Michael O'Halloran by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter IV. "Bearer of Morning"
"Douglas," called Leslie over the telephone, "I have developed nerves."
"Why?" inquired he.
"Dad has just come in with a pair of waist-high boots, and a scalping knife, I think," answered Leslie. "Are you going to bring a blanket and a war bonnet?"
"The blanket, I can; the bonnet, I might," said Douglas.
"How early will you be ready?" she asked.
"Whenever you say," he replied.
"Five?" she queried.
"Very well!" he answered. "And Leslie, I would suggest a sweater, short stout skirts, and heavy gloves. Do you know if you are susceptible to poison vines?"
"I have handled anything wild as I pleased all my life," she said. "I am sure there is no danger from that source; but Douglas, did you ever hear of, or see, a massasauga?"
"You are perfectly safe on that score," he said. "I am going along especially to take care of you."
"All right, then I won't be afraid of snakes," she said.
"I have waders, too," he said, "and I'm going into the swamp with you. Wherever you wish to go, I will precede you and test the footing."
"Very well! I have lingered on the borders long enough. To-morrow will be my initiation. By night I'll have learned the state of my artistic ability with natural resources, and I'll know whether the heart of the swamp is the loveliest sight I ever have seen, and I will have proved how I 'line up' with a squaw-woman."
"Leslie, I'm now reading a most interesting human document," said Douglas, "and in it I have reached the place where Indians in the heart of terrific winter killed and heaped up a pile of deer in early day in Minnesota, then went to camp rejoicing, while their squaws were left to walk twenty-eight miles and each carry back on her shoulder a deer frozen stiff. Leslie, you don't line up! You are not expected to."
"Do you believe that, Douglas?" asked the girl.
"It's history dear, not fiction," he answered.
"Douglas!" she warned.
"Leslie, I beg your pardon! That was a slip!" cried he.
"Oh!" she breathed.
"Leslie, will you do something for me?" he questioned.
"What?" she retorted.
"Listen with one ear, stop the other, and tell me what you hear," he ordered.
"Yes," she said.
"Did you hear, Leslie?" he asked anxiously.
"I heard something, I don't know what," she answered.
"Can you describe it, Leslie?"
"Just a rushing, beating sound! What is it Douglas?"
"My heart, Leslie, sending to you each throbbing stroke of my manhood pouring out its love for you."
"Oh-h-h!" cried the astonished girl.
"Will you listen again, Leslie?" begged the man.
"No!" she said.
"You don't want to hear what my heart has to say to you?" he asked.
"Not over a wire! Not so far away!" she panted.
"Then I'll shorten the distance. I'm coming, Leslie!"
"What shall I do?" she gasped. She stared around her, trying to decide whether she should follow her impulse to hide, when her father entered the room.
"Daddy," she cried, "if you want to be nice to me, go away a little while. Go somewhere a few minutes and stay until I call you."
"Leslie, what's the matter?" he asked.
"I've been talking to Douglas, and Daddy, he's coming like a charging Highland trooper. Daddy, I heard him drop the receiver and start. Please, please go away a minute. Even the dearest father in the world can't do anything now! We must settle this ourselves."
"I'm not to be allowed a word?" he protested.
"Daddy, you've had two years! If you know anything to say against Douglas and haven't said it in all that time, why should you begin now? You couldn't help knowing! Daddy, do go! There he is! I hear him!"
Mr. Winton took his daughter in his arms, kissed her tenderly, and left the room. A second later Douglas Bruce entered. Rushing to Leslie he caught her to his breast roughly, while with a strong hand he pressed her ear against his heart.
"Now you listen, my girl!" he cried. "You listen at close range."
Leslie remained quiet a long second. Then she lifted her face, adorable, misty eyed and tenderly smiling.
"Douglas, I never listened to a heart before! How do I know what it is saying? I can't tell whether it is talking about me or protesting against the way you've been rushing around!" "No levity, my lady," he said grimly. "This is serious business. You listen while I interpret. I love you, Leslie! Every beat, every stroke, love for you. I claim you! My mate! My wife! I want you!"
