Ladies-in-Waiting/Two on a Tour
TWO ON A TOUR
TWO ON A TOUR
CHARLOTTE AMALIA CLIFFORD
S.S. Diana, January 21, 1918
On the way to the Virgin Islands
I engrossed the above heading in my journal shortly after we left the dock in New York, but from what has occurred in the past few days I think my occasional entries in the log-book are likely to be records of Dorothea Valentine’s love-affairs as they occur to her day by day, and as unluckily they are poured into my ear for lack of a better or more convenient vessel.
We are dear friends, Dolly and I. Her name is Dorothea, but apparently she will have to grow up to it, for at present everybody calls her Dolly, Dora, Dot, or Dodo, according to his or her sex, color, or previous condition of servitude. Dolly is twenty and I am thirty; indeed, her mother is only forty, so that I am rather her contemporary than Dolly’s, but friendship is more a matter of sympathy than relative age, and Mrs. Valentine and I are by no means twin souls. As a matter of fact, that lady would never have noticed me, the private secretary of Clive Winthrop, a government official in Washington, had it not been that, through him and his sister, I had access to a more interesting group in society than had Mrs. Valentine, a widow of large means but a stranger in the Capital. Clive Winthrop is a person of distinction and influence, and Miss Ellen Winthrop, an old friend of my mother’s, is one of the most charming hostesses in Washington, while I am in reality nothing but a paid scribe; the glad, willing, ardent, but silent assistant of a man who is serving the Administration with all his heart; but neither he nor his sister will have it so considered. I almost think that Miss Ellen Winthrop, still vivacious and vigorous at seventy, is ready to give up to me her place as head of the household if I consent to say the word; but I am not sure enough yet to say it; and because of that uncertainty I cannot trust myself in the daily company of the two persons most deeply concerned in my decision.
A sea voyage is the best thing in the world to blow away doubts or difficulties; it also clears the air so that one can see one’s course, whether it be toward the north of duty or the south of desire.
My work for a long time has been to report interviews, take stenographic records, and write hundreds of letters for Mr. Winthrop during the somewhat protracted discussion that preceded the acquisition of the Virgin Islands by the United States. It is odd that these tasks should have fallen to me, who added below Clive Winthrop’s signature to many communications the typed initials C. A. C., for I have a special interest in these new possessions of ours, a very close and sentimental one, since I was born on St. Thomas, one of the Virgin Islands, and christened Charlotte Amalia after the little red-roofed town on the shore of the perfect harbor. My birth in St. Thomas was entirely unpremeditated, and I was taken away as soon as my mother was able to travel; nevertheless, I have always longed during the twelve years of my loneliness, without father or mother, to see the place where they were so happy in each other and so blissful in the prospect of my appearance.
I, then, have a right to this particular holiday and this opportunity to decide my future. Miss Dorothea Valentine, on the contrary, is a wholly unexpected, I will not say an unwelcome, companion, although when I wish to be thinking of my own problems she generally desires to discuss hers, which are trivial, though interesting and unique.
Everything about the girl piques interest; her beauty, her charm, her childlike gayety and inconsequence, which are but the upper current of a deeper sea of sincerity and common sense. Somebody says: “Ladies vary in looks; they’re like military flags for a funeral or a celebration—one day furled, next day streaming. Men are ships; figureheads, about the same in a storm or a calm, and not too handsome, thanks to the ocean.” The last phrases are peculiarly true of Clive Winthrop, who is sometimes called the ugliest man in Washington, yet who commands attention in any room that he enters because of his fine physique, his noble head, and his distinction of bearing and speech. Rugged he is, “thanks to the ocean,” but he looks as if he could swim against the strongest current. On the other hand, it cannot be said that Dolly Valentine varies. She is lovely at breakfast, lovelier at luncheon, and loveliest at dinner when the dazzling whiteness of her neck and shoulders is revealed. Only a tolerably generous woman would suffer herself to be in the almost daily companionship of such a charmer, and that I am in that dangerous juxtaposition is her fault, not mine.
“You must take me with you on your sea voyage, Charlotte,” she said. “I must get away from Washington and from mother. No, don’t raise your eye-brows and begin to scold before you know what I mean! I am not going to criticize my maternal parent, but I am so under her thumb at the moment that I am a flabby mass of indecision. I have no more mind than a jellyfish, yet I have to decide a matter of vital importance within a month. How can I make up a non-existent mind? Answer me that. Your life is so fixed and serene and settled; so full of absorbing work; you are so flattered and appreciated that you are like a big ship anchored in a safe harbor, and you can’t think what it’s like to be a silly little yacht bobbing about on the open sea!” (Such is the uncomprehending viewpoint of twenty toward thirty; the calm assumption that ladies of that mature age can have no love-affairs of their own to perplex them!)
“There is no need of your being a silly little yacht, Dolly!” I answered. “If you want to make a real voyage you have the power to choose your craft.”
“Mother always chooses for me,” she said with a pout. “She does n’t gag me and put me in irons and lead me up the gangplank by brute force, but she dominates me. I start out each morning like a nice, fat, pink balloon and by evening, though I have n’t felt any violent pin-pricks, I am nothing but a little shrunken heap of shriveled rubber. You know it, Charlotte! You have seen me bouncing at breakfast and seen me flat at dinner!”
It was impossible not to laugh at her. “Don’t be ridiculous!” I expostulated. “There is nothing between you and happiness but a little cloud so diaphanous that a breath of common sense would blow it away. Now read your magazine and let me write in my log-book. It is intended to be an informal report to my chief, of the islands we are to visit. We shall be at St. Thomas to-morrow morning and in the four days we have been journeying from New York the only topic of conversation in which you have shown the slightest enthusiasm is whether you should or should not marry Marmaduke Hogg!”
“Don’t call him all of it, Charlotte,” and she shuddered. “Mother is always doing it and I can’t bear it!” whereupon she flounced about on her deck-chair and hid her face in her steamer-rug.
It was a foolish little love-story, that of Dorothea Valentine. Her mother was a mass of polite and unnecessary conventions; a pretty sort of person with a clear profile like that of a cold, old little bird. Her small, sharp nose resembled a beak; her eyes were like two black beads; and her conversation was a lengthy series of twitterings. Charlotte Clifford used to tell Miss Winthrop that if Mrs. Valentine had been a canary, people would have forever been putting a towel over her cage to secure silence. She was always idle, save for a bewildering succession of reconstruction periods, apparently forestalling ruins that no one else could have prophesied. She dieted and reduced her hips; had violet rays applied to her scalp; had her wrinkles ironed out by some mysterious process. If you caught her before ten in the morning you would find her with crescent-shaped shaped bits of court-plaster beside her eyes, in front of her ears, and between her brows. She was beautifully clothed, shod, gloved, massaged, manicured, and marcelled. She lived on the best sides of the streets and at the proper hotels. She answered notes, returned calls, and gave wedding presents punctiliously. She never used the telephone for invitations, nor had anything but contempt for abbreviations, carefully writing out Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, when she addressed her sisters in those cities. A mass of the most glaring virtues was Mrs. Reginald Valentine, impeccable and unassailable, with views on all subjects as rigid as the laws of the Medes and Persians. She had ordered her husband’s life during their ten years of marriage, he being a gentle and artistic soul, and she had more or less directed his exercise, amusements, diet, as well as his political and religious opinions. She nursed him faithfully in his last illness, but when he timidly begged to be cremated instead of buried, she reminded him that it was a radical, ultra-modern idea; that the Valentine lot and monument were very beautiful; that there never had been any cremations in the family connection; and that she hoped he would not break a long-established custom and leave behind him a positively irreligious request. Various stories of Mr. Valentine’s docility had crept into circulation, and it is said that on this occasion he turned his head meekly to the wall and sighed: “Very well, Emma! Do just as you think best; it’s your funeral!”
Just how Dorothea blossomed on this stalk it is difficult to say. A bright-eyed, sunshiny, willful baby, she had grown into an unaffected, attractive, breezy young woman, outwardly obedient, inwardly mutinous. She was generally calm in her mother’s presence, never criticizing her openly, and her merry heart kept her from being really unhappy in a relationship that many girls would have found intolerable. Beaux she had a-plenty and lovers not a few. As cream or honey to flies, so was Dorothea Valentine to mankind in general; but she took them on gayly and cast them off lightly, little harm being done on either side by the brief experience.
