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   Chapter 2 No.2

Horace Chase By Constance Fenimore Woolson Characters: 25525

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


THE meal which followed was good; for Zoe, the cook, was skilful in her old-fashioned way. But the dinner service was ordinary; the only wine was Dry Catawba; Rinda's ideas of waiting, too, were primitive. The Franklins, however, had learned to wait upon themselves. They had the habit of remaining long at the table; for, whether they were alone or whether they had a guest, there was always a soup, there was always a salad, there were always nuts and fruit, followed by coffee-four courses, therefore, in addition to the two which the younger Mrs. Franklin, whose household was managed in a very different way, considered all that was necessary "for the body."

"A serious rice pudding, Genevieve, no doubt is enough for the body, as you call it," Dolly had once said. "But we think of the mind also; we aim at brilliancy. And no one ever scintillated yet on cod-fish and stewed prunes!"

"Mrs. Jared Franklin is well, I hope?" Chase asked, when the last course was reached. He was not fond of nuts or figs, but he was playing his part, according to his conception of it, by eating at intervals one raisin.

"Quite well; thanks. I have never known her to be ill," replied Dolly.

"Mr. Chase, I am going to suggest something: as mother and my sister-in-law are both Mrs. Jared, and as mother has no burning desire to be called 'old Mrs. Franklin' just yet, why don't you say 'Mrs. G. B.' when you mean the younger matron?"

Chase would never have thought of calling either the one or the other a matron, his idea of the word being the female superintendent of a public institution. "G. B.-are those her initials?" he said. "Yes, of course; G. for Genevieve, or Gen, as I used to call her."

"And B. for Beatrice; isn't that lovely? Our own names, unfortunately, are very plain-Ruth, Dolly, and Jared; Genevieve has taken pity upon the Jared, and changed it to Jay. Mother, however, actually likes the name Jared. She is weak enough to be proud of the fact that there have been six Jared Franklins in the direct line, from eldest son to father, going back to colonial days. People are very sorry for this delusion of hers; they have told her repeatedly that the colonial period was unimportant. Genevieve, in particular, has often explained to her that modern times are far more interesting."

"I guess there isn't much question about that, is there?" said Chase. "No doubt they did the best they could in those old days. But they couldn't do much, you see, because they had nothing to work with, no machinery, no capital, no combinations; they couldn't hear anything until long after it had happened, and they couldn't go anywhere except on horseback. I've always been glad I didn't serve my time then. I guess I should have found it slow."

"You must find Asheville rather slow?" remarked Dolly.

"It is more than slow, Miss Franklin; it has stopped entirely. But it has great natural advantages-I have been surprised to see how many. I like new enterprises, and I've been thinking about something." Here he paused and ate one more raisin, balancing it for a moment upon the palm of his hand before he swallowed it. "I've been thinking of picking up that railroad at Old Fort and pushing it right through to this place, and on to Tennessee; a branch, later, to tap South Carolina and Georgia. That isn't all, however." He paused again. Then with a glance which rested for a moment on each face, and finally stopped at Mrs. Franklin's, "What do you say," he added, with an hospitable smile, "to my making a big watering-place of your hilly little village?"

"Asheville watered? What next!" said Dolly.

"The next is that the stock won't be," replied Chase, laughing. "I mean, the stock of the company that undertakes the affair, if it does undertake it. You'd better apply for some right off; all of you. Shall I tell you how the thing strikes me, while you are finishing your nuts? Well, then, this is about it. The whole South is a hot place in summer, ladies; from Baltimore down to the end of Florida and Louisiana they simply swelter from June to October, and always must swelter. If you will look at a map, you can see for yourselves that the only region where the people of all this big section can get fresh air during the heated term, without a long journey for it, is this one line of mountains, called Alleghanies in the lump, but in reality including the Blue Ridge, the Cumberlands, your Smokies and Blacks, and others about here. For a trip to the southern sea-coast isn't much relief; a hot beach is about the hottest place I know! Now, then, what is the best point among these mountains? The Alleghanies lie this way." (He made the Alleghanies with a table-spoon.) "Then there is the Blue Ridge." (A nut-cracker.) "And here you get your Smokies and so forth." (Almonds taken hastily from a dish and arranged in a line.) "And I'll just indicate the Cumberlands with this orange. Very well. Now where are the highest peaks of these lines? Let us follow the range down. Do we find them in Pennsylvania? No, sir. Do we find them in Virginia? We do not. Are they over there among the Cumberlands? Not by a long shot. Where are they, then? Right here, ladies, at your own door; right here, where I make a dot this minute." And taking a pencil from his pocket, he made a small mark on the table-cloth between the spoon and the nut-cracker. "In this neighborhood," he went on, emphasizing his statement by pointing his pencil at Miss Billy, "there are thirteen nearly seven thousand feet high. It seems to me, therefore, that in spite of all the jokes about talking for buncombe, the talk for Buncombe has not been half tall enough yet. For this very Buncombe County is bound to be the favorite watering-place for over twelve millions of people, some day or other."

