A Newport Aquarelle/Chapter 2
It was a perfect Newport afternoon. The sun, which had shone brightly all the morning, had drawn a veil of soft gray clouds before his face, and a cool west wind blew refreshingly over the road, whose dust had been laid by a shower during the night.
The West Road, which leads from the town of Newport out into the quiet country, was dotted here and there with groups of riders, and with carriages of all degrees, from trotting-wagons to four-in-hand coaches.
All the vehicles were wending their way to Southwick's Grove, the spot appointed for that afternoon's meet.
It was early as yet, only half-past four o'clock, and the road was not crowded by the hurrying late-comers.
There were a few among the riders and drivers who could appreciate the views which are to be had from different points on the road.
At the bend which marks the boundary between the townships of Newport and Middletown, two riders had drawn rein, and were looking out over the stretches of warmhued meadow-land which lie between the high-road and the waters of the bay.
The bold outline of the hill on the right, and the group of dark green trees on the left of the riders, made a frame for the great life-picture of sea, sky, and meadow, at which they looked half understandingly.
The high rocky island of Conanicut, with the ruined fort of the Dumplings on its summit, lay before them, outlined against pearly gray clouds, the sea of a deeper gray washing softly about its base. A swift-winged boat, with a flock of white sea-gulls wheeling about its bow, came skimming across the picture, and added the charm of motion to the scene.
A little puff of smoke floated low down beneath the clouds, and as they looked the white prow of a steamer parted the gray waves, and swiftly crossed the line of their vision. A sudden scream of a steam whistle fell upon the quiet air, and the spell was broken, the charm of the picture was gone.
Slowly, regretfully, the eyes of the young woman in the trig blue habit turned from the far-off peaceful scene, broken by the prosaic sight and sound of the steamer, and, following the long lines of brown and green meadow-land, dwelt a moment on the group of men and boys at work near by, and then looked into the face of her companion.
"Is it not beautiful, Cid? and to think that I have ridden past this spot twenty times this summer, and never noticed the view! You are never too busy to miss one glimpse of the beauty which you say the world is full of, and I have to be told that what I see is lovely before my dulness can understand it. All the lovely things I have seen in my life, you have shown me."
The eyes of the speaker, Gladys Carleton, were so soft at that moment that the man by her side wondered if the hard, bold look, which was their dominant expression, was not one acquired by habit and external influences, and this wistful, half-tender expression their natural one. He had often before asked himself this question, and had always answered it sadly in the negative. And yet the query came again to his mind on that fair summer afternoon, and was not to be dismissed so easily as it had been.
Charles Farwell, called by Gladys Carleton "Cid," was a handsome man of thirty, with certain traits which distinguished him from the hundred or two young New Yorkers who were at that time infesting Newport.
He was of the pure Saxon type sometimes found among our people, with golden hair and beard, fair skin, and eyes of that intense blue which is only seen with people of vigorous temperament. His features were almost too delicate for a man, but his six feet of height and broad shoulders, his strong well-modelled arms and legs, saved him from the charge of a too feminine beauty.
His expression was open and simple, and his bearing frank and natural. There was a tendency to dreaminess in the face, concerning whose beauty he honestly neither thought nor cared. His cousin Gladys had told him that a beautiful woman who was not vain was a rara avis indeed, but that a handsome man without vanity was a creature too unnatural, too absolutely sui generis, to be popular among men or women.
Charles Farwell and Gladys Carleton were of a convenient kinship, being second cousins. A second cousin may always be that dimly anticipated "Fate" which haunts the minds of all young people, and there is an easy familiarity in the relation, which may remain but a pleasant feature in their lives, and yet can easily deepen into a controlling association.
These two young people had lived as children on opposite sides of the then fashionable quarter of Gramercy Park, and had played together in the dusty city garden through the long days when from Sunday to Sunday seemed half a lifetime. They had fallen in love of course, and when Gladys was seventeen and Farwell twenty-two, there had been an "understanding" between them. This was one of those "understandings" into which American girls are apt to enter, sometimes with more than one man at a time, in which the maiden is left quite free, and the man is bound unconditionally.
