And other Sketches
Seranus (Susie Frances Harrison)
How the Mr. Foxleys Came, Stayed and Never Went Away.
There flows in Western Canada, by which I mean a region east of the Saskatchewan and west of the Thousand Islands, a singular and beautiful stream. It is beautiful because it is narrow, undulating and shallow, because it has graceful curves and rounded bends, because its banks are willow-clad and its bed boulder-strewn, because it flows along between happy farms and neat white villages, because at one spot, it boasts a picturesque and ruined mill and a moss-covered bridge and because—chiefly because—it is above all things—placid. The mind familiar with our Canadian streams will easily understand then, that if these be its attributes of beauty, they also attest to its claim of singularity. For the Canadian river is seldom placid, but oftener seething and steaming and foaming; or else deep and dark and dangerous with many a mighty gorge and tumbling cascade, wide and lonely and monotonous for the most part; pine hung down to the very edge, black and lowering, or displaying waving wisps of dry gray foliage that only resembles human hair. What a contrast, then, does this cherished river I speak of, afford! No local Laureate has yet written it up, though picnic parties used to gather themselves together on its banks and in its well-wooded shades, defiling everything they touched from bark to each, leaving bits of bread here, dead pie there, buttering the leaves, peppering the grass, salting the stones, and scattering greasy crumpled paper—PAPER—PAPER—everywhere. That is what picnic parties do all over the world, and with such gusto all [page 98] of them, even the Sunday-schools, Dorcases, W. C. T. U’s. and all the rest of them, that I really think it must be intended as a serious part of the Picnicker’s Ritual and forms very likely a peace-offering or sacrifice of propitiation towards some unknown God. I don’t think the Druids left paper about underneath their oaks. But presumably they left worse. Well, if as yet, this river I love so well has not been immortalized in fiction, travels or verse, it has however attracted the attention of several gifted members of the Royal Academy—Royal Canadian of course, who have from time to time invaded its peaceful shores and stuffing themselves into adjacent if inconvenient farmhouses, sketched it in water and oil, in the common-place pencil, and the more ambitious charcoal. The results are charming and you may see then any day in the studios of our foremost artists or in the picture dealers’ windows or haply on the terra-cotta tinted walls of our esteemed collectors, the retired grocers of Montreal, or the aesthetic lawyers of a more western and more ambitious city. Still though the sketches are charming both in conception and execution, I, were I a Canadian artist, eager to secure Canadian subjects for my pencil, would hardly choose this particular river as one likely to give them most correct idea of Canadian scenery. No, I would chose the St. Maurice or the Richelieu, the Lièvre or the Saguenay, the Ottawa or portions of the St. Lawrence, with the grim Azoic rocks, the turbulent rapids and the sombre pines. What a superb river system it is? Tell them off on your fingers and you’ll have to go on borrowing from them afterwards and then all over again. Think of all those rivers that cluster in the French Canada and feed the mighty Gulf of St. Lawrence. There are the Ottawa, the Gatineau, the Rideau, the Richelieu, the Lièvre, the Matanne, the Metapedia, the Metis, the Saguenay. Those are the ones we know. Then look at the Peribonka, the Maniconagan, all the Ste. Anne’s, all the Rouge or Red rivers, the Du Moine, the Coalonge, the Vermillion, the St. Francis. Then, look at that cluster of great Saxon named streams, the Churchill, the Nelson, the Severn, the English, the Albany! Lastly, glance at the magnificent Saskatchewan with the historic streams of Battle and Qu’Appelle Rivers! And now I have omitted the Athabasca, the Peace, the Moose, and the Assiniboine! There is no end to them; they defy enumeration while they invite it.
Now, most of these Canadian rivers are Azoic in character; hence their grim and formidable beauty. But my river has [page 99] nothing the least Azoic about it. It belongs to a more recent, a more comfortable, more placid, more satisfying formation. It is as idyllic a stream as any English one that Tennyson noted in a contemplative ramble to work up later into the “Brook.”
Crossing the moss-grown bridge I have alluded to, a gradual ascent presents itself on the opposite side, of firm white road well macadamized and leading through small neat low houses, each with a little garden in front, to a church with a needle-like spire on the top of the hill, and the parson’s house adjoining. On a June day, for example, it made a pleasant picture. Pastoral and prosperous the landscape, contented the people on foot, in the fields, at the windows, and most delightful of all—a certain Old World haze hanging over it.
This is what struck the Mr. Foxleys, driving out slowly from the town one Saturday afternoon. George, the elder, pale with dark hair, lay back in the phaeton with folded arms. Joseph, the younger, fair-haired and freckled, sat up, driving. They had hardly exchanged a word since entering the phaeton. For eight miles they had proceeded in almost perfect silence. This did not mean that they were out of sorts, or not on pleasant terms with one another. On the contrary, it proved that they were the very best of friends, and never bored each other. I may as well say at once that they were Englishmen, which was easy to gather from their picturesque and unusual attire of neat gray small-clothes meeting gray stockings at the knee, low white shoes, a striped blue and white flannel shirt and canoe-shaped hats of gray, each bearing a snow-white “puggree” with blue and gold fringed ends. Such was the outward adorning of the Mr. Foxleys. Behind the phaeton ran a pretty brown retriever answering to the name of “Bess,” and laid across the floor of the little carriage were a couple of walking canes, a couple of fishing rods and a gun case strapped together, while under the seat was a medium-sized portmanteau, and a peculiar long box with a leather handle. The eight miles having been traversed by them in silence, George, the elder, broke it by remarking, as they slackened their pace, before advancing over the bridge, “This is better.”
“Very much so. Rather. I should think so,” answered Jospeh, the younger, who had a slightly more lively manner than his brother, and very laughing eyes. “It looks a little more like the—the Old Country.” [page 100]
The elder brother made no reply. A kind of weary smile flitted across his face instead.
“It’s a little bit after—Devonshire, don’t you think?” went on Joseph, surveying the green meadows, the neat painted fences, the sleeping cows, the rising uplands in the distance leaning lovingly next to the sky, the bridge, the distant church, and the placid narrow river with the overhanging willows and the stony amber floor.
“A long way after,” said George, without unfolding his arms or looking around him at all. He was gazing straight before him.
“But you don’t half see the beauty of it,” said the younger brother, stopping the horse and standing up in the phaeton, “especially after that horrid eight miles of half-cleared ugly stumpy stubble! This is really beautiful, such soft lines you know and little corners—oh! quite English!” Some of his enthusiasm reached the quieter brother, who apparently roused himself and looked around as directed. A faint pink came into his pale cheeks, a new gleam into the weary eyes, “Well, it is better, as I said before—you’ll remember, I noticed it first—but not English.” “Well, not English altogether, of course, I know,” said Joseph gathering up his reins, “but its a jolly spot enough whatever it is, and—I say, look at that now, that oak, on the other side of the road, in front of that little cottage, we’ll be up with it now in a minute.
By Jove, what a splendid tree!” Now I do not in the least wonder at the Mr. Foxleys stopping opposite this mighty oak to admire it, because I myself am quite familiar with it and have seen it scores of times, and must agree with them in pronouncing it one of the finest trees I have ever seen anywhere. Of course it has no story attached to it that the world knows, at least it never talked that I am aware of, never hid or screened anybody of importance—or anything of that sort—so naturally it has little or no interest about it. And yet, for that very reason, it is so much easier to think of it as a tree, to consider it and admire it, and learn to love and understand it just as a tree. So the Mr. Foxleys thought, as they gazed at its monstrous trunk, its glorious branches of deep, dark glossy green with here and there an upstart arm of glowing bronze or a smaller shoot of younger yellow.
“It might have grown in the Manor Park!” said the younger brother airily with a keen sense of pleasure in the suggestion. [page 101]
“It might have grown in the Manor Park, as you say, rejoined the other brother gravely.
Then they went on again, slowly up the hill, that they might the better examine the church, the parsonage and the road beyond. What they wanted now was an Inn. Presently they espied one, just on the other side of a tiny bridge spanning a tinier brook. It was no upstart brick building of flaring red with blind white windows and a door flush with the street, a dirty stable at one side and a ragged kitchen garden at the other. But low and white and irregular with a verandah running along in front, it had red curtains that would draw over the lower halves of the windows and hints of chintz at the upper portions; the door was open and revealed a tall clock in the hall, a stand of flowers, and a cat asleep in a large round chair; at one side a flight of steps led down to the kitchen door at which a buxom maid in bare arms stood in a pink gown and a pinker face, and at the other side was the boarded square that held the pump—the village pump—around which were gathered five or six bare-footed children, the hostler of the Inn, the village butcher, tailor, and cobbler. A sign swung out from the verandah.
“The Ipswich Inn, by M. Cox,” said the younger Mr. Foxley. Then he looked at his brother. His brother looked at him. They understood one another at once, and Joseph pulled up in good style at the door. The hostler, dressed in old corduroy and with a fiddle under his arm, sprang forward to assist them. He dropped his H’s. “Delightful,” cried Mr. Joseph. So did the landlady, a cheery person of about fifty in a silk apron. The brothers were so content that they remained all night, “to look at the place.”
Next morning, endless surprises awaited and greeted them. They found that the large room in front was a kind of drawing-room, in which rose-leaves, china bowls, old engravings, a shining mahogany book-case, and a yellow-keyed piano atoned for the shortcomings of funeral horsehair and home-made carpets. They thought it on the whole a charming room, only to be eclipsed by the kitchen. For the kitchen, which was underneath the ground floor and nearly the entire size of the house, was therefore very spacious and comfortable, possessing three large pantries and an out-house or summer kitchen; besides, moreover, it was dark-raftered, ham-hung, with willow-pattern slates in a neat dresser, and peacock feathers over the high mantel: with, in one corner—the [page 102] darkest—a covered well, into which I used to see myself the beautiful golden pats of butter lowered twice a week in summer time. One window, a small one, curtained with chintz and muslin drawn on a string, looked out on a small terraced garden at the back leading to an orchard; the other window, large and long, with twelve small panes and no curtains at all, adjoined the door opening on the court or yard at the side of the house. This yard was paved irregularly with grey stone slabs, between which the grass had wedged itself, with an occasional root of the persistent and omnipresent dandelion; it contained a cistern, a table with flower-pots, a parrot in one cage, a monkey in another, garden implements, rods, buckets, tins and tubs! A pleasant untidiness prevailed in the midst of irreproachably clean and correct surroundings, and the Mr. Foxleys having finished their breakfast up-stairs in the public dining-room—a bare, almost ugly apartment, devoid of anything in furniture or appointments to make it homelike, except a box of mignonette set in the side-window, looked longingly out at the little paved court-yard beneath. They had had the most delicious rasher of ham, eggs sans peur et sans reproche, some new and mysterious kind of breakfast cake, split and buttered while hot, and light and white inside as it was golden and glazed outside, and three glasses of fresh milk each! They had been waited on by the buxom girl in a blue gown this time, against which her arms looked pinker than ever, and during the meal the landlady of the inn had looked in, with her hands too floury and her mind too full of coming loaves to do more than inquire generally as to their comfort. Looking over the mignonette, Mr. Joseph Foxley espied her presently talking to the parrot and tending the monkey. This was more than the frivolous Mr. Joseph could stand. He took his brother and made a tour of the house accordingly, discovering in turn as I have said the drawing-room, the kitchen, the court-yard, the garden and orchard and lastly the bar! That proved the most comfortable, most enticing room of all. More red curtains, at the windows and over one door, an old-fashioned hearth paved with red brick and bearing even in June a couple of enormous logs against the possible cold of a rainy evening, two cases of stuffed birds, a buffalo’s head over the fireplace, colored prints of Love Lies Bleeding, Stocks and Bachelor’s Buttons, and over all, that odour of hot lemons and water, with something spirituous beyond, that completely won the refractory heart of the elder Mr. [page 103] Foxley and caused him to drop down in a chair by the hearth with an incoherent expression of wonder and relief that did not escape his brother.
“How long shall we say, George,” he asked. “She will want to know, because there are other men who come out here from town occasionally it seems, and of course it’s only fair to let her know about the room.
What shall I say?” Mr. George Foxley crossed his long legs in evident comfort and took in the entire room in a smiling gaze before he answered. Outside it was beautifully quiet, in front of the house. From the back there came the faintest sounds of crow and cackle and farm-yard stir just audible, from the kitchen rose cheerful laughter, and merry voices, the smell of baking, and a fainter odor of herbs. Milly, the girl, in the blue gown, passed with a milk pail in either hand. She looked in shyly. Mr. Joseph waved his hand gallantly then laughed. Then Mr. George said, very slowly.
“Say? Oh, say that we will take the room—the one we have now, you know—for the rest of the Summer.”
“That is, you will take it and remain here, while I knock about in town and come out on Saturdays or whenever I can,” said Joseph.
“Exactly,” said his brother.
