Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Heart of the Desert (Romance)

Rhoda hobbled through the sand to the nearest rock. On this she sank with a groan, clasped her slender foot with both hands and looked about her helplessly.
She felt very small, very much alone. The infinite wastes of yellow desert danced in heat waves against the bronze-blue sky. The girl saw no sign of living thing save a buzzard that swept lazily across the zenith. She turned dizzily from contemplating the vast emptiness about her to a close scrutiny of her injured foot. She drew off her thin satin house slipper painfully and dropped it unheedingly into a bunch of yucca that crowded against the rock. Her silk stocking followed. Then she sat in helpless misery, eying her blue-veined foot.
In spite of her evident invalidism, one could but wonder why she made so little effort to help herself. She sat droopingly on the rock, gazing from her foot to the far lavender line of the mesas. A tiny, impotent atom of life, she sat as if the eternal why which the desert hurls at one overwhelmed her, deprived her of hope, almost of sensation. There was something of nobility in the steadiness with which she gazed at the melting distances, something of pathos in her evident resignation, to her own helplessness and weakness.
The girl was quite unconscious of the fact that a young man was tramping up the desert behind her. He, however, had spied the white gown long before Rhoda had sunk to the rock and had laid his course directly for her. He was a tall fellow, standing well over six feet and he swung through the heavy sand with an easy stride that covered distance with astonishing rapidity. As he drew near enough to perceive Rhoda's yellow head bent above her injured foot, he quickened his pace, swung round the yucca thicket and pulled off his soft felt hat.
"Good-morning!" he said. "What's the matter?"
Rhoda started, hastily covered her foot, and looked up at the tall khaki-clad figure. She never had seen the young man before, but the desert is not formal.
"A thing like a little crayfish bit my foot," she answered; "and you don't know how it hurts!"
"Ah, but I do!" exclaimed the young man. "A scorpion sting! Let me see it!"
Rhoda flushed.
"Oh, never mind that!" she said. "But if you will go to the Newman ranch-house for me and ask them to send the buckboard I'll be very grateful. I--I feel dizzy, you know."
"Gee whiz!" exclaimed the young man. "There's no time for me to run about the desert if you have a scorpion sting in your foot!"
"Is a scorpion sting dangerous?" asked Rhoda. Then she added, languidly, "Not that I mind if it is!"
The young man gave her a curious glance. Then he pulled a small case from his pocket, knelt in the sand and lifted Rhoda's foot in one slender, strong, brown hand. The instep already was badly swollen.
"Hold tight a minute!" said the young man.
And before Rhoda could protest he had punctured the red center of the swelling with a little scalpel, had held the cut open and had filled it with a white powder that bit. Then he pulled a clean handkerchief from his pocket and tore it in two. With one half he bound the ankle above the cut tightly. With the other he bandaged the cut itself.
"Are you a doctor?" asked Rhoda faintly.
"Far from it," replied the young man with a chuckle, tightening the upper bandage until Rhoda's foot was numb. "But I always carry this little outfit with me; rattlers and scorpions are so thick over on the ditch. Somebody's apt to be hurt anytime. I'm Charley Cartwell, Jack Newman's engineer."
"Oh!" said Rhoda understandingly. "I'm so dizzy I can't see you very well. This is very good of you. Perhaps now you'd go on and get the buckboard. Tell them it's for Rhoda, Rhoda Tuttle. I just went out for a walk and then--"
Her voice trailed into nothingness and she could only steady her swaying body with both hands against the rock.
"Huh!" grunted young Cartwell. "I go on to the house and leave you here in the boiling sun!"
"Would you mind hurrying?" asked Rhoda.
"Not at all," returned Cartwell.
He plucked the stocking and slipper from the yucca and dropped them into his pocket. Then he stooped and lifted Rhoda across his broad chest. This roused her.
"Why, you can't do this!" she cried, struggling to free herself.
Cartwell merely tightened his hold and swung out at a pace that was half run, half walk.
"Close your eyes so the sun won't hurt them," he said peremptorily.
Dizzily and confusedly, Rhoda dropped her head back on the broad shoulder and closed her eyes, with a feeling of security that later on was to appall her. Long after she was to recall the confidence of this moment with unbelief and horror. Nor did she dream how many weary days and hours she one day was to pass with this same brazen sky over her, this same broad shoulder under her head.
Cartwell looked down at the delicate face lying against his breast, at the soft yellow hair massed against his sleeve. Into his black eyes came a look that was passionately tender, and the strong brown hand that supported Rhoda's shoulders trembled.
In an incredibly short time he was entering the peach orchard that surrounded the ranch-house. A young man in white flannels jumped from a hammock in which he had been dozing.
"For heaven's sake!" he exclaimed. "What does this mean?"
Rhoda was too ill to reply. Cartwell did not slack his giant stride toward the house.
"It means," he answered grimly, "that you folks must be crazy to let Miss Tuttle take a walk in clothes like this! She's got a scorpion sting in her foot."
The man in flannels turned pale. He hurried along beside Cartwell, then broke into a run.
"I'll telephone to Gold Rock for the doctor and tell Mrs. Newman."
He started on ahead.
"Never mind the doctor!" called Cartwell. "I've attended to the sting. Tell Mrs. Jack to have h ot water ready."
As Cartwell sprang up the porch steps, Mrs. Newman ran out to meet him. She was a pretty, rosy girl, with brown eyes and curly brown hair.
"Rhoda! Kut-le!" she cried. "Why didn't I warn her! Put her on the couch here in the hall, Kut-le. John, tell Li Chung to bring the hot-water bottles. Here, Rhoda dear, drink this!"
For half an hour the three, with Li Chung hovering in the background, worked over the girl. Then as they saw her stupor change to a natural sleep, Katherine gave a sigh that was almost a sob.
"She's all right!" she said. "O Kut-le, if you hadn't come at that moment!"
Cartwell shook his head.
"It might have gone hard with her, she's so delicate. Gee, I'm glad I ran out of tobacco this morning and thought a two-mile tramp across the desert for it worth while!"
The three were on the porch now. The young man in flannels, who had said little but had obeyed orders explicitly eyed Cartwell curiously.
"You're Newman's engineer, aren't you?" he asked. "My name's DeWitt. You've put us all under great obligations, this morning."
Cartwell took the extended hand.
"Well, you know," he said carefully, "a scorpion sting may or may not be serious. People have died of them. Mrs. Jack here makes no more of them than of a mosquito bite, while Jack goes about like a drunken sailor with one for a day, then forgets it. Miss Tuttle will be all right when she wakes up. I'm off till dinner time, Mrs. Jack. Jack will think I've reverted!"
DeWitt stood for a moment watching the tall, lithe figure move through the peach-trees. He was torn by a strange feeling, half of aversion, half of charm for the dark young stranger. Then: "Hold on, Cartwell," he cried. "I'll drive you back in the buckboard."
Katherine Newman, looking after the two, raised her eyebrows, shook her head, then smiled and went back to Rhoda.
