Lavender and Old Lace by Myrtle Reed
X. Love Letters
"A week!" Ruth said to herself the next morning. "Seven long days! No letter, because he mustn't write, no telegram, because there's no office within ten miles--nothing to do but wait!"
When she went down to breakfast, Hepsey did not seem to hear her cheery greeting, but was twisting her apron and walking about restlessly. "Miss Thorne," she said, at length, "did you ever get a love letter?"
"Why, yes, of course," laughed Ruth. "Every girl gets love letters."
Hepsey brightened visibly, then inquired, with great seriousness: "Can you read writin', Miss Thorne?"
"That depends on the writing."
"Yes'm, it does so. I can read some writin'--I can read Miss Hathaway's writin', and some of the furrin letters she's had, but I got some this mornin' I can't make out, nohow."
"Where did you find 'writing' this morning? It's too early for the mail, isn't it?"
"Yes'm. It was stuck under the kitchen winder." Hepsey looked up at the ceiling in an effort to appear careless, and sighed. Then she clutched violently at the front of her blue gingham dress, immediately repenting of her rashness. Ruth was inwardly amused but asked no helpful questions.
Finally, Hepsey took the plunge. "Would you mind tryin' to make out some writin' I've got, Miss Thorne?"
"Of course not--let me see it."
Hepsey extracted a letter from the inmost recesses of her attire and stood expectantly, with her hands on her hips.
"Why, it's a love letter!" Ruth exclaimed.
"Yes'm. When you get through readin' it to yourself, will you read it out loud?"
The letter, which was written on ruled note paper, bore every evidence of care and thought. "Hepsey," it began, and, on the line below, with a great flourish under it, "Respected Miss" stood, in large capitals.
"Although it is now but a short interval," Ruth read, "since my delighted eyes first rested on your beautiful form--"
"Five year!" interjected Hepsey.
"--yet I dare to hope that you will receive graciously what I am about to say, as I am assured you will, if you reciprocate the sentiments which you have aroused in my bosom.
"In this short time, dear Miss, brief though it is, yet it has proved amply sufficient for my heart to go out to you in a yearning love which I have never before felt for one of your sex. Day by day and night by night your glorious image has followed me."
"That's a lie," interrupted Hepsey, "he knows I never chased him nowheres, not even when he took that red-headed Smith girl to the Sunday-school picnic over to the Ridge, a year ago come August."
"Those dark tresses have entwined my soul in their silken meshes, those deep eyes, that have borrowed their colour from Heaven's cerulean blue, and those soft white hands, that have never been roughened by uncongenial toil, have been ever present in my dreams."
Ruth paused for a moment, overcome by her task, but Hepsey's face was radiant. "Hurry up, Miss Thorne," she said, impatiently.
"In short, Dear Miss, I consider you the most surpassingly lovely of your kind, and it is with pride swelling in my manly bosom that I dare to ask so peerless a jewel for her heart and hand.
"My parentage, birth, and breeding are probably known to you, but should any points remain doubtful, I will be pleased to present references as to my character and standing in the community.
"I await with impatience, Madam, your favourable answer to my plea. Rest assured that if you should so honour me as to accept my proposal, I will endeavour to stand always between you and the hard, cruel world, as your faithful shield. I will also endeavour constantly to give you a happiness as great as that which will immediately flood my bing upon receipt of your blushing acceptance.
"I remain, Dear Miss, your devoted lover and humble servant,
"JOSEPH PENDLETON, ESQ."
"My! My!" ejaculated Hepsey. "Ain't that fine writin'!"
"It certainly is," responded Miss Thorne, keeping her face straight with difficulty.
"Would you mind readin' it again?"
She found the second recital much easier, since she was partially accustomed to the heavy punctuation marks and shaded flourishes. At first, she had connected Winfield with the effusion, but second thought placed the blame where it belonged--at the door of a "Complete Letter Writer."
"Miss Thorne," said Hepsey, hesitating.
"Of course, I'd like my answer to be as good writin' as his'n."
"Where d'you s'pose he got all that lovely grammar?"
