Cap'n Dan's Daughter by Joseph Crosby Lincoln
Of the two men, Mr. Hungerford was the first to recover presence of mind. Presence of mind was one of the qualities upon which he prided himself, and it was a very awkward situation to which he could not rise. For just an instant the color rushed to his cheeks as he recognized the captain and saw that the latter recognized him. Then:
"Why, how do you do, Captain Dott?" he said. "By Jove, this is extraordinary, isn't it! Strange that relatives shouldn't know each other when they meet. How do you do?"
He stepped forward with extended hand. Captain Dan, who had expected almost anything but this bland cordiality, scarcely knew what to say or do. He took the proffered hand mechanically and dropped it again.
"Well!" he stammered. "Well!--I declare I--I didn't expect to--"
He paused. Mrs. Dott, who had been watching this scene in bewilderment, spoke before he could finish his sentence.
"Why, what is it?" she asked. "Have you--"
Mr. Hungerford smiled. "Your husband and I have met before," he explained. "Just a casual meeting and we weren't aware of each other's identity. I'm afraid I was not as cordial as I might have been on that occasion, Captain. I was a bit tired and rather out of sorts. I hope you'll forgive me, I'm sure."
Daniel hesitated; then he smiled.
"Why, I guess I can forgive my half if you can yours," he said slowly.
Before the puzzled Serena could ask another question the visitor turned to her.
"I'm sure you must be very much surprised to see me here," he said. "I'm somewhat surprised to be here myself. I've spent a greater part of the past month in New York and have only just returned--that is, to stay. I fully intended to call before, and should if I had been in town. How are you getting on? How do you like the dear old place? Ah!" with a sigh, as he seated himself and looked about him, "how familiar it all seems!"
The Dotts looked at each other. Serena sank into a chair. Captain Dan remained standing.
"Does it?" said the former rather feebly.
"Indeed it does. One almost expects to see Auntie coming in at the door. Dear old Auntie! I can scarcely realize that she has gone."
Again Serena looked at Daniel and he at her. This was so strange, so different from the attitude which a disappointed legatee might be expected to assume that neither of the pair knew exactly how to reply. But Mr. Hungerford did not appear to notice the look or the hesitation.
"This house seems like home to me," he said. "I've spent so many happy hours here. When old Hapgood opened the door for me I almost ordered him to take my bags to my room. Really I did. That would have been droll, wouldn't it?"
He laughed languidly. Serena admitted that it would have been droll. Captain Dan remained silent as before.
"Are--are you stopping at the hotel?" queried Mrs. Dott.
"Not yet. In fact, I'm not really stopping anywhere. I've just arrived. I must be hurrying back to dinner, I suppose, but I couldn't resist coming here first. It seemed the natural thing to do."
Voices were heard in the hall. One of the voices was Azuba's; she was informing Mr. Hapgood that if that soup didn't go back on the stove pretty soon it might just as well be on ice. The words were distinctly audible, and Serena colored. Mr. Hungerford rose.
"I'm sure I must be keeping you from your own dinner," he said. "Don't let me do that for the world."
"Why--why--" faltered Serena. She looked appealingly at Daniel, and the latter's instinctive hospitality asserted itself. He had disliked the young man "Tacks" when he met him in the Rathskeller. Now that "Tacks" had become Mr. Percy Hungerford, Aunt Lavinia's cousin and his own distant relative, the dislike was only partially abated. But to turn him away from the door hungry seemed wrong somehow.
"Hadn't you better--" he began.
"Have dinner with us?" finished his wife.
Mr. Hungerford protested.
"Oh, I couldn't think of it," he declared. "No doubt you have guests--"
"Oh, no, we haven't. We're all alone and it would be no trouble at all. We should like to have you stay. Shouldn't we, Daniel?"
"Sartin, no trouble at all," said Daniel heartily. "Like to have you first rate."
"Well, if you insist. It is a frightful imposition--I shouldn't think of it, of course, but--well, thank you so much."
So Hapgood received orders to lay another plate, and Mr. Hungerford, still murmuring protests, suffered himself to be conducted to the dining-room.
All through the meal the captain regarded him with puzzled curiosity. That he had come to the house merely for a friendly call he could scarcely believe. He had heard little or nothing of the conversation between Hungerford and his friend at the table in the Rathskeller, and yet the attitude of the former on that occasion had not indicated a temperament likely to forgive "dear Aunt Lavinia" so freely or to display such angelic cordiality toward those who had come into possession of her property. But the cordiality remained unchanged, and the visitor, so far from bearing a grudge toward his more fortunate relatives, continued to treat them as though they were near and dear friends, and do everything in his power to relieve their constraint and to make himself agreeable. The dinner ended and they adjourned to the drawing-room, with Captain Dan's mental question "What in the world is this young chap really up to?" still unanswered.
Serena had asked herself that same question when the caller first came, but now she was beginning to be ashamed of her suspicions and to think them unfounded. Mr. Hungerford was agreeable; there was no doubt of that. Also he was good-looking, in an effeminate sort of way, and his conversation was fluent and cultured. He led Serena into speaking of the Chapter and her work there, and he displayed a knowledge of and an interest in that Chapter and its members which was very gratifying.