It was mid-afternoon when Rhoda woke. Katherine was sitting near by with her sewing.
"Well!" said Rhoda wonderingly. "I'm all right, after all!"
Katherine jumped up and took Rhoda's thin little hand joyfully.
"Indeed you are!" she cried. "Thanks to Kut-le!"
"Thanks to whom?" asked Rhoda. "It was a tall young man. He said his name was Charley Cartwell."
"Yup!" answered Katherine. "Charley Cartwell! His other name is Kut-le. He'll be in to dinner with Jack, tonight. Isn't he good-looking, though!"
"I don't know. I was so dizzy I couldn't see him. He seemed very dark. Is he a Spaniard?"
"Spaniard! No!" Katherine was watching Rhoda's languid eyes half mischievously. "He's part Mescallero, part Pueblo, part Mohave!"
Rhoda sat erect with flaming face.
"You mean that he's an Indian and I let him carry me! Katherine!"
The mischief in Katherine's brown eyes g rew to laughter.
"I thought that would get a rise out of you, you blessed tenderfoot! What difference does that make? He rescued you from a serious predicament; and more than that he's a fine fellow and one of Jack's dearest friends."
Rhoda's delicate face still was flushed.
"An Indian! What did John DeWitt say?"
"Oh!" said Katherine, carelessly, "he offered to drive Kut-le back to the ditch, and he hasn't got home yet. They probably will be very congenial, John being a Harvard man and Kut-le a Yale!"
Rhoda's curved lips opened, then closed again. The look of interest died from her eyes.
"Well," she said in her usual weary voice, "I think I'll have a glass of milk, if I may. Then I'll go out on the porch. You see I'm being all the trouble to you, Katherine, that I said I would be."
"Trouble!" protested Katherine. "Why, Rhoda Tuttle, if I could just see you with the old light in your eyes I'd wait on you by inches on my knees. I would, honestly."
Rhoda rubbed a thin cheek against the warm hand that still held hers, and the mute thanks said more than words.
The veranda of the Newman ranch-house was deep and shaded by green vines. From the hammock where she lay, a delicate figure amid the vivid cushions, Rhoda looked upon a landscape that combined all the perfection of verdure of a northern park with a sense of illimitable breathing space that should have been fairly intoxicating to her. Two huge cottonwoods stood beside the porch. Beyond the lawn lay the peach orchard which vied with the bordering alfalfa fields in fragrance and color. The yellow-brown of tree-trunks and the white of grazing sheep against vegetation of richest green were astonishing colors for Rhoda to find in the desert to which she had been exiled, and in the few days since her arrival she had not ceased to wonder at them.
DeWitt crossed the orchard, quickening his pace when he saw Rhoda. He was a tall fellow, blond and well built, though not so tall and lithe as Cartwell. His dark blue eyes were disconcertingly clear and direct.
"Well, Rhoda dear!" he exclaimed as he hurried up the steps. "If you didn't scare this family! How are you feeling now?"
"I'm all right," Rhoda answered languidly. "It was good of you all to bother so about me. What have you been doing all day?"
"Over at the ditch with Jack and Cartwell. Say, Rhoda, the young fellow who rescued you is an Indian!"
DeWitt dropped into a big chair by the hammock. He watched the girl hopefully. It was such a long, long time since she had been interested in anything! But there was no responsive light in the deep gray eyes.
"Katherine told me," she replied. Then, after a pause, as if she felt it her duty to make conversation, "Did you like him?"
DeWitt spoke slowly, as if he had been considering the matter.
"I've a lot of race prejudice in me, Rhoda. I don't like niggers or Chinamen or Indians when they get over to the white man's side of the fence. They are well enough on their own side. However, this Cartwell chap seems all right. And he rescued you from a beastly serious situation!"
"I don't know that I'm as grateful for that as I ought to be," murmured Rhoda, half to herself. "It would have been an easy solution."
Her words stung DeWitt. He started forward and seized the small thin hands in both his own.
"Rhoda, don't!" he pleaded huskily. "Don't give up! Don't lose hope! If I could only give you some of my strength! Don't talk so! It just about breaks my heart to hear you."
For a time, Rhoda did not answer. She lay wearily watching the eager, pleading face so close to her own. Even in her illness, Rhoda was very lovely. The burnished yellow hair softened the thinness of the face that was like delicately chiseled marble. The finely cut nose, the exquisite drooping mouth, the little square chin with its cleft, and the great gray eyes lost none of their beauty through her weakness.
"John," she said at last, "why won't you look the truth in the face? I never shall get well. I shall die here instead of in New York, that's all. Why did you follow me down here? It only tortures you. And, truly it's not so bad for me. You all have lost your realness to me, somehow. I shan't mind going, much."
DeWitt's strong face worked but his voice was steady.
"I never shall leave you," he said simply. "You are the one woman in the world for me. I'd marry you tomorrow if you'd let me."
Rhoda shook her head.
"You ought to go away, John, and forget me. You ought to go marry some fine girl and have a home and a family. I'm just a sick wreck."
"Rhoda," and DeWitt's earnest voice was convincing, "Rhoda, I'd pass up the healthiest, finest girl on earth for you, just sick you. Why, can't you see that your helplessness and dependence only deepen your hold on me? Who wants a thing as fragile and as lovely as you are to make a home! You pay your way in life just by living! Beauty and sweetness like yours is enough for a woman to give. I don't want you to do a thing in the world. Just give yourself to me and let me take care of you. Rhoda, dear, dear heart!"
"I can't marry unless I'm well," insisted Rhoda, "and I never shall be well again. I know that you all thought it was for the best, bringing me down to the desert, but just as soon as I can manage it without hurting Katherine's and Jack's feelings too much, I'm going back to New York. If you only knew how the big emptiness of this desert country adds to my depression!"
"If you go back to New York," persisted DeWitt, "you are going back as my wife. I'm sick of seeing you dependent on hired care. Why, Rhoda dear, is it nothing to you that, when you haven't a near relative in the world, I would gladly die for you?"
"Oh!" cried the girl, tears of weakne ss and pity in her eyes, "you know that it means everything to me! But I can't marry any one. All I want is just to crawl away and die in peace. I wish that that Indian hadn't come upon me so promptly. I'd just have gone to sleep and never wakened."
"Don't! Don't!" cried DeWitt. "I shall pick you up and hold you against all the world, if you say that!"
"Hush!" whispered Rhoda, but her smile was very tender. "Some one is coming through the orchard."
DeWitt reluctantly released the slender hands and leaned back in his chair. The sun had crossed the peach orchard slowly, breathlessly. It cast long, slanting shadows along the beautiful alfalfa fields and turned the willows by the irrigating ditch to a rosy gray. As the sun sank, song-birds piped and lizards scuttled along the porch rail. The loveliest part of the New Mexican day had come.