"Watering-place?" commented Dolly. "Well, we have the two rivers, the French Broad and the Swannanoa. But the Swannanoa is small; if the millions should all drink at once, it would soon go dry."

"I meant summer resort, Miss Franklin, not watering-place," said Chase, inwardly entertained by the quickness bordering on the sharp with which "the sickly one," as he called her, always took him up. "Though there are sulphur springs near by too: I have been out to look at them. And it isn't only the Southerners who will come here," he went on. "Northerners will flock also, when they understand what these mountains are. For, in comparison with them, the Catskills are a suburb; the White Mountains, ornamental rock-work; and the Adirondacks, a wood-lot. Here everything is absolutely wild; you can shoot because there are all sorts of things to shoot, from bears down. And then there's another point-for I haven't got to the bottom of the sack yet. This mountain valley of yours, being 2400 feet above the sea, has a wonderfully pure dry air, and yet, as it is so far south, it is not cold; its winter climate, therefore, is as good as its summer, and even better. So here's the situation: people who live in hot places will come here from June to October, and people who live in cold places will come from October to June." He returned the orange and the almonds to their dishes, replaced the table-spoon and nut-cracker, and then, looking at Mrs. Franklin, he gave her a cheerful nod. "That's it, ma'am; that's the whole in a nutshell."

Ruth gravely offered him an empty almond shell.

"We'll have something better than that, Miss Ruth-a philopena." And taking a nut-cracker, he opened several almonds. Finding a double kernel, he gave her one of the halves. "Now, if I win, I should be much favored if you would make me something of worsted-a tidy is the name, I think?"

Ruth began to laugh.

"Well, then, a picture-frame of cones."

And now the other ladies joined in Ruth's merriment.

"We must decline such rare objects," said Mrs. Franklin. "But we have our own small resources, Mr. Chase." And, leading the way back to the parlor, she showed him the mantel-cover with Dolly's verse.

"Why, that's beautiful, Miss Franklin," said Chase, with sincere admiration, when he had read the lines. "I didn't know you could write poetry."

"Oh yes," answered Dolly. "I think in elegies as a general thing, and I make sonnets as I dress. Epics are nothing to me, and I turn off triolets in no time. But I don't publish, Mr. Chase, because I don't want to be called a minor poet."

Here Rinda came in like a projectile, carrying a large box clasped in her arms. "Jess lef'! 'Spress!" she exclaimed excitedly.

"Express?" repeated Mrs. Franklin, trying to make out the address without her glasses. "Read it, Ruth."

Ruth looked at the label, and then broke into another laugh. She had hardly recovered from the preceding one, and Chase, with amusement, watched her start off again. But he soon found himself surrounded by laughers a second time.

"Why, what's wrong with it?" he asked, seeing that it was the label which excited their mirth. And in his turn he examined it. "Miss Ruth Franklin, Lommy Dew, Asheville? That's right, isn't it? Isn't Lommy Dew the name of your place?"

Rinda meanwhile, wildly curious, had been opening the box by main force with the aid of the poker. She now uncovered a huge cluster of hot-house roses, packed in moss.

"Flowers? Who could have sent them?" said Mrs. Franklin, surprised. She had no suspicion of her present guest; her thoughts had turned towards some of their old friends at the North. But Ruth, happening to catch the look in Horace Chase's eyes as he glanced for an instant at the blossoms, not so much admiringly as critically, exclaimed:

"You sent them, Mr. Chase. How perfectly lovely!"

"I'm afraid they're not much," Chase answered. "I thought they'd send more." He had wished to show that he appreciated the invitations to L'Hommedieu, and as, according to his idea, it was the young lady of the family to whom it was proper to pay such attentions, he had ordered the box to be sent to Ruth rather than to Mrs. Franklin or Dolly.