That afternoon Mr. Joseph returned to town in the neat hired phaeton leaving his brother in full possession of the charming and comfortable Inn. In a couple of days he came back, this time in the stage that passed through Ipswich three times a week, and bringing with him a couple of English trunks and a stout portmanteau. Thus the Mr. Foxleys entered upon life in earnest in this dear placid little village, not far from the river described in the beginning of my story. [page 104]
The Mr. Foxleys, after a week’s sojourn or so at the Ipswich Inn, made a mutual discovery. This was, that not only were the landlady of the Inn, her son and the ostler all of English origin and descent, but that the entire village appeared to be populated by people of English extraction. The butcher was an Englishman, the blacksmith was a Cockney answering to the name of ‘Enry Ide, the cobbler was from South Devon somewhere, and the parson was an undergraduate of Oxford. The farmers were mostly Scotch, and the village store-keeper was David Macpherson. The driver of the stage was an Irishman, and the sexton of the pretty church on the hill was an odd product of that odd corner of the world known as the Isle of Man. Certainly the two brothers found and made themselves at home. Milly perhaps was the only native Canadian that came in their way. It was a thoroughly British settlement, and it is a noteworthy fact that the only well-to-do man in the place was an American. It was he who lived in the square, red brick house with white blinds always pulled down, even in soft welcome spring days, and with plaster casts of lions and deer couchant on futile little wooden pedestals in the garden. It was he who owned the new and prosperous mill which had superseded the worn-out one lower down the stream, the old mill that the artists loved, and that reminded the Mr. Foxley’s of home. It was he who owned the only family carriage in the neighborhood, other people had “buggies.” It was his daughter who had been sent to New York for her education—who now appeared in church on Sundays in muslin costumes garnished with a greater number of yards of ribbons in myriads of bows and ends than the village store had ever possessed at one time in its life. It was he who once or twice a year walked as far as the Inn and sitting [page 105] down stiffly in the stiff dining room would hold a short conversation with the landlady on village matters and subjects in general. On these occasions the good woman was secretly amused and not a little bored. She knew gentlemen when she saw them and he was not one—that is, he was not one according to her knowledge of types. The aristocracy of money was as yet a phase unknown to her simple English mind accustomed to move in traditional and accepted groves. So not much interchange of civilities took place between the mill and the Inn. Not for Mr. Simon P. Rattray did the oleanders blossom in the big green tubs and the wall-flowers and mignonette in the windows. Not for him did the Jessamine climb and the one hawthorn tree at the back gate leading to the orchard yield its sweet white May, not for him did the tall clock strike and the parrot talk. Talk!! Why, the only time the creature was ever known to be quiet was when Mr. Simon P. Rattray made his portentous visits twice or three times a year. And as for the hidden sweetness of the drawing-room or the comforts of the kitchen or the fascinations of the bar, Mr. Simon P. Rattray knew nothing whatever about them. He was a total abstainer you see, and the blue ribbon appeared in his buttonhole on certain important ceremonial days and even on Sundays, and he was known to be interested in the fortunes of a cold, dismal little place built of plaster and presided over by a male Methodist just outside the village limits, known as a “Temperance Hotel.” It will be easily gathered that the advent of the Mr. Foxleys did not affect the fortunes of such a person as Mr. Simon P. Rattray, nor was their subsequent career as residents in Ipswich affected in any way by his existence, prejudices or peculiarities. But to the remaining portions of the village, their arrival proved full of interest. The landlady took them to her heart at once. They were gentlemen, she said, and that was enough for her. Her son, a heavy lout, unlike his mother, accepted them as he did everything and everybody by remaining outwardly profoundly unconscious of their existence. The hostler adored them, especially Mr. Joseph; when the latter was there, which he was every Saturday till Monday, he would stroll over the stable with Squires—that was the hostler’s name—joking incessantly, and treating the latter to an occasional cigar. Urbane Mr. Joseph would joke with anybody. Mr. George was more severe and had according to the landlady, the most perfect and distinguished manners. [page 106]
“What they call hawtoor in the Family Herald,” she told Milly, “only I never see it gone too far with.” Milly of course was in love with them both.
In time, the entire village succumbed to the charms of the Mr. Foxleys. The parson called, accompanied by his eldest daughter who was the organist of the choir and chief promoter of the Sunday-school. They found the objects of their social consideration seated outside the kitchen in the little paved yard that had rapidly grown dear. When the brothers appeared upstairs in the drawing-room into which rose-scented and chintz—hung apartment the reverend Mr. and Miss, had been shown in appreciation of their station, Mr. Jospeh had tuned his laughing eye to a decorum as new as it was unnatural. It was a hot day in August and Mr. George was so excessively languid and long and speechless that for his brother conversation would have been an impossibility. But he and the parson soon discovered mutual friends at home, a cousin in the Engineers, and a friendly coach at the University.
“Charles James Foxley? Oh! I knew him well, very well” said the Rev. Mr. Higgs, referring to the latter. “It is a somewhat—ah—unusual name The only other time I remember meeting with the name was once—let me see—it was a meet, I think, at Foxley Manor, in Derbyshire it was, and a very beautiful place.”
“In Nottinghamshire,” said Mr. Joseph smiling. “Yes, that is—or was—our home. My father still resides there.”
“Indeed?” said Mr. ------- “Is it possible! And you have came out here? Really, it is most interesting, most fortunate that you should have chosen our little village, should have pitched your tent so to speak—ah! quite so.”
“My brother likes the country,” said Mr. Joseph.
“Ah! yes, quite so. And there is much to see in this new country, in Canada, much to see. You will remain some time?”
“We will remain as long as it suits my brother,” said Mr. Joseph. “At present, we can hardly tell.”
“Quite so, quite so. I hope—I am sure my daughter concurs in the hope, that we shall see you in church as often as you can come and also—ah! at the Rectory. Such society as we can give you here you may be assured we will endeavor to give with all our—ah! heart to the best of our ability.”
“Thanks very much” returned Mr. Joseph. “I am sure [page 107] my brother and I will be exceedingly glad to go and see you at the Rectory. About church I will say that we never go very regularly anywhere, but when it is’nt too hot, too hot, you know, or too cold, or anything of that short, I am sure we’ll try to turn up there as well.”
The rector smiled indulgently. No call to be hard on the Mr. Foxleys, of Foxley Manor. Miss Maria left the Inn smitten for the fiftieth time.
“I knew I should marry an Englishman,” she exclaimed ecstatically up the road with her father.
“The dark one, oh! the dark one!”
“They are somewhat peculiar young men I fancy, Maria. Of course Mrs. Cox is a very careful and a very good woman and—ah! her place is a very respectable and comfortable one, and the order of travellers one meets, that is, one would meet if one went there, is quite proper indeed, but still, I thought, mind I do not say anything, I do not express any opinion Maria, I simply say, I thought, that they would have smoked for instance in the dinning-room or the, the bar, or on the verandah instead of in that very conspicuous manner just inside the kitchen door.” But this was the first and last stricture that the rector made as to the conduct of the Mr. Foxleys, for by appearing in church two Sundays after his call and spending an evening on the vine-covered verandah of the pretty Rectory, they were speedily entered in the very best books kept by that worthy if slightly common-place gentleman and his gushing daughter.
The next persons of distinction in the village were the Miss Dexters, who lived with their father, at one time a prominent medical man, in the little cottage graced by the presence of the mighty oak which had so charmed the strangers when they first beheld it. Their father was old, very old indeed, and slightly shaken in his mind. He was also an Englishman and the daughters, not daring to enter upon life in town witht heir small income and a helpless old man on their hands into the bargain had retired to the country some ten years before the advent of the Mr. Foxleys. Charlotte the elder was now forty and Ellen over thirty-five. Neither of them had ever been beautiful and now they were more or less pinched and worn in their aspect, but they were gentlewomen, neat and sweet spoken, and capable of offering small evening entertainments of cribbage and hot weak tea with bread and butter with a gracious and well bred air that marked [page 108] them off as people who had seen “better times.” God help such all over the world and thank Him too for the colonies, where such people can retreat without being said to hide, and live down their misfortunes or their follies or their weaknesses, and be of some use to others after a while! It would be hard to say why the Mr. Foxleys went as often as they did, especially Mr. Joseph—to the Miss Dexters for tea. Perhaps the oak had much to do with it.
It had something I am sure, for indeed, it was the most beautiful tree for miles around and it was worth a good deal to sit under its cool shade in the Summer afternoons or to look up into its dark vault in the slowly sucking twilights. I can’t defend Mr. Joseph further than this. For between cribbage and choir practice, Sunday rambles in the woods and rows on the river, the lending of books and the singing of songs, the handing of bread and butter and the drinking of tea, Mr. Joseph had caused both the Miss Dexters to fall hopelessly and indeed fatally in love with him. When the Xmas holidays came, Joseph, who had a clerk-ship in town, spent his vacation naturally at the Inn with his brother, and then ensued a period of very mixed delight for the Miss Dexters.
For the callous Joseph made as violent love to the unresisting Miss Higgs over the Xmas tree and carols as she herself would have chosen to make to Mr. George had she been given the chance.
As for Mr. George, he was just as languid and silent as ever. He hardly ever went into the town at all, but preferred to remain on quietly at the inn, fishing, shooting and taking long walks in the summer days when it was fine, and when it rained, lounging in Mrs. Cox’s kitchen. Here he always had his meals, for the kind friend he had found in his landlady gratified every whim and any fancy he chose to profess, and cooked for him, washed for him and waited on him with unceasing and in fact ever-increasing devotion. Mr. Foxley’s shirts and Mr. Foxley’s socks, Mr. Foxley’s white coats and Mr. Foxley’s jane boots, his dog, his gun, and his effects generally were all sacred, all in irreproachable order, all objects of the greatest value and interest to Mrs. Cox and her niece. You see there were no children in this comfortable ménage and really, when the baking and the washing and the preserving and the churning were all done with early in the day or in the week there remained a good deal of time on Mrs. Cox’s hands, which in her earnest womanly heart she felt she must fill [page 109] up in some way. So it came that all this time and energy and devotion were after a while centred on Mr. George Foxley, late of Foxley Manor, Notts. As for Mr. Joseph, the good woman oftener told him to “go along!” than anything else, for though she liked him, his love of mischief and several practical jokes he had played her which she termed “his ways,” had rendered her cautious and a little distrustful of him. Such an existence proved very charming to all parties concerned, excepting perhaps the Miss Dexters, and their companion in misery, at the rectory. For the worst of it was, Xmas passed and Easter came, and another spring dawned for the pretty little village of Ipswich and found the Mr. Foxleys still there. They never spoke of going away nobody hinted it to them. The impression, natural in the extreme, that they were a couple of wealthy young Englishmen going about for pleasure, who just happening to come to Ipswich and being taken with it had stayed a little longer than they intended, was fast giving way to another. For it was a well-known fact that the Mr. Foxleys did not spend too much money either on themselves or on other people. They paid their way and that was all one could say about them. Squires was not included in this arrangement, however, but was forced to remain content with cigars, cast-off studs and a present at Christmas-time of a collie pup. I grieve to think of those poor Miss Dexters—foolish souls—going without butter on their bread and sugar in their tea that they might have both to offer Mr. Joseph when he might come in airily for a cup, and making their already too thin gowns last another winter, that they might spend a little money on a smoking cap for the same gentleman and a pair of knitted wristlets for his brother, All these tokens of friendship and attachment the brothers accepted in the most charming and unconcerned way and never troubled themselves about returning the compliment as we say. It was quite true that they had not much money, but a little management of what of what they did possess would have left a small sum over each year, which might have been expended on say a pair of fur-lined gloves for Charlotte or a canary for Ellen, who was fond of pets and used to keep Bess with her for days, feeding the unconscious animal for its master’s sake better than she was fed herself. And all this time Mr. Joseph never proposed and never hinted at his prospects or affairs in any way whatever!
The second summer of his stay saw old Mr. Dexter die. [page 110] After his death Ellen drooped visibly. General disgust at life, insufficient food and sleep, and a hopeless passion for Mr. Joseph sapped a naturally weak constitution, and her sister soon realized another bitter shock when she helped Ellen to her bed one sultry September night from which she never rose again. The windows of the cottage were open, and the unhappy girl could see the giant oak outside their door. How often she had sat there with her cruel friend, her hand on his shoulder, and her eyes fixed on his sharp, clear-cut features and laughing eyes! He has seemed so gentle, so earnest, so winning—had talked so cleverly, so hopefully, so gleefully. He had been the sunshine of her life, and alas!—of Charlotte’s too! Each knew the other’s secret, but by intuitive sympathy they had never alluded to it. They referred to him only as “Mr. Joseph,” and on her death-bed Ellen sent her “kindest wishes to Mr. Joseph.” She lingered till near the Christmas season, and then one day a small packet per English mail arrived. They occasionally heard from friends in the Old Country, and this special parcel contained a couple of silk handkerchiefs and a sprig of holly. Charlotte took them up to her in the evening, spreading them out on the bed. Ellen sat up, eagerly pressing the holly to her lips. Alas! what were the recollections it brought that the poor, weak frame and the poor, tired spirit could not brook them? Perhaps—not perhaps—O most certainly, most truly of home and of England; of the mother so long vanished, dimly remembered, almost forgotten; of winding green lanes and of ivied walls, of little solemn churchyards—in none of which she would never lie; of peeps of blue sea from the middle of a wood; of a primrose at the foot of a tree; of the crowded coach and the sounding horn; and lastly of the recreant one whom she could not even call her lover, but who had made her love him so that her very life was eaten away by sickness of fear, of apprehension, of despair!
With the holly pressed to her lips, Ellen Dexter passed out of this world and into another.
Did Mr. Joseph Foxley care? Who knows? I should know if anybody ever did, but I do not hold r. Joseph so very much to blame after all. For a man is often innocent of love-making at the very moment a woman is fancying herself violently in love with him, and fancying, moreover, that he is in love with her. Can anything be more fatal, more pernicious, more terrible? And yet I believe there is nothing more common. There are some [page 111] men who press more tenderly than the requirements of ordinary social intercourse call for or allow, the hand of every woman they meet. They are not necessarily flirts. Perhaps they never go farther than that clinging hand-pressure. It is a relic of the customs of the days of chivalry—a little more and this man will kiss the hand. Let the lady be beautiful, gracious, the hour dusk, or close on midnight, the room a pretty one, and the environment pleasing, he will bend over the hand, and if he does not kiss it he will retain it just long enough to make her wish he had kissed it. If she is a woman of the world she will laugh as she returns the pressure, making it purposely as thrilling as she can—then she will forget it completely the next moment as she dispenses five o’clock tea or late coffee and cake to her husband or brother. But if she be not a woman of the world, then God help her on her tear-wet pillow, or before her slowly-dying fire as she thinks of that hand-pressure. It is enough to last her all her life, she thinks—and yet, should it not come again? But—should it come again! And the pillow is wet with fresh tears, or the brow is prematurely wrinkled watching the decaying embers, while the man—let us do him justice—is as blindly unconscious—unconscious! Why, at that very moment he is making love—what he calls making love—to the woman of his choice, his wife, his mistress, or his fiancée! These are the men who do the most mischief in the world. Your brute, your beast, your groveller in ditches, is not nearly so dangerous. Women recoil from him. They understand him. But the man who presses their hand awakes them, rouses their susceptibility, causes the tender trouble to steal over them that so often ends in grief, or despair, or death! And this is because neither sex is as yet properly trained in the vital duty of responsibility, by which I mean that faculty of self-repression which will cause a woman to try and understand what a man means when he presses her hand, and cause the man to try and understand what a woman feels when he does so. As for poor Ellen Dexter, it is clear that she was not a woman of the world; but her sister Charlotte and Miss Maria at the Rectory, if not precisely women of the world, were yet made of much sterner stuff than she had been, and consequently, after much reflection, decided that they were not going to be made fools of, in village parlance. Miss Maria had, of course, long ago given up Mr. George Foxley altogether.