Of course the suits of some of the suitors had been hard-pressed by Mrs. Valentine. “You will go through the woods to find a crooked stick at last, Dorothea,” she would say. “You don’t know a desirable parti when you see one. You must have an extraordinary opinion of your own charms to think that you have only to pick and choose. Those charms will fade, rather prematurely, I fear, and when your looked-for ideal comes along it may be that he will not regard you as flawless.”
“I don’t expect him to, mother! I only expect him to find my own flaws interesting.”
“There is no certainty of that, my dear,”—and Mrs. Valentine’s tone was touched with cynicism. “I had an intimate friend once, Clara Wyman, a very nice girl she was, who had been in love with my cousin Roger Benson for years. He seemed much attached to her and when time went by and nothing happened, I spoke to him plainly one night and asked him if he did n’t intend to propose to her, and if not, what were his reasons. What do you suppose they were?”
Mrs. Valentine’s tone implied that a shock was coming.
Dolly sat erect on her mother’s Italian day-bed as one prepared.
“I’m sure I have no idea—how could I have?” she asked.
“Roger said that he did n’t like her wiping her nose through her veil!!”
Dolly flung herself at length on the couch and buried her face in the cushions, her whole body shaking convulsively with silent mirth.
“You may laugh, Dorothea, but this incident, which I have told many times, shows how fantastic, erratic, despotic, and hypercritical men generally are. You will come to your senses some time and realize that no one is likely to bear with your perversities more patiently than Arthur Wilde or Lee Wadsworth, who have both wasted a winter dangling about you.”
Dolly raised her head, patted her hair, and wiped her streaming eyes.
“I realize the dangerous obstacles between me and the altar as I never did before,”—and the girl’s voice was full of laughter. “But I should have to lock Arthur Wilde in the basement whenever professors came to dinner. I could n’t marry Arthur’s vocabulary, mother,—I could n’t!”
“He is a wonderful son, and a millionaire; he has three houses, four motors, and a steam yacht!”
“Sure, but that don’t ‘enthuse me,’ ‘tremenjous’ as it sounds! (I am imitating Mr. Wilde’s style of conversation.) And as for Lee Wadsworth he is bow-legged!”
“Lee’s reputation is straight at any rate, and his income all that could be desired,” responded Mrs. Valentine loftily. “I wish I could convince you, Dorothea, that there are no perfect husbands. You are looking for the impossible! Indeed, I have always found men singularly imperfect, even as friends and companions, and in a more intimate relation they leave still more to be desired. You dismissed Sir Thomas Scott because he was too dictatorial, although you knew he intended to have the family diamonds reset for you.”
“He’d have had them reset in Sheffield or Birmingham, but, anyhow, one does n’t marry diamonds, mother.”
“One might at least make the effort, Dorothea! I notice that most of the people who disdain diamonds generally possess three garnets, two amethysts, and one Mexican opal.”
Dolly laughed. “You know I did emulate the celebrated Mrs. Dombey, mother.”
“I know you made a very brief and feeble effort to be sensible, and you might have conquered yourself had it not been for the sudden appearance of this young Hogg on your horizon.”
“You shall not call him a young Hogg!” cried Dolly passionately. “It is n’t fair; I won’t endure it!”
“I thought that was his name,” remarked Mrs. Valentine, placidly shifting a wrinkle-plaster from one place to another. “You would n’t object if I had alluded to young Benham or young Wadsworth. You show by your very excitement how disagreeable his name is to your ears. It is n’t a question of argument; Marmaduke Hogg is an outrageous, offensive name; if he had been Charles or James it would have been more decent. The ‘Marmaduke’ simply calls attention to the ‘Hogg.’ If any one had asked to introduce a person named Hogg to me I should have declined.”
“I’ve told you a dozen times, mother, that the Wilmots’ house-party was at breakfast when I arrived from the night train. There was a perfect Babel and everybody was calling him ‘Duke.’ He looked like one, and nobody said—the other. I did n’t even hear his last name till evening, and then it was too late.”
“‘Too late!’ Really, Dorothea, if you have no sense of propriety you may leave the room!”—and Mrs. Valentine applied the smelling-bottle to her birdlike nose as a sign that her nerves were racked to the limit and she might at any moment succumb.
“All I know is,” continued Dorothea obstinately, “that he was the best-looking, the most interesting, the cleverest, the most companionable man in the house-party, or for that matter in the universe. You don’t ask the last name of Orlando, or Benedick, or Marcus Aurelius, or Albert of Belgium.”
“It would n’t be necessary.” (Here Mrs. Valentine was quite imperturbable.) “The Valentines have never been required to associate with theatrical people or foreigners. In some ways I dislike the name of Marmaduke as much as Hogg. It is so bombastic that it seems somehow like an assumed name, or as if the creature had been born on the stage. When coupled with Hogg it loses what little distinction it might have had by itself. One almost wishes it had been Marmalade. Marmalade Hogg suggests a quite nauseating combination of food, but there is a certain appropriateness about it.”
Dorothea’s face was flaming. “You will never allow Duke to explain himself, mother, nor hear me through when I attempt to make things clear to you. You never acknowledge that you know, but you do know, that Duke’s people were English a long way back, and ‘Marmaduke’ is an old family name. The Winthrops will tell you that Duke’s father and mother were named Forrest and that they changed it to Hogg to pacify an old bachelor uncle who wanted to leave Duke six thousand dollars a year. He had no voice in the matter; he was only twelve years old.”
“It was a very short-sighted business proposition, and your Duke must have been very young for his age,”—and Mrs. Valentine took another deep sniff of lavender. “Sixty thousand a year would n’t induce me to be named Hogg, and I shall never consent to have one in my family!”
Dorothea burst into tears, a most uncommon occurrence.
“You have dwelt so long on this purely immaterial objection,” she sobbed, “that you have finally inoculated me with something of your own feeling and made me miserable and ashamed. I dare say, too, I have hurt Duke’s pride by trying to give him a reason for your indifferent attitude, yet never having courage for the real, piffling explanation. I am mortified at my despicable weakness and I will overcome it by realizing how unworthy I am to bear Duke’s honorable, unstained name, even if it is Hogg. You might as well give up, mother! If the dearest, best, most delightful man in the world loves me, I shall marry him, name and all.”
“I do not regard it as settled,” replied Mrs. Valentine calmly. “The young man may not think you so desirable when he learns that my refusal to accept him as a son-in-law means that he must take you without any income. Your dear father must have foreseen some such tragedy when he left all his money in my care!”
“Duke will take me without a penny!” cried Dorothea hotly. “I would stake my life on that!”
“Don’t be melodramatic, Dorothea. We shall see in time. It is just possible that the young man may not be greedy, and so belie his name.” This was Mrs. Valentine’s last shaft as Dorothea walked out of the room with her chin in the air.
S.S. Diana, January 26, 1918
St. Thomas, and Charlotte Amalia, the little town for which I was named, looked so lovely when we landed early this morning that I felt a positive thrill of pride.
This halfway house of the sea, this gateway of the Caribbean, as it has been picturesquely called, seemed, as Dolly and I climbed the hills and the stone stairways, to materialize into a birthplace instead of a vague dream. A year ago, with the Dannebrog, the scarlet, white-crossed banner of Denmark, floating over the red Danish fortress on the water-front, I might have felt an alien, but the Stars and Stripes made me feel at home and I could only remember that my father and mother met and loved each other in this little Paradise, and that when I was born there they were the two happiest people under the sun. If they could have seen their daughter saluting the American flag so near the very spot in which she first saw the light, they would have been comforted, I am sure, instead of repining that they had both been taken away when she most needed their love and protection.
Such a view from Diana’s deck as we crept into the wonderful harbor! A background of towering green hills and a dazzling blue of velvet sky and crystal sea, like that of Algiers, greeted our enchanted gaze! Like some of the coast towns of Italy, Charlotte Amalia is gay with color, and its white, red-roofed villas nestle among their luxuriant gardens and tropical foliage, standing out in a perfect riot of orange and yellow, blue and red.
Never, save in Venice, have I seen such a gorgeous array of color in a landscape.
Five hours we had in St. Thomas while the Diana put off hundreds of barrels of cement; but what with the gayly painted boats and their dark-skinned crews, the naked brown boys diving and swimming for pennies and dimes in the harbor, a walk to Bluebeard’s Tower and Blackbeard’s Castle, we were well amused. Particularly so was Dorothea, who disappeared from my side for a half-hour while I chatted with the captain, rejoining me in the tiny palm-bordered park near the landing.