The coming reception was mentioned, and the visitor's interest in that was more gratifying still. It was evident that receptions and society functions generally were matters of every day, or every night, occurrence to him. He asked Mrs. Dott who was to assist her in receiving, and when she answered the question his approval of the selections was unqualified. He suggested one or two little ideas which he said might add to making the affair a success. Serena welcomed the suggestions as a starving man might welcome a meal.
"That'll be lovely," she said, "and we can do it just as well as not. And I had thought of having some bridge or something afterwards; but Annette--Mrs. Black, I mean--didn't seem to think bridge would be just the thing after a reception. And there's music; I know we really ought to have music, and I had meant to have somebody play the piano. But the woman I wanted can't come, and now I don't know what to do. What would you think about that, Mr. Hungerford?"
Mr. Hungerford suggested hiring one or two professional musicians. "A violinist, or harpist, or both, perhaps," he said. "Music is always, as you say, a great addition to such affairs, Mrs. Dott. I happen to know of a young fellow who plays exceptionally well, and his sister is really a very accomplished performer on the harp. Of course they should be engaged in merely a professional capacity. They are not persons who would mingle with our set, but they're not at all objectionable, really."
The diplomatic phrasing of this remark had its effect. It indicated that Mrs. Dott's "set" was an exclusive one and, incidentally, that the accomplished and polished Mr. Hungerford considered his host and hostess as social equals.
"There!" exclaimed Serena. "I think that will be just fine. And you are the first one, Mr. Hungerford, to think of it. Do you suppose you could get these--these--er--persons you speak of to come and play for us?"
"I think so. I have befriended the young man in various ways, and he is, if you will excuse my saying so, under some obligations to me. I should be glad to make the attempt if you wish it, Mrs. Dott."
"Cost somethin', won't it?" observed Captain Dan casually. Mr. Hungerford regarded him with well-bred surprise.
"Why, of course," he said, "there will be some expense. I think fifty dollars will cover the bill. The usual rate for musicians of their class is somewhat higher."
There was no doubt that the captain was surprised. "Fifty dollars!" he repeated. "Why--"
His wife interrupted. "That will be all right, Mr. Hungerford," she said. "That will be quite satisfactory."
"Of course, there are many whom you can obtain for less, and, if you feel that that figure is too high, I shall be glad to try elsewhere. I have had little experience outside of the best, but--"
Serena interrupted again. "We don't want anybody but the best," she declared, emphatically. "Be still, Daniel. This isn't Trumet."
Daniel drew a long breath. "There ain't much doubt of that," he observed. "But, all right, Serena, if you and Mr. Hungerford think it's all right, I guess it is. I'm more used to hirin' sailors than I am folks to play the harp."
"Music," went on Mr. Hungerford, "is almost a necessity, in these days, when everyone dances. Is this a formal reception, or had you intended clearing a floor for dancing, Mrs. Dott?"
Mrs. Dott had not intended any such thing; she had not thought of it. But she concealed the fact from her visitor with remarkable presence of mind.
"Oh, of course!" she said.
The conversation continued, a conversation limited to Mr. Hungerford and his hostess, while Captain Dan remained a silent and amazed listener. The young gentleman was invited to attend the reception, Serena making many apologies for the informality of the invitation, and the guest expressing himself as delighted.
"Of course," he said, "I wouldn't intrude for the world, but I don't feel like an intruder in this house, where I have spent so many happy hours. Feeling as I do, I'm going to make another suggestion which, under different circumstances, might be considered an impertinence. I am at leisure to-morrow--in fact, all this week--and if there is anything that I can do to help you and Cousin Daniel, in this matter of the reception or any other, I shall be at your service. I do hope you will permit me to help and that you will not consider me presuming in offering to do so."
It was quite evident that the offer was very welcome. Mrs. Dott accepted it with enthusiasm and called upon her husband to confirm the acceptance. He did so, but with less warmth, and it was agreed that the obliging Mr. Hungerford should drop in the next morning after calling upon his protege, the violinist. A half hour later he said "Good-night," and departed.
"There!" said Serena. "If that isn't Providence, then I don't know. And it only goes to show how one person can misjudge another without knowing anything about him. I've always had a prejudice against that Mr. Hungerford simply because of what you told me of meeting him years ago, and now I don't think I ever met a kinder, nicer young man. Did you, Daniel?"
The captain hesitated. "I--I," he stammered, "well, Serena, I will give in that he seemed nice and obligin' enough to-night, but you see there's just one thing that--"
Serena turned on him. "Yes, I know," she said. "There's always 'one thing' about everybody that I like. He's smart and bright and well dressed and polite. He's a gentleman! and a different kind from any that we've ever met. That makes you suspicious, of course."
"Now you know it isn't that; but--but--"
There was more hesitation on the captain's part. He had intended to tell of the meeting at the Rathskeller; then he remembered the young man's explanation and apology and thought better of it. He and "Cousin Percy" might have another interview on the morrow. Meanwhile, he would keep still, particularly as his wife seemed to have forgotten their caller's reference to the meeting. He finished his sentence in another way.
"But I don't see what he came here for," he said.
"He came here to see us. And, I think, considering how he was treated in Aunt Lavinia's will, it was awfully nice of him to come at all. And, as for helping me out on that reception, he's been a perfect godsend already. I should think you would appreciate it."
