“Stupid-looking old place! Dare say I shall have to waste half an hour listening to centennial twaddle before I get what I want! The whole thing is a bore, but I can’t quarrel with my bread and butter, so here goes;” and, with an air of resignation, the young man applied himself to the rusty knocker.
“Rather a nice old bit; maybe useful, so I’ll book it;” and, whipping out a sketch-book, the stranger took a hasty likeness of the griffin’s head on the knocker.
“Deaf as posts; try, try, try again;” and, pocketing his work, the artist gave an energetic rat, tat, tat, that echoed through the house.
Having rashly concluded that the inhabitants of the ancient mansion were proportionately aged, he assumed a deferential expression as steps approached, and prepared to prefer with all due respect the request which he had come many miles to make. The door opened with unexpected rapidity, but the neatly arranged speech did not glide glibly off the young man’s tongue, and the change which came over him was comically sudden; for, instead of an old woman, a blooming girl stood upon the threshold, with a petulant expression on her charming face, which only made it more charming still.
“What did you wish, sir?” asked the rosy mouth, involuntarily relaxing from a vain attempt to look severe, while the hazel eyes softened with a mirthful gleam as they rested on the comely, but embarrassed countenance before her.
“Beg pardon for making such a noise. I merely wished to inquire if the famous chair in which Washington sat when he visited the town is here,” replied the stranger, clutching off his hat with a very different sort of respect from that which he had intended to show, and feeling as if he had received a shock of some new and delightful sort of electricity.
“Yes;” and the girl began to close the door, as if she knew what question was coming next.
“Could I be allowed to sketch it for ‘The Weekly Portfolio’? All such relics are so valuable this year that we venture to ask many favors, and this is such a famous affair I’ve no doubt you are often troubled by requests of this sort,” continued the artist, with the persuasive tone of one accustomed to make his way everywhere.
“This is the fifth time this week,” replied the damsel, demurely; though her lips still struggled not to smile.
“It’s very good of you, I’m sure, to let us fellows in, but the public demand is immense just now, and we only obey orders, you know,” began the fifth intruder, fervently hoping the other four had been refused.
“But Mrs. Hill never does let artists or reporters in,” was the gentle quencher which arrested him, as he was industriously wiping his feet on the door-mat.
“Never?” he asked, stopping short, while an expression of alarm changed suddenly to one of satisfaction.
“Never,” answered the damsel, like a sweet-voiced echo.
“Then the other fellows lost their chance, and that makes the old thing doubly valuable. If I could see Mrs. Hill for a moment, I’ve no doubt she will allow me to sketch the chair.”
“She is not at home.”
“So much the better; for, when I tell you that I’ve come fifty miles to pick up antiquities in this town, I know you won’t have the heart to send me away without the gem of the collection,” replied the artist, nothing daunted; for his quick eye read the artless face before him, and saw a defiant expression come over it, which made him suspect that there had been a falling out between mistress and maid, if such they were. He was sure of it when the girl threw open the door with a decisive gesture, saying briefly,—
“Walk in, if you please; she won’t be home for an hour.”
“What a little beauty!” thought the young man, admiring her spirit, and feeling that the “stupid old place” contained unexpected treasures, as he followed her into the room where the ubiquitous Father of his Country was reported to have dried his august boots, and drunk a mug of cider some hundred years ago.
It seemed as if the ghosts of many of the homely household articles used then had come back to celebrate the anniversary of that thrilling event; for there was nothing modern in the little room but the girl and her guest, who stared about him at the tall andirons on the hearth, the bright, brass candlesticks above it, the spinning-wheel on one side, a dresser on the other strewn with pewter platters, porringers, and old china, while antique garments hung over the settle by the fire.
“Bless my soul, what a capital old place!” he ejaculated, taking it all in with an artist’s keen appreciation. “I feel as if I’d gone back a century, and the General might come in at any minute.”
“That is the chair he used, and this the tankard he drank from,” answered the girl, pointing out the sacred objects with a reverential air which warned her visitor that he must treat the ancient and honorable relics with due respect.
Then feeling that this was an unusual stroke of luck, he hastened to make the most of it, by falling to work at once, saying, as he took a seat, and pointed his pencils,—
“There is such a lot of treasures here that I don’t know where to begin. I hope I shall not be very much in your way.”
“Oh, no! if you don’t mind my going on with my work; for I can’t leave it very well. All these things are to be sent away to-morrow, that’s why the place is in such confusion,” replied the girl, as she fell to polishing up a brass snuffer-tray.
“Here’s richness!” thought the artist, with a sigh of satisfaction, as he dashed at his work, feeling wonderfully inspired by his picturesque surroundings.
The dull winter sky gloomed without, and a chilly wind sighed through the leafless elms; but within the little room fairly glowed with the ruddy firelight that shone in the bright brasses, glimmered over the tarnished silver of the quaint vests on the settle, and warmed the artist’s busy hand, as if it liked to help him in his task. But the jolly flames seemed to dance most lovingly about their little mistress; bathing the sweet face with a softer bloom, touching the waves of brown hair with gold, peeping under the long lashes at the downcast eyes that peeped back again half arch, half shy; glorifying the blue apron that seemed to clasp the trim waist as if conscious of its advantages, and showing up the dimples in the bare arms working so briskly that even the verdigris of ages yielded to their persuasive touch.
“Who can this pretty Priscilla be? I must make her talk and find out. Never shall get the eyes right, if she doesn’t look up,” thought the artist, who, instead of devoting himself to the historical chair, was basely sketching the girl whose youth and beauty were wonderfully enhanced by the antiquity around her.
“Mrs. Hill is a rich woman, if all these treasures have a history. Even if they haven’t, they would bring a good price; for things of this sort are all the rage now, and the older the better,” he said aloud in a sociable tone, as he affected to study the left arm of the famous chair.
“They are not hers to sell, for they belonged to the first Mrs. Hill, who was a Quincy, and had a right to be proud of them. The present Mrs. Hill doesn’t value them a bit; but she was a Smith, so her family relics are nothing to boast of,” answered the girl, using her bit of wash-leather as if the entire race of Smith ought to be rubbed out of existence.
“And she is going to sell all these fine old things, is she?” asked the artist, with an eye to bargains.
“No, indeed! they belong to—to the first Mrs. Hill’s daughter, named after her, Dorothy Quincy,” the girl began impetuously, but checked herself, and ended very quietly with a suddenly averted head.
“A fine name, and I shouldn’t think she would be in haste to change it,” said the artist, wondering if Miss Dorothy Quincy was before him.
“Not much hope of that, poor thing,” with a shake of the head that made several brown curls tumble out of the net which tried to confine a riotous mass of them.
“Ah, I see, a spinster?” and the young man returned to his work with greatly abated interest in the subject.
The bright eyes glanced quickly up, and when they fell the snuffer-tray reflected a merry twinkle in them, as their owner answered gravely,—
“Yes, a spinster.”
“Is she one of the amiable sort?”
“Oh, dear, no! very quick in her temper and sharp with her tongue. But then she has a good deal to try her, as I happen to know.”
“Sorry for that. Spinsterhood is trying, I fancy, so we should be patient with the poor old ladies. Why I asked was because I thought I might induce Miss Dolly to let me have some of her relics. Do you think she would?” he asked, holding his sketch at arm’s length, and studying it with his head on one side.
“I’m very sure she won’t, for these old things are all she has in the world, and she loves them dearly. People used to laugh at her for it, but now they are glad to own her and her ‘duds,’ as they called them. The Smiths are looking up every thing they can find of that sort, even poor relations. All these things are going down to a fair to-morrow, and Miss Dolly with them.”
“As one of the relics?” suggested the artist, glancing at a green calash and a plum-colored quilted petticoat lying on the settle.
“Exactly,” laughed the girl, adding with a touch of bitterness in her voice, “Poor Miss Dolly never got an invitation before, and I’m afraid it’s foolish of her to go now, since she is only wanted to show off the old-fashioned things, and give the Smiths something to boast of.”
“You are fond of the old lady in spite of her temper, I see.”
“She is the only friend I’ve got;” and the speaker bent over the tray as if to hide emotion of some sort.
“I shall probably have to ‘do’ that fair for our paper; if so, I’ll certainly pay my respects to Miss Dolly. Why not? Is she so very awful?” he asked quickly, as the girl looked up with a curious mixture of mirth and malice in her face.
“Very!” with a lifting of the brows and a pursing up of the lips delightful to behold.
“You think I won’t dare address the peppery virgin? I never saw the woman yet whom I was afraid of, or the man either for that matter, so I give you my word I’ll not only speak to Miss Dolly, but win her old heart by my admiration for her and her ancestral treasures, said the artist, accepting the challenge he read in the laughing eyes.
“We shall see, for I’m going with her. I do the spinning, and it’s great fun,” said the girl, prudently changing the conversation, though she evidently enjoyed it.
“I never saw it done. Could you give me an idea of the thing, if it is not asking too much?” proposed the artist in his most persuasive tone, for somehow play of this sort was much more interesting than the study of old furniture.
With amiable alacrity the girl set the big wheel buzzing, and deftly drew out the yarn from the spindle, stepping briskly to and fro, twirling and twisting with an ease and grace which convinced the admiring observer that the best thing ever invented to show off a round arm, a pretty foot, a fine figure, and a charming face, was a spinning-wheel.
This opinion was so plainly expressed upon his own countenance that the color deepened in the girl’s cheeks as she looked over her shoulder to see how he liked it, and dropping the thread she left the wheel still whirling, and went back to her work without a word.
“Thank you very much; it’s beautiful! Don’t see how in the world you do it,” murmured the young man, affecting to examine the wheel, while his own head seemed to whirl in sympathy, for that backward glance had unconsciously done great execution.
A moon-faced clock behind the door striking eleven recalled the idler to his task, and resuming his seat he drew silently till the chair was done; then he turned a page, and looked about for the next good bit.
“Rather warm work,” he said, smiling, as he shook the hair off his forehead, and pushed his chair back from the hearth.
“This is what makes the place so hot. I’ve been learning to make old-fashioned dishes for the fair, and this batch is going down to show what I can do.”
As she spoke, the girl threw open the door of a cavernous oven, and with an air of housewifely pride displayed a goodly array of brown loaves round as cannon-balls, earthen crocks suggestive of baked beans and Indian pudding, and near the door a pan of spicy cakes delectable to smell and see. These she drew forth and set upon the table, turning from the oven after a careful inspection of its contents with the complexion of a damask rose.
“Delicious spectacle!” exclaimed the artist, with his eyes upon the pretty cook, while hers were on her handiwork.
“You shall taste them, for they are made from a very old receipt and are called sweethearts,” said the innocent creature, setting them forth on a large platter, while a smile went dimpling round her lips.
“Capital name! they’ll sell faster than you can make them. But it seems to me you are to have all the work, and Miss Dolly all the credit,” added this highly appreciative guest, subduing with difficulty the rash impulse to embrace Miss Dolly’s rosy handmaid on the spot.