She was glowing with happiness.
“What do you think, Charlotte?” she exclaimed. “I have a letter from Duke. Not written after we sailed, of course, for it could n’t have reached me. He bearded mother in her fortress the morning we left Washington. She was out, or said she was, but sent a note saying that I had gone on a journey and would be absent for a month. He went directly to the Winthrops for news and they told him I was with you and that if he wrote at once by special delivery he could reach the ship before it left New York dock. He sent the letter to the captain and asked him to give it to me at St. Thomas for a surprise. The captain is such a nice man, though a good deal of a tease! Mr. Winthrop was delighted to hear you were not alone. Poor Miss Winthrop has influenza and they both wish they had taken this trip. It seems they are thinking of it just a little.”
“The Winthrops coming on this voyage,” I exclaimed. “Impossible! They had n’t an idea of it.”
“Might n’t he want to interview the governor and look at the island?”
“He has n’t time. I chose this journey instead of another so that I could interview the governor and look at the islands myself.”
“Well, I dare say there’s nothing in it. Duke did n’t speak of it as anything settled, and he may have misunderstood, his mind being on me. May I read you the letter—I mean parts of it?”
“I should n’t expect to hear all of it,” I replied dryly.
“Yet the bits I leave out are the ones that show him as he is,” she said, looking off into the grove of palms. “Duke is so conscientious that until we succeed in melting mother—that would be a good title for a story, ‘Melting Mother’!—and until she sanctions an engagement he won’t let himself go, even on paper. So I get only a lovely sort of ‘seepage’ that breaks through in spite of him!”
“Skip the seepage,” I said unsympathetically, “and give the news.”
She re-read the first paragraphs to herself with a good deal of dimpling and with eyes that suffused with feeling now and then, and turning the page began to read aloud:
I asked your mother, when we were left alone, if she had any objection to me other than my uneuphonious and suggestive surname.
She replied guardedly, no, or at least nothing in particular, though she might say without conceit that Dorothea might aspire to anybody, even the highest.
I cordially agreed, saying that if the male sex had any eye for beauty, charm or loveliness of character, Dorothea might marry not only anybody but everybody.
She said she thought persiflage was out of taste when the happiness of a mother’s whole life was in question.
I begged pardon, but said it was necessary for me to whistle to keep my courage up, for the happiness of my whole life was in question.
She said that was beside the point and her daughter’s happiness must also be considered.
I remarked that her daughter, to my infinite surprise and gratitude, assured me that her happiness lay in the same direction as my own.
She vouchsafed the information that Dorothea was a romantic fool.
I denied it.
She dealt what she considered to be a body-blow by affirming that your property would not be in your hands till you were twenty-one.
I replied that I did n’t care if it did n’t reach you till you were a hundred and twenty-one.
She said, “Don’t be silly,” and asked me if I had ever thought of changing my name back to Forrest from Hogg.
I inquired in return if she would mind the loss of six thousand dollars a year, supposing that I should take such a step.
She reflected and said that she should, but she would rather lose it than take the name; and that we could rub along on Dorothea’s money, she supposed, if that was my idea of a pleasant life.
I hastened to say that I would relinquish the six thousand without a pang, confident that I could make a living anyway; but that it would be disloyal to my good old uncle, whose bounty had given me a college course, two years at Oxford and three at Harvard Law School. It had also permitted me to give my services to the United States Shipping Board without compensation.
She said she thought it was very selfish in a government to accept a man’s whole time and give him no remuneration; that the Secretary of the Treasury had only to say to the banks, “Let there be money,” and there was money. There would be plenty for everybody if only the engravers and laborers at the Mint would not strike.
I reminded her that men were remunerated sufficiently in being allowed to serve their country in time of war.
She returned that she thought that point of view foolish and fantastic, but if she found, after a year, that her daughter’s peace of mind was threatened, would I then change my name and live on Dorothea’s income until I could establish myself in the practice of the law? She said that I must acknowledge that this was a ridiculously generous proposition and one that neither my talents nor my station in life merited.
I replied that the proposition meant to me that I should simply be selling myself and buying her daughter, and that I declined to accept it.
(“Oh, Charlotte!” the girl interrupted with a catch in her throat, “don’t you think that was splendid and clever, too?”)
Your mother said that she wished to take the matter into consideration during your absence [so the letter ran on], and just as we were rising the Philadelphia aunt came in from one door and General X, Senator Y, and Lord Z from another.
They are at the moment three of the most significant figures in the moving picture of Washington society, and all women pursue them. They beamed at me as if they had been commandeered for that special purpose, and Senator Y said jovially: “How are you, Duke? Glad to see you. Are you free to dine with us?”
I hastily turned to your mother, saying: “I was just going to ask you and your sister if you would dine with me.”
Lord Z, who was at Balliol with me, you remember, said: “Then perhaps you will allow us to come to your table for coffee, Hogg?” Your mother gazed at him, astounded that his noble tongue could utter the name. Then she actually and gracefully “fell” for the dinner, lured by the bait of the post-prandial coffee with the distinguished trio, and the Philadelphia aunt kept things going serenely. She is a delightful person and will be a perfect companion for your mother when—you know when—when she needs one—and I no longer do!
(“There never was a man who said things like Duke!” interpolated Dolly ecstatically.)
All would have gone swimmingly to the end had not a page suddenly entered the room bawling: “Mr. Hogg wanted at the telephone: Mr. Hogg? Telephone message for Mr. HOGG!”
Only capitals can give an idea of the volume of voice. My ear-drum, grown painfully sensitive since I met your mother, echoed and reëchoed with the tone as I threaded my way through the crowded room, followed by every eye, while I imagined people saying: “I wonder if he’s called to the stockyard?” (It is queer, but I never felt this way in Oxford, for they still remember Hogg, the Scottish poet, and I hung myself to his revered coat-tails.)
The telephone message was from my secretary, and healed my wounded vanity, for it came from the British Embassy conveying the thanks of the Foreign Office for Mr. Hogg’s friendly and helpful action in conducting negotiations for the chartering of ex-enemy ships lying in South American ports.
(“You see what he is!” exclaimed Dolly, looking up from the letter with eyes full of unshed tears! “Of course he has five or six superiors in office but I suppose really that Duke’s extraordinary talent keeps that whole shipping board going! You mark my words, Charlotte, when Duke gives up his position and goes to Plattsburg there’ll be an absolute slump in that office! But just hear what follows; it is so discouraging!”)
“It will all come right, Mr.—my dear boy!” she said. “My sister has one weakness, an abnormal sensitiveness to public opinion. She thinks constantly what people will say of this, that, or the other trifling thing, and in that way perpetually loses sight of the realities of life. There is a great deal of good in her that you have never seen because for the moment she is absolutely obsessed by her objection to your name and her conviction that Dorothea might and should marry a title. My sister married Reginald Valentine more for the effect on her future visiting-card than anything else, but Dorothea’s father bequeathed his good looks, his sunny disposition, his charm, and his generous nature to his daughter. You have chosen wisely, my dear Mr.—boy, but not more wisely, to my mind, than Dorothea has!”
So it ended, but I somehow hope that I may have converted your mother from an enemy alien to an armed neutral!
“There is nothing more of—of—general interest,” said Dolly tearfully, as she slipped the letter in the envelope. “Aunt Maggie is a trump. Oh, Charlotte! if only you had ever had a love-problem like mine and could advise me! Duke always wondered that you never married.”
(Dorothea ought to be cuffed for impertinence, but she is too unconscious and too pretty and lovable for corporal punishment.)
“Perhaps there may still be hope even at thirty!” I said stiffly.
“Oh, I did n’t mean that! You might have anybody by lifting your finger! We only wonder you’ve never lifted it! But you could be happy only with a very learned and prominent man, you are so clever!”
“I’m clever enough to prefer love to learning, if I have to choose, Dolly, my dear.”
“I’m so sorry you did n’t get a letter, Charlotte,” said the girl, snuggling sympathetically to my side on the bench.
This was more than flesh and blood or angel could bear!
I kissed her, and, shaking her off my shoulder vigorously, I said, as I straightened my hat: “As a matter of fact, Miss Valentine, I have had a letter every day since we left New York; a letter delivered before breakfast by the steward. You have had but one, yet you are twenty and I am thirty!”
