Lavender and Old Lace by Myrtle Reed
VI. The Garden
Miss Thorne wrote an apology to Winfield, and then tore it up, thereby gaining comparative peace of mind, for, with some natures, expression is the main thing, and direction is but secondary. She was not surprised because he did not come; on the contrary, she had rather expected to be left to her own devices for a time, but one afternoon she dressed with unusual care and sat in state in the parlour, vaguely expectant. If he intended to be friendly, it was certainly time for him to come again.
Hepsey, passing through the hall, noted the crisp white ribbon at her throat and the bow in her hair. "Are you expectin' company, Miss Thorne?" she asked, innocently.
"I am expecting no one," answered Ruth, frigidly, "I am going out."
Feeling obliged to make her word good, she took the path which led to Miss Ainslie's. As she entered the gate, she had a glimpse of Winfield, sitting by the front window of Mrs. Pendleton's brown house, in such a dejected attitude that she pitied him. She considered the virtuous emotion very praiseworthy, even though it was not deep enough for her to bestow a cheery nod upon the gloomy person across the way.
Miss Ainslie was unaffectedly glad to see her, and Ruth sank into an easy chair with something like content. The atmosphere of the place was insensibly soothing and she instantly felt a subtle change. Miss Ainslie, as always, wore a lavender gown, with real lace at the throat and wrists. Her white hair was waved softly and on the third finger of her left hand was a ring of Roman gold, set with an amethyst and two large pearls.
There was a beautiful serenity about her, evident in every line of her face and figure. Time had dealt gently with her, and except on her queenly head had left no trace of his passing. The delicate scent of the lavender floated from her gown and her laces, almost as if it were a part of her, and brought visions of an old-time garden, whose gentle mistress was ever tranquil and content. As she sat there, smiling, she might have been Peace grown old.
"Miss Ainslie," said Ruth, suddenly, "have you ever had any trouble?"
A shadow crossed her face, and then she answered, patiently, "Why, yes--I've had my share."
"I don't mean to be personal," Ruth explained, "I was just thinking."
"I understand," said the other, gently. Then, after a little, she spoke again:
"We all have trouble, deary--it's part of life; but I believe that we all share equally in the joy of the world. Allowing for temperament, I mean. Sorrows that would crush some are lightly borne by others, and some have the gift of finding great happiness in little things.
"Then, too, we never have any more than we can bear--nothing that has not been borne before, and bravely at that. There isn't a new sorrow in the world--they're all old ones--but we can all find new happiness if we look in the right way."
The voice had a full music, instinct with tenderness, and gradually Ruth's troubled spirit was eased. "I don't know what's the matter with me," she said, meditatively, "for I'm not morbid, and I don't have the blues very often, but almost ever since I've been at Aunt Jane's, I've been restless and disturbed. I know there's no reason for it, but I can't help it."
"Don't you think that it's because you have nothing to do? You've always been so busy, and you aren't used to idleness."
"Perhaps so. I miss my work, but at the same time, I haven't sense enough to do it."
"Poor child, you're tired--too tired to rest."
"Yes, I am tired," answered Ruth, the tears of nervous weakness coming into her eyes.
"Come out into the garden."
Miss Ainslie drew a fleecy shawl over her shoulders and led her guest outdoors. Though she kept pace with the world in many other ways, it was an old-fashioned garden, with a sun-dial and an arbour, and little paths, nicely kept, that led to the flower beds and circled around them. There were no flowers as yet, except in a bed of wild violets under a bay window, but tiny sprigs of green were everywhere eloquent with promise, and the lilacs were budded.
"That's a snowball bush over there," said Miss Ainslie, "and all that corner of the garden will be full of roses in June. They're old-fashioned roses, that I expect you wouldn't care for-blush and cinnamon and sweet briar--but I love them all. That long row is half peonies and half bleeding-hearts, and I have a bed of columbines under a window on the other side of the house. The mignonette and forget-me-nots have a place to themselves, for I think they belong together--sweetness and memory.
