From The Fair Lavinia and Others (Harper and Brothers; New York: 1907)
In the deep yard in front of and in the deep garden behind the old Deering house was a marvellous growth of roses. There were all the old-fashioned varieties. There were the sweet-brier, the hundred-leaved, the white, the deep red, the Scotch blush roses, prairie-roses, and rose-peonies — which last are, of course, not roses, but may reasonably be considered gigantic symbolisms of them. Amarina herself was a marvel. She had a wonderful blondness, although she tanned instead of freckled in the sun. But there was something about that soft creaminess of tint which her skin — as that of her foremothers' had done — assumed in the summer-time which had a beauty beyond that of mere pink and pearl. Through this creamy tint was always to be seen on the cheeks a flush of rose; and her eyes, which were brown, shaded into the cream, and her lips were crimson. There had been many intermarriages in the Deering family. Amarina's own parents had been distantly related, but she was an instance of endurance instead of degeneration. She was as perfect as one of the roses in her garden, which had come of the reproduction of many generations of bloom. Amarina had outlived her immediate family, and lived alone with an aged great-aunt and two old servants. She was nearly thirty, and had never had a lover. But it was not held in the least to Amarina Deering's discredit that she remained single, for it was universally conceded that there was nobody in the village who could have aspired to her hand without presumption. She was set up on a pedestal like some goddess, and if she realized a loneliness thereon nobody knew it, for she had the pride of her family.
Amarina's great-aunt was very old, but she seemed to have attained a pause of longevity at the summit of her hill of years, and time now seemed to make no further impression upon her. She was dim-sighted, dim of comprehension, and very hard of hearing, as she had been for years; she had never been married. Living with Amarina's great-aunt Margaret Deering was scarcely like living with an animated person, but the girl was fond of her, and tended her with the greatest care.
Amarina at almost thirty was to the full as lovely as at eighteen. People said that she did not change in the least. And in truth there was little difference. She looked as truly the same as the new roses which appeared blooming on the perennial stalks of the old ones in the garden every June.
However, when Amarina neared thirty she began to think of putting on caps.
All women, as a rule, of that age wore caps. One summer afternoon she got out some fine old lace and muslin, and sat on the porch beside her great-aunt fashioning a cap. The old woman cast a glance at the filmy stuff which Amarina was manipulating.
Amarina answered the look as she would have answered a question; she had come to understand her aunt's silences as she would have understood speech. “I am getting near thirty, Aunt Margaret,” said she, “and I thought I might as well be getting some caps ready.” She laughed as she said it — and there was not the slightest bitterness in her laugh, which was that of one amused with Time while she makes concessions to him. The old woman looked away from Amarina and the cap, and her eyes took on an odd blank of remembrance.
Amarina continued to gather the lace and sew it to the muslin. She wore that day a lemon-colored muslin gown, and her fair hair fell in curls all over her neck and shoulders. Out of them looked her round face, slightly browned by the sun, with the rose-flush on the cheeks, and the brown eyes which still regarded the world and life itself with the surprise and trust of youth.
Suddenly a man entered the gate at the end of the yard and came up the path between the rose-bushes and rose-peonies which bordered it. Amarina glanced from her work at him with a gentle surprise. The old aunt did not seem to see him at all. She was trying to recall her own first cap, which she had donned at thirty.
The man approached the porch; he lifted his hat and spoke quite familiarly, with a pleasant, almost mischievous, laugh. “All the pink roses are in bloom in the yard,” said he, “but the one yellow one blooms on the porch.”
Amarina arose and confronted him with a slight hauteur. “Sir?” said she.
“Then you have forgotten me,” said the stranger. “Well, I will forgive you; there are many bees, but only one rose.”
“I will admit that you have the advantage of me, sir,” Amarina said in her sweet, slightly formal manner.
“Well, why should you remember?” replied the man. “It was ten years ago that we met, but the years have flown over your head like a flock of humming-birds. I am Alonzo Fairwater.”
A flash of recognition came into Amarina's eyes. Alonzo Fairwater was the distant cousin of her one girl friend, Alicia Day, who lived three miles away in a tiny suburb of the village, which was named for her family — “Day Corner.” It was seldom that Amarina saw Alicia, since she herself was kept at home by the care of her aged aunt, and Alicia was away the greater part of the year in the city. She was a beauty and a belle. Some called her handsomer that Amarina, although she too had never married.
Amarina courtesied, and motioned Alonzo Fairwater to a chair. “Yes,” she said, “I beg your pardon. I remember you now; but ten years is a long time.”
“Not for you,” replied Alonzo Fairwater, seating himself, with eyes of open admiration upon the girl's face.
“You are visiting at Alicia's?” said Amarina, again with a slightly haughty air.
The young man explained his presence with an odd eagerness. It seemed that he was out of health, and country air had been recommended, and he had come on a visit to the Day homestead. Alicia was away, as Amarina knew, but Alonzo said that she was to return the next day. He touched very lightly upon the subject of Alicia, but said a great deal about the beauty of the village and the sweetness and health-giving properties of the air.
As the two sat there, with the silent great-aunt in the background, a young man crossed the front yard with a rake over his shoulder. He cast one glance, which was almost surly, towards the group on the porch, and only dipped his head slightly in response to Amarina's salutation, which was as marked as if he had been any gentleman coming to call upon her.