She seemed to feel the impending danger, and saying hastily, “You must have some cider to go with your cake: that’s the correct thing, you know,” she tripped away with hospitable zeal.
“Upon my soul, I begin to feel like the Prince of the fairy tale in this quiet place where every thing seems to have been asleep for a hundred years. The little beauty ought to have been asleep too, and given me a chance to wake her. More of a Cinderella than a princess, I fancy, and leads a hard life of it between Miss Dolly and the second Mrs. Hill. Wonder what happy fellow will break the spell and set her free?” and the young man paced the kitchen, humming softly,—
till the sound of a light step made him dart into a chair, saying to himself with a sudden descent from poetry to prose, “Bless her little heart, I’ll drink her cider if it’s as sour as vinegar.”
In came the maid, bearing a tankard on a salver; and, adding several sweethearts, she offered the homely lunch with a curtsey and a smile that would have glorified even pork and beans.
“You are sitting in the General’s chair, and here is the tankard he used; you can drink his health, if you like.”
“I’d rather drink that of the maker of sweethearts;” and, rising, the artist did so, gallantly regardless of consequences.
But the cider was excellent, and subsiding into the immortal chair he enjoyed his lunch with the hearty appetite of a boy, while the damsel began to fold up the garments airing on the settle, and lay them into a chest standing near; the one quite unconscious that he was drinking draughts of a far more potent liquor than apple-juice, the other that she had begun to spin a golden thread instead of yarn when she turned the great wheel that day.
An eloquent sort of silence filled the room for a moment, and a ray of sunshine glanced from the silver tankard to the bright head bent over the chest, as if to gild the first page of the romance which is as fresh and sweet to-day as when the stately George wooed his beloved Martha. A shrill voice suddenly broke that delicious pause, exclaiming, as a door opened with a bang,—
“Not packed yet! I won’t have this rubbish cluttering round another minute—” There the voice abruptly fell, and the stranger had time to see a withered, yellow face in a pumpkin hood stare sharply at him before it vanished with an exclamation of unmistakable disapproval.
“Miss Dolly seems more afraid of me than I of her, you see,” began the young man, much amused at the retreat of the enemy; for such he regarded any one who disturbed this delightful tête-à-tête.
“She has only gone to put her cap on, and when she comes back you can pay your respects to—Mrs. Hill;” and the girl looked over the lid of the chest with dancing eyes.
“Then I’d better be off, since reporters and artists are not allowed on the premises,” exclaimed the visitor, rising with more haste than dignity.
“Don’t hurry; she is only a woman, and you are not afraid, you know.”
“I’m afraid you will get a scolding,” began the artist, pocketing his sketch-book, and grasping his hat.
“I’m used to that,” answered the girl, evidently enjoying the rout with naughty satisfaction.
But the sharp, black eyes and the shrill voice had effectually broken the pleasant day-dream; and Mrs. Hill in a pumpkin hood was quite enough for his nerves, without a second appearance in one of the awe-inspiring caps such ladies affect.
“I couldn’t think of repaying your kindness by intruding any longer, now that I’ve got my sketch. A thousand thanks; good-morning;” and, opening the first door he came to, the dismayed man was about to plunge into the buttery, when the girl arrested his flight and led him through the long hall.
On the steps he took breath, returned thanks again with grateful warmth, and pulling out a card presented it, as if anxious to leave some token behind which should prevent being forgotten by one person at least.
“John Hancock Harris” read the card, and glancing up from it, with sudden interest in her eyes, the girl exclaimed impulsively,—
“Why, then you must be a relation of—”
“No, I regret to say I’m not related to the famous Governor, only named for him to please my father. I’ve always been contented with a modest initial until now; but this year every one does their best to hang on to the past, so I’ve got proud of my middle name, and find it useful as well as ornamental,” hastily explained the honest young fellow, though just then he would have liked to claim kinship with every member of the Continental Congress.
“I hope you will be worthy of it,” answered the damsel with a little bow, as if saluting the man for his name’s sake.
“I try to be,” he said soberly, adding with that engaging smile of his, “May I ask to whom I am indebted for this very profitable and agreeable call?”
Instantly the sweet sobriety vanished, and every feature of the pretty face shone with mirthful malice as the girl answered sweetly,—
“Miss Dolly. Good-morning,” and closed the door, leaving him to stare blankly at the griffin on the knocker, which appeared to stare back again with a derisive grin.
A CINDER AND A SPARK.
One of the few snow-storms of the memorably mild winter of 1876 was coming quietly down, watched with lazy interest by the passengers in a certain train that rumbled leisurely toward the city. Without it was cold and wintry enough, but within as hot as an oven; for, with the usual American disregard of health, there was a roaring fire in the stove, every ventilator shut, and only one man in the crowded car had his window open.
Toward this reckless being many a warning or reproachful glance was cast by rheumatic old gentlemen or delicate women who led the lives of hot-house flowers. But the hearty young fellow sat buried in his newspapers, regardless alike of these expressive glances and the fresh wind that blew in an occasional snow-flake to melt upon his shoulder, hair, or beard.
If his face had not been obscured by the great sheet held before it, an observer might have watched with interest the varying expressions of amusement, contempt, indignation, and disgust which passed over it as he read; for it was a very expressive face, and too young yet to have put on the mask men so soon learn to wear. He was evidently one of the strong, cheery, sympathetic sort of fellows who make their way everywhere, finding friends as they go from the simple fact that they are so full of courage and good-will it is impossible to resist them. This had been proved already; for during that short journey three old ladies had claimed his services in one way or another, a shy little girl had sat upon his knee for half an hour and left him with a kiss, and an obstreperous Irish baby had been bribed to hold its tongue by the various allurements he devised, to the great amusement, as well as gratitude, of his neighbors.
Just now, however, he looked rather grim, knit his brows as he read, and finally kicked his paper under the seat with an expression which proved that he had as much energy as kindliness in his composition, and no taste for the sorrowful record of scandal, dishonesty, and folly daily offered the American public.
“Upon my word, if this sort of thing goes on much longer, the country won’t be fit for a decent man to live in,” he said to himself, taking a mouthful of fresh air, and letting his eyes wander over the faces of his fellow-travellers as if wondering which of the eminently respectable gentlemen about him would next startle the world by some explosion of iniquity. Even the women did not escape the scrutiny of the keen blue eyes, which softened, however, as they went from one possible Delilah to another; for John Harris had not yet lost his reverence for womankind.
Suddenly his wandering glance was arrested, a look of recognition brightened his whole countenance, and an involuntary “Hullo!” rose to his lips, instead of the romantic “Ha, ’tis she!” with which novel heroes are supposed to greet the advent of the charmer.
The object which wrought so swift and pleasant a change in the young man’s mood and manner was a girl’s face seen in profile some seats in front of him. A modest little hat with a sweeping feather rested easily on a mass of wavy hair, which was not spoilt by any fashionable device, but looped up in a loose sort of braid from which rebellious tendrils here and there escaped to touch her white throat or shade her temples. One particularly captivating little curl twined round her ear and seemed to be whispering some pleasant secret, for the blooming cheek dimpled now and then, the soft lips smiled, and the eyes were full of a dreamy thoughtfulness. A book lay in her lap, but her own fancies seemed more interesting, and she sat watching the snow-flakes flutter down, lost in one of the delightful reveries girls love, quite unconscious of the admiration of her neighbors, or the fixed stare of the young man behind her.
“Miss Dolly, by all that’s good!” he said to himself, suddenly forgetting the sins of his native land, and finding it quite possible to stop a little longer in it. “She said she was going to town with the old things, and there she is, prettier than ever. If it hadn’t been for those provoking papers, I should have seen her when she got in, and might have secured a seat by her. That stout party evidently doesn’t appreciate his advantages. I can’t order him out, but I’ll watch my chance, for I really ought to apologize for my stupidity yesterday. Wonder if she has forgotten all about it?”
And John fell into a reverie likewise, for he was in just the mood to enjoy any thing so innocent and fresh and sweet as the memory of little Dolly at her spinning-wheel. It all came back to him with a redoubled charm, for there was a home-like warmth and simplicity about it that made the recollection very pleasant to a solitary fellow knocking about the world with no ties of any sort to keep him safe and steady. He felt the need of them, and was all ready to give away his honest heart, if he could find any amiable creature who could be satisfied with that alone, for he had nothing else to offer. He was rather fastidious, however, having an artist’s refined taste in the matter of beauty, and a manly man’s love of the womanliness which shows itself in character, not clothes. But he had few opportunities to discover his ideal woman, and no desire to worship a fashion plate, so here was an excellent heart to let, and no one knew it, unless they had the skill to read the notice in the window.
The reveries of both young people were rudely disturbed by the “stout party,” who having finished his paper, and taken a comprehensive survey of his thoughtful little neighbor, suddenly began to talk as if he did “appreciate his advantages,” and meant to make the most of them.
John watched this performance with deep interest, and it soon became rather exciting; for Miss Dolly’s face was a tell-tale, and plainly betrayed the rapid transitions of feeling through which she passed. The respectful attention she at first gave in deference to the age of the speaker changed to surprise, then to annoyance, lastly to girlish confusion and distress; for the old gentleman was evidently of the Pecksniffian order, and took advantage of his gray hairs to harass the pretty damsel with his heavy gallantry.
Poor Miss Dolly looked vainly about her for any means of escape, but every seat was full, and she was quite unconscious that an irate young man behind her was burning to rush to the rescue if he had only known how. As no way appeared, John was forced to content himself with directing such fiery glances at the broad back of the ancient beau it was a wonder they did not act like burning-glasses and set that expanse of broadcloth in a blaze.
A crisis soon arrived, and woman’s wit turned the tables capitally; for when the old gentleman confiscated her book under pretence of looking at it, and then, laying his arm over the back of the seat, went on talking with a fat smile that exasperated her beyond endurance, Dolly gave him one indignant glance and opened her window, letting in a blast of cold air that made her tormentor start and shiver as if she had boxed his ears.
“Good! if that does not rout the enemy, I’m much mistaken,” said John to himself, enjoying it all with the relish of a young man who sees an old one usurping his privileges.
The enemy was not routed, but his guns were silenced; for, having expostulated with paternal solicitude, he turned up his coat-collar and retired behind his paper, evidently much disgusted at finding that two could play at the game of annoyance, though the girl had to call the elements to her aid.
“If I dared, I’d offer to change seats with him; not because he is suffering agonies at the idea of getting tic-douloureux or a stiff neck, that would only serve him right, but because she will get the worst of it. There, she has already! Confound that cinder! why didn’t it go into his eye instead of hers?” added John, as he saw the girl shrink suddenly, and begin to wink and rub her eye with distressful haste, while the “stout party” took advantage of the mishap to close the window with an expression of vengeful satisfaction on his rubicund visage. He offered no help, for his first rebuff still rankled in his memory, but placidly twirled his thumbs, with a sidelong glance now and then at his companion, who, finding all her winking and rubbing in vain, shrouded her face in a veil, and sat a pathetic picture of beauty in distress, with an occasional tear rolling over her cheek and her dear little nose reddening rapidly with the general inflammation caused by that fatal cinder.
