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   Chapter 3 No.3

Horace Chase By Constance Fenimore Woolson Characters: 28245

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


MRS. FRANKLIN was a widow, her husband, Jared Franklin, having died in 1860. Franklin, a handsome, hearty man, who had enjoyed every day of his life, had owned and edited a well-known newspaper in one of the large towns on the Hudson River. This paper had brought him in a good income, which he had spent in his liberal way, year after year. The Franklins were not extravagant; but they lived generously, and they all had what they wanted. Their days went on happily, for they were fond of each other, they had the same sense of humor, and they took life easily, one and all. But when Jared Franklin died (after a sudden and short illness), it was found that he at least had taken it too easily; for he had laid aside nothing, and there were large debts to pay. As he had put his only son, the younger Jared, into the navy, the newspaper was sold. But it did not bring in so much as was expected, and the executors were forced in the end to sell the residence also; when the estate was finally cleared, the widow found herself left with no home, and, for income, only the small sum which had come to her from her father, Major Seymour, of the army. In this condition of things her thoughts turned towards the South.

For her mother, Mrs. Seymour, was a Southerner of Huguenot descent, one of the L'Hommedieu family. And Mrs. Seymour's eldest sister, Miss Dora L'Hommedieu, had bequeathed to the niece (now Mrs. Franklin), who had been named after her, all she had to leave. This was not much. But the queer, obstinate old woman did own two houses, one for the summer among the mountains of North Carolina, one for the winter in Florida. For she believed that she owed her remarkable health and longevity to a careful change of climate twice each year; and, accompanied by an old negress as cross-grained as herself, she had arrived in turn at each of these residences for so many seasons that it had seemed as if she would continue to arrive forever. In 1859, however, her migrations ceased.

At that date the Franklins were still enjoying their prosperity, and this legacy of the two ramshackle L'Hommedieu abodes, far away in the South, was a good deal laughed at by Jared Franklin, who laughed often. But when, soon afterwards, the blow came, and his widow found herself homeless and bereft, these houses seemed to beckon to her. They could not be sold while the war lasted, and even after that great struggle was over no purchasers appeared. In the meantime they were her own; they would be a roof, two roofs, over her head; and the milder climate would be excellent for her invalid daughter Dolly. In addition, their reduced income would go much further there than here. As soon after the war, therefore, as it could be arranged, she had made the change, and now for seven years she had been living in old Dora's abodes, very thankful to have them.

Mrs. Franklin herself would have said that they lived in North Carolina; that their visits to Florida were occasional only. It was true that she had made every effort to dispose of the Florida place. "For sale-a good coquina house on the bay," had been a standing advertisement in the St. Augustine Press year after year. But her hopes had been disappointed, and as the house still remained hers, she had only once been able to withstand the temptation of giving Dolly the benefit of the Florida climate in the winter, little as she could afford the additional expense; in reality, therefore, they had divided their year much as Miss L'Hommedieu had divided hers.

The adjective ramshackle, applied at random by Jared Franklin, had proved to be appropriate enough as regarded the North Carolina house, which old Dora had named L'Hommedieu, after herself. L'Hommedieu was a rambling wooden structure surrounded by verandas; it had been built originally by a low-country planter who came up to these mountains in the summer. But old Miss L'Hommedieu had let everything run down; she had, in truth, no money for repairs. When the place, therefore, came into the hands of her niece, it was much dilapidated. And in her turn Mrs. Franklin had done very little in the way of renovation, beyond stopping the leaks of the roof. Her daughter-in-law, Genevieve, was distressed by the aspect of everything, both without and within. "You really ought to have the whole house done over, mamma," she had said more than once. "If you will watch all the details yourself, it need not cost so very much: see what I have accomplished at the Cottage.