Gladys did not know her own mind,—how could she, not having seen anything of the world? She thought she loved her cousin, and was sure she cared more for him than for any other man,—but she could not promise.
Well, he would wait (they always do); and after waiting for three years, during which time he had the doubtful happiness of corresponding with his lovely cousin, of sending her flowers, and of seeing her dance at balls with other men, his roses held against her cheek and their shoulders,—after all this he still held only the position of her acknowledged admirer, among many others.
She would drive with him in the park, if she were not engaged to drive with any one else; when she had an off evening, she telegraphed for him to take herself and her sister to the play.
In the early summer he was privileged to spend a long month with her at the old homestead in Rhode Island, where an old relative, the Rev. Abel Carleton, lived.
In this quiet spot Gladys recruited her strength for the Newport season.
Farwell was looked upon in the family as the hopeless adorer of his cousin. Neither her worldly mother nor her sisters doubted for a moment that Gladys would make a great match; but meanwhile Cousin Charlie was a dear good fellow, generous with his three thousand a year, honorable, and so chivalrous that Gladys had given him the nickname of Cid in the days in which he had read to her the wonderful stories of the prowess of the fabled hero. Cid he had always been called by the Carletons, who all really loved him, when they had time to think about it, and he stood to them somewhat in the relation of the "property man" in the company of a theatre, the person to be called on at all times, for all necessities.
At first Farwell had been sure of Gladys; after she had seen something of society and had "had her fling," she would give it all up, marry him, and settle down somewhere out of town, where they could live very comfortably on their joint income (that of Gladys sufficed for her wardrobe), and lead the happy, quiet domestic life for which he fancied they were both suited.
But as time wore on, and Gladys grew colder and harder, and more thoroughly a woman of the world, hope grew faint, and finally on her twentieth birthday they had taken a long walk together, and had talked the matter out. The understanding was now altered, and Farwell realized that Gladys was in earnest when she told him that "for two such beggars, with nothing a year, to speak about marriage would be sheer lunacy."
He had taken the disappointment very hard, and was thankful when the Carletons soon after decided to make a trip to Europe. It was easier to forget it all with her far away from him.
Gladys had been "a great success" in England, in Paris, in Rome,—wherever she went. She had been twice engaged, and had just missed becoming "my lady" by the intriguings of a sister of the young Earl who had fallen in love with her. The other lover whom she had accepted and finally discarded was a German banker of enormous wealth and high standing. Nevertheless, when the time appointed for the marriage drew near, Gladys had been seized with a horror of her plighted lover, and taking her maid with her had fled from Berlin to London, leaving her mother to settle the difficulty, while she amused the London friend to whose house she had been welcomed on her arrival, with mimicry of ponderous Herr Goldzchink's ponderous wooings.
The story of her escapade was soon known, and she became the belle of the London season, dined at Marlboro' House, and afterwards received more invitations than would have sufficed three American belles.
Six months before the opening of our story, Mrs. Carleton, somewhat discouraged, be it said, by her want of success in the matrimonial market, had found it necessary to return to America and attend to some urgent business matters.
Gladys had become in these six months quite at home again in the country which she had not seen in as many years, and after a winter in New York had passed a month at the old homestead as in other days. Having accepted Mrs. Fallow-Deer's invitation to pass the month of August with her at Newport, she was enjoying for the first time in several years the brilliant entertainments of our summer city. She found that things had changed much during her absence, and felt, as she had never done before, the great difficulty which people with moderate means find in maintaining their place in a society which has become vulgarized by the vast quantities of wealth brought into it by uncultivated people.
The tone of the society seemed also to have become in a certain sense Europeanized, and she did not find the great contrast she had expected; Newport manners and customs, unlike those of the Medes and Persians, having changed considerably.
"I find people here much broader than I remember them to have been," Gladys had said to her cousin.
"Yes," Cid had rather grimly replied; "you will find people here just as broad as you will allow them to be,"—for which remark he had been promptly and properly snubbed.
As the two young people gave their horses the rein, a carriage rolled by them, in which were seated Mrs. Craig and Mrs. Fallow-Deer; the latter called out to Gladys,—
"You are late, dear! You must trot along very fast, or they will be off without you."