This affecting spectacle was too much for John, who not only felt the chivalrous desire of a man to help the gentle sex, but remembered that he owed the girl a good turn for her hospitality the day before, not to mention the apology he quite burned to make. Knowing that the train would soon stop a few minutes for the passengers to lunch, he resolved then and there to cast himself into the breach and deliver the doubly afflicted damsel at all costs.
Happily the station was reached before any great damage was done to the girl’s features, or the young man’s impatience became uncontrollable. The instant the stout gentleman rose to seek refreshment John dived for his valise, and, cleaving his way through the crowded aisle, presented himself beside the empty place, asking, with an attempt to look and speak like a stranger, which would not have deceived Dolly a bit, had she not been half-blind, “Is this seat engaged, madam?”
“No, sir,” she answered, unveiling to discover what new affliction fate had sent her.
It was delightful to see the one wistful eye light up with a look of recognition, the one visible cheek flush with pleasure, and the lips smile as they added, with the impulsive frankness of a tormented girl, “Oh, please take it quickly, or that dreadful man will come back!”
Quite satisfied with his welcome, John slipped into the coveted place, resolving to keep it in spite of a dozen stout gentlemen.
“Thanks, now what else can I do for you?” he asked, with such an evident desire to lend a hand somewhere that it was impossible to decline his services.
“Could you take this thing out of my eye? It hurts dreadfully, and I shall be a spectacle by the time I get to Aunt Maria’s,” answered Dolly, with a little moan that rent the hearer’s susceptible heart.
“That is just what I want to do, and you may trust me; for I’ve been a great traveller, and have had much experience in the extraction of cinders,” said John, adding, as he produced a pencil in a capable sort of way, “now open your eye wide, and we’ll have it out in a jiffy.”
Dolly obeyed with a courage and confidence most flattering, and John peered into the suffering eye with an intensity which it was impossible for the most artful cinder to escape.
“I see it!” he cried, and turning back the lid over his pencil he delicately removed the black atom with a corner of Dolly’s veil.
It was all over in an instant, and both displayed great nerve and coolness during the operation; but, as soon as it was done, Dolly retired into her handkerchief, and John found himself as flushed and breathless as if he had faced some great danger, instead of merely looking into a girl’s eye. Ah! but it was a very eloquent eye in spite of the cinder,—large and soft, tearful and imploring, and the instant during which he had bent to examine it had been a most exciting one; for the half-open lips were so near his own their hurried breath fanned his cheek, the inquisitive little curl tumbled over her ear to touch his wrist as he held up the eyelid, and a small hand had unconsciously clutched softly at his arm during the inspection. Bless you! the famous scene between Uncle Toby and the Widow Wadman was entirely surpassed on this occasion, because the actors were both young and neither artful.
“Such relief!” sighed Dolly, emerging from a brief retirement, with a face so full of gratitude that it was like a burst of sunshine after an eclipse.
“Let me see if it is all right;” and John could not resist another look into the clear depths through which he seemed to catch delicious glimpses of an innocent young heart before maiden modesty drew the curtain and shut him out. As the long lashes fell, a sudden color in her cheeks seemed to be reflected upon his, and with a hasty,—
“It is a good deal inflamed, so I’m going to prescribe a wet bandage for a few minutes, if you can spare your handkerchief,”—he hurried away to the water tank near by.
“That’s very comforting. Thank you so much!” and Dolly patted her invalid eye assiduously; while John, feeling that he had earned his place, planted his valise on the seat with a defiant glance over his shoulder, then turned to Dolly, saying, “You must have some lunch,” and waiting for no denial dashed out of the car as if on an errand of life and death.
He was gone but a moment or two; but in that time Dolly had smoothed her hair, retied her hat, whisked a nicer pair of gloves out of her pocket, and taken a rapid survey of herself in a tiny glass concealed from other eyes in the recesses of her bag. She had just time to close and cast the aforesaid bag recklessly upon the floor as her knight came up, bearing a cup of tea and a block of cake, saying in the pleasantly protecting way all women like,—
“Dr. Harris prescribes refreshment after the operation, and this is the best he can find. Your aged admirer was at the counter, eating against time and defying apoplexy,” he added with a laugh, as Dolly gratefully sipped the tea, which, by the way, was as weak as that made at the famous Boston tea-party, when, as every one knows, water was liberally used.
“You saw him, then, when he was plaguing me?”
“I did, and longed to throw him out of the window.”
“Thanks. Did you recognize me before you spoke?”
“Of course I did, and wanted to approach, but didn’t dare till the cinder gave me an excuse.”
“The idea of being afraid of me!”
“How could I help being afraid, when you told me Miss Dolly was ‘awful’?” asked John, twinkling with fun, as he sat on the arm of a seat sociably eating a sandwich, which under other circumstances would have struck him as being a remarkable combination of sawdust and sole-leather.
Before Dolly could reply except by a guilty blush, a bell rang, and John hurried away with the empty cup.
A moment or two later the stout gentleman appeared, wiping his mouth, evidently feeling in a better humor, and ready to make up with his pretty neighbor. Smiling blandly, he was about to remove the valise, when Miss Dolly laid her hand upon it, saying with great dignity, “This seat is engaged, sir. There are plenty of others now, and I wish this for my friend.”
Here John, who was just behind, seeing his prize in danger, gave a gentle shove to several intervening fellow-beings, who in turn propelled the “stout party” past the disputed place, which the young man took with an air of entire satisfaction, and a hearty “Thank you!” which told Dolly he had overheard her little speech.
She colored beautifully, but said with grateful frankness,—
“It wasn’t a fib: a friend in need is a friend indeed, and in return for the cinder I’m glad to give you a seat.”
“Blessed be the cinder, then!” murmured John, feeling at peace with all mankind. Then taking advantage of the propitious moment, he added in a penitential tone,—
“I want to apologize for my stupidity and unintentional rudeness yesterday.”
“About what?” asked Dolly, innocently, though her eyes began to sparkle with amusement.
“Why, taking it into my head that Miss Hill must be oldish, and going on in that absurd way about spinsters.”
“Well, I am a spinster, and not so young as I have been. I ought to apologize for not telling you who I was; but it was so very funny to hear you go on in that sober way to my face, I couldn’t spoil it,” said the girl, with a look that upset John’s repentant gravity; and they laughed together as only the young and happy can.
“It is very good of you to take it so kindly, but I assure you it weighed upon my conscience, and it is a great relief to beg pardon,” he said, feeling as if they had been friends for years.
“Have you been sketching old things ever since?” asked Dolly, changing the conversation with womanly tact.
“Yes: I went to several places further on, but didn’t find any thing half so good as your chair and tankard. I suppose you are taking the relics to town now?”
“All but one.”
“Which is that?”
“The pumpkin hood. It is the only thing my step-mother admires among my treasures, and she would not give it up. You rather admired it, didn’t you?” asked Dolly, with her demurest air.
“I deserve to be laughed at for my panic,” answered John, owning up manfully; then pulled out his sketch-book, with an eye to business even in the middle of a joke.
“See here! I tried to get that venerable hood into my sketch, but couldn’t quite hit it. Perhaps you can help me.”
“Let me see them all,” said Dolly, taking possession of the book with a most flattering air of interest.
“Nothing there but queer or famous things, all a hundred years old at least,” began John, quite forgetting his stolen sketch of a pretty girl cleaning a snuffer-tray, which he had worked up with great care the night before. Perhaps this made the book open at that particular page, for, as the words left his lips, Dolly’s eyes fell on her own figure, too well done to be mistaken, even if the artist’s face had not betrayed him.
“What ‘queer’ or ‘famous’ old person of the last century is that, please?” she asked, holding it off, and looking at it through her hand, while her lips broke into a smile in spite of her efforts to look unconscious.
Knowing that a pretty woman will easily forgive a liberty of that sort, John got out of the scrape handsomely by answering with mock gravity,—
“Oh, that’s Madam Hancock, when a girl. Did you never see the famous portrait at Portsmouth?”
“No. The dress is rather modern, and not quite in keeping with the antique chair she is sitting in,” observed the girl, critically.
“That’s to be added later. I have to work up things, you know,—a face here, a costume there, and so on: all artists do.”
“So I see. There’s the hood; but it wants a cape,” and Dolly turned the leaf, as much amused at his quickness as flattered by his compliment.
There were not many sketches as yet, but she admired them all, and, when the book was shut, chatted on about antiquities, feeling quite friendly and comfortable; for there was respect, as well as admiration, in the honest blue eyes, and the young man did not offend as the old one had done.
“As you are interested in curiosities, perhaps you may like to see some that I have here in my bag. I am very fond and proud of them, because they are genuine, and have histories of old times attached to them,” she said presently.
“I shall feel much honored by being allowed to look at them,” replied the artist, remembering that “people used to laugh at poor Miss Dolly and her ‘duds.'”
“This little pin, made of two hearts in diamonds and rubies, with a crown above, used to be worn by my mother’s great aunt, Madam Hancock. She was a Quincy, you know. And this long garnet buckle fastened the Governor’s stock,” began Dolly, displaying her store with a gentle pride pleasant to see.
“Most interesting! but I can’t help feeling grateful that this J. H. doesn’t have to wear a stock requiring a foot-long buckle like that,” answered John, picturing himself in the costume of the past century, and wondering if it would suit his manly face and figure.
“Now don’t laugh at this relic, for it is very curious, though you won’t appreciate it as a woman would;” and Dolly unfolded an old-fashioned housewife of red velvet, lined with faded yellow damask. “That was made by my dear mother out of a bit of the velvet lining of the Governor’s state-coach, and the coverlet that a French Comte tore with his spurs.”
“Come, that sounds well! I appreciate coaches and spurs, if I’m not up to brooches and needle-books. Tell the story, please,” besought John, who found it the most delightful thing in the world to sit there, following the pretty motions of the small hands, the changeful expression of the winsome face, and enjoying the companionship of the confiding creature beside him.
“Well, you see, when Madam married Captain Scott many of the Governor’s things were taken from her, among them the state-coach. By the way, it is said to be in existence now, stored away in somebody’s barn down in Portland. You had better go and sketch it,” began Dolly, smoothing out the old housewife, and evidently glad to tell the little story of the ancestress whom she was said to resemble, though she modestly refrained from mentioning a fact of which she was immensely proud.
“I will!” and John soberly made a memorandum to visit the ancient coach.
“When my great-great aunt was told she must give up the carriage, she ripped out the new velvet lining, which had been put in at her expense, and gave the bits to her various nieces. Mother made a spencer of hers, and when it was worn out kept enough for this needle-book. The lining is a scrap of the yellow damask counterpane that was on the bed in which the Frenchman should have slept when he came with Lafayette to visit Madam, only he was so tipsy he laid on the outside, and tore the fine cover with his spurs. There’s a nice Comte for you!”
“I’d like to see the spurs, nevertheless. Any more treasures?” and John peered into the bag, as if he thirsted for more antiquarian knowledge.