"In time, in time," Mrs. Franklin had answered. But in her heart she was not fond of Genevieve's abode; she preferred the low-ceilinged rooms of L'Hommedieu, shabby though they might be. These rooms had, in fact, an air of great cheerfulness. Anthony Etheridge was accustomed to say that he had never seen anywhere a better collection of easy-chairs. "There are at least eight with the long seat which holds a man's body comfortably as far as the knees, as it ought to held; not ending skimpily half-way between the knee and the hip in the usual miserable fashion!" Mrs. Franklin had saved three of these chairs from the wreck of her northern home, and the others had been made, of less expensive materials, under her own eye. Both she and her husband had by nature a strong love of ease, and their children had inherited the same disposition; it could truthfully be said that as a family they made themselves comfortable, and kept themselves comfortable, all day long.

They did this at present in the face of obstacles which would have made some minds forget the very name of comfort. For they were far from their old home; they were cramped as to money; there was Dolly's suffering to reckon with; and there was a load of debt. The children, however, were ignorant in a great measure of this last difficulty; whatever property there was, belonged to Mrs. Franklin personally, and she kept her cares to herself. These fresh debts, made after the estate had finally been cleared, were incurred by the mother's deliberate act-an act of folly or of beauty, according to the point from which one views it; after her husband's death she had borrowed money in order to give to her daughter Dora every possible aid and advantage in her contest with fate-the long struggle which the girl made to ignore illness, to conquer pain. These sums had never been repaid, and when the mother thought of them, she was troubled. But she did not think of them often; when she had succeeded (with difficulty) in paying the interest each year, she was able to dismiss the subject from her mind, and return to her old habit of taking life easily; for neither her father, the army officer, nor her husband, the liberal-handed editor, had ever taught her with any strictness the importance of a well-balanced account. Poor Dolly's health had always been uncertain. But when her childhood was over, her mother's tender help from minute to minute had kept her up in a determined attempt to follow the life led by other girls of her age. A mother's love can do much. But heredity, coming from the past, blind and deaf to all appeal, does more, and the brave effort failed. The elder Miss Franklin had now been for years an invalid, and an invalid for whom no improvement could be expected; sometimes she was able, with the aid of her cane, to take a walk of a mile's length, or more, and often several weeks would pass in tolerable comfort; but sooner or later the pain was sure to come on again, and it was a pain very hard to bear. But although Dolly was an invalid, she was neither sad nor dull. Both she and her mother were talkers by nature, and they never seemed to reach the end of their interest in each other's remarks. Ruth, too, was never tired of listening and laughing over Dolly's sallies. The whole family, in fact, had been born gay-hearted, and they were always sufficiently entertained with their own conversation and their own jokes; on the stormy days, when they could expect no visitors, they enjoyed life on the whole rather more than they did when they had guests-though they were fond of company also.

One evening, a week after the masquerade at the rink, Mrs. Franklin, leaning back in her easy-chair with her feet on a footstool, was peacefully reading a novel, when she was surprised by the entrance of Miss Breeze; she was surprised because Billy had paid her a visit in the afternoon. "Yes, I thought I would come in again," began Billy, vaguely. "I thought perhaps-or rather I thought it would be better-"

"Take off your bonnet and jacket, won't you?" interposed Ruth.

"Why, how smart you are, Billy!" remarked Mrs. Franklin, as she noted her guest's best dress, and the pink ribbon round her throat above the collar.

"Yes," began Billy again; "I thought-it seemed better-"

"Dolly," interrupted Ruth, "get out planchette, and make it write Billy a love letter!" And she gave her sister a glance which said: "Head her off! Or she will let it all out."

Dolly comprehended. She motioned Miss Breeze solemnly to a chair near her table, and taking the planchette from its box, she arranged the paper under it.

"I don't like it! I don't like it!" protested Mrs. Franklin.

"His Grand, if you don't like it, beat it," said Ruth, jumping up. "Give it a question too hard to answer. Go to the dining-room and do something-anything you like. Then planchette shall tell us what it is-aha!"

"A good idea," said Mrs. Franklin, significantly. And with her light step she left the room. The mother was as active as a girl; no one was ever deterred, therefore, from asking her to rise, or to move about, by any idea of age. She was tall, with aquiline features, bright dark eyes, and thick silvery hair. As she was thin, her face showed the lines and fine wrinkles which at middle age offset a slender waist. But, when she was animated, these lines disappeared, for at such moments her color rose, the same beautiful color which Ruth had inherited.