“Don’t add to your impudence by being too astonished, darling,” I continued. “Come! let’s go and pick bananas and pineapples and tamarinds and shaddocks and star-apples and sapodillas!”
“I won’t budge a step till you tell me all about it!”
“Then you’ll grow to this green bench and have to be cut away by your faithful Marmaduke!”
“Is it a secret?”
“It does n’t exist at all for you. You are not of age, Dolly.”
“I’m old enough to know the things one can learn by heart!” was Dolly’s comment.
When the Diana was leaving St. Thomas at sunset and we were well on our way to St. Croix, Dolly made a half confidence.
“You are not my chaperon, Charlotte, because in my hour of need I simply fastened myself to you like a limpet, or an albatross, or a barnacle, or any other form of nautical vampire that you prefer. Still, I might as well confess that I cabled to Duke, or wirelessed, or did something awfully expensive of that sort at St. Thomas while you were having that interminable talk with the captain, who, by the way, is married and devoted to his wife, they say.”
“That was foolish and extravagant, my child,” I answered. “I don’t know what you said, but I have the most absolute confidence in your indiscretion. I hope you remembered that all messages are censored in war-time?”
“I did, indeed,” she sighed. “I was never so hampered and handicapped in my life, but I think I have outwitted the censors. I wish I were as sure about—mother!”
S.S. Diana, January 26
St. Croix was delightful, with a motor-ride across the island from Frederikstad to Christianstad, where we lunched.
Dolly’s mind is not in a state especially favorable for instruction, but I took a guidebook, and, sitting under a wonderful tamarind tree, read her Alexander Hamilton’s well-known letter describing a West Indian hurricane, written from St. Croix in 1772.
We were with a party of Canadian acquaintances made on shipboard and greatly interested in our first visits to sugar plantations. Vast cane-fields of waving green stretched mile after mile on the right and on the left, making it seem incredible that a Food Commissioner need beg the sweet tooth to deny itself in the midst of such riotous plenty.
There was a dazzling glare from the white buildings of the town and the coral roads, but the moment we reached the outlying country all was verdant and restful. The beautiful hard roads ran like white ribbons over velvet hills and through rich valleys; tall windmills, belonging to the earlier days of sugar-making, rose picturesquely from the magnificent palms and other shade-trees; there were brilliant flowers and blossoming vines breaking through hedges here and there, and acres of pineapples and orange groves. Truly, our Canadian companions might wish us luck in our new possessions!
Later in the day
We have left the Virgin Islands now and at dawn we neared St. Kitts, of the Leeward group, anchoring a half-mile away from the landing and putting passengers ashore in the small boats that ranged themselves near the steamer. There was a very bedlam of chatter, argument, and recrimination among the black boatmen, mounting at times to furious invective in a patois we failed wholly to understand, for though the majority of the natives speak English on all the islands, whether Dutch, French, or British, they use a language of their own vintage on these undress occasions. I could see Dolly’s bright head and laughing eyes peeping through her porthole, nodding good-morning to me as I viewed the scene from my own little stateroom opposite hers.
The St. Kitts boatmaster was a superb personage in white linen uniform and cap. He stood at the top of the steps lowered from our steamer to the ocean, and from that serene height of power commanded his clamorous and refractory legions.
It was his voice that called me irresistibly from my berth and kept my ears, as well as my eyes, glued to the porthole of my cabin. It was a deep, rich barytone, as full of color as his own native skies and sea. The white cap set off his dark skin, and a pair of eyes that shot lightnings of authority gleamed from under his vizor. He ought to have been singing the “Pagliacci” prologue at the Metropolitan Opera House, but instead he was calling resonantly (his private megaphone seemed to be located in his own throat): “Don’t crowd, Edward. … Push in, Victoria. … Get away, George. … Come nearer, come nearer, Mary. … Show your number, Albert, or meet me in court to-morrow at eleven!”
As a matter of fact, these were the names painted on the boats crowding and jamming their way to the most favorable places for securing passengers or freight; but the quality of his voice made it seem as if, in calling Victoria, Edward, George, Mary, and Albert, he were summoning a corporeal bevy of kings and queens to do his instant bidding. The excitement reached its climax when an aged bishop descended the stairway, which was under some circumstances as perilous as a ladder. The bishop’s quaint hat and gown and hood of various colors made him seem like a benign figure in comic opera; and perhaps because of his dignity or his multiplicity of luggage, all the boats ardently desired him as a passenger. Two green boxes, carrying much information painted in white on the sides, gave us all details of his rank, ancestry, and place of residence. These were projected down the stairway and then followed an imposing procession of servitors bearing potted plants, packages done up in linen cloth, baskets of eggs, limes, lemons, grapefruit, a canary in a cage, some white mice, and a Persian cat; the last three, it is needless to say, being in separate crates.
Majestic being, that St. Kitts boatmaster; never more impressive than when he successfully landed a bishop of the isles! Dolly and I recalled the “Admirable Crichton” in Barrie’s whimsical play, who, as butler in a titled English family, was wrecked with the entire household on a desert island. It needed only the emergencies of twenty-four hours to establish him as the dominant intellectual force and the practical governor of the sadly inefficient earls, countesses, ladies, and honorables; and before long he assumed the authority properly belonging to him. That the earl’s daughter finally fell in love with him seemed not so much dramatic license as a tribute to his obvious superiority. In London the lady would have been criticized as marrying beneath her; on the desert island it actually appeared as if she were doing particularly well for herself; indeed, Dolly confessed that though she would prefer marrying Marmaduke Hogg she would rather be wrecked in the company of the St. Kitts boatmaster.
S.S. Diana, Sunday, January 27
After breakfast, on our way to anchor at Antigua for the night, we saw in the distance the towering cone of Nevis, the “Gorgeous Isle” of Alexander Hamilton’s birth and the famous scene of Lord Nelson’s marriage. It has fallen from its proud estate of former years into poverty and neglect, but it is still marvelously beautiful to the eye. We sat on deck reading, or at least glancing drowsily over the pages of our books to the sapphire sea and the emerald forests of the island shores with a never-ceasing delight. There were three Roman Catholic priests on board, also four Protestant missionaries, one of them with a wife and a family of charming children—Samuel, Naomi, Esther, Daniel. Piously they were named and never once did they bring contempt on the Holy Scriptures! From below in a far end of the boat we could hear echoes of gospel hymns in some little cabin where a Sunday-morning service was being held.
Dorothea gave a deep sigh.
“It is all so peaceful, Charlotte! One day just like another and all beautiful and tranquil. We haven’t seen anybody hurry since we left New York. Do you remember Rudyard Kipling saying, when he came back there after a long absence, that he was afraid to step slowly lest the man behind him should walk up his back? Nobody ever seems nervous in these islands. The natives can be ragged and hungry without being much concerned. Work never appears to be a delight to them for its own sake, but only as a means to get food. I feel slip—slip—slipping into a heavenly state of coma. Does anything ever stir the tropics except hurricanes and earthquakes, I wonder? How can women fight for suffrage in this climate? How can a man be awakened to great ambitions?”
“Alexander Hamilton was born on Nevis and passed all his boyhood and youthful days on what is now our own St. Croix,” I said.
“Yes, but he was n’t Washington’s aide-de-camp nor secretary of the treasury in the tropics!”
“True; nevertheless, when he was Nicholas Cruger’s bookkeeper at the age of twelve he wrote to an American friend: ‘I contemn the groveling condition of a clerk to which my fortunes condemn me, and I would willingly risk my life, though not my character, to exalt my station. … My youth excludes me from any hope of immediate preferment, but I mean to prepare the way for futurity.’ You see the yeast was stirring, even in the tropics, Dolly!”
“Well, I feel no yeast stirring in me,” she said languidly. “All the morning I have been trying to recapture a certain ‘Ode to a Cow’ written by a man of action in a country hotel where mother and I were sojourning last summer. I could have echoed it when I first regarded the inhabitants of these islands, and now anybody might say it of me, for I grow more and more cow-like with every passing day. It runs this way:
“‘ODE TO A CUD-CHEWING COW
“‘Why, Cow, art thou so satisfied,
So well content with all things here below,
So meek, so lazy, and so awful slow?
Dost thou not know that men’s affairs are mixed?
That grievously the world needs to be fixed?
