The Wife of the Governor by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews
The Governor sat at the head of the big black-oak table in his big stately library. The large lamps on either end of the table stood in old cloisonne vases of dull rich reds and bronzes, and their shades were of thick yellow silk. The light they cast on the six anxious faces grouped about them was like the light in Rembrandt's picture of The Clinic.
It was a very important meeting indeed. A city official, who had for months been rather too playfully skating on the thin ice of bare respect for the law, had just now, in the opinion of many, broken through. He had followed a general order of the Governor's by a special order of his own, contradicting the first in words not at all, but in spirit from beginning to end. And the Governor wished to make an example of him--now, instantly, so promptly and so thoroughly that those who ran might read, in large type, that the attempt was not a success. He was young for a Governor--thirty-six years old--and it may be that care for the dignity of his office was not his only feeling on the subject.
"I won't be badgered, you know," he said to the senior Senator of the State. "If the man wishes to see what I do when I'm ugly, I propose to show him. Show me reason, if you can, why this chap shouldn't be indicted."
To which they answered various things; for while they sympathized, and agreed in the main, yet several were for temporizing, and most of them for going a bit slowly. But the Governor was impetuous and indignant. And here the case stood when there came a knock at the library door.
The Governor looked up in surprise, for it was against all orders that he should be disturbed at a meeting. But he spoke a "Come in," and Jackson, the stately colored butler, appeared, looking distressed and alarmed.
"Oh, Lord! Gov'ner, suh!" was all he got out for a moment, fear at his own rashness seizing him in its grip at the sight of the six distinguished faces turned toward him.
"Jackson! What do you want?" asked the Governor, not so very gently.
Jackson advanced, with conspicuous lack of his usual style and sang-froid, a tray in his hand, and a quite second-class-looking envelope upon it. "Beg pardon, suh. Shouldn't 'a' interrupted, Gov'nor; please scuse me, suh; but they boys was so pussistent, and it comed fum the deepo, and I was mos' feared the railways was done gone on a strike, and I thought maybe you'd oughter know, suh--Gov'ner."
And in the meantime, while the scared Jackson rambled on thus in an undertone, the Governor had the cheap, bluish-white envelope in his hand, and with a muttered "Excuse me" to his guests, had cut it across and was reading, with a face of astonishment, the paper that was enclosed. He crumpled it in his hand and threw it on the table.
"Absurd!" he said, half aloud; and then, "No answer, Jackson," and the man retired.
"Now, then, gentlemen, as we were saying before this interruption"--and in clear, eager sentences he returned to the charge. But a change had come over him. The Attorney-General, elucidating a point of importance, caught his chief's eye wandering, and followed it, surprised, to that ball of paper on the table. The Secretary of State could not understand why the Governor agreed in so half-hearted a way when he urged with eloquence the victim's speedy sacrifice. Finally, the august master of the house growing more and more distrait, he suddenly rose, and picking up the crumpled paper--
"Gentlemen, will you have the goodness to excuse me for five minutes?" he said. "It is most annoying, but I cannot give my mind to business until I attend to the matter on which Jackson interrupted us. I beg a thousand pardons--I shall only keep you a moment."
The dignitaries left cooling their heels looked at each other blankly, but the Lieutenant-Governor smiled cheerfully.
"One of the reasons he is Governor at thirty-six is that he always does attend to the matters that interrupt him."
Meanwhile the Governor, rushing out with his usual impulsive energy, had sent two or three servants flying over the house. "Where's Mrs. Mooney? Send Mrs. Mooney to me here instantly--and be quick;" and he waited, impatient, although it was for only three minutes, in a little room across the hall, where appeared to him in that time a square-shaped, gray-haired woman with a fresh face and blue eyes full of intelligence and kindliness.
"Mary, look here;" and the big Governor put his hand on the stout little woman's arm and drew her to the light. Mary and his Excellency were friends of very old standing indeed, their intimacy having begun thirty-five years before, when the future great man was a rampant baby, and Mary his nurse and his adorer, which last she was still. "I want to read you this, and then I want you to telephone to Bristol at once." He smoothed out the wrinkled single sheet of paper.