“Who is that sulky swain?” asked Alonzo Fairwater, in a voice so loud that the young man must have heard; but he continued without turning his head, and was soon seen moving about, tossing up the newly mown hay in an adjoining field.
Amarina colored. “He is one of my neighbors, Mr. Thomas Hetherly, and he makes hay on my land on shares,” she replied.
Fairwater gazed with a sort of supercilious amusement at the young man moving in a green and rosy foam of clover and timothy. “It is very early to make hay, is it not?” he said.
“Very early,” replied Amarina. Then Martha, the wife of old Jacob, the two being the servants of the Deerings, came out with a tray on which were a squat silver tea-service and a plate of little cakes; and nothing more was said about Thomas Hetherly.
However, after Alonzo Fairwater had taken his leave and the sun was low, Amarina gathered up daintily her lemon-colored skirts and crossed the yard, and approached the haymaker. Thomas Hetherly stopped when he saw her, and waited with a sort of dignity which sat well upon him; for, in spite of his working-clothes and his humble task, he was a masterly looking fellow of great height, and with a handsome face so strong as to be almost stern.
Amarina smiled pleasantly, albeit a little timidly, up at him from the cloud of her yellow curls. “How do you get on with the hay, Mr. Hetherly?” asked she.
“Very well, Miss Deering, considering the size of the field.”
“It is good hay weather,” said Amarina.
Thomas's replies were almost curt. He looked straight at her beautiful face with a sort of defiance — the defiance of the original man for the wiles of the woman.
Amarina turned away, then she hesitated. “That gentleman who was sitting on the porch is Alonzo Fairwater,” said she.
“Yes; I knew him. I saw him years ago,” replied Hetherly, quietly.
Amarina hesitated still. A deep pink overspread the cream of her cheeks. “I know you must have overheard what he said,” she faltered. “I am sure he meant no harm, and I hope you do not think —”
Hetherly turned from her and gave the hay a little toss. “I think nothing at all about it,” he replied.
“I am very glad,” said Amarina, with a curious meekness, for she had a proud soul, and she had met, in a sense, with a repulse.
“I did not intend to be surly towards you,” said Thomas Hetherly, tossing the hay steadily, “and as for anything else, I never store in my mind what was not meant for my ears.”
“I am very glad,” said Amarina again, and still with that curious meekness. Then she was gone, skimming the stubbed surface of the field in her lemon-colored gown as lightly as a butterfly, and Thomas Hetherly continued his work until the sun was below the horizon and the stars were shining; then he went home. He was poor and lived alone. All his life until the last year he had been burdened with the care of his father, who had suffered with a terrible incurable disease, and who required not only great care, but great expense. When he died, the small Hetherly estate was heavily encumbered, and Thomas was working to clear it. When he reached home he built his kitchen fire, set the kettle on, then washed himself and changed his clothes. He did so on account of Amarina Deering's daintiness, and because he could not bear to compare himself to so much disadvantage with the fine gentleman who had sat on the porch with her that afternoon. After his simple supper he sat down on his front door-step, and looked across the street at the old Deering house.
It was a strange old pile, a conglomeration resulting from the tastes and needs of succeeding generations of one race. Nearly everybody who had dwelt in it, since the original founder, Amarina's great-grandfather, had added something to it. It was a multiplication of the first simple theme, a house of eight square rooms on two floors. Now there were ells and outbuildings, and rooms opening from one another by unexpected steps, and the stairs and doors were in such numbers that they were a matter of jest in the village. The whole was an immense aggregation of the tastes and needs of different individuals of one race, consolidated in brick and wood and plaster. There was, however, a singular unanimity about the house in the midst of variety. It was, in reality, harmonious architecture, although not of any known school. And the deep front yard and garden in the rear, with their rank growths of roses, carried the harmony further still, and Amarina, the true daughter of the race, raised it to the utmost pitch. Amarina's very name illustrated curiously the tendency of her family to compound and conserve. Her grandmother's name had been Amanda, her mother's Marina, hers was Amarina. There had been no strictly new name in the family for generations, and there had been hardly one new thing in the house.
Alonzo Fairwater, who came often, found a charm in this conservation of the graceful old. He viewed the furniture: chairs with harp backs, the spindle-legged piano, the gilded candlesticks, dangling with prisms, on the mantel; the pictures, darkly rich and mysterious old paintings in heavy dull frames, steel-engravings of ultra-delicacy, and pencil drawings made by Amarina's ancestresses — and all fascinated the man, who had an æsthetic nature. Nothing which had ever entered that old house, except the people who had dwelt therein, had ever departed from it. And yet they had not been a niggardly race — not with money; they had always been free with that. It was only with that which money had bought that they had been chary. It was as if their possessions had acquired for them a worth beyond their intrinsic ones, and became a part of their individuality. Amarina's great-aunt Margaret Deering, dull as she was, would have aroused to enough life to break her heart had she been deprived of aught of her old store, although nothing seemed very clearly present with her in the aged dimness of her mind.
