A Newport Aquarelle/Chapter 12
Gladys Carleton woke early on the morning after the ball, which had been, everybody said, the great success of the season. She could not sleep, as she usually did after a party, and after tossing for half an hour restlessly on her bed, she rang the bell for her maid, and stood looking out from the balcony of her pretty room, as she had done that morning on which she had promised to be the wife of Cuthbert Larkington. It was just such a morning as that had been, fresh, clear, and full of sunshine. But it was of another man than her fiancé that she was thinking,—the man who had suddenly returned to Newport from Colorado, and whose face she had not seen since she had become engaged to the Englishman. Then she thought, a little wonderingly, but quite indifferently, as she had the night before, of Larkington's abrupt disappearance from the ball; he had not even said good-night to her, he had probably felt ill. The thought did not seem to disturb her peace of mind, however, and she proceeded to make her toilet, wondering the while what had brought Cid back to Newport,—wondering and half guessing. She hummed an old song, "We met, 'twas in a crowd,"—and then sighed and then laughed at herself for being sentimental.
The house bore the comfortless aspect which always succeeds a ball, and, finding the dining-room and parlors in the course of being dusted and swept, Gladys stepped out upon the green turf of the lawn, and walked toward the rose-garden for a posy to put in her belt.
"Who has been breaking the roses?" she cried angrily, though there was no one there to answer her question. One bush which yesterday had been covered with splendid full roses was broken, and the blossoms were trampled into the ground. She stooped to pick up one of the faded flowers, and saw a crumpled newspaper lying close at hand.
"How careless people are!" she ejaculated, and was just stooping down to pick up the paper when she heard wheels on the gravel driveway, and looking round saw Charles Farwell's trap coming up at a quick pace. He drew up the horses at the sight of her, and, giving his reins to the servant who had come out at the sound of the wheels, joined Gladys on the lawn.
"What brings you out and up at this hour, Gladys? it is not eight o'clock yet," were his first words, while he looked anxiously into her face.
"Why, I might ask the same question of you, Cid. How are you? I am so glad to see you."
"I forgot that I had not spoken to you before. Have you seen Mrs. Fallow-Deer this morning—or anybody else?"
"You forget how early it is; no, I have not seen anybody. If you came to see Mrs. Fallow-Deer, you will have to wait; she may come down at ten." She was piqued at his queer, cool manner.
"No, I did not come to see Mrs. Fallow-Deer, or anybody but yourself. Come and take a drive with me."
"What? Before breakfast?"
"Yes; are you so hungry? We will drive to Finley's and get some grapes. It is a perfect day, and besides I want to see you, Gladys, for a few minutes. Come."
"I should like to—only I don't suppose I ought—I suppose you know, Cid—"
"Oh yes, I know all about what has happened in my absence. Run and get your hat, child, and take a drive with me."
"Well, I will, Cid." She plucked a rose bud from a bush which his careless feet had crushed the night before, and held it out to him, and then picked up the crumpled newspaper.
"What is that paper, Gladys? Have you been reading it?"
"No. I cannot imagine who could be careless enough to throw it on the lawn. Put it in the basket in the library, while I get my cloak."
Farwell gave a sigh of relief. He put the copy of the "Evening Telegram," which he had dropped the night before, in his pocket. She did not know yet, and he would be the first one to tell her the mortifying truth.
They drove down Bellevue Avenue, and out over Kay Street, stopping on the road to buy some rolls at a bakery, and some great bunches of black Hamburg grapes at a hothouse. Gladys laughed at her cousin, and said that she really could wait till breakfast time; but Cid broke off for her tempting little bunches of the fine grapes, and coaxed her to eat a roll. He had a great idea of fortifying the body before giving a shock to the mind. How pretty she looked that morning, all dewy and fresh as the wild flowers by the road! The cheeks which had been so pale the night before were rosy now, and the line of her mouth had grown tender again. He found himself looking at her and forgetting all that had happened since the afternoon when he had lifted her from her horse, and she had given the little tired sigh, like a child glad to be taken up by loving arms.
"Do you remember the last time we came over this dear old West Road together, Cid?" asked Gladys.
"Yes, it was the day before I started for Leadville."
"Did you amuse yourself in Colorado, Cid?"
"Well enough; but I did not go for amusement. Here was the place where we stopped and looked over at Fort Dumplings; do you remember?"
"Yes, and I do believe there is the very same man ploughing in the field."
Then they were silent, and the fleet horses carried the light carriage at a flying pace down the great hill at the two-mile corner. The country was splendid with the glory of the goldenrod, which lined the dusty roadside and spread like a great yellow cloak over the fields, cut into squares like a chess-board by the crossing lines of the gray stone walls. Some of the squares were deep green, starred with purple asters; others were of the rich brown color of new-ploughed earth; many of the distant ones were yellow with the harvested grain, and piles of deep red gold pumpkins stood at the corners of the fields. The air was sweet with the smell of the wild grapes which clung to the porches of the bare unpainted farm-houses. The beauty of the complete and perfect year crowned the fair earth, and the peace of the fruitful harvest was over the land. The air was fresh, and, though full of light and warmth, had a cool tinge in it, that set the blood running like new wine through the veins of the man and woman who were so unreasonably and unreasoningly happy, sitting, side by side, behind the swift horses.