An excellent horsewoman was Gladys Carleton, and she never appeared to more advantage than when in the saddle. At Mrs. Fallow-Deer's warning, she touched her tall sorrel lightly with her crop, and the two young people rode off at a sharp pace. Arriving at the rendezvous, they found a large group of riders, twenty or thirty men, and half as many women, all well mounted and well got up.
Some of the gentlemen wore pink coats, others were in plain riding-dress. The huntsmen were busy with the hounds, a fine pack imported from Buckinghamshire, and the hunters were talking and laughing together, walking their horses about, or tightening their girths for the long run.
In the large open space of the grove hundreds of carriages, filled with spectators, were assembled, and more were arriving every moment. The horns of the coaches sounded merrily in the distance, and presently a drag, driven by a wounded polo-player, his crutches conspicuously displayed beside him, rolled into the grove.
On this coach the quick eyes of Gladys Carleton espied her English acquaintance of the morning, the Hon. Cuthbert Larkington.
Mr. Larkington's horse, having been led out by a groom, was awaiting him. He sprang into the saddle and joined the group of riders, making his way to the side of Gladys, by whom he was half-graciously received.
She never was quite gracious to any one. An introduction to Farwell followed, and as the two gentlemen bowed, the horns of the huntsmen warned them that the run was about to begin.
Off went the hounds across the road, scrambling over the loose stone-wall which divided it from the field.
They ran sniffing and crying at the herring scent, as if they knew all about the imposture practised on them, and resented it.
After them followed the riders, men and women. The wall was not a very high one, and the horses leaped lightly over it, no one coming to grief.
The carriages by this time were all tearing down the high-road, which was also lined with a number of riders, who followed the hunt from this safe vantage-ground, endangering nothing but their eyesight, which the cloud of dust threatened, and enjoying the hunt quite as much as its followers,—so they affirmed.
Gladys was among the foremost riders, and Farwell and Larkington pressed their horses to keep at her side.
Away they galloped across stubble-fields and open meadows, taking a five-barred gate here, and a water jump there, as they came. No side roads or opened gates for Gladys; she loved the excitement of the run as much as did her sorrel, Nimbus.
He was a splendid beast, strong, powerfully built, and in fine condition.
Before they had ridden three miles it became apparent to both of the cavaliers that Gladys had the best mount, and it was with difficulty that the two men kept at her side.
She spoke to Larkington occasionally, but oftener to her horse, which she encouraged by calling his name constantly. At last, after a run of about seven miles, during which several ugly croppers were taken by some of the riders and horses, a little puppy fox was seen to issue from the leathern bag in which he had been confined, a field ahead of the hunting party.
The hounds leaped forward at a quicker pace, crying at the sight of their prey, and the men and women spurred their horses on for the last field.
Excited exclamations escaped from the men as they lashed their tired steeds, and a cry of "Go on, Nimbus!" fell on Farwell's ear. It had come from the lips of Gladys; and as he looked at her, he wondered where the tender expression could have vanished which had stirred his heart an hour ago.
She was flushed, and her eyes sparkled with excitement. She struck her horse and urged him over the last wall as a jockey might have done, and with the cry which he had heard, and which had no sound of her natural voice in it, she swept across the field even with the huntsmen, and leading the whole cavalcade.
And the fox? well, he was only a stupid little creature after all, and, quite dazed by the sudden light, by the cries of the hounds, and the approach of all these men, women, and horses, he did nothing but jump up on the stone wall and look wonderingly at the superior animals who had come so far to find him.
When the pack were close upon him he realized what it all meant,—that it was to take his miserable little life that all these great creatures—brave men and delicate women, hounds and horses—had come out on this bright summer afternoon.
He realized it, but too late even to try for an escape. He looked about him over a strange open country with fields on either side, and, seeing how hopeless it was, stood quite still, looking at the animals, guided by their king, man, who were now close upon him.
One great cry he gave as he felt the teeth of the foremost hound fasten on his throat, and then all was over, and in a space of time something less than sixty seconds, the Master of the Hunt approached Miss Carleton with the brush of the fox, which she hung at the pommel of her saddle.
