Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 19

Breckon had answered with gayety, but his happiness was something beyond gayety. He had really felt the exclusion from the Kentons in which he had passed the day, and he had felt it the more painfully because he liked them all. It may be owned that he liked Ellen best from the beginning, and now he liked her better than ever, but even in the day's exile he had not ceased to like each of them. They were, in their family affection, as lovable as that sort of selfishness can make people. They were very united and good to one another. Lottie herself, except in her most lurid moments, was good to her brother and sister, and almost invariably kind to her parents. She would not, Breckon saw, have brooked much meddling with her flirtations from them, but as they did not offer to meddle, she had no occasion to grumble on that score. She grumbled when they asked her to do things for Ellen, but she did them, and though she never did them without grumbling, she sometimes did them without being asked. She was really very watchful of Ellen when it would least have been expected, and sometimes she was sweet. She never was sweet with Boyne, but she was often his friend, though this did not keep her from turning upon him at the first chance to give him a little dig, or a large one, for that matter. As for Boyne, he was a mass of helpless sweetness, though he did not know it, and sometimes took himself for an iceberg when he was merely an ice-cream of heroic mould. He was as helplessly sweet with Lottie as with any one, and if he suffered keenly from her treacheries, and seized every occasion to repay them in kind, it was clearly a matter of conscience with him, and always for the good. Their father and mother treated their squabbles very wisely, Breckon thought. They ignored them as much as possible, and they recognized them without attempting to do that justice between them which would have rankled in both their breasts.

To a spectator who had been critical at first, Mr. and Mrs. Kenton seemed an exemplary father and mother with Ellen as well as with their other children. It is easy to be exemplary with a sick girl, but they increasingly affected Breckon as exemplary with Ellen. He fancied that they acted upon each other beneficially towards her. At first he had foreboded some tiresome boasting from the father's tenderness, and some weak indulgence of the daughter's whims from her mother; but there was either never any ground for this, or else Mrs. Kenton, in keeping her husband from boasting, had been obliged in mere consistency to set a guard upon her own fondness.

It was not that. Ellen, he was more and more decided, would have abused the weakness of either; if there was anything more angelic than her patience, it was her wish to be a comfort to them, and, between the caprices of her invalidism, to be a service. It was pathetic to see her remembering to do things for them which Boyne and Lottie had forgotten, or plainly shirked doing, and to keep the fact out of sight. She really kept it out of sight with them, and if she did not hide it from so close an observer as Breckon, that was more his fault than hers. When her father first launched out in her praise, or the praise of her reading, the young man had dreaded a rustic prig; yet she had never been a prig, but simply glad of what book she had known, and meekly submissive to his knowledge if not his taste. He owned that she had a right to her taste, which he found almost always good, and accounted for as instinctive in the absence of an imaginable culture in her imaginable ambient. So far as he had glimpses of this, he found it so different from anything he had known that the modest adequacy of Mrs. Kenton in the political experiences of modern Europe, as well as the clear judgments of Kenton himself in matters sometimes beyond Breekon himself, mystified him no less than Ellen's taste.

Even with the growth of his respect for their intelligence and his love of their kindliness, he had not been able to keep a certain patronage from mingling, and it was not till they evinced not only entire ability, but an apparent wish to get on without his approval, without his acquaintance even, that he had conceived a just sense of them. The like is apt to happen with the best of us, when we are also the finest, and Breckon was not singular in coming to a due consciousness of something valuable only in the hour of its loss. He did not know that the loss was only apparent. He knew that he had made a distinct sacrifice for these people, and that, when he had prepared himself to befriend them little short of self-devotion, they showed themselves indifferent, and almost repellent. In the revulsion of feeling, when Ellen gave him her mother's message, and frankly offered him reparation on behalf of her whole family, he may have overdone his gratitude, but he did not overdo it to her perception. They walked up and down the promenade of the Amstel, in the watery North Sea moon, while bells after bells noted the hour unheeded, and when they parted for the night it was with an involuntary pressure of hands, from which she suddenly pulled hers, and ran down the corridor of her state-room and Lottie's.