Alonzo Fairwater had called upon Amarina many times before she fairly remembered the first cap which she had donned when she passed out of her girlhood. Then suddenly, one evening, when she and Amarina and Alonzo were all in the sitting-room, and Amarina was embroidering a handkerchief by the light of a candle in a tall silver stick, and Alonzo sat near, watching her with half-bold, half-furtive admiration, the old woman remembered, and when she did remember, the tears rolled down her withered cheeks as if she had been a child.
Amarina looked up and saw the tears, and, dropping her work, ran to her. “Why, dear Aunt Margaret,” said she, “what is the matter?”
“It had three rows of thread lace, and there was a bow of lilac ribbon,” sobbed the old woman.
Alonzo stared, and the thought came to him that the old soul had clean lost her wits, but Amarina spoke soothingly. “What was trimmed with three rows of thread lace and a bow of lilac ribbon, dear aunt?” said she; “and why do you weep about it?”
“Three rows of thread lace and a bow of lilac ribbon,” repeated the old aunt, and she sobbed aloud.
“On what, dear aunt?”
“On my cap, my first cap that I wore when I was turned thirty,” wailed the old woman.
Alonzo Fairwater turned his face aside and laughed a little, but Amarina regarded her aunt with entire sympathy. “Yes, I understand, dear Aunt Margaret, now,” said she, and indeed she did understand as no one of alien blood could have understood.
“And the lace dropped to pieces, although I mended it carefully, and the lilac ribbon bow faded, and it is all gone,” sobbed old Margaret Deering, and she wept as if at the memory of her dead mother or her dead sister or her dead self. Amarina soothed her, Alonzo Fairwater could not help thinking, like an angel. She called Martha, and the old woman was led off and put tenderly to bed, after she had been given a cup of spiced cordial.
Alonzo Fairwater rose. “It would be worth while being old and feeble if one could have such care as yours,” he said, and his voice trembled a little, but Amarina only laughed. She accompanied him to the door, and they were standing in a stream of moonlight which poured into the old hall, when suddenly he cut his speech short — it was of the probable weather the next day — and seized Amarina's hand and kissed it. “Oh, Amarina!” he sighed out, but she drew back.
“Sir!” she said.
Alonzo Fairwater moved away from her farther into the stream of silver moonlight. “Forgive me, I beg you,” he murmured, and went quickly down the path between the rose-bushes, which were then past their bloom.
Amarina when she was in her own chamber that night reflected. She had no doubt that Alonzo Fairwater loved her, that what he had said and done was equivalent to a declaration of love, and that he would follow it up by more precise avowals on the first opportunity. She had no doubt, but no rapture. She considered the matter gravely, its advantages and disadvantages. While she was doing so, lying in her little white bed, stiffened with strenuous thought, a light shone in her eyes from a window of the Hetherly house opposite. Then directly her heart leaped to an understanding of itself, and at the same time to indignation with herself. She understood that if the question had been of marriage with Thomas Hetherly, such careful weighing of consequences would have been almost out of her power, but she was merciless with herself because of it. In the first place, Thomas Hetherly had manifested no inclination to marry her, and she accused herself of indelicacy at the imagination of such a thing. In the second place, the women of her race had never married a simple, poor man like him, and the conservatism which was born with her held her like chain armor. She was a creature of an almost majestic maidenliness. She pressed back the involuntary leap of her heart, and reflected upon the subject of marriage with Alonzo, as if it had been an embroidery pattern. Although she had a keen mind and a vivid imagination, the real significance of marriage itself, except as a matter of custom for which she had hereditary instincts, and an estate which it became a woman to enter, and which was held somewhat to her disparagement to miss, was scarcely present to her consideration at all.
Amarina fully expected that Alonzo Fairwater would present himself the next day and make a definite proposal for her hand; the dignity of the Deering women had never been affronted with a scene like that of the night before except with such a sequel. All the time she reflected, but was not able to make up her mind concerning her answer, for, whether she would or not, the gleam of that candle of Thomas Hetherly's seemed to send her thoughts adrift, and the image of him drove the image of the other man from her heart.
But the next afternoon, instead of Alonzo, Alicia Day came in the Day coach, and she was out in a swirl of purple and gold-shot silk, for she was of a dark and splendid beauty and fine raiment became her, and she delighted in it. A bird-of-paradise plume curled around her hat, and her wrought veil of yellow lace drifted to her waist before her lovely face as she ran up the path between the rose-bushes to Amarina hastening to meet her. “Oh, Amarina!” sighed Alicia.
“Dearest Alicia!” said Amarina, and she held her in her arms and kissed her fondly. Then she led Alicia into the house and the best parlor. Alicia sank into a corner of the sofa, drawing Amarina down beside her. “Oh, Amarina!” she sighed again, and the brilliant flush upon her cheeks deepened, and her dark eyes shone with tears.
Amarina laughed. “This is the second time you have said that, and what ails you, sweetheart?” said she.
Alicia glanced up at Amarina in a sweet confusion, like a rose in a gale of wind. “I know it,” said she. “I am silly as I never thought Alicia Day could be, but I am silly because I am happy as Alicia Day never expected to be happy, dear.” Alicia had tossed back her long veil, and her glowing, beautiful face was framed by the floating lace flowers. Her blush mounted to the soft black curls on her forehead. “Cannot you guess what makes me so happy, dear?” she whispered.
After all, Amarina, in spite of her almost frozen maidenliness, was a woman. A blush mounted high on her own cheeks, and she cast down her brown eyes. “You are betrothed,” she whispered.
