The Rich Mrs. Burgoyne by Kathleen Thompson Norris
Mrs. Burgoyne was a sweet-faced, fresh-looking woman about thirty- two or-three years old, with a quick smile, like a child's, and blue eyes, set far apart, with a little lift at the corners, that, under level heavy brows, gave a suggestion of something almost Oriental to her face. She was dressed simply in black, and a transparent black veil, falling from her wide hat and flung back, framed her face most becomingly in square crisp folds.
She and Barry presently walked up River Street in the mellow afternoon sunlight, and through the old wooden gates of the Holly grounds. On every side were great high-flung sprays of overgrown roses, dusty and choked with weeds, ragged pepper tassels dragged in the grass, and where the path lay under the eucalyptus trees it was slippery with the dry, crescent-shaped leaves. Bees hummed over rank poppies and tangled honeysuckle; once or twice a hummingbird came through the garden on some swift, whizzing journey, and there were other birds in the trees, little shy brown birds, silent but busy in the late afternoon. Close to the house an old garden faucet dripped and dripped, and a noisy, changing group of the brown birds were bathing and flashing about it. The old Hall stood on a rise of ground, clear of the trees, and bathed in sunshine. It was an ugly house, following as it did the fashion of the late seventies; but it was not undignified, with its big door flanked by bay-windows and its narrow porch bounded by a fat wooden balustrade and heavy columns. The porch and steps were weather-stained and faded, and littered now with fallen leaves and twigs.
Barry opened the front door with some difficulty, and they stepped into the musty emptiness of the big main hall. There was a stairway at the back of the house with a colored glass window on the landing, and through it the sunlight streamed, showing the old velvet carpet in the hall below, and the carved heavy walnut chairs and tables, and the old engravings in their frames of oak and walnut mosaic. The visitors peeped into the old library, odorous of unopened books, and with great curtains of green rep shutting out the light, and into the music room behind it, cold even on this warm day, with a muffled grand piano drawn free of the walls, and near it two piano-stools, upholstered in blue-fringed rep, to match the curtains and chairs. They went across the hall to the long, dim drawing room, where there was another velvet carpet, dulled to a red pink by time, and muffled pompous sofas and chairs, and great mirrors, and "sets" of candlesticks and vases on the mantels and what-nots. The windows were shuttered here, the air lifeless. Barry, in George Carew's interest, felt bound to say that "they would clear all this up, you know; a lot of this stuff could be stored."
"Oh, why store it? It's perfectly good," the lady answered absently.
Presently they went out to the more cheerful dining-room, which ran straight across the house, and was low-ceiled, with pleasant square- paned windows on two sides.
"This was the old house," explained Barry; "they added on the front part. You could do a lot with this room."
"Do you still smell spice, and apples, and cider here?" said Mrs. Burgoyne, turning from an investigation of the china-closet, with a radiant face. A moment later she caught her breath suddenly, and walked across the room to stand, resting her hands on a chair back, before a large portrait that hung above the fireplace. She stood so, gazing at the picture--the portrait of a woman--for a full minute, and when she turned again to Barry, her eyes were bright with tears.
"That's Mrs. Holly," said she. "Emily said that picture was here." And turning back to the canvas, she added under her breath, "You darling!"
"Did you know her?" Barry asked, surprised.
"Did I know her!" Mrs. Burgoyne echoed softly, without turning. "Yes, I knew her," she added, almost musingly. And then suddenly she said, "Come, let's look upstairs," and led the way by the twisted sunny back stairway, which had a window on every landing and Crimson Rambler roses pressing against every window. They looked into several bedrooms, all dusty, close, sunshiny. In the largest of these, a big front corner room, carpeted in dark red, with a black marble fireplace and an immense walnut bed, Mrs. Burgoyne, looking through a window that she had opened upon the lovely panorama of river and woods, said suddenly:
"This must be my room, it was hers. She was the best friend, in one way, that I ever had--Mrs. Holly. How happy I was here!"
"Here?" Barry echoed.