He held her from him, looking into her eyes.
"Now Leslie, the answer!" he cried. "May I listen to it or will you tell me? Is there any answer? What is your heart saying? May I hear or will you tell me?"
"I want to tell you!" said the girl. "I love you, Douglas! Every beat, every stroke, love for you."
Early the next morning they inspected their equipment carefully, then drove north to the tamarack swamp, where they arranged that Leslie and Douglas were to hunt material, while Mr. Winton and the driver went to the nearest Indian settlement to find the squaw who had made the other basket, and bring her to the swamp.
If you have experienced the same emotions you will know how Douglas and Leslie felt when hand in hand they entered the swamp on a perfect morning in late May. If you have not, mere words are inadequate.
Through fern and brake head high, through sumac, willow, elder, buttonbush, gold-yellow and blood-red osiers, past northern holly, over spongy moss carpet of palest silvery green up-piled for ages, over red- veined pitcher plants spilling their fullness, among scraggy, odorous tamaracks, beneath which cranberries and rosemary were blooming; through ethereal pale mists of dawn, in their ears lark songs of morning from the fields, hermit thrushes in the swamp, bell birds tolling molten notes, in a minor strain a swelling chorus of sparrows, titmice, warblers, vireos, went two strong, healthy young people newly promised for "better or worse." They could only look, stammer, flush, and utter broken exclamations, all about "better." They could not remotely conceive that life might serve them the cruel trick of "worse."
Leslie sank to her knees. Douglas lifted her up, set her on the firmest location he could see, adoring her with his eyes and reverent touch. Since that first rough grasp as he drew her to him, Leslie had felt positively fragile in his hands. She smiled at him her most beautiful smile when wide-eyed with emotion.
"Douglas, why just now, when you've waited two years?" she asked.
"Wanted a degree of success to offer," he answered.
Leslie disdained the need for success.
"Wanted you to have time to know me as completely as possible."
Leslie intimated that she could learn faster.
"Wanted to have the acknowledged right to put my body between yours and any danger this swamp might have to offer to-day."
"Exactly what I thought!" cried she.
"Wise girl," commented the man.
"Douglas, I must hurry!" said Leslie. "It may take a long time to find the flowers I want, while I've no idea what I shall do for a basket. I saw osiers yellow and red in quantities, but where are the orchids?"
"We must make our way farther in and search," he said.
"Douglas, listen!" breathed Leslie.
"I hear exquisite music," he answered.
"But don't you recognize it?" she cried.
"It does seem familiar, but I am not sufficiently schooled in music----"
The girl began softly to whistle.
"By Jove!" cried the man. "What is that Leslie?"
"Di Provenza, from Traviata," she answered. "But I must stop listening for birds Douglas, when I can scarcely watch for flowers or vines. I have to keep all the time looking to make sure that you are really my man."
"And I, that you are my woman. Leslie, that expression and this location, the fact that you are in competition with a squaw and the Indian talk we have indulged in lately, all conspire to remind me that a few days ago, while I was still a 'searcher' myself, I read a poem called 'Song of the Search' that was the biggest thing of its kind that I have yet found in our language. It was so great that I reread it until I am sure I can do it justice. Listen my 'Bearer of Morning,' my 'Bringer of Song----'"
Douglas stood straight as the tamaracks, his feet sinking in "the little moss," while from his heart he quoted Constance Skinner's wonderful poem:
"I descend through the forest alone. Rose-flushed are the willows, stark and a-quiver, In the warm sudden grasp of Spring; Like a woman when her lover has suddenly, swiftly taken her. I hear the secret rustle of little leaves, Waiting to be born. The air is a wind of love From the wings of eagles mating---- O eagles, my sky is dark with your wings! The hills and the waters pity me, The pine-trees reproach me. The little moss whispers under my feet, "Son of Earth, Brother, Why comest thou hither alone?" Oh, the wolf has his mate on the mountain---- Where art thou, Spring-daughter? I tremble with love as reeds by the river, I burn as the dusk in the red-tented west, I call thee aloud as the deer calls the doe, I await thee as hills wait the morning, I desire thee as eagles the storm; I yearn to thy breast as night to the sea, I claim thee as the silence claims the stars. O Earth, Earth, great Earth, Mate of God and mother of me, Say, where is she, the Bearer of Morning, My Bringer of Song? Love in me waits to be born, Where is She, the Woman?
