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   Chapter 4 RHODORA

A Court of Inquiry By Grace S. Richmond Characters: 14100

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Youth on the prow, and Pleasure at the helm.

-Gray.

This morning we had a surprise. Grandmother and Rhodora drove over from Langdale, ten miles away, to spend two days. Grandmother does not belong to us exclusively-she is Grandmother to a large circle of people, all of whom are glad to see her whenever they have the opportunity. Rhodora is a new granddaughter of the old lady-by which I mean to say that Rhodora never saw Grandmother till a fortnight ago, when the girl arrived to pay her a visit.

"I wanted to see you people so much," explained Rhodora, coming breezily upon the porch a step or two in advance of the old lady, "that I thought I'd drive over. Grandmother wanted to come too, so I brought her."

Grandmother's dark eyebrows below her white curls went up a trifle. It was quite evident that she thought she had brought Rhodora, inasmuch as the carriage, the horses, and the old family coachman were all her own. But she did not correct the girl. She is a tiny little lady, with a gentle, somewhat hesitating manner, but her black eyes are very bright, and she sees things with almost as keen a vision as Lad himself.

The Gay Lady was charmed with Grandmother. She put the frail visitor into the easiest chair on the porch, untied her bonnet-strings, smoothed her soft, white curls, and brought a footstool for her little feet. Then she sat by her, listening and talking-doing much more listening than talking-leaving Rhodora to me.

"I'm sorry our men are away to-day," I said to Rhodora, "and Lad is with them. They went early this morning to climb Bluebeard Mountain, and won't be back till night. It is rather quiet here without them."

"Are they young and jolly?" inquired Rhodora.

"They are extremely jolly. As for being young, that depends upon one's point of view," said I. "They are between twenty-five and thirty-five, I believe."

"Pretty wide margin," laughed Rhodora. "And how old is Lad?"

"Fifteen."

"I've had the bad luck to be stuck off with old people all the while lately," remarked Rhodora. She looked at me as she spoke. I wondered if she considered me "old people." Then she glanced at the Gay Lady.

"How old is she?" she inquired.

"I have never asked her."

"Looks like a girl, but I guess she isn't. A real girl would never settle down like that to talk to an old lady like Grandmother," she observed sagely.

I opened my lips-and closed them. I had known Miss Rhodora only about ten minutes, and one does not make caustic speeches to one's guests-if one can help it. But one does take observations upon them. I was taking observations upon Rhodora.

She was decidedly a handsome girl-handsome seems the word. She was rather large, well-proportioned, blooming in colour, with somewhat strikingly modeled features. She wore sleeves to her elbows, and her arms were round and firm. She sat in a nonchalant attitude in which her arms were considerably in evidence.

"Rhodora," said Grandmother, turning to look our way, "did I bring my little black silk bag from the carriage?"

"Didn't see it," replied Rhodora. "Which way is Bluebeard Mountain?" she inquired of me.

The Gay Lady and I arose at the same instant. I went into the house to search for the bag, and when I could not find it the Gay Lady went away down to the red barn to find if the black silk bag had been left in the carriage. She came back bringing it.

"Thank you, my dear," said Grandmother, with a smile which might have repaid anybody for a much longer trip than that to the carriage.

* * *

After a time I managed to exchange places with the Gay Lady, feeling that Rhodora very plainly did consider me an elderly person, and that, in spite of her confidence that the Gay Lady was not "a real girl," as girls of Rhodora's age use the term, she might take her as a substitute for one.

The Gay Lady took Rhodora down to the river, and out in the boat. I understood from what I heard later that the Gay Lady, although a fine oarswoman, did not row Rhodora about the river. Rhodora began by dropping into the stern seat among the cushions, but the Gay Lady fitted two sets of oars into the rowlocks, and offered Rhodora the position of stroke. The Gay Lady is very sweet and courteous in manner, but I could quite understand that when she offered the oars to Rhodora, Rhodora accepted them and did her best.

When they came back it was time for luncheon, and I took my guests to the white room.

