THE short street was empty but for the colored waiters hurrying to the Commons hard by, and the hands of the big clocks on the four faces of the tower were verging toward seven, with more or less unanimity—some a little ahead, some behind—but all speaking with one self-respecting tongue when they announced their decisions to the public.
The nice drab houses in their ample squares of grassy garden were beginning to awake; the neat, well-trained maids were opening the front doors to shake out their dusters, and the window-shades were being drawn up to the same height in all the down-stairs rooms.
An old gentleman came out upon the porch of one of these houses and, looking up at the even expanse of gray overhead, called back over his shoulder to someone inside. “I do not think it will rain,” he said; “there is a patch of blue sky now. Not there! Here; come out and look along my stick.”
A little, lame old lady in bonnet and cape stepped carefully down from the doorway and bent her head to the angle indicated.
“Can’t you see it?” he asked, impatiently.
“If I had-a magnifying-glass, or the spectacles 1 use for fine print, I think I might make it out. Yes, there it is! But no; that is one of the glass balls on the telephone wire.”
He made some half-articulate sound between derision and vexation, and went down three or four of the wooden steps of the terrace.
The old lady followed him, and as he stopped for another weather report she came to his side. “I am coming,” she said.
He looked down at her, apparently incredulous. “Impossible!”
“Why so? I want to go; we can turn back if it rains.’
“Hurrah!” He threw his stick up in the air, and missed it when it came down.
His wife dodged. “You old goose!” She laughed, and taking his arm they started off together, like children out for a holiday.
They were going to the country, with a few friends, to pick May-flowers: a picnic! The absurdity, the delight, and the incongruity of it were almost intoxicating. Even the early hour had its exhilaration; they had not been up at seven o’clock in twenty years, and to-day was their wedding-day; twice twenty years ago! It did not seem possible—and as they swung along together Mrs. Winter forgot her aching foot, and the old Professor, at every step, knocked off six months of his age.
“If we catch this seven-ten car we shall have plenty of time,” he said; “it cannot take us more than three-quarters of an hour to get to the city, and the train does not start until half-past eight. You won’t mind waiting?”
“Waiting?” She looked up at him with a tender sort of mockery. “No; I began to acquire the habit early in life—forty years ago!”
He laughed joyously. “I shall never forget how your mother looked that morning. I was going through the east transept—you remember? That church was all set crooked.”
She nodded and her face wore an expression of radiant interest, as if she were listening to the tale for the first instead of the fortieth time.
“Well; just as I was trying to get down the little side aisle and creep unobserved into the vestry—I never felt so like a criminal before—your mother met me. ‘Mr. Winter,’ she said, ‘have you remembered the ring?’ It was too much; my blood ran cold! I turned without a word and fled back to the hotel as if pursued by all the furies; more than half a mile, wasn’t it?”
She nodded again, her eyes still fixed upon his.
“Connor came pounding behind. I rushed up-stairs, turned out my valise on the floor, ransacked the bureau-drawers, looked under the bed and Connor did everything I did, right after me, like an idiot—he got married too the next week, didn’t he? At last he said, ‘Winter, I can’t see what you have done with that ring. I could swear I saw you put it in your pocket; you were standing on the exact spot in the carpet where you are now.’ ‘Why, so I did!’ I think I must have yelled at him, for he jumped a yard. Then I tore down the stairs again and he behind, shouting all the way to the church, ‘But look for it, you damn fool! Look for it! ‘I wouldn’t have looked for that ring if the whole thing had depended upon it. When we passed the big church door in the nave, there were you and your father in the vestibule, waiting. What did you think?—Hello! There are Connor and Millicent now! I wonder how Rosamond takes to having a step-mother? How repulsively spruce Connor looks!”
“Humph!” said Mrs. Winter. “There is nothing repulsively spruce about you.”
“No, nor will there ever be,” said Winter, tossing his lion-like white mane with an air of satisfaction.
Mrs. Winter paid no heed to this; she had suddenly become absent-minded. They were opposite the station where they were to take the electric-cars. Winter stepped over the gutter and offered to help her: she did not seem to see. “Julian,” she said, looking at him with a puzzled wrinkle in her forehead, “what have you done with the luncheon?”
