Mrs. Maynard sat in the sun on the seaward-looking piazza of the hotel, and coughed in the warm air. She told the ladies, as they came out from breakfast, that she was ever so much better generally, but that she seemed to have more of that tickling in her throat. Each of them advised her for good, and suggested this specific and that; and they all asked her what Miss Breen was doing for her cough. Mrs. Maynard replied, between the paroxysms, that she did not know: it was some kind of powders. Then they said they would think she would want to try something active; even those among them who were homoeopathists insinuated a fine distrust of a physician of their own sex. "Oh, it's nothing serious," Mrs. Maynard explained. "It's just bronchial. The air will do me more good than anything. I'm keeping out in it all I can."
After they were gone, a queer, gaunt man came and glanced from the doorway at her. He had one eye in unnatural fixity, and the other set at that abnormal slant which is said to qualify the owner for looking round a corner before he gets to it. A droll twist of his mouth seemed partly physical, but: there is no doubt that he had often a humorous intention. It was Barlow, the man-of-all-work, who killed and plucked the poultry, peeled the potatoes and picked the peas, pulled the sweet-corn and the tomatoes, kindled the kitchen fire, harnessed the old splayfooted mare,—safe for ladies and children, and intolerable for all others, which formed the entire stud of the Jocelyn House stables,—dug the clams, rowed and sailed the boat, looked after the bath-houses, and came in contact with the guests at so many points that he was on easy terms with them all. This ease tended to an intimacy which he was himself powerless to repress, and which, from time to time, required their intervention. He now wore a simple costume of shirt and trousers, the latter terminated by a pair of broken shoes, and sustained by what he called a single gallows; his broad-brimmed straw hat scooped down upon his shoulders behind, and in front added to his congenital difficulty of getting people in focus. "How do you do, this morning, Mrs. Maynard?" he said.
"Oh, I'm first-rate, Mr. Barlow. What sort of day do you think it's going to be for a sail?"
Barlow came out to the edge of the piazza, and looked at the sea and sky. "First-rate. Fog's most burnt away now. You don't often see a fog at Jocelyn's after ten o'clock in the mornin'."
He looked for approval to Mrs. Maynard, who said, "That's so. The air's just splendid. It 's doing everything for me."
"It's these pine woods, back o' here. Every breath on 'em does ye good. It's the balsam in it. D' you ever try," he asked, stretching his hand as far up the piazza-post as he could, and swinging into a conversational posture,—"d' you ever try whiskey—good odd Bourbon whiskey—with white-pine chips in it?"
Mrs. Maynard looked up with interest, but, shaking her head, coughed for no.
"Well, I should like to have you try that."
"What does it do?" she gasped, when she could get her breath.
"Well, it's soothin' t' the cough, and it builds ye up, every ways. Why, my brother," continued the factotum, "he died of consumption when I was a boy,—reg'lar old New England consumption. Don't hardly ever hear of it any more, round here. Well, I don't suppose there's been a case of reg'lar old New England consumption—well, not the old New England kind—since these woods growed up. He used to take whiskey with white-pine chips in it; and I can remember hearin 'em say that it done him more good than all the doctor's stuff. He'd been out to Demarary, and everywheres, and he come home in the last stages, and took up with this whiskey with whitepine chips in it. Well, it's just like this, I presume it's the balsam in the chips. It don't make any difference how you git the balsam into your system, so 's 't you git it there. I should like to have you try whiskey with white-pine chips in it."
He looked convincingly at Mrs. Maynard, who said she should like to try it. "It's just bronchial with me, you know. But I should like to try it. I know it would be soothing; and I've always heard that whiskey was the very thing to build you up. But," she added, lapsing from this vision of recovery, "I couldn't take it unless Grace said so. She'd be sure to find it out."
"Why, look here," said Barlow. "As far forth as that goes, you could keep the bottle in my room. Not but what I believe in going by your doctor's directions, it don't matter who your doctor is. I ain't sayin' nothin' against Miss Breen, you understand?"
"Oh, no!" cried Mrs. Maynard.
"I never see much nicer ladies than her and her mother in the house. But you just tell her about the whiskey with the white-pine chips in it. Maybe she never heard of it. Well, she hain't had a great deal of experience yet."