That nothing we can do has any worth?
That life is care and trouble and untowardness?
Prit, Cow! This is no time for idleness!
The cud thou chewest is not what it seems.
Get up and moo! Tear round and quit thy dreams!’”
By this time Dorothea was asleep. Her book slid to the floor, I shaded her face with my green umbrella, pulled down her muslin frock over her pretty ankles, and gave myself up to vagrant thoughts of her probable future.
Sunday on shipboard is a good day for reflections and heart-searchings. My own problem, after all, is not so baffling as Dolly’s. She is as loyal as a charming and sensible girl can be to a mother like Mrs. Valentine, whose soul, if the truth were told, is about the size of a mustard-seed. A frivolous, useless, bird-minded woman is Dolly’s mother; a woman pecking at life as a canary pecks at its cuttlefish, simply to sharpen its bill. How the girl can respect her I cannot imagine! I suppose flesh calls to flesh and she loves her without too much analysis, but they seem to have come to the parting of the ways. It is Dolly’s highest self that is in love with Marmaduke Hogg, and I don’t believe she will sacrifice it to a maternal whim and call it filial obedience. Perhaps the absence that makes the heart grow fonder is working like a philter in this journey planned by Mrs. Valentine with a far different purpose.
“Let her go with you, Charlotte,” she begged me with tears in her eyes. “I must get her away from this attractive but undesirable young man! That absurd uncle who did n’t want his name to die out must have been a lunatic or an imbecile. Why should n’t such a vulgar name become extinct? And to think that my exquisite Dorothea—whose figure and eyelashes have been remarked by royalty—to think that she should be expected to graft herself on to that family tree of all others! To think that she may take that name herself and, for aught we know, add half a dozen more to the list; all boys, probably, who would marry in course of time and produce others, piling Hoggs on Hoggs, as it were! It is like one of those horrible endless chains that are condemned by the government!”
I gave way to peals of laughter at this impassioned speech, evidently annoying Mrs. Valentine, who expected sympathy. I tried to placate her with reference to the poet of the name which had none but delightful associations in Scotland.
“Then if they choose to defy me and marry each other, let them go and live in Scotland!” she snapped.
“Would you have minded Dolly’s marrying Lord Bacon?” I asked.
This gave her food for thought.
“No,” she said reflectively, “for, of course, he was a lord, which is something.”
“But how about the associations?”
“I can’t explain, but somehow they are not as repulsive to me,” she insisted. “I always think of bacon cooked, not raw, and—the other is alive!”
As for my own difficulty, it is, after all, a conventional one. I cannot bear the idea of marrying my employer; a man known by sight and reputation to everybody in Washington, while I am a relatively unknown person without fortune, kith, or kin. The thought brings to mind sensational headlines in cheap newspapers regarding the wedding of some aged millionaire with his youthful stenographer, and the consequent alarms of his household; or the alliance of some scion of a wealthy house with a trained nurse of obscure lineage and vaulting ambition. I am all alone in the world, and though my father, who died when he was only five and twenty, left me but the barest support, I have gloried in my independence and rejoiced in my modest successes.
My people on both sides were of good stock. Even the Winthrops could climb my family tree and find no bad fruit on it, but the world will say: “What a splendid match for Charlotte Clifford.” … “I wonder how Ellen Winthrop will take it?” … “I should n’t have thought Clive Winthrop would marry his secretary, somehow, though there’s nothing against her; but he could look higher!”
The world would be quite right. It is a splendid marriage for Charlotte Clifford, and Clive Winthrop could look higher. He is my superior and that is the reason I love him. That he loves me proves that there is something in me that will rise to his level. All the same, I wrote him when I came away that I could never cross the bridge between us (there is a bridge, although he does not see it) until I was no longer his secretary and until I was sure his sister would welcome me into the household that has been so harmonious and delightful to every human being that has ever crossed its threshold. Nobody could equal Ellen Winthrop as a hostess, with her fine, spirited face, lovely even at seventy; her gift of repartee, her stately manner, her simple, trailing dress, always of black or gray, and always reaching the floor, when most of the feminine world looks, in its best clothes, as if mounted on stilts, with a skimpy, semi-detached tail wriggling its silly length behind! I could never scale the heights on which the splendid Ellen perpetually dwells, but I could sit at the foot of them and admire with all my heart, and perhaps that attitude, if fully understood, might win her affection.
S.S. Diana, January 28, 1918
At Antigua we anchored and took a steam launch to see the town, where we visited a very fine sugar-cane factory, watching the whole process from the cane-field to the market.
We did not land at Guadeloupe, the hour not being favorable and the stay being too brief to compensate for the effort involved. But this morning at eight we approached Dominica, the largest of the Leeward group, the loftiest of the Lesser Antilles, and the loveliest—if one could or ought to make comparison—the loveliest of the West Indian Isles. The guidebook calls it “The Caribbean Wonderland,” and Dolly and I were not disposed to quarrel with the phrase, after hanging over the deck-rail for an hour before breakfast and marveling at the beauty of the view. Mountains shimmered in the distance like visions seen in dreams, mountains like towering emeralds springing from a sapphire sea! We passed tiny hamlets, half-hidden in lime orchards, and cocoa-groves with yellow patches of cane gleaming here and there against a background of forest. As we drew nearer we could see white torrents dashing tempestuously down through green valleys, for Dominica has a too plenteous water-supply, since in some districts three hundred inches a year is the average rainfall. It rained seven times in the three hours that we passed on shore, but the showers were gentle ones, and we found generous shelter in the wonderful Botanical Garden, where we spent most of our time.
Nature is sometimes a kindly mother; often she wears a tragic mask, and now and then she indulges in melodrama; but I never conceived the possibility of her having a sense of humor until we witnessed her freakish mood in the Dominica garden. There were the usual varieties of magnificent palms and brilliant flowering shrubs; but the joy of joys was the Sausage-Tree, around which we walked in helpless mirth at the incredible veracity of the imitation. It reached a goodly height, and had a splendid girth and circumference of shade; but no factory in Bologna or Frankfort, or any other possible birthplace of the real article, could rival this amazing, this funny, tree in fertility. Its product was just a trifle large, save for the omnivorous lover of sausage; but in other respects it was a faithful copy of the original—unless, indeed, the first sausage-maker borrowed the idea from the tree, instead of the other way about. These vegetable sausages hung in hundreds of strings and festoons and clusters from the topmost to the lowest branches. Because of the way they hung, the way they were strung, their shape and color, and the very manner in which the skin was neatly drawn over each one and fastened, no one possessing a sense of the ridiculous but would sit down under the tree and laugh at the joke. Oddly enough we could find no pictorial postcard of this phenomenon to bring home for the enlivening of winter evenings, though we bought a capital one of the Cannon-Ball Tree, just as unique in its way but not so absurd.
Dorothea was enchanted with Dominica, and kept exclaiming every few minutes: “Oh, if only Great Britain would sell us this island! I think I’d choose to live in Dominica, because if I had a sausage-tree in my garden I should laugh every day, and the children would n’t need any playthings.”
S.S. Diana, February 1, 1918
We have had a glimpse of France through a day at Martinique. The principal feature of our visit was a wild motor-drive up an eighteen-hundred-foot mountain. It was a steady climb from glory to glory, with tropical forests on every side. Our method of progress was not quite serene, for there was not a sufficient number of cars to satisfy the demand.
After a long wait Dolly and I took a small mongrel sort of motor that had been refused by all the Diana’s passengers. The Creole driver, handsome, debonair, persuasive, and fluent, though unintelligible, assured us that he had ascended and descended the mountain hundreds of times, a fact only too obvious to one who examined his means of transportation. None of the tires matched, and two of them looked like wounded soldiers just home from the front, displaying patches of adhesive plaster and bandages of cotton and woolen rags of every color, with an occasional inset of an alien material into the rubber. One could catch a glimpse of a tin tomato-can neatly introduced in the place of some vital bit of machinery; a Waterbury alarm-clock figured in an unexpected position, apparently adding its power to the engine; and there were stout ropes, here and there, which I never observed before in the rigging of any motor.