Alicia hid her face on her friend's shoulder. “Yes,” said she, “I am betrothed for some months. Next year at this time I shall be wed, and you shall be bridesmaid, Amarina.”
“Who is he, sweetheart?” asked Amarina.
Alicia laughed with utter exultation of bliss. “Who could he be but Alonzo Fairwater?” said she. “Oh, Amarina, I have loved him ever since I was a child, and thought there was no one like him, and something came betwixt us, and my heart broke, but now it is all over, and we love each other and are to be wed. But why do you say nothing, Amarina?”
“I wish you joy, sweetheart,” replied the other girl, and her voice was strange, but Alicia in her excitement did not notice it.
“Joy I shall have, pressed down and running over,” said she. “There never was a man like him; I thought you might guess, dear, since you knew he was here, for he has told me that he paid his respects to you, since you were my friend, although he has been pining for my return. I was obliged to remain in Boston for Elizabeth Ware's wedding. But how little you say, Amarina!”
Amarina roused herself, and she spoke fervently, although dissimulation was new to her. “I hope you will be very happy, dear,” she said.
“Happy!” repeated Alicia. “Oh, Amarina, did you ever see a man to equal Alonzo?”
“Not in your eyes, dear,” replied Amarina, evasively.
Then Alicia laughed gayly. “I verily believe that you have seen some one who looks in your eyes as Alonzo does in mine,” said she. “Own up to me, sweet.”
But Amarina paled and sobered, and Alicia could get nothing from her. That evening, when she and Alonzo were sitting alone, she said that she suspected that Amarina had herself lost her heart to some one, and that she hoped that such happiness as she herself had might come to her, for she had but a dull life alone with her old aunt. They were sitting in the moonlight, and Alicia could not see the expression on Alonzo's face, but it was one of both pain and triumph. “I do not see who he can be,” said Alicia, reflectively; “there is no one here for her. Do you not think her very beautiful from what little you have seen of her, Alonzo?”
“Very beautiful,” replied Alonzo, with a slight tremor in his voice, which Alicia did not notice. She had the entire trust and confidence of a great beauty who had always seen men at her feet.
The next afternoon, when Amarina was seen driving up with her aunt in the old Deering coach, Alonzo Fairwater, who had always esteemed himself brave as men go, did what some might have considered a cowardly thing. He stole softly down the back stairs, and across the garden into a thick wood behind it. Therefore, when Alicia sent to call him, he was not to be found. “I thought Alonzo was in his room,” said Alicia, “but he must have gone out.”
Amarina murmured that she was sorry to miss the pleasure, but her beautiful lips curled with covert scorn. She was thankful for once for her aunt's dulness, which prevented her from any betrayal of Alonzo's frequent calls upon herself.
It was not long after that that Alicia and her mother went away to visit the Fairwater family near Boston, and of course Alonzo went also, and it so happened that Amarina saw Alicia but seldom for a year, when it was June again and the wedding-day at hand. The Day farm remained for the greater part of the time in charge of the farmer who managed it, and Alicia and her mother remained away. Alicia was fond of gayety, and she was preparing her trousseau in Boston. Then, too, Alonzo, who was a lawyer, had an important case, which kept him closely confined in the city.
In the mean time Amarina had had her own experiences. It was as if Alicia's betrothal had furnished her with a key-note to which she could not help but pipe and sing, whether she would or not. She began to be cognizant, as she had never been before, of Thomas Hetherly's comings and goings, his house being distinctly visible from her sitting-room windows, especially when the leaves were off the trees. In the winter-time Thomas Hetherly had little work to do, except the care of the few creatures which comprised his live-stock. She watched him in the frosty mornings, with furtive eyes turned from her embroidery, going back and forth between the old red barn and the well with buckets of water. Then she watched him with a book under his arm of an afternoon, setting forth for the village library. The village library was but a poor affair, and that set her thinking of her father's study, the walls of which were lined with books — not new ones, but of a rare selection. Then one afternoon Mrs. Ephraim Janeway, a neighbor, came in to call. She was an elderly woman with the eye of a fox, and the whole village was as an open book to her, in which she read to others' discredit and her own glory. It was this woman who spoke of Thomas Hetherly and his haunting of the village library. “'Tis said he is bound to read it all through,” said she, “but to my mind he would not have such a hunger and thirst for books were it not that Prudence Emmons has the charge of them.” This Prudence Emmons was a widow to whom the charge of the little library had been given to eke out her scanty income, and she was considered very fair to see.
Amarina flushed angrily. “It seems hard if a man cannot indulge a love for good books without a suspicion of that kind,” said she. She spoke in a soft voice, and took another stitch in her embroidery, but she was angry.
Mrs. Janeway was shrewd and never affronted willingly. “Well, it may not be so,” she admitted. “I heard it at the sewing-circle the other afternoon, and one can never tell what the truth is when women are gabbling together; but the library is old, and Mrs. Prudence Emmons was always one whom gentlemen favored, and she has lately taken to going without caps, and she will never see thirty-five again.”