"'Where is she, the Woman?' The answer is 'Here!' 'Bearer of Morning,' 'Bringer of Song,' I adore you!"
"Oh Douglas, how beautiful!" cried Leslie. "My Man, can we think of anything save ourselves to-day? Can we make that basket?"
"It would be a bad start to give up our first undertaking together," he said.
"Of course!" she cried. "We must! We simply must find things. Father may call any minute. Let go my hand and follow behind me. Keep close, Douglas!"
"I should go before to clear the way," he suggested.
"No, I may miss rare flowers if you do," she objected.
"Go slowly, so I can watch before and overhead."
"Yes!" she answered. "There! There, Douglas!"
"Ah! There they are!" he exulted.
"But I can't take them!" she protested.
"Only a few, Leslie. Look before you! See how many there are!" he said.
"Douglas, could there be more wonderful flowers than the moccasins and slippers?" she asked.
"Scarcely more wonderful; there might be more delicate and lovely!"
"Farther! Let us go farther!" she urged.
Her cry closed the man's arms around her.
Then there was a long silence during which they stood on the edge of a small open space breathlessly worshipping, but it was the Almighty they were now adoring. Here the moss lay in a flat carpet, tinted deeper green. Water willow rolled its ragged reddish-tan hoops, with swelling bloom and leaf buds. Overflowing pitcher plants grew in irregular beds, on slender stems, lifting high their flat buds. But scattered in groups here and there, sometimes with massed similar colours, sometimes in clumps and variegated patches, stood the rare, early fringed orchis, some almost white, others pale lavender and again the deeper colour of the moccasins; while everywhere on stems, some a foot high, nodded the exquisite lavender and white showy orchis.
"Count!" he commanded.
Leslie pointed a slender finger indicating each as she spoke: "One, two, three--thirty-two, under the sweep of your arms, Douglas! And more! More by the hundred! Surely if we are careful not to kill them, the Lord won't mind if we take out a few for people to see, will He?"
"He must have made them to be seen!" said Douglas.
"And worshipped!" cried the girl.
"Douglas, why didn't the squaw----?" asked Leslie.
"Maybe she didn't come this far," he said. "Perhaps she knows by experience that these are too fragile to remove. You may not be able to handle them, Leslie."
"I'm going to try," she said. "But first I must make my basket. We'll go back to the osiers to weave it and then come here to fill it. Oh Douglas! Did you ever see such flower perfection in all your life?"
"Only in books! In my home country applied botany is a part of every man's education. I never have seen ragged or fringed orchids growing before. I have read of many fruitless searches for the white ones."
"So have I. They seem to be the rarest. Douglas, look there!"
"There" was a group of purple-lavender, white-lipped bloom, made by years of spreading from one root, until above the rank moss and beneath the dark tamarack branch the picture appeared inconceivably delicate.
"Yes! The most exquisite flowers I ever have seen!"
"And there, Douglas!" She pointed to another group. "Just the shade of the lavender on the toe of the moccasin--and in a great ragged mass! Would any one believe it?"
"Not without seeing it," he said emphatically.
"And there, Douglas! Exactly the colour of the moccasins--see that cluster! There are no words, Douglas!"
"Shall you go farther?" he asked.
"No," she answered. "I'm going back to weave my basket. There is nothing to surpass the orchids in rarity and wondrous beauty."
"Good!" he cried. "I'll go ahead and you follow."
So they returned to the osiers. Leslie pondered deeply a few seconds, then resolutely putting Douglas aside, she began cutting armloads of pale yellow osiers. Finding a suitable place to work, she swiftly and deftly selected perfect, straight evenly coloured ones, cutting them the same length, then binding the tip ends firmly with raffia she had brought to substitute for grass. Then with fine slips she began weaving, gradually spreading the twigs while inwardly giving thanks for the lessons she had taken in basketry. At last she held up a big, pointed, yellow basket.