"Grammar is a rare gift, Hepsey."
"Yes'm,'t is so. Miss Thorne, do you guess you could write as good as that?"
"I'd be willing to try," returned Ruth, with due humility.
Hepsey thought painfully for a few moments. "I'd know jest what I'd better say. Now, last night, I give Joe a hint, as you may say, but I wouldn't want him to think I'd jest been a-waitin' for him."
"No, of course not."
"Ain't it better to keep him in suspense, as you may say?"
"Far better, Hepsey; he'll think more of you."
"Then I'll jest write that I'm willin' to think it over, and if you'll put it on a piece of paper fer me, I'll write it out with ink. I've got two sheets of paper jest like this, with nice blue lines onto it,that I've been a-savin' fer a letter, and Miss Hathaway, she's got ink."
Ruth sat down to compose an answer which should cast a shadow over the "Complete Letter Writer." Her pencil flew over the rough copy paper with lightning speed, while Hepsey stood by in amazement.
"Listen," she said, at length, "how do you like this?"
"MR. JOSEPH PENDLETON--
"Respected Sir: Although your communication of recent date was a great surprise to me, candour compels me to confess that it was not entirely disagreeable. I have observed, though with true feminine delicacy, that your affections were inclined to settle in my direction, and have not repelled your advances.
"Still, I do not feel that as yet we are sufficiently acquainted to render immediate matrimony either wise or desirable, and since the suddenness of your proposal has in a measure taken my breath away, I must beg that you will allow me a proper interval in which to consider the matter, and, in the meantime, think of me simply as your dearest friend.
"I may add, in conclusion, that your character and standing in the community are entirely satisfactory to me. Thanking you for the honour you have conferred upon me, believe me, Dear Sir,
"Your sincere friend,
"My!" exclaimed Hepsey, with overmastering pride; "ain't that beautiful! It's better than his'n, ain't it?"
"I wouldn't say that," Ruth replied, with proper modesty, "but I think it will do."
"Yes'm. 'Twill so. Your writin' ain't nothin' like Joe's," she continued, scanning it closely, "but it's real pretty." Then a bright idea illuminated her countenance. "Miss Thorne, if you'll write it out on the note paper with a pencil, I can go over it with the ink, and afterward, when it's dry, I'll rub out the pencil. It'll be my writin' then, but it'll look jest like yours."
"All right, Hepsey."
She found it difficult to follow the lines closely, but at length achieved a respectable result. "I'll take good care of it," Hepsey said, wrapping the precious missive in a newspaper, "and this afternoon, when I get my work done up, I'll fix it. Joe'll be surprised, won't he?"
Late in the evening, when Hepsey came to Ruth, worn with the unaccustomed labours of correspondence, and proudly displayed the nondescript epistle, she was compelled to admit that unless Joe had superhuman qualities he would indeed "be surprised."
The next afternoon Ruth went down to Miss Ainslie's. "You've been neglecting me, dear," said that gentle soul, as she opened the door.
"I haven't meant to," returned Ruth, conscience-stricken, as she remembered how long it had been since the gate of the old- fashioned garden had swung on its hinges for her.
A quiet happiness had settled down upon Ruth and the old perturbed spirit was gone, but Miss Ainslie was subtly different. "I feel as if something was going to happen," she said.
"I--don't know." The sweet face was troubled and there were fine lines about the mouth, such as Ruth had never seen there before.
"You're nervous, Miss Ainslie--it's my turn to scold now."
"I never scolded you, did I deary?"
"You couldn't scold anybody--you're too sweet. You're not unhappy, are you, Miss Ainslie?"
"I? Why, no! Why should I be unhappy?" Her deep eyes were fixed upon Ruth.
"I--I didn't know," Ruth answered, in confusion.
"I learned long ago," said Miss Ainslie, after a little, "that we may be happy or not, just as we choose. Happiness is not a circumstance, nor a set of circumstances; it's only a light, and we may keep it burning if we will. So many of us are like children, crying for the moon, instead of playing contentedly with the few toys we have. We're always hoping for something, and when it does n't come we fret and worry ; when it does, why there's always something else we'd rather have. We deliberately make nearly all of our unhappiness, with our own unreasonable discontent, and nothing will ever make us happy, deary, except the spirit within."
