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Chapter 27

XXVII.

"Of course," said Marcia, when she and Bartley recurred to the subject of her visit to Equity, "I have always felt as if I should like to have you with me, so as to keep people from talking, and show that it's all right between you and father. But if you don't wish to go, I can't ask it."

"I understand what you mean, and I should like to gratify you," said Bartley. "Not that I care a rap what all the people in Equity think. I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll go down there with you and hang round a day or two; and then I'll come after you, when your time's up, and stay a day or two there. I couldn't stand three weeks in Equity."

In the end, he behaved very handsomely. He dressed Flavia out to kill, as he said, in lace hoods and embroidered long-clothes, for which he tossed over half the ready-made stock of the great dry-goods stores; and he made Marcia get herself a new suit throughout, with a bonnet to match, which she thought she could not afford, but he said he should manage it somehow. In Equity he spared no pains to deepen the impression of his success in Boston, and he was affable with everybody. He hailed his friends across the street, waving his hand to them, and shouting out a jolly greeting. He visited the hotel office and the stores to meet the loungers there; he stepped into the printing-office, and congratulated Henry Bird on having stopped the Free Press and devoted himself to job-work. He said, "Hello, Marilla! Hello, Hannah!" and he stood a good while beside the latter at her case, joking and laughing. He had no resentments. He stopped old Morrison on the street and shook hands with him. "Well, Mr. Morrison, do you find it as easy to get Hannah's wages advanced nowadays as you used to?"

As for his relations with Squire Gaylord, he flattened public conjecture out like a pancake, as he told Marcia, by making the old gentleman walk arm-and-arm with him the whole length of the village street the morning after his arrival. "And I never saw your honored father look as if he enjoyed a thing less," added Bartley. "Well, what's the use? He couldn't help himself." They had arrived on Friday evening, and, after spending Saturday in this social way, Bartley magnanimously went with Marcia to church. He was in good spirits, and he shook hands, right and left, as he came out of church. In the afternoon he had up the best team from the hotel stable, and took Marcia the Long Drive, which they had taken the day of their engagement. He could not be contented without pushing the perambulator out after tea, and making Marcia walk beside it, to let people see them with the baby.

He went away the next morning on an early train, after a parting which he made very cheery, and a promise to come down again as soon as he could manage it. Marcia watched him drive off toward the station in the hotel barge, and then she went upstairs to their room, where she had been so long a young girl, and where now their child lay sleeping. The little one seemed the least part of all the change that had taken place. In this room she used to sit and think of him; she used to fly up thither when he came unexpectedly, and order her hair or change a ribbon of her dress, that she might please him better; at these windows she used to sit and watch, and long for his coming; from these she saw him go by that day when she thought she should see him no more, and took heart of her despair to risk the wild chance that made him hers. There was a deadly, unsympathetic stillness in the room which seemed to leave to her all the responsibility for what she had done.

The days began to go by in a sunny, still, midsummer monotony. She pushed the baby out in its carriage, and saw the summer boarders walking or driving through the streets; she returned the visits that the neighbors paid her; indoors she helped her mother about the housework. An image of her maiden life reinstated itself. At times it seemed almost as if she had dreamed her marriage. When she looked at her baby in these moods, she thought she was dreaming yet. A young wife suddenly parted for the first time from her husband, in whose intense possession she has lost her individual existence, and devolving upon her old separate personality, must have strong fancies, strange sensations. Marcia's marriage had been full of such shocks and storms as might well have left her dazed in their entire cessation.

"She seems to be pretty well satisfied here," said her father, one evening when she had gone upstairs with her sleeping baby in her arms.

"She seems to be pretty quiet," her mother noncommittally assented.

"M-yes," snarled the Squire, and he fell into a long revery, while Mrs. Gaylord went on crocheting the baby a bib, and the smell of the petunia-bed under the window came in through the mosquito netting. "M-yes," he resumed, "I guess you're right. I guess it's only quiet. I guess she ain't any more likely to be satisfied than the rest of us."

"I don't see why she shouldn't be," said Mrs. Gaylord, resenting the compassion in the Squire's tone with that curious jealousy a wife feels for her husband's indulgence of their daughter. "She's had her way."