Before the next day was over, and long before the first of the evening's guests arrived, the services of the new-found friend of the family were appreciated even by the reluctant Daniel. Mr. Hungerford came early and proceeded immediately to make himself useful. He had seen the violinist, and the latter and his sister had promised to be on hand. He took Hapgood in charge and superintended the arranging of the drawing-room and the library for the reception and the dancing. When the messenger from the florist came with the flowers which Serena, acting upon the suggestion of Mrs. Lake and Mrs. Black, had ordered, he saw that they were placed in exactly the right positions for effect. Being urged to stay for lunch, he stayed. And his conversation during the meal was so fluent, so aristocratic in flavor, and yet so friendly, that Serena became more and more taken with him. With the captain he was not quite as much at his ease. But he did his best to be agreeable, and Daniel, still vaguely suspicious, found nothing tangible upon which to base distrust. There was so much to be done in the afternoon that, acting upon a hint so delicate that it could scarcely be called a hint, Mrs. Dott urged him to send to the hotel for his bag and stay at their home overnight. He accepted and was even busier than he had been during the forenoon session. He was never so busy as to perform manual labor with his own hands--he never stooped to that extent--but he managed to convey the impression of being always ready and always helpful.
To say that Mrs. Black and Mrs. Lake were, upon their arrival, surprised to find him there would be expressing their feelings far too mildly. They knew Mr. Hungerford, but, heretofore, that gentleman had moved in circles other than their own. It is true that he belonged to the same club as did Mr. Black, but Mr. Hungerford's friends had been younger, the ultra-fashionable set, the set which Annette had characterized as "rather fast" but which, because of its money and society connections, she secretly envied. To find him here, an associate and friend of the people she had called "countrified," was most astonishing. She wondered, but she could not help being impressed, and her attitude toward her dear friend Serena was never so gushingly cordial. As for Mr. Hungerford, he greeted the Chapter representatives with condescending urbanity. When the reception began, somehow or other, Cousin Percy was in the receiving line.
Captain Dan, uncomfortably starched and broad-clothed, received likewise, but his remarks to those who pressed his hand and murmured compliments were rather commonplace and very much alike; this consisted principally of "How d'ye do's" and "Glad to see you's"; and it was only when the Honorable and Mrs. Fenholtz came that he appeared to remember anything else. It was evident that Mr. and Mrs. Fenholtz were as surprised as the rest to see Mr. Hungerford there. The Honorable, seizing an opportunity when the captain was for a moment alone, whispered in his ear.
"Where did he come from?" he asked, with a jerk of the head in Cousin Percy's direction.
"Him?" replied Daniel. "Oh, he came last night."
"Is that so? Is he a friend of yours?"
"Well, he ain't--isn't exactly a friend, I guess. He's a sort of relation, a nephew of Aunt Laviny's."
"Oh, oh, I see--I see."
There was something in the tone which caused Captain Dan to ask a question in return.
"Know him, do you?" he inquired.
"Yes, I know him, but--it is all right, Olga; I'm coming."
He passed on to make room for another assortment of new arrivals, lady members of the Chapter, and Daniel's curiosity remained unsatisfied.
After the reception proper, came a social and, to Daniel, very uncomfortable hour, and then Mr. Hungerford, who seemed to have taken upon himself the position of master of ceremonies, suggested dancing.
Of all the captain's society experiences so far, this was the most amazing. He had danced in his younger days, it is true, but his were dances of quite another variety. Quadrilles and Virginia reels he was acquainted with, but tangos and Bostons and all the infinite varieties of the one-step were to him revelations, and revelations of a kind which caused him to gasp. He saw middle-aged matrons dipping and hopping and twisting about the room in company with middle-aged, stout, red-faced men who looked as if on the verge of apoplexy. He saw Mr. Hungerford laboring dutifully to pilot a woman of forty through the sinuosities of the "hesitation waltz," and when the lady, who was inclined toward plumpness, had collapsed into an armchair, he sought out her late partner and vented his feelings.
"For the land sakes!" he demanded; "what did you do that for?"
"Do what?" inquired Mr. Hungerford, himself as fresh and unwilted as an Easter lily.
"Why, that--to her. Look at her, she's pretty nigh gone! She ain't caught more than two breaths in the last minute and a half. I've been watchin' her."
Cousin Percy condescended to smile. "It's her own fault," he observed. "She said she was dying to learn the 'hesitation' and asked me to teach it to her."
"Well, she ought to be satisfied. If she was dyin' before, she's pretty near dead now. Why didn't you stop sooner? She all but capsized a dozen times in the last two or three turns you and she took around the room."
Percy's smile became broader. "That is all part of the dance," he explained. "Watch this couple here."
Daniel watched as directed. The couple were a young man and a girl about Gertrude's age. They were doing the "hesitation" with the hesitancy emphasized.
"My soul!" muttered the captain. "Where's that girl's mother? Somebody ought to tell her."
Hungerford smiled once more. "That was her mother I was dancing with," he said.
"Good Lord!" exclaimed Daniel. It was the only comment he made. He watched the rest of the dancing in silence.