"No," said Mrs. Maynard. "And I think she'll be glad to hear of it. You may be sure I'll tell her, Mr. Barlow. Grace is everything for the balsamic properties of the air, down here. That's what she said; and as you say, it doesn't matter how you get the balsam into your system, so you get it there."
"No," said the factotum, in a tone of misgiving, as if the repetition of the words presented the theory in a new light to him.
"What I think is, and what I'm always telling Grace," pursued Mrs. Maynard, in that confidential spirit in which she helplessly spoke of her friends by their first names to every one, "that if I could once get my digestion all right, then the cough would stop of itself. The doctor said—Dr. Nixon, that is—that it was more than half the digestion any way. But just as soon as I eat anything—or if I over-eat a little—then that tickling in my throat begins, and then I commence coughing; and I'm back just where I was. It's the digestion. I oughtn't to have eaten that mince pie, yesterday."
"No," admitted Barlow. Then he said, in indirect defence of the kitchen, "I think you had n't ought to be out in the night air,—well, not a great deal."
"Well, I don't suppose it does do me much good," Mrs. Maynard said, turning her eyes seaward.
Barlow let his hand drop from the piazza post, and slouched in-doors; but he came out again as if pricked by conscience to return.
"After all, you know, it did n't cure him."
"What cure him?" asked Mrs. Maynard.
"The whiskey with the white-pine chips in it."
"Oh! Oh, yes! But mine's only bronchial. I think it might do me good. I shall tell Grace about it."
Barlow looked troubled, as if his success in the suggestion of this remedy were not finally a pleasure; but as Mrs. Maynard kept her eyes persistently turned from him, and was evidently tired, he had nothing for it but to go in-doors again. He met Grace, and made way for her on the threshold to pass out.
As she joined Mrs. Maynard, "Well, Grace," said the latter, "I do believe you are right. I have taken some more cold. But that shows that it does n't get worse of itself, and I think we ought to be encouraged by that. I'm going to be more careful of the night air after this."
"I don't think the night air was the worst thing about it, Louise," said Grace bluntly.
"You mean the damp from the sand? I put on my rubbers."
"I don't mean the damp sand," said Grace, beginning to pull over some sewing which she had in her lap, and looking down at it.
Mrs. Maynard watched her a while in expectation that she would say more, but she did not speak. "Oh—well!" she was forced to continue herself, "if you're going to go on with that!"
"The question is," said Grace, getting the thread she wanted, "whether you are going on with it."
"Why, I can't see any possible harm in it," protested Mrs. Maynard. "I suppose you don't exactly like my going with Mr. Libby, and I know that under some circumstances it would n't be quite the thing. But did n't I tell you last night how he lived with us in Europe? And when we were all coming over on the steamer together Mr. Libby and Mr. Maynard were together the whole time, smoking and telling stories. They were the greatest friends! Why, it isn't as if he was a stranger, or an enemy of Mr. Maynard's."
Grace dropped her sewing into her lap. "Really, Louise, you're incredible!" She looked sternly at the invalid; but broke into a laugh, on which Mrs. Maynard waited with a puzzled face. As Grace said nothing more, she helplessly resumed:—
"We did n't expect to go down the cliff when he first called in the evening. But he said he would help me up again, and—he did, nicely. I was n't exhausted a bit; and how I took more cold I can't understand; I was wrapped up warmly. I think I took the cold when I was sitting there after our game of croquet, with my shawl off. Don't you think so?" she wheedled.
"Perhaps," said Grace.
"He did nothing but talk about you, Grace," said Mrs. Maynard, with a sly look at the other. "He's awfully afraid of you, and he kept asking about you."
"Louise," said the other, gravely ignoring these facts, "I never undertook the care of you socially, and I object very much to lecturing you. You are nearly as old as I am, and you have had a great deal more experience of life than I have." Mrs. Maynard sighed deeply in assent. "But it does n't seem to have taught you that if you will provoke people to talk of you, you must expect criticism. One after another you've told nearly every woman in the house your affairs, and they have all sympathized with you and pitied you. I shall have to be plain, and tell you that I can't have them sneering and laughing at any one who is my guest. I can't let you defy public opinion here."
"Why, Grace," said Mrs. Maynard, buoyed above offence at her friend's words by her consciousness of the point she was about to make, "you defy public opinion yourself a good deal more than I do, every minute."
"I? How do I defy it?" demanded Grace indignantly.