The two young Northerners watched the man who was swinging through the orchard. It was Cartwell. Despite his breadth of shoulder, the young Indian looked slender, though it was evident that only panther strength could produce such panther grace. He crossed the lawn and stood at the foot of the steps; one hand crushed his soft hat against his hip, and the sun turned his close-cropped black hair to blue bronze. For an instant none of the three spoke. It was as if each felt the import of this meeting which was to be continued through such strange vicissitudes. Cartwell, however, was not looking at DeWitt but at Rhoda, and she returned his gaze, surprised at the beauty of his face, with its large, long-lashed, Mohave eyes that were set well apart and set deeply as are the eyes of those whose ancestors have lived much in the open glare of the sun; with the straight, thin-nostriled nose; with the stern, cleanly modeled mouth and the square chin, below. And looking into the young Indian's deep black eyes, Rhoda felt within herself a vague stirring that for a second wiped the languor from her eyes.
Cartwell spoke first, easily, in the quiet, well-modulated voice of the Indian.
"Hello! All safe, I see! Mr. Newman will be here shortly." He seated himself on the upper step with his back against a pillar and fanned himself with his hat. "Jack's working too hard. I want him to go to the coast for a while and let me run the ditch. But he won't. He's as pig-headed as a Mohave."
"Are the Mohaves so pig-headed then?" asked DeWitt, smiling.
Cartwell returned the smile with a flash of white teeth.
"You bet they are! My mother was part Mohave and she used to say that only the Pueblo in her kept her from being as stiff-necked as yucca. You're all over the dizziness, Miss Tuttle?"
"Yes," said Rhoda. "You were very good to me."
Cartwell shook his head.
"I'm afraid I can't take special credit for that. Will you two ride to the ditch with me tomorrow? I think Miss Tuttle will be interested in Jack's irrigation dream, don't you, Mr. DeWitt?"
DeWitt answered a little stiffly.
"It's out of the question for Miss Tuttle to attempt such a trip, thank you."
But to her own as well as DeWitt's astonishment Rhoda spoke protestingly.
"You must let me refuse my own invitations, John. Perhaps the ditch would interest me."
DeWitt replied hastily, "Good gracious, Rhoda! If anything will interest you, don't let me interfere."
There was protest in his voice against Rhoda's being interested in an Indian's suggestion. Both Rhoda and Cartwell felt this and there was an awkward pause. This was broken by a faint halloo from the corral and DeWitt rose abruptly.
"I'll go down and meet Jack," he said.
"We'll do a lot of stunts if you're willing," Cartwell said serenely, his eyes following DeWitt's broad back inscrutably. "The desert is like a story-book if one learns to read it. If you would be interested to learn, I would be keen to teach you."
Rhoda's gray eyes lifted to the young man's somberly.
"I'm too dull these days to learn anything," she said. "But I--I didn't used to be! Truly I didn't! I used to be so alive, so strong! I believed in everything, myself most of all! Truly I did!" She paused, wondering at her lack of reticence.
Cartwell, however, was looking at her with something in his gaze so quietly understanding that Rhoda smiled. It was a slow smile that lifted and deepened the corners of Rhoda's lips, that darkened her gray eyes to black, an unforgetable smile to the loveliness of which Rhoda's friends never could accustom themselves. At the sight of it, Cartwell drew a deep breath, then leaned toward her and spoke with curious earnestness.
"You make me feel the same way that starlight on the desert makes me feel."
Rhoda replied in astonishment, "Why, you mustn't speak that way to me! It's not--not--"
"Not conventional?" suggested Cartwell. "What difference does that make, between you and me?"
Again came the strange stirring in Rhoda in response to Cartwell's gaze. He was looking at her with something of tragedy in the dark young eyes, something of sternness and determination in the clean-cut lips. Rhoda wondered, afterward, what would have been said if Katherine had not chosen this moment to come out on the porch.
"Rhoda," she asked, "do you feel like dressing for dinner? Hello, Kut-le, it's time you moved toward soap and water, seems to me!"
"Yessum!" replied Cartwell meekly. He rose and helped Rhoda from the hammock, then held the door open for her. DeWitt and Newman emerged from the orchard as he crossed to Katherine's chair.
"Is she very sick, Mrs. Jack?" he asked.
Katherine nodded soberly.
"Desperately sic k. Her father and mother were killed in a railroad wreck a year ago. Rhoda wasn't seriously hurt but she has never gotten over the shock. She has been failing ever since. The doctor feared consumption and sent her down here. But she's just dying by inches. Oh, it's too awful! I can't believe it! I can't realize it!"
Cartwell stood in silence for a moment, his lips compressed, his eyes inscrutable.
Then, "I've met her at last," he said. "It makes me believe in Fate."
Katherine's pretty lips parted in amazement.
"Goodness! Are you often taken this way!" she gasped.
"Never before!" replied Cartwell serenely. "Jack said she'd broken her engagement to DeWitt because of her illness, so it's a fair war!"
"Kut-le!" exclaimed Katherine. "Don't talk like a yellow-backed novel! It's not a life or death affair."
"You can't tell as to that," answered Cartwell with a curious little smile. "You mustn't forget that I'm an Indian."
And he turned to greet the two men who were mounting the steps.

Family Pride (Romantic Novel)

Uncle Ephraim Barlow, deacon of the orthodox church in Silverton, Massachusetts, was an old-fashioned man, clinging to the old-time customs of his fathers, and looking with but little toleration upon what he termed the "new-fangled notions" of the present generation. Born and reared a mid the rocks and hills of the Bay State, his nature partook largely of the nature of his surroundings, and he grew into manhood with many a rough point adhering to his character, which, nevertheless, taken as a whole, was, like the wild New England scenery, beautiful and grand. None knew Uncle Ephraim Barlow but to respect him, and at the church where he was a worshiper few would have been missed more than the tall, muscular man, with the long, white hair, who Sunday after Sunday walked slowly up the middle aisle to his accustomed seat before the altar, and who regularly passed the contribution box, bowing involuntarily in token of approbation when a neighbor's gift was larger than its wont, and gravely dropping in his own ten cents--never more, never less--always ten cents--his weekly offering, which he knew amounted in a year to just five dollars and twenty cents. And still Uncle Ephraim was not stingy, as the Silverton poor could testify, for many a load of wood and bag of meal found entrance to the doors where cold and hunger would have otherwise been, while to his minister he was literally a holder up of the weary hands, and a comforter in the time of trouble.