"But, Miss Ainslie," Ruth objected, "do you really think everybody can be happy?"
"Of course--everybody who wishes to be. Some people are happier when they're miserable. I don't mean, deary, that it's easy for any of us, and it's harder for some than for others, all because we never. grow up. We're always children--our playthings are a little different, that's all."
"'Owning ourselves forever children,' quoted Ruth, "'gathering pebbles on a boundless shore.'"
"Yes, I was just thinking of that. A little girl breaks her doll, and though the new one may be much prettier, it never wholly fills the vacant place, and it's that way with a woman's dream." The sweet voice sank into a whisper, followed by a lingering sigh.
"Miss Ainslie," said Ruth, after a pause, "did you know my mother?"
"No, I didn't, deary--I'm sorry. I saw her once or twice, but she went away, soon after we came here."
"Never mind," Ruth said, hurriedly, for Mrs. Thorne's family had never forgiven her runaway marriage.
"Come into the garden," Miss Ainslie suggested, and Ruth followed her, willingly, into the cloistered spot where golden lilies tinkled, thrushes sang, and every leaf breathed peace.
Miss Ainslie gathered a bit of rosemary, crushing it between her white fingers. "See," she said, "some of us are like that it takes a blow to find the sweetness in our souls. Some of us need dry, hard places, like the poppies "--pointing to a mass of brilliant bloom--"and some of us are always thorny, like the cactus, with only once in a while a rosy star.
"I've always thought my flowers had souls, dear," she went on; "they seem like real people to me. I've seen the roses rubbing their cheeks together as if they loved each other, and the forget-me-nots are little blue-eyed children, half afraid of the rest.
"Over there, it always seems to me as if the lavender was a little woman in a green dress, with a lavender bonnet and a white kerchief. She's one of those strong, sweet, wholesome people, who always rest you, and her sweetness lingers long after she goes away. I gather all the flowers, and every leaf, though the flowers are sweetest. I put the leaves away with my linen and the flowers among my laces. I have some beautiful lace, deary."
"I know you have--I've often admired it."
"I'm going to show it to you some day," she said, with a little quiver in her voice, "and some other day, when I can't wear it any more, you shall have some of it for your own."
"Don't, Miss Ainslie," cried Ruth, the quick tears coming to her eyes, "I don't want any lace--I want you!"
"I know," she answered, but there was a far-away look in her eyes, and something in her voice that sounded like a farewell.
"Miss Thorne," called Joe from the gate, "here's a package for yer. It come on the train."
He waited until Ruth went to him and seemed disappointed when she turned back into the garden. "Say," he shouted, "is Hepsey to home?"
Ruth was busy with the string and did not hear. "Oh, look!" she exclaimed, "what roses!"
"They're beautiful, deary. I do not think I have ever seen such large ones. Do you know what they are?"
"American Beauties--they're from Mr. Winfield. He knows I love them."
Miss Ainslie started violently. "From whom, dear?" she asked, in a strange tone.
"Mr. Winfield--he's going to be on the same paper with me in the Fall. He's here for the Summer, on account of his eyes."
Miss Ainslie was bending over the lavender.
"It is a very common name, is it not?" she asked.
"Yes, quite common," answered Ruth, absently, taking the roses out of the box.
"You must bring him to see me some time, dear; I should like to know him."
"Thank you, Miss Ainslie, I will."
They stood at the gate together, and Ruth put a half blown rose into her hand. "I wouldn't give it to anybody but you," she said, half playfully, and then Miss Ainslie knew her secret. She put her hand on Ruth's arm and looked down into her face, as if there was something she must say.
"I don't forget the light, Miss Ainslie."
"I know," she breathed, in answer. She looked long and searchingly into Ruth's eyes, then whispered brokenly, "God bless you, dear. Good bye!"