MoboReader> Literature > The Two Vanrevels

   Chapter 9 The Rule of the Regent

The Two Vanrevels By Booth Tarkington Characters: 15650

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Betty never forgot her first sight of the old friend of her family. Returning with a sad heart, she was walking the colt slowly through the carriage-gates, when an extravagantly stout lady, in green muslin illustrated with huge red flowers, came out upon the porch and waved a fat arm to the girl. The visitor wore a dark-green turban and a Cashmere shawl, while the expanse of her skirts was nothing short of magnificent: some cathedral-dome seemed to have been misplaced and the lady dropped into it. Her outstretched hand terrified Betty: how was she to approach near enough to take it?

Mrs. Tanberry was about sixty, looked forty, and at first you might have guessed she weighed nearly three hundred, but the lightness of her smile and the actual buoyancy which she somehow imparted to her whole dominion lessened that by at least a hundred-weight. She ballooned out to the horse-block with a billowy rush somewhere between bounding and soaring; and Miss Betty slid down from the colt, who shied violently, to find herself enveloped, in spite of the dome, in a vast surf of green and red muslin.

"My charming girl!" exclaimed the lady vehemently, in a voice of such husky richness, of such merriment and unction of delight, that it fell upon Miss Betty's ear with more of the quality of sheer gayety than any she had ever heard. "Beautiful child! What a beautiful child you are!"

She kissed the girl resoundingly on both cheeks; stepped back from her and laughed, and clapped her fat hands, which were covered with flashing rings. "Oh, but you are a true blue Beauty! You're a Princess! I am Mrs. Tanberry, Jane Tanberry, young Janie Tanberry. I haven't seen you since you were a baby and your pretty mother was a girl like us!"

"You are so kind to come," said Betty hesitatingly. "I shall try to be very obedient."

"Obedient!" Mrs. Tanberry uttered the word with a shriek. "You'll be nothing of the kind. I am the light-mindedest woman in the universe, and anyone who obeyed me would be embroiled in everlasting trouble every second in the day. You'll find that I am the one that needs looking after, my charmer!"

She tapped Miss Betty's cheek with her jeweled fingers as the two mounted the veranda steps. "It will be worry enough for you to obey yourself; a body sees that at the first blush. You have conscience in your forehead and rebellion in your chin. Ha, ha, ha!" Here Mrs. Tanberry sat upon, and obliterated, a large chair, Miss Carewe taking a stool at her knee.

"People of our age oughtn't to be bothered with obeying; there'll be time enough for that when we get old and can't enjoy anything. Ha, ha!"

Mrs. Tanberry punctuated her observations with short volleys of husky laughter, so abrupt in both discharge and cessation that, until Miss Betty became accustomed to the habit, she was apt to start slightly at each salvo. "I had a husband-once," the lady resumed, "but only once, my friend! He had ideas like your father's-your father is such an imbecile!-and he thought that wives, sisters, daughters, and such like ought to be obedient: that is, the rest of the world was wrong unless it was right; and right was just his own little, teeny-squeeny prejudices and emotions dressed up for a crazy masquerade as Facts. Poor man! He only lasted about a year!" And Mrs. Tanberry laughed heartily.

"They've been at me time and again to take another." She lowered her voice and leaned toward Betty confidentially. "Not I! I'd be willing to engage myself to Crailey Gray (though Crailey hasn't got round to me yet) for I don't mind just being engaged, my dear; but they'll have to invent something better than a man before I marry any one of 'em again! But I love 'em, I do, the Charming Billies! And you'll see how they follow me!" She patted the girl's shoulder, her small eyes beaming quizzically. "We'll have the gayest house in Rouen, ladybird! The young men all go to the Bareauds', but they'll come here now, and we'll have the Bareauds along with 'em. I've been away a long time, just finished unpacking yesterday night when your father came in after the fire-Whoo! what a state he was in with that devilish temper of his! Didn't I snap him up when he asked me to come and stay with you? Ha, ha! I'd have come, even if you hadn't been beautiful; but I was wild to be your playmate, for I'd heard nothing but 'Miss Betty Carewe, Miss Betty Carewe' from everybody I saw, since the minute my stage came in. You set 'em all mad at your ball, and I knew we'd make a glorious house-full, you and I! Some of the vagabonds will turn up this very evening, you'll see if they don't. Ha, ha! The way they follow me!"

Mrs. Tanberry was irresistible: she filled the whole place otherwise than by the mere material voluminousness of her; bubbling over with froth of nonsense which flew through the house, driven by her energy, like sea-foam on a spring gale; and the day, so discordantly begun for Miss Betty, grew musical with her own laughter, answering the husky staccato of the vivacious newcomer. Nelson waited upon them at table, radiant, his smile like the keyboard of an ebony piano, and his disappearances into the kitchen were accomplished by means of a surreptitious double-shuffle, and followed by the cachinnating echoes of the vain Mamie's reception of the visitor's sallies, which Nelson hastily retailed in passing.