“He is not human,” she said to her father, “and I don’t believe he is one of the Foxleys of Foxley Manor at all.” [page 112]
“There can be no doubt about that, my dear,” answered the actor. “Difficulties I should say—ah—difficulties have brought these young men out here, but we must do our duty by them, we must do our duty. Their father is a fine old gentleman, and well off, and a stanch Tory, my dear. Patience, my dear Maria. The photographs are quite correct and the seals bear quite the proper crest—ah—quite so.” So Miss Maria transferred her affections to Mr. Joseph. The second Christmas passed away, and a third spring dawned for Ipswich. The Inn was just as comfortable as ever and so were apparently the two Mr. Foxleys but for one fact and that was, Mr. George’s health was not as good as it had been. Always delicate, he had gradually failed, growing more and more languid, more and more whimsical in spite of his comfortable abode and the diligent care of his landlady. Poor Milly! How she worked for him too, between hours, after hours, before hours! When the attacks of pleurisy, painful in the extreme, from which he suffered, came on either in the night or during the day, Milly was always near with her strong young arms, not quite so pink as they used to be, and her quick young eyes, a shade more subtle than they used to be, ready to apprehend and quiet the pain before it came. How Miss Maria at the Rectory and Charlotte Dexter in her lonely cottage would have envied her had they known, but though there were gossips in plenty in the village, nothing that occurred in the rose-scented drawing-room ever went out into that tattling little Ipswichian world.
“Are your young gentlemen with you yet, Mrs. Cox? And one of ’em not over strong? Deary me! that makes it hard for you and the young gal! But you be standing it remarkable well. And gentlemen born you say! They do say that the other one wi’ the specked skin be making fools of Miss Maria up at the Rectory and old Miss Dexter at the cottage. Well! well! Poor Miss Ellen was gone afore we knew it like, poor soul, that was so kind!”
Much of this cunning volubility sprung upon Mrs. Cox in pumping fashion failed to extort from her anything but good-humoured smiles and laughs. If I have not taken the trouble to describe this beloved Mrs. Cox to you before this, it is because I fear you will say the picture is unreal, no such landlady, no such woman could exist out of England. But why not? My story, remember, deals with people and things as they were twenty years ago. Twenty years ago there were such Inns, though few in [page 113] number, to be found in Western Canada—ay—and as English as any that a certain Mrs. Lupin presided over in fascinating fiction, and much more English than many Inns of the present day in England. Twenty years ago there was such a landlady, rosy and plump and cheerful, wearing a flowered gown, a black silk apron and a cap with a purple pansy in it and broad and comfortable lappets, who, when her work was done, would sit in her small private room opposite the bar also hung with red curtains, making patchwork quilts or playing a demure rubber with the Scotch store-keeper, or Irish stage driver, or an occasional gentleman from town. Such was Mrs. Cox, widow of Captain Cox, able seaman, but bad lot, who died when they had been five years in Canada, leaving her with her one child. The public business had attracted her after the loss and she accordingly went into it on the advice of her numerous friends. People who despise her calling need not listen to me if I allude to—for I have not time to recount—all her kindness, her cheerfulness, her powers of dispensing comfort, and warmth, and happiness, and promoting the direct and indirect welfare of everyone who came in her path. By what strange coincidence the brothers Foxley had been led to her glowing fireside and her motherly arms and brimming over with zeal and kindness for the whole human race, does not matter. It is sufficient that they found her and found with her a sense of comparative peace and security which compensated for the one big slice of trouble Fortune had treated them to before their departure from England. For them did the wall flowers bloom and the mignonette at the window, for them did the oleander blossom and the old clock strike, for them did the jessamme climb and the one hawthorn tree yield its annual soft white drift of snow, and yet who shall say that they were altogether unworthy, even, if with that picture of poor Ellen Dexter in my mind, I have to say that they did not deserve it? [page 114]
If Mr. Joseph Foxley had but known the sentiments animating the couple of maiden breasts that awaited his Saturday visits in Ipswich, he would have been genuinely surprised. The truth is Mr. Joseph was rather what is termed a general lover. He liked the sex in its entirety. Collectively he loved all women and belonged to that hand-pressing section of humanity which I have alluded to as mischievous. Were there not at least five young ladies in town, at whose houses he visited, and who were more or less interested in the young Englishman as he in them? Did Miss Charlotte dream of them or Miss Maria at the rectory? If so, they never dared to ask Mr. Joseph to give any account of his doings in town, although they managed to glean what he did with himself in the village. He respected Charlotte Dexter enough to intend at some future day to tell her a little more about himself and his brother than he had yet done; as for Miss Maria, she only bored him and fed his contempt.
“When a rather elderly old girl giggles after everything she says, conversation is difficult and sympathy out of the question,” he had said to his brother! When Mr. Joseph had known these young ladies for four years, Miss Maria took her revenge in her way, that was by marrying the younger brother of Mr. Simon P. Rattray, partner in the mill and the red brick house by the river. The vision of becoming the cherished wife of an English aristocrat and going home to reside in a manor house built in the sixteenth century, with the occasional visits to London and glimpses of the Royal Family had gradually faded, and she accepted the less rose-coloured lot that Mr. Lyman B. Rattray offered her, sitting in her father’s study, with his hair very much brushed up on one side and very much flattened down on the other, a white tie and light-yellow duster adorning his spare person.
Such was the American of those days—twenty years ago—there are none such now I allow. [page 115]
Miss Maria, who was considered “very English,” shuddered as she regarded him.
It so fell out that it being Saturday, Mr. Joseph was just then passing—“kind of happening along” Mr. Rattray would have said—en route to the Inn and his brother, on foot in spite of the dusty road and the hot August sun, clad in trim tight knicker-bockers and carrying an immense bunch of red field lilies, a gun, and a leather satchel over his shoulder. Slight and straight and cool, he looked the picture of a contented cheerful energetic young English man. Along the road he came whistling an old country tune. Miss Maria who had sighted him afar off, begged her visitor’s pardon and went to the window to arrange the blind. How her heart warmed to that cruel Mr. Joseph, how she loved him then just for that last moment! Her heart—that foolish old maid’s heart—beat quickly, beat thickly, she remembered to have read something somewhere about people who could will other people to look at them, to speak to them, to even think of them, to move across a room at their pleasure. If she could but do that! She did try, with her fingers clenched on the blind, and her eyes fixed on Mr. Joseph, she did wish with all her might that he would turn his head and see her at the window and wave his hand gallantly as he had done on one or two previous occasions. Then she would beckon and he would run across and entering the room disconcert this odious Mr. Lyman B. Rattray and put an end to his stony wooing. But alas! for Miss Maria and her mesmeric powers! The harder she tried, the less she succeeded. On came Mr. Joseph, supremely unconscious of the injured heart beating behind the windowpane. At one moment it seemed as if he were about to turn and look in her direction. A very brilliant wild yellow canary crossed over his head and lit on a small shrub just inside the garden paling. Had it remained there, would Miss Maria have ever become the wife of Mr. Lyman B. Rattray? No one knows, for the canary flew away again to the other side of the road and Mr. Joseph’s eyes followed it. In a moment he was past, and the chance was gone forever. Miss Maria left her window and sat down opposite her visitor. There was nothing to keep her now, nothing to give her courage and hope for the future, new fire for her faded eyes, new strength for her jaded limbs. Yet she was only thirty-four. How strange it is that some unmarried women are old at that age, even while living in luxury and surrounded by every care and all affection, while many a married [page 116] woman, though beset with trials and weaknesses and perhaps a brood of restless little ones to pull her gown and get in the way of her busy feet, retains her figure and her step, her smile and her complexion, her temper and her nerves!
It remained for Charlotte Dexter to take her revenge in her way. Going very seldom out of her house, and never visiting at the Inn she was really very ignorant of the doings of either Mr. George or Mr. Joseph Foxley. Towards the one she had never been greatly drawn, for the other she felt all the passion that only a supremely lonely woman can feel in middle age for a man younger than herself who charms her as a child, while he captivates her as a lover. Of Mrs. Cox and Milly moreover, she hardly ever thought, and in fact had not seen the latter for a long time. If she had it is not likely she would even had recognized in the tall pale shapely young woman with braids of dark hair and white linen cuffs fastened—must I tell it? with a pair of antique monogram studs, the plump little handmaiden of four years back. As it was, she only waited on day after day, to hear Mr. Joseph speak. Instead of Mr. Joseph however appeared another and less welcome confidante. This was the most malignant gossip in the village, Mrs. Woods, the wife of the butcher, a tall red faced woman with high cheek-bones on which the color seemed to have been badly smirched, watery eyes and a couple of protruding yellow teeth. She looked more like a butcher than the butcher himself who was a mild little man with soft silky fair hair and small nervous fluttering hands. Yet he managed to summon sufficient character to go on a tremendous burst—I know of no other word, every third or fourth month and disappear for a week. When these periodical eclipses took place, his wife would come flying into the Inn with her bonnet hanging round her neck and a large green and red plaid shawl streaming out behind her.
“Where’s Woods?” She would say. “Where’s Woods? Give me Woods! Give ’im up, I tell you; give ’im up now!”
But Woods was never found inside Mrs. Cox’s neat dwelling, nor indeed anywhere, although it had been whispered on one occasion that he had been seen in the back room of the little “Temperance Hotel” with the male Methodist in attendance. This, of course, was clearly impossible.
It was this Mrs. Woods then that stopped at Dexter’s Oak one Friday morning with her donkey cart and small piece of the neck of mutton in it. She was not an entirely bad woman, though [page 117] a downright cunning virago, and perhaps some inkling of the nature of the blow that was about to fall on Miss Dexter’s head caused her to come prepared by an acceptable present to somewhat mitigate its appalling approach.
“I be at the Inn bright and early this morning Miss,” she began, “and brought ’em their bit of fresh meat. And I’m bringin’ you a bit as was over, and it is’nt a bad piece for a stew, if you like a stew, Miss, with an onion or two.”
“Thank you very much, Mrs. Woods,” said Charlotte, who had come out to the front door and now stood on the lower step, looking over the cart. “I’m afraid I can’t settle with you just at present,” she said further, with some effort, “you can call some other time when you are passing. Will that do? and is it weighed?”
“It is, miss, and I’ll not say a word about the payin’! Six pound and a ’alf, and Woods gone agen—I weighed it myself.”
“Oh! I am sorry to hear that,” said Charlotte. “Your husband gives you a great deal of trouble. I am very sorry, and he is not at the inn?”
If Charlotte was guilty at that moment of purposely leading the conversation up to this always for her most enthralling, most engrossing subject, she soon enough received her punishment. On she went to her own destruction.
“At the inn!” repeated the butcher’s wife, with ineffable scorn on her cruel mouth. She wiped her watery eyes and settled the refractory bonnet before going on.
“No miss, he’s not at the inn, and if he was sober, he wouldn’t be at the inn, and you’ll never see him, nor me, nor ’Ide yonder, nor anyone on us at all no more at the inn. For the inn’s changed ‘ands, miss. There’s an end of Mrs. Cox, who was a mother to many, if not to Woods. There’s an end to good old times and dancin’ and singin’, and honest Robert, though he was a cross ’un—there’s an end to it all now, miss, for the inn’s changed ’ands and I’m the first in the village as knows it.”
“Good gracious. Is it possible?” said Charlotte, genuinely surprised. “Who can have succeeded Mrs. Cox and why? I thought she was so popular and making so much money, and what—will become of the Mr. Foxleys?”
Mrs. Woods gave a triumphant grin. “It’s them, theirselves, miss; it’s them that ’as it now. And the younger one will be marrying Milly in a little while and settling down comfortable in [page 118] the inn. It’s gentlefolks and aristocrats we’ll have now at the inn, miss, and ’ard workin’ people like me and Woods may trudge all day and freeze all night, and never a pot of beer or a warm at the kitchen fire and meat paid regular for year in, year out!”
Charlotte stood aghast. The woman’s injured volubility rushed past her as a scene outside a railway car rushes past us, leaving only one idea, one word caught at, as from the window through which we apprehend the landscape, one scene or portion of a scene enchains the eye and lingers in the mind through other scenes fly past in varied succession.
“Marry?” she repeated. “Marry! Milly, did you say? That is the girl, isn’t it, Mrs. Cox’s niece? Which—“
“Ay,” said the woman, “that’s Milly, the ’ired girl; she’s no more than that, if she be her aunt’s niece. And ’ard work for one’s niece. Me and Woods, if we’d ’ad one, would have done better for her not that, makin’ her work like a slave or an dummy. Cows, and pigs, and poultry, and dish-washing, and scrubbing, and lamps, and starched fronts, and fine gentlemen—but she’s well paid, she’s well paid. She’s to marry one of the fine gentlemen, Mr. Joseph it is, and they’re to live on at the Inn with Milly as mistress, and her fine husband behind the bar, very like. Well, good mornin’, Miss; I wish you joy of the mutton. Me and Woods often says—we’ll take this or that up to Dexter’s Oak, but it’s most times forgot, for Woods is ’alf crazed, Miss, and I’ve got to do the whole. Good mornin’.”