Ruth's laugh had stopped. She was passionately fond of hot-house flowers, and now both her hands together could hardly encircle even the stems alone of these superb tea-roses, whose gorgeous masses filled her arms as she raised them. With a quick movement she buried her face in the soft petals.

"But, I say, what was wrong with this?" asked Chase a second time, as he again looked at the label.

"L'Hommedieu is a French name-" began Dolly.

But Ruth interrupted her: "It is an ugly old French name, Mr. Chase, and as it is pronounced, in America at least, exactly as you wrote it, I think it might as well be spelled so, too. At present, however, this is the way-the silly way." And holding her flowers with her left arm, she detached her right hand, and scribbled the name on the edge of the Raleigh paper.

"Ah!" said Chase, looking at it. "I don't speak French myself. I thought perhaps it had something to do with dew." And frowning a little, a frown of attention, he spelled the word over.

An old negro woman, her head covered with a red kerchief folded like a turban, now came stiffly in with the coffee-tray, her stiffness being an angry dignity. It was Zoe, the cook, tired of waiting for Rinda, who, still in the parlor, was occupied in gazing with friendly interest at the roses. "Lawdy-ef I ain't clean ferget!" remarked the waitress, genially, to the company in general.

"You clar out, good-fer-nutt'n nigger!" muttered the offended cook, in an undertone to her coadjutor.

With the tray, or rather behind it, a lady came in.

"Just in time for coffee, Genevieve," remarked Dolly, cheerfully.

"Thanks; I do not take it at night," Genevieve answered.

This was a dialogue often repeated in one form or another, for Dolly kept it up. The younger Mrs. Franklin did not like evening dinners, and Dolly even maintained that her sister-in-law thought them wicked. "She sees a close connection between a late dinner with coffee after it, and the devil." The Franklins had always dined at the close of the day, for the elder Jared Franklin, having been the editor of a daily paper, had found that hour the most convenient one. The editor was gone; his family had moved from the North to the South, and life for them was changed in many ways; but his habit of the evening dinner they had never altered.

The younger Mrs. Franklin greeted Chase cordially. Dolly listened, hoping to hear her call him "Horrie." But Genevieve contented herself with giving him her hand, and some frank words of welcome. Genevieve was always frank. And in all she said and did, also, she was absolutely sincere. She was a beautiful woman with golden hair, fair skin, regular features, and ideally lovely eyes; her tall figure was

of Juno-like proportions. Chase admired her, that was evident. But Dolly (who was noting this) had long ago discovered that men always admired her sister-in-law. In addition to her beauty, Genevieve had a sweet voice, and an earnest, half-appealing way of speaking. She was appealing to Chase now. "There is to be an entertainment at the rink to-night, Horace, for the benefit of the Mission; won't you go? I hope so. And, mamma, that is what I have come over for; to tell you about it, and beg you to go also." She had seated herself beside Chase; but, as she said these last words, she put out her hand and laid it affectionately on Mrs. Franklin's shoulder.

"I believe I am to have the pleasure of spending the evening here?" Chase answered, making a little bow towards his hostess.

"But if mamma herself goes to the rink, as I am sure she will, then won't you accompany her? The Mission and the Colored Home, Horace, are-"

But here Chase, like a madman, made a sudden bound, and grasped the top of Miss Billy Breeze's head.

Quick as his spring had been, however, Ruth's was quicker. She pulled his hands away. "Don't hurt him! Don't!"

But the squirrel was not under Chase's fingers; he had already escaped, and, running down the front of Miss Billy's dress (to her unspeakable terror), he now made another leap, and landed on Dolly's arm, where Ruth caught him.

"What in creation is it?" said Chase, who had followed. "A bird? Or a mouse?"

"Mouse!" said Ruth, indignantly. "It's Bob, my dear little flying-squirrel; I saw him on the cornice, but I thought he would fly to me. It's amazing that any one can possibly be afraid of the darling," she added, with a reproachful glance towards Miss Billy, who was still cowering. "I had him when he was nothing but a baby, Mr. Chase-he had fallen from his nest-and I have brought him up myself. Now that he is getting to be a big boy, he naturally likes to fly about a little. He cannot be always climbing his one little tree in the dining-room. He is so soft and downy. Look at his bright eyes." Here she opened her hand so that Chase could see her pet. "Would you like to hold him for a moment?"