"She's had her way, poor girl,—yes. But I don't know as it satisfies people to have their way, always."

Doubtless Mrs. Gaylord saw that her husband wished to talk about Marcia, and must be helped to do so by a little perverseness. "I don't know but what most of folks would say 't she'd made out pretty well. I guess she's got a good provider."

"She didn't need any provider," said the Squire haughtily.

"No; but so long as she would have something, it's well enough that she should have a provider." Mrs. Gaylord felt that this was reasoning, and she smoothed out so much of the bib as she had crocheted across her knees with an air of self-content. "You can't have everything in a husband," she added, "and Marcia ought to know that, by this time."

"I've no doubt she knows it," said the Squire.

"Why, what makes you think she's disappointed any?" Mrs. Gaylord came plump to the question at last.

"Nothing she ever said," returned her husband promptly. "She'd die, first. When I was up there I thought she talked about him too much to be feeling just right about him. It was Bartley this and Bartley that, the whole while. She was always wanting me to say that I thought she had done right to marry him. I did sort of say it, at last,—to please her. But I kept thinking that, if she felt sure of it, she wouldn't want to talk it into me so. Now, she never mentions him at all, if she can help it. She writes to him every day, and she hears from him often enough,—postals, mostly; but she don't talk about Bartley, Bartley!" The Squire stretched his lips back from his teeth, and inhaled a long breath, as he rubbed his chin.

"You don't suppose anything's happened since you was up there," said Mrs.
Gaylord.

"Nothing but what's happened from the start. He's happened. He keeps happening right along, I guess."

Mrs. Gaylord found herself upon the point of experiencing a painful emotion of sympathy, but she saved herself by saying: "Well, Mr. Gaylord, I don't know as you've got anybody but yourself to thank for it all. You got him here, in the first place." She took one of the kerosene lamps from the table, and went upstairs, leaving him to follow at his will.

Marcia sometimes went out to the Squire's office in the morning, carrying her baby with her, and propping her with law-books on a newspaper in the middle of the floor, while she dusted the shelves, or sat down for one of the desultory talks in the satisfactory silences which she had with her father.

He usually found her there when he came up from the post-office, with the morning mail in the top of his hat: the last evening's Events,—which Bartley had said must pass for a letter from him when he did not write,—and a letter or a postal card from him. She read these, and gave her lather any news or message that Bartley sent; and then she sat down at his table to answer them. But one morning, after she had been at home nearly a month, she received a letter for which she postponed Bartley's postal. "It's from Olive Halleck!" she said, with a glance at the handwriting on the envelope; and she tore it open, and ran it through. "Yes, and they'll come here, any time I let them know. They've been at Niagara, and they've come down the St. Lawrence to Quebec, and they will be at North Conway the last of next week. Now, father, I want to do something for them!" she cried, feeling an American daughter's right to dispose of her father, and all his possessions, for the behoof of her friends at any time. "I want they should come to the house."

"Well, I guess there won't be any trouble about that, if you think they can put up with our way of living.' He smiled at her over his spectacles.

"Our way of living! Put up with it! I should hope as much! They're just the kind of people that will put up with anything, because they've had everything. And because they're all as sweet and good as they can be. You don't know them, father, you don't half know them! Now, just get right away,"—she pushed him out of the chair he had taken at the table,—"and let me write to Bartley this instant. He's got to come when they're here, and I'll invite them to come over at once, before they get settled at North Conway."

He gave his dry chuckle to see her so fired with pleasure, and he enjoyed the ardor with which she drove him up out of his chair, and dashed off her letters. This was her old way; he would have liked the prospect of the Hallecks coming, because it made his girl so happy, if for nothing else.

"Father, I will tell you about Ben Halleck," she said, pounding her letter to Olive with the thick of her hand to make the envelope stick. "You know that lameness of his?"

"Yes."