He stood watching the narrow space in which she had vanished, and thinking how gentle she was, and how she had contrived somehow to make him feel that now it was she who had been consoling him, and trying to interest him and amuse him. He had not realized that before; he had been used to interesting and amusing her, but he could not resent it; he could not resent the implication of superiority, if such a thing were possible, which her kindness conveyed. The question with Breckon was whether she had walked with him so long because she wished, in the hour, to make up as fully as possible for the day's neglect, or because she had liked to walk up and down with him. It was a question he found keeping itself poignantly, yet pleasantly, in his mind, after he had got into his berth under the solidly slumberous Boyne, and inclining now to one solution and now to the other, with a delicate oscillation that was charming.

The Amstel took her time to get into Rotterdam, and when her passengers had gone ashore the next forenoon the train that carried Breckon to The Hague in the same compartment with the Kentons was in no greater hurry. It arrived with a deliberation which kept it from carrying them on to Amsterdam before they knew it, and Mrs. Kenton had time to place such parts of the wars in the Rise of the Dutch Republic as she could attach to the names of the stations and the general features of the landscape. Boyne was occupied with improvements for the windmills and the canal-boats, which did not seem to him of the quality of the Michigan aerometers, or the craft with which he was familiar on the Hudson River and on the canal that passed through Tuskingum. Lottie, with respect to the canals, offered the frank observation that they smelt, and in recognizing a fact which travel almost universally ignores in Holland, she watched her chance of popping up the window between herself and Boyne, which Boyne put down with mounting rage. The agriculture which triumphed everywhere on the little half—acre plots lifted fifteen inches above the waters of the environing ditches, and the black and white cattle everywhere attesting the immemorial Dutch ideal of a cow, were what at first occupied Kenton, and he was tardily won from them to the question of fighting over a country like that. It was a concession to his wife's impassioned interest in the overthrow of the Spaniards in a landscape which had evidently not changed since. She said it was hard to realize that Holland was not still a republic, and she was not very patient with Breckon's defence of the monarchy on the ground that the young Queen was a very pretty girl.

"And she is only sixteen," Boyne urged.

"Then she is two years too old for you," said Lottie.

"No such thing!" Boyne retorted. "I was fifteen in June."

"Dear me! I should never have thought it," said his sister.

Ellen seemed hardly to look out of the window at anything directly, but when her father bade her see this thing and that, it seemed that she had seen it already. She said at last, with a quiet sigh, "I never want to go away."

She had been a little shy of Breckon the whole morning, and had kept him asking himself whether she was sorry she had walked so long with him the night before, or, having offered him due reparation for her family, she was again dropping him. Now and then he put her to the test by words explicitly directed at her, and she replied with the dreamy passivity which seemed her normal mood, and in which he could fancy himself half forgotten, or remembered with an effort.

In the midst of this doubt she surprised him—he reflected that she was always surprising him—by asking him how far it was from The Hague to the sea. He explained that The Hague was in the sea like all the rest of Holland, but that if she meant the shore, it was no distance at all. Then she said, vaguely, she wished they were going to the shore. Her father asked Breckon if there was not a hotel at the beach, and the young man tried to give him a notion of the splendors of the Kurhaus at Scheveningen; of Scheveningen itself he despaired of giving any just notion.

"Then we can go there," said the judge, ignoring Ellen, in his decision, as if she had nothing to do with it.

Lottie interposed a vivid preference for The Hague. She had, she said, had enough of the sea for one while, and did not want to look at it again till they sailed for home. Boyne turned to his father as if a good deal shaken by this reasoning, and it was Mrs. Kenton who carried the day for going first to a hotel in The Hague and prospecting from there in the direction of Scheveningen; Boyne and his father could go down to the shore and see which they liked best.