Involuntarily he clapped his hand on his vest pocket. “My dear, my dear,” he cried, “how did I come to forget it? To tell the truth, when you made up your mind to go I was so glad that I never thought of anything else.” Every feature of his face showed his dismay.
“It makes no difference,” said his wife, “I can turn back with you.”
“But there is not time—you cannot go fast enough; here is the car coming out now. No; I will run home, get the basket, take the other route to the city, and walk across. You keep on, this way. The Connors will see you through.”
She was manifestly unwilling, but he was so urgent, and his disappointment was so heartfelt, that she gave way and allowed him to put her on the car, hurrying off before she had entered the door in order to explain the situation to the Connors, who, late themselves, came in breathless, laden with luncheon and shawls.
Connor was a little, delicate man, with light-brown hair untouched by age, and an air of refined, even shrinking timidity that was not wholly deceptive; but he cultivated a smooth, savage irony that made his acquaintance a source of constant uneasy apprehension and rendered even his friendship a precarious pleasure. His new young wife, however, loved the whole world, Connor included, and while she always dutifully quoted her husband’s opinions of others she invariably modified them; sometimes with the delightful statement that she rather preferred a fool to a wise man. “They get so ill-natured when they know too much,” she explained; and her innocence filled the souls of her husband’s victims with holy joy.
Mrs. Winter was glad to see them both. She had always been fond of Connor—he saved her a great deal of trouble in that he said the things she would have liked to say herself but did not dare; she also had a theory in regard to the Connors and was glad of an opportunity to verify it. “Connor is afraid of Millicent,” she often declared to her husband, “almost as much afraid of her as you are of me, Julian!”
Julian would sniff contemptuously; he had not yet brought himself to pardon Connor for marrying again, neither could he pardon Connor’s wife for marrying Connor—who was a contemporary of his own.
“Winter will miss the train; I told him he would. He is always trying to shave things a little too close!” said Connor. “Why, he was late at his own wedding!” He gave her a rapid, birdlike glance of friendly malice. “Shall you go on without him? You had better; Millicent has luncheon enough for ten.”
“No, I shall turn back.”
“You are wise; if it were not that I do not like to disappoint my wife in a matter of this kind—”
Millicent looked across him to Mrs. Winter and smiled. “Isn’t it dear of him? He hates so to go out that it is a pity he is ever asked—and yet—how angry he would be if he wasn’t asked!”
“If Julian only could have heard her he would never dare deny that she does it on purpose,” thought Mrs. Winter, smiling at Connor in open recognition of his discomfiture.
“Ah, well!” he said, taking a brazen revenge. “There is a certain duty we younger members of the Faculty owe to society. It is time we took our places and allowed the veterans, like you and Winter, to retire.”
This from Connor, who was three years older than Julian! And Millicent looking at him affectionately, as if she believed it! Mrs. Winter recovered herself with difficulty. She hoped that, in her amazement, she had not dropped her under jaw. After all, what difference did it make? Connor was the best friend they had—he should be any age he chose to select; at the same time, it would be as well to let him know that she was not deceived. “When your father and Julian were boys together—” she said to him, smiling benevolently.
“What?” cried Connor. Mrs. Connor rippled forth in jubilant disrespect, and her husband glared at them both, a tempered glare, seen through amused affection. In his turn he could not help being fond of Mrs. Winter, but secretly he deplored the influence she had acquired with Millicent. “She’ll put her up to all sorts of things,” he complained to Winter one day.
“We shall have to combine against them,” Winter had answered, unsympathetically.
“Oh, you! Mrs. Winter got you under her thumb the first week you were married, and has kept you there ever since!”
“Couldn’t be in a better place,” returned Winter, and then went treacherously and divulged the whole to his tyrant.
The car. which had bolted and hitched its way though the country streets after the manner of its kind, had reached the city and now began to take intervals of rest with a frequency that at last led Connor to examine his watch; he then rose and interviewed the conductor.
“There’s a block somewhere,” said that individual, absently continuing the double shuffle he was practising on the platform.
Connor went to the front. “Look here,” he said to the motorman, “we’ve got to catch that eight-thirty train at the Terminal.”
“So have we,” said the motorman, with stony composure.
“What a ‘bottled up’ sort of an expression you have, William!” said Mrs. Connor, when her husband returned to his seat.