Having adjusted her bonnet and the donkey-cart to her satisfaction, Mrs. Woods drove off rather disappointed on the whole at Miss Dexter’s calm demeanour. Astonishment, perplexity, doubt, contempt and disgust she had undoubtedly shown, but not a single sigh of weakness. Charlotte Dexter was not the woman to swoon or lament or even turn pale as her sister Ellen would have done. But when she came into her house and sat down on her lonely parlour, she enacted a scene which would have petrified with astonishment any inhabitant of the prosy little village in which she had dwelt so long and indeed many other people as well, for when you and I, dear reader, go to see one of these emotional plays in which the French actress writhes on the sofa, grovels on the floor, rolls up her handkerchief into a ball or tears it into strips, prays, weeps, curses, censures, implores, looks at herself in the glass until she is on the point of going mad, and strides about the stage as no woman in real life has ever been seen [page 119] to stride, ending by throwing herself across an armchair as rigid as marble thereby assuring the audience that she is in a “dead faint”—I say, that when we see all this performed by a travelling “star,” and her truly eclectic Company, comprising a Diva, a Duenna, a Diner-out and a Devil, we are apt to look around at the placid Canadian or the matter-of-fact American audience and wonder if they understand the drift of the thing at all, the situations, the allusions, even in the slightest degree, forgetting that perhaps the most placid, most commonplace person in the theatre has gone through some crisis, some tragedy as thrilling, as subtle and as terrible as the scene we have just witnessed. “Not out of Paris,” we say, “can such things happen?” Do we know what we are saying? Is it only in Paris that hearts are won and tossed aside this night—as in the play? Is it only in Paris that honor is forgotten and promises are broken this night—as in the play? Is it only in Paris that money allures and rank dazzles, and a dark eye or a light step entrances, this night—as in the play? Is it only in Paris that nature is human and that humanity is vile, or weak, or pure, or firm, as this night in the play? Oh! in that obscure little Canadian village, a lonely old maid locked her door that morning and pulled down her blind that the daylight might not come in and see her misery, might not mock even more malignantly than the ignorant, impertinent and hard-hearted woman who had dealt her this blow. Like most women in such a crisis, she lost the habit of thought. Reason entirely deserted her, and she never dreamed but that it was true. For when a woman has to own herself that she holds no dominion over a man, that it is only too perfectly clear that the impulse of loving is all on her side and that she has neither anything to expect nor anything to fear from him, since indifference is the keynote of his attitude to her, she will all the more readily believe that he loves elsewhere, worthily or unworthily the same to her. A woman is not a noble object in such a situation. All trusting feminine instincts, all sweet emotions of hope, all sentiment, all passion even, retreat and fall away from her, leaving either a cold, bitter, heartless petrifaction in a woman’s clinging robe, or the Fury that is the twin sister of every little red-lipped, clear-eyed girl born into the world. She never dreamed but that this story was true. In fact so entirely had her woman’s wit deserted her, she said to herself of course it was true. Her brain could work sufficiently to conjure up hints, phrases, words, looks, events, accidents that all bore testimony to the truth [page 120] of the extraordinary tale. For it was extraordinary. Miss Dexter herself was the great grand-daughter of an Admiral, and the grand-daughter of a judge, and as such, respected all these accidents of birth which we are supposed to ignore or at least not expected to recognize in a new country. That such men as the Mr. Foxleys could make themselves as completely at home in the Inn as rumor had frequently asserted, and with truth, seemed at all times monstrous to her. She had lived so long out of England, over thirty years now, that she had forgotten the sweet relations that prevailed there between the aristocracy or landed gentry and their inferiors. The Mr. Foxleys were simply doing in Canada what they would have done had they been still in England, only they were assisted in so doing by the unusually English Surroundings in which they found themselves. Miss Dexter looked around her in the yellow inclosed light. There was a sampler in a frame, worked by herself when a little child, another exactly similar, worked by Ellen, a couple of fine old family portraits in heavy gilt frames, half a dozen ivory miniatures scattered about on the walls, some good carvings in ivory, a rare old Indian shawl festooned over the wooden mantle-board, a couple of skins on the floor, a corner piece of furniture known as a “whatnot” crowded with bits of egg-shell china, birds’ eggs and nests, a few good specimens of spar and coral and a profusion of plants everywhere. It was all neat, respectable, even dignified, superior. There was no such other room in the village. In the village? There were not many at that time even in the town. Sooner than part with the egg-shell china or the Indian shawl the Miss Dexters had suffered the pains of poverty and hunger; these cherished reminders of an absent father and an artistic youth could never be lost or borne away by the hands of a stranger. And how glad those foolish Miss Dexters had been to possess such beautiful and interesting objects when it pleased Mr. George Foxley to drink tea out of the cups on summer afternoons on the verandah of the little cottage looking up into the splendid vault of the mighty oak, or when Mr. Joseph would wind the Indian shawl round his silly head in the winter evenings when the draughts of cold air would rush in through the thin walls. These and other memories crowded into Charlotte Dexter’s brain as she looked around her room, crowded thick and fast, crowded fast and furious, surged, broke, leaving an empty moment of perfect blankness, then crowded again thicker, faster, surged and seethed and then broke again, leaving in the [page 121] void of perfect blankness this time a fixed idea, a resolve, a determination, seen in the dark like a luminous point of phosphorous.
That afternoon as Farmer Wise was driving slowly along the road, the main road leading through Ipswich to the town, he was accosted by Miss Dexter from her verandah. She had her jacket on and held her bonnet in her hand.
“Can you give me a seat as far as the Albion?” said she. “I would have sent a message to you yesterday if I had known I was going. But if it will not trouble you—“
“Oh! no trouble no trouble at all, Miss,” replied Farmer Wise. “I’m sorry I’ve only the waggon to offer ye. But I’m takin’ in apples as you see, nine barrel of ’em, and only a waggon will do for them.”
“Certainly, certainly,” said Miss Dexter, hurriedly trying on her bonnet. “Can you wait a moment? I won’t be longer, Mr. Wise, it is just to lock the back door.”
The farmer nodded and drew up under the shade of Dexter’s oak. It was a beautiful afternoon late in November, characterized by the clear cold air, the blue and gold of the sky, and the russet coloring of the foliage that mark the close of the Autumnal season. He looked in at Miss Dexter’s little garden, admirably neat and well-trimmed; dahlias, hollyhocks, sweet William and asters, though done with blossoms, still bore their green leaves unsmitten by the frost. The windows appeared full of flowers too, but the blinds were skimp and faded and drawn down behind them. He started when he noticed this, for he knew the outer aspect of the house well, and had never seen such a thing before, except in case of sickness or death. The honest farmer thought and thought until Miss Dexter reappeared and assisted by him, got up in her place beside him. Even after that he went on thinking, and I must here tell you that it was not the first time Farmer Wise’s thoughts had dwelt so persistently upon his companion and her house and personal history. For twelve years he had nursed a kind of mild distant passion for Miss Dexter at the Oak, unguessed at by her and his family, and only half understood by himself. He could not have said he was in love with her. He had been in love once when he married his first wife, who bore him a triad of splendid sons, one “keeping store” in the Western States and the other two at home on the farm, all three great giants of fellows, handsome in the fields or at barn-doors or in market-waggons, but [page 122] plain on Sundays in black coats or at evening dances in the big ball-room at the Inn, when they would shuffle noisily through cotillons or labor clumsily through a Highland Schottische.
For himself, Farmer Wise was an honest, sincere, good-hearted man, a maker of money and a spender thereof—witness the fine red ploughs, the painted barns, the handsome team, Kentucky bred, and the inner decorations of his house, situated about five miles out of Ipswich, on the main-road. After Mr. Simon P. Rattray, he was the representative man of the district, although he did not come so closely into contact with the villagers. This penchant for the elder Miss Dexter had been a gradual, a slow but very sure and steady thing. Her father’s death had increased it, so had that of Ellen her sister, and the farmer lived too far away to know as much as other people knew about the advent of the Mr. Foxleys. Had there been a sister or daughter, or a wife or a mother, or an aunt or a cousin about the farm, he would have known very quickly. As it was, the girl who did the housework on the farm was ignorant of gossip, its existence and the laws which govern its nature, as any male farm hand could be. When Farmer Wise put up his horses at the Inn three or four times a year, and sat down in the cheerful bar-room to drink a glass of whisky with his feet to the fire if it were winter, or a taller glass of Belfast ginger ale if it were summer, did he never notice Mrs. Cox? Mrs. Cox, well-to-do and popular herself, fresh, blooming and hearty, a young woman yet, and just the woman one would say, for him, and above all, the woman who thought most of him and ran to change her cap—the black one with the knot of rusty widow’s crape—for the smart new one that held the velvet pansy when she saw the team coming. There’s where he should have chosen the second time, there was the woman he should have noticed instead of poor, proud, foolish Charlotte Dexter, whom he half feared as a “lady born,” and who held in her heart, had he only knew it, the image of Mr. Joseph Foxley. The farmer got on with the English gentlemen at the Inn whenever he saw them “first-rate,” and it was of them he began most unsuspiciously to talk when he and Miss Dexter had crossed the bridge, ascended the hill on the other side of the river, and the team were settling to their work as they entered upon the dreary eight miles called the Plains which lay between them and the city. The farmer was consciously happy as he moved his ponderous body slightly nearer to his companion and tucked her in with his great [page 123] hands, a single touch of one of them hurting her thin frame as if they were made of iron or stiff rope. He thought he was gentle too—poor man—but long years of manual labor had changed the natural soft flesh to the consistency of leather, in which immense muscles and joints seemingly of marble had been imbedded.
Besides, there was the delicate touch of another hand, as fine, as soft as a woman’s and yet almost as strong as the farmer’s, in her mind, a hand whiter than her own, though somewhat freckled, a hand that had taper fingers and well-kept nails, a hand that bore an antique seal ring and a fine pearl, a hand alas! that had often retained her own in its warm clinging pressure, and once—only once, and that was three years ago—clasped her unresisting waist for a moment in the dark under the Oak while her sister fumbled at the gate. And just as she cherished these memories of Mr. Joseph, so did the widowed farmer retain the few occasions in his mind on which he had met Miss Dexter, spoken with her, given her a “life” into town or up the road to the village store, for this was not the first use she had made of his gallant good nature and the Kentucky team.
He looked down at her now as they drove along in silence and noticed her thin black gown, her short jacket, her bit of black veil drawn over her bonnet, and her dingy travelling-bag with its tarnished clasp, and he heaved a sigh.
Charlotte was a “sizeable woman” thought Farmer Wise “and wants a good live garment sometimes, to bring her figure out and make more of it and do justice to it. A shawl now! How much would a good shawl be? I miss a woman round the place; wouldn’t know what to ask for. I might ha’ stopped nigh the Inn and asked Mrs. Cox.” Ay, you might Farmer Wise, and have done another mischievous thing, upsetting Mrs. Cox for a week as she waited for a parcel from town and breaking her heart altogether as day after day followed and no parcel arrived.
“I ha’ never seek the ekil of those Mr. Foxleys yonder,” began the honest farmer as something to start a conversation with.
“I ha’ never seen their ekil.”
“Oh!” said Miss Dexter. “Yes? In what way?”
“So gentle and so funny as they be. Gentlemen both of them with delicate hands and fine clothes—“
“Yes, yes,” murmured Miss Dexter under her breath, clutching at her bag and closing her eyes.
“And not above anybody or anything going. I see the [page 124] pale one this day, and pale he is and weak they say, enough to be walked about on the girl’s shoulder—I see him to-day as I passed the Inn, he was on a long chair out in the bit of paved yard, you know Miss, and when he saw me he raises his head and says “Farmer Wise, is that you?” May be you don’t remember just how he speaks. He speaks better now nor when he came, and his brother too. At first it was all in a jumble like one word run into the other and hard to understand at least for us country folks. But now ’tis a bit clearer, more as you speak, begging your pardon, Miss Dexter, for noticing that or anything else that concerns you, Miss. And I says, stopping these fellows a bit. “Yes it’s me. I’m on my way to town with nine barrels of apples.” “How many” he calls out again. “Nine,” I replies. “Let’s taste one,” he says. “A barrel?” I says, and Milly, the girl, she come out by the door, with another quilt to put over him, laughing, and showing her teeth, rare ones too, they be and says she. “Throw us down one, Farmer Wise,” and I did, for I had a couple in my pocket, and here’s tother, now Miss Dexter, if you see your way to eatin’ it now in the waggon alongside of me, or will you wait till we get to the Albion?” Charlotte Dexter put her hand out mechanically and took the apple, a large red one, from the farmer who again managed to hurt her as his great wrist touched her fingers for an instant. He blushed perceptibly and moved a little nearer still. And how unconscious Charlotte Dexter was of his mere presence, let alone tender thoughts, except when he hurt her!
“I have heard this morning, that is I believe everyone has known for some time, though it is only spoken about generally to-day, for the first time, that Mrs. Cox is giving up the Inn. Her niece, the girl you mention, is going to be married—indeed, it is one of those gentlemen—the Mr. Foxleys—whom she is to marry, and they will take the Inn out of Mrs. Cox’s hands.”
The farmer was as surprised as she had been.
“Well,” he ejaculated “did’nt I say I’d never seen their ekil? Milly’s going to marry one of the Mr. Foxleys? Which—“
“It is Mr. Joseph,” returned Miss Dexter, staring down at the apple in her lap. “The youngest one, you know. He is a very merry young gentleman and always has something to say. I daresay it will be a very comfortable arrangement.”
“But it’s a great thing for Milly,” said her companion, “it’ll be a great thing for her. She’ll live in the town, no doubt and [page 125] may be cross the ocean to see his home and his parents—it’ll be a great thing for Milly. A gentleman born! Way, ay; ay, ay!”
“No, no,” said Miss Dexter, irritably. “Don’t I tell you, Farmer Wise, that they will live on at the Inn? These young gentlemen like comfort, like being waited upon. They do this in order to insure—in order to—oh! it is difficult to explain my meaning, but you must see, Farmer Wise, that it is not a proper marriage at all, it is a very sad thing for the girl, I should consider, and some one—some friend should tell her so. She can never be a lady, and what kind of life will it be for him, a gentleman born, as you say, when he could have chosen too, where he liked. My great grandfather, Mr. Wise, was an Admiral; and my grandfather was a Judge. My father was a member of a respected profession, although not brought up to it in early life, and none of my relations, or ancestors ever married out of their own proper circle, except my poor father. He made a most perverse and foolish marriage, Farmer Wise, which though only lasting a few years, brought sorrow and trouble and poverty and oppression to his family.”
“Ay, ay,” said the farmer, softly. He was thinking still about those down-drawn blinds.
