

14



The Yellow Van

inevitable of public interrogatory, and her friends
of course had given of their best. It was only that
she had never realized herself before, or learned
how the small beer of personal chronicle may still,
by judicious treatment, become the strong brew of
biographical record. The recorders threw her mod-
est little career into perspective, and made it all
seem to belong to one great composition. It is at
least quite as startling to find that you have all
your life been making biography as that you have
all your life been talking prose. With the old pri-
vacy of her lot went, inevitably, some of the old
simplicity. She was never to be wholly unaware of
herself again. Now she felt, for the first time, that
when she rebuked the big boy for rudeness in class
she had a queenly glance. And her weekly ramble
with the children in the summer woods was a joint
effect of a love of nature, proficiency in botanic
science, and goodness of heart. Her affection for
her uncle was, in the same way, filial piety thwarted
by circumstance, yet still determined not to be
balked of an object. She blushed for herself in
distracting alternations of the one belief that she
was a bit of an angel, and of the other that she
was only a bit of a prig. Terrible moment of the
full consciousness of intelligent public curiosity
when the old partnership of the soul is enlarged,
and it is no longer yourself and your Maker, but
also an "& Co." of the man over, the way!
"Blessed indeed are those ears which listen not
after the voice which is sounding without." Never

'5



The Yellow Van

again! But A Kempis never underwent the ordeal
of a Sunday edition.

For the ceremony itself, however, they dodged
the common informer with great success. 'It was
given out that the local church might be the
scene of it, and lo ! they fled by night to an edifice
a hundred miles away, with none but their wit-
nesses and Augusta Gooding's pastor to bear them
company, and were united only less quietly than
the primal pair. It was the most successful evasion
on record. Several reporters were discharged.

Their honeymoon was slightly ridiculous and
wholly delightful. They made straight for the
Mediterranean, and saw the sights like a pair of
happy children on a holiday. The duke, who had
at first scoffed at the absurdity of such a pilgrim-
age, finally made it the object of an almost reverent
interest. He had run through these scenes a dozen
times, but never to give them the slightest atten-
tion as matters of intellectual concern. He thought
he had tired of them in that character, while really
he had never heeded them at all. And now here he
was in Naples, Kome, Florence, or what not, "do-
ing" famous galleries, monuments, views, and
broadening his mind amazingly in the process. It
was the most profitable change from clubs for golf
or pigeon-shooting, and from other transplanted
institutions wherein it was still England, England
everywhere, in spite of foreign skies.

Now, finally, they are coming home to Allonby
Towers, to open that season in the country which

16



The Yellow Van

is about all we have left to distinguish the major
from the minor great. The former come up to town
for a lesson in humility, for they find their best and
biggest still lost in the crowd. In the country, with
the stately setting of their own places, they loom
large on the public gaze. No man may hope to rank
even as a good second in our modern Rome.

They are to make their formal entry in a few
days, to show themselves to their humbler neigh-
bors, and to entertain friends. Uncle Gooding had
been asked to join the house-party, but he had de-
clined by letter, on the ground of an unfortunate
reminiscence. On his first and only visit to Eng-
land, it seemed, he had been put up by another
nobleman, for whom he was negotiating the pur-
chase of a ranch. In default of a personal atten-
dant, he was valeted by a servant of the house
"a fellow," as he wrote in confidence to his niece,
"who sneaked about my room on tiptoe before I
got up, hiding all my things." The statement
really meant no more than that the man was merely
reducing his apparel to order from the confusion
of the gas-brackets and angles of picture-frames
on which it had been thrown the night before. It
was enough, however, to prejudice Mr. Gooding
against distinguished hospitality for the rest of his
life.



Ill




LLONBY, with its countryside, of
course, was in a ferment in its
own way like a vat in the brew-
house with its excitement still
mostly confined to the depths.
The smaller folk were hardly less
exercised in their minds about the newcomer than
their betters. If one set asked, "What kind of
leader of society?" the other was no less concerned
in the question, "What kind of almsgiver?" The
village of Slocum Parva was the center of these
meaner anxieties just because it was the most in-
significant speck in the ducal landscape. One could
say no more of it, as one took in the view from
the Towers, than that it was there somewhere, amid
the dim confusion of green and red in the hollows
below. Slocum Parva was rarely disturbed by any
event from without, but when it was it vibrated
to the core of its being. It was different at Slocum
Magna, about a mile higher up the road. Occur-
rences that might fairly be classed as strange had
not been unknown there, even in that purely mod-
ern period embraced in historical disquisitions
which have their starting-point with the sixteenth
century. At Slocum Parva the very mill had long

18



The Yellow Van

ceased work, and it was left standing only because
it was not worth the expense of pulling down. The
village was self-contained, self-dependent, and it
would have satisfied the exacting conditions of re-
pose of Korea. It had hitherto been only a frag-
ment of Slocum Magna, and, seen by the bird's eye,
it was but a bit of dark red in an undulating land-
scape, still rich in all but the absolute perfection of
verdant beauty, even in this August time.

This truly celestial scene stretched right up to
the castle, which crowned a height of the sky-line,
and which, even from Slocum Parva, could be seen
flinging its immense ducal banner to the breeze.
Here and there, by virtue of the residential color
of chimney and roof, you might recognize what in
these parts passed for a settlement of men. The
nearest town of Randsford, some four miles from
the village, seemed only less fast asleep than the
rest of the landscape. It had done nothing of im-
portance since, in an outburst of energy that could
not last, it burned a Lollard some five centuries
ago. The Towers and the other country-seats were
still but part of the green and red. They were
marked, according to their degree, by the greater
symmetry of woodland design; and they were so
many evidences of occupation by the five barons,
the ten earls, the fifteen baronets, and what not,
who, according to the local almanac, had their seats
within the county.

On this evening of the mellowing summer Slo-
cum was assembled in committee of public curiosity

'9



The Yellow Van

on its patch of village green that bordered the high-
road. Workmen had arrived from London to con-
firm the public report that the home-coming was
to be in state, and that the duke and the tenantry
between them would make a brave show. They had
begun already to border the line of route with those
scaffold-poles, unknown to the experience of the
Adriatic, which it pleases some decorative artists
to dignify by the name of Venetian masts. They
had labored in this way all day long, at first only
under the close but silent observation of the urchins
and the gossips, but now under the eye of the men-
folk from the fields. The groups were as yet per-
fectly distinct the observers belonging to the won-
dering and rather suspicious village, the observed
to the cockney contingent who mocked them with
impunity, by virtue of their mastery of an un-
known tongue. The former held together for moral
support.

In the foreground Samson Skett, the all but bed-
ridden navvy who had once been the strong man


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryRichard WhiteingThe yellow van → online text (page 1 of 21)