Dolly sat with her hands on the little heart-shaped board, pondering what she should say; for her familiar spirit was simply her own quick invention. But while it would have been easy to mystify Miss Billy, it was not easy to imagine what her mother, a distinctly hostile element, might do for the especial purpose of perplexing the medium; for although Mrs. Franklin knew perfectly well that her daughter invented all of planchette's replies, she remained nevertheless strongly opposed to even this pretended occultism. Dolly therefore pondered. But, as she did so, she was saying to herself that it was useless to ponder, and that she might as well select something at random, when suddenly there sprang into her mind a word, a word apropos of nothing at all, and, obeying an impulse, she wrote it; that is, planchette wrote it under the unseen propelling power of her long fingers. Then Ruth pushed the board aside, and they all read the word; it was "grinning."

"Grinning?" repeated Ruth. "How absurd! Imagine mother grinning!"

She opened the door, and called, "What did you do, His Grand?"

"Wishing to expose that very skilful pretender, Miss Dora Franklin, I did the most unlikely thing I could think of," answered Mrs. Franklin's voice. "I went to the mirror, and standing in front of it, I grinned at my own image; grinned like a Cheshire cat."

Miss Billy looked at Dolly with frightened eyes. Dolly herself was startled; she crumpled the paper and threw it hastily into the waste-basket.

Mrs. Franklin, returning through the hall, was met by Anthony Etheridge, who had entered without ringing, merely giving a preliminary tap on the outer door with his walking-stick. Dolly began to talk as soon as they came in, selecting a subject which had nothing to do with planchette. For the unconscious knowledge which, of late years, she seemed to possess, regarding the thoughts in her mother's mind, troubled them both.

"Commodore, I have something to tell you. It is for you especially, for I have long known your secret attachment! From my window, I can see that field behind the Mackintosh house. Imagine my beholding Maud Muriel opening the gate this afternoon, crossing to the big bush in the centre, seating herself behind it, taking a long clay pipe from her pocket, filling it, lighting it, and smoking it!"

"No!" exclaimed Etheridge, breaking into a resounding laugh. "Could she make it go?"

"Not very well, I think; I took my opera-glass and watched her. Her face, as she puffed away, was exactly as solemn as it is when she models her deadly busts."

"Ho, ho, ho!" roared Etheridge again. "Ladies, excuse me. I have always thought that girl might be a genius if she could only get drunk! Perhaps the pipe is a beginning."

While he was saying this, Horace Chase was ushered in. A moment later there came another ring, and the Rev. Mr. Hill appeared, followed by Achilles Larue.

"Why, I have a party!" said Mrs. Franklin, smiling, as she welcomed the last comer.

"Yes, His Grand, it is a party," said Ruth. "Now you may know, since they are here, and you cannot stop it. I invited them all myself, late this afternoon; and it is a molasses-candy-pulling; Dolly and I have arranged it. We did not tell you beforehand, because we knew you would say it was sticky."

"Sticky it is," replied Mrs. Franklin.

"Vilely sticky!" added Etheridge, emphatically.

"And then we knew, also, that you would say that you could not get up a supper in so short a time," Ruth went on. "But Zoe has had her sister to help her, and ever so many nice things are all ready; chicken salad, for instance; and-listen, His Grand-a long row of macaroon custards, each cup with three macaroons dissolved in madeira!" And then she intoned .ning in from her easy-chair:

"Mother Franklin thinks,

That General Jackson,

Jared the Sixth,

Macaroon custards,

And Bishop Carew,

Are per-fec-tion!"

"What does she mean by that?" said Chase to Miss Billy.

"Oh, it is only one of their jokes; they have so many! Dear Mrs. Franklin was brought up by her father to admire General Jackson, and Dolly and Ruth pretend that s

he thinks he is still at the White House. And Jared the Sixth means her son, you know. And they say she is fond of macaroon custards; that is, fondish," added Miss Billy, getting in the "ish" with inward satisfaction. "And she is much attached to Bishop Carew. But, for that matter, so are we all."

"A Roman Catholic?" inquired Chase.

