A Rock in the Baltic by Robert Barr
Chapter VI. From Sea to Mountain
Three days later the North Atlantic squadron of the British Navy sailed down the coast from Halifax, did not even pause at Bar Harbor, but sent a wireless telegram to the "Consternation," which pulled up anchor and joined the fleet outside, and so the war-ships departed for another port.
Katherine stood by the broad window in the sewing room in her favorite attitude, her head sideways against the pane, her eyes languidly gazing upon the Bay, fingers drumming this time a very slow march on the window sill. Dorothy sat in a rocking-chair, reading a letter for the second time. There had been silence in the room for some minutes, accentuated rather than broken by the quiet drumming of the girl's fingers on the window sill. Finally Katherine breathed a deep sigh and murmured to herself:
"'Far called our Navy fades away, On dune and headland sinks the fire. Lo, all our pomp of yesterday Is one with Nineveh and Tyre.'
I wonder if I've got the lines right," she whispered to herself. She had forgotten there was anyone else in the room, and was quite startled when Dorothy spoke.
"Kate, that's a solemn change, from Gilbert to Kipling. I always judge your mood by your quotations. Has life suddenly become too serious for 'Pinafore' or the 'Mikado'?"
"Oh, I don't know," said Katherine, without turning round. "They are humorous all, and so each furnishes something suitable for the saddened mind. Wisdom comes through understanding your alphabet properly. For instance, first there was Gilbert, and that gave us G; then came Kipling, and he gave us K; thus we get an algebraic formula, G.K., which are the initials of Chesterton, a still later arrival, and as the mind increases in despondency it sinks lower and lower down the alphabet until it comes to S, and thus we have Barn-yard Shaw, an improvement on the Kail-yard school, who takes the O pshaw view of life. And relaxing hold of him I sink deeper until I come to W-- W. W. Jacobs-- how I wish he wrote poetry! He should be the humorist of all sailors, and perhaps some time he will desert barges for battleships. Then I shall read him with increased enjoyment."
"I wouldn't give Mark Twain for the lot," commented Dorothy with decision.
"Mark Twain isn't yours to give, my dear. He belongs to me also. You've forgotten that comparisons are odious. Our metier is not to compare, but to take what pleases us from each.
'How doth the little busy bee Improve each shining hour, And gather honey all the day From every opening flower.
Watts. You see, I'm still down among the W's. Oh, Dorothy, how can you sit there so placidly when the 'Consternation' has just faded from sight? Selfish creature!
'Oh, give me tears for others' woes And patience for mine own.'
I don't know who wrote that, but you have no tears for others' woes, merely greeting them with ribald laughter," for Dorothy, with the well-read letter in her hand, was making the rafters ring with her merriment, something that had never before happened during her long tenancy of that room. Kate turned her head slowly round, and the expression on her face was half-indignant, half-humorous, while her eyes were uncertain weather prophets, and gave equal indication of sunshine or rain.
"Why, Katherine, you look like a tragedy queen, rather than the spirit of comedy! Is it really a case of 'Tit-willow, tit-willow, tit-willow'? You see, I'm a-rescuing you from the bottom of the alphabet, and bringing you up to the Gilbert plane, where I am more accustomed to you, and understand you better. Is this despondency due to the departure of the 'Consternation,' and the fact that she carries away with her Jack Lamont, blacksmith?"
The long sigh terminated in a woeful "yes."
"The ship that has gone out with him we call she. If he had eloped with a real she, then wearing the willow, or singing it, however futile, might be understandable. As it is I see nothing in the situation to call for a sigh."
"That is because you are a hardened sinner, Dorothy. You have no heart, or at least if you have, it is untouched, and therefore you cannot understand. If that note in your hand were a love missive, instead of a letter from your lawyers, you would be more human, Dorothy."
The hand which held the paper crumpled it up slightly as Katherine spoke.
"Business letters are quite necessary, and belong to the world we live in," said Dorothy, a glow of brighter color suffusing her cheeks. "Surely your acquaintance with Mr. Lamont is of the shortest."