"By being a doctor."
Grace opened her lips to speak, but she was not a ready person, and she felt the thrust. Before she could say anything Mrs. Maynard went on: "There isn't one of them that does n't think you're much more scandalous than if you were the greatest flirt alive. But, I don't mind them, and why should you?"
The serious girl whom she addressed was in that helpless subjection to the truth in which so many New England women pass their lives. She could not deny the truth which lurked in the exaggeration of these words, and it unnerved her, as the fact that she was doing what the vast majority of women considered unwomanly always unnerved her when she suffered herself to think of it. "You are right, Louise," she said meekly and sadly. "They think as well of you as they do of me."
"Yes, that's just what I said!" cried Mrs. Maynard, glad of her successful argument.
But however disabled, her friend resumed: "The only safe way for you is to take the ground that so long as you wear your husband's name you must honor it, no matter how cruel and indifferent to you he has been."
"Yes," assented Mrs. Maynard ruefully, "of course."
"I mean that you must n't even have the appearance of liking admiration, or what you call attentions. It's wicked."
"I suppose so," murmured the culprit.
"You have been brought up to have such different ideas of divorce from what I have," continued Grace, "that I don't feel as if I had any right to advise you about what you are to do after you gain your suit."
"I shall not want to get married again for one while; I know that much," Mrs. Maynard interpolated self-righteously.
"But till you do gain it, you ought not to regard it as emancipating you in the slightest degree."
"No," came in sad assent from the victim of the law's delays.
"And I want you to promise me that you won't go walking with Mr. Libby any more; and that you won't even see him alone, after this."
"Why, but Grace!" cried Mrs. Maynard, as much in amazement as in annoyance. "You don't seem to understand! Have n't I told you he was a friend of the family? He's quite as much Mr. Maynard's friend as he is mine. I'm sure," she added, "if I asked Mr. Libby, I should never think of getting divorced. He's all for George; and it's as much as I can do to put up with him."
"No matter. That does n't alter the appearance to people here. I don't wish you to go with him alone any more."
"Well, Grace, I won't," said Mrs. Maynard earnestly. "I won't, indeed. And that makes me think: he wanted you to go along this morning."
"To go along? Wanted me—What are you talking about?"
"Why, I suppose that's his boat, out there, now." Mrs. Maynard pointed to a little craft just coming to anchor inside the reef. "He said he wanted me to take a sail with him, this morning; and he said he would come up and ask you, too. I do hope you'll go, Grace. It's just as calm; and he always has a man with him to help sail the boat, so there is n't the least danger." Grace looked at her in silent sorrow, and Mrs. Maynard went on with sympathetic seriousness: "Oh! there's one thing I want to ask you about, Grace: I don't like to have any concealments from you." Grace did not speak, but she permitted Mrs. Maynard to proceed: "Barlow recommended it, and he's lived here a great while. His brother took it, and he had the regular old New England consumption. I thought I shouldn't like to try it without your knowing it."
"Try it? What are you talking about, Louise?"
"Why, whiskey with white-pine chips in it."
Grace rose, and moved towards the door, with the things dropping from her lap. One of these was a spool, that rolled down the steps and out upon the sandy road. She turned to pursue it, and recovered it at the cost of dropping her scissors and thimble out of opposite sides of her skirt, which she had gathered up apronwise to hold her work. When she rose from the complicated difficulty, in which Mrs. Maynard had amiably lent her aid, she confronted Mr. Libby, who was coming towards them from the cliff. She gave him a stiff nod, and attempted to move away; but in turning round and about she had spun herself into the folds of a stout linen thread escaping from its spool. These gyves not only bound her skirts but involved her feet in an extraordinary mesh, which tightened at the first step and brought her to a standstill.
Mrs. Maynard began to laugh and cough, as Mr. Libby came to her friend's help. He got the spool in his hand, and walked around her in the endeavor to free her; but in vain. She extended him the scissors with the stern passivity of a fate. "Cut it," she commanded, and Mr. Libby knelt before her and obeyed. "Thanks," she said, taking back the scissors; and now she sat down again, and began deliberately to put up her work in her handkerchief.
"I 'll go out and get my things. I won't be gone half a minute, Mr. Libby," said Mrs. Maynard, with her first breath, as she vanished indoors.