"Ready!" she said.
"Beautiful!" cried Douglas.
Leslie carefully lined the basket with moss in which the flowers grew, working the heads between the open spaces she had left. She bent three twigs, dividing her basket top in exact thirds. One of these she filled with the whitest, one with stronger, and one with the deepest lavender, placing the tallest plants in the centre so that the outside ones would show completely. Then she lifted by the root exquisite showy orchis, lavender-hooded, white-lipped, the tiniest plants she could select and set them around the edge. She bedded the moss-wrapped roots in the basket and began bordering the rim and entwining the handle with a delicate vine. She looked up at Douglas, her face thrilled with triumph, flushed with exertion, her eyes humid with feeling, while he gazed at her stirred to the depth of his heart with sympathy and the wonder of possession.
"'Bearer of Morning,' you win!" he cried triumphantly. "There is no use going farther. Let me carry that to your father, and he too will say so."
"I have a reason for working out our plan," she said.
"Yes? May I know?" he asked.
"Surely!" she answered. "You remember what you told me about the Minturns. I can't live in a city and not have my feelings harrowed every day, and while I'd like to change everything wrong, I know I can't all of it, so what I can't cope with must be put aside; but this refuses, it is insistent. When you really think of it, that is so dreadful, Douglas. If they once felt what we do now, could it all go? There must be something left! You mention him oftener than any other one man, so you must admire him deeply; I know her as well as any woman I meet in society, better than most; I had thought of asking them to be the judges. She is interested in music and art; it would please her and be perfectly natural for me to ask her; you are on intimate terms with him from your offices being opposite; there could be no suspicion of any ulterior motive in having them. I don't know that it would accomplish anything, but it would let them know, to begin with, that we consider them friends; so it would be natural for them to come with us; if we can't manage more than that to-day, it will give us ground to try again."
"Splendid!" he said. "A splendid plan! It would let them see that at least our part of the world thinks of them together, and expects them to be friends. Splendid!"
"I have finished," said Leslie.
"I quite agree," answered Douglas. "No one could do better. That is the ultimate beauty of the swamp made manifest. There is the horn! Your father is waiting."
A surprise was also waiting. Mr. Winton had not only found the squaw who brought the first basket, but he had made her understand so thoroughly what was wanted that she had come with him, while at his suggestion she had replaced the moccasin basket as exactly as she could and also made an effort at decoration. She was smiling woodenly when Leslie and Douglas approached, but as Leslie's father glimpsed and cried out over her basket, the squaw frowned, drawing back.
"Where you find 'em?" she demanded.
"In the swamp!" Leslie nodded backward.
The squaw grunted disapprovingly. "Lowry no buy 'em! Sell slipper! Sell moccasin! No sell weed!"
Leslie looked with shining eyes at her father.
"That lies with Lowry," he said. "I'll drive you there and bring you back, and you'll have the ride and the money for your basket. That's all that concerns you. We won't come here to make any more."
The squaw smiled again, so they started to the city. They drove straight to the Winton residence for the slippers. While Mr. Winton and the squaw went to take the baskets to Lowry's and leave Douglas at his office, Leslie in his car went to Mrs. Minturn's.
"Don't think I'm crazy," laughed Leslie, as Mrs. Minturn came down to meet her. "I want to use your exquisite taste and art instinct a few minutes. Please do come with me. We've a question up. You know the wonderful stuff the Indians bring down from the swamps to sell on the streets and to the florists?"
"Indeed yes! I often buy of them in the spring. I love the wild white violets especially. What is it you want?"
"Why you see," said Leslie, looking eagerly at Mrs. Minturn, "you see there are three flower baskets at Lowry's. Douglas Bruce is going to buy me the one I want most for a present, to celebrate a very important occasion, and I can't tell which is most artistic. I want you to decide. Your judgment is so unfailing. Will you come? Only a little spin!"