“Ay, ay. You’re right in the main, Miss—yes, you’re right in the main. Now, I thought I’d ask ye—I said to myself this morning, when I see Miss Dexter the next time, her as is a lady, and no mistake, I’ll ask her—what would you say, or what would your sister have said if someone here right in this village, that is, there in Ipswich, I mean of course, someone who wanted to just be kind and lend an ’elpin ’and, had asked ye—or her—say her—had asked her anytime to marry him, startin’ fair, startin’ fair, with a year to think on it. And a comfortable ’ome awaitin’ ’er with two ’ired girls to do the work and plenty of hands on the farm and the best of cheese and butter and the Harmonium in the parlor and drives to and fro’ the Church and behind it all a—solid man—a solid man—what do ye think she’d ’uv said?”
Was ever man more in earnest, now that it had suddenly broken from him after all these years, than honest Farmer Wise? The team jogged on, but the reins were lying loosely in their owner’s hands.
“I thought I’d ask ye,” he repeated looking away from his companion. “I thought I’d ask ye.”
Miss Dexter had hardly gathered the import of his speech. She looked up startled. [page 126]
“My sister?” she said with increased irritability. “Ask my sister? What do you mean? I never knew that anybody here, in the village, had proposed to her, or dared—dared to think of her at all as a possible mate—wife, whatever it is you mean. Surely you don’t mean yourself, Farmer Wise! It would never enter your head, I am sure, to propose to my sister!”
“No it never did,” said the farmer quietly.
“Then it is someone else? Really, you must tell me, if you know anything about it, Farmer Wise. But I think you are making some mistake, it is quite impossible that anyone in the village—any native of the village, or indeed any native of this country should so far forget himself as to propose to my sister.”
“Of course,” said the farmer as quietly, “it is quite impossible. No one ’ud ’av done it. No one did do it, that I know on. But I thought I’d ask ye. And about yourself, too? There’d be no getting’ ye to forget all—all that has been and to take up with things as they be, to be makin’ a new start, startin’ fair, as I said, startin’ fair, both parties agreed to think a year on it, and one party to save up and buy nothin’ till the year’d be out and then the other party to give the word for both to take ’ands and make the start together! For what’s past is past, and what’s done is done, and ye can’t make this out the old country any more nor ye can bring back those that are gone, which they would’nt be, I ’low to say, if they’d stayed behind in it. This” said the farmer, in a louder firmer voice, indicating with his whip the dreary pine forests that bordered the road on either side, “is’nt the old country. I come from it myself, and I know it taint. Them rustlin’ leaves aint the old country, heaps of brown and yella up to your knees after a while, nor yet this road, nor that sky, nor this waggon, nor them apples, nor them horses. Nor me myself. I’m no longer old country. I’m fond of it—sho! I’m fonder of it now than I was forty years ago, when I come away from it, I’m fonder of it every year that goes by. But it’s the New Country that’s made me, that’s give me all I have and more than all I want, and accordin’ I’m grateful to it, and would’nt turn my back on it. No Miss I would’nt, and so I says, to all as come out to it, “it’s better to try and forget the past, or at least as much of it as ’ll bear forgetting in order to let you live, and to take up with things as they be, and not lookin’ always to things as they were, and to make the best of what the New World has to offer ye. And I don’t think that in England—God bless her—to-day, you’ll find [page 127] a finer team, nor redder apples, nor an easier going waggon, nor even a prettier sky, than that there yella light breakin’ all over the landscup like!”
There was a perfect silence after that. It had suddenly dawned upon Charlotte Dexter with accession of disgust and embittered hostility that the farmer’s words related to himself. What new and hateful complication was this! to be reminded by such an ill-timed declaration of the ironical in her life which had always been near enough to her apprehensions! Anything and everything but what she wanted, she could have. It had always been so. A dark frown gathered on her forehead, she clutched her bag and drew herself away from the side of the honest farmer.
“I do not know what you are talking about,” she cried. “Such words can have nothing to do with me. I could not disgrace myself and my father’s family by allying myself with anybody out here, least of all, one of the working classes, of a farmer. You are very inconsiderate, Farmer Wise, and I must ask you to distinctly understand that even conversation on such a subject is quite out of the question. I cannot even discuss it with you or anyone in your position. I have told you what my connections are; what my family is, you have now, I hope, some correct idea, and you will see how utterly impossible it is that I should, even to better my circumstances which I admit are somewhat precarious, make such a mésalliance—such a mistake, I mean, as you refer to.
“Well,” said the farmer very quietly this time. “You’re right in the main, Miss, you’re right in the main. But I thought I’d ask ye, I thought I’d ask ye. Far from harm bein’ done, there’s only good, there’s only good, for now you understand me and I understand you and thank ye for your confidences and there’s an end on it.
So it begun, so ended the honest man’s wooing. Did he suffer disappointment as Miss Dexter’s contemptuous eye and her irritated tone showed him—ah! how plainly—she was forever out of his reach? Was an idol broken, a dream dissolved, a blossom nipped, or hope murdered, just as much, in the case of this comfortable placid unimaginative elderly farmer as in the case of younger, warmer, more impetuous, more idealistic men? If so, Farmer Wise was as self-contained as the best actor among them and handed Miss Dexter out at the Albion with as gallant, though cautious politeness and sat as far away from her at the hotel tea table and met her in the hall afterwards with as severe an air, [page 128] as if the situation were perfectly pleasant and completely ordinary. He asked her when she would be going back, and learnt that she would pass the night at the Albion, returning to the village by the Saturday’s stage.
“Then shall I take a seat for ye?” asked the willing farmer.
“No” said Miss Dexter, who appeared to be in a great hurry, “I can arrange in the morning, thank you.”
“In any case, ye’re sure ye won’t want a ‘lift’ again, Miss,” said the farmer respectfully, though there might have been the least tinge of irony in the tone. “I’m not goin’ back myself till tomorrow.”
“No, thank you,” returned Miss Dexter for the last time.
The Albion was a small hotel or tavern situated just on the outskirts of the town, which did a flourishing business with the country people. Two roads, the Ipswich and the Richmond, formed a sort of junction before its door, one leading into the fine agricultural district or valley of Richmond, Guernsey and Trenton, and the other following the dreary plains through Ipswich to Orangetown, a thriving little community of mills and saws and booms and planks picturesquely situated on the Upper Orange River.
There was always a knot of farmers round the Albion, all of them English or Scotch or native Canadians born of British parents. A French-Canadian would have been hoisted on a table and examined minutely all over, hair, eye, skin and costume, had one been present. But though the men were respectable and decent and hard-working and most of them earned a good income and few of them drank or gambled it away, they were noisy, smoky, staring fellows for companions and Miss Dexter, having walked some distance to a shop, made a purchase, and returned to the parlor of the hotel while it was yet light, uncertain what to do with herself or where to go to escape the bustle and clatter of tongues. Farmer Wise was smoking in the bar, she had seen him as she passed in, and the mere sight of him, with his head up against the counter, and his legs out on a chair made her shudder. She sat in the parlor listening to the intolerable noise, heavy delf and cutlery being momentarily banged down on tables and chairs, an occasional broken plate and whirling pewter mug or kitchen spoon reaching her ear with more than usual reverberation. Then would come a volley of laughter, oaths, and bets on next week’s races from the bar, then more breaking of china from the scullery, the [page 129] stamping of horses in the stable, then the bar door would be closed and comparative silence ensue. In one of these intervals, the girl who had waited at the tea-table appeared in the parlor and inquired of Miss Dexter if she would like a fire put in the wood stove that stood on a square of zinc in the middle of the room. It came as a relief from the nervous broodings that were settling down on her mind occupied in introspection neither healthy nor cheerful, and she eagerly assented.
When the fire burned up, she opened the door that she might see the blaze and spread out her thin hands to it and put her cold feet to its warmth. Then for the first time she unclasped her bag and taking out her purchase, looked at it. The shop she had gone into was a druggist’s, and her purchase had been a small bottle of a bluish fluid that she now held up to the light and looked at long and steadily but with no change in her countenance. The bar-door opened with a creak and closed with a bang. She started and replaced the bottle in the bag and put the bag over her arm as before. For a long time she sat before the fire warming first one foot, then the other and never looking away from the blaze. When half-past ten came, so did the girl with a lamp and two damp towels for Miss Dexter who took them without opening her mouth much to the astonishment of the girl, who though taciturn herself was well used to speech and “language” from all she came in contact with, and who was also struck with the fact that the strange lady had never removed her bonnet or jacket “since she come in the house.”
She would have had additional ground for surprise had she known that the strange lady did not remove them even upon reaching her own room, but lowering the lamp, lay down fully dressed upon the bed still clasping her small travelling bag in her hands, and slept until seven o’clock in the morning. She then rose and hastily straightening her attire, descended to the dining-room, partook of ham and eggs. Upon the close of this meal, she went up again to the parlor and sat slightly back from the window that overlooked the main road until twelve o’clock, when she partook of the dinner served to the travellers at the Albion, including Farmer Wise who had sold his apples and soon after dinner hitched up ready to go homewards. After dinner she went up as before to the parlor and sat there again. Two o’clock came, half past two, three o’clock, and Miss Dexter began to look along [page 130] the road in the direction of the town. Half-past three found her still looking along the road. Four o’clock came, half-past four, then five. She grew visibly uneasy, walked to and fro in the little parlor, sat down again. Half-past five, the clatter in the kitchen which had been silent for a little while renewed itself. Six!! The men stumped into their tea, and the girl ascending asked Miss Dexter if she was coming down to hers.
“No,” said Miss Dexter, “I expect to have a late tea at home, thank you. And I am just going in a moment or two.”
Ten minutes past six. The late November afternoon had almost entirely faded, it would soon be dark. A quarter past six and Miss Dexter, looking continuously out of her window perceived the figure she had waited for so long at length approaching. Gay, Mr. Joseph, you have thrown off the fetters of town and work and dull care and responsibility, and here you are free and untrammelled as the air, good humored, cheerful; humming your Old Country tunes as usual, brisk, débonnair, untouched by thought of present trouble or evil, unthinking and unsuspecting! Gay Mr. Joseph, urbane Mr. Joseph, what have you got in your hand this time? Last time it was a bunch of the red field lily. Now it is, or it looks like—yes, it is—a genuine florist’s bouquet. Something to open the eyes of the Ipswich villagers. A gorgeous wired platoon of roses, and smilax tuberose and mignonette—Mr. Joseph, Mr. Joseph, what does this mean, who is this for? On he came, brisker, more debonair, more smiling than Miss Dexter had ever seen him in her life. Her breath came fast as he neared the window. Exchanging a word with the hostler and a couple of laboring men who stood almost in the centre of the road Mr. Joseph passed on, looking down with a smile at the bouquet in his hand. Miss Dexter then arose and quietly setting her bonnet at a glass walked out of the hotel having paid her small bill at dinner-time.
She walked steadily on in the direction of Ipswich in the wake of Mr. Joseph who did not appear to be walking as fast as usual himself. So by straining every nerve as we say—in reality, walking as she had never attempted to and dreamt of walking in her life—she slowly but surely gained upon the unconscious Mr. Joseph. They were about in the middle of the plains, that dreary bit of road bordered by pine forests on either side when Miss Dexter found she could distinguish the clink, clink or jingle of his [page 131] watch-chain, a thing of steel links which she knew well by sight as well as by sound as it struck against the buttons of his coat. Slowly Miss Dexter gained on him, until it was necessary either to accost or pass him. Which did she mean to do? Dark as it was rapidly growing, Mr. Joseph, in half turning his head to observe something in the trees or sky, became conscious of a figure close behind him. The path was narrow, for he had left the middle of the road since passing the Albion, and he stepped aside with his usual ready politeness to allow the lady room to go on before him. But in a moment he recognized Miss Dexter. She waited for him to speak.
“I—really, why—is it possible it is you, my dear Miss Dexter? I never knew you took such lonely walks so far from home. You don’t mean to say you’ve walked out from town?”
For an answer, Miss Dexter, who had previously unclasped her bag and taken out the bottle, lifted her right hand and threw the contents over Mr. Joseph.
“In the name of God!” shrieked the unfortunate man, warding off as he imagined a second attack. But Miss Dexter had done her work and stood rigid, unmoveable, stony as marble, the bag fallen at her feet, her hands fallen straight down at her sides. Mr. Joseph had sunk upon the ground moaning and writhing, but through all the torture of the terrible pain he was suffering, he thought of nothing but the inconceivable brutality of the act itself. Why had she done it?
“I suppose it is vitriol,” he gasped. “Was it an accident—or—did you—mean—to—do it? How have—I—injured—you? Oh—say—say—”
He could get no further for a few moments in the appalling consciousness of that living fire which had burnt into his poor eyes and played round his poor temples. Otherwise he was not injured, for Miss Dexter’s aim had been a faulty one and nearly all the contents of the bottle had in reality descended on the ground.
“Say—say” he went on. “Which it is? My—dear—Miss Dexter—I am—sorrier for you—than—for—myself, and cannot imagine—oh! Good God, I shall be blind, blind—ah!!—“
Charlotte Dexter still stood in the rapidly darkening air, a stern, rigid, unmoveable figure. It was too soon for remorse. That would come in good time. But a certain pity stole over her as she gazed at the huddled mass on the ground before her, which [page 132] a short time ago, had been the gay, laughing, upright Mr. Joseph.
“Are you suffering very much?” She said at length in her ordinary voice.
“Good God! How—how—can you ask? Again—tell me—was it—an accident?”
“No,” she replied still in her most ordinary voice. “No. It was no accident. It is vitriol, and I did mean to throw it.”
“It is horrible” groaned Mr. Joseph, still in agony on the ground where he had sunk at first. “And you will not—fiend that you appear now to be—though Heaven knows—I thought you sweet and womanly enough once—you will not—tell me why! It is infamous!”
“Yes, it is infamous,” returned Charlotte Dexter. “It is horrible, and I am a fiend. I am not a woman any longer. I once was, as you say, sweet and womanly enough for—for what? Joseph Foxley. For you to come to any house and my sister’s house, and blast her life and strike her down as you thought you would strike me, for this and that and for much more, but not enough for truth and honesty and an offer of marriage in fair form, not enough for common respect and decent friendship.”
