Under the country sky, p.1

Under the Country Sky, page 1


Under the Country Sky

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Under the Country Sky

  Produced by Roger Frank and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  "'Come, George--you need a good tramp,' Stuart urged atJeannette's elbow"]




  Author of

  "Red Pepper Burns," "Mrs. Red Pepper,""The Twenty-Fourth of June,""The Second Violin," Etc.

  With Frontispiece in ColorsBy FRANCES ROGERS

  A. L. BURT COMPANYPublishers New York

  Published by Arrangements with DOUBLEDAY, PAGE AND COMPANY








  I. Heart Burnings 3 II. Something Really Happens 15 III. A Semi-Annual Occurrence 31 IV. A Literary Light 39 V. Shabbiness 50 VI. When Royalty Comes 60 VII. Snowballs 71 VIII. Soapsuds 84 IX. A Reasonable Proposition 96 X. Stuart Objects 105 XI. Borrowed Plumes 119 XII. Early Morning 135 XIII. A Copyist 143 XIV. Out of the Blue 153 XV. "Great Luck!" 164 XVI. A Little Trunk 176 XVII. Reaction 187 XVIII. "Steady On!" 199 XIX. Revelations 212 XX. Five Minutes 228 XXI. Messages 236 XXII. Toasts 248 XXIII. Why Not? 259 XXIV. Magic Gold 270 XXV. Great Music 283 XXVI. Salt Water 295 XXVII. "Cakes and Ices" 310XXVIII. A Tanned Hercules 323 XXIX. Milestones 332 XXX. Questions and Answers 342




  She did not want to hate the girls; indeed, since she loved them all, itwould go particularly hard with her if she had to hate them; love turnedto hate is such a virulent product! But, certainly, she had never foundit so hard to be patient with them.

  They were all five her college classmates, of only last year's class,and it was dear and kind of them to drive out here into the country tosee her, coming in Phyllis Porter's great family limousine, theprettiest, jolliest little "crowd" imaginable. They had been thoughtfulenough to warn her that they were coming, too, so that she could set theold manse living-room in its pleasantest order, build a cracklingapple-wood fire in the fireplace, and get out her best thin china andsilver with which to serve afternoon tea--she made it chocolate, withvivid recollection of their tastes; and added deliciously substantialthough delicate sandwiches, with plenty of the fruitiest and nuttiestkinds of little cakes. She had donned the one real afternoon frock shepossessed, a clever make-over out of nothing in particular. Altogether,when she greeted her guests, as they ran, fur-clad and silk-stockingedafter the manner of their kind, into her welcoming arms, she had seemedto them absolutely the old Georgiana.

  They had brought her a wonderful box of red roses--and Phyllis hadcaught her kissing one of the great, silky buds as she put it with therest in a bowl. "I don't believe she's seen a hothouse rose since sheleft college," thought Phyllis, with a stab of pity at her tender heart.But for the first hour of their stay Georgiana had been her gay andbrilliant self, flinging quips and jests broadcast, asking impertinentquestions, making saucy comments, quite as of old. It was only when DotManning, toward the end of the visit, began a sober tale of themisfortunes which had come thronging into the life of one of theirclassmates, that Georgiana's face, sobering into sympathetic gravity,betrayed to her companions a curious change which had come upon it sincethey saw it last.

  Meanwhile, in answer to her questioning, they had told her all aboutthemselves. Phyllis Porter and Celia Winters were having a gloriousseason in society. Theo Crossman was deep in settlement work--"crazyover it" was, of course, the phrase. Dot Manning was going abroad nextweek for a year of travel in all sorts of beguiling, out-of-the-wayplaces. As for Madge Sylvester, who was getting ready to be marriedafter Easter, the first of the class, she sat mostly in a dreamy,smiling silence, looking into the fire while the others talked.

  No, Georgiana did not want to hate the girls, but before their stay wasover she found herself coming dangerously near it--temporarily, atleast. They were dears, of course, but they were so content withthemselves and so pitiful of her. Not, of course, that they meant to lether see this, but it showed in spite of them. They wanted to know whatshe did with herself, whether there were any young people, and any goodtimes going on--Georgiana led them to the window, just at this point,and pointed out to them a vigorous young man striding by in ulster andsoft hat, who looked up and waved as he passed, showing one of thosefine and manly young faces, glowing with health and hopefulness, whichalways challenge interest from girlhood.

  "Oh, have you many like that?" Celia had asked, and when Georgiana hadowned that James Stuart was the only one precisely "like that," Dot hadinquired if Mr. Stuart belonged to Georgiana, and, being answered in thenegative, shook her head and sighed: "One swallow _may_ make a summer,Jan, but I doubt it!"

  Theodora Crossman, the settlement worker, inquired particularly whetherGeorgiana were doing anything worth while, using that pregnant modernphrase which has been decidedly overworked, yet which hardly can bespared from the present-day vocabulary.