"He has called upon me every day since the night of the ball," maintained Katherine stoutly.
"Well, that's only three times."
"Only three! How you talk! One would think you had never been schooled in mathematics. Why, three is a magic figure. You can do plenty of amazing things with it. Don't you know that three is a numeral of love?"
"I thought two was the number," chimed Dorothy, with heartless mirth.
"Three," said Katherine taking one last look at the empty horizon, then seating herself in front of her friend, "three is a recurring decimal. It goes on and on and on forever, and if you write it for a thousand years you are still as far from the end as when you began. It will carry you round the world and back again, and never diminish. It is the mathematical emblem of the nature of true love."
"Is it so serious as all that, Kate, or are you just fooling again?" asked Dorothy, more soberly than heretofore. "Has he spoken to you?"
"Spoken? He has done nothing but speak, and I have listened-- oh, so intently, and with such deep understanding. He has never before met such a woman as I, and has frankly told me so."
"I am very glad he appreciates you, dear."
"Yes, you see, Dorothy, I am really much deeper than the ordinary woman. Who, for instance, could find such a beautiful love simile from a book of arithmetic costing twenty-five cents, as I have unearthed from decimal fractions? With that example in mind how can you doubt that other volumes of college learning reveal to me their inner meaning? John presented to me, as he said good-by, a beautifully bound copy of that celebrated text-book, 'Saunders' Analytical Chemistry,' with particularly tender passages marked in pencil, by his own dear hand."
Rather bewildered, for Kate's expression was one of pathos, unrelieved by any gleam of humor, Dorothy nevertheless laughed, although the laugh brought no echo from Katherine.
"And did you give him a volume of Browning in return?"
"No, I didn't. How can you be so unsympathetic? Is it impossible for you to comprehend the unseen link that binds John and me? I rummaged the book store until I found a charming little edition of 'Marshall's Geologist's Pocket Companion,' covered with beautiful brown limp Russia leather-- I thought the Russia binding was so inspirational-- with a sweet little clasp that keeps it closed-- typical of our hands at parting. On the fly-leaf I wrote: 'To J. L., in remembrance of many interesting conversations with his friend, K. K.' It only needed another K to be emblematic and political, a reminiscence of the olden times, when you people of the South, Dorothy, were making it hot for us deserving folks in the North. I hadn't time to go through the book very thoroughly, but I found many references to limestone, which I marked, and one particularly choice bit of English relating to the dissolution and re-consolidation of various minerals I drew a parallelogram around in red ink. A friend of mine in a motor launch was good enough to take the little parcel direct to the 'Consternation,' and I have no doubt that at this moment Jack is perusing it, and perhaps thinking of the giver. I hope it's up-to-date, and that he had not previously bought a copy."
"You don't mean to say, Kate, that your conversation was entirely about geology?"
"Certainly not. How could you have become imbued with an idea so absurd? We had many delightful dalliances down the romantic groves of chemistry, heart-to-heart talks on metallurgy, and once-- ah, shall I ever forget it-- while the dusk gently enfolded us, and I gazed into those bright, speaking, intelligent eyes of his as he bent nearer and nearer; while his low, sonorous voice in well-chosen words pictured to me the promise which fortified cement holds out to the world; that is, ignorant person, Portland cement strengthened by ribs of steel; and I sat listening breathless as his glowing phrases prophesied the future of this combination."
Katherine closed her eyes, rocked gently back and forth, and crooned, almost inaudibly:
"'When you gang awa, Jimmie, Faur across the sea, laddie, When ye gang to Russian lands What will ye send to me, laddie?'
I know what I shall get. It will probably be a newly discovered recipe for the compounding of cement which will do away with the necessity of steel strengthening."
"Kate, dear, you are overdoing it. It is quite right that woman should be a mystery to man, but she should not aspire to become a mystery to her sister woman. Are you just making fun, or is there something in all this more serious than your words imply?"