"My dear Governor Rudd," he read,--"My friends the McNaughtons of Bristol are friends of yours too, I think, and that is my reason for troubling you with this note. I am on my way to visit them now, and expected to take the train for Bristol at twenty minutes after eight to-night, but when I reached here at eight o'clock I found the time-table had been changed, and the train had gone out twenty minutes before. And there is no other till to-morrow. I don't know what to do or where to go, and you are the only person in the city whose name I know. Would it trouble you to advise me where to go for the night--what hotel, if it is right for me to go to a hotel? With regret that I should have to ask this of you when you must be busy with great affairs all the time, I am,
Mary listened, attentive but dazed, and was about to burst out at once with voluble exclamations and questions when the Governor stopped her.
"Now, Mary, don't do a lot of talking. Just listen to me. I thought at first this note was from a man, because it is signed by a man's name. But it looks and sounds like a woman, and I think it should be attended to. I want you to telephone to Mr. George McNaughton, at Bristol, and ask if Mr. or Miss Lindsay Lee is a friend of theirs, and say that, if so, he--or she--is all right, and is spending the night here. Then, in that case, send Harper to the station with the brougham, and say that I beg to have the honor of looking after Mrs. McNaughton's friend for the night. And you'll see that whoever it is is made very comfortable."
"Indeed I will, the poor young thing," said Mary, jumping at a picturesque view of the case. "But, Mr. Jack, do you want me to telephone to Mr. McNaughton's and ask if a friend of theirs--"
The Governor cut her short. "Exactly. You know just what I said, Mary Mooney; you only want to talk it over. I'm much too busy. Tell Jackson not to come to the library again unless the State freezes over. Good-night.--I don't think the McNaughtons can complain that I haven't done their friend brown," said the Governor to himself as he went back across the hall.
* * * * *
Down at the station, beneath the spirited illumination of one whistling gas-jet, the station-master and Lindsay Lee waited wearily for an answer from the Governor. It was long in coming, for the station-master's boys, the Messrs. O'Milligan, seizing the occasion for foreign travel offered by a sight of the Executive grounds, had made a detour by the Executive stables, and held deep converse with the grooms. Just as the thought of duty undone began to prick the leathery conscience of the older one, the order came for Harper and the brougham. Half an hour later, at the station, Harper drew up with a sonorous clatter of hoofs. The station-master hurried forward to interview the coachman. In a moment he turned with a beaming face.
"It's good news for ye, miss. The Governor's sent his own kerridge for ye, then. Blessed Mary, but it's him that's condescendin'. Get right in, miss."
Such a sudden safe harbor seemed almost too good to be true. Lindsay was nearly asleep as the rubber-tired wheels rolled softly along through the city. The carriage turned at length from the lights and swung up a long avenue between trees, and then stopped. The door flew open, and Lindsay looked up steps and into a wide, lighted doorway, where stood a stout woman, who hastened to seize her bag and umbrella and take voluble possession of her. The sleepy, dazed girl was vaguely conscious of large halls and a wide stair and a kind voice by her side that flowed ever on in a gentle river of words. Then she found herself in a big, pleasant bed-room, and beyond was the open door of a tiled bath-room.
"Oh--oh!" she said, and dropped down sideways on the whiteness of the brass bed, and put her arms around the pillow and her head, hat and all, on it.
"Poor child!" said pink-checked, motherly Mrs. Mooney. "You're more than tired, that I can see without trying, and no wonder, too! I shan't say another word to you, but just leave you to get to bed and to sleep, and I'm sure it's the best medicine ever made, is a good comfortable bed and a night's rest. So I shan't stop to speak another word. But is there anything at all you'd like, Miss Lee? And there, now, what am I thinking about? I haven't asked if you wouldn't have a bit of supper! I'll bring it up myself--just a bit of cold bird and a glass of wine? It will do you good. But it will," as Lindsay shook her head, smiling. "There's nothing so bad as going to sleep on an empty stomach when you're tired."
"But I had dinner on the train, and I'm not hungry; sure enough, I'm not; thank you a thousand times."
Mrs. Mooney reluctantly took two steps toward the door, the room shaking under her soft-footed, heavy tread.