The collation followed the dancing, and Azuba and Mr. Hapgood served it, assisted by four waiters who, at Mr. Hungerford's suggestion, had been hired for the occasion. The butler's serving was done with grace and elegance, not to mention dignity. Azuba served as if the main object to be attained was to provide each guest with as much food as possible in the shortest possible time. She was arrayed in a new black gown, worn under protest, for her own idea had been to wear her Sunday dress, a vivid purple, with trimmings which, for color and variety, looked "like a patchwork tidy," as Captain Dan expressed it. Also, under still greater protest, she wore a white apron and cap.
"I feel like my grandmother doin' dishes," Azuba declared when Mrs. Dott brought the cap and apron to her and insisted on a dress rehearsal. "The old woman lived to be ninety-five and wore a cap for all the world like this one for thirty year. She had some excuse for wearin' it--it hid the place where her hair was thin on top. But I ain't bald and I ain't ninety-five neither. And why in the world you want me to put an apron on in the parlor, I don't see. You've been preachin' at me to leave one off till I was just rememberin' to do it, and now you want me to put it on again."
"Not this kind of an apron, Azuba. Mrs. Black's maids wear aprons like that, and so do Mrs. Fenholtz's. It's the proper thing and I expect you to do it."
"Humph! All right. Land knows I don't want to be improper. But I'd just like to ask you this: Does that Fenholtz hired help have to wear black clothes like this dress?"
"Well, then I suppose I'll have to do the same, but I hope they don't feel as much like bein' in mournin' as I do. I thought this reception thing was supposed to be a good time, but when I looked at myself in the glass just now, all I could think of was the Trumet post-office draped up for President McKinley's funeral. I suppose it's style, so it'll have to be. But if Labe, my husband, should see me now, he'd have a shock, I guess. Cal'late he'd think he was dead and I'd got word of it afore he did."
But the food was good and the guests seemed to enjoy it. Some of them seemed to enjoy Azuba, and Mr. Fenholtz was observed by the indignant Serena to laugh heartily every time the transformed maid-of-all-work addressed him.
As they were leaving he said to Captain Dan: "Captain, that maid of yours is a wonder. If you ever want to get rid of her, let me know. I thought Mrs. Fenholtz and I had tried every variety of servant, but she is something fresh."
Daniel grinned. "She's fresh enough, if that's all you want," he admitted. "That's the main trouble with her, accordin' to my wife. I like her myself. She reminds me of home."
The Honorable shook his hand. "Home is a good thing to remember," he said earnestly, "and a bedder thing not to be ashamed of. You are not ashamed of your home and you do not forget it. That is why I like you. Good night!"
Somehow this remark pleased the captain greatly, but when he repeated it to Serena, she did not seem pleased.
"I don't know what we shall do with that Azuba," she said. "She mortifies me to death, and yet you won't let me get rid of her."
Her husband did not answer. In the matter of Azuba he was as determined as ever. Amid the new life into which he had been thrown, head over heels, the housekeeper was the one familiar substantial upon which he could rely. He was used to her, her conversation, and her ways. As he had said, she reminded him of home, his real home, the home from which he was drifting further and further every day.
Next morning Serena was suffering from headache and had breakfast in her room. Mr. Hungerford, also, did not descend to the morning meal. Daniel wrote a long letter to Gertrude, describing the reception, after his own fashion, but taking care to seem as cheerful as ever. He did not feel cheerful, but there was nothing to be gained by troubling his daughter, as he reasoned.
Mr. Hungerford remained through that day and the next day and the next. At the end of that time he sent for his trunks and settled down to make the Dott house his home, for "a short season," he said. This, of course, was done only after much protest on his part and strenuous urging on the part of Serena. Cousin Percy had taken her fancy at the very beginning of their acquaintance, and his conduct since then had strengthened that liking tremendously.
"Of course he can stay," she said in conversation with her husband. "Why, Daniel, I don't know what I should do without him. His coming was a special Providence, just as I told you. Just see how he helped at that reception. It would never have been the success it was if it hadn't been for him. And see how he's helped me since. He knows just what is right and proper for people in our station to do; he's been in society all his life. He's educated and he has helped me with my paper for the next meeting of the Chapter so much already. There's no reason why he can't be here; we've got plenty of room. And it will only be while he's on his vacation, anyway."
Daniel rubbed his chin. "I know," he admitted; "so he says. But how long a vacation is it goin' to be?"
"How do you suppose I know that? I haven't asked him, it isn't likely."
"No, I didn't suppose you had; but it seems kind of funny he hasn't told you himself. What's it a vacation from? What's he do for a livin'? Anything but run receptions?"
"That's it--sneer! He does a great many things. He is interested in literary work, so he says. He writes for a living, I suppose that means."
"Humph! Has he got any answer?"
"Answer? Answer to what?"
"Why, to his writing. Has the livin' sent him word 'twas on the way, or anything like that? I don't want to be mean, Serena. You know well enough I ain't stingy. But I can't quite make that young fellow out. Why did he come here, anyway? that's what sticks in my mind. What sort of a chap is he? You know what that lawyer man said about him. Nigh as I could make out from that, he thought he was a kind of high-toned loafer, sportin' round on his aunt's money. Why does that kind of a fellow come to live along with us? We ain't sports."