  "Worth while!" cried Georgiana, flashing into flame in an instant in theway they knew so well. "Worth while--yes! You haven't seen my father,have you, ever? It's a pity this happens to be one of his bad,spine-achey days, for he'd be a good and sufficient answer to thatquestion. Father Davy is one of the Lord's own saints on earth, and hepossesses a magnificent sense of humour, which not all saints do, youknow. To love him is a liberal education, and to take care of him isbetter 'worth while' than to have any number of fingers in otherpeople's pies."

  "Of course, dear," Theo had answered soothingly. "We know there'snothing in the world so well worth while as looking after one's fatherand mother. Your mother died long ago, didn't she, dear? And your fatherwould be dreadfully lonely without you. At the same time, it doesn'tseem as if he could absorb all your energies. You remember the splendidthings Professor Nichols used to say about the duty of the college girl,after college, particularly in a small town? I suppose you have noforeigners here, but I thought perhaps you might find quite a wonderfulfield for your endeavour in stimulating the women of the place intoclubs for study and work. It's----"

  A curious exclamation from her hostess caused Miss Crossman to pause.In fact, they all stared wonderingly at Georgiana. She stood upon thehearthrug, her colour, usually ready to glow in her dusky face, nowreceding suggestively, her dark eyes sparkling dangerously. "The onlytrouble with that sort of thing," she answered with suspiciousquietness, "or rather the two troubles with it are these: In the firstplace, the women have pretty nearly a club apiece already, which suitsthem much better than anything I could 'stimulate' them to
; and, in thesecond place, I have 'quite a wonderful field for my endeavour,' as youcall it, Theo--did you crib that phrase?--in the upper regions of my ownhome. I--in fact, I may be said to belong to the I. W. W.; I'm one ofthe industrial workers of the world!"

  "Jan, you haven't gone into anything crazy----" Dot was beginning, whenGeorgiana, obeying an impulse, walked away from her hearthrug toward thedoor, beckoning her guests to follow.

  "Come on," she invited. "Since you have so poor an opinion of thepossibilities for serious labour in a world of woe offered by myresidence in a small country village, you may come and see foryourselves."

  They came after her, with a rustle and flutter of frocks and a patter ofsmartly shod feet, up the old spindle-railed staircase, through a chillyand unfurnished upper hall, and up a still chillier narrow secondstaircase, into an attic region which could hardly be properlycharacterized as chilly, for the reason that the atmosphere there wasfrankly freezing.

  As near as possible to the gable window stood a monster structure thenature of which the beholders did not instantly recognize. Phyllis wasthe first to cry out: "A loom! It must be a very old one, too. Oh, howfascinating! What do you make, Jan--fabrics?"

  "Rugs," explained Georgiana, pulling at a pile upon the floor. "Suchrugs as these. Good looking? Yes, dear classmates?"

  "Stunning!" cried Madge Sylvester, with a smothered shiver at thepenetrating cold of the place.

  "Simply wonderful!" "Too clever for anything!" and, "Oh, Jan, do youmake them to sell?" "Can I buy this one?" "I'm wild over this dull blueand Indian red!" came tumbling from the mouths of the eager girls, as inthe fading light from the attic window they examined the hand-wovenrugs. There was sincerity in their voices; Georgiana had known therewould be; she was sure of the art and skill plainly to be found in herproduct.

  "I'm afraid not, Phyl. These are all orders, and I'm weeks behind. Theygo to certain exclusive city shops, and I have all I can do."

  "You must have struck a gold mine. I'm so glad!" congratulatedwarm-hearted Phyllis.

  "Well, not exactly. It's rather slow work, when you do housework, too,"acknowledged Georgiana. "However, it does very well; it keeps us infirewood--and oysters--for the winter."

  She instantly regretted this speech, for it led, presently, as she mighthave known it would, to delicately worded expressions of hope that shewould in the future give her friends the pleasure of purchasing herwares.

  Down by the fireplace again Georgiana turned upon them in her oldjesting way, which yet had in it, as they all felt, a quality which wasnew. "Stop it, girls. No, I'll not sell one of you a rug of any size,shape, or colour. I'm far behind, as I told you. But--I'll send Madge agorgeous one for a wedding present, if she'll tell me her preferences,and I'll do the same for each of you, when you meet your fates. Now stoptalking about it. I only showed you to demonstrate that this is a busyworld for me as well as for you, and that I'm very content in it. Dot,don't you want just one more of these fruitkins? By the way, since youlike them so much, I'll give you the recipe. I made it up--wasn't itclever of me?"

  "You're much the cleverest of us all, anyway," murmured Dot meekly,nibbling at the delicious morsel, while her hostess rapidly wrote out alittle formula and gave it to her with a smile.

  They were soon off after that, for the early winter twilight was uponthem, and the lights in the waiting car outside suddenly came on with asuggestive completeness. Georgiana assisted her guests into luxuriouscoats and capes made of or lined with chinchilla, with otter, withsable; handed gloves and muffs; and listened to all manner ofaffectionate parting speeches, every one of which contained pressinginvitations for visits, short or long. Each girl made promises of futurecalls, and professed herself eager to come and stay with Georgiana atany time. Then the whole group went away on a little warm breeze ofgood-fellowship and human kindness.