"There's going to be lady-slippers over there," Miss Ainslie went on, "and sweet william. The porch is always covered with morning-glories--I think they're beautiful and in that large bed I've planted poppies, snap-dragon, and marigolds. This round one is full of larkspur and bachelor's buttons. I have phlox and petunias, too--did you ever see a petunia seed?"
Ruth shook her head.
"It's the tiniest thing, smaller than a grain of sand. When I plant them, I always wonder how those great, feathery petunias are coming out of those little, baby seeds, but they come. Over there are things that won't blossom till late--asters, tiger-lilies and prince's feather. It's going to be a beautiful garden, deary. Down by the gate are my sweet herbs and simples--marjoram, sweet thyme, rosemary, and lavender. I love the lavender, don't you?"
"Yes, I do," replied Ruth, "but I've never seen it growing."
"It's a little bush, with lavender flowers that yield honey, and it's all sweet--flowers, leaves, and all. I expect you'll laugh at me, but I've planted sunflowers and four-o'clocks and foxglove."
"I won't laugh---I think it's lovely. What do you like best, Miss Ainslie?"
"I love them all," she said, with a smile on her lips and her deep, unfathomable eyes fixed upon Ruth, "but I think the lavender comes first. It's so sweet, and then it has associations--"
She paused, in confusion, and Ruth went on, quickly: "I think they all have associations, and that's why we love them. I can't bear red geraniums because a cross old woman I knew when I was a child had her yard full of them, and I shall always love the lavender," she added, softly, "because it makes me think of you."
Miss Ainslie's checks flushed and her eyes shone. "Now we'll go into the house," she said, "and we'll have tea."
"I shouldn't stay any longer," murmured Ruth, following her, "I've been here so long now."
"'T isn't long," contradicted Miss Ainslie, sweetly, "it's been only a very few minutes."
Every moment, the house and its owner took on new beauty and charm. Miss Ainslie spread a napkin of finest damask upon the little mahogany tea table, then brought in a silver teapot of quaint design, and two cups of Japanese china, dainty to the point of fragility.
"Why, Miss Ainslie," exclaimed Ruth, in surprise, "where did you get Royal Kaga?"
Miss Ainslie was bending over the table, and the white hand that held the teapot trembled a little. "They were a present from--a friend," she answered, in a low voice.
"They're beautiful," said Ruth, hurriedly.
She had been to many an elaborate affair, which was down on the social calendar as a "tea," sometimes as reporter and often as guest, but she had found no hostess like Miss Ainslie, no china so exquisitely fine, nor any tea like the clear, fragrant amber which was poured into her cup.
"It came from China," said Miss Ainslie, feeling the unspoken question. "I had a whole chest of it, but it's almost all gone."
Ruth was turning her cup and consulting the oracle. "Here's two people, a man and a woman, from a great distance, and, yes, here's money, too. What is there in yours?"
"Nothing, deary, and besides, it doesn't come true."
When Ruth finally aroused herself to go home, the old restlessness, for the moment, was gone. "There's a charm about you," she said, "for I feel as if I could sleep a whole week and never wake at all."
"It's the tea," smiled Miss Ainslie, "for I'm a very commonplace body."
"You, commonplace?" repeated Ruth; "why, there's nobody like you!"
They stood at the door a few moments, talking aimlessly, but Ruth was watching Miss Ainslie's face, as the sunset light lay caressingly upon it. "I've had a lovely time," she said, taking another step toward the gate.
"So have I--you'll come again, won't you?" The sweet voice was pleading now, and Ruth answered it in her inmost soul. Impulsively, she came back, threw her arms around Miss Ainslie's neck, and kissed her. "I love you," she said, "don't you know I do?"
The quick tears filled Miss Ainslie's eyes and she smiled through the mist. "Thank you, deary," she whispered, "it's a long time since any one has kissed me--a long time!"