"Will you ever remember not to say 'ain't'? He came here because he isn't that kind of a fellow at all. He explained about that. It seems that he and that young upstart of a Farwell, the lawyer, had had some words and Farwell had a grudge against him. He thinks it was largely owing to those lawyers' influence that Aunt Lavinia treated him as she did in her will. But he doesn't hold any grudge. I never heard anybody speak more forgiving or kind than he did about the whole affair. I declare, it was positively affecting! He told me about his life and about how he was all alone in the world; how he had never had to earn much--never having been brought up to it--but that now he was trying to do his best. I felt so sorry for him, and that was one of the reasons why I thought we, the only relations he has, ought to be kind and show him hospitality at least. I never thought you were inhospitable, Daniel."
"I ain't, Serena. That is, I mean I are--am not. But--but--Well, I'll tell you. I haven't told you before, although I meant to, but he and I met once since we've been in Scarford. I told you about the meeting, but I didn't know then who I met. Now I--"
"I know. He told me about that, too. He was the one you met at the hotel that afternoon. He said he was ashamed of his behavior that day, that he was tired, out of sorts, and discouraged. He thought you had been listening to what he and his friend had been saying, and it made him cross. He said that he apologized when he first came to the house, and I remember that he did, and he asked me whether I thought any further apology was necessary. I said no, of course it wasn't."
"Well, I don't suppose it is. But--well, there was somethin' else. It seemed to me that afternoon at the Rathskeller that he and that chum of his had been drinkin'."
"Drinking? Do you mean that they were intoxicated?"
"No, not exactly that; but they had a couple of cocktails while I was there."
"Is that all? Oh, dear me! Daniel, you are so old-fashioned. Your ideas don't change a single mite. In Trumet a cocktail is a dreadful thing; but here it isn't. Why, everybody drinks a cocktail before dinner. The Blacks always have them. There were cocktails at that dinner at their house."
"I know there was, but I didn't see you drinkin' yours, Serena."
His wife hesitated. "No," she admitted rather reluctantly, "I didn't. I've been temperance all my life and somehow I couldn't bring myself to do it. I hope Annette didn't think it was bad manners, but I just couldn't somehow. Perhaps I ought to have tried--"
"Tried! My soul and body, Serena! Don't talk that way. If I see you startin' in to drink cocktails I shall begin to think the world's comin' to an end. Somethin' will come to an end right then and there, I'll tell you that! The first cocktail you drink will be the signal for me to clear decks for action. There's some things I won't stand, and that's one of 'em!"
"There, there! Don't get excited! I shan't begin at my time of life. But I shan't be narrow, either. I don't want you to be. If all you've got against Cousin Percy is that he drinks a cocktail once in a while I think you'd better get over it as soon as you can. He does help me, Daniel, in my Chapter work and all the rest of it, and I'd like to have him stay here at present. Now won't you be nice and obliging, same as you usually are, and let him stay, for my sake? You will, won't you, dear?"
Captain Dan said that he would, and yet he said it with considerable inward reluctance. There was no real reason why he should have distrusted Percy Hungerford. At least he could think of none in particular. His distrust was based upon generalities and a knowledge of human nature acquired during his years of knocking about among men. His wife's words made an impression. If what she said was true, his conscience told him that he should be kind and generous in his attitude toward the literary person. But--well, the "but" was still there.
It was his intention to seek out Fenholtz and ask a few questions concerning Cousin Percy, but the opportunity did not offer itself, and shortly after the reception the Fenholtzes left for the South, where they were to spend the winter. So that source of information was cut off.
During the next fortnight the captain's sense of desertion and of being almost a stranger in his own house grew stronger than ever. There were more callers and more calls to return; there were more bridge parties and teas. His wife astonished him by announcing that she was going to take lessons in bridge and that Mr. Hungerford had found a teacher to perfect her in that branch of knowledge.
"Of course," she said, "it will cost quite a little, but Cousin Percy says there's no use having a teacher at all unless you have a good one, and three dollars a lesson isn't too much, because you learn so quickly from an expert. I was sure you would be willing for me to take the lessons, Daniel."
Daniel shook his head. "I'm willin' for you to do most anything that pleases you, Serena," he said, "but three dollars a lesson for learnin' how to play cards seems to me a pretty good price. If it was me I should feel as if 'twas doubtful whether I'd get as much out of it as I put in. That's what Ezra Small, back home, said when he put his sprained foot in a plaster cast. Ezra said he never expected to get more than half his foot back, because the way that plaster stuck he cal'lated it would hang on to the rest. I should feel the same way about the three dollars for a bridge lesson."
"Oh, no, you wouldn't after you had taken a few. You'll like it then."
"I, like it! Good Heavens, you don't mean--"
"I meant that you're going to take lessons, too, of course. You must learn to play bridge--everybody plays it. And you used to like cards."
"I used to like high-low-jack, and I could manage to take a hand at euchre without raisin' too big a disturbance; but I never could learn that bridge and play it with those women friends of yours--never in this world. More'n that, I don't intend to try."