“Only one, and this is the most valuable of all. Stoop down and look: I’m afraid I may be robbed, if I display my things carelessly.”
John obediently bent till the sweeping feather of her hat touched his cheek, to the great annoyance of the banished peri, who viewed these pleasant passages from afar with much disfavor.
“This is said to be Madam’s wedding ring. I like to think so, and am very proud to be named for her, because she was a good woman as well as a”—
“Beauty,” put in John, as the speaker paused to open a faded case in which lay a little ring of reddish gold.
“I was going to say—as well as a brave one; for I need courage,” added the girl, surveying the old-fashioned trinket with such a sober face that the young man refrained from alluding to the remarkable coincidence of another John and Dolly looking at the wedding ring together.
She seemed to have forgotten all about her companion for a moment, and be busy with her own thoughts, as she put away her treasures with a care which made it a pleasure to watch her tie knots, adjust covers, repack her little bag, and finally fold her hands over it, saying gravely,—
“I love to think about those times; for it seems as if people were better then,—the men more honest, the women more womanly, and every thing simpler and truer than now. Does it ever seem so to you?”
“Indeed it does; for this very day, as I read the papers, I got quite low-spirited, thinking what a shameful state things have got into. Money seems to be the one idea, and men are ready to sell their souls for it,” answered John, as soberly as she.
“Money is a good thing to have, though;” and Dolly gave a little sigh, as she drew her scarf over the worn edges of her jacket.
“So it is!” echoed John, with the hearty acquiescence of a man who had felt the need of it.
“My name and these old treasures are all my fortune, and I used to be contented with it; but I’m not now, dependence is so hateful!” added the girl, impulsively; then bit her lip, as if the words had escaped in spite of her.
“And this is all mine,” said John, twirling the pencil which he still held; giving confidence for confidence, and glad to do it, if it made them better friends, for he pitied little Miss Dolly, suspecting what was true, that her home was not a happy one.
She thanked him mutely for the kind look he gave her, and said prettily,—
“Skill is money; and it must be a very pleasant life to go about drawing beautiful or curious things.”
“So it is sometimes,—yesterday, for instance,” he answered, laughing.
“I have no modern accomplishments to earn a living by. Mine are all old-fashioned; and no one cares for such nowadays, except in servants. I may be very glad of them, though; for playing lady doesn’t seem half so honest as going out to service, when one has nothing but an empty pair of hands,” she said with a wistful yet courageous look at the wintry world outside, which made her companion feel a strong desire to counsel and protect this confiding young Columbus, who knew so little of the perils which would beset her voyage in search of a woman’s El Dorado.
“Come to me for a recommendation before you try it. I can vouch for your cooking, you know. But I’d advise you to play lady till you discover a good safe place. I don’t believe you’ll find it hard, for the world is likely to be very kind to such as you,” he answered, so cheerily that she brightened like a flower to which a stray sunbeam is very welcome.
A shrill whistle announced that the journey was over, and everybody began at once to fuss and fumble. John got up to take his valise from the rack, and Dolly began to struggle into her rubbers. She was still bending down to do this, with as little damage as possible to her best gloves, when she heard a sounding slap and a hearty voice cry out,—
“Hullo, John!” then add in a lower tone, “So there is a Mrs. Harris, you sly dog, you?”
“Hush! there isn’t. How are you, George?” returned another voice, beginning in a hurried whisper and ending in an unnecessarily loud salutation.
What happened for a minute or two after that Dolly did not know; for the rubbers proved so refractory that she only rose from the encounter flushed and hurried, as the train entered the station.
“Let me make myself useful in looking after your baggage,” said her self-constituted escort, handing her out with great respect and care.
“Thank you: all my things come by express, so I’ve nothing to do but get into a carriage.”
“Then allow me to see you safely there, for the sake of the treasures, if nothing else;” and John led her away, utterly ignoring the presence of “George,” who stood looking after them, with a face full of good-humored interest and amusement.
“I’m very much obliged. Good-by,” said Dolly, from the coach window.
“Not good-by: I’m coming to the fair, you know,” answered John, lingering at the door as if loath to lose sight of his little friend.
“I forgot all about it!”
“I didn’t; for I depend on the cakes and ale and all the other good things promised me.”
“You will find them there,” with a smile, and then a sudden blush as she remembered that he had not only agreed to speak to “Miss Dolly,” but to “win her old heart.”
He remembered also, and laughed as he bowed with the same audacious look he had worn when he made that rash vow.
“I wonder if he will come?” thought the girl, as she drove away.
“As if I should forget!” said John to himself, as he trudged through the snow, quite regardless of his waiting friend; for from the little cinder had been kindled a spark of the divine fire that moves one of the great engines which transport mankind all the world over.
John Harris promised to “do” the fair, and kept his word handsomely; for he was there every day for a week, lunching in the old-fashioned kitchen, and then, in his official capacity, sketching every relic he could lay his eyes on. Such punctuality caused the pretty waiters to smile affably upon this faithful devourer of primitive viands, and the matrons to predict great things from the young artist’s application to his work.
Little guessed the girls and the gossips that love was ravaging their generous patron’s heart more persistently than he did their tables, and that nature not art caused his devotion to modern beauty rather than ancient ugliness. For all John saw in the crowd that filled the place was Dolly, tripping to and fro tray in hand, spinning at her wheel, or resting beside Aunt Maria, twin sister of Mrs. Hill, in an imposing cap instead of the pumpkin hood. Pretty Dolly was the belle of the kitchen; for she alone of all the dozen damsels on duty looked her part, and was in truth a country girl, rich in the old-fashioned gifts and graces of health, modesty, housewifely skill, and the sweet maidenliness which girls who come out at sixteen soon lose for ever. Her dress, too, was wonderfully complete and becoming, though only a pink and white chintz, a mob-cap, and an uncompromising apron, with the pin-ball, scissors, keys, and linen pocket hanging at the side. The others looked like stage soubrettes, and acted like coquettish young ladies who knew nothing about their work. But Dolly was genuine throughout, so she proved a great success; and Aunt Maria took all the credit of it to herself, felt that she had done a good thing in bringing so much youth, energy, and loveliness to market, and expressed her satisfaction by talking a great deal about “our family,” which, as she was a Smith, was certainly large enough to furnish endless gossip.
Another person watched, admired, and hovered about the girl like a blue-bottle fly about a rose; and that was Mr. Aaron Parker, a dapper little man of fifty, who, having made a snug fortune, was now anxious to marry and settle. Aunt Maria was evidently his confidant and friend; and it was soon apparent that Aunt Maria intended to make a match between her niece and this amiable gentleman, who set about his wooing with old-fashioned formality and deliberation.
All this John saw, heard, or divined with the keenness of a lover, while he watched the events of that week; for he very soon made up his mind that he adored “Miss Dolly,” as he always called her to himself. The short time which had elapsed between the car episode and the opening of the fair seemed endless to him; and, when he came beaming into the kitchen the very first day, his heart sang for joy at sight of that bonny face once more. She welcomed him so kindly, served him so prettily, and showed such frank and friendly pleasure at meeting him again, that the lonely fellow felt as if he had suddenly found a large and attached family, and yielded to the charm without a struggle. She seemed to belong to him somehow, as if he had discovered her, and had the first right to admire, help, and love her; for he alone of all the men there had seen her at home, had looked deepest into the shy, bright eyes, and heard her call him “friend.”
This delightful state of things lasted for a few days, during which he felt as if quaffing nectar and tasting ambrosia, while he drank the promised cider and ate the spicy “sweethearts” which Dolly always brought him with a smile that went directly to his head, and produced a delicious sort of intoxication. He never could have but a word or two, she was so busy; but, as he sat apart, pretending to sketch, he was living over those brief, blissful moments, and concocting wonderfully witty, wise, or tender speeches for the morrow.
Well for him that no one looked over his shoulder at such times, for his portfolio would have betrayed him, since it was a wild jumble of andirons and mob-caps, antique pepper-pots and pretty profiles, spinning-wheels, and large eyes with a profusion of lash; while a dainty pair of feet in high-heeled slippers seemed to dance from page after page, as if the artist vainly sought to exorcise some persistent fancy by booking it over and over again.
Suddenly a change appeared both in the man and in his work; for Parker had arrived, and clouds began to gather on the horizon which was rosy with the dawn of love. Now John discovered that the cider was sour and the cake stale, for the calls of a voracious rival cruelly abbreviated his moments of bliss. Now he glared and brooded in corners where once he had revelled in dreams of a dim but delightful future. Now the pages of his sketch-book bore grotesque likenesses of a round, snub-nosed countenance in all sorts of queer places, such as a clock-face, under a famous cocked hat, or peeping out of a memorable warming-pan; while a dapper figure was seen in various trying attitudes, the most frequent being prone before the dancing feet, one of which was usually spurning a fat money-bag, with contempt in every line of the pretty slipper.
At this stage, the fair ended, and Aunt Maria bore the charmer away, leaving John to comfort himself with the memory of a parting look of regret from behind Governor Hancock’s punch-bowl, which Dolly embraced with one arm, while the other guarded Madam’s best china tea-pot.
Maddening was it to haunt the street before Aunt Maria’s door, and hear a gay voice singing inside fit to melt a paving stone, to say nothing of a young man’s heart. More maddening still to catch occasional glimpses of the girl shut up in a carriage with the dragon, or at concerts and theatres under the escort of Mr. Parker. But most maddening of all was the frequent spectacle of this enamoured gentleman trotting up the street, simpering to himself as he went, and freely entering at the door which shut the younger lover out of Paradise.
At such trying periods, John (now very far gone indeed, for love feeds on air) would feel a wild desire to knock the little man down, storm Aunt Maria’s mansion, and carry his Dolly away from what he felt assured was an irksome bondage to the girl. But, alas! where could he carry the dear creature when he had got her? For all the home he possessed was one room in a dull boarding-house, and his only fortune the salary his pencil earned him. Then, as he groaned over these sad facts, a great temptation would assail him; for he remembered that with a word he could work the miracle which would give him half a million, and make all things possible but the keeping of his own self-respect.
Hard times just then for John Harris; and for some weeks he went about his daily duties with such a divided mind and troubled spirit that the stoniest heart might have pitied him. But comfort came when least expected, and in trying to help another he got help himself and hope beside.
One gusty March morning he arrayed himself in his best, put a posy in his button-hole, and went gallantly away to Aunt Maria’s door, bound to make a call in spite of her frowns at the fair, and evident desire to ignore his existence since. Boldly ringing the forbidden bell, he inquired for the ladies. Both were engaged; and, as if nothing should be wanting to his chagrin, as he went down the steps Mr. Parker, bearing a suggestive bouquet, went up and was instantly admitted.
It was too much for poor John, who rushed away into the park, and pulling his hat over his eyes tramped wrathfully down the mall, muttering to himself,—
“It’s no use; I must give in; for with a fortune in my pocket I could carry all before me,—bribe Aunt Maria, outbid Aaron, and win my Dolly, if I’m not much mistaken.”