After Mrs. Ephraim Janeway had gone, Amarina went up to her own room and stood before her looking-glass and pulled off her own cap with an impatient gesture, and when her yellow curls, being set free, tumbled about her face, she shook her head defiantly. “I will wait until my face be thirty years old before I crown it with a cap, and let them say what they will,” said she, quite aloud.
That evening, when the old servant-woman Martha was out in the kitchen with her husband, she said to him that she wondered if Amarina had anybody in mind, because she had left off her cap, but the old man was smoking stupidly his after-supper pipe, and shook his head with a mumble meant to express his ignorance. It was the very next afternoon that old Jacob came to her and told her, with a chuckle half of amazement, half of suspicion, that Amarina had asked him to step across the road to the Hetherly house and ask if Mr. Thomas Hetherly would do her the favor to call some evening on a matter of business. The old man eyed his wife roguishly for approbation at his discovery of a confirmation of her own suspicion, but she replied to him angrily.
“Good Lord!” said she, “are you gone clean daft? Think you for one moment that one like her would favor one like him? Not a college-learned man in his whole family, and he himself without money enough to do anything but travel in the same track his father and grandfather went before him. 'Tis a good young man enough he is, but when it comes to a husband for Amarina Deering —” The old woman made a gesture expressive of the utmost contempt.
“She sends in December to see about mowin' the fields!” said old Jacob, and he chuckled openly.
“What of that? — the Deerings were always beforehand with their plans,” returned Martha, sharply.
Still, when Thomas Hetherly did not obey her mistress's summons for some ten days afterwards, she waxed indignant. “I would like to know who he thinks he is,” she said to old Jacob. “One of the Hetherlys not to run as fast as his feet could carry him when one of the Deerings, and a lady too, sends for him!” But old Jacob was smoking his pipe again after supper, and he only grunted in reply.
Amarina herself was somewhat surprised at Thomas Hetherly's lack of haste to call in response to her request. The very first evening after it was sent she had curled her hair carefully and put on her brown silk, and an embroidered collar with a cameo brooch. The next evening she had so arrayed herself again, and the next after that she had put on a crimson silk which had been said to become her. Every evening she had arrayed herself, with a view to Thomas Hetherly's appearance, and not one item of her furbishing had escaped old Martha.
It was that very evening when she had inconsistently complained of his non-appearance that there came a tap on the old knocker, and Martha pulled off her apron to answer it. “He has come,” said she.
Old Jacob roused himself. He removed his pipe, which he seemed to suck with the blank content of an infant.
“To see about mowin' of the hay in December!” said he, and chuckled. But his face sobered at his wife's fierce glance, and he resumed his pipe while she went to the door to admit Thomas Hetherly.
Amarina looked a little shy as she arose to welcome Thomas. The old aunt had retired. Thomas had made no preparations for his call on Amarina. He wore his every-day clothes, which were neat and whole, although coarse. Still, he was a splendid figure of a man, and he dominated his clothes as he stood there returning Amarina's greeting. He had come, in fact, with a curious inward sulkiness and revolt of pride. But no man could have found any fault with his reception, which was as punctilious as towards any gentleman in the land.
“I pray you be seated, Mr. Hetherly,” said Amarina, and she indicated with her long, slim, white hand a chair which was in some sense the chair of state for a caller. But Hetherly remained standing.
“I thank you,” he said, “but I have not long to stay, and I will not sit if you will be so kind as to tell me your business with me.”
Amarina colored. She herself felt the absurdity of sending for Thomas on the only errand which she had been able to devise. She hesitated a moment. “I wished to ask you if you had any objection to farming my land on shares as you did last year?” she said, timidly, and she saw the young man's start of surprise, and colored to the roots of her yellow hair.
“None in the least,” replied Thomas Hetherly, and with that he turned to go, but Amarina stopped him. She had come quite close to him, and she held one of the silver candlesticks in her hand.
“I wanted to ask,” she said, “if — if you would not like to borrow some books from my father's library. There are a great many, and I should be very glad to loan them to you.”
Thomas's own face colored. “Thank you,” he replied; “but I get books from the library.”
His voice was fairly curt, but Amarina continued. Somehow the curtness pleased her better than subservience would have done.
“But the village library is small,” said she, “and I have heard the books were not well chosen, and if you wished —”
“Thank you,” said Thomas again, “but I find very good books in the village library.”
Amarina tried to look at him haughtily, but the benefit thrust back upon her in such wise hurt her, and in spite of herself her voice had a piteous tone. “Very well, Mr. Hetherly,” she said; “it was only that I saw you going to the library for books, and I had so many, and I thought —”
Then suddenly Thomas's own face softened. In thinking of it afterwards he saw himself as a churl, instead of a man well aware of his own individual worth, and the slight estimate in which it was probably held by this girl of a gentle race. “Thank you,” he said, “and perhaps, since you are so kind —”
“Pray come directly into the library with me,” cried Amarina, eagerly. She held the streaming candle high, and Thomas followed her out of the warm sitting-room and through the length of the icy hall into the library. Amarina moved close to one of the book-lined walls, holding the candle. “Please make your choice,” said she, “and please take as many as you like.”
Thomas Hetherly stood scrutinizing the books over which the candle-light played uncertainly. The room was very cold; his breath and Amarina's mingled in a cloud of smoke.