“Where is Rosamond?” asked Mrs. Winter, suddenly.
“Oh, she and Mr. Mendenhall walked in. They started early and will meet us—why, there they are now. William! Look, there are Rosamond and Mr. Mendenhall—oh! Call them!”
Connor rushed to one end of the car, Mrs. Connor to the other.
“Hi! Mendenhall!” shouted Connor with the full strength of his lungs, but the young man and woman strode on unheeding and the car began to move.
“Look here! There are some friends of mine who want to get on. Stop!”
“Can’t,” said the motorman.
“Oh—oh—Rosamond!” shrieked Mrs. Connor; Rosamond turned her head. The young man with her made a languid gesture to the conductor, and the car moved on slowly until it reached the next white post.
“Hurry! Hurry!” screamed Mrs. Connor. But the two on the sidewalk never hastened their pace; both in neat bicycle dress, they entered the car, calm and cool, while Mr. and Mrs. Connor were out of breath and slightly dishevelled. The other passengers were much interested.
“I think you are going to miss it, papa,” said Rosamond, looking up at Connor, who had given her his seat and was hanging by the strap in front of her.
“Well, so are you!” said Connor, who frequently found Rosamond irritating.
“What train’r ye tryin’ for?” asked a sociable person next her.
Connor looked down at him from the infinite height of five feet two inches; Mendenhall was apparently stone deaf; and Rosamond’s flower-like color never fluctuated; but Mrs. Connor blushed and opened her mouth weakly to reply when the sociable person continued.
“Because if it’s the eight-thirty you’d stand a better chance of making it if ye’d get right out here an’ take the first herdic ye saw. There’s one now! Here, stop the car!” The conductor, who had drawn near to assist in the negotiation, now obligingly rang the bell.
“I am not going to get out,” said Connor.
The conductor turned away with a fling, and rang again, twice, with murderous energy.
“It’s yer best plan,” insisted the friendly one. “You an’ yer wife and yer two daughters could go inside an’ this young man could sit with the driver; ye’d get there in no time!”
“I have never used a herdic,” said Connor to Mendenhall, “and I never intend to.”
“It’s not so very expensive,” said their new friend, persuasively.
Connor said something, fortunately inaudible, and Mendenhall went out on the front platform. The stranger looked from time to time at Rosamond; words were brimming on his lips, but Rosamond was of a freezing and discouraging prettiness,—she made him feel shabby and elderly; he tried to button up his coat and retrieve his self-respect, but, finding the top button gone, he gave up the struggle.
Time was passing; each clock they came to had gained ruthlessly on the clock of the square before. Nearly everybody got out; Connor achieved a stony composure so awful that even Rosamond dared not address him. Mendenhall returned, and, seating himself opposite his prospective father-in-law, studied his shoes with the provoking air of a man who feels that if things had been left to him he could have managed them better.
The last clock pointed to twenty-five minutes after eight; the station was two squares away.
“Get out an’ run fer it!” coaxed the undaunted friendly one. “Ye know ye’d stand a better chance.”
Connor looked inquiringly at his wife; she shook her head.
“Do not mind me,” said Mrs. Winter, not sorry, after all—so she told herself—to celebrate her wedding-day: by her own fireside. In fact, she felt a little homesick already; sorrow and accident had combined to make her a recluse, and as the years accumulated it hurt, always, when she went out into the world. She turned her head to see where they were; just ahead of them an arched doorway, with iron link holders at the sides, seemed familiar. “1 think that, very likely, Julian came down this way,” she said to Mrs. Connor, with a show of indifference.
Mrs. Connor jumped up and leaned toward the street. “William, we are passing the Folsom Building; we are near the station; we must watch for Mr. Winter!” she cried, vivaciously; but her eyes, strangely enough, were searching upward along the high mansard roof where a well-known firm of architects announced their business by a dingy, gilded sign. It took but a moment to rind it; she seated herself with a guilty sidelong glance at her neighbor.
The old lady, apparently, had seen nothing; her eyes had turned back again to the entrance, but she was not watching for Julian.