Just then a sharp yelp roused him from his excited reverie, and looking up he found that he had kicked a fat poodle, who was waddling slowly along, while some way before him went a little figure in a gray hat, at sight of which John’s heart gave a leap. Here was bliss! Dolly alone at last, and he could defy the dragon and all her machinations. Parker and his fine bouquet were nowhere; Harris and his button-hole posy had the best of it now; and, leaving the fat poodle to whine and waddle at its own sweet will, the happy man hurried forward to make the most of this propitious moment.
As he drew near, he observed that a handkerchief went more than once to the face which drooped in a thoughtful way as the feet paced slowly on.
“Bless her heart! she is catching cold, and dreaming dreams, here all alone,” thought John, as, stepping to her side, he said gently, that he might not startle her, “Good-morning, Miss Dolly.”
He did startle her, nevertheless, and himself as well; for, as she turned quickly, he saw that her face was bathed in tears. Instantly all his own troubles took wing; and, with no thought but how to comfort her, he said impetuously,—
“I beg pardon, but do tell me what is the matter?” He came upon her so suddenly that there was no time to hide the tell-tale tears. He looked so eager, kind, and helpful, she could not be offended at his words; and just then she needed a friend so much, it was hard to resist confiding in him. Yet, womanlike, she tried to hide her little worries, to make light of her girlish grief, and turn a brave face to the world. So she brushed the drops from her eyes, put on a smile, and answered stoutly,—
“It was very foolish of me to cry, but it is so dull and lonely here I think I was a little homesick.”
“Then perhaps you won’t mind if I walk on a bit with you and apologize for kicking your little dog?” said John, artfully availing himself of this excuse.
“No, indeed. He is Aunt Maria’s dog; but how came you to do it?” asked the girl, plainly showing that a human companion was very welcome.
“I was in a brown study, and did it by accident. He’s so fat it didn’t hurt him much,” answered the young man, assuming his gayest manner for her sake. Then he added, with an excuse which did not deceive her a bit,—
“The fact is, I’d ventured to call on you to see if I could get a sketch of the punch-bowl; but you were engaged, the girl said, and I was rather disappointed.”
“What a fib! I’m sorry I was out; but the house was gloomy and Aunt rather cross, so I ran away under pretence of giving old Tip an airing.”
“Ah, you don’t know what you lost! Mr. Parker went in as I came out, with such a nosegay!—for Aunt Maria, I suppose?” and John tried to look quite easy and gay as he spoke.
Dolly’s face darkened ominously, and a worried look came into her eyes as she glanced behind her, then quickened her steps, saying, with a little groan that was both comic and pathetic,—
“It does seem as if it was my doom to be tormented by old gentlemen! I wish you’d get rid of this one as you did of the other.”
“Nothing would give me greater pleasure,” answered John, with such heartiness that a sudden color dried Dolly’s wet cheeks, as she remembered that he had got rid of tormentor number one by taking his place.
Cheered by the knowledge that a champion was ready to defend her, she ventured to show him a safer way in which to serve her, saying very soberly,—
“I think I may be glad of the recommendation you once promised me. Should you mind giving it?”
“Are you tired of ‘playing lady’ so soon?” he asked anxiously.
“So tired that I felt to-day as if I’d like to run away and take service with the first person who would engage me.”
“Don’t!” exclaimed John, with such energy that the fat poodle barked shrilly and made a feeble charge at his boots, feeling that something was wrong somewhere. “Run away home, if you must run, but pray don’t get discouraged and do any thing rash,” he went on with great earnestness; for he saw by her face that she was in some real trouble.
“I haven’t even a home to run to; for Mrs. Hill agrees with Aunt that it’s time I ceased to be a burden. It’s very hard, when I only ask a safe corner in the world, and am willing to work for it,” cried the girl, with an irrepressible sob; for the trials of many weeks had grown unbearable, and a kind word made the full heart overflow.
Neither spoke for a minute, then John said with a respectful earnestness which touched her very much,—
“Miss Dolly, you once called me a friend, and I was very proud to be so honored. Forget that I am any thing else, and, if you have no one wiser and older to consult, trust me, and let me help you. I’ve knocked about the world enough to know how hard it is for a man to get an honest living, doubly hard for a woman, especially one as young and beautiful as you are. There are safe corners, I am sure; but it takes time to find them, so pray be patient and do nothing without care.”
“I called you a friend in need, and so you are; for, strange as it may seem, there is no one to whom I can go for disinterested advice. I know so little of the world that I’m afraid to trust my own judgment, yet I am driven to decide between dependence of a sort I despise, or to stand alone and take care of myself. Will you advise me?” and she looked up with an appealing glance, which read such a reassuring answer in the honest eyes full of sincerest sympathy that she was comforted before he spoke.
“Indeed I will! for what are we all here for, if not to help one another? Do you know I think there is a sort of fate about these things, and it’s no use to struggle against it. We seem to be two ‘lone, lorn’ creatures thrown together in queer ways, so let’s agree to be old friends and stand by each other. Come, is it a bargain?”
He seemed so firmly convinced of the inevitability of this fate that the girl felt relieved from farther scruples, and agreed in all good faith.
“Now about the troubles?” began John, trying to look old, reliable, and wise; for he guessed the one she was most reluctant to tell.
“I suppose marrying for an establishment or earning their bread is a question most poor girls have to settle sooner or later,” observed Dolly, in a general sort of way, as an opening; for, in spite of his praiseworthy efforts, her young counsellor did not succeed in looking like a sage.
“If pretty, yes; if plain, no. We needn’t discuss the latter class, but go on to the question,” returned John, keeping to the subject in hand with masculine pertinacity.
“I’d rather be an old man’s housekeeper than his wife; but people won’t believe it, and laugh at me for being what they call so foolish,” said the girl, petulantly; for she did not seem to be getting on well with her confidences.
“I thought from what I saw at the fair that Parker seemed ready to offer both situations for your acceptance.”
John could not help saying that, for a jealous pang assailed him at the mere idea. He feared that he had spoilt the rôle he was trying to play; but it happened to be the best thing he could have done, for the introduction of that name made things much easier for Dolly, as she proved by kindling up as suddenly as if the word had been a match to fire a long train of grievances.
“He did; and Aunt scolds me from morning till night, because I won’t accept the fine establishment he offers me. That’s what I was sent here for! My step-mother wants me out of the way, Aunt Maria hands me over to Mr. Parker, and he takes me because I know how to cook and nurse. I might as well be put up at auction and sold to the highest bidder!” she cried, with eyes flashing through indignant tears.
“It’s abominable!” echoed John, with equal indignation, though the words “highest bidder” rung in his ears, as he thought of the fortune waiting for him, and the youth which would tell so strongly in the race against “old Parker,” as he irreverently called the little man; for fifty seems a patriarchal age to four-and-twenty.
“I know that sort of thing is done every day, and thought quite right; but I am so old-fashioned it seems terrible to marry merely for a home. Yet I’m very tired of being poor, and I should like a taste of ease and pleasure while I can enjoy them,” added Dolly, with a very natural longing for the bright and happy side of life.
“And I could give her all she wants,” thought John, with the temptation getting stronger every minute. But he only said a little bitterly, “You’d better give in, if you want ease and pleasure, for money can buy any thing.”
“No, it can’t buy love, and that is better than all the splendor in the world,” answered the girl, in a tone that thrilled her hearer to the heart. “What I call love seems to have gone out of fashion; and that is what troubles me; because, if there isn’t any such thing, I may as well take the next best, and try to be contented. No one seems to value love for itself alone, to feel the need of it as much as light and air, to miss it when it goes, or try to earn and keep it as the most precious thing in the world. Money and position are every thing, and men work and women marry for these, as if they had no other hope or end; and I’m frightened at the things I see and hear in what is called society.”
“Poor child, I don’t wonder; but I assure you there is an ocean of love in the world, only it gets put out of sight in the rush, wasted on those who don’t deserve it, or dammed up by adverse circumstances. It exists though, the real genuine article, waiting for a market. Do believe it, and wait for it, and I’m sure it will come in time.”
John was so divided between a rash impulse to prove his point by a declaration then and there, and the conviction that it would be altogether premature, his metaphors got rather mixed, and he had to pull himself up abruptly. But Dolly thought it a beautiful speech, was glad to believe every word of it, and accepted this piece of advice with admirable docility.
“I’ll wait, and meantime be looking about for the safe corner to run to when Aunt Maria gets tired of me, because I don’t mean to go home again to be a burden.” Then, as if anxious to slip away from a too interesting topic, she asked with a very winning expression of interest and good-will,—
“Now what can I do for you? I’m sure you have worries as well as I, and, though not very wise, perhaps I might advise in my turn.”
“You are very good, but I couldn’t think of troubling you;” and the young man looked both pleased and flurried by the girl’s offer.
“We agreed to help one another, you remember; and I must do my part, or the bargain won’t be a fair one. Tell me what the brown study was about, and I’ll forgive the kick poor Tip got,” persisted Dolly; for her feminine instinct told her that a heavy cloud of some sort had been lifted to let sunshine through for her.
John did long to know her opinion on a certain matter, but a man’s pride would not let him speak as freely as the girl had done, so he took refuge in a mild subterfuge, and got advice on false pretences.
“It was only a quandary I was in about a friend of mine. He wants my judgment in a case something like yours, and perhaps you could help me with an opinion; for women are very wise in such matters sometimes.”
“Please tell me, if you may. I should so love to pay my debts by being of some use;” and Dolly was all attention, as she pushed back her vail as if to get a clear and impartial view of the case about to be submitted.
Fixing his eyes on the sparrows who were disporting themselves among the budding elm-boughs, John plunged abruptly into his story, never once looking at his hearer and speaking so rapidly that he was rather red and breathless when he got through.
“You see, Jack was plodding along after a fashion all by himself, his people being dead, when an old friend of his father’s took it into his head to say, ‘Come and be a son to me, and I’ll leave you a handsome fortune when I die.’ A capital thing it seemed, and Jack accepted, of course. But he soon found that he had given up his liberty, and was a slave to a very tyrannical master, who claimed him soul and body, heart and mind. That didn’t suit Jack, and he would have broken away; but, as you say, he was ‘tired of being poor, and wanted a little ease and pleasure in his life.’ The old man was failing, and the money would soon be his, so he held on, till he suddenly discovered that this fortune for which he was waiting was not honest money, but, like many another great fortune, had been ground out of the poor, swindled out of honest men, or stolen from trusting friends, and hoarded up for a long lifetime, to be left to Jack with the curse of dishonesty upon it. Would you advise him to take it?”
“No,” answered the girl, without a moment’s hesitation.
“Well, he didn’t, but turned his back on the ill-gotten money, and went to work again with clean but empty hands,” added John, still looking away, though his face wore a curiously excited expression under its enforced composure.
“I’m glad, very glad he did! Wasn’t it noble of him?” asked Dolly, full of admiring interest in this unknown Jack.
“It was very hard; for you see he loved somebody, and stood a poor chance of winning her without a penny in his pocket.”
“All the nobler in him then; and, if she was worth winning, she’d love him the more for the sacrifice,” said Dolly, warmly; for the romance of the story took her fancy, though it was poorly told.