And he positively refused to try in spite of his wife's pleading. However, he consented to the employment of the bridge teacher for her and, thereafter, two hours of each alternate afternoon, Sundays excepted, were spent by Mrs. Dott and two other female students in company with a thin and didactic spinster who quoted Elwell and Foster and discoursed learnedly concerning the values of no-trump hands. The lessons were given at the Dott home and Mr. Hungerford was an interested spectator. Daniel, who was not interested, and felt himself in the way, moped in his own room or went upon more of the lonely walks about town.
Chapter meetings and Chapter activities occupied more of Serena's time. There were "open" meetings occasionally and these Captain Dan seldom attended. Mr. Hungerford acted as his wife's escort and seemed to enjoy it, in his languid fashion. Chapter politics began now to have their innings. There was to be a national convention of the Ladies of Honor, a convention to be held in the neighboring city of Atterbury, and Scarford Chapter was to send delegates. Mrs. B. Phelps Black, who aspired to national honors, was desirous of being one of these delegates, but so were many others, and Mrs. Black's candidacy was by no means unopposed. She called upon Serena for help, and into the fight in aid of her friend Serena flung herself, heart and soul.
There were meetings, and more meetings, and letter writing, and canvassing of voters. Here again, Daniel was of no use. Cousin Percy's experience--he seemed to have had all sorts of experience--helped amazingly. Mr. Hungerford's willingness to help in all things where no particular labor was concerned was most astonishing. By this time he was as much a member of the Dott household as Serena herself--more than the captain, who began to feel that he was not a member at all. Even bridge was side-tracked for the more absorbing political game, and evening after evening Captain Dan spent alone. Occasionally Mr. Hungerford kept him company, but his was company not too congenial. It is true that the young man was agreeable enough, but he and the captain found nothing in common to talk about, and Cousin Percy usually gave up the attempt at conversation rather early and fell asleep upon the sofa or went out on little excursions of his own to which Daniel was not invited.
Mr. Hungerford smoked a good deal, and it was Daniel's cigars that he smoked. His vacation seemed no nearer the end than it had when he first came. The shrewd Azuba informed the captain that she guessed it was "one of them vacations that didn't have any end, but was all beginnin'." Her employer reproved her for speaking in this way of a friend of the family--he felt it was his duty to do that--but the rebuke was a mild one.
One night, or rather one morning, for it was nearly two o'clock, he was awakened by a series of violent shakes, and opened his eyes to find his wife bending over him. She had been out, attending a special meeting of the Chapter, and had hastened upstairs without stopping to take off her wraps.
"Daniel, Daniel, wake up!" she cried.
The captain groaned. "Hey! what is it?" he asked sleepily. Then, with a little more interest, "Is the house afire?"
"No, no, but do wake up and listen. I've had the greatest honor done me. You will hardly believe it. The delegates to the Atterbury Convention were elected to-night. Annette Black is one--I just knew she'd win--and Mrs. Lake is another, and who do you suppose is the third?"
Captain Dan sat up in bed. "Not you?" he shouted.
"Yes, I. And, more than that, I was the one selected to read a paper there. Annette expected to do that, but, when it came to the vote, my last paper, the one I read Thursday night, the one Cousin Percy helped me so in preparing, was selected over all the rest. The vote was nearly two to one. I am to read it on the second day of the Convention. Isn't it wonderful! Annette was so jealous she hardly said good-night to me. But I don't care. There, Daniel Dott! aren't you proud of your wife?"
There was a little hesitation in her husband's manner, and yet he tried his best to be enthusiastic. "Oh, yes," he said, "but then I was proud of you before, Serena. But--but what does this mean? Have you and I got to traipse way over to Atterbury?"
"Not you. You're not going. None of the men are. This is a women's convention. Men are not invited."
"I know. But I've got to go there with you. You ain't goin' off travelin' by yourself."
"I'm going with the other Chapter delegates; we will travel together."
"I want to know! How long are you goin' to be gone?"
"I'm not sure. Three or four days probably."
"And I've got to stay here alone?"
"Why, you won't be alone. Cousin Percy will be here, and there's Azuba."
"Yes, and that everlastin' Hapgood, I suppose. Say, Serena, have you got to go?"
"Got to? Why, I want to! It's an honor. Don't you want me to go?"
"Why--why, I suppose I do; but--but--"
"But, what? Oh, you don't want me to go! I can see--and I thought you'd be so glad!"
She was almost in tears. Daniel's sensitive conscience smote him once more. "Land sakes!" he protested. "Of course I want you to go, Serena! I wouldn't have you do anything else for the world. I--I was just kind of lonesome, that's all. I get that way sometimes, lately. Seems as if you and I don't see as much of each other as we used to. Do you think it's all worth while?"
"Worth while! Why, Daniel Dott!"
"There, there! don't take on. I guess it is. I suppose you know best about such things. But I get kind of blue settin' around here thinkin', without you to talk to; and Gertie isn't here. You see, I miss you both."
"Yes, I suppose you do. Well, after this convention is over I shall have a little more time, I hope. And Gertie will be home pretty soon. It's almost time for her Christmas vacation."
"Yes, I know it is. I was thinkin' that to-day. My! we'll be glad to see her, won't we?"
"Of course we will. But, do you know, Daniel, I've been so busy that I almost forgot about Christmas and Gertie's vacation and everything. It was Cousin Percy that reminded me of it."