"Well, it came from his being thrown down by another boy when he was at school. He knew the boy that did it; and the boy must have known that Mr. Halleck knew it, but he never said a word to show that he was sorry, or did anything to make up for it He's a man now, and lives there in Boston, and Ben Halleck often meets him. He says that if the man can stand it he can. Don't you think that's grand? When I heard that, I made up my mind that I wanted Flavia to belong to Ben Halleck's church,—or the church he did belong to; he doesn't belong to any now!"

"He couldn't have got any damages for such a thing anyway," the Squire said.

Marcia paid no heed to this legal opinion of the case. She took off her father's hat to put the letters into it, and, replacing it on his head, "Now don't you forget them, father," she cried.

She gathered up her baby and hurried into the house, where she began her preparations for her guests.

The elder Miss Hallecks had announced with much love, through Olive, that they should not be able to come to Equity, and Ben was to bring Olive alone. Marcia decided that Ben should have the guest-chamber, and Olive should have her room; she and Bartley could take the little room in the L while their guests remained.

But when the Hallecks came, it appeared that Ben had engaged quarters for himself at the hotel, and no expostulation would prevail with him to come to Squire Gaylord's house.

"We have to humor him in such things, Mrs. Hubbard," Olive explained, to
Marcia's distress. "And most people get on very well without him."

This explanation was of course given in Halleck's presence. His sister added, behind his back: "Ben has a perfectly morbid dread of giving trouble in a house. He won't let us do anything to make him comfortable at home, and the idea that you should attempt it drove him distracted. You mustn't mind it. I don't believe he'd have come if his bachelor freedom couldn't have been respected; and we both wanted to come Very much."

The Hallecks arrived in the forenoon, and Bartley was due in the evening. But during the afternoon Marcia had a telegram saying that he could not come till two days later, and asking her to postpone the picnic she had planned. The Hallecks were only going to stay three days, and the suspicion that Bartley had delayed in order to leave himself as little time as possible with them rankled in her heart so that she could not keep it to herself when they met.

"Was that what made you give me such a cool reception?" he asked, with cynical good-nature. "Well, you're mistaken; I don't suppose I mind the Hallecks any more than they do me. I'll tell you why I stayed. Some people dropped down on Witherby, who were a little out of his line,—fashionable people that he had asked to let him know if they ever came to Boston; and when they did come and let him know, he didn't know what to do about it, and he called on me to help him out. I've been almost boarding with Witherby for the last three days; and I've been barouching round all over the moral vineyard with his friends: out to Mount Auburn and the Washington Elm, and Bunker Hill, and Brookline, and the Art Museum, and Lexington; we've been down the harbor, and we haven't left a monumental stone unturned. They were going north, and they came down here with me; and I got them to stop over a day for the picnic."

"You got them to stop over for the picnic? Why, I don't want anybody but ourselves, Bartley! This spoils everything."

"The Hallecks are not ourselves," said Bartley. "And these are jolly people; they'll help to make it go off."

"Who are they?" asked Marcia, with provisional self-control.

"Oh, some people that Witherby met in Portland at Willett's, who used to have the logging-camp out here."

"That Montreal woman!" cried Marcia, with fatal divination.

Bartley laughed. "Yes, Mrs. Macallister and her husband. She's a regular case. She'll amuse you."

Marcia's passionate eyes blazed. "She shall never come to my picnic in the world!"

"No?" Bartley looked at her in a certain way. "She shall come to mine, then. There will be two picnics. The more the merrier."

Marcia gasped, as if she felt the clutch in which her husband had her tightening on her heart. She said that she could only carry her point against him at the cost of disgraceful division before the Hallecks, for which he would not care in the least. She moved her head a little from side to side, like one that breathes a stifling air. "Oh, let her come," she said quietly, at last.

"Now you're talking business," said Bartley. "I haven't forgotten the little snub Mrs. Macallister gave me, and you'll see me pay her off."

Marcia made no answer, but went downstairs to put what face she could upon the matter to Olive, whom she had left alone in the parlor, while she ran up with Bartley immediately upon his arrival to demand an explanation of him. In her wrathful haste she had forgotten to kiss him, and she now remembered that he had not looked at the baby, which she had all the time had in her arms.