“Think so? I’ll mention that to Jack: it will cheer him up immensely, for he’s afraid to try his fate with nothing to offer but his earnings.”
“What’s his business?” asked Dolly suddenly.
“Connected with newspapers,—fair salary, good prospects,—not ashamed to work,” answered John, staring hard at the sparrows, and wiping his forehead, as if he found the bleak day getting too warm for him.
“Is the girl pretty?”
“The most captivating little creature I ever beheld!” cried John, rapturously.
“Oh, indeed,” and Dolly glanced at him sharply, while a shadow passed over her face, as she asked with redoubled interest, “Is she rich?”
“Has nothing but her sweet face and good name I believe.”
“Isn’t that enough?”
“Indeed it is! but Jack wants to make life beautiful and easy for her, and he can by saying a word. He is awfully tempted to say it; for the old man is dying, has sent for him to come back, and there is yet time to secure a part of the fortune. He won’t take it all, but has a fancy that, if he leaves half to charity, it would be a sort of purification to the other half; and he might enjoy it with his love. Don’t you think so?”
“No, it would spoil the whole thing. Why cannot they be contented to begin with nothing but love, and work up together, earning every clean and honest penny they spend. It would be a comfort to see such a pair in this mercenary world, and I do hope they will do it,” said the girl, heartily, though a slightly pensive tone had come into her voice, and she stifled a small sigh, as she put down her vail as if there was nothing worth seeing in the landscape.
“I think they will try it!” answered John, with decision, as he smiled sympathetically at a pair of sparrows chirping together at the door of one of the desirable family mansions provided for their use.
Here Tip ended the dangerous dialogue by sitting down before Dolly with a howl of despair, which recalled her to her duty.
“The poor old thing is tired, and must go in. Good-morning, and many thanks,” she said, turning toward the steps, which they would have passed unseen but for the prudent poodle’s hint.
“Good-by, and a thousand pardons for boring you with my affairs,” began John, with a penitent, yet very grateful glance.
“By the way, I’ve been so interested in Jack’s affairs that I’ve forgotten exactly what your advice was to me,” she added, pausing on the upper step for a last word.
With his hat in his hand and his heart in his eyes, John looked up and answered in a tone that made few words necessary,—
“Don’t sell yourself for a home.”
And Dolly answered back with a sweet, shrewd smile that made him flush guiltily,—
“Don’t smother your conscience with a fortune.”
Tip’s constitutionals were taken with praiseworthy regularity about that time, and the poor asthmatic animal was nearly walked off his legs by the vigor with which his little mistress paraded the park at unfashionable hours. A robust young man, who did not look as if he needed early walks, was continually meeting Dolly by accident as it were, till on the fourth rencontre they both burst out laughing, gave up all further subterfuge, and felt that it was vain to struggle against fate. The next time they met, both looked very sober; and John said, watching her face as he spoke,—
“It is all over with me, Miss Dolly. The old man is dead, and my chance is lost for ever.”
“You look so solemn, I’m afraid he left you something, after all.”
“Not a penny. All went to various charities, and I have nothing but my salary and these two hands.”
“I’m glad of that! I’d like to shake those honest hands, and wish them all success. May I?” she said, putting out her own with such cordial approval in voice and eyes that John lost his head, and, holding both the small hands fast in his, answered all in one fervently incoherent burst,—
“May you? Let me keep them, and then I shall succeed! Dearest Dolly, you said you didn’t want any thing but love; and here’s a whole heart full, aching to be poured out. You said you’d like to see Jack and his wife working their way up together, contented to be poor. Here’s Jack and the wife he wants, if she cares enough for him to try that beautiful experiment. You said you hadn’t any home to run to when those cruel women called you a burden. Run to me, my darling, and be the pride and joy and comfort of my life!”
No one saw what Dolly did but Tip, who sat lolling out his tongue in an imbecile manner; and no one heard what she said but some bright-faced crocuses blooming early in that lonely corner of the park. But from what took place afterward, it was evident that her reply had not been entirely unpropitious; for her hand lay on John’s arm, her face was in an April state between smiles and tears, and to her eyes midsummer warmth and radiance seemed to have fallen suddenly upon the earth. It is hardly necessary to mention that the other party in this little transaction looked as if he owned the entire world, was yearning to embrace all mankind, and had nothing more to ask of Heaven in the way of happiness.
“You don’t regret saying yes, like an angel,” asked this unreasonable lover, five minutes after he had surprised her into uttering that momentous monosyllable.
“You know that it is very selfish of me to ask you, when I’ve nothing to give; and very unwise in you to take me, because you have much to lose.”
“The devoted Parker and his plump pocket-book.”
It was good to hear Dolly laugh at that, and to see John glance defiantly at an elderly gentleman in the distance, as if all that harmless portion of the race ought to be exterminated, to leave room for happy young fellows like himself.
“He will believe now that, when I say ‘No,’ I mean it,” answered Dolly, with an assumption of dignity, which changed with comic suddenness to one of dismay, as she added, “Oh, my heart, what will Aunt Maria say!”
“Don’t tell her just yet, or she will shut you up, whisk you away, or do some awful thing to part us. Keep this delicious secret for a little while, and we can enjoy many happy minutes in peace.”
“Yes, John,” with a docility that was altogether captivating to the new commander-in-chief.
“I must look about me, and be getting ready to take you into my home as well as my heart, when the storm breaks. There is sure to be one, I fancy; and, for my part, I rather relish the idea. The air will be clearer and things more settled after it.”
“I don’t know what they will say and do to me, but I shall not mind, now I have you to take care of me;” and Dolly’s other hand went to join the one on John’s arm, with a confiding gesture which glorified the old coat-sleeve, in his eyes, more than any badge it could have worn.
“I suppose we must live somewhere, and eat occasionally, since we are mortal. Love certainly is the best capital to start on, but a trifle of cash is necessary likewise; so we must take a little thought for the morrow. Wish the city would provide us with a house rent free, and board thrown in, as it does our feathery confidants here,” observed the husband elect, eying the sparrows with a vague sense of domestic cares already stealing over his masculine mind.
“Don’t think of all those worries yet. Just love and be happy for a time, and things will settle themselves somehow,” cried Dolly, whose womanly nature would not be so soon defrauded of the sweet romance which comes but once in a lifetime.
“Very well. We’ll give a month to clear bliss, and then talk about the honeymoon.”
But, with the charming inconsistency of her sex, no sooner had she forbidden a subject than she felt an intense desire to talk about it; and after a moment’s pause, during which her lover had been looking down at her thoughtful face in silent rapture, Dolly emerged from a brief reverie, clapping her hands and exclaiming,—
“John, I’ve got the most delicious idea that ever was. Now don’t laugh and say, ‘It isn’t practical,’ for I know it is; and it would be so new and appropriate and economical, and altogether nice, that I hope you’ll approve. We shall want a home by and by, shall we not?”
“I want it now, if you’ve no objection.”
“Be serious. Well, a room or two must content us at first, and we want them to be decent, not to say pretty and comfortable, don’t we?”
“They can’t help being all three, if you are there, my Dolly.”
“No, John, not in public! Now answer me this: won’t you have to save up a long time, to get enough to buy furniture and things, no matter how simple?”
“I’m afraid I should; for at present my housekeeping stock is about as large and varied as that of Tommy Traddles. His consisted of a bird-cage and a toasting-fork, I believe; mine, of an easel and a boot-jack. Wouldn’t they do to begin with?”
“Please don’t joke, but listen; for this is the new idea. Take my dear old relics and furnish our nest with them! What could be more economical, picturesque, and appropriate for this centennial year?”
Dolly stopped short to see how this amazing proposal struck her lord and master. It seemed to take him off his legs; for he sat suddenly down upon a seat that fortunately was behind him, and looked up at the beaming little woman with an expression of admiration and contentment, which answered her question so emphatically that she nestled down beside him with all her doubts laid at rest.
“I thought you’d like it! Now let’s plan it all out, and see what we’ve got. Every thing is as old as the hills, you know; but still so good and strong we can get years of wear out of it. We don’t have such well-made furniture nowadays,” she went on, happily blind to the deficiencies of the time-worn chairs, clumsy tables, and cracked china, which were all her store.
“My blessing on every stick of it! I wasn’t thinking about the furniture, though. I was rejoicing over the fact that, if I needn’t save up for that sort of thing, we could be married all the sooner. That’s the beauty of the idea, don’t you see?” and John regarded the originator thereof with unmitigated satisfaction.
“So we can; but do think about the furniture, because you ought to be interested in helping me make an artistic home,” said Dolly, knowing that the word “artistic” would arrest his attention, and keep him to the subject in hand; for as yet the other idea was too new to bear much discussion.
“I will. In fact, I see it now, all complete. Two or three rooms in an old house, if possible,—they are always the cheapest, my love; so don’t look as if you saw cobwebs and blue mould, and felt black beetles running over your feet. In one room we’ll have that spider-legged table on which you cleaned the snuffer tray, and the claw-footed chairs: there were three, I think,—one for each of us, and the third for a friend. Then on the dresser we’ll put all the porringers out of which we are to eat mush and milk, and the pewter platters for an occasional ‘biled dish,’—that’s the proper name for the mess, isn’t it? Likewise the dear fat tea-pots, the red china cups, all cracked, the green-handled knives and forks, the wooden spoons, funny pepper-pots, and all the rest of the droll rattletraps.”
“Don’t forget the tankard,” cried Dolly, as John paused for breath in the middle of his rhapsody.
“That will be in our parlor, set forth in state on the little stand I used to have my lunch at during the fair. I’m afraid I scratched your initials all over it, that being a trick of mine about that time.”
“I thought you did it! Never mind, but go on, please.”
“We shall put flowers in the immortal mug, and I shall paint them, earn sums, and grow famous, such will be the inspiration of my surroundings. For, while I sit in the General’s chair at my delightful work, you in the pretty chintz gown and the fly-away cap,—promise me to wear it, or I won’t go on?”
“I’ll wear any thing you like, in the house, and can have a water-proof and a linen duster for the street. Artists’ wives usually do have to make guys of themselves, I believe.”
“Thank you, dear. Well, you will always be doing one of three things, making sweethearts, spinning, or looking over my shoulder. I prefer the latter occupation on the whole, and when I’m at home that will be your mission. During my absence, you can attend to the housework you love so well, and do so prettily. Never did I see such brilliant candlesticks in my life; and as for the copper tea-kettle, it was like a mirror. I saw you steal peeps at it more than once, Little Vanity, that day as I sat stealing a sketch of you.”
“Then you think it can be done, John?” ignoring the accusation.
“It not only can, but it shall be done, and I shouldn’t wonder if we set the fashion of furnishing bridal bowers with relics of all sorts, throwing in a glue-pot gratis, to mend up the old things when they tumble to pieces. I’m great at that, and can get my living as a cabinetmaker when art fails.”
“I do believe you can do every thing, John!”