I hesitated to enter, for the future, though not absolutely certain, looked full of hope and promise; but Dolly was firm and reckless. I am ten years her senior, but still young to be called a “’fraid cat” with impunity; so I finally mounted the vehicle. The driver gave a gay, insouciant tap to a front tire, as much as to say: “Courage, mon enfant! C’est la dernière fois!”—then flung himself into his seat, and, blowing a horn, started his base-hospital up the mountain at a breakneck pace. The motor’s own horn was out of commission, but there was a substitute by the driver’s side. It was easy for him to blow it because he had no particular use for either of his hands, his steering being left largely to chance. Repeated expostulations in boarding-school French only elicited a reply that sounded like: “Soyez tranquilles, mesdames. You speak American? Bien! Leezy est parfaitement docile!”
This conveyed no idea to me, although his broad grin convinced me that in his own opinion it was a subtle witticism. At length, however, it burst upon Dolly, who went off into irrepressible gales of laughter.
“You have lived so continuously in a rarefied Winthrop atmosphere, Charlotte, that you have n’t any modern vocabulary. He is telling you the pet name of his car, to give you confidence. Nobody ever dies in a tin ‘Lizzie.’ Not only is the machine indestructible, but the people that ride in it. Is n’t the driver a witty, reckless darling?”
He was, indeed; and, incredible as it may seem, Lizzie ascended and descended the mountain in safety—though only because a kind Providence watched over us. Then, when we had paid the reckless, danger-proof darling twice the sum he should have demanded, we sat on a bench in the Savanna, where we could be quietly grateful that we were alive and watch the coming and going of the Fort-de-France townspeople, so unmistakably French, with the bright costumes of the women, the pose of their turbans or hats, their sparkle and chatter and vivacious gestures.
Here in the Savanna travelers always gather to look at the marble statue of the Empress Josephine, which is called the greatest work of art in the West Indies. That is not fatuous praise, perhaps, but the figure needed the hand of no master sculptor to hold the eye and captivate the imagination. It is mounted on a huge pedestal and is of heroic size, the white glitter of its marble enhanced by its truly magnificent setting, a circle of towering royal palms. There she stands, the lovely Creole woman of Martinique, forever looking at “Trois Islets,” as if she were remembering her birth in an overseer’s shack and her girlhood passed in a sugar-mill. Straightway the crowds of native men and women chaffering in the market-place, the mothers holding up their crowing babies to the statue, the nursemaids and groups of playing children, all vanished, and we re-lived in spirit poor Josephine’s past, thrilling anew at the remembrance of her romance, her triumph, and her bitter sorrow—the Creole girl who crossed the sea to become Empress of France and share a throne with Napoleon, but who sailed back to her island home a brokenhearted woman.
Good-bye, Martinique, land of Josephine; and land of St. Pierre, the scene of one of the greatest tragedies of modern times, when the fury of Mont Pelée engulfed the growth of centuries and buried forty thousand human creatures in its scalding lava. St. Lucia, of the Windward group, to-morrow, and then Barbados, from whence the Diana goes on to Demerara and returns a week or so later, so that we are able to rejoin her, taking up our former comfortable cabins and our much-liked captain.
Between Barbados and New York
Here we are again on our homeward trip, making fewer landings and briefer stops, principally to take on passengers and thousands of barrels of limes.
Barbados, with its charming hotel at Hastings, was an unalloyed delight; and Dorothea, who had determined to live in each of the islands as it came along, would finally have transferred her allegiance for good and all had it not seemed more loyal for an American to choose one of our own possessions and “grow up with the country.” We found ourselves in the midst of pleasant, even distinguished, society—British officials, ex-governors, and judge-advocates of the various islands, English and Canadian soldiers on sick-leave, and officers commanding the U-boat chasers in near-by waters. Dorothea danced nightly and held court daily on the broad piazzas, reminding me of Rudyard Kipling’s fascinating heroine in an Indian army post, who, whenever she appeared, caused the horizon to become black with majors. Her head and heart remained true to the absent Marmaduke—I am not so sure about her dancing feet!
Now that that experience is over, with the many others, we are at sea and quiet again, with one tranquil day just like the other.
“What a honeymoon journey it would make, Charlotte!” said Dolly one moonlight evening on deck. “It is so difficult to grow in knowledge of people in New York or Washington. One does n’t even know one’s self.”
“All journeys must be good for honeymooners, don’t you think?”
“Yes, in a way; but some places are created for lovers and newlyweds, who are, after all, only explorers, Charlotte, forever discovering new lands and annexing new territories.”
“Yes; and sometimes falling into the hands of savages and cannibals, I suppose.”
“Yes; that must be terrible—the awakening to find that one has been mistaken in a man!” sighed Dolly.
“I dare say we ought to worry lest men be mistaken in us; it might happen, you know.”
“Your mind is so logical, Charlotte! However, this voyage would n’t have to be idealized to meet the needs of honeymooners. In a Vermont village where I sometimes stay I remember a girl who had to be married on Sunday because she could not give up her position as telegraph-operator till Saturday night. That was dull enough in all conscience, but she was married in her high-school graduating dress, and went to her grandmother’s house, ten miles away, for her wedding-journey. I think it required considerable inward felicity to exalt that situation!”
I sat upright in my steamer chair. “Dorothea,” I said sharply, “you have been manufacturing conversation for the last five minutes—just killing time for fear that I should ask you questions. Is there anything on your mind? You have been absent-minded and nervous for days.”
“Your imagination is working overtime, Charlotte,” she answered. “We are nearing home, that is all; and life presses closer.”
I could not gainsay her, for every mile of ocean crossed makes my heart beat faster. I seem to be living just now in a sort of pause between my different lives. There is the heaven of my childhood in the vague background; then the building of my “career,” if so modest a thing can be called by so shining a name; then the steady, half-conscious growth of a love that illumines my labors, yet makes them difficult and perplexing; and now there is a sense of suspended activity, of waiting, with a glimmering air-castle rising like an iridescent bubble out of the hazy future. Sometimes there are two welcoming faces at a window and sometimes the indistinct figure of a woman stretching out a forbidding hand, my chief’s sister, who may not want a third person in the family!
S.S. Diana, February 13, 1918
Dolly went on the bridge this afternoon and stayed a half-hour with the captain, giving no reason save that she liked to talk with him, which seemed plausible, but did not satisfy me. At bedtime I discovered her unpacking and laying out in her upper berth a dazzling toilet for our landing at St. Thomas to-morrow. She blushed when I looked in upon her.
“Do dress ‘up to me,’ Charlotte,” she coaxed. “I don’t want to be conspicuous. Wear your gray georgette and the broad hat with the roses.”
“Why this sudden display of vanity and good clothes?”
“Has n’t your letter of introduction to Governor Oliver brought us an invitation to luncheon at Government House?”
“Yes; but I don’t suppose it is a banquet.”
“Charlotte, I must confide in you.”
“I should think it was about time.”
“What do you mean?”
“I have known for days that you were concealing something.”
“I did n’t want to be secretive, but I thought it was only fair to you to keep my own counsel. Now you can report to mother that you knew nothing, and that therefore you could n’t interfere.”
“But what have you done? You can’t be secretly married—with your chosen man in Washington and you on the vasty deep.”
“No; but I’m next door to it.”
“What do you mean by ‘next door’? Have you a groom and a minister waiting on the New York dock?”
“No; mother will be there, but I fear she won’t bring a minister. I’m so glad you imagined something far, far worse than I ever intended. It shows that you are more audacious than I—though nobody would believe it.”
“I don’t like your tone; but go on.”
“I’ve been communicating rather frequently with Duke.”
“So I fancied, from your changing money at every stop and doing continual sums on paper.”
“It has made me a pauper—this telegraphing in war-time. The messages go by Jamaica or Porto Rico or Trinidad or Bermuda and lots of other islands, and I think some of the messages must be personally conducted straight to New York by powerful swimmers, judging by the cost.”
“Go on. Don’t temporize.”
“I need n’t repeat all of them, and in fact I have n’t copies. Duke, after he had my first telegram from St. Thomas, wired back to St. Croix, ‘You are willing to take my name. Why, after all, should n’t I refuse your sacrifice and make one of my own by taking yours?’ Was n’t that noble?”
“It would have softened the heart of a suffragette or a feminist. What did you reply?”
“I said: ‘Never in the world!’”
“‘Never’ would have been enough. You wasted three words at a dollar or so apiece.”