"Leslie, you aren't by any chance asking me to select your betrothal gift, are you?"
Leslie's face was rose-flushed smiling wonderment. She had hastily slipped off her swamp costume. Joy that seemed as if it must be imperishable shone on her brightly illumined face. With tightly closed, smile-curved lips she vigorously nodded. The elder woman bent to kiss her.
"Of course I'll come!" she laughed. "I feel thrilled, and flattered. And I congratulate you sincerely. Bruce is a fine man. He'll make a big fortune soon."
"Oh I hope not!" said Leslie.
"Are you crazy?" demanded Mrs. Minturn. "You said you didn't want me to think you so!"
"You see," said Leslie, "Mr. Bruce has a living income; so have I, from my mother. Fortunes seem to me to work more trouble than they do good. I believe poor folks are happiest, they get most out of life, and after all what gives deep, heart-felt joy, is the thing to live for, isn't it? But we must hurry. Mr. Lowry didn't promise to hold the flowers long."
"I'll be ready in a minute, but I see where Douglas Bruce is giving you wrong ideas," said Mrs. Minturn. "He needs a good talking to. Money is the only thing worth while, and the comfort and the pleasure it brings. Without it you are crippled, handicapped, a slave crawling while others step over you. I'll convince him! Back in a minute."
When Mrs. Minturn returned she was in a delightful mood, her face eager, her dress beautiful. Leslie wondered if this woman ever had known a care, then remembered that not long before she had lost a little daughter. Leslie explained as they went swiftly through the streets.
"You won't mind waiting only a second until I run up to Mr. Bruce's offices?" she asked.
He was ready, so together they stopped at Mr. Minturn's door. Douglas whispered: "Watch the office boy. He is Minturn's Little Brother I told you about."
Leslie nodded and entered gaily.
"Please ask Mr. Minturn if he will see Miss Winton and Mr. Douglas Bruce a minute?" she said.
An alert, bright-faced lad bowed politely, laid aside a book and entered the inner office.
"Now let me!" said Leslie. "Good May, Mr. Minturn!" she cried. "Positively enchanting! Take that forbidding look off your face. Come for a few minutes Maying! It will do you much good, and me more. All my friends are pleasuring me to-day. So I want as good a friend of Mr. Bruce as you, to be in something we have planned. You just must!"
"Has something delightful happened?" asked Mr. Minturn, retaining the hand Leslie offered him as he turned to Douglas Bruce.
"You must ask Miss Winton," he said.
Mr. Minturn's eyes questioned her sparkling face, while again with closed lips she nodded. "My most earnest congratulations to each of you. May life grant you even more than you hope for, and from your faces, that is no small wish to make for you. Surely I'll come! What is it you have planned?"
"Something lovely!" said Leslie. "At Lowry's are three flower baskets that are rather bewildering. I am to have one for my betrothal gift, but I can't decide. I appealed to Mrs. Minturn to help me, and she agreed; she is waiting below. Mr. Bruce named you for him; so you two and Mr. Lowry are to choose the most artistic basket for me, then if I don't agree, I needn't take it, but I want to see what you think. You'll come of course?"
Mr. Minturn's face darkened at the mention of his wife, while he hesitated and looked penetratingly at Leslie. She was guileless, charming, and eager.
"Very well," Mr. Minturn said gravely. "I'm surprised, but also pleased. Beautiful young ladies have not appealed to me so often of late that I can afford to miss the chance of humouring the most charming of her sex."
"How lovely!" laughed Leslie. "Douglas, did you ever know Mr. Minturn could flatter like that? It's most enjoyable! I shall insist on more of it, at every opportunity! Really, Mr. Minturn, society has missed you of late, and it is our loss. We need men who are worth while."
"Now it is you who flatter," smiled Mr. Minturn.
"See my captive!" cried Leslie, as she emerged from the building and crossed the walk to the car. "Mr. Bruce and Mr. Minturn are great friends, so as we passed his door we brought him along by force."