“My dear lady,” said Mr. Joseph with great difficulty, “there was no one I—“
“And all that time, when I thought you at least free, at least your own master, at least unbiased and unbound, for unlike a gentleman you never hinted to me of these—other ties—you were engaged to this miserable girl, this uncommon drudge, the scullery-maid of a country inn. You, you, you!”
“My dear lady,” said Mr. Joseph again with greater difficulty than before, “I—upon my word—I have—I—“
Charlotte Dexter, suddenly regaining the use of her limbs, bent down quickly and peered into the poor sightless face. Mr. Joseph had fainted. She owned no fear yet however, though it was now quite dark, and five miles lay between them and her own door. Pity was just giving away to remorse. What if she had killed him? She bent down again but found that there was no fear of that and even consciousness appeared to be returning. At this moment the sound of wheels struck her ear. Nearer and nearer it came and she soon descried a waggon coming along the road sharply in which sat one man. The rest of the waggon was empty and as it was proceeding in the direction of the village, into that, she made up her mind, should Mr. Joseph be put. As it [page 133] drew near, she stepped out of the dark shade of the pines and bade the man stop.
“Whose there!” said he, “what’s here? What’s the matter? Why, if it ain’t Miss Dexter!”
“Yes,” said she, stooping to assist her unfortunate companion. “How do you do, Farmer Wise! I—do you know Mr. Foxley—Mr. Joseph Foxley—is here—can you see him—if you have a lantern, or, will you help me to get him into the waggon?”
Farmer Wise forgot Miss Dexter and her family pride in an instant, though at first sight feeling of injury had somewhat revived, and me made haste to come to her relief. He found Mr. Joseph just coming to himself.
“Why, why, what’s the matter?” said the Farmer. “It minds me of old times, this, when highway-men and tramps were a-infestin’ the road and a-lyin’ in wait for honest travellers—in the Old Country, of course, Miss, not here, not here. Yet somethin’s been at work here, eh! Mr. Joseph, or else I’m much mistaken. Here, lend an ’and, Miss; now, sir, can you see me?”
“Not very well,” gasped poor Mr. Joseph. “It’s dark, I know,” said the farmer, “and I had’nt begun carrying my lantern yet. Never mind. Here, now, place your foot there—are ye hurt anywhere that I may touch ye—tell me where I hurt ye, if I do—now then, the other foot—
There, now it’s done! Miss Dexter, ma’am there’s an old blanket at the back there, lie him on that. Put his head down and let him look straight up at them stars and he’ll soon get himself, I warrant. If I knew where ye were hurt, perhaps I could bind ye up. There’s no wound,” anxiously.
“No,” said Mr. Joseph. “Thank you, Farmer Wise. I am—much—better—really. I was unconscious!” “Ay,” said the farmer, “A little, and can you stand the joltin’ now, are ye sure? For if ye are, we’ll drive on.”
“Stay a moment,” said Mr. Joseph. “I had some flowers—a bouquet—in my hands when I—fell. I can’t see—very well—in this light—look for me, will you!”
“I do spy somethin’ white on yonder ground where you was when I came up. Maybe it’s a pocket-handkerchief, may be it’s the flowers you dropped.”
The farmer sprang down and returned with two articles one of which—the bouquet he gave to Mr. Joseph, the other, a small [page 134] bottle—he put in his own pocket. The bouquet was as fresh and untumbled as when it emerged from the careful florist who had prepared it. Not a single drop of the fiery liquid had fallen upon it nor scorched its fragrant beauty and it presently lay upon the face of the suffering man, healing with its cool moist sweet leaves and petals his poor scarred skin.
“I won’t ask him,” thought the farmer, “I won’t ask him. But what are they doin’ here together? Well I won’t ask that neither. And why did not she came out by the stage as she said? I won’t ask that neither. There’s three things I need’nt go for to enquire into. But a little general conversation in a nice kind of way, neither spyin’ nor lyin’ may do him good and not be altogether despised by the—the other party.” He looked back and could dimly see Mr. Joseph sitting up on the blanket. He had removed his hat, and his hands were pressed to his head. Charlotte Dexter was in the furthest corner of the waggon, a dark, stern, ominous figure.
“Strange that you and me are goin’ home together, Miss, after all,” said the farmer.
“Miss Dexter drove in to the Albion alongside of me yesterday, sir, and I ask her if she so be need a second lift back to-day, and she said “no.”
“Ah!” said Mr. Joseph. “Yesterday, did you say? I was—to have—come out—yesterday—in answer to my brother’s note—but I could not manage—it. I wish,” with a grim attempt at the old humor—“I had, ‘pon my soul I do.”
“Your brother is well, I hope, sir?” said the farmer. “Don’t talk too much, I beg of ye, Mr. Joseph. To see ye with yer hands like that!”
“It is—better—easier—that way,” returned Mr. Joseph. “My brother is well for him, thank you. You know, he is—not strong he—is—never—perfectly well.”
“D—“ said the farmer to himself. “Of course, of course, I know. I see him yesterday morning, pale like and weak, but smiling and lookin’ happy enough too, I tell ye.”
“Ah, yes” said Mr. Joseph, again lying down and pressing the flowers to his hot lips. “I—these flowers—are for him and—her.”
“Her!” said the farmer.
“Milly, you know. Ah—perhaps you hav’nt heard. My brother is going to—marry Milly, Mrs. Cox’s niece, you know.” [page 135] An absolutely death-like stillness prevailed in the waggon. The Kentucky team jogged on. The stars shone down on poor Mr. Joseph turning up his sightless orbs to their beauty and majesty, and on the passion of grief and remorse that now surged in Miss Dexter’s suffering breast.
“It may be vanity,” thought Farmer Wise as the bridge and the river and Dexter’s Oak came in sight one after the other, “it may be vanity, though I’m too old a man to be much given to that, but I can’t help thinkin’ I’m a wiser man than I was yesterday by a good lot. I don’t half know what’s happened, but somethin’s goin’ on, whether it’s understandable or not to me and the likes of me, I don’t know as yet, and I don’t think I’ll try to find out. If it’s bad it’ll come out fast enough, and if it’s good, leavin’ it alone maybe will make it a little better. But here we are” he continued aloud, “at Dexter’s Oak. What’s to be done, Miss, now, and with you, Mr. Joseph? Of course, I’ll take you straight to the Inn—as for Miss Dexter—“
“I will get out at once,” said the unhappy woman. “You are sure you can take him to the Inn all right and—and—lift—that is—without—“
“Oh, I guess so,” said the farmer, grimly relapsing into an Americanism that was just beginning to leaven the whole country. “I guess I’ll take care on him, and as for gettin’ him out at the Inn, there’s plenty there. Good-night Miss, take care there!—now you’re all right.”
Charlotte Dexter, with a long look at the prostrate form of Mr. Joseph, leapt from the waggon and sped through the gate up to her desolate dwelling.
“Ah!” sighed the farmer to himself, one great long sigh that stirred his hearty frame to its centre. He never sighed like that again either for Charlotte Dexter or any other woman.
The next mile they traversed in silence broken only by occasional moans from Mr. Joseph which moved the old farmer to wonder and dismay that almost unnerved him.
Presently Mr. Joseph murmured some word the farmer did not catch all at once.
“Is he out of his mind on top if it all!” he said to himself, and listened.
“Farmer Wise,” said the same low voice, “are we near the Inn?”
“Just there, Mr. Joseph.” [page 136]
“On the little bridge yet?”
“Just come on it, Mr. Joseph.”
“Ah! Can you—stop your horses?”
“Certainly. There! Now what is it?” Mr. Joseph sat up.
“I am in your waggon—the market waggon, Farmer Wise, I think?”
“Yes, Mr. Joseph. You can’t tell where we are, I see, being so much shook.”
“No. That’s not it,” said Mr. Joseph. “I—are you on the seat—the front seat, Farmer Wise?”
“Yes, Mr. Joseph. You can’t make me out by this queer light, and I don’t wonder. The stars is beautiful, but they don’t make up for havin’ no moon.”
“No. That’s not it either, Farmer Wise. Did you say the stars were shining? Orion, I suppose, and the Bull and the rest of them! Can’t you—try—like a dear old fellow—can’t you—tell what’s the matter with me? You say you are sitting on the front seat, and I—have no doubt but that you are, but your voice sounds so much further away—so very much further away than that—and when one—can’t—see you, Farmer Wise,—“
A frightful pause.
“Can’t see me, can’t see me! Mr. Joseph, Mr. Joseph! Not blind—God forgive me for sayin’ the word out to ye like that! But I thought it, I thought it, and so, out it come! But it is’nt that! Ye’ll forgive me for sayin’ the word out to ye like that! It is’nt that!”
“I’m afraid it is, Farmer Wise. It can be—nothing—else. If, as you say, the stars are shining and if, as you say, you are sitting directly opposite me on the front seat of your waggon, and I have no reason to doubt it, if this is so, and I—can see neither—these stars shining—nor you—yourself—dear old fellow—on the seat before me—it can be, I fear—nothing else.”
“Ah! I can’t—quite remember. Some time, perhaps, I’ll tell you how—shall I go to my brother or—how can I?”
“Mr. Joseph,” entreated the farmer, seizing one of those delicate hands and patting it as if it had been his own. “Will you come with me? I’ll make you comfortable, and have ye seen to and we’ll find out about it and what can be done, and that’ll save your brother, look, and he not strong! Come, Mr. Joseph! [page 137] Lie down there as you was, just as ye was—God forgive me for tellin’ you to look up at them stars—and I’ll speak a word for you at the Inn, as we’re passing. Won’t that do, nor be better than goin’ in like that? Not knowin’ either just what is the matter. Come on, Mr. Joseph! I’ll drive straight home after that and make ye comfortable for the night, and there’ll be no—womankind, or, or anyone to disturb ye, just me and the two boys—come, Mr. Joseph!”
“I am willing enough to go, old fellow,” answered Mr. Joseph with a groan. “Willing enough to go anywhere, but where my brother—my poor brother—is. Yes, it will be best. Drive on.”
The warm cheery Inn soon appeared in view. The fire-light from the bar and the lamp-light from the other rooms beamed out from the red-curtained windows. The scrape of a fiddle came from the kitchen. “Squires,” murmured Mr. Joseph, feebly. “He’s always at it.” The farmer pulled up the team at the pump corner one instant and looking around descried not a soul in view. He got down and went to the side door leading to the bar and opening it put his head in. Mrs. Cox herself was dispensing early gin and water to three or four indolent but talkative gentlemen before the fire. But she was not so busy as not to perceive the farmer. Had she already had that cap on in which bloomed the velvet pansy, Mr. Joseph’s whereabouts might have been discovered, for invariably on those occasions she accompanied the farmer not only to the door but even to the very feet of the horses as he straightened up one thing or loosened another and would often joke about the empty waggon or the purchases made in the town which might happen to fill it.
But Farmer Wise left her no time even to adjust her head-dress, far from changing it.
“Good evening, ma’am,” said he, with his head in the door. “No Don’t trouble about Squires. He’s hard at work, I can hear, and besides, I don’t want him. I’m late, and the boys will wait for their supper. I just have to tell ye that I see Mr. Foxley in town, Mr. Joseph Foxley, and he says how he can’t come out till—say—Monday. He was stuck full of work—he was indeed—and said positive—he could’nt come. But he give me this for his brother and for—her,” producing the bouquet, which caused a thrill of amazement and awe to pervade the loungers in the bar. “For his brother and for—her,” said the farmer, taking a long [page 138] stride across the little room and giving it to Mrs. Cox. “I congratulate you, ma’am, I do indeed.”
Before she could well answer, he had shut the door and mounting the waggon drove away as quickly as he could. He was too full of thoughts and plans concerning Mr. Joseph to notice that quick as he was, Mrs. Cox, not waiting this time to change her cap, had come out to the door, and with her hand shading her eyes, was looking wistfully after the departing team. [page 139]
It was as Mr. Joseph had said. His brother, George Albert Dacre Foxley, of Foxley Manor, Notts, was indeed contemplating marriage with Milly, niece of Mrs. Cox, landlady of the Ipswich Inn. If it seem strange, remember that he had passed the meridian of his years, health was gone, life rapidly passing away and it was impossible now for him to make any new departure in his life or habits. He had become firmly attached to Mrs. Cox’s comfortable ménage, and wanted nothing more. Never in England, even while in the enjoyment of fairly good health and luxurious surroundings had he ever felt so completely at rest, satisfied with himself and his small immediate world, every want cared for, every wish guessed at, and the best of company to his idea—company that called for nothing but pure naturalness. He could smoke for hours in Mrs. Cox’s kitchen, or in her neat yard or even in the chintz-hung drawing-room and no one would interrupt him with dissertations on politics, art or literature. Like all Englishmen of the quiet country-loving stamp, he cared little about politics except when some general crisis assented itself, and knew less about art or literature. He thought Wilkie and Landseer about the summit of the one and Byron the chief modern pillar of the other. Twenty years ago, Tennyson had not made a very deep impression on a mind of his calibre. Yet this handsome, quiet, delicate gentleman when he did choose to talk had such an audience as is not given to many men, for Mrs. Cox would leave her work (if she dared) and Milly would listen with her young eyes fastened in a kind of ecstasy on the dark ones turned to hers, and Squires would come along with his hands in his trousers pockets and his fiddle under his arm, and Bess would put her paws upon her master’s knees and devour him with her own dark eyes—a quintette of friends unsurpassed in the world for loyal attachment and generous devotion. What if what he had to tell was but some simple story of hunting England, or some bald [page 140] description of London life seen under the surveillance of a tutor fifteen or twenty years previous to the time of narration—he was their oracle, prophet, God, what you will, and they were his dearest, yes, his very dearest friends. When Mr. Joseph appeared as one of his happy circle, it became more boisterous of course though not necessarily any happier, for it was already as happy as it could be. But the news from town and the occasional English mail, flowers and cheap new novel—these were some of the simple delights that Mr. Joseph used to bring with him. During the first couple of years, both the brothers would saunter out to the Miss Dexters’ or to the Rectory, Mr. Joseph in particular, never failing to appear on Saturday nights at choir practice and Sunday evening service—but Mr. George gradually discontinued his visits as I have hinted and towards the fourth year of his stay hardly ever went beyond the Inn. For at the back the small terraced garden met the orchard, and the orchard sloping down met a small pebbly brook, and the brook flowing along in sweet rippling fashion met the most charming of wheat covered golden meadows in which it was pleasant and good to stroll and which moreover all belonged to that matchless paragon among landladies, Mrs. Cox. In those days people grew their own kitchen stuff, and their own fruit and their own grain, fed their own live stock, made their own butter and cheese, cured their own hams, laid their own eggs, even brewed their own beer. Now, everything is different, and let no confiding Englishman, allured by my tempting picture come out to Canada to-day in search of such a Utopia for he will not find it. Moreover all his pleasant prospect of wood and stream and meadow and orchard lay well behind the Inn let it be understood, and it was perfectly possible for Mr. George Foxley to have all the air, walking and exploration he desired and even a little shooting and fishing if he wanted them without, as I have said, going beyond it. When he grew really weak, he was obliged to give up both the latter occupations of course, but he still walked or strolled a great deal, generally with Milly by his side. She would leave anything she was at when he called her and opening the little gate by the one hawthorn tree leading into the orchard, see him safe down the slope to the side of the little brook where she would give him her arm, and thus their walk would commence in earnest. Four years had brought a great change in Milly. New ideas, new habits, association with such thorough and high-bred gentlemen and the natural desire to improve and grow [page 142] worthy of such dearly esteemed company, had altered her completely. Where before she had been pink, now she was pale; thin, where she had been plump; her features actually aquiline from the girlish snub of the rounded contour four years back, her hair, three shades darker, her dress, almost that of a lady. The most perfect sympathy appeared to exist, and really did, between these two strangely met natures.