"Reminded you of what?--of Christmas?"
"No, of course not--of Gertie's vacation. He said that she was coming and that he should be glad to make her acquaintance."
"He said so? How did he know? I never told him."
"I don't remember that I did, either. But I suppose I must have. Anyhow, he knew. He is very much interested in Gertie and how she was getting on at college and all that. I saw him looking at her photograph that very day of the reception. He knew that it was she, without being told."
"Humph! He seems to know a lot. But, there! I recollect now--Gertie said she met him at college. Well, Serena, I won't complain any more. You can go to Atterbury if you want to. I'll get along all right."
And to Atterbury Mrs. Dott went. It was the first time since the old sea-going days that Captain Dan and his wife had been separated longer than twenty-four hours. He saw her off on the train and then moped drearily back to Aunt Lavinia's mansion, which he was now beginning to hate, and, seating himself in the library, tried to find interest in a novel. He did not find it, however, and went to bed early. Cousin Percy, who was out that evening, did not retire early. Next morning he seemed to have little appetite for breakfast, and was less agreeable than usual.
The three days passed somehow. The wanderer was to return on Thursday morning, but she did not. Instead came a telegram, reading as follows:
"Meeting and paper great success. Send immediately one of my latest photographs. Serena."
The puzzled Daniel sent the photograph preceded by a telegram of his own which read:
"When are you coming home? Why don't you write? Have been worried about you. Answer."
The answer was delayed still another day. When it came, it was in the shape of a very short note stating that Saturday was the date of return. Serena wrote that she was having a lovely time. She would tell him all about it when she got back. "And," she added, "I am sending you by this mail copies of the Atterbury paper. Please show it to any of the Chapter members whom you may meet."
Captain Dan unfolded the paper and gazed at the page marked with blue pencil. Here, under black headlines, which screamed the success of the convention of the Ladies of Honor, was a horrible blotted outrage resembling a stout negress peering through a screen door and labeled, "Mrs. Serena Sarah Dott, of Scarford, whose brilliant paper scored the success of the meeting." It was only by a process of deduction that Daniel realized the thing to be a reproduction of the photograph he had sent. He glanced hurriedly over the account of the meeting, catching here and there phrases like "Mrs. Dott's forte is evidently platform speaking"--"clear thought, well expressed"--"tumultuous applause." He felt that he ought to read the account from beginning to end, but also that he could not. Azuba, however, when it was shown to her, had no such feeling. She bore it to the kitchen, read it all, and returned to crow vaingloriously.
"Well, there now, Captain Daniel!" she exclaimed. "Ain't it wonderful! Ain't it grand! Ain't you a lucky man to have a wife as notorious as she's gettin' to be! I swan to man, if it ain't--"
The captain interrupted her. "Azuba," he said, rather testily for him, "if you use that word again I don't know as I won't make you eat a dictionary. My wife may be famous and she may be a platform speaker, but I'm blessed if I'll have her notorious, not if I can help it."
"But she is notorious, ain't she? Look at her right there in the newspaper, with all that piece about her in print! I wish Labe could read such a piece in the paper about me. Why, what ails you, Daniel Dott? Just look at that photograph!"
Captain Dan rose. "Yes," he said drily, "I've been lookin' at it. That's part of what ails me."
On Saturday he was at the station to meet his wife. Serena was inwardly jubilant, although, because of the presence of Mrs. Lake and Annette, she tried to appear dignified and calm. But when she and her husband were alone on their way to the house her jubilation burst forth.
"Oh, it was a wonderful success!" she declared. "I declare, I wish you might have been there. The way they applauded! And the entertainment they gave me! And the reporters after interviews! And the things the women of the other Chapters said! Oh, Daniel, it was splendid!"
Lunch was a mere formality on her part. She talked incessantly, while Cousin Percy and her husband listened. Mr. Hungerford's congratulations were hearty. His praise was as close to fulsome flattery as it could be and not overstep the mark.
Daniel offered congratulations, too. He was glad that his wife had succeeded, but the pleasure was solely because of her happiness. He was not as happy on his own account. Several remarks which Serena had made seemed to prophesy that the excursion to Atterbury was but the beginning.
All that afternoon Mrs. Dott spent in her room. She was going to be very busy, she said, and she must not be interrupted. It was only just before dinner that the captain found a moment for an uninterrupted interview. He entered the room to find her seated at the writing table, her fingers ink-stained, and the table covered with closely written sheets of manuscripts. She looked up when he appeared.
"Oh," she said, "I'm so tired! I've written steadily all the afternoon. My report had to be ready, and there was so much to say."
Daniel regarded her gravely. "You look tired, Serena. You're doin' altogether too much of this sort of thing. You ought to stop, or you'll be sick. Now, you just rest a while. My, it does seem good to have you back again! We can have an evening together now. I'll tell you what we'll do: You tell Hungerford you're tired and then come right up here, and I'll come, too. Then we can sit and talk. I've got so much to say to you."
But Serena shook her head. "No, Daniel," she said. "I can't talk to-night."
"Then don't; I'll do the talkin'. Land's sakes! it'll be enough just to look at you. I don't feel as if I'd seen you for a hundred years."