“I wanted to be strong. I said: ‘Never in the world! I am not going to have you criticized and nagged and made unhappy, as if your name were a crime!’ Then he wired: ‘But it would remove objections, and cost only six thousand a year.’ I had to wait two whole days and nights before I could cable: ‘Objector will surely meet me in New York. She will probably forgive if we are both firm. My mind is made up. I would rather be a you-know-what than remain a Valentine.’”
“That was strong enough.”
“I meant it to be. He has been scurrilously treated, and somebody must stand by him. Now, to-morrow, February 14th, is his birthday. I remember it because we met on St. Valentine’s day, and it was n’t many hours afterward that I guessed how he felt about me.”
“Dorothea! Do you mean to tell me that a man spoke to you of his feelings within twenty-four hours of the time you met?”
“No, I do not.”
“You certainly intimated as much. If it was n’t many hours after you met on the 14th it must have been on the 15th.”
“No, you are wrong, Charlotte. It was the evening of the same day. We met in the early morning.”
“It sounds like a children’s party with an exchange of those snapping-mottoes.”
“Duke is nearly twenty-eight, you know, Charlotte; so it is simply nonsense to jeer at him. You ought to be able to imagine what sort of things would be said between two persons mutually attracted to each other—when you remember that he was born on February 14th and my name is Valentine. The coincidence simply put ideas into our heads; but I won’t go on if you don’t sympathize.”
“I don’t actually disapprove, not at heart. Now, what has his birthday got to do with to-morrow and St. Thomas?”
“Why, I cabled him as soon as we arrived at Barbados: ‘What would you like for a birthday present from the West Indies?’ I knew that he would remember we met on St. Valentine’s day and an answer could reach me at St. Thomas.”
“Could n’t you buy him a souvenir without inquiring at great expense what he’d prefer?”
“Ye-es; but I thought it was a nice, affectionate question.”
“Well, he cabled one word, Charlotte.”
“I guessed that the moment you quoted your message. When you asked: ‘What shall I bring you from the West Indies?’ Duke promptly answered, ‘Yourself.’”
“Charlotte, you are positively uncanny! How did you manage to hit upon it?”
“It does n’t take as much intellect as you fancy. You are as transparent as a plate of glass. Well, when he said ‘Yourself,’ how did you answer him?”
“It’s the only thing I don’t like to tell you, but I must. I reflected a full half-hour at Barbados. It was one of those heavenly moonlight nights not suitable for reflection. Then I wrote a message and sent it to the office by one of the colored waiters so that the hotel people should n’t read it. It said” (and here she turned her face away from me): “‘Deliveries from the West Indies are uncertain and expensive; come and get me.’—Do you think that was forward?”
I laughed irresistibly and a long time. “It certainly was not backward, but it was delicious,” I said at length, wiping the tears from my eyes. “However, he seems as impetuous and tempestuous as you, so perhaps it does n’t matter.”
“You see, Charlotte, I knew that probably he could n’t meet this boat to save his life, so I was willing to say, ‘Come and get me,’ just for fun. I had n’t the slightest clue as to when he would receive my message or the sailing dates of steamers from New York, everything is so changed in war-times. I know only that the time is slipping away, and Duke may leave the Shipping Board at any moment for the training-camp. I intend to have one brief, straightforward talk with mother, and declare my purpose. We are going to get your Mr. Winthrop to intercede for us, too. I shall be of age in March, and I don’t intend to let a mere name stand between me and happiness.
“I think you are right, and that your mother will finally agree with you; but I still don’t see the need of an unusual toilet for to-morrow.”
“It’s for the Governor,” said Dolly, “and one never knows what may happen.”
“If a bromidic remark may also be cryptic, Dorothea, you have achieved the combination. Now I must ask you a direct question, for, although I am not your keeper, but your friend, I am not disposed to let you do anything reckless. Why did you put that idea into Duke’s head—the idea of meeting you in St. Thomas?”
“I wanted to talk things over before seeing mother. I knew I could trust him. He has some elderly cousins and a sister-in-law; surely, between them, he could find somebody to bring along with him; and I have you, safest and wisest of Charlottes! Duke is one of the legal advisers of the Shipping Board. Why should n’t he have business in these islands? Besides, it is a practical impossibility that he should be able to reach St. Thomas on a given date.”
“Then why did you suggest it?”
“I think, Charlotte, it must have been empty-mindedness.”
“I regard it as a pure lack of self-control.”
“I’ve practiced self-control for one whole, endless year.”
“You have practiced filial obedience, I grant that. But what good do you expect to achieve if Duke does surmount the insurmountable and meet you to-morrow?”
“What good?” Dolly almost shrieked the question. “What good, do you ask? You callous, cold-hearted Charlotte! Why, four heavenly days spent in his society, to be sure—with you and his chaperon having a lovely time together somewhere not too near.”
“And you have n’t any sneaking idea of marrying him in St. Thomas? Because I won’t allow it.”
“No such luck! He would n’t let me, unless mother’s attitude has been miraculously changed.”
“Well, I can only say that you have made me very nervous and uncomfortable, Dolly,” and I prepared to leave her cabin and cross the narrow space that divided it from mine.
“Darling Charlotte!” Here she drew me back. “If you are nervous and uncomfortable, it seems that you think there’s a bare chance that Duke will be in St. Thomas.”
“I know nothing about the possibilities,” I replied. “He might persuade the Shipping Board that he could be of use in this vicinity, and, of course, he would have advantages not possessed by ordinary tourists.”
“If you had had any experience with shipping boards, Charlotte, you would know that they can only be moved by chloroform or dynamite. Besides, Duke would never do anything underhanded; he is too patriotic; though, of course, he is inventive.”
“Of course! And inventiveness is only one of his gifts, while his virtues are those of Sir Galahad, King Arthur, Marcus Aurelius, Abraham Lincoln, and a few others.”
“Charlotte, I don’t want to seem harsh, but I hope some time you will get a faint inkling of what love really is. Your heart reminds me of the Rock of Gibraltar!”
“One does n’t wear the Rock of Gibraltar on one’s sleeve, at all events,” I remarked.
“Do you mean that if you ever did have a love-affair you would n’t confide in me, when I adore you so, Charlotte?”
“I mean something of the sort, my child.” At which she made a feint of beating me with her little silver hair-brush, but ended in kissing my cheek and whispering: “Good-night! You are a darling, even if you have no sentiment.”
Morning came. We anchored outside St. Croix at five o’clock; went through medical inspection at six, and if there was anything the matter with Dolly’s heart or mine the physician did not offer any comment. Then about ten we approached St. Thomas for the second time.
If the Virgin Islands looked beautiful when we first saw them, they had grown in beauty during our brief absence, and my birthplace, in the shining distance, was a very dream of loveliness. We saw its outline rising above a rim of azure sea, with the mountains of Porto Rico standing out to the westward. The great palm groves on the shore led the eye upward to the green hills and the clouds topping the higher peaks. Gayly painted boats began to come near the Diana, and naked diving boys, slender shapes of brown mahogany, plunged into the sea to catch our pennies. Then we saw the red roofs of Charlotte Amalia, the little park near the landing, and the pink, toy-like fortress with the Stars and Stripes floating over it.
Dorothea and I stood near the deck-rail, her hand in mine. In her white dress, her broad hat wreathed with corn-flowers, and a scarlet sunshade, she looked a youthful Columbia, so radiant and bewitching that for the first time I secretly hoped Marmaduke Hogg might triumph over the obstacles in the way and come to meet his lady-love, although I saw many embarrassing and awkward situations arising from such a meeting. I could not be jealous of so bright and joyous a creature, and anyway my own happiness was only a few days distant, if I chose to put out my arms and take it.
There seemed to be a crowd on the dock, which was made most unattractive by a colossal mountain of coal that concealed everything behind it. The Diana made a slow approach, but we finally passed the coal-heap and came within thirty feet of the shore. I could feel Dolly’s heart beat through her pulse that lay under my hand. Then suddenly her quick eyes searched the outer edge of the crowd and found the shape they were looking for.
“I think I see him! I think I am going to faint, for I did n’t really expect him! Yes; I know it is he, though he is wearing summer clothes that I never saw before. Look, Charlotte! Away back near that grove of cocoanut-trees! He’s with other people—I knew he would find somebody! Give me the glasses. There’s an elderly man in a Panama hat, and two ladies, and—why, Charlotte, take the glasses yourself. It can’t be, but it looks like your Winthrop!”