Ruth turned back at the gate, to wave her hand, and even at that distance, saw that Miss Ainslie was very pale.
Winfield was waiting for her, just outside the hedge, but his presence jarred upon her strangely, and her salutation was not cordial.
"Is the lady a friend of yours?" he inquired, indifferently.
"She is," returned Ruth; "I don't go to see my enemies--do you?"
"I don't know whether I do or not," he said, looking at her significantly.
Her colour rose, but she replied, sharply: "For the sake of peace, let us assume that you do not."
"Miss Thorne," he began, as they climbed the hill, "I don't see why you don't apply something cooling to your feverish temper. You have to live with yourself all the time, you know, and, occasionally, it must be very difficult. A rag, now, wet in cold water, and tied around your neck--have you ever tried that? It's said to be very good."
"I have one on now," she answered, with apparent seriousness, "only you can't see it under my ribbon. It's getting dry and I think I'd better hurry home to wet it again, don't you?"
Winfield laughed joyously. "You'll do," he said.
Before they were half up the hill, they were on good terms again. "I don't want to go home, do you?" he asked.
"Home? I have no home--I'm only a poor working girl."
"Oh, what would this be with music! I can see it now! Ladies and gentlemen, with your kind permission, I will endeavour to give you a little song of my own composition, entitled:'Why Has the Working Girl No Home!'"
"You haven't my permission, and you're a wretch."
"I am," he admitted, cheerfully, "moreover, I'm a worm in the dust."
"I don't like worms."
"Then you'll have to learn."
Ruth resented his calm assumption of mastery. "You're dreadfully young," she said; "do you think you'll ever grow up?"
"Huh!" returned Winfield, boyishly, "I'm most thirty."
"Really? I shouldn't have thought you were of age."
"Here's a side path, Miss Thorne," he said, abruptly, "that seems to go down into the woods. Shall we explore? It won't be dark for an hour yet."
They descended with some difficulty, since the way was not cleat, and came into the woods at a point not far from the log across the path. "We mustn't sit there any more," he observed, "or we'll fight. That's where we were the other day, when you attempted to assassinate me."
"I didn't!" exclaimed Ruth indignantly.
"That rag does seem to be pretty dry," he said, apparently to himself. "Perhaps, when we get to the sad sea, we can wet it, and so insure comparative calm."
She laughed, reluctantly. The path led around the hill and down from the highlands to a narrow ledge of beach that lay under the cliff. "Do you want to drown me?" she asked. "It looks very much as if you intended to, for this ledge is covered at high tide."
"You wrong me, Miss Thorne; I have never drowned anything."
His answer was lost upon her, for she stood on the beach, under the cliff, looking at the water. The shimmering turquoise blue was slowly changing to grey, and a single sea gull circled overhead.
He made two or three observations, to which Ruth paid no attention. "My Lady Disdain," he said, with assumed anxiety, "don't you think we'd better go on? I don't know what time the tide comes in, and I never could look your aunt in the face if I had drowned her only relative."
"Very well," she replied carelessly, "let's go around the other way."
They followed the beach until they came to the other side of the hill, but found no path leading back to civilisation, though the ascent could easily be made.
"People have been here before," he said; "here are some initials cut into this stone. What are they? I can't see."
Ruth stooped to look at the granite boulder he indicated. "J. H.," she answered, "and J. B."
"It's incomplete," he objected; "there should be a heart with an arrow run through it."
"You can fix it to suit yourself," Ruth returned, coolly, "I don't think anybody will mind." She did not hear his reply, for it suddenly dawned upon her that "J. H." meant Jane Hathaway.
They stood there in the twilight for some little time, watching the changing colours on the horizon and then there was a faint glow on the water from the cliff above. Ruth went out far enough to see that Hepsey had placed the lamp in the attic window.