"It certainly would require that to bring him anywhere in my company," said Mrs. Minturn coldly.
The shock of the cruelty of the remark closed Douglas' lips, but it was Leslie's day to bubble, so she resolutely set herself to heal and cover the hurt.
"I think business is a perfect bugbear," she said as she entered the car. "I'm going to have a pre-nuptial agreement as to just how far work may trespass on Douglas' time, and how much belongs to me. I think it can be arranged. Daddy and I always have had lovely times together, and I would call him successful. Wouldn't you?"
"A fine business man!" said Mr. Minturn heartily.
"You could have had much greater advantages if he had made more money," said Mrs. Minturn.
"The advantage of more money--yes," retorted Leslie quickly, "but would the money have been of more advantage to me than the benefits of his society and his personal hand in my rearing? I think not! I prefer my Daddy!"
"When you take your place in society, as the mistress of a home, you will find that millions will not be too much," said Mrs. Minturn.
"If I had millions, I'd give most of them away, and just go on living about as I do now with Daddy," said Leslie.
"Leslie, where did you get bitten with this awful, common--what kind of an idea shall I call it? You haven't imbibed socialistic tendencies have you?"
"Haven't a smattering of what they mean!" laughed Leslie. "The 'istics' scare me completely. Just social ideas are all I have; thinking home better than any other place on earth, the way you can afford to have it. Merely being human, kind and interested in what my men are doing and enjoying, and helping any one who crosses my path and seems to need me. Oh, I get such joy, such delicious joy from life."
"If I were undertaking wild-eyed reform, I'd sell my car and walk, and do settlement work," said Mrs. Minturn scornfully.
Then Leslie surprised all of them. She leaned forward, looked beamingly into the elder woman's face and cried enthusiastically: "I am positive you'd be stronger, and much happier if you would! You know there is no greater fun than going to the end of the car line and then walking miles into the country, especially now in bloom-time. You see sights no painter ever transferred even a good imitation of to canvas; you hear music--I wish every music lover with your trained ear could have spent an hour in that swamp this morning. You'd soon know where Verdi and Strauss found some of their loveliest themes, and where Beethoven got the bird notes for the brook scene of the Pastoral Symphony. Think how interested you'd be in a yellow and black bird singing the Spinning Song from Martha, while you couldn't accuse the bird of having stolen it from Flotow, could you? Surely the bird holds right of priority!"
"If you weren't a little fool and talking purposely to irritate me, you'd almost cause me to ask if you seriously mean that?" said Mrs. Minturn.
"Why," laughed Leslie, determined not to become provoked on this her great day, "that is a matter you can test for yourself. If you haven't a score of Martha, get one and I'll take you where you can hear a bird sing that strain, then you may judge for yourself."
"I don't believe it!" said Mrs. Minturn tersely, "but if it were true, that would be the most wonderful experience I ever had in my life."
"And it would cost you only ten cents," scored Leslie. "You needn't ride beyond the end of the car line for that, while a woman who can dance all night surely could walk far enough, to reach any old orchard. That's what I am trying to tell you. Money in large quantities isn't necessary to provide the most interesting things in the world, while millions don't bring happiness. I can find more in what you would class almost poverty."
"Why don't you try it?" suggested Mrs. Minturn.
"But I have!" said Leslie. "And I enjoy it! I could go with a man I love as I do Daddy, and make a home, and get joy I never have found in society, from just what we two could do with our own hands in the woods. I don't like a city. If Daddy's business didn't keep him here, I would be in the country this minute. Look at us poor souls trying to find pleasure in a basket from the swamp, when we might have the whole swamp. I'd be happy to live at its door. Now try a basket full of it. There are three. You are to examine each of them carefully, then write on a slip of paper which you think the most artistic. You are not to say things that will influence each other's decisions, or Mr. Lowry's. I want a straight opinion from each of you."