At his tone she turned, and looked keenly at him, a little smile playing about her lips. Then her face suddenly brightened.
"Barry, of course!" she exclaimed. "I knew I knew you, but the 'Mr. Valentine' confused me." And facing him radiantly, she demanded, "Who am I?"
Barry shook his head slowly, his puzzled, smiling eyes on hers. For a moment they faced each other; then his look cleared as hers had done, and their hands met as he said boyishly:
"Well, I will be hanged! Jappy Frothingham!"
"Jappy Frothingham!" she echoed joyously. "But I haven't heard that name for twenty years. And you're the boy whose father was a doctor, and who helped us build our Indian camp, and who had the frog, and fell off the roof, and killed the rattlesnake."
"And you're the girl from Washington who could speak French, and who put that stuff on my freckles and wouldn't let 'em drown the kittens."
"Oh, yes, yes!" she said, and, their hands still joined, they laughed like happy children together.
Presently, more gravely, she told him a little of herself, of the early marriage, and the diplomat husband whose career was so cruelly cut short by years of hopeless invalidism. Then had come her father's illness, and years of travel with him, and now she and the little girls were alone. And in return Barry sketched his own life, told her a little of Hetty, and his unhappy days in New York, and of the boy, and finally of the Mail. Her absorbed attention followed him from point to point.
"And you say that this Rogers owns the newspaper?" she asked thoughtfully, when the Mail was under discussion.
"Rogers owns it; that's the trouble. Nothing goes into it without the old man's consent." Barry tested the spring of a roller shade, with a scowl. "Barnes, the assistant editor he had before me, threw up his job because he wouldn't stand having his stuff cut all to pieces and changed to suit Rogers' policies," he went on, as Mrs. Burgoyne's eyes demanded more detail. "And that's what I'll do some day. In the six years since the old man bought it, the circulation has fallen off about half; we don't get any 'ads'; we're not paying expenses. It's a crime too, for it's a good paper. Even Rogers is sick of it now; he'd sell for a song. I'd borrow the money and buy it if it weren't for the presses; I'd have to have new presses. Everything here is in pretty good shape," he finished, with an air of changing the subject.
"And what would new presses cost?" Sidney Burgoyne persisted, pausing on the big main stairway, as they were leaving the house a few minutes later.
"Oh, I don't know." Barry opened the front door again, and they stepped out to the porch. "Altogether," he said vaguely, snapping dead twigs from the heavy unpruned growth of the rose vines, "altogether, I wouldn't go into it without ten thousand. Five for the new presses, say, and four to Rogers for the business and good- will, and something to run on--although," Barry interrupted himself with a vehemence that surprised her, "although I'll bet that the old Mail would be paying her own rent and salaries within two months. The Dispatch doesn't amount to much, and the Star is a regular back number!" He stood staring gloomily down at the roofs of the village;
Mrs. Burgoyne, a little tired, had seated herself on the top step.
"I wish, in all seriousness, you'd tell me about it," she said. "I am really interested. If I buy this place, it will mean that we come here to stay for years perhaps, and I have some money I want to invest here. I had thought of real estate, but it needn't necessarily be that. It sounds to me as if you really ought to make an effort to buy the paper, Barry, Have you thought of getting anyone to go into it with you?"
The man laughed, perhaps a little embarrassed.
"Never here, really. I went to Walter Pratt about it once," he admitted, "but he said he was all tied up. Some of the fellows down in San Francisco might have come in--but Lord! I don't want to settle here; I hate this place."
"But why do you hate it?" Her honest eyes met his in surprise and reproof. "I can't understand it, perhaps because I've thought of Santa Paloma as a sort of Mecca for so many years myself. My visit here was the sweetest and simplest experience I ever had in my life. You see I had a wretchedly artificial childhood; I used to read of country homes and big families and good times in books, but I was an only child, and even then my life was spoiled by senseless formalities and conventions. I've remembered all these years the simple gowns Mrs. Holly used to wear here, and the way she played with us, and the village women coming in for tea and sewing; it was all so sane and so sweet!"