"He is our bishop-the Episcopal Bishop of North Carolina," answered Miss Breeze, surprised.

"Oh! I didn't know. I'm a Baptist myself. Or at least my parents were," explained Chase.

The kitchen of L'Hommedieu was large and low, with the beams showing overhead; it had a huge fireplace with an iron crane. This evening a pot dangled from the crane; it held the boiling molasses, and Zoe, brilliant in a new scarlet turban in honor of the occasion, was stirring the syrup with a long-handled spoon. One of the easy-chairs had been brought from the parlor for Dolly. Malachi Hill seated himself beside her; he seemed uneasy; he kept his hat in his hand. "I did not know that Mr. Chase was to be here, Miss Dolly, or I would not have come," he said to his companion, in an undertone. "I can't think what to make of myself-I'm becoming a regular cormorant! Strange to say, instead of being satisfied with all he has given to the Mission, I want more. I keep thinking of all the good he might do in these mountains if he only knew the facts, and I have fairly to hold myself in when he is present, to keep from flattering him and getting further help. Yes, it's as bad as that! Clergymen, you know, are always accused of paying court to rich men, or rather to liberal men. For the first time in my life I understand the danger! It's a dreadful temptation-it is indeed. I really think, Miss Dolly, that I had better go."

"No, you needn't; I'll see to you," answered Dolly. "If I notice you edging up too near him, I'll give a loud ahem. Stay and amuse yourself; you know you like it."

And Malachi Hill did like it. In his mission-work he was tirelessly energetic, self-sacrificing, devoted; on the other hand, he was as fond of merrymaking as a boy. He pulled the candy with glee, but also with eager industry, covering platter after platter with his braided sticks. His only rival in diligence was Chase, who also showed great energy. Dolly pulled; Mrs. Franklin pulled; even Etheridge helped. Ruth did not accomplish much, for she stopped too often; but when she did work she drew out the fragrant strands to a greater length than any one else attempted, and she made wheels of it, and silhouettes of all the company, including Mr. Trone. Miss Billy had begun with much interest; then, seeing that Larue had done nothing beyond arranging the platters and plates in mathematical order on the table, she stopped, slipped out, and went up-stairs to wash her hands. When she returned, fortune favored her; the only vacant seat was one near him, and, after a short hesitation, she took it. Larue did not speak; he was looking at Ruth, who was now pulling candy with Horace Chase, drawing out the golden rope to a yard's length, and throwing the end back to him gayly.

Finally, when not even the painstaking young missionary could scrape another drop from the exhausted pot, Dolly, taking her violin, played a waltz. The uncarpeted floor was tempting, and after all the sticky hands had been washed, the dancing began-Ruth with Chase, Etheridge with Miss Billy; then Etheridge with Mrs. Franklin, while Miss Billy returned quickly to her precious chair.

"But these dances do not compare with the old ones," said Mrs. Franklin, when they had paused to let Dolly rest. "There was the mazurka; and the varsovienne-how pretty that was! La-la-la, la, la!" And humming the tune, she took a step or two lightly. Etheridge, who knew the varsovienne, joined her.

"Go on," said Ruth. "I'll whistle it for you." And sitting on the edge of a table she whistled the tune, while the two dancers circled round the kitchen, looking extremely well together.

"Whistling girls, you know," said Chase, warningly.

He had joined Ruth, and was watching her as she performed her part. She kept on, undisturbed by his jests, bending her head a little to the right and to the left in time with the music; her whistling was as clear as a flute.

"And then there was the heel-and-toe polka. Surely you remember that, commodore," pursued Mrs. Franklin, with inward malice.

For the heel-and-toe was a very ancient memory. It was considered old when she herself had seen it as a child.

"Never heard of it in my life," answered Etheridge. "Hum-ha."

"Oh, I know the heel-and-toe," cried Ruth. "I learned it from mother ages ago, just for fun. Are you rested, Dolly? Play it, please, and mother and I will show them."

Dolly began, and then Mrs. Franklin and Ruth, tall, slender mother, and tall, slender daughter, each with one arm round the other's waist, and the remaining arm held curved above the head, danced down the long room together, taking the steps of the queer Polish dance with charming grace and precision.