"It's time to go," she said, "inasmuch as we have to go back the way we came."
They crossed to the other side and went back through the woods. It was dusk, and they walked rapidly until they came to the log across the path.
"So your friend isn't crazy," he said tentatively, as he tried to assist her over it.
"That depends," she replied, drawing away from him; "you're indefinite."
"Forgot to wet the rag, didn't we?" he asked. "I will gladly assume the implication, however, if I may be your friend."
"Kind, I'm sure," she answered, with distant politeness.
The path widened, and he walked by her side. "Have you noticed, Miss Thorne, that we have trouble every time we approach that seemingly innocent barrier? I think it would be better to keep away from it, don't you?"
"What initials were those on the boulder? J. H. and--"
"I thought so. 'J. B.' must have had a lot of spare time at his disposal, for his initials are cut into the 'Widder' Pendleton's gate post on the inner side, and into an apple tree in the back yard."
"Did you know Joe and Hepsey were going out to-night?"
"No, I didn't--they're not my intimate friends."
"I don't see how Joe expects to marry on the income derived from the village chariot."
"Have they got that far?"
"I don't know," replied Winfield, with the air of one imparting a confidence. "You see, though I have been in this peaceful village for some little time, I have not yet arrived at the fine distinction between 'walking out, 'settin' up,' and 'stiddy comp'ny.' I should infer that 'walking out' came first, for 'settin' up' must take a great deal more courage, but even 1, with my vast intellect, cannot at present understand 'stiddy comp'ny.'"
"Joe takes her out every Sunday in the carriage," volunteered Ruth, when the silence became awkward.
"In the what?"
"Carriage--haven't you ridden in it?"
"I have ridden in them, but not in it. I walked to the 'Widder's,' but if it is the conveyance used by travellers, they are both 'walking out' and 'settin' up.'"
They paused at the gate. "Thank you for a pleasant afternoon," said Winfield. "I don't have many of them."
"You're welcome," returned Ruth, conveying the impression of great distance.
Winfield sighed, then made a last desperate attempt. "Miss Thorne," he said, pleadingly, "please don't be unkind to me. You have my reason in your hands. I can see myself now, sitting on the floor, at one end of the dangerous ward. They'll smear my fingers with molasses and give me half a dozen feathers to play with. You'll come to visit the asylum, sometime, when you're looking for a special, and at first, you won't recognise me. Then I'll say: 'Woman, behold your work,' and you'll be miserable all the rest of your life."
She laughed heartily at the distressing picture, and the plaintive tone of his voice pierced her armour. "What's the matter with you?" she asked.
"I don't know--I suppose it's my eyes. I'm horribly restless and discontented, and it isn't my way."
Then Ruth remembered her own restless weeks, which seemed so long ago, and her heart stirred with womanly sympathy. "I know," she said, in a different tone, "I've felt the same way myself, almost ever since I've been here, until this very afternoon. You're tired and nervous, and you haven't anything to do, but you'll get over it."
"I hope you're right. I've been getting Joe to read the papers to me, at a quarter a sitting, but his pronunciation is so unfamiliar that it's hard to get the drift, and the whole thing exasperated me so that I had to give it up."
"Let me read the papers to you," she said, impulsively, "I haven't seen one for a month."
There was a long silence. "I don't want to impose upon you," he answered--"no, you mustn't do it."
Ruth saw a stubborn pride that shrank from the slightest dependence, a self-reliance that would not failter, but would steadfastly hold aloof, and she knew that in one thing, at least, they were kindred.
"Let me," she cried, eagerly; "I'll give you my eyes for a little while!"
Winfield caught her hand and held it for a moment, fully understanding. Ruth's eyes looked up into his--deep, dark, dangerously appealing, and alight with generous desire.
His fingers unclasped slowly. "Yes, I will," he said, strangely moved. "It's a beautiful gift--in more ways than one. You are very kind--thank you--good night!"