Kate, or Katy Lennox, our heroine, had been for a year an inmate of Canandaigua Seminary, whither she was sent at the expense of a distant relative to whom her father had been guardian, and who, during her infancy, had also had a home with Uncle Ephraim, her mother having brought her with her when, after her husband's death, she returned to Silverton. Dr. Morris Grant he was now, and he had just come home from a three years' sojourn in Paris, and was living in his own handsome dwelling across the fields toward Silverton village, and half a mile or more from Uncle Ephraim's farmhouse. He had written from Paris, offering to send his cousins, Helen and Kate, to any school their mother might select, and as Canandaigua was her choice, they had both gone thither a year ago, Helen, the eldest, falling sick within the first three months, and returning home to Silverton, satisfied that the New England schools were good enough for her. This was Helen; but Katy was different. Katy was more susceptible of polish and refinement--so the mother thought; and as she arranged and rearranged the little parlor, lingering longest by the piano, Dr. Morris' gift, she drew bright pictures of her favorite child, wondering how the plain farmhouse and its inmates would seem to her after Canandaigua and all she must have seen during her weeks of travel since the close of the summer term. And then she wondered next why Cousin Morris was so much annoyed when told that Katy had accepted an invitation to accompany Mrs. Woodhull and her party on a trip to Montreal and Lake George, taking Boston on her homeward route. Surely Katy's movements were nothing to him, unless--and the little, ambitious mother struck at random a few notes of the soft-toned piano as she thought how possible it was that the interest always manifested by the staid, quiet Morris Grant for her light-hearted Kate was more than a brotherly interest, such as he would naturally feel for the daughter of one who had been to him a second father. But Katy was so much a child when he went away to Paris that it could not be. She would sooner think of the dark-haired Helen, who was older and more like him.
"It's Helen, if anybody," she said aloud, just as a voice at the window called out: "Please, Cousin Lucy, relieve me of these flowers. I brought them over in honor of Katy's return."
Blushing guiltily, Mrs. Lennox advanced to meet a tall, dark-looking man, with a grave, pleasant face, which, when he smiled, was strangely attractive, from the sudden lighting up of the hazel eyes and the glitter of the white, even teeth disclosed so fully to view.
"Oh, thank you, Morris! Kitty will like them, I am sure," Mrs. Lennox said, taking from his hand a bouquet of the choice flowers which grew only in the hothouse at Linwood. "Come in for a moment, please."
"No, thank you," the doctor replied. "There is a case of rheumatism just over the hill, and I must not be idle if I would retain the practice given to me. Not that I make anything but good will as yet, for only the Silverton poor dare trust their lives in my inexperienced hands . But I can afford to wait," and with another flash of the hazel eyes Morris walked away a pace or two, but, as if struck with some sudden thought, turned back, and fanning his heated face with his leghorn hat, said, hesitatingly: "By the way, Uncle Ephraim's last payment on the old mill falls due to-morrow. Tell him, if he says anything in your presence, not to mind unless it is perfectly convenient. He must be somewhat straitened just now, as Katy's trip cannot have cost him a small sum."
The clear, penetrating eyes were looking full at Mrs. Lennox, who for a moment felt slightly piqued that Morris Grant should take so much oversight of her uncle's affairs. It was natural, too, that he should, she knew, for, widely different as were their tastes and positions in life, there was a strong liking between the old man and the young, who, from having lived nine years in the family, took a kindly interest in everything pertaining to them.
"Uncle Ephraim did not pay the bills," Mrs. Lennox faltered at last, feeling intuitively how Morris' delicate sense of propriety would shrink from her next communication. "Mrs. Woodhull wrote that the expense should be nothing to me, and as she is fully able, and makes so much of Katy, I did not think it wrong."
"Lucy Lennox! I am astonished!" was all Morris could say, as the tinge of wounded pride dyed his cheek.
Kate was a connection--distant, it is true; but his blood was in her veins, and his inborn pride shrank from receiving so much from strangers, while he wondered at her mother, feeling more and more convinced that what he had so long suspected was literally true. Mrs. Lennox was weak, Mrs. Lennox was ambitious, and for the sake of associating her daughter with people whom the world had placed above her she would stoop to accept that upon which she had no claim.
"Mrs. Woodhull was so urgent and so fond of Katy; and then, I thought it well to give her the advantage of being with such people as compose that party, the very first in Canandaigua, besides some from New York," Mrs. Lennox began in self-defense, but Morris did not stop to hear more, and hurried off a second time, while Mrs. Lennox looked after him, wondering at the feeling which she called pride, and which she could not understand. "If Katy can go with the Woodhulls and their set, I certainly shall not prevent it," she thought, as she continued her arrangement of the parlor, wishing so much that it was more like what she remembered Mrs. Woodhull's to have been, fifteen years ago.
Of course that lady had kept up with the times, and if her old house was finer than anything Mrs. Lennox had ever seen, what must her new one be, with all the modern improvements? and, leaning her head upon the mantel, Mrs. Lennox thought how proud she would be could she live to see her daugh ter in similar circumstances to the envied Mrs. Woodhull, at that moment in the crowded car between Boston and Silverton, tired, hot, and dusty, worn out, and as nearly cross as a fashionable lady can be.
A call from Uncle Ephraim aroused her, and going out into the square entry she tied his gingham cravat, and then handing him the big umbrella, an appendage he took with him in sunshine and in storm, she watched him as he stepped into his one-horse wagon and drove briskly away in the direction of the depot, where he was to meet his niece.
"I wish Cousin Morris had offered his carriage," she thought, as the corn-colored and white wagon disappeared from view. "The train stops five minutes at West Silverton, and some of those grand people will be likely to see the turnout," and with a sigh as she doubted whether it were not a disgrace as well as an inconvenience to be poor, she repaired to the kitchen, where sundry savory smells betokened a plentiful dinner.
Bending over the sink, with her cap strings tucked back, her sleeves rolled up, and her short, purple calico shielded from harm by her broad, motherly check apron, Aunt Betsy stood cleaning the silvery onions, and occasionally wiping her dim old eyes as the odor proved too strong for her. At another table stood Aunt Hannah, deep in the mysteries of the light, white crust which was to cover the tender chicken boiling in the pot, while in the oven bubbled and baked the custard pie, remembered as Katy's favorite, and prepared for her coming by Helen herself--plain-spoken, blue-eyed Helen--now out in the strawberry beds, picking the few luscious berries which almost by a miracle had been coaxed to wait for Katy, who loved them so dearly. Like her mother, Helen had wondered how the change would impress her bright little sister, for she remembered well that even to her obtuse perceptions there had come a pang when, after only three months abiding in a place where the etiquette of life was rigidly enforced, she had returned to their homely ways, and felt that it was worse than vain to try to effect a change. But Helen's strong sense, with the help of two or three good cries, had carried her safely through, and her humble home amid the hills was very dear to her now. But she was Helen, as the mother had said; she was different from Katy, who might be lonely and homesick, sobbing herself to sleep in her patient sister's arms, as she did on that first night in Canandaigua, which Helen remembered so well.
"It's better, too, now, than when I came home," Helen thought, as with her rich, scarlet fruit she went slowly to the house. "Morris is here, and the new church, and if she likes she can teach in Sunday school, though maybe she will prefer going with Uncle Ephraim. He will be p leased if she does," and, pausing by the door, Helen looked across Fairy Pond in the direction of Silverton village, where the top of a slender spire was just visible--the spire of St. John's, built within the year, and mostly, as it was whispered, at the expense of Dr. Morris Grant, who, a zealous churchman himself, had labored successfully to instill into Helen's mind some of his own peculiar views, as well as to awaken in Mrs. Lennox's heart the professions which had lain dormant for as long a time as the little black-bound book had lain on the cupboard shelf, forgotten and unread.