Under that empty, grimy archway she pictured a young, bright figure waving a gay farewell; she saw the color in his cheeks, the dancing glee of his eyes, his smile that, no matter how dark the day, seemed to concentrate all the sunshine upon him. This vision had always remained with her, never fading; it was the last time they had seen him in health. Truly he had been the light of their eyes! It seemed but as yesterday since that light was quenched—it would always seem as yesterday.
Yes; she was quite sure that Julian would go down that way! “Very likely it will make him miss the train,” she thought, with satisfaction.
And Julian had gone down that way! He had even run into the Folsom Building and astonished the elevator man by going to the top, walking along the hall, and then coming back again. The time this had taken had made him so nearly miss his train that he ran the whole length of the station as he saw it slowly moving out, and caught on at the back amid a general shout of warning and reprobation from the truckmen and railroad employés on the platform.
The party that he was in search of were not in the first car; so he passed through to the second, where they all greeted him with that hilarity which, even when they have it not, people think necessary to assume on picnic occasions. Winter’s visit to the Folsom Building had put him out of tune; his friends were rather noisy, he thought, and he was glad Mrs. Winter had gone with the Connors in the next car; he hoped she had not made a mistake in coming at all, and for a brief, fleeting second was inclined to wish that she had stayed at home.
“Could not Mrs. Winter and the Connors get a seat here?” he asked.
“Why, they did not come!”
“Certainly they came! They started in ahead of me!”
“They are none of them here, for I have been looking for them.”
“They must be in one of the front cars,” said Winter, positively. He marched through the forward cars, then came back and made his way again through the back one; there was no sign of Mrs. Winter, or of the Connors.
“They have missed it!” he said, looking very rueful. “I would not have had this happen for worlds. I must go back at the first stopping!”
“They will come on later,” someone said, with an attempt at consolation.
“I know she will not—it was all I could do to get her started when I was there to take care of her,” said Winter, decidedly, and turning his back on them he looked out of the window and drummed on the glass like a disappointed school-boy. He would have got out at the first station and turned homeward if the train had not been an express, which was fortunate, because when they reached their destination a telegram from Connor explained the delay and said that they would all start an hour and a half later; Mrs. Winter with them.
Winter felt a pang of reproach. “I ought to have known that she would come—today!” he murmured to himself; but he still felt uneasy. “Connor is all very well,” he mentioned to one or two of the men, “but Mrs. Winter really ought not to be left alone!”
They had some difficulty in persuading him that it was not his duty to remain at the station until she came, but finally he went off with the rest, leaving careful instructions with another coachman, who was to bring the belated party in a barge, and to meet them at a certain cross-roads on the other side of the town. As they drove through the hazy woods, where the trees were beginning to feather and the swelling buds were making the distance purple, Winter’s restless anxiety began to abate; and once, when they had reached a hill-top, and saw, not far away, a dark stretch of blue, he felt the old sea-longing begin to rise within him. It looked cold and free, hard and adventurous, out there with the white caps all over it, grinning challenges in the sun. Winter sprang up and, tearing off his hat, sent forth a great shout of defiance; the fresh wind blew back his thick, curling white hair, and the bright color mounting to his cheeks made his keen, brilliant eyes resplendent. Involuntarily two of the men glanced at each other: how like Tom he was just then! But Winter sat down with a whimsical shrug of his shoulders; he remembered all at once that he was getting old! It was not often he thought of it. If Tom had been here they would have hired a boat and started out together. And a vision of the young, strong hand on the tiller, the level-looking, clear young eyes, and the straight, splendid young figure came to him also as it had to the other two. “One is never old who has a son—like Tom!” he thought, and his clouding face cleared and softened—it always did when he thought of Tom.
And here was Benson, who had taught the boy mathematics! And Fuller, who had first encouraged him to draw! Milman there, singing a comic song out of tune on the back seat—how he had cried and run away without speaking that morning when he came for news and learned the worst. Ah, it was good to be out in the open air! The wheels of life suddenly ran smooth, and the jar of the morning’s disappointment ceased to irritate him with his kind. Milman might be as funny as he chose—in fact Milman was funny, delightfully funny. For how many years had they all jogged on together, guying each other, finding fault with each other, occasionally quarrelling with each other, and yet loving each other! How strong were these tried old friendships! How close were these well-knit ties! He even found himself forgiving Connor for marrying Millicent Howard.
