Lavender and Old Lace by Myrtle Reed
XVI. Some One Who Loved Her
The summer waned and each day, as it slipped away, took a little of Miss Ainslie's strength with it. There was neither disease nor pain--it was simply a letting go. Carl sent to the city for a physician of wide repute, but he shook his head. "There's nothing the matter with her," he said, "but she doesn't want to live. Just keep her as happy as you can."
For a time she went about the house as usual, but, gradually, more and more of her duties fell to Ruth. Hepsey came in every day after breakfast, and again in the late afternoon.
Ruth tried to get her to go out for a drive, but she refused. "No, deary," she said, smiling, "I've never been away, and I'm too old to begin now." Neighbours, hearing of her illness, came to offer sympathy and help, but she would see none of them--not even Aunt Jane.
One night, she sat at the head of the table as usual; for she would not surrender her place as hostess, even though she ate nothing, and afterward a great weakness came upon her. "I don't know how I'll ever get upstairs," she said, frightened; "it seems such a long way!"
Winfield took her in his arms and carried her up, as gently and easily as if she had been a child. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes bright when he put her down. "I never thought it would be so easy," she said, in answer to his question. "You'll stay with me, won't you, Carl? I don't want you to go away."
"I'll stay as long as you want me, Miss Ainslie, and Ruth will, too. We couldn't do too much for you."
That night, as they sat in front of the fire, while Miss Ainslie slept upstairs, Ruth told him what she had said about leaving him the house and the little income and giving her the beautiful things in the house.
"Bless her sweet heart," he said tenderly, "we don't want her things--we'd rather have her."
"Indeed we would," she answered quickly.
Until the middle of September she went back and forth from her own room to the sitting-room with comparative ease. They took turns bringing dainties to tempt her appetite, but, though she ate a little of everything and praised it warmly, especially if Ruth had made it, she did it, evidently, only out of consideration for them.
She read a little, talked a little, and slept a great deal. One day she asked Carl to pull the heavy sandal wood chest over near her chair, and give her the key, which hung behind a picture.
"Will you please go away now," she asked, with a winning smile, "for just a little while?"
He put the bell on a table within her reach and asked her to ring if she wanted anything. The hours went by and there was no sound. At last he went up, very quietly, and found her asleep. The chest was locked and the key was not to be found. He did not know whether she had opened it or not, but she let him put it in its place again, without a word.
Sometimes they read to her, and she listened patiently, occasionally asking a question, but more often falling asleep.
"I wish," she said one day, when she was alone with Carl, "that I could hear something you had written."
"Why, Miss Ainslie," he exclaimed, in astonishment, "you wouldn't be interested in the things I write--it's only newspaper stuff."
"Yes, I would," she answered softly; "yes, I would."
Something in the way she said it brought the mist to his eyes.
She liked to have Ruth brush her hair, but her greatest delight was in hearing Winfield talk about her treasures.
"Won't you tell me about the rug, Carl, the one on the sandal wood chest?" she asked, for the twentieth time.
"It's hundreds of years old," he began, "and it came from Persia, far, far beyond the sea. The shepherds watched their flocks night and day, and saved the finest fleeces for the rug. They made colour from flowers and sweet herbs; from strange things that grew on the mountain heights, where only the bravest dared to go. The sumac that flamed on the hills, the rind of the swaying pomegranates, lichens that grew on the rocks by the Eastern sea, berries, deep-sea treasures, vine leaves, the juice of the grape--they all made colours for the rug, and then ripened, like old wine.
"After a long time, when everything was ready, the Master Craftsman made the design, writing strange symbols into the margin, eloquent with hidden meanings, that only the wisest may understand. "They all worked upon it, men and women and children. Deep voices sang love songs and the melody was woven into the rug. Soft eyes looked love in answer and the softness and beauty went in with the fibre. Baby fingers clutched at it and were laughingly untangled. At night, when the fires of the village were lighted, and the crimson glow was reflected upon it, strange tales of love and war were mingled with the thread. "The nightingale sang into it, the roses from Persian gardens breathed upon it, the moonlight put witchery into it; the tinkle of the gold and silver on the women's dusky ankles, the scent of sandal wood and attar of rose--it all went into the rug.
"Poets repeated their verses to it, men knelt near it to say their prayers, and the soft wind, rising from the sea, made faintest music among the threads.
"Sometimes a workman made a mistake, and the Master Craftsman put him aside. Often, the patient fingers stopped weaving forever, and they found some one else to go on with it. Sometimes they went from one place to another, but the frame holding the rug was not injured. From mountain to valley and back again, urged by some strange instinct, past flowing rivers and over the golden sands of the desert, even to the deep blue waters that broke on the shore--they took the rug.
"The hoof-beats of Arabian horses, with white-robed Bedouins flashing their swords; all the glitter and splendour of war were woven into it. Songs of victory, the rush of a cavalry charge, the faith of a dying warrior, even the slow marches of defeat--it all went into the rug.
"Perhaps the Master Craftsman died, but the design was left, and willing fingers toiled upon it, through the long years, each day putting new beauty into it and new dreams. Then, one day, the final knot was tied, by a Veiled Lady, who sighed softly in the pauses of her song, and wondered at its surpassing loveliness." "And--" said Miss Ainslie, gently.
"Some one who loved you brought it to you."
"Yes," she repeated, smiling, "some one who loved me. Tell me about this," she pleaded, touching a vase of Cloisonne.