"Our coming here was the merest chance. My father and I were on our way home from Japan, you know, and he suddenly remembered that the Hollys were near San Francisco, and we came up here for a night. That," said Mrs. Burgoyne in a lower tone, as if half to herself, "that was twenty years ago; I was only twelve, but I've never forgotten it. Fred and Oliver and Emily and I had our supper on the side porch; and afterward they played in the garden, but I was shy-- I had never played--and Mrs. Holly kept me beside her on the porch, and talked to me now and then, and finally she asked me if I would like to spend the summer with her. Like to!--I wonder my heart didn't burst with joy! Father said no; but after we children had gone to bed, they discussed it again. How Emily and I prayed! And after a while Fred tiptoed down to the landing, and came up jubilant. 'I heard mother say that what clothes Sidney needed could be bought right here,' he said. Emily began to laugh, and I to cry--!" She turned her back on Barry, and he, catching a glimpse of her wet eyes, took up the conversation himself.
"I don't remember her very well," he said; "a boy wouldn't. She died soon after that summer, and the boys went off to school."
"Yes, I know," the lady said thoughtfully. "I had the news in Rome-- a hot, bright, glaring day. It was nearly a month after her death, then. And even then, I said to myself that I'd come back here, some day. But it's not been possible until now; and now," her voice was bright and steady again, "here I am. And I don't like to hear an old friend abusing Santa Paloma."
"It's a nice enough place," Barry admitted, "but the people are-- well, you wait until you meet the women! Perhaps they're not much worse than women everywhere else, but sometimes it doesn't seem as if the women here had good sense. I don't mean the nice quiet ones who live out on the ranches and are bringing up a houseful of children, but this River Street crowd."
"Why, what's the matter with them?" asked Mrs. Burgoyne with vivacity.
"Oh, I mean this business of playing bridge four afternoons a week, and running to the club, and tearing around in motor-cars all day Sunday, and entertaining the way they think people do it in New York, and getting their dresses in San Francisco instead of up here," Barry explained disgustedly. "Some of them would be nice enough if they weren't trying to go each other one better all the time; when one gets a thing the others have all got to have it, or have something nicer. Take the Browns, now, your neighbors there--"
"In the shingled house, with the babies swinging on the gate as we came by?"
"Yes, that's it. They've got four little boys. Doctor Brown is a king; everybody worships him, and she's a sweet little woman; but of course she's got to strain and struggle like the rest of them. There's a Mrs. Willard White in this town--that big gray-shingled place down there is their garage--and she runs the whole place. She's always letting the others know that hobbles are out, and everything's got to hang from the shoulder--"
"Very good!" laughed Mrs. Burgoyne, "you've got that very nearly right."
"Willard White's a nice fellow," Barry went on, "except that he's a little cracked about his Packard. They give motoring parties, and of course they stop at hotels way up the country for lunch, and the women have got to have veils and special hats and coats, and so on. Wayne Adams told me it stood him in about thirty dollars every time he went out with the Whites. Wayne's got his own car now; his wife kept at him day and night to get it. But he can't run it, so it's in the garage half the time."
"That's the worst of motoring," said the lady with a thoughtful nod, "the people who sell them think they've answered you when they say, 'But you don't run it economically. If you understood it, it wouldn't cost you half so much!' And the alternative is, 'Get a man at seventy-five dollars a month and save repairing and replacing bills.' Nice for business, Barry, but very much overdone for pleasure, I think. I myself hate those days spent with five people you hardly know," she went on, "rushing over beautiful roads that you hardly see, eating too much in strange hotels, and paying too much for it. I sha'n't have a car. But tell me more about the people. Who are the Adamses? Didn't you say Adams?"