They came at last to the rendezvous, and stopped at the entrance of a wood near the crossroads. They were planning to go in search of May-flowers while they waited for the others: “Mrs. Winter and the young Connors,” Milman said. Winter smiled, absently; his thoughts were still turned wistfully backward, and he wanted to be alone with the beloved past; he wandered away from the rest and mounted a little hill, gathering the arbutus as he went. When he reached the top, he found that the wood-cutters had been there before him; he looked about the clearing with awakened interest, and then began pacing off the ground. There was no uncertainty in his movements; so many feet, he walked to the south and paused to get the view; so many feet, he paced it at right angles, toward that shivering row of snow-white birch through which came the glimpse of the sea. He was building a house and knew precisely where to place it; he and Tom and Tom’s mother had planned it, more or less, all their lives. Winter remembered clearly every dimension, and at every beautiful prospect erected it anew; they did not want it now—the ground would never be broken for that house!
The hungry party, reassembling for luncheon below him at the foot of the hill, looked up and laughed when they noted his occupation; but Winter never heeded; he went on pacing. Here should be the windows of his wife’s sitting-room; here, his own study; there, a broad veranda that would look out over that line of ocean where on the one side the thin growth of birch made the blue seem bluer, and, on the other, that tall elm arched up against the sky. Toward the back you looked over rows of hills, where the sun would set nightly at the end of long glades of woodland. And as Winter planned it all, even to the front door and the kitchen-porch, Tom kept pace with him at every step. Together they wrangled over each one of Winter’s suggestions and amendments; they waxed especially bitter about the removal of that maple by the corner of the veranda; Winter laughed softly as he pictured Tom’s whimsical arguments and beloved prejudices; he even demanded of him how under the sun he came by such an inheritance of hot-headed obstinacy! Then, in answer to the repeated calls from the rest, he went down, smiling.
When they were left behind, the Connors, finding that they had an hour and a half to spare, started to do a few errands in the city; Mendenhall and Rosamond, after repeated and embarrassingly distinct declarations as to the stuffiness of the waiting-room, went out to take another “constitutional”—their engagement was one of the peripatetic kind; but Mrs. Winter, hampered by her lameness, assured them that she should buy a novel and spend the time pleasantly where she was. She found this very difficult to do; something seemed to be drawing her toward that tall building a few blocks up the street, until finally, slowly and laboriously—for she always walked with pain—she undertook the journey. Helped at the crossing by a stalwart policeman, and escorted once when she missed her way by a tiny bootblack, she reached her goal in safety.
The years had made very little change there! The same old leather-cushions covered the seats in the elevator, and she knew quite well that the same old man was running the machine, for he nodded to her gravely and called her by name. She blushed guiltily, but the old fellow looked quite unconscious and forebore to tell her that her husband had been in about half an hour before.
Up, up she went, till she came to the hall at the top of the house, then slowly she limped to the window at the end and looked out over the roofs and across the long rows of tile and chimney to the line of hills on the far horizon. Tom had sketched it for her the first year he had gone there.
With a sigh, she turned back, but as she passed the door that led to the old offices somebody opened it; she hesitated, glancing in longingly, glad of what appeared a happy accident, and unconscious that, as the senior partner looked at his junior, something unexpectedly reddened the rims of his-eyes. For the old elevator man with silent slippers had glided along the hall behind her and whispered, as he opened a crack, “Set the door wide when Mrs. Winter comes back, sir; she would like to see where he used to work.” Then he-took her down with an imperturbed countenance and bade her good-morning with stony impassibility.
Mrs. Winter reached the station before the Connors returned and sat down to cut the leaves of a new magazine. She always looked through the magazines first, to see which of Tom’s contemporaries had been contributing—she judged them all according to Tom’s likes; and as for his dislikes—they never wrote anything worth reading! And the Connors, when they came back, had no suspicion that she had been away.
“I am very much afraid,” said Mrs. Winter, when the five had taken their seats on the train, “that Julian will return and that we shall pass each other.”
“Fortunately it was an express,” said Connor, “or that would have been exactly what would have happened. Milman has telegraphed that they would meet us at the cross-roads.”
“What cross-roads?” asked Mendenhall.
“If there had been more than one, I suppose they would have specified,” said Connor.