"You're sure you wouldn't like--" She stopped, embarrassed, and the blue eyes shone like kindly sapphires above the always-blushing cheeks. "I'm mortified to ask you for fear you'd laugh at me, but you seem like such a child, and--would you let me bring you--just a slice of bread and butter with some brown sugar on it?"
Lindsay had a gracious way of knowing when people really wished to do something for her. She flapped her hands, like the child she looked. "Oh, how did you think of it? I used to have that for a treat at home. Yes, I'd love it!" And Mrs. Mooney beamed.
"There! I thought you would! You see, Miss Lee, that's what I used sometimes to give my boy--that's the Governor--when he was little and got hungry at bedtime."
Lindsay, left alone, took off her hat, and with a pull and screw at her necktie and collar-button, dropped into a chair that seemed to hold its fat arms up for her. She smiled sleepily and comfortably. "I'm having a right good time," she said to herself, "but it's funny. I feel as if I lived here, and I love that old housekeeper-nurse of the Governor's. I wonder what the Governor is like? I wonder--" And at this point she became aware, with only slight surprise, of a little boy with a crown on his head who offered her a slice of bread and butter and sugar a yard square, and told her he had kept it for her twenty-five years. She was about to reason with him that it could not possibly be good to eat in that case, when something jarred the brain that was slipping so easily down into oblivion, and as her eyes opened again she saw Mrs. Mooney's solid shape bending over the tub in the bath-room, and a noise of running water sounded pleasant and refreshing.
"Oh, did I go to sleep?" she asked, sitting up straight and blinking wide-open eyes.
"There! I knew it would wake you, and I couldn't a-bear to do it, my dear, but it would never do for you to sleep like that in your clothes, and I drew your bath warm, thinking it would rest you better, but I can just change it hot or cold as it suits you. And here's the little lunch for you, and I feel as if it was my own little boy I was taking care of again; the year he was ten it was he ate so much at night. I saw him just now, and he's that tired from his meeting--it's a shame how hard he has to work for this State, time and time again. He said 'Good-night, Mary,' he said, just the way he did years ago--such a little gentleman he always was. The dearest and the handsomest thing he was; they used to call him 'the young prince,' he was that handsome and full of spirit. He told me to say he hoped for the pleasure of seeing Miss Lee at breakfast to-morrow at nine; but if you should be tired, Miss Lee, or prefer your breakfast up here, which you can have it just as well as not, you know. And here I'm talking you to death again, and you ought to stop me, for when I begin about the Governor I never know when to stop myself. Just put up your foot, please, and I'll take your shoes off," And while she unlaced Lindsay's small boots with capable fingers she apologized profusely for talking--talking as much again.
"There's nothing to excuse. It's mighty interesting to hear about him," said Lindsay. "I shall enjoy meeting him that much more. Is there a picture of him anywhere around?" looking about the room.
That was a lucky stroke. Mary Mooney parted the black ribbon that was tied beneath her neat white collar and turned her face up, all pleased smiles, to the girl, who leaned down to examine an ivory miniature set as a brooch. It was a sunny-faced little boy, with thick straight golden hair and fearless brown eyes--a sweet childish face very easy to admire, and Lindsay admired it enough to satisfy even Mrs. Mooney.
"I had it for a Christmas gift the year he was nine," she said. Mary's calendar ran from The Year of the Governor, 1. "He had whooping-cough just after that, and was ill seven weeks. Dear me, what teeny little feet you have!" as she put on them the dressing-slippers from the bag, and struggled up to her own, heavily but cheerfully.
Lindsay looked at her thoughtfully. "You haven't mentioned the Governor's wife," she said. "Isn't she at home?" and she leaned over to pull up the furry heel of the little slipper. So that she missed seeing Mary Mooney's face. Expression chased expression over that smiling landscape--astonishment, perplexity, anxiety, the gleam of a new-born idea, hesitation, and at last a glow of unselfish kindliness which often before had transfigured it.
"No, Miss Lee," said Mary. "She's away from home just now." And then, unblushingly, "But she's a lovely lady, and she'll be very disappointed not to see you."