She held the candle here and there that Thomas might see the old books the better, and her face was radiant, and her cheeks began to glow with the cold. The windows were expanses of white frost-work which sent out here and there sparkles like diamonds where the light from the candle struck them. The books which finally Thomas selected felt like blocks of ice to his hand. Amarina scudded before him to the sitting-room, and he followed her, but he did not accept her invitation to sit down. That night, after Amarina went to bed, the light of his reading-lamp shone in her face. She had in her heart the pleasant warmth of a kindly deed to one beloved, although she still never seriously entertained for one moment the possibility of marriage with Thomas Hetherly. It was not because she scorned him, for Amarina had in one sense a humble heart, but simply because he seemed to her of another sort. She regarded him, when it came to a question of mating, as a bird-of-paradise might regard a sparrow. None of the Deerings had married any but men with liberal educations and of gentle antecedents. Thomas Hetherly's father, before his health failed him, had been the village painter, and many a time when she was a child she had seen him in his stained white clothes perched on a ladder before her own house. His illness had been due to the poison in the white-lead, and Amarina had heard from Mrs. Ephraim Janeway that he had made Thomas promise on that account that he would never take up his father's old trade.
“He could have made a better living at it,” Mrs. Janeway said; “I don't believe Thomas more than makes two ends meet, though I hear he sold a good deal of honey last year.” Thomas kept bees, and a long row of hives stretched behind his house.
In a week's time Thomas returned the books, and took two more home with him, but he did not accept Amarina's invitation to be seated. The almost churlishness of his manner had gone, but instead was a pride before which Amarina's own shrunk, fairly dwarfed.
“I'd like to know who Thomas Hetherly thinks he is?” said old Martha, one evening, after he had taken his books and gone. She had entered the sitting-room on an errand about breakfast. “Anybody would think he was a prince to see the way he acts.”
“Nonsense,” said Amarina.
“He holds up his head as if there wasn't anybody in the country quite good enough to speak to him,” continued Martha; “and what is he? He just grubs along on that little land, and farms yours on shares, and keeps bees. H'm!”
“He has a good deal of book-learning,” said Amarina, blushing, and timidly yet dignifiedly on the defensive.
“He ain't college-l'arnt. What college did he ever go to, I'd like to know?”
“He has read a great deal, and taught himself a great deal. He can read Greek and Latin, and he has studied mathematics.”
“H'm!” said Martha again.
When Martha was out in the kitchen she sat down by the other side of the stove with a face so glum that even old Jacob dropped his peaceful pipe to stare at her and inquire thickly what was the matter.
“I know what is the matter,” said old Martha. She was a very large woman, and her small eyes rolled with unwarranted accusation at her husband from the placid curves of her disturbed face.
“What's to pay?” further asked old Jacob.
“Girls don't leave off caps when they're turned thirty, and put on silk dresses, and stand hours in freezin' rooms a-holdin' candles for young men to pick out books for nothin'; that's what's to pay,” said she.
“You don't think —”
“I think that when a body can't get a sweet grape, a body will take a sour sometimes rather than no grape at all,” returned Martha; “and to think of old Abel Hetherly's son a-holdin' up of his head when he comes, as if he was the lord of all creation!”
“Abel Hetherly was a good man,” remarked Jacob. Old Abel Hetherly had been one of his boyhood friends.
“Of course he was a good man. I'd like to know who's sayin' anythin' agin' him,” returned his wife, crossly; “but, Lord! who's his son, to come over here puttin' on sech airs, and she a-dressin' of herself up as if the President was comin'? Her blue and white plaid silk on to-night. Lord! Thomas Hetherly's mother never had but one silk dress in her life, and that was a cinnamon-brown one that made her look as yaller as saffron, and she was laid out in it. Thomas Hetherly ain't used to women in silk dresses, and he ain't no call to come and hold up his head so high afore them that wears them. What if he does know a little book-learnin'? What's book-learnin' to an old family like the Deering's? They're above book-learnin', and always was. They had books jest as they had bread and butter, but they was above 'em. Books is nothin' but ideas, and not true at that, most of 'em, printed and put betwixt covers, but folks is folks. Lord! Thomas Hetherly and one of the Deerings, an' he a-seemin' to look down on her at that. If I was her mother I'd give her a piece of my mind.”
Amarina continued to dress her hair prettily, to go without her cap, and to don a becoming gown on the evenings on which she expected Thomas Hetherly might come. However, all this time, Thomas never presumed upon the privilege which most men might have esteemed offered to them. He never lingered a moment beyond the time necessary to choose his books. And Amarina never acknowledged to herself that she would have it otherwise. Now and then there was a word or two between them, mostly with regard to the weather, and that was all, save that now and then there was a look in Thomas's eyes when he regarded Amarina, which caused her to lower hers quickly, and him to turn his away with something of brusqueness, for the truth was that he was angry with himself for yielding to the spell which she, unwittingly or not, cast upon him, with her fair face and her gentle, high-bred ways. And yet in time he came to have a defiance of his own humbleness, and he argued with himself that whether his worldly estate fitted him to be her mate or not, yet his love as a man was worthy of her esteem, and that he should be lacking in self-respect did he shrink from avowing it to her. So it happened that in June, when the roses were in blossom, and Alicia Day had come home, and, in fact, the wedding was the next day but one, he sent Amarina a letter, and this was the letter:
“Dear Madam Amarina Deering, — He who indites the following does so for the sake of his own self-esteem, believing that although his worldly estate be inferior, and an insurmountable obstacle to his union with you, yet the affection which he cherishes in his heart for you graces of face and mind renders him the equal of any man, and that he confesses himself less than himself if he fails to avow it. I therefore beg leave to inform you, madam, that I love you and you only, and shall so love you until the day of my death, and I tell you this asking for naught in return, and even scorning aught in return, as a giver may scorn reward, and I remain your obedient servant to command, “Thomas Hetherly.”