One day, they had sat down at the side of the brook as a couple of children would have done to cast in sticks and leaves and watch them float by. Sometimes these would get caught in the numberless little eddies that such a stream possesses and be whirled round and round until it was necessary to dislodge them and sent them on their way after the others. One fine yellow leaf on this November day attracted Mr. Foxley’s attention particularly, for it was obstinate in returning again and again to a cosy little bay formed by a couple of large stones. Often as he poked it out, back it came into the bay and anchored itself contentedly on the calm water.
“He has found a haven,” said Mr. George. “Yes, without doubt he has found his haven. What do you think, Milly?”
“I think so, sir.”
“Don’t call me sir, child. What makes you do so?”
“There is nothing else I can all you, is there,—sir .”
“Ah!” said Mr. Foxley. He lay back at full length on the grass and put his hands over his eyes. The river rippled on and Milly watched him anxiously. “Is the leaf there still, Milly?”
“Now!” said Mr. Foxley in a warning tone. “I tell you I won’t have it.”
“No, sir—I beg your pardon, Mr. George.”
“Nor that either,” said Mr. Foxley, slowly rising to a sitting posture again. He had another poke at the yellow leaf. “Call me Dacre, my child, will you?” Milly no longer watched him with those loving, anxious eyes. She was trembling from head to foot and had she spoken, she must have wept. Mr. Foxley’s voice was itself enough to make any woman weep, it was so soft, so tender, so subdued and indrawn. Once more he said, “Call me Dacre, my child!” That pleading voice, so low, so musical, and that it should plead to her? They were so close together that he could feel her tremble. Weak as he was, he was the [page 142] stronger of the two for a moment, and turning slightly towards her met her rapturous eyes, and heard her call him the name he wanted to hear. The same instant they kissed, a long thrilling dark-enfolding kiss that was the first Milly had ever known from a man might have been, for its purity and restraint, the first also that he had ever given to a woman.
“Have I found my haven too, like the wise leaf of autumn? Have I! Tell me, my child, my darling!”
“O sir, dearest sir—I mean dear Dacre, it is I who have found mine. If indeed you care for me, sir!”
Mr. Foxley laid his head just on her shoulder, then let it slide into her lap, taking her trembling hands and putting them over his eyes.
“I do more than care for you, my child. I love you. Stoop and kiss me. There. Don’t take your head away again like that. Leave it. Your face against mine. Your lips on mine. Is it a haven, child? Truly, yes or no?”
“You know it is. And I have always wanted so much to—to—care for you, but I did not dare.”
“Dare! There is no dare about it my child. If you will give me your young life—how old are you now, love?”
“Nineteen,” whispered Milly into his ear.
“Only nineteen, and such a tall girl, with such long hair—if you will give it to me and be happy in giving it, child, that must be thought of, there is no one else—“
“You know there is not, sir.”
“Then I will do all I can to deserve it. And nobody must call you Milly any more. You are Mildred now. Miss Mildred, if you like and soon, very soon, to bear another name, mine. It is a good one, child.”
“I am sure of it, dear Dacre, and too good—far too good—for me.”
“Do you know how old I am, my child?”
“I heard your brother say.”
“And did he dare? What did he say it was, my age?”
“He said you were forty-one.”
“Then he was out. It is more than that. I am exactly forty-three; I say exactly, for, Milly, this is my birthday, and—I cannot hope—neither of us must dare to hope child—that I [page 143] shall see any more. You will marry me whenever I say, my love?”
The girl bent over him in a passion of weeping.
“There is nothing I would not do for you, dear sir—“
“Except call me by my dearly-beloved third name!”
It began to turn cold as they sat by the stream and Milly or Mildred as she is henceforth to be called, drying her eyes, fell into a fever over her lover and besought him to return to the house.
Standing face to face, he put her arms around his neck.
“Before we go, dear child, you are sure you love me?”
“O do not ask me again, dear Dacre!”
“That is right. And you know how old I am?”
“And that you are to marry me whenever I say?”
“If I can.”
“Of course you can. And that you are to give me all the love you possibly have to give and more and more. I shall be exacting!”
“Very well. Remember all those clauses, and now take me back to the house. And some day, my child, I will tell you all my life and what it was—or rather who it was—that sent me out of England, dear England—“
“Ah! you love it still,” murmured Mildred, looking at the ground.
“I shall always love it now, since I have found my happiness in Canada, but once I hated it Milly, yes, I hated it!”
So was accomplished the wooing of Mr. George Foxley. He was earnestly and sincerely in love. The girl had grown up under his eye as it were and was in fact almost a part of himself already. Marriage would complete the refining and gilding process. The tones of her voice, her accent, her pronunciation, her habits of sitting, of standing, of walking were all more or less unconsciously imitated from him, she had modelled herself upon him, she was indeed his “child” as he loved to call her. For a month these two people enjoyed as pure and perfect and isolated an happiness as can be experienced on earth. Then it became necessary to inform Mr. Joseph and worthy Mrs. Cox. As if Mr. Joseph and Mrs. Cox didn’t know! There are two things that nothing can hide in his life. One is, the light in the eyes of a girl who has found herself loved by the man she adores, and the other is, the [page 144] unutterable content in the mien of that man himself. And there is no phase of passion sweeter, nor purer, nor warmer, nor more satisfying, than that which is the result of a young girl’s affection for a man many years older than herself.
As for the telling, Mr. George, though he could talk fast enough and fluently enough to Mildred, hated much talk or fuss about anything and so made everything the easier by informing his brother, Mr. Joseph, by note. A few lines sufficed as preparation for the news and he ended by requesting him to purchase some small and inexpensive gift as from himself in appreciation of the occasion. Mr. Joseph with characteristic good taste and delicate feeling, concluded that flowers, though perishable, were the most appropriate purchase he could light upon, and consequently walked out from town a certain Saturday afternoon late in November with a monster affair in smilax and roses in his hand. When it was placed, though not by himself, in Mildred’s hands, she felt a disappointment she could not altogether conceal.
“Never mind,” said Mr. George at full length on a sofa with Milly beside him on a chair. He did indeed prove a most exacting lover. For a long time her share of daily work in the Inn and out of it, had been growing less and less, until now she hardly did anything at all besides wait on her master, lover and friend, prepare what he eat, read to him, and sit by him for hours, never leaving him in the evenings till long after twelve and then it was understood that in case of night attacks of the dreadful pleurisy and asthma combined that were slowing killing him, she would always be at hand to come at the sound of his bell—or indeed his voice, for Milly, sleeping in the room opposite his own, always left both doors open and would lie fully dressed on her bed night after night, listening in the dark, with wide open eyes and strained ears, for the slightest cough or sigh that came from that worshipped one across the narrow hall.
“Never mind,” said he on that Saturday night. “My brother is busy just now. Don’t you remember, he found it difficult to come out last week. It’s an awful grind for Joseph, poor Joseph! But he enjoys life, I think; at the present moment I expect he is flirting audaciously in town with some charming girl. Or some fearfully plain one. You never know who next, with my brother. He’ll turn up on Monday.”
And Mr. Joseph did turn up on Monday. Farmer Wise had fetched some doctor from Orangetown on Sunday, who after [page 145] examining his injury, pronounced it incurable. Mr. Joseph was as stoical as Englishmen are generally expected to be and saw that it was absolutely imperative to tell his brother.
“I brought it on myself” he said to the farmer, “At least I try to believe I did. By Jove! to think—to think of some men! Will, I must tell my brother.”
When he did tell him late on Monday night, having been driven over by Farmer Wise himself, with his poor eyes bandaged and the sturdy farmer’s hand to guide him into the little back parlor where Mr. George and Mildred sat alone, for Mrs. Cox had been ordered out by that exacting gentleman as early as eight o’clock. Nothing but the presence of Mildred herself and the love divine and human that filled Mr. George’s breast to overflowing could have saved him from succumbing to the painful shock.
“Well, I should think you are cured now, my poor Joseph!” said his brother presently.
“Of what, in heaven’s name?” said poor Mr. Joseph. “By Jove to think—to think of some men, George! What had I done, what had I done?”
“I do think of them,” said Mr. Foxley gravely. “I do think of them. And but for my happiness here,” touching Mildred’s dress reverently, “I could wish—” wistfully, “That we had never come here—’twas I who brought you my poor Joseph, ’twas I, ’twas I.”
“Oh! that’s rubbish!” pronounced Mr. Joseph energetically. “The main point is now, how am I to get my living. God! I am perfectly useless! They won’t take me back in town there.”
“Dear Mr. Joseph,” said Mildred, with her eyes shining on the brother of her lover. “You will live with us of course, with—Dacre, Dacre and me, and my aunt. We all love you—see,” and Milly rose, first pressing Mr. George’s fingers as they touched her dress in passing and giving him a look which was meant to keep him in order for a few moments “Noone can nurse you as well as I can—ask Dacre—let me take off that bandage and put it on again more comfortably for you! Will you, dear Mr. Joseph?” Mr. Joseph groaned and hid his face against Milly’s heaving breast.
“She is to be your angel as well as mine, perhaps,” murmured his brother.
“I have always been so active,” groaned poor Mr. Joseph, “What is to become of me? To live here with you would have been beautiful, but now—the simple thought of existence [page 146] at all anywhere is unbearable! And the money—good God, George, how can I help giving away!”
Some few other such scenes had naturally to be gone through before any course could be suggested to Mr. Joseph. Mrs. Cox had been taken into confidence, and Farmer Wise made to understand that nothing must be said about the unhappy affair. Mr. Joseph wrote into town explaining in some way his resignation of the rather important clerkship he had but just begun to fill creditably, and sending for all his belongings took to Mrs. Cox’s remaining little room under the roof in the character of an invalid. The secret was admirably kept, even by the doctor who had been written to and who had seen a similar case some years ago.
“A jealous devil, I suppose,” said he, when he read Mr. George Foxley’s note.
“Well, he might have come off worse. But I should like to know who the country lass was that he’d been sparkin’, and who revenged herself like that.”
A few weeks afterwards Mildred was married to George Albert Dacre Foxley, of Foxley Manor, Notts, by the Rev. Mr. Higgs in the village church. Her lover looked wonderfully well and strong on the occasion and was so happy that he was actually mischievously inclined during the ceremony, nearly causing his bride to laugh out audibly. Handsome and distinguished and aristocratic a gentleman as he looked, Mildred was not unworthy of him, as a straighter, firmer, more composed and more smiling a bride never entered a church. The girl was too happy to know what nervousness meant nor self-consciousness. She sat with her lover after he was dressed and had lain down a few moments to rest, until it was time to start in the carriage which Mr. Rattray had in the most unexpected manner offered them and which Mr. George accepted with the easy languid grace that characterized his acceptance of most things in this world excepting Milly. He had plenty of force and passion to spare concerning that gift. Stipulating that “Squires” must sit on the box seat, he and Milly and Mrs. Cox, an ideal little wedding party, drove off in actually high glee, laughing and chatting and joking immoderately to the amazement of the villagers, prominent among whom were Mrs. Woods and “Woods” himself, rescued in a dazed condition from the back premises of the “Temperance Hotel” according to popular local tradition, and Mrs. Lyman, B. Rattray, née Maria Higgs. Mr. Joseph alas! could not be present. [page 147]
In the year that followed this remarkable marriage, the relative positions of the Mr. Foxleys underwent a great change. So much love and so much care lightened the elder brother’s existence so materially, that his health actually improved, and by the end of the sixth month of marriage he was able to shoot and fish once more, and walk with his adoring wife without the help of her strong arm and shoulder. Indeed it was she who about this time began to need assistance during those long strolls by the side of the brook or through the tall grain grown meadows—a matter which astonished them both to the extent of stupefaction. Mr. George took his trouble to Mrs. Cox.
“I don’t know what you expected, Mr. George, I don’t indeed,” said she, secretly amused at his simplicity. “You went and got married as was only natural, and now you are frightened at the results, as is only natural.”
“But, my dear lady,” expostulated the perplexed gentleman, “it involves so many things, all matter of complications. For instance, money. I shall have—I really believe, my dear good Mrs. Cox—I shall have to make some money.”
“You!” ejaculated Mrs. Cox.
“I know. It appears hopeless. I never turned a penny, honest or otherwise in my life. Joseph you see—ah! poor Joseph!”
Poor Joseph indeed, darkness for light, solitude for society, enforced idleness for long-continued habits of activity, who could enjoy life under these circumstances—and careful of him as Mildred was, and sympathetic as his brother was, these two were too intensely absorbed in each other to give him all the amusement and attention he craved. He grew thin and weak and slightly perverse and seemed to care more for Mrs. Cox’s company than for his brother’s. And yet there was nothing wrong with him except his terrible affliction. Mrs. Cox was sure he had something on his mind, and one day she ventured to tell him so. He flushed all over his pale freckled skin, and feeling for her motherly hands took them in his own.