“No, I couldn’t cure pneumonia, if you should get it by sitting in this chilly wind. Now I’ve got you, I intend to take great care of you, my little treasure.”
It was so sweet to Dolly to be cared for, and so delightful to John to do it, that they forgot all about poor Tip till he tumbled into the pond, and was with difficulty fished out by his ears and tail, being too fat to do any thing but float. This catastrophe shortened an interview which might otherwise have been prolonged till nightfall, for
“Why, John, do you know that this is the first of April?” asked Dolly, as they went homeward, with Tip forlornly dripping in the rear. “A very fitting day for such an imprudent couple as we are to begin their journey,” she added, enjoying the idea immensely.
“So it is! Never mind! we’ll prove that we are no fools, though a mercenary world may call us so,” returned John, as blithe as she.
Alas, poor things! they thought their troubles were all over, now they had found each other; whereas a cruel fate was laughing at them round the corner.
THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.
Unfortunately for these deluded young persons, their month of bliss turned out to be the most tempestuous one they had ever passed; for, before the first week was over, some malignant imp inspired Aunt Maria to spy, from a certain end window which commanded a corner of the park, the lingering adieux of the lovers, and then it was all up with them.
A single stormy debate, during which John manfully claimed his Dolly, she stoutly defended her right to love whom she chose, and Aunt Maria thundered and lightened unavailingly, resulted in the banishment of the claimant, the strict seclusion of the damsel, and the redoubled devotion of the decorous but determined Parker, who, cheered on by his ally, still besieged the rebellious heart, undaunted by the reinforcements lately received.
The prospect was certainly not a hopeful one; but the young people never lost courage, rather enjoyed it on the whole, and revolved endless schemes in their busy brains, which they confided to one another by means of notes slipped under Tip’s collar when he took his solitary airings on the steps. For a time persecution lent its zest to their love; but presently separation grew unbearable, and they were ready for revolt.
“I must see you,” wrote John, in note number 37.
“You shall,” answered Dolly, and bade him meet her at one of the many Centennial Balls which afflicted the world in 1875-76.
To hear was to obey; and though said ball was to be eminently select, thanks to a skilful use of his middle name, John was able to keep the appointed tryst, well knowing that there is no solitude like that to be found in a crowd. Costumes were in order; and there was a general resurrection of ancient finery, which made the handsome hall look as if time had rolled back a hundred years. Every one who had a hair powdered it, and those who had not made up the deficiency by imposing wigs. Spindle-legged gentlemen affected top-boots and spurs; those blessed with a manly development of calf pranced in silk stockings and buckled shoes. British and Continental uniforms amicably marched shoulder to shoulder; dimity and brocade mingled prettily together; and patriotic ardor animated the hearts under the lace stomachers and embroidered waistcoats as warmly as of old, for the spirit of ’76 was all alive again.
Aunt Maria looked like a parrot of the most brilliant plumage; for the good lady burned to distinguish herself, and had vainly tried to wear a suit of Madam Hancock’s belonging to Dolly. Fortunately, Madam was a small woman, and Aunt Maria quite the reverse; so she was forced to give it up, and content herself with being one of many Martha Washingtons who filled the dowagers’ corner.
So Dolly bloomed into the sweetest little old-time lady ever seen, and was in truth by nature as by name a Dorothy Quincy. Not as the matron, but as the maid, with all her curly locks turned over a roller before they fell on her white neck, where shone the jewelled hearts she prized so much. Lilies of the valley embroidered her white gown, and nestled among the lace that rose and fell upon her bosom. From under her quilted satin petticoat “her little feet stole in and out,” wearing Madam’s wedding-shoes, so high in the heels and so pointed at the toes that Dolly suffered martyrdom with a smiling face, and danced at the risk of her life. Long gloves, with Lafayette’s likeness stamped on the back, kept splitting at the time-worn seams, so plump were the arms inside. A quaint scent-bottle hung at her waist; and she hid her blushes behind a great fan, whose dim mirror had reflected faces history has made immortal.
“You are simply perfect, Miss Hill, and nothing could be added,” whispered the still hopeful Parker, who was on duty and much elated by the fact; for the girl was unusually friendly that evening for reasons of her own.
“Except the Governor,” she answered, peeping over her fan with eyes full of anxiety as well as merriment; for John had not yet appeared, and the little man beside her was very funny in a voluminous white neckcloth, furred coat-collar, and square-toed shoes, carefully kept in the “first position.” He had longed to personate the character she suggested. Stature forbade, however; and he had contented himself with personating Benjamin Franklin, flattering himself that his placid countenance and neat legs would be remarkably effective, also the fact that he had been connected with the printing interest in early life.
“If you had only told me, I would have attempted it for your sake: you have but to express a wish, and I am charmed to gratify it,” murmured the enamoured Benjamin, with a tenderly reproachful sigh, which stirred his rampant shirt-frill like a passing breeze.
At that moment, as if a wish had brought him, a veritable John Hancock stood before them, looking comelier than ever, in a velvet suit, as he laid his cocked hat upon his heart and asked, with a bow so deep that it afforded a fine view of the garnet buckle in his stock,—
“May I have the honor, Madam?”
Glad to hide a traitorously happy face, Dolly made him a splendid curtsey, and took his arm with a hasty—
“Excuse me, Mr. Parker. Please tell Aunt I’m going to dance.”
“But—but—but—my dear Miss, I promised not to lose sight of you,” stammered the defrauded Franklin, turning red with helpless rage, as the full audacity of the lovers burst upon him.
“Well, you needn’t. Wait for me here till my dance is over, then Aunt won’t know any thing about it,” laughed wilful Dolly over her shoulder, as she was swept away into the many-colored whirlpool that circled round the hall to the entrancing music of a waltz.
While it lasted, words were needless; for eyes did the talking, smiles proud or tender telegraphed volumes of poetry, the big hand held the little one so close that it burst quite out of the old glove rosy with the pressure, and the tall head was often so near the short one that the light locks powdered the dark ones.
“A heavenly waltz!” panted Dolly, when it ended, feeling that she could go on for ever, blind to the droll despair of poor Parker, as, heroically faithful to his trust, he struggled frantically to keep the happy pair in sight.
“Now we’ll have a still more heavenly promenade in the corridor. Ben is busy apologizing to half a dozen ladies whose trains he has walked up in his mad career after us, so we are safe for a time,” answered John, ready to brave the wrath of many Aunt Marias; for the revolutionary spirit was high within him, and he had quite made up his mind that resistance to tyrants was obedience to the little god he served just then.
“Oh, John, how glad I am to see you after all this worry, and how nice it was of you to come in such grand style to-night! I was so afraid you couldn’t manage it,” said Dolly, hanging on his arm and surveying her gallant Governor with pardonable pride.
“My blessed girl, there was nothing I couldn’t manage with the prospect of meeting you before me. Hasn’t it been hard times for both of us? You’ve had the hardest, I’m afraid, shut up with the dragon and no refuge from daily nagging and Parker’s persecution. If you hadn’t the bravest little heart in the world, you’d have given up by this;” and, taking advantage of a shadowy corner, John embraced his idol, under pretence of drawing her cloak about her.
“I’ll never give up the ship!” cried the girl, quoting Lawrence of the “Chesapeake,” with a flash of the eye good to see.
“Stand to your guns, and we’ll yet say, ‘We’ve met the enemy, and they are ours,'” answered John, in the words of brave Perry, and with a ring to his voice which caused a passing waiter to pause, fancying he was called.
Beckoning to him, John gave Dolly a glass of lemonade, and, taking one himself, said with a look that made the toast a very eloquent one to both of them,—
“The love of liberty—and—the liberty of love.”
They drank it silently, then paced on again, so intent upon their own emotions that neither saw a flushed and agitated countenance regard them from a doorway, and then vanish, smiling darkly.
“Things have come to a crisis, and I’ve taken a resolution,” began Dolly, remembering that time was short.
“So have I.”
“This is mine,—I’m going to Philadelphia.”
“How? when? why?”
“Be calm and listen. Aunt has given me just three days to choose between accepting P. and being sent home in disgrace. I don’t intend to do either, but take matters into my own hands, and cease to be a burden.”
“Hear! hear! but how?”
“At the fair the kitchen was a success, and there is to be a grand one at the Exposition. Girls are wanted to wait there as here; they are taken care of, and all expenses paid while they serve. I know some nice people who are going for fun, and I’m to join them for a month at least. That gives me a start, and afterward I certainly can find something to do in the city of Brotherly Love.”
“The knowledge that I’m to be there on duty had nothing to do with this fine plan of yours, hey, my Dolly?” and John beamed at her with such a rapturous expression she had to turn him round, lest an advancing couple should fancy he had been imbibing something stronger than lemonade and love.
“Why, of course it had,” she answered with adorable candor. “Don’t you see how lovely it will be to meet every day and talk over our prospects in peace, while we are working away together till we have earned enough to try the experiment we planned in the park?”
Stopping short, John grasped the hand that lay on his arm, looking as if suddenly inspired, and exclaimed in a solemn yet excited tone,—
“I’ve got a plan, a superb plan, only it may startle you a bit at first. Why not marry and go together?”
Before Dolly could find breath to answer this momentous question, a bomb-shell, in the shape of Aunt Maria, exploded before them, and put an end to the privy conspiracy and rebellion.
“You will not go anywhere together, for my niece is in the care of this gentleman. I did think we should be free from annoyance here, but I see I was mistaken. Mr. Parker, will you oblige me by taking Dolly home at once?”
Every feather in the old lady’s gray wig trembled with ire, as she plucked the girl from one lover and gave her to the charge of the other, in whom the conflicting emotions of triumph and trepidation were so visible that the contrast between his countenance and costume was more comical than ever.
“But, Aunt, it isn’t time to go yet,” protested Dolly, finding submission very hard after her taste of freedom.
“It is quite time for persons who don’t know how to behave with propriety in public. Not a word! Take my wrap, and go at once. Mr. Parker, please leave her in Mrs. Cobb’s care, and return to enjoy yourself. There is no reason why your evening should be spoilt;” and Aunt Maria bundled poor Dolly into an ugly shawl, which made her look like a lovely tea-rose done up in brown paper.
This sudden fall from the height of happiness to the depths of helpless indignation left John speechless for an instant, during which he with difficulty resisted a strong desire to shake Aunt Maria, and spit Benjamin Franklin on the sword that hung at his side. The sight of his Dolly reft from him, and ruthlessly led away from the gayety she loved, reminded him that discretion was the better part of valor, and for her sake he tried to soften the dragon by taking all the blame upon himself, and promising to go away at once. But, while he was expostulating, the wary Parker carried off the prize; and, when John turned to say good-night, she had vanished, and Aunt Maria stalked away, with a grim laugh at his defeat.
That laugh made him desperate; and, rushing downstairs, he was about to walk away in the rain, regardless of the damage to his costly suit, when the sound of a voice checked his reckless flight, and, looking back, he saw Dolly pausing on the stairs to say, with a glance from the ancestral shoes to the wet pavement outside, “I don’t mind wetting my feet, but I cannot spoil these precious slippers. Please get my overshoes from the dressing-room: I’ll wait for you here.”