On they went, past the quaint old gray windmill on the left, whose four great white arms slowly revolved in the light breeze. In a little window high up in the quiet mill, which Gladys said looked like a giantess's thimble, they saw the miller s wife standing, a rosy child on her strong shoulder. The little creature waved its hand to the two in the carriage; he liked to see the horses and their shining harness.
"Why did you call me, Gladys, that day? A week ago yesterday afternoon, you called me, and I heard you in the depths of the earth, far, very far off; and now I have come to ask you why you called me, on the very day, they tell me, it was when you—when you had no right to think of any other man than the man you had chosen."
"I did not call your name; did you hear my voice?"
"I do not know if I heard anything with my ears, but your spirit called to mine and mine heard it; do you not know this to be true?"
She was silent, and looked away from his tender eyes, over the fair landscape, and then shivered at an ugly thought that came into her mind.
"Shall I tell you why you called me?" he asked. She did not speak, but bowed her head in assent. "Because you love me, Gladys, with a love which is not of this earth only; because your lower self tries to ignore this love, and would do it an outrage. Ah, child, you were in sore need of me when that spirit, so long subordinate to your worldly self, sighed to mine for help. I have come, and offer you that help." He paused, and then continued: "Why was it that at the last moment you threw over that 'splendid match' and gave such pain and mortification to that man in Germany?"
"I could not marry him, Cid."
"And why? Because you could not put a barrier between our two souls, which have felt the need so terribly one of another. We are free agents, Gladys, you and I; either of us by our acts could—can—break the union by which they are still bound. Would you bargain with your soul, child, for the sake of things which are of this world only, and wrong your spirit, by a bond of the flesh which would sever it from mine forever?"
The young man spoke earnestly and seriously, in a low voice, passionless and grave. It was not with such words that in the old days her boy lover had wooed her, and Gladys looked at him wondering, and yet understanding dimly all he said.
"If I should never see your face again, Gladys, you would love me always; do you not know it?"
They were silent again for a space, and Gladys noticed the drooping willows before the little gray farm-house, which with its wide pasture-land, filled with great sleepy cattle, seems the scene which Corot must have thought of in some of the strange pictures painted from a landscape seen only in a dream.
Gladys looked up into the eyes of the man at her side, which were turned half from her. There was no emotion in his face; he was quite still and silent, neither pale nor red, but with a far-away look of peace in his eyes, which shed a calm on her fevered, world-weary spirit. The quiet, still feeling which she saw on his face was nestling at her heart, and with the long, low sigh which shook her breast, all its weight of care and trouble, all the bitter littlenesses of her life, seemed to slip away from her, and in that moment of peace, full of a strange awe, the shadow of a love which should last for eternity swept over her soul.
A bird's note, calling to its mate, fell upon the quiet of the morning, and with the sound came the awakening. Farwell's eyes, which had been looking into the still blue of the skies, turned to seek those of the woman that he loved, who was so near him.
"Well, Gladys, shall it not be to-day?"
She knew quite well what he meant, but, womanlike, evaded. "Why, what do you mean, Cid?"
"You know well enough, dear. Shall it not be to-day that all the demons of pride and worldliness which have kept us so long apart shall be utterly routed? Come, give me your hand like a brave girl, and tell me that you will be my wife before sundown."
"Cid, are you crazy?"
"A little, perhaps; but how sweet a madness, is it not? Better than the sanity which I have so long known. Come, give me your hand; that means yes?"
"O Cid, how can you? It's wicked. Think of them all,—think of—that man."
"That is just what I won't think of. Gladys, I am in very deep earnest, much more so than you can guess. I ask you, dear, what may seem strange to you; but have you not all confidence in me? I ask you to come now to Fall River,—why, we are half-way there already,—and go to Cousin Abel's house and ask the old fellow to marry us. You know how gladly he would do it. He made me promise, years ago, that he should perform the ceremony which is to make me the happiest man in the world. I know all about the law. The license I can get with his assistance in half an hour, and little cousin Mary will stand as bridesmaid to you in the parlor of the old house where you first promised."
But to this hair-brained scheme the happy girl would not listen, half because she loved to hear him beseech her so earnestly, and partly because, with her formal ideas, the whole proceeding seemed well-nigh scandalous.
"What! no wedding dress or cake," she cried,—"no reception, white slippers, or rice thrown after us,—no one to give me away? It would look as if I were afraid of my own determination, and feared, if I did not marry you right away, I should change my mind."
And the sorrels, brave creatures, still bore the trap swiftly along, past Portsmouth, across the middle road, and from the bold west side of the island, over to the East Road, with its wonderful panorama of river and islet, seen from the high-road. Down Quaker Hill they sped, through Newtown, and finally their hoofs struck the timber of the Stone Bridge.
Gladys gave a little cry as she looked down and saw the water beneath and behind them. They had left the dreamy island, "lying like an opal in a sea of sapphire." Newport was behind them, and the wide world before. At Tiverton they stopped, and the horses were refreshed by a bucket of cool water. To Gladys was no need of water or of bread; Farwell never even thought about his cigar.