They entered the florist's, and on a glass table faced the orchids, the slippers, the fringed basket, and the moccasins. Mr. Winton and the squaw were waiting, while the florist was smiling in gratification, but the Minturns went to the flowers without a word. They simply stood and looked. Each of the baskets was in perfect condition. The flowers were as fresh as at home in the swamp. Each was a thing of wondrous beauty. Each deserved the mute tribute it was exacting. Mrs. Minturn studied them with gradually darkening face. Mrs. Minturn repeatedly opened her lips as if she would speak, but did not. She stepped closer and gently turned the flowers and lightly touched the petals.
"Beautiful!" she said at last. "Beautiful!"
Another long silence.
Then: "Honestly Leslie, did you hear a bird sing that strain from Martha?"
"Yes!" said Leslie, "I did. And if you will go with me to the swamp where those flowers came from, you shall hear one sing a strain that will instantly remind you of the opening chorus, while another renders Di Provenza Il Mar from Traviata."
The lady turned again to the flowers. She was thinking something deep and absorbing, but no one could have guessed exactly what it might be. Finally: "I have decided," she said. "Shall we number these one, two, and three, and so indicate them?"
"Yes," said Leslie a little breathlessly.
"Put your initials to the slips and I'll read them," offered Douglas. Then he smilingly read aloud: "Mr. Lowry, one. Mrs. Minturn, two. Mr. Minturn, three!"
"I cast the deciding vote," cried Leslie. "One!"
The squaw seemed to think of a war-whoop, but decided against it.
"Now be good enough to state your reasons," said Mr. Winton. "Why do you prefer the slipper basket, Mr. Lowry?"
"It satisfies my sense of the artistic."
"Why the fringed basket, Mrs. Minturn?"
"Because it contains daintier, more wonderful flowers than the others, and is by far the most pleasing production."
"Now Minturn, your turn. Why do you like the moccasin basket?"
"It makes the deepest appeal to me," he answered.
"But why?" persisted Mr. Winton.
"If you will have it--the moccasins are the colour I once loved on the face of my little daughter."
"Now Leslie!" said Mr. Winton hurriedly as he noted Mrs. Minturn's displeased look.
"Must I tell?" she asked.
"Yes," said her father.
"Douglas selected it for me, so I like it best."
"But Leslie!" cried Douglas, "there were only two baskets when I favoured that. Had the fringed orchids been here then, I most certainly should have chosen them. I think yours far the most exquisite! I claim it now. Will you give it to me?"
"Surely! I'd love to," laughed the girl.
"You have done your most exquisite work on the fringed basket," said Mrs. Minturn to the squaw.
"No make!" said she promptly, pointing to Leslie.
"Leslie Winton, did you go to the swamp to make that basket?" demanded Mrs. Minturn.
"Yes," answered Leslie.
"Did you make all of them?"
"Only that one," replied Leslie.
"Why?" marvelled the lady.
"To see if I could go to the tamarack swamp and bring from it with the same tools and material, a more artistic production than an Indian woman."
"Well, you have!" conceded Mrs. Minturn.
"The majority is against me," said Leslie.
"Majorities mean masses, and masses are notoriously insane!" said Mrs. Minturn.
"But this is a small, select majority," said Leslie.
"Craziest of all," said Mrs. Minturn decidedly. "If you have finished with us, I want to thank you for the pleasure of seeing these, and Leslie, some day I really think I shall try that bird music. The idea interests me more than anything that I have ever heard of. If it were true, it would indeed be wonderful, it would be a new experience!"
"If you want to hear for yourself, make it soon, because now is nesting time; not again until next spring will the music be so entrancing. I can go any day."
"I'll look over my engagements and call you. If one ever had a minute to spare!"
"Another of the joys of wealth!" said Leslie. "Only the poor can afford to 'loaf and invite their souls.' The flowers you will see will delight your eyes, quite as much as the music your ears."
"I doubt your logic, but I'll try the birds. Are you coming Mr. Minturn?"
"Not unless you especially wish me. Are these for sale?" he asked, picking up the moccasins.
"Only those," replied the florist.
"Send your bill," he said, turning with the basket.
"How shining a thing is consistency!" sneered his wife. "You condemn the riches you never have been able to amass, but at the same time spend like a millionaire."