Nor was Mrs. Tanberry's prediction allowed to go unfulfilled regarding the advent of those persons whom she had designated as vagabonds. It may have been out of deference to Mr. Carewe's sense of decorum (or from a cautious regard of what he was liable to do when he considered that sense outraged) that the gallants of Rouen had placed themselves under the severe restraint of allowing three days to elapse after their introduction to Miss Carewe before they "paid their respects at the house;" but, be that as it may, the dictator was now safely under way down the Rouen River, and Mrs. Tanberry reigned in his stead. Thus, at about eight o'clock that evening, the two ladies sat in the library engaged in conversation-though, for the sake of accuracy, it should be said that Mrs. Tanberry was engaged in conversation, Miss Betty in giving ear-when their attention was arrested by sounds of a somewhat musical nature from the lawn, which sounds were immediately identified as emanating from a flute and violin.

Mrs. Tanberry bounded across the room like a public building caught by a cyclone, and, dashing at the candles, "Blow 'em out, blow 'em out!" she exclaimed, suiting the action to the word in a fluster of excitement.

"Why?" asked Miss Carewe, startled, as she rose to her feet. The candles were out before the question.

"'Why!" repeated the merry, husky voice in the darkness. "My goodness, child precious, those vagabonds are here! To think of your never having been serenaded before!"

She drew the girl to the window and pointed to a group of dim figures near the iliac bushes. "The dear, delightful vagabonds!" she chuckled. "I knew they'd come! It's the beautiful Tappingham Marsh with his fiddle, and young Jeff Bareaud with his flute, and 'Gene Madrillon and little Frank Chenowith and thin Will Cummings to sing. Hark to the rascals!"

It is perfectly truthful to say that the violin and flute executed the prelude, and then the trio sounded full on the evening air, the more effective chords obligingly drawn out as long as the breath in the singers could hold them, in order to allow the two fair auditors complete benefit of the harmony. They sang "The Harp that Once Thro' Tara's Halls," and followed it with "Long, Long Ago."

"That," Mrs. Tanberry whispered, between stifled gusts of almost uncontrollable laughter, "is meant for just me!"

"Tell me the tales that to me were so dear," entreated the trio.

"

I told 'em plenty!" gurgled the enlivening widow. "And I expect between us we can get up some more." "Now you are come my grief is removed," they sang.

"They mean your father is on his way to St. Louis," remarked Mrs. Tanberry.

"Let me forget that so long you have roved, Let me believe that you love as you loved, Long, long ago, long ago."

"Applaud, applaud!" whispered Mrs. Tanberry, encouraging the minstrels by a hearty clapping of hands.

Hereupon dissension arose among the quintet, evidently a dispute in regard to their next selection; one of the gentlemen appearing more than merely to suggest a solo by himself, while the others too frankly expressed adverse opinions upon the value of the offering. The argument became heated, and in spite of many a "Sh!" and "Not so loud!" the ill-suppressed voice of the intending soloist, Mr. Chenoweth, could be heard vehemently to exclaim: "I will! I learned it especially for this occasion. I will sing it!"

His determination, patently, was not to be balked without physical

encounter, consequently he was permitted to advance some paces from the

lilac bushes, where he delivered himself, in an earnest and plaintive

tenor, of the following morbid instructions, to which the violin played

an obligato in tremulo, so execrable, and so excruciatingly discordant,

that Mr. Chenoweth's subsequent charge that it was done with a

deliberately evil intention could never be successfully opposed:

"Go! Forget me!

Why should Sorrow

O'er that brow a shadow fling?

Go! Forget me, and, to-morrow,

Brightly smile and sweetly sing!

"Smile! tho' I may not be near thee;

Smile! tho' I may never see thee;

May thy soul with pleasure shine

Lasting as this gloom of mine!"

Miss Carewe complied at once with the request; while her companion, unable to stop with the slight expression of pleasure demanded by the songster, threw herself upon a sofa and gave way to the mirth that consumed her.

Then the candles were relit, the serenaders invited within; Nelson came bearing cake and wine, and the house was made merry. Presently, the romp, Virginia Bareaud, making her appearance on the arm of General Trumble, Mrs. Tanberry led them all in a hearty game of Blind-man's Buff, followed by as hearty a dancing of Dan Tucker. After that, a quadrille being proposed, Mrs. Tanberry suggested that Jefferson should run home and bring Fanchon for the fourth lady. However, Virginia explained that she had endeavored to persuade both her sister and Mr. Gray to accompany the General and herself, but that Mr. Gray had complained of indisposition, having suffered greatly from headache, on account of inhaling so much smoke at the warehouse fire; and, of course, Fanchon would not leave him. (Miss Carewe permitted herself the slightest shrug of the shoulders.)