As they all rode home together through the quiet country lanes, little children ran to the doors of the farm-houses and looked admiringly at the cavalcade.
The feathered creatures, just preparing to go to rest in the arms of the great trees, flapped their wings angrily at the dust and disturbance created on the highway, which after six o'clock was deserted save on the days of the hunt.
An apple orchard on the right side of the road lay between the riders and the setting sun.
The light falling in low, slanting rays between the shadows of the wonderful old gnarled trees, gray and twisted, gave a color to the grass which is found nowhere in the world save in the island of Rhode Island,—a color as of a million emeralds softened and deepened by the yellow light of the setting sun.
"If I were obliged to say what was the most beautiful thing in all Newport, I should say the turf of this orchard, in the afternoon."
Gladys was the speaker.
"And you say that you never see anything that is beautiful," Farwell remarked.
"I should n't have seen it if I had not been with you, Cid."
As they rode down Bellevue Avenue to Mrs. Fallow-Deer's house, which was situated on the cliffs, Larkington made himself very agreeable to Farwell, who received the advances of the Englishman cordially.
The two gentlemen then took leave of Miss Carleton, Farwell lifting her from her horse in a matter-of-course manner.
At the moment in which her palm lay upon his shoulder, and his hands spanned her slender waist, she gave a little tired sigh, almost like a child's. She smiled with her eyes as well as her lips in that brief instant when her face was so near to his, and though she gave her hand to Larkington at parting, and only nodded him a good-night, Cid rode away with his heart beating fast, his whole being quickened by the influence of that tired sigh, that deep smile.
Farwell felt so much at peace with the world in general, and in especial with the man who had not lifted Gladys from her horse, that in a moment of expansiveness he asked Larkington to dine with him at the restaurant of the Casino.
The invitation was accepted, and the two men passed the evening together, playing a game of billiards after dinner.
Farwell was rightly counted by the men of his club as an excellent player, but he found that in Larkington he had met more than his match. Though Larkington had taken twice as much wine as he had at dinner, his strokes seemed as steady as those of a professional billiard-player.
The stranger's game was so remarkable that quite a group of men collected round the table to watch it. After a few games in which he was rather badly beaten, Farwell remembered an engagement, and excusing himself left his new friend the centre of an admiring group, and walked off to his lodgings over the baker's shop in John Street.
They were comfortable rooms enough, the little bedroom and parlor which he had hired for the months of August and September, and he threw himself into the black horsehair rocking-chair, which his landlady had lent him from her own sitting-room, and lighting his pipe divested himself of his coat and boots,—a thing which every true-born American does immediately on entering the privacy of his own apartment.
Something besides the smile of Gladys had occurred to please Charles Farwell. Loving her as he had all his life, and understanding her as thoroughly as he did, her kindness and her unkindness usually depressed him equally, when the charm of her presence was removed.
If she was, as she had been that day, almost tender to him, the old conviction, always latent in his mind, that she really loved him, would assert itself, and the feeling that if he chose to exert his will, he could induce her to marry him, would grow into a certainty.
But with this certainty came also the remembrance of the great, insuperable objection to such a step,—that of his limited income, which to her meant poverty.
He knew that to her luxurious nature any enforced economy would be irksome, perhaps intolerable, and feared lest it might imbitter her character, whose selfish impulses he knew so well.
He would not now, with his knowledge of the world and its men and women, beg her to renounce it all, for love and for him.
That he himself was generous to a fault, giving away his money whenever he had any to give, and working year in and year out in a broker's office in Wall Street in order that his sisters might have his share of the in come from his father's estate, made him none the less aware of the selfish side of Gladys's nature.
He could make her marry him,—of that he was sure now,—but could he make her happy? As if to answer the self-asked question he drew from his pocket a crumpled bit of paper, and read for the third time a despatch which he had that afternoon received, and which ran as follows:—
Leadville, Aug. 19, 1882.
To Charles Farwell,
Redwood Reading Room,
New lead discovered; assay yields 20 per cent of silver. Come at once.