"I never said I was not able to gain millions," replied Mr. Minturn coldly. "I have had frequent opportunities! I merely refused them, because I did not consider them legitimate. As for my method in buying flowers, in this one instance, price does not matter. You can guess what I shall do with them."
"I couldn't possibly!" answered Mrs. Minturn. "The only sure venture I could make is that they will not by any chance come to me."
"No. These go to baby Elizabeth," he said. "Do you want to come with me to take them to her?"
With an audible sneer she passed him. He stepped aside, gravely raising his hat, while the others said good-bye to him and followed.
"Positively insufferable!" cried Mrs. Minturn. "Every one of my friends say they do not know how I endure his insults and I certainly will not many more. I don't, I really don't know what he expects."
Mr. Winton and Douglas Bruce were confused, while Leslie was frightened, but she tried turning the distressing occurrence off with excuses.
"Of course he intended no insult!" she soothed. "He must have adored his little daughter and the flowers reminded him. I am so much obliged for your opinion and I shall be glad to take you to the swamp any time. Your little sons--would they like to go? It is a most interesting and instructive place for children."
"For Heaven's sake don't mention children!" cried Mrs. Minturn. "They are a bother and a curse!"
"Oh Mrs. Minturn!" exclaimed Leslie.
"Of course I don't mean quite that; but I do very near! Mine are perfect little devils; all the trouble James and I ever had came through them. His idea of a mother is a combined doctor, wet-nurse and nursery maid, while I must say, I far from agree with him. What are servants for if not to take the trouble of children off your hands?"
Leslie was glad to reach the rich woman's door and deposit her there.
As the car sped away the girl turned a despairing face toward Douglas: "For the love of Moike!" she cried. "Isn't that shocking? Poor Mr. Minturn!"
"I don't pity him half so much as I do her," he answered. "What must a woman have suffered or been through, to warp, twist, and harden her like that?"
"Society life," answered Leslie, "as it is lived by people of wealth who are aping royalty and the titled classes."
"A branch of them--possibly," conceded Douglas. "I know some titled and wealthy people who would be dumbfounded over that woman's ideas."
"So do I," said Leslie. "Of course there are exceptions. Sometimes the exception becomes bigger than the rule, but not in our richest society. Douglas, let's keep close together! Oh don't let's ever drift into such a state as that. I should have asked them to lunch, but I couldn't. If that is the way she is talking before her friends, surely she won't have many, soon."
"Then her need for a real woman like you will be all the greater," answered Douglas. "I suppose you should have asked her; but I'm delighted that you didn't! To-day began so nearly perfect, I want to end it with only you and your father. Will he resent me, Leslie?"
"It all depends on us. If we are selfish and leave him alone he will feel it. If we can make him realize gain instead of loss he will be happier than he is now."
"I wish I hadn't felt obliged to reject his offer the other night. I'm very sorry about it."
"I'm not," said Leslie. "You have a right to live your life in your own way. I have seen enough of running for office, elections and appointments that I hate it. You do the work you educated yourself for and I'll help you."
"Then my success is assured," laughed Douglas. "Leslie, may I leave my basket here? Will you care for it like yours, and may I come to see it often?"
"No. You may come to see me and look at the basket incidentally," she answered.
"Do you think Mrs. Minturn will go to the swamp to listen to those birds?" he asked.
"Eventually she will," answered the girl. "I may have to begin by taking her to an orchard to hear a bird of gold sing a golden song about 'sewing, and mending, and baby tending,' to start on; but when she hears that, she will be eager for more."
"How interesting!" cried Douglas. "'Bearer of Morning,' sing that song to me now."
Leslie whistled the air, beating time with her hand, then sang the words:
"I can wash, sir, I can spin, sir, I can sew and mend, and babies tend."
"Oh you 'Bringer of Song!'" exulted Douglas. "I'd rather hear you sing that than any bird, but from what she said, Nellie Minturn won't care particularly for it!"
"She may not approve of, or practise, the sentiment," said Leslie, "but she'll love the music and possibly the musician."