“There is,” he said. “I wonder no one has ever guessed it. Miss Dexter, where is she? Does anyone ever see her?”
“My poor boy, my dear Mr. Joseph,” cried Mrs. Cox. “You did not really care for her, did you? Surely! You did not care for her!”
“No,” said he decidedly. “No, I did not care for her—I [page 148] did’nt, never could have cared for her as George cares for Mildred, say—but she was a lady and kind to me, and I liked to go there, and the fact is—I miss her—and I am so sorry for her! and yet, you know, I am half frightened of her too and afraid to go out, thinking she may meet me and I would’nt see her coming, you know! Yet she wouldn’t do it again, I think!”
“Heaven save us, no, Mr. Joseph! And you so forgiving! Mercy me, and people say men make all the trouble!”
“It’s half-and-half, Mrs. Cox, dear old soul,” muttered Mr. Joseph, leaning back on his cushions. “I suppose we were both to blame. I can’t, for the life of me, fall to talking of it as a judgment, for before heaven, I had done nothing. Yet I forgot how lonely she was and how proud, and I forgot too, that Ellen—that Ellen—“
“Ay, Mr. Joseph. It was Ellen too. Poor Ellen, that passed away out of all!”
“And she—Miss Dexter—is still here, still living by herself in the cottage by the oak! I remember so well, Mrs. Cox, the first time my brother and I ever saw that oak!”
“I daresay, Mr. Joseph, I daresay. Yes, she is still there, living in her cottage unloved and unheeded, Mr. Joseph. And may she ever continue so!”
“Oh! don’t say that, dear old soul! Don’t say that! Do you know, I should like to see her—I mean—meet her once again!”
Mrs. Cox was certain he was not in “his right head” as she said to herself.
“See her again! Meet her, talk to her! The woman who served ye like this! Wat can you be thinking of? Let me call your brother. There he is coming along the road, brown and bonny, with his wife on his arm, bless them both?”
“Did you say he was brown, Mrs. Cox? My brother brown! What a change! He looks so well then, dear old soul!”
“If you could but see him, Mr. Joseph, you would see how well.”
“Well and brown! And Mildred, she is pale, I suppose, and with her eyes turned up to his and her lips brushing his shoulder every now and then—O I can see them—I suppose they go on worse than ever.”
“Indeed they do, Mr. Joseph. After breakfast this morning I sent them up to the drawing-room to be out of the way of the drover’s meeting to be held in the bar, and when I went up to ask [page 149] them about lunch they would take with them on the river this afternoon I heard no sound like and just whispered at the door a bit if I might come in. When I went in, there was your brother standing behind her in a chair, with all her hair down, and a brush in his hand and his wife fast asleep! He looked frightened for a minute when he saw me and I besought him to bring her to, thinking he’d mesmerized her. He’d been brushing it and playing with it and the morning was over warm—she had fallen asleep. And I left them, Mr. Joseph, I left them, for they love each other so. And when I think of the honor he has done my girl, and how particular he is that she shall be called Mrs. Foxley—it—“
“Well, well, Mrs. Cox, ours is a good name, and I do not think my brother would have ever allowed any but a good girl to bear it. And if a girl is lovely and gentle and pure-minded, and innocent, and neat, and clean, and refined as your niece was, it matters not about her birth. Birth! O my dear old soul, I am sick of the word! Miss Dexter now, is a lady, you know.”
“And I must see her again,” enforced Mr. Joseph, brought back to his one idea. “I must see her again.”
Mrs. Cox communicated this intelligence to her niece, Mrs. Foxley.
“I think I can understand why,” said she, lying back in her husband’s arms one hot summer night under the trees at the back of the house. “It seems a hard wish to understand and a harder one to comply with, but it may have to be done. Dacre—“
“What my darling!”
“When are you going to tell me about your life in England and—and—about the woman who sent you out of it?”
“The woman! I never told you about a woman, child!”
“No. But I guessed. It is sure to have been a woman, Dacre.”
“Well, I don’t mind when I tell you. Nothing of all that time is anything to me now. Shall I tell you now?”
“If you please, dearest Dacre. For I must be close to you when I listen to that, and must not have you see me, for I know I shall cry.”
“Dearest child! Well then, it shall be now, for you could scarcely be closer to me than you are now? And if you cry, as you must try not to do, you shall be allowed to cry here upon my breast and I will not look. I can hardly see you as it is, it is so [page 150] dark. Let me think, how I shall begin. You know Joseph—our poor Joseph—is my only brother and I never had any sisters. My father—you know this too—is an English country gentleman living in one of the most beautiful seats in England. If I were to describe the old place to you, you would want to go, and I could not spare you, so I will only say—well, you have seen those photographs?”
“Yes, dearest Dacre.”
“They only give you a faint idea of what it is. It is Tudor you know—do you know what Tudor is, Mrs. Foxley—and all red brick, weathered all colors, and terraced with, with lots of little windows and some big ones with stained glass in them, and urns on the terrace, and a rookery, and an old avenue of poplars, haunted too, and so on, and so on—there’s no end to it, Mildred! Yes, it’s a fine old place, without doubt. Well, that is where I was born. I don’t remember my mother. I wish I did. She died when Joseph was born, he is just four years younger than I am. Our youth was passed there—at the Manor, of course, and we had the usual small college education not extending to a university career that gentleman’s sons have in England, you know. I did’nt make many friends at school, and where we lived, there was no one to visit, and we had very few relations. It is quite unusual I believe for two boys to grow up as we did, in comparative isolation. My father was a kind of Dombey—you know Dombey, Mildred—wrapped up in his old place and the associations of his youth and in his family pride. The Foxleys are better born I believe than half of the aristocracy; we go back to the Conquest on my father’s side—a thing which he never permits himself to forget for an instant. Well, Milly, it was a dull life for two lively, affectionate lads like Joseph and me, was’nt it, and had it not been for all this, child, nature, you know, and the trees and the streams and the out-door sports I love so well, I could never have got on at all. Then when I was nineteen—just your age, love—came a change. I, being the elder and heir to the estate was sent off to town—I mean, London, my dear—and the Continent, with a tutor. Joseph—well, I believe I have never fully understood what became of Joseph during the four years I was away, but I suppose he amused himself. He has a knack of doing that. I never had, except when I am in the country. Well, this tutor was’nt a bad sort of a fellow and at first we got on splendidly, living in town in chambers, going to the plays and the opera, and [page 151] dining all over, just wherever I liked or he knew, and excursions out of London, you know—oh! jolly enough for a little while! Then we went across to Paris—“
“Yes, dearest Dacre?”
Mr. Foxley stopped a moment to lift his wife’s face closer to his own. He kissed it—a long long kiss that entranced them both to the degree of forgetting the story.
“If you would rather not go on—“ said Mildred.
“Oh! I must now. Well, we did Paris, and then the other capitals and Nice—Nice was just then coming into vogue, and ran down into Italy—I remember I liked Genoa so much—and then we came back to Paris, for Harfleur—that was the tutor’s name, and it does’nt sound like a real one, does it—preferred Paris to any other European town and of course so did I. About this time, his true character began to show itself. He went out frequently without me, smoked quite freely, would order in wine and get me to drink with him, and was very much given to calling me fresh, green, and all that you know. I began to think he was right. I was past twenty-one, and I had never even had a glimpse into the inside of life. Women, now and all that kind of thing—I was positively ignorant of—but to be sure, one quickly learns in Paris.
For one night, Harfleur asked me in his usual sneering tone how I was going to spend my evening.
“I am going out to a charming soirée at the house of Madame de L’Estarre, the most charming woman in Paris,” said he.
“Then I shall accompany you,” I said, fired by his insulting tone. And I went, Mildred. I suppose I was good-looking, eh, my child—and had sufficient air of distinction about me to impress Madame de L’Estarre, for she left the crowd of waxed and perfumed Frenchmen and devoted herself entirely to me. Although she was—beautiful—she was not tall, and I, standing at her side all that evening, never took my eyes off her dazzling face and her white uncovered bosom. In a week, my child, I had learnt to know and love every feature in that dazzling face and began to dream of the day when I should be allowed to kiss that bosom. Yes, I certainly loved her.”
“I am sure you loved her, Dacre my darling. And how could she help loving you, dear, in return?”
“Oh, that is another thing entirely, quite another thing. After that night, Harfleur showed me more respect than he had done for some time previously and we began to hit it off again [page 152] better. I went to her hotel—her house you know, every day. At first she would always receive me alone, sending anybody away who happened to be there and refusing to admit anybody who came while we were together. * * * * It is difficult, even to my wife, to explain what kind of woman she was. All that first time, when we would be alone, she would—make love, I suppose it must be called—with her eyes and her hands, and her very skirts and her fan, and the cushion, and the footstool. The room was always beautiful and always dim, and she would greet me with outstretched hands and a shy smile, making room for me beside her on the sofa—she always sat on a sofa. We would talk of nothing at all perhaps but look into each other’s eyes, until the force of her look would draw me close, close to her till we were almost in one another’s arms, and I could feel her breath coming faster every moment when just as I imagined she would sink upon my shoulder—she would draw herself up with a laugh and push me away, declaring somebody was coming. Then, if nobody came, she would go through the same farce again. This would happen perhaps two or three times a day. In the evening, I was again at her side, night after night regarding her with a devotion that amazed even my friend Harfleur.
“She treats you like a dog. It will kill you yet, George. Come away.” But of course I would not go. I accompanied her to the theatre, to the Bois, to the shops, to church—yes, even to church, Mildred, think of that—and she was very careful and circumspect and all that. I even believe as far as direct actions go, she may have been a virtuous woman, for she certainly had no other lover when I knew her. She was a widow, enormously right and nothing to do. Therefore, I suppose she went in for the torturing business as a profession. Her Frenchmen did not mind; that was the secret of her charm with them—so clever, they called her, but it nearly killed me, her cleverness. I grew pale and worn—sleep—I never slept. All my life I had lived without natural affection, and now I was pouring forth upon this woman the love I might have rendered friends, sister, brother, mother, as well as the passion of a young man. I say to you now, Mildred, my wife, that the woman who tramples on the passion of a young man is as bad as the man who slays the innocence of a young girl. And that’s what she did. Finally, when this had lasted for a year and a half, and Harfleur had gone back to England, one day, when I was perfectly desperate and could have killed her, Milly, as she [page 153] lay at full length on her damned sofa—pardon, my dear, no, don’t kiss my hand, child, don’t—dressed in some rose-colored stuff all trailing about her and her hands clasped under her head, I fell be her on my knees and besought her to tell me what she meant and if she ever could care for me. I give you my word, my dear, and with my hand over your innocent heart, you know I dare not lie—in all that year and a half I had not even touched her lips. You cannot, happily imagine the torture of such a position.
Well, that day, she bent over to me on her side and said “What do you want, is it to kiss me? Chut! wait for that till we are married.”
“Do you mean to marry me?” I gasped out. She said “yes,” Mildred, and brushed my cheek with her lips. What do you think I did then, Mildred?”
“How can I tell, dearest Dacre!”
“I fainted, dearest. Think of it. But I believed her, you see, and the revulsion was too great. In a moment or two I came to myself with the sounds of laughter in my ears. I was on her sofa—that damned sofa—pardon again, my dear—and she was standing with three of her cursed Frenchmen around her all laughing fit to kill themselves. I saw through it all in a moment. They had been on the other side of the curtains. I went straight up to her and said “Did you say that you were ready to become my wife?” She only laughed and the men too with her. Then I struck her—on her white breast, Milly—and struck the three Frenchmen on the face one after the other. They were so astonished that not one of them moved, and I parted the curtains, and left the house.”
“Did you ever see her again?”
“Never. I left Paris considerably wiser than I had entered it and avoided society generally. I had one year’s life in London, and was considered no end of a catch by the mammas, I believe, but you can imagine I did not easily fall a victim. No. That is all my story, my dear, all at least that has been unguessed at by you. My health was very bad at home and beyond my live of sport I cared for nothing. I grew to hate my life in England, even England, though she had done me no harm. Finally, I quarrelled with my father who married again, a woman we both disliked, Joseph and I, and so we turned our backs on the Old World and came out to Canada and to—you.”
Mildred still lay, crying softly, in her husband’s arms. [page 154]
“I had sometimes dreamt,” continued Mr. Foxley, “of meeting some young girl who could love me and on whose innocence and sweetness I could rest and whom besides I should really love. It did not dawn upon me when I first saw you, that you were the one I wanted, for we must confess, dear, that you were very plump and rather pink and spoke—”
“Why, Dacre, how can you? I was only fifteen! Cruel!”
“Yes, I know. And how you changed! Now, you are so different that it is not the same Mildred at all. Such is the power of a true love, my child, and we must always be happy,—ours is one of those marriages.”
Theirs was indeed one of those marriages. Mr. Foxley took to farming and enriched his purse as well as his health. Mr. Joseph had an interview with Miss Dexter the nature of which I am not going to reveal, but which resulted in a placid intimacy between the two to the surprise of all save Milly who always said that “she thought she knew why.” Miss Dexter frequently accompanied blind Mr. Joseph on his lonely walks or would sit with him when the others were out, as none but he cared to meet her. Towards his death which occurred in about four years time, she was with him constantly, and died herself in a fortnight after, having left in her will, all her maiden belongings to her “good friend, Farmer Wise.” The farmer was not much moved when informed of this fact, so incomprehensible to the rest of the village. He had always kept the little bottle with its cruel label, and had always feared and avoided poor, proud, foolish, wicked Charlotte Dexter since that Saturday night.
As for Mr. George and his wife, I see a vision of a successful and happy husband and father in the prime of early old age (which means, that at fifty-three one is not old with a young wife and three sweet children) and of Mildred, who is always a little pale, has her eyes constantly turned up to her husband’s with her lips brushing his shoulder every now and then.
Ay, still and forever. And so ends my sketch of how the Mr. Foxleys came, stayed and never went away. [page 155]
[back to Index / Next]