"Oh, dear Mrs. Franklin, so young and cheerful! So pleasant to see her, is it not? So lovely! Don't you think so? And dancing is so interesting in so many ways! Though, of course, there are other amusements equally to be desired," murmured Miss Billy, incoherently, to Larue.

"Now we will have a quadrille, and I will improvise the figures," said Ruth. "Mother and the commodore; Miss Billy and Mr. Larue; Mr. Chase with me; and we will take turns in making the fourth couple."

"Unfortunately, I don't dance," observed Larue.

"Spoil-sport!" said Ruth, annihilatingly.

"You got it that time," remarked Chase, condolingly, to the other man.

"Miss Ruth, I can take the senator's place, if you like," said Malachi Hill, springing up, good-naturedly.

Since the termination of the candy-pulling, he had been sitting contentedly beside Dolly, watching her play, and regaling himself meanwhile with a stick of the fresh compound, its end carefully enveloped in a holder of paper.

"Excellent," said Ruth. "Please take Miss Billy, then."

Poor Miss Billy, obliged to dance with a misguided clergyman! This time there was not the excuse of the Mission; it was a real dance. He already smoked; the next step certainly would be cards and horse-racing! While she was taking her place, Rinda ushered in a new guest.

"Maud Muriel-how lucky!" exclaimed Ruth. "You are the very person we need, for we are trying to get up a quadrille, and have not enough persons. I know you like to dance?"

"Yes, I like it very much-for hygienic reasons principally," responded the new-comer.

"Please take my place, then," Ruth went on. "This is Mr. Chase, Miss Maud Mackintosh. Now we will see if our generic geologist and sensational senator will refuse to dance with me." And sinking suddenly on her knees before Larue, Ruth extended her hands in petition.

"What is all that she called him, Miss Maud?" inquired Chase, laughing.

"Miss Mackintosh," said his partner, correctively. "They are only alliterative adjectives, Mr. Chase, rather indiscriminately applied. Ruth is apt to be indiscriminate."

Larue had risen, and Ruth triumphantly led him to his place. He knew that she was laughing at him; in fact, as he went through the figures calmly, his partner mimicked him to his face. But he was indifferent alike to her laughter and her mimicry; what he was noticing was her beauty. If he had been speaking of her, he would have called her "prettyish"; but as he was only thinking, he allowed himself to note the charm of her eyes for the moment, the color in her cheeks and lips. For he was sure that it was only for the moment. "The coloring is evanescent," was his mental criticism. "Her beauty will not last. For she is handsome only when she is happy, and happiness for her means doing exactly as she pleases, and having her own way unchecked. No woman can do that forever. By the time she is thirty she may be absolutely plain."

Maud Muriel had laid aside her hat and jacket. She possessed a wealth of beautiful red hair, whose thick mass was combed so tightly back from her forehead that it made her wink; her much-exposed countenance was not at all handsome, though her hazel eyes were large, calm, and clear. She was a spinster of thirty-six-tall and thin, with large bones. And from her hair to her heels she was abnormally, extraordinarily straight. She danced with much vigor, scrutinizing Chase, and talking to him in the intervals between the figures. These intervals, however, were short, for Ruth improvised with rapidity. Finally she kept them all flying round in a circle so long that Mrs. Franklin, breathless, signalled that she must pause.

"Now we are all hungry," said Ruth. "Zoe, see to the coffee. And, Rinda, you may make ready here. We won't go to the dining-room, His Grand; it's much more fun in the kitchen."

Various inviting dishes were soon arrayed upon a table. And then Ruth, to pass away the time until the coffee should be ready, began to sing. All the Franklins sang; Miss Billy had a sweet soprano, Maud Muriel a resonant contralto, and Malachi Hill a tenor of power; Etheridge, when he chose, could add bass notes.

"Hark, the merry merry Christ-Church bells,

One, two, three, four, five, six;

They sound so strong, so wondrous sweet,

And they troll so merrily, merrily."