Gladys still protested that she would not, but she did not ask her lover to turn the sorrels' heads towards Newport, and off they started, the brave beasts, as fresh as if twelve miles had not lain between them and their stable. Gladys sang a little song, for the joy in her heart could not speak in words; but as the farm-houses were seen closer and closer together, and the straggling outposts of the town grew near, she became quite quiet, and, slipping her hand into her lover's arm, looked at him with eyes dark with a shadow half of love, half of fear,—the sweetest look that woman's eyes can wear,—the eyes of a bride.
"It was very strange that Gladys did not come home to luncheon," Mrs. Fallow-Deer said to Mrs. Craig, who had come round in a state of wild excitement to tell the news which the Egyptian telegram contained.
"So he was an impostor, after all," said Mrs. Craig, after the two ladies had discussed the matter for at least two hours, with the assistance of Gray Grosvenor and Count Clawski, who came to bring the latest news about the strange affair, which was the talk of the town.
Mrs. Fallow-Deer had been genuinely shocked, and had wept real tears for Gladys's disappointment and mortification, for which she felt herself in a measure responsible. She had brought down the letter of introduction which the soi-disant Larkington had brought her, and it was read by each and every one of the friends who had come to "talk it over." Now that she looked at it in this new light, the letter was a very guarded one, and the writer, an Englishman of more illustrious name than character, asked leave to present to Mrs. Fallow-Deer Mr. Cuthbert Larkington, whose acquaintance he had had the great pleasure of making on board the Servia.
Count Clawski, who had befriended the Englishman because he liked him, had brought the last news of him. Going down to the steamer to send off some important despatches, he had encountered Larkington on the gang-plank. The man had been too much overcome to speak, and had grasped the Count by the hand, and then staggered into the boat, accompanied by his servant Stirrups, who had said, by way of explanation,—
"My master has had some bad news, sir, which takes him away unexpectedly."
It was all very strange,—stranger that Gladys did not come home; perhaps she had seen the news in the morning paper, and had gone to her cousin Amelia's house to pass the day, and avoid meeting Mrs. Fallow-Deer.
"Poor girl," cried that good lady at last, when the final words had been said a hundred times on the exciting topic, and a hundred surmises made by Mr. Gray Grosvenor, "I must really drive down to Amelia's and find her."
It was three o'clock, the luncheon had protracted itself until a very late hour, and Mrs. Fallow-Deer, excusing herself from her guests, rang for her carriage, and was just preparing to start in quest of "the poor deceived darling,"—when Charles Farwell's card was brought up to her.
Into the great ballroom, which had lately been the scene of Gladys's triumph, the good-hearted matron went, trembling a little at the interview before her with the only male relative of Gladys who was likely to come and ask her explanation of the unfortunate affair.
There he stood by the mantelpiece, quite composed and quiet, but with a face which was bright with a light which had been missing from the ballroom on the night before.
On the sofa sat a queer little old gentleman with white hair and big spectacles, whom Farwell introduced as "the Rev. Abel Carleton, a cousin of Gladys's and of mine."
Poor Mrs. Fallow-Deer! she had been distressed at the idea of meeting one indignant relative, and here were two. It was almost more than she could bear, and, feeling that it was an occasion when a woman's best card should be played, she pressed her lace pocket-handkerchief to her eyes, and sobbed forth a broken greeting to the two gentlemen.
"My dear madam," said the Rev. Abel, gallantly, "pray do not cry. It is my duty to break to you a piece of news."
"No, no, Mr. Carleton, I have already heard of it," wailed Mrs. Fallow-Deer, "and what can I say? No one can suffer more than I, at this sad affair you certainly must know how entirely I was deceived by the young man."
"Indeed, ma'am, I was not aware that you had heard the news; but really, these tears, this distress—I cannot think, madam, that they are indicative of your real sentiments."
Mrs. Fallow-Deer bridled and dried her tears. "Mr. Carleton," she said in her most accentuated and dramatic manner, "I really do not understand you, sir; you seem inclined to make light of this terrible—this mortifying affair."
"Well, well, my dear madam, that is taking an extreme view of the case. It was without doubt sudden and perhaps rash; but, Mrs. Fallow-Deer, young folks are not so slow as we old ones in their thoughts or in their ways, and I thought sincerely that I was acting for the best in helping the young man—"
"What do you mean, Mr. Carleton?—Farwell, I don't understand it," said Mrs. Fallow-Deer, faintly.
"The fact is, dear Mrs. Fallow-Deer, I trust you won't be angry, but—Gladys—" stammered Farwell.
"Well, what about Gladys? Do you know where she is? I have not seen her to-day."
There was a little rustle, and from behind a curtain Gladys appeared, blushing, confused, radiant. She looked neither at Charles Farwell nor the Rev. Abel, but glided up to Mrs. Fallow-Deer, and, throwing her arms about that good lady's neck, buried her head on her tight-laced but motherly bosom, and whispered,—
"Dear, forgive us,—but I—am Charlie's wife."