"Wayne Adams; nice people, with two nice boys," he supplied; "but she's like the rest. Wayne lies awake nights worrying about bills, and she gives silver photograph-frames for bridge prizes. That white stucco house where they're putting in an Italian garden, is the Parker Lloyds. Mrs. Lloyd's a clever woman, and pretty too; but she doesn't seem to have any sense. They've got a little girl, and she'll tell you that Mabel never wore a stitch that wasn't hand-made in her life. Lloyd had a nervous breakdown a few months ago--we all knew it was nothing but money worry--but yesterday his wife said to me in all good faith that he was too unselfish, he was wearing himself out. She was trying to persuade him to put Mabel in school and go abroad for a good rest."
Mrs. Burgoyne laughed.
"That's like Jeanette Carew showing me her birthday present," Barry went on with a grin. "It seems that George gave her a complete set of bureau ivory--two or three dozen pieces in all, I guess. When I asked her she admitted that she had silver, but she said she wanted ivory, everybody has ivory now. Present!" he repeated with scorn, "why, she just told George what she wanted, and went down and charged it to him! She's worried to death about bills now, but she started right in talking motor-cars; and they'll have one yet. I'd give a good deal," he finished disgustedly, "to know what they get out of it."
"I don't believe they're as bad as all that," said the lady. "There used to be some lovely people here, and there was a whist club too, and it was very nice. They played for a silver fork and spoon every fortnight, and I remember that Mrs. Holly had nearly a dozen of the forks. There was a darling Mrs. Apostleman, and Mrs. Pratt with two shy pretty daughters--"
"Mrs. Apostleman's still here," he told her. "She's a fine old lady. When a woman gets to be sixty, it doesn't seem to matter if she wastes time. Mrs. Pratt is dead, and Lizzie is married and lives in San Francisco, but Anne's still here. She and her brother live in that vault of a gray house; you can see the chimneys. Anne's another, "his tone was cynical again, "a shy, nervous woman, always getting new dresses, and always on club reception committees, with white gloves and a ribbon in her hair, frightened to death for fear she's not doing the correct thing. They've just had a frieze of English tapestries put in the drawing-room and hall,--English tapestries!"
"Perhaps you don't appreciate tapestries," said Mrs. Burgoyne, with her twinkling smile. "You know there is a popular theory that such things keep money in circulation."
"You know there's hardly any form of foolishness or vice of which you can't say that," he reminded her soberly; and Mrs. Burgoyne, serious in turn, answered quickly:
"Yes, you're quite right. It's too bad; we American women seem somehow to have let go of everything real, in the last few generations. But things are coming around again." She rose from the steps, still facing the village. "Tell me, who is my nearest neighbor there, in the white cottage?" she demanded.
"I am," Barry said unexpectedly. "So if you need--yeast is it, that women always borrow?"
"Yeast," she assented laughing. "I will remember. And now tell me about trains and things. Listen!" Her voice and look changed suddenly: softened, brightened. "Is that children?" she asked, eagerly.
And a moment later four children, tired, happy and laden with orchard spoils, came around the corner of the house. Barry presented them as the Carews--George and Jeanette, a bashful fourteen and a self-possessed twelve, and Dick, who was seven--and his own small dusty son, Billy Valentine, who put a fat confiding hand in the strange lady's as they all went down to the gate together.
"You are my Joanna's age, Jeanette," said Mrs. Burgoyne, easily. "I hope you will be friends."
"Who will I be friends with?" said little Billy, raising blue expectant eyes. "And who will George?"
"Why, I hope you will be friends with me," she answered laughing; "and I will be so relieved if George will come up sometimes and help me with bonfires and about what ought to be done in the stable. You see, I don't know much about those things." At this moment George, hoarsely muttering that he wasn't much good, he guessed, but he had some good tools, fell deeply a victim to her charms.
Mrs. Carew came out of her own gate as they came up, and there was time for a little talk, and promises, and goodbyes. Then Barry took Mrs. Burgoyne to the station, and lifted his hat to the bright face at the window as the train pulled out in the dusk. He went slowly to his office from the train and attacked the litter of papers and clippings on his desk absent-mindedly. Once he said half aloud, his big scissors arrested, his forehead furrowed by an unaccustomed frown, "We were only kids then; and they all thought I was the one who was going to do something big."