Mendenhall, who sometimes felt an imperative need for self-assertion, began to argue in a hectoring, dictatorial tone as to how likely they were to miss the other party and how inadequate a direction the mere word “cross-roads” was; he spoke as if he thought that Connor had invented the expression. Mrs. Winter listened, thinking of the affectionate courtesy with which Tom had always treated Connor. “If Tom had married Millicent,” her thoughts ran on, “what relation would he have been to Connor?” And then, over come by the absurdity of the speculation, she laughed to herself. Millicent saw it.
“What is it?” she said.
“I was thinking of Tom,” said Mrs. Winter.
“So was I,” said Millicent.
When they came to the station at the little seaside town, and the driver who met them seemed uncertain as to the location of the cross-roads, Mendenhall triumphed discreetly.
They drove off, full of doubts and misgivings; and at every road that crossed another they inquired anxiously for their friends; it began to grow late; they found, also, that their friends had been searching with equal futility for them, and, finally, hungry and tired, they stopped for luncheon at what they considered an unpromising cross-roads, deep in the woods.
It was not revealed to them that, losing patience, the others had moved, a couple of miles farther on, and were waiting at the outlet of the same wood, where another road met the main one.
When they had finished their luncheon Rosamond and Mendenhall climbed down from the carriage.
“If we want any May-flowers,” said Mrs. Connor, undecidedly, “I suppose we had better look for them here.”
“If you mean arbutus—” began Mendenhall.
“She does not!” snapped Connor, who had not yet left the carriage.
“Since we came out for arbutus,” said Rosamond, “it is rather inconsistent not to try and find some. For my part, I think that not doing the thing one has proposed to do always argues weakness of character!”
“You may think differently,” said Connor, “when you have developed a little more strength of inclination; for the present, your shoe-strings are just as important to you as your soul!”
Mendenhall looked shocked.
“William, help Mrs. Winter—she wants to get out,” called Millicent.
Connor sprang over the wheel and gave his old friend his hand, but she leaned a little heavily on his shoulder instead, and as her face came opposite his she half smiled and shook her head.
“I cannot help it!” muttered Connor. “How she ever came to be a child of mine—”
“William! Oh, William! I am going to fall!” called Millicent.
Connor set Mrs. Winter down hastily and turned and caught his wife, who nearly knocked him over as she threw herself into his arms. “Do take care,” she whispered; “Rosamond will hear!”
“Good thing if she did!” returned Connor, fiercely. “I am not going to have Mendenhall’s milk-and-water moralizing measured out to me—”
“There! There! You are getting alliterative—you always do when you lose your temper. Say something in p’s and t’s to change the current of your thoughts.”
To Mrs. Winter it almost sounded impertinent to hear Millicent speak in that way to Connor, and yet it did her good to hear the thrill of happiness and renewed youth in his voice.
And Millicent too—on the whole, Mrs. Winter was glad that they had married, but it made her feel a little more lonely, more like getting off by herself. Unconsciously she had counted on Millicent—it was unreasonable—but—
“We are going to walk down the road,” said Connor. “Will you come with us?”
“No,” she said; “I am going to climb this little hill; I think I shall find a view from the top.”
Connor hesitated, but Millicent twitched his sleeve. “Can you not see that she wants to be by herself?” she whispered, as they turned away together.
“I thought women never wanted to be by themselves,” said Connor.
Mendenhall and Rosamond had already disappeared and Mrs. Winter climbed as slowly and stopped as often as she chose without fear of their comment. They had already dilated, during the drive, on the criminal self-indulgence of rheumatism, and the culpable inertia of increasing weight; they had advised her to go to a gymnasium, leave off coffee and beef, and always look at her toes when she walked! Old age itself, she felt, was an unpardonable crime. What miles she used to tramp with Tom! He always made her feel that she was younger than he—and then with apparent irrelevance she thought of Rosamond and whispered, “Poor Connor!”
It was some time before she reached the top of the hill, and the slow climb gave her ample leisure to see that it was cleared almost as if someone meant to build there. “If Julian saw that,” she murmured, “he would begin measuring it off for our country house at once! It is the very thing he would like, with the elm and those birches against the water. That tall maple would make a charming shade for the veranda. Julian would say that it made the house damp; but with all this sun that would be impossible. Tom would never have consented to cutting it down, and neither shall I. It would be pleasant to make the entrance here,” she said, and, having constructed a veranda from a felled birch, she sat down upon it, defying Rosamond and Mendenhall and rheumatism and old age and all the unpleasant things in life at once, while her eyes wandered to the broad blue streak of color between the white trunks of the birches.