Almost the next thing Lindsay knew she was watching dreamily spots of sunlight that danced on a pale pink wall. Then a bird began to sing at the edge of the window; there was a delicate rustle of skirts, and she turned her head and saw a maid--not Mary Mooney this time--moving softly about, opening part way the outside shutters, drawing lip the shades a bit, letting the light and shadow from tossing trees outside and the air and the morning in with gentle slowness. She dressed with deliberation, and, lo! it was a quarter after nine o'clock.
So that the Governor waited for his breakfast. For ten minutes, while the paper lasted, waiting was unimportant; and then, being impatient by nature, and not used to it, he suddenly was cross.
"Confound the girl!" soliloquized the Governor. "I'll have her indicted too! First she breaks up a meeting, then she gets the horses out at all hours, and now, to cap it, she makes me wait for breakfast. Why should I wait for my breakfast? Why the devil can't she--Now, Mary, what is it? I warn you I'm cross, and I shan't listen well till I've had breakfast. I'm waiting for that young lady you're coddling. Where's that young lady? Why doesn't she--What?"
For the flood-gates were open, and the soft verbal oceans of Mary were upon him. He listened two minutes, mute with astonishment, and then he rose up in his wrath and was verbal also.
"What! You told her I was married? What the dev--And you're actually asking me to tell her so too? Mary, are you insane? Embarrassed? What if she is embarrassed? And what do I care if--What? Sweet and pretty? Mary, don't be an idiot. Am I to improvise a wife, in my own house, because a stray girl may object to visiting a bachelor? Not if I know it. Not much." The Governor bristled with indignation. "Confound the girl, I'll--" At this point Mary, though portly, vanished like a vision of the night, and there stood in the doorway a smiling embodiment of the morning, crisp in a clean shirt-waist, and free from consciousness of crime.
"Is it Governor Rudd?" asked Lindsay; and the Governor was, somehow, shaking hands like a kind and cordial host, and the bitterness was gone from his soul. "I certainly don't know how to thank you," she said. "You-all have been very good to me, and I've been awfully comfortable. I was so lost and unhappy last night; I felt like a wandering Jewess. I hope I haven't kept you waiting for breakfast?"
"Not a moment," said the Governor, heartily, placing her chair, and it was five minutes before he suddenly remembered that he was cross. Then he made an effort to live up to his convictions. "This is a mistake," he said to himself. "I had no intention of being particularly friendly with this young person. Rudd, I can't allow you to be impulsive in this way. You're irritated by the delay and by last night: you're bored to be obliged to entertain a girl when you wish to read the paper; you're anxious to get down to the Capitol to see those men; all you feel is a perfunctory politeness for the McNaughtons' friend. Kindly remember these facts, Rudd, and don't make a fool of yourself gambolling on the green, instead of sustaining the high dignity of your office." So reasoned the Governor secretly, and made futile attempts at high dignity, while his heart became as wax, and he questioned of his soul at intervals to see if it knew what was going on.
So the Governor sat before Lindsay Lee at his own table, momentarily more surprised and helpless. And Lindsay, eating her grape-fruit with satisfaction, thought him delightful, and wondered what his wife was like, and how many children he had, and where they all were. It was at least safe to speak of the wife, for the old house-keeper-nurse had given her an unqualified recommendation. So she spoke.
"I'm sorry to hear that Mrs. Rudd is not at home," she began. "It must be rather lonely in this big house without her."
The Governor looked at her and laughed. "Not that I've noticed," he said, and was suddenly seized with a sickness of pity that was the inevitable effect of Lindsay Lee. She needed no pity, being healthy, happy, and well-to-do, but she had, for the punishment of men's sins, sad gray eyes and a mouth whose full lips curved sorrowfully down. Her complexion was the colorless, magnolia-leaf sort that is typically Southern; her dark hair lay in thick locks on her forehead as if always damp with emotion; her swaying, slender figure seemed to appeal to masculine strength; and the voice that drawled a syllable to twice its length here, to slide over mouthfuls of words there, had an upward inflection at the end of sentences that brought tears to one's eyes. There was no pose about her, but the whole effect of her was pathetic--illogically, for she caught the glint of humor from every side light of life, which means pleasure that other people miss. The old warning against vice says that we "first endure, then pity, then embrace"; but Lindsay differed from vice so far that people never had to endure her, but began with pity, finding it often a very short step to the wish, at least, to embrace her. The Governor after fifteen minutes' acquaintance had arrived at pitying her, intensely and with his whole soul, as he did most things. He held another interview with himself. "Lord! what an innocent face it is!" he said. "Mary said she would be embarrassed--the brute that would embarrass her! Hanged if I'll do it! If she would rather have me married, married I'll be." He raised candid eyes to Lindsay's face.