  "They are dears," admitted Georgiana, as she waved her arm at thedeparting car; "but, oh!--_oh!_ I can't stand having them sorry for me!The old manse _is_ shabby, and every girl of them knew how many timesthis frock has been made over--I saw Celia recognize it even through itsdye. No wonder, when it's been at every college tea she ever gave. But Iwon't--_I won't_--be pitied!"

  The door opened, and a slender figure in an old-fashioned dressing-gowncame slowly into the firelit room.

  Georgiana turned quickly. "Father Davy! Do you feel better? If I'd knownit, I'd have brought you in to meet the girls. They would have enjoyedyou so."

  "I'm not quite up to meeting the girls perhaps, daughter, but decidedlybetter and correspondingly cheerful. Have you had a good time?"

  He placed himself as carefully as possible upon the couch by the fire,and his daughter tucked him up in an old plaid shawl which had lainfolded upon it. She dropped upon the hearthrug and sat looking into thefire, while her father regarded the picture she made in the dyed frock,now a soft Indian red, a hue which pleased his eye and brought out allher gypsy colouring.

  The head upon the couch pillow was topped with a soft mass of curly grayhair, the face below was thin and pale, but the eyes which rested uponthe girl were the clearest, youngest blue-gray eyes that ever spokemutely of the spirit's triumph over the body. One had but to glance atDavid Warne to understand that here was a man who was no less a manbecause he had to spend many hours of every day upon his tortured back.It was three years since he had been forced to lay aside the care of thevillage-and-country parish of which he had been minister, but he hadgiven up not a whit of his interest in his fellowmen, and now that hecould seldom go to them he had taught them to come to him, so that theold manse was almost as much a centre of the village's interest andaffection as it had been when its master went freely in and out. A newmanse had been built nearer the church, for the new man, and the oldhouse left to Mr. Warne's undisputed possession--proof positive of hisplace in the hearts of the community.

  "A good time?" murmured Georgiana, in answer to the question. "No, ahateful, envious, black-browed time, disguised as much as might be undera frivolous manner. The girls were lovely--and I was a perfect fiend!"

  Mr. Warne did not seem in the least disconcerted by this startlingstatement. "The sounds I heard did not strike me as indicating thepresence of any fiend," he suggested.

  "Probably not. I managed to avoid giving in to the temptation to snatchPhyl's sumptuous chinchilla coat, Madge's perfectly adorable hat, Theo'sbronze shoes, Dot's embroidered silk handbag, and Bess's hand-wroughtcollar and cuffs."

  "It was a matter of clothes, then? How much heart-burning men escape!"mused Mr. Warne. "Now, I can never recall hearing any man, young or old,express a longing to denude other men of their apparel."

  Georgiana shot him a look. "No, men merely envy other men their acres,their horses, their motors--and their books. Own up, now, Father Davy,have you never coveted any man's library?"

  The blue-gray eyes sent her back a humorous glance. "Now you have me,"he owned. "But tell me, daughter--it was not only their clothes whichstirred the fiend within you? Confess!"

  She looked round at him. "I don't need to," she said. "You know thewhole of it--what I want for you and me--what they have--_life_! Andlots of it. You need it just as badly as I do--you, a suffering saint atfifty-five when other men are playing golf! And I--simply bursting withlonging to take you and go somewhere--anywhere with you--and seethings--and do things--and _live_ things! And we as poor as poverty,after all you've done for the Lord. Oh, I----"

  She brought her strong young fist down on the nearly threadbare rug witha thump that reddened the fine flesh, and thumped again and yet again,while her father lay and silently watched her, with a look in his eyesless of pain than of utter comprehension. He said not a word, while shebit her lip and stared again into the fire, clenching the fist that hadspoken for her bitterly aching heart. After a time the tense fingersrelaxed, and she held up the hand and looked at it.

  "I'm a brute!" she said presently. "An abominable little brute. How doyou stand me? How do you _endure_ me, Father Davy! I just bind the
loadon your poor back and pull the knots tight, every time I let myselfbreak out like this. If you were any minister-father but yourself, you'deither preach or pray at me. How can you keep from it?"

  He smiled. "I never liked to be preached or prayed at myself, dear," hesaid. "I have not forgotten. And the Lord Himself doesn't expect a youngcaged lioness to act like a caged canary. He doesn't want it to. Andsome day--He will let it out of the cage!"

  She shook her head, and got up. She kissed the gray curls and patted thethin cheek, said cheerfully: "I'm going to get your supper now," andwent away out of the room.

  In the square old kitchen she flung open an outer door and stood staringup at the starry winter sky.

  "Oh, if anything, anything, _anything_ would happen!" she breathed,stretching out both arms toward the snowy shrubbery-broken expansebehind the house which in summer was her garden. "If something wouldjust keep this evening from being like all the other evenings! I can'tsit and read aloud--_to-night_. I can't--I _can't_! And the onlyinteresting thing on earth that can happen is that Jimps Stuart may comeover--and he probably won't, because he was over last evening and theevening before that, and he knows he can't be allowed to come all thetime. He----"

  It was at this point that the old brass knocker on the front doorsounded--and something happened.

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