My hand trembled so that I could hardly hold the glass. I could scarcely believe Dolly’s eyes or my own; but the Diana crept nearer, and it was true! Inch by inch the picture grew clearer, and then a pathetic surprise met my gaze.
I could see Clive plainly now, and felt that he was searching the line of passengers on the Diana’s deck to find me. My heart gave a furious leap to think that a man like my chief would look for only one woman’s face in that crowd, and regard it, with all its blemishes, as a precious thing.
Duke had separated himself from the little group and was swinging his hat to Dorothea; but I could not explain why the two men were not standing nearer together and what was the meaning of the wheeled chair, with the nurse’s head rising above the back. The identity of the person in the chair was hidden by a tiny black frilled parasol with a handle bent in the middle so that it could be used for a shield. Did I know that little old-fashioned sunshade? I did! It was the property of some one whose belongings had a certain air of difference from those of other people. She lifted it at last, as we came close to the dock, and I met Ellen Winthrop’s affectionate, welcoming glance. Her eyes swam in unshed tears, and mine were so wet I could see only dimly that her beautiful hair was a shade whiter, her face paler and thinner, that she had aged mysteriously in a month, and the hand that was holding the parasol trembled like a leaf. She had been very ill; there was no doubt of that. She had been ordered a voyage, and I felt that she had chosen this one because she knew Clive’s wish. That meant she was willing to welcome me into the heart of the family; perhaps even that she wished to help me fit myself to take her own unique place in her brother’s life. Oh, what joy to feel that I could not only take freely all that my chief wanted to give me, but that I could be of real service to her!
Down the precipitous landing-steps we went, Dolly, as usual, well in the front. Clive and Duke were at the foot awaiting us, and, as we felt a sense of safety in the midst of strangers, Dolly flung herself at once into Duke’s arms, while all the male watchers on deck or dock gazed at him with envy. Finding myself unobserved in this spectacular tableau, I could give Clive my own greeting as my heart dictated, while I told him that his sister’s presence answered my last doubt.
When Dolly withdrew from the embrace of her adoring swain—rosy, joyous, unabashed—she adjusted her hat from its perilous position on one side of her head, and gazed upon Clive and me with unflattering astonishment mixed with awe.
“You, too, perfidious Charlotte! You need n’t deny it; I saw you both—just finishing!”
“Not at all, Miss Valentine,” laughed Clive, putting out his hand to shake hers. “We were, in fact, only just beginning.”
“And to think I never suspected, when I might have known that you are the only man in the world learned enough and good enough for Charlotte.”
“You were too absorbed in your own affairs to think about mine, missy,” I said. “Now, will you be modest and grateful for the rest of your life, since you see that my Mr. Winthrop has brought your young man to St. Thomas in a discreet manner that you never could have achieved by yourself? Take me to your sister, Clive; I want her to know without a moment’s delay how I appreciate her coming with you.”
“She has been terribly ill, Charlotte. For ten days after you left it was almost hopeless, but at length she rallied, and since the doctor insisted on a change of climate her whole heart was bent on coming here. She has long suspected our feeling for each other, and you will be such a joy to her as well as to me, my dear.”
“It makes me so happy, so happy!” I faltered, my eyes swimming with tears. “I was so unwilling to take all and give so little—now it will be more!”
“Don’t go off by yourselves,” said Dolly. “Be dignified and indifferent, like us. Take Mr. Winthrop’s arm and I’ll take Duke’s.” (Here she suited the action to the word.) “There’s the Governor, expecting us to luncheon and not knowing us by sight. He won’t suspect what has happened; but after saluting him and asking him to put some more plates on the table, we’ll all walk up to Miss Winthrop’s chair, and you and I will say: ‘Good-morning, dear lady. Let us introduce to you “our new possessions,” our spoils of travel, our souvenirs of a sea-voyage.’ Then Duke and Mr. Winthrop will make a profound obeisance, and all will be over.”
And so it turned out! Everybody laughed and chatted; Dorothea kissed Ellen Winthrop’s hand prettily, coquetted with Clive, and began to lay siege to the nurse’s heart, while she riveted the chains by which she held Marmaduke Hogg in bondage. She was in high spirits, but she was distinctly nervous, and whenever she introduced her fiancé to one of her fellow voyagers she showed a heightened color as she slid quickly over his surname.
Presently Clive withdrew a little distance to talk with the Governor’s secretary, and Dorothea caught the captain on his way from the ship and entangled him in a merry conversation with Miss Winthrop. This gave Marmaduke an opportunity to take me aside. I suspected that he wanted to confide in me that Mrs. Valentine had made one last determined refusal to receive him as a son-in-law, and that after the next few days of sea-voyaging we should meet an irate parent at the landing in New York and that there would be metaphorical “wigs on the green.”
I confess in that moment, as I envisaged the recalcitrant Dolly locked in her room and fed upon bread and water, that I wished Mr. Marmaduke Hogg had remained in Washington, which is the scene of so many battles that one more or less would not be obvious on the horizon. On the contrary, his first words were a surprise.
“Miss Clifford,” he said, “no one knows what Dolly and I owe to you!”
“But what have I done?” I inquired laughingly.
“Oh, a thousand things! Taken my part gently and kindly with Mrs. Valentine; and above all, allowed Dolly to come on this journey with you, when she was so utterly confused by her mother’s objections to our marriage that she did not know which way to turn.—It’s rather a big job for a girl to decide whether she’ll break her mother’s heart, or her lover’s!”
“Mrs. Valentine has no heart, save in the physiological sense,” I interrupted.
“Well, I have cut the Gordian knot,” continued Marmaduke. “I don’t want Dolly to know just at first, but I have set plans in motion for changing my name back to Forrest!”
“But you lose six thousand dollars a year!” I exclaimed.
“It does n’t matter. I am offered a New York partnership when the war is over and it won’t be very long before I make it up.”
“And what about your dear old uncle?”
“That hurts me, I confess. But I think if departed spirits know nothing of our doings, it does n’t matter, and if they know everything, uncle must have kept an eye on Mrs. Valentine and will understand.”
“I never thought of leaving the whole matter to ‘uncle,’” I observed.
“I’m not shifting the responsibility; I’m simply counting on him. I always counted on him and he always trusted me. If I could get him on a spiritual long-distance telephone, he would see that I cannot part an only daughter from her only mother.”
“Yes, I’ve often thought only children were a mistake; they bulk too heavily in the foreground. Where there are six, each one cannot take up so much room.”
“Exactly. You see we’ve got to go to her mother’s to dinner every other Sunday when our cook’s out. I’ve learned that much about matrimony in advance.”
“Perhaps you won’t be invited!”
“Well, that would be even worse. Besides, she has given up her apartment and leased a charming house.”
“Does she think that you and Dolly are to live with her?”
“If she does she is mistaken, but to do her justice I don’t believe that’s her idea at all. However, she is all settled and awaiting Dorothea. The house is going to be a surprise.”
“Dolly will like it; the apartment did n’t suit her taste.”
“A pompous butler is installed. I discovered all this when I went to call, and conscientiously told her I was going to St. Thomas with the Winthrops. He is elderly, of course, as all the middle-aged and young butlers are in khaki; and wonderful to relate, there is also an aged but well-preserved footman. He dwells on the lower floor, and communicates with the butler on the floor above, where the drawing- and dining-rooms are, by means of a speaking-tube. The moment the footman approached me with his ‘What name, sir?’ and bawled ‘Mr. Hogg!’ through the tube, the butler repeating it resonantly to the boudoir where Mrs. Valentine was sitting; at that moment I knew why she had taken the house. It was for the speaking-tubes! I have never before seen a small house in Washington with these annunciators. The butler and footman were engaged for the same purpose, that of bawling ‘Mr. Hogg’ whenever I called upon Dolly. After my interview with Mrs. Valentine, which was placid, for she thanked me coldly for telling her of my proposed journey and said she should go herself, but imagined that the steamers were small and uncomfortable, and the food villainous; however, we would talk the whole matter over in New York and come to some decision; she then went to the speaking-tube and called, ‘Brown! Ask Jenkins to show Mr. Hogg out, please!’
“I left the lady and went at once to Clive Winthrop for advice and began the process of amputating my surname. Perhaps I shall not call at the X Street house till the wedding is over, and when the footman asks: ‘What name, sir?’ I shall say: ‘My bachelor name, as you may remember, was Hogg, but I am now married and it is Forrest!’”