"I'm afraid I've shocked you. You mustn't think I shall not be glad when--Mrs. Rudd--is here. But, you see, I've been very busy lately. I've hardly had time to breathe--haven't had time to miss--her--at all, really. All the same--" Now what was the queer feeling in his throat and lungs--yes, it must be the lungs--as the Governor framed this sentence? He went on: "All the same, I shall be a happy man when--my wife--comes home."
Lindsay's face cleared. This was satisfactory and proper; there was no more to be said about it. She looked up with a smile to where the old butler beamed upon her for her youth and beauty and her accent and her name.
A handful of busy men left the Capitol in some annoyance that morning because the Governor had telephoned that he could not be there before half past eleven. They would have been more annoyed, perhaps, if they had seen him dashing about the station light-heartedly just before the eleven-o'clock train for Bristol left. They said to each other: "It must be a matter of importance that keeps him. Governor Rudd almost never throws over an appointment. He has been working like the devil over that street-railway franchise case; probably it's that."
And the Governor stood by a chair in a parlor-car, his world cleared of street railways and indictments and their class as if they had never been, and in his hand was a small white oblong box tied with a tinsel cord.
"Good-by," he said, "but remember I'm to be asked down for the garden party next week, and I'm coming."
"I certainly won't forget. And I reckon I'd better not try to thank you for--Oh, thank you! I thought that looked like candy. And bring Mrs. Rudd with you next week. I want to see her. And--Oh, get off, please; it's moving. Good-by, good-by."
And to the mighty music of a slow-clanging bell and the treble of escaping steam and the deep-rolling accompaniment of powerful wheels the Governor escaped to the platform, and the capital city of that sovereign State was empty--practically empty. He noticed it the moment he turned his eyes from the disappearing train and moved toward Harper and the brougham. He also noticed that he had never noticed it before.
A solid citizen, catching a glimpse of the well-known, thoughtful face through the window of the Executive carriage as it bowled across toward the Capitol, shook his head. "He works too hard," he said to himself. "A fine fellow, and young and strong, but the pace is telling. He looks anxious to-day. I wonder what scheme is revolving in his brain at this moment."
And at that moment the Governor growled softly to himself. "I've overdone it," he said. "She's sure to be offended. No one likes to be taken in. I ought not to have showed her Mrs. Rudd's conservatory; that was a mistake. She won't let them ask me down; I shan't see her. Hanged if I won't telephone Mrs. McNaughton to keep the secret till I've been down." And he did, before Lindsay could get there, amid much laughter at both ends of the wire, and no small embarrassment at his own.
And he was asked down, and having enjoyed himself, was asked again. And again. So that during the three weeks of Lindsay's visit Bristol saw more of the Chief Executive officer of the State than Bristol had seen before, and everybody but Lindsay had an inkling of the reason. But the time never came to tell her of the shadowy personality of Mrs. Rudd, and between the McNaughton girls and the Governor, whom they forced into unexpected statements, to their great though secret glee, Lindsay was informed of many details in regard to the missing first lady of the commonwealth. Such a dialogue as the following would occur at the lunch table:
Alice McNaughton (speaking with ceremonious politeness from one end of the table to the Governor at the other end). "When is Mrs. Rudd coming, Governor?"
The Governor (with a certain restraint). "Before very long, I hope, Miss Alice. Mrs. McNaughton, may I have more lobster? I've never in my life had as much lobster as I wanted."
Alice (refusing to be side-tracked). "And when did you last hear from her, Governor?"
Chuck McNaughton (ornament of the Sophomore class at Harvard. In love with Lindsay, but more so with the joke. Gifted with a sledgehammer style of wit). "I've been hoping for a letter from her myself, Governor, but it doesn't come."
The Governor (with slight hauteur). "Ah, indeed!"