So they danced the quadrille with Jefferson at the piano and Mr. Marsh performing in the character of a lady, a proceeding most unacceptable to the General, whom Mrs. Tanberry forced to be his partner. And thus the evening passed gayly away, and but too quickly, to join the ghosts of all the other evenings since time began; and each of the little company had added a cheerful sprite to the long rows of those varied shades that the after years bring to revisit us, so many with pathetic reproach, so many bearing a tragic burden of faces that we cannot make even to weep again, and so few with simple merriment and lightheartedness. Tappingham Marsh spoke the truth, indeed, when he exclaimed in parting, "O rare Mrs. Tanberry!"

But the house had not done with serenades that night. The guests had long since departed; the windows were still and dark under the wan old moon, which had risen lamely, looking unfamiliar and not half itself; the air bore an odor of lateness, and nothing moved; when a delicate harmony stole out of the shadows beyond the misty garden. Low but resonant chords sounded on the heavier strings of a guitar, while above them, upon the lighter wires, rippled a slender, tinkling melody that wooed the slumberer to a delicious half-wakefulness, as dreamily, as tenderly, as the croon of rain on the roof soothes a child to sleep. Under the artist's cunning touch the instrument was both the accompaniment and the song; and Miss Betty, at first taking the music to be a wandering thread in the fabric of her own bright dreams, drifted gradually to consciousness to find herself smiling. Her eyes opened wide, but half closed again with the ineffable sweetness of the sound.

Then a voice was heard, eerily low, yet gallant and clear, a vibrant baritone, singing to the guitar.

"My lady's hair, That dark delight, Is both as fair And dusk as night. I know some lovelorn hearts that beat In time to moonbeam twinklings fleet, That dance and glance like jewels there, Emblazoning the raven hair!

"Ah, raven hair! So dark and bright, What loves lie there Enmeshed, to-night? I know some sighing lads that say Their hearts were snared and torn away; And now as pearls one fate they share, Entangled in the raven hair.

"Ah, raven hair, From such a plight Could you not spare One acolyte? I know a broken heart that went To serve you but as ornament. Alas! a ruby now you wear, Ensanguining the raven hair!"

The song had grown fainter and fainter, the singer moving away as he sang, and the last lines were almost inaudible in the distance The guitar could be heard for a moment or two more, then silence came again. It was broken by a rustling in the room next to Miss Betty's, and Mrs. Tanberry called softly through the open door:

"Princess, are you awake? Did you hear that serenade?"

After a pause the answer came hesitatingly in a small, faltering voice: "Yes-if it was one. I thought perhaps he was only singing as he passed along the street."

"Aha!" ejaculated Mrs. Tanberry, abruptly, as though she had made an unexpected discovery. "You knew better; and this was a serenade that you did not laugh at. Beautiful, I wouldn't let it go any farther, even while your father is gone. Something might occur that would bring him home without warning-such things have happened. Tom Vanrevel ought to be kept far away from this house."

"Oh, it was not he," returned Miss Betty, quickly. "It was Mr. Gray. Didn't you-"

"My dear," interrupted the other, "Crailey Gray's specialty is talking. Most of the vagabonds can sing and play a bit, and so can Crailey, particularly when he's had a few bowls of punch; but when Tom Vanrevel touches the guitar and lifts up his voice to sing, there isn't an angel in heaven that wouldn't quit the place and come to hear him! Crailey wrote those words to Virginia Bareaud. (Her hair is even darker than yours, you know.) That was when he was being engaged to her; and Tom must have set the music to 'em lately, and now comes here to sing 'em to you; and well enough they fit you! But you must keep him away, Princess."

Nevertheless, Betty knew the voice was not that which had bid her look to the stars, and she remained convinced that it belonged to Mr. Crailey Gray, who had been too ill, a few hours earlier, to leave the Bareaud house, and now, with Fanchon's kisses on his lips, came stealing into her garden and sang to her a song he had made for another girl!

And the angels would leave heaven to listen when he sang, would they? Poor Fanchon! No wonder she held him so tightly in leading strings! He might risk his life all he wished at the end of a grappling-ladder, dangling in a fiery cloud above nothing; but when it came to-ah, well, poor Fanchon! Did she invent the headaches for him, or did she make him invent them for himself?

If there was one person in the world whom Miss Betty held in bitter contempt and scorn, it was the owner of that voice and that guitar.

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