How the doctor's views were regarded by the deacon's family we shall see, perhaps, by and by. At present our story has to do with Helen, holding her bowl of berries by the rear door and looking across the distant fields. With one last glance at the object of her thoughts she re-entered the house, where her mother was arranging the square table for dinner, bringing out the white stone china instead of the mulberry set kept for everyday use.
"We ought to have had some silver forks before Katy came home," she said, despondingly, as she laid by each plate the three-lined forks of steel, to pay for which Helen and Katy had picked huckleberries on the hills and dried apples from the orchard.
"Never mind, mother," Helen answered, cheerily; "if Katy is as she used to be, she will care more for us than for silver forks, and I guess she is, for I imagine it would take a great deal to make her anything but a warmhearted, merry little creature."
This was sensible Helen's tribute of affection to the little, gay, chattering butterfly, at that moment an occupant of Uncle Ephraim's corn-colored wagon, and riding with that worthy toward home, throwing kisses to every barefoot boy and girl she met, and screaming with delight as the old familiar waymarks met her view.
"There are the oxen, the darling oxen, and that's Aunt Betsy, with her dress pinned up as usual," she cried, when at last the wagon stopped before the door; and the four women stepped hurriedly out to meet her, almost smothering her with caresses, and then holding her off to see if she had changed.
She was very stylish in her pretty traveling dress of gray, made under Mrs. Woodhull's supervision, and nothing could be more becoming than her jaunty hat, tied with ribbons of blue, while the dainty kids, bought to match the dress, fitted her fat hands charmingly, and the little high-heeled boots of soft prunella were faultless in their style. She was very attractive in her personal appearance, and the mental verdict of the four females regarding her intently was something as follows: Mrs. Lennox detected unmistakable marks of the grand society she had been mingling in, and was pleased accordingly; Aunt Hannah pronounced her "the prettiest creeter she had ever seen;" Aunt Betsy decided that her hoops were too big and her clothes too fine for a Barlow; while Helen, who looked beyond dress, or style, or manner, straight into her sister's soft, blue eyes, brimming with love and tears, decided that Katy was not changed for the worse. Nor was she. Truthful, loving, simple-hearted and full of playful life she had gone from home, and she came back the same--never once thinking of the difference between the farmhouse and Mrs. Woodhull's palace, or if she did, giving the preference to the former.
"It was perfectly splendid to get home," she said, handing her gloves to Helen, her sunshade to her mother, her satchel to Aunt Hannah, and tossing her bonnet in the vicinity of the water pail--from which it was saved by Aunt Betsy, who, remembering the ways of her favorite child, p ut it carefully in the press, examining it closely first and wondering how much it cost.
Deciding that "it was a good thumpin' price," she returned to the kitchen, where Katy, dancing and curveting in circles, scarcely stood still long enough for them to see that in spite of boarding school fare, of which she had complained so bitterly, her cheeks were rounded, her eyes brighter, and her lithe little figure fuller than of old. She had improved in looks, but she did not appear to know it, or to guess how beautiful she was in the fresh bloom of seventeen, with her golden hair waving around her childish forehead, and her deep, blue eyes laughing so expressively with each change of her constantly varying face. Everything animate and inanimate pertaining to the old house was noticed by her. She kissed the kitten, squeezed the cat, hugged the dog, and hugged the little goat, tied to his post in the clover yard and trying so hard to get free. The horse, to whom she fed handfuls of grass, had been already hugged. She did that the first thing after strangling Uncle Ephraim as she alighted from the train, and some from the car window saw it, too, smiling at what they termed the charming simplicity of an enthusiastic schoolgirl. Blessed youth! blessed early girlhood, surrounded by a halo of rare beauty! It was Katy's shield and buckler, warding off many a cold criticism which might otherwise have been passed upon her.
They were sitting down to dinner now, and the deacon's voice trembled as, with the blessing invoked, he thanked God for bringing back to them the little girl, whose head was for a moment bent reverently, but quickly lifted itself up as its owner, in the same breath with that in which the deacon uttered his amen, declared how hungry she was, and went into rhapsodies over the nicely cooked viands which loaded the table. The best bits were hers that day, and she refused nothing until it came to Aunt Betsy's onions, once her special delight, but now declined, greatly to the distress of the old lady, who, having been on the watch for "quirks," as she styled any departure from long-established customs, now knew she had found one, and with an injured expression withdrew the offered bowl, saying sadly: "You used to eat 'em raw, Catherine; what's got into you?"
It was the first time Aunt Betsy had called a name so obnoxious to Kate, especially when, as in the present case, great emphasis was laid upon the "rine," and from past experience Katy knew that her good aunt was displeased. Her first impulse was to accept the dish refused; but when she remembered her reason for refusing, she said, laughingly: "Excuse me, Aunt Betsy, I love them still, but--but--well, the fact is, I am going by and by to run over and see Cousin Morris, inasmuch as he was not polite enough to come here, and you know it might not be so pleasant."
"The land!" and Aunt Betsy brightened. "If that's all, eat 'em. 'Tain't noways likely you'll get near enough to him to make any difference--only turn your head when you shake hands."
But Katy remained incorrigible, while Helen, who guessed that her impulsive sister w as contemplating a warmer greeting of the doctor than a mere shaking of his hands, kindly turned the conversation by telling how Morris was improved by his tour abroad, and how much the poor people thought of him.
"He is very fine looking, too," she said, whereupon Katy involuntarily exclaimed: "I wonder if he is as handsome as Wilford Cameron? Oh, I never wrote about him, did I?" and the little maiden began to blush as she stirred her tea industriously.
"Who is Wilford Cameron?" asked Mrs. Lennox.
"Oh, he's Wilford Cameron, that's all; lives on Fifth Avenue--is a lawyer--is very rich--a friend of Mrs. Woodhull, and was with us in our travels," Katy answered, rapidly, the red burning on her cheeks so brightly that Aunt Betsy innocently passed her a big feather fan, saying she looked mighty hot.
And Katy was warm, but whether from talking of Wilford Cameron or not none could tell. She said no more of him, but went on to speak of Morris, asking if it were true, as she had heard, that he built the new church in Silverton.
"Yes, and runs it, too," Aunt Betsy answered, energetically, proceeding to tell what goin's-on they had, with the minister shiftin' his clothes every now and ag'in, and the folks all talkin' together. "Morris got me in once," she said, "and I thought meetin' was left out half a dozen times, so much histin' round as there was. I'd as soon go to a show, if it was a good one, and I told Morris so. He laughed and said I'd feel different when I knew 'em better; but needn't tell me that prayers made up is as good as them as isn't, though Morris, I do believe, will get to heaven a long ways ahead of me, if he is a 'Piscopal."
To this there was no response, and being launched on her favorite topic, Aunt Betsy continued: "If you'll believe it, Helen here is one of 'em, and has got a sight of 'Piscopal quirks into her head. Why, she and Morris sing that talkin'-like singin' Sundays when the folks git up and Helen plays the accordeon."