Another shake of the head. "I'm sorry, Daniel, but I can't be with you at all to-night. I must present my report to the Chapter and I shall probably not be home till very late."
Daniel sprang from his chair. "Serena Dott!" he cried. "Do you mean to tell me that you're goin' out to that Chapter thing again to-night! after bein' away from me all this time! Why, you've just got home!"
"I can't help it, Daniel. I must present my report. It's my duty to do it. The Chapter expects me and I must be there."
"Expects you! I expected you, didn't I? And, by the everlastin', I think I had a right to expect you! I'm your husband, ain't I? Seems to me I am entitled to a little of your society."
"I can't help it, Daniel. The Chapter--"
Captain Dan's feelings got the better of his prudence. "Damn the Chapter!" he shouted. "I wish you and I had never heard of it, nor anybody that belongs to it."
The instant after the words left his lips he would have given a good deal to recall them, but it was too late. His wife slowly rose.
"Daniel Dott!" she gasped. "Daniel Dott! You--you--why--my husband talking to me like that! My own husband! the man of all men that I expected would be proud of me! The man who should be proud and glad that I have found my lifework--speaking to me like that! Oh! oh! what shall I do! How can I bear it!"
She fell back into the chair, her head sank upon her arms over the manuscript of the precious report, and she burst into a storm of sobs.
Daniel was as much overcome as she. He hurried to her side and in an agony of remorse bent over her.
"There, there, Serena," he pleaded. "Don't do so. I didn't mean it. It kind of--"
He would have put his arms about her but she pushed them away.
"And swearing at me," she sobbed. "And using language that--"
"I didn't mean to swear, Serena. I never swore at you before in my life. I didn't mean to this time. It just seemed to come out all of itself. Please forgive me, won't you? Please?"
But Serena was not ready to forgive. The sleepless nights and days of wild excitement had thrown her nerves into a state where it needed but the slightest jar to break them completely. She sobbed, and choked, and gasped, her fingers clutching at her hair. Daniel, hanging over her, tried in vain to put in a word.
"Please, Serena," he kept saying. "Please."
Suddenly the sobs ceased. Serena's hands struck the desk and she rose so abruptly that her husband had scarce time to get out of her way.
"Serena," he cried.
But Serena cut him short. "Go away," she commanded. "Go away and leave me. I don't want to speak to you again."
"Go away. Don't come near me again to-night. Go, go, go!"
And Daniel went, slowly, reluctantly. He was scarcely past the sill, his hands still upon the knob of the door, when that door was closed from within with a slam. He made one more effort to speak, but he heard the key turn and his wife's voice commanding him to go away. He descended the stairs to the library and threw himself into a chair. Mr. Hungerford, smoking one of his host's cigars and reading the evening paper, looked at him curiously and asked what was the matter.
Daniel turned on him. "Nothin'," he roared. "Nothin', do you hear?" Then he rushed from the library to the hall, seized his hat and coat from the rack and hurried out of the house. He walked and walked, but if, upon his return, anyone had asked him where he had walked he could not have told them. This was the first serious quarrel that he and his wife had had during their married life.
It was half-past seven when he returned and found Azuba fidgeting in the dining-room. It was Mr. Hapgood's free evening and he had left early.
"For mercy sakes!" Azuba demanded. "Where have you been?"
"Out!" was the gloomy rejoinder. "Where's the rest of the folks?"
"Gone to Chapter meetin'."
"Both of 'em?"
"Yes. It was an open meeting and Mr. Hungerford went along, too. Where are you goin' now? Don't you want anything to eat? It's been waitin' for you for an hour."
"Let it wait; I don't want it."
He walked from the room. Azuba gazed after him open-mouthed.
"Well!" she soliloquized in a voice loud enough for the captain to hear. "Well, if anybody'll tell me what's the use of gettin' all het up cookin' vittles in this house, then I'd like to have 'em do it. Here I've worked and worked and fussed and fussed to get dinner and nobody's ate a mouthful but one, and he's the one that gets it for nothin'. I never saw such doin's. Don't talk to me!"
Captain Dan didn't talk to anybody. He sat alone in the library, miserable and downhearted. After a while Azuba came and announced that she guessed she'd get a mouthful of fresh air, if she wasn't needed. Receiving no answer, she apparently considered the request granted and the captain heard the back door shut. Still the captain sat in the library, a huddled, pathetic heap in the armchair, gazing at vacancy. Occasionally he sighed.
The doorbell rang. Aroused from his doleful reverie by the sound, Daniel jumped from his chair and, going to the hall, shouted for Azuba. Then he remembered that Azuba was not on the premises and answered the ring himself. He had forgotten to push the button of the porch light and, peering out into the dark, he could see only that the person standing upon the top step was a woman. A carriage had drawn up at the curb and the driver was unloading a trunk from the rack.
"Good evenin'!" said Daniel.
The answer was a surprise. There was a laugh, and then a pair of arms were thrown about Captain Dan's neck and a girlish voice said: "Good evening! Is that all you've got to say to me? Why, Daddy, you dear old goose, don't you know me?"
Daniel's answer was a shout that might have been heard at the next corner.
"What!" he roared. "Gertie! Good land of love! Where'd you come from?"