Lindsay (at whose first small peep the Governor's eyes turn to hers and rest there shamelessly). "Why haven't you any pictures of Mrs. Rudd in the house, Mrs. McNaughton? The Governor's is everywhere and you all tell me how fascinating she is, and yet don't have her about. It looks like you don't love her as much as the Governor." (At the mention of being loved, in that voice, cold shivers seize the Executive nerves.)
Mrs. McNaughton (entranced with the airy persiflage, but knowing her own to be no light hand at repartee). "Ask the others, my dear."
Alice (jumping at the chance). "Oh, the reason of that is very interesting! Mrs. Rudd has never given even the Governor her picture. She--she has principles against it. She belongs, you see, to an ancient Hebrew family--in fact, she is a Jewess" ("A wandering Jewess," the Governor interjected, sotto voce, his glance veering again to Lindsay's face), "and you know that Jewish families have religious scruples about portraits of any sort" (pauses, exhausted).
Chuck (with heavy artillery). "Alice, taisez-vous. You're doing poorly. You can't converse. Your best parlor trick is your red hair. Miss Lee, I'll show you a picture of Mrs. Rudd some day, and I'll tell you now what she looks like. She has exquisite melancholy gray eyes, a mouth like a ripe tomato" (shouts from the table en masse, but Chuck ploughs along cheerily), "hair like the braided midnight" (cries of "What's that?" and "Hear! Hear!"), "a figure slim and willowy as a vaulting-pole" (a protest of "No track athletics at meals; that's forbidden!"), "and a voice--well, if you ever tasted New Orleans molasses on maple sugar, with 'that tired feeling' thrown in, perhaps you'll have a glimpse, a mile off, of what that voice is like." (Eager exclamations of "That's near enough," "Don't do it any more, Chuck," and "For Heaven's sake, Charlie, stop." Lindsay looks hard with the gray eyes at the Governor.)
Lindsay, "Why don't you pull your bowie-knife out of your boot, Governor? It looks like he's making fun of your wife, to me. Isn't anybody going to fight anybody?"
And then Mr. McNaughton would reprove her as a bloodthirsty Kentuckian, and the whole laughing tableful would empty out on the broad porch. At such a time the Governor, laughing too, amused, yet uncomfortable, and feeling himself in a false and undignified position, would vow solemnly that a stop must be put to all this. It would get about, into the papers even, by horrid possibility; even now a few intimates of the McNaughton family had been warned "not to kill the Governor's wife." He would surely tell the girl the next time he could find her alone, and then the absurdity would collapse. But the words would not come, or if he carefully framed them beforehand, this bold, aggressive leader of men, whose nickname was "Jack the Giant-killer," made a giant of Lindsay's displeasure, and was afraid of it. He had never been afraid of anything before. He would screw his courage up to the notch, and then, one look at the childlike face, and down it would go, and he would ask her to go rowing with him. They were such good friends; it was so dangerous to change at a blow existing relations, to tell her that he had been deceiving her all these weeks. These exquisite June weeks that had flown past to music such us no June had made before; days snowed under with roses, nights that seemed, as he remembered them, moonlit for a solid month. The Governor sighed a lingering sigh, and quoted,
"Oh what a tangled web we weave When first we practise to deceive!"
Yes, he must really wait--say two days longer. Then he might be sure enough of her--regard--to tell her the truth. And then, a little later, if he could control himself so long, another truth. Beyond that he did not allow himself to think.
"Governor Rudd," asked Lindsay suddenly as they walked their horses the last mile home from a ride on which they had gotten separated--the Governor knew how--from the rest of the party, "why do they bother you so about your wife, and why do you let them?"
"Can't help it, Miss Lindsay. They have no respect for me. I'm that sort of man. Hard luck, isn't it?"
Lindsay turned her sad, infantile gray eyes on him searchingly. "I reckon you're not," she said. "I reckon you're the sort of man people don't say things to unless they're right sure you will stand it. They don't trifle with you." She nodded her head with conviction. "Oh, I've heard them talk about you! I like that; that's like our men down South. You're right Southern, anyhow, in some ways. You see, I can pay you compliments because you're a safe old married man," and her eyes smiled up at him: she rarely laughed or smiled except with those lovely eyes. "There's some joke about your wife," she went on, "that you-all won't tell me. There certainly is. I know it, sure enough I do, Governor Rudd."