Mr. Libby leaned against the post lately occupied by the factotum in his talk with Mrs. Maynard, and looked down at Grace as she bent over her work. If he wished to speak to her, and was wavering as to the appropriate style of address for a handsome girl, who was at once a young lady and a physician, she spared him the agony of a decision by looking up at him suddenly.
"I hope," he faltered, "that you feel like a sail, this morning? Did Mrs. Maynard—"
"I shall have to excuse myself," answered Grace, with a conscience against saying she was sorry. "I am a very bad sailor."
"Well, so am I, for that matter," said Mr. Libby. "But it's smooth as a pond, to-day."
Grace made no direct response, and he grew visibly uncomfortable under the cold abstraction of the gaze with which she seemed to look through him. "Mrs. Maynard tells me you came over with her from Europe."
"Oh yes!" cried the young man, the light of pleasant recollection kindling in his gay eyes. "We had a good time. Maynard was along: he's a first-rate fellow. I wish he were here."
"Yes," said Grace, "I wish so, too." She did not know what to make of this frankness of the young man's, and she did not know whether to consider him very depraved or very innocent. In her question she continued to stare at him, without being aware of the embarrassment to which she was putting him.
"I heard of Mrs. Maynard's being here, and I thought I should find him, too. I came over yesterday to get him to go into the woods with us."
Grace decided that this was mere effrontery. "It is a pity that he is not here," she said; and though it ought to have been possible for her to go on and rebuke the young fellow for bestowing upon Mrs. Maynard the comradeship intended for her husband, it was not so. She could only look severely at him, and trust that he might conceive the intention which she could not express. She rebelled against the convention and against her own weakness, which would not let her boldly interfere in what she believed a wrong; she had defied society, in the mass, but here, with this man, whom as an atom of the mass she would have despised, she was powerless.
"Have you ever seen him?" Libby asked, perhaps clinging to Maynard because he was a topic of conversation in default of which there might be nothing to say.
"No," answered Grace.
"He 's funny. He's got lots of that Western humor, and he tells a story better than any man I ever saw. There was one story of his"—
"I have no sense of humor," interrupted Grace impatiently. "Mr. Libby," she broke out, "I 'm sorry that you've asked Mrs. Maynard to take a sail with you. The sea air"—she reddened with the shame of not being able to proceed without this wretched subterfuge—"won't do her any good."
"Then," said the young man, "you must n't let her go."
"I don't choose to forbid her," Grace began.
"I beg your pardon," he broke in. "I'll be back in a moment."
He turned, and ran to the edge of the cliff, over which he vanished, and he did not reappear till Mrs. Maynard had rejoined Grace on the piazza.
"I hope you won't mind its being a little rough, Mrs. Maynard," he said, breathing quickly. "Adams thinks we're going to have it pretty fresh before we get back."
"Indeed, I don't want to go, then!" cried Mrs. Maynard, in petulant disappointment, letting her wraps fall upon a chair.
Mr. Libby looked at Grace, who haughtily rejected a part in the conspiracy. "I wish you to go, Louise," she declared indignantly. "I will take the risk of all the harm that comes to you from the bad weather." She picked up the shawls, and handed them to Mr. Libby, on whom her eyes blazed their contempt and wonder. It cost a great deal of persuasion and insistence now to make Mrs. Maynard go, and he left all this to Grace, not uttering a word till he gave Mrs. Maynard his hand to help her down the steps. Then he said, "Well, I wonder what Miss Breen does want."
"I 'm sure I don't know," said the other. "At first she did n't want me to go, this morning, and now she makes me. I do hope it is n't going to be a storm."
"I don't believe it is. A little fresh, perhaps. I thought you might be seasick."
"Don't you remember? I'm never seasick! That's one of the worst signs."
"If I could be thoroughly seasick once, it would be the best thing I could do."
"Is she capricious?" asked Mr. Libby.
"Grace?" cried Mrs. Maynard, releasing her hand half-way down the steps, in order to enjoy her astonishment without limitation of any sort. "Grace capricious!"
"Yes," said Mr. Libby, "that's what I thought. Better take my hand again," and he secured that of Mrs. Maynard, who continued her descent. "I suppose I don't understand her exactly. Perhaps she did n't like my not calling her Doctor. I did n't call her anything. I suppose she thought I was dodging it. I was. I should have had to call her Miss Breen, if I called her anything."