"Melodeon, aunty, melodeon," and Helen laughed merrily at her aunt's mistake, turning the conversation again, and this time to Canandaigua, where she had some acquaintances.
But Katy was so much afraid of Canandaigua, and what talking of it might lead to, that she kept to Cousin Morris, asking innumerable questions about him, his house and grounds, and whether there were as many flowers there now as there used to be in the days when she and Helen went to say their lessons at Linwood, as they had done before Morris sailed for Europe.
"I think it right mean in him not to be here to see me," she said, poutingly, "and I am going over as quick as I eat my dinner."
But against this all exclaimed at once. She was too tired, the mother said. She must lie down and rest, while Helen suggested that she had not yet told them about her trip, and Uncle Ephraim remarked that she would not find Morris home, as he was going that afternoon to Spencer. This last settled it. Katy must stay at home; but instead of lying down or talking much about her journey, she explored every nook and crevice of the old house and barn, finding the nest Aunt Betsy had so long looked for in vain, and proving to the anxious dame that she was right when she insisted that the speckled hen had stolen her nest and was in the act of setting. Later in the day, and a neighbor passing by spied the little maiden riding in the cart off into the meadow, where she sported like a child among the mounds of fragrant hay, playing her jokes upon the sober deacon, who smiled fondly upon her, feeling how much lighter the labor seemed because she was there with him, a hindrance instead of a help, in spite of her efforts to handle the rake skillfully.
"Are you glad to have me home again, Uncle Eph?" she asked, when once she caught him regarding her with a peculiar look.
"Yes, Katy-did, very glad," he answered. "I've missed you every day, though you do nothing much but bother me."
"Why did you look funny at me just now?" Katy continued, and the deacon replied: "I was thinking how hard it would be for such a highty-tighty thing as you to meet the crosses and disappointments which lie all along the road which you must travel. I should hate to see your young life crushed out of you, as young lives sometimes are."
"Oh, never fear for me. I am going to be happy all my life long. Wilford Cameron said I ought to be," and Katy tossed into the air a wisp of the new-made hay.
"I don't know who Wilford Cameron is, but there's no ought about it," the deacon rejoined. "God marks out the path for us to walk in, and when he says it's best, we know it is, though some are straight and pleasant and others crooked and hard."
"I'll choose the straight and pleasant, then--why shouldn't I?" Kate asked, laughingly, as she seated herself upon a rock near which the hay cart had stopped.
"Can't tell what path you'll take," the deacon answered. "God knows whether you'll go easy through the world, or whether he'll send you suffering to purify and make you better."
"Purified by suffering," Kate said aloud, while a shadow involuntarily crept for an instant over her gay spirits.
She could not believe she was to be purified by suffering. She had never done anything very bad, and humming a part of a song learned from Wilford Cameron, she fol lowed after the loaded cart, returning slowly to the house, thinking to herself that there must be something great and good in the suffering which should purify at last, but hoping she was not the one to whom this great good should come.
It was supper time ere long, and after that was over Kate announced her intention of going now to Linwood, Morris' home, whether he were there or not.
"I can see the housekeeper and the birds and flowers, and maybe he will come pretty soon," she said, as she swung her straw hat by the string and started from the door.
"Ain't Helen going with you?" Aunt Hannah asked, while Helen herself looked a little surprised.
But Katy would rather go alone. She had a heap to tell Cousin Morris, and Helen could go next time.
"Just as you like;" Helen answered, good-naturedly; but there was a half-dissatisfied, wistful look on her face as she watched her young sister tripping across the fields to call on Morris Grant.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Marcia Schuyler (Novel)

The sun was already up and the grass blades were twinkling with sparkles of dew, as Marcia stepped from the kitchen door.
She wore a chocolate calico with little sprigs of red and white scattered over it, her hair was in smooth brown braids down her back, and there was a flush on her roun d cheeks that might have been but the reflection of the rosy light in the East. Her face was as untroubled as the summer morning, in its freshness, and her eyes as dreamy as the soft clouds that hovered upon the horizon uncertain where they were to be sent for the day.
Marcia walked lightly through the grass, and the way behind her sparkled again like that of the girl in the fairy-tale who left jewels wherever she passed.
A rail fence stopped her, which she mounted as though it had been a steed to carry her onward, and sat a moment looking at the beauty of the morning, her eyes taking on that far-away look that annoyed her stepmother when she wanted her to hurry with the dishes, or finish a long seam before it was time to get supper.
She loitered but a moment, for her mind was full of business, and she wished to accomplish much before the day was done. Swinging easily down to the other side of the fence she moved on through the meadow, over another fence, and another meadow, skirting the edge of a cool little strip of woods which lured her with its green mysterious shadows, its whispering leaves, and twittering birds. One wistful glance she gave into the sweet silence, seeing a clump of maiden-hair ferns rippling their feathery locks in the breeze. Then resolutely turning away she sped on to the slope of Blackberry Hill.
It was not a long climb to where the blackberries grew, and she was soon at work, the great luscious berries dropping into her pail almost with a touch. But while she worked the vision of the hills, the sheep meadow below, the river winding between the neighboring farms, melted away, and she did not even see the ripe fruit before her, because she was planning the new frock she was to buy with these berries she had come to pick.
Pink and white it was to be; she had seen it in the store the last time she went for sugar and spice. There were dainty sprigs of pink over the white ground, and every berry that dropped into her bright pail was no longer a berry but a sprig of pink chintz. While she worked she went over her plans for the day.
There had been busy times at the old house during the past weeks. Kate, her elder sister, was to be married. It was only a few days now to the wedding.
There had been a whole year of preparation: spinning and weaving and fine sewing. The smooth white linen lay ready, packed between rose leaves and lavender. There had been yards and yards of tatting and embroidery made by the two girls for the trousseau, and the village dressmaker had spent days at the house, cutting, fitting, shirring, till now there was a goodly array of gorgeous apparel piled high upon bed, and chairs, and hanging in the closets of the great spare bedroom. The outfit was as fine as that made for Patience Hartrandt six months before, and Mr. Hartrandt had given his one daughter all she had asked for in the way of a "setting out." Kate had seen to it that her things were as fine as Patience's,--but, they were all for Kate!
Of course, that was right! Kate was to be married, not Marcia, and everything must make way for that. Marcia was scarcely more than a child as yet, barely seventeen. No one thought of anything new for her just then, and she did not expect it. But into her heart there had stolen a longing for a new frock herself amid all this finery for Kate. She had her best one of course. That was good, and pretty, and quite nice enough to wear to the wedding, and her stepmother had taken much relief in the thought that Marcia would need nothing during the rush of getting Kate ready.
But there were people coming to the house every day, especially in the afternoons, friends of Kate, and of her stepmother, to be shown Kate's wardrobe, and to talk things over curiously. Marcia could not wear her best dress all the time. And he was coming! That was the way Marcia always denominated the prospective bridegroom in her mind.