"Oh, I'll look at you holding him," answered Chase. "Hollo! here's another." For Petie Trone, Esq., his jealousy roused by his mistress's interest in the squirrel, had come out from under the sofa, and was now seated on his hind-legs at the edge of her dress, begging. "Wouldn't you like an owl?" Chase suggested. "Or a 'possum? A 'coon might be tamed, if caught young."

Ruth walked away, offended.

This made him laugh still more as he returned to his place beside Genevieve.

"She is only eighteen," murmured the younger Mrs. Franklin, apologetically. Her words were covered by a rapturous "Gen'lem!" from Rinda at the door. For Rinda was always perfectly delighted to see anybody; when, therefore, there were already two or three guests, and still another appeared, her voice became ecstatic. The new-comer was Anthony Etheridge.

"How fortunate!" said Genevieve. "For it makes another for our little charity party. There is to be an impromptu entertainment at the rink to-night, commodore, for the benefit of the Mission, and mamma is going, I hope. Won't you accompany her? Let me introduce Mr. Chase-a very old friend of mine. Mr. Chase, Commodore Etheridge."

"Happy to meet you," said Chase, rising in order to shake hands.

"Gen'lem!" called Rinda again; this time fairly in a yell.

The last "gen'lem" was a slender man of thirty-five, who came in with his overcoat on. "Thanks; I did not take it off," he said, in answer to Mrs. Franklin, "because I knew that you were all going to the"-(here Ruth gave a deep cough)-"because I thought it possible that you might be going to the rink to-night," he went on, changing the form of his sentence, with a slight smile; "and in that case I hoped to accompany you."

"Yes," said Genevieve, "mamma is going, Mr. Larue. I only wish I could go, also."

The cheeks of Miss Billy Breeze had become flushed with rose-color as the new-comer entered. Noticing instantly the change he had made in his sentence when Ruth coughed, she at once divined that the girl had gone, bareheaded and in the darkness, to his residence during that long absence before dinner, in order to secure his co-operation in the frolic of the evening. Ruth had, in fact, done this very thing; for nothing amused her so much as to watch Billy herself when Larue was present. The girl was now wicked enough to carry on her joke a little longer. "I am so sorry, Miss Billy, that you do not care to go," she said, regretfully.

Miss Billy passed her handkerchief over her mouth and tried to smile. But she was, in fact, winking to keep back tears.

And then Mrs. Franklin, always kind-hearted, came to the rescue. "Did you tell Ruth that you could not go, Billy? Change your mind, my dear; change it to please me."

"Oh, if you care about it, dear Mrs. Franklin," murmured Billy, escaping, and hurrying happily up the stairs to put on her wraps.

The rink was a large, bare structure of wood, with a circular arena for roller-skating. This evening the place was lighted, and the gallery was occupied by the colored band. The members of this band, a new organization, had volunteered their services with the heartiest good-will. It was true that they could play (without mistakes) but one selection, namely, "The lone starry hours give me, love." But they arranged this difficulty by playing it first, softly; then as a solo on the cornet; then fortissimo, with drums; by means of these alterations it lasted bravely throughout the evening. Nearly the whole village was present; the promenade was crowded, and there were many skaters on the floor below. The Rev. Malachi Hill, the originator of the entertainment, was distributing programmes, his face beaming with pleasure as he surveyed the assemblage. Presently he came to the party from L'Hommedieu. "Programmes, Mrs. Franklin? Programmes, gentlemen?" He had written these programmes himself, in his best handwriting. "The performance will soon begin," he explained. "The procession will skate round the arena five times, and afterwards most of the characters will join in a reel-" Here some one called him, and he hastened off.

Chase, who had received a programme, looked at it in a business-like way. "Christopher Columbus," he read aloud; "Romeo and Juliet; the Muses, Calliope, and-and others," he added, glancing down the list.

His Calliope had rhymed with hope, and a gleam of inward entertainment showed itself for one instant in the eyes of Etheridge and Larue. Ruth saw this scintillation; instantly she crossed to Chase's side, as he still studied the programme, and bending to look at it, said, "Please, may I see too?"

"Oh! I thought you had one," said Chase, giving her the sheet of paper.

"The Muses," read Ruth again, aloud. "Cally-ope," she went on, giving the word Chase's pronunciation. "And Terp-si-core." She made this name rhyme with "more." Then, standing beside her new acquaintance, she glared at the remainder of the party, defiantly.

Mrs. Franklin was so much overcome by this performance of her daughter's that she was obliged to turn away to conceal her laughter.

"What possesses her-the witch!" asked Etheridge, following.