Horace Chase took no part in the catch song; he sat looking at the others. It was the Franklin family who held his attention-the mother singing with light-hearted animation; Dolly playing her part on her violin, and singing it also; and Ruth, who, with her hands clasped behind her head, was carolling like a bird. To Chase's mind it seemed odd that a woman so old as Mrs. Franklin, a woman with silver hair and grown-up children, should like to dance and sing. Dolly was certainly a very "live" invalid! And Ruth-well, Ruth was enchanting. Horace Chase's nature was always touched by beauty; he was open to its influences, it had been so from boyhood. What he admired was not regularity of feature, but simply the seductive sweetness of womanhood. And, young as she was, Ruth Franklin's face was full of this charm. He looked at her again as she sat singing the chorus:

"Hark, the first and second bell,

Ring every day at four and ten"-

Then his gaze wandered round the kitchen. From part of the wall the plastering was gone; it had fallen, and had never been replaced. The housewives whom he had hitherto known, so he said to himself, would have preferred to have their walls repaired, and spend less, if necessary, upon dinners. Suppers, too! (Here he noted the rich array on the kitchen table.)

This array was completed presently by the arrival of the coffee, which filled the room with its fragrant aroma, and the supper was consumed amid much merriment. When the clock struck twelve, Maud Muriel rose. "I must be going," she said. "Wilhelmina, I came for you; that is what brought me. When I learned at the hotel that you were here, I followed for the purpose of seeing you home."

"Allow me the pleasure of accompanying you both," said Chase.

"That is not necessary; I always see to Wilhelmina," answered Miss Mackintosh, as she put on her hat.

"Yes; she is so kind," murmured Miss Billy. But Miss Billy in her heart believed that in some way or other Achilles Larue would yet be her escort (though he never had been that, or anything else, in all the years of their acquaintance). He was still in the house, and so was she; something might happen!

What happened was that Larue took leave of Mrs. Franklin, and went off alone.

Then Billy said to herself: "On the whole, I'm glad he didn't suggest it. For it is only five minutes' walk to the hotel, and if he had gone with me it would have counted as a call, and then he needn't have done anything more for a long time. So I'm glad he did not come. Very."

"Maud Muriel," demanded Dolly, "why select a clay pipe?"

"Oh, did you see me?" inquired Miss Mackintosh, composedly. "I use a clay pipe, Dolly, because it is cleaner; I can always have a new one. Smoking is said to insure the night's rest, and so I thought it best to learn it, as my brother's children are singularly active at night. I have been practising for three weeks, and I generally go to the woods, where no one can see me. But to-day I did not have time."

Chase broke into a laugh. Etheridge had emitted another ho, ho, ho! Then he gave Maud a jovial tap. "My dear young lady, don't go to the woods. Let me come, with another clay pipe, and be your protector."

"I have never needed a protector in my life," replied Miss Mackintosh; "I don't know what that feeling is, commodore. I secrete myself simply because people might not understand my motives; they might think that I was secretly given to dissolute courses. Are you ready, Wilhelmina?"

As the two ladies opened the outer door and stepped forth into the darkness, Chase, not deterred by the rebuff he had received from the stalwart virgin, passed her, and offered his arm to the gentler Miss Billy. And then Malachi Hill, feeling that he must, advanced to offer himself as escort for the remaining lady.

"Poor manikin! Do you think I need you?" inquired the sculptress sarcastically, under her breath.

The young clergyman disappeared. He did not actually run. But he was round the corner in an astonishingly short space of time.

Etheridge was the last to take leave. "Well, you made a very merry party for your bubbling friend," he said to Mrs. Franklin.

"It wasn't for him," she answered.

"He is not mother's bubbling friend, and he is not Dolly's, either," said Ruth; "he is mine alone. Mother and Dolly do not in the least appreciate him."

"Is he worth much appreciation?" inquired Etheridge, noting her beauty as Larue had noted it. "How striking she grows!" he thought. And, forgetting for the moment what they were talking about, he looked at her as Chase had looked.

Meanwhile Ruth was answering, girlishly: "Much appreciation? All, commodore-all. Mr. Chase is splendid!"

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