"Like the steel strengthening in the cement, it may be there, but you can't see it, and you can't touch it, but it makes-- oh, such a difference to the slab. Heigho, Dorothy, let us forsake these hard-headed subjects, and turn to something human. What have your lawyers been bothering you about? No trouble over the money, is there?"
Dorothy shook her head.
"No. Of course, there are various matters they have to consult me about, and get my consent to this project or the other."
"Read the letter. Perhaps my mathematical mind can be of assistance to you."
Dorothy had concealed the letter, and did not now produce it.
"It is with reference to your assistance, and your continued assistance, that I wish to speak to you. Let us follow the example of the cement and the steel, and form a compact. In one respect I am going to imitate the 'Consternation.' I leave Bar Harbor next week."
Katherine sat up in her chair, and her eyes opened wide.
"What's the matter with Bar Harbor?" she asked.
"You can answer that question better than I, Kate. The Kempt family are not visitors, but live here all the year round. What do you think is the matter with Bar Harbor?"
"I confess it's a little dull in the winter time, and in all seasons it is situated a considerable distance from New York. Where do you intend to go, Dorothy?"
"That will depend largely on where my friend Kate advises me to go, because I shall take her with me if she will come."
"Companion, lady's-maid, parlor maid, maid-of-all-work, cook, governess, typewriter-girl--which have I to be? Shall I get one afternoon a week off, and may my young man come and see me, if I happen to secure one, and, extremely important, what are the wages?"
"You shall fix your own salary, Kate, and my lawyer men will arrange that the chosen sum is settled upon you so that if we fall out we can quarrel on equal terms."
"Oh, I see, it's an adopted daughter I am to be, then?"
"An adopted sister, rather."
"Do you think I am going to take advantage of my friendship with an heiress, and so pension myself off?"
"It is I who am taking the advantage," said Dorothy, "and I beg you to take compassion, rather than advantage, upon a lone creature who has no kith or kin in the world."
"Do you really mean it, Dot?"
"Of course I do. Should I propose it if I didn't?"
"Well, this is the first proposal I've ever had, and I believe it is customary to say on those occasions that it is so sudden, or so unexpected, and time is required for consideration."
"How soon can you make up your mind, Kate?"
"Oh, my mind's already made up. I'm going to jump at your offer, but I think it more ladylike to pretend a mild reluctance. What are you going to do, Dorothy?"
"I don't know. I've settled on only one thing. I intend to build a little stone and tile church, very quaint and old-fashioned, if I get the right kind of architect to draw a plan for it, and this church is to be situated in Haverstock."
"It is a village near the Hudson River, on the plain that stretches toward the Catskills."
"It was there you lived with your father, was it not?"
"Yes, and my church is to be called the Dr. Amhurst Memorial Church."
"And do you propose to live at Haverstock?"
"I was thinking of that."
"Wouldn't it be just a little dull?"
"Yes, I suppose it is, but it seems to me a suitable place where two young women may meditate on what they are going to do with their lives."
"Yes, that's an important question for the two. I say, Dorothy, let's take the other side of the river, and enter Vassar College. Then we should at least have some fun, and there would be some reasonably well-educated people to speak to."
"Oh, you wish to use your lately acquired scientific knowledge in order to pass the examinations; but, you see, I have had no tutor to school me in the mysteries of lime-burning and the mixing of cement. Now, you have scorned my side of the river, and I have objected to your side of the river. That is the bad beginning which, let us hope, makes the good ending. Who is to arbitrate on our dispute?"
"Why, we'll split the difference, of course."
"How can we do that? Live in a house-boat on the river like Frank Stockton's 'Budder Grange'?"
"No, settle in the city of New York, which is practically an island in the Hudson."
"Would you like to live in New York?"
"Wouldn't I! Imagine any one, having the chance, living anywhere else!"
"In a hotel, I suppose-- the Holldorf for choice."
"Yes, we could live in a hotel until we found the ideal flat, high up in a nice apartment house, with a view like that from the top of Mount Washington, or from the top of the Washington Monument."
"But you forget I made one proviso in the beginning, and that is that I am going to build a church, and the church is to be situated, not in the city of New York, but in the village of Haverstock."