There is a common belief that the Southern accent can be faithfully rendered in writing if only one spells badly enough. No amount of bad spelling could tell how softly Lindsay Lee said those last two words.
"I love to hear you say that--'Guv'na Rudd.' I do, 'sho 'nuff,'" mused the Governor out loud and irrelevantly. "Would you say it again?"
"I wouldn't," said Lindsay, with asperity. "Ridiculous! If you are a Governor! But I was talking about your wife. Isn't she coming home before I go? Sometimes I don't believe you have a wife."
That was his chance, and he saw it. He must tell her now or never, and he drew a long breath. "Suppose I told you that I had not," he said, "that she was a myth, what would you say?"
"Oh, I'd just never speak to you again," said Lindsay, carelessly. "I wouldn't like to be fooled like that. Look, there are the others!" and off she flew at a canter.
It is easy to see that the Governor was not hurried headlong into confession by that speech. But the crash came. It was the night before Lindsay was to go back home to far-off Kentucky, and with infinite expenditure of highly trained intellect, for which the State was paying a generous salary, the Governor had managed to find himself floating on a moonlit flood through the Forest of Arden with the Blessed Damozel. That, at least, is the rendering of a walk in the McNaughtons' wood with Lindsay Lee as it appeared that night to the intellect mentioned. But the language of such thoughts is idiomatic and incapable of exact translation. A flame of eagerness to speak, quenched every moment by a shower-bath of fear, burned in his soul, when suddenly Lindsay tripped on a root and fell, with an exclamation. Then fear dried beneath the flames. It is unnecessary to tell what the Governor did, or what he said. The language, as language, was unoriginal and of striking monotony, and as to what happened, most people have had experience which will obviate the necessity of going into brutal facts. But when, trembling and shaken, he realized a material world again, Lindsay was fighting him, pushing him away, her eyes blazing fiercely.
"What do you mean? What do you mean?" she was saying.
"Mean--mean? That I love you--that I want you to love me, to be my wife!" She stood up like a white ghost in the silver light and shadow of the wood.
"Governor Rudd, are you crazy?" she cried. "You have a wife already."
The tall Governor threw back his head and laughed a laugh like a child. The people away off on the porch heard him and smiled. "They are having a good time, those two," Mrs. McNaughton said.
"Lindsay--Lindsay," and he bent over and caught her hands and kissed them. "There isn't any wife--there never will be any but you. It was all a joke. It happened because--Oh, never mind! I can't tell you now; it's a long story. But you must forgive that; that's all in the past now. The question is, will you love me--will you love me, Lindsay? Tell me, Lindsay!" He could not say her name often enough. But there came no answering light in Lindsay's face. She looked at him as if he were a striped convict.
"I'll never forgive you," she said, slowly. "You've treated me like a child; you've made a fool of me, all of you. It was insulting. All a joke, you call it? And I was the joke; you've been laughing at me all these weeks. Why was it funny, I'd like to know?"
"Great heavens, Lindsay--you're not going to take it that way? I insult you--laugh at you! I'd give my life; I'd shoot down any one--Lindsay!" he broke out appealingly, and made a step toward her.
"Don't touch me!" she cried. "Don't touch me! I hate you!" And as he still came closer she turned and ran up the path, into the moonlight of the driveway, and so, a dim white blotch on the fragrant night, disappeared.
When the Governor, walking with dignity, came up the steps of the porch, three minutes later, he was greeted with questions.
"What have you done to Lindsay Lee, I'd like to know?" asked Alice McNaughton. "She said she had fallen and hurt her foot, but she wouldn't let me go up with her, and she was dignified, which is awfully trying. Why did you quarrel with her, this last night?"
"Governor," said Chuck, with more discernment than delicacy, "if you will accept the sympathies of one not unacquainted with grief--" But at this point his voice faded away as he looked at the Governor.