"What a cool, reposeful room, my dear," said Grandmother. She patted her white curls in front of the mirror, which is an old-fashioned, oblong one, in which two people cannot well see themselves at the same time. Rhodora came up behind her, stooped to peer over her shoulder, and seized upon the ivory comb which lay on the dressing-table. Her elbow, as she ran the comb through her fluffy hair, struck Grandmother's delicate shoulder. The old lady turned and regarded her granddaughter in astonishment.

"Want the comb?" inquired Rhodora, having finished with it herself.

Rhodora went over to the washstand, and washed and splashed, and used one of the towels and threw it back upon the rack so that it overhung all the other fresh towels. Grandmother used one end of Rhodora's towel, and carefully folded and put it in place, looking regretfully at its rumpled condition. She took a clean pocket-handkerchief out of her bag. Rhodora caught sight of it.

"Oh, Grandmother, have you got a spare handkerchief?" she cried. "I've lost mine, I'm afraid."

Grandmother handed her the little square of fine linen, exquisitely embroidered with her own monogram, and took another and plainer one from her bag.

"Try not to lose that one, Granddaughter," she said, in her gentle way.

Rhodora pushed it inside her sleeve. "Oh, I seldom lose two in one day," she assured the handkerchief's owner.

I fear it was rather a dull afternoon for Rhodora. The Gay Lady took Grandmother away after luncheon into the quiet, green-hung library, and tucked her up on the couch, and covered her with a little silk quilt from her own room, and went away and played softly upon the piano in the distance until the old lady fell asleep. Late in the afternoon Grandmother awoke much refreshed, and found the Gay Lady sitting by the window, keeping guard.

"It does one's eyes good to look at you, my dear," were Grandmother's first words, after she had lain for some time quietly observing the figure by the window, freshly dressed in white. The Gay Lady got up and came over to the couch and bent down, smiling.

* * *

Just in time for a late dinner our men came home, sunburned and hungry. Seeing guests upon the porch they made for their rooms, and reappeared presently in that irreproachable trim which the dustiest and most disreputable-looking of them seems able to achieve, being given plenty of water, in the twinkling of an eye.

They were presented to Grandmother. At almost the same moment we were summoned to dinner. The Skeptic gave the old lady his arm. The Philosopher picked

up her black silk bag from the porch floor, and followed with it dangling from his hand. Just as she reached the table she dropped her handkerchief, and the Lad sprang for it as a retriever springs for a stick, and handed it to her with his best boyish bow. The old lady beamed. Quite evidently this was the sort of thing to which she was accustomed.

At luncheon Rhodora had rather monopolized the conversation. At dinner she found herself unable to do so. The Philosopher and the Skeptic were too much occupied with Grandmother to be able to attend to Rhodora, beyond lending a polite ear to her remarks now and then and immediately afterward returning to the elderly guest. Grandmother was really a most interesting talker when occasion required it of her, as it certainly did now. We were all charmed with her clever way of putting things, her shrewd observation, her knowledge of and interest in affairs in general.

After dinner the Philosopher escorted her out to her chair on the porch. The Skeptic sat down beside the Gay Lady on a wide, wooden settle close by, and both listened, smiling, to the discussion which had arisen between Grandmother and the Philosopher. It was well worth listening to. The Philosopher, while wholly deferential, held his ground staunchly, but Grandmother worsted him in the end. Her cheeks grew pink, her black eyes shone. It was a captivating spectacle.

I called Rhodora's attention to it. Finding nobody else to do her honour she had entered into conversation with the Lad. Both looked up as I spoke to them.

"Yes, isn't she great!" agreed the Lad softly. "Nicest old lady I ever saw."

"It's too exciting for her, I should say," commented her granddaughter. "I didn't think she ought to come. I could have come alone just as well-I'd a good deal rather. She's getting pretty old."

The Skeptic and the Philosopher each did his duty by Rhodora before the evening was over. The Skeptic played four sets of tennis with her-she is an admirable player-but he beat her until he discovered that she was growing very much annoyed-then he allowed her to win the last set by a game. The Lad, who was watching the bout, announced it to me under his breath with a laugh. Then the Philosopher took Rhodora through the garden and over the place generally.