"New York is just the place from which to construct such an edifice. Haverstock will be somewhere near the West Shore Railway. Very well. We can take a trip up there once a week or oftener, if you like, and see how the work is progressing, then the people of Haverstock will respect us. As we drive from the station they'll say:
"'There's the two young ladies from New York who are building the church.' But if we settle down amongst them they'll think we're only ordinary villagers instead of the distinguished persons we are. Or, while our flat is being made ready we could live at one of the big hotels in the Catskills, and come down as often as we like on the inclined railway. Indeed, until the weather gets colder, the Catskills is the place.
'And lo, the Catskills print the distant sky, And o'er their airy tops the faint clouds driven, So softly blending that the cheated eye Forgets or which is earth, or which is heaven.'"
"That ought to carry the day for the Catskills, Kate. What sort of habitation shall we choose? A big hotel, or a select private boarding house?"
"Oh, a big hotel, of course-- the biggest there is, whatever its name may be. One of those whose rates are so high that the proprietor daren't advertise them, but says in his announcement, 'for terms apply to the manager.' It must have ample grounds, support an excellent band, and advertise a renowned cuisine. Your room, at least, should have a private balcony on which you can place a telescope and watch the building of your church down below. I, being a humble person in a subordinate position, should have a balcony also to make up for those deficiencies."
"Very well, Kate, that's settled. But although two lone women may set up housekeeping in a New York flat, they cannot very well go alone to a fashionable hotel."
"Oh, yes, we can. Best of references given and required."
"I was going to suggest," pursued Dorothy, not noticing the interruption, "that we invite your father and mother to accompany us. They might enjoy a change from sea air to mountain air."
Katherine frowned a little, and demurred.
"Are you going to be fearfully conventional, Dorothy?"
"We must pay some attention to the conventions, don't you think?"
"I had hoped not. I yearn to be a bachelor girl, and own a latch-key."
"We shall each possess a latch-key when we settle down in New York. Our flat will be our castle, and, although our latch-key will let us in, our Yale lock will keep other people out. A noted summer resort calls for different treatment, because there we lead a semi-public life. Besides, I am selfish enough to wish my coming-out to be under the auspices of so well-known a man as Captain Kempt."
"All right, I'll see what they say about it. You don't want Sabina, I take it?"
"Yes, if she will consent to come."
"I doubt if she will, but I'll see. Besides, now that I come to think about it, it's only fair I should allow my doting parents to know that I am about to desert them."
With that Katherine quitted the room, and went down the stairs hippety-hop.
Dorothy drew the letter from its place of concealment, and read it for the third time, although one not interested might have termed it a most commonplace document. It began:
"Dear Miss Amhurst," and ended "Yours most sincerely, Alan Drummond." It gave some account of his doings since he bade good-bye to her. A sailor, he informed her, needs little time for packing his belongings, and on the occasion in question the Prince had been of great assistance. They set out together for the early morning train, and said "au revoir" at the station. Drummond had intended to sail from New York, but a friendly person whom he met on the train informed him that the Liverpool liner "Enthusiana" set out from Boston next day, so he had abandoned the New York idea, and had taken passage on the liner named, on whose note-paper he wrote the letter, which epistle was once more concealed as Dorothy heard Katherine's light step on the stair.
That impulsive young woman burst into the sewing room.
"We're all going," she cried. "Father, mother and Sabina. It seems father has had an excellent offer to let the house furnished till the end of September, and he says that, as he likes high life, he will put in the time on the top of the Catskills. He abandons me, and says that if he can borrow a shilling he is going to cut me off with it in his will. He regrets the departure of the British Fleet, because he thinks he might have been able to raise a real English shilling aboard. Dad only insists on one condition, namely, that he is to pay for himself, mother and Sabina, so he does not want a room with a balcony. I said that in spite of his disinheritance I'd help the family out of my salary, and so he is going to reconsider the changing of his will."
"We will settle the conditions when we reach the Catskills," said Dorothy, smiling.