His name was David Spafford, and Kate often called him Dave, but Marcia, even to herself, could never bring herself to breathe the name so familiarly. She held him in great awe. He was so fine and strong and good, with a face like a young saint in some old picture, she thought. She often wondered how her wild, sparkling sister Kate dared to be so familiar with him. She had ventured the thought once when she watched Kate dressing to go out with some young people and preening herself like a bird of Paradise before the glass. It all came over her, the vanity and frivolousness of the life that Kate loved, and she spoke out with conviction: "Kate, you'll have to be very different when you're married." Kate had faced about amusedly and asked why.
"Because he is so good," Marcia had replied, unable to explain further.
"Oh, is that all?" said the daring sister, wheeling back to the glass. "Don't you worry; I'll soon take that out of him."
But Kate's indifference had never lessened her young sister's awe of her prospective brother-in-law. She had listened to his conversations with her father during the brief visits he had made, and she had watched his face at church while he and Kate sang together as the minister lined it out: "Rock of Ages cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee," a new song which had just been written. And she had mused upon the charmed life Kate would lead. It was wonderful to be a woman and be loved as Kate was loved, thought Marcia.
So in all the hurry no one seemed to think much about Marcia, and she was not satisfied with her brown delaine afternoon dress. Truth to tell, it needed letting down, and there was no more left to let down. It made her feel like last year to go about in it with her slender ankles so plainly revealed. So she set her heart upon the new chintz.
Now, with Marcia, to decide was to do. She did not speak to her stepmother about it, for she knew it would be useless; neither did she think it worth while to go to her father, for she knew that both his wife and Kate would find it out and charge her with useless expense just now when there wer e so many other uses for money, and they were anxious to have it all flow their way. She had an independent spirit, so she took the time that belonged to herself, and went to the blackberry patch which belonged to everybody.
Marcia's fingers were nimble and accustomed, and the sun was not very high in the heavens when she had finished her task and turned happily toward the village. The pails would not hold another berry.
Her cheeks were glowing with the sun and exercise, and little wisps of wavy curls had escaped about her brow, damp with perspiration. Her eyes were shining with her purpose, half fulfilled, as she hastened down the hill.
Crossing a field she met Hanford Weston with a rake over his shoulder and a wide-brimmed straw hat like a small shed over him. He was on his way to the South meadow. He blushed and greeted her as she passed shyly by. When she had passed he paused and looked admiringly after her. They had been in the same classes at school all winter, the girl at the head, the boy at the foot. But Hanford Weston's father owned the largest farm in all the country round about, and he felt that did not so much matter. He would rather see Marcia at the head anyway, though there never had been the slightest danger that he would take her place. He felt a sudden desire now to follow her. It would be a pleasure to carry those pails that she bore as if they were mere featherweights.
He watched her long, elastic step for a moment, considered the sun in the sky, and his father's command about the South meadow, and then strode after her.
It did not take long to reach her side, swiftly as she had gone.
As well as he could, with the sudden hotness in his face and the tremor in his throat, he made out to ask if he might carry her burden for her. Marcia stopped annoyed. She had forgotten all about him, though he was an attractive fellow, sometimes called by the girls "handsome Hanford."
She had been planning exactly how that pink sprigged chintz was to be made, and which parts she would cut first in order to save time and material. She did not wish to be interrupted. The importance of the matter was too great to be marred by the appearance of just a schoolmate whom she might meet every day, and whom she could so easily "spell down." She summoned her thoughts from the details of mutton-leg sleeves and looked the boy over, to his great confusion. She did not want him along, and she was considering how best to get rid of him.
"Weren't you going somewhere else?" she asked sweetly. "Wasn't there a rake over your shoulder? What have you done with it?"
The culprit blushed deeper.
"Where were you going?" she demanded.
"To the South meadow," he stammered out.
"Oh, well, then you must go back. I shall do quite well, thank you. Your father will not be pleased to have you neglect your work for me, though I'm much obliged I'm sure."
Was there some foreshadowing of her womanhood in the decided way she spoke, and the quaint, prim set of her head as she bowed him good morning and went on her way once more? The boy did not understand. He only felt abashed, and half angry that she had ordered him back to work; and, too, in a tone that forbade him to take her memory with him as he went. Nevertheless her image lingered by the way, and haunted the South meadow all day long as he worked.
Marcia, unconscious of the admiration she had stirred in the boyish heart, went her way on fleet feet, her spirit one with the sunny morning, her body light with anticipation, for a new frock of her own choice was yet an event in her life.
She had thought many times, as she spent long hours putting delicate stitches into her sister's wedding garments, how it would seem if they were being made for her. She had whiled away many a dreary seam by thinking out, in a sort of dream-story, how she would put on this or that at will if it were her own, and go here or there, and have people love and admire her as they did Kate. It would never come true, of course. She never expected to be admired and loved like Kate. Kate was beautiful, bright and gay. Everybody loved her, no matter how she treated them. It was a matter of course for Kate to have everything she wanted. Marcia felt that she never could attain to such heights. In the first place she considered her own sweet serious face with its pure brown eyes as exceedingly plain. She could not catch the lights that played at hide and seek in her eyes when she talked with animation. Indeed few saw her at her best, because she seldom talked freely. It was only with certain people that she could forget herself.
She did not envy Kate. She was proud of her sister, and loved her, though there was an element of anxiety in the love. But she never thought of her many faults. She felt that they were excusable because Kate was Kate. It was as if you should find fault with a wild rose because it carried a thorn. Kate was set about with many a thorn, but amid them all she bloomed, her fragrant pink self, as apparently unconscious of the many pricks she gave, and as unconcerned, as the flower itself.
So Marcia never thought to be jealous that Kate had so many lovely things, and was going out into the world to do just as she pleased, and lead a charmed life with a man who was greater in the eyes of this girl than any prince that ever walked in fairy-tale. But she saw no harm in playing a del ightful little dream-game of "pretend" now and then, and letting her imagination make herself the beautiful, admired, elder sister instead of the plain younger one.
But this morning on her way to the village store with her berries she thought no more of her sister's things, for her mind was upon her own little frock which she would purchase with the price of the berries, and then go home and make.
A whole long day she had to herself, for Kate and her stepmother were gone up to the neighboring town on the packet to make a few last purchases.
She had told no one of her plans, and was awake betimes in the morning to see the travellers off, eager to have them gone that she might begin to carry out her plan.
Just at the edge of the village Marcia put down the pails of berries by a large flat stone and sat down for a moment to tidy herself. The lacing of one shoe had come untied, and her hair was rumpled by exercise. But she could not sit long to rest, and taking up her burdens was soon upon the way again.
Mary Ann Fothergill stepped from her own gate lingering till Marcia should come up, and the two girls walked along side by side. Mary Ann had stiff, straight, light hair, and high cheek bones. Her eyes were light and her eyelashes almost white. They did not show up well beneath her checked sunbonnet. Her complexion was dull and tanned. She was a contrast to Marcia with her clear red and white skin. She was tall and awkward and wore a linsey-woolsey frock as though it were a meal sack temporarily appropriated. She had the air of always trying to hide her feet and hands. Mary Ann had some fine qualities, but beauty was not one of them. Beside her Marcia's delicate features showed clear-cut like a cameo, and her every movement spoke of patrician blood.