The picnic was to be in a pretty glen three or four miles north of the village, where there was shade on a bit of level green, and a spring bubbling out of a fern-hung bluff: from which you looked down the glen over a stretch of the river. Marcia had planned that they were to drive thither in a four-seated carryall, but the addition of Bartley's guests disarranged this.

"There's only one way," said Mrs. Macallister, who had driven up with her husband from the hotel to the Squire's house in a buggy. "Mr. Halleck tells me he doesn't know how to drive, and my husband doesn't know the way. Mr. Hubbard must get in here with me, and you must take Mr. Macallister in your party." She looked authoritatively at the others.

"First rate!" cried Bartley, climbing to the seat which Mr. Macallister left vacant. "We'll lead the way."

Those who followed had difficulty in keeping their buggy in sight. Sometimes Bartley stopped long enough for them to come up, and then, after a word or two of gay banter, was off again.

They had taken possession of the picnic grounds, and Mrs. Macallister was disposing shawls for rugs and drapery, while Bartley, who had got the horse out, and tethered where he could graze, was pushing the buggy out of the way by the shafts, when the carryall came up.

"Don't we look quite domestic?" she asked of the arriving company, in her neat English tone, and her rising English inflection. "You know I like this," she added, singling Halleck out for her remark, and making it as if it were brilliant. "I like being out of doors, don't you know. But there's one thing I don't like: we weren't able to get a drop of champagne at that ridiculous hotel. They told us they were not allowed to keep 'intoxicating liquors.' Now I call that jolly stupid, you know. I don't know whatever we shall do if you haven't brought something."

"I believe this is a famous spring," said Halleck.

"How droll you are! Spring, indeed!" cried Mrs. Macallister. "Is that the way you let your brother make game of people, Miss Halleck?" She directed a good deal of her rattle at Olive; she scarcely spoke to Marcia, but she was nevertheless furtively observant of her. Mr. Macallister had his rattle too, which, after trying it unsatisfactorily upon Marcia, he plied almost exclusively for Olive. He made puns; he asked conundrums; he had all the accomplishments which keep people going in a lively, mirthful, colonial society; and he had the idea that he must pay attentions and promote repartee. His wife and he played into each other's hands in their jeux d'esprit; and kept Olive's inquiring Boston mind at work in the vain endeavor to account for and to place them socially. Bartley hung about Mrs. Macallister, and was nearly as obedient as her husband. He felt that the Hallecks disapproved his behavior, and that made him enjoy it; he was almost rudely negligent of Olive.

The composition of the party left Marcia and Halleck necessarily to each other, and she accepted this arrangement in a sort of passive seriousness; but Halleck saw that her thoughts wandered from her talk with him, and that her eyes were always turning with painful anxiety to Bartley. After their lunch, which left them with the whole afternoon before them, Marcia said, in a timid effort to resume her best leadership of the affair, "Bartley, don't you think they would like to see the view from the Devil's Backbone?"

"Would you like to see the view from the Devil's Backbone?" he asked in turn of Mrs. Macallister.

"And what is the Devil's Backbone?" she inquired.

"It's a ridge of rocks on the bluff above here," said Bartley, nodding his head vaguely towards the bank.

"And how do you get to it?" asked Mrs. Macallister, pointing her pretty chin at him in lifting her head to look.

"Walk."

"Thanks, then; I shall try to be satisfied with me own backbone," said Mrs. Macallister, who had that freedom in alluding to her anatomy which marks the superior civilization of Great Britain and its colonial dependencies.

"Carry you," suggested Bartley.

"I dare say you'd be very sure-footed; but I'd quite enough of donkeys in the hills at home."

Bartley roared with the resolution of a man who will enjoy a joke at his own expense.

Marcia turned away, and referred her invitation, with a glance, to Olive.

"I don't believe Miss Halleck wants to go," said Mr. Macallister.

"I couldn't," said Olive, regretfully. "I've neither the feet nor the head for climbing over high rocky places."

Marcia was about to sink down on the grass again, from which she had risen,
in the hopes that her proposition would succeed, when Bartley called out:
"Why don't you show Ben the Devil's Backbone? The view is worth seeing,
Halleck."