"She wouldn't have cared. She is n't a doctor for the name of it."
"I suppose you think it's a pity?" he asked.
"Her being a doctor."
"I'll tell her you say so."
"No, don't. But don't you?"
"Well, I would n't want to be one," said Mrs. Mayward candidly.
"I suppose it's all right, if she does it from a sense of duty, as you say," he suggested.
"Oh, yes, she's all right. And she's just as much of a girl as anybody; though she don't know it," Mrs. Maynard added astutely. "Why would n't she come with us? Were you afraid to ask her?"
"She said she was n't a good sailor. Perhaps she thought we were too young. She must be older than you."
"Yes, and you, too!" cried Mrs. Maynard, with good-natured derision.
"She doesn't look old," returned Mr. Libby.
"She's twenty-eight. How old are you?"
"I promised the census-taker not to tell till his report came out."
"What is the color of her hair?"
"And her eyes?"
"I don't know!"
"You had better look out, Mr. Libby!" said Mrs. Maynard, putting her foot on the ground at last.
They walked across the beach to where his dory lay, and Grace saw him pulling out to the sail boat before she went in from the piazza. Then she went to her mother's room. The elderly lady was keeping indoors, upon a theory that the dew was on, and that it was not wholesome to go out till it was off. She asked, according to her habit when she met her daughter alone, "Where is Mrs. Maynard?"
"Why do you always ask that, mother?" retorted Grace, with her growing irritation in regard to her patient intensified by the recent interview. "I can't be with her the whole time."
"I wish you could," said Mrs. Breen, with noncommittal suggestion.
Grace could not keep herself from demanding, "Why?" as her mother expected, though she knew why too well.
"Because she wouldn't be in mischief then," returned Mrs. Breen.
"She's in mischief now!" cried the girl vehemently; "and it's my fault! I did it. I sent her off to sail with that ridiculous Mr. Libby!"
"Why?" asked Mrs. Breen, in her turn, with unbroken tranquillity.
"Because I am a fool, and I couldn't help him lie out of his engagement with her."
"Did n't he want to go?"
"I don't know. Yes. They both wanted me to go with them. Simpletons! And while she had gone up-stairs for her wraps I managed to make him understand that I did n't wish her to go, either; and he ran down to his boat, and came back with a story about its going to be rough, and looked at me perfectly delighted, as if I should be pleased. Of course, then, I made him take her."
"And is n't it going to be rough?" asked Mrs. Green.
"Why, mother, the sea's like glass."
Mrs. Breen turned the subject. "You would have done better, Grace, to begin as you had planned. Your going to Fall River, and beginning practice there among those factory children, was the only thing that I ever entirely liked in your taking up medicine. There was sense in that. You had studied specially for it. You could have done good there."
"Oh, yes," sighed the girl, "I know. But what was I to do, when she came to us, sick and poor? I couldn't turn my back on her, especially after always befriending her, as I used to, at school, and getting her to depend on me."
"I don't see how you ever liked her," said Mrs. Breen.
"I never did like her. I pitied her. I always thought her a poor, flimsy little thing. But that ought n't to make any difference, if she was in trouble."
"No," Mrs. Breen conceded, and in compensation Grace admitted something more on her side: "She's worse than she used to be,—sillier. I don't suppose she has a wrong thought; but she's as light as foam."
"Oh, it is n't the wicked people who, do the harm," said Mrs. Green.
"I was sure that this air would be everything for her; and so it would, with any ordinary case. But a child would take better care of itself. I have to watch her every minute, like a child; and I never know what she will do next."
"Yes; it's a burden," said Mrs. Breen, with a sympathy which she had not expressed before. "And you're a good girl, Grace," she added in very unwonted recognition.
The grateful tears stole into the daughter's eyes, but she kept a firm face, even after they began to follow one another down her cheeks. "And if Louise had n't come, you know, mother, that I was anxious to have some older person with me when I went to Fall River. I was glad to have this respite; it gives me a chance to think. I felt a little timid about beginning alone."
"A man would n't," Mrs. Breen remarked.