When Amarina received this strange letter, she read it and locked it up in her little desk, and reflected upon it. There was something in the haughty attitude of this poor lover who scorned to woo which she seemed to understand as she had before never understood anything in another human soul. Amarina reflected upon the letter while she finished her bridesmaid gown for Alicia's wedding. She made over an old India muslin which had belonged to her mother, and the fancy had seized her to embroider over the pattern in colors. She therefore went, with colored embroidery silks, all over the delicate patterns of the muslin, until it was blooming with garlands of bright flowers. The gown was low cut, but there was an embroidered scarf to wear over the neck, and Amarina wore a wreath of tiny rosebuds twisted among her curls. On the day of the wedding she set out a long time before the hour appointed, since she was to assist in dressing the bride. She had with her, laid carefully on the seat of the coach, a great bouquet of bride roses, gathered from her garden, and tied with white lutestring ribbon, and the bride was to carry it. Amarina had seen but little of Alicia lately; Alonzo she had not seen at all. Whenever she thought of him it was with a shame and scorn which was almost vindictive, but with no love. She had never loved him, but she had, in response to his wooing, placed herself in an attitude of receptivity towards love, and for that she found it hard to forgive him.
When she reached the Day house, Alicia's mother, as graceful and fair to look upon as a spray of lilacs in her shimmering lilac satin, came to meet her, and her gentle face was pale and distressed. “Oh, my dearest Amarina!” she cried, “I am so glad you are come, for something very sad has happened to us, and I am looking forward to you, and you only, to set matters right.”
With that she drew Amarina wondering after her into the house, and into the great parlor all trimmed with flowers for the wedding. And all the house was sweet with flowers and wine and wedding-cake.
“My dear,” said Alicia's mother, “she will not be married; and, oh, the disgrace that has come upon us this day, with the guests all bidden and no wedding!”
“What do you mean?” asked Amarina, herself pale and gasping.
“She will not be married!”
“She sits in her chamber, and her wedding-gown lies on her bed, and she will not put it on nor be married, nor tell any of us why; and I have been looking for you, dear, thinking she might be more open with one of her own age and her closest friend than even with her own mother.” And as she said that, the poor lady broke into sobs and lamentations. “Oh, go up to Alicia's chamber and talk with her, my dear,” she begged; and Amarina forthwith ran up the stairs, the carved balusters of which were wound with green vines, and entered her friend's chamber. Alicia sat there alone in a rocking-chair, and she was dressed in an old loose gown of sprigged pink-and-white muslin, and her black hair was tumbling over her shoulders, and she was rocking herself violently back and forth, and her beautiful mouth was set in a straight line. But when Amarina entered she sprang up and accosted her with a sort of fury.
“You may have him! you may have him!” said she. “Go down and marry him if you will! Put on my wedding-gown and my veil. Go down and marry him, I say!”
Amarina looked at her friend sternly. “Alicia, what do you mean?” said she.
“Well you know what I mean. 'Tis you he shall wed, and not me.”
Then Amarina's own quick temper flashed. “Know you, Mistress Alicia Day, I would not wed with Alonzo Fairwater if he were the last man in the world!” she cried out, and her face flamed.
“Yes, 'tis you he shall wed, and not me.”
“Alicia Day, have you lost your wits?”
“Tell me how many times Alonzo came to call upon you last summer before I returned!”
“I cannot tell.”
“Of course you cannot tell, for the times passed count, but Alonzo told me that he called but once to pay his respects. Tell me if he spoke the truth?”
Amarina was silent.
“Tell me if he spoke the truth, Amarina Deering?”
And again Amarina was silent, for she could not reply.
“I knew it,” Alicia said, with such an accent of woe that Amarina shuddered.
“Alicia, sweetheart, he did come more than once, but — but he made no — no avowal,” stammered Amarina.
“Did he say or do anything that would have caused you any disturbance had you been in my place? — answer me that,” demanded Alicia.
Amarina was again silent a moment; then she answered, although she felt in her heart that she departed somewhat from the truth, for as she spoke she seemed to see Alonzo's ardent eyes upon her face, and feel his lips on her hand. “No,” said she.
“I do not believe you,” said Alicia. “I have found out that Alonzo was always at your house last summer before my return, and — and the one who told me was passing, and she saw him — she saw him —”
“Kiss my hand,” said Amarina, coolly; “and what of that? What does kissing the hand mean? Nothing at all. And I know who told you; it was Mrs. Ephraim Janeway.”
“She thought it her duty to tell me, and not let me marry the man with whom my dearest friend was in love, when she was breaking her heart over him,” said Alicia, in the frozen, stubborn tone which had come into her voice.
Amarina stared at her. “I am not breaking my heart over him,” said she again — “on my honor.”