What though the long years of married life which lay behind them were clouded by many a grief and checkered by many a care, had they not also been the pathway of an infinite happiness?
And though they two fared the downward slope alone, they still were infinitely rich in that which once they had possessed; for the grace and strength of that young unfinished life, broken before the touch of time had come to mar the spotlessness of its perfection, had endowed them both with youth eternal, in that half their days on earth they walked with the blessed dead in heaven, and old age passed softly by the immortal sanctuary of their hearts.
Mrs. Winter sighed and withdrew her eyes from the horizon. Close against her knee leaned a little sapling of young maple, lifting, almost confidingly, a bunch of red-bronzed leaves toward her face. The old lady’s lips quivered; she gathered the spray tenderly, almost reverently; it was like a message; every spring, for years, Tom had gone into the woods and brought her home a branch like this. Then she rose, with difficulty, for, after all, the birch-tree was very close to the ground.
She heard Connor’s voice at the foot of the hill; he was instructing his wife as to the proper method of plucking May-flowers. “Don’t leave a leaf,” he called.
It reminded Mrs. Winter of the duties of the moment. “How I hate picking flowers!” she murmured. “It is so troublesome to stoop; but,” her face brightened, “there are none here!” She bent over and examined the ground. “Someone has been here already; perhaps Julian; at any rate, he will have gathered me all I want,” and with this excuse for laziness, she slowly climbed down the hill again.
Rosamond and Mendenhall stood with their arms full of pink bloom. “I do not think that we have left one,” said Rosamond.
“You see we went to work systematically,” said Mendenhall, “and we have not wasted a moment of time.”
Connor came up with a neat, compact bunch of flowers, which he presented to Millicent, who, adding them to her own, upon which she had left all the green she dared, offered the whole to Mrs. Winter; but Mrs. Winter declined. “I have what I want,” she said, smilingly, lifting her spray of maple. Millicent turned away her head.
Then they summoned the bored driver from his aimless wanderings up and down the road, and climbed into the “barge” again; he drove reluctantly to the other cross-roads, where they waited and hallooed to the friends who had skirted the woods and driven back to the spot which they just had left! Thus, for the rest of the afternoon, they pursued each other—a gigantic game of hide-and-seek—to the amusement and delight of the farmers, who were scattering the steaming manure over their fields in preparation for an early spring planting. At last, as it was impossible to wait longer, Connor gave the orders for their return to town.
“It is really a shame, Mrs. Winter, that you haven’t a single May-flower!” he said, irritably, eying the large bouquets which Rosamond and Mendenhall held, tranquil and undisturbed in the benevolent consciousness that they meant to present them to a hospital where Mendenhall hoped for an appointment. “They will get on in the world,” Connor whispered to his wife. “I feel perfectly safe in letting Mendenhall have her. They will always look out for themselves—and nobody else! Ah,” he said aloud. “There is Winter.”
They had come into the village. Leaning against a lamp-post at the entrance of a small triangle of park stood Winter, picturesque as usual, his hat on the back of his head, and his great curling mane of white hair tumbled boyishly about his face.
“Winter,” said Connor, suddenly, “is the handsomest man I ever knew. And by George! I believe he knows it!” he added under his breath.
Mrs. Winter made no reply to this ill-natured speech; she was smiling at Winter and winking a little to shed the moisture from her eyes, for he held in his hand a radiant bunch of May-flowers, before which Rosamond’s and Mendenhall’s charitable provision dwindled to utter insignificance, and in the button-hole of his coat drooped sadly a little tuft of early maple. He stepped forward into the road, and, climbing into the back of the barge, laid the bouquet in his wife’s lap without a word.
“I knew you would!” she said.
“Ah, what a pity that your day has been spoiled, Mr. Winter!” said Rosamond.
“Spoiled?” said Winter, looking at her as if he could not comprehend. “Why, it has been a delightful day!”