"It came from Japan," he said, "a strange world of people like those painted on a fan. The streets are narrow and there are quaint houses on either side. The little ladies flit about in gay attire, like so many butterflies--they wear queer shoes on their dainty feet. They're as sweet as their own cherry blossoms.
"The little man who made this vase, wore a blue tunic and had no robes of state, because he was poor. He loved the daughter of a nobleman and she loved him, too, though neither dared to say so. "So he sat in front of his house and worked on this vase. He made a model of clay, shaping it with his fingers until it was perfect. Then a silver vase was cast from it and over and over it he went, very carefully, making a design with flat, silver wire. When he was satisfied with it, he filled it in with enamel in wonderful colours, making even the spots on the butterflies' wings like those he had seen in the fields. Outside the design, he covered the vase with dark enamel, so the bright colours would show.
"As he worked, the little lady he loved came and watched him sometimes for a moment or two, and then he put a tiny bit of gold into the vase. He put a flower into the design, like those she wore in her hair, and then another, like the one she dropped at his feet one day, when no one was looking.
"The artist put all his love into the vase, and he hoped that when it was done, he could obtain a Court position. He was very patient with the countless polishings, and one afternoon, when the air was sweet with the odour of the cherry blossoms, the last touches were put upon it.
"It was so beautiful that he was commissioned to make some great vases for the throne room, and then, with joy in his heart, he sought the hand of the nobleman's daughter.
"The negotiations were conducted by another person, and she was forced to consent, though her heart ached for the artist in the blue tunic, whose name she did not know. When she learned that her husband was to be the man she had loved for so long, tears of happiness came into her dark eyes.
"The vase had disappeared, mysteriously, and he offered a large reward for its recovery. At last they were compelled to give up the hope of finding it, and he promised to make her another one, just like it, with the same flowers and butterflies and even the little glints of gold that marked the days she came. So she watched him, while he made the new one, and even more love went into it than into the first one."
"And--" began Miss Ainslie.
"Some one who loved you brought it to you."
"Yes," she repeated, smiling, "some one who loved me."
Winfield fitted a story to every object in the room. Each rug had a different history and every bit of tapestry its own tale. He conjured up an Empress who had once owned the teakwood chair, and a Marquise, with patches and powdered hair, who wrote love letters at the marquetry table.
He told stories of the sea shells, and of the mermaids who brought them to the shore, that some one who loved her might take them to her,and that the soft sound of the sea might always come to her ears, with visions of blue skies and tropic islands, where the sun forever shone.
The Empress and the Marquise became real people to Miss Ainslie, and the Japanese lovers seemed to smile at her from the vase. Sometimes, holding the rug on her lap, she would tell them how it was woven, and repeat the love story of a beautiful woman who had worked upon the tapestry. Often, in the twilight, she would sing softly to herself, snatches of forgotten melodies, and, once, a lullaby. Ruth and Carl sat by, watching for the slightest change, but she never spoke of the secret in her heart.
Ruth had the north room, across the hall, where there were two dressers. One of them had been empty, until she put her things into it, and the other was locked. She found the key, one day, hanging behind it, when she needed some things for Miss Ainslie.
As she had half expected, the dresser was full of lingerie, of the finest lawn and linen. The dainty garments were edged with real lace--Brussels, Valenciennes, Mechlin, Point d'Alencon, and the fine Irish laces. Sometimes there was a cluster of tucks, daintily run by hand, but, usually, only the lace, unless there was a bit of insertion to match. The buttons were mother of pearl, and the button holes were exquisitely made. One or two of the garments were threaded with white ribbon, after a more modern fashion, but most of them were made according to the quaint old patterns. There was a dozen of everything.
The dried lavender flowers rustled faintly as Ruth reverently lifted the garments, giving out the long-stored sweetness of Summers gone by. The white had changed to an ivory tint, growing deeper every day. There were eleven night gowns, all made exactly alike, with high neck and long sleeves, trimmed with tucks and lace. Only one was in any way elaborate. The sleeves were short, evidently just above the elbow, and the neck was cut off the shoulders like a ball gown. A deep frill of Venetian point, with narrower lace at the sleeves, of the same pattern, was the only trimming, except a tiny bow of lavender ribbon at the fastening, pinned on with a little gold heart.
When Ruth went in, with one of the night gowns over her arm, a faint colour came into Miss Ainslie's cheeks.
"Did--did--you find those?" she asked.
"Yes," answered Ruth, "I thought you'd like to wear them."
Miss Ainslie's colour faded and it was some time before she spoke again.
"Did--did you find the other--the one with Venetian point?" "Yes, Miss Ainslie, do you want that one It's beautiful."
"No," she said, "not now, but I thought that I'd like to wear that--afterward, you know."
A shadow crossed Ruth's face and her lips tightened.
"Don't, dear," said Miss Ainslie, gently.
"Do you think he would think it was indelicate if--if my neck were bare then?"
"Who, Miss Ainslie?"
"Carl. Would he think it was wrong if I wore that afterward, and my neck and shoulders showed? Do you think he would?"
"No!" cried Ruth, "I know he wouldn't! Oh, Miss Ainslie, you break my heart!"
"Ruth," said Miss Ainslie, gently; "Ruth, dear, don't cry! I won't talk about it any more, deary, I promise you, but I wanted to know so much!"
Ruth kissed her and went away, unable to bear more just then. She brought her chair into the hall, to be near her if she were needed. Miss Ainslie sighed, and then began to croon a lullaby.