“Certainly, certainly; and my coat also: we must be prudent after such heat and excitement,” replied Mr. Parker, glad to guard himself against the rheumatism twinges which already began to afflict his lightly clad extremities.
As he hurried back, a voice whispered, “Dolly!” and, regardless of the perilously high heels, she ran down to join a black velvet gentleman below, who said in her ear, as he led her toward the door,—
“I must have a word more. Let me take you home; any carriage will do, and it’s our last chance.”
“Yes, John, yes; but oh, my shoes!” and for one instant Dolly lingered, as reverence for her relics contended with love for her Governor.
But he was equal to the occasion, and, having no cloak to lay under his queen’s feet, just took her in his arms, and before she knew it both were in the coach, an order given, and they were off.
“Oh, John, how could you?” was all she said, casting away the big shawl, to put both hands on the powdery shoulders before her; for her escort was on his knees, quite in the style of the days when Sir Charles Willoughby carried Evelina off in his chariot.
How he did it John never knew; but there he was, as unconscious of his long limbs as if he had been a cherub, so intent was he on improving this precious moment.
“I’d like to do a great deal more than that, but not to-night, though I’m sorely tempted to run away with you, Dolly,” he answered, feeling as if it would be impossible to relinquish the little bundle of silk and swan’s down his arm enclosed.
“Oh, John, please don’t! How could I in this dress, and no place to go to, or any thing?”
“Don’t be frightened, dear: I won’t be rash. But, seriously, it must come to that, and the sooner the better; so make up your mind to it, and I’ll manage all the rest. This is my plan, and yours will make it all the easier. We will go to Philadelphia; but we’ll be married first, and that shall be our wedding journey.”
“But I’m not ready; we haven’t any money; and only three days! I couldn’t, John, I couldn’t!” and Dolly hid her face, glad, yet half-frightened, at this prospect of such a release from all her woes.
“I knew it would startle you at first; but getting married is the easiest thing in life when you set about it. You don’t want any wedding finery, I’ve got money enough, and can borrow more if I need it; and three days is plenty of time to pack your trunk, have a farewell fight with Aunt Maria, and run away to be the happiest little wife that ever was. Say yes, darling; trust every thing to me, and, please God, you never shall regret it.”
Dolly had doubted the existence of genuine love nowadays, and John had assured her that there were oceans of it. There certainly seemed to be that night; and it was impossible to doubt the truth of his assertion while listening to the tender prayers and plans and protestations he poured into her ear, as they rolled on, regardless of the avenging furies behind, and the untried fate before them. Storms raged without, but peace reigned within; for Dolly showed signs of yielding, though she had not consented when the run-away ride ended.
As John set her down in the hall, he added as a last appeal,—
“Remember, there were ‘Daughters of Liberty,’ as well as sons, in the old times you love so well. Be one, and prove yourself worthy of your name, as you bid me be of mine. Come, sweetheart, resist tyranny, face poverty, love liberty, and declare your independence as bravely as they did.”
“I will!” and Dolly signed the declaration her Hancock headed, by giving him her hand and sealing the oath with a kiss.
“One word more,” he said hurriedly, as the clatter of an approaching carriage sounded through the street: “I may not be able to see you again, but we can each be getting ready, and meet on Monday morning, when you leave for ‘home‘ in good truth. Put a lamp in the end window the last thing Sunday night as the bells ring nine, then I shall be sure that all is right, and have no delay in the morning.”
“Good-night, and God bless you!”
There was no time for more; and as distracted Parker burst out of one carriage, and Aunt Maria “came tumbling after,” happy John Harris stepped into the other, with a wave of the cocked hat, and drove away in triumph.
PEACE IS DECLARED.
The age of miracles is not over yet, and our young people wrought several during those three days; for in love’s vocabulary there is no such word as fail.
Dolly “stood to her guns” womanfully, and not only chose to go “home,” but prepared for her banishment with an outward meekness and an inward joy which made each hour memorable. Aunt Maria had her suspicions and kept a vigilant watch, she and her maid Cobb mounting guard by turns. Parker, finding that “no surrender” was the countersign, raised the siege and retreated in good order, though a trifle demoralized in dignity when he looked back during the evacuation and saw Tip bolt upright in the end window, with the rebel flag proudly displayed.
John meanwhile was circulating briskly through the city, and showing such ardent interest in the approaching Exposition that his mates christened him “Centennial Harris;” while the higher powers felt that they had done a good thing in giving him the job, and increased his salary to make sure of so excellent a servant. Other arrangements of a private but infinitely more interesting nature were successfully made; and he went about smiling to himself, as if the little parcel done up in silver paper, which he was constantly feeling for in his vest pocket, had been a talisman conferring all good gifts upon its happy owner.
When the third night came, he was at his post long before the time, so great was his impatience; for the four-footed traitor had been discovered and ordered into close confinement, where he suffered, not the fate of André, but the pangs of indigestion for lack of exercise after the feast of tidbits surreptitiously administered by one who never forgot all she owed to her “fat friend.”
It seemed as if nine o’clock would never come; and, if a policeman ever was where he should be, the guardian of that beat would have considered John a suspicious character as he paced to and fro in the April starlight. At last the bells began to chime, promptly the light appeared, and, remembering how the bell of the old State House rang out the glad tidings a hundred years ago, John waved his cherished parcel, joyfully exclaiming, “Independence is declared! ring! ring! ring!” then raced across the park like another Paul Revere when the signal light shone in the steeple of the old North Church.
Next morning at an early hour a carriage drove to Aunt Maria’s door, and with a stern farewell from her nightcapped relative Dolly was sent forth to banishment, still guarded by the faithful Cobb. The mutinous damsel looked pale and anxious, but departed with a friendly adieu and waved her handkerchief to Tip, disconsolate upon the door-mat. The instant they turned the corner, however, a singular transformation took place in both the occupants of that carriage; for Dolly caught Cobb round the neck and kissed her, while smiles broke loose on either face, as she said gleefully,—
“You dear old thing, what should I have done without you? Am I all right? I do hope it’s becoming. I had to give up every thing else, so I was resolved not to be married without a new bonnet.”
“It’s as sweet as sweet can be, and not a bit the worse for being smuggled home in a market-basket,” returned the perjured Cobb, surveying with feminine pride and satisfaction the delicate little bonnet which emerged from the thick veil by which its glories had been prudently obscured.
“Here’s a glass to see it in. Such a nice carriage, with white horses, and a tidy driver; so appropriate you know. It’s a happy accident, and I’m so pleased,” prattled the girl, looking about her with the delight of an escaped prisoner.
“Bless your heart, Miss, it’s all Mr. Harris’s doings: he’s been dodging round the corner ever since daylight; and there he is now, I do declare. I may as well go for a walk till your train is off, so good-by, and the best of lucks, my dear.”
There was barely time for this brief but very hearty congratulation, when a remarkably well-dressed highwayman stopped the carriage, without a sign of resistance from the grinning driver. Cobb got out, the ruffian, armed not with a pistol, but a great bouquet of white roses, got in, and the coach went on its way through the quiet streets.
“May day, and here are your flowers, my little queen.”
A short answer, but a very eloquent one, when accompanied with full eyes, trembling lips, and a face as sweet and lovely as the roses.
It was quite satisfactory to John; and, having slightly damaged the bridal bonnet without reproof, he, manlike, mingled bliss and business, by saying, in a tone that made poetry of his somewhat confused remarks,—
“Heaven bless my wife! We ought to have had the Governor’s coach to-day. Isn’t Cobb a trump to get us off so nicely? Never saw a woman yet who could resist the chance of her helping on a wedding. Remembered every thing I told her. That reminds me. Wasn’t it lucky that your relics were boxed up in dear Aunt Maria’s shed, so all Cobb had to do was to alter the directions and send them off to Philadelphia instead of home?”
“I’ve been in a tremble for three days, because it seemed as if it couldn’t be possible that so much happiness was coming to me. Are you quite sure you want me, John?” asked Dolly, careless for once of her cherished treasures; for she had been busy with hopes and fears, while he was attending to more material affairs.
“So sure, that I’ve got something here to bind you with. Do you mind trying it on to see if it fits, for I had to guess at the size,” answered John, producing his talisman with all a bridegroom’s pride and eagerness.
“Please let me wear that as a guard, and use this one to be married with. I’ve a superstition about it, for it suits us and the year better than any other;” and Dolly laid the little ring of reddish gold beside the heavier one in John’s palm.
“So it does, and you shall have it as you like. Do you know, when you showed it to me three months ago, I had a fancy that it would be the proper thing for me to put it on your finger; but I didn’t dream I ever should. Are you very certain that you don’t regret the advice you gave my friend Jack?” asked the young man, thinking with fond solicitude of the great experiment that lay before them; for he knew by experience how hard this world’s ways sometimes are, and longed to smooth the rough places for the confiding little creature at his side.
“Do I look as if I did?” she answered simply, but with a face so full of a true woman’s instinctive faith in the power of love to lighten labor, sweeten poverty, and make a heaven of the plainest home, that it was impossible to doubt her courage or fear her disloyalty.
Quite satisfied, John pocketed the rings and buttoned Dolly’s gloves, saying, while she buttoned his, both marvellously enjoying this first service for each other, “Almost there now, and in less than half an hour we shall be so safe that all the Aunt Marias in Christendom can’t part us any more. George has stood by me like a man and a brother, and promised that every thing should be all right. The church will look a trifle empty, I dare say, with only five of us to fill it; but I shall like it better than being made a spectacle of; so will you, I fancy.”
“The church? I thought runaways were married in an office, by a justice, and without much ceremony to make it solemn. I’m very glad it isn’t so, for I shall never have but one wedding, and I’d love to have it in a sacred place,” faltered Dolly, as a sudden sense of all it meant came over her, filling her girlish heart with tender awe.
“I knew that, dear, and so I did my best to make you feel no lack of love, as I could not give you any splendor. I wish I had a mother to be with you to-day; but George has lent me his, so there will be a woman’s arms to cry in, if you want to drop a tear; and fatherly old Dr. King will give you to the happiest man alive. Well, well, my Dolly, if you’d rather, cry here, and then let me dry your tears, as, please Heaven, I will do all your life.”
“So kind, John, so very kind! I can’t thank you in words, but I’ll show by deeds how much I honor, trust, and love my husband;” and nobly Dolly kept her word.
No one saw them as they went in, but the early sunshine made a golden path for them to tread, and the May wind touched them with its balmy kiss. No congratulatory clamor greeted them as they came out; but the friendly sparrows twittered a wedding march, and the jovial George sent them merrily away, by saying, as he gave John’s hand a parting grasp,—
“I was right, you see, and there is a Mrs. Harris?”
If any one doubts it, let him look well about him, and he may discover the best thing America could send to her Exposition: an old-fashioned home, and in it an ambitious man who could not be bought, a beautiful woman who would not be sold; a young couple happy in their love and labor, consecrating this centennial year, by practising the old-fashioned virtues, honesty and thrift, independence and content.