"I don't see what that has to do with me," said Lottie. No one was alarmed by her announcement that if she did not like Scheveningen she should stay at The Hague, whatever the rest did; in the event fortune favored her going with her family.

The hotel in The Hague was very pleasant, with a garden behind it, where a companionable cat had found a dry spot, and where Lottie found the cat and made friends with it. But she said the hotel was full of Cook's tourists, whom she recognized, in spite of her lifelong ignorance of them, by a prescience derived from the conversation of Mr. Pogis, and from the instinct of a society woman, already rife in her. She found that she could not stay in a hotel with Cook's tourists, and she took her father's place in the exploring party which went down to the watering-place in the afternoon, on the top of a tram-car, under the leafy roof of the adorable avenue of trees which embowers the track to Scheveningen. She disputed Boyne's impressions of the Dutch people, whom he found looking more like Americans than any foreigners he had seen, and she snubbed Breckon from his supposed charge of the party. But after the start, when she declared that Ellen could not go, and that it was ridiculous for her to think of it, she was very good to her, and looked after her safety and comfort with a despotic devotion.

At the Kurhaus she promptly took the lead in choosing rooms, for she had no doubt of staying there after the first glance at the place, and she showed a practical sense in settling her family which at least her mother appreciated when they were installed the next day.

Mrs. Kenton could not make her husband admire Lottie's faculty so readily. "You think it would have been better for her to sit down with Ellen, on the sand and dream of the sea," she reproached him, with a tender resentment on behalf of Lottie. "Everybody can't dream."

"Yes, but I wish she didn't keep awake with such a din," said the judge. After all, he admired Lottie's judgment about the rooms, and he censured her with a sigh of relief from care as he sank back in the easy-chair fronting the window that looked out on the North Sea; Lottie had already made him appreciate the view till he was almost sick of it.

"What is the matter?" said Mrs. Kenton, sharply. "Do you want to be in Tuskingum? I suppose you would rather be looking into Richard's back-yard."

"No," said the judge, mildly, "this is very nice."

"It will do Ellen good, every minute. I don't care how much she sits on the sands and dream. I'll love to see her."

The sitting on the sand was a survival of Mr. Kenton's preoccupations of the sea-side. As a mater of fact, Ellen was at that moment sitting in one of the hooked wicker arm-chairs which were scattered over the whole vast beach like a growth of monstrous mushrooms, and, confronting her in cosey proximity, Breckon sat equally hidden in another windstuhl. Her father and her mother were able to keep them placed, among the multitude of windstuhls, by the presence of Lottie, who hovered near them, and, with Boyne, fended off the demure, wicked-looking little Scheveningen girls. On a smaller scale these were exactly like their demure, wicked-looking Scheveningen mothers, and they approached with knitting in their hands, and with large stones folded in their aprons, which they had pilfered from the mole, and were trying to sell for footstools. The windstuhl men and they were enemies, and when Breckon bribed them to go away, the windstuhl men chased them, and the little girls ran, making mouths at Boyne over their shoulders. He scorned to notice them; but he was obliged to report the misconduct of Lottie, who began making eyes at the Dutch officers as soon as she could feel that Ellen was safely off her hands. She was the more exasperating and the more culpable to Boyne, because she had asked him to walk up the beach with her, and had then made the fraternal promenade a basis of operations against the Dutch military. She joined her parents in ignoring Boyne's complaints, and continued to take credit for all the pleasant facts of the situation; she patronized her family as much for the table d'hote at luncheon as for the comfort of their rooms. She was able to assure them that there was not a Cook's tourist in the hotel, where there seemed to be nearly every other kind of fellow-creature. At the end of the first week she had acquaintance of as many nationalities as she could reach in their native or acquired English, in all the stages of haughty toleration, vivid intimacy, and cold exhaustion. She had a faculty for getting through with people, or of ceasing to have any use for them, which was perhaps her best safeguard in her adventurous flirting; while the simple aliens were still in the full tide of fancied success, Lottie was sick of them all, and deep in an indiscriminate correspondence with her young men in Tuskingum.