"No. I am not a man. I have accepted that; with all the rest. I don't rebel against being a woman. If I had been a man, I should n't have studied medicine. You know that. I wished to be a physician because I was a woman, and because—because—I had failed where—other women's hopes are." She said it out firmly, and her mother softened to her in proportion to the girl's own strength. "I might have been just a nurse. You know I should have been willing to be that, but I thought I could be something more. But it's no use talking." She added, after an interval, in which her mother rocked to and fro with a gentle motion that searched the joints of her chair, and brought out its most plaintive squeak in pathetic iteration, and watched Grace, as she sat looking seaward through the open window, "I think it's rather hard, mother, that you should be always talking as if I wished to take my calling mannishly. All that I intend is not to take it womanishly; but as for not being a woman about it, or about anything, that's simply impossible. A woman is reminded of her insufficiency to herself every hour of the day. And it's always a man that comes to her help. I dropped some things out of my lap down there, and by the time I had gathered them up I was wound round and round with linen thread so that I could n't move a step, and Mr. Libby cut me loose. I could have done it myself, but it seemed right and natural that he should do it. I dare say he plumed himself upon his service to me,—that would be natural, too. I have things enough to keep me meek, mother!"
She did not look round at Mrs. Breen, who said, "I think you are morbid about it."
"Yes. And I have the satisfaction of knowing that whatever people think of Louise's giddiness, I'm, a great deal more scandalous to them than she is simply because I wish to do some good in the world, in a way that women have n't done it, usually."
"Now you are morbid."
"Oh, yes! Talk about men being obstacles! It's other women! There isn't a woman in the house that would n't sooner trust herself in the hands of the stupidest boy that got his diploma with me than she would in mine. Louise knows it, and she feels that she has a claim upon me in being my patient. And I 've no influence with her about her conduct because she understands perfectly well that they all consider me much worse. She prides herself on doing me justice. She patronizes me. She tells me that I'm just as nice as, if I hadn't 'been through all that.'" Grace rose, and a laugh, which was half a sob, broke from her.
Mrs. Breen could not feel the humor of the predicament. "She puts you in a false position."
"I must go and see where that poor little wretch of a child is," said Grace, going out of the room. She returned in an hour, and asked her mother for the arnica. "Bella has had a bump," she explained.
"Why, have you been all this time looking for her?
"No, I couldn't find her, and I've been reading. Barlow has just brought her in. HE could find her. She fell out of a tree, and she's frightfully bruised."
She was making search on a closet shelf as she talked. When she reappeared with the bottle in her hand, her mother asked, "Is n't it very hot and close?"
"Very," said Grace.
"I should certainly think they would perish," said Mrs. Breen, hazarding the pronoun, with a woman's confidence that her interlocutor would apply it correctly.
When Grace had seen Bella properly bathed and brown-papered, and in the way to forgetfulness of her wounds in sleep, she came down to the piazza, and stood looking out to sea. The ladies appeared one by one over the edge of the cliff, and came up, languidly stringing their shawls after them, or clasping their novels to their bosoms.
"There isn't a breath down there," they said, one after another. The last one added, "Barlow says it's the hottest day he's ever seen here."
In a minute Barlow himself appeared at the head of the steps with the ladies' remaining wraps, and confirmed their report in person. "I tell you," he said, wiping his forehead, "it's a ripper."
"It must be an awful day in town," said one of the ladies, fanning herself with a newspaper.
"Is that to-day's Advertiser, Mrs. Alger?" asked another.
"Oh, dear, no! yesterday's. We sha'n't have today's till this afternoon. It shows what a new arrival you are, Mrs. Scott—your asking."
"To be sure. But it's such a comfort being where you can see the Advertiser the same morning. I always look at the Weather Report the first thing. I like to know what the weather is going to be."
"You can't at Jocelyn's. You can only know what it's been."
"Well," Barlow interposed, jealous for Jocelyn's, "you can most al'ays tell by the look o' things."
"Yes," said one of the ladies; "but I'd rather trust the Weather Report. It's wonderful how it comes true. I don't think there 's anything that you miss more in Europe than our American Weather Report."
"I'm sure you miss the oysters," said another.
"Yes," the first admitted, "you do miss the oysters. It was the last of the R months when we landed in New York; and do you know what we did the first thing—? We drove to Fulton Market, and had one of those Fulton Market broils! My husband said we should have had it if it had been July. He used to dream of the American oysters when we were in Europe. Gentlemen are so fond of them."
Barlow, from scanning the heavens, turned round and faced the company, which had drooped in several attitudes of exhaustion on the benching of the piazza. "Well, I can most al'ays tell about Jocelyn's as good as the Weather Report. I told Mrs. Maynard here this mornin' that the fog was goin' to burn off."
"Burn off?" cried Mrs. Alger. "I should think it had!" The other ladies laughed.
"And you'll see," added Barlow, "that the wind 'll change at noon, and we'll have it cooler."
"If it's as hot on the water as it is here," said Mrs. Scott, "I should think those people would get a sunstroke."
"Well, so should I, Mrs. Scott," cordially exclaimed a little fat lady, as if here at last were an opinion in which all might rejoice to sympathize.
"It's never so hot on the water, Mrs. Merritt," said Mrs. Alger, with the instructiveness of an old habitude.
"Well, not at Jocelyn's," suggested Barlow. Mrs. Alger stopped fanning herself with her newspaper, and looked at him. Upon her motion, the other ladies looked at Barlow. Doubtless he felt that his social acceptability had ceased with his immediate usefulness. But he appeared resolved to carry it off easily. "Well," he said, "I suppose I must go and pick my peas."
No one said anything to this. When the factotum had disappeared round the corner of the house, Mrs. Alger turned her head' aside, and glanced downward with an air of fatigue. In this manner Barlow was dismissed from the ladies' minds.
"I presume," said young Mrs. Scott, with a deferential glance at Grace, "that the sun is good for a person with lung-difficulty."
Grace silently refused to consider herself appealed to, and Mrs. Merritt said, "Better than the moon, I should think."
Some of the others tittered, but Grace looked up at Mrs. Merritt and said, "I don't think Mrs. Maynard's case is so bad that she need be afraid of either."
"Oh, I am so glad to hear it!" replied the other. She looked round, but was unable to form a party. By twos or threes they might have liked to take Mrs. Maynard to pieces; but no one cares to make unkind remarks before a whole company of people. Some of the ladies even began to say pleasant things about Mr. Libby, as if he were Grace's friend.
"I always like to see these fair men when they get tanned," said Mrs. Alger. "Their blue eyes look so very blue. And the backs of their necks—just like my boys!"
"Do you admire such a VERY fighting-clip as Mr. Libby has on?" asked Mrs. Scott.
"It must be nice for summer," returned the elder lady.
"Yes, it certainly must," admitted the younger.
"Really," said another, "I wish I could go in the fighting-clip. One does n't know what to do with one's hair at the sea-side; it's always in the way."
"Your hair would be a public loss, Mrs. Frost," said Mrs. Alger. The others looked at her hair, as if they had seen it now for the first time.
"Oh, I don't think so," said Mrs. Frost, in a sort of flattered coo.
"Oh, don't have it cut off!" pleaded a young girl, coming up and taking the beautiful mane, hanging loose after the bath, into her hand. Mrs. Frost put her arm round the girl's waist, and pulled her down against her shoulder. Upon reflection she also kissed her.
Through a superstition, handed down from mother to daughter, that it is uncivil and even unkind not to keep saying something, they went on talking vapidities, where the same number of men, equally vacuous, would have remained silent; and some of them complained that the nervous strain of conversation took away all the good their bath had done them. Miss Gleason, who did not bathe, was also not a talker. She kept a bright-eyed reticence, but was apt to break out in rather enigmatical flashes, which resolved the matter in hand into an abstraction, and left the others with the feeling that she was a person of advanced ideas, but that, while rejecting historical Christianity, she believed in a God of Love. This Deity was said, upon closer analysis, to have proved to be a God of Sentiment, and Miss Gleason was herself a hero-worshiper, or, more strictly speaking, a heroine-worshiper. At present Dr. Breen was her cult, and she was apt to lie in wait for her idol, to beam upon it with her suggestive eyes, and evidently to expect it to say or do something remarkable, but not to suffer anything like disillusion or disappointment in any event. She would sometimes offer it suddenly a muddled depth of sympathy in such phrases as, "Too bad!" or, "I don't see how you keep-up?" and darkly insinuate that she appreciated all that Grace was doing. She seemed to rejoice in keeping herself at a respectful distance, to which she breathlessly retired, as she did now, after waylaying her at the top of the stairs, and confidentially darting at her the words, "I'm so glad you don't like scandal!"