"I think you should have a shawl about your shoulders, Rhodora," said Grandmother, when the girl and the Philosopher had returned and taken their seats upon the steps of the porch. The twilight had fallen, and the Gay Lady had just wrapped Grandmother in a light garment of her own.

Rhodora shrugged her shoulders. "Heavens, no!" she ejaculated. "Old people are always fussing," she remarked, in a slightly lower tone to the Philosopher. "Because she's frozen is no reason why I should be."

"One could almost pretend to be frozen to please her," returned the Philosopher, in a much lower tone than Rhodora's. "She is the most beautiful old lady I ever saw."

"Goodness, I don't see how you can see anything beautiful about old persons," said the girl. "They give me the creeps."

The Philosopher opened his mouth-and closed it again, quite as I had done in the morning. He looked curiously at Rhodora. By his expression I should judge he was thinking: "After all-what's the use?"

* * *

The next afternoon Grandmother and Rhodora went home. When Grandmother was in the carriage the Skeptic tucked her in and put cushions behind her back and a footstool under her feet. Then the Philosopher laid a great nosegay of garden flowers in her lap. She was so pleased she coloured like a girl, and put out her delicate little old hand in its black silk mitt, and he took it in both his and held it close for a minute, looking at her with his blue eyes full of such a boyish expression of affection as his own mother might have seen now and then, years before. I think she would have liked to kiss him, and I am sure he wanted to kiss her, but we were all looking on, and they had known each other but a few hours. Nevertheless, there was something about the little scene which touched us all-except Rhodora, who exclaimed:

"Gracious, Grandmother-I suppose that brings back the days when you had lots of beaux! What a gorgeous jumble of old-fashioned flowers that is, anyhow. I didn't know there were so many kinds in the world!"

The Skeptic hustled her into the carriage, rather as if she were a bag of meal, handed her belongings in after her, shook hands with Grandmother in his most courtly fashion, and stood aside. We waved our hands and handkerchiefs, and Grandmother's fat old horses walked away with her down the driveway.

"It's a pity," said the Skeptic to me impatiently, when they were out of sight around the corner, and we had turned to go back to the house, "that a girl like that can't see herself."

"Rhodora is very young yet," said I. "Perhaps by the time she is even as old as the Gay Lady--"

"You don't think it," declared the Skeptic, looking ahead at the Gay Lady as she walked by the Philosopher over the lawn toward the house. "The two are no more the same sort-than--" he looked toward the garden for inspiration and found it, as many a man before him has found it, when searching after similes for the women he knows-"than those yellow tiger-lilies of yours are like-a clump of hepaticas that you find in the woods in spring."

* * *

That evening the Gay Lady had left us, as she sometimes does, and gone in to play soft, old-time melodies on my piano, while the rest of us sat silently listening. The men know well enough that it is useless to follow her in when she goes to play in the twilight-if they did she would send them back again, or stop playing. And as it is worth much to hear her play when she has a certain mood upon her, nobody does anything to break the spell. Sometimes the listening grows almost painful, but before we are quite overwrought she comes back and makes us gay again.

"When I was a boy," said the Skeptic, very softly to me, after the music stopped, "I used to pick out men to admire and follow about, and consume myself with wishing that some day I could be like them. How could a girl like that one we've had here to-day look at our Gay Lady and not want to copy her to the last hair on her head?"

"There are some things which can't be copied," I returned. "She is one of them."

The Skeptic gave me a grateful glance. "You never said a truer thing than that," said he.

Perceiving that he was in a sentimental mood, and that the Gay Lady had stopped playing and was coming out again upon the porch, I turned my attention to the Philosopher. In spite of the music he seemed not in a sentimental mood.

"You have a lot of girl company, first and last, don't you?" he queried, when he and I had agreed upon the beauty of the night.

"It happens so, for some reason," I admitted.

He shook his head regretfully. "If I thought you were going to have anything more like that to-day soon, I should take to the woods," said he.

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