The letters which she had invited from these while still in New York arrived with the first of those readdressed from the judge's London banker. She had more letters than all the rest of the family together, and counted a half-dozen against a poor two for her sister. Mrs. Kenton cared nothing about Lottie's letters, but she was silently uneasy about the two that Ellen carelessly took. She wondered who could be writing to Ellen, especially in a cover bearing a handwriting altogether strange to her.

"It isn't from Bittridge, at any rate," she said to her husband, in the speculation which she made him share. "I am always dreading to have her find out what Richard did. It would spoil everything, I'm afraid, and now everything is going so well. I do wish Richard hadn't, though, of course, he did it for the best. Who do you think has been writing to her?"

"Why don't you ask her?"

"I suppose she will tell me after a while. I don't like to seem to be following her up. One was from Bessie Pearl, I think."

Ellen did not speak of her letters to her mother, and after waiting a day or two, Mrs. Kenton could not refrain from asking her.

"Oh, I forgot," said Ellen. "I haven't read them yet."

"Haven't read them!" said Mrs. Kenton. Then, after reflection, she added, "You are a strange girl, Ellen," and did not venture to say more.

"I suppose I thought I should have to answer them, and that made me careless. But I will read them." Her mother was silent, and presently Ellen added: "I hate to think of the past. Don't you, momma?"

"It is certainly very pleasant here," said Mrs. Kenton, cautiously. "You're enjoying yourself—I mean, you seem to be getting so much stronger."

"Why, momma, why do you talk as if I had been sick?" Ellen asked.

"I mean you're so much interested."

"Don't I go about everywhere, like anybody?" Ellen pursued, ignoring her explanation.

"Yes, you certainly do. Mr. Breckon seems to like going about."

Ellen did not respond to the suggestion except to say: "We go into all sorts of places. This morning we went up on that schooner that's drawn up on the beach, and the old man who was there was very pleasant. I thought it was a wreck, but Mr. Breckon says they are always drawing their ships that way up on the sand. The old man was patching some of the wood-work, and he told Mr. Breckon—he can speak a little Dutch—that they were going to drag her down to the water and go fishing as soon as he was done. He seemed to think we were brother and sister." She flushed a little, and then she said: "I believe I like the dunes as well as anything. Sometimes when those curious cold breaths come in from the sea we climb up in the little hollows on the other side and sit there out of the draft. Everybody seems to do it."

Apparently Ellen was submitting the propriety of the fact to her mother, who said: "Yes, it seems to be quite the same as it is at home. I always supposed that it was different with young people here. There is certainly no harm in it."

Ellen went on, irrelevantly. "I like to go and look at the Scheveningen women mending the nets on the sand back of the dunes. They have such good gossiping times. They shouted to us last evening, and then laughed when they saw us watching them. When they got through their work they got up and stamped off so strong, with their bare, red arms folded into their aprons, and their skirts sticking out so stiff. Yes, I should like to be like them."

"You, Ellen!"

"Yes; why not?"

Mrs. Kenton found nothing better to answer than,

"They were very material looking."

"They are very happy looking. They live in the present. That is what I should like: living in the present, and not looking backwards or forwards. After all, the present is the only life we've got, isn't it?"

"I suppose you may say it is," Mrs. Kenton admitted, not knowing just where the talk was leading, but dreading to interrupt it.

"But that isn't the Scheveningen woman's only ideal. Their other ideal is to keep the place clean. Saturday afternoon they were all out scrubbing the brick sidewalks, and clear into the middle of the street. We were almost ashamed to walk over the nice bricks, and we picked out as many dirty places as we could find."

Ellen laughed, with a light-hearted gayety that was very strange to her, and Mrs. Kenton, as she afterwards told her husband, did not know what to think.

"I couldn't help wondering," she said, "whether the poor child would have liked to keep on living in the present a month ago."

"Well, I'm glad you didn't say so," the judge answered.

William Dean Howells

Sorry, no summary available yet.