Mary Ann regarded Marcia's smooth brown braids enviously. Her own sparse hair barely reached to her shoulders, and straggled about her neck helplessly and hopelessly, in spite of her constant efforts.
"It must be lots of fun at your house these days," said Mary Ann wistfully. "Are you most ready for the wedding?"
Marcia nodded. Her eyes were bright. She could see the sign of the village store just ahead and knew the bolts of new chintz were displaying their charms in the window.
"My, but your cheeks do look pretty," admired Mary Ann impulsively. "Say, how many of each has your sister got?"
"Two dozens," said Marcia conscious of a little swelling of pride in her breast. It was not every girl that had such a setting out as her sister .
"My!" sighed Mary Ann. "And outside things, too. I 'spose she's got one of every color. What are her frocks? Tell me about them. I've been up to Dutchess county and just got back last night, but Ma wrote Aunt Tilly that Mis' Hotchkiss said her frocks was the prettiest Miss Hancock's ever sewed on."
"We think they are pretty," admitted Marcia modestly. "There's a sprigged chin--" here she caught herself, remembering, and laughed. "I mean muslin-de-laine, and a blue delaine, and a blue silk----"
"My! silk!" breathed Mary Ann in an ecstasy of wonder. "And what's she going to be married in?"
"White," answered Marcia, "white satin. And the veil was mother's--our own mother's, you know."
Marcia spoke it reverently, her eyes shining with something far away that made Mary Ann think she looked like an angel.
"Oh, my! Don't you just envy her?"
"No," said Marcia slowly; "I think not. At least--I hope not. It wouldn't be right, you know. And then she's my sister and I love her dearly, and it's nearly as nice to have one's sister have nice things and a good time as to have them one's self."
"You're good," said Mary Ann decidedly as if that were a foregone conclusion. "But I should envy her, I just should. Mis' Hotchkiss told Ma there wa'nt many lots in life so all honey-and-dew-prepared like your sister's. All the money she wanted to spend on clo'es, and a nice set out, and a man as handsome as you'll find anywhere, and he's well off too, ain't he? Ma said she heard he kept a horse and lived right in the village too, not as how he needed to keep one to get anywhere, either. That's what I call luxury--a horse to ride around with. And then Mr. What's-his-name? I can't remember. Oh, yes, Spafford. He's good, and everybody says he won't make a bit of fuss if Kate does go around and have a good time. He'll just let her do as she pleases. Only old Grandma Doolittle says she doesn't believe it. She thinks every man, no matter how good he is, wants to manage his wife, just for the name of it. She says your sister'll have to change her ways or else there'll be trouble. But that's Grandma! Everybody knows her. She croaks! Ma says Kate's got her nest feathered well if ever a girl had. My! I only wish I had the same chance!"
Marcia held her head a trifle high when Mary Ann touched upon her sister's personal character, but they were nearing the store, and everybody knew Mary Ann was blunt. Poor Mary Ann! She meant no harm. She was but repeating the village gossip. Besides, Marcia must give her mind to sprigged chint z. There was no time for discussions if she would accomplish her purpose before the folks came home that night.
"Mary Ann," she said in her sweet, prim way that always made the other girl stand a little in awe of her, "you mustn't listen to gossip. It isn't worth while. I'm sure my sister Kate will be very happy. I'm going in the store now, are you?" And the conversation was suddenly concluded.
Mary Ann followed meekly watching with wonder and envy as Marcia made her bargain with the kindly merchant, and selected her chintz. What a delicious swish the scissors made as they went through the width of cloth, and how delightfully the paper crackled as the bundle was being wrapped! Mary Ann did not know whether Kate or Marcia was more to be envied.
"Did you say you were going to make it up yourself?" asked Mary Ann.
Marcia nodded.
"Oh, my! Ain't you afraid? I would be. It's the prettiest I ever saw. Don't you go and cut both sleeves for one arm. That's what I did the only time Ma ever let me try." And Mary Ann touched the package under Marcia's arm with wistful fingers.
They had reached the turn of the road and Mary Ann hoped that Marcia would ask her out to "help," but Marcia had no such purpose.
"Well, good-bye! Will you wear it next Sunday?" she asked.
"Perhaps," answered Marcia breathlessly, and sped on her homeward way, her cheeks bright with excitement.
In her own room she spread the chintz out upon the bed and with trembling fingers set about her task. The bright shears clipped the edge and tore off the lengths exultantly as if in league with the girl. The bees hummed outside in the clover, and now and again buzzed between the muslin curtains of the open window, looked in and grumbled out again. The birds sang across the meadows and the sun mounted to the zenith and began its downward march, but still the busy fingers worked on. Well for Marcia's scheme that the fashion of the day was simple, wherein were few puckers and plaits and tucks, and little trimming required, else her task would have been impossible.
Her heart beat high as she tried it on at last, the new chintz that she had made. She went into the spare room and stood before the long mirror in its wide gilt frame that rested on two gilt knobs standing out from the wall like giant rosettes. She had dared to make the skirt a little longer than that of her best frock. It was almost as long as Kate's, and for a moment she lingered, sweeping backward and forward before the glass and admiring herself in the long graceful folds. She caught up her braids in the fashion that Kate wore her hair and smiled at the reflection of herself in the mirror. How funny it seemed to think she would soon be a woman like Kate. When Kate was gone they would begin to call her "Miss" sometimes. Somehow she did not care to look ahead. The present seemed enough. She had so wrapped her thoughts in her sister's new life that her own seemed flat and stale in comparison.
The sound of a distant hay wagon on the road reminded her that the sun was near to setting. The family carryall would soon be coming up the lane from the evening packet. She must hurry and take off her frock and be dressed before they arrived.
Marcia was so tired that night after supper that she was glad to slip away to bed, without waiting to hear Kate's voluble account of her day in town, the beauties she had seen and the friends she had met.
She lay down and dreamed of the morrow, and of the next day, and the next. In strange bewilderment she awoke in the night and found the moonlight streaming full into her face. Then she laughed and rubbed her eyes and tried to go to sleep again; but she could not, for she had dreamed that she was the bride herself, and the words of Mary Ann kept going over and over in her mind. "Oh, don't you envy her?" Did she envy her sister? But that was wicked. It troubled her to think of it, and she tried to banish the dream, but it would come again and again with a strange sweet pleasure.
She lay wondering if such a time of joy would ever come to her as had come to Kate, and whether the spare bed would ever be piled high with clothes and fittings for her new life. What a wonderful thing it was anyway to be a woman and be loved!
Then her dreams blended again with the soft perfume of the honeysuckle at the window, and the hooting of a young owl.

The moon dropped lower, the bright stars paled, dawn stole up through the edges of the woods far away and awakened a day that was to bring a strange transformation over Marcia's life.
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