"It is only because she thinks I don't like him. He has given her those magnificent roses, and so she intends to stand up for him. I never know whom she will fancy next. Do look at her now!"

"I am afraid you have spoiled her," commented Etheridge, but joining in the mother's laugh himself, as he caught a glimpse of Ruth starting off, with high-held head and firm step, to walk with Chase round the entire promenade.

Owing to this sudden departure, Miss Billy Breeze found herself unexpectedly alone with Larue. She was so much excited by this state of things that at first she could hardly speak. How many times, during this very month, had she arranged with herself exactly what she should say if such an opportunity should be given her. Her most original ideas, her most beautiful thoughts (she kept them written out in her diary), should be summoned to entertain him. The moment had come. And this is what she actually did say: "Oh!" (giggle), "how pretty it is, isn't it?" (Giggle.) "Really a most beautiful sight. So interesting to see so many persons, and all so happy, is it not? I don't know when I've seen anything lovelier. Yes, indeed-lovely. But I hope you won't take cold, Mr. Larue? Really, now, do be careful. One takes cold so easily; and then it is sometimes so hard to recover." With despair she heard herself bringing out these inanities. "I hope you are not in a draught?" she wandered on. "Colds are so tiresome."

And now, with a loud burst from the band, the procession issued from an improvised tent at the end of the building. First came Christopher Columbus at the head; then Romeo and Juliet; the Muses, three and three; George Washington and his wife, accompanied by Plato and a shepherdess; other personages followed, and all were mounted on roller-skates, and were keeping time to the music as well as they could. Then the rear was closed by a single American Indian in a complete costume of copper-colored tights, with tomahawk, war-paint, and feathers.

This Indian, as he was alone, was conspicuous; and when he skated into the brighter light, there came from that part of the audience which was nearest to him, a sound of glee. The sound, however, was instantly suppressed. But it rose again as he sailed majestically onward, in long sweeps to the right and the left, his head erect, his tomahawk brandished; it increased to mirth which could not be stifled. For nature having given to this brave slender legs, the costume-maker had supplied a herculean pair of calves, and these appendages had shifted their position, and were now adorning the front of each limb at the knee, the chieftain meanwhile remaining unconscious of the accident, and continuing to perform his part with stateliness at the end of the skating line. Ruth, with her hands dropping helplessly by her side, laughed until her mother came to her. Mrs. Franklin herself was laughing so that she could hardly speak. But Ruth's laughs sometimes were almost dangerous; they took such complete possession of her.

"Give her your arm and make her walk up and down," said Mrs. Franklin to Etheridge.

And Etheridge took the girl under his charge.

Chase, who had grinned silently each time the unsuspecting Moose came into view (for the procession had passed round the arena three times), now stepped down to the skating-floor as he approached on his fourth circuit, and stopped him. There was a short conference, and then, amid peals of mirth, the Moose looked down, and for the first time discovered the aspect of his knees. Chase signalled to the band to stop.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "this Indian was not aware of his attractions." (Applause.)

"But now that he knows what they are, he will take part in the reel (which he had not intended to do), and he will take part as he is! For the benefit of the Mission, ladies and gentlemen. The hat will be passed immediately afterwards." Signing to the musicians to go on again, he conducted the chief to the space which had been left free for the reel, and then, when the other couples had skated to their places, he led off with his companion in a sort of quickstep (as he had no skates); and it is safe to say that North Carolina had never beheld so original a dance as that which followed (to the inexhaustible "Starry Hours" played as a jig). Chase and the Indian led and reled. Finally Chase, with his hat tilted back on his head, and his face extremely solemn, balanced with his partner, taking so much pains with remarkable fancy steps, which were immediately imitated by the Indian's embossed legs, that the entire audience was weak from its continuous mirth. Then removing his hat, Chase made the rounds, proffering it with cordial invitation to all: "For the Mission, ladies and gentlemen. For Big Moose's Mission."

Big Moose, on his way home later (in his clergyman's attire this time), was so happy that he gave thanks. He would have liked, indeed, to chant a gloria. For the Mission was very near his heart, and from its beginning it had been so painfully fettered by poverty that, several times, he had almost despaired. But now that magic hat had brought to the struggling little fund more than it had ever dreamed of possessing; for underneath the dimes and the quarters of Asheville had laid a fat roll, a veritable Golconda roll of greenbacks. But one person could have given this roll, namely, the one stranger, Horace Chase.

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