The Governor never remembered just how he got away from the friendly hatefulness of that porchful. An early train the next morning was inevitable, for there was a meeting of real importance this time, and at all events everything looked about the same shade of gray to him; it mattered very little what he did. Only he must be doing something every moment. He devoured work as if it were bread and meat and he were famished. People said all that autumn and winter that anything like the Governor's energy had never been seen. He evidently wanted a second term, and really he ought to have it. He was working hard enough to get it. About New-Year's he went down to Bristol for the first time since June, for a dinner at the McNaughtons'. Alice McNaughton's friendly face, under its red-gold hair, beamed at him from far away down the table, but after dinner, when the men came in from the dining-room, she took possession of him boldly.
"Governor, I want to tell you about Lindsay Lee. I know you'll be interested, though you did have some mysterious fight before she left. She's been awfully ill with pleurisy, a painful attack, and she's getting well very slowly. They have just taken her to Paul Smith's. I'm writing her to-morrow, and I want you to send a good message; it would please her."
It was hard to stand with eighteen people grouped about him, all more or less with an eye on his motions, and be the Governor, calm and dignified, while hot irons were being applied to his heart by this smiling girl.
"But, Miss Alice," he said, slowly, "I'm afraid you are wrong. I was unfortunate enough to make Miss Lee very angry. I am afraid she would think a message from me only an impertinence."
"Sir," said Alice, with decision, "I'm right sometimes, if I'm not Governor; and it's better to be right than to be Governor, I've heard--or something. You trust me. Just try the effect of a message, and see if it isn't a success. What shall I say?"
The Governor was impetuous, and in spite of all the work he had done so fiercely, the longing the work had been meant to quiet surged up as strong as ever. "Miss Alice," he said, eagerly, "if you are right, would it do--do you think I might deliver the message myself?"
"Do I think? Well, if I were a man! Faint heart, you know!"
And the Governor, at that choppy eloquence, openly seized the friendly young hand and wrung it till Alice begged, laughing but bruised, for mercy. When he came up, later, to bid her good-night, his face was bright, and,
"Good-night, Angel of Peace," he said.
* * * * *
Mary Mooney, who through the dark days had watched with anxious though uncomprehending eyes her boy's dejection and hard effort to live it down, and had applied partridges and sweetbreads and other forms of devotion steadily but unsuccessfully, saw at once and with, rapture the change when the Governor greeted her the next morning. Light-heartedly she packed his traps two days later--she had done it jealously for thirty-five years, though almost over the dead body of the Governor's man sometimes in these later days. And when he told her good-by she had her reward. The man's boyish heart went out in a burst of gratitude to the tireless love that had sought only his happiness all his life. He put his arm around the stout little woman's neck.
"Mary," he said, "I'm going to see Miss Lee."
Mary's pink cheeks were scarlet as she patted with a work-worn palm the strong hand on her shoulder. "Then I know what will happen," she said, "and I'm glad. And if you don't bring her back with you, Mr. Jack, I won't let you in."
So the stately Governor went off like a schoolboy with his nurse's blessing. And later like an arrow from a bow he swung around the corner of the snowy piazza at Paul Smith's, where Mrs. Lee had told him he would find her daughter. There was a bundle of fur in a big chair in the sunlight, dark against the white hills beyond, with their black lines of pine-trees. As the impetuous steps came nearer, it turned, and--the Governor's methods were again such that words do them no justice. But this time with happier result. Half an hour later, when some coherency was established, he said:
"You waited for me! You've been waiting for me!" as if it were the most astonishing fact in history. "And since when have you been waiting for me, you--"
Lindsay laughed, not only with her eyes, but with her soft voice. "Ever since the morning after, your Excellency. Alice told me all about it before I left, and made me see reason. And I--and I was right sorry I'd been so cross. I thought you'd come some time--but you came right slow," she said, and her eyes travelled over his face as if she were making sure he was really there.
"And I never dared to think you would see me!" he said. "But now!"
And again there were circumstances that are best described by a hiatus.
The day after, when Mary Mooney, discreetly letting her soul's idol get into his library before greeting him, trotted into that stately chamber with soft, heavy footsteps, she was met with a kiss and a bear's hug that, as she told Mrs. Rudd later, "was like the year he was nine."
"I didn't bring her, Mary," the Governor said, "but you'd better let me stay, for she's coming."