When they arrived at the station Rosamond and Mendenhall walked off together down the platform. “Do you suppose,” said Rosamond, “that the time will come when you can remain away from me in that way, a whole day that you had meant to spend with me, and say at the end that it has been delightful?”
“Incredible!” said Mendenhall, “and did you notice that Mrs. Winter has hardly once mentioned her husband, much less expressed a word of regret?”
“I don’t believe they care for each other,” said Rosamond, finally; “she has always impressed me as a hard-hearted woman!” And then, the train coming up, the two got into a back seat and talked about the proper management of a small income and the best methods by which you might keep your footing in society if you are unable to entertain.
Winter and his wife scarcely spoke. Through the window of the car they watched the setting sun as the swift motion of the train caused it to seem to roll along the tops of the hills and leap from height to height across the valleys like a golden ball. At times, in some still pool, they could see it reflected through the black branches of the trees, until at last it left them, and all the meadows were bathed in purple twilight and the broad stretches of sea reflected the golden and rose-colored tints of the sky; and as they noted each tint and marked each mass of color, an unseen presence hovered between them; every shadow on the hillside they saw with Tom’s eyes, and every stretch of sea they thought of as he might reproduce it.
“There was a very pretty place,” said Mrs. Winter, gently; “up on top of one of the hills.”
“Yes,” said Julian, “where I built the house.”
“With the porch looking out to the sea?”
“And your sitting-room turned toward the sunset.”
“I hope you didn’t cut down that maple.”
Winter laughed. “It ought to be cut,” he declared, earnestly. “It will shade the roof and make the house damp.”
“I will not have it felled!” she cried.
“Let it stand, then,” he said, gently. “Let it stand. I cannot run counter to both of you!”
They rode on in silence. “Julian,” said Mrs. Winter, at last, “while we were waiting for the train this morning—”
“I know what you did. You went up into the Folsom Building.”
“Had you been there?” she asked.
“Yes; it made me almost late for the train.”
“I was almost sure you would go.”
“After all,” said Winter, “it is just as well we missed each other.”
“Yes,” she answered; “we have really been less separated.”
“I wonder,” said Winter, abruptly, “if Millicent would have married Tom?”
“She makes Connor very happy,” said Mrs. Winter, thoughtfully, “and she—she is not unhappy herself—now. I do not know but that I am glad she did it.”
Winter sighed; his wife’s delicate reticence had answered his question. “I am not sorry she did it; there is Connor to be considered, you know,” he said. “What luck that fellow always has had,” he added, irritably.
Mrs. Winter turned away her head and laughed with the sparks that flew by in the twilight. She wanted to condole with Winter on account of her own longevity, but she did not dare. Winter never saw anything amusing in witticisms of that description.
It was quite dark when the train rumbled into the city; the tired party stood together making their last farewells at the entrance of the station. Connor and Millicent left them to catch a car; but Winter, declaring that his wife had had enough of cars for one day, had called a carriage, and Rosamond and Mendenhall, who had virtuously announced their intention of walking home, were waiting to see them off.
“It has been dreadful that you have been separated all day,” persisted Rosamond, in her small, perfunctory tones, determined to force a word of decent regret from these refractory old people.
Winter looked down at her a moment, and a mischievous light came into his eyes.
“I will tell you something, Rosamond,” he said; “but neither you nor Mendenhall will ever understand it.” He put Mrs. Winter into the carriage and then followed her. Rosamond waited in polite curiosity.
“Mrs. Winter and I,” said Julian, “are nearer to each other when we are apart than certain .young people, whom I will not mention, could manage to get, even though they should live together a hundred years, without a single separation.”
And having enunciated this dark saying, he slammed the carriage-door and ordered the driver to go on.
“How disagreeable he can make himself!” said Rosamond. “Sometimes—sometimes I think he is extremely like papa!”
And Mendenhall agreed with her.
“A Day Together” by Mary Tappan Wright was originally published in
Scribner's Magazine v. 29, no. 1, January 1901; reprinted in
Pro Tempore, and Other Stories by Mary Tappan Wright, edited by Brian Kunde, Mountain House, Fleabonnet Press, 2007.
The work of Mary Tappan Wright here reproduced is in the public domain. All other material in this edition is
©2007-2008 by Brian Kunde.