Alicia shook her head.
“Sweetheart, this is nonsense!” cried Amarina, and as she spoke she moved towards the bed on which lay the wedding-gown and veil. “Here, sweetheart, let us have no more of this,” she said. “Come here and let me dress you.” But Alicia began rocking back and forth again. She was, between her love and jealousy, scarcely sane. Her face was burning and her eyes were wild. “Come here, Alicia,” said Amarina, but Alicia would not stir. “But, sweetheart,” said Amarina, so bewildered that she scarcely knew what to say or do, “you would marry him if —”
“Yes, I love him so that I would marry him in spite of everything if I were sure you would not.”
“I tell you I would not.”
Alicia shook her head in her strange, stubborn fashion.
“Come, sweetheart, if you love me, and be dressed,” begged Amarina, at her wits' end.
“I tell you I will never wear that wedding-dress, unless they put it on me when I am laid in my coffin and I cannot help it,” replied Alicia Day, “unless —”
“Unless what? Do not talk so, sweet.”
“Unless I see you happily married to somebody else.”
“Then would you believe?”
“Yes, then I should believe,” said Alicia.
Amarina stood a moment reflecting. Her face colored rosy red, then she paled. Then she spoke with a strange note of fear and resolution: “Very well, dear,” she said. “See me married you shall.” And with that she was gone.
Alicia's mother, pale and trembling, caught hold of her white gown as she was going out of the door. “Where are you going?” she whispered. “Will she?”
“I shall be back,” replied Amarina.
“Will she? Oh, what shall I do?”
“She will when I come back.”
As Amarina drove away in her coach she had a glimpse of Alonzo Fairwater's face at a window. He looked ghastly white and troubled, and the sight of him strengthened her for her purpose, for she was about to do what no woman of her family had ever done before.
Amarina bade old Jacob drive fast, and it was not long before she reached the Deering house; and she sprang out of her coach, and ran in for her scissors and some white lutestring ribbon, and was out in the garden cutting another bouquet of bride roses, the while old Martha watched her furtively from a window; and when she saw her hurry with her great bunch of white roses to Thomas Hetherly's, she thought she had gone clean mad.
Amarina hurried across the road, and her garlanded dress floated out on either side like the wings of a butterfly; and as she hurried she heard a jangling yet somewhat rhythmic sound, like barbaric music, for Thomas was beating a tin pan behind his house in order to settle a swarm of bees, which were overhead in a humming cluster around their queen. Amarina paid no heed to the bees, and she ran up to him, and held out the bouquet of white roses; and he, too, forgot his bees, and stopped beating the tin pan, and looked at her, and his face was as white as if he were dead.
“I got your letter, Thomas,” said she, in a low voice, and stood extending the bunch of roses towards him, as if it were some sword of maidenhood which she was surrendering. Still, Thomas did not speak; his head was swimming with the perplexity of it all.
“I got your letter,” Amarina faltered again, and it was as if she were emerging from an atmosphere in which she had been born into another, which rent her with agony of new life. Yet after a second she continued: “Alicia will not marry Alonzo, because she has learned that he has paid some slight attention to me, and she will have it that my heart is broken,” and her voice had the appeal of a child's; “and so — and so —”
Thomas did not speak. He stood holding his pan, and the bees hummed angrily overhead.
“She will not marry him unless she is convinced by my marrying another man,” cried Amarina, tremulously. She held the roses towards him, and they shook as if in a gale. “And so, and so — I came back, and I — have your letter, and — I have made another bridal nosegay, and if — if —”
Then Thomas Hetherly seemed to fairly tower over her. “So you come to me in order that I may save your pride,” he cried, “and in order that —” But his words were cut short, for down came the bees in a buzzing mass, and swarmed on the bunch of roses outstretched in Amarina's hand. “Keep still! — oh, keep still for God's sake!” shouted Thomas Hetherly. And Amarina kept still, although she never in all her life forgot that keeping still which seemed to comprise in a few minutes an eternity. She had nerve and courage, for she did not come of the Deerings for nothing; and she held the bunch of roses, which a second before had so shaken, with a clutch like a vise, although the muscles on her girlish arms swelled with the weight and stress, and there was a roaring in her ears above the war-hum of the bees. Thomas ran for a hive, and soon it was all over, and she had not a sting; but she dropped her roses, and put both her little hands before her face and sobbed; and in spite of himself, and influenced thereto by a mightier and more primeval hunger for sweets than those of the bees, Thomas came close to her and took her in his arms to comfort her. “'Tis all over, 'tis all over, and the bees are in the hive,” he said, “and don't be afraid, sweetheart.”
“Oh, 'tis cruel, 'tis cruel,” she sobbed out; “'tis cruel, Thomas. For I came not because of my pride, but — because I — loved you.”
It became one of the village traditions: how Amarina Deering went to seek Thomas Hetherly, and how his bees swarmed on her bridal bouquet, and how he hived them, she never getting one sting, and how he dressed himself in his best, while she went home to tell her aunt, who, it was said, never fairly understood until a week later; and then how Amarina and Thomas drove in the coach back to the Day house, and how hastily the other bride was dressed, and how there was a double wedding instead of a single one, as there will sometimes unexpectedly appear a double rose on a bush of single roses.