"Would you like to go?" asked Marcia, listlessly.

"Yes, I should, very much," said Halleck, scrambling to his feet, "if it won't tire you too much?"

"Oh, no," said Marcia, gently, and led the way. She kept ahead of him in the climb, as she easily could, and she answered briefly to all he said. When they arrived at the top, "There is the view," she said coldly. She waved her hand toward the valley; she made a sound in her throat as if she would speak again, but her voice died in one broken sob.

Halleck stood with downcast eyes, and trembled. He durst not look at her, not for what he should see in her face, but for what she should see in his: the anguish of intelligence, the helpless pity. He beat the rock at his feet with the ferule of his stick, and could not lift his head again. When he did, she stood turned from him and drying her eyes on her handkerchief. Their looks met, and she trusted her self-betrayal to him without any attempt at excuse or explanation.

"I will send Hubbard up to help you down," said Halleck.

"Well," she answered, sadly.

He clambered down the side of the bluff, and Bartley started to his feet in guilty alarm when he saw him approach. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing. But I think you had better help Mrs. Hubbard down the bluff."

"Oh!" cried Mrs. Macallister. "A panic! how interesting!"

Halleck did not respond. He threw himself on the grass, and left her to change or pursue the subject as she liked. Bartley showed more savoir-faire when he came back with Marcia, after an absence long enough to let her remove the traces of her tears.

"Pretty rough on your game foot, Halleck. But Marcia had got it into her head that it wasn't safe to trust you to help her down, even after you had helped her up."

"Ben," said Olive, when they were seated in the train the next day, "why did you send Marcia's husband up there to her?" She had the effect of not having rested till she could ask him.

"She was crying," he answered.

"What do you suppose could have been the matter?"

"What you do: she was miserable about his coquetting with that woman."

"Yes. I could see that she hated terribly to have her come; and that she felt put down by her all the time. What kind of person is Mrs. Macallister?"

"Oh, a fool," replied Halleck. "All flirts are fools."

"I think she's more wicked than foolish."

"Oh, no, flirts are better than they seem,—perhaps because men are better than flirts think. But they make misery just the same."

"Yes," sighed Olive. "Poor Marcia, poor Marcia! But I suppose that, if it were not Mrs. Macallister, it would be some one else."

"Given Bartley Hubbard,—yes."

"And given Marcia. Well,—I don't like being mixed up with other people's unhappiness, Ben. It's dangerous."

"I don't like it either. But you can't very well keep out of people's unhappiness in this world."

"No," assented Olive, ruefully.

The talk fell, and Halleck attempted to read a newspaper, while Olive looked out of the window. She presently turned to him. "Did you ever fancy any resemblance between Mrs. Hubbard and the photograph of that girl we used to joke about,—your lost love?"

"Yes," said Halleck.

"What's become of it,—the photograph? I can't find it any more; I wanted to show it to her one day."

"I destroyed it. I burnt it the first evening after I had met Mrs. Hubbard.
It seemed to me that it wasn't right to keep it."

"Why, you don't think it was her photograph!"

"I think it was," said Halleck. He took up his paper again, and read on till they left the cars.

That evening, when Halleck came to his sister's room to bid her good night, she threw her arms round his neck, and kissed his plain, common face, in which she saw a heavenly beauty.

"Ben, dear," she said, "if you don't turn out the happiest man in the world, I shall say there's no use in being good!"

"Perhaps you'd better say that after all I wasn't good," he suggested, with a melancholy smile.

"I shall know better," she retorted.

"Why, what's the matter, now?"

"Nothing. I was only thinking. Good night!"

"Good night," said Halleck. "You seem to think my room is better than my company, good as I am."

"Yes," she said, laughing in that breathless way which means weeping next, with women. Her eyes glistened.

"Well," said Halleck, limping out of the room, "you're quite good-looking with your hair down, Olive."

"All girls are," she answered. She leaned out of her doorway to watch him as he limped down the corridor to his own room. There was something pathetic, something disappointed and weary in the movement of his figure, and when she shut her door, and ran back to her mirror, she could